Is it not true that
587/6 B.C.E. is every bit as reliable as 539 B.C.E., and therefore, could it not equally be used as a pivotal date?
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. The historian Diodorus, as well as the Christian historians Africanus and Eusebius, shows that Cyrus' first year as king of Persia corresponded to Olympiadftn1 55, year 1 (560/559 B.C.E.), while Cyrus' last year is placed at Olympiad 62, year 2 (531/530 B.C.E.). Cuneiform tablets give Cyrus a rule of nine years over Babylon, which would therefore substantiate the year 539 as the date of his conquest of Babylon.—Handbook of Biblical Chronology, by Jack Finegan, 1964, pages 112, 168-170; Babylonian Chronology, 626 B.C.–A.D. 75, p. 14.—Insight on the Scriptures, "Chronology," p. 454.
Two Babylonian tablets are connected with dating the fall of Babylon, they being Strm Kambys 400 (also known as BM 33066) and the Nabonidus Chronicle, discussed in turn below:
Strm Kambys 400: Standing for "Strassmaier Cambyses II tablet number 400," 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." (Inschriften von Cambyses,
König von Babylon, by J. N. Strassmaier, Leipzig, 1890, No. 400, lines 45-48; Sternkunde und Sterndienst
in Babel, by F. X. Kugler, Münster, 1907, Vol. I, pages 70, 71) These two lunar eclipses can
evidently 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.
The Nabonidus Chronicle: This remains the most complete cuneiform record of the fall of Babylon available
and gives the month and day of its fall, but the year is broken off. In the third of its four columns, beginning
with line 5, pertinent sections read: "[Seventeenth year:] . . . In the month of Tashritu, when
Cyrus attacked the army of Akkad in Opis on the Tigris, the inhabitants of Akkad revolted, but he (Nabonidus)
massacred the confused inhabitants. The 14th day, Sippar was seized without battle. Nabonidus fled. The 16th day,
Gobryas (Ugbaru), the governor of Gutium and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle. Afterwards
Nabonidus was arrested in Babylon when he returned (there). . . . In the month of Arahshamnu, the
3rd day, Cyrus entered Babylon, green twigs were spread in front of him—the state of 'Peace' (sulmu) was
imposed upon the city."—Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 306.
Based on the above, secular chronologists have thus set the date for the fall of Babylon as October 11,
539 B.C.E., according to the Julian calendar, or October 5 by the Gregorian calendar. During Cyrus' first
year his decree releasing the Jews from exile was given. And, as considered below, it is very probable that the
decree was made by the winter of 538 B.C.E. or toward the spring of 537 B.C.E. This would permit the
Jews time to make necessary preparations, effect the four-month journey to Jerusalem, and still arrive there by
the seventh month (Tishri, or about October 1) of 537 B.C.E.—Ezra 1:1-11; 2:64-70; 3:1.
(Adapted from: Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1, p. 458 "Chronology," pages 568-569 "Cyrus," p. 581 "Darius" and All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial, pages 282-283)
Figure 1 below displays the historical and archaeological sources that together point to 539 B.C.E.:
While the above outlines the multiple attestation for 539 B.C.E., the following will outline how 587/6 B.C.E. is derived for comparison. This year has been calculated using Ptolemy's canon which appears to harmonize with the astronomical diary called VAT 4956, as outlined in Figure 2:
Ptolemy's canon mentions five kings of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that reigned before the conquest of Cyrus: (1) Nabopolasar (assigned a 21-year reign), (2) Nebuchadnezzar II (assigned 43 years), (3) Evil-merodach (assigned 2 years), (4) Neriglissar (assigned 4 years) and (5) Nabonidus (assigned 17 years); the sum of the last four figures of 43, 2, 4, and 17 years being 66 years.
Counting those 66 years backward from 539 B.C.E. points to Nebuchadnezzar's reign beginning in 605 B.C.E., and VAT 4956 seems to corroborate that date, locating Nebuchadnezzar's thirty-seventh regnal year in 568 B.C.E. Since the scriptures 2 Kings 25:8 and Jeremiah 32:1, 2; 52:29 show that the desolation of Jerusalem occurred in the eighteenth regnal year of Nebuchadnezzar (nineteenth if including his accession year), this points to the year 587 B.C.E.
However, the lunar data on VAT 4956 fit better with 588 than with 568 B.C.E., twenty years prior. Additionally, the planetary data was most likely calculated backwards and not observed for 568 B.C.E. Thus the most reliable information on VAT 4956, the lunar data, may actually point to 588 B.C.E. as the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar II!ftn3 In that year, he attacked Egypt according to the fragmentary cuneiform tablet BM 33041. In this year, a Bible prophecy that supports the seventy-year desolation, the forty-year desolation of Egypt, began to be fulfilled. (Ezekiel 29:12-14) Removing twenty years from the seventy-year desolation ruins this prophecy, as Egypt's forty-year desolation would be cut short as well, as it ended before an alliance was made with Nabonidus against Persia. Regarding Egypt, Ezekiel 29:18-20 states that it was compensation to Nebuchadnezzar for his successful campaign against the city Tyre. Tyre was to be "forgotten" in a commercial sense for seventy years according to Isaiah 23:15-16, which began when Nebuchadnezzar besieged it after Jerusalem's destruction. (Ezekiel 26:1) Seventy years later, it supplied timbers to the returnees in Jerusalem for Jehovah's temple, in fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. (Isaiah 23:17-18; Ezra 3:7) Both of these prophecies of Egypt and Tyre require a full seventy-year desolation, and ironically are connected to Nebuchadnezzar's 37th year of VAT 4956! (See also in "Additional Reading" regarding VAT 4956 and Ptolemy's Canon of Kings: Appendix to Chapter 14 ["Let Your Kingdom Come," pages 186-9] and When Did Babylon Desolate Jerusalem? [Awake!, May 8, 1972, pages 27-8]).
In summary, the year 539 B.C.E. is advantageous over 587/6 B.C.E. as it enjoys corroborative attestation from various historical sources, which 587/6 B.C.E. lacks, with VAT 4956 being unreliable in jumbling its lunar and planetary data. Thus, in answer to the title's question, in no way is 587/6 B.C.E. as every bit as reliable as 539 B.C.E. Furthermore, the year 587/6 B.C.E. does not support the scriptural seventy-year exile and desolation ending in 537 B.C.E. The only period harmonizing with the scriptures regarding the length of the seventy-year exile and desolation is the one commencing in Tishri 607 B.C.E. and ending the same month seventy years later, past the pivotal date of 539 B.C.E. and ending in 537 B.C.E., allowing the time prophecies of Egypt and Tyre to be fulfilled as well.
Regarding 587/6 B.C.E., it may be noted that:
Therefore, it is no where near as reliable as 539 B.C.E., and as these "In-Depth" articles have shown, 587/6 B.C.E. is twenty years off for the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in Bible chronology.
In closing, notice what one Watchtower magazine stated:
This appeared on the second page of the April 15, 1922 issue! True to its word, the May, June, and July issues
contained study articles on Bible chronology regarding the seventy-year desolation and the related "Gentile
Times," with additional articles appearing later.ftn4
In fact, a year later, the July 1, 1923 issue had an in-depth study article that even carried a supplemental chronology
poster!ftn5 As it was encouraged then, so it still holds
true today, to 'not merely read' articles defending Bible chronology, "but to study them carefully,
with Bible in hand, referring to each text." This admonition closed with: "We also urge upon the
friends a careful study of Volumes II and III of STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES
in connection with these articles." While those books have since been replaced with fresher presentations,
as seen in "Additional Reading," the same encouragement applies
today, to carefully study that material in connection with these "In-Depth"
articles, "with Bible in hand."
2. Furuli, Rolf. Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Persian Chronology Compared with the Chronology of the Bible, Volume I: Persian Chronology and the Length of the Babylonian Exile of the Jews. Awatu Publishers. Oslo, 2006. Pages 135-8, quote on page 137.
See also: Furuli, Rolf. Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Persian Chronology Compared with the Chronology of the Bible, Volume II: Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian Chronology. Awatu Publishers. Oslo, 2007. Page 28 footnote 20. (back)
3. See Rolf Furuli's examination of VAT 4956 in Volume II, supra note 2. Interestingly, the intercalary cycle (the cycle of adding a thirteenth or intercalary month to the lunar calendar) is nineteen years, which is close to the missing twenty years. (back)
4. These being seven study articles from May to July, with a related study article
in August, including a letter as seen in the table below:
5. "A Clear Vision of Chronology," pages 195-202. (back)
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