Appendix B: The Pivotal Date 539 B.C.
The Watchtower Society’s current Bible dictionary Insight on the Scriptures has stated a fine principle to guide the Bible scholar who is interested in chronology. On page 450 of Volume 1, in the major section “Chronology,” subsection “Bible Chronology and Secular History,” the book states:
There is no reason to feel doubt about the accuracy of the Biblical chronology simply because certain secular records are at variance with it. On the contrary, it is only when the secular chronology harmonizes with the Biblical record that a person may rightly feel a measure of confidence in such ancient secular dating.
The Society has revised its version of biblical chronology many times since Nelson Barbour and Charles Taze Russell published the first version of it in 1877, in a joint work called Three Worlds, and the Harvest of this World. This early chronology used 536 B.C. as an anchor date. Barbour and Russell said that this year was the date of Babylon’s fall to Cyrus the Great, and was the year of the Jews’ return from exile. The dates for these events were disputed among Bible scholars at that time, but Barbour and Russell chose the ones that made their calculations of what they called “parallel dispensations” look attractive and symmetrical.
By the 1940s, it had become evident to those writing the Society’s publications that these dates were untenable in the face of much historical evidence. During the 1940s the Society changed the dates for various important events several times, and even since then the evidence on which those dates were claimed to be based has been changed dramatically. Here we examine how the Society has changed its view of the pivotal date for the fall of Babylon, 539 B.C., from the 1940s onward.
In the early 1940s the Society held that Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians in 538 B.C., and that the Jews returned from exile in 536 B.C. In the chapter “The Count of Time,” the 1943 book The Truth Shall Make You Free said on pages 151-2:
It is well established that two years after the overthrow of Babylon in 538 B.C. by Darius the Mede and his nephew, Cyrus the Persian, the first year of Cyrus’ exclusive rule began, which year was 536 B.C.
However, the 1944 book The Kingdom Is At Hand said on page 195, with respect to the date for Babylon’s overthrow:
According to the most accurate histories, Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian, his nephew, jointly took the capital of the Babylonian empire in 539 B.C. After Darius’ brief rule there, Cyrus came to power, in 537 B.C.
Here it is said that Babylon fell in 539 rather than 538 B.C., and that Cyrus came to power in 537 rather than in 536 B.C. While this is quite correct, the book engaged in no discussion of why the dates were revised by one year. How can it be said that dates that in 1943 were “well established” had become obsolete a year later?
Until 1952 the Society published no evidence to back up its new date of 539 B.C. Instead, scholars were quoted to support the date. The first attempt at providing specific support came in the May 1, 1952 Watchtower, page 271, which said:
Almost all early Bible chronology ties in with secular history at the year 539 B.C., in which year the fall of Babylon to Darius and Cyrus of the Medes and the Persians occurred. In late years several cuneiform tablets have been discovered pertaining to the fall of Babylon which peg both Biblical and secular historic dates. The one tablet known as the “Nabunaid Chronicle” gives the date for the fall of Babylon which specialists have ascertained as being October 12-13, 539 B.C., Julian Calendar, or October 6-7, 539 B.C., according to our present Gregorian Calendar.
It should be noted that the “Nabunaid Chronicle” had not become known “in late years,” but had been discovered in 1879 and translations made available since the 1890s. The Watchtower’s motives in saying this are clearly to avoid raising questions in readers’ minds about why it took so long for the Society to recognize the evidence published in “the most accurate histories.” This duplicity is again evident in what the February 1, 1955 Watchtower said on page 93:
The Watch Tower Society has endeavored to keep its associates abreast with the latest available scholarship on Bible chronology.
This same Watchtower said on page 94, concerning 539 B.C.:
The outstanding Absolute date for the B.C. period of the Hebrew Scriptures is that for the fall of Babylon as the capital city of the third world power at the hands of Cyrus, king of the Persians…. This date is made Absolute by reason of the archaeological discovery and deciphering of the famous Nabunaid Chronicle, which itself gives a date for the fall of Babylon and which figure specialists have determined equals October 13, 539 B.C., according the the Julian calendar of the Romans.
The Society’s next discussion of “absolute dates” is found in the 1963 book All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial. Paragraph 2 on page 85 quotes three secular sources that support the 539 B.C. date. The last of these is from The Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, Vol. 7. It is not clear from this reference that the Eleventh Edition was published in 1910 and 1911. Not many readers would know this, so the information is concealed from the reader. Why is this important? Because it establishes that the correct information had been known by historians for a long time, and the Society did not want to stimulate its readers into thinking about the implications. The reference did not have to be concealed, for it could have been cited in the manner the Insight book did on page 457 in two places: “The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911, Vol. XVI,” etc.
The quoted material leaves out another clue as to how long the Society had been concealing information about 539 B.C. All Scripture quotes from Britannica:
Why the war with Babylon, which had become inevitable, was delayed until 539, we do not know. Here too Cyrus in a single campaign destroyed a mighty state. The army of Nabonidus was defeated; Babylon itself attempted no resistance, but surrendered on the 16th Tishri … 539, to the Persian general Gobryas.
The last sentence is immediately followed in the Encyclopedia by a parenthetical reference to another name for Gobryas: “(Gaubaruva, see the chronicle of the reign of Nabonidus….)” This is a clear reference to the Nabonidus Chronicle, which shows that the Chronicle was well enough known in 1910/11 to be referred to in an encyclopedia. It proves that the Society has not always tried “to keep its associates abreast with the latest available scholarship on Bible chronology.” Significantly, this discussion was dropped from the 1990 edition of the All Scripture book.
The 1963 All Scripture book also discussed what it termed “absolute dates.” On page 85, paragraph 3, it said:
This date 539 B.C.E. is an absolute date, that is, a date fixed, proved and accepted by secular history.
Compare this to the wording of the 1990 edition, page 85, paragraph 3:
This date 539 B.C.E. is a pivotal date, that is, a date that may be harmonized with both secular and Biblical history.
The later edition gives no hint as to how a date might be so harmonized.
It should be noted that the Society has dropped the term “absolute date” in favor of “pivotal date,” and that these terms are seldom used outside of Watchtower publications. A comparison of the 1963 All Scripture book with the 1990 edition demonstrates why the terminology has changed. The earlier book said on page 281, under the sub-title “Absolute Dates”:
Reliable Bible chronology is based on certain absolute dates. An absolute date is a calendar date that is proved by secular history to be the actual date of an event recorded in the Bible.
The 1990 edition said on page 282, under the sub-title “Pivotal Dates”:
Reliable Bible chronology is based on certain pivotal dates. A pivotal date is a calendar date in history that has a sound basis for acceptance and that corresponds to a specific event recorded in the Bible.
Although the earlier book allows that secular history may prove the actual date of a biblical event, the later edition leaves the question open by giving no criteria for determining what is a “sound basis for acceptance.” This allows the Society the option of picking and choosing among secular evidences for those that support its notions — the smorgasbord approach to scholarship.
The matter of the switch from 538 to 539 B.C. not having been discussed for eleven years, the author of the 1963 All Scripture book now feels free to tell the date the Nabonidus Chronicle was discovered, and discuss its significance, on page 282, paragraph 29:
A prominent event recorded both in the Bible and in pagan secular history is the overthrow of the city of Babylon by the Medes and Persians under Cyrus…. The pagan record was made by King Nabonidus, and it has been dated by him in what is known as the Nabonidus Chronicle, discovered in 1879…. Modern authorities have set this absolute date for the fall of Babylon as… 539 B.C.E.
The 1990 edition, on pages 282-3, kept the first sentence pretty much intact, but changed the second sentence thus:
Various historical sources (including Diodorus, Africanus, Eusebius, Ptolemy, and the Babylonian tablets) support 539 B.C.E. as the year for the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus. The Nabonidus Chronicle gives the month and day of the city’s fall (the year is missing). Secular chronologers have thus set the date for the fall of Babylon as… 539 B.C.E.
Note particularly two things that are stated to support the 539 date: Ptolemy and the Babylonian tablets. It is not entirely clear what “the Babylonian tablets” refer to, since there are many categories of such, like business and administrative documents, historical narratives, astronomical diaries, etc. “Ptolemy” refers to the writings in Claudius Ptolemy’s famous astronomical work, the Almagest (c. 150 A.D.). Included as a sort of appendix was a list, or canon, of kings and the lengths of their reigning years, which served as a chronological scale for his astronomical data. The list has come to be called “Ptolemy’s canon,” and includes kings that ruled Babylon, Persia, etc., down to Ptolemy’s time in the 2nd century A.D.
The noted Bible scholar E. R. Thiele cleared up a point that has misled a number of people who misunderstood the purpose of the canon: “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. Kings whose reigns were less than a year and which did not embrace the new year’s day were not mentioned in the canon.” This is why, for example, the Babylonian king Labashi-Marduk, who reigned only two or three months, is not mentioned in the canon.
The Society gave the Nabonidus Chronicle top billing for many years as the most important single piece of evidence confirming the 539 B.C. date for Babylon’s fall, but never gave any details about the supporting evidence. It was only stated that recognized authorities supported the date. The above quotations illustrate this practice, and it was continued for many years. For example, the 1963 book Babylon the Great Has Fallen — God’s Kingdom Rules spoke about the fall of Babylon, and on page 227 explained:
The date given in this paragraph is according to pages 170, 171 of the book Nabonidus and Belshazzar, by R. P. Dougherty, which sets out data according to the famous Nabonidus Chronicle dealing with the fall of Babylon…. See also page 14, P1, under “Cyrus,” of Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.-A.D. 75, by Parker and Dubberstein, 1956 Edition.
On page 366 the Babylon book said:
We accept from secular historians the year 539 B.C. as a fixed date, marking the downfall of Babylon.
The 1965 book Make Sure of All Things said on page 84, under the subject “Chronology”:
Secular chronologers generally agree Babylon fell in October of 539 B.C.E.
It then quoted two secular historical books in support of the date, and quoted from a translation of the Nabonidus Chronicle. The 1985 equivalent of this book, “Reasoning from the Scriptures,” on page 93, under the subject “Dates,” said:
In secular sources there is disagreement on dates given for events in ancient history. However, certain key dates, such as 539 B.C.E. for the fall of Babylon, and hence 537 B.C.E. for the Jews’ return from captivity, are well established.
Interestingly, the September 15, 1965 Watchtower forgot about the intermediate calculations leading from the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. to the return from exile in 537 B.C., and called 537 B.C. a “pivotal date.” The article later stated that Babylon fell in 539 B.C., but never offered supporting data.
About the middle of 1965 work was started on a new Bible dictionary, to be called Aid to Bible Understanding, which was published first in 1969, subjects A through E only, and the complete version in 1971. A major topic of research was chronology. A lengthy article on “Chronology” was eventually produced, along with articles on many related subjects. Much of this material was published in Watchtower articles from 1968 through 1971. The Society changed many of its ideas as a result of the research. However, there were still many holes in the arguments on chronology.
For example, the May 1, 1968 Watchtower published two articles focused on the chronology leading up to the claim that 1975 would mark the end of 6000 years of human history. On page 268 it discussed “absolute dates” and said:
For calculating Hebrew Scripture dates, the absolute date of October 5 to 6 in the year 539 B.C.E. is essential. This was the year that the Medes and Persians overthrew Babylon and it was definitely established in secular history when a record was found of King Nabonidus, the father and coregent of King Belshazzar. This remarkable clay document established that Babylon fell on October 5 to 6, in the year 539 B.C.E. according to the Gregorian calendar.
The August 15, 1968 Watchtower published a series of three articles that amounted to a major position statement on chronology in connection with establishing 1975 as the end of 6000 years of human history. On page 488 the first article stated a fine principle:
Honest investigators… recognize the truly genuine worth of the Bible as unimpeachable testimony, confirmed by all the discoveries that have been unearthed.
On page 490 the article began discussing “absolute dates”:
[An absolute] date must be one where sacred and secular historical events coincide and are linked in perfect agreement with current methods of measuring time distances…. One such fixed or absolute date is in connection with the events recorded in the fifth chapter of Daniel…. That was concerning the time when the Medes and Persians under Cyrus the Great… captured the city of Babylon, and overthrew the Third World Empire. The year was 539 B.C.E.
The fixing of 539 B.C.E. as the year when this historical event occurred is based on a stone document know [sic] as the Nabonidus (Nabunaid) Chronicle. This important find was discovered in ruins near the city of Baghdad in 1879, and it is now preserved in the British Museum. A translation of this finding was published by Sidney Smith in… 1924, and reads in part:….
Then the Nabonidus Chronicle is quoted. The article correctly states that the fixing of 539 is based on the Chronicle, not that the Chronicle directly states the date. This point was missed in all of the earlier publications. However, the next paragraph in the article neglects this point, and attributes the deciphering of the date to modern scholars in a most interesting way:
Please note, the Nabonidus Chronicle gives precise details as to the time when these events took place. This, in turn, enables modern scholars, with their knowledge of astronomy, to translate these dates into terms of the Julian or Gregorian calendars.
Note the approving tone of the reference to “modern scholars, with their knowledge of astronomy.” The article then refers to two books that confirm the 539 date, Light from the Ancient Past, by a well-known Bible scholar, Jack Finegan, and a major work of the mid-20th century on this subject, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C. — A.D. 75, Parker and Dubberstein, 1956.
Finegan is quoted about the Nabonidus Chronicle, but he clearly states in his book that the “exact dates” he refers to are the day and month, not the year. The year is not stated in the Chronicle, because the very place on the cuneiform tablet where the key reference to Nabonidus’s 17th year would have been was broken off, and “reference to the ‘seventeenth year’ of Nabonidus… has been inserted by translators.” [May 15, 1971 Watchtower, p. 316; see below].
Here are some other references: The 1990 All Scripture book said on page 283 that “the Nabonidus Chronicle gives the month and day of the city’s fall (the year is missing).” The Aid book mentioned on page 1197 (subject “Nabonidus”) that “it may be noted that the phrase ‘seventeenth year’ does not appear on the tablet, that portion of the text being damaged.” The Insight book, Vol. 2, page 459, under the subject “Nabonidus,” also makes this clear.
Oddly enough, the Aid book misstated this on page 409 (subject “Cyrus”): “According to the Nabonidus Chronicle, in the seventeenth year of Nabonidus’s reign (539 B.C.E.) in the month of Tishri… Cyrus attacked the Babylonian forces at Opis and defeated them.” The Insight book also was vague about the issue, under the subject “Cyrus,” on page 569 of Vol. 1. It stated that “by means of this inscription, the date of Babylon’s fall can be fixed as Tishri 16, 539 B.C.E.,” but gave no clear indication of the supporting data that allows historians to fix the date. This supporting data comes from sources such as Berossus, who is mentioned in the preceding paragraph on page 567 of the article.
Next, in paragraph 18, the 1968 Watchtower article states:
Recognized authorities of today accept 539 B.C.E. without any question as the year Babylon was overthrown by Cyrus the Great. In addition to the above quotations the following gives a small sampling from books of history representing a cross section of both general reference works and elementary textbooks. These brief quotations also show that this is not a date recently suggested, but one thoroughly investigated and generally accepted for the past sixty years.
Then are listed about 20 quotations from “recognized authorities,” going back to about 1908, supporting the 539 B.C. date. It should be noted that the date was accepted by many, but not all, scholars, at least as far back as the 1864 edition of Smith’s Bible Dictionary. After the quotations, in paragraph 19 the article further states:
With the date 539 B.C.E. so firmly fixed and agreed to by so many scholars, we are quite confident where we stand today in relation to the fall of Babylon twenty- five centuries ago.
So up to this point the article accepts the firmly fixed and unquestionably correct date of 539 B.C. for Babylon’s fall, based on (1) the Bible, (2) the Nabonidus Chronicle, (3) astronomy, (4) documentation from history books and the weight of historical scholarship, (5) “recognized authorities” such as Jack Finegan, and Parker and Dubberstein. In preparation for a discussion of the Society’s date of 607 B.C. for the fall of Jerusalem, the paragraph then begins the interesting process of discounting similar findings of such “recognized authorities.” Because these authorities peg that date to 587 or 586 B.C. (the ambiguity is due to the Bible itself, not secular evidence), the paragraph now calls them the “traditional chronologers of Christendom.” This includes the authors Jack Finegan, Parker and Dubberstein, and those who wrote the history books and comprise the weight of historical scholarship — all of whom the Society extensively quotes in support of 539 B.C. elsewhere in publications on chronology. The typical Watchtower reader is not aware that the two sets of people are one and the same.
The February 1, 1964 Watchtower, page 80, similarly uses the complimentary term “Bible chronologers” rather than “chronologers of Christendom” for “secular historians” when speaking of their fixing of the dates of Cyrus’s overthrow of Babylon and of his first regnal year.
The complete Aid book was published in 1971, and in the article on “Chronology” it discussed “pivotal dates.” Quite a few details of the Society’s view of “absolute dates” had changed from when All Scripture Is Inspired was published in 1963. On page 328, Aid makes its key argument for establishing the authority of the 539 date:
A number of important Biblical events took place during the Persian period: the fall of Babylon, followed by Cyrus’ release of the Jews…. As with much of the Neo-Babylonian period, chronology for the reigns of the kings of the Persian Empire is dependent largely on the Ptolemaic canon and also other “classical” sources. With some exceptions, it harmonizes well with the Biblical chronology. The date of 539 B.C.E. for the fall of Babylon can be arrived at not only by Ptolemy’s canon but by other sources as well. Historians such as Diodorus, Africanus and Eusebius show that Cyrus’ first year as king of Persia corresponded to Olympiad 55, year 1 (560/59 B.C.E.) while Cyrus’ last year is placed at Olympiad 62, year 2 (531/30 B.C.E.). Cuneiform tablets give Cyrus a rule of 9 years over Babylon, which would therefore substantiate the year 539 as the date of his conquest of Babylon.
So here the Aid book for the first time in the Society’s history puts forth more specific details of the historical data that confirm the 539 date, rather than simply accepting the word of “recognized authorities.” With this piece of the chronological puzzle in place, Aid can discuss other aspects of chronology. The equivalent discussion can be found in Insight, Vol. 1, page 454, but the details are quite different.
At this point it must be asked, Why did the Society reject astronomical dating in general, but accept the word of some ancient scholars to establish 539 B.C. as a solid date? The answer is that it wanted to circumvent the certainty with which the astronomical evidence establishes Neo-Babylonian chronology. Put simply, if the astronomically established dates are right, the Society’s dates are wrong. Therefore the above article tries to establish the 539 date by referring to the Olympiads.
Let us examine what is involved in this dating. It will be seen that these ancient writers are not independent of one another. Diodorus of Sicily, a Greek historian writing in the first century B.C., claims to have gotten his information for the Olympiadic dating of Cyrus from other second- and third-century Greek historians. If his claim is true, his sources were at least 300-400 years removed from the days of Cyrus.
Africanus, writing in the third century A.D., says his source for dating Cyrus by Olympiads is Diodorus. Following Diodorus, he dates Cyrus’s first regnal year to Olympiad 55, year 1 — 560/59 B.C.
Eusebius of Caesarea, a church historian writing in the late third and early fourth centuries A.D., got his information on the Olympiadic dating of Cyrus’s first regnal year from Diodorus and Africanus. Then he consulted a reliable king list to determine that Cyrus reigned over Persia for 30 years. On this basis, he then computed the Olympiadic dating for the end of Cyrus’s reign to be Olympiad 62, year 2 — 531/0 B.C.
The Society then takes this information and consults cuneiform tablets (what information the tablets provide is not described) to determine how long Cyrus reigned over Babylon. From this the date for the fall of Babylon is computed. Note that the best sources available for the Olympiadic dating are at least 300-400 years removed from the actual reign of Cyrus. Then a king list and cuneiform tablets must be consulted before the Olympiadic dates can be translated into calendar dates for the fall of Babylon.
The reader should compare these arguments to those given to discredit Berossus, Ptolemy, the astronomical evidence, ancient historians, etc., in various Watchtower articles published in 1968-9, and in Aid and Insight. The Society’s duplicity will become painfully evident.
On page 333, under the subheading “The Biblical Count of Time,” Aid spoke of making a count back through time to the beginning of human history:
To make the count in terms of modern calendar dating we must use some fixed point or pivotal date with which to commence, that is, a date in history that has sound basis for acceptance and that corresponds with a particular event recorded in the Bible.
The 1990 All Scripture book borrowed from this (and the corresponding section in Insight, page 458). Aid continues:
Another date that can be used as a pivotal point is the year 539 B.C.E., supported by various historical sources as the year for the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian. (As has been shown, secular sources for Cyrus’ reign include Diodorus, Africanus, Eusebius and Ptolemy, as well as the Babylonian tablets.)
The Aid book provided other supporting data as well. Under the subject “Nabonidus” a certain amount of mixed feelings on the part of the authors is evident with respect to the dates of Nabonidus’s rule. Why would they have such mixed feelings? Somewhere before 539 B.C. there is a 20 year gap that the Society must account for, but has never been able to do. So at this time the Society did not want to commit itself to supporting 17 years for Nabonidus, but wanted to leave the door open for extending his reign back by some years. On page 1195 Aid said Nabonidus was the
Last supreme monarch of the Babylonian Empire and father of Belshazzar. On the basis of cuneiform texts he is believed to have ruled some seventeen years (556-539 B.C.E.). (However, see CHRONOLOGY.)
Let’s see what the subject “Chronology” has to say about the years of Nabonidus’s rule. Under the subsection “Babylonian Chronology” Aid says on page 327 that Ptolemy’s canon assigns “17 years to Nabonidus.” It states on page 328:
In view of all these factors it is certainly not wise to insist that the traditional figures for the reigns of the Neo-Babylonian kings be received as definite, nor that Ptolemy necessarily had access to reliable and accurate sources for all his dates…. Syncellus, who is, however, far removed from the time [late 8th or early 9th century A.D.], would give Nabonidus a rule of 34 years instead of 17.
Further showing why Aid throws cold water on the dating of Nabonidus’s rule, the next paragraph on page 328 says:
Both the lack of contemporary historical records and the ease with which data could be altered definitely allow for the possibility that one or more of the Neo-Babylonian rulers had a longer reign than the Ptolemaic reckoning shows.
This is said to try to allow for the 20 year gap between Watchtower Society chronology and that of “recognized authorities” in the early part of the Neo-Babylonian period. The problem is that if Nabonidus’s accession year was 556 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar’s last year must have been 582 B.C. (under “Nebuchadnezzar” Aid says 581, but Insight says 582), rather than the 562 B.C. date that everyone else accepts. The lengths of the reigns of kings in between these monarchs, according to the vast bulk of historical data, account for the 6 years from 562 to 556 B.C., and so this 20 gap appears.
However, if Nabonidus did not reign for 17 years, then the synchronism with certain other classical documents is lost. The chronological problems that arise if this synchronization is lost are nowhere addressed in the article. Under “Cyrus” on page 409 Aid says that the two classical writers Africanus and Diodorus
place the start of Cyrus’ reign in the first year of the 55th Olympiad, or 560/559 B.C.E. Herodotus relates that Cyrus thereafter revolted against the Median rulership…. This was in the sixth year of Nabonidus’ reign (550 B.C.E. in secular history) according to the Nabonidus Chronicle….
Jewish historian Josephus records an account of Cyrus’ conquest written by the Babylonian priest Berossus… as follows: “In the seventeenth year of his [Nabonidus’s] reign, Cyrus came out of Persia with a great army…. Hereupon Cyrus took Babylon….”
So if Nabonidus’s reign did not begin in 556/5 B.C. then Cyrus’s reign did not begin in 560/59 B.C., according to the Nabonidus Chronicle, and then Diodorus, Africanus and Eusebius cannot be used to support 539 B.C. for the fall of Babylon.
Somehow the authors of Aid do not think that Josephus’s mention of Nabonidus’s 17th year as his last is a problem, for on page 1197, while discussing the phrase “17th year,” that is missing from the Nabonidus Chronicle, the book states:
It may be noted that the phrase “Seventeenth year” does not appear on the tablet, that portion of the text being damaged. This phrase is inserted by the translators because they have not found any other cuneiform tablets dated beyond Nabonidus’ seventeenth year. So they assume that the fall of Babylon came in that year of his reign and that, if the tablet were not damaged, those words would appear in the space now damaged. Even though Nabonidus’ reign were of greater length than generally supposed, this would not change the accepted date of 539 B.C.E. as the year of Babylon’s fall, for there are other sources pointing to that year. (See CYRUS.)
The paragraph is wrong when it implies that the fall of Babylon is assumed to be in Nabonidus’s 17th year because of the lack of cuneiform tablets dated after that year. The phrase “seventeenth year” is inserted because of explicit statements such as Josephus’s, and those of other ancient historians. The fact that no cuneiform tablets are dated later than this merely confirms these statements.
Aid next says, on page 1197, that it accepts the calculations of “secular chronologers”:
While the year is missing, the month and day of the city’s fall, nevertheless, are on the remaining text. Using these, secular chronologers calculate the sixteenth day of Tashritu (Tishri) as falling… in the year 539 B.C.E. Since this date is an accepted one, there being no evidence to the contrary, it is usable as a “pivotal date” in coordinating secular history with Bible history.
The May 15, 1971 Watchtower article “Testimony of the Nabonidus Chronicle,” pages 315-6, said virtually the same thing as the above material from Aid, and added:
It may also be noted that the Jewish historian Josephus [quoting Babylonian priest Berossus (of the third century B.C.E.)] reports that Cyrus took Babylon in the seventeenth year of Nabonidus’ reign.
The article added the testimony of Ptolemy’s canon and ancient historians Diodorus, Africanus and Eusebius, and cuneiform tablets, in support of the 539 B.C. date, and said that this evidence is “sufficient for accepting 539 B.C.E. as the date for Babylon’s fall.”
At this point it should be noted that very little real data has been given by any of the Society’s publications in support of the 539 B.C. date. Instead, “recognized authorities” have been quoted in support, and in the one place where more data is given (Aid, p. 328, subject “Chronology”) it still does not say exactly what the various sources say. Aid does not say what the ancient historians Diodorus, Africanus and Eusebius reported that supports the date. The above description of how those historians obtained their dates (page 85) gives some indication why. Aid does not tell the reader anything about the cuneiform tablets that “give Cyrus a rule of 9 years over Babylon,” and “which would therefore substantiate the year 539 as the date of his conquest of Babylon.”
Why not? The reason becomes clear when the real historical evidence is examined. If the testimony of, say, Ptolemy’s canon is accepted because it agrees with that of Berossus, Diodorus, Africanus and many cuneiform tablets, then there is very good reason for accepting its testimony about other dates when it agrees with all these sources. The Society’s difficulty stems from the fact that all these sources, and others like them, show that not only did Cyrus conquer Babylon in 539 B.C., but Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C., not 607 B.C. The Society cannot afford to build up the evidence too much in this direction, but must always leave the door open to be able to knock down evidence against the 607 date. This can only be done by keeping the reader in the dark. Clearly the Society is willing to accept or reject historical evidence based on, not just the facts, but on its own traditional interpretations, which were borrowed from the Second Adventists in the mid-1870s.
Why has the Society tried so hard to discredit Ptolemy’s canon? Because, as with so much other evidence, if it is right the Society is wrong about the 607 B.C. date for Jerusalem’s destruction. A few statements about the trustworthiness of Ptolemy’s canon, from publications after the Aid book came out, illustrates some of the difficulties. The December 15, 1977 Watchtower, on page 747, had this to say:
How certain can we be of the presently accepted chronology of the ancient Babylonian Empire? For many years, chronologists have put heavy reliance on the king list of Claudius Ptolemy, a second-century Greek scholar often considered the greatest astronomer of antiquity.
However, in his new book “The Crime of Claudius Ptolemy,” the noted physicist Robert R. Newton of Johns Hopkins University offers proof that many of Ptolemy’s astronomical observations were “deliberately fabricated” to agree with his preconceived theories “so that he could claim that the observations prove the validity of his theories.”
In its comments on Newton’s book, “Scientific American” magazine notes: “Ptolemy’s forgery may have extended to inventing the length of reigns of Babylonian kings. Since much modern reconstruction of Babylonian chronology has been based on a list of kings that Ptolemy used to pinpoint the dates of alleged Babylonian observations, according to Newton ‘all relevant chronology must now be reviewed and all dependence upon Ptolemy’s [king] list must be removed.'” — October 1977, p. 80.
These findings illustrate why secular history and chronological reckoning cannot be relied upon when they conflict with the Bible. Unlike secular historians, the Bible writers had nothing to gain by misrepresenting the facts.
The question must be asked, What has the Society to gain by its demonstrated misrepresentation of the facts?
Answer: The retention of its chronological system including the ‘magic’ year 1914.
The above quotations by The Watchtower make two main points: (1) Many of Ptolemy’s astronomical observations were fabricated, and (2) Ptolemy may have invented his king list.
With regard to the first point, several astronomers and historians agree that Ptolemy may have fudged some of his data to support his astronomical theories. But the larger portion of them are valid, as Insight admits (Vol. 1, p. 455): “A modern astronomer found three fifths of Ptolemy’s dates correct.” So the astronomical verification of the king list Ptolemy gives cannot be accepted without some other form of verification. This has been done in spades, as shown below and in the main part of this essay.
With regard to the second point, is there any evidence that Ptolemy really invented the king list? If no other information besides Ptolemy’s canon existed this would be a real problem. But the fact that the king list agrees extremely well with the testimony of many other ancient sources makes it a moot point. The evidence presented in this essay shows that what Robert Newton recommended be done, namely, “all relevant chronology must now be reviewed and all dependence upon Ptolemy’s king list must be removed,” had been done long before Newton examined the canon. Neo-Babylonian chronology can be firmly established without reference to Ptolemy, using other ancient historical sources and astronomical observations recorded in cuneiform tablets. The fact that his king list agrees with this independently established chronology simple adds more weight to the view that the chronology is correct, and shows that even if Ptolemy forged many of his observations, it has no bearing on the validity of his king list.
There are a couple of things that must be pointed out about The Watchtower’s use of the writings of Robert Newton. Newton is a noted physicist, but is not a historian or expert in Babylonian chronology. In his book quoted in The Watchtower he admits that he has not studied sources other than Ptolemy for the years prior to Nebuchadnezzar, so that he is unfamiliar with all the other evidence we have examined in this essay. An examination of the arguments about Babylonian chronology he presents shows that some of them are identical to those of the Aid book. In the introduction to his book he said (p. XIV): “I thank Mr. Phillip G. Couture of Santee, California for correspondence which led me to understand some of the relations between chronology and the work of Ptolemy.” Mr. Couture has been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1947.
Given the above facts, note how much force another comment by the Society loses. The May 22, 1984 Awake! had a blurb on page 9, knocking Ptolemy. Apparently referring to the work of Robert Newton, it said:
Claudius Ptolemy, of the second century C.E., whose geocentric view of the universe held sway for 1,400 years, was considered “the greatest astronomer of antiquity.” Today scholars believe that he obtained his data, not by observations, but by copying the work of an early Greek astronomer, Hipparchus of Rhodes. He was also suspected of having obtained some data by working backward from the results he expected.
Whoever wrote this is woefully ignorant of the purpose of Ptolemy’s canon. Much of the data in The Almagest consists of ancient observations, such as the eclipse of 621 B.C., so of course Ptolemy could not have observed it. He copied the observations from many ancient astronomers. We have already demonstrated in this essay that Ptolemy’s king list was merely the latest update to one that had long been kept by astronomers for establishing a chronological framework in which to put their observations. Perhaps the Awake! writer thinks Ptolemy was more than 900 yeas old when he wrote The Almagest, and should have remembered the days of his youth better.
If Ptolemy’s canon is really so unreliable, why does it agree so well with all other historical sources, in particular with respect to 539 B.C.? In the “Chronology” section the Aid book had a lengthy subsection on Ptolemy’s canon, which discussed the difficulties for the Society’s chronology that the canon presents. This discussion first appeared in the February 1, 1969 Watchtower, pages 90-1. On page 327 Aid completely neglects its statements about how well the canon agrees with other ancient historical data in support of the 539 B.C. date. The first paragraph in the subsection says:
Due to the lack of information from Babylonian sources, modern historians base their chronology for the Neo-Babylonian Empire largely upon what is known as the canon of Ptolemy.
As we have seen, this is utter nonsense. Modern historians use a wide variety of sources, including Ptolemy, other ancient historians, a variety of cuneiform tablets and various sorts of astronomical data. This argument is known as a “straw man.” Set up a false notion, knock it down, and ignore the real problem. Aid continues:
Claudius Ptolemy lived in Egypt during the second century C.E., or over 600 years after the close of the Neo-Babylonian period. His canon assigns 21 years to the rule of Nabopolassar, 43 years to Nebuchadnezzar, 2 years to Evil-merodach, 4 years to Neriglissar, and 17 years to Nabonidus, or a total of 87 years. Counting back from Nisan of 538 B.C.E., historians therefore date Nabopolassar’s first year as beginning in 625 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar’s first year in 604, and the destruction of Jerusalem is placed by some in 586, by others in 587.
Note how the fact that the discrepancy is partly due to ambiguous statements in Jeremiah the 52nd chapter is concealed and chalked up against historians. The difficulty can be reconciled quite simply, but why should the Society burden the reader with confusing information?
These dates are some 20 years later than those presented in the chart accompanying this article…. This is because we accept the Biblical information, particularly as regards the seventy-year desolation of Judah (running from 607 to 537 B.C.E.), as accurate and as superior in reliability to the ancient secular records.
Of course, Aid does not point out that the interpretation of the 70 years is only that of the Watchtower Society and has no support in the Bible itself. Aid’s author is unable to see that a difference might exist between what the Society says and what the Bible says.
In addition to the evidence already presented on the weaknesses manifest in the non-Biblical records, the following may be noted:
Ptolemy was not a historian and is known primarily for his works on astronomy and geography.
Then Bible scholar E. R. Thiele is quoted in support, but this misrepresents Thiele’s position. Edwin R. Thiele wrote the book Aid refers to, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. In response to an inquiry of his opinion on the February 1, 1969 Watchtower’s use of this quotation, Thiele said:
…. 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.
So it is clear that The Watchtower and Aid misrepresented the views of a bible scholar to support the Society’s chronology. The Aid book and the 1969 Watchtower say pretty much the same thing from this point on.
Aid implies, on page 327, in paragraphs 5-9, as does the February 1, 1969 Watchtower, on page 90, that a gap in Assyrian chronology throws doubt on the entire Neo-Babylonian chronology. The book invokes guilt by association — problems with Assyria spill over to Babylon. But the argument is of little value, because many independent lines of evidence point to the correctness of Neo-Babylonian chronology. The problems with Assyrian chronology do not cast doubt on this evidence any more than they cast doubt on the ancient historical documents known as the Bible.
In paragraph 6 Aid points out that the Babylonian Chronicle BM 21901 assigns the fall to Babylon of Assyria’s capital Nineveh to Nabopolassar’s 14th year, and that secular historians use Ptolemy to date this to 612 B.C. Then it talks about 763 B.C. as an absolute date in Assyrian chronology, and states that secular historians “should be able to count forward from that year and show that Assyrian rule at Nineveh did indeed extend down to 612 B.C.E.” While it would be very nice if historians could do that, it does not follow that they should be able to do that. Does the fact that most of the history of the world is missing from the record affect historians’s ability to date some events with precision? Aid drags around another red herring.
Nevertheless, the following information shows that historians can count from the start of Ashurbanipal’s reign in 668 B.C. to the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. Let us now look at four sources of evidence that allow one not only to “count forward from” certain years to arrive at 612 B.C. for the fall of Nineveh, but to count backward as well.
From the statement in Aid, that “the Babylonian Chronicle BM 21901 puts the fall to Babylon of Assyria’s capital Nineveh in Nabopolassar’s 14th year, and that secular historians use Ptolemy to date this to 612 B.C.,” we conclude that Nabopolassar’s 1st year must have been 625/4 B.C. Let us establish this four ways.
First, Ptolemy’s canon is used to date Nabopolassar’s reign in the following way: Ptolemy mentions a lunar eclipse that has been astronomically dated to 621 B.C., and he associates Nabopolassar’s 5th year with it. See Part 2 of this essay for details of this eclipse. 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. We now have the first piece of evidence established, along with some corollary dates.
Second, we have the astronomical diary VAT 4956, which describes numerous astronomical events and states that these occurred in Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year. The events have been astronomically dated to 568/7 B.C., which is what we calculated above by working forward from the eclipse in Nabopolassar’s 5th year. This diary is discussed in detail on page 23 of this essay. We now have two sources pointing to 625/4 B.C. as Nabopolassar’s 1st year.
Third, there exists material matching up the reigns of Babylonian kings from before the Neo-Babylonian era with the first king of that era, Nabopolassar. It shows that the 16th year of Shamashshumukin was 652/1 B.C. His entire reign of 20 years is then dated to 667-648 B.C.
Shamashshumukin’s reign has long been known from Ptolemy’s canon, which gives him 20 years and his successor Kandalanu 22 years. Therefore Kandalanu’s reign was from 647-626 B.C. Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar’s father, succeeded Kandalanu to the throne. See the discussion of the Babylonian king Shamashshumukin on page 28 for details.
So now we have a third independent source pointing to the 1st year of Nabopolassar in 625/4 B.C. Aid’s argument that Assyrian chronology has difficulties can now be seen to have nothing to do with Neo-Babylonian chronology. This particular argument does not appear in the corresponding discussions in Insight, Vol. 1, pages 450-6.
The fourth piece of evidence is not conclusive by itself, but strongly supports the evidence presented so far. The Neo-Babylonian stele that was discovered in 1956 and designated Nabonidus H1,B (also known as the Adda-Guppi stele after the name of the queen), 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. See page 15 for a fuller quotation from this stele. The stele assigned lengths of reign for these kings: “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.” The stele stated that the queen was born in the 20th year of Ashurbanipal and that she died in the 9th of Nabonidus. Adding these up, we get 104 years, but this is not quite the right thing to do because there was an overlap of 2 years between the Assyrian king Assur-etillu-ili and the Babylonian king Nabopolassar. The scribe who recorded the stele added up the lengths of reign given in the stele in this way, and came up with 104 years for the life of the queen, but he missed the overlap. This means that the stele gives, with at most a two year uncertainty, the year 668 B.C. for the start of the reign of Ashurbanipal (625/4 for Nabopolassar’s 1st; 623/2 for Assur-etillu-ili’s 3rd; 626/5 for Ashurbanipal’s 42nd and 668/7 for the start of his rule). Again the Society’s claim that these historical accounts are in error bites the dust.
Finally, let us tie this information back to the beginning of our discussion of paragraph 6 on page 327 of Aid: We have three solid pieces of evidence proving that Nabopolassar’s 1st year was 625/4 B.C. and a fourth piece consistent with this. Using Aid’s quotation of BM 21901, that Nineveh fell in the 14th year of Nabopolassar, that year must have been 612 B.C. Therefore, Aid’s attempt to discredit the accepted chronology of the period is wrong, and has been shown to rest on nothing more than the Society’s desire to support its own chronology. Furthermore, we have shown that the Society does not hesitate to conceal and distort evidence to accomplish this.
Let Your Kingdom Come on page 186 admits that most modern historians — the same ones the Society has variously called “recognized authorities” and “the chronologers of Christendom” — “accept Ptolemy’s information about the Neo-Babylonian kings and the length of their reigns.” A similar statement may be found in Insight, Vol. 1, page 455. It also admits that “Ptolemy’s figures agree with those of Berossus, a Babylonian priest of the Seleucid period.” Of course, it attempts to minimize the significance of this agreement by saying that “evidently Ptolemy based his historical information on sources dating from the Seleucid period, which began more than 250 years after Cyrus captured Babylon.” But it produces no data showing why this is evident, nor does it argue why this is significant.
In reality Let Your Kingdom Come says this merely because it wants to minimize the strength of support Ptolemy’s canon gives for dating Jerusalem’s destruction to 587 B.C. It is “evident” to Watchtower Society chronologers that Ptolemy got his sources from the Seleucid period only because of the problems it causes them, and they cannot find any evidence against the data in the canon aside from their own prejudices. Actually, Ptolemy’s canon is a compilation of data handed down from astronomer to astronomer over a long period. They kept a running total of kings and updated it whenever a new king began to rule. The running total was kept in order to have a framework in which to put astronomical observations, and was just another way of keeping track of time over long periods, like our calendar does today. The best information we have is that Ptolemy’s canon was compiled from Babylonian sources by Alexandrian astronomers long before Ptolemy, to be used in their astronomical calculations. It should be no surprise that most of the documents that got down to Ptolemy’s era (mid-2nd century A.D.) were copies and translations, because Ptolemy and his contemporaries spoke Greek, not Babylonian. The point is whether the historical information available to Ptolemy was reliable, and since the canon and Berossus agree with each other and with a host of other documents, including astronomical ones, it is extremely likely they are correct.
In its arguments claiming that documents from the Seleucid era are highly suspect, such as in Let Your Kingdom Come, the Society has been extremely inconsistent. At times certain documents are said to be reliable, and at other times the same documents are rejected. The standard, however, has nothing to do with evidence, but only with how well the Society can use the document to support its argument of the moment. This smorgasbord approach to scholarship is unworthy of an organization claiming to represent the God of truth.
The above material shows how the Society rejects various documents because they may have been copies made in the Seleucid era. However, note the approval a document from that era receives when it supports the Society’s chronology. On pages 1196-7 the Aid book describes the Nabonidus Chronicle.
Though it was no doubt originally from Babylon and written in Babylonian cuneiform script, scholars who have examined its script style say it may date from some time in the Seleucid period (312-65 B.C.E.), hence two centuries or more from Nabonidus’ day. It is considered almost certainly to be a copy of an earlier document… the work of a Persian scribe…. However, while such may be the case, authorities feel that the “circumstantial data” it contains is nonetheless reliable.
It is a bit odd that even as late as 1981, when Let Your Kingdom Come was published, the Society had still not put out any detailed information as to why the 539 B.C. date was valid, but still relied on the word of secular authorities. It is still more odd when the book explicitly discounts their word when they disagree with the Society’s chronology, but enthusiastically supports their word when they agree. The book said on page 136:
Historians calculate that Babylon fell in early October of the year 539 B.C.E.
When this statement is compared to the way these historians are completely discredited in the Appendix to Chapter 14 on pages 186-9, the Society’s duplicity becomes clearly evident. Note also, in the quotation below from Insight, how the authors Parker and Dubberstein are treated with respect to establishing 539 B.C.
When the Insight book was published in 1988, the Society for the very first time wrote down a detailed description of how the 539 B.C. date for the fall of Babylon can be determined from the raw historical data. On page 453, under the subject “Chronology,” subsection “Babylonian Chronology,” the book said:
A Babylonian clay tablet is helpful for connecting Babylonian chronology with Biblical chronology. This tablet contains the following astronomical information for the seventh year of Cambyses II son of Cyrus II: “Year 7. Tammuz, night of the 14th, 1 2/3 double hours [three hours and twenty minutes] after night came, a lunar eclipse; visible in its full course; it reached over the northern half disc [of the moon]. Tebet, night of the 14th, two and a half double hours [five hours] at night before morning [in the latter part of the night], the disc of the moon was eclipsed; the whole course visible; over the southern and northern part the eclipse reached.”…. These two lunar eclipses can be identified with the lunar eclipses that were visible at Babylon on July 16, 523 B.C.E., and on January 10, 522 B.C.E. (Oppolzer’s Canon of Eclipses, translated by O. Gingerich, 1962, p. 335) Thus, this tablet establishes the seventh year of Cambyses II as beginning in the spring of 523 B.C.E. This is an astronomically confirmed date.
Since the seventh year of Cambyses II began in spring of 523 B.C.E., his first year of rule was 529 B.C.E. and his accession year, and the last year of Cyrus II as king of Babylon, was 530 B.C.E. The latest tablet dated in the reign of Cyrus II is from the 5th month, 23rd day of his 9th year. (Babylonian Chronology, 626 B.C.-A.D. 75, by R. Parker and W. Dubberstein, 1971, p. 14) As the ninth year of Cyrus II as king of Babylon was 530 B.C.E., his first year according to that reckoning was 538 B.C.E. and his accession year was 539 B.C.E.
Oddly, the last year of Cyrus and the accession year of Cambyses II are given as 529 B.C. in the January 15, 1986 Watchtower, page 7. Compare the discussion in Insight with the equivalent discussion in the Aid book.
Insight then proceeds to knock holes in and reject all the types of information that also establishes the validity of 539 B.C. for Babylon’s fall: Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian chronology; Berossus, Ptolemy and other ancient historians; tablets that are claimed to be defective later copies of originals; various sorts of astronomical calculations based on solar and lunar eclipses; astronomical diaries; archaeological dating. It said (p. 454): “In view of all these factors it is certainly not wise to insist that the traditional figures for the reigns of the Neo-Babylonian kings be received as definite.”
To show how inconsistent this reasoning is, let’s consider exactly what evidence Insight presents in support of the 539 date. First, it talks about a “clay tablet” that “is helpful for connecting Babylonian chronology with Biblical chronology.” The reader is not told that this tablet, known as Strm.Kambys.400, is a type of astronomical diary. Referring to two lunar eclipses mentioned in this text, Insight concludes: “Thus, this tablet establishes the seventh year of Cambyses II as beginning in the spring of 523 B.C.E. This is an astronomically confirmed date.”
To arrive at the date 539 B.C., however, we also need to know the length of the reign of Cambyses’s predecessor, Cyrus. For this, the Society is forced to accept the information found in another type of cuneiform text, the business documents known as the contract tablets: “The latest tablet dated in the reign of Cyrus II is from the 5th month, 23rd day of his 9th year…. his first year according to that reckoning was 538 B.C.E. and his accession year was 539 B.C.E.”
So Insight is saying that the lack of tablets dated after Cyrus’s 9th year is proof it was his last. Compare this easy acceptance of the evidence of the tablets to what Insight said on the very next page, 454:
Both the lack of contemporary historical records and the ease with which data could be altered definitely allow for the possibility that one or more of the Neo-Babylonian rulers had a longer reign than the traditional figures show. The fact that no tablets have been discovered that would cover the later years of such reign cannot consistently be used a strong argument against this possibility. There are cases of kings whose reigns come much farther along in the stream of time and for whom no such confirming tablets have been found.
Such contemporary business tablets are needed to establish the date of Cyrus’s last year because there are no contemporary cuneiform historical documents that mention the length of his reign, nor are there any astronomical records that enable scholars to set any fixed date during his reign. One can be sure that if such documents were known the Society would mention them. The length is given however, by a number of ancient historians and by Ptolemy’s canon, but because these also support 587 B.C. for Jerusalem’s destruction Insight does not mention them. The tablets and ancient historical sources confirm one another.
So, to establish the date 539 B.C., the Society needs to rely on:
1. An astronomical diary.
2. Lunar eclipses.
3. Business tablets.
Yet on the next pages the Society rejects all these kinds of 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. See Part 2 for details. 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.
Let’s now look at how the Society rejects the astronomical evidence disproving its claim that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C. On page 454 of Insight, Vol. 1, in the subsection “Astronomical Calculations,” we find the following:
The claim is made that “astronomical confirmations can convert a relative chronology [one that merely establishes the sequence of events] into an absolute chronology, specifically, a system of dates related to our calendar.”
The next paragraph downgrades the value of such data:
Many of the so-called synchronizations of astronomical data with events or dates of ancient history are based on solar or lunar eclipses. However, any “particular town or city would on the average experience about 40 lunar eclipses and 20 partial solar eclipses in 50 years, [although] only one total solar eclipse in 400 years.”…. So, only in the case of a definitely stated total solar eclipse visible in a specific area would there be little reason for doubt in the fixing of a particular historical date by such means. In many cases the material from the ancient cuneiform texts (or other sources) concerning eclipses does not provide such specific information.
Compare this to Insight’s description as an “astronomically confirmed date” “the seventh year of Cambyses II as beginning in the spring of 523 B.C.E.” These arguments against the validity of such astronomical calculations are surely grasping at straws, as the following statement from the last paragraph on page 455 of Insight shows. After explaining that astronomical diaries contain a variety of descriptions of the unique position of the planets, sun and moon with respect to the stars, it said:
Modern chronologers point out that such a combination of astronomical positions would not be duplicated again in thousands of years. These astronomical diaries contain references to the reigns of certain kings and appear to coincide with the figures given in Ptolemy’s canon. While to some this might seem like incontrovertible evidence, there are factors greatly reducing its strength.
Note how the paragraph grudgingly admits that references to the length of “the reigns of certain kings appear to coincide with” Ptolemy’s canon. This is mere rhetoric: either they coincide or they do not coincide. In the case of Neo-Babylonian chronology the figures coincide exactly for the entire period, except that Ptolemy only mentions kings that reigned longer than one year, and so makes no mention of Labashi-Marduk, who only reigned a few months. The paragraph’s use of “appear to coincide” is nothing but a smoke screen to divert the reader’s attention from the fact that for the Neo-Babylonian period they DO coincide.
The next paragraphs enumerate the “factors greatly reducing” the strength of the astronomical observations. See the rest of this essay and others in this series for more details.
The first factor cited “is that the observations made in Babylon may have contained errors.” To see how lame this is, note that if there really were significant errors for the period in question, no correspondence with the calculated positions of the celestial bodies would be possible at all. Any attempt to find such coincidences would fail completely. Since they succeed, the observations must be correct. The paragraph lamely implies that the occasional lack of clear days for observation means that valid observations could not be made at all.
The second factor “greatly reducing its strength” is said to be the fact that the majority of astronomical diaries are not contemporary with the original observations. What is not stated is precisely how this is supposed to be evidence against them. Nor is it made clear that the diaries that are contemporary fully support the accepted chronology. Nor is anything mentioned about the copious data contained in the lunar eclipse texts covering the 18-year period known as the saros (see Part 2). Since the texts cover the entire period from the middle of the 8th century B.C. through the 4th, without a break, and confirm the 539 B.C. date for the fall of Babylon, they cannot be ignored in establishing the chronology of the period, and it does not matter when they were written.
The paragraph misdirects the reader by saying that “contemporaneous astronomical texts are lacking by which to establish the full chronology” of the periods. While this is technically a true statement it is thoroughly misleading, because the contemporaneous texts which do exist are completely in agreement with everything else. It is not necessary that a complete set of texts establishing the “full chronology” of the Neo-Babylonian period exist, for the contemporaneous texts that do exist to support the chronology established by various other means. Nor are contemporaneous texts completely lacking, as a casual reading of the paragraph might suggest.
For example, as mentioned above on pages 15 and 96, the Adda-Guppi stele mentions the reign of every Neo-Babylonian king except Labashi-Marduk, down into the reign of Nabonidus, in which the queen died. There are also the Hillah stele, Nabonidus No. 8, and another designated Nabonidus No. 18 (see Part 2).
In summary, the paragraph establishes a standard of absolute completeness and perfection, and then claims that since this unattainable standard has not been met, the evidence is no good. This is yet another straw man. An attempt is made to mislead the reader into believing there is no contemporary historical evidence, but archeological discoveries show this is wrong.
The third paragraph on astronomical evidence, about factors “greatly reducing its strength,” degenerates into pure speculation and is totally without content.
In this appendix we have examined the various evidences the Watchtower Society has used over the years to support the 539 B.C. date for the fall of Babylon. We have seen that until very recent times the Society relied exclusively on the word of “recognized authorities” to establish the date, and that it is still forced to do so with respect to astronomical dating, lunar eclipses and cuneiform business tablets. Yet the Society rejects all these historical evidences when they conflict with its date of 607 B.C. for the destruction of Jerusalem. As Edwin Thiele said, the way the Society discusses chronology “reminds me of the way an unscrupulous lawyer would deal with facts in order to support a case he knows not to be sound.”
(For a more thorough examination of these issues, see The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonsson.)