Evangelical Christians claim Jerusalem was destroyed in either 587 or 586 BCE. What is the evidence?
(For a scholarly analysis of the evidence especially comparing 587 with 586 see "When did Jerusalem fall?" by Rodger C. Young, 2004, here:- https://rcyoung.org/papers.html. )
It is usually thought that the first one to crack the code of the mystery of the Hebrew kings, their reign lengths and their start and end dates was Edwin Thiele, an American Seventh Day Adventist who published the book “The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings” in 1951, which was the product of his doctoral thesis. Not so well known is the work of Valerius Coucke, a Belgian Roman Catholic Priest who published "Chronologie des rois de Juda et d’Israël," Revue bénedictine 37 in 1925 and "Chronologie biblique" in Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible (ed. Louis Pirot; Paris: Librairie Letouzey et Ané) in 1928.
Starting from a completely different place, and assuming that the information in the Old Testament was reliable, he first tried to work out the start date of the reign of Solomon from the date of the Fall of Troy using the Greek Parian Marble account. With the help of the Tyrian King Lists, Coucke arrived at 971 BCE for the beginning of the reign of Solomon. From that point he used exactly the same methodology as Edwin Thiele and arrived at 587 BCE for the destruction of Jerusalem. Bible chronologist Rodger C. Young says that Thiele made a wrong assumption to arrive at 586 BCE. (webpage: rcyoung.org/articles/Jerusalem.pdf to read “When did Jerusalem fall?”, 2004) Because Coucke wrote in French, even in 2020 AD, his work is not widely known in the English speaking world.
What is so important here is that the two men have arrived at dates within one year of each other starting from entirely different archaeological data. You can read about the fascinating work of Coucke on Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerius_Coucke
Witness of Ezekiel 40:1, Leviticus 25:9, 1 Kings 6:1 & the Jewish Seder Olam
A Jubilee Year occurred every 49 years. New Year’s Day usually happened on the 1st of the lunar month, 1st Tishri, but in a Jubilee Year New Year’s Day happened on the 10th day of Tishri (Lev 25:9). New Year’s Day happened on the 10th in Ezekiel 40:1; what Ezekiel is saying in Ez 40:1 is that his vision happened in a Year of Jubilee. “The beginning of the year” is a rather vague translation of “Rosh Hashanah”, but a more accurate translation is “New Year’s Day”.
This was the understanding of the Jews in the Talmud who relied on what was written in the Seder Olam, an attempt at producing a chronology of Jewish history written in the 1st or 2nd century AD. In the Seder Olam we read:
And so it says (Ez. 40:1): "In the 25th year of our exile, on the day of the New Year, on the tenth of the month, 14 years after the destruction of the city [of Jerusalem]." When did he [Ezechiel] have this vision? At the beginning of a Jubilee period. If they stayed for 17 entire jubilee periods, how can there be an excess of 17 years ?
The writer of the Seder Olam had been trying to bring harmony between his chronological data and Ezekiel 40:1 but could not. But he must have had extra-Biblical information that he was referring to which told him that Ezekiel’s Jubilee Year spoken of in Ezekiel 40:1 was the 17th Jubilee. The writers of the Talmud then said specifically that Ezekiel’s 17th Jubilee was referred to in Ezekiel 40:1.
17 Jubilees is 17 * 49 years which is 833 years and the first Jubilee Cycle began when Israel entered the Promised Land under Joshua.
Now according to the Watchtower Jerusalem fell in 607 BC and so Ezekiel’s 17th Jubilee Year happened 593 BCE. The Watchtower says that the Exodus happened in 1513 BCE (“Aid to Bible Understanding” chapter on Chronology), and the Conquest began in 1473 BCE.
So for the Watchtower 593 BCE (607 – 14) minus 833 years gives 1426 BCE whereas it should have been 1473 BCE according to their own date for the Exodus of 1513.
According to Trinitarian chronologists such as Coucke, Thiele and Rodger Young the fall of Jerusalem happened either 586 or 587 BCE, Ezekiel’s 17th Jubilee Year started either in Tishri 574 or 573 BCE; Solomon began to reign in Tishri 971 BCE, the building of Solomon’s Temple began in the second month of his 4th year (1 Kings 6:1) or about May 967 BCE, 479 years before this (1 Kings 6:1) was 1446 BCE, and so the Conquest began, after 40 years in the wilderness, in 1406 BCE.
For the Trinitarian chronologists 573 (572) (587/6 – 14) minus 833 years gives 1406 (1405) BCE, which gives a match for the date of the Exodus according to 1 Kings 6:1.
What I have tried to show is that the Watchtower chronology is internally inconsistent: they contradict not us, but themselves, and so cannot be right.
On the other hand the Trinitarian chronology is internally consistent. 1 Kings 6:1 and a beginning of Solomon’s reign after Tishri 971 (and before Nisan 971) can be used to show that the destruction of Jerusalem was in 586 or 587.
It must be stressed that the importance of Ezekiel 40:1 and the Seder Olam was only brought to light by Rodger C. Young after the chronologies of Thiele and Coucke had been produced. Even in 2020, not a single modern version of the Bible gives the proper sense of Ezekiel 40:1. It would be better to change what has been translated as “the start of the year” and to transliterate it to “Rosh Hashanah”.
For more on this see The Talmud’s Two Jubilees and their relevance to the Date of the Exodus (2006) by Rodger C. Young Website: rcyoung.org/articles/jubilee.pdf
How Thiele synchronised his chronology with the Assyrian Chronology and thus with the Gregorian calendar
For this section I use exclusively “A Chronology of the Hebrew Kings” by Edwin Thiele, 1977, Zondervan Corp, a shorter book than “The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings”, and easier on the head.
(Summarised from p29) The Assyrians named their years after various important officials: their years are called “eponym” years. In the providence of God we have extant today a sequenced list of eponym years for 245 years. One of these eponyms states that an eclipse of the sun happened in the month of Simanu [OP: Hebrew Sivan, the 3rd month]. Astronomical computation has fixed this date as June 15 , 763 BC. From this, “we have absolutely reliable dates for each year of Assyrian history from 892 to 648 BC”. (Page 29)
I will quote from Thiele:
According to Assyrian chronology, it was 12 years between the 6th of Shalmaneser III, 853, when he fought against Ahab at Qarqar, and his 18th year, the eponymy of Adad-rimani, when he received tribute from Jehu. And according to Hebrew chronology, it was also 12 years between the death of Ahab and the accession of Jehu, i.e. two official years or one actual year [OP: the non-accession dating method was in use] for Ahaziah (1 Kings 22:51), and 12 official years or 11 actual years for Joram (2 Kings 3:1). (Page 29)
To expand on Thiele’s reasoning here: it was a great providential help in synchronising the Hebrew chronology with the Assyrian (and through this with the Gregorian Calendar) that Ahab fought in a battle recorded by the Assyrians with the year thus known as 853, and that Jehu gave tribute in his first year, the eponym year of which was recorded by the Assyrians. From this, even though the Assyrian account does not say so, it becomes possible to conclude that Ahab died in the battle, and a synchrony between the Assyrian years and the Bible account becomes possible. Thus it becomes known that Ahab died in 853 BCE, and Jehu began to reign in 841 BCE.
Another key date in Hebrew chronology is 701, the year when King Sennacharib of Assyria mentions that in his third campaign he came against Hezekiah and Jerusalem. Assyrian chronology fixes this as 701 BC. And since, according to 2 Kings 18:13, it was in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah that Sennacherib came against him, we have 701 established as the fourteenth year of Hezekiah.
According to Assyrian chronology, it was 152 years from the sixth year of Shalmaneser III when he fought against Ahab at Qarqar in 853, to the third campaign of Sennacherib in 701 when he came against Hezekiah. And according to the reconstructed pattern of Hebrew history based on the regnal data of Israel and Judah, it was also 152 years from the death of Ahab to the fourteenth year of Hezekiah. We thus have two key dates established in Hebrew chronology, 853 for the death of Ahab and 701 for the 14th of Hezekiah. From these it is possible to establish the dates of all the other Hebrew rulers. (page 30)
Evidence from the date of the fall of Babylon 539 BC
The Watchtower accepts the conclusions of Richard A Parker and Waldo Dubberstein and all the prior work of a large number of scholars (“Babylonian Chronology – 626 BC to AD 75”, 1956) that Babylon fell in the early hours of 12th October 539 BCE.
Grayson’s ABC 7 (BM 35382) cunieiform tablet inscription, is a brief account of the life of Nabonidus. It is one of the inscriptions called the “Nabonidus Chronicle”. According to this inscription Babylon fell in the 17th year of Nabonidus.
[iii.5] [The seventeenth year: N]abu [came] from Borsippa for the procession of Bel. Bel came out.]
[iii.6] [... In the month] Tebetu the king entered Eturkalamma. In the temple [...]
[iii.7] [...] ... He made a libation of wine ... [...]
[iii.8] [... B]el came out. They performed the Akitu festival as in normal times. In the month [...]
[iii.9] [... the gods] of Marad, Zababa, and the gods of Kish, Ninlil [and the gods of]
[iii.10] Hursagkalamma entered Babylon. Until the end of the month Ululu [OP: Hebrew Elul, the 6th month] the gods of Akkad [...]
[iii.11] from everywhere were entering Babylon. The gods of Borsippa, Cuthah,
[iii.12] and Sippar did not enter (Babylon). When Cyrus did battle at Opis on the [bank of]
[iii.13] the Tigris against the army of Akkad, the people of Akkad
[iii.14] retreated. He carried off the plunder (and) slaughtered the people. On the fourteenth day Sippar was captured without a battle.
[iii.15] Nabonidus fled. On the sixteenth day, Ugbaru, governor of Gutium, and the army of Cyrus, without battle
[iii.16] they entered Babylon.
In 1906 a stele recounting the long life of Nabonidus’s mother (or maybe even grandmother), Adad-guppi, was found by H Pognan at Eski Harran. It was badly damaged and so could not be completely trusted for its chronological data: it was called Nabon.H 1, A. In 1956 a replica stele in very good condition was found at Harran by Dr D.S. Rice. The translation was published in 1958 by C.J. Gadd who called it Nabon H 1, B, (also known as the "Adad-guppi Stele"):
Thanks is being given to Sin, [OP: the moon god] for her long life:
ultu MU-20-KÁM Aššur-bāniapli šar māt Aššur ša aldāku
adi MU-42-KÁM Aššur-bāniapli MU-3-KÁM Aššur-eṭīluili mārišu MU-21-KÁM Nabûapla-uṣṣur MU-43-KÁM Nabûkudurri-uṣṣur MU-2-KÁM
Nergal-šarra-uṣṣur ina 95
šanāti Sîn šar ilāni ša šamê u
erṣēti ša ašrāti ilūtišu rabûti
ašte’eu ipšētiya damiqti ḫadîš
ippalsannima supîya išmû
From the 20th year of Ashurbanipal, king of
Assyria, that I was born (in), until the 42nd year
of Ashurbanipal, the 3rd year of Aššur-etilu-ili,
his son, the 21st year of Nabopolassar, the 43rd
year of Nebuchadnezzar, the 2nd year of EvilMerodach, the 4th year of Neriglissar – for 95
years, Sîn, king of the gods of heaven and earth,
(in) which I sought after the shrines of his great
godhead, (for) my good doings he looked upon
me with a smile, he heard my prayers (Adadguppi Stele I:29–36)
(See https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/129703513.pdf, page 290)
Further on in the text a complete summary of the long life of the queen is given:
From the time of Assurbanipal, king of Assyria, until the 9th year of Nabu-na’id [Nabonidus] king of Babylon, the son, offspring of my womb, 104 years of happiness…
The death of the queen in the 9th year of Nabonidus (on the 5th of Nisanu) is confirmed in Grayson's ABC 7, BM 35382:
[ii.10] The ninth year: note Nabonidus the king (was) Tayma, (while) the prince, the officers, (and) the army (were) in Akkad. The king, in the month Nisanu, to Babylon
[ii.11] did not come. Nabu did not come to Babylon. Bel did not come out. The Akitu festival did not take place.
[ii.12] The offerings were presented (to) the gods of and Borsippa as in normal times in Esagil and Ezida.
[ii.13] On the fifth day of the month Nisanu the queen mother, in Dur-Karašu, which is on the banks of the Euphrates upstream from Sippar,
[ii.14] she died.
So here we have a chronology for the Babylonian Empire:
Nebuchadnezzar 43 years, Evil-Merodach 2 years, Neriglissar 4 years, and (from the Grayson’s ABC7 given above) Nabonidus 17 years. This is precisely the same number of years given by Berossus except he mentions Labashi-Marduk as reigning a for few months prior to Nabonidus, and whose reign makes no difference to the number of years.
It is the same as the chronology of Ptolemy (who feels no need to mention Labashi-Marduk or, and what is more likely, who does not mention him because the Babylonian records he is quoting from do not mention him).
So if 539 was Nabonidus’s 17th year and using accession dating then his accession year was 555 and Nebuchadnezzar’s sat on the throne on 1st Ululu (1st Elul) in 605 BCE. Shortly after he became king between 1 Ululu and 1 Nisanu 604 BC (7th September 605 and 2nd April 604, Julian dates) he besieged Jerusalem for the first time (Daniel 1:1, 1:5, 2:1). He besieged Jerusalem the second time in his 7th year 598 BCE. His 18th year was 587 when Jerusalem was burned (Jeremiah 52:29). That Jeremiah 52:29 is using accession year dating is confirmed by Jeremiah 52:28 where the seventh year conforms with the records of the Babylonians (who used accession year dating) e.g. Grayson’s ABC 5, BM 21946.
[Rev.11'] In the seventh year [7th of Nebuchadnezzar, 598/597] , the month of Kislîmu, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land,
[Rev.12'] and besieged the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Addaru he seized the city and captured the king [King Jehoiachin: Jeremiah 52:28-30, 2 Kings 24:8-16].
[Rev.13'] He appointed there a king of his own choice [King Zedekiah, 2 Kings 24:17], received its heavy tribute and sent to Babylon.
(See https://www.livius.org/sources/about/mesopotamian-chronicles/ for translation.)
In Jeremiah 52:28 the same event is also said to have happened "in the 7th year".. clearly it is using the accession year dating system. Verse 29 is also using the accession year dating system. Comparing the 19th year of Jeremiah 52:12 with the 18th year of Jeremiah 52:29, shows the 19th of Jeremiah 52:12 is using the Jewish non-accession year dating.
The 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar using the accession year dating system was 587 BC.
So we have another confirmation that, on the plain reading of Scripture, Jerusalem fell on 587 BCE. Using the date agreed by the Watchtower for the capture of Babylon of 539 BCE, then going back 17 years, then 4 years, then 2 years, then 43 years and then going forward to Nebuchnezzar's 18th year by going forward 18 years we get 539 + 17 + 4 + 2 + 43 - 18 = 587 BCE.
The witness of the book of Zechariah
First I quote from a Watchtower source:
ZECHARIAH, BOOK OF
This book of the Hebrew Scriptures identifies its writer as “Zechariah the son of Berechiah the son of Iddo the prophet.” (Zec 1:1) It also provides a basis for establishing the time period covered and an approximate date for the composition.
The last time indicator found in the book of Zechariah is the fourth day of Chislev in the fourth year of Darius’ reign (about December 1, 518 B.C.E.). (7:1) Accordingly, this book could not have been committed to writing before the close of 518 B.C.E. Since it was in the “eighth month in the second year of Darius” (October/November 520 B.C.E.) that “the word of Jehovah occurred to Zechariah” (1:1), the book covers a period of at least two years. (Watchtower archive: https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200004682#h=1)
And now from the Bible itself:
In the eighth month in the second year of Darius (Zechariah 1:1)
This was the lunar month starting 27th October 520 BCE (Julian date) according to Parker & Dubberstein, 1956, “Babylonian Chronology – 626 BC to AD 75”, the standard work on dates for the period and used by the Watchtower as much as others. As can be seen the date conforms with the date given in the Watchtower quote above.
Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’ (Zechariah 1:12, ESV)
So the angel of the Jehovah answered and said ”O Jehovah of armies, how long will you yourself not show mercy to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah, whom you have denounced these seventy years? (Zechariah 1:12, New World Translation, 1984, printing 2006)
In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. (Zechariah 7:1)
This happened on the 8th December 518 (Julian) (Parker & Dubberstein), 2nd or 3rd Dec 518 (Gregorian)).
2 Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favour of the Lord, 3 saying to the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
i.e. What they are saying is: "We have nearly rebuilt the Temple; do we really need to continue fasting to God?"
4 Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: 5 “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6 And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? 7 Were not these the words that the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?’”
As soon as the Temple was destroyed along with Jerusalem, some of the Jews began fasting, first in the 5th month of Ab because that was when the Temple was destroyed (Zech 7:3, Jeremiah 52:12-13) and then in the 7th month of Tishri presumably because that was the month in which the governor Gedaliah was slain (Zech 7:5, 2 Kings 25:25) and the remaining elite of the Jews finally fled to Egypt.
What interpretation could be more likely than that they began to fast as soon as the Temple was burned? If this is so then nearly seventy years before 518 points once again to 587 BCE (or 586) as the year the Temple was destroyed.
The witness of Jeremiah 25:11-12, 27:17
11 This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste. (Jeremiah 25:11-12, ESV)
The passage promises that the Jews and all the surrounding nations will serve the king of Babylon 70 years. It says nothing about being in captivity 70 years. The Watchtower agrees that these 70 years ended with the fall of Babylon on 13th October 539. They must then have started, not in 607 BCE but in 609 BCE. According to historians after Josiah was killed at the Battle of Megiddo in the summer of 609 BCE, Pharaoh Necho II continued north to try to help his Assyrian allies recapture Harran in the Siege of Harran (having lost Ninevah in 612 BCE) from the Babylonians. This Siege of Harran was a disaster for the Assyrians and was the final nail in the coffin of the Assyrian Empire. It marked the beginning of the 70 years for Babylon, the 70 years of supremacy.
Do not listen to them. Serve the king of Babylon, and live: why should this city be laid waste? (Jeremiah 27:17)
This appeal by Jeremiah was made during the reign of Zedekiah. The appeals were of the nature: the Lord God has given all you nations to serve Babylon until their time is finished. Therefore do not listen to any lying prophets or you will suffer much more.
They and the Jews were already under the yoke of Babylon, but Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. So the years of service to Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11) started many years before the destruction of Jerusalem.
What is being said is “You are already under the yoke of Babylon, you are already serving Babylon. Submit to this yoke or it will become much harder". In the case of Judah, they refused to submit and it became much harder when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and more were forced to go to Babylon.
The witness of Jeremiah 29:10
For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29:10, ESV)
Many modern bible translations have this rendering; the KJV the NKJV and the New World Translation do not. They render it “when seventy years are completed at Babylon”. This is obviously quite a big difference. It should be noted, though, that even two versions of the JW New World Translation have changed it from “at Babylon” to “for Babylon”: the Swedish NWT, revised in 2003, and the Danish NWT. (http://kristenfrihet.se/vtsvar/vtsvar1.pdf page 5)
Of the Hebrew preposition translated “at” here in NWT and the KJV modern authorities on Hebrew agree that it means “to”, “for”, “with reference to”. They point out that it may also be used in a local or spatial sense (“in”, “at”), but only in certain adverbial expressions, and in any case not at Jeremiah 29:10, where the meaning is “for Babylon”.
The Swedish Hebraist Dr. Seth Erlandsson states that, “The spatial sense is impossible at Jer. 29:10.” Other Hebraists agree, including Professor Ernst Jenni, the leading authority on the Hebrew prepositions. His work on this preposition alone covers 350 pages! (http://kristenfrihet.se/vtsvar/vtsvar1.pdf page 5)
The idea is that the 70 years relate to the supremacy of Babylon as a super power not to the years of captivity.
Actually, how could they? Some of the Jews including Daniel and his friends went into captivity in the accession year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:1, 1:5, 2:1). Others went into exile after the second siege, along with Ezekiel, 11 years before the destruction of the Temple (Ezekiel 40:1). Others went into captivity at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and still more went into captivity in Nebuchadnezzar's 23rd year (Jer 52:30). But all were simultaneously free to go home at the Decree of Cyrus after the fall of Babylon. They couldn’t all have suffered 70 years of Captivity!
(In early Daniel the three years of training the Chaldean learning and language (Dan 1:5) must have been not full years as we would usually say but a period covering three calendar years, because after finishing their training they stood before Nebuchadnezzar in his second year (Dan 2:1). If we include the period he came to the throne on 1st Ululu (1st Elul), 605 BC, up to New Year’s Day on 1st Nisanu as his Accession Year (i.e. “the year of his becoming king”), then the year starting 1st Nisanu is his first year, and the year starting with the next 1st Nisanu was his 2nd year. Daniel’s “three years of training” could have lasted anything between just over one year and just less than two and a half years.)
In summary, the 70 years with reference to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10) began 609 and ended 539. This is the main time period being referred to. But there was also 71 years (or 72 years inclusive counting) without a Temple, from the year beginning Nisan 587 (see Jeremiah 52:12-13,29) to the year beginning Nisan 516 (see Ezra 6:15).