Jehovah’s Witnesses


SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

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

 

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?

A date that can be used as a pivotal point is the year 539 B.C.E., which is supported by various historical sources (including Diodorus, Africanus, Eusebius, Ptolemy, and Babylonian tablets) as the year for the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus (technically known as Cyrus II, the grandson of Cyrus I).

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.

"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."—Insight on the Scriptures, "Chronology," p. 453, emphasis original.

In summary, 523 plus seven is 530, and adding Cyrus' nine produces 539.

While Strm Kambys 400 provides this lunar eclipse data that is testable and produces an astronomically confirmed date, it contains some errors. Yet these do not damage the credibility of dating Cambyses' seventh year, for "the plausible explanations of the errors and all the correct observations suggest that the original observations were made in year 7 of Cambyses, which then was 523/2 B.C.E." Thus its observations still make a good correlation between 523 B.C.E. and the seventh year of Cambyses II.ftn2

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.

It must 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 believe that Nabonidus' 17th regnal year was his last. 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 if Nabonidus' reign was of greater length than is 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. This factor, however, does lessen to some extent the value of the Nabonidus Chronicle.

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 16th day of Tashritu (Tishri) as falling on October 11, Julian calendar, and October 5, Gregorian calendar, 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.—Insight on the Scriptures, "Nabonidus," p. 459.

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.

By his decreeing the end of the Jewish exile, Cyrus fulfilled his commission as Jehovah's 'anointed shepherd' for Israel. (2 Chronicles 36:22, 23; Ezra 1:1-4) The proclamation was made "in the first year of Cyrus the king of Persia," meaning his first year as ruler toward conquered Babylon. The Bible record at Daniel 9:1 refers to "the first year of Darius," and this may have intervened between the fall of Babylon and "the first year of Cyrus" over Babylon. If it did, this would mean that the writer was perhaps viewing Cyrus' first year as having begun late in the year 538 B.C.E. However, if Darius' rule over Babylon were to be viewed as that of a viceroy, so that his reign ran concurrent with that of Cyrus, Babylonian custom would place Cyrus' first regnal year as running from Nisan of 538 to Nisan of 537 B.C.E. This is more likely, as Daniel 9:1 reports that Darius was "made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans" (Da 5:31; 9:1), but not as "the king of Persia," the regular form for referring to King Cyrus.—Da 10:1; Ezr 1:1, 2; 3:7; 4:3.

Thus, in view of the Bible record, Cyrus' decree freeing the Jews to return to Jerusalem likely was made late in the year 538 or early in 537 B.C.E. This would allow time for the Jewish exiles to prepare to move out of Babylon and make the long trek to Judah and Jerusalem (a trip that could take about four months according to Ezra 7:9) and yet be settled "in their cities" in Judah by "the seventh month" (Tishri) of the year 537 B.C.E. (Ezra 3:1, 6) This marked the end of the prophesied seventy years of Judah's desolation that began in the same month, Tishri, of 607 B.C.E.—2 Kings 25:22-26; 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21.

(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.:

Figure 1:

Secular support for 539 B.C.E.

  1. Strm Kambys 400 (Strassmaier Cambyses II tablet transcription number 400)/BM 33066
    The seventh year of Cambyses II began in the spring of 523 B.C.E.

  2. Nabonidus Chronicle
    Babylon fell on Tishri 16, the year is effaced but may have been "17" per Ptolemy's canon, Berosus, and a number of cuneiform tablets.

  3. Claudius Ptolemy (and Berosus)
    "Canon of Kings." Nabonidus reigned seventeen years and Cyrus nine, likely per Berosus.

  4. Diodorus Siculus (and the Christian historians Sextus Julius Africanus and Eusebius Pamphili) (First century B.C.E., third and fourth century C.E. respectfully)
    Report that Cyrus' first year as king of Persia corresponded to Olympiad 55, year 1 (560/559 B.C.E.), while Cyrus' last year is placed at Olympiad 62, year 2 (531/530 B.C.E.). Nine years over Babylon (per cuneiform tablets) from 530 B.C.E. arrives at 539 B.C.E.

  5. Cyrus cuneiform tablets
    Assign Cyrus a nine-year reign, eight regnal years and one accession year, over Babylon, datable to 530-539 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:

Figure 2:

Secular support for 587/6 B.C.E.

  1. VAT 4956 (Vorderasiatische Museum tablet number 4956)
    Cuneiform tablet that assigns Nebuchadnezzar's 37th year to 568/7 B.C.E. per lunar and planetary data (but see below).

  2. Claudius Ptolemy
    "Canon of Kings." 66 years from Nebuchadnezzar II to Nabonidus.

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:

  1. It cannot be pivotal as it is imprecise: 587 or 586?
  2. One of its two supports, VAT 4956, is of dubious value, and Ptolemy's Babylonian chronology is twenty years truncated.
  3. It is by no means as well attested as the pivotal date of 539 B.C.E. for the overthrow of Babylon. (See also: The Watchtower, August 15, 1968, paragraph 18.)

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:

"For some time requests have been coming in from various parts asking THE WATCH TOWER to publish something about chronology in reply to the many theories that have been set forth in recent months. This is to advise our readers that beginning with the issue of May 1 a series of articles will be published dealing with chronology. Our advice to the friends is not merely to read them, but to study them carefully, with Bible in hand, referring to each text."

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."


Footnotes

1. An Olympiad, especially in ancient literature, was a period of four years (Polybius, Histories 9.1.1) counting inclusively (the fifth year during which the Olympic games were held was also the first year in the beginning of the new cycle), starting with the games at Olympia. The ancient Olympics, it is believed, originated from Heracles, the oldest of five brothers, who matched them in a race and crowned the winner with an olive branch. The games, in accordance with the number of brothers, were held every fifth year (Pausanias, Description of Greece [Elis 1] 5.7.6-9). By our modern Gregorian calendar system, the first Olympiad is reckoned to the year 776 B.C.E., which year is arrived at deductively based on the year from the founding of Rome. ("Ancient Olympics." Olympiad. Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympiad#Ancient_Olympics> [February 5, 2008].) (back)

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:
May 1st "Gentile Times," pages 131-9
May 15th "Chronology," pages 147-150
June 1st "Seventy Years' Desolation (Part I)," pages 163-8
June 15th "Seventy Years' Desolation (Part II)," pages 183-7
"The Handwriting on the Wall," pages 189-190
July 1st "End of the Seventy Years' Desolation," pages 203-5
(Related study article: "The Temple Rebuilt," pages 205-7)
July 15th "The Strong Cable of Chronology," pages 217-9
August 1st "Back From Babylon to God's Temple," pages 236-9
August 15th "Interesting Letters: Mistakes of Ptolemy, the Pagan Historian," pages 253-4 (letter from a reader)
The November 15th issue had another study article exploring hypothetical chronological parallels. (
back)

5. "A Clear Vision of Chronology," pages 195-202. (back)



See also the following detailed presentation: Jerusalem 607 B.C.E., which features numerous color charts and an extensive appendix.


Back to main article

 

Home | Contents

Last revised: February 17, 2011. 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 http://www.jw.org, and should be recognized as the authoritative source about the beliefs, teachings, and activities of Jehovah's Witnesses.