Jehovah’s Witnesses


Home | Contents

“But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.”—Acts 28:22


Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.E., but the Jewish captives did not return to their homeland until 537 B.C.E. Therefore, how could it be said that the Jews served "the king of Babylon" for seventy years if the king of Babylon was conquered two years earlier?

At Ezra 1:1-3 we read that it was in the first year of Cyrus that the decree was issued allowing the Jews to return to their homeland:

"And in the first year of Cyrus the king of Persia, that Jehovah’s word from the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah roused the spirit of Cyrus the king of Persia so that he caused a cry to pass through all his realm, and also in writing, saying:

"This is what Cyrus the king of Persia has said, ‘All the kingdoms of the earth Jehovah the God of the heavens has given me, and he himself has commissioned me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God prove to be with him. So let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of Jehovah the God of Israel—he is the [true] God—which was in Jerusalem."—Ezra 1:1-3, NWT (see also 2 Chronicles 36:22-23).

Some critics have suggested that Jehovah's Witnesses have concocted an unorthodox and dishonest explanation in asserting that the seventy years of desolation ended in 537 B.C.E. Is this claim substantiated?

No. At Ezra 1:1, reference is made to "the first year of Cyrus," not "the year Cyrus became king" (or accession year), so he was speaking of the first regnal year of Cyrus, which cuneiform documentation places in 538/537 B.C.E. Jewish historian Josephus corroborates by referring to "the first year of the reign of Cyrus."—Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, Chapter I.

This point is generally agreed upon by historians. For instance, the Handbook of Bible Chronology by Jack Finegan (Princeton University Press, 1964), p. 170, states:

"The biblical references to the first year of Cyrus when he made the proclamation which allowed the Jewish exiles to return from Babylon to Jerusalem (II Ch 36:22f.; Ezr 1:1f.) are presumably stated in terms of his reign in Babylon since they deal with an event in that city. According to the cuneiform evidence and the Babylonian calendar, Babylon fell on Tashritu 16 = Oct 12, 539 B.C., and Cyrus entered the city two and one-half weeks later on Arahsamnu 3 = Oct 29. His Babylonian regnal years began, therefore, as shown in Table 77. Accordingly his first year, in which he made the proclamation, was 538/537 B.C."


Accession 539/538
Year 1 538/537
Year 2 537/536

The Watchtower of May 1, 1952, pp. 271-2 further observes:

"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. This tablet also says that Cyrus made his triumphant entry into Babylon 16 days after its fall to his army. Thus his accession year commenced in October, 539 B.C. However, in another cuneiform tablet called "Strassmaier, Cyrus No. 11" Cyrus’ first regnal year is mentioned and was determined to have begun March 17-18, 538 B.C., and to have concluded March 4-5, 537 B.C. It was in this first regnal year of Cyrus that he issued his decree to permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. (Ezra 1:1) The decree may have been made in late 538 B.C. or before March 4-5, 537 B.C.

In either case this would have given sufficient time for the large party of 49,897 Jews to organize their expedition and to make their long four-month journey from Babylon to Jerusalem to get there by September 29-30, 537 B.C., the first of the seventh Jewish month, to build their altar to Jehovah as recorded at Ezra 3:1-3. Inasmuch as September 29-30, 537 B.C., officially ends the seventy years of desolation as recorded at 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21, so the beginning of the desolation of the land must have officially begun to be counted after September 21-22, 607 B.C., the first of the seventh Jewish month in 607 B.C., which is the beginning point for the counting of the 2,520 years."

The account is summarized nicely by Werner Keller in his book The Bible As History, p. 352:

"In any case it was a risky business to leave this wealthy country of Babylon, where they had established themselves and where most of them had grown up, and to set out on the difficult road back to the ruins of a ravaged land. Despite this, in the spring of 537 B.C., after long preparations a lengthy caravan set out on the trail toward the old homeland. . . . Almost 800 miles have to be covered between Babylon and distant Jerusalem, with the clouds of dust churned up by the caravan as a faithful companion throughout the whole journey."

Until their release in 537 B.C.E., for the entire duration that the Jewish exiles were held captive in Babylon, it could rightly be said that they were serving the king of Babylon. This is expanded upon in paragraph 10 of an article entitled "The 'Cup' That All Nations Must Drink at God’s Hand" that appeared in the September 15, 1979 issue of The Watchtower, p. 24:

"It is true that he [Cyrus] conquered Gentile Babylon in 539 B.C.E., or about two years before the "seventy years" of desolation of the land of Judah ran out. He proclaimed himself "king of Babylon" and at first did not alter the policy of the Babylonian dynasty of King Nebuchadnezzar. Thus the nations subjugated by Nebuchadnezzar continued to serve "the king of Babylon" 70 years."

Are Jehovah's Witnesses justified in making this claim? Yes, for the Bible tells us that after Cyrus II conquered Babylon, Darius the Mede became "king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans," (Daniel 5:31, 9:1) and shortly thereafter, Cyrus established his kingship over all of Babylon, even being referred to as "Cyrus the king of Babylon" at Ezra 5:13. A contemporary inscription on a clay barrel confirms the accuracy of the Biblical account:

"All the inhabitants of Babylon as well as the entire country of Sumer and Akkad, princes and governors (included), bowed to him (Cyrus) and kissed his feet, jubilant that he (had received) the kingship . . . I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad."Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, James B. Pritchard, p.316.

However, does that fact that Jeremiah 27:7 indicates that the nations would serve "him [Nebuchadnezzar], his son, and his grandson" mean that the seventy years of servitude would not include Cyrus as "king of Babylon"?

In fulfillment of Jeremiah 27:7, the exiled Jews did in fact literally serve Nebuchadnezzar's son (Evil-merodach) and Nebuchadnezzar's grandson (co-regent Belshazzer, whose mother was reportedly Nebuchadnezzar's daughter, Nitocris). However, the captive Jews also served other kings of Babylon, including Neriglissar, Labashi-Marduk and Nabonidus, none of whom bore any blood relation to Nebuchadnezzar. Thus, the words at Jeremiah 27:7, though indisputably true, were obviously not meant to be an all-encompassing list of rulers whom the Jews would serve during the seventy years. Therefore, the Jews continued to serve the king of Babylon, which included Cyrus, until their official release initiated by Cyrus' decree described at Ezra 1:1:

"And in the first year of Cyrus the king of Persia, that Jehovah’s word from the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah roused the spirit of Cyrus the king of Persia so that he caused a cry to pass through all his realm."—Ezra 1:1 (see also 2 Chronicles 36:22).

The highlighted portion of the above-quoted verse serves as unimpeachable evidence that "Jehovah's word from the mouth of Jeremiah" had not yet been accomplished, even by the "first year of Cyrus," proving conclusively that the conquest of Babylon by Persia was not the determining factor in fulfilling Jeremiah's prophecy. Therefore, the Jewish nation continued to serve the king of Babylon until their release from captivity in 537 B.C.E., resulting in the reoccupation of the land of Judah and the end of the desolation of the land.


Next article: In what manner did Jehovah "call to account against the king of Babylon and . . . against the land of the Chaldeans . . . their error" mentioned at Jeremiah 25:12?

Back to main article


Home | Contents

Last revised: 97/11/09. Copyright © 1997 by Jehovah's Witnesses—Setting the Record Straight. All rights reserved. This web site is not affiliated with or sanctioned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. However, every effort has been made to adhere to the current views published by the "faithful and discreet slave" (Matthew 24:45; Luke 12:42) through the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The "Official Web Site of Jehovah's Witnesses" can be found at, and should be recognized as the authoritative source about the beliefs, teachings, and activities of Jehovah's Witnesses.