How Long was the Ark of the Covenant at Kiriath Jearim?
Adapted from a Seder Olam Rabbah Article at King's Calendar
The issue of how long the Ark was at Kiriath Jearim, is important to Biblical Chronology, for it is a defining chronological reference for this time period.
1 Samuel 7:2 states: "And it came to pass, from the day that the ark abode in Kiriath-jearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel yearned after the Lord."
But 1 Samuel 4:18 & 6:1 tell us that the Ark was captured on the day of Eli's death, and that it remained in the hand of the Philistines for 7 months.
Here then is an apparent contradiction. The difficulty with this time period, is that the reference in 1 Samuel 7:2, to the Ark remaining at Kiriath-jearim 20 years until David's 7th year, is the only Biblical reference from which a chronology can be built, because the balance of the Biblical chronological data for this time period, is either corrupt or missing. Without any other references, there is no corroboration for either of these contradictory references. (See 'Corroboration' : The Law, Rules of Evidence Archaeology Part 1.)
i) The Real Difficulty with 1 Samuel 7:2
There are quite a number of difficulties with the primary text reading of 1 Samuel 7:2, for irrespective of the contradiction in 1 Samuel Chapter 6, and despite the fact that 1 Samuel 7:2 appears to indicate a time lapse of only 20 years between Eli's death and David's 7th year, there are other considerations to be made.
In response to my email question on the subject, Dr. Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament, Northern Baptist Seminary Lombard, IL 60148 wrote:
- The issue of the length of time the Ark remained in Kiriath-jearim is debatable. The problem is how the twenty-years should be understood. The "twenty years" is present in the Hebrew Text and in the Septuagint, so it is original to the biblical text. There are different ways to understand the "twenty years" in the text. Some scholars say that the number is a Deuteronomistic addition to his source. This statement is hard to prove. Others say that the "twenty years" refer to the time elapsed between the Ark's return by the Philistines to the events narrated in chapter 7. Others interpret the "twenty years" as the time the Ark spent in Kiriath-jearim before David conquered Jerusalem. This last interpretation was the one taken by the author of the quote in my article. Rereading 1 Samuel 13:1
My inquiry derived from the fact that:
1. The King's Calendar, which works independently, mathematically, and directly from the Scriptural chronological references [as artificial time periods and using the principle of Linear Causality] indicates that the total [artificial year] time period to elapse between Eli's death and David's 7th year is 70 years. Therefore the 20 years mentioned in 1 Samuel 7:20 must be considered incorrect.
2. Josephus records a 40 year time lapse for this same 20 year period.
In Antiquities Book 6:13:5, Josephus says of King Samuel: "Now he governed and presided over the people alone, after the death of Eli the high priest, twelve years, and eighteen years together with Saul the king."
In Antiquities 10:8:4 he says: Saul, who was their first king, retained the government twenty years, though he was not of the same tribe with the rest.[20-18=2 years on his own.]
In Antiquities 6:14:9 he says: Now Saul, when he had reigned eighteen years while Samuel was alive, and after his death two [and twenty], ended his life in this manner.
The total combined period for Samuel and Saul is equal to 32 years.[12+18+2=32]
Add to these 32 years, the final year of Eli when the Ark was captured, plus the 7 years until David's 7th year when he collected the Ark from Kiriath Jearim, and the total is 40 years.
Despite his 'negative' reputation as a chronologist, Josephus, irrespective of his carelessness, did work from 'source documents', even if he did not always understand them. He was careless, obviously disorganised, and little understood what was before him, probably because he had access to a 'third party's' chronological documents. The overall King's Calendar impression of Josephus's references however, is that his material was 'legitimate', and that his errors can be understood. [Chapter 20]
Josephus' material, and the King's Calendar inherently insist that our current version of 1 Samuel 7:2, is not correct. For the King's Calendar, the demonstration of the error relates to the chronology for the Monarchal period of Israel's History, as well as for the Period of the Judges, and finds its' focus, in the chronology for King Saul.
ii) 'Original' to Biblical Texts.
Dr. Mariottini (quoted above) wrote that the "twenty years" is present in the Hebrew Text and in the Septuagint, so it is original to the biblical text.
This expression does not mean that the 20 years is the original figure (at the time the details were recorded), but that as it appears in all the oldest manuscripts, we can be assured that it is the figure that was intended for us to read there. This however, does not mean, that at sometime prior to the compiling of the Septuagint (3rd Century BCE), that a different [or even no] figure had not already been either inserted or changed.
If you read the English translation of 1 Samuel 7:2, it does not read smoothly, but rather appears to contain an insertion. Compare the following renditions.
Original Version : And it came to pass, from the day that the ark abode in Kiriath-jearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel yearned after the LORD.
Suggested Version : And it came to pass, from the day that the ark abode in Kiriath-jearim, that ........ all the house of Israel yearned after the LORD.
If the original version has received an insertion, it is because someone was trying to calculate the time frame in the absence of other corroborating chronological records. One cannot however just alter the record merely to suit one's own chronological purpose [a common habit among modern Bible academics].
Nevertheless, 1 Samuel 6:1 contradicts this figure by saying that the Philistines only had the Ark for 7 months, and that because of the resultant plagues, they returned the Ark, sending it off on a cart to Beth-Shemesh. In the context of that Chapter however, it is apparent that despite this misadventure on the part of the Philistines, they did not desist from harassing Israel.
What I suggest, is either that the 7 months of 1 Samuel 6:2 was originally "70 years", and/or that the 20 years listed in 1 Samuel 7:2, is an insertion based on an attempt to chronologise the period from Samuel to David's 7th year, and should read 70 years.
iii) 7 months or 70 years : Changing the Biblical Details
As mentioned earlier, the King's Calendar is an independent mathematical calculation, working directly from and applying, Scriptural chronological references, as artificial time periods, and operates upon the principle of Linear Causality. Years prior to looking at the Seder Olam Rabbah, and before considering these Biblical verses, the King's Calendar determined that Samuel Judged Israel for an independent period of 32 years and that Saul was king of Israel for 30 independent years. Add to these the 7 years of David and the last year of Eli, and the total is 70 years for the Ark to be in Kiriath Jearim.
From this perspective then, and checking the balance of the Biblical Data, a new picture can plausibly be drawn.
1 Samuel Chapter 6:1 makes it quite clear that the Philistines returned the Ark voluntarily in 7 months.( :1 And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months)
1 Samuel 6:2 speaking about the day it was returned says: And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying: 'What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? declare unto us wherewith we shall send it to its place. :11 And they put the ark of the LORD upon the cart,..:13 And they of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley; and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it...:15 And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD....:16 And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day.
1 Samuel 7:1 And the men of Kiriath-jearim came, and fetched up the ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD
1 Chronicles 13:3-7 and [King David speaking says] let us bring back the ark of our God to us; for we sought not unto it in the days of Saul. And all the assembly said that they would do so; for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people. So David assembled all Israel together, from Shihor the brook of Egypt even unto the entrance of Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. And David went up, and all Israel, to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim, which belonged to Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, the LORD that sitteth upon the cherubim, whereon is called the Name. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab; and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart.
Despite the way the story is contextually situated following 2 Samuel Chapter 5 & 6 in relation to battles with the Philistines, these verses can lead one to consider that in fact the Ark was returned after 70 years, and this, probably because David, who used to work for the Five Lords of the Philistines, was now King of Israel.
Refer to the Original Article for all live links to the following items.
Seder Olam Rabbah Data and Citations are taken from "Bible Facts: Seder Olam: Part 2 The Prophets 2 Samuel, Saul, David
Marston. C. (1935)
The Bible is true: The lessons of the 1925-34 excavations in Bible lands summarized and explained. Australia. Angus and Robertson.
Bible : Mechon Mamre Hebrew-English
Bible Facts: Seder Olam:
Conventional Chronology vs. Rabbinic Chronology (Seder Olam Rabbah)
Dealing with the Calendar Question:Frank W. Nelte.
Dollinger.A. (2000) An Introduction to the History and Culture of Pharaonic Egypt. Herodotus: Hyksos
Jewish Encyclopedia.com : SEDER 'OLAM RABBAH:
The Bethlehem Seal Discovery - Judah 2700 years ago by R.P. BenDedek
According to recent news reports, archaeologists in Jerusalem have unearthed a 2700 years old, 1.5cm diameter Seal inscribed in ancient Hebrew with the name of the town Bethlehem. The Israel Antiquities director of excavations, Eli Shukron, has said that this is the first time that the city's name has turned up in artifacts from this period of Israelite History. 2700 years ago - 700 BCE, King Hezekiah was ruling in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, and had just survived an invasion (701BCE) by Sennacherib of Assyria. Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel had 22 years previous fallen to the Assyrians, and the population was sent into exile. - May 27, 2012
Assyrian, Babylonian and Israelite History 8th Century by R.P. BenDedek
The 'King's Calendar' reconstruction of Biblical chronology for this time period, has as it's firm foundation, the established 'academic' fact that King Hezekiah of Judah had his 14th regnal year in 701 BCE. Working back through history, the 'King's Calendar' finds little fault with the Biblical chronological references, however, it becomes obvious that some of the king's have been misidentified. Part of academic confusion over this particular period of Israelite history, results directly from reliance upon the biblical narratives which clearly state that it was King Ahaz of Judah who appealed to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria for assistance, during the Syro-Ephraimitic War against Rezin of Damascus, and Pekah of Israel.
R.P.BenDedek (pseudonym) is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (http://www.kingscalendar.com ), and is a guest columnist and stand-in Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. He is also the Editor of the 'Writers Journal' at Kingscalendar.com. An Australian, he has been teaching Conversational English in China since 2003.
Writers Journal Kingscalendar
"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls.