Discussion Of Historical Evidence
Berossus and Ptolemy
Until the late 19th century the reigns of kings in the Neo-Babylonian period had to be determined solely by consulting ancient Greek and Roman historians. Those historians lived hundreds of years after the Neo-Babylonian period, and their statements are often contradictory. The two held to be most reliable are Berossus and Claudius Ptolemy. Since the statements of these two contradict the Society’s claim of 607 B.C. for the destruction of Jerusalem, the Society has attempted to discredit the testimony of Berossus and Ptolemy.
Berossus was a Babylonian priest who lived in the 3rd century B.C. In about 281 B.C. he wrote a history of Babylonia known as Babyloniaca or Chaldaica which he dedicated to King Antiochus I. Unfortunately, his writings have been lost, and all that is known about them comes from the twenty-two quotations or paraphrases of his work by other ancient writers and eleven statements about Berossus made by classical, Jewish and Christian writers. The longest quotations deal with the reigns of the Neo-Babylonian kings and are found in the Chronicle of Eusebius (c. 303 A.D), Flavius Josephus’s Against Apion, Antiquities of the Jews and other late works. It is known that Eusebius and Josephus both quoted Berossus indirectly via the Greco-Roman scholar Cornelius Alexander Polyhistor (1st century B.C.).
Where did Berossus get his information on the Neo-Babylonian kings? According to his own words he “translated many books which had been preserved with great care at Babylon and which dealt with a period of more than 150,000 years.” These “books” included accounts of the legendary kings before the Flood with their very exaggerated lengths of reign. But it has also been established that he used the very reliable Babylonian chronicles, for example, for the Neo-Babylonian period, and that he translated their contents into Greek.
Claudius Ptolemy (70-161 A.D.) was a scholar, astronomer, geographer, historian and chronologist who lived in Egypt during the reigns of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. In about 142 A.D. he wrote The Almagest, to which he added his famous canon, a list of kings and their lengths of reign beginning with the reign of Nabonassar in Babylon, 747 B.C., through the Babylonian, Persian, Greek (Ptolemaic) and Roman rulers to his contemporary, Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138-161).
Where did Ptolemy get his king list? The Aid book, under the subject “Chronology,” says that “Ptolemy is thought to have used the writings of Berossus (p. 331), but it gives no evidence in support of this claim, which has been dropped from the equivalent discussion in Insight on the Scriptures. The claim is not very likely, because scholars have concluded that Ptolemy’s canon represents a Babylonian tradition about the first millennium B.C. that is independent of Berossus as can be seen from the order and forms of the names of the kings. Professor Friedrich Schmidtke explains:
With respect to the dependence of the sources, the Canon of Ptolemy has certainly to a great extent taken its stuff from the Babylonian Chronicle. This is clear from the characteristic abasileuta ete [years of interregnum] 688-681, which is also found in the Chronicle (IV,23), while the King List A at this place introduces Sennacherib instead, as well as for the two abasileuta ete 704-703. The Canon of Ptolemy like the Chronicle reproduces here the Babylonian tradition, which did not recognize Sennacherib as the legitimate king, as he had sacked and destroyed Babylon.
There is also some evidence that Ptolemy used Babylonian king lists. Thus he had access to Babylonian chronicles and king lists, probably through intermediary sources, but evidently independent of Berossus. This is a very important conclusion, as Ptolemy’s figures for the Neo-Babylonian kings are in agreement with Berossus’s figures. Thus we have two independent witnesses to the length of the Neo-Babylonian era according to the chronicles, and even if these chronicles are only partly preserved on cuneiform tablets, their figures for the lengths of reign of the Neo-Babylonian kings have been correctly transmitted to us via Berossus and Ptolemy.
The reigns of the Neo-Babylonian kings, according to Berossus and Ptolemy, are as follows, not counting accession years:
YEARS OF REIGN ACCORDING TO: BEROSSUS PTOLEMY B.C. DATES Nabopolassar 21 years 21 years 625 - 605 Nebuchadnezzar 43 years 43 years 604 - 562 Evil-merodach 2 years 2 years 561 - 560 Neriglissar 4 years 4 years 559 - 556 Labashi-Marduk 9 months -- 556 Nabonidus 17 years 17 years 555 - 539
Ptolemy omits Labashi-Marduk, as he always reckons whole years only. Labashi-Marduk’s reign of only a few months (probably 2 or 3) was included in Neriglissar’s last year (which was also the accession year of Nabonidus). Ptolemy, therefore could leave him out of the king list.
If these lists by two of the oldest and most reliable historians are correct, the first year of Nebuchadnezzar would be 604/3 B.C. and his 18th year, when he destroyed Jerusalem, would be 587/6 B.C. But even if Berossus and Ptolemy both give a true representation of the length of reigns given in the original Neo-Babylonian chronicles, how do historians know that the chronological information originally contained in these chronicles is reliable?
One reason Ptolemy’s canon has their confidence is that in his Almagest he records a large number of ancient astronomical observations from the periods covered by the canon. As these observations were dated to different kings mentioned in the king list, Ptolemy could attach the list to a series of astronomically fixed dates, thus turning it into a kind of “absolute chronology” for the periods it covered.
The Society’s View of Berossus and Ptolemy
The Society published what it termed “convincing proof” of its chronology in the 1981 book Let Your Kingdom Come. Of Berossus and Ptolemy it said:
Evidently Ptolemy based his historical information on sources dating from the Seleucid period, which began more than 250 years after Cyrus captured Babylon. It thus is not surprising that Ptolemy’s figures agree with those of Berossus, a Babylonian priest of the Seleucid period. [p. 186]
In the subsection on “Ptolemy’s canon” (p. 455) the Insight book repeats this charge. The evidence presented above shows that this statement is nonsense, as shown by the fact that the authors of these books present no evidence to support their claim. Evidently realizing this, in the subsection on “Berossus” (p. 453) the author of Insight merely stated that Berossus’s writings exist only in fragmentary form, and from this concluded: “It seems evident that chronological data supposedly from Berossus could hardly be considered conclusive.”
Another reason the Society tries to discredit Berossus is that he says Jewish captives were taken in Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year, confirming Daniel’s statement in Dan. 1:1. If Dan. 1:1 is to be taken at face value, then the 70 years spoken of by Jeremiah could apply to a captivity or a servitude beginning at that time. This in turn means the Society’s claim that the 70 years can only be years of complete desolation of Judah could be wrong. If this is true, then the date 587 B.C. for Jerusalem’s destruction is allowed, and the Society’s argument that it could only have occurred in 607 B.C. is seriously weakened. This is because all other historical evidence points to 587, not 607 B.C. So the Society tries to discredit each point of evidence against its chronology.
Here is what Berossus said about Nebuchadnezzar’s taking of Jewish captives in his accession year:
Nabopolassaros, his father, heard that the satrap who had been posted to Egypt, Coele Syria, and Phoenicia, had become a rebel. No longer himself equal to the task, he entrusted a portion of his army to his son Nabouchodonosoros, who was still in the prime of life, and sent him against the rebel. Nabouchodonosoros drew up his force in battle order and engaged the rebel. He defeated him and subjected the country to the rule of the Babylonians again. At this very time Nabopolassaros, his father, fell ill and died in the city of the Babylonians after having been king for twenty-one years.
Nabouchodonosoros learned of his father’s death shortly thereafter. After he arranged affairs in Egypt and the remaining territory, he ordered some of his friends to bring the Jewish, Phoenician, Syrian, and Egyptian prisoners together with the bulk of the army and the rest of the booty to Babylonia. He himself set out with a few companions and reached Babylon by crossing the desert.
Thus Berossus gives support to Daniel’s statement in Dan. 1:1 that Jewish captives were brought to Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year. This confirmation of Dan. 1:1 is important because Berossus derived his information from the Babylonian chronicles, or sources close to those documents, originally written during the Neo-Babylonian era itself. The strength of this evidence is great enough that the Society takes pains to discredit Berossus. But it never addresses the fact that Berossus and Daniel support each other. See below for a fuller discussion of this material.
Ptolemy provides dates for the reigns of Neo-Babylonian kings that, if accepted, immediately trash the Society’s chronology. So as with Berossus the Society usually tries to discredit Ptolemy — but not always. Let Your Kingdom Come rejects Ptolemy’s canon as an authority for showing that Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 B.C., but the May 15, 1971 Watchtower, page 316, uses Ptolemy’s canon in support of 539 B.C. as the correct date for the overthrow of Babylon. Is this consistent? Is this Watchtower consistent with what is said in the following earlier one?
The February 1, 1969 Watchtower, in an article on Babylonian chronology, said on page 90:
And this canon of Ptolemy, what is it? We are particularly interested, seeing that historians find it necessary to lean so heavily upon it in connection with their chronology for the Neo-Babylonian period. Claudius Ptolemy lived in Egypt during the second century C.E., or over 600 years after the close of the Neo-Babylonian period. He was not a historian, and is known primarily for his works on astronomy and geography. As E. R. Thiele states: “Ptolemy’s canon was prepared primarily for astronomical, not historical purposes. It did not pretend to give a complete list of all the rulers of either Babylon or Persia, nor the exact month or day of the beginning of their reigns, but it was a device which made possible the correct allocation into a broad chronological scheme of certain astronomical data which were then available.” — The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, page 293, ftn.
Essentially the same information appears under the subject “Chronology,” subheading “Babylonian Chronology,” in the Aid and Insight books.
The Watchtower article states that “historians find it necessary to lean so heavily upon [Ptolemy’s canon] in connection with their chronology for the Neo-Babylonian period.” This is false, because all the other evidence completely establishes the chronology without recourse to Ptolemy’s canon. The fact that the canon agrees with everything else means that it is reasonably accurate after all. Up until the late 19th century Ptolemy’s canon was the most relied upon source, but not anymore. The Society’s statements are out of date.
The article quotes Bible scholar E. R. Thiele as if he had reservations about the accuracy of Ptolemy’s canon. Here is what Thiele actually said concerning this:
What makes the canon of such great importance to modern historians is the large amount of astronomical material recorded by Ptolemy in his Almagest, making possible checks as to its accuracy at almost every step from beginning to end. Over eighty solar, lunar, and planetary positions, with their dates, are recorded in the Almagest which have been verified by modern astronomers. The details concerning eclipses are given with such minuteness as to leave no question concerning the exact identification of the particular phenomenon referred to, and making possible the most positive verification. [The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, p. 46].
Concerning the above Watchtower article, E. R. Thiele, the writer of the book referred to (The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings), said of the Society’s use of the quotation of him:
…. it is misleading and unscrupulous. It is misleading in that it would give an entirely different impression concerning this important canon of Ptolemy than I hold. It is unscrupulous, because a procedure of this type is not honest.
If the writer of this article had been honest — or informed — he would have known that I use Ptolemy’s Canon in an entirely different way than he would have it used.
I have the utmost respect for the Canon, and find myself almost standing in awe of its detailed historical accuracy. The man who wrote it must have had at his finger tips an amazing amount of detail concerning early near Eastern history, and an astonishing amount of astronomical information fitting in at point after point with specific years of the kings. It is accurate and reliable all along the line. Astronomy is one thing upon which we can depend with complete confidence. And when the eclipses of the Canon are so fully in harmony with the years of the kings, we can be certain that the chronology involved is sound. The Canon is right and Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong.
What would I say about the article in general? I would say that such a writer and reader has no business writing about such a subject. He does not know the facts, or if he does, he does not use them in an honest manner. It reminds me of the way an unscrupulous lawyer would deal with facts in order to support a case he knows not to be sound.
Let us be charitable with the man and say that in his reading he does not read as an informed scholar should. In other words, let us accuse him rather of ignorance than dishonesty.
The Society in various places claims that Ptolemy may have invented his king list. The conclusive argument against this theory is, however, the fact that the so-called “Ptolemy’s canon” is a misnomer. This is a fact very little known outside the circle of a few experts. As professor of ancient history Otto Neugebauer has pointed out, the king list was compiled from Babylonian sources by Alexandrian astronomers long before Ptolemy, to be used in their astronomical calculations. Ptolemy was simply one in a long line of keepers of astronomical records, and he used the previously compiled king list in conjunction with his astronomical calculations. Attempts to prove that his astronomical data are erroneous, therefore, have no bearing on the king list, since it existed long before Ptolemy. It is an accident of history that the king list was preserved, but since it was preserved in Ptolemy’s own writings, it came to bear his name. Many other king lists, none as complete as Ptolemy’s, have been found from more ancient times which bear this out.
Royal inscriptions of various kinds — building inscriptions, annals, etc. — have been found in Assyria and Babylonia in great numbers. We will consider three original documents from the reign of Nabonidus.
1. Nabon. No. 18 is a cylinder inscription from an unnamed year of Nabonidus. Fulfilling the desire of Sin, the moon god, Nabonidus dedicated a daughter of his to this god as priestess at the Sin temple of Ur. An eclipse of the moon, dated in the text to Elul 13 and observed in the morning watch, led to this dedication. When, during Nabonidus’s reign, did such an eclipse take place?
In 1949 scholar Hildegard Lewy examined the eclipse and concluded that it referred to the eclipse of September 26, 554 B.C (Julian calendar). If Nabonidus ruled for seventeen years and his first year was 555/4 B.C., as is shown by Berossus and Ptolemy, the eclipse and the dedication of Nabonidus’s daughter took place in his second regnal year (554/3 B.C.), according to Lewy’s calculation. A remarkable confirmation of this dating was brought to light twenty years later, when another scholar, W. G. Lambert, published his translation of four fragments of an inscription from Nabonidus’s reign. The inscription established that the dedication of Nabonidus’s daughter took place shortly before his third year, and obviously in his second, precisely as Lewy had concluded. The lunar eclipse of Elul 13, then, definitely fixed the second year of Nabonidus to 554/3 B.C. and his first year to 555/4, thus giving a very strong confirmation of Berossus’s and Ptolemy’s figures for Nabonidus’s reign.
2. Nabon. No. 8, or the Hillah stele, was discovered in the neighborhood of Hillah, southeast of the ruins of Babylon, at the end of the 19th century. A transcription of the text was first published in 1896 and a second in 1912. The information given in this stele helps to establish the length of the whole Neo-Babylonian era from Nabopolassar to the reign of Nabonidus. This inscription, too, contains a record of astronomical observations which enables us to fix the reign of Nabonidus. The stele tells of occurrences in Nabonidus’s accession year and his first full year, and contains a description of a configuration of planets and stars observed by Nabonidus in an unnamed evening during this period. It is stated that Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter were visible after dusk while Mars and Mercury were absent. Certain bright stars were also mentioned. If, as has been established, Nabonidus ascended the throne in 556 B.C. and his first full year was 555/4 B.C. (Nisan-Nisan), we should find this configuration of stars and planets during that period. The above mentioned Hildegard Lewy calculated the date for this configuration and concluded: “The only time within the given interval when this constellation occurred was the period of 3 days comprised between Simanu 2 and Simanu 6 of Nabu-na’id’s first full year (May 31 to June 4, 555 B.C.), during which period, in fact, also the fixed stars enumerated by the king were visible in the evening sky.” So again, we find Nabonidus’s reign astronomically fixed and his seventeen years of rule confirmed.
In several of his royal inscriptions (Stelenfrgm. III,1 and XI, Nabon. H1,B and Zyl. III,2) Nabonidus says that in a dream in his accession year he was commanded by the gods Marduk and Sin to rebuild the temple e.hul.hul in Harran. In connection with this the text under discussion (Nabon. No. 8) provides a very interesting piece of information: “As to the temple e.hul.hul in Harran which was in ruins for 54 years — through a devastation by the Manda-hordes the(se) sanctuaries were laid waste — the time (predestined) by the gods, the moment for the appeasement (to wit) 54 years, had come near, when Sin should have returned to his place.” The date when the temple e.hul.hul in Harran was ruined by the “Manda-hordes” is known to us from two different reliable sources: The Babylonian chronicle BM 21901 and the Harran inscription Nabon. H1,B (this is described below). The chronicle states that in the 16th year of Nabopolassar, in the month of Marcheswan, “the Umman-manda (the Medes), [who] had come [to help] the king of Akkad, put their armies together and marched to Harran…. The king of Akkad reached Harran and […] he captured the city. He carried off the vast booty of the city and the temple.” The Nabonidus stele H1,B gives the same information: “Whereas in the 16th year of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, Sin, king of the gods, with his city and his temple was angry and went up to heaven — the city and the people that (were) in it went to ruin.”
Thus Nabonidus reckons the 54 years to be from the 16th year of Nabopolassar to the beginning of his own reign when the gods commanded him to rebuild the ruined temple. This is in excellent agreement with the figures for the Neo-Babylonian reigns given by Berossus and Ptolemy. As Nabopolassar reigned for 21 years, 5 years remained from his 16th year to the end of his reign. After that Nebuchadnezzar ruled for 43, Evil-Merodach for 2, and Neriglissar for 4 years before Nabonidus came to power (Labashi-Marduk’s few months may be neglected). Adding up these regnal years (5+43+2+4) we get 54 years — exactly as Nabonidus states on his stele. If, as has already been established, Nabonidus’s first year was 555/4 B.C., Nabopolassar’s sixteenth year must have been 610/609, his first year 625/4 and his 21st year 605/4 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar’s first year, then, was 604/3, and his 18th, when he destroyed Jerusalem, was 587/6 B.C. These dates agree completely with the dates arrived at from Ptolemy’s king list and Berossus’s figures.
Consequently, this stele alone establishes the length of the whole Neo-Babylonian era. It fixes the reign of Nabonidus astronomically, and it gives the total length of the reigns of all the Neo-Babylonian kings prior to Nabonidus. The strength of this evidence from the Neo-Babylonian era itself can hardly be overestimated.
3. Nabon. H1,B, or the Adda-Guppi stele, after the name of queen to which it was dedicated, was discovered in 1956. It is virtually complete and includes a biographical sketch of Nabonidus’s mother Adda-Guppi. It recorded the number of years in the reigns of two Assyrian kings, Ashurbanipal and Ashur-etillu-ili, as well as those of the Neo-Babylonian kings Nabopolassar through Neriglissar. The record ends in the 9th year of Nabonidus’s reign. Note these excerpts:
From the 20th year of Assurbanipal, King of Assyria, that I was born (in) until the 42nd year of Assurbanipal, the 3rd year of Assur-etillu-ili, his son, the 21st year of Nabopolassar, the 43rd year of Nebuchadnezzar, the 2nd year of Awel-Marduk, the 4th year of Neriglissar, in 95 years of the god Sin, king of the gods of heaven and earth….
Further on in the text a complete summary of her life is given:
From the time of Assurbanipal, king of Assyria, until the 9th year of Nabu-na’id king of Babylon, the son, offspring of my womb, 104 years of happiness, with the reverence which Sin, king of the gods, placed in me, he made me flourish, my own self….
So the reign of every Neo-Babylonian king, except Labashi-Marduk, who ruled only three months, down into the reign of Nabonidus, during which the queen died, is given in this stele, and the figures exactly match Ptolemy’s canon and all the other sources of evidence.
Interestingly, the queen actually lived only about 101 or 102 years, because the scribe who recorded this stele apparently did not realize there was an overlap of two years between the last Assyrian king, Assur-etillu-ilani, and the first Neo-Babylonian king, Nabopolassar. The scribe simply summed up the years given for the kings and missed the overlap.
So the stele assigned lengths of reign for the following Neo-Babylonian kings: 21 for Nabopolassar, 43 for Nebuchadnezzar, 2 for Awel-Marduk and 4 for Neriglissar. These correspond exactly to every piece of evidence we have discussed.
Business and Administrative Documents
Hundreds of thousands of cuneiform texts have been excavated in Mesopotamia since the middle of the 19th century. The overwhelming majority of them are economic and administrative items such as contract tablets, official letters from the temple archives, and legal records. These texts are to a great extent dated just as are commercial letters today, giving the year of the reigning king, the month, and the day of the month. A text concerning ceremonial salt from the archives of the temple Eanna in Erech, dated in the first regnal year of Evil-merodach, is given here as an example:
One and one-half talents of salt, the fixed offering of the month Sivan of the god Usur-amatsu, Ina-sillis brought. The sixth day of the month Sivan, the first year of Amel-Marduk, the king of Babylon.
Thousands of such dated cuneiform texts have been unearthed from the Neo-Babylonian period. During the 1920s alone, more than five hundred tablets dated in the reign of Nabonidus were published, according to the work Nabonidus and Belshazzar, by Raymond P. Dougherty, 1929. Thus there exist many such dated tablets from every year during the whole Neo-Babylonian era. Because of this abundance of dated texts modern scholars are able to determine not only the length of the reign of each king, but also the time of the year when each change of reign occurred, sometimes almost to the day. This has been demonstrated by R. A. Parker and W. H. Dubberstein in their work Babylonian Chronology: 626 B.C. — A.D. 75, 1956.
The last text from the reign of Nabonidus, for example, is dated VII/17/17 (October 13, 539, Julian calendar) although the Nabonidus Chronicle states that Babylon fell VII/16/17, or one day earlier. The last tablet dated to Nabonidus comes from Uruk, about which Parker and Dubberstein give the following comment: “Interestingly enough, the last tablet dated to Nabunaid from Uruk is dated the day after Babylon fell to Cyrus. News of its capture had not yet reached the southern city some 125 miles distant.”
Another interesting business document mentions both the 43rd year of Nebuchadnezzar and the accession year of his son, Evil-merodach. A slave girl was placed at the disposal of one Nabu-ahhe-iddina “in the month of Ajaru, forty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.” Some months later, “in the month of Kislimu, accession year of (Amel)-Marduk,” full payment was given for the girl. This text, then, fixes the length of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and shows that he was succeeded by Evil-merodach.
Nebuchadnezzar’s length of reign and his succession by Evil-merodach are confirmed by the Bible. In 2 Kings 24:8, 12, 15 the 1st year of Jehoiachin is said to be the 8th year of Nebuchadnezzar, when Jehoiachin was exiled to Babylon. 2 Kings 25:27 says that in Jehoiachin’s 37th year he was let “out of the house of detention” by the king of Babylon, Evil-merodach. Jer. 52:31 equates the 37th year of Jehoiachin’s exile with the accession year of Evil-Merodach. Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar could have reigned for at most 44 years, and, counting from his accession year this means his 43rd year was his last. This is a remarkable example of how well the Bible and secular history agree on Neo-Babylonian chronology.
Other business documents show that Nebuchadnezzar’s rule ended at the end of the month Ululu of his 43rd year, which dates his death to the first days of October, 562 B.C. The latest text from Evil-merodach’s reign is dated V/17/2 (Aug. 7, 560), and the earliest text from the reign of Neriglissar is dated V/21/acc. (Aug. 11, 560). Evil-merodach’s death, then, may be fixed between August 7 and August 11, 560.
The following table is reproduced from Parker and Dubberstein, pp. 10-14. It shows the exact dates of the earliest and latest tablets found from each king’s reign:
Reigning First available Last available Years tablets dated to tablets dated to accession year last regnal year B.C. B.C. Nabopolassar 21 May 17, 626 Aug. 15, 605 Nebuchadnezzar 43 Sep. 7, 605 Oct. 8, 562 Amel Marduk 2 Oct. 8, 562 Aug. 7, 560 Nergal-shar-usur 4 Aug. 11, 560 Apr. 16, 556 Labashi-Marduk 2 mos. May 3, 556 June 20, 556 Nabunaid 17 May 25, 556 Oct. 13, 539 Cyrus 9 Oct. 26, 539 Aug. 12, 530 Cambyses 8 Aug. 31, 530 Apr. 18, 522
Parker and Dubberstein note that “Labashi-Marduk seems to have been recognized as king only in May and June, 556, and even then possibly not throughout Babylonia.” “Nabunaid must have been a contender for the throne almost from the death of Nergal-shar-usur. By the end of June, 556, he was sole ruler of Babylonia.” This accounts for the presence of two or three tablets dated to Nabunaid during the few months Labashi-Marduk reigned.
What does the Watchtower Society think of all these business documents? Even though documents have been found that refer to every one of the Neo-Babylonian kings’ years from 626 B.C. to 539 B.C., and none have been found that conflict with the accepted chronology for this period, Let Your Kingdom Come discounts all of them. If the Society’s interpretations are correct, there must be a period of 20 years missing from the Neo-Babylonian period, between the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and the beginning of Nabonidus’s reign.
The following discussion calculates the odds that the thousands of documents could have missed referring to this 20 year period. The 20 year figure is derived from the difference between 587 and 607 B.C. for the date of Jerusalem’s destruction.
According to historians the Neo-Babylonian period covers 88 years from 626 to 539 B.C. inclusive, and some 4950 documents were published prior to 1983 referring to that period. About 50,000 such documents have been found altogether. The Society says the period should actually be 108 years beginning about 646 B.C. If that is true then 20 years are missing from mention in the collection of documents.
The Society says that 582 B.C. was the last year of Nebuchadnezzar (Insight, Vol 2. p. 480), Amel-Marduk (Evil-merodach) reigned for two years beginning in 581 B.C., Neriglissar reigned for the next four, and Labashi-Marduk reigned for 9 months (The Watchtower, January 1, 1965, p. 29). The end of Labashi-Marduk’s rule must, therefore, have been about 575 B.C. according to Watchtower chronology. See also Babylon the Great Has Fallen! God’s Kingdom Rules!, pp. 182-5. The Society says that Nabonidus began reigning in 556 B.C. (All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial, 1990, p. 139; Insight, Vol. 2, p. 457; The Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1968, p. 491).1 Therefore, according to the Society’s own figures, there are about 20 years in the period between these reigns that have no business documents referring to them. Interestingly, in no single publication does the Society put all these dates together and propose a specific Neo-Babylonian chronology.
The probability that these years could have been skipped can be estimated by making the assumption that the 4950 documents conform to a uniform probability distribution, i.e., the 4950 documents should be randomly distributed among the 108 years. Alternatively, any year should be as likely as any other to have some document referring to it.
Under these conditions, and using standard mathematical notation, the problem may be restated thus: We place at random n points in an interval (0, T) corresponding to the 108 years. What is the probability that none of the n points fall outside the 88 year period that has been accounted for? Restating this in a different way, we can ask what is the probability that all the n points fall inside some sub-interval (t1,t2), corresponding to the 88 years?
The placing of a single point in the interval (0, T) has a probability
p = (t2 – t1) / T
The probability of placing all n points within the interval is
Using the actual numbers the total probability turns out to be
P = (88 / 108)4950 = 5.5 x 10 – 441
which is an extremely small number. By this estimate, the odds of skipping a 20 year period are therefore about one in (2 x 10440). For comparison it is estimated that there are about 1080 elementary particles in the known universe.
This is actually a conservative calculation, because the assumption of uniform probability distribution is not actually correct. The bulk of the 4950 published documents actually refer to dates toward the end of the Neo-Babylonian period, so the actual probability is smaller. Further, a substantial number of tablets have been translated but not published. They are all consistent with the accepted chronology, and if they were included in the calculation the probability would be far smaller.
By the Society’s own admission these figures mean it is impossible to have happened. The book Life — How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation refers on page 44, in a similar argument, to the improbability of evolution:
What is the chance of even a simple protein molecule forming at random in an organic soup? Evolutionists acknowledge it to be only one in 10113 (1 followed by 113 zeros). But any event that has one chance in just 1050 is dismissed by mathematicians as never happening.
The above calculation shows how unreasonable it is to argue that the business documents may have missed some Babylonian rulers’ years by sheer chance. The only alternative is to propose some sort of extensive conspiracy that eliminated all records of the 20 year period, but this is hardly possible since many of the documents were buried shortly after being written. The only reason they survived is that they were buried.
This conspiracy theory is totally falsified by a set of business documents from a prominent Babylonian banking family, that spans the entire Neo-Babylonian period and then some. Many business documents come from the archives of such “banking houses” in Babylonia. Two of the best known banking houses from the Neo-Babylonian era were owned by the families Nur-Sin and Egibi. “The Family of Egibi,” centered in Babylon, appears in documents as early as the end of the 8th century B.C. It prospered from the time of Nebuchadnezzar up to Darius I, controlling the finances of that time. Of this banking house Bible archeologist Bruno Meissner said: “From the firm the Sons of Egibi we possess such an abundance of documents that we are able to follow nearly all business transactions and personal experiences of its head from the time of Nebuchadnezzar up to the time of Darius I.” The discovery of the archive of dated transactions of this firm, covering a period of more than a hundred years, has proved to be of great help in establishing the chronology of this period.
The business documents from the Egibi-house were discovered by Arabs in 1875-76 in a mound near Hillah, a town near the ruins of Babylon. Some three to four thousand tablets were discovered enclosed in earthen jars resembling common water jars, covered over with a tile and cemented with bitumen. The discoverers sold them to a dealer in Baghdad, shortly after which the British Museum acquired about 2500 of these important documents.
The tablets were examined during the following months by W. St. Chad Boscawen, and his report appeared in the Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, Vol. VI, January 1878, pages 1-78. The information which follows immediately below is taken from that report.
Boscawen states that the tablets “relate to the various monetary transactions of a Babylonian banking and financial agency, trading under the name of Egibi and Sons.” The tablets “relate to every possible commercial transaction; from the loan of a few shekels of silver to the sale or mortgage of whole estates whose value is thousands of manas of silver.”
After a short examination Boscawen realized the importance of following the sequence of the heads of the Egibi firm, and soon ascertained the main lines of the succession to be as follows: From the 3rd year of Nebuchadnezzar a person named Sula was the head of the Egibi firm. He continued for 20 years up to the 23rd year of Nebuchadnezzar, when he died and was succeeded by his son, Nabu-ahi-idina. Nabu-ahi-idina ran the firm for 38 years, until the 12th year of Nabonidus, when he was succeeded by his son Itti-Marduk-Balatu. Itti-Marduk-Balatu in his turn remained head of the firm for 23 years, until the 1st year of Darius Hystaspis (521 B.C.; see Insight, Vol. 1, subject “Darius,” p. 583).
Adding up these periods from the 3rd year of Nebuchadnezzar to the 1st year of Darius Hystaspis, we find: 20+38+23=81 years. This gives 83 years from Nebuchadnezzar’s 1st year to Darius Hystaspis’s 1st year. This agrees exactly with Berossus, Ptolemy, the Neo-Babylonian historical records, and the other business documents. Counting back 83 years from 521 brings us to 604 B.C. as the 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar, which agrees exactly with all the other lines of evidence presented in this essay.
The Society would have us believe that somehow, conspirators wanting to insert 20 years into the chronology for some mysterious purpose, dug up all these buried archives, made new clay tablets with the data changed by 20 years, and then resealed and reburied all the storage jars — and this with no errors among tens of thousands of documents! If anyone can swallow this line of reasoning, let him contact the author of this essay — he has a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.
The archive of the Egibi-house alone suffices to establish the length of the Neo-Babylonian period. The archives, containing tablets dated up to the 43rd year of Nebuchadnezzar, the 2nd year of Evil-merodach, the 4th year of Neriglissar and the 17th year of Nabonidus, give a complete confirmation of the chronology as stated by Berossus and Ptolemy. Since the 19th century still other collections of tablets belonging to the Egibi family have been discovered. Yet the Egibi tablets are only a small part of the thousands of business and administrative documents discovered from the Neo-Babylonian era.
The importance of the business and administrative texts for the chronology of the Neo-Babylonian period can hardly be overestimated. Without recourse to any other type of evidence they fully establish the chronology, often to within a few days. The fact that they completely agree with and confirm all the other lines of evidence is proof that the accepted chronology is correct, and the Watchtower Society’s chronology is wrong.
Astronomical observations are fundamental to establishing an absolute chronology of ancient time periods. Certain documents called “astronomical diaries” are used to establish Neo-Babylonian chronology. For purposes of this discussion, the “astronomical diaries” are a group of documents recording astronomical observations by astronomers at Babylon, and have been so termed by an authority on astronomical diaries, Professor Abraham J. Sachs. A “diary” usually covers the six or seven months of the first or second half of a particular Babylonian year and gives the position of the moon at its first and last visibility on a specific day, along with the positions of the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. It should be noted that the Babylonian priests kept these records mainly for astrological purposes, since much of their religion was based on astrology. They kept precise records of the heavens in order to practice astrology.
The diaries often add much additional information, such as meteorological events, earthquakes, market prices, etc. More than 1,200 fragments of astronomical diaries of various sizes have been discovered, but because of their fragmentary condition only about a third of the number are datable. Most of these texts had already been discovered in the 1870s and 1880s. Almost all are kept in the British Museum. This is where designations like “BM 32312” come from. Most cover the period from about 385 to 60 B.C. and contain astronomical observations from about 180 of these 325 years, thus firmly establishing the chronology of this period. Half a dozen of the diaries are dated in the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries B.C.
The most important text for our discussion is designated VAT 4956, which is kept in the “Vorderasiatischen Abteilung” in the Berlin Museum. This diary is dated from Nisan 1 of Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th regnal year to Nisan 1 of his 38th regnal year, recording observations of the moon and the planets from his entire 37th year. A translation and careful examination of the text was published by P. V. Neugebauer and E. F. Weidner in 1915.
Among the many observations recorded on VAT 4956, there are about thirty which are so exactly described that modern astronomers can easily fix the exact dates when they were made. By doing so they have been able to show that all these observations (of the moon and the five planets) must have been made during the year 568/7 B.C. Remember in the following discussion that astronomical calculations include a zero year between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D., so that this date would be written as -567/6. The diary itself clearly states that the observations were made during Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year, opening with the words: “37th year of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. On Nisan 1 the moon became visible behind the Hyades; visibility lasted for 64m….” It ends with Nisan 1 of the “38th year of Nebuchadnezzar,” according to Neugebauer and Weidner.
If Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th regnal year was 568/7 B.C., then his first year must have been 604/3 B.C, and his eighteenth, during which he destroyed Jerusalem, 587/6 B.C. This is the same date indicated by Berossus, Ptolemy, royal inscriptions and the business documents.
Could all these observations also have been made twenty years earlier, in the year 588/7 B.C., which according to the chronology presented in the Aid and Insight books corresponds to Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th regnal year? The March 15, 1969 Watchtower, page 186; Aid, page 331; and Insight, pages 455-6, say: “Modern chronologers point out that such a combination of astronomical positions would not be duplicated again in thousands of years.” Let’s consider one example. According to this diary, on Nisan 1 and Airu 1 of Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year, the planet Saturn could be observed “opposite the Southern Fish [south of the constellation Aquarius] of the Zodiac. Since Saturn revolves around the sun every 29.5 years, it moves through the whole Zodiac in 29.5 years. This means that it can be observed opposite each of the twelve constellations of the Zodiac for about 2.5 years on average. It means also that it could be observed in opposition to the Southern Fish 29.5 years prior to 568/7 B.C., or in 597/6, but certainly not 20 years earlier, in 588/7. Add to this the different periods of revolution of the other four planets mentioned in the text, along with the positions given for the moon, and it is easily understood why such a combination of observations could not be made again in thousands of years. The observations recorded in VAT 4956 must have been made in 568/7 B.C. because they fit no other situation which occurred thousands of years before or after. Thus VAT 4956 gives very strong support to the chronology of the Neo-Babylonian era as established by historians through all the other means we are discussing.
The astronomical evidence is so strong that the Society has to grasp at straws to discredit it. First, Insight, Vol. 1, page 456, says:
The observations made in Babylon may have contained errors. The Babylonian astronomers showed greatest concern for celestial events or phenomena occurring close to the horizon, at the rising or setting of the moon or of the sun. However, the horizon as viewed from Babylon is frequently obscured by sandstorms.
Then Professor O. Neugebauer is quoted as saying that Ptolemy complained about “the lack of reliable planetary observations [from ancient Babylon].”
Although the description of the weather conditions at Babylon is undoubtedly correct, this does not mean that unreliable planetary observations were commonly made. The horizon as viewed from Babylon was not obscured by sandstorms every day, and some planetary events could be observed many days in succession, such as the position of Saturn which, according to VAT 4956 could be observed “opposite the Southern Fish of the Zodiac.” As pointed out above, Saturn can be observed opposite each of the twelve constellations of the Zodiac for about 2.5 years on the average. Saturn’s positions in the vicinity of the Southern Fish, then, could have been observed for several months in succession, which would have made it impossible for Babylonian astronomers to make any mistake as to where this planet was observed during the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar, in spite of frequent sandstorms.
Further, Babylonian astronomers made regular and systematic observations of the moon and planets, following their movements through the Zodiac day by day. By the Neo-Babylonian period they had devised computational methods for predicting certain celestial events; some “observations” recorded in the diaries are actually not observations, but celestial events calculated in advance. These calculations are usually found to be correct when checked by modern astronomers. For example, VAT 4956 records an eclipse of the moon which occurred on the 15th day of the month Sivan. Astronomers had calculated this eclipse with the help of the known 18-year eclipse period and therefore it is designated in the text as atalu Sin which means “calculated lunar eclipse.” Then were probably added the words (the text is somewhat damaged): sa etelik (LU), “which did not take place,” i.e., it was invisible in Babylon. This has been confirmed by modern computations. The eclipse took place on July 4, 568 B.C (Julian calendar), but as it began in the afternoon it was not visible at Babylon.
This including of “observations” that were really calculations, and noting them as such, and especially indicating when the predicted event did not occur, argues strongly against a modification by scribes several hundred years later in order to fit some sort of altered version of history. If the purpose of the scribe was to alter a historical account, and if the events were not observed, logically he would have left them out. A pure copyist, on the other hand, would simply copy everything, errors and all. This would include translating them to other languages or updating them to current usage as the original language changed through the centuries.
That the observations recorded in VAT 4956 are substantially correct may be seen also from the fact that all of them (except one or two containing scribal errors) fit the same year. This would not have been the case if the observations were erroneous. Furthermore, Professor Neugebauer, who is quoted in Insight, does not himself seem to distrust the information given in the diaries, even though a reader of Insight could get that impression from the quotation of him.
Second, Insight says:
The fact is that the great majority of the astronomical diaries found were written, not in the time of the Neo-Babylonian or Persian empires, but in the Seleucid period (312-65 B.C.E.), although they contain data relating to those earlier periods. Historians assume that they are copies of earlier documents.
But historians do far more than just “assume” they are copies of earlier documents. The earliest dated diaries frequently reflect the struggle of the copyists to understand the ancient documents they were copying, some of which were broken or otherwise damaged. Often the documents used an archaic terminology which the copyists tried to modernize. This is clearly true of VAT 4956, too. Twice in the text the copyist added the comment “broken off, erased,” indicating he was unable to decipher a word in the text he was copying. Also, the text reflects his attempt to change the archaic terminology. But did he change the content of the text, too? On this Neugebauer and Weidner conclude: “As far as the contents are concerned the copy is of course a faithful reproduction of the original.”
Suppose some of the material in the thirty complete observations recorded in VAT 4956 had been distorted by later copyists. How great is the possibility that all these “distorted” observations would fit into one and the same year, that is, Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th regnal year? Remember that this year is corroborated by the royal inscriptions, the business documents, the chronicles, Berossus, and Ptolemy. Accidental errors of this kind do not cooperate to such a great extent. So there is no reason to doubt that the original observations have been correctly preserved in our copy. Vaguely saying “errors may have occurred,” without presenting specific supporting evidence, is mere special pleading.
Third, Insight says:
Finally, as in the case of Ptolemy, even though the astronomical information (as now interpreted and understood) on the texts discovered is basically accurate, this does not prove that the historical information accompanying it is accurate. Even as Ptolemy used the reigns of ancient kings (as he understood them) simply as a framework in which to place his astronomical data, so too, the writers (or copyists) of the astronomical texts of the Seleucid period may have simply inserted in their astronomical texts what was then the accepted, or “popular,” chronology of that time. That accepted, or popular, chronology may well have contained errors at the critical points dealt with earlier in this article.
As alluded to above, what Insight is saying is that the later copyists may have falsified the documents they were copying, in order to adapt them to their own concepts of the ancient Babylonian and Persian chronology. Similarly, the writer of the May 8, 1972 Awake! article “When Did Babylon Desolate Jerusalem?” (p. 28) imagines that the copyists may have “inserted the ‘thirty-seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar'” in the diary VAT 4956. Insight makes a similar accusation. Is this a plausible theory?
As pointed out above, VAT 4956 is dated from Nisan 1 of Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year to Nisan 1 of his 38th year. Further, almost all events mentioned in the text are dated, with the month, day and time of day given. About forty dates of this kind are given in the text, though the year, of course, is not repeated at all these places. All known diaries are dated in the same way. In order to change the years in the text, the copyists would also have been forced to change the name of the reigning king, because if Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year fell in 588/7 B.C., as the Society claims, he must have been dead for many years by 568/7 when the observations of VAT 4956 were made. Is it really likely the Seleucid copyists devoted themselves to such large-scale forgery?
Now let us consider what is known about the “popular” chronology of their time, which is proposed as the database for this deliberate fraud. Does it in fact differ from what contemporary Babylonian documents indicate?
Berossus’s chronology for the Neo-Babylonian era was published during the Seleucid period and evidently represents the contemporary, “popular” concept of Neo-Babylonian chronology. Berossus’s figures for the reigns of Neo-Babylonian kings place Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year in 568/7 B.C., as does VAT 4956. More importantly, Berossus’s Neo-Babylonian chronology, as has been shown above, is in complete agreement with the chronology given by the many documents contemporary with the Neo-Babylonian era itself such as chronicles, royal inscriptions, business documents, and with contemporary Egyptian (see below) documents. The “popular” Neo-Babylonian chronology of the Seleucid era, then, was a true and correct chronology, and there was no need for copyists to alter the ancient documents in order to adapt them to it. The theory that they falsified these documents, therefore, is groundless.
As pointed out above on page 6, and in Appendix B, the Society uses the astronomical diary Strm.Kambys.400 to help fix 539 B.C. for Babylon’s fall. The discussion in the Insight book does not make it clear that this is what it is using. On the very next pages Insight begins rejecting all kinds of astronomical evidence because of their support for the date 587 B.C. for the destruction of Jerusalem.
If the Society’s criticism of the astronomical diaries were valid, it would also apply to Strm.Kambys.400. Like the astronomical diary VAT 4956, this is a copy of an earlier original. In fact, it may hardly even be termed a copy. The eminent expert on astronomical texts, F. X. Kugler, pointed out as early as 1903 that this tablet is only partly a copy. The copyist was evidently working from a defective text, and therefore tried to fill in the gaps in the text by his own calculations. Thus only a portion of Strm.Kambys.400 contains true observations. The rest are additions by a rather unskilled copyist from a much later period. Kugler commented that “not one of the astronomical texts I know of offers so many contradictions and unsolved riddles as Strm.Kambys.400.” Nevertheless, it supports the 539 B.C. date and so the Society uses it. This is entirely proper, because it is supported by many other lines of evidence.
In contrast, VAT 4956 is one of the best preserved diaries, and establishes the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar in 568/7 B.C. Although it is also a later copy, experts agree it is a faithful reproduction of the original. As pointed out elsewhere in this essay, one may work forward from the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, counting through the various kings of Babylon, to get to 539 B.C. His reign is fixed by several other astronomically confirmed dates. But the Society rejects astronomical diaries in general and VAT 4956 in particular; on the other hand it is forced to accept the most problematic one — Strm.Kambys.400. Surely it would be difficult to find a more striking example of dishonest scholarship.
There exists relatively new material establishing firmly that Nabopolassar’s 1st year was 625/4 B.C. This material matches up the reigns of Babylonian kings from before the Neo-Babylonian era with the first king of that era, Nabopolassar. Note that astronomical dates from B.C. are given as negative numbers, and that a zero year is put between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D., so that 652 B.C. is written -651.
In an article published in 1974, the aforementioned Professor Abraham J. Sachs, considered to be the foremost authority on the astronomical diaries, gives a brief presentation of them. Mentioning that the oldest datable diary contains observations from the year 652 B.C., he explains how he was able to fix its date:
I found the astronomical contents to be just barely adequate to make this date virtually certain. It was a great relief when I was able to confirm the date by matching up a historical remark in the diary with the corresponding statement for -651 in a well-dated historical chronicle.
In a letter, Professor Sachs was asked the following questions:
What information in the diary makes the date -651 virtually certain?
What kind of historical remark in the diary corresponds with what statement in which well-dated chronicle?
In his answer Professor Sachs included information about the diary in question, BM 32312, and added information which fully answered the questions. The astronomical contents of the diary clearly establish the year as 652/1 B.C. when the observations were made. Sachs wrote:
The preserved astronomical events (Mercury’s last visibility in the east behind Pisces, Saturn’s last visibility behind Pisces, both around the 14th of month I; Mars’ stationary point in Scorpio on the 17th of month I; Mercury’s first visibility in Pisces on the 6th of month XII) uniquely determine the date.
Interestingly, it cannot be claimed that later copyists inserted the name and regnal dates of the king mentioned, because they are broken away. Yet these data may be supplied because of a historical remark in the diary. For month 12, day 27, the diary states that the king of Babylon was involved in a battle at a place called Hirit. Fortunately, this battle is also mentioned in a well-known Babylonian chronicle.
The chronicle is the so-called “Akitu Chronicle,” BM 86379, which covers a part of Shamashshumukin’s reign, especially his last five years (the 16th to 20th). Shamashshumukin was the 2nd to last king in Babylon before the Neo-Babylonian kings began to rule. The battle at Hirit is dated in his sixteenth year as follows:
The sixteenth year of Shamash-shuma-ukin … On the twenty-seventh day of Adar [the 27th day of the 12th month!] the armies of Assyria and Akkad did battle in Hirit. The army of Akkad retreated from the battlefield and a major defeat was inflicted upon them.
Incidentally, this chronicle shows that the Babylonian priests who recorded the information did not shrink from reporting major defeats in battle, in contrast with the Assyrians.
The astronomical events described in the diary fix the battle at Hirit on Adar 27 to 651 B.C., about the middle of March. The “Akitu Chronicle” shows that the battle at this place on this day (Adar 27) was fought in the 16th year of Shamashshumukin. Thus Shamashshumukin’s 16th year was 652/1 B.C. His entire reign of 20 years, then, may be dated to 667 – 648 B.C. This is how historians had dated Shamashshumukin’s reign for a long time (see Insight, Vol. 1, p. 453), and that is why Professor Sachs concluded his letter by saying:
I should perhaps add that the absolute chronology of the regnal years of Shamash-shuma-ukin was never in doubt, and that it is only confirmed again by the astronomical diary.
Shamashshumukin’s reign has been known, for example, through Ptolemy’s canon which gives him 20 years and his successor Kandalanu 22 years. Thereafter Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar’s father, succeeded to the throne. These figures agree completely with ancient cuneiform sources. Business documents, as well as the “Akitu Chronicle” and the “Uruk King list,” all show that Shamashshumukin ruled for 20 years, and that from the first year of Kandalanu to the first year of Nabopolassar was a period of 22 years.
The diary BM 32312, then, again corroborates the chronology of the Neo-Babylonian era:
BABYLONIAN KINGS LENGTH OF REIGN B.C. DATES Shamashshumukin 20 years 667 - 648 Kandalanu 22 years 647 - 626 Nabopolassar 21 years 625 - 605 Nebuchadnezzar 43 years 604 - 562 Evil-merodach 2 years 561 - 560 Neriglissar 4 years 559 - 556 Labashi-Marduk 3 months 556 Nabonidus 17 years 555 - 539
The diary confirms Ptolemy’s king list, as well as much other data. A change of Nebuchadnezzar’s 18th year from 587 to 607 B.C. would also change Shamashshumukin’s 16th year from 652 to 672 B.C. But the diary BM 32312 makes such a change impossible. And, as already pointed out, no one can claim that later copyists inserted “the 16th year of Shamashshumukin” in this diary, because the text is damaged at this point and that datum is broken away. The unique historical information in the text, repeated in the “Akitu Chronicle,” fixes the diary to Shamashshumukin’s 16th year. This diary, therefore, may be regarded as an independent witness, which upholds the authenticity of the dates given in VAT 4956 and other diaries.
A discussion in Insight, Vol. 1, page 453, admits that historians have long dated the reigns of the pre-Neo-Babylonian kings consistently with the above discussion:
According to Assyriologist D. J. Wiseman, one portion of the so-called Babylonian Chronicle, covering the period from the rule of Nabu-nasir to Shamash-shum-u- kin (a period dated by secular historians as from 747-648 B.C.E.), is ‘a copy made in the twenty-second year of Darius… from an older and damaged text.’
The discussion following this quotation attempts to imply that the mere possibility that some of the data might have been altered is enough to make all of it suspect. Insight fails to mention that the many contemporary business tablets mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph fully support the historical and astronomical texts. Since the various texts all support one another, evidence for or against one is evidence for or against all. The Society’s scholastic dishonesty is painfully evident in this discussion, for nowhere does Insight mention these correspondences.
The astronomical evidence we have considered so far is fully supported by other astronomical observations, which are covered below. One such is a lunar eclipse in 621 B.C., said by Ptolemy’s canon to have been in Nabopolassar’s 5th year. Nabopolassar reigned 21 years, which makes 605 B.C. the year of his death and of Nebuchadnezzar’s accession. It also makes 625/4 B.C. the 1st year of Nabopolassar, consistent with what was derived above in connection with Shamashshumukin. If Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year was 605/4, then his 1st year was 604/3 and his 37th year was 568/7 B.C., which is what has been independently established by VAT 4956 and other sources. So we have three independently established and astronomically confirmed sets of data that prove Nebuchadnezzar’s 18th year was 587/6 B.C. Therefore that was the year of Jerusalem’s destruction.
One of the most important types of astronomical observations concerns the regular pattern of lunar eclipses that was discovered by Babylonian astronomers. These observations were recorded in the lunar eclipse records known as the saros texts. They are among the strongest of evidences against the Society’s chronology. They contain reports of observations of consecutive lunar eclipses arranged in 18-year groups. It was known in late Babylonian times that the pattern of observable lunar phenomena is repeated at intervals of approximately 18 years and 11 days. This cycle later became known as the saros period. Some of the saros texts record lunar eclipses from as early as the 8th century B.C., while others are from the 7th, 6th, 5th and 4th centuries B.C. Fourteen texts of this type were briefly described by Dr. Abraham Sachs in his catalog of Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts, LBART, Providence, Rhode Island, 1955, pp. xxxi-xxxii. Over 400 years, from Nabonassar’s first regnal year (747 B.C.) to the 4th century B.C., are covered by such eclipse dates, giving numerous absolute dates for this period. Again, these often very detailed descriptions of lunar eclipses offer a perfectly satisfactory substitute for the eclipses described by Ptolemy in his Almagest. By themselves, they contain enough information to establish the absolute chronology of this period.
For the 8th century B.C., the saros texts record detailed descriptions of lunar eclipses from six different years (748/7, 747/6, 731/0, 713/2, 703/2, and 702/1 B.C.). For the 7th century, the texts contain descriptions of lunar eclipses, most of them detailed, from about 25 different years, and the number from the 6th century is about 15-20.
The texts recording lunar eclipses from the Neo-Babylonian era are LBART 1418, 1419, 1420 and 1421 in Sachs’s catalog. Of these, the last three contain detailed descriptions of lunar eclipses. The observations are dated, with the names of the kings and the specific regnal years given, and provide the following absolute dates:
KING YEAR B.C. DATE Nabopolassar 15th 611/0 17th 609/8 Nebuchadnezzar 1st 604/3 12th 593/2 13th 592/1 14th 591/0 15th 590/89 30th 575/4 31st 574/3 32nd 573/2 41st 564/3 42nd 563/2 Nabonidus 1st 555/4
LBART 1419 spans the whole period from the 17th year of Nabopolassar (609/8 B.C.) to the 18th year of Artaxerxes (447/6 B.C.). This text contains detailed reports of consecutive lunar eclipses at the 18-year intervals, without interruptions, from the beginning to the end of this period. These observations are dated with the regnal years and the names of the kings. This tablet alone provides a completely reliable network of absolute dates for this period, settles the total length of the Neo-Babylonian era, and establishes the absolute chronology of the period. The following absolute dates at 18-year intervals are given in this text:
KING YEAR B.C. DATE Nabopolassar 17th 609/8 Nebuchadnezzar 14th 591/0 Nebuchadnezzar 32nd 573/2 Nabonidus 1st 555/4 Cyrus 2nd 537/6 Darius 3rd 519/8 Darius 21st 501/0 Xerxes 3rd 483/2 Xerxes 21st 465/4 Artaxerxes 18th 447/6
These observations refer to lunar eclipses, the same type of observations as the ones recorded by Ptolemy in his Almagest. When we compare the handful of observations described by Ptolemy from these three centuries, with the great number of observations found on the cuneiform tablets from the same period, such as the diaries and the saros texts, it is obvious that the absolute chronology of this period is firmly established even without the help of the observations of Ptolemy.
The saros texts provide at least four independent lines of evidence for the length of the Neo-Babylonian period. All four of them give absolute dates from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and confirm that his 18th year, when Jerusalem was destroyed, was 587/6, not 607 B.C.
It should now be evident why any claim that individual lunar eclipses could be confused with earlier ones is simply wrong, at least where the eclipse has enough supporting evidence to fit it in the saros cycles. Because the 18-year cycles are not exactly 18 years, but 18 years and 11 days, the eclipses are not repeated on the same day in the calendar. The pattern gradually moves forward at each 18-year interval, and cannot even be approximately repeated for about 600 years. Therefore it is impossible to confuse an earlier eclipse with a later one.
So there is a continuous list of kings, tied to astronomical observations, that synchronizes perfectly with the dates given by all the methods mentioned above. Note well that in the last table Cyrus’s 2nd year is given as 537 B.C., in harmony with the Society’s own figures.
Here is the complete list of Neo-Babylonian kings as given by a combination of secular and biblical history:
NEO-BABYLONIAN KINGS LENGTH OF REIGN B.C.E. DATES Nabopolassar 21 years 625 - 605 Nebuchadnezzar 43 years 604 - 562 Evil-merodach 2 years 561 - 560 Neriglissar 4 years 559 - 556 Labashi-Marduk 3 months 556 Nabonidus 17 years 555 - 539
As another example of the way lunar eclipses can establish ancient dates, let us again look at a lunar eclipse mentioned in Ptolemy’s canon. This eclipse has been astronomically dated to 621 B.C., and Ptolemy associates Nabopolassar’s 5th year with it. The entry in The Almagest reads: “Morn. 6,22; dig. 2 1/2; fifth of Nabopolassar.” This establishes Nabopolassar’s 1st year as 625/4 B.C.
According to Ptolemy and a number of other sources Nabopolassar reigned 21 years, so his last year was 605/4 B.C. This was also his son Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year, and therefore Nebuchadnezzar’s 1st year was 604/3 and his 37th year was 568/7 B.C., as was established from the astronomical diary VAT 4956.
A 19th century Bible chronologer described the various measurable quantities associated with eclipses:
Eclipses are justly reckoned among the surest and most unerring characters of Chronology: for they can be calculated with great exactness backwards as well as forwards; and there is such a variety of distinct circumstances of the time when, and the place where they were seen; of the duration, or beginning, middle, or end of every eclipse, and of the quantity, or number of digits eclipsed; that there is no danger of confounding any two eclipses together, when the circumstances attending each are noticed with any tolerable degree of precision. [A New Analysis of Chronology and Geography, William Hales, vol. 1, 1830, pp. 72-3]
Keeping these things in mind, note how the March 15, 1969 Watchtower, page 187, tried to discredit the dating of the 621 B.C. eclipse, as did the Aid book, page 331. In a discussion of lunar eclipses, Aid said:
The frequency of lunar eclipses certainly does not add great strength to such type of confirmation. For example, while a lunar eclipse in 621 B.C.E. (on April 22) is used as proof of the correctness of the Ptolemaic date for Nabopolassar’s fifth year, another eclipse could be cited twenty years earler, in 641 B.C.E. (on June 1), to correspond with the date our chart would indicate as Nabopolassar’s fifth year. This earlier eclipse was total (i.e., 12 digits or more) as compared to the very minor one of only 1.6 digits in 621 B.C.E. — Oppolzer’s Canon of Eclipses, pp. 333, 334.
This proves that the eclipse could not have taken place in 641 B.C., because that was a “12 digit total eclipse,” whereas Ptolemy recorded a “2 1/2 digit” partial eclipse, in good agreement with the figure Aid cited for the eclipse of 621 B.C. That the Society’s argument on this is incorrect has been acknowledged by dropping it from the equivalent discussion of lunar eclipses on page 455 of Insight, Vol. 1. The writers of the Watchtower and Aid articles were so laughably ignorant of what they were writing about that they should not have written anything — or they were dishonest — take your pick.
This example shows the truthfulness of what the eminent Bible scholar E. R. Thiele wrote about the eclipses recorded in Ptolemy’s canon:
The details concerning eclipses are given with such minuteness as to leave no question concerning the exact identification of the particular phenomenon referred to, and making possible the most positive verification. [The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, p. 44]
Synchronisms with Egyptian History
Neo-Babylonian history synchronizes with Egyptian history extremely well. Three of these are given in the Bible, in 2 Kings 23:29 (where Pharaoh Nechoh and King Josiah appear), Jeremiah 46:2 (Nechoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Jehoiakim appear), and Jeremiah 44:30 (Pharaoh Hophra, Zedekiah and Nebuchadnezzar are listed). A fourth is given in a cuneiform text, BM 33041, which refers to a campaign against Amasis, king of Egypt, in Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th regnal year. This text is obliquely referred to in the Aid book, page 326, paragraph 8, and Insight, top of page 453. The chronology of the 26th dynasty of Egypt has been firmly established by contemporary historical documents, inscriptions, astronomical diaries and the testimony of ancient historians. The evidence is completely independent of that for any other kingdoms. The kings ruled for the following time periods:
YEARS OF REIGN B.C. DATES Psammetichus I 54 664 - 610 Nechoh II 15 610 - 595 Psammetichus II 6 595 - 589 Apries (= Hophra) 19 589 - 570 Amasis 44 570 - 526 Psammetichus III 1 526 - 525 Cambyses's conquest of Egypt May - June 525
Does this chronology square with that of the Neo-Babylonian era or with the chronology the Watchtower Society presents? The Society has been completely silent on the history of this period. Not a word is mentioned in the discussion of “Egyptian Chronology” on pages 450-1 of Insight, Vol. 1, nor in Let Your Kingdom Come. Let us look at the scriptures presented above:
2 Kings 23:29: In his [Josiah’s] days Pharaoh Nechoh the king of Egypt came up to the king of Assyria by the river Euphrates, and King Josiah proceeded to go to meet him; but he put him to death at Megiddo as soon as he saw him.
Here it is clearly shown that King Josiah died during the reign of Pharaoh Nechoh. According to the Society Josiah died in 629 B.C. (Aid, p. 968; Insight, Vol. 2, p. 118). But Nechoh’s reign did not begin until 19 years later, in 610 B.C. So Josiah could not have died in 629 B.C. The evidence from the generally accepted Neo-Babylonian chronology is that Josiah died in 609 B.C., consistent with the table above. Jehoiakim was Josiah’s son, and Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year in 605 B.C. was Jehoiakim’s 4th year (non-accession system).
Jeremiah 46:2: For Egypt, concerning the military force of Pharaoh Nechoh the king of Egypt, who happened to be by the river Euphrates at Carchemish, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, the king of Judah.
The Society places this battle in the 4th year of Jehoiakim, in 625 B.C., which again cannot be harmonized with the above table. But if this battle took place 20 years later, in 605 B.C., it is in harmony with the reign of Nechoh, 610-595 B.C.
Jeremiah 44:30: This is what Jehovah has said: ‘Here I am giving Pharaoh Hophra, the king of Egypt, into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those seeking for his soul, just as I have given Zedekiah the king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, his enemy and the one seeking for his soul’.
These words were uttered shortly after Jerusalem’s destruction, when the few leftover Jews had fled to Egypt. At that time Egypt was ruled by Pharaoh Hophra, or Apries, as he is named by Herodotus. If Apries ruled Egypt at the time when the Jews fled there, this desolation cannot be dated to 607 B.C. because Apries did not begin ruling until 589 B.C. But the dates for Apries’s reign given in the table are perfectly consistent with the accepted date of 587 for the destruction of Jerusalem.
Finally, the cuneiform tablet BM 33041 mentions a battle against Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar in his 37th year. Although the tablet is badly damaged, the damaged text telling the king’s name is consistent only with Amasis. Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year is an astronomically confirmed date, 568/7 B.C., and is consistent with the above table, in contrast to the Society’s date of 588/7 B.C.
Again it becomes clear how well secular and Bible history agree with one another, and disagree with the Society’s chronology.
Life Expectancy and Neo-Babylonian Chronology
We have seen that the Watchtower Society’s chronology requires adding an extra twenty years to Neo-Babylonian chronology. This creates a serious problem with regard to the age of certain people when they died. The problem is illustrated by the following statement from the Insight book, Vol. 2, p. 457, under “Nabonidus”:
Cuneiform tablets of the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar (Nisan 617-Nisan 616 B.C.E.) list a certain Nabu-na’id as the one “who is over the city,” and some historians believe this is the same Nabonidus who later became king. However, this would mean that Nabonidus was a very young man when placed in such administrative position and would make him extremely aged at the fall of Babylon, some 77 years later (539 B.C.E.).
If the two Nabonidus’s are the same man, he would reasonably be about one hundred years old in 539 B.C., since it is unreasonable to suppose that he would be put in charge of an entire city at an age less than his mid-20s. The author of Insight is apparently unaware of how damaging this information is to the Society’s claims about Neo-Babylonian chronology. The same problem occurs when we examine the ages of others mentioned in various Babylonian records.
For example, according to the Harran stele Nabonidus H1,B discussed on page 15, Adda-Guppi, the mother of Nabonidus, was born in the 20th year of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, 649/8 B.C. In the third year of Ashurbanipal’s son and successor, Assur-etillu-ilani, she moved from Harran to Babylon, and served under Babylonian kings until her death in the ninth year of Nabonidus, in 547/6 B.C. She died at 101 or 102 years of age.
If we have to add 20 years to the Neo-Babylonian era, to accord with the Society’s chronology, Adda-Guppi would have been 121 or 122 years old when she died. But this is unreasonable. Far more likely is it that she died at not more than the usual maximum life span seen today. This also reduces the problem of Nabonidus mentioned above, because he would only need to be about 80 years old in 539 B.C. Remember that the historical documents say that he was leading the armies of Babylon at that time.
There are other people appearing in the business and administrative documents from the Neo-Babylonian period who would have to have been well over a hundred when they died, if the Society’s chronology is correct. Many of them can be traced from text to text almost during the entire period, sometimes even into the Persian era. We find that some of these people — businessmen, slaves, scribes — must have been 80 or 90 years old or more at the end of their careers. They would have to have still been active in their careers at more than 110 years of age, if the Society’s chronology is correct. Here are a few examples.
A scribe named Apla, son of Bel-iddina, for the first time appears in a text dated to the 28th year of Nebuchadnezzar (577 B.C.). Thereafter, his name recurs in many texts dated in the reigns of Evil-merodach, Neriglissar, Nabonidus, Cyrus, Cambyses and Darius. The last text to mention his name comes from the 13th year of Darius, 509 B.C. This scribe may be followed for a period of 68 years, from 577 to 509 B.C. The Russian Assyriologist M. A. Dandamaev commented: “He should have been, at least, twenty years old when he became a scribe. Even if we assume that Apla died even in the same year when he was referred to for the last time or soon after, he must have lived about 90 years.”
But if we have to add 20 years to the Neo-Babylonian era, not only would we have to increase Apla’s age to 110 years but would have to conclude that he was still active as a scribe at this advanced age. Really, is this reasonable?
Another example is Iddina-Marduk, son of Iqisha, of the family of Nur-Sin. His name appears for the first time in a text dated to the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar (597 B.C.), where he is engaged in the purchase of slaves. He then remained a director of his business operations for a period of about 70 years. He figures in many documents dated in the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach, Neriglissar, Nabonidus, Cyrus, and Cambyses, and the last time in a text from the third year of Cambyses, 527 B.C. Even if we assume that he was only 20 years old when he first appears as a director, he must have been 90 years old or more at the time of his death.
Again, were we to add 20 years to the Neo-Babylonian chronology his age would increase to at least 110 years and he would have been still active as a director of his firm.
The Bible, too, adds its testimony. Haggai 2:1-4 shows that in the 2nd year of Darius (520/19 B.C.), some of the Jews who were building the temple in Jerusalem were old enough to have seen the temple “in its former glory,” before it was ruined in 587 B.C. Even if these Jews were only 10 or 15 years old at that time, they were now about 80 years old or more. But if the destruction of Jerusalem had occurred in 607 B.C., these men would have been at least 100 years old in 520/19 B.C. Is it really likely that 100 year old men were rebuilding the temple?
Is it likely that people during the Neo-Babylonian period often lived to 100, 110 or even 120 years? The Russian Assyriologist M. A. Dandamaev has examined the lengths of life of people in Babylonia from the seventh to the fourth century B.C., using tens of thousands of business and administrative texts as the basis for his research. His conclusion is that the average life span of people at that time was no different from what it is now. In his discussion Dandamaev refers to Psalm 90:10: “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years. Or if due to strength, eighty years.” These words were as true in the Neo-Babylonian era as they are today.
Consequently, the extremely old ages created by dating the destruction of Jerusalem to 607 instead of 587 B.C. provide another strong evidence against Watchtower Society chronology.
A Few Other Points
Let Your Kingdom Come quoted one Professor Campbell on the potential traps in historical dating, on page 187:
Evidently realizing such facts, Professor Edward F. Campbell, Jr., introduced a chart, which included Neo-Babylonian chronology, with the caution: “It goes without saying that these lists are provisional. The more one studies the intricacies of the chronological problems in the ancient Near East, the less he is inclined to think of any presentation as final. For this reason, the term circa [about] could be used even more liberally than it is.”
This appears to be powerful testimony that Neo-Babylonian chronology is not necessarily well established. But Let Your Kingdom Come misrepresents Professor Campbell. Concerning this Campbell said:
…. I am dismayed at the use made of…. my chronological lists by the Watch Tower Society. I fear that some earnest folk will reach for any straw to support their already-arrived-at conclusions. This is most certainly a case of doing just that…. there was absolutely no intent to suggest that there was leeway [in our charts] of as much as twenty years for the dates relating to Babylonia and Judah…. the 587-6 date can be off by no more than one year, while the 597 date is one of the very few secure dates in our whole chronological repertoire.
The date 597 B.C. is for the first capture of Jerusalem, when Jehoiachin was exiled. Dr. Campbell’s co-author, Dr. Freedman said:
This is one of the best-known periods of the ancient world, and we can be very sure that the dates are correct to within a year or so, and many of the dates are accurate to the day and month. There is therefore absolutely no warrant for the comments or judgments made by the Watch Tower Society based on a statement about our uncertainty. What I had specifically in mind was the disagreement among scholars as to whether the fall of Jerusalem should be dated in 587 or 586. Eminent scholars disagree on this point, and unfortunately we do not have the Babylonian chronicle for this episode as we do for the capture of Jerusalem in 597 (that date is now fixed exactly). But it is only a debate about one year at most (587 or 586), so it would have no bearing upon the views of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who apparently want to rewrite the whole history of the time and change the dates rather dramatically. There is no warrant whatever for that.
Let Your Kingdom Come states (p. 188) that Josephus says, in his 1st and 2nd works, that Jerusalem was desolate for 70 years. However it leaves out the well known fact that he says this period was fifty years in his 3rd and last work. His last work demonstrably contains corrections of his earlier works.
Let Your Kingdom Come states (p. 188) that Theophilus shows that the 70 years commenced with the destruction of the temple after Zedekiah had reigned 11 years. But it fails to mention that Theophilus follows the Greek Septuagint version, which disagrees with the Hebrew Masoretic text on this chronology. Many other early Christian writers disagree with Theophilus. It seems obvious that these writers did not have access to authoritative sources, and so any information from them should be evaluated in light of its agreement with older sources.
1 Interestingly, the Babylon book, p. 184, says that Nabonidus took the throne immediately after Labashi-Marduk, implying a reign of 36 years for Nabonidus. This conflicts with the 17 years assigned by historians and in the later Watchtower references. The Aid book also says this on page 1196: “Nabonidus’ ascension to the throne followed the assassination of Labashi-Marduk, son of Neriglissar.”
(For a more thorough examination of these issues, see The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonsson.)