This page is an independent overview of problems with the 2-part series appearing in the October 2011 and November 2011 issues of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ magazine, The Watchtower. For a detailed examination of the articles by an expert on the subject, see http://jwfacts.com/pdf/carl-olof-jonsson-when-jerusalem-destroyed.pdf. For an overview of problems in the June 2012 issue of Awake!, see The Watch Tower Society’s 2012 attempt to defend 607. For an overview of the claims about 607 BCE in the May 2013 issue of Awake!, see The Watch Tower Society’s 2013 attempt to defend 607.
For about thirty years, the Watch Tower Society had been silent about attempting to defend its unique chronology regarding the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. That silence was broken in the 1 October 2011 and 1 November 2011 issues of The Watchtower, which present a 2-part series of articles claiming there are good reasons for accepting 607 BCE as the year in which Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, rather than the correct secularly accepted year, 587 BCE.
The article ignores the plain wording of Jeremiah 25:12, which directly states a simple order of events:
- 70 years will be fulfilled.
- Babylon’s king will be called to account.
No explanation is given for why that verse is ignored in their assignment of ‘calling to account’ Babylon’s king two years prior to their alleged end of the 70 years. In fact, the verse is not mentioned at all in either article. This is to avoid the fact that the end of the 70 years actually referred to the fall of Babylon to the Persians, which is described at Jeremiah 25:12, 2 Chronicles 36:20–21, and Daniel 5:25–31. The Watch Tower Society agrees that that event occurred in 539 BCE, and the Witnesses’ own translation of the Bible has a cross-reference from Jeremiah 25:12 to Daniel 5:30 for ‘calling the king to account’, which Jeremiah says happens “when seventy years have been fulfilled”.
Additionally, neither article (and indeed, neither issue of the magazine) makes any mention at all of 1914. The real reason Jehovah’s Witnesses require 607 BCE to be the year in which Jerusalem was destroyed is because they believe there were exactly 2,520 years from the year in which Jerusalem fell until October of 1914.
This page addresses the fundamental problems with the articles appearing in The Watchtower; it does not attempt to deal with many other problems with the Witnesses’ chronology that are not addressed in the series.
1 October 2011
- The article claims in the introduction that there is “evidence within the Bible itself”, however the article ignores evidence in the Bible that actually makes their view impossible.
“Seventy Years” for Whom?
- In the third paragraph, the article relies on a modern understanding of “this whole country” to give a misleading view that Jeremiah 25:11 referred to Judea, whereas the term refers to the ‘land’ of all the surrounding nations (Jeremiah 25:8–11).
- The third paragraph ignores the context of Jeremiah 29:10, failing to state that even in their interpretation, the context of that verse was several years prior to their alleged beginning of the 70 years.
- The article states that “many” translations say “for Babylon” at Jeremiah 29:10, however it is actually most translations (whereas their own New World Translation says “at Babylon”). It also waters down the consensus among historians by referring to “some historians”.
- The article partially quotes the New International Version’s rendering of Jeremiah 29:10, as “When seventy years are completed, . . . I will . . . bring you back to this place”; however, the NIV actually includes the words “for Babylon” between “completed” and the comma. The fact that it would be nonsensical to bring the Jews back after a period that supposedly marked their return is conveniently ignored.
- When discussing Jeremiah chapter 25, the article misrepresents the context by falsely suggesting that the effect of Babylon’s power over other nations was merely incidental. In doing so, it ignores that Jeremiah was actually considered to be “a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
When Did “the Seventy Years” Start?
- The article quotes 2 Chronicles 36:21; the quoted translation says that “the seventy years were completed in fulfilment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” Jeremiah never said anything at all about Sabbath rests (and the Bible never mentions a 70-year exile). However, the article then dishonestly claims that the 70 years were a period when Jerusalem ‘would enjoy “Sabbath rests”’.
- The article claims that, in their interpretation, no one was left to work the land after the 70 years began; however, Jews were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon several years later, in Nebuchadnezzar’s 23rd year (Jeremiah 52:30).
When Did “the Seventy Years” End?
- The article claims that the Jews returned to Jerusalem in 537 BCE, following an announcement by Cyrus in his first regnal year. However, Cyrus’ first year as king of Babylon began in 538 BCE, not 537 BCE. Kings generally made important announcements at their accession to the throne. There is no justification for dogmatically stating that the Jews returned in 537 BCE, which is done for the singular purpose of trying to make their 70 years fit. The article misdirects the reader from this fact by providing unnecessary detail about the undisputed dating of 539 BCE.
- The information about 539 BCE cites the historians Diodorus and Herodotus, but fails to mention that those historians used the same Neo-Babylonian sources as were used for Ptolemy’s canon for their information about Babylon. The article then goes on to attack classical historians and Ptolemy’s canon.
Classical Historians—How Accurate?
- The article presents a table that attempts to raise doubt about records provided by various classical historians.* None of the records in the table are compatible with the chronology asserted by Jehovah’s Witnesses. No attempt is made to explore possible reasons for the alleged discrepancies, such as rounding, and presentation of some reigns in months instead of years.# In an effort to increase the number of supposed discrepancies, the Watch Tower Society’s chart omits Josephus’ reckoning of the reign of Nabopolassar, even though Josephus unambiguously gives it as 21 years in Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, Chapter 11.
*The charts below also indicate months as suggested by classical historians and calculated dates independent of lunar observations. Contemporary business documents from the Neo-Babylonian period indicate that the reigns of Amel-Marduk and Neriglissar were each five months longer, and the reign of Labashi-Marduk was seven months shorter, as shown in this chart (will open in a separate window/tab). There are various possible reasons for such discrepancies; these include periods of disputed reign, news of a new king not reaching a particular area at the time of a transaction, or ancient historians having incorrect or incomplete information.
#In the reconciliation of these records presented below, Berossus and Ptolemy count full regnal years, plus one year for the accession period, adjusted when the previous king’s accession was incomplete. Berossus shows months for accession period with no reign, whereas Ptolemy omits. Polyhistor rounds off the regnal period, with single years given in months, and reigns shorter than twelve months not shown. Josephus provides brief reigns in months.
When rounded to whole numbers, reigns can be validly presented in various ways (with varying degrees of accuracy), some of which are shown below:
The Canon of Ptolemy
- The article attempts to raise doubt about Ptolemy’s canon with a comparison with the Uruk King List. The article dishonestly omits that Sin-shumu-lishir and Sin-shar-ishkun were actually Assyrian kings contemporaneous with Kandalanu, and that Ptolemy does not list kings who ruled for less than a year.
- A footnote (number 8) claims that Sin-sharra-ishkun ruled for seven years, but he actually reigned for about 15 years (626 BCE – 612 BCE), including the period of reign contested by Sin-shumu-lishir (626 BCE), all of which was during the reign of Nabopolassar.
The Conclusion Based on This Evidence
- The article sums up by claiming that “the Bible clearly states that there was an exile of 70 years”, whereas the Bible never even mentions 70 years of exile.
- The article states that “most scholars agree” that the Jews had returned by 537 BCE, which is misleading because most secular sources (and many religious sources) actually indicate the return of the Jews in 538 BCE. (More accurately, some Jews returned at that time, but many remained in Babylon.)
- The article concludes by alluding to “historical evidence” to be provided in the November issue.
1 November 2011
- The second article in the series reiterates the claim that the Jews returned to Jerusalem in 537 BCE, with no evidence, and without admitting that secular sources actually say 538 BCE, which was Cyrus’ first regnal year as king of Babylon. Jehovah’s Witnesses dogmatically insist on 537 BCE for the Jews’ return because it is 70 years after 607 BCE, because there is too much vested in their numerology regarding 1914.
- The article falsely claims that “the Bible explicitly says that the exile lasted for 70 years”. It partially quotes the New International Version’s rendering of 2 Chronicles 36:21-22, but dishonestly prefaces the quote with a statement about Jewish exile. However, 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 actually associates the 70 years with the Jews’ servitude to ‘Nebuchadnezzar and his sons’ “until the kingdom of Persia began to reign”. Though the land rested while the Jews were in Babylon, the Bible explicitly states that it was the Persian conquest of Babylon that actually marked the end of the 70 years rather than the subsequent return from exile. The “word spoken by Jeremiah” was that all the nations would serve Babylon for 70 years (25:11), and then Babylon’s king would be called to account (25:12), and when 70 years had been fulfilled, only then would attention be given to the Jews’ return (29:10). Jeremiah never mentioned paying off sabbaths (which is from Leviticus 26:34), and 70 years of exile is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.
- The article acknowledges that none of the quoted secular experts agree with the Watch Tower Society’s view. Various experts have complained about Watch Tower Society literature misquoting them in the past where the Society has implied that such experts support its chronology. John M. Steele, quoted in the November article, has stated that he was misquoted. Ron Sack, quoted on page 23, has also indicated that he has been misrepresented in the article, which he calls “a lie”.
• The Babylonian chronicles / • Business tablets
- The article distracts the reader with a graphic showing that Babylonian chronicles do not account for every year. However, the article admits in a footnote that business records are known for every single year of the known reigns. It fails to admit that business records also confirm each transition between the known kings,* and that it is impossible for the business records to allow for an additional 20 years (also missing from all other sources), which would be required for Jehovah’s Witnesses’ chronology to be correct.
*For example, BM 30254 confirms the transition from Nebuchadnezzar to Amel-Marduk; NBC 4897 confirms the transition from Amel-Marduk to Neriglissar; YBC 4012 confirms the transition from Neriglissar to Labashi-Marduk; the Hillah Stele confirms the transition from Labashi-Marduk to Nabonidus; BM 35382 confirms the transition from Nabonidus to Cyrus.
- When faced with biblical contradictions, the Watch Tower Society (like other Christian apologists) is quick to speculate about how such problems ‘might’ be resolved. But when other sources ‘seem’ to have a discrepancy, it is leapt upon as an ‘opportunity’ to say secular records ‘must’ be wrong.
• Astronomical tablets
- The article claims that astronomical calculations may be unreliable, but Watch Tower Society literature accepts the astronomical calculations used for calculating 539 BCE.
- The article claims there was a convenient eclipse 20 years prior to one in 568 BCE, but fails to admit that for it to be the correct eclipse, all other astronomical observations throughout the entire Neo-Babylonian period would need to be shifted accordingly.
- A footnote (number 17) claims that Nisan of 588 BCE began in May. However, Nisan never starts in May. The purpose of intercalary months is to synchronize the lunisolar calendar with solar years, because the lunar year is about 11 days shorter; consequently, intercalary months are only added when Nisan would otherwise begin too early in March. Nisan of 588 BCE actually began on April 4 because an intercalary month had been added so that Nisan would not begin too early in the year. The Watch Tower Society is well aware that Nisan never begins in May. The Memorial—purportedly the most important day of the year for Jehovah’s Witnesses—occurs on Nisan 14, and always occurs in March or April. The Watch Tower Society has explicitly stated that Nisan 14 always falls within “the period of March 22 through April 19” (Our Kingdom Ministry, December 1976, page 3). There was no provision in the ancient Babylonian calendar for a year to have only eleven months, as would be required if a year could begin in May.
- Though the article provides a full page of references, no source is provided for the identity of the “researchers” who supposedly “carefully analysed these 13 sets of lunar positions on VAT 4956”. The only ‘scholar’ known to have attempted any such examination in support of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ chronology is Rolf Furuli—a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses—in his book, Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian Chronology Compared with the Chronology of the Bible, Volume 2. Furuli is a (retired) linguist, not a historian.
- In 1972, the Watch Tower Society stated that ““VAT 4956”” (additional quotes theirs) is a “defective copy” “which contains numerous gaps” (Awake!, 8 May 1972, p. 28), but the 2011 article asserts that the same tablet is completely accurate for assigning 588 BCE for Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year.
- The article denies the significance of astronomical observations of planets in VAT 4956, claiming that “the planetary observations are open to speculation and to several different interpretations.” This is because the planetary positions are not consistent with their reckoning and the planets’ relative positions are not repeatable for thousands of years. David Brown, cited in the article, confirms that the names of the planets are not ambiguous (Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy—Astrology, pages 55–56).
Why Trust the Bible?
- The article claims that “Jeremiah and Daniel clearly state that the Jews were in exile for 70 years”, but the Bible never mentions 70 years of exile. Additionally, Ezekiel 40:1 shows that most of the Jews were in exile for more than 11 years longer than the period from the fall of Jerusalem until the Jews’ return.
- The article concludes by speculating that ‘more evidence’ may yet be ‘uncovered’ to ‘vindicate the Bible’. However, the Bible’s references to the Neo-Babylonian period are already consistent with secular history, and it is only the Watch Tower Society’s interpretations that are inconsistent.