Gentile Times & 1914 – Part 3: Scriptural Arguments

Alan Feuerbacher

Part of a series: Notes on the Gentile Times and 1914

Index:


Part 3

Note on reckoning regnal years: The Babylonians and Daniel apparently used the accession year system to refer to the reigns of kings. The accession year system is similar to the way we reckon ages: 1 year old means a child is between 1 and 2 years; there is no zero age. The zero year was called the accession year, the next the first year, and so on. In the non-accession year system, which was generally used by the Jews, the accession year becomes the first year, etc. The difference is that between cardinal and ordinal numbering. Note that even if the king reigned for just part of the initial year, it was counted as a whole year.

That the Babylonians used the accession-year system is acknowledged by the Feb. 1, 1969 Watchtower, on page 88, which equates Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh regnal year to his eighth year from his accession to the throne. It also equates his 18th regnal year with his 19th year from his accession. Since Daniel was a high official in Babylon, it would be appropriate for him to use their system for reckoning regnal years, even when applied to non-Babylonian kings. Jeremiah, and the Jews generally, used the non-accession year system, except Jer. 52:28-30, which was apparently written later, in Babylon, by someone else. Compare Jer. 52:1-27, 34 with 2 Kings 24:18-25:21, 27-30. These passages are nearly identical with the exception of the section corresponding to Jer. 52:28-30. This view is further strengthened by Insight’s statement, Vol. 1, p. 452, which says that both Jer. 52:28 and the Babylonian Chronicle BM 21946 both refer to Nebuchadnezzar’s taking captives in his 7th (regnal) year. See also Let Your Kingdom Come, p. 188.

Now to the arguments. Jer. 25:11, 12 says:

And 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. And it must occur that when seventy years have been fulfilled I shall call to account against the king of Babylon and against that nation (New World Translation).

This scripture does not directly equate the becoming of a devastated place with the serving of the king of Babylon for 70 years. Note that not just Judah, but many nations would serve. Servitude can include vassalage, which certainly befell Judah (2 Kings 24:1), but is not the same thing. Jer. 27:8, 17 says that any nation refusing to serve would later become devastated.

The Society says that the language the Bible uses proves that Jerusalem was to become completely devastated, without an inhabitant. This is based partly on Jer. 25:11, which reads:

And all this land must become a devastated place [Hebrew lechorbah, singular, “to a devastation, to a ruin, to a desert”], an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years.

and it is based partly on Dan. 9:2, which reads:

…. 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 [chorbah, plural] of Jerusalem, [namely,] seventy years.

While Jerusalem ultimately became desolate, these scriptures do not in themselves provide solid evidence that the 70 years refer specifically to total devastation for the entire 70 years. For example, Jer. 25:18 states that Jerusalem and the cities of Judah would become

a devastated place, an object of astonishment, something to whistle at and a malediction, just as at this day.

This prophecy was uttered “in the fourth year of Jehoiakim,… that is, the first year of Nebuchadnezzar” (Jer. 25:1). The phrase “just as at this day” seems to indicate that the devastation, [Hebrew: chorbah] to a certain degree had begun at this time, eighteen years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

That the word chorbah does not necessarily mean a state of desolation “without an inhabitant” can be seen from other texts which use the word. For example, Ezekiel 33:24, 27 mentions “the inhabitants of these devastated places.” Nehemiah wrote his book during a time when Jerusalem was inhabited, yet at Nehemiah 2:17 the city is said to be “devastated.”

For another thing the form of the Hebrew word chorbah used in Dan. 9:2 is plural. This could refer to more than one devastation of Jerusalem, Daniel having in mind the successive desolation and depopulation beginning in Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year in 605 B.C. and ending with the complete destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. This seems to have been how the translators of the Jerusalem Bible understood the passage, as they render Dan. 9:2 as follows:

In the first years of his reign I, Daniel, was perusing the scriptures, counting over the number of years — as revealed by Yahweh to the prophet Jeremiah — that were to pass before the successive devastations of Jerusalem would come to an end, namely seventy years.

Of course, this is not a literal translation of Daniel’s words, but an interpretation of his thought.

Of the word chorbah the Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 6, p. 485, gives this comment:

A word often employed to describe the state of a devastated land after the armies of an enemy have passed (Lev. 26:31, 33; Isa. 49:19; Jer. 44:22; Ezek. 36:34; Mal. 1:4; 1 Macc. 1:39).

According to the Babylonian Chronicle Nebuchadnezzar’s armies passed through Palestine almost every year after the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. These, in addition to the marauder bands that “Jehovah began to send against” Jehoiakim, gradually devastated the cities and the land, until Judah was laid completely desolate and depopulated sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem.

But it is not even necessary to suppose that Daniel had these successive devastations in mind. Chorbah often means “ruins.” Thus Daniel could simply have been talking of “Jerusalem’s ruins.” Raymond Hammer, in The Book of Daniel in The Cambridge Bible Commentary translated Dan. 9:2 thus:

I, Daniel, was reading the scriptures and reflecting on the seventy years which, according to the word of the LORD to the prophet Jeremiah, were to pass while Jerusalem lay in ruins.

It is not necessary to interpret Daniel’s words to mean that Jerusalem would lie in ruins for 70 years. What he discovered by reading Jeremiah’s prophecy was not that Jerusalem’s desolation would last for 70 years (this is nowhere stated in Jeremiah), but that the desolations of Jerusalem would not cease until the 70 years “for Babylon” had been fulfilled. The idea is similar to saying that “I will sleep until morning.” This make no implication as to when I started sleeping, but only that when morning comes I will be done sleeping. I could have slept 20 minutes or 20 hours.

Here is the basic problem: the Society always refers to “desolation” — without an inhabitant — whereas the New World Translation always uses “devastation” in the critical scriptures that refer to the 70 years. The two meanings are not interchangeable. The problem can be seen in the earliest writings of C. T. Russell.

There is some confusion in this regard, about Jer 29:10, which says in The New World Translation:

For this is what Jehovah has said, ‘In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years at Babylon I shall turn my attention to YOU people, and I will establish toward YOU my good word in bringing YOU back to this place.’

This rendering seems to depict the 70 years as a period of captivity: “seventy years at Babylon.” But the use of the word “at” is not necessarily accurate, as shown by most other renderings.

The question hinges on the translation of the Hebrew term le-babel, which is a compound word made up of the inseparable preposition le, which in the most general sense means “with reference to,” and the word babel, which means “Babylon.” The preposition le more particularly can mean “for, to, at, of, before, toward, in regard to, in reference to, with respect to,” etc, and is so rendered by most modern translations. See Appendix A for more information. Use of the word “at” seems to be left over from the King James Version, which reads:

After seventy years be accomplished at Babylon.

The Greek Septuagint version, Sir Lancelot Brenton’s translation (1851), appears to lend support to this rendering also:

When seventy years shall be on the point of being accomplished at Babylon.

However, the Greek language has no preposition corresponding to the Hebrew le, and Brenton’s Septuagint version’s use of “at Babylon” is an interpretation, not a textually required literal translation. Modern scholars render the LXX verse using “for Babylon.” Additionally, scholars agree that many parts of the LXX are not translated properly. Under the subject “Jeremiah, Book of,” Insight, Vol. 2, p. 32 said:

There are more variations between the Hebrew and the Greek texts of the book of Jeremiah than in any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures…. The majority of scholars agree that the Greek translation of this book is defective.

Modern English translations render Jer. 29:10 as:

When Babylon’s seventy years are over. Tanakh — The Holy Scriptures

When seventy years are completed for Babylon. Revised Standard Version

Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed. New Revised Standard Version

After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon. American Standard Version

When seventy years have been completed for Babylon. New American Standard Version

As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are over. The James Moffatt Translation

That as soon as there are fulfilled to Babylon seventy years. The Emphasized Bible

As soon as Babylon has had a full seventy years. The Bible in Living English

Only when the seventy years granted to Babylon are over. The Jerusalem Bible

When a full seventy years has passed over Babylon. The New English Bible

When a full seventy years have passed over Babylon. The Revised English Bible

When seventy years are completed for Babylon. New International Version

When seventy years are ended for Babylon. The Bible in Basic English

As soon as Babylon has finished seventy years. Goodspeed’s The Complete Bible

Only when Babylon’s seventy years have been completed. The Anchor Bible

Surely at the fulness of Babylon — seventy years. Young’s Literal Translation

When seventy years are completed for Babylon. The Amplified Bible

You will be in Babylon for a lifetime. The Living Bible

When Babylonia’s seventy years are over. The Bible in Today’s English Version

Only after seventy years have elapsed for Babylon. The New American Bible

Only after seventy years have elapsed for Babylon. The Catholic Douay Bible

As soon as the seventy years are completed for Babylon. The New Berkeley Version

When Babylon’s 70 years are over. The Holy Bible: An American Translation

After seventy years be accomplished for Babylon. Moulton’s The Modern Reader’s Bible

Babylon will be powerful for 70 years. After that time…. New Century Version

When according to My mouth seventy years have been fulfilled for Babylon. The Interlinear Bible

The literal renderings from two interlinear Hebrew-English bibles are:

When as-my-mouth have-been-fulfilled for-Babylon seventy years. The Interlinear Bible

When by-mouth-of-me to-be-completed for-Babylon seventy year. The NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament

There is only one other readily available modern translation that uses “at”: the New King James Version, which consciously emulated the original King James Version:

After seventy years are completed at Babylon.

Now let’s examine the context of Jer. 29:10. As a whole, the above scriptures seem to refer to seventy years of Babylonian supremacy, not to the Jewish captivity or to the desolation following the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. That this is what the Hebrew text meant to say is also evident from the fact that it is in agreement with Jeremiah’s prophecy at Jer. 25:11 on the 70 years’ servitude, which is clearly applied not just to Judah, but to all the nations round about. As long as the Babylonian king held supremacy, other nations had to serve him. Also, Jer. 29:1-10, which was written sometime during the reign of Zedekiah, clearly presupposes that the 70 years were already in progress.

This conclusion is confirmed by other scholars. Avigdor Orr, in his article “The Seventy Years of Babylon,” Vetus Testamentum Vol. VI, 1956, p. 305, says:

The sense of the Hebrew original might even be rendered thus: “After seventy years of (the rule of) Babylon are accomplished, etc.” The seventy years counted here evidently refer to Babylon and notto the Judeans or to their captivity. They mean seventy years of Babylonian rule, the end of which will see the redemption of the exiles.

It is important to note when and to whom Jeremiah’s words at Jer. 29:10 were uttered. In verse 2 the time is said to be “after Jeconiah the king and the lady and the court officials, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the craftsmen and the builders of bulwarks had gone forth from Jerusalem.” This would date the prophecy to the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah and probably about the same time as the preceding chapter, i.e., to the fourth year of Zedekiah. (Jer. 28:1) The background situation seems to have been the same in both chapters: The widespread revolt plans which stirred up hopes of liberation from the Babylonian yoke in Judah and the surrounding nations also reached the exiles at Babylon. As in Judah, false prophets arose among the Jews at Babylon and promised release in a short time. (Jer. 29:8, 9) This was the reason why at this time, several years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles at Babylon, calling their attention to the prophecy of the 70 years “for Babylon”:

Do not be deceived by the prophets among you or by your diviners…. For Yahweh says this: Only when the seventy years granted to Babylon are over, will I visit you and fulfill my promise in your favour by bringing you back to this place. (Jerusalem Bible)

This utterance clearly presupposed that the 70 years “for Babylon” were in progress at the time. If the period had not commenced, why did Jeremiah connect it with the exiles’ staying on at Babylon? If the 70-year period was not already in progress, what relevance is there in Jeremiah’s reference to it? Jeremiah did not urge the exiles to wait until the 70 years would begin, but to wait until the period had been completed. As Jeremiah sent his message to the exiles some six or seven years before the destruction of Jerusalem, it is obvious that he reckoned the beginning of the 70 years from a point prior to that event. Jer. 29:10, therefore, further supports the earlier conclusion that the 70 years should be reckoned from a point some years before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Another way to look at this is to note that Jeremiah wrote his letter “to all the exiled people,” who had been exiled some six or seven years prior to Jerusalem’s destruction. He told them that Jehovah’s will was for them to build houses, have children and prosper in the city. They shouldn’t be deceived by false prophets who told them they would be coming home soon, because, according to Jer. 25:11, 12, not until “seventy years have been fulfilled” during which “these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon” would the exiles come home. Those exiles, those to whom Jeremiah wrote his letter, were clearly among those included in the reference to 70 years. So, even if the 70 years are thought to be years of captivity “at Babylon,” they must have started before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 27 provides indirect evidence that the 70 years were prophesied to be years of servitude, not of captivity or desolation. It will be admitted that Jehovah would not make to someone a conditional offer that had no possibility of being fulfilled. In this chapter he told the Jews and the surrounding nations that if they served the king of Babylon, they would be allowed to remain on their land. Well after the fundamental prophecies in Jeremiah 25 had been given, Jehovah told Jeremiah to speak his words with respect to Judah and the lands round about:

I myself have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant… And all the nations must serve even him and his son and his grandson until the time even of his own land comes…. And it must occur that the nation and the kingdom that will not serve him, even Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon; and the one that will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, with the sword and with the famine and with the pestilence I shall turn my attention upon that nation… until I shall have finished them off by his hand…. And as for the nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and actually serve him, I will also let it rest upon its ground… and it will certainly cultivate it and dwell in it. — Jer. 27:6-8, 11, 12.

Then Jeremiah told Zedekiah the king of Judah:

Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him and his people and keep on living. Why should you yourself and your people die by the sword, by the famine and by the pestilence according to what Jehovah has spoken to the nation that does not serve the king of Babylon?…. Do not listen to the words of your prophets…. Do not listen to them. Serve the king of Babylon and keep on living. Why should this city become a devastated place? — Jer. 27:16, 17.

So if the Jews and the surrounding nations would serve the king of Babylon they could remain on their lands. If they did not serve him, they would be killed and taken into captivity, and their lands would be devastated. No matter what course they chose, the prophecy given in Jer. 25:11, 12 would still be fulfilled — Babylon would be supreme for 70 years. But if Jer. 25:11, 12 actually referred to the captivity of all the people of the lands, or to their complete desolation, then Jehovah would be disingenuous in offering them the choice. Who would accuse Jehovah of making an offer he never intended to fulfill?

The 16th and 17th chapters of Jeremiah provide additional indirect evidence that the prophecy meant 70 years “for Babylon,” rather than for captivity. The 16th chapter tells of the punishment and restoration Jehovah would bring upon the Jews. But the 17th chapter qualifies this. In verses 19-27 Jehovah through Jeremiah tells the Jews to obey the sabbath (vss. 19-23). If they would, Jerusalem “will certainly be inhabited to time indefinite” (vss. 24-26). But if they wouldn’t, he would destroy them (vs. 27). Babylon would have its 70 years no matter what the Jews did, but what that meant for the Jews depended upon their own actions.

A direct comparison of Jer 29:10 with related passages shows that the Watchtower Society’s interpretation is not consistent with the order of events that are very clearly presented in Jer. 25:11, 12 and Dan. 9:1-22.

Jer. 25:11, 12 says in The New World Translation:

And 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. And it must occur that when seventy years have been fulfilled I shall call to account against the king of Babylon and against that nation.

Note the order of events that had to take place: (1) many nations, including Judah, would serve Babylon 70 years. (2) When the 70 years were fulfilled, or completed, (3) Jehovah would call Babylon to account.

Jer. 29:10 says in The New World Translation:

For this is what Jehovah has said, ‘In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years at Babylon I shall turn my attention to YOU people, and I will establish toward YOU my good word in bringing YOU back to this place.’

Note again the order of events: (1) 70 years were to be fulfilled, or completed. This would cause (2) Jehovah to give attention to the Jews, and then (3) he would bring the Jews home. The key point is that first the 70 years would be over, and then this would allow the Jews to come home, consistent with Jer. 25:11, 12. But if the Watchtower Society’s interpretation is correct, the 70 years could not be over until the Jews had returned home, which event would cause the desolation of Judah to cease and the exiles no longer to be “at Babylon.” In that case the order of events would be: (1) Jehovah would give attention to the Jews, and then (2) the Jews would come home, causing (3) the 70 years to be fulfilled. But this contradicts what the Bible said would happen and did happen!

The literal rendering of Jer. 29:10 also lends support to this view. It goes something like this: “whenever by-my-mouth have-been-completed for-Babylon seventy years.” The Hebrew word for “have-been-completed” is in the perfect tense, which implies completion of the action of the verb. If the sense was “about to be completed” the Hebrew word would have to be in the imperfect tense, which implies that the action of the verb is continuing or not yet completed.

Dan. 9:1-22 shows that the prophecies were fulfilled in precisely the right order:

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…. And I began to pray to Jehovah my God and to make confession and to say…. may your anger and your rage turn back from your city Jerusalem….

About one year after Daniel’s entreaty the Jews returned to their homeland, in 537 B.C. So both the prophecies and their fulfillments showed that the 70 years ended by Jehovah’s calling Babylon to account in 539 B.C., and then he brought the Jews home.

Another point to consider is that Jer. 25:10-12 and 29:10 contain the prophecy of the 70 years. Daniel 9:2 and 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21, are just brief references to Jeremiah’s prophecy. Neither of them pretends to be a thorough discussion of the prophecy nor gives a detailed application of the period. Every attempt to find an application of the 70-year period, therefore, must proceed from the prophecy, not from the references to it. It is only the prophecy that gives detailed information on the 70 years: that they refer to “these nations,” that they were to be a period of servitude for “these nations,” that they refer to the period of Babylonian supremacy, and that the period would be fulfilled when the king of Babylon was punished is evident. Such detailed information is missing in the latter references to the prophecy by Daniel and Ezra. The discussion of these references, then, should always be done in the light of what the prophecy actually is about.

Jer. 46:2 says Nebuchadnezzar defeated Egypt at the battle of Carchemish, in the 4th year of Jehoiakim (non-accession year system). This was also Nebuchadnezzar’s accession-year, according to cuneiform inscriptions in the British Museum (see Insight, Vol. 2, p. 480). The prophecy of the 70 years was given in the same year (Jer. 25:1). Daniel 1:1-6 says Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and took captives to Babylon in the third year of Jehoiakim (accession year system; same as 4th in non-accession system). Jehoiakim was given into his hand, i.e., made a vassal. Daniel 2:1 on indicates Daniel was in Babylon in the 2nd year of Nebuchadnezzar. Berossus confirms that Jewish captives were taken at that time.

With regard to the Society’s claim that after Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C., Judah was completely “desolated, without an inhabitant,” we find that Jer. 52:28-30 strongly suggests that the land was notcompletely stripped of inhabitants until five years after the fall of Jerusalem:

28 These are the people whom Nebuchadrezzar took into exile: in the seventh year, three thousand and twenty-three Jews.

29 In the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar, from Jerusalem there were eight hundred and thirty-two souls.

30 In the twenty-third year of Nebuchadrezzar, Nebuzaradan the chief of the bodyguard took Jews into exile, seven hundred and forty-five souls.

All the souls were four thousand and six hundred.

The Society says in Babylon the Great Has Fallen! God’s Kingdom Rules! on page 167, that the last Jews, referred to in verse 30,

were not taken off the land of Judah but were captured when Nebuchadnezzar, as Jehovah’s symbolic cup, made nations that bordered on the desolated land of Judah drink the bitter potion of being violently conquered.

On page 416 Insight, Vol. 1, says pretty much the same thing.

But the passage in Jeremiah does not justify this understanding. The whole of Jeremiah 52 stresses events in Jerusalem and Judah. The three deportations are preceded by the statement: “Thus Judah went into exile from off its soil.” Verse 28 mentions “Jews,” verse 29, “Jerusalem,” and verse 30, “Jews.” The captives of the three exiles are then totaled as a unit in verse 30. Nations or peoples other than from Judah are foreign to the chapter.

Virtually all commentators apply Jer. 52:30 to another deportation from Judah. All the evidence shows that the Babylon book makes its statement for no other reason than it has no choice but to do so, to avoid contradicting the Society’s understanding of the 70 years as a desolation beginning in 607 B.C.

Let Your Kingdom Come cites Jeremiah 52:28-30 as proof that Dan. 1:1 could not have been talking about a deportation in the third regnal year of Jehoiakim. It said on page 188:

More significantly, Jeremiah 52:28-30 carefully reports that Nebuchadnezzar took Jews captive in his seventh year, in his 18th year and his 23rd year, not his accession year.

But this argument presupposes that Jeremiah 52:28-30 contains a complete record of the deportations, which it clearly does not. The sum total of Jewish captives taken in the three deportations referred to in the passage is given in verse 30 as “four thousand and six hundred.” However, 2 Kings 24:14-16 gives the number of those deported during only one of these deportations as 18,000. Different theories have been proposed to explain this discrepancy, none of which may be regarded as more than a guess. The Aid book, page 297, and Insight, Vol. 1, page 415, for instance, say that the figure “apparently refers to those of a certain rank, or to those who were family heads.” Another clue may be Jer. 52:29, which mentions exiles from Jerusalem. It may be that verses 28-30 literally refer to only the captives taken from Jerusalem, not all of Judah. All the commentators seem to agree that Jer. 52:28-30 does not give a complete number of those deported, and some also suggest that not all deportations are mentioned in the text. At the very least the one referred to in Dan. 1:1 in the “third year” of Jehoiakim is not mentioned — which does not prove it did not take place. It was probably not mentioned in Jer. 52 because it was a very small one, consisting only of Jews from among “the royal offspring and of the nobles” (Dan. 1:3, 4) with the intention of using them as servants at the royal palace.

This is consistent with Jeremiah’s repeatedly warning the Jews not to rebel against the king of Babylon, because if they did they would be severely punished (Jer. 27:5-11). This implies that Jehovah was giving them rope to hang themselves, and therefore, only a token number of captives would be taken when Jerusalem first came under the Babylonian yoke, so that they would have the chance to obey Jehovah’s warning.

In order to avoid contradictions with its chronology the Society is forced to interpret certain scriptures as meaning something other than what they clearly say. This is illustrated by the Society’s handling of Dan. 1:1 and Dan. 2:1. It says that Dan. 1:1 actually refers to Jehoiakim’s 3rd year of vassalage to Nebuchadnezzar, not to his 3rd regnal year. Likewise, it says that the reference in Dan. 2:1 to Nebuchadnezzar’s 2nd year actually means his 2nd year of reigning in a special capacity as the first ruler in the line of Gentile kings. This would have been his 20th regnal year. This is done because the Society’s other interpretations require Daniel to have been deported to Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar’s 7th year, but Dan. 2:1 refers to Daniel being in Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar’s 2nd year. So the Society does not take the Bible at its word, but reinterprets clear statements so that its other interpretations are not contradicted. This is, in fact, the only reason that Dan. 1:1 and Dan. 2:1 are reinterpreted, as there is no evidence elsewhere in Daniel that this is justified, nor does the Society present such.

There is excellent reason for rejecting the Society’s reinterpretation of the reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s 2nd year in Dan. 2:1. This reinterpretation is based on the further interpretation that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream recorded in Dan. 4, of the tree that was cut down, is a prophecy referring to the Gentile Times. But this dream occurred well after the events of Dan. 2 (at least, as implied in Dan. 2), so how could Daniel have meant Nebuchadnezzar’s 2nd year as king in a special capacity when the prophecy announcing that special capacity had not yet been uttered? Also, Dan. 12:8, 9 recorded Daniel’s lack of understanding: “Now as for me, I heard, but I could not understand…. And he went on to say: ‘Go, Daniel, because the words are made secret and sealed up until the time of [the] end.'” The prophetic words were not understandable to Daniel, so how could he have called Nebuchadnezzar’s 20th year his 2nd year if he did not understand the prophecy? It is clear that Daniel, in chapter 2, was recording the events in connection with Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dream, events that contemporary readers would understand and could date for themselves, because they knew contemporary history. Daniel’s reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s 2nd year, if it was really his 20th year, would have been unintelligible to contemporary readers.

The Society’s argument that the statement in Dan. 1:1 refers to Jehoiakim’s 3rd year of his vassalage, rather than of his reign, and that his vassalage ended with his death in his 11th year (Insight, Vol. 1, p. 1269), which would have been Nebuchadnezzar’s 7th regnal year, are further weakened by the following argument:

The Society’s chronology requires that Jehoiakim’s vassalage would have begun in his 8th regnal year, since 2 Kings 24:1 says he was a vassal for three years, and the Society says that his vassalage ended in his 11th year. But 2 Kings 23:34-37 indicates that Jehoiakim became a vassal to Egypt’s Pharoah Necho, with no indication that he came out of that vassalage until Necho’s defeat by Nebuchadnezzar at the battle of Carchemish. Therefore Jehoiakim would have been Pharoah Necho’s vassal until his 8th year. However, Jer. 46:2 says that Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharoah Necho at the battle of Carchemish in the 4th year of Jehoiakim, after which Jehoiakim must no longer have been a vassal of Egypt. Therefore the Society’s interpretation of Dan. 1:1 must be in error.

These considerations are so obvious that the Society admitted part of the above conclusion in Equipped for Every Good Work (1946), pp. 225-226:

Jehoiakim was put on the throne by Egyptian decree and was tributary to Egypt for several years, but when Babylon defeated Egypt Jehoiakim came under Babylonian control and so remained for three years, after which three-year period as tributary to Babylon the Judean king rebelled (2 Ki. 24:1). [italics added] That third year as tributary king to Nebuchadnezzar was the eleventh and last of his total kingship.

The discrepancy between this explanation’s requiring Jehoiakim’s vassalage to end in his 8th year, and Jeremiah’s implication that it ended in his 4th year, is not mentioned. The Society implies, but nowhere states, in any publication I can find up through 1989, that Jehoiakim was not a vassal of Egypt or Babylon for about five years, from 625 B.C. through 620 B.C. But there is no evidence for this.

Insight, Vol. 1, p. 452, mentions the Babylonian Chronicle BM 21946. This chronicle very strongly indicates that Jehoiakim’s vassalage to Babylon began in Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year, or his first year, and that the 4th year was the year in which he revolted against his Babylonian vassalage. The chronicle explicitly states that all of Syro-Palestine became tributary to Nebuchadnezzar from his accession year, and that by his first year all the kings were tributary to him, which cannot reasonably have excepted Jehoiakim. Nebuchadnezzar’s 4th year was most probably the year in which Jehoiakim revolted against Nebuchadnezzar, because in that year Nebuchadnezzar battled with Egypt, and both seem to have suffered great losses but with no clear victor. This battle probably encouraged Jehoiakim to throw off the Babylonian yoke, thus ending his three years of vassalage to Babylon.

Furthermore, Jeremiah chapters 27, 28 and 35 indicate Jehoiakim was made a vassal early in his reign, not at the end. 2 Kings 24 shows that Jehoiakim’s vassalage must have ended, not upon his death but earlier, as many marauder bands came against him:

And Jehovah began to send against him marauder bands…. and he kept sending them against Judah.

This implies an extended time period. If Jehoiakim’s vassalage ended with his death in his 11th year, as the Society says, there is insufficient time for all the events recorded in 2 Kings 24 to have taken place, as it only allows a few months from his rebellion to his death. This further confirms the error of the Society’s interpretation that Dan. 1:1 actually refers to the 3rd year of Jehoiakim’s vassalage.

Taking Daniel at his word, and using the appropriate method of counting regnal years, Jehoiakim’s 4th year in Jer. 46:2 corresponds to his 3rd year in Dan. 1:1 and this results in no inconsistencies. Thus the first deportation of Jews to Babylon took place in the same year as, and shortly after, the battle of Carchemish, in 605 B.C. This corresponds to Nebuchadnezzar’s accession-year. Therefore it is seen that Dan. 1:1 strongly supports the conclusion that Judah became a vassal to Babylon eighteen years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., confirming the conclusion that the 70 years (Jer. 25:11; 29:10) should be understood as a period of servitude, not of desolation. Since all the scriptures are consistent with one another as they stand, taking into account the difference between the accession and non-accession year systems of counting years of a king’s rule, the Society’s reinterpretations rest on shaky ground.

Berossus supports the most direct reading of Dan. 1:1 when he specifically states that Nebuchadnezzar took Jewish captives in his accession year, shortly after the battle of Carchemish. This is also supported by the Babylonian Chronicle BM 21946, which mentions that, in his accession-year, Nebuchadnezzar “marched unopposed through the Hatti land” (Syria-Palestine), and that “he took the heavy tribute of the Hatti territory to Babylon.” Most probably captives from the Hatti territory were included in this “heavy tribute,” as is also pointed out by Professor Gerhard Larsson:2

It is certain that this “heavy tribute” consisted not only of treasure but also of prisoners from the conquered countries. To refrain from doing so would have been altogether too alien from the customs of the kings of Babylon and Assyria.

Against these statements Let Your Kingdom Come refers to Josephus, who says that Nebuchadnezzar, in the year of the battle of Carchemish, conquered all of Syria-Palestine “excepting Judea.” Note that Josephus wrote this more than 600 years after Daniel and almost 400 years after Berossus. Even if he were right, this would not contradict the claim that the 70 years of servitude began in the accession year of Nebuchadnezzar, as Jeremiah’s prophecy clearly applies the servitude to “these nations” (Jer. 25:11), that is, the nations surrounding Judah and not just Judah alone. In fact, Josephus even supports the conclusion that these nations became subservient to Nebuchadnezzar in his accession year, as he states that “the king of Babylon took all Syria, as far as Pelusium, excepting Judah,” at that time. Pelusium was on the border with Egypt.

Also, there is no reason to believe that Josephus’s statement is more trustworthy than the information given by Berossus, and certainly by Daniel. Josephus here is probably presenting a conclusion of his own, based on a misunderstanding of 2 Kings 24 similar to the Society’s. See the discussion below of when the three year vassalage of Jehoiakim to Babylon took place. A close look at Josephus’s description of the events of the destruction of Jerusalem indicates strongly that he was simply paraphrasing the Bible and giving his opinion or interpretation of the events it describes.

The well-known early 19th century Bible scholar Dr. Hengstenberg, in a thorough discussion of Daniel 1:1, gives the following comment on the expression “excepting Judah” in Josephus’s Antiquities:

It should not be thought that Josephus got the parex tes Ioudaias [excepting Judah] from a source no longer available to us. What follows shows clearly that he just derived it from a misunderstanding of the passage at 2 Kings 24:1. As he erroneously understood the three years mentioned there as the interval between the two invasions, he thought that no invasion could be presumed before the 8th year of Jehoiakim.

Josephus’s statement, therefore, cannot be given much weight compared to the statement of Berossus, who evidently got his information from sources preserved from the Neo- Babylonian period. It especially cannot be given much weight compared to what Daniel said, who was personally involved in the deportation he described, and was inspired to write what he did. Also, Josephus wrote three works, among which not all the information is consistent and some of which is demonstrably incorrect.

Contrary to what the Society says, Ezra 1:1-4 and 2 Chron. 36:21-23 do not show that the 70 years ran until the first year of Cyrus. With respect to 2 Chron 36: 21-23, Jeremiah contains no reference to fulfilling of sabbaths; this scripture actually refers to Lev. 26:34, 35. Therefore Ezra’s words, “until the land had paid off its sabbaths; all the days of lying desolated it kept sabbath,” could not be a fulfillment of “Jehovah’s word by the mouth of Jeremiah.” Rather it was Ezra’s comment tying Leviticus’s words to fulfillment of prophecy. Also, Ezra’s words about fulfilling the word by the mouth of Jeremiah are better understood to apply to the second half of Jer. 29:10, i.e., “I shall turn my attention to you people, and I will establish toward you my good word in bringing you back to this place.”

With regard to Zech. 1:7, 12 and Zech. 7:1-5, there is no evidence that they apply to the 70 year prophecy of Jeremiah; this is only the Society’s interpretation. Actually these texts support the 587 B.C. date for Jerusalem’s destruction. The scriptures refer to the mourning and fasting that began during the siege of Jerusalem in 589-587 B.C. and were still going on when Zechariah referred to them in 518-519 B.C. If the fasting and mourning began in 607 B.C., ninety years would have passed, yet Zechariah says 70. This can be seen easily enough by analyzing the discussion in the 1972 book Paradise Restored to Mankind — By Theocracy!, pp. 235-237, which simply glosses over the discrepancy.

As for the fact that from 605 to 539 B.C. is a period of sixty six years, not 70 as the scriptures talk about, the 70 years could be a round number. A much better alternative is that it is an exact number and applies from 609 B.C., when Babylon finally overthrew Assyria. This would be consistent with Jer. 25:8-11 and 25:19-26, which speak of many nations besides the Jews as having to “serve the king of Babylon seventy years,” and Jer. 29:10 which speaks of the fulfilling of 70 years “for Babylon.” After all, Babylon became the 3rd world power in the seven listed in Revelation 17, starting from the downfall of the 2nd, Assyria. The Assyrian capital, Nineveh, fell to Nabopolassar and the Medes in 612, and Babylon definitely became the successor to Assyria when the last Assyrian king, Ashur-uballit, and Pharoah Necho failed to recapture the Assyrian city of Harran from Nabopolassar in 609 B.C. In this way the 70 years, without strained interpretations and in full harmony both with the Bible and secular historical facts, may also be regarded as an exact number.

What about the claim that the 70 years were ones of captivity? In spite of the above arguments, it could still be claimed that the 70 years were years of captivity, not of servitude, starting when Nebuchadnezzar first took captives in 605 B.C. in his accession year. With regard to this claim, Let Your Kingdom Come argues, p. 188, that there is no way to reconcile the fact that 70 years from 605 B.C. end in 535 B.C., and that there is a discrepancy of three years, therefore, since Cyrus’s decree was in 538 B.C. However, a close examination of the dates shows that this argument is nonsense.

Historians date the accession of Nebuchadnezzar to the throne as the summer of 605 B.C., since the Babylonian Chronicle BM 21946 specifically states that Nebuchadnezzar took the throne on “Elul 1, accession year,” which corresponds to Sept. 7, 605 B.C. Therefore his accession year in Babylonian reckoning was the year running from spring to spring of 605-604 B.C. The Jewish religious calendar covered the same time period. However, the Jews used a civil calendar running from fall to fall (starting mid-September) to date civil events and the regnal years of kings. Using the civil calendar, Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year ran from fall to fall, 606-605 B.C. So, compiling the statements of Jer. 46:2, Dan. 1:1, etc., with the Babylonian Chronicle BM 21946, we find that Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and took some captives and temple utensils in his accession year, which corresponded to the Jewish civil year running from fall to fall, 606 to 605 B.C. Assuming the 70 years were years of captivity for the Jews, they would have started then.

Most commentators, including the Society, date the return of the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem in the seventh month, Tishri, of 537 B.C. Ezra 3:1 specifies this month. Tishri is the seventh month of the Jewish religious calendar, but it is the first month of the civil calendar. Therefore another year of the Jewish civil calendar would have just rolled around when the Jews arrived back in Jerusalem about the beginning of October. Then, counting years in the Jewish civil calendar from 606/5 B.C. to 537/6 B.C., inclusive, we obtain 70 years.

Given the above material, you can see that the argument in Let Your Kingdom Come is fallacious. Either way one reckons, with the 70 years as years of servitude for Judah and the surrounding nations, running non-inclusively from 609 to 539 B.C., or as years of captivity, running from 606/5 B.C. to 537/6 B.C., is consistent with all Biblical and secular historical statements. As the Bible makes no explicit statement on when the 70 years began or ended, nor on whether they were years of servitude or captivity, this is the best one can do. In any case, since the Society’s chronology conflicts with historical records, and requires re-interpretation of explicit Biblical statements, it is far less likely to be correct.


Footnote

2 Gerhard Larsson, “When Did the Babylonian Captivity Begin?” in Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 18 (1967), p. 420.

(For a more thorough examination of these issues, see The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonsson.)



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