William Dever on the date of Jerusalem's destruction
The following excerpts are from “Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah”, by William Dever, SBL Press, 2017
The largest corpora of seventh-century ostraca are those from Lachish and Arad. The original twenty-three Lachish ostraca were letters found in one room of the gatehouse in the Stratum II destruction of the city, now clearly dated to the Babylonian campaigns of 586. (“Beyond the Texts”, page 588)
Two late seventh- or early sixth-century hoards of bullae—clay seal impressions with Hebrew names—have recently been found. The 320 bullae published by Avigad are unprovenanced but probably come from illicit digging (or robbing) in Jerusalem. Yigal Shiloh's hoard of fifty-one, however, is well stratified and dates to Stratum 10 of the early sixth century (586), when the city was finally destroyed. They were found just above the floor of Building 967 (the Bullae House) in the burnt debris. (pages 589-590)
The most intriguing house shrine known thus far is in the Bullae House excavated by Shiloh in Area G in Jerusalem, its destruction well dated to 586. The bullae have been widely discussed. (page 599)
The End: The Babylonian Destructions of 586. (page 603)
The biblical texts, which here we are considering separately, focus exclusively on the fall of Jerusalem, which took place in 586, with devastating results. Jerusalem had been besieged for some eighteen months. Finally the city walls were breached; the king (Zedekiah) and his troops fled; the temple and palace were burned; the city was thoroughly looted; and large numbers of the population were deported to Babylon, leaving the "people of the land" behind as a remnant.
The Babylonian Chronicle falls silent at this point, noting only the earlier invasion in 598/597. The Deuteronomistic History, on the other hand, recounts only the final destruction of Jerusalem, nothing else. It is only archaeology that can fill in the gaps, but few modern histories of Israel cite the substantive data that we now have.
Stratum 10 of the recent excavations in Jerusalem dramatically illuminates the 586 destruction of the city. Avigad's defensive tower was found below a deep layer of ashes. Shiloh's houses in Areas E and G—the Ashlar House, the House of Ahiel, the Burnt Room, and the House of the Bullae—were fired; in the collapse were found large quantities of pottery, stone and metal vessels, and the bullae discussed above. The destruction of Mazar's residential quarters is said to have been total. Dozens of iron arrowheads, as well as triangular Scythian arrowheads, attest to the ferocity of the battle. The date was 18 July 586 (the 9th of Ab). (page 604)
The several Judahite forts listed in figure 6.5 above, most of which were founded after the 732-721 destructions in the north, were nearly all destroyed in 586, and many were deserted thereafter. The forts in the area of Jerusalem and extending eastward into the Judean desert were undoubtedly overrun by the Babylonian onslaught. The Negev forts, of less strategic importance, were also destroyed and deserted thereafter. They may have been taken by the Babylonians in the course of dominating the southern trade routes or by Edomites taking advantage of Judah's weakness.
In addition to the destructions of Judahite sites in 586, several sites in Philistia were destroyed by the Babylonians, most slightly earlier, in 604 or 603: (page 603)
Scholars have generally agreed that the Babylonian destructions in 586 devastated most of the urban sites in Judah. The fate of the rural areas, however, has only recently been illuminated. (page 606)
Coming now to Judah's final demise, there are several correlations between biblical accounts of the reigns of Judah's last kings and the archaeological and extrabiblical textual records. Jehozhaz (609) is said to have been imprisoned at Riblah in Syria by Pharaoh Neco (II) in the course of his campaigns against the Assyrians. Jehoiakim (609-598) is said to have rebelled and then become the vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, and the withdrawal of Egypt, defeated by the Babylonians, is noted. The story of Jehoiachin and the first exile of Jerusalemites in 597 accords well with Babylonian records. Jehoiachin is said in cuneiform records to have been released from prison in Babylon and allowed to attend at the king's table, an incident also recorded in an epilogue in 2 Kgs 25:27-30, added in the exilic period.
The reign of Zedekiah (597-586) is described in some detail, and much of the detail has to do with the fall of Jerusalem in 586. (page 615)
Whether or not modern scholars have decided to use the date of 586 BCE for the destruction of Jerusalem, the Bible's own timeline dates the fall of Jerusalem in a different year. Of course, I acknowledge there is much room for flexibility.
Of critical note, though, is Martin Anstey. He wrote "The Romance of Biblical Chronology" in 1913 and noted that per the Bible, based on the baptism of Christ that the 1st of Cyrus should be dated to 455 BCE. That meant there were some 82 fake years in the Persian Period, which he never delineated (537 BCE vs 455 BCE for the 1st of Cyrus).
In the meantime, Ezra 6:14,15 clearly limits the rule of Darius I to just six years: " And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia;15 and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king."
So this is at least 30 years the Bible itself requires to be removed from the Persian Period. That means the current timeline was revised, plain and simple. You can presume the Jewish records were the inaccurate records if you wish, but that doesn't matter. What matters is what the Bible's own timeline claims vs what the secular timeline is, that includes both "relative" and "absolute" dating.
But just by comparison, if you follow Martin Anstey's insight into dating the 1st of Cyrus to 455 BCE, which ends the 70 years of desolation, then those 70 years would begin in 525 BCE. If you follow JWs who claim the 70 years began in year 18 of Nebuchadnezzar II, which is also when they date the fall of Jerusalem, then per the Bible, 525 BCE should be the date for the fall of Jerusalem.
If you follow Josephus, who dates the 70 years of exile from the last deportation, some 5 years after the fall of Jerusalem, then the fall of Jerusalem would be dated to 530 BCE (525 + 5 = 530 BCE). So you see, you have options here. But there is another issue.
If you date the 1st of Cyrus to 455 BCE as some claim we should based on the baptism of Christ in 29 CE, then the Exodus occurs exactly 19 jubilees (931 years) earlier in 1386 BCE. That means the 4th of Solomon should be dated to 906 BCE. That's when the Bible is dating the rule of Solomon, from 910-870 BCE, not 970-930 BCE. So Dever has the wrong dates for Solomon's rule and every other date as far as the Bible is concerned. Those who do not wish to deal with the Bible vs secular problems try to minimize those issues with the Bible taking the blame for the discrepancies.
Bottom line, the Bible dates the 1st of Cyrus to 455 BCE and the Exodus to 1386 BCE. Those are the dates the faithful Bible chronologists compare with the available archaeology and with good results too.
In the meantime, Biblical archaeologists are not taken that seriously if they can't even get the date of the Exodus correct. But they are not "historians" and so they use faulty information from history to make their scientific comparisons, a big problem in the field. It is important that JWs as well as the scholarly world know precisely what the Bible's own dating and timeline is and use that for comparisons, not their own misguided interpretations.
Thanks for posting this. Biblical archaeologists tend to use the inaccurate timeline all the time.