A great deal of the OT is in the form of historical narrative and occasionally its dates can be checked against external evidence. The Creation stories are followed by accounts of the ancestors—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph—and then by the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan under Moses and Joshua. There is no means of verifying dates or history until the period of the Judges, when village life depicted in Palestine seems to be that of the Iron Age. The first three kings of the undivided kingdom lived from about 1020 to 922 BCE. Thereafter the two books of Kings provide more reliable information, and the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah are dated in relation to each other, from about 925 to 596 BCE, though precise dating is often impossible. Babylonian records establish the fall of Jerusalem as in March 597 BCE, and its second fall (2 Kgs. 25: 8, 21; Jer. 52: 12, 31–4) was then in 587 or 586 BCE.

After the Exile some of the biblical dates are given in terms of the reigning kings of Persia, Greece, and Syria. Nehemiah and Ezra were in Jerusalem in the middle of the 5th cent. BCE; Alexander the Great conquered Palestine in 332 BCE, and from 320 to 200, when the empire was divided, Palestine was under the Ptolemies, and there was local government by high priests. The Syrian period lasted from 200 BCE until Pompey took Jerusalem for the Romans in 63 BCE. The desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Macc. 1: 54) took place in 167 BCE.

The following is a list of key dates in OT history, though until the establishment of the monarchy they can only be conjectural:

1700 Abraham
1250 The Exodus
1100 The Judges
1020 The monarchy of Saul and David
962 Accession of Solomon
924 The kingdom divided
842 Jehu's revolt
722 The fall of Samaria
597, 586 The fall of Jerusalem and the Exile
520 The rebuilding of the Temple begins
332 Conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great
166–160 Judas Maccabaeus
37–4 Herod the Great