Dating the Bible

The oldest surviving Hebrew Bible manuscripts—including the Dead Sea Scrolls—date to about the 2nd century BCE (fragmentary) and some are stored at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. The oldest extant complete text survives in a Greek translation called the Septuagint, dating to the 4th century CE (Codex Sinaiticus). The oldest extant manuscripts of the vocalized Masoretic Text (the basis of modern editions), date to the 9th century CE. With the exception of a few biblical sections in the Prophets, virtually no biblical text is contemporaneous with the events it describes.

Internal evidence in the texts suggests dating the individual books of the 27-book New Testament canon in the 1st century CE. The first book written was probably 1 Thessalonians, written around 50 CE. The final book (in the ordering of the canon), the Book of Revelation, is generally accepted by traditional scholarship to have been written during the reign of Domitian (81–96).

Since the original recording of the scriptures, various scribes have made numerous copies of the written originals, which are no longer extant. Copies have been made of those copies, resulting in several text types. Archaeologists have recovered about 5,500 New Testament manuscripts: either fragments or complete books. The earliest extant fragment of the New Testament is the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, a piece of the Gospel of John dated to the first half of the 2nd century. Dating the composition of the texts relies primarily on internal evidence, including direct references to historical events—textual criticism and philological and linguistic evidence provide more subjective indications.

A Piece of The Bible

A Piece of The Bible

Table I: Chronological overview

This table summarises the chronology of the main tables and serves as a guide to the historical periods mentioned. Much of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament may have been assembled in the 5th century BCE. The New Testament books were composed largely in the second half of the 1st century CE. The Deuterocanonical books fall largely in between.

Period Books
Monarchic
8th–7th centuries BCE
c. 745–586 BCE
  • Late 8th–early 7th: Amos (initial composition of earliest layer, Amos 2:6-9:10); “First Isaiah” (Isaiah 1–39), Hosea, Micah (second half).
  • 7th: Nahum (based on its assumption of the fall of Thebes and call for the destruction of Nineveh), Zephaniah (in the reign of Josiah, c. 649–609 BCE), Habakkuk (possibly shortly before the battle of Carchemish, 605 BCE); first edition of the Deuteronomistic history (books of Joshua/Judges/Samuel/Kings) in the reign of Josiah; Deuteronomy 5–26 in the reign of Josiah.
Exilic
6th century BCE
586–539 BCE
  • Core of Obadiah around the fall of Jerusalem, 586 BCE.
  • Completion of Deuteronomistic history (Joshua/Judges/Samuel/Kings).
  • Deuteronomy expanded with addition of chapters 1–4 and 29–30 to serve as an introduction to the Deuteronomistic history.
  • Jeremiah active in the last decade of the 7th century and first decades of the 6th;
  • Ezekiel active in Babylon 592–571 BCE;
  • “Second Isaiah” (author of Isaiah 40–55) active in Babylon around mid-century.
  • Expansion and reshaping of Hosea, Amos, Micah and Zephaniah.
  • Possible early Psalms collection (psalms “of David”) ending with psalm 89.
Post-exilic
Persian
5th–4th centuries BCE
538–330 BCE
  • Torah (books of Genesis/Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers), with 250 BCE as terminus ad quem (last possible date) for the production of the final text on the basis of the extant manuscript evidence.
  • Deuteronomy revised with expansions to chapters 19–25 and addition of chapter 27 and 31–34 to serve as conclusion to the Torah.
  • “Third Isaiah” (Isaiah 56–66)
  • Later version (the Masoretic Hebrew version) of Jeremiah
  • Haggai (self-dated to the second year of the Persian king Darius 520 BCE),
  • Zechariah (chapters 1–8 contemporary with Haggai, chapters 9–14 from the 5th century)
  • Malachi (5th century BCE, contemporaneous or immediately prior to the missions of Nehemiah and Ezra)
  • Chronicles (between 400–250 BC, probably in the period 350–300 BCE)
  • Origins of Ezra–Nehemiah (may have reached its final form as late as the Ptolemaic period, c. 300–200 BCE).
Post-exilic
Hellenistic
3rd–2nd centuries BCE
330–164 BCE
  • Job, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs (Could have been written in the 4th or even 5th centuries, but seem to reflect contact with Greek culture).
  • Book of Jonah (Persian or Hellenistic, no later than 2nd century BCE).
  • Most of the individual psalms making up the final third of the Book of Psalms.
Maccabean/Hasmonean
2nd–1st centuries BCE
164–4 BCE
  • Daniel (164 BCE, combining newly-written visions, chapters 7–12, with the Persian and Hellenistic tales of chapters 1–6).
  • 1 Maccabees/2 Maccabees/3 Maccabees/possibly 4 Maccabees; Tobit, Judith, Additions to Daniel and Additions to Esther
  • Wisdom of Solomon late 1st century BCE or early to mid 1st century CE.
Roman
1st century CE onward
after 4 BCE
  • 4 Maccabees (after 63 BCE, probably mid-1st century CE).
  • Wisdom of Solomon (late 1st century BCE or early to mid 1st century CE).
  • New Testament (between c. 50–110 CE – see Table IV).

Table II: Hebrew Bible/Protestant Old Testament

Torah Date or range of dates most widely held by scholars
Book of Genesis
Book of Exodus
Book of Leviticus
Book of Numbers
Book of Deuteronomy

The majority of modern biblical scholars believe that the Torah – the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – reached its present form in the post-Exilic period.The five books are drawn from four “sources” (distinct schools of writers rather than individuals): the Priestly source, the Yahwist and the Elohist (these two are often referred to collectively as the “non-Priestly” source), and the Deuteronomist. There is general agreement that the Priestly source is post-exilic, but there is no agreement over the non-Priestly source(s).

  • Genesis is a post-exilic work combining “Priestly” and “non-Priestly” material.
  • Exodus is an anthology drawn from nearly all periods of Israel’s history.
  • Leviticus is entirely Priestly and dates from the exilic/post-exilic period.
  • Numbers is a Priestly redaction (i.e., editing) of a Yahwistic/non-Priestly original.
  • Deuteronomy, now the last book of the Torah, began as the set of religious laws (these make up the bulk of the book), was extended in the early part of the 6th century to serve as the introduction to the Deuteronomistic history, and later still was detached from that history, extended yet again, and edited to conclude the Torah.
Prophets Date or range of dates most widely held by scholars
Former Prophets:Book of Joshua
Book of Judges
Books of Samuel
Books of Kings
This group of books, plus Deuteronomy, is called the “Deuteronomistic history” by scholars. The proposal that they made up a unified work was first advanced by Martin Noth in 1943, and has been widely accepted. Noth proposed that the entire history was the creation of a single individual working in the exilic period (6th century BCE); since then there has been wide recognition that the history appeared in two “editions”, the first in the reign of Judah’s King Josiah (late 7th century), the second during the exile (6th century). Noth’s dating was based on the assumption that the history was completed very soon after its last recorded event, the release of King Jehoiachin in Babylon c. 560 BCE; but some scholars have termed his reasoning inadequate, and the history may have been further extended in the post-exilic period.
Three Major Prophets:Book of Isaiah
Book of Jeremiah
Book of Ezekiel
Scholars recognise three “sections” in the Book of Isaiah: Proto-Isaiah (the original 8th century Isaiah); Deutero-Isaiah (an anonymous prophet living in Babylon during the exile); and Trito-Isaiah (an anonymous author or authors in Jerusalem immediately after the exile).The Book of Jeremiah exists in two versions, Greek (the version used in Orthodox Christian Bibles) and Hebrew (Jewish, Catholic and Protestant Bibles), with the Greek representing the earlier version. The Greek version was probably finalised in the early Persian period and translated into Greek in the 3rd century BCE, and the Hebrew version dates from some point between then and the 2nd century BCE.

The Book of Ezekiel describes itself as the words of the Ezekiel ben-Buzi, a priest living in exile in the city of Babylon, and internal evidence dates the visions to between 593 and 571 BCE. While the book probably reflects much of the historic Ezekiel, it is the product of a long and complex history, with significant additions by a “school” of later followers.

Twelve Minor Prophets In the Hebrew Bible the Twelve Minor Prophets are a single collection edited in the Second Temple period, but the collection is broken up in Christian Bibles. With the exception of Jonah, which is a fictional work, there exists an original core of prophetic tradition behind each book:

  • Book of Hosea: second half of the 8th century BCE
  • Book of Joel: late Persian or Hellenistic
  • Book of Amos: first half of the 8th century
  • Book of Obadiah: around the time of the fall of Jerusalem, 586 BCE
  • Book of Jonah: Persian or Hellenistic, no later than 2nd century BCE
  • Book of Micah: c. 750–700 BCE
  • Book of Nahum: an “oracle concerning Nineveh”, the Assyrian city destroyed in 612 BCE
  • Book of Habakkuk: possibly shortly before the battle of Carchemish, 605 BCE
  • Book of Zephaniah: reign of Josiah
  • Book of Haggai: self-dated to the second year of the Persian king Darius (Darius the Great), 520 BCE
  • Book of Zechariah: first eight chapters contemporary with Haggai; chapters 9–14 from the 5th century
  • Book of Malachi: 5th century BCE, contemporaneous or immediately prior to the missions of Nehemiah and Ezra (which, however, are themselves difficult to date)
Writings Date or range of dates most widely held by scholars
Wisdom collection:
Job, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs
The books of Job, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs share a similar outlook which they themselves call “wisdom”. It is generally agreed that Job comes from between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. Ecclesiastes can be no earlier than about 450 BCE, due to the presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaic idioms, and no later than 180 BCE, when the Jewish writer Ben Sira quotes from it. Proverbs is a “collection of collections” relating to a pattern of life which lasted for more than a millennium, and impossible to date.
Poetic works: Psalms and Lamentations The psalms making up the first two-thirds of the psalter are predominantly pre-exilic and the last third predominantly post-exilic. The collected book of Psalms was possibly given its modern shape and division into five parts in the post-exilic period, although it continued to be revised and expanded well into Hellenistic and even Roman times. It is generally accepted that the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 BCE forms the background to the Book of Lamentations.
Histories: Chronicles and Ezra–Nehemiah Chronicles was composed between 400–250 BCE, probably in the period 350–300 BCE; Ezra–Nehemiah (two books in modern Bibles, but originally one) may have reached its final form as late as the Ptolemaic period, c. 300–200 BCE.
Miscellaneous works: Book of Ruth, Book of Esther, Book of Daniel, Song of Songs The Book of Ruth is commonly dated to the Persian period; Esther to the 3rd or 4th centuries BCE; the Book of Daniel can be dated more precisely to 164 BCE thanks to its veiled prophecy of the death of a Greek king of Syria; and the Song of Songs could have been composed at any time after the 6th century BCE.

Table III: Deuterocanonical Old Testament

See also: Template:Deuterocanonical books composition

Book Date or range of dates most widely held by scholars
Tobit 225–175 BCE, on the basis of apparent use of language and references common to the post-exilic period, but lack of knowledge of the 2nd century BCE persecution of Jews.
Judith 150–100 BCE, although estimates range from the 5th century BCE to the 2nd century CE.
1 Maccabees 100 BCE
2 Maccabees c. 100 BCE
3 Maccabees 100–75 BCE “very probable”
4 Maccabees mid-1st century CE
Wisdom of Solomon late 1st century BCE/early 1st century CE, on the basis of shared outlook with other works dating from this time.
Sirach 196–175 BCE, as the author implies that Simon the high priest had died (196 BCE), but shows no knowledge of the persecution of the Jews that began after 175 BCE.
Additions to Daniel Prayer of Azariah (Song of the Three Holy Children); Bel and the Dragon: late 6th century; Susanna and the Elders: possibly 95–80 BCE
Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah 2nd century BCE, as Baruch uses Sirach (written c. 180 BCE) and is in turn used by the Psalms of Solomon (mid-1st century BCE). The Letter of Jeremiah, ch. 6:1–73 of the Book of Baruch, is sometimes considered a separate book.

Table IV: New Testament

Book Date or range of dates most widely held by scholars Earliest known fragment
Gospel of Matthew c. 80–90 CE. This is based on three strands of evidence: (a) the setting of Matthew reflects the final separation of Church and Synagogue, about 85 CE; (b) it reflects the capture of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE; (c) it uses Mark, usually dated around 70 CE, as a source. 𝔓104 (2nd century)
Gospel of Mark c. 65–73 CE. References to persecution and to war in Judea suggest that its context was either Nero’s persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt. 𝔓45 (250 CE)
Gospel of Luke c. 80–90 CE. Text indicates written a generation after that of the first disciples, uses Gospel of Mark, and appears to address concerns raised by the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. 𝔓4𝔓75 (175–250 CE)
Gospel of John c. 90–110 CE, the upper date based on textual evidence that the gospel was known in the early 2nd century, and the lower on an internal reference to the expulsion of Christians from the synagogues. 𝔓52 (125–175 CE)
Acts c. 80–90 CE, on the grounds that Luke-Acts uses Mark as a source, looks back on the destruction of Jerusalem, and does not show any awareness of the letters of Paul (which began circulating late in the century); if, however, it does show awareness of the letters of Paul and also of the works of Josephus, then a date early in the 2nd century is more likely. 𝔓29𝔓45𝔓48𝔓53𝔓91 (250 CE)
Romans c. 57–58 CE. One of the indisputably genuine Pauline letters, written to the Romans as Paul was about to leave Asia Minor and Greece, and expressing his hopes to continue his work in Spain. 𝔓46 (mid 2nd century to mid 3rd century CE)
1 Corinthians c. 53–57 CE. One of the indisputably genuine Pauline letters. Paul expresses his intention to re-visit the church he founded in the city c. 50–52 CE. 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century CE)
2 Corinthians c. 55–58 CE. One of the indisputably genuine Pauline letters. Written by Paul in Macedonia after having left Ephesus. 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century CE)
Galatians c. 48 or 55 CE. One of the indisputably genuine Pauline letters. The dating of this letter depends on whether it was written to the northern or southern portion of Galatia (with the former representing the later date). 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century CE)
Ephesians c. 80–90 CE. The letter appears to have been written after Paul’s death in Rome, by an author who uses his name. 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century CE)
Philippians c. 54–55 CE. A genuine Pauline letter, it mentions “Caesar’s household,” leading some scholars to believe that it is written from Rome, but some of the news in it could not have come from Rome. It seems rather to date from an earlier imprisonment, perhaps in Ephesus, from which Paul hopes to be released. 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century CE)
Colossians c. 62–70 CE. Some scholars believe Colossians dates from Paul’s imprisonment in Ephesus around 55 CE, but differences in the theology suggest that it comes from much later in his career, around the time of his imprisonment in Rome. 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century CE)
1 Thessalonians c. 51 CE. One of the earliest of the genuine Pauline epistles. 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century CE)
2 Thessalonians c. 51 CE or post-70 CE. If this is a genuine Pauline epistle it follows closely on 1 Thessalonians. But some of the language and theology point to a much later date, from an unknown author using Paul’s name. 𝔓92 (300 CE)
1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Epistle to Titus c. 100 CE. The two Timothy epistles and Titus reflect a much more developed Church organisation than that reflected in the genuine Pauline epistles. Codex Sinaiticus (350 CE)𝔓32 (200 CE)
Philemon c. 54–55 CE. A genuine Pauline epistle, written from an imprisonment (probably in Ephesus) that Paul expects will soon be over. 𝔓87 (3rd century CE)
Hebrews c. 80–90 CE. The elegance of the Greek and the sophistication of the theology do not fit the genuine Pauline epistles, but the mention of Timothy in the conclusion led to its being included with the Pauline group from an early date. 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century CE)
James c. 65–85 CE. Like Hebrews, James is not so much a letter as an exhortation; the style of the Greek makes it unlikely that it was actually written by James the brother of Jesus. 𝔓20𝔓23 (early 3rd century CE)
First Peter c. 75–90 CE 𝔓72 (3rd/4th century CE)
Second Peter c. 110 CE. This is apparently the latest writing in the New Testament, quoting from Jude, assuming a knowledge of the Pauline letters, and including a reference to the gospel story of the Transfiguration of Christ. 𝔓72 (3rd/4th century CE)
Epistles of John c. 90–110 CE. The letters give no clear indication, but scholars tend to place them about a decade after the Gospel of John. 𝔓9, Uncial 0232, Codex Sinaiticus (3rd/4th century CE)
Jude Uncertain, c. 50–110 CE. The references to “brother of James” and to “what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold” suggest that it was written after the apostolic letters were in circulation, but before 2 Peter, which uses it. 𝔓72 (3rd/4th century CE)
Revelation c. 95 CE. The date is suggested by clues in the visions pointing to the reign of the emperor Domitian. 𝔓98 (150–200 CE)
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