Rarely do we have the original manuscripts of ancient books. Surviving copies generally date centuries—and often millennia—after the date of the original composition. Unfortunately, it is often the case that we don’t know—and frequently cannot know—the original date of a composition, especially anonymous compositions with vague historical allusions. There are four main ways scholars use to date ancient texts.
1- Examining explicit references to dates given in the text. Some biblical books, such as Kings and Chronicles, provide numerous explicit dates, usually correlated to royal reigns. Other books in the Bible, however, contain almost no chronological information whatsoever.
2- Examining synchronisms between dates, events or people described in a text with outside information. Two examples will suffice. The Bible describes and invasion of Judah by king Shishak (Sheshonq) of Egypt in the late tenth century BC (1 Kgs. 14:21-31; 2 Chr. 12:1-12). Pharaoh Sheshonq of Egypt built a monumental Bubastis portal at the Karnak temple in Luxor celebrating this campaign in Israel and Canaan, as confirmed by Sheshonq’s victory stele found in Megiddo. (The Bubastis portal city list includes the place name ywdh m’lk, sometimes understood as referring to the kingdom of Judah, see 3.9). The fact that the biblical name and date correspond with Egyptian records indicate that First Kings is relying on some type of authentic contemporary tenth century Israelite documents. The date of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC can be more precisely identified by comparing 2 Kings 25:1, 8 with Babylonian chronicles of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Such synchronisms between the Bible and non-biblical people, events and dates provide key dates in biblical chronology.