World domination is such a pain. Kingdoms come and go faster than Microsoft releases new operating systems. The bit of history we need to focus on is a prime example. The relevant events in our little drama are the following:
Note that there is only one date here in which the Watchtower agrees with the historical evidence: the overthrow of Babylon by Persia in 539 BCE. We’ll see why this date is important in a moment. But first we need to point out that the Watchtower hasn’t always held to the all-important 607 BCE date.
They actually taught that it was 606 BCE for nearly half of their history — that’s how long it took them to realize that the math didn’t work out due to there having been no zero year between BCE and CE — so then they simply moved the historical date back a year: what power they have to rewrite history to fit their interpretations! This reveals how they just move dates and manipulate facts to comport with their doctrines instead of honestly going by the evidence. (See, for instance the July 1, 1942 Watchtower page 198, which refers to: “Babylon’s overthrow of Jerusalem in 606 B.C.”)
But this is not surprising when we recall that they also changed the dimensions of the pyramid to match their doctrinal change of date from 1874 to 1914, while Rutherford stooped to lying about his arrest date to try to prove that it was prophesied in the Bible!
The Importance of 539
The Watchtower is on record as saying that “all events prior to 539 BCE must be figured backwards from the absolute date of 539 BCE.” (2/1/1955 WT p. 95)
539 BCE is the accepted date for the destruction of Babylon. This is the one point in their chronology where the Watchtower agrees with the rest of the world, so it’s a good starting point. (The very same sources that give us this date for the destruction of Babylon also give us the date 587 BCE for the destruction of Jerusalem — but here the WT stands alone in its insistence on the 607 BCE date for that event.)
We’ll see where they go wrong in arriving at that date in a moment, but first let’s follow the Watchtower’s own advice and figure the destruction of Jerusalem backwards from the overthrow of Babylon in 539 BCE.
We start where the Watchtower starts at 539 BCE. Then we add the reigns of the Babylonian kings to go back in time to Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and his conquest of Jerusalem.
The lengths of these reigns are all to be found in Watchtower publications, and they agree with actual historical evidence: so once again we have found a point of agreement.
There were five kings inclusive between Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidas (who was the last king of Babylon before Cyrus of Persia overthrew it in 539 BCE.) If you add up all of their reigns you get a total of 66 years. If you go back 66 years from 539 BCE you arrive at 605 BCE as the start of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. For proof of this from the WT’s own publications, please see this video. The proof is reproduced in the chart below. The lengths of the reigns are all from the Watchtower (and are accurate). The dates are derived by simply adding the lengths of the reigns to the agreed-upon starting date.
|King||Length||From||To||WT Length Reference|
|Nabonidus||17 yrs.||556 BCE||539 BCE||it-2 p. 458|
|Labashi-Marduk||9 mos.||556 BCE||556 BCE||w65 1/1 p. 29|
|Neriglissar||4 yrs.||560 BCE||556 BCE||w65 1/1 p. 29|
|Evil-Merodach||2 yrs.||562 BCE||560 BCE||w65 1/1 p. 29|
|Nebuchadnezzar||43 yrs.||605 BCE||562 BCE||it-2 p. 482|
Right away you can see a problem here: Nebuchadnezzar’s reign didn’t start until 605 BCE: 2 years after the WT claims that he destroyed Jerusalem as king of Babylon! But it’s worse than that. The Watchtower (and the Bible book of 2Kings) tells us that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t destroy Jerusalem in his first year in office. No; he did the deed in the 18th year of his reign:
Finally… in the 11th year of Zedekiah’s reign (Nebuchadnezzar’s 19th year if counting from his accession year or his 18th regnal year), a breach was made in Jerusalem’s wall.
it-2 p. 481
If we add 18 years to 605 BCE we come to 587 BCE. And this is the year for which we have the solid evidence of over 2,000 dated cuneiform tablets: making it one of the surest dates in history.
So, you ask: “How can the Watchtower even pretend that the 607 date is right? They must have some sort of case they present for this.” Well, yes, of course they do. They base it all on a prophecy in Jeremiah which stated that the Jews would be overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar and — according to the Watchtower — would serve him for seventy years, after which time Babylon would be destroyed in turn and the Jews would return to Jerusalem.
Now, if you take the “absolute date” of 539 BCE for the destruction of Babylon, and count backwards 70 years you come up with 609 BCE. That’s two years off, so the Watchtower claims that it took the Jews two years to get off their butts: returning to Jerusalem in 537 BCE. When they subtract 70 years from that date they come up with their magic number of 607 BCE.
The Watchtower tries to defend their stance via a false dilemma: they ask: “will you follow the Bible, or secular historians?” But other people follow the Bible AND secular historians. How do they do it? They recognize that the prophecy in Jeremiah was not referring to 70 years of exile for the Jews (since their exile lasted only 48 years), but rather as 70 years of Babylonian world domination. The Watchtower’s New World Translation of the Bible confuses the issue by rendering Jeremiah 29:10 as:
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.’
Most translations make this less ambiguous. For instance, the New International Version has: “When seventy years are completed FOR Babylon…” The New English Translation has: “when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over…” This shows that the 70 years applied to Babylon’s time as a ruling power, of which the Jewish exile was just a part.
The Watchtower has even admitted this point in another context:
Just as in the case with Tyre, the Jewish subjection to Babylon occurred within the 70 years of Babylonian rule: it did not encompass the entire period. Nor could the 70 years in Jer. 29:10 be referring to a different 70 years: one for the Jewish exile as distinct from the 70 years of Babylonian rule; as shown in the diagram below there is simply no room in the timeline for such an explanation.
Professor Jack Finegan, in his classic Handbook of Biblical Chronology [second edition, published in 1998 Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, p. 255], writes:
The ‘seventy years … for Babylon,’ of which Jeremiah speaks are therefore seventy years of Babylonian rule, and the return of Judah from exile is contingent upon the end of that period. Since the final fall of the Assyrian empire was in 609 B.C., and the New Babylonian empire endured from then until Cyrus the Persian took Babylon in 539, the period of Babylonian domination was in fact seventy years (609 – 539 = 70).
So, it’s not a question of “believing the Bible or believing secular historians” it is a question of believing the Bible and secular historians OR believing the Watchtower’s misinterpretation of the Bible and discounting all historical evidence.
In 2011 the WT came out with a 2-part series of articles attempting to obfuscate the issue even more by dishonestly casting doubt on the historical evidence and misquoting scholars, one of whom, John Steele, commented:
the author of this piece is completely misrepresenting what I wrote… Just glancing through the Watchtower article I can see that they have also misrepresented the views of other scholars by selective quotation out of context. I’ve looked at the date of VAT 4956 on several occasions and see no possibility that it can be dated to anything other than the conventional date.
When you have evidence you have truth and you don’t have to stoop to misquoting people and misrepresenting the facts to support your viewpoint. The fact that the Watchtower finds it necessary to resort to such tactics shows that they do not have the truth on the matter.
For a complete, detailed, debunking of the Watchtower’s defense of their 607 BCE date, please see the following links to Carl Jonsonn’s detailed works.