The Watchtower Society's 1914 chronology hinges on a dicey chain of claims. If any of these claims is wrong, then the chain is broken and Watchtower chronology collapses. Along with it goes the entire belief structure built on it, including most importantly the claim of the leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses to have been specially appointed in 1919 by God over "all Christ's belongings" on earth. In other words, the authority structure of Jehovah's Witnesses collapses.
One claim in this chain is that the Jews returned to Judah in 537 B.C., which allows the Society to calculate back 70 years to 607 B.C. and assign it as the date of Jerusalem's destruction, and then calculate forward 2,520 years (the length of the so-called Gentile Times, they claim) to 1914 A.D.
It is easily shown by the Bible and secular history that the Society's claim for 537 B.C. is wrong, and that the correct date is 538 B.C. It is easy to show that the Society's claim for the 537 date is based on nothing but speculation going back to C. T. Russell.
Here is the proof:
Ezra 1 clearly states that Cyrus, in his first year, gave a decree allowing the Jews to return to Judah. According to undisputed history, Cyrus' first year was Nisan (March/April), 538 B.C. through Adar (February/March), 537 B.C. The Bible gives no explicit statement about exactly when this decree was issued.
Ezra 3:1-7 states that by the 7th Jewish month Tishri (September/October), the Jews were settled in their cities, and at that time they gathered together in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and collect money for the rebuilding of the Temple. From this we deduce that, whatever calendar year this was, the Jews returned in the preceding year, since the secular Jewish year began in Tishri (keep in mind that the sacred Jewish year began six months offset from Tishri, in Nisan, and the Jewish months were numbered beginning with Nisan). In other words, the year in which the Jews returned was the first year of their coming home, and the new year beginning in the Tishri mentioned in Ezra 3:1 was the second year of their coming home.
Ezra 3:8, 10 states that a little later in that second year the Temple foundations were laid (NASB):
8 Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites from twenty years and older to oversee the work of the house of the LORD.
10 Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD according to the directions of King David of Israel.
The crucial piece of information here is that the Temple foundations were laid in the second month (Iyyar; April/May) of the same year in which the Jews gathered in Jerusalem immediately after they returned to Judah.
The Bible does not explicitly relate these events to any event that can be firmly dated to our Gregorian calendar. However, a careful examination of historical data indicates that it was Cyrus' general practice to free captives from the nations he conquered shortly after he secured his authority. Since he captured Babylon in October, 539 B.C., and the inhabitants would have known of his general practice, they would have expected him to soon begin freeing Babyonian captives, including the Jews. It is a good bet that Cyrus would have done this around the time of celebrating the beginning of his first regnal year.
A careful examination of Ezra 1-3 indicates that there might have been very little delay between the issuing of Cyrus' decree and the departure of the Jewish captives for Judah. Because Cyrus' first regnal year began in Nisan, and the Jews arrived by Tishri, if this all occurred in 538 B.C., there would have been at most six months for the Jews to complete their preparations and journey, and get settled in Judah. Since the trip takes about three to four months for a normal caravan, there is just enough time for these events to happen in 538 B.C.
The Watchtower Society speculates that Cyrus issued his decree sometime in late 538 or early 537 B.C., still in his first regnal year. They then claim that the Jews journeyed back to Judah in 537 B.C. However, the Society gives no justification for this speculation.
How then, can one decided if the Jews returned in 538 or 537?
Josephus provides the tie breaker.
In Against Apion I,21, Josephus states:
These accounts agree with the true histories in our books; for in them it is written that 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.
The crucial piece of information is that the Temple foundations were laid in the second regnal year of Cyrus.
Combining this with the information from Ezra that the Temple foundations were laid in the second month (Iyyar) of the second year of the Jews' return to Judah, we conclude that this second year corresponds with the second year of Cyrus. Since Cyrus' second year began in Nisan, 537 B.C. and Iyyar was the second month of that regnal year, the first year of the Jews' return was 538 B.C. This also works if one uses Tishri dating for Cyrus' reign, as some might argue that Josephus did.
In other words, Josephus has provided the crucial information to decide between 538 and 537 B.C.
According to Watchtower chronology, the Temple foundations were laid in 536 B.C., which contradicts Josephus' statement.
Now, readers already understand that our resident JW defenders will scream bloody murder about the above facts, so I will here present a chronological tablulation that is in harmony with all known facts. By proving that the Jews returned to Judah in the autumn of 538 B.C, this proves that the Watchtower Society's mere speculation that the Jews returned in 537 B.C. is wrong. Because that date is wrong, every other important Watchtower date that hinges on it, such as 607 B.C. for Jerusalem's destruction, is wrong.
Table of Cyrus' Early Years As King of Babylon, With Important Events
539___Tishri____Sep/Oct___Cyrus' 0th Year, Month 7__Babylon falls, Cyrus' accession year
539___Heshvan___Oct/Nov___Cyrus' 0th Year, Month 8
539___Chislev___Nov/Dec___Cyrus' 0th Year, Month 9
539/8_Tebeth____Dec/Jan___Cyrus' 0th Year, Month 10
538___Shebat____Jan/Feb___Cyrus' 0th Year, Month 11
538___Adar______Feb/Mar___Cyrus' 0th Year, Month 12
538___Nisan_____Mar/Apr___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 1__Cyrus' 1st year; issues his famous decree
538___Iyyar_____Apr/May___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 2
538___Sivan_____May/Jun___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 3
538___Tammuz____Jun/Jul___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 4
538___Ab________Jul/Aug___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 5
538___Elul______Aug/Sep___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 6__Jews arrive in Judah
538___Tishri____Sep/Oct___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 7___Jews are settled in their cities
538___Heshvan___Oct/Nov___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 8
538___Chislev___Nov/Dec___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 9
538/7_Tebeth____Dec/Jan___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 10
537___Shebat____Jan/Feb___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 11
537___Adar______Feb/Mar___Cyrus' 1st Year, Month 12
537___Nisan_____Mar/Apr___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 1
537___Iyyar_____Apr/May___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 2__Temple foundations are laid
537___Sivan_____May/Jun___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 3
537___Tammuz____Jun/Jul___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 4
537___Ab________Jul/Aug___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 5
537___Elul______Aug/Sep___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 6
537___Tishri____Sep/Oct___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 7
537___Heshvan___Oct/Nov___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 8
537___Chislev___Nov/Dec___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 9
537/6_Tebeth____Dec/Jan___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 10
536___Shebat____Jan/Feb___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 11
536___Adar______Feb/Mar___Cyrus' 2nd Year, Month 12
536___Nisan_____Mar/Apr___Cyrus' 3rd Year, Month 1
536___Iyyar_____Apr/May___Cyrus' 3rd Year, Month 2
I now issue the following challenge to our resident JW defenders, thirdwitness and 'scholar':
If you disagree with any of the above facts, prove your case by making point-by-point refutations of my arguments. To prove that you know what you're talking about, provide your own detailed chronological tabulation like I have done above.