Author: Tony Piper
In the year 1968 Carl Olof Jonsson was a ‘pioneer’ Jehovah’s Witness, a full-time evangelist for the Watchtower Society (WBTS/The Society). During a Bible study that he was conductinghewas challenged to prove the date that the Society had chosen for the desolation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians – 607 BCE. It was pointed out to him that all historical evidence marks that event as having occurred twenty years later, in 587 BCE. Like every other Witness, Jonsson was totally convinced that the WBTS’s dating of the event was correct and that all other datings were, therefore, wrong. However, he promised to investigate the matter.
What, it may be asked, is the significance of this? Does it really matter whether the Society is right or wrong in its claim that 607 BCE was indeed the date of the fall of Jerusalem under the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar?
The date 607 BCE is absolutely crucial to the WBTS for the following reasons. The Society claims that, as the Jewish exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem in 537 BCE, under Cyrus; and as Jeremiah had prophesied that Jerusalem would be desolated for seventy years, those seventy years must have begun in 607 BCE. The Society further claims that the destruction of Jerusalem began the period called the Times of the Gentiles, spoken of by Jesus in Luke 21:24 – ‘And Jerusalem will be conquered and trampled down by the Gentiles until the age of the Gentiles comes to an end’ (NLT). This period, the Times of the Gentiles, is said to last 2,520 years, and would therefore end 2,520 years after 607 BCE – ie. 1914 CE.
The Society’s book Reasoning from the Scriptures explains this in more detail. The Society ‘finds’ the 2,520 years in the Bible. Daniel 4:16 says that Nebuchadnezzar would have the mind of an animal for ‘seven times’. These ‘seven times’ are then subjected to the ‘day counted as a year’ rule, said to be found in Ezek 4:6 and Num 14:34. How many days are involved? Revelation 11:2 and 3 clearly state that 42 months (three and one half years) in that prophecy are counted as 1,260 days. Seven years would be twice that, or 2,520 days. Applying the ‘day for a year’ rule would result in 2,520 years (Reasoning p. 96). Thus: 607 BCE + 2,520 years = 1914 CE.
1914 CE is said, by the Society, to have been the year in which Jesus Christ began ruling in the heavenly kingdom and there can now be very little time before the battle of Armageddon breaks out, the war to end all wars at which only those associated with the WBTS will survive. This is why Jehovah’s Witnesses are out every day of the year knocking at doors, distributing their literature.
All this sounds very reasonable and certainly seems to be founded in Scripture. However, when closely examined it is found to be nothing but false speculation and error throughout. How so?
Firstly, the Bible nowhere explicitly states:
that Jesus, in speaking of the Gentile Times, associated them with the ‘seven times’ of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness
that these ‘seven times’ were to be counted as seven years
that these years were prophetic years of 360 days each equalling a total of 2,520 days
that these years would not only apply to Nebuchadnezzar’s madness but to a greater fulfillment
that in this greater fulfillment days should be counted as years
that this 2,520-year period began when Nebuchadnezzar desolated Jerusalem.
These six assumptions are nothing but a chain of speculative guesses and have no biblical foundation whatsoever to link them to form a succession of prophetic occurrences.
Secondly, as will be demonstrated below, there is evidence which proves that, not only is the above chain of guesses entirely erroneous but that even the date of 607 BCE is without corroboration either biblically or historically.
Jonsson did indeed investigate the matter and found that there was not one piece of evidence to back up the Society’s date of 607 BCE for the destruction of Jerusalem. Between 1968 and 1977 he prepared a treatise on the whole issue and forwarded it to the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. As the Society today still clings to 607 BCE it is obvious that Jonsson’s material had no effect upon the leaders of the Society and they disfellowshiped him in 1982. Since that date Jonsson has been researching and refining his findings and they are available in his book The Gentile Times Reconsidered, now in its fourth edition (2004). The book is a virtual encyclopedia of information, all of which is pertinent to the issue at stake here. It forms the basis for the information presented in this article. It makes challenging but engrossing reading, and this writer found his copy on Amazon.co.uk for less than ten pounds including postage and packing. For anyone wanting to really understand how important the year 607 BCE is to Watchtower doctrine, and how their whole raison d’etre falls to the wayside once its reliance on that date is shown to be false, this book is essential reading.
THE WATCHTOWER SOCIETY – CHRONOLOGY 607 BCE – 1914 CE
In the Society’s publication All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial (1990; p. 285, article entitled ‘Measuring Events in the Stream of Time’) it states that the restoration of Jehovah’s worship began in the autumn of 537 BCE. It began when the Jews arrived back in Jerusalem (Ezra 3:1) following Cyrus’ decree that they might return there after his overthrow of the Babylonian dynasty in 539 BCE.
The article then states that this restoration of worship in 537 BCE marked the end of a prophetic period. What period is this referring to?
It was the “seventy years” during which the Promised Land “must become a devastated place” and concerning which Jehovah also said, “In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years at Babylon I shall turn my attention to you people, and I will establish toward you my good word in bringing you back to this place” (Jer 25:11, 12; 29:10).
The prophet Daniel, who is said to have been aware of the prophecy, is then said to have acted in harmony with it as the seventy years drew to a close (Dan 9:1-3).
The article then states that the seventy years that ended in the autumn of the year 537 BCE must have begun then in the autumn of 607 BCE. It then attempts to prove this by stating that
The facts bear this out. Jeremiah chapter 52 describes the momentous events of the siege of Jerusalem, the Babylonian breakthrough, and the capture of King Zedekiah in 607 BCE. Then, as verse 12 states, “in the fifth month, on the tenth day”, that is, the tenth day of Ab (corresponding to parts of July and August), the Babylonians burnt the temple and the city.
Based on this assertion the article then claims that the seventy years began on or about 1 October, 607 BCE. From that date
was the land in the complete sense “lying desolate…to fulfill seventy years” – 2 Kings 25:22-26; 2 Chron 36:20,21.
In other words the article is saying that the fall of Jerusalem, under the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, is dated to the year 607 BCE. Seventy years later, in accordance with prophecy, the Jews were released from captivity (537 BCE) by the Persian ruler Cyrus and returned to restore the worship of Jehovah in Jerusalem.
It must be stated now that the year 607 BCE given for the overthrow of Jerusalem has no backing whatsoever from the scholarly community. It exists only in the publications of the Watchtower Society, and is critical to their chronological speculations relating to the year 1914 CE. All historians are agreed that the year of Jerusalem’s destruction should be 587 BCE. This would then make the Society’s calculations regarding 1914 (607 BCE + 2520 years = 1914 CE) incorrect and 1914 would cease to have any theological significance in the ‘stream of time’.
It may also be stated straightaway that the dates 539 BCE for the fall of Babylon, and 537 BCE for the commencement of the return to Jerusalem are not necessarily at issue here. There are, then, two basic issues involved. If the restoration of worship in Jerusalem began in 537 BCE after seventy actual years of exile then the year 607 BCE may be correct for the destruction of Jerusalem. The Watchtower Society has got it right and everybody else, including the whole of the scholarly community specializing in ancient Neo-Babylonian historical documentation, encompassing people of impeccable credentials and no especial religious bias, has got it wrong. But if the fall of Jerusalem did not occur in 607 BCE but in 587 BCE, then the Watchtower Society is wrong to cling to 607 BCE in order to preserve its doctrinal beliefs on 1914. However, if this is the correct interpretation then how do we account for the seventy years prophecy for Jewish exile in Babylon, as 587 BCE – 537 BCE is only 50 years.
In attempting to resolve this seemingly unresolvable issue there are two initial steps to take. The first is to examine Jeremiah’s prophecies referred to in the Society’s article above, Jeremiah 25:11, 12 and Jeremiah 29:10, alongside any other relevant biblical matter. The second is to investigate the historical data on which historians arrive at the date 587/586 BCE for the fall of Jerusalem, and in doing so to ascertain whether 607 BCE could possibly be an alternative, feasible or even correct date, or should be accounted totally unacceptable and therefore disregarded.
Before beginning our investigation it must be stated that it is not possible, when attempting to ascertain when or whether biblical prophecy actually came to pass, to do this without reference to history. The events in the Old Testament are not documented in such a way as to specifically determine the date of their occurrence. The time span between, for instance, the fall of Jerusalem and the birth of Jesus is not ascertainable without due reference to historical events because the Bible gives no such information. Without the help of verifiable, historical information we shall never know when the fall of Jerusalem took place. On this basis the Society is, therefore, wrong to state, as is quoted above, that Jeremiah chapter 52 describes the events that took place in 607 BCE. That the events took place is indisputable, but the Bible gives no indication of the date of that event.
A: The Biblical Question – What Are We to Make of Jeremiah’s Seventy Years?
The Watchtower Society asserts that Bible prophecy relating to these seventy years refers to and only refers to the period of time between the desolation of Judah, accompanying the destruction of Jerusalem, (alleged to be 607 BCE), and the return of the exiles to their homeland as a result of Cyrus’ decree (537 BCE).
It clearly specifies that the 70 years would be years of devastation of the land of Judah [Insight on the Scriptures Vol I p. 463, italics in original].
With this absolute statement the Watchtower Society clearly nails its colours to the mast. If they are correct in this assertion then everyone else is wrong. If they are wrong then all their associated theology regarding 1914 and its importance for the Kingdom of God is erroneous and the Society will have to admit that it has been totally and entirely mistaken for the best part of 135 years.
“And I will destroy out of them the sound of exultation and the sound of rejoicing, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the hand mill and the light of the lamp. And all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it must occur that when seventy years have been fulfilled I shall call to account against the king of Babylon and against that nation,” is the utterance of Jehovah, “their error, even against the land of the Chaldeans, and I will make it desolate wastes to time indefinite”. (New World Translation)
This was the original prediction dated the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 25:1). Jehoiakim ruled for eleven years and was succeeded by Jehoiachin (ruled three months), and then Zedekiah in whose eleventh year Jerusalem was desolated. It was therefore given eighteen years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Three things are predicted in this prophecy:
(i) Judah would become a “devastated place”
(ii) “These nations” would “serve the king of Babylon seventy years”
(iii) When the seventy years had been fulfilled God would call Babylon to account
So what do we learn here about the seventy years?
We learn that “these nations”, which includes Judah, will serve Babylon for seventy years (see verse 9), after which there would be a change of circumstances regarding Babylonian supremacy. We do not learn that Judah (or Jerusalem) would be devastated for seventy years. The seventy years is a period of servitude for Judah and surrounding nations. Devastation would only come as a result of a nation’s refusal to serve Babylon (Jer 27:7, 8). If a nation served Nebuchadnezzar it would be allowed to remain in its own land (Jer 27:11). If it did not it would be removed and its land desolated. That Judah refused time and again to serve Babylon and ultimately paid the price for this at a later date is very evident from Jeremiah. His words at Jeremiah 27:17 prove that, had Judah continued to serve Babylon, it would have remained in the land:
Do not listen to them [false prophets]. Serve the king of Babylon and keep on living. Why should this city become a devastated place?
Judah did not serve Babylon and then later paid the price.
At what date did the servitude of the nations begin? In 605 BCE Babylon decisively overthrew the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish (Jer 46:2). The defeat of Egypt opened the way for Babylon to rule over that whole area, thus bringing Judah and all the nations into subjection. But does this fulfill Jeremiah’s words at 25:10-12 that the nations, including Judah, would serve Babylon for seventy years? It does not, because 605-537 BCE is only 68 years. What, then, is the correct interpretation of the seventy year period?
The answer lies firstly in the fact that Babylon assumed control over Assyria in the year 609 BCE. Secondly, the period of servitude did not end in 537 BCE, when the Jews are said to have begun to return to Jerusalem because the prophecy did not refer to Judah alone, but to “the nations”. Therefore the period of servitude for the nations ended when Babylon was called to account by Jehovah. (Jer 25:12). That date was 539 BCE when Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians.
Thus the period of servitude for Judah and the nations predicted by Jeremiah at 25:10-12 was the seventy years stretching from 609-539 BCE. The year 607 BCE is not significant in these calculations at all. The dates 609 BCE for the fall of Assyria, and 539 BCE for the fall of Babylon are not open to question.
For this is what Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, has said: “Let not YOUR prophets who are in among YOU and YOUR practitioners of divination deceive YOU, and do not YOU listen to their dreams that they are dreaming. For it is in falsehood that they are prophesying to YOU in my name. I have not sent them,” is the utterance of Jehovah. For this is what Jehovah has said, “In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years at Babylon I shall turn my attention to YOU people, and I will establish toward YOU my good word in bringing YOU back to this place.” (New World Translation)
This is part of a letter written to the exiles in Babylon after Jehoiachin and others had been deported there from Jerusalem (Jer 29:1-2) while Zedekiah was still on the throne there (v. 3). It clearly presupposes that the seventy years are in progress otherwise why mention them? Jeremiah was not urging the exiles to wait until the seventy years began, but to wait while they were in completion. Therefore, from the fact that this letter was sent while Zedekiah was still ruling in Jerusalem (ie. before its fall) we may reason that Jeremiah reckoned that the beginning of the seventy years was dated before the fall of Jerusalem. This ties in with what has been observed above, under Jeremiah 25:8-10.
This text makes it clear that the seventy years can be applied neither to the period of the desolation of Jerusalem nor to the period of the Jewish exile. Why is this?
The wording of verse 10 ‘”In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years at Babylon…”‘ the New World Translation’s rendering seems to depict the seventy years as a period of captivity for Judah at Babylon. The Hebrew preposition le may be translated ‘at’ in the sense of location, but its general meaning is ‘for, to, in regard to, with reference to’, which is how many modern translations render it. When the word ‘for’ is legitimately substituted in the phrase it reads ‘ “In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years for Babylon”‘. In other words it means that when Babylon has had seventy years of supremacy and servitude from the nations, in agreement with Jeremiah 25:11, Jehovah would turn his attention towards his people (Jer 29:12).
At this point it is worth mentioning that the King James Version (1611) translates le as ‘at’, in agreement with the New World Translation. However, as is well known, many ancient manuscripts of the Bible have been found since 1611 upon which better and more accurate translations may be made. The New World Translation revision of 1984 is said to have benefited from updating in harmony with the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia of 1977. Also consulted were the Dead Sea Scrolls and numerous early translations into other languages [Reasoning pp. 276-277]. One wonders why the Watchtower Society persists in using the rather obsolete and little used ‘at Babylon’ rather than the more modern and correct ‘for Babylon’. The reason simply is that ‘at Babylon’ indicates that, according to the Society, the Jews were at Babylon for seventy years, ie, 607-537 BCE. In reality it means that Judah and the nations served the Babylonians for seventy years and when those seventy years ‘for Babylonian supremacy’ were over Jehovah punished Babylon and began the rehabilitation of his people back to Jerusalem. Only this latter interpretation is faithful to Jeremiah’s words ‘And these nations will have to ser
ve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it must occur that when seventy years have been fulfilled I shall call to account against the king of Babylon… (Jer 25:11-12).
It is interesting to note that the Danish NWT of 1985 reads ‘for Babylon’ at this point, and the new revised Swedish NWT of 2003 now reads ‘for Babylon’ instead of the earlier ‘in Babylon’.
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus of the seed of the Medes, who had been made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans; in the first year of his reigning I myself, Daniel, discerned by the books the number of the years concerning which the word of Jehovah had occurred to Jeremiah the prophet, for fulfilling the devastations of Jerusalem, [namely,] seventy years. (New World Translation, square brackets in original).
It is clear from Daniel 5:13-30 that Daniel would have been in no doubt, after his prophecy concerning Belshazzar and that on that same night Belshazzar was killed, that Babylon’s time had ended. This is confirmed by Daniel 5:31, and occurred in October 539 BCE. But did Daniel connect this monumental event with the seventy years of Jeremiah, and in what way?
It is logical to assume, as Daniel does not refer to the seventy years in any of his subsequent prayers, that he understood what had happened and how that impacted upon Jeremiah’s words. It is not known whether he had access to all Jeremiah’s writings but it is possible that he knew something of them. Jeremiah 25:12 says that Jehovah would call Babylon to account after seventy years. Daniel certainly would have known, from the contents of the letter of Jeremiah 29, about the ‘seventy years for Babylon’ and that Jehovah would then turn his attention to his people to bring them back to Jerusalem. From both of these at least, Daniel would certainly have seen the vital importance of the fall of Babylon to the Medes in 539 BCE and its meaning for the Jewish people. This is, then, reflected in his prayers.
Daniel did exactly what Jeremiah called for in Jeremiah 29:12-14. He called to Jehovah and prayed to him (Daniel 9:3), and confessed the nation’s sins (Daniel 9:4). Daniel was in no doubt that the seventy years had ended in 539 BCE (ie. they had therefore begun in 609 BCE).
But what does the phrase ‘for fulfilling the devastations of Jerusalem, [namely], seventy years’ (Daniel 9:2) mean? We have said that the seventy years meant servitude to Babylon (609-539 BCE), and not an actual seventy years of desolation for the city of Jerusalem (607-537 BCE) as the Watchtower Society teaches.
It is clear, from this verse, that Daniel connected the end of Babylon’s seventy years of sovereignty with the end of Jerusalem’s desolation. But does the text actually say that Jerusalem would be devastated for seventy years? What the text says is that:
Daniel discerned, from Jeremiah’s writings, that Babylon would be called to account after seventy years sovereignty, and that at the end of that amount of time Jerusalem’s shame would be reversed. What amount of time – “[namely], seventy years”.
Daniel does not equate the seventy years with the period of Jerusalem’s devastation. It is only the expiration of that period, not the period as a whole that he relates to the fulfilling of the desolations of Jerusalem. Jeremiah nowhere stated that Jerusalem would be desolate for seventy years and neither does Daniel. He realises the incredible implications for his people now that Babylon’s seventy years are at an end and goes before Jehovah in prayer to pave the way for the imminent return to Jerusalem under Cyrus.
Summary of part A
From a close examination of the texts dealing with the seventy years (Jer 25:10-12; Jer 29:8-10; Daniel 9:1-2) certain facts have been established.
The seventy years refers to many nations, not to Judah alone
The seventy years refers to a period of servitude for these nations
The seventy years refer to a period of Babylonian supremacy
The seventy years were accomplished when the Babylonians were punished in 539 BCE
The seventy years of servitude began before the destruction of Jerusalem.
The application given by the Watchtower Society that the seventy years refer only to Judah and the desolation of Jerusalem are in total and complete conflict with Scripture, and on this basis cannot be upheld. The statement that ‘Bible prophecy does not allow for the application of the 70-year period to any time other than that between the desolation of Judah, accompanying Jerusalem’s destruction, and the return of the Jewish exiles to their homeland as a result of Cyrus’ decree (ie. 607-537 BCE) [Insight on the Scriptures Vol I p. 463] is now shown to be false. The teaching that the Gentile times began in 607 BCE and ended 2,520 years later in 1914 CE has no basis in scriptural fact. It must be rejected.
There are other lines of scriptural argument, which the Society brings in order to prove its case for 607 BCE as the date of the commencement of the seventy years, eg. the Sabbath of rests for the land (2 Chron 36:20-23) but these have not been dealt with on the premise that one scripture cannot contradict another.
‘B’ The Historical Evidence
In dealing with events in the long past it is not always possible to be more specific than to date an event as happening c. 2500 BCE. This means that the event occurred somewhere around 2,500 years before the birth of Christ. To be more specific would be unreliable and even misleading.
As has been observed, above, the events under discussion, the fall of the Assyrian Empire, the battle of Carchemish, the fall of Jerusalem, the fall of Babylon from power and the return of the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem cannot be dated without reference to historical data. The Bible does not give specific dates along the ‘stream of time’ by which these events may be dated. There are, however, extremely reliable evidences unearthed during archaeological digs that enable us to gain an insight into exactly what was happening during this, the Neo-Babylonian Era. None of this information can be anything but extremely fascinating to the serious Bible student. By using this material the claim that Nebuchadnezzar’s desolation of Jerusalem took place in 607 BCE can be tested and found to be either true or false.
As noted above, the Watchtower Society nailed its colours firmly to the mast in saying that the seventy years of Jeremiah could only be applied to the time between the desolation of Jerusalem (alleged to be 607 BCE) and the return of the exiles to Jerusalem (537 BCE). It has been demonstrated that this claim is based on incorrect readings of key texts. The Society again firmly nails its colours to the mast in reference to the use of historical information in attempting to establish the dating of ancient events.
We are willing to be guided primarily by God’s Word rather than by a chronology that is based principally on secular evidence or that disagrees with Scripture (Let Your Kingdom Come p. 189).
Such statements are obviously intended to create the impression that those who reject the date 607 BCE for the desolation of Jerusalem have no real faith in the Bible. Those, like the Watchtower Society, who therefore place their faith in the Bible, must be prepared to hold to a date that is said to originate in the Bible but which contradicts all other evidences whatsoever. Having said that the Society is fully prepared to use the date 539 BCE for the fall of Babylon (All Scripture is Inspired of God and Beneficial p. 296), even though this date is nowhere found in the Bible. It is only identifiable and verifiable by referring to historical documentation.
How is this done? By synchronising the chronology of the Bible alongside the chronology of another country, one that can be fixed to our Christian era (ie. dated CE). This involves the use of material that is contemporary with the events mentioned in it. In other words absolute chronological dating uses historical artefacts that were written at the time of the events they describe and cannot, therefore, be dismissed as unscriptural or unreliable. Only a very determined person would dare to doubt the reliability of contemporary evidence. Dating historical events in this way also makes use of contemporary astronomical information, a fact that the Watchtower Society makes use of.
Thus, this tablet establishes the seventh year of Cambyses II as beginning in the spring of 523 BCE. This is an astronomically confirmed date. (Insight on the Scriptures Vol I p. 453).
It is worth noting, in passing, that the Society is very happy to use one historically verifiable date, that of 539 BCE for the fall of Babylon, in its chronology, but does not use another historically verifiable date, that of 587 BCE for the fall of Jerusalem. Why is this? It is because the whole of the Society’s theology about the return of Christ and the beginning and the end of the Gentile Times and are bound up in its belief that the seventy years began in 607 BCE and that 2,520 years on from there bring us to 1914 CE.
So how can this all information help us to determine if 607 BCE is the correct date for the fall of Jerusalem, as the Society claims? Do historical artefacts help to prove that date or do they force us to consider another time scale for some of the events listed in the second paragraph above? We begin with a consideration of the lengths of the Babylonian kings who ruled during this decisive period for the people of God.
The Length of Reigns of the Neo-Babylonian Kings
The Watchtower Society maintains that the Jewish remnant returned to Jerusalem in 537 BCE. They further maintain that the seventy years of Jeremiah were seventy years of complete desolation for Jerusalem thus proving that the desolation began in 607 BCE.
The Bible tells us that the fall of Jerusalem took place in the eighteenth regnal year of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:8; Jer 52:12, 29), which means that Nebuchadnezzar, according to Watchtower theology, must have begun his rule somewhere around 625 BCE.** The article ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ (Insight on the Scriptures Vol II p. 480) has Nebuchadnezzar ruling for 43 years, from 624-582 BCE. Are these dates correct? Several ancient sources are available for consultation.
**In dating the years for which a king ruled it must be remembered that according to the Assyrian and Babylonian system of reckoning the year in which a king came to power was reckoned as his ‘accession year’, while his first year always started on Nisan 1, the first day of the next year. Judah, at this time, did not apply the ‘accession-year system’, but counted the accession year as the first year.
Berossus, a third century BCE Babylonian priest, wrote a history of Babylonia. The validity of the dates he quotes is evidenced by their accurate reflection of historical material now available on ancient cuneiform tablets unearthed in Babylon, particularly the Neo-Babylonian Chronicles (records of kingly succession) and also the Babylonian kinglists (the Uruk kinglist in particular) which list the Babylonian rulers by name along with the years of their reign.
The Royal Canon (Ptolemy’s Canon) is a list of kings and their reigns beginning with Nabonassar in Babylon (747-734 BCE). It was compiled partially from the Babylonian Chronicles and kinglists but independently of Berossus, with whom it is in substantial agreement.
These documents give the following tables of reigns:
NAME BEROSSUS ROYAL CANON BCE
Nabopolassar 21 years 21 years 625-605
Nebuchadnezzar 43 years 43 years 604-562
Awel-Marduk* 2 years 2 years 561-560
Neriglissar 4 years 4 years 559-556
Labashi-Marduk 9 months – 556
Nabonidus 17 years 17 years
*Called Evil-Merodach in 2 Kings 25:27; Jer 52:31.
The Royal Canon omits Labashi-Marduk as it only reckons whole years.
If these lists are correct the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, when he desolated Jerusalem, would be 587/586 BCE, not 607 BCE as the Society claims.
As these lists were compiled from earlier information we need to go further in order to ascertain whether they are accurate or not.
Today we need neither Berossus nor the Royal Canon to establish the length of the Babylonian period. There are now tens of thousands of cuneiform documents available for consultation, including chronicles and royal inscriptions that definitely fix the lengths of the reigns of the Neo-Babylonian rulers, such as Nebuchadnezzar.
A chronicle is a form of historical narrative covering a sequence of events. Several of these relate intimately to the period under discussion and are stored in London’s British Museum. They have been translated (A K Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, 1975) and part two of this work deals with the period under discussion (626-538 BCE).
CHRONICLE NO. RULER REGNAL YEARS COVERED
2 = B M 25127 Nabopolassar acc. – 3
3 = B M 21901 Nabopolassar 10 – 17
4 = B M 22047 Nabopolassar 18 – 20
5 = B M 21946 Nabopolassar 21
5 = B M 21946 Nebuchadnezzar acc. – 10
6 = B M 25124 Neriglissar 3
7 = B M 35382 Nabonidus 1 – 11
7 = B M 35382 Nabonidus 17
Only one half of the entire Neo-Babylonian period is covered by this table, however, Chronicle 5 shows that Nabopolassar ruled for twenty-one years and was succeeded by his son Nebuchadnezzar, in agreement with Berossus and the Royal Canon.
Is this information reliable? Were not the recorders of ancient history notorious for ‘rewriting history’ to glorify their particular dynasties? Grayson notes that there is no evidence that the Babylonian scribes were guilty of this (p. 175).
Kinglists usually lists royal names including lengths of regnal years, similar to the Royal Canon. The kinglist covering the Neo-Babylonian period is the Uruk King List. It is badly preserved, but does have some historical value. Damaged or missing parts are in brackets.
THE URUK KING LIST – obverse
21 years Nabopolassar
43 (ye)ars Nebuchadnezzar
2 (ye)ars Awel-Marduk
(3 years) 8 months Neriglissar
(…) 3 months Labashi-Marduk
(17 [?] years) Nabonidus
Nabopolassar, 21 years; Nebuchadnezzar, 43 years and Awel- Marduk, 2 years agree with Berossus and the Royal Canon. This list was compiled after the Neo-Babylonian period.
Are there, then, no historical records preserved from the time of the Neo-Babylonian period itself? The answer is that there are indeed documents which are actually contemporary with the events under discussion. Approximately 1,300 royal inscriptions have been found, one third of which are undamaged, most of which relate to the reigns of Nabopolassar and Nebucha
Nabon No. 18 details an eclipse of the moon which definitely fixes the second years of Nabonidus to 554/553 BCE. His first regnal year, therefore, was 555/554 BCE, which confirms the figures given by Berossus and the Royal Canon.
Nabon No. 8 (the Hillah stele) was written during Nabonidus’ first regnal year (Autumn 555 BCE). It consists of (i) a report on the accession year and first regnal year of Nabonidus when he decided to rebuild the temple at Harran, and (ii) that Harran and the Ehulhul (temple of the moon god Sin in Harran) had been lying in ruins for 54 years. The date of the temple’s destruction is known from both the Babylonian Chronicle 3 (B M 21901) and the Adad-guppi stele to be the sixteenth year of Nabopolassar. Thus it is obvious that Nabonidus reckoned the 54 years from the sixteenth year of Nabopolassar to the beginning of his own reign when he decided to rebuild the temple. Nabopolassar reigned for 21 years; Nebuchadnezzar for 43 years; Awel-Marduk for 2 years and Neriglissar for 4 years (actually 3 years and 8 months) before Nabonidus came to power. Adding these together gives us 5+43+2+4=54 years, exactly as Nabonidus states on his stele.
It has been established that Nabonidus’ first year was 555/554 BCE. Therefore, Nabopolassar’s first year was 625/624 BCE, his 21st and final year 605/604 BCE and Nebuchadnezzar’s first year was obviously 604/603 BCE. His 18th year, the year that he desolated Jerusalem was, therefore, 587/586 BCE, and not 607 BCE as stated by the Watchtower Society.
There are other royal inscriptions available for discussion but space does not permit their inclusion. Here, to conclude this section is a summary of the evidence so far, each of which will be seen to corroborate the other.
ROYAL THE NEO-BAB THE URUK ROYAL BCE DATES
NAME CHRONICLES KINGLIST INSCRIPTIONS
Nabopolassar 21 years 21 years 21 years 625 – 605
Nebuchadnezzar 43 years 43 (ye)ars 43 years 604 – 562
Awel-Marduk 2 years 2 (ye)ars 2 years 561 – 560
Neriglissar 4 years 3 (years) 8 months 4 years 560 – 556
Labashi-Marduk few months 3 months – 556
Nabonidus 17 years 17 [?] (years) 17 years 555 – 539
This table shows us that the Neo-Babylonian Era ended in 539 BCE, with the fall of Babylon and that Nebuchadnezzar ruled between 607 and 562 BCE. He, therefore, could not have desolated Jerusalem in 607 BCE. It must be remembered that the Royal Inscriptions were written at the time of the events they discuss and are thus beyond question in the information they provide as to kings and the lengths of their reigns.
In addition to what has been noted above, there are literally hundreds of thousands of cuneiform texts available. The overwhelming majority of them deal with economic-administrative and private legal items such as buy and sale contracts, and the sale or hiring of slaves and livestock. To a great extent they are dated with the year of the reigning king, the month and the day of the month. Every year of the Neo-Babylonian Era has provided many dated texts by which it is possible to determine not only the length of each reign and the time of the year at which each reign changed, but sometimes even the very day on which the changeover happened. The last dated text from the reign of Nabonidus has VII/17/17 (October 13, 539), one day after the fall of Babylon, (given as VII/16/17 in the Nabonidus Chronicle). The tablet is dated to Nabunaid from Uruk, and is dated one day after the fall of Babylon because of the time lapse in news reaching the southern city 125 miles from the capital.
Why is all this business information so important? Because it begs the question: where is the documentation for the 20 missing years between the Society’s alleged date of Jerusalem’s fall in 607 BCE and the historically accepted and confirmed date of 587 BCE. Twenty years is about one fifth of the period under discussion. There should, then, be many thousands more tablets giving information about those years. They have not been found. Perhaps they may be found in the future. However, this is not an adequate basis on which to assert that the year 607 BCE is still possible.
To conclude this section it is now intended to present information that conclusively proves the dates given above for the reigns of the Neo-Babylonian kings. This may be termed chronological interlocking.
There are only two possible ways of extending the Neo-Babylonian period to include the extra twenty years demanded by Watchtower chronology. Either the kings of the period had longer reigns than those given above; or there were unlisted kings reigning at the time, unknown to history.
Neither of these is possible, as there is cast-iron evidence
that interlocks one reign with the reign that followed.
Nabopolassar – Nebuchadnezzar
Babylonian Chronicle 5 says that Nabopolassar ruled for 21 years. He died ‘on the eighth day of the month Ab’ and that on the first day of the next month (Elul) his son Nebuchadnezzar ‘ascended the royal throne in Babylon’ (Elul follows immediately on from Ab). There is no room for a longer reign of Nabopolassar, or for an extra king between him and Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar – Awel-Marduk
The succession between these two kings in Nebuchadnezzar’s 43rd year is documented on BM 30254, through the gift of a slave girl Lit-ka-idi, who was given to Nabu-ahhe-iddina in Ajaru (the second month) of the 43rd year of Nebuchadnezzar. The document attests that, later, in the month of Kislimu (the ninth month), the accession year of Amel-Marduk, king of Babylon Lit-ka-idi was sold to Nabu-ahhe-iddina for 19 and a half silver shekels.
Nebuchadnezzar – Awel-Marduk – Neriglissar
A document known as NBC 4897 is actually a ledger tabulating the annual growth of a herd of sheep and goats for ten consecutive years, from the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar to the first year of Neriglissar. The information is tabulated in years and shows the annual increase of the herd successively from the 37th year to Nebuchadnezzar’s 43rd year, for the first and second years of Awel-Marduk and for the first year of Neriglissar. It indicates the lengths of reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Awel-Marduk and proves that no extra kings could be inserted between the reigns of each of the three kings.
Neriglissar – Labashi-Marduk
Tablet YBC 4012, in the Yale Babylonian collection, shows that Labashi-Marduk succeeded Neriglissar as king in the first or second month of the fourth year of Neriglissar’s reign.
Neriglissar – Labashi-Marduk – Nabonidus
We know that Neriglissar was succeeded by his son Labashi-Marduk from Nabon No. 8, discussed earlier. This stele also contains the following information.
After (his) days…his son Labashi-Marduk… sat down on the royal throne.
Nabonidus then speaks of his own enthronement as successor to Labashi-Marduk and mentions his last four predecessors – Nebuchadnezzar and Neriglissar, whom he regarded as legitimate rulers and their sons Awel-Marduk and Labashi-Marduk whom he regarded as usurpers. There is no room here for the insertion of more rulers.
Nabonidus – Cyrus
The Nabonidus Chronicle (BM 35382) shows that Nabonidus was king when Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BCE, (ie. the 17th year of Nabonidus). Economic texts such as CT 56:219, CT 57:52.3 and CT 57:56 corroborate this. CT 56:219 is dated to the accession year of Cyrus and the other two to his first year. All three tablets refer to the preceding kings’ year 17.
These, and many other texts, documenting contemporary events too numerous to examine here, prove conclusively that the reigns between the kings of Babylon, down to the fall of Babylon in 539 BCE and the beginning of the reign of Cyrus are so interlocked that no other kings can be inserted to prolong the period by another twenty years. By spanning two or more reigns some these texts clearly establish the successional list of Babylonian kings from Nabopolassar to Nabonidus and thence immediately to Cyrus.
The Absolute Chronology of the Neo-Babylonian Era
In our investigation into whether the Watchtower Society’s date for the fall of Jerusalem (607 BCE) is correct we firstly examined three key biblical texts (Jeremiah 25:10-12; Jeremiah 29:8-10 and Daniel 9:1-2) and found that the Society’s reading of them is open to question. Following that we examined the records of early writers, chronicles, a kinglist and royal inscriptions which give the names of the Babylonian kings and the lengths of their reigns. We proved that these were watertight by the presentation of contemporary documentation that often spanned the reigns of two or more kings to prove that no kings had been omitted and that no other kings could be inserted. The biblical and historical evidence so far examined, (by no means complete for reasons of space) has shown that 607 BCE has no corroborating biblical or historical evidence. All the evidence so far presented shows that 607 BCE is an incorrect date.
We now proceed to examine the astronomical evidence that further fixes, without question, that 587 and not 607 BCE is the date of the desolation of Jerusalem.
A ‘diary’ usually covers a six-seven month period and details the positions of the moon and planets and also gives details of lunar and solar eclipses. Additional information, such as market prices or historical events are sometimes recorded.
VAT 4956 is an astronomical diary spanning from Nisanu 1 of Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th regnal year to Nisanu 1 of his 38th regnal year. Many positions are so exactly described that modern astronomers have no difficulty in fixing precise dates to the movements in the sky. The observations of the moon and the five then known planets have been asserted as happening during the year 568/567 BCE. If Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th regnal year was 568/567 BCE then it follows that his first year must have been 604/603 BCE; and his 18th year, in which he desolated Jerusalem, 587/586 BCE. Could all the observations noted in VAT 4956 have been made twenty years earlier, in 588/587 BCE which is said to be Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th regnal year (Insight on the Scriptures Vol II p. 481). This same work alludes to VAT 4956 and notes that ‘Modern chronologers point out that such a combination of astronomical positions would not be duplicated again in thousands of years’ (Insight on the Scriptures Vol I p. 456).
This statement is true and goes to prove that the observations noted could only have occurred in the year 568/567 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year. We may determine this from one specific example. The diary states that on Nisanu 1 of Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year the planet Saturn could be observed ‘in front of the Swallow’, referring to the south-west part of the constellation Pisces. Saturn is visible for approximately 2.5 years in each of the twelve constellations of the Zodiac, and therefore, has a revolution of about 29.5 years. If Saturn was visible ‘in front of the Swallow’ in 568/567 BCE it would have previously been visible in 597/596 BCE, and not in 588/587 BCE. Thus, the Society’s assertion that 588/587 BCE was Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th regnal year is wrong.
The Society has attempted to overcome this evidence (Insight on the Scriptures Vol I p. 456) with references to sandstorms and other problems, none of which directly or materially affect the astronomical data contained in VAT 4956.
BM 32312 is another astronomical ‘diary’, dated to 652/651 BCE. It details Mercury’s last visibility in the east behind Pisces, and Saturn’s last visibility behind Pisces, both around the 14th of month I; Mars’ stationary point in Scorpio on the 17th of month I; and Mercury’s first visibility in Pisces on the 6th of month XII uniquely determine the date. The diary also has information about a battle between Babylon and Assyria which is datable to 651 BCE. This was the 16th year of the reign of Shamashshumukin. His entire reign, therefore, was 667/666 BCE – 648/647 BCE. Several unquestionable ancient sources contribute to our knowledge of this king and his rule and establish that:
Shamashshumukin ruled 20 years &nb
sp; 667 – 648 BCE
Kandalanu ruled 22 years 647 – 626 BCE
Nabopolassar ruled 21 years 625 – 605 BCE
Nebuchadnezzar ruled 43 years 604 – 562 BCE
Diary BM 32312 is, therefore, another contributing factor to the destruction of 607 BCE as the date of the fall of Jerusalem.
Further astronomical evidence could be presented here which would increasingly confirm what has already been presented. For reference purposes these are known as the Saturn Tablet (BM 76738 + BM 76813); the Lunar Eclipse Tablets LBAT 1417, LBAT 1419, LBAT 1420 and LBAT 1421. These tablets establish, over and over again, the chronology of the Neo-Babylonian Era and further establish the dates of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and those of his predecessors and successors as incontrovertible.
The wealth of information presented here, and the greater wealth of information it has not been able to include, but which is contained in Jonsson’s book The Gentile Times Reconsidered, all direct the reader to the conclusion that the Watchtower Society’s date for the fall of Jerusalem is incorrect and must be discarded. It is proof that the Society is aware of all this information and more because not only has it attempted to discredit it in the Volume I of Insight on the Scriptures, as noted above, but it produced an appendix to its publication Let Your Kingdom Come (1981 pages 186-189). This appendix is very selective in what it includes, and especially so in what it omits. It omits reference to the fact that Berossus and the Royal Canon (Ptolomy’s Canon) are based on sources that originated in the Neo-Babylonian period itself. It omits reference to the Hillah stele, contemporary to the reign of Nabonidus that establishes the length of the whole Neo-Babylonian era, including the reign of Nabonidus. It states that the astronomical diary VAT 4956 is a much later copy of an original and thus open to error. It fails, however, to mention BM 32312 which corroborates VAT 4956 even though the Society is aware of it.
Amongst the tens of thousands of discovered documents from the Neo-Babylonian period the Society has not found one single shred of evidence pointing to 607 BCE. If the Society has such a problem with the overwhelming evidence that points to 587 BCE then, by simple logical deduction, it should also reject 539 BCE, which is attested by the same historical and astronomical evidence. This, of course, it does not do.
If the reader has followed the information so far it must be asked, in all good conscience, whether he or she does not owe it to him/herself to pursue what has been put forward here in respect of the accuracy of 587 BCE and the errancy of 607 BCE as the date for the fall of Jerusalem. In doing so the reader will, no doubt, realise that, if 607 BCE is not the correct date, it therefore has no especial significance on the ‘stream of time’ and that 1914 CE is disproved as the ‘end of the Gentile times’ and has no significance on the ‘stream of time’ either.