Part I: The astronomical “diary” VAT 4956

(A critical review of Rolf Furuli’s 2nd volume on chronology: Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian Chronology. Volume II of Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian Chronology Compared with the Chronology of the BibleOslo: Awatu Publishers, 2007).

Rolf Furuli’s new book on chronology, Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian Chronology (Oslo: Awatu Publishers, 2007), covers 368 pages. Chapter 6 (pages 94-123) and Appendix C (266-325), which together cover 90 pages or about 25 percent of the book, are devoted to an attempt to overcome the evidence provided by the astronomical cuneiform tablet VAT 4956, dated to the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar II.

VAT 4956 is a so-called astronomical “diary” that records the positions of the moon and the five planets visible to the naked eye observed during the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar. About 30 of these records are so well preserved that they can be checked by modern computations. These computations have confirmed that the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar corresponds to year 568/567 BCE (spring-to-spring).

For a detailed description of this tablet and its importance for the absolute chronology of the Neo-Babylonian period, see pages 157-164 of the book The Gentile Times Reconsidered, 4th edition.  


Furuli dedicates a substantial part of his discussion to arguing that the cuneiform signs on the tablet have been “deliberately tampered with” in modern times. In particular he claims that the signs for “year 37” at the beginning of the text in line 1 on the obverse of the tablet and the signs for “year 38” and “year 37” in the concluding lines at the lower edge on the reverse seem to have been “incised” by someone in modern times. He also claims that the signs for the name “Nebuchadnezzar” in line 1 on the obverse have been manipulated. After a lengthy analysis Furuli presents the following hypothesis on pages 285, 286:

“A consideration of the data above together with the unusual publication history of the tablet leads to the following hypothesis: VAT 4956 is an authentic cuneiform tablet that was copied from older tablets in one of the last centuries B.C.E. It came to the Vorderasiatische Museum in Berlin about 1905 as one single entity. Someone discovered that the tablet was extremely important because it was an astronomical tablet with the hitherto oldest astronomical observations. These observations seemed to fit year 37 of Nebuchadnezzar II according to the chronology of Ptolemy, but a clear connection with Nebuchadnezzar II was lacking. In order to make this connection perfectly clear, the one working with the tablet used a modern grinding machine on the edge of the tablet, thus incising the signs for ‘year 37’ and ‘year 38.’ The first line with the name of the king was also manipulated. Because of the vibration, the tablet broke into three pieces, which were then glued together. It was discovered that the fit of the signs on both sides of the break on the reverse side was not perfect, and a grinding machine was used to try to remedy this. If this hypothesis is correct, a direct link to years 37 and 38 of Nebuchadnezzar II was not originally found on the tablet, but the lunar observations are genuine, while the planetary positions are probably backward calculations.”

On pages 295-324 Furuli discusses the astronomical contents reported on the tablet. He finds that the planetary positions on the whole fit the year 568/567 BCE, but claims that the 13 lunar positions better fit the year 588/587 BCE. At the end of the Appendix on pages 324, 325, therefore, he draws the following conclusions:

 “The following principal conclusions can be drawn on the basis of the discussion of VAT 4956: The Diary is most likely a genuine tablet made in Seleucid times, but in modern times someone has tampered with some of the cuneiform signs. Because of the excellent fit of all 13 lunar positions in 588/87, there are good reasons to believe that the lunar positions represent observations from that year, and that the original tablet that was copied in Seleucid times was made in 588/87. Because so many of the planetary positions are approximately correct, but not completely correct, there are good reasons to believe that they represent backward calculations by an astrologer who believed that 568/67 was year 37 of Nebuchadnezzar II. Thus, the lunar positions seem to be original observations from 588/87, and the planetary positions are backward calculations for the positions of the planets in 568/67.”


What about the claim that someone in modern times has “tampered” with the signs on the tablet and, by using “a modern grinding machine on the edge of the tablet,” has incised the signs for ‘year 37’ and ‘year 38’ on the tablet? Furuli proposes this idea as a “hypothesis,” as he knows very well that he has not been able to present any evidence in support of the idea.

According to Furuli’s hypothesis, the supposed modern forger did not only incise the signs for “year 37” and “year 38” at the edge of the tablet. He also incised the signs for “year 37” and “manipulated” the signs for the name of the king, Nebuchadnezzar, in the beginning of line 1 on the obverse. The first question is how he could have done this, as there would have been no space at all at the beginning of the line for adding anything?

If there was another date and a different royal name on the original tablet, the modern forger had first to remove these signs (with the supposed grinding machine?) before the signs of the new date and the signs of the changes of the royal name could be incised on the tablet. But such a replacement of the first signs of line 1 could never have been done without leaving clear traces (e.g., depressions in the tablet) at the beginning of the line. No such traces exist. The signs look quite genuine. As one specialist on cuneiform points out:  

“Anyone acquainted with cuneiform can see that ‘year 37’ and ‘year 38’ are written by an experienced scribe. No modern person could have achieved to scratch (into dried clay!!) true-looking signs.” (Communication Hermann Hunger–C. O. Jonsson, Jan. 8, 2008)

Another problem with Furuli’s hypothesis is the identity of the supposed modern forger of the dates and the royal name on the tablet. The first translation of the tablet was that of Paul V. Neugebauer and Ernst Weidner, whose translation together with an astronomical examination and a discussion of it was published back in 1915. (“Ein astronomischer Beobachtungstext aus dem 37. Jahre Nebukadnezars II. (– 567/66),” Berichte über die Verhandlungen der königlich sächlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig. Philologisch-historische Klasse. 67. Band. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1915)

As the article by Neugebauer and Weidner clearly shows, the date and the royal name (“year 37 of Nebuchadnezzar”) were already on the tablet in 1915 when they were examining it. Are we to believe that these two scholars were forgers, who co-operated in removing some of the original signs on the tablet and replacing them with signs of their own preference? Even Furuli admits that he “cannot imagine that any scientist working with the tablet at the Vorderasiatische Museum has committed fraud.” (Furuli, p. 285) He has no idea about who the supposed forger may have been, or how he/she managed to change the signs on line 1 without leaving any traces of it on the tablet.  

Finally, Furuli’s hypothesis is self-contradictory. If it were true that the planetary positions “represent backward calculations by an astrologer who believed that 568/67 was year 37 of Nebuchadnezzar II,” and if it were true that “the original tablet that was copied in Seleucid times was made in 588/87,” which Furuli argues was the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar, then the astrologer/copyist must have dated the tablet to the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar from the very beginning! No modern manipulation of the date would then have been necessary.

Furuli’s hypothesis is simply untenable. The only reason for his suggesting it is the desperate need to get rid of a tablet that inexorably demolishes his “Oslo [= Watchtower] chronology” and firmly establishes the absolute chronology for the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BCE).

As discussed in chapter 4 of my book The Gentile Times Reconsidered (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 2004), there are at least nine other astronomical tablets that perform the same service. Furuli’s futile attempts to undermine the enormous burden of evidence provided by these other astronomical tablets will be discussed in another, separate part of this review.

The question that remains to be discussed here is Furuli’s claim that the lunar positions that were observed in the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar and are recorded on VAT 4956 fit the year 588/587 better than 568/567 BCE.


FIT 588/587 BETTER THAN 568/567 BCE?

On the back cover of his new book Rolf Furuli states that the conclusion of his study is that “the lunar data on the tablet [VAT 4956] better fit 588 than 568 B.C.E., and that this is the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar II.” What about this claim?

A careful examination of all the legible lunar positions recorded on this astronomical “diary” proves that the claim is false. Almost none of the lunar positions recorded on VAT 4956 fit the year 588/587 BCE, while nearly all of them excellently correspond to lunar positions in the year 568/567 BCE.

The astronomy program used for this examination is Chris Marriott’s SkyMap Pro 11.04, which uses the modern complete ELP2000-82B lunar theory. The “delta-T” value used for the secular acceleration of the Moon is 1.7 milliseconds per century, which is the result of the extensive research presented by F. Richard Stephenson in his Historical Eclipses and Earth’s Rotation (Cambridge, 1997). The program used, therefore, maintains high accuracy far into the past, which is not true of many other modern astronomy programs. 

About a year before Furuli’s book had been published in the autumn of 2007 I had examined his claim (which he had published officially in advance) and found that none of the lunar positions fit the year 588/587 BCE. I shared the first half of my results with some of my correspondents. I did not know at that time that Furuli not only moves the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar 20 years back to 588/587 BCE, but that he also moves the 37th year about one extra month forward in the Julian calendar, which actually makes it fall too late in that year. The reason for this is the following:

On the obverse, line 17, VAT 4956 states that on day 15 of month III (Simanu) there was a “lunar eclipse that was omitted.” The phrase refers to an eclipse that had been calculated in advance to be invisible from the Babylonian horizon.

On page 126 Furuli explains that he has used this eclipse record as the “point of departure” for  mapping “the regnal years, the intercalary months, and the beginning of each month in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, both from the point of view that 568/67 and 588/87 B.C.E. represent his year 37.”

In the traditional date for the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar, this eclipse can easily be identified with the eclipse of July 4, 568 (Julian calendar). Thus the Babylonian date, the 15th of month III, corresponds to July 4, 568 BCE. From that date we may count backward to the 1st of month III, which must have been June 20/21 (sunset to sunset), 568. As the tablet further shows that the preceding Month II (Ayyaru) had 29 days and Month I (Nisannu) 30 days, it is easy to figure out that the 1st of Ayyaru fell on May 22/23, 568, and the 1st of Nisannu (i.e., the 1st day of year 37) on April 22/23, 568 BCE.

On moving back 20 years to 588/87 BCE – the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar in Furuli’s alternative “Oslo Chronology” – we find that in this year, too, there was a lunar eclipse that could not be seen from the Babylonian horizon. It took place on July 15, 588 BCE. According to Furuli this is the eclipse that VAT 4956 dates to the 15th of month III (Simanu). Reckoning backwards from July 15, Furuli dates the 1st of month III to June 30, 588; the 1st of month II (Ayyaru) to June 1, 588, and the 1st of month I (Nisannu) to May 1. (In his discussions and/or calculations he is inconsistently alternating between May 1, May 2, and May 3).

There are a number of problems with Furuli’s dates. The first one is that the first day of the Babylonian year, Nisannu 1, never began as late as in May! As shown by the tables on pages 27-47 in R. A. Parker & W. H. Dubberstein’s Babylonian Chronology (Brown Univeristy Press, 1956), the 1st of Nisannu never once in the 700-year period covered (626 BCE – CE 75) began as late as in May. The same holds true of the subsequent months: the 1st of Ayyaru never began as late as on June 1, and the 1st of Simanu never began as late as on June 30. For this reason alone the lunar eclipse that VAT 4956 dates to the 15th of month III cannot be that of July 15, 588 BCE! This eclipse must have fallen in the middle of month IV in the Babylonian calendar. Furuli’s “point of departure” for his “Oslo Chronology,” therefore, is quite clearly wrong.

Very interestingly, the lunar eclipse of July 15, 588 BCE was recorded by the Babylonians on another cuneiform tablet, BM 38462, No. 1420 in A. Sachs’ LBAT catalogue, and No. 6 in H. Hunger’s Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylonia (ADT), Vol. V (Wien, 2001). I discussed this tablet on pages 180-182 of my book, The Gentile Times Reconsidered (3rd ed. 1998, 4th ed. 2004). The chronological strength of this tablet is just as decisive as that of VAT 4956. It contains annual lunar eclipse reports dating from the 1st to at least the 29th regnal year of Nebuchadnezzar (604/603 – 576/575 BCE). The preserved parts of the tablet contain as many as 37 records of eclipses, 22 of which were predicted, 14 observed, and one that is uncertain.

The entry containing the record of the July 15, 588 BCE eclipse (obverse, lines 16-18) is dated to year 17, not year 37, of Nebuchadnezzar! This entry reports two lunar eclipses in this year, one “omitted” and one observed. The first, “omitted” one, which refers to the eclipse of July 15, 588, is dated to month IV (Duzu), not to month III (Simanu). So it cannot be the eclipse dated to month III on VAT 4956. That this eclipse really is the one of July 15, 588 is confirmed by the detailed information given about the second, observed lunar eclipse, which is dated to month X (Tebetu) of year 17. The details about the time and the magnitude help to identify this eclipse beyond all reasonable doubts. The whole entry reads according to H. Hunger’s translation in ADT V, page 29:

“[Year] 17, Month IV, [omitted.]

[Month] X, the 13th, morning watch, 1 beru 5o [before sunrise?]

All of it was covered. [It set eclips]ed.”

The second eclipse in month X – six months after the first – took place on January 8, 587 BCE. This date, therefore, corresponded to the 13th of month X in the Babylonian calendar. This agrees with Parker & Dubberstein’s tables, which show that the 1st of month X (Tebetu) fell on 26/27 December in 588 BCE. The Babylonians divided the 24-hour day into 12 beru or 360 USH (degrees), so one beru was two hours and 5 USH (= degrees of four minutes each) were 20 minutes. According to the tablet, then, this eclipse began 2 hours and 20 minutes before sunrise. It was total (“All of it was covered”), and it “[set eclips]ed,” i.e., it ended after moonset. What do modern computations of this eclipse show?

My astroprogram shows that the eclipse of January 8, 587 BCE began “in the morning watch” at 04:51, and that sunrise occurred at 07:12. The eclipse, then, began 2 hours and 21 minutes before sunrise – exactly as the tablet says. The difference of one minute is not real, as the USH (time degree of 4 minutes) is the shortest time unit used in this text. [The USH was not the shortest time unit of the Babylonians, of course, as they also divided the USH into 12 “fingers” of 20 seconds each.] The totality began at 05:53 and ended at 07:38. As moonset occurred at 07:17 according to my program, the eclipse was still total at moonset. Thus the moon “set while eclipsed.”

Furuli attempts to dismiss the enormous weight of evidence provided by this tablet in just a few very confusing statements on page 127 of his book. He erroneously claims that the many eclipses recorded “occurred in the month before they were expected, except in one case where the eclipse may have occurred two months before.” There is not the slightest truth in this statement. Both the predicted and the observed eclipses agree with modern computations. The statement seems to be based on the gross mistakes he has made on the previous page, where he has misidentified the months on LBAT 1421 with disastrous results for his calculations.

In the examination below, the lunar positions recorded on VAT 4956 are tested both for 568/567 BCE as the generally accepted 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar and for Furuli’s alternative dates in 588/587 BCE as presented on pages 295-325 of his book.

Furuli has also tested the lunar positions for the year 586/585 BCE, one Saros period (223 months, or 18 years + c. 11 days) previous to 568/567. As Furuli himself rejects this year as not being any part of his “Oslo Chronology”, I will ignore it as well as all his computations for that year (which in any case are far from correct in most cases).

The record of the first lunar position on the obverse, line 1, of VAT 4956 reads:

(1)  Obv.´ line 1: “Year 37 of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Month I, (the 1st of which was identical with) the 30th (of the preceding month), the moon became visible behind the Bull of Heaven”.

Nisannu 1 = 22/23 April 568 BCE:

The information that the 1st of Month I (Nisannu) was identical with the 30th of the preceding month is given to show that the preceding lunar month (Addaru II of year 36, as shown also at Obv. line 5 of our text) had only 29 days. In 568 BCE the 1st day of Nisannu fell on 22/23 April (from evening 22 to evening 23) in the Julian calendar. After sunset (at c. 18:30) and before moonset (c. 19:34) on April 22 the new moon became visible c. 5.5o east of (= behind) α Taurus, the most brilliant star in the constellation of Taurus (“the Bull of Heaven”). This is close enough to the position given on the tablet.

Furuli’s date: Nisannu 1 = 1st, 2nd and 3rd May 588 BCE:

In 588 BCE day 1 of Nisannu fell on 3/4 April according to the modern calculations of the first visibility of the new moon after conjunction. Between sunset (at c. 18:18) and moonset (at c. 19:14) on April 3 the new moon became visible at the western end of the constellation of Taurus, about 14o west of (= in front of) α Taurus. Thus the moon was clearly not behind the constellation of Taurus at this time. This position, therefore, does not fit that on the tablet.

But as stated above, Furuli moves Nisannu 1 of 588 about one month forward in the Julian calendar, which is required by his identification of the lunar eclipse dated to month III on the tablet with the eclipse of July 15, 588. (Furuli, p. 296) This should have moved 1 Nisannu to 3/4 May, 588 BCE, a date that is scarcely possible, as all the evidence available shows that 1 Nisannu never fell that late in the Julian calendar in the Neo-Babylonian or any later period. But Furuli goes on to make an even more serious error in connection with this relocation of   Nisannu 1.

On page 311 Furuli explicitly states that, “In order to correlate the Babylonian calendar with the Julian calendar, I take as a point of departure that each month began with the sighting of the new moon.” He goes on to explain that, due to bad weather conditions, the month could sometimes “begin a day after the new moon.” Despite this pronounced (and quite correct) point of departure, Furuli, in his discussion of the planetary positions on page 296, dates the 1st of Nisannu in 588, not to 3/4 May but to May 1. He does not seem to have realized that this was not the date of the sighting of the new moon after conjunction. On the contrary, this date not only preceded the first sighting of the new moon by two days, but also the date of conjunction (the time of lunar invisibility) by one day!

Later on, in the beginning of his discussion of the lunar positions on page 312, Furuli seems to have discovered that the May 1 date is problematic, because here he suddenly and without any explanation moves the beginning of 1 Nisannu in 588 forward, at first from May 1 to the evening of May 3, but finally, in the table at the bottom of the page, to the evening of May 2! Such manipulations of the Julian date for 1 Nisannu are, of course, inadmissible. One cannot have three different dates for 1 Nisannu in the same year!

True, the conjunction did occur on 2 May, at c. 03:39 local time. (Herman H. Goldstein, New and Full Moons 1001 B.C. to A.D. 1651, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1973, p. 35) But this does not mean that the new moon became visible on that day in the evening after sunset. For a number of reasons, the time interval between the conjunction and the first sighting of the new moon is considerable. As Dr. Sacha Stern explains, “the time interval between conjunction and first evening of visibility is often as long as one day (24 hours); it ranges however, at Mediterranean latitudes between a minimum of about 15 hours and a maximum of well over two days.” (S. Stern, Calendar and Community, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 100) The results of modern examinations of the first lunar crescents recorded on the Babylonian astronomical tablets from 568 to 74 BCE are presented by Uroš Anderlič, “Comparison with First Lunar Crescent Dates of L. Fatoohi,” available on the web at: . 

Thus the new moon could not be seen in the evening of 2 May, either. The earliest time for the visibility of the new moon was in the evening of 3 May, as stated above. Assuming that this incredibly late date for 1 Nisannu were correct, we find that the new moon did appear behind the constellation of Taurus in this evening (of May 3) between sunset (at c. 18:36) and moonset (at c. 20:05). But it was closer to the constellation of Gemini than to Taurus, so the position of the moon still does not fit very well.

In conclusion, the two dates for 1 Nisannu (1st and 2nd May) that Furuli actually uses in his computations are impossible. And should he have used May 3 as the date for 1 Nisannu, this would not have been of much help to him, as all the three dates are unacceptably late as the beginning of the Babylonian year.

(2)  Obv.´ line 3 says: “Night of the 9th (error for: 8th), the beginning of the night, the moon stood 1 cubit [= 2o] in front of [= west of] β Virginis.”

Nisannu 8 = 29/30 April 568 BCE:

In 568 BCE the 8th of Nisannu fell on 29/30 April. In the beginning of the night on April 29 the moon stood about 3.6o northwest of β Virginis, or about 2o to the west (in front of) and 3o to the north of (above) the star. This agrees quite well with the Babylonian measurement of 2o, which, of course, is a rather rough and rounded-off figure.

Furuli’s date: Nisannu 9 = 11 May 588 BCE:

As Furuli (incorrectly) dates 1 Nisannu to 2 May in 588, he should have dated the 8th and 9th of Nisannu to May 9 and 10, respectively. However, he moves the dates another day forward, to May 10 and 11, respectively, as is shown in his table at the bottom of page 313. Based on this error, he claims that, “On Nisanu 9 [May 11], the moon stood 1 cubit (2o) in front of β Virginis, exactly what the tablet says.” (Furuli, p. 313)

But this is wrong, too. In the “beginning of the night” of 11 May 588 the moon stood, not to the west of (in front of), but far to the east of (behind) β Virginis (about 13o to the east of this star at 20:00). To add to the mess, the altitude/azimuth position of the moon in Furuli’s two columns to the right in his table is wrong, too, as it shows the position near midnight, not at “the beginning of the night” as the tablet says.

(3)  Obv.´ line 8: “Month II, the 1st (of which followed the 30th of the preceding month), the moon became visible while the sun stood there, 4 cubits [= 8o] below β Geminorum.”

Ayyaru 1 = 22/23 May 568 BCE:

In 568 BCE the 1st day of Month II (Ayyaru) fell on 22/23 May. The distance between sunset this evening (at c. 18:49) and moonset (at c. 20:46) was c. 117 minutes. This distance between the moon and the sun was long enough for the new moon to become visible while the sun still “stood there,” i.e., just above the horizon. At its appearance the new moon stood about 7.3o south of (below) β Geminorum, which is very close to the position given on the tablet.

Furuli’s date: Ayyaru 1 = 1 June 588 BCE:

As Furuli has dated Nisannu 1 to 1 May, and later to 2 May, the 1st of Ayyaru should fall one lunar month later.  Furuli (p. 314) dates it to June 1. This, however, conflicts with his earlier dates, because if Nisannu 1 began in the evening of 1 May as he holds at first (p. 296), and if Nisannu had 30 days as the tablet says, he should have dated the 1st of Ayyaru to May 31. But because he later on redates the beginning of Nisannu 1 to the evening of 2 May (p. 312), he is now able to date the 1st of Ayyaru to 1 June. But as was pointed out earlier, the 2 May date for Nisannu 1 is unacceptable, too, as the moon did not become visible until 3 May.

Furuli’s choice of 1 June seems to be due to the fact that the new moon could not be sighted until that day. It became visible at sunset (c. 18:56) about 9.7o below β Geminorum. This is not “exactly 4 cubits below” this star, as Furuli states (p. 314), but close to 5 cubits below it. Yet this would have been an acceptable approximation, had the date been right. But it does not only conflict with Furuli’s dating of Nisannu 1 to 1 May; the month of Ayyaru never began as late as in June. In addition, the altitude/azimuth position Furuli gives in his table (+ 54 and 256) is also wrong, as it does not show the position of the moon at sunset, but at c. 15:16, when it was still invisible. Actually, Furuli’s figures for the altitude/azimuth position at the time of observation are so often erroneous that they will henceforth be ignored. The only detail that fairly corresponds to the statement on the tablet, then, is the position of the moon. Everything else is wrong.

(4)  Obv.´ line 12: “Month III, (the first of which was identical with) the 30th (of the preceding month), the moon became visible behind Cancer; it was thick; sunset to moonset: 20o [= 80 minutes]”.

Simanu 1 = 20/21 June 568 BCE:

In 568 BCE the 1st day of Month III (Simanu) fell on 20/21 June. Day 1 began in the evening after sunset on June 20. At that time the new moon became visible behind (= east of) Cancer, exactly as the tablet says. According to my astro-program the distance from sunset to moonset was c. 23o (= 92 minutes; from sunset c. 19:06 to moonset c. 20:38). This is not very far from the measurement of the Babylonian astronomers. The discrepancy of 3o is acceptable in view of the primitive instruments they seem to have used. As N. M. Swerdlow has suggested, “the measurements could have been made with something as simple as a graduated rod held at arm’s length.” (N. M. Swerdlow, The Babylonian Theory of the Planets, Princeton University Press, 1998, pp. 40, 187)

Furuli’s date: Simanu 1 = 30 June 588 BCE:

As Furuli dated the 1st of Ayyaru to June 1, and as the tablet shows that Ayyaru had 29 days, he should date the 1st of Simanu to June 30, which he does. And it is true that we do find the moon behind Cancer on this date. Furuli states that “it was 6o to the left (behind) the center of Cancer, so the fit is excellent.” But he has to add immediately that “it was so close to the sun that it was not visible.” (Furuli, p. 315. Emphasis added.)

The reason is that the conjunction had occurred earlier on the very same day, at about 03:30. (H. H. Goldstine, op. cit., p. 35) In the evening the time distance between sunset (at c. 19:09) and moonset (at c. 19:32) was still no more than 23 minutes, i.e., less than 6o, so the moon was too close to the sun to be visible. Furuli does not comment on the fact that the tablet gives the distance between sunset and moonset as much as 20o (80 minutes), showing that the moon on Simanu 1 was far enough from the sun during the observation to be visible, contrary to the situation in the evening of June 30 in 588. For this reason alone Furuli’s date is disqualified.

(5)  Obv.´ line 14: “Night of the 5th, beginning of the night, the moon passed towards the east 1 cubit [2o] <above/below> the bright star at the end of the Lion’s foot [= β Virginis].”

Simanu 5 = 24/25 June 568 BCE:

In 568 BCE the 5th of Simanu fell on 24/25 June according to the tables of R. A. Parker & W. H. Dubberstein (Babylonian Chronology, 1956, p. 28). In the evening of the 24th, the moon passed towards the east c. 2o north of γ Virginis, not of β Virginis. So here is a problem. Either the Babylonian scholar misnamed the star, or he misdated the observation by one day. In the previous evening (on the 23rd), the moon passed c. 4o above (north of) β Virginis. Thus Johannes Koch translates the 5th of Simanu into June 23 of the Julian calendar and calculates that in the evening that day at 22:36 the moon was 417´ above and 055´ behind β Virginis. (See J. Koch, “Zur Bedeutung von LÁL in den ‘Astronomical Diaries’ und in der Plejaden-Schaltregel,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 49, 1997, p. 88.)

Furuli’s date: Simanu 5 = 4 July 588 BCE:

Furuli dates the 5th of Simanu to 4 July 588 BCE. He claims (p. 315) that on this date “the fit is excellent: the moon passed 1 cubit (2o) above β Virginis.” Unfortunately, it did not. When the Babylonian day began (at sunset, c. 19:10) the moon was already c. 2 ½ cubits (5obehind (east of) β Virginis. It had passed above β Virginis about 12 hours earlier, in the morning before moonrise, but that would have been on Simanu 4, not on Simanu 5. So the fit is far from “excellent.”

(6)  Obv.´ line 15: “Night of the 8th, first part of the night, the moon stood 2 ½ cubits [= 5o] below β Librae.”

Simanu 8 = 27/28 June 568 BCE:

In 568 BCE the 8th of Simanu fell on 27/28 June. My astro-program shows that in the early night of June 27 the moon stood c. 4.5o south of β Librae, which is very close to the position given on the tablet.

Furuli’s date: Simanu 8 = 7 July 588 BCE:

Furuli, who dates the 8th of Simanu to the 7th of July, 588 BCE, claims (p. 316) that the moon on that day “was 2 ½ cubits below β Librae, so the fit is excellent.” Again, Furuli is wrong. In the “first part of the night” on 7 July 588 BCE the moon stood as much as c. 6 cubits (12owest of (i.e., far from below) β Librae. It was in fact closer to the constellation of Virgo than to Libra. So Furuli’s date does not fit at all.

(7)  Obv.´ line 16: “Night of the 10th, first part of the night, the moon was balanced 3 ½ cubits [= 7o] above α Scorpii.”

Simanu 10 = 29/30 June 568 BCE:

In 568 BCE the 10th of Simanu fell on 29/30 June. In the first part of the night of the 29th, the moon stood about 8o above (north of) α Scorpii, which is very close to the position described on the tablet.

Furuli’s date: Simanu 10 = 10 July 588 BCE:

As Furuli had dated Simanu 8 to July 7, he should have dated Simanu 10 to 9 July 588. But strangely, he mistranslates it into 10 July and claims (p. 317): “The moon was 3 ½ cubits (7o) above α Scorpii, so the fit is excellent.” But in the “first part of the night” that day the moon was over 5 cubits (10onortheast of α Scorpii. And even if we move back to the early night of July 9, the moon at that time was about 5 cubits (10onorthwest of α Scorpii. It would not be correct to state of any of these lunar positions that the “fit is excellent”. None of them fits.

(8)  Obv.´ line 17: “The 15th, one god was seen with the other; sunrise to moonset: 730´ [= 30 minutes]. A lunar eclipse which was omitted [….]”

Simanu 15 = 4/5 July 568 BCE:

In 568 BCE the 15th of Simanu fell on 4/5 July. The expression “one god was seen with the other” refers to the situation when the sun and the moon are both visible at the same time when standing in opposition to each other. This was the situation in the early morning of 5 July. From sunrise in the east at c. 04:51 to moonset in the west at c. 05:24, i.e., for about 33 minutes, “one god was seen with the other.” This is very close to the time distance recorded on the tablet, 730´, or 30 minutes.

Line 17 also records “a lunar eclipse which was omitted [….]”, an expression used of an eclipse that had been predicted in advance to be invisible from the Babylonian horizon. The text is somewhat damaged, but the reference is obviously to the lunar eclipse of July 4, 568 BCE, which according to modern calculations began about 12:50 and lasted until 14:52, local time. As it took place in the early afternoon when the moon was below the horizon, it could not be observed in Babylonia.

Furuli’s date: Simanu 15 = 15 July 588 BCE:

Furuli dates Simanu 15 to 15 July 588 BCE. True, there was a lunar eclipse on that day that was invisible from the Babylonian horizon. Furuli claims on page 317 that “the eclipses of July 15, 588; of July 4, 568; and of June 24, 586, all occurred on Simanu 15 and fit the description.” However, the time distances between sunrise and moonset at the dates in 588 and 586 do not fit at all with the information on the tablet. On 15 July 588 the moonset (at 04:50) occurred about five minutes before sunrise (04:55), so the two “gods” could not been seen with each other that day. And the same problem is connected with the June 24, 586 BCE date. Of the three alternatives, therefore, only the July 4, 568 BCE date fits the information on the tablet.

In passing, Hunger’s translation of the obv.´ line 18 should be corrected. It says: “[…. the moon was be]low the bright star at the end of the [Lion’s] foot [….]”

The signs within brackets are illegible and the text had to be restored by Hunger. But as he himself later explained, the word “moon” was just a guess that he had not checked. Modern calculations show that, if the day number (which is lost, too) was the 16th (July 5/6), the heavenly body that was below “the bright star at the end of the Lion’s foot” (= β Virginis) must have been Venus, not the moon. This was later pointed out also by Johannes Koch (JCS 49, 1997, p. 84, n. 7, and p. 89). However, Koch calculates that Venus in the first part of the night of July 5was 0o 02´above and 1o 06´ behind β Virginis, while the SkyMap Pro 11 program shows that Venus at that time was not 0o 02´above but about 0o 64´ below and about 0o 89´ behind β Virginis. These results are in closer agreement with the tablet.

(9)  ´Rev. line 5: “Month XI, (the 1st of which was identical with) the 30th (of the preceding month), the moon became visible in the Swallow; sunset to moonset: 14o 30´ [58 minutes]; the north wind blew. At that time, Jupiter was 1 cubit behind the elbow of Sagittarius [….]”

Shabatu 1 = 12/13 February 567 BCE:

In 568/567 BCE the first day of month XI (Shabatu) fell on 12/13 February 567 BCE. On day 12 the distance between sunset (at c. 17:44) and moonset (c. 18:53) was 69 minutes (17o 15´), or 11 minutes (2o 45´) more than those given on the tablet, 58 minutes. According to the tablet, the new moon became visible after sunset “in the Swallow.”

The “Swallow” covered or included a part of the constellation of Pisces. The exact extension of the “Swallow” is not quite clear. But it included a band of stars called “DUR SIM-MAH (ribbon of the swallow)” which included at least δ, ε, and ζ Pisces, perhaps also some other stars. The “ribbon of the swallow” is referred to in over a dozen astronomical reports dating from 567 to 78 BCE, and these have been helpful in locating at least some stars in the group. (Alexander Jones, “A Study of Babylonian Observations of Planets Near Normal Stars,” Archive for History of Exact Sciences, Vol. 58, 2004, pp. 483, 490) The “Swallow”, then, comprised at least the “ribbon of the swallow” and then extended westward along the Pisces.

Furuli’s discussion of SIM and SIM-MAH on page 296 is thoroughly misleading, as he tries to confuse the issue by referring to some older views without telling that they were abandoned long ago. This is true of Kugler’s suggestion back in 1914 that SIM-MAH applies to the northwest of Aquarius. To be sure, Furuli states that two modern scholars, E. Kasak and R. Veede, in an article published in 2001 applies SIM to “the Bull of Heaven” (Taurus). They do not! In their article (available on the web: http:/ they do not mention SIM at all! Furuli also refers to the conclusion of van der Waerden (1974) that it applies to “the south-west part of Pisces” – as if this would be yet another view. The fact is that his conclusion does not conflict with that of other modern scholars, including that of Jones, Hunger, and Pingree. The impression Furuli tries to give, that modern experts widely disagree about the identity of SIM and SIM-MAH, is false. All agree that it covered or included a part of the constellation of Pisces.

My astro-program shows that in the evening after sunset on February 12, 567 BCE, the new moon became visible in the Pisces, about half-way between α Pisces in the south and γ Pisces in the west and c. 8.5o below the centre of the western bow of the Pisces. Furuli’s statement that the moon at this time was “13o below the central part of Pisces” is not correct. His claim that the position is “a somewhat inaccurate fit” is totally uncalled-for, in particular in view of his statement that “the fit is excellent” when he finds the lunar position on his own preferred date (February 22, 587) to have been “9o below the central part of Pisces.”

There can be no doubt that the moon on February 12, 567 BCE was “in the Swallow,” just as is stated on the tablet. At that time Jupiter could also be seen in Sagittarius as the tablet says.

Furuli’s date: Shabatu 1 = 22 February 587 BCE:

Furuli’s date for Shabatu 1 is 22 February 587 BCE. And it is true that the moon on that day was “in the Swallow.” One problem with this date, however, is that the new moon at sunset was so close to the sun (less than 10o) that it most probably was invisible. The conjunction had occurred earlier on the same Julian day, at c. 01:26. Besides, Jupiter was between Aries and Pisces, far away from Sagittarius where it is placed by the tablet.

(10)  ´Rev. line 12: “Month XII, the first (of which followed the 30th of the preceding month), the moon became visible behind Aries while the sun stood there; sunset to moonset: 25o [100 minutes], measured; earthshine; the north wind blew.”

Addaru 1 = 14/15 March 567 BCE:

In 568/567 BCE the first day of month XII (Addaru) fell on 14/15 March 567 BCE. On day 14 the distance between sunset (at c. 18:06) and moonset (at c. 19:50) was 104 minutes (26o), which is very close to the Babylonian measurement, 25o (100 minutes). The distance between the moon and the sun was long enough for the moon to become visible before sunset (“while the sun stood there”). At that time the moon stood about 15o southeast of α Aries, thus partially behind and partially below the most brilliant star in Aries. This roughly agrees with the position given on the tablet.

Furuli’s date: Addaru 1 = 24 March 587 BCE:

Furuli’s date for Addaru 1 is 24 March 587 BCE. Of the position of the moon Furuli says (p. 321): “The moon was 13o to the left of (behind) Aries, so the fit is excellent.” This is not quite correct. About 86 minutes (c. 21.5o) before sunset (“while the sun stood there”), the moon stood about 7o to the south of (below) the nearest star in Aries (δ Aries) and about 20o to the southeast of (i.e., partially below and partially behind) α Aries. This position is not very exact, but acceptable.

(11)  ´Rev. line 13: “Night of the 2nd, the moon was balanced 4 cubits [8o] below η Tauri.”

Addaru 2 = 15/16 March 567 BCE:

In 567 BCE the 2nd of Addaru fell on 15/16 March. In the night of the 15th, at c. 19:00, the moon was 4 cubits (8o) directly to the south of (below) η Tauri, also known as Alcyone, the most brilliant star in the star cluster Pleiades. This position agrees exactly with that given on the tablet.

Furuli’s date: Addaru 2 = 25 March 587 BCE:

Furuli dates Addaru 2 to 25 March 587 BCE. In the night of that day, at c. 19:00, the moon was about 10.5o southeast of η Tauri, a position that does not agree very well with that given on the tablet. The fit is definitely not “excellent” as Furuli (p. 321) claims it is.

(12)  ´Rev. line 14: “Night of the 7th, the moon was surrounded by a halo; Praesepe and α Leonis [stood] in [it ….]” 

Addaru 7 = 20/21 March 567 BCE:

In 567 BCE the 7th of Addaru fell on 20/21 March. In the night of the 20th/21st the moon stood between α Leonis and Praesepe, the latter being an open star cluster close to the centre of the constellation of Cancer. As they lie about 23o apart, the halo must have covered a large area in the sky. The next line (line 15), in fact, goes on to state that “the halo surrounded Cancer and Leo.” As the moon stood between these two constellations, its position agrees with that given on the tablet.

Furuli’s statement (p. 322) that Cancer “is either the constellation or the zodiacal sign that covers 30o of the heaven” is anachronistic, as the zodiacal belt was not divided into signs of 30o each until much later, in the Persian era.

Furuli’s date: Addaru 7 = 30 March 587 BCE:

Furuli’s date for Addaru 7 is 30 March 587 BCE. He states that Cancer in that night “was 4o above the moon and α Leonis was 13o below the moon.” However, Cancer was not above but in front of (west of) the moon, and α Leonis was not below but behind (east of) the moon. But as this lunar position was nearly the same as on 20/21 March, 567 BCE, both positions fit.

(13)  ´Rev. line 16: “The 12th, one god was seen with the other; sunrise to moonset: 1o 30´ [6 minutes]; ….”

Addaru 12 = 25/26 March 567 BCE:

In 567 BCE the 12th of Addaru fell on 25/26 March. According to the tablet sunrise occurred 1o 30´ – 6 minutes – before moonset, meaning that one “god” could be “seen with the other” in the morning for six minutes. My astro-program shows that in the morning of March 26 the sun rose at c. 06:08 and the moon set c. 06:11, that is, they could both be seen at the same time above the horizon for about 3 minutes, which is close to the time given on the tablet.

Furuli’s date: Addaru 12 = 4/5 April 587 BCE:

Furuli has misunderstood the kind of phenomenon referred to by the expression “one god was seen with the other”. He explains on page 323: “To say that one god (the sun) was seen with the other god (the moon) was one way to express that the moon was full.”

Although it is true that the moon was nearly full when it was seen with the sun, this is not exactly what the expression refers to. As explained earlier, it refers to the situation when the sun and the moon stand in opposition to each other – the sun in the east and the moon in the west – and both can be seen simultaneously above the horizon for a short period of time. As Furuli has not understood this, his comments on the text are mistaken and irrelevant.

Furuli’s date for the 12th of Addaru is 4/5 April 587 BCE. In the morning of April 5 the sun rose at c. 05:54. But the moon had already set at c. 05:13, i.e., about 41 minutes before sunrise. Thus one “god” could not be seen “with the other” this morning. Furuli’s date, then, is wrong. Only the 567 BCE date fits the statement on the tablet.

In summary, at least 10 of the 13 lunar positions examined fit the 568/567 BCE date quite well, one (no. 10) is acceptable, while two (nos. 2 and 5) are acceptable only if the dates are moved back one day. Of Furuli’s dates in 588/587 BCE only one (no. 12) fits, while 9 do not fit at all. The fits of the remaining three (9, 10, and 11) are far from good but acceptable.

The conclusion is, that the observations were made in 568/567 BCE. The year 588/587 BCE is definitely out of the question.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *