The Book of Truthful Historical Dates
The Watchtower, August 15, 1968, pp.
THERE is no question in our minds as to where we are as of this moment, and we, of course, know how we got here. We are also quite conscious of time in relation to events we have personally experienced. We know, for instance, where we were and what we did an hour ago, a day ago, a week ago. Most of us know how old we are, and we can relate with a good deal of accuracy some of the great events in our lifetime.
2 But what about the distant past before our time? What do we know about dates and events that were no part of our personal experience? For example, do we know what year Jesus was born or, more important, the date of his death? After all, he was the greatest man ever to walk this earth. Do we know what year Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians? That particular date is highly important if we are to understand why certain events have occurred in our lifetime. Where are we today on the stream of time? Do we know that the seventh year from now will conclude the 6,000th year since Adam was created? And if we live to that year 1975, what should we expect to happen?
3 These are certainly interesting and important questions, but where can we find truthful answers to them? Since events that occurred long before we were born have a great bearing on these matters, how may we obtain the facts? What written records of the past can we rely upon as factual and true?
4 The honest seeker of the truth should not be stymied in his search for answers to these questions, thinking it is a hopeless undertaking. In reality he has at his disposal the most ancient book of history and, more important, one that can be trusted and depended upon as the supreme authority, one by which all other testimony can be measured and judged. Fortunately, this historical document is now translated in the language the inquirer can read. This book is the Holy Bible, the inspired and sacred Word of Jehovah God. Jehovah alone knows both the end and the beginning.—Isa. 46:10.
5 Secular historians who reach back in time to tell us of the distant past, but who scornfully ignore the Bible’s record, are compelled to fill in the gaps between their meager fragmentary archaeological findings with unreliable traditions, fancy calculations and outright guesswork. On the other hand, honest investigators, and there are many, recognize the truly genuine worth of the Bible as unimpeachable testimony, confirmed by all the discoveries that have been unearthed. When put to the test, the Bible indeed has proved its worth as the most complete record of ancient happenings and as a book of sterling accuracy. We are therefore equipped, with this book of truthful historical dates in hand, to count all the way back to Adam’s creation with little difficulty, filling in the gaps of secular history with dependable data. What is more, we can do so quickly and with little effort.
CHANGES IN THE CALENDARS
6 Today we measure time on the Gregorian calendar, but this yardstick is less than 400 years old. It was Pope Gregory XIII, who, in 1582, did away with the Julian calendar, which by that year was some ten days out of time with the sun. To correct the discrepancy the pope ordered ten days dropped out of the month of October. So October 5 was made October 15, 1582. This present calendar is so accurate that there is only about 26.3 seconds difference between it and the true solar year, and this difference increases at the very small rate of 0.53 seconds every century. That is a difference of less than nine minutes every hundred thousand years, less than a day every sixteen million years.
7 The Julian calendar, which the Gregorian calendar superceded, was instituted by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C.E., known as "the year of confusion." This was because at that time the older calendars were some three months ahead of the suns schedule, making it necessary for the year 46 B.C.E. to have 445 days so the sun could catch up with the calendar, so to speak.
8 If events recorded in the Bible were dated according to the Julian or other preceding calendars, it would be a rather simple matter to convert such dates to the Gregorian calendar. But not so. The Bible tells of particular and often detached periods and events, and these are dated in their own special ways, independent of one another. Sometimes they are dated according to the beginning of a certain king’s reign (Neh. 2:1; Esther 1:1-3; Dan. 9:1, 2; Luke 3:1), or by a military victory or the destruction of a great nation (1 Ki. 6:1; Ezek. 1:1, 2; 8:1; 20:1; 40:1), or they are dated in relation to an unusual event such as the flood of Noah’s day. (Gen. 9:28, 29) The difficult task, then, is to determine when these Bible events occurred if measured by our present-day calendar.
9 The problem may be illustrated by the following story. An English traveler, visiting a historic place on the continent of Europe, left his hotel one morning and slowly walked through the woods, stopping briefly at the scenic spots and the refreshing pools along the way. Sometime during the afternoon he crossed a stream and followed the path over the mountain. Toward the close of the day the question of how far he had traveled came to mind. He remembered that earlier during the day the distances between the places where he stopped were clearly marked in meters on the signposts, but after crossing the bridge the signposts were discontinued.
10 To learn how far he had come, it was not enough for our traveler to go back and translate from meters to feet the recorded distances on the early part of his journey. He must first of all measure back from his present position, over the mountain and across the bridge, to the last-recorded marker. Once this distance was determined, the rest would be comparatively easy, if he would but trust the figures on the signposts.
11 So too in determining where mankind is on the pathway of time, it will not solve the problem simply to translate ancient calendars into present-day systems. One must first measure back in time across the gulf that separates the present from the ancient Biblical record of the past, to a stationary point in history, to a fixed date of the past, to an absolute date, if you please. Such a date must be one where sacred and secular historical events coincide and are linked in perfect agreement with current methods of measuring time distances. With such a date fixed in terms of the Gregorian yardstick we will know how far we have come from that point and where we are at present. Then from that pivot point we can also measure either forward or backward in dating other events of Bible history even though originally they were dated according to a different system.
12 One such fixed or absolute date is in connection with the events recorded in the fifth chapter of Daniel, verses one to thirty-one. That was concerning the time when the Medes and Persians under Cyrus the Great broke up Belshazzar’s notorious carousal, captured the city of Babylon, and overthrew the Third World Empire. The year was 539 B.C.E. on the Gregorian calendar, four years after the Buddhist Era began in India.
13 The fixing of 539 B.C.E. as the year when this historical event occurred is based on a stone document known as the Nabonidus (Nabunaid) Chronicle. This important find was discovered in ruins near the city of Baghdad in 1879, and it is now preserved in the British Museum. A translation of this finding was published by Sidney Smith in Babylonian Historical Texts Relating to the Capture and Downfall of Babylon, London, 1924, and reads in part:
14 "In the month of Tashritu [Tishri, Hebrew 7th month], 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 [October 11-12, 539 B.C.E., Julian, or October 5-6, Gregorian] 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 [Heshvan, Hebrew 8th month], the 3rd day [October 28-29, Julian], 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 Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton; 1955), James B. Pritchard, p. 306.
15 Please note, the Nabonidus Chronicle gives precise details as to the time when these events took place. This, in turn, enables modern scholars, with their knowledge of astronomy, to translate these dates into terms of the Julian or Gregorian calendars. Explaining why this Chronicle makes no particular reference to Belshazzar in connection with the capture of Babylon by Cyrus, and also confirming the date of 539, note what professor Jack Finegan says in Light from the Ancient Past (1959), pages 227-229:
16 "Nabunaid (Nabonidus) shared the kingship with his own oldest son Belshazzar. Belshazzar is named as the crown prince in Babylonian inscriptions. . . . Since, therefore, Belshazzar actually exercised the coregency at Babylon and may well have continued to do so unto the end, the book of Daniel (5:30) is not wrong in representing him as the last king of Babylon. In the seventeenth year of King Nabunaid, Babylon fell to Cyrus the Persian. The Nabunaid chronicle gives exact dates. In the month of Tashritu on the fourteenth day, October 10, 539 B.C., the Persian forces took Sippar; on the sixteenth day, October 12, ‘the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle’; and in the month of Arahsamnu, on the third day, October 29, Cyrus himself came into the city."
17 Other investigators say this: "The Nabunaid Chronicle . . . states that Sippar fell to Persian forces VII/14/17ftn1 (Oct. 10, 539)ftn2, that Babylon fell VII/16/17 (Oct. 12), and that Cyrus entered Babylon VIII/3/17ftn3 (Oct. 29). This fixes the end of Nabunaid’s reign and the beginning of the reign of Cyrus. Interestingly enough, the last tablet dated to Nabunaid from Uruk is dated the day after Babylon fell to Cyrus. News of its capture had not yet reached the southern city some 125 miles distant."—Brown University Studies, Vol. XIX, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.—A.D. 75, Parker and Dubberstein, 1956, p. 13.ftnA
18 Recognized authorities of today accept 539 B.C.E. without any question as the year Babylon was overthrown by Cyrus the Great. In addition to the above quotations the following gives a small sampling from books of history representing a cross section of both general reference works and elementary textbooks.ftn4 These brief quotations also show that this is not a date recently suggested, but one thoroughly investigated and generally accepted for the past sixty years.
19 With the date 539 B.C.E. so firmly fixed and agreed to by so many scholars, we are quite confident where we stand today in relation to the fall of Babylon twenty-five centuries ago. October 6, 1968, will mark 2,506 years since the fall of that third world empire.ftn5 Other important events which occurred prior to 539 may now be quite accurately dated. If one will accept the dates posted in the Bible, this becomes a rather easy matter, and some of the erroneous pitfalls into which traditional chronologers of Christendom have fallen will be avoided.
JERUSALEM DESTROYED, 607 B.C.E.
20 Believers in Daniel’s God Jehovah know that the historical accuracy of the Bible does not rest upon undiscovered, incomplete, imperfect, uninspired worldly documents. So just because in the pagan cuneiform inscriptions so far discovered the name "Darius" is nowhere found, that does not alter in any way the truthfulness of the Bible’s testimony. The historical facts written under divine inspiration are clear: "In that very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed, and Darius the Mede himself received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old." (Dan. 5:30, 31) Some investigators believe, and the argument is strong, that Darius was the same as Gubaru, Cyrus’ governor, who entered Babylon with him and who appointed governors in the city.ftn6 However, Daniel repeatedly speaks of Darius the Mede, not as Governor, but as King, even personally addressing him as such.—Dan. 6:1, 6-9, 12-25.
21 During the few months that Darius was on the throne Daniel made a startling chronological discovery: "In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus of the seed of the Medes, who had been made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans; in the first year of his reigning 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." (Dan. 9:1, 2) Without a doubt the question as to when this time limit of seventy years would expire was one that pressed hard upon Daniel’s mind. Fortunately, he did not have to wait long for the answer.
22 The reign of Darius I was brief; mention of "the first year" of his reign infers he was king for at least a full year. (Dan. 9:1; 11:1) Cyrus followed him on the throne by late 538 and Jehovah’s prophet Daniel continued in his high office. "As for this Daniel, he prospered in the kingdom of Darius and in the kingdom of Cyrus the Persian." (Dan. 6:2, 28) That there was a very close association between these two kings and their kingdoms is indicated by the repeated expression, "the law of the Medes and the Persians."—Dan. 6:8, 12, 15.
23 Two centuries earlier Jehovah by the mouth of his prophet Isaiah had declared: "[I am] the One saying of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and all that I delight in he will completely carry out’; even in my saying of Jerusalem, ‘She will be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘You will have your foundation laid.’" (Isa. 44:28) Without further delay this two-hundred-year-old prophecy was about to be fulfilled. Cyrus acceded to the throne and "in the first year" of his reign, at least before the spring of 537, "Jehovah roused the spirit of Cyrus." He issued the famous edict permitting the Jews to return and rebuild Jehovah’s temple, copies of which were written and circulated throughout the realm. This allowed sufficient time for the Jews to resettle in their homeland, ‘establish the altar firmly upon its own site,’ and "from the first day of the seventh month" start offering up burnt sacrifices to Jehovah. This date, the "first day of the seventh month," according to the best astronomical tables available,ftn7 is calculated to be October 5 (Julian) or September 29 (Gregorian) 537 B.C.E.—Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-6.
24 Here, then, very definitely established, is another milestone—the time when the seventy years of desolation of the land of Judah came to an end—about October 1, 537. (Jer. 25:11, 12; 29:10) It is now a simple formula to determine when the seventy years began. One has only to add 70 to 537 to get 607. So about October 1, 607 B.C.E., the desolating of the land of Judah and the complete emptying out of its inhabitants was fully accomplished.
25 The importance of the year 607 B.C.E. in this Biblical chronology will become more apparent in the following article, as we seek an answer to the provocative question, When was Adam created?
1. "VII/14/17": The 7th Hebrew month Tishri, 14th day, 17th year of Nabonidus’ reign. (back)
2. Julian calendar. (back)
3. The 8th Hebrew month Heshvan. (back)
4. To extend the list would be an easy matter, but it would only serve to further confirm a date not in question. (back)
5. In adding 539 and 1968 subtract 1 because of no zero year between B.C.E. and C.E. (back)
6. See Darius the Mede (1959 American Edition), J. C. Whitcomb, Jr., chap. 7; and Babylonian Problems (1923 Edition), W. H. Lane, p. 201. (back)
7. Brown University Studies, Vol. XIX, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.—A.D. 75, (1956) Parker and Dubberstein, p. 29. (back)
A. (Added by webmaster.) Note that the year "17" of Nabonidus is actually not on the Nabonidus Chronicle, as it has since erroded away. The Watchtower acknowledged this in its issue of May 15, 1971, "Testimony of the Nabonidus Chronicle," stating on page 316:
Last revised: December 24, 2007. 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.