Jehovah’s Witnesses


SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

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“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

 

Why do Jehovah's Witnesses accept 607 B.C.E. as the date for Jerusalem's destruction by the Babylonians, instead of 587/6 B.C.E.?

Simply put, Jehovah's Witnesses accept the detailed testimony of the Bible, the inspired Word of God, over the present understanding of secular history. "Christians who believe the Bible have time and again found that its words stand the test of much criticism and have been proved accurate and reliable. They recognize that as the inspired Word of God it can be used as a measuring rod in evaluating secular history and views."—"Let Your Kingdom Come," p. 187.

Concerning the date of Jerusalem's destruction, many scholars claim to be concerned about harmonizing their views with the Bible, but in fact, are more concerned with not contradicting secular chronology. On the other hand, the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses have paid "more than the usual attention" to detail, and they have arrived at the only conclusion that they conscientiously can. (Hebrews 2:1) Their methodology involves adhering to the Bible in its entirety and not compromising on issues that might seem insignificant to secular historians. To do otherwise would make them guilty of distorting Jehovah's intended message.

So, how do Jehovah's Witnesses arrive at 607 B.C.E. as the year for Jerusalem's destruction by the Babylonians?

While most historians base their date for the destruction of Jerusalem on an independent line of secular evidence, Jehovah's Witnesses base theirs on a Biblically-foretold seventy-year period of servitude to Babylon for Judah:

"The word that occurred to Jeremiah . . . concerning all the people of Judah and concerning all the inhabitants of Jerusalem . . . all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years."—Jeremiah 25:1a, 2, 11.

Eighteen years after this prophecy occurred to Jeremiah, the priest and copyist Ezra describes the events that followed the destruction of Jerusalem, in the nineteenth year (or eighteenth regnal year) of Nebuchadnezzar:

"Furthermore, he carried off those remaining from the sword captive to Babylon, and they came to be servants to him and his sons until the royalty of Persia began to reign; to fulfill Jehovah's word by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid off its sabbaths. All the days of lying desolated it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years."—2 Chronicles 36:20, 21.

Jehovah's Witnesses unequivocally believe that the correct understanding of these, and related verses, is that the seventy years of servitude followed the destruction of Jerusalem, for it was at this time that Judah became "a devastated place, an object of astonishment." At 2 Kings 25:25, 26, the Bible reports that by the seventh month even those left behind, "all the people, from small to great," fled to Egypt, leaving the land completely desolate, "without an inhabitant." As this factor was necessary for fulfillment (Isaiah 6:11, 12; Jeremiah 4:23, 25; 4:27, 29; 6:7, 8; 9:11; 24:8, 10), Jehovah's Witnesses recognize that the seventy years of desolation could not officially begin to be counted until after the first of the seventh Jewish month.

Ezra 1:1 shows that it was "in the first year of Cyrus, the king of Persia," or 538/7 B.C.E., that Cyrus issued the decree releasing the Jews from captivity. The Bible notes that the Jews arrived back in their homeland by the seventh month, Tishri, which would be September 29-30, 537 B.C.E. (Ezra 3:1-3). From this date, Jehovah's Witnesses count back seventy years to 607 B.C.E. as the year for Jerusalem's destruction. Thus, the "devastations of Jerusalem, [namely], seventy years," spoken of by Daniel the prophet, were exactly seventy years in duration, running from the seventh month of 607 B.C.E. to the seventh month of 537 B.C.E.

However, the current picture of Neo-Babylonian history, as accepted by the vast majority of scholars, does not allow for a seventy-year interval between the destruction of Jerusalem (which they place in 587/6 B.C.E.) and the reoccupation of the land of Judah two years after the Persian conquest of Babylon (which both secular historians and Jehovah's Witnesses agree occurred in 539 B.C.E.).

Where exactly these seventy years fit in the stream of time is not easily ascertained by those who subscribe to this widely-held chronological framework. Testifying to this, Encyclopedia Britannica relates:

"Many scholars cite 597 BC as the date of the first deportation, for in that year King Jehoiachin was deposed and apparently sent into exile with his family, his court, and thousands of workers. Others say the first deportation followed the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar in 586; if so, the Jews were held in Babylonian captivity for 48 years. Among those who accept a tradition (Jeremiah 29:10) that the exile lasted 70 years, some choose the dates 608 to 538, others 586 to c. 516 (the year when the rebuilt Temple was dedicated in Jerusalem)."—Encyclopedia Britannica (1990 edition, Volume 1, p. 771).

Clearly, there is much diversity of opinion among Bible scholars as to which period of seventy years the Biblical prophets were referring to. Upon closer examination, one soon becomes aware that it is a subject far more complex than it first appears. However, coming to an accurate knowledge of what actually transpired is essential to understanding important Biblical prophecies that affect us today.

To underscore the uncertainty that surrounds this issue, a brief summary of the most widely-held positions follows:

There are those who advance the theory that the seventy years ran from 609 B.C.E. to 539 B.C.E., relating only to the period of Babylonian world rule following the conquest of Assyria. Others prefer to believe that the seventy years ran from 589 B.C.E. to 519 B.C.E., beginning with the final two-year siege against Jerusalem. Still others believe that the prophecy concerned the seventy years between 587/6 B.C.E. and 516 B.C.E., that is, from the destruction of Jerusalem to the completion of the reconstructed temple. And, there are even some who regard the seventy years as just an approximate or round number, somewhere in the vicinity of 67 years (from 605 B.C.E. to 538 B.C.E.), believing that the servitude and devastation began in Nebuchadnezzar's accession year.

The proponents of each of these "solutions" insist that their point of view is the correct one, both in light of secular history and Biblical corroboration. (Incidentally, critics of Jehovah's Witnesses often draw support from all available theories when making their argument. It is apparent that these ones are not interested in the truth of the matter; their only goal lies in attacking the beliefs held by Jehovah's Witnesses.)

With such diversity of opinion over what in fact transpired, does it seem reasonable that Jehovah's Witnesses should be singled out for scrutiny? And which, if any, of the proposed "solutions" is the correct one?

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that each of the above theories appears, at least in part, to be supported by the Scriptures and secular history. Nevertheless, there can only be one correct solution.

Upon weighing all the Biblical evidence, Jehovah's Witnesses have taken a very definite stand on the matter, rejecting all of the aforementioned theories, and holding to the view that the seventy years ran from 607 B.C.E. to 537 B.C.E.:

"The Bible prophecy does not allow for the application of the 70-year period to any time other than that between the desolation of Judah, accompanying Jerusalem's destruction, and the return of the Jewish exiles to their homeland as a result of Cyrus' decree. It clearly specifies that the 70 years would be years of devastation of the land of Judah. The prophet Daniel so understood the prophecy, for he states: "I myself, Daniel, discerned by the books the number of the years concerning which the word of Jehovah had occurred to Jeremiah the prophet, for fulfilling the devastations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years." (Da 9:2) After describing the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21 states: "Furthermore, he carried off those remaining from the sword captive to Babylon, and they came to be servants to him and his sons until the royalty of Persia began to reign; to fulfill Jehovah's word by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid off its sabbaths. All the days of lying desolated it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.""Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1, p. 463.

"The closing verses of Second Chronicles (36:17-23) give conclusive proof of the fulfillment of Jeremiah 25:12 and, in addition, show that a full 70 years must be counted from the complete desolation of the land to the restoration of Jehovah's worship at Jerusalem in 537 B.C.E. This desolation therefore begins in 607 B.C.E.—Jer. 29:10; 2 Ki. 25:1-26; Ezra 3:1-6."—All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial, p. 84.

It is this clear and concise Bible-based view that Jehovah's Witnesses hold, and have held since the days of Charles Taze Russell who, in The Time Is At Hand (Studies in the Scriptures, Series 2, 1912 edition), p. 52, comments:

"Usher dates the seventy years desolation eighteen years earlier than shown above—i.e., before the dethronement of Zedekiah, Judah's last king—because the king of Babylon took many of the people captive at that time. (2 Chron. 36:9, 10, 17, 21; 2 Kings 24:8-16.) He evidently makes the not uncommon mistake of regarding those seventy years as the period of captivity, whereas the Lord expressly declares them to be seventy years of desolation of the land, that the land should lie "desolate, without an inhabitant." Such was not the case prior to Zedekiah's dethronement. (2 Kings 24:14.) But the desolation which followed Zedekiah's overthrow was complete; for, though some of the poor of the land were left to be vine-dressers and husbandmen (2 Kings 25:12), shortly even these—"all people, both small and great"—fled to Egypt for fear of the Chaldees. (Verse 26.) There can be no doubt here; and therefore in reckoning the time to the desolation of the land, all periods up to the close of Zedekiah's reign should be counted in, as we have done."

There is no shortage of critics who openly voice their opinion that the Watchtower Society has dogmatically stuck to a doctrine for which they have had to go to extreme lengths to make appear credible, notwithstanding the fact that the Watchtower Society has provided ample documentation to support their viewpoint (see "Additional Reading" at the end of this article). Unfortunately, included among these are some who allowed themselves to be stumbled to the point of abandoning the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses. For those with such tendencies, the Society provides the following admonition:

"If you find that you are stumbled or are offended about something being taught in God's organization, or some adjustments being made, keep this in mind: God has put enough in the Bible to provide a complete foundation for faith. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) He has also left many details of various events in the Bible out of the account, enough so that one whose heart is not right, who wants to discover an apparent fault, who wants to find an excuse for leaving the way of truth, can find it."The Watchtower, August 15, 1972, p. 507.

Nevertheless, some critics have endeavored to "reconcile" the Biblical account with the current secular understanding of Neo-Babylonian history, alleging that the Watchtower Society is simply misinterpreting the relevant Biblical material. A close examination of the facts, however, reveals the "solutions" proposed by these critics to be feeble, inaccurate, and ignorant of clear statements made in God's Word. Their error lies in not heeding the counsel at Proverbs 3:5: "Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding." These ones have put more faith in the "knowledge" of men than in the unfailing Word of Jehovah, evidently not considering the counsel of the prophet Isaiah:

"This is what Jehovah has said . . . "I, Jehovah, am . . . the One that turns even their knowledge into foolishness; the One making the word of his servant come true, and the One that carries out completely the counsel of his own messengers."—Isaiah 44:24-28.

It is our sincere hope that the information presented in the in-depth articles that follow will help all to see that Jehovah's Witnesses are not mistaken in their point of view, nor are they guilty of resorting to "scriptural acrobatics" in order to substantiate their claims. Rather, they should be commended for refusing to invalidate the Word of God by favoring the traditional historical views put forward by imperfect man. (Matthew 15:6; Mark 7:13) It is because of their unwavering faith in God's Word that Jehovah has provided them with insight:

"Jehovah's Witnesses have been interested in the findings of archaeologists as these relate to the Bible. However, where the interpretation of these findings conflicts with clear statements in the Bible, we accept with confidence what the Holy Scriptures say, whether on matters related to chronology or any other topic. . . . For the same reason, they have realized that the prophecy in Daniel chapter 4 regarding the "seven times" began counting in 607-606 B.C.E. and that it pinpointed 1914 C.E. in the autumn as the year when Christ was enthroned in heaven as ruling King and this world entered its time of the end. But they would not have discerned these thrilling fulfillments of prophecy if they had wavered in their confidence in the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Thus, the insight that they have shown has been directly associated with their reliance on God's Word."The Watchtower, March 15, 1989, p. 22.

If you are under the impression that critics have presented information that seriously challenges that presented by the Watchtower Society, you owe it to yourself to examine all of the facts carefully. These facts will not go away if you choose to ignore them. If you truly believe that the Bible is the unerring, inspired Word of God, and you are sincerely interested in knowing the truth of this matter from a Biblical perspective, please consider the following detailed questions and answers.

When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed?

These are two articles in consecutive
issues of
The Watchtower that discuss scholarly
questions surrounding the date of the destruction
of ancient Jerusalem. This two-part series presents
thoroughly researched and Bible-based answers
to questions that have puzzled some readers.

After reading these, please continue reading the following detailed presentation below: In-Depth, Appendix, and Additional Reading.


In-Depth

  1. When does the Bible indicate that the nation of Judah began serving the king of Babylon?

  2. Is it possible that the "devastations of Jerusalem," as spoken of at Daniel 9:2, began several years prior to its destruction, perhaps commencing with the initial exile?

  3. Is it not true that Jeremiah 25:18 indicates that Jerusalem and the cities of Judah had already become "a devastated place, an object of astonishment" by the fourth year of Jehoiakim, the first year of Nebuchadnezzar?

  4. Ezekiel 33:24, 27 refers to those in "devastated places." Is it true that these words were "written ten years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem," and does this indicate that "the devastations of Jerusalem" (Daniel 9:2) did not entail seventy years of complete desolation of the land, "without an inhabitant"?

  5. Critics allege that the New World Translation is biased in its translation of Jeremiah 29:10. Is this true?

  6. Is it true that 2 Chronicles 36:21 doesn't really say that Jerusalem laid desolate for seventy years?

  7. Do the words at Zechariah 1:7, 12 indicate that by 519 B.C.E. the seventy years of desolation had not yet been fulfilled? If so, might this suggest that the seventy-year period began in or around 589 B.C.E.?

  8. 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?

  9. 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?

  10. The book "Revelation - Its Grand Climax at Hand" (published by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society) states in the footnote on p. 105 that "research made it necessary to adjust B.C. 606 to 607 B.C.E." Critics allege that there was no such "research" and that there is "no evidence whatsoever for this new date." Is this true?

  11. Are Jehovah's Witnesses guilty of twisting the scriptures found at Daniel 1:1 and Daniel 2:1 to support their fundamental teaching regarding 1914?

  12. 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?


Appendix

  1. Josephus: Seventy or Fifty Years?

  2. The Babylonian Exile of the Jews – The Bible Versus the Traditional Chronology by Rolf Furuli

  3. Does The Watchtower Unwittingly Support 587 B.C.E. for Jerusalem's Destruction?


Additional Reading


Printable version in PDF  
  607 B.C.E. files - Cover page followed by 71 pages, with Additional Reading beginning on page 46.

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Last revised: February 8, 2008. 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.watchtower.org, and should be recognized as the authoritative source about the beliefs, teachings, and activities of Jehovah's Witnesses.