Are Jehovah's Witnesses guilty of twisting the scriptures found at Daniel 1:1 and Daniel 2:1 to support their fundamental belief regarding 1914?
At Daniel 1:1 we read the following:
Referring to a later period, Daniel 2:1 reads:
How do Jehovah's Witnesses interpret these scriptures?
With regards to "the third year of the kingship of Jehoiakim" referred to at Daniel 1:1, the following comments are offered:
And, the "second year" of Nebuchadnezzar mentioned at Daniel 2:1, is interpreted as follows:
How can Jehovah's Witnesses say these things, especially when the Scriptures appear to be so clear on the matter? Is it not a deliberate distortion of God's Word to suggest that these scriptures do not mean what they say?
The Bible encyclopedia, Insight on the Scriptures, summarizes the Witnesses' position on Daniel 1:1 well:
Can this explanation be substantiated? A detailed examination of the Biblical and historical facts bears out that it can. However, let us first establish some of the surrounding details.
Critics of Jehovah's Witnesses often put forward the idea that Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Judah and took captives in his accession year (605 B.C.E., according to secular chronology). By their reasoning, this enables them to suggest that the seventy years of servitude commenced at this time, even though, in actuality, this would amount to only 67 years. Some of these critics have gone on the record stating that the year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign is not mentioned along with the "third year of Jehoiakim" at Daniel 1:1, because it was Nebuchadnezzar's accession year. Incidentally, this claim is false. Nebuchadnezzar ascended to the throne following the battle of Carchemish, which didn't occur until the fourth year of Jehoiakim. This is attested to by the Scriptures (Jeremiah 46:2), and is also supported by Jewish historian Josephus, and most modern-day historical references that deal with the subject. For example, the Handbook of Biblical Chronology, by historian Jack Finegan (Princeton University, 1964), p. 200 states: "According to the contemporary prophet Jeremiah, the battle of Carchemish took place in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim of Judah." After a detailed examination of Jeremiah's claim, Finegan concludes on p. 201: "This was in fact in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim as stated in Jer 46:2."
But what about Jeremiah 25:1, where "the fourth year of Jehoiakim" is equated with the "first year of Nebuchadnezzar?" Finegan goes on to explain:
Thus, Jewish historian Josephus was correct in reporting that "in the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, one whose name was Nebuchadnezzar took the government over the Babylonians." (Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, Chapter VI, Verse 1) The Bible confirms the testimony that Nebuchadnezzar did not defeat Egypt until the fourth year of Jehoiakim, up until which point Judah continued as a vassal to Egypt:
The Biblical testimony on this subject does not end there. The book of Jeremiah contains "the words of Jeremiah . . . to whom the word of Jehovah occurred." (Jeremiah 1:1-2) These included Jeremiah's prophetic pronouncements against disobedient Judah, which began in the thirteenth year of Josiah, and continued down to "the completion of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, the king of Judah, until Jerusalem went into exile in the fifth month." (Jeremiah 1:3) After some 23 years of continuous prophesying, specifically in the fourth and fifth years of Jehoiakim's reign, we read of the nature of Jeremiah's message at this time:
The above scriptures suggest that by the "fifth year of Jehoiakim," Nebuchadnezzar had not yet come up against Judah, for Jehoiakim confidently rejects the words of Jeremiah in disbelief, inasmuch as he burned up the roll upon which Jeremiah's words were written.
Yet, some contend that statements made by Berossus, a Babylonian priest of Bel who lived more than 250 years after the fact, indicate that Nebuchadnezzar did in fact take Jewish captives in his accession year. Nevertheless, it has been observed that "many modern scholars have been inclined to distrust Berossus." (A Scheme of Babylonian Chronology, Duncan Macnaughton, London, 1930, p. 2) Aside from the fact that there are no cuneiform tablets supporting Berossus' alleged claim (whereas cuneiform documentation does exist for Nebuchadnezzar's first siege against Judah in his 7th yearftn1), it is unlikely that Nebuchadnezzar took captives from Judah after the battle of Carchemish, as we are told that, although having defeated Egypt, "he was prevented from following up his advantage immediately because the death of his father in Babylon made it necessary for him to return home to be crowned." (Biblical Archaeology, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1979 edition, p. 177.) Along similar lines, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, by J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, adds that "The young Babylonian crown prince [Nebuchadnezzar] had to depart Syria speedily upon receiving word of the death of his father." (p. 389)
Also, it is noteworthy that Jewish historian Josephus specifically reports that Nebuchadnezzar did not take Jewish captives in his accession year:
But even more telling is the silence of the Biblical record as to any captivity prior to the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar when expressly dealing with the subject at Jeremiah 52:28-30. Unquestionably, a book that so extensively details the history of the Jewish nation with such candor and honesty, would not be lacking in such details if they were historically factual.
Josephus explains that it was not until Jehoiakim refused to "pay his tribute" to the Babylonian king, in Jehoiakim's third year as a vassal king (which was his eleventh year as king over the Hebrews, and Nebuchadnezzar's seventh regnal year), that Nebuchadnezzar proceeded to lay siege to Jerusalem. (Daniel 1:1; 2 Kings 24:1; 2 Chronicles 36:5-7):
It was a short time after this that Nebuchadnezzar took the first Jewish captives. It was expressly because of Jehoiakim's rebellion that Nebuchadnezzar took captives, for up to that point he had Jerusalem's full cooperation, as observed by historian G. Ernest Wright:
Historian and chronologist Jack Finegan further expands:
Josephus' account agrees with the Biblical record at Jeremiah 52:28-30, which specifically reports that Nebuchadnezzar took Jewish captives in his 7th year, 18th year and 23rd year. Critics may point out that Jeremiah 52:28-30 does not say that Nebuchadnezzar did not take captives in his accession year, however, the conclusive nature of verses 28 to 30 does not allow for this, as the highlighted portions demonstrate:
While critics of Jehovah's Witnesses frequently put forward the theory that Nebuchadnezzar took Jewish captives in his accession year, so as to suggest that the "seventy years" commenced at this time, this is not the position generally taken by modern historians. For example, the following authoritative references support the understanding that the first Jewish captives were not taken until Nebuchadnezzar's seventh year:
Furthermore, it would be nonsensical to suggest that Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and took captives in his accession year, and then didn't demand tribute (i.e., vassalage) from Jehoiakim for another four to five years. It was only after having already served faithfully as a tributary king under Nebuchadnezzar for three years, and then rebelling, that Nebuchadnezzar saw fit to punish Judah.
Interestingly, the verses immediately following Daniel 1:1 may provide the most convincing evidence that Daniel was not referring to the third year of Jehoiakim's kingship over Judah:
Verse 2 relates that Jehovah gave Jehoiakim and "a part of the utensils" of the temple into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. This event certainly did not occur in Jehoiakim's third year over Judah, as 2 Kings 23:36 and 2 Chronicles 36:5 tell us that Jehoiakim reigned in Jerusalem for a total of eleven years. Those who attempt to equate this event (at Daniel 1:2) with the tributary submission mentioned at 2 Kings 24:1 seem to ignore the fact that a siege was not necessary to persuade Jehoiakim to submit; the siege is mentioned only in connection with Jehoiakim's rebellion after having served faithfully for three years. Thus, Jehoikim's being given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar did not occur in his third year over Judah, but rather, refers to the capture and death of Jehoiakim in his eleventh year, after which, 2 Kings 24:8-17 reports, Jehoiakim's son, Jehoiachin, reigned for only three months in Jerusalem before himself being taken captive to Babylon, along with "the princes and all the valiant, mighty men," which presumably included Daniel himself.
It is these "princes" and "valiant men," mentioned at 2 Kings 24:12-14 as being taken captive in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar, that Daniel 1:3 refers to as "royal offspring" and "nobles." The "princes" (or "royal offspring") could not have been taken captive more than once, indicating that the events described at Daniel 1:1-3 are the same as those described at 2 Kings 24:12-16 (where it is established that "all the princes and all the valiant, mighty men" were taken captive).
Also, please note that verse 3 begins with the adverb "then" (NWT, NIV, NKJV; other translations use "and," meaning "together with or along with") indicating that the events described in this verse occurred at the time of, or following, the events mentioned in the previous verse. Therefore, the exiles mentioned at Daniel 1:3 were brought to Babylon after Jehoiakim was given into Nebuchadnezzar's hand, in the eleventh year of his reign over Judah.
When these details are not overlooked, it becomes increasingly obvious that Daniel 1:1-3 is nothing more than a condensed account of 2 Kings 24:1-17 and 2 Chronicles 36:5-10. It is not unusual that Daniel omits mention of Jehoiakim's son, Jehoiachin, since his reign lasted a mere three months before he was whisked away to Babylon along with the other "royal offspring." The fact that this three month reign was considered insignificant so far as Bible prophecy is concerned is seen in the fact that Jeremiah 36:30 foretells that Jehoiakim would "come to have no one sitting upon the throne of David." True to this prophecy, during the continuing siege against Jerusalem, Jehoiachin was removed from the throne by Nebuchadnezzar shortly after his accession.
In light of the above evidence establishing that Daniel was not referring to Jehoiakim's third year of his eleven-year kingship over Judah, is it reasonable to suggest that he was stating the year of Jehoiakim's reign as a tributary king under Nebuchadnezzar?
Most definitely. As already touched upon, the Bible shows that the "siege" referred to at Daniel 1:1 is a parallel account to that described at 2 Kings 24:1-2, which plainly states that Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Judah after Jehoiakim rebelled upon completing three years of tributary kingship to the Babylonian king:
Additionally, becoming a vassal to a foreign king was a significant political event, which could easily change the terms by which a king's reign was reckoned. Historian and chronologist Jack Finegan presents details to that effect:
So, instead of trying to reconcile the king's past reign under the new Babylonian calendar, which would introduce a seven-month shift (and confusion) into the equation, the Jews may have kept a separate count of Jehoiakim's kingship under Nebuchadnezzar.
In summary, as the preceding evidence demonstrates, the "third year of the kingship of Jehoiakim," referred to at Daniel 1:1 cannot be referring to his third year over Judah, and therefore, is presumably expressed in terms of Jehoiakim's tributary kingship.
Once it has been established that Daniel 1:1 refers to the third year of Jehoiakim's tributary kingship under Nebuchadnezzar, the meaning of Daniel 2:1 is immediately affected, for Daniel would not have been brought to Babylon until Nebuchadnezzar's eighth regnal year, and therefore could not stand before the king in his "second year."
Despite this foregone conclusion, there is further evidence supporting this position, which in turn, corroborates the evidence put forth regarding Daniel 1:1.
Daniel 1:3-5, 18 demonstrates that Daniel 2:1 cannot be referring to Nebuchadnezzar's second regnal year:
Yes, during a three-year educational program Daniel and his companions were to learn the "the writing and the tongue of the Chaldeans." This would be a necessary step, since Jehovah foretold that the "house of Israel" would become subject to a nation "whose language [they] do not know, and [they] cannot hear [understandingly] what they speak." (Jeremiah 5:15) It would not have been until after the completion of this three-year educational program, "at the end of the days that the king had said to bring them in," (Daniel 1:18) that Daniel could likely serve in any useful capacity before the king, and even after which, a reasonable amount of time would have to have passed before he came to be recognized as one of the "wise men" of Babylon eligible for death at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. (Daniel 2:12, 13) Therefore, if Daniel 2:1 was in fact referring to Nebuchadnezzar's second regnal year, the testimony at Daniel 1:3-5, 18 could not be true.
However, at least one critic has asserted that Nebuchadnezzar's accession year must be added to the "second year" mentioned at Daniel 2:1 to compensate for the apparent discrepancy. However, there are at least two problems with this point of view.
According to cuneiform documentation, Nebuchadnezzar's accession year began in September, and therefore was only one half-year in duration, completing in the Babylonian month of Nisanu (or March/April of the following year on our calendar). Secondly, when Daniel says "in the second year of the kingship of Nebuchadnezzar" he is indicating that Nebuchadnezzar's second regnal year had not yet completed. Even when Nebuchadnezzar's accession year is included, the entire time period covered could amount to as little as a year-and-a-half. On the other hand, had the dream occurred at the end of his second year, which it does not state, this would still only amount to a maximum of two-and-a-half years, whereas Daniel chapter 1 specifically reports that Daniel and his companions were brought before the king after a period of three years had elapsed.
It is apparently because of this that some Hebrew scholars have suggested that the rendition of Daniel 2:1 should read "twelfth year" instead of "second year," as born out in the footnote on Daniel 2:1 in Biblia Hebraica, by Rudolf Kittel, ninth edition of 1954, and in the footnote in The Cross-Reference Bible, Variorum Edition, by Harold E. Monser, B.A., edition of 1910. (For further details, see pp. 172-3 of the Watchtower Society publication "Babylon the Great Has Fallen!" God's Kingdom Rules!)
In the final analysis, though, this "second year" most likely refers to the second year of Nebuchadnezzar following the destruction of Jerusalem, which would be the twentieth year of his reign over Babylon. Two years prior to this, the dethronement of Zedekiah took place, completely abolishing the Judean kingship with "no one sitting on the throne of David" (Jeremiah 36:30), until its prophesied restoration to occur at the end of the "appointed times of the nations." (Ezekiel 21:26-27; Luke 21:24) With the removal of Zedekiah's crown, the entire nation of Judah fell under direct servitude to the king of Babylon, no longer possessing its own king as intermediary, as had previously been the case with Judah's tributary submission to Babylon (and to other nations prior to this). From a Jewish point of view, this would in fact be the "second year of the kingship of Nebuchadnezzar"; Nebuchadnezzar had, in effect, become the king of the Jews. Furthermore, by overturning Jehovah's typical kingdom, he had also acquired sovereignty over all nations of the world. It is therefore not the least bit unusual that Daniel would choose to refer to his kingship in these terms.
It is not by mere chance or coincidence that the explanations offered by Jehovah's Witnesses work out. They are not the product of twisting scriptures, but rather, they result when one endeavors to harmonize all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), recognizing that every word, no matter how apparently insignificant, comprises the unfailing Word of God.
1. "Year 7, month Kislimu: The king of Akkad moved his army into Hatti land, laid siege to the city of Judah (Ia-a-hu-du) and the king took the city on the second day of the month of Addaru. He appointed in it a (new) king of his liking, took heavy booty from it and brought it into Babylon."—Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, J. M. Pritchard, p. 563-4. (back)
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