A month ago I sent a letter to the US branch about 607. My purpose for sending it was because I wanted to show to my parents through the letters the truth behind the date system. Two days ago, I received a response from them. I think this is gonna be the first of many. I'd like to share my letter and theirs, and get some help researching my next rebuttal. I know that's a tall order. But if anything, I'd appreciate it if you all at least read it. My letter first:
I have a question regarding Bible chronology. I’ve read the online library articles regarding 607 B.C.E., and while I appreciate the effort of our brothers, things still don’t add up. For one, if we say that 607 was the date of Jerusalem’s destruction, that means that Nebuchadnezzar would have been a child of around 8 given his birth in the early 630s when he first attacked Judah. The idea that a child could cross the desert and lead an army seems unlikely to me. Moreover, the scholars whose works I have read say that Josiah was killed at around 609, about 20 years after the date that we claim. And as for the scripture at Jeremiah 29:10, every modern translation I looked at, except for ours, said that 70 years must be completed FOR Babylon, not at. I looked at the writings of professor Ernst Jenni and he seems to have done a lot of research on this particular verse alone, and has come to the same conclusion. Additionally, while the library article “When was ancient Jerusalem destroyed” says that classical historians disagree with each other over their lists of kings, this isn’t true at all. Both Ptolemy and the Uruk king list agree with each other and add up to a total of about 109 regnal years. The only reason they appear to be different is because Ptolemy did not include kings that ruled for less than a year. However, their totals still add up to an almost exact 109. To say that these sources disagree with each other requires an incredible amount of nitpicking. Moreover, I find it odd that we use the writings of these classical historians to justify certain dates when we feel the need to, but then discredit those same writers when it is convenient. The final piece that seems to go against 607 is the fact that our starting date for David’s dynasty is different from any other scholarly source on the subject. Our dates for all the kings are off by several decades from what is academically accepted. So what seems to be solid Biblical proof found at Ezekiel 4:1-7 that the 390 days is symbolic for 390 years starting at 997 BCE (as our current stance claims), is calculated from a date that has even less backing to support it than 607 does. It is based on the idea that Rehoboam began ruling Judah at that date, even though all the historical data points to the fact that he wasn’t even born yet. Thus, the one shred of evidence that could support 607 is off by nearly half a century. It feels as though the evidence overwhelmingly does not support 607/609 as the start of the Jewish captivity, but instead points to their subjugation as a nation, since by that point Judah lost its sovereignty as a nation.
I know and I hope that you’ll find evidence to refute this. But given the amount I’ve looked into it, it looks like we’re the only group that claims 607 was the date of Jerusalem’s destruction. Why don’t we just accept 587-589 and change some of our doctrines about 1914? We make so much effort to counter the efforts that scholars have put forth for the past 200 years about this subject, but why not just accept it? Doing so would make others who research our religion not believe that we are revising history.
It's by no means a perfect letter. It wasn't meant to be either. I was looking for a response and a way to establish some general points in a civil manner. And now for theirs. I had to copy this down word for word. Any possible typos are likely mine (except for their spelling of 'Babilon'), not theirs:
Dear Brother Lobsto,
This is in reply to your letter postmarked July 2, 2019. You ask for supportive information regarding our dating the destruction of Jerusalem at 607 B.C.E.
The secular date of 587 BCE is for the most part deduced from available archaeological findings. While ancient commercial cuneiform documents, inscriptions, and king lists provide some definitive information, when these disagree with the Bible's chronology, we choose to rely on the inspired Word of God. As you likely are aware, it has been necessary progressively to revise secular history as to events and when they occurred, especially ancient history, as more reliable and factual information has become available. However, the inspired Word of God has always proved to be accurate in every respect. Nevertheless, while giving primary credence to the Scriptures, we do endeavor to take into account significant factors of archaeology and secular history. At the same time, we recognize that we do not have all the answers to questions raised about chronology. There is ongoing research. Yet, the fact that the Bible has always been found reliable as to history causes us to feel as did the apostle Paul, who wrote: "Let God be found true, even if every man be found a liar." - Romans 3:4, 2 Timothy 3:16.17.
What do the inspired Scriptures reveal that is definitive in determining the date of Jerusalem's destruction? The Bible record clearly shows the destruction of Jerusalem was to be followed by 70 years of desolation. The prophet Jeremiah wrote under inspiration: "And all this land will be reduced to ruins and will become an object of horror, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon for 70 years." (Jeremiah 25:11) Decades later, in discerning "the number of years" the land would remain desolate, Daniel concluded it was to be "70 years." (Daniel 9:2) Ezra, a skilled copyist and scholar who lived after the restoration of the Jews, wrote at 2 Chronicles 36:21 regarding the desolation of Jerusalem that it was "to fulfill Jehovah's word spoken by Jeremiah, until the land has paid off its sabbaths. All the days it lay desolated it kept sabbath, to fulfill 70 years. (2 Kings 25:21-26) We realize that some Bible translations say in Jeremiah 29:10 that "70 years must be completed for Babilon," you will find by doing further research that many others use the word "at." (King James Version among others) However, use of the word "at" or "for" does not change the number of years given nor the fact that Babylon took Israelites captive.
The ancient Jewish historian Josephus also believed that the 70 years referred to desolation. He wrote that the king of Babylon "removed our people entirely out of their own country, and transferred them to Babylon; when it so happened that our city was desolate during the interval of seventy years, until the days of Cyrus king of Persia." (Against Apion, Book 1, 19) Although it is true that a few pages later, Book 1, 21 (154), Josephus mentions a period of 50 years instead of 70, just why this difference within the same work exists, we cannot say, other than to suggest the possibility of a copyist's error, since the 70-year figure is confirmed in his previous writings, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 10, chapter 9, 7 (184). - The Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston. 1987 Edition.
Less than 200 years after Josephus, several early church writers clearly accepted that the length of the desolation or exile was 70 years, and no one gives any other length for this event. For instance, Tatian the Assyrian (110 to 172 C.E.) in his Address of Hatian to the Greeks, chapter 36; Clement of Alexandria (153 to 193 C.E.) in his work The Stromata, Book I, chapter 21; and Irenaeus (120 to 202 C.E.) in Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 21, 2; Book IV, chapter 34, 4, all wrote that the Jews were exiled in Babylon for 70 years. So did the ancient chronologer Julius Africanus (200 to 232 C.E.) in the Extant Fragments of the Five Books of the Chronography of Julius Africanus, chapter 13, 2. Thus, while these ancient writers may not have been fully accurate in all the particulars, they do all agree on one point, namely, that the Jews were in captivity for 70 years, and some of these indicate that Jerusalem was desolate for the entire period.
There is little, if any, dispute that 539 B.C.E. was the date of Babylon's fall,and by the year 537 B.C.E., the Jewish remnant had returned to populate once again Jerusalem and the land of Judah. So based on the scriptural indications, this would make the time of destruction and depopulation in 607 B.C.E. Hence, from the Scriptural perspective, the desolation of Jerusalem would be a full 70 years prior to the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity. This, of course, would be 20 years before the date set by most historians.
On what basis does secular history claim the destruction of Jerusalem occurred in 587 B.C.E.? This is a deduction based mainly on what can be deciphered from clay tablets that have been unearthed in the Middle East. For example, archaeologists have found a number of datable administrative or economic cuneiform tablets from virtually all of the years traditionally given to the reigns of the kings of Babylon during the Neo-Babylonian period. But just what do these documents prove? As an example, a business tablet that is a promise to pay a debt states that it was written on "the 28th day of Sivan, the 1st year of Nergal-shar-usur, king of Babylon." (Neo-Babylonian Business and Administrative Documents, by E. W. Moore, page 69) While the tablet tells that it was written in a particular year of this Babylonian king (also known as Neriglissar), it does not say for how long he ruled or where his rule figured in relation to other kings of Babylon. For this information, ancient inscriptions and king lists need to be consulted. But how much confidence can you place in the accuracy of these king lists or other historical inscriptions? In some instances, they are in very poor condition with large segments missing. Frankly, the Babylonian Chronicles do not cover much of the period of the Neo-Babylonian kings.
To establish the date of 587 B.C.E. historians use mainly the canon of Claudius Ptolemy, which lists a set number for the length of each of five Babylonian kings beginning with Nabopolassar and ending with Nabonidus. Using this list of kings, they calculate back from the last year of Nabonidus to the 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar, when the Bible says he conquered Jerusalem, and this takes one to the year 587 B.C.E. (Jeremiah 52:29) In this regard, scholars Parker and Dubberstein acknowledge: "The general basis for the chronology of the period here treated is furnished by the Ptolemaic Canon, with help from classical sources." - Babylonian Chronology-626 B.C.-A.D. 75, page 10.
While Ptolemy's canon is widely used as the basis for the chronology leading to 587 B.C.E., some cuneiform documents have raised serious questions as to whether this is a reliable chronological source. First of all, Claudius Ptolemy lived over 600 years after the close of the Neo-Babylonian period. (The Oxford Classical Dictionary, pages 1273, 1274) Regarding the purpose of the canon, archaeologist Edwin R. Thiele, though considering the canon as reliable, acknowledges that "it was primarily for astronomical purposes. It did not pretend to give a complete list of all the rulers of either Babylon or Persia... but it was a device that made possible the correct allocation into a broad chronological scheme of certain astronomical data that were then available." (The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, Edwin R. Thiele, 1983, page 228; italics ours.) Thus, Ptolemy likely worked from chronological data that was accepted in his day, which was many centuries after the events actually occurred. In confirming the purpose of the canon, the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, by James Hastings, Volume 1, page 186, states: "The Ptolemaic canon, too, which, as is well known, did not follow historical ends, but represented a calendar with astronomical limits, had begun [its list of Babylonian kings] with Nabonassar."
There is also the possibility that other kings who were not listed by Ptolemy actually ruled during the Neo-Babylonian period. Though the list of kings in the canon of Ptolemy is viewed as the authority by the traditional chronology, there is evidence from the cuneiform tablets that there were additional kings not listed in the traditional chronology who ruled during the Neo-Babylonian period. For instance, a building inscription by Neriglissar, who ruled prior to Nabonidus, states: "Neriglissar, King of Babylon... the son of Belsu-miskun, King of Babylon." (Babylonian Problems [BBP], by W. H. Lane, published 1923, page 194) Though some scholars have tried to discredit Belsu-miskun (Bel-shum-ishkun) as being a king or try to place his rule many decades before, Professor R. P. Dougherty in the footnote on page 61 of his book Nabonidus and Belshazzar [NAB] explains: "In a number of the texts which have been quoted Neriglissar is referred to as the son of Bel-shum-ishkun. The royal inscriptions of Neriglissar corroborate this, with lofty titles ascribed to Bel-shum-ishkun [such as], sar Babili, 'king of Babylon.'" (NAB, page 61) He acknowledges that there is no known Babylonian ruler by this name but concludes: "However, the evidence of Neriglissar's noble ancestry cannot be disregarded." (NAB, page 61; italics ours.) As the father of Neriglissar, Bel-shum-ishkun would surely have ruled as "king of Babylon" sometime during the Neo-Babylonian period.
Further evidence that there may have been other kings who ruled for a short period of time during the Neo-Babylonian period can be seen in an abnormality in the business tablets dealing with the accession years of some kings and the final year of their predecessor. Normally, the datable business tablets in the last year of the previous king would reveal the last dated month of the former king. In the case of Neriglissar, the earliest document of his accession year is dated to the 26th day of the first month. The tablet is dated 00. [accession year] 01. [month] 26 [day]." (Chronological List of Texts From the First Millenium B.C. Babylonia, by Janos Everling, page 166) Since, according to the traditional chronology, Evil-Merodach ruled for only two years, his second year was considered his last. Yet, two tablets dated in his second year show Evil-Merodach still ruling on the 26th day of the first month - the same date that Neriglissar began his accession year. (Page 165) Another tablet dated during Neriglissar's accession year is on the fourth day of the second month. (00.02.04) But there are at least 11 documents showing Evil-Merodach still ruling as King of Babylon up to the 17th day of the fifth month. (Pages 165 and 166) This means, according to the dating of the business documents, that Evil-Merodach was still ruling some four months after Neriglissar, the new king, was supposed to have started his reign! In fact, these documents showed that Evil-Merodach ruled up until the tenth month of his last year. This is an obvious discrepancy that reveals that it could not have been the same year that saw the end of Evil-Merodach's reign and the beginning of Neriglissar's. Perhaps there was one year or even more separating the two kings. Could this be accounted for by Bel-shum-ishkun, who is described as the father of Neriglissar and king of Babylon? Could his rule have occurred between Evil-Merodach and Neriglissar?
As mentioned in the introductory comments, when secular chronology is at variance with the clear indications in the inspired Word of God, we choose to trust in the Scriptures. We realize that our conclusions as to the length of the captivity of the Jews in Babylon and the date of Jerusalem's destruction conflict with traditional chronology. In the final analysis, it becomes a matter of either believing the inspired record of the Bible that is supported by significant secular sources or accepting the interpretations of historians based only on incomplete and ambiguous archaeological findings. It is significant to recall that occasionally historians have claimed the Bible was inaccurate only to find from additional evidence that the Bible was right all along. One glaring example is that of Belshazzar, mentioned only by the prophet Daniel as the last king of Babylon. (Daniel 5:1-30; 7:1; 8:1) Since for some time no archaeological evidence of Belshazzar was found, it was claimed that the Bible was in error. In fact, the ancient historians Berossus and Polyhistor stated that Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon.
But then around the beginning of the 20th century, archaeologists found inscriptions and tablets with the name Belshazzar. One tablet explained and pictured on pages 366 and 367 of the book The Monuments and the Old Testament, by Ira M. Price, was inscribed in the fifth year of Nabonidus and explains that "the secretary of Belshazzar, son of the king, leased a house for three years." (Italics ours) Finally, a remarkable inscription published in 1924 entitled "A Persian Verse Account of Nabonidus" states of Nabonidus: "He entrusted a camp to his eldest, firstborn son; the troops of the land he sent with him. He freed his hand; he entrusted the kingship to him." (NAB pages 105, 106; italics ours.) During the time before these documents were uncovered, any who were impressed by the critics might have felt obliged to reject all or part of the Bible account. However, archaeological evidence eventually came to light that vindicated the Bible.
It is of interest that about one to two million cuneiform tablets have been excavated and 25,000 or so are found every year. It is estimated that only about one tenth of existing cuneiform texts have been published by scholars. (December 15, 2008, issue of The Watchtower, page 21) With so many tablets still unstudied, can anyone say that the small portion that have been studied are the final word regarding Neo-Babylonian chronology?
It is hoped that our comments above are helpful to you, Brother Lobsto. However, if you continue to have questions regarding this matter, feel free to speak with your congregation elders. Also, please keep in mind that our letter is for your personal use only, so no photocopies of it should be made and it should not be placed on any electronic system. We trust that you will understand our position in this regard. We send our warm Christian love and greetings.
Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses