Jehovah’s Witnesses and 1914


For a summary of the 2-part series entitled, A Conversation With a NeighborWhen Did God’s Kingdom Begin Ruling?, appearing in the 1 October 2014 and 1 November 2014 issues of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ magazine, The Watchtower, see The Watch Tower Society’s 2014 attempt to defend 1914.
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“It is not religious persecution for an informed person to expose publicly a certain religion as being false, thus allowing persons to see the difference between false religion and true religion.”
The Watchtower, 15 November 1963, page 688.

This article uses the terms ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (or ‘Witnesses’) and ‘Watch Tower Society’ (or ‘Society’). ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refers to members of the religion or the religion as a whole; ‘Watch Tower Society’ refers to the organisation that publishes literature outlining the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses, under the direction of the ‘Governing Body’. In 2001, the Watch Tower Society began stating that its literature is published by “Jehovah’s Witnesses”

Introduction

One of the hallmark beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that the year 1914 saw an invisible return of Christ (being given greater authority in heaven), at which time Satan was ousted from heaven and the ‘last days’ (2 Timothy 3:1) began for the current ‘system of things’ (Ephesians 2:1). They believe that after the relatively short ‘last days’, the ‘great tribulation’ (Matthew 24:21) (a period of extreme worldwide political and civil unrest) will begin, quickly followed by ‘Armageddon’ (or ‘apocalypse’*)—God’s war against unfaithful people, at which time most of Earth’s population will be slaughtered. Those allowed to survive will be given one thousand years to reach perfection on Earth, and others who have died (excluding any who died at Armageddon or other specific ‘judgements’ by God#) will be brought back to life, also on Earth, under a ‘heavenly government’ ruled by God, Christ, and 144,000 humans resurrected to heaven (including Jesus’ disciples of the first century CE and a small number of Witnesses who are supposedly ‘spirit-anointed’). After the thousand years, Satan will be allowed to test those living on Earth, and then Satan along with any who succumb to the test will be destroyed (Revelation 20:1-10).
*The term ‘apocalypse’ is derived from a misuse of the original Greek name of the book of Revelation, ‘Apokalypsis’, which literally means ‘uncovering’.
#The Watch Tower Society’s views about who may be resurrected have changed several times. For more information, see http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/resurrection.php. See also Watchtower Online Library—Let the reader use discernment.

2,520 Years and the Bible

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that a special period of 2,520 years began when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in, according to the Watch Tower Society, 607 BCE,* and that it counts forward to arrive at the year 1914. A supposed ‘rule’ of ‘a day for a year’ (derived from Ezekiel 4:6) is applied to the ‘seven times’ mentioned at Daniel 4:16 (using 360-day years) to arrive at 2,520 years.
*Until 1943, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature claimed that Jerusalem was destroyed in 606 BCE, because Watch Tower Society leaders did not previously realise there was no ‘year zero’ between 1 BCE and 1 CE. (The Watchtower, 1 February 1955, p. 94; The Watchtower, 1 May 1952, p. 271) To retain their beliefs about 1914, they moved Jerusalem’s destruction to 607 BCE; correspondingly, they shifted the return of the Jews from 536 BCE to 537 BCE (both of which are incorrect) to maintain a difference of seventy years.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream

Taken literally,* the narrative of Daniel chapter 4 provides no reason for the ‘seven times’ to apply to any period other than a lesson of humility for the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. The chapter specifically indicates the intended interpretation, and there are no unresolved elements in the story that warrant any additional interpretation. The Watch Tower Society does not apply the same ‘day for a year’ rule to the other two verses that refer to ‘times’ in this sense in the book of Daniel (7:25 and 12:7).
*The book of Daniel was written many years after the time of Nebuchadnezzar. It is possible that the ’seven times’ were actually a cryptic reference to the forty-nine years from the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 587 BCE until Cyrus’ decree in 538 BCE to rebuild it. For more information about Daniel chapter 4, see The Watch Tower Society’s 2014 attempt to defend 1914 and Seven Times. For more information about the broader context of Daniel, see Daniel’s dreams and visions.

‘Removing the turban’

The Watch Tower Society teaches that the ‘seven times’ began when Zedekiah was removed as king of Judah, equating this with the ‘removal of the turban’ at Ezekiel 21:25-27. However, in those verses that expression is directed to Israel, not Judah. At the time, Israel and Judah were distinct from one another; this is confirmed by Ezekiel 37:15-23, which indicates that Israel and Judah would become one nation at a future time. Although the ten-tribe kingdom had been destroyed many years earlier, Ezekiel 4:5 indicates that the judgement of the 10-tribe kingdom was still ongoing when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, confirming that Ezekiel did not use ‘Israel’ in a generic sense to refer to Judah.

‘Gentile times’

The Watch Tower Society equates the supposed period of 2,520 years with “the appointed times of the nations” or “gentile times” (King James Version), at Luke 21:24—a period during which Jerusalem would be “trampled on by the nations”. However, the original text of that verse employs a form of the Greek word esomai (‘will be’), and indicates that the “appointed times of the nations”—regardless of its intended application—referred to a period associated with a future destruction of Jerusalem, and could not apply to an earlier period. Revelation 11:2 further indicates that Jerusalem—“the holy city”—would be trampled on by the nations for 42 months (3½ years). This was the period from the entry of the Roman army into Jeruslem in 66 CE until Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 CE.

1914 and the Bible

Charles Taze Russell (the founder of the Bible Students, from which Jehovah’s Witnesses later arose) had been proclaiming since the 1870s that October of 1914 would see the fulfilment of the 2,520 years. At the time, Russell taught that Jesus’ invisible ‘presence’ had begun in 1874, and that Armageddon would begin in 1914. For example, in the 15 July 1894 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower (page 226) he stated, “But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble.” Russell borrowed his numerological theories from others who had previously used the same calculations to arrive at the year 1914 (amongst many other suggested years) in the early nineteenth century.

World War I

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 is cited by Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘evidence’ for their interpretations. Prior to 1914, the Bible Students were “expecting this Age to close with an awful time of trouble, … to break out with suddenness and force not long after October, 1914.” (The Watchtower, 15 May 1911). However, World War I began after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in June of 1914, too early in the year for the alleged October fulfilment. Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Serbia were all at war prior to October. World War I did not begin suddenly, but followed the First and Second Balkan Wars of 1912–1913. (For at least the last 80 years, the Watch Tower Society has completely ignored the Balkan Wars and the actual causes of World War I.) Rather than claim that the war in 1914 proved Russell right, he instead reissued his Studies in the Scriptures with dates changed to 1915, because his expectations for 1914 had failed. Armageddon obviously did not begin in 1914, and it was not until the 1920s that a doctrine similar to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ current view emerged.

‘Sign of the Last Days’

Another claim by Jehovah’s Witnesses to defend their 1914 doctrine is that there have been increases in earthquakes,* epidemics, famine and wars since that time. They claim this is in fulfilment of passages such as Matthew chapter 24 and Luke chapter 21. These accounts, however, discussed events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. (Notably, the Gospel of John—the writing of which is set after 70 CE—provides no parallel account of these passages.#) Though statistics about people affected by war, earthquake, disease and famine are dramatic, when they are viewed in the context of population growths and densities, as well as much greater accessibility of modern media, it is evident that, per capita, such problems did not suddenly increase in 1914. For example, bubonic plague killed a greater proportion of the population in the 1300s than Spanish influenza after World War I.
*Watch Tower Society literature has explicitly claimed that there has been an “increase in earthquakes” since 1914 (e.g. The Watchtower, 15 October 1975, page 634; The Watchtower, 15 December 1982, page 7). However, the United States Geological Survey notes that since 1900 there has been a consistent average of fifteen ‘major earthquakes’ (magnitude 7.0–7.9) and one ‘great earthquake’ (magnitude 8.0 or greater) per year, and notes nothing special about 1914. Because the Watch Tower Society’s previous claims about earthquakes are demonstrably false, the Society has more recently simply stated that there have been “great earthquakes” since 1914, which is meaningless because there were also “great earthquakes” before 1914.
#John mentions the ‘kingdom’ only seven times, limited to two conversations (with Nicodemus in chapter 3 and Pilate in chapter 18)—likely because hope in the impending arrival of the kingdom had diminished significantly after 70 CE. The Watch Tower Society gives the time of writing of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as 41 CE, 65 CE, 58 CE and 98 CE, respectively. However, the accounts were not in their complete form by the years suggested.

Door-to-door preaching

Jehovah’s Witnesses claim their door-to-door preaching work is the‘good news’ mentioned at Matthew 24:14, and that it is part of the ‘sign’ of 1914. Acts 5:42 and 20:20 are frequently cited in the Watch Tower Society’s literature as an endorsement of house-to-house preaching. In its New World Translation of the Bible, these verses state that first-century Christians taught both at the temple and “from house to house,” however the literal translation of the original Greek text is “according to the houses”. Early Christians held religious gatherings in the homes of believers, and it is those houses to which these verses refer, as the surrounding context reveals. In contrast, at Luke 10:7 Jesus tells his disciples, “do not be transferring from house to house.” (The original Greek text includes the four separate words literally translated, “from house to house”.) Though Jesus’ words in this verse might have been specific to the social climate at the time, they certainly do not emphasise house-to-house preaching.

‘Faithful Slave’ class

The year 1914 is essential for various core doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Significantly, they regard their interpretation of Jesus’ ‘faithful slave’ illustration (Matthew 24:45-47) as identifying representatives of the Watch Tower Society as God’s ‘channel’ of ‘spiritual truth’,^ and the time of the identification of this ‘slave class’ is dependent on the year 1914, derived from their interpretation of parts of the book of Revelation. Specifically, Revelation 11:2-3 mentions periods of forty-two months and 1,260 days (both 3½ years). The Watch Tower Society applies this period literally, from December 1914 to May 1918, after which they apply the 3½ days of Revelation 11:11 figuratively, identifying these periods with their preaching work during World War I, followed by a period of imprisonment of early Watch Tower Society directors in 1918. They believe that after their release from prison in 1919, they were approved as Jesus’ ‘slave class’. This creates a paradox as to whether they were approved by Christ prior to that point, and therefore whether their interpretations regarding 1914 should have been heeded.
^At the Watch Tower Society’s annual general meeting in 2012, the ‘faithful slave’ was redefined as only referring to the ‘Governing Body’, the members of which are not formally ‘directors’ of the Watch Tower Society and related corporations. (Most members were not officially advised of the change until the 15 July 2013 issue of The Watchtower.) In practice, all activities of the Watch Tower Society and its affiliates are overseen by the Governing Body.
†Prior to the Watch Tower Society’s revision of Revelation—Its Grand Climax at Hand in 2006, the forty-two months were said to have started in October 1914.

Many of the beliefs held in 1919 that were purportedly ‘approved by Christ’ were later abandoned. Some of these are indicated below, with the year abandoned indicated in parentheses:

  • Jesus was made king in 1878 (1920)
  • The archangel Michael is the Pope (1925)
  • ‘Sleeping saints’ were resurrected to heaven in 1878 (1927)
  • Russell was the ‘faithful and wise servant’ (1927)
  • The Great Pyramid of Giza confirms biblical chronology (1928)
  • Christmas may be celebrated (1928)
  • The ‘time of the end’ began in 1799 (1929)
  • The ‘Jews to be restored to their homeland’ is literal (1932)
  • The ‘great company’ (great crowd) has a heavenly hope (1932)
  • Christ’s presence began in 1874 (1933)
  • Jesus died on a cross (1936)
  • Jerusalem was destroyed in 606 BCE (1943)
  • Congregation discipline to be determined by the whole congregation (1944)
  • Prohibition on eating blood only a “suggestion” to gentile Christians (1945)
  • Birthdays may be celebrated (1951)
  • ‘This generation’ are those alive during 1914 (1927, 1995, 2010)

607 and the Bible

Arguably the most significant problem with the Watch Tower Society’s 1914 doctrine is that it requires that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in the year 607 BCE. No non-Witness historian or archaeologist acknowledges that the event occurred in that year.* Almost all experts in the field (theologians and historians) agree that Jerusalem, along with its temple, was destroyed within a year of 587 BCE, and none come close to 607 BCE. There is a great deal of archaeological evidence that 587 BCE is the correct year.
*Rolf Furuli, a retired Norwegian lecturer in Semitic languages, is occasionally cited (unofficially) by Witnesses as supporting 607 BCE, often without disclosing that Furuli is himself a Jehovah’s Witness.

Jehovah’s Witnesses arrive at the year 607 BCE for the beginning of the alleged 2,520 years based on their interpretation of scriptures that mention periods of seventy years in the Bible books of Jeremiah, Daniel, 2 Chronicles and Zechariah. They assert that their stance is to put their trust primarily in the Bible rather than to accept the word of historians. However, it is only their interpretation of the Bible, and not the Bible itself, that is not consistent with the known history of the period.

The scriptures that refer to periods of seventy years are listed below (in chronological order), followed by a consideration of each passage:

Jeremiah 25:8-14

8 “Therefore this is what Jehovah of armies has said, ‘“For the reason that YOU did not obey my words, 9 here I am sending and I will take all the families of the north,” is the utterance of Jehovah, “even [sending] to Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will devote them to destruction and make them an object of astonishment and something to whistle at and places devastated to time indefinite. 10 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. 11 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.”’ 12 “‘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. 13 And I will bring in upon that land all my words that I have spoken against it, even all that is written in this book that Jeremiah has prophesied against all the nations. 14 For even they themselves, many nations and great kings, have exploited them as servants; and I will repay them according to their activity and according to the work of their hands.’”

The Watch Tower Society’s interpretation of this passage is that it refers to Jerusalem’s destruction, and a subsequent exile of the Jews to Babylon for seventy years. It attributes these events to 607 BCE. (Though the Bible refers to a number of occasions where exiles were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon, the Society here means the exile in the year Jerusalem’s temple was destroyed.) Jehovah’s Witnesses consider the references to other nations in this passage to be of little significance. The Watch Tower Society also teaches that Jews returned from Babylon in 537 BCE (though the evidence indicates 538 BCE*)—consequently, their interpretation asserts that the king of Babylon was ‘called to account’ before the seventy years ended. Daniel 5:26-31 places the ‘calling the king to account’ in 539 BCE, and the Watch Tower Society agrees with that date. The Society has no explanation for the contradiction between their interpretation of the seventy years and verse 12 of this passage, which requires that Babylon’s king be ‘called to account’ after the seventy years had ended.
*Josephus indicates that the temple foundations were laid in Cyrus’ second year (Against Apion, Book I, chapter 21), and Ezra 3:8 places that event in the second month (Iyyar), corresponding to May of 537 BCE. Ezra 3:1 says that the Jews were “in their cities” in the seventh month (Tishri) of the year before, corresponding to October of 538 BCE.

According to Jeremiah 25:17-26, Nebuchadnezzar (“Nebuchadrezzar”) is sent to “all these nations round about”, not just Jerusalem.# Those nations were to “serve [Hebrew `abad, ‘work for’] the king of Babylon seventy years”. This period started when Babylon became a world power. (The previous world power was Assyria; Babylon captured Assyria’s former capital, Nineveh, in 612 BCE, and conquered Assyria’s new capital, Harran, in 609 BCE during the reign of Nabopolassar.) Therefore, the seventy years began in 609 BCE, in agreement with the Bible and secular history.
#The nations listed are Jerusalem, Egypt, Uz, the Philistines, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, Ashdod, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Sidon, “the region of the sea”, Dedan, Tema, Buz, “those with hair clipped at the temples”, the Arabs, “the mixed company who are residing in the wilderness”, Zimri, Elam and the Medes.

70_years

The effect of Babylon’s power—the “calamity”—came upon Jerusalem in Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year,^ when “royal offspring” were abducted and taken to Babylon (Daniel 1:1-3; 2 Kings 24:1). Jeremiah made the proclamation during the third quarter (July–September) of 605 BCE (after the seventy years had begun), once it was purportedly too late for the Jews to repent (Jeremiah 25:1–7), though it was not yet too late to avoid exile (Jeremiah 27:8–11). Nebuchadnezzar captured Carchemish in 605 BCE, defeating Pharaoh Necho (Jeremiah 25:17–19; 46:2), and King Jehoiakim became a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar in early 604 BCE (still during his accession year).
^When counting years of reign, some nations (including Babylon) used the ‘accession year’ system. When a king was replaced, the remaining months in that king’s final year were considered the new king’s accession year, and the new king’s first year was recognised as starting at the beginning of the next calendar year. Nations that did not use the accession year system considered the remaining months of the calendar year to be the new king’s first year.
†Comparative analysis of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and 2 Kings indicates that these books use Tishri-based dating for kings of Judah and Nisan-based dating for kings of Babylon, and that both count accession years as part of the reign. Based on this reckoning, Jehoiakim’s fourth year ended before the last quarter of the year, and Nebuchadnezzar’s first year began after the death of Nabopolassar in August of 605 BCE. (In contrast, Daniel uses Nisan-based dating, and does not count accession years.)

The Watch Tower Society contends that Daniel and his companions were not abducted in Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year because it is not listed among the exiles recorded by Jeremiah. Though Berossus, a Babylonian priest of the Seleucid period, wrote that captives were taken in that year, the Society discounts his testimony on the basis that, “Josephus states that in the year of the battle of Carchemish Nebuchadnezzar conquered all of Syria-Palestine “excepting Judea.””§ However, there is no requirement for Judea to be conquered for some captives to be taken. The number of captives taken may have been too small to be considered an ‘exile’. Further, it is likely that Jerusalem was not conquered specifically because Jehoiakim allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take treasure and captives as tribute.
‡Most secular historians agree that the book of Daniel was written in the second century BCE. Irrespective, it is written from the perspective of a person living in Babylon during the Neo-Babylonian period. For more information about the book of Daniel, see Daniel’s Dreams and Vision.
§“Let Your Kingdom Come”, page 188.

Because the Watch Tower Society’s chronology of these events is inaccurate, it introduces inconsistencies with other events. In an attempt to work around this, a supposed ‘discrepancy’ between Jeremiah 25:1 and Daniel 1:1 is used to attempt to justify its chronology. Daniel says Nebuchadnezzar was king in Jehoiakim’s third year, whereas Jeremiah says Nebuchadnezzar’s first year was Jehoiakim’s fourth year. In Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy (chapter 2, page 19), the Society asserts that Jeremiah refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s rule relative to Jehoiakim’s rule appointed by Pharaoh Necho, and that Daniel means Jehoiakim’s third year as a vassal king to Nebuchadnezzar, in what they claim would have been Jehoiakim’s eleventh and final year (the original text provides no basis for this). However, the actual source of the alleged discrepancy is that the author of Daniel—following the Babylonian tradition—did not count Jehoiakim’s accession year, whereas Jeremiah counted it as Jehoiakim’s first year. This explanation is supported by Daniel’s omission of the year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, only stating that he was king, because from Daniel’s perspective Nebuchadnezzar was still in his accession year (early 604 BCE).
Cross-references in the Witnesses’ own New World Translation further indicate the correct end-point of the seventy years and the ‘calling to account’ of Babylon’s king. After the phrase, “I shall call to account against the king of Babylon and against that nation,” at Jeremiah 25:12, there is a cross-reference to Daniel 5:30, indicating when Babylon’s king would be called to account. Jeremiah 27:6-7 further indicates the period in question, stating:

6 And now I myself have given all these lands into the hand of Neb‧u‧chad‧nez′zar the king of Babylon, my servant; and even the wild beasts of the field I have given him to serve him. 7 And all the nations must serve even him and his son and his grandson until the time even of his own land comes, and many nations and great kings must exploit him as a servant.’

Following “all the nations must serve even him” is a cross-reference to Jeremiah 25:11, and following “until the time even of his own land comes,” is a cross-reference to Daniel 5:26. Though occasionally cited as part of longer passages, the Watch Tower Society has not quoted Jeremiah 27:7 in any of its publications since The Watchtower of 1 November 1979; prior to the Awake! of 5 May 2013, the 1979 article was also the last time the Society quoted Jeremiah 25:12 in full.
¶See The Watch Tower Society’s 2013 attempt to defend 607.

Ancient Babylon today

Babylon is not uninhabited

Some Witnesses (unofficially) claim that because Babylon did not immediately become completely desolate in 539 BCE, that the seventy years must have ended in 537 BCE instead. Not only do they ignore the fact that Daniel 5:26-30 explicitly refers to calling Babylon’s king to account, but their view is particularly illogical because Babylon wasn’t completely desolate in 537 BCE either. Babylon continued as Persia’s capital in 537 BCE, and the city remained significant for several centuries. Consequently, some Witnesses claim that Babylon’s eventual desolation began in 537 BCE instead, though nothing significant happened in Babylon in that year. Modern-day Babylon Province (Arabic: بابل) has a population of about 1.5 million people. The heritage-protected ruins of Babylon occupy a small area a few hundred metres across. The ruins are just outside Hillah, the administrative centre of Babylon Province, with a population of over 350,000 people.

Hillah

Hillah, Babylon Province, 6km (3.8mi) from ruins of ancient Babylon

Jeremiah 29:10

10 “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.’

Most Bible translations not based on the King James Version support a rendering of “for Babylon” rather than “at Babylon”.* (The grammar—but not the context—of the original text allows for either rendering.) Because this verse relates to the servitude to Babylon mentioned at Jeremiah 25:11, “for Babylon” is more consistent. Though the Jews were told they would return to Jerusalem “in accord with the fulfilling of seventy years”, they were not told that it marked the end of the period. The 2013 revision of the New World Translation is even more problematic, stating that attention would be turned to the Jews’ return only after “70 years at Babylon are fulfilled“, by which time the Watch Tower Society claims the Jews had already returned.#
*Departing from tradition, the Modern King James Version (1999) also supports “for Babylon“. Despite the name, this was published after the 21st Century King James Version (1994).
#See 607 and the new New World Translation.

Out of thirty-eight Bible translations considered, twenty-eight support a rendering of “for Babylon”.^ Though the Watch Tower Society has at times highlighted the inaccuracy of the King James Version, here it endorses that translation against the majority.
^American Standard, Amplified, Anchor (“Only when Babylon’s seventy years have been completed”), Basic English, Complete Jewish (“Bavel’s seventy years are over”), Contemporary English (“After Babylonia has been the strongest nation for seventy years”), Darby, English Standard, God’s Word (“Babylon’s 70 years are over”), Good News (“Babylonia’s seventy years are over”), Green’s Literal, Hebrew Names, Holman Christian Standard, Living English (“As soon as Babylon has had a full seventy years”), Modern King James, New American Standard, New Century (“Babylon will be powerful for seventy years”), New International, New Life, New Revised Standard, Revised English (“When a full seventy years have passed over Babylon”), Revised Standard, The Message (“Babylon’s seventy years are up”), Tanakh (“When Babylon’s seventy years are over”), Today’s New International, Weymouth New International, World English, Young’s Literal (“the fullness of Babylon – seventy years”) support “for Babylon”. Douay-Rheims (“in”), Geneva, New Living, King James (also New KJ and 21st Century KJ), New International Reader’s (“in”), New World Translation, Third Millennium and Webster support “at Babylon”.
†For example, see The Watchtower, 15 November 1950, page 455; The Watchtower, 1 June 1957, page 323; The Watchtower, 15 July 1998, page 6; The Watchtower, 15 December 1998, page 6; The Watchtower, 15 January 1992, page 23; The Watchtower, 15 October 1993, page 28; The Watchtower, 1 July 2003, page 30.

Most significantly, the New World Translation’s interpretation of this verse is invalidated by the context. In 594 BCE, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon, advising them that they would not be released until after Babylon’s seventy years had ended. (In Jehovah’s Witnesses’ chronology, this was in 614 BCE, prior to the beginning of the seventy years.) The statement was made in response to counter claims by Hananiah that the Jews would be released from Babylon in two more years (Jeremiah 28:11). It would be meaningless to the already-exiled Jews that they would be in exile for seventy years starting from an unspecified future event, as is claimed by the Watch Tower Society.

Daniel 9:1-2

1 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; 2 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.

The “first year of Darius [the Mede]” refers to a period of only a few weeks during September and October of 539 BCE, while Darius was temporarily governor in Babylon prior to the arrival of the king, Cyrus. Based on the context of releasing Jews after seventy years had ended, it is most likely that Daniel 9:2 alludes to Jeremiah 29:10, which indicates that the Jews would return to their homeland after Babylon’s seventy years. This helps to establish why Daniel would focus on “the devastations of Jerusalem“, whereas the seventy years affected many nations. Irrespective of whether Daniel 9:2 is in reference to that verse or to Jeremiah 25:11-12, it can only be validly interpreted in a manner that is consistent with both. It is clear from Jeremiah chapter 25 that the seventy years would affect all the surrounding nations, starting from the beginning of Babylon’s position as World Power (609 BCE).

The word translated “devastations” (the Hebrew noun chorbah) indicates ‘a desolate place’ or ‘a place which is becoming desolate’. The same Hebrew word is translated ‘devastated place’ (“desolate” or “desolation” in most translations) at Jeremiah 25:11. It does not require complete depopulation or destruction; the related verb “devastated” (Hebrew chareb) is used to describe Jerusalem (when populated) at Nehemiah 2:17 when Nehemiah inspected the city walls. Significantly, Daniel 9:2 states that the end of the seventy years would see the “fulfilling” of Jerusalem’s desolation. The word translated ‘fulfilling’ (the Hebrew verb male’) means ‘brought to a state of completion’, indicating that Jerusalem would be devastated by the end of the seventy years, and not that it must be devastated for the entire period.
‡The 2013 revision of the New World Translation has abandoned the unique use of “devastations” at Daniel 9:2, in favour of “desolation”, as found in many other translations. It now renders the same word as “ruins” at Jeremiah 25:11.

Though, as stated above, it is most likely the case that Daniel alludes to Jeremiah 29:10, there is also some precedent for referring to the devastation of the nations at Jeremiah 25:11 as “the devastations of Jerusalem“: Jerusalem’s king had relied on surrounding nations for protection, and for this, Jeremiah prophesied§ that Judah would become ashamed of those nations (Jeremiah 2:36; 22:22); also, some of the nations were to receive retribution from God for mistreating his people (Zechariah 1:15). In this context, the “devastations” of the surrounding nations could be considered “of Jerusalem,” that is, ‘the surrounding lands being made desolate as a result of 1) Jerusalem’s king putting trust in surrounding nations, and 2) the surrounding nations’ attitude toward Jerusalem.’ In either case, the passage suggests that Daniel discerned that the seventy years had ended (in agreement with the order of events stated at Jeremiah 25:12), not—as the Society asserts—that two years remained.
§There is no requirement for any supernatural cause for these ‘prophecies’. It is likely that the accounts were actually historical records written (or edited) after the events, in the context of a prophecy as a literary device. Some outcomes could also be reasonably predicted based on the political environment.

It is not necessary that the entire seventy years be applied to Jerusalem. In comparison, Isaiah 23:15 states that “Tyre must be forgotten seventy years.” Isaiah’s Prophecy—Light for all Mankind, volume 1, chapter 19, page 253, cites Jeremiah 25:8-17, and states “True, the island-city of Tyre is not subject to Babylon for a full 70 years, since the Babylonian Empire falls in 539 B.C.E. Evidently, the 70 years represents the period of Babylonia’s greatest domination,” acknowledging that Tyre was not ‘forgotten’ for the entire seventy-year period and that the seventy years referred to by Jeremiah ended when Babylon was conquered in 539 BCE. This demonstrates that Daniel’s reference to the seventy years need not exclusively apply to Jerusalem, as is confirmed by Jeremiah chapter 25. Isaiah’s Prophecy also states that the seventy years ended in 539 BCE, contradicting the claim that the same period finished in 537 BCE.

2 Chronicles 36:17-23

17 So he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who proceeded to kill their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, neither did he feel compassion for young man or virgin, old or decrepit. Everything He gave into his hand. 18 And all the utensils, great and small, of the house of the [true] God and the treasures of the house of Jehovah and the treasures of the king and of his princes, everything he brought to Babylon. 19 And he proceeded to burn the house of the [true] God and pull down the wall of Jerusalem; and all its dwelling towers they burned with fire and also all its desirable articles, so as to cause ruin. 20 Furthermore, he carried off those remaining from the sword captive to Babylon, and they came to be servants to him and his sons until the royalty of Persia began to reign; 21 to fulfill Jehovah’s word by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid off its sabbaths. All the days of lying desolated it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. 22 And in the first year of Cyrus the king of Persia, that Jehovah’s word by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah roused the spirit of Cyrus the king of Persia, so that he caused a cry to pass through all his kingdom, and also in writing, saying: 23 “This is what Cyrus the king of Persia has said, ‘All the kingdoms of the earth Jehovah the God of the heavens has given me, and he himself has commissioned me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among YOU of all his people, Jehovah his God be with him. So let him go up.’”

The seventy years of Jeremiah’s prophecy (that is, serving Babylon for seventy years) were completed in 539 BCE (“until the royalty of Persia began to reign”) in Cyrus’ first year, when the king of Babylon was ‘called to account’ (Daniel 5:26-30) and Babylon ceased to be a world power. The original texts from which the Bible is translated do not contain punctuation, which must be added by translators according to the context. Bearing this in mind, a rendering of verses 20–21 that is consistent with Jeremiah’s prophecy, might be: “Furthermore, he carried off those remaining from the sword captive to Babylon, and they came to be servants to him and his sons until the royalty of Persia began to reign, to fulfil Jehovah’s word by the mouth of Jeremiah—until the land had paid off its Sabbaths; all the days of lying desolated it kept Sabbath—to fulfil seventy years.” This rendering properly associates the end of the seventy years (“until the royalty of Persia began to reign”) with Jeremiah’s initial prophecy about the seventy years, and relegates ‘paying off Sabbaths’ to a period of unspecified duration starting from Jerusalem’s destruction in 587 BCE. The New International Version renders this as: “He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.”

Jeremiah’s prophecy makes no mention of paying off Sabbaths, which is a reference by Ezra to Leviticus 26:34-35; it states: ““‘At that time the land will pay off its sabbaths all the days of its lying desolated, while YOU are in the land of YOUR enemies. At that time the land will keep sabbath, as it must repay its sabbaths.” Ezra stated that the Jews were captive not only until the seventy years had ended, but “until the land had paid off its Sabbaths”. The period for paying off Sabbaths ran from Jerusalem lying “desolated” (Hebrew shamem, ‘appalled’) after the city had been burned and the temple destroyed (in 587 BCE), until Cyrus’ decree “to build him a house in Jerusalem” in 538 BCE—a period of forty-nine years. Leviticus 25:1-7 says the land should lay fallow every seven years. Leviticus 25:8 then makes reference to a period of time associated with Sabbath rests: ““‘And you must count for yourself seven sabbaths of years, seven times seven years, and the days of the seven sabbaths of years must amount to forty-nine years for you” (bold formatting added).

The following hypothetical scenario is analogous to 2 Chronicles 36:20-21: “John went to New York, and stayed there until the end of the month. The whole time he was there, it snowed; it snowed all month, as predicted by the weather forecast.” The statement does not indicate that John was in New York for the whole month, but only that it snowed for a month, and John was there for an unspecified period of time, until the end of the month; nor does it require that John immediately left New York as soon as it stopped snowing. Similarly, Babylon was dominant for seventy years, and the land rested for a period of time (forty-nine years) until after the seventy years had ended.

On the other hand, if paying off Sabbaths were applied to the entire seventy years (without any scriptural precedent), this would indicate 490 (7 x 70) years, which would date back to 1097 BCE (if 607 BCE were the correct year), before David’s reign (anointed 1077 BCE according to the Watch Tower Society), during at least some of which time the Sabbath was likely kept faithfully. If Jerusalem were destroyed in 587 BCE, then forty-nine years from its destruction to the people returning in 538 BCE would represent 343 (7 x 49) years, dating back to 930 BCE after the division of the kingdom of Israel. In such a scenario, the unpaid Sabbaths would not necessarily have to run as a contiguous period. However, it would be more likely that Jerusalem would be judged as a nation under the rule of a king for failure to observe those Sabbaths. Referring to Israel prior to having a king, Judges 21:25 says: “In those days there was no king in Israel. What was right in his own eyes was what each one was accustomed to do.” It would seem less likely that the nation as a whole would be judged on the basis of individuals’ failure to keep the Sabbath year according to “what each one was accustomed to do.” Similarly, the nation as a whole was said to have been judged although there may have been faithful individuals who kept the Sabbath year during the reigns of ‘bad’ kings where most of the population may not have observed those Sabbaths.

According to the Watch Tower Society’s Insight on the Scriptures (Insight), volume 2, page 844, “Nowhere do the Scriptures state that the Jews had failed to keep exactly 70 Sabbath years; but Jehovah let 70 years of enforced desolation of the land make up for all the Sabbath years that had not been kept.” If that is the case, it weakens the position that exactly seventy years were required to pay off those Sabbaths.

Zechariah 1:7, 11-15

7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, that is, the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius [519 BCE]11 And they proceeded to answer the angel of Jehovah who was standing among the myrtle trees and to say: “We have walked about in the earth, and, look! the whole earth is sitting still and having no disturbance.” 12 So the angel of Jehovah answered and said: “O Jehovah of armies, how long will you yourself not show mercy to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah, whom you have denounced these seventy years?” 13 And Jehovah proceeded to answer the angel who was speaking with me, with good words, comforting words; 14 and the angel who was speaking with me went on to say to me: “Call out, saying, ‘This is what Jehovah of armies has said: “I have been jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with great jealousy. 15 With great indignation I am feeling indignant against the nations that are at ease; because I, for my part, felt indignant to only a little extent, but they, for their part, helped toward calamity.”’

The Watch Tower Society equates this seventy-year period with the seventy years mentioned in the books of Jeremiah, 2 Chronicles and Daniel. However, according to the angel* quoted in Zechariah, “these seventy years” had still not ended in 519 BCE, and cannot be the same as the seventy years of Babylon’s position as world power. (The expression “how long” for a period of known length is also used at Amos 8:5, to indicate frustration or impatience. Almost every question in the Bible that asks “How long…?” refers to frustration with the circumstances rather than a request for an actual duration.) The other nations that had been serving Babylon were now “at ease,” whereas Jerusalem was still “denounced” (Hebrew za`am, ‘to express indignation’) because reconstruction of the temple had not been completed.
*It is not necessary for this to refer to a literal ‘angel’, which is employed as a narrative device. The term translated as ‘angel’ (מַלְאָךְ, Strong’s H4397) literally means ‘messenger’. In any case, the account presents a dream or vision.

The period of denunciation ran from the destruction of the temple in 587 BCE to near its completion, following Darius’ decree to rebuild it in 520 BCE. (As is suggested at Haggai 2:1-3, the temple reconstruction that had been commissioned by Cyrus in 537 BCE had not progressed significantly.)
jerusalem_temple

Zechariah 7:1-5

1 Furthermore, it came about that in the fourth year of Darius the king [518 BCE] the word of Jehovah occurred to Zechariah, on the fourth [day] of the ninth month, [that is,] in Chislev. 2 And Bethel proceeded to send Sharezer and Regem-melech and his men to soften the face of Jehovah, 3 saying to the priests who belonged to the house of Jehovah of armies, and to the prophets, even saying: “Shall I weep in the fifth month, practicing an abstinence, the way I have done these O how many years?” 4 And the word of Jehovah of armies continued to occur to me, saying: 5 “Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When YOU fasted and there was a wailing in the fifth [month] and in the seventh [month], and this for seventy years, did YOU really fast to me, even me?

The seventy years mentioned at Zechariah 1:12 ended after “the fourth year of Darius” (518 BCE), seventy years after 587 BCE, the year in which Jerusalem was destroyed. This coincides with the nearing of completion of the temple after the decree by Darius. Sharezer and Regem-melech were sent to ask if the weeping and fasting (in commemoration of the destruction of the temple and the death of governor Gedaliah, in the fifth and seventh months, respectively) should stop, because the angel had said that the denunciation would last seventy years. They asked about the fasts in the ninth month, after the annual fasts had already been observed for the seventieth year, 518 BCE.

Daniel 5:26-31

In addition to the scriptures that specifically refer to a period of seventy years, Daniel 5:26-31 helps to properly identify the timing of the period.

26 “This is the interpretation of the word: ME´NE, God has numbered [the days of] your kingdom and has finished it. 27TE´KEL, you have been weighed in the balances and have been found deficient. 28PE´RES, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.” 29 At that time Bel·shaz´zar commanded, and they clothed Daniel with purple, with a necklace of gold about his neck; and they heralded concerning him that he was to become the third ruler in the kingdom. 30 In that very night Bel·shaz´zar the Chal·de´an king was killed 31 and Da·ri´us the Mede himself received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

The following table indicates how this passage relates to the scriptures pertaining to the seventy years:

Verse Quote Scriptures
26 ME’NE, God has numbered [the days of] your kingdom and has finished it Jeremiah 25:11,12; Jeremiah 27:7; Daniel 9:2; 2 Chronicles 36:21-22
27 TE’KEL, you have been weighed in the balances Jeremiah 25:12
28 PE’RES, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians Daniel 9:1,2; 2 Chronicles 36:20
30 In that very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed Jeremiah 25:12
31 Darius the Mede himself received the kingdom Daniel 9:1

The Society agrees with secular authorities that Babylon was captured by the Medo-Persians in 539 BCE. As this passage of Daniel is directly related to verses referring to the seventy years of servitude to Babylon, this inextricably places the end of the period in that year.

Judean monarchy

When tabulating the reigns of all the kings of Israel and Judah (PDF), based on the information found in the Bible, the data can only be reconciled with known historical details of the periods when using 587 BCE as the year of Jerusalem’s destruction. Years assigned to kings of Judah and Israel in the linked chart are derived solely from information in the Bible, and may differ from those assigned by modern historians. This is intentional, and illustrates that the Bible allows for contemporaneousness with dates assigned by historians for other nations in its own right, which is not the case when 607 BCE is assumed for Jerusalem’s destruction.

After considering the relevant scriptures, it can be seen that the seventy-year periods addressed in the books of Jeremiah, 2 Chronicles and Daniel refer to Babylon’s position as world power from 609 BCE to 539 BCE, and that the seventy years of Zechariah relates to the ‘denounced’ state of Jerusalem and its temple, from its destruction in 587 BCE until 517 BCE, following Darius’ decree to rebuild it. This interpretation resolves the contradictions introduced by Jehovah’s Witnesses that:

  • the seventy years ended two years after Babylon’s king was killed despite the fact that he was to be ‘called to account’ once the 70 years had been completed;
  • attention was given to the Jews’ return only after they had already returned;
  • the seventy years mentioned in Zechariah’s time had not ended until twenty-two years after Babylon ceased to be a world power.

Significantly, this interpretation is also in harmony with the known archaeological history of the period. Some of the available archaeological evidence, and the Watch Tower Society’s attempts at discrediting it, are addressed below.

607 and archaeology

This section addresses archaeological evidence that the Watch Tower Society has tried to dismiss. It does not attempt to address the many lines of archaeological evidence in support of 587 BCE that are simply ignored by the Watch Tower Society.

In the absence of any secular sources stating that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 BCE, Watch Tower Society publications go to great lengths to try to discredit sources that place the event in the year 587 BCE. This creates an awkward situation, because their interpretation of the scriptures forces them to accept historical sources that confirm that Babylon ceased to be a world power when it was destroyed by the Medo-Persians in 539 BCE (with which they agree, even though it conflicts with their interpretation of Jeremiah 25:12), and then reject the same sources when they cite 587 BCE for the destruction of Jerusalem.

Ptolemy’s Canon

See also The Watch Tower Society’s 2011 attempt to defend 607.

One of these sources is known as Ptolemy’s Canon, a list of kings associated with various astronomical events composed by the Babylonian priest and historian Claudius Ptolemy (70–161 CE), based on information from the Seleucid Period (fourth to first centuries BCE). The 8 May 1972 issue of the Watch Tower Society’s magazine, Awake!, presented an article entitled When Did Babylon Desolate Jerusalem?, which contended that Ptolemy is unreliable because his records were based on astronomical calculations. (Astronomy was extremely important to the religion of the Babylonians; solar and lunar eclipses and other astronomical phenomena were meticulously recorded.) In part, the article states that “There is no way to be sure that Ptolemy was correct in assigning a certain number of years to various kings.” However, in other Watch Tower Society literature, the lengths (but not the starting points) of all of the kings of the Neo-Babylonian period are stated to be the same as those reported by Ptolemy.*
*Insight on the Scriptures, volume 1, pages 236, 238; Insight on the Scriptures, volume 2, page 457; The Watchtower, 1 January 1965, page 29.

The 1 October 2011 issue of The Watchtower further attacked Ptolemy’s Canon, stating that it does not include the names of three kings mentioned in the Uruk King List, but failed to admit that two of the omitted kings were actually contemporaneous Assyrian rulers, and the remaining ‘missing’ king ruled for less than a year. In each case, Ptolemy’s Canon indicates one king per year for every year of Babylonian rule. The article makes a point of noting that one of the ‘missing’ kings—Sin-sharra-ishkun—ruled for ‘seven years’, though he actually reigned for about twice that length, all of which was during the reign of Nabopolassar.

Ptolemy’s Canon is consistent with the assignment of 539 BCE for Babylon’s fall; however, the Watch Tower Society appears reluctant to give credence to his testimony. Instead, a number of articles in Watch Tower Society publications# state that the ancient historians Diodorus (first century BCE), Africanus (third century CE) and Eusebius (third–fourth centuries CE) support 539 BCE. However, they omit the fact that Africanus and Eusebius used Diodorus’ writings for their source material, which in turn used Berossus (a priest of the Seleucid Period) as its source; therefore, all three historians ultimately obtained their data from the Seleucid Period, the same source used by Ptolemy.
#Insight on the Scriptures, volume 1, pages 454, 458; The Watchtower,15 May 1971, page 316.

VAT 4956

See also The Watch Tower Society’s 2011 attempt to defend 607.

In the 1972 Awake! article cited above, the Watch Tower Society dismissed ““VAT 4956”″ (additional quotes theirs), which contains astronomical observations from Nebuchadnezzar’s thirty-seventh year (568 BCE). The article stated that “The text is not an original and it contains numerous gaps. Certain terms found therein cannot even be understood now.” The article then claims that VAT 4956 is “a defective copy” that “could share mutual errors” with Ptolemy’s Canon.

In the Society’s 1981 book, “Let Your Kingdom Come” (page 186), the Watch Tower Society acknowledged that VAT 4956 “provides astronomical information datable to 568 B.C.E.” but again casts doubt on the accuracy of the assignment of Nebuchadnezzar’s thirty-seventh year.

Contradicting its previous position about the reliability of VAT 4956, the 1 November 2011 issue of The Watchtower instead acknowledges that the observations in VAT 4956 are for Nebuchadnezzar’s thirty-seventh year. The article then claims that (unnamed) “researchers have carefully analysed these 13 sets of lunar positions on VAT 4956″ and determined that “all 13 sets match calculated positions for 20 years earlier,” claiming that the tablet actually supports their chronology. (This would also require that the “defective copy” “which contains numerous gaps” is actually 100% accurate and reliable.) No source is provided for the identity of the supposed “researchers”, but the information is most likely from Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian Chronology Volume II, by Rolf Furuli, a Jehovah’s Witness. Furuli’s biased analysis of the astronomical observations is highly suspect, as can be seen here. The relative positions of the planets indicated on the tablet are not repeatable for hundreds of years, and definitely indicate 568 BCE as Nebuchadnezzar’s thirty-seventh year. Consequently, the Watch Tower Society’s article claims the names of the planets on the tablet are ambiguous; however, David Brown, cited in the article, confirms that is not the case (Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy—Astrology, pages 55–56).

BM 21946

The Babylonian chronicle BM 21946 provides a year-by-year account of the first several years of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. The Watch Tower Society cites this chronicle in reference to the Battle of Carchemish (Insight, volume 1, pages 418, 1025) in Nabopolassar’s final year and the attack on Jerusalem (Insight, volume 1, page 452; Insight, volume 2, page 480^) in Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh year. The Society’s chronology has the same amount of time between these two events as the secularly accepted chronology (though it assigns different years). However, the Society’s chronology not only distorts the order of events, but also forces the events of the seven-year period (604 BCE – 598 BCE) into just three years (620 BCE – 618 BCE). Rather than acknowledging that the chronicle is incompatible with the Society’s chronology, the contradictions for the intervening period are simply ignored. For the list of problems this chronicle creates for the Watch Tower Society’s chronology, see Response to 607 website.
^BM 21946 is also mentioned in a diagram in the 1 November 2011 issue of The Watchtower, but no events are cited from it.
†The chronicle does not count accession years.

The Watch Tower Society assigns incorrect years for all events during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.
Items in red in this chart indicate additional problems with their relative chronology.

Astronomical dating

In an attempt to undermine the validity of astronomical dating of events, Insight, in the section dealing with Chronology, under the subheading Astronomical Calculations (volume 1, page 454), states that “only in the case of a definitely stated total solar eclipse visible in a specific area would there be little reason for doubt in the fixing of a particular historical date by such means,” (formatting theirs). However, under the previous subheading of the Chronology section (page 453), Insight says the astronomical dating of a single lunar eclipseevidently” (formatting theirs) identifies the fall of Babylon in 539 BCE. Though the year 539 BCE is not in dispute, there is less evidence to support it than there is for the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, and the Watch Tower Society accepts the date using methods that it rejects as being unreliable. The source of the lunar eclipse accepted by the Society is said to be “a Babylonian clay tablet,” though Insight fails to mention that the tablet is ‘Strm.Kambys.400’, an astronomical diary.

Contemporary evidence

The Watch Tower Society’s chronology places Jerusalem’s destruction twenty years prior to the secularly agreed year, creating a gap of twenty years in the dates it assigns for kings during the Neo-Babylonian period. Specifically, from 580 BCE to 556 BCE, the Society only accounts for four years and nine months of rule. In contrast, archaeologists have found contemporary records for the entire period.

The Watch Tower Society admitted in its 1981 publication, “Let Your Kingdom Come” (page 187): “Thousands of contemporary Neo-Babylonian cuneiform tablets have been found that record simple business transactions, stating the year of the Babylonian king when the transaction occurred. Tablets of this sort have been found for all the years of reign for the known Neo-Babylonian kings in the accepted chronology of the period.” Their subsequent explanation is that all of those records have been misinterpreted. Similarly, The Watchtower of 1 November 2011 acknowledged in a footnote: “Business tablets exist for all the years traditionally attributed to the Neo-Babylonian kings. When the years that these kings ruled are totaled and a calculation is made back from the last Neo-Babylonian king, Nabonidus, the date reached for the destruction of Jerusalem is 587 B.C.E.” The article then weakly claimed, “this method of dating works only if each king followed the other in the same year, without any breaks in between”, but made no attempt to justify an ‘absence’ of records for an entire twenty years.

A suspicious ‘coincidence’ is found in Insight under the Chronology subheading Egyptian Chronology, which states: “The difference between the [dates used in Insight] and those generally assigned by modern historians amounts to as much as a century or more for the Exodus and then narrows down to about 20 years by Pharaoh Necho’s time” (formatting added). Actually, the discrepancy by the time of Necho is exactly twenty years. The independent contemporary records of Babylon and Egypt, in harmony with each other, both contradict the Watch Tower Society’s chronology.
‡For more information about why there are greater discrepancies for earlier Pharaohs, see 607 and the new New World Translation.

The following table indicates the differences between secular and Watch Tower Society chronology for the Neo-Babylonian period.

King Contemporary records§ Classical historians§ Watch Tower
Shamashshumukin 20 years: 668 – 648 BCE ? years: ? – 648 BCE
Kandalanu 22 years: 648 – Dec 626 BCE not mentioned
Nabopolassar 21 years: Dec 626 – Aug 605 BCE 21 years: 645 – 625 BCE
Nebuchadnezzar 43 years: Aug 605 – Sep 562 BCE 43 years: 624 – 582 BCE
Evil-Merodach 2 years: Oct 562 – Jul 560 BCE 2 years: Oct 562 – Mar 560 BCE 2 years: 582 BCE – ?
Neriglissar 4 years: Aug 560 – Apr 556 BCE 4 years: Mar 560 – Jun 557 BCE 4 years: (no years given)
Labashi-Marduk 2 months: May 556 – Jun 556 BCE 9 months: Jul 557 – Mar 556 BCE 9 months: (no years given)
Nabonidus 17 years: Jul 556 – Sep 539 BCE 17 years: Apr 556 – Sep 539 BCE 17 years: 556 – 539 BCE

§Including accession period. Gregorian month names are approximate; March indicates Adar (or Veadar) and April indicates Nisan. Months for classical historians based on comparative analysis of details provided by Ptolemy, Berossus, Josephus and Polyhistor.

Josephus

The Watch Tower Society claims the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus agrees with their interpretation of the seventy years. It quotes Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, chapter 1: “all Judea and Jerusalem, and the temple, continued to be a desert for seventy years,” and Against Apion, Book I, chapter 19: “our city was desolate during the interval of seventy years, until the days of Cyrus” (formatting theirs). In its quote from Against Apion, the Society emphasises the word desolate; however, it is evident from Josephus’ other statements that the desolation was for only a part of that period. Against Apion, Book I, chapter 21 pointedly states: “Nebuchadnezzar, in the eighteenth year of his reign, laid our temple desolate, and so it lay in that state of obscurity for fifty years; but that in the second year of the reign of Cyrus its foundations were laid, and it was finished again in the second year of Darius”. Jehovah’s Witnesses suggest this reference to ‘fifty years’ is a scribal error, however, the introduction to Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, states “Containing the interval of one hundred and eighty-two years and a half. From the captivity of the ten tribes to the first year of Cyrus.” This can only be harmonised if fifty years are allocated for the period between the destruction of the temple and Cyrus’ decree to rebuild it. This clearly indicates that Josephus is in agreement with other archaeological sources, and in disagreement with the Watch Tower Society. When confronted with this information, the Society’s response is that Josephus is not always reliable, rendering their own appeal to Josephus’ works meaningless.
“Let Your Kingdom Come”, Appendix to chapter 14, page 188.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Bible study

Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to read the Bible for themselves, and to do personal study. Why then, do most of them not realise that there is a fundamental error in their ‘607’ doctrine? For some, the answer is largely that they do not want to know anything that conflicts with the Watch Tower Society, for fear of losing their faith and of being shunned. Additionally, whilst the Society does tout the catchphrase ‘read God’s word the Bible daily,’ it is stressed that they should study the Bible only with the aid of information from the ‘faithful and discreet slave’, that is, material authorised by the Governing Body and prepared by the Watch Tower Society. This is emphasised by quotes such as:

  • “Have you read all the recent material published by the faithful slave about the use of social networking sites? How unwise it would be to use such sites without reading that material!” (The Watchtower, 15 August 2012, page 14);
  • “What should I do when I have a question about something I read in the Bible or when I need advice about a personal problem? … we should exert ourselves in researching answers to our Bible questions and in finding solutions to our personal problems … by using the tools that have been provided by “the faithful and discreet slave.” (The Watchtower, 15 October 2011, page 32);
  • “On the other hand, if we minimized the Bible-based counsel that we receive through the faithful and discreet slave class, choosing to follow an independent course, we would be placing ourselves at odds with God’s unfolding purpose.” (The Watchtower, 15 July 2011, page 28);
  • “Since Jehovah God and Jesus Christ completely trust the faithful and discreet slave, should we not do the same? … The slave thus deserves our complete trust. How, though, can we demonstrate that we trust the faithful and discreet slave? … how do we view the timely spiritual food that the faithful slave dispenses by means of Bible-based publications and through Christian gatherings?” (The Watchtower, 15 February 2009, pages 27–28);
  • “Yes, what a stimulant to our spiritual wakefulness is diligent personal study of the Scriptures using Bible-based publications provided by “the faithful and discreet slave”!” (The Watchtower, 15 December 2003, page 22);
  • “Approved association with Jehovah’s Witnesses requires accepting the entire range of the true teachings of the Bible, including those Scriptural beliefs that are unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses. What do such beliefs include? … That 1914 marked the end of the Gentile Times and the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the heavens, as well as the time for Christ’s foretold presence.” (The Watchtower, 1 April 1986, page 31);
  • Questions from Readers article: Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses decline to exchange their Bible study aids for the religious literature of people they meet? (The Watchtower, 1 May 1984, page 31);
  • “We all need help to understand the Bible, and we cannot find the Scriptural guidance we need outside the “faithful and discreet slave” organization.” (The Watchtower, 15 February 1981, page 19);
  • Individual Bible study, certainly! Independent Bible study, beware!” (formatting theirs; The Watchtower, 15 August 1952, page 501);

Similarly, when Jehovah’s Witnesses conduct ‘home Bible studies’ with non-members, only information provided by the Watch Tower Society is considered. Though there is some latitude for a ‘student’ not ‘understanding’ the material, ‘students’ who challenge the material are not considered ‘progressive’, usually resulting in termination of the study. The Society will not focus on Bible verses that inexplicably conflict with its doctrines, so submissive ‘sheeplike ones’ who never examine information from any other source are unlikely to consider them in any depth.

Contents

Scripture quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—with References Copyright ©1984 Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. The Watchtower, Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy, Isaiah’s Prophecy—Light for all Mankind, Awake!, Insight on the Scriptures, “Let Your Kingdom Come” Copyright © Jehovah’s Witnesses / Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society.

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3 thoughts on “Jehovah’s Witnesses and 1914

  1. Thank you for this articles. It’s amazing to me that so much evidence, both secular and biblical, is available that directly refutes this 607 BCE date yet they are unwilling to change. The saying, there is no worst blind person then the one that does not wish to see, seems to apply. With out 607 they dont have 1914, with out 1914 they dont have 1919. One can see why they do not want to accept it. With out 1919 they have no basis to claim they were chosen by Jesus and placed over all his belongings. It is sad that they know they are wrong and therefore strongly, under pain of disfellowhipping, urge all of their members not to read or endover to study such matters on their own. They have effectively monopolized the Bible, Christ and God. One, under moral and conscience obligation, should bring this to light but unfortunately what they do with the information as indivituals rests on their shoulders. I do agree on one predominant advice they like to give, “wait on Jehovah.” If they are unwilling to change their course in view of so much evidence that they are wrong, they will then have to render and account to God for such misdeeds. Even though I am comming to the realization that they are not what they had claimed to be I chose not to let this undermind my love and faith in Jesus and God. As I am confident that in due time they will make all things right.

  2. This is not the end of the story: “After the thousand years, Satan will be allowed to test those living on Earth, and then Satan along with any who succumb to the test will be destroyed (Revelation 20:1-10).”

    The rest of the story is that those who survive the thousand years and last test will thereafter forever live or die based on their own righteousness, their own merit, without Jesus. The WTS good news turns out to be a future of facing sin and death in the lake of fire each and every day JWs wake up in paradise on earth.

    See the QFR in the 8/15/2006 wt which asks the question: “After the final test at the end of the Millennium, will it be possible for humans to sin and die?” Their answer is Yes, unlikely, but Yes.

    • Thanks for your comment, HollyW. The JW doctrine about a ‘paradise earth’ (never mentioned in the Bible) is a fairytale, and it falls apart in all kinds of ways under the slightest scrutiny. From the issue you raise of potentially still being executed even after the ‘big test’, to the necessity of believing ‘Adam’ was literally the first human only around 6000 years ago, to the prospect of a small number of people rebuilding civilisation over the bodies of billions of corpses, and so on. This is what happens when people try to make sense of a bunch of superstitious and contradictory ‘religious texts’.

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