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:
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:
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:
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.:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.