Wednesday, May 17, 2017

When was Jerusalem sacked by the Babylonians? (A huge Jehovah's Witnesses apologetics find.)

I've been interacting with some Jehovah's Witnesses and I've focused most of our discussion on their key 1914AD Doctrine. The year 1914AD is important for world history because that was the year World War I began. The JWs claim that, decades earlier, they were able to use the Bible to know 'something big' would happen in 1914, and thus by accurately predicting WWI while everyone else was caught off guard, this signifies the JWs are God's true Christian body on earth. There is certainly some appeal to this claim, since if the Bible does predict such a major event, then those who were able to recognize this prophecy certainly hold some clout within Christian history. I've already spoken about this doctrine on a dedicated post a while ago (HERE - not a prerequisite for this article), but since my recent interactions I've learned about a more elegant, yet equally devastating argument which I'd like to present now. 

First, it's important to know the JWs calculations for 1914, which I now summarize as follows: In Daniel 4, there's a prophecy of a world kingdom that is temporarily destroyed for "7 years," after which it is restored to full glory. The JWs say that this prophecy has it's ultimate fulfillment with Jesus being crowed as King after a long suspension of the Jewish Kingdom, which began when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 607BC. The JWs say that these "7 years" when converted into days gives us "2,520 days," which are actually symbolic for  2,520 literal years. Simply adding 2,520 to the year 607BC gives us the year 1914AD.

Obviously, the "math" works when done as simple addition, but the "logic" behind it is quite fuzzy, and I address this in the article I linked to earlier. For this article, I'd like to focus on the date 607BC as the year Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians. The question is simply this: does the historical record actually say Jerusalem was sacked around 607BC? The truth is, the consensus among world historians is that Jerusalem was actually sacked around 587BC, which is twenty years off from 607BC and clearly enough to disprove the JW calculations. Recognizing this, the JWs have spent considerable time over the years defending the 607BC date against "secular historians," but in doing so the JWs actually expose themselves even more, as I'll show next.

As recent as 2011, the JWs issued two major articles in their Watchtower Magazine dedicated to defending the 607BC date (Part 1 and Part 2), though you don't need to read them to get the gist of what I'm going to present. These were the same articles I was recently presented by some JWs, so it's still "official" material for them. The gist of these articles is that secular history only gets us so far with calculating the real date of when Jerusalem fell. The JWs insist that historical documents by which secular historians derived 587BC aren't fully reliable for a variety of reasons, and thus we can only use them in a limited manner. This is a fair claim, but such a claim must be applied consistently, which the JWs don't do.

Both secular history and the JWs agree that Babylon fell around 539BC, which is also when the Israelites were brought back from Babylonian captivity. This is good because it means there's common ground to build from. From this date, the JWs point out that the Bible clearly says the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:10; 2 Chron 36:21; Daniel 9:2), and thus counting back 70 years from about 539 gives us the year 607BC, the very date JWs defend. And since we need to trust the Bible over what secular historians say, this means we cannot accept 587 as correct. This, again, is fair...but what if we don't have to pit secular history against the Bible? That's the ideal, and indeed that's where the evidence does point!

What is astonishing about the 12 pages of articles that the JWs put out defending 607BC is that it is all arguing in reverse, from when Babylon fell, while never addressing the fact of when Babylon (under Nebuchadnezzar) arose. You see, in 2 Kings 25:8 (Jeremiah 52:12), it says that in the 18th year of King Nebuchadnezzar's reign is when he sacked Jerusalem. So all we have to do is find out the year Nebuchadnezzar became King and add 18 years and there you have the critical year of Jerusalem being sacked! This should be a relatively easy year to discern, as it is pretty significant for world history. Guess what, the year that secular history puts King Nebuchadnezzar's reign begins about 605BC. So using the Bible and adding 18 years, we get 587 as the year Nebuchadnezzar sacks Jerusalem! This means secular history and the Bible are on the same page, pointing to 587BC! Wow. So what is the JW response? 

It turns out, the JWs completely ignore this question in their 12 pages (and elsewhere) of defending 607. Why ignore such a simple question as "When did Neb being ruling?" if it is the most straightforward question for this investigation? The best answer I can come up with is because the JWs have no answer to the plain historical evidence of 605/587. Total silence by the JWs on this question. Indeed, when you look up the official JW teaching on when they think Neb began to rule, JWs officially say Neb began to rule in 624BC, a date which they only mention in passing a few times and don't even try to defend anywhere I could see. Of course, if you add 18 to 624 you get the year 607, so why don't the JWs mention this plain proof?! Because their year 624 for Neb coming to rule is indefensible, and they actually invented 624 as revisionist history to make the math work. So there is no secular historians on their side for 607 or for 624. 

This is pretty devastating, because it's pretty obvious that this information was ignored when discerning a key date (587 vs 607), and this strongly suggests it was ignored because there's no defense against it: Neb came to rule in 605, and adding 18 to that gives us 587. The JWs are in a bind.

Now, the only question remaining on the table is how we explain the 70 years in captivity that the Bible mentions a few times. If the captivity ended around 539, then Jerusalem being sacked in 587 is only about a 50 year span, not the 70 mentioned in Scripture. Thus, the 70 years must have began or ended at a different date, which is perfectly reasonable: For example, the Jewish Temple was rebuilt in 516BC, which adding 70 years gives us 586, perfectly in line with the 587 destruction date. Or, we know that Nebuchadnezzar originally entered Jerusalem for a pre-seige around 605 during the reign of Jehoiakim, which means adding 70 years from 539 fits as well and doesn't affect the 587 date either - since 587 is when the city fell completely, while the Babylonians were already subjugating Judah for twenty years prior (see 2 Kings 24:1-2; Jer 27:1,6). Even the JWs admit that Neb originally laid siege of Jerusalem during the reign of Jehoiakim, they just "revised" the dates about 20 years. Why did they revise the dates? Because they need the 70 years to refer to Jerusalem's total destruction (thus ending the kingdom), rather than having other kings still on the throne, since this would screw up their 1914 "prophecy". 

I think the 605+18=587 argument is really the best way to proceed, as it sidesteps all the distractions which the JWs turn to when trying to muddy the water. I'm going to see what happens with my upcoming discussion I have with the Witnesses. 


Addendum: I have just come across some awesome evidence confirming this 605BC claim for Nebuchadnezzar's rule by using the JW's very own Insight on the Scriptures encyclopedia to determine the ages of the rulers: 
"Particularly was this domination manifest during the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. when Nabopolassar, a native of Chaldea, and his successors, Nebuchadnezzar II, Evil-merodach (Awil-Marduk), Neriglissar, Labashi-Marduk, Nabonidus, and Belshazzar, ruled the Third World Power, Babylon."
(Insight, "Chaldea")

"Nebuchadnezzar ruled as king for 43 years"
(Insight, "Nebuchadnezzar")

"For Awil-Marduk (Evil-merodach, 2Ki 25:27, 28), tablets dated up to his second year of rule have been found. For Neriglissar, considered to be the successor of Awil-Marduk, contract tablets are known dated to his fourth year."
(Insight, "Chronology")

[Nabonidus] "Last supreme monarch of the Babylonian Empire; father of Belshazzar. On the basis of cuneiform texts he is believed to have ruled some 17 years (556-539 B.C.E.). He was given to literature, art, and religion."
(Insight, "Nabonidus")
Now, based on the JW information above, we have the following years to add up to see where they lead:
539BC +
17 (Nabonidus) +
1 (Labashi-Marduk, less than 1yr) +
4 (Neriglissar) +
2 (Evil-merodach) +
43 (Nebuchadnezzar)
605 BC (Year Neb began ruling)

Thus, even the JWs unwittingly confirm the secular history date of 605BC for Neb's rule, and thus adding 18 years gives us 587BC for the fall of Jerusalem.