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Egyptian chronology

Egyptian chronology involves assigning beginnings and endings to various Dynasties. See also Chronology, Conventional Egyptian chronology and Egyptology.

Scholars consider this a difficult task. As Dr. Robert A. Hatch of the University of Florida puts it:

The problem is two-fold: l) there are internal problems of assigning beginnings and endings to various Dynasties, and 2) externally, the problem is reconciling dates in the Egyptian calendar with attested dates in other calendaric systems, for example, Greek, Jewish, Assyrian, Persian, and Julian/Gregorian. [1]

Egyptian chronology is in a constant state of transition, with much of the terminology and dating in dispute. Professor E.J. Bickerman, Chronology of the ancient world (1980: 83-84 and 106), has properly called it "the rather fluid chronology of the Pharaohs and the Hittites," adding that Ramses II's accession is dated by various Egyptologistss to 1304, 1290-92, or 1279 BC. Reliable absolute dates, astronomical or other, are lacking, as Professor Heinrich Otten had noted. It is a "rubber chronology" that you can stretch or shrink anywhere, by arbitrarily established lengths of co-regencies between rulers and even overlapping dynasties. The possibility of a calendar reform called Menophres Era may radically modify the prevailing modern Egyptian chronology, so the previous "firm" dates cannot be supported astronomically.

This Menophres Era can be tied to at least four Egyptian rulers, although there was absolutely no doubt for Egyptologists that Ramses I reigned in 1322 BCE. Theon's text has long been interpreted such that a 1460 year long Sothic period ended in A.D. 139. Therefore, the Menophres Era may have started in 1321 BCE. However, John F. Brug (Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary) in his detailed and important article has observed that Theon explicitly stated, and Al-Biruni supported him, that the beginning of the next Sothic cycle took place in 26 BC, instead of A.D. 139.

In 1974, Ronald D. Long was making the same point as Rowton: "Mesopotamian chronology... does not coordinate with the eighteenth dynasty chronology which is dependent on the era of Menophreos dating. Assuruballit I and Akhenaton were contemporaries, yet if the era's dating is maintained, their contemporaneity is non-existent." Dr. Lappin, Decline and Fall of Sothis Dating states that all the plausible second millennium placements require that a major calendrical readjustment occurred at least once in Egyptian History. An article signed by the Perseus Research Team, is about George Syncellus and his Book of Sothis. They confirm John Brug's observation that 26 BC was the beginning of a cycle, not AD 139. If such calendrical reform has taken place in Egypt, then the claim that a heliacal rising of Sirius took place on the first day of the seventh year of Sesostris III of the Twelfth Dynasty in 1872 is useless. Please also refer to William F. Edgerton's old study, Chronology of the twelfth dynasty in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies (around 1941 or later, page 307). Edgerton points out that the fragment of the el-Lahun temple register that foretells a heliacal rising of the Sothis, does not name any Egyptian king. He is not certain if Borchardt had used the photographic facsimiles of the originals or not.

All these may mean that our encyclopaedias should consider shifting the orthodox dates of Akhenaton or Tutankhamun up by 164 years.

According to John Brug, The astronomical dating of ancient history before 700 BC, the chronology of ancient Egypt rests on a host of unproven assumptions. There is a surpising amount of uncertainty and conjecture in the data and interpretations which form the basis for the presently accepted chronology of the Ancient Near East. We run a very real danger of debating about millimeters and centimeters when we should rather be rechecking our measurement of the meters, ... and perhaps even the centuries are in doubt, he adds.

Barry J. Kemp, Amarna reports I (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1984: 184-185) wrote that There is a difference of some 260 years between the radiocarbon dates and the historic dates in the Amarna period. Another example can be added to this carbon-14 debate: Professor Norman Hammond has been director of the archaeological programme of the Rutgers University, and archeaeological correspondent of the Times from 1967. He wrote in his Ancient Maya civilization (1982: 114), to perhaps 2100-2200 BC (1700-1800 BC in radiocarbon years). In the same book he dated a building at Belize to about 1900 BC, equating it with 1550 BC in radiocarbon years. His c. 10% correction seems exaggerated but he had a valid point for the problems of the radiocarbon dating for good absolute dates. It can be added here that different authorities in different decades offered different figures (5513, 5568, 5700, 5730, or 5770) years for the half-life of the carbon-14 isotope.

Manetho, who wrote c. 280 BCE, according to Stuart Piggott, in his List of Kings, makes Menes the first king of Egypt. This name, without doubt, represents the Egyptian Mena, or Men, tells Sir E.A. Wallis Budge. Fix states (1978: 74) that, in dating the beginning of Menes' reign, nineteenth century estimates ranged from 5867 BC to 2320 BC, with every variable in between. If Diodorus Siculus is right, it is possible that King Menes or Mneves, whose reign took place during the first flood (that may not have been connected with Noah), reigned before 2985 BCE. An attempt was made by Z.A. Simon (1985: 161) for an early Egyptian chronology as follow:

Pre-Dynastic rulers (not necessarily all in Egypt):

Naqrá-wus I
Naqrá-wus II
Busaidun (Poseidon?) Re
Sharbáq and Shu
Sahluq (Salahon) and Geb
S(a)urid (Tau-Ro, Baisar) = Osiris, Ousir
Hardjit (Horus II, Hor-djedef, Har-end-yotef)

3023-2770 First Dynasty
From Nama-Aha or Narmer-Menes to Biénekhés (Kebh or Ká-Senmu)
2770-2649 Second Dynasty
From Hetep-Sekhemwy (Ny-netjerbau or Baen-netjer) to Kha-sekhemwy (Hutchefa/Hezefa or Khenerés)
2649-2575 Third Dynasty
From Sa-nakht (Nebka or Nekhrofés) to Huny (Huni-Nysuteh)
2575-2467 Fourth Dynasty
From Sneferu (Sifouris, Snofru) to Shepses-kaf
2465-2323 Fifth Dynasty
From Weser-kaf (Userkaf) to Wenis (or Unas)
Thanks to several radiocarbon (C-14) dates, the approximate dates for the first Egyptian dynasty have been established (cf. Fekri A. Hassan, Radio-Carbon Chronology of Archaic Egypt, JNES, 1980, 39, 203-207). However, there are no reliable absolute dates for Egypt for its first 3000 years. Not a single eclipse record has been utilized from that period so far. Pharaoh Sahure or Sephres was a king of the fifth dynasty that had begun with Userkaf and has been concluded with Unas. A wooden cartouche of Sahu-re (c.2487-2473 BCE) has been found in a tomb of Dorak, near Constantinople, tells E. Bacon, Archaeology; Discoveries in the 1960s). It has been dated by radiocarbon test. In another case Libby, using the 5720 half-life of the carbon-14, dated that the boat of Pharaoh Sesostris III about 3,621 years before c. A.D. 1950.

An absoulute date comes from a record of a total eclipse of the moon in the 15th regnal year of Takelot or Takeloth II, apparently three days away from a breakout of a dated, disastrous mutiny, "even though the sky did not swallow the moon" (Kitchen, 1973: 331). This eclipse has not been utilized by historians so far, regardless if it had taken place on March 16, 851 or several years earlier. Kitchen (1973: 181) demonstrated that this event cannot be placed in 822 BCE, for there is an irreducible total of the 106 years from the 15th year of Takelot II to the 38th year and death of Shoshenq V reckoned from 822 BC runs down to 716 BCE, far too late.

Eusebius of Caesarea placed the eclipse of Thales (May 585 BCE) in the eighth or twelfth year of Waphres (Apries) Egyptian ruler who is Hophra in the Book of Jeremiah 44: 30.

Cosmas Indicopleustes (fl. A.D. 540-550) has listed several lunar eclipses given by Egyptian dates (month and day) scattered in his chronicle. Apparently not much attention has been paid to those. Although they may not have been too archaic records, they could be verified and identified. At least we could establish how trustworthy he or the Egyptian calendar was in his days.

David Rohl has proposed and described in detail what he calls the "new chronology" which incorporates many of these ideas and also those of Immanuel Velikovsky.