For newbies, who was Carl Olof Jonsson?
He was a JW in Sweden who was challenged by a householder in the 1960s, who pointed out to him that secular history books don’t agree with Watchtower that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 BCE, but instead place the event 20 years later. The reason the date is important is because it is the starting date for JW chronology which leads to 1914 as the end of the Gentile Times, and the beginning of the Last Days, as JWs understand it. Jonsson decided to research the subject so he could go back to the householder and defend the 607 BCE date, but the more he researched, the more he realised that the 607 BCE date was simply wrong, not only by secular history, but also in terms of the Bible’s own chronology. Jonsson carefully researched the topic over years, consulting many experts, and compiled all his research into a detailed report that he sent to the world headquarters of JWs in Brooklyn. He hoped that when the Governing Body saw the evidence they would change their chronology. Instead of accepting the evidence the Governing Body dug its heels in and kept the chronology. Raymond Franz was compiling the Aid book at the time and included a lengthy entry on chronology, which was intended to refute Jonsson’s research by undermining confidence in secular chronology, but without making reference to Jonsson’s work directly. Raymond Franz later expressed regret that he played a part in rejecting the evidence that Jonsson had sent.
Instead of being thanked for his research and the sincerity of his appeal to the Governing Body, Jonsson was marginalised and eventually excluded from his religious community. He was accused of trying to promote sects. In reality Jonsson had shared his research with people he considered friends because he thought the information was important and he hoped for reasonable dialogue. Once outside the religion, Jonsson published his research as a book titled The Gentile Reconsidered: Have Jehovah’s Witnesses Been Wrong All Along About 607 BCE? Raymond Franz helped Jonsson publish and distribute this book that refuted the Watchtower date he had once defended. Jonsson went on to publish a second book, with his friend Rud Persson (pseudonym Wolfgang Herbst), titled The Sign of the Last Days - When? which, among other things, proved that Watchtower was wrong about there being an increase in earthquakes during the 20th century. This book apparently had some impact because Watchtower stopped making specific claims about an increase in earthquakes after this book was published. However Watchtower still maintains, contrary to Jonsson’s evidence, that wars, diseases, and famines typify our era in particular.
In the 1980s and 1990s a Norwegian JW named Rolf Furuli began circulating his own research which he claimed supported Watchtower chronology and refuted Jonsson’s research. Jonsson made some responses to Furuli generally pointing out that experts in ancient history did not accept his arguments based on readings from ancient sources in Akkadian and other ancient languages that are difficult to learn and interpret. Watchtower used some of the material Furuli compiled to restate their support for their 607 BCE date in a couple of Watchtower articles in 2011. Furuli was later disfellowshipped for disagreeing with the Governing Body on other matters in 2020 but still maintained that Watchtower chronology was accurate.
It had been said that Carl Olof Jonsson was in poor health for a number years and only kept in touch with a few friends including Rud Persson. News now arrives that Carl Olof Jonsson died on the 17th April 2023.
Watchtower faced a crossroads in the 1970s when it could have chosen to accept the detailed evidence Jonsson provided showing that their chronology had a faulty basis. They could have chosen to abandon 1914 at that stage and focus on other core beliefs instead, such as the identity of God and Jesus, the hope for paradise on earth, and peaceable good living until it arrives. Instead they chose to double down on their faulty chronology and crack down on dissenters. The result is that 1914 date weighs ever heavier round their necks as a growing reminder of their own fallibility with each passing year. Open discussion on Bible chronology, and other matters, remains unwelcome in the religion.
No doubt there may be details I got wrong in the above summary and I would welcome corrections.