Major Flip-Flop on VAT4956:
In the 1970's it was demonized:
*** g72 5/8 p. 28 When Did Babylon Desolate Jerusalem? ***
Nevertheless, someone may ask, Is there not an ancient astronomical tablet, “VAT 4956,” that places the thirty-seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign exactly in the same year as does Ptolemy’s Canon?
It should not be overlooked that the source of corroborative evidence should bear the earmarks of dependability. Can this be said about “VAT 4956”? Not really. The text is not an original and it contains numerous gaps. Certain terms found therein cannot even be understood now. Twice in the text the notation hi-bi (meaning “broken off, obliterated”) appears. Thereby the scribe acknowledged that he was working from a defective copy.
Even if, despite these problems, the astronomical information presents a true picture of the original, this would not establish the correctness of the historical data. As Ptolemy used the reigns of ancient kings (as he understood them) simply as a framework in which to place astronomical data, so the copyist of “VAT 4956” may, in line with the chronology accepted in his time, have inserted the ‘thirty-seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar.’ As admitted by the German scholars Neugebauer and Weidner (the translators of this text), the scribe evidently changed words to conform with the abbreviated terminology common in his day. But he was both inconsistent and inaccurate. So he could just as easily have inserted other information to suit his purposes. Hence both Ptolemy’s Canon and “VAT 4956” might even have been derived from the same basic source. They could share mutual errors.
Opposed to Ptolemy’s Canon and “VAT 4956” stands the unanimous testimony of Jeremiah, Zechariah, Daniel and the writer of 2 Chronicles, that Judah and Jerusalem lay desolate for seventy years. Thousands of ancient manuscripts of these writings contain the identical testimony. So, because of the problems inherent in Ptolemy’s Canon and “VAT 4956,” it takes more faith to accept them than it does to accept the Bible’s testimony, which would place the desolation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E.
*** kc p. 186 Appendix to Chapter 14 ***
VAT 4956: This is a cuneiform tablet that provides astronomical information datable to 568 B.C.E. It says that the observations were from Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year. This would correspond to the chronology that places his 18th regnal year in 587/6 B.C.E. However, this tablet is admittedly a copy made in the third century B.C.E. so it is possible that its historical information is simply that which was accepted in the Seleucid period.
Fast-forward to 2011: No mention of these "problems":
*** w11 11/1 pp. 25-27 When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed?—Part Two ***
What do the documents show? Consider the example of VAT 4956. The opening line of this tablet reads: “Year 37 of Nebukadnezar, king of Babylon.”16 Thereafter, it contains detailed descriptions of the position of the moon and planets in relation to different stars and constellations. Also included is one lunar eclipse. Scholars say that all these positions occurred in 568/567 B.C.E., which would make the 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar II, when he destroyed Jerusalem, 587 B.C.E. But do these astronomical references irrefutably point only to the year 568/567 B.C.E.?
The tablet mentions a lunar eclipse that was calculated as occurring on the 15th day of the third Babylonian month, Simanu. It is a fact that a lunar eclipse occurred on July 4 (Julian calendar) of this month during 568 B.C.E. However, there was also an eclipse 20 years earlier, on July 15, 588 B.C.E.17
If 588 B.C.E. marked the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar II, then his 18th year would be 607 B.C.E.—the very year indicated by the Bible’s chronology for the destruction of Jerusalem! (See the time line below.) But does VAT 4956 provide further corroborating evidence for the year 607 B.C.E.?
In addition to the aforementioned eclipse, there are 13 sets of lunar observations on the tablet and 15 planetary observations. These describe the position of the moon or planets in relation to certain stars or constellations.18 There are also eight time intervals between the risings and settings of the sun and the moon.18a
Because of the superior reliability of the lunar positions, researchers have carefully analyzed these 13 sets of lunar positions on VAT 4956. They analyzed the data with the aid of a computer program capable of showing the location of celestial bodies on a certain date in the past.19 What did their analysis reveal? While not all of these sets of lunar positions match the year 568/567 B.C.E., all 13 sets match calculated positions for 20 years earlier, for the year 588/587 B.C.E.
One of the places where the lunar observations fit 588 B.C.E. even better than 568 B.C.E. is shown in the tablet reproduced on these pages. On line 3 of that tablet, we read that the moon was in a certain position on the “night of the 9th [of Nisanu].” However, the scholars who first dated the event to 568 B.C.E. (astronomical -567) acknowledged that in 568 B.C.E., the moon was in that position on “the 8th of Nisanu and not on the 9th.” To support dating the tablet to 568 B.C.E., they postulated that the scribe erroneously wrote “9” instead of “8.”20 But the lunar position in line 3 finds an exact match on Nisanu 9 of 588 B.C.E.21
Clearly, much of the astronomical data in VAT 4956 fits the year 588 B.C.E. as the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar II. This, therefore, supports the date of 607 B.C.E. for Jerusalem’s destruction—just as the Bible indicates.