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Doctrines that creep in: Jehovah Witness and the date of the fall of Jerusalem

Some calendars show the phases of the moon
Some calendars show the phases of the moon
Photo by Andrew Verrett

I don't slam the door on Jehovah Witnesses when they visit. They have been taught some very wrong things and they use an untrustworthy translation of the Bible, but they are people whom God loves and for whom Christ died.

I am eager to speak with them, but if you don't know what you believe and why you believe what you do, it's best that you don't engage them in doctrinal discussions. They study a booklet which helps them debate with you. It guides them for when you say such-and-such, that they should answer with such-and-such. Many of them have been visiting for so long, they no longer need the booklet to help them.

They are also good at quoting dates, many of which the average person has no clue about. So when they confidently say that Jerusalem fell in 607 BC, it's easy to accept their word without realizing that reputable historians and archaeologists disagree with them by 20 years. As a matter of fact, the only organization that holds to the 607 BC date is the Jehovah Witness.

Their bible, which is only accepted by the Jehovah Witnesses, is called the New World Translation (NWT). Critics argue that their bible was translated so it agrees with their doctrine or, in other words, they intentionally changed the meaning of the original languages to match their theology. I recall reading a verse in an on-line article that was quoted from the NWT (though I didn't know it at the time) and I was wondering about its content. I went to an interlinear Bible (one that has the original language and the English versions together) and I couldn't find a basis for the translation. When I contacted the author, he replied that it was from the NWT and he was using it to demonstrate the inaccuracy of their bible.

One of the items about which I invariably ask Jehovah Witnesses is the date of the fall of Jerusalem. Jehovah Witnesses teach that the Babylonian army under Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem in 607 BC even though every bit of historical evidence points to the year 586 or 587 BC as the actual year. I challenge them to find any document, any shred of evidence – outside of the Watch Tower Society – that supports their 607 BC date.

Another similar issue is the dates of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, which is accepted by Babylonian historians to have begun in 605 BC. If I ask how do they get 607 BC as the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign (see 2 Kings 25:8) if history says he wasn't even on the throne yet, I am told that he co-reigned with his father for many years and he actually reigned from 624 BC through 582/581 BC, though there is no historical evidence that supports a co-reign. (More on the years of Nebuchadnezzar's reign in a few paragraphs.)

Many times I will ask about the battle of Carchemish. It was one of the most important battles in that era as it marked the shift in power from the Assyrians and their Egyptian allies to the Babylonian Empire. The battle at Carchemish is mentioned in Jeremiah 46 as occurring during the fourth year of the reign of Jehoikim, which would have been in 605 BC according to historians. The fall of Jerusalem occurred at the end of Zedekiah's reign, which was 18 years after the battle of Carchemish. So, I ask them about Carchemish as well. They all promise they will get back with me. None ever have.

Why do I ask them about Carchemish and the date of the fall of Jerusalem? It's not to demonstrate that I know history or to come across as a “stump the chump” type of guy. I ask with the hope that they will search for the truth and realize that they have been taught incorrect information.

Why is the date of the fall of Jerusalem so important? It is a fundamental doctrine of the Jehovah Witness organization. They are taught that their founder, Charles Taze Russell, predicted several decades before World War I that in 1914, Jesus Christ and the angels would force Satan and his demons out of heaven and send them to the earth. That would mark “the end of the Gentile times.” They also claim that Jesus' second coming occurred invisibly in October of that year.

They point to Revelation 17:12 which warns us that once Satan is cast out, then woe to the inhabitants of the earth and sea for he will have great wrath because he knows he has but a short time. Thus, there will be huge turmoil on the planet and they point to World War I as proof that their prophecy was correct.

Okay, but what do 1914 and World War I have to do with the fall of Jerusalem? The Jehovah Witnesses calculate the 1914 date based upon when they teach the fall of Jerusalem occurred using a series of Bible verses.

It all begins with their acceptance of the historical date of Cyrus' decree recorded in Ezra 1:1-4 to allow some people back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple as having occurred in 537 BC. They then incorrectly combine the Jeremiah 25:11-12 seventy-year prophecy and the Jeremiah 29:10 prophecy and interpret them as both being the same and apply to Judah, Jerusalem, and the Babylonian exiles. They reason that since Cyrus allowed the Jews to return in 537 BC, that fulfilled Jeremiah's words and therefore 70 years before 537 BC is 607 BC. Thus, based upon the Bible (they will tell you), Jerusalem had to fall in 607 BC.

The reality is that only the Jeremiah 29 prophecy applies to the fall of Jerusalem. The Jeremiah 25 prophecy applies to the servitude of other nations. Two similar sounding prophecies, but different beginning and ending dates. Click for a detailed study of of the Jeremiah seventy-year prophecies.

Now, back to the 1914 date calculation. Revelation 12:6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God and where they would feed her for 1,260 days ... 14 But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is to be fed for a time and times and half a time away from the face of the serpent.

These verses are commonly used by Bible scholars (not just the Jehovah Witnesses) to calculate a prophetic year. It is generally held that “a time” is one year, “times” is two years, and “half a time” is a half of a year. So, a time and times and half a time are one year, plus 2 years, plus a half of a year, which equals 3 and a half years. Divide the 1,260 days of verse 6 by the 3.5 years of verse 14 and you get 360 days, which is considered a prophetic year.

From here, the Jehovah Witnesses go to Daniel 4:16 where Daniel is interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream foretelling his temporary insanity during which time Nebuchadnezzar would lose his throne for a set period of time. The Bible records, “Let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given to him, and let seven times pass over him.”

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that the dream refers to him and that he will lose his throne for seven times or, as just explained, seven prophetic years. So, we would take 360 days times seven years and expect that Nebuchadnezzar would be insane for 2,520 days. But the Jehovah Witnesses apply this prophecy in an unusual way. In Numbers 14:34, God told the Hebrew children: After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise. Using this verse, they substitute “each day for a year” to the equation and the 2,520 days become 2,520 years.

By adding the 2,520 years to the date Jehovah’s Witnesses say Jerusalem fell (607 BC) you get:

607 B.C.E. + 2,520 Years (2520 – 607) = 1913

But there was no year “0” between 1 BC and AD 1. After adjusting for the lack of a 0 year, their final answer is 1914.

They will then overload you with Bible verses that they claim will prove the actual fall of Jerusalem was in 607 BC. What they will give are many verses that talk about the seventy years. The verses are accurate, but the Jehovah Witnesses apply the wrong event to start their calculations.

Though it is fashionable for a preacher or Bible commentator to take an Old Testament passage and use it as an illustration of a New Testament truth (Joshua is a picture of Jesus, Boaz is a picture of Jesus, etc.), the only reliable analogies are those that are revealed in the New Testament. For instance, Paul tells us that the rock Moses struck is a picture of Jesus and the Old Testament/Hagar is Mount Sinai. There is no reference anywhere in the Bible that ties Nebuchadnezzar's dream with the age of the Gentiles or that ties Numbers 14:34 to Revelation 12:6,14. Yet, the Jehovah Witness organization does this not as a sermon illustration, but as a fundamental piece of their entire movement.

If you tell them they are wrong about the date of Jerusalem's fall and that it disagrees with historians, they will say something to the effect that they would rather believe the Bible than believe men. Yet, no where in the Bible or in any historical document will you find a date such as 587 BC or 607 BC actually written. You can't find the date of Cyrus' decree written as 537 BC – a date they fully accept. Why? The ancients could not possibly know the year Jesus would be born (though our AD dates are slightly off from His birth as well.) Dionysius Exiguus, a monk in Rome, developed the AD system in AD 525. In the seventh century, Victor of Tonnenna was the first historian to use it for recording history. It was St. Bede the Venerable who began using BC for writing history a few decades later.

What ancient writers did prior to our current system was to date documents based upon the regnal year of a king. Thus, you see statements in the Bible and historical documents such as “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia” and “And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which is the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem.” Throughout the books of Kings and Chronicles, the Bible records the name of a king and how long he reigned. So, by taking a known date and then entering in the years a king reigned, you can calculate the BC dates that he reigned.

Let's take an example. Let's say you couldn't remember when George Washington was president, but you know he was in office for 8 years and you know James Monroe entered office in 1817. After a little research, you discover that Madison was in office 8 years, Jefferson 8 years, and Adams 4 years. So, 1817-8 for Madison is 1809. 1809-8 for Jefferson is 1801. 1801-4 for Adams is 1797. 1797-8 for Washington is 1789. Thus, Washington was in office from 1789-1797.

Many ancient civilizations dated business documents, royal decrees, and accomplishments by their kings regnal years. They also recorded military campaigns by this method and often the campaigns were recorded by all nations involved in the battle. This duplication allows historians to construct parallel regnal lists for many kingdoms by comparing chronicles from different regions which named the same rulers.

For Nebuchadnezzar's reign to be according to Jehovah Witness reckoning, then history has to be rewritten for other nations. Back to the US President example. Let's say that in spite of what we deduced earlier, you refused to accept when Jefferson was in office. You claim it was actually 10 years earlier, that regardless of what everyone else has said, you teach Jefferson was in office from 1791-1801. You also claim he was co-President with Washington and Adams. However, Jefferson was in office when the Louisiana Purchase was made in 1803. Now, you have to move that date. Napoleon Bonaparte negotiated the Louisiana Purchase for the French, so to move the date of the Louisiana Purchase means you have to rewrite French history to accommodate your Jeffersonian dates. Similarly, to adjust Nebuchadnezzar's reign to account for a twenty-year difference means adjusting the time lines of Babylon, Egypt, Judah, and Assyria as historical records interweaves those nation's chronicled regnal years.

So, to claim historians were off by twenty years for Nebuchadnezzar's reign and the fall of Jerusalem is hard to substantiate, especially when the Jehovah Witnesses use the same reckoning system as secular historians to accept the date of Cyrus' decree.

Are there many artifacts in existence that have regnal years that date to the neo-Babylonian era? The answer is that there are. Approximately 400 undamaged royal inscriptions have been found that relate just to the reigns of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar. In one document researching the years of the much earlier first Babylonian dynasty, over 7,270 texts were examined.

But there is more to dating Nebuchadnezzar than building timetables based upon how long this emperor and king and pharaoh reigned and in the how “manyth” year of so-and-so was such-and-such battle fought. The Babylonians did something unique. Sometimes, they double date-stamped their documents with the regnal year and astronomical sightings.

If you look at many calendars, they show the phases of the moon. Moon phases are easily predicted because the moon's orbit is a known constant. Lunar and solar eclipses are also predictable because the moon's orbit, the earth's orbit, and the earth's rotation are known and they do not change. As early as 585 BC, astronomers were able to predict solar eclipses. NASA has websites that will calculate solar and lunar eclipses well into the past and the future. Other things that are predictable are the positions of the stars and the planets.

One Babylonian document (actually a clay tablet) of particular interest is called VAT 4956. VAT 4956 recorded the positions of the moon and five planets observed during the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar. There is a specific reference to the planet Saturn being in front of the Swallow (the south-west corner of the constellation Pisces). These astronomical recordings can be checked by modern computations that recreate the positions of these celestial bodies. Astronomers calculated that these planets could have been in positions only between the spring of 568 and 567 B.C. The computations confirm that the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar corresponds to year 568/567 BC, which is what history states, but the Jehovah Witnesses deny. Remember, they claim he was no longer on the throne in 581 BC.

You can prove this yourself. The last time Saturn was in Pisces was January 28, 1994 through April 6, 1996. It takes Saturn 29.45 earth years to orbit the sun and it spends about 2.5 years in each of the zodiac signs/constellations. So, the next time Saturn will be in Pisces is March 7, 2023 through May 24, 2024. The previous time to 1994 was 1964 to 1967 and prior to that was 1935 to 1937. If we multiply 85 orbits times 29.45 years, we get 2503.25 years. 1935-2503 years is -569 and 1937-2503 is -567. (Had to adjust for no "0" year.) So, that puts Saturn in Pisces from 569 BC to 567 BC. Thus, VAT 4956 had to be written within those dates and therefore Nebuchadnezzar's 37th year had to be as well. Jehovah Witnesses would say Nebuchadnezzar's 37th year was in 587 BC, but Saturn would not have been in Pisces again until around 596 BC to 599 BC. So, simple arithmetic and planetary constants demonstrate they are wrong.

In addition to the 400 undamaged royal inscriptions and VAT 4956, there are thousands of surviving documents that record royal decrees and common business transactions that verify the years of Nebuchadnezzar's reign and those of his predecessors and followers. By extension, these original tablets confirm secular history's dating of the fall of Jerusalem.

It is my hope that Jehovah Witnesses who are earnestly seeking truth will examine the evidence of the accuracy of the years that Nebuchadnezzar reigned, the reality that the fall of Jerusalem occurred in 587 BC, and the inaccuracy of the Watchtower Society's claim of 607 BC; and that they would see there is no Biblical significance to the year 607 BC and therefore, there is no prophetic value for the year AD 1914. From there, they may understand that the New World Translation is an unreliable bible translation and that several other Watch Tower Society teachings are unsound and errant.

It is also important that you share your testimony with them because they are taught that they are the only true religion and that all other Christian religions have disqualified themselves. Your testimony of what God has done for you and through you will help that person who is seeking truth understand that God is not limited to a group's theology, but rather those that seek Him shall find Him (Proverbs 8:17, Acts 17:27, Romans 10:13). It will also give them a direction to follow when they realize they have been deceived and become filled with a spiritual vacuum.

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