Charles Taze Russell (CTR) was aware of difficulties with his dates. While he was not prepared to move his Babylonian dates of 538 (Babylon’s Fall), 536 (Jews’ return), and 606 (destruction of Jerusalem), he was quite prepared to move the 1914 terminus by a full year to 1915.
Later, with its fixation at maintaining the new significance being given to 1914, the WTS shifted CTR’s Babylonian dates back by one year, to 537 and 607 respectively. But Russell was not so concerned with the accuracy of 1914 and was quite prepared to move the terminus to 1915. He wrote the following in 1912:
Coming now to a very critical examination of the date 536 B.C., there is an open question: Shall we call it 536 full years to A.D., or 535 full years? The difference in time between October 1st and January 1st would be the fourth of a year; hence our query is respecting 536-1/4 or 535-1/4 years B.C. What is the proper method of calculation, is in dispute. If we count the first year B.C. as 0, then the date 536-1/4 B.C. is the proper one for the end of the seventy years of captivity. But if we begin to reckon it by counting the first year before the Christian era as B.C. 1, then evidently the desolation ended 535-1/4 years B.C.
As to the methods of counting, Encyclopaedia Britannica says, “Astronomers denote the year which preceded the first of our era as 0 and the year previous to that as B.C. 1--the previous year B.C. 2, and so on.”
Whichever of these ways we undertake to calculate the matter the difference between the results is one year. The seventy years of Jewish captivity ended October, 536 B.C., and if there were 536-1/4 years B.C., then to complete the 2,520 years’ cycle of the Times of the Gentiles would require 1913-3/4 years of A.D., or to October, 1914. But if the other way of reckoning were used, then there were but 535-1/4 years of the period B.C., and the remainder of the 2,520 years would reach to A.D., 1914-3/4 years, otherwise October, 1915.
Since this question is agitating the minds of a considerable number of the friends, we have presented it here in some detail. We remind the readers, however, that nothing in the Scriptures says definitely that the trouble upon the Gentiles will be accomplished before the close of the Times of the Gentiles, whether that be October, 1914, or October, 1915. (Watch Tower, December 1, 1912, page 377. “The Ending of the Gentile Times”.)
When Parker and Dubberstein released their study in 1942, the WTS altered the year of the Fall of Babylon from 538 BCE to 539 BCE, and the year of the Destruction of Jerusalem from 606 BCE to 607 BCE, incorrectly blaming Russell for not knowing about the lack of a zero year. The above shows this is not exactly true.
Russell’s source for 536 BC
The following is from “1914: The Touchstone of the Watchtower, The Summary of an Investigation”, by Max Hatton (used by permission).
Russell demonstrated his dependence upon Ptolemy’s Canon on page, 51 of Vol 2, Studies in the Scriptures. "The period from the time of the restoration of the Jews from Babylon at the close of the seventy years desolation of their land in the first year of Cyrus, down to the date known as AD1 is not covered by Bible history. But, as before stated; it is well established by secular history as a period of 536 years. Ptolemy, a learned Greek-Egyptian, a geometer and astronomer, has well established these figures. They are generally accepted by scholars, and known as Ptolemy's Canon."
The unfortunate part about all this is that Ptolemy's Canon does NOT give 536 BC as the first year of Cyrus. Now if Russell had commenced his 2520 years from 538 BC, he obviously would not have arrived at 1914 AD Why did Russell say that the year was 536 BC?
On page 67 of the same Volume of Russell's writings, he mentions "Dr. Hales work on chronology." Dr. Hales work is entitled A New Analysis of Chronology and Geography, History and Prophecy. The second edition of four volumes was published in 1830.
Hales gives considerable information on the Canon of Ptolemy, and on page 168 he comments, “the Canon dates the accession of Cyrus … 538 BC”.
On pages 166 and 167 Hales discussed an adjustment made by historians to Ptolemy's Canon to make Cyrus’ first year 536 BC. This was performed out of respect for the Scriptures. Hales explains this on his page 166. "It must, however, be acknowledged, that accurate as authentic copies of the Canon unquestionably are every where else, in this single period a small correction is necessary to accommodate it to Scripture; for, according to the Canon, from the first of Nabokolassar or Nebuchadnezzar, BC 604, to the first of Cyrus, BC 538, is an interval of only 66 years; and therefore, if the Captivity began in the end of the third, or commencement of the fourth year of Jehoiakim, BC 605, Dan l:l; 2 Kings XXIV:1; Jer XXV:1; from thence, to the accession of Cyrus, was only 67 years complete, or 68 current."
On page 167 Hales says, “chronologers Scalinger, Petavius, Usher, Prideaux, Jackson &c have adopted this interpolation as indispensably necessary to reconcile the Canon to Holy Writ, which is effectually done thereby; for from the commencement of .the Captivity, BC 605, to the corrected first of Cyrus, BC 536, is 69 years complete, or 70 years current.”
The interesting point here is that Cyrus' 1st year was changed to 536 BC to make it 70 years current from 605 BC, which was regarded as the beginning of the 70 years. A perusal of Dan. 1:1, 2 Kings 24:1 and Jer. 25:1 as cited by Hales makes it obvious that the 70 years were regarded by these Chronologists as commencing at the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and not in his 19th year, as insisted on by Russell and the Society today.
The ironical part is that Russell utilized the date 536 BC, which was calculated from the date 605 BC, which Russell positively would not accept.