Time of Judges in Israel

The time of the Judges began with Exodus and ended with Samuel who made Saul as king of Israel.

Exod 18:15-16 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.”

It is important for us to understand the timeline from a reference point.

And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which [is] the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD (1Kgs 6:1).

Based on the above verse,  4th year of Solomon’s reign is 480th year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt which is 79 years after king Saul began to rule Israel based on the timeline, Beginning of the Kings to Babylonian Captivity. Hence, subtracting 79 years for up to Saul from 480 years gives 401 years is the total time period of Judges including the wandering in wilderness.

Septuagint records a different value:

1Kgs 6:1 And it came to pass in the four hundred and fortieth year after the departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt, in the fourth year and second month of the reign of king Solomon over Israel, (6:17) that the king commanded that they should take great and costly stones for the foundation of the house, and hewn stones. (6:18) And the men of Solomon, and the men of Chiram hewed the stones, and laid them for a foundation. (6:1) In the fourth year he laid the foundation of the house of the Lord, in the month Ziu, even in the second month. (6:38) In the eleventh year, in the month Baal, this is the eighth month, the house was completed according to all its plan, and according to all its arrangement.

Based on the above verse,  4th year of Solomon’s reign is 440th year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt which is 79th year after king Saul began to rule Israel based on the timeline, Beginning of the Kings to Babylonian Captivity. Hence, subtracting 79 years for up to Saul from 440 years gives 361 years is the total time period of Judges including the wandering in wilderness.

However, it is impossible to relate or create a timeline based on the book of Judges because of the following reasons.

Judges co-existed

Deut 16:18 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. 

Josh 23:2 And Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them: “I am old, advanced in age.

There must be atleast one Judge for each gate of the tribe according to the law. The book of Judges does not mention all but mention only the Judges who delivered Israel. There was only one judge for the last time in Israel who was Moses and Joshua never judged people as per the Bible. Hence, according to the law, there is no one chief judge but several judges at each gate of the each tribe.

Overlaps

Judg 4:3-4 And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he had harshly oppressed the children of Israel. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time.

Several reference to years in the book of Judges are when land was at rest, oppressed and how long a Judge ruled. In the above verse, when the children of Israel was oppressed for 20 years by Jabin, Deborah was judging Israel at that time. Like Deborah, none of the Judges who delivered Israel started their role as a Judge after delivering but sometime in-between. Sometimes. several judges came and went while the land was experiencing rest.

Ambiguity

Judg 2:10 When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.

There is no clue in the book of Judges for long was this ‘another generation’. The closest we can guess based on known data is a very rough approximation.

Methods

With all these issues of co-existing Judges, overlaps and ambiguity it is impossible to draw a timeline for the book of Judges easily. However, based on the verse 1 Kgs 6:1, we can be confident that the time of Judges after Exodus until king Saul, it is 399 years (or 359 years based on LXX) but mapping it to book of Judges is a near impossible task. Hence, I am providing 2 timelines. The first method is based on 1 Kings 6:1 which is the most accurate in my opinion and the other is Paul’s method based on Acts 13:20 where is less accurate. We will explore both methods in this timeline.

1. Method based on 1 Kings 6:1

This is a detailed timeline study from Exodus to king Saul, otherwise known as the period of Judges. The first column is the years beginning from Exodus, the year the children of Israel came out of Egypt. The second column is the 300 year reference based on the verse Judg 11:26, which gives a reference point for how long the people dwelt after inheriting the land. The third column shows the number of years the land was oppressed or had rest. This is the column primarily used to calculate years due to the fact the mentioned list of judges do have ambiguous gap years between themselves. The fourth column is how long the rule of a judge is. The fifth column is the scripture reference and the sixth is the notes.

Note: The blue text are from Septuagint (LXX).

Years 300 yr Ref Rest and Oppre-ssion Rule of Judge Scripture Reference Notes
0 Josh 5:6 For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD–to whom the LORD swore that He would not show them the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” People of Israel began wandered in the winderness for 40 years
40 0 Deut 34:7 Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished.

Num 33:39 Aaron was one hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.
Moses and Aaron died.

Children of Israel inherited the land on the same year.

45 5 Josh 14:10 “And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old.

Josh 15:16-17; Judg 1:12-13 And Caleb said, “He who attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give Achsah my daughter as wife.” So Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it; and he gave him Achsah his daughter as wife.
Hebron became an inheritance to Caleb the son of Jephunneh when he was 85 yrs old. It was 45 years since God told him when Israelite people came out.  Hence, Caleb was 85-45 = 40 years old when he came out of Egypt. This makes Joshua also having similar age (41 years)

Because Othniel was born in the wilderness, he must be less than 45 years.

69 29 Exod 33:11 So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.

Judg 2:7-8 So the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD which He had done for Israel. Now Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died when he was one hundred and ten years old.
Joshua died at 110 years.

Based on backtracking Judg 11:26 to tally 300 years, Joshua must have lived 29 years after inheriting the land. If Joshua lived 110 years in total, which includes 40 years of wandering and 29 years in the promised land, then Joshua was 41 years when he came out of Egypt.

69 29 Judg 2:10 When all that generation (Joshua’s generation) had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.

Judg 3:1,6 Now these are the nations which the LORD left, that He might test Israel by them, that is, all who had not known any of the wars in Canaan. … And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons; and they served their gods.

Based on backtracking Judg 11:26 to tally 300 years, Joshua must have lived 29 years after inheriting the land.
69 29 8 Judg 3:8-9 Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the children of Israel served Cushan-Rishathaim eight years. When the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the children of Israel, who delivered them: Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia oppressed Israel for 8 years
77 37 40 Judg 3:11 So the land had rest for forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. Land rested for 40 years
117 77 18 Judg 3:12-14 And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD strengthened Eglon king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD. Then he gathered to himself the people of Ammon and Amalek, went and defeated Israel, and took possession of the City of Palms. So the children of Israel served Eglon king of Moab eighteen years. Eglon king of Moab oppressed the people of Israel for 18 years.
135 95 80 Judg 3:30-4:1 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.  After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed six hundred men of the Philistines with an ox goad; and he also delivered Israel. When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. Land had rest for 80 years under Ehud and Shamgar
215 175 20 Judg 4:2-4 So the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim. And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he had harshly oppressed the children of Israel. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. Jabin king of Canaan oppressed Israel for 20 years and Deborah was judging during the oppression
235 195 40 So let all your enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when it goes forth in its might. And the land had rest forty years. (Judg 5:31) Land had rest for 40 years
275 235 7 And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. (Judg 6:1) Median Oppression for 7 years
282 242 40 Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon. (Judg 8:28). The country was quiet for 40 years in the days of Gideon. This also includes subsequent judges until the country was oppressed.
322 282 3 When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel, (Judg 9:22) Abimelech ruled Israel for 3 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
322 282 23 Judg 10:2 He (Tola) judged Israel twenty-three years; and he died and was buried in Shamir. Tola judged Israel for 23 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
322 282 22 Judg 10:3 After him arose Jair, a Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty-two years. Jair judged Israel for 22 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
322 282 18 Judg 10:8-9 And that year they (Philistines and the people of Ammon) harassed and oppressed the children of Israel: eighteen years, all the children of Israel that were on the other side Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead.  Moreover the people of Ammon crossed over the Jordan to fight against Judah also, against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed.  Philistines and the people of Ammon oppressed Israel for 18 years but not the tribes on the other side of Jordan e.g, Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim. 
340 300 Num 20:29 Now when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days. … 

Num 21:25 So Israel took all these cities, and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon and in all its villages. … 

Judg 11:26 While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are along by the borders of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did you not recover them within that time?
It was sometime during the end of the oppression, Israel dwelt in Heshbon for a total of 300 years.  Because, we now know it is 300 years, we can backtrack and provide a more accurate year for any approximations made earlier.
340 6 Judg 12:7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried among the cities of Gilead. Jephthah judged Israel for 6 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
340 7 Judg 12:8-9 After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. He had thirty sons. And he gave away thirty daughters in marriage, and brought in thirty daughters from elsewhere for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. Ibzan judged Israel for 7 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
340 10 Judg 12:11 After him, Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel. He judged Israel ten years. Elon judged Israel for 10 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
340 8 Judg 12:13-14 After him, Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy young donkeys. He judged Israel eight years. Abdon judged Israel for 8 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
340 Judg 13:1 Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. Philistines begins oppressing for 40 years.
340 20 Judg 16:31 And his brothers and all his father’s household came down and took him, and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He (Samson) had judged Israel twenty years. Samson judged Israel for 20 years during the Philistine oppression.
360

(340)

40

(20)

1Sam 4:18 And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck broke, and he died: for (Eli) he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.


1Sam 4:18 And it came to pass, when he mentioned the ark of God, that he fell from the seat backward near the gate, and his back was broken, and he died, for he was an old man and heavy: and he judged Israel twenty years.
Eli judged Israel for 40 years (20 years as per LXX)
401

(361)

And when Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said unto him, Behold the man whom I spoke to you of! this same shall reign over my people. (1Sam 9:17) King Saul begins to rule Israel when Samuel was old.

In this method, we know how long the interval is. i.e., from Exodus to king Saul, it is 401 years (or 361 using LXX) based on the verse 1 Kings 6:1.

2. Method based on Acts 13:20

Acts 13:19-21 And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment. After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.

Paul uses an extremely primitive method by simply adding all the years which disagrees with 1 Kings 6:1. Based on the issues we discussed earlier Paul’s method where he used wasn’t about researching the time period of Judges but preaching about Jesus Christ the Messiah from Scriptures. 

1Sam 13:1 Saul was [thirty] years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel [forty-]two years.

Paul is also well known for approximations. The thirty- and forty- are missing in the manuscripts but contains only one and two. Paul however, writes forty years. Here, the manuscript has the last digit ‘2’ and Paul approximates it to 40. Combining both, we can comfortably say, Saul reigned for 42 years. But the point here is, Paul is known for approximations. Hence, he simply adds and provides an approximate value of 450 years. Including the wandering in wilderness for 40 years, the value using this method is 490 years.

Note: The blue text are from Septuagint (LXX). 

Years Rest and Oppression / Rule of Judge Scripture Reference Notes
0 8 Judg 3:8-9 Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hand of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the children of Israel served Cushan-Rishathaim eight years. When the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the children of Israel, who delivered them: Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia oppressed Israel for 8 years
8 40 Judg 3:11 So the land had rest for forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. Land rested for 40 years
48 18 Judg 3:12-14 And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD strengthened Eglon king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the LORD. Then he gathered to himself the people of Ammon and Amalek, went and defeated Israel, and took possession of the City of Palms. So the children of Israel served Eglon king of Moab eighteen years. Eglon king of Moab oppressed the people of Israel for 18 years.
66 80 Judg 3:30-4:1 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.  After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed six hundred men of the Philistines with an ox goad; and he also delivered Israel. When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. Land had rest for 80 years under Ehud and Shamgar
146 20 Judg 4:2-4 So the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim. And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he had harshly oppressed the children of Israel. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. Jabin king of Canaan oppressed Israel for 20 years and Deborah was judging during the oppression
166 40 So let all your enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when it goes forth in its might. And the land had rest forty years. (Judg 5:31) Land had rest for 40 years
206 7 And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. (Judg 6:1) Median Oppression for 7 years
213 40 Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon. (Judg 8:28). The country was quiet for 40 years in the days of Gideon. This also includes subsequent judges until the country was oppressed.
253 3 When Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel, (Judg 9:22) Abimelech ruled Israel for 3 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
256 23 Judg 10:2 He (Tola) judged Israel twenty-three years; and he died and was buried in Shamir. Tola judged Israel for 23 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
279 22 Judg 10:3 After him arose Jair, a Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty-two years. Jair judged Israel for 22 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
301 18 Judg 10:8-9 And that year they (Philistines and the people of Ammon) harassed and oppressed the children of Israel: eighteen years, all the children of Israel that were on the other side Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead.  Moreover the people of Ammon crossed over the Jordan to fight against Judah also, against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed.  Philistines and the people of Ammon oppressed Israel for 18 years but not the tribes on the other side of Jordan e.g, Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim. 
319 6 Judg 12:7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried among the cities of Gilead. Jephthah judged Israel for 6 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
325 7 Judg 12:8-9 After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. He had thirty sons. And he gave away thirty daughters in marriage, and brought in thirty daughters from elsewhere for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. Ibzan judged Israel for 7 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
332 10 Judg 12:11 After him, Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel. He judged Israel ten years. Elon judged Israel for 10 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
342 8 Judg 12:13-14 After him, Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy young donkeys. He judged Israel eight years. Abdon judged Israel for 8 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
350 40 Judg 13:1 Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. Philistines oppressed for 40 years.
390 20 Judg 16:31 And his brothers and all his father’s household came down and took him, and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He (Samson) had judged Israel twenty years. Samson judged Israel for 20 years. Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years of oppression from Philistines. Philistines oppression ended at his death.
410 40

(20)

1Sam 4:18 And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck broke, and he died: for (Eli) he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.

1Sam 4:18 And it came to pass, when he mentioned the ark of God, that he fell from the seat backward near the gate, and his back was broken, and he died, for he was an old man and heavy: and he judged Israel twenty years.
Eli judged Israel for 40 years (20 years as per LXX). Not counted in years due to overlap/parallel and it is part of the years land was at oppression or rest.
450

(430)

And when Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said unto him, Behold the man whom I spoke to you of! this same shall reign over my people. (1Sam 9:17) King Saul begins to rule Israel when Samuel was old.

In this method, we simply the number of years provided for each event from the book of Judges based on the verse Acts 13:20. Hence, in this method, from the year the children of Israel came of Israel until Saul the king, it is (450+40) 490 years using Masoretic text which differs by 91 years or (430+40) 470 years using Septuagint which differs by 70 years.

Conclusion

There are issues which makes it near impossible to draw an accurate timeline for the book of Judges: 
  • Co-existing Judges
  • Overlaps
  • Ambiguity 
We discussed two methods within Scripture that can be used to find the timeline but 1 Kings 6:1 is most accurate.