Theme scripture: “But let God be found true, though every man be found a liar”. Romans 3:4
“A Journey of Discovery Through Time” is a series of articles examining the events recorded in the Bible during the lifetime of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai and Zechariah. For Witnesses this is a key period in Bible history that requires serious examination. Why? Because the conclusions drawn affect the core basis for many important teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Namely, that Jesus became King in 1914, and appointed the Governing Body in 1919. This subject therefore needs careful consideration by all Witnesses.
Some years back now, due to changing circumstances, the writer found himself with time he could dedicate to Bible research, something he had always wanted to do. Some of the motivation in part came from seeing the portrayed attitude of the early Bible students in the video “Jehovah’s Witnesses – Faith in action: Part 1 – Out of Darkness”. That made much of the study methods and attitudes, which led to the “discovery” of the “so-called truth” according to Jehovah’s Witnesses. This encouraged the writer to set off on a Beroean-like journey of discovery of his own. This journey ultimately led to his presence on this site, although he is sure that this is not what the video makers intended!
History is a subject in which the writer has always had a keen interest. He was aware that extraordinarily little had changed in the way of Biblical chronology according to Jehovah’s Witnesses since the time of Charles Taze Russell in the first decade of the 1900’s. He reasoned that if Russell could establish the Biblical chronology so accurately back in the 1870’s, then the writer should be able to do so in the 21st century. Writers today have the modern aids of a spreadsheet and the search capability of the NWT[i] Bible in the WT Library and a number of other translations available electronically on the Internet.
And so, the journey of discovery through time began. Please, continue on reading these articles, and join him on this journey of discovery. It is the writer’s sincere hope that you too will be able to see how he realised in a very personal way the truth of the theme scripture of Romans 3:4. There the Apostle Paul wrote “But let God be found true, though every man be found a liar”.
My Initial Journey, and my first discovery
The aim of the initial journey undertaken was to unearth evidence previously overlooked or ignored that could prove that the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 607 BC, as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The writer was confident that out there, amongst the thousands of historical documents and cuneiform tablets, there must be some evidence that proved 607 BCE as the date for the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. After all he reasoned, if the date was correct, then there must be evidence somewhere that had been overlooked or misinterpreted which would support this date.
After the passing of more than four years into this journey there was still no success and no discovery of support for the destruction of 607 BC. With literally thousands of permutations of legitimate options for reign lengths of many Kings it had consumed thousands of hours of research. By the time that four and a half years from the start of the journey had been and gone, with no proof discovered, it finally began to dawn on the writer that he was going about the whole task in the wrong way. This was my first and most vital discovery.
Discovery: The whole problem was the methodology or approach was wrong.
Why was the approach wrong?
Due to misplaced confidence in the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the writer had taken a shortcut that had ultimately led to a decisive dead end. The misplaced confidence had meant the writer was trying to prove a date from secular sources, many of which were contradictory, rather than allowing the Bible to prove the date. The only way to correct this mess was to start all over again from scratch. Yes, to start right back from the very beginning and use a totally different approach, the approach that should have been the writer’s default method.
This led to the start of a completely new journey. No more taking shortcuts, making assumptions about the correct route and destination. This time the writer realised he needed proper ‘directions’, ‘landmarks’, ‘equipment’, and above all a correct destination to enable him to have a successful journey.
This after another year or more led the writer to a successful discovery.
Discovery: The truth of the theme scripture. God will be found true, though man may be found a liar.
What ultimately made this second journey successful? Please read on and see what the author discovered. The articles that follow are the record of this second and ultimately successful journey. Why not share this journey with the writer and in doing so, build your confidence in the Bible?
3. Journey Plan
Before starting on any journey, we knowingly (or subconsciously) set out some ground rules as to what our intended destination is, how we will conduct ourselves, what direction we will take, and how we will achieve that, such as what key signposts we need to find. If we have no structure, then we will wander around aimlessly and fail to reach our intended destination. This journey was to be no different. As a result, the following ‘ground rules’ were set for this journey:
a. Basis (Starting Point):
The basis is that the Bible is the one true authority, which takes precedence over all others. Therefore, where there may be a potential conflict, the Bible will be always be taken as the accurate source. Furthermore, nothing written in the Bible should be altered to fit any secular or personal conclusions nor would it be doubted, nor interpreted out of context.
b. Purpose (Reason for Journey):
The purpose of the following articles, (based on the original research results document) would be to evaluate what the Bible says about the events and timings of:
- Jewish servitude to Babylon at the time of the Neo-Babylonian Empire,
- The desolation of Jerusalem,
- and the events leading up to and following these events.
Its purpose also is to address the following points:
- Does the Bible provide a solid basis for believing that Jesus began ruling in 1914 AD?
- Can we have faith in the inspired prophecy of the Bible?
- Can we put trust in the accuracy of the Bible?
- What are the true facts of what the Bible really teaches?
c. Method (Type of Transport):
- The scriptures were to be evaluated without any prior agenda, always endeavouring to avoid personal or existing interpretation (Eisegesis).[ii]
- Only the Bible’s interpretation of itself, along with logical reasoning and conclusions (Exegesis),[iii] is to be followed.
This would enable one to see how secular chronology agrees with the Bible rather than the reverse.
Also, only in extreme circumstances would it be allowable to see if by slight amendment of uncertain dates for ancient historical events, secular chronology could then agree with the chronology derived from a study of the Bible record.[iv] In the event, this was not found to be necessary.
This methodology (Exegesis) is based on:
- our theme scripture of Romans 3:4 “But let God be found true, even if every man be found a liar”
- and 1 Corinthians 4:6 “Do not go beyond the things written”
- and the Beroean attitude recorded in Acts 17:11b “carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so”.
- and Luke’s method in Luke 1:3 “I resolved also, because I have traced all things from the start with accuracy, to write them in a logical order to you”. [v]
All the commentary in this series of articles is derived solely from reading the scriptures directly and where secular chronology is referenced, taking the generally accepted secular dates. The main date taken from secular chronology is 539 BC as an anchor point. Both secular and religious authorities (including Jehovah’s Witnesses)[vi], are almost universally in agreement in accepting this date as being the year of the destruction of Babylon by Cyrus and his Medo-Persian forces.
With such an anchor point, we can then calculate forward or backward from this point. It also negates any unlikely issues that could arise later, from affecting the result. For instance, if 539 BCE needed to become 538 BCE, all the other points on the journey would in all probability move by one year as well, keeping the chronological relationship the same and not changing the conclusions.
At this point, it is all important to point out that if there is any similarity to any other summaries or commentaries on the Bible chronology of this area at this time, then it will therefore be purely incidental and only occurs because the source data (primarily the Bible) is identical. No other summaries or commentaries were plagiarized or referred to or influenced the writer’s journey nor the compiling of this record of the writer’s journey.
Readers are strongly encouraged to read the passages quoted for themselves in both a good Hebrew Interlinear bible.
If at all possible they should also have a good Literal Translation, which despite some obvious flaws, the author still considers the New World Translation Reference Edition[vii] (1989) (NWT) to be.[viii]
Key scriptures should also ideally be consulted in additional Literal Translations.[ix] This will enable any translation bias present (which there is on occasions) in the NWT to be examined more closely.
Feedback of any errors of facts and errors of omissions are welcome, as well as additional relevant scriptures not discussed which may have a bearing on any conclusions reached in this series of articles.
d. Study Methods (Equipment):
The following study methods were adhered to in the preparation of this series of articles and are highly recommended to all Bible students. Indeed, many visitors to this site will testify as to the benefits of these methods.
- Praying for Holy Spirit on each occasion of study of the Bible.
- John 14:26 states “But the helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach YOU all things, and bring back to YOUR minds all the things I told you”. Therefore, first, as we should before any examination of the Bible, we need to pray for Holy Spirit to guide us. The Holy Spirit will not be withheld. (Luke 11:13)
- Always, always, always read the Context.
- The context may be only a few verses before and after the cited or quoted verses.
- However, sometimes the context may be more than one chapter before and more than one chapter after the scripture being examined. It will then be found to be containing much relevant material to understand why something was said, the audience it was trying to reach, and the historical environmental background in which it should be understood.
- It may also include other Bible books referring to the same time period.
- Is the passage of scripture written chronologically or by subject matter?
- Particular care has to be taken with the book of Jeremiah, which is grouped by subject matter rather than written chronologically. The principle of Luke 1:1-3 therefore needed to be applied to the Book of Jeremiah and indeed any Bible book, which is written by subject matter rather than chronologically. It is therefore highly recommended to do some preparatory work to ascertain the correct chronological order, as this will likely affect the context.
- As an example, Jeremiah 21 is referring to events taking place 18 years after events in Jeremiah 25. Yet, clearly the chapter / writing order (21) places it before the earlier events recorded in chapter 25 in the book of Jeremiah.
- Let the Bible speak.
- If you repeated the verses to someone who had no knowledge of any Bible history, would they come to the same conclusion as you have?
- If they would not come to the same conclusion then why not?
- How would the contemporaries of the Bible writer have understood the scripture passage? After all they did not have the whole Bible to refer to.
- Reasoning on the Scriptures without Bias.
- Taking step (3) further, what reasoning would someone who had no knowledge of any Bible history, make? Would they come to the same conclusion as you have?
- Conclusion corroborated By Other Scriptures in the Bible?
- Make a search for any related passages. Do these related passages easily draw your attention to the same conclusion and the same facts?
- Use or check Interlinear Translations and meanings of key Hebrew and Greek words.
- Many times, objectively checking the meaning and usage of key words in the original languages can help clarify an understanding and eliminate potentially existing translation bias.
- A note of caution needs to be raised here.
- This method does need to be used with care at times, as some meanings given in such dictionaries can themselves be affected by bias on the part of the dictionary compiler. They may have become interpretation rather than translation based on fact. The Bible principle in Proverbs 15:22 “in the multitude of counsellors there is accomplishment” is most relevant here.
- Use of Bible aids and Extra-Biblical aids.
- Of course, it is possible and useful to use Bible aids and extra-biblical aids at times to help us to understand things that are more difficult concepts. However, we should never— never! —use them to interpret the Bible. The Bible should always interpret itself. It alone is the inspired source of communication from God.
- Never use the written words of any man (including your own, or these articles themselves) as the basis for any Bible interpretation. Let the Bible interpret itself. Remember Joseph’s words: “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8)
Finally, before we start our journey a reassurance for the benefit of those for whom history is not normally their cup of tea. The author can assure you that no PHD in Near Eastern Archaeology or History is required. It was tested on a willing human guinea pig who was not harmed in the reading of this series! Additionally, no cuneiform tablets were referred to, read, translated, altered or harmed in any way on this journey. Nor were any ancient astronomical readings and calculation charts consulted, insulted or otherwise used or referenced.
With these important disclaimers out of the way, please, continue on with me and let the journey of discovery begin! I hope that it will contain some surprises for you along the way, just as it did for the writer.
4. Background to the Book of Jeremiah.
If you have personally done any reading of Jeremiah, for instance for the weekly Bible Reading portions, you may have noticed as we mentioned above, that the book of Jeremiah is not written chronologically. This is unlike most Bible books, for instance such as the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles which are broadly chronological[x]. By contrast, the book of Jeremiah is grouped primarily by subject matter. Therefore, as it is vital that to get a clear picture of events, their context and their position in chronological terms, a good amount of effort needs to put forth up front to sort the events chronologically. Following the principle used by Luke referred to above, this investigation will form the basis of our 2nd article in this series.
One important point is also to have a basic understanding of ancient calendars. This assists one to be able to place the events in chronological order. This groundwork will also later allow one to see the links to archaeological records such as cuneiform tablets confirming the Bible record if one chooses to do so. The following section is an attempt to give a simple overview of the calendars in use at this period of time in Bible history, sufficient to understand the order of events. A more detailed description is outside of the bounds of this article as it can become highly complicated. However, for the purposes of our journey a simple overview is all that is required and does not affect the results.
It is essential to remember and understand that the Babylonian and Jewish calendar years were not January based calendars like the Gregorian calendar commonly used in the western world. The Judaic religious calendar instituted at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 12:1-2) and the Babylonian calendar started in March / April (Nisan / Nisannu) as the first month of the year. Instead of the first month of the year being January, the first month started with Nisan / Nisannu[xi] which corresponds roughly to our mid-month March to mid-month April. They were also lunar calendars, that is based on the moon’s monthly cycle which averages roughly 29.5 days. This is why the months alternate in length between 29 and 30 days in the Jewish calendar. The Gregorian calendar we are familiar with, is a solar calendar, based on the earth’s orbit around the sun. (Both types of Calendars had and have adjustments to keep in line with the true solar year of 365.25 days. The Lunar calendar runs in a 19-year cycle, the Solar calendar basically a 4 year cycle)
The Babylonians had a concept of Regnal Years for their rulers. A regnal year dating system had an accession year (often referred to as Year 0 by historians) for the remainder of the first calendar year during which they acceded the throne and became king. Their first regnal year started with their first full calendar year.
Using a modern example, if Queen Elizabeth of England died say at the end of September, the months of October through to mid-March (of the next Gregorian Calendar year) would be her successor’s (year 0 (zero) or accession year. Her successor (next in line) would likely be Prince Charles, probably taking a throne name of Charles III. Under the Babylonian regnal year system, the regnal year 1 of King Charles III would start in March/ April with the start of the new Babylonian calendar year. So, a cuneiform tablet for King Charles III for the beginning of March would likely be dated Year 0, Month 12, Day 15, while a mid-late March tablet would be date Year 1, month 1, day 1.
For example, in the following diagram (fig 1.1) we have the existing Gregorian calendar with which we are familiar. The Babylonian regnal year ran from April to March approximately.[xii] Scenario 1 shows the regnal years of Queen Elizabeth II according to the Babylonian system.[xiii] Scenario 2 shows how the regnal system worked on the death of a Monarch with the fictious scenario that she died on 30th September 2018. The remaining months until the new Babylonian calendar and regnal year started in April would be documented as Month 7 etc., Accession Year[xiv] (commonly referred to as Year 0), with Month 1 Year 1 referring to the first month of the first complete Babylonian calendar (and regnal) year after accession.
Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach and other Babylonian Kings and Judean Kings referred to, are given in Biblical calendar dating rather than in modern calendar dating in this discussion (Jeremiah’s etc.). Belshazzar, Nabonidus, Darius the Mede, Cyrus, Cambyses, Bardiya and Darius the Great are also all referenced in Babylonian Regnal Years as they are referenced either by Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah and Ezra writing from a Babylonian date perspective or cuneiform tablets, which are also used for the basis of secular chronology.
For more of a background and comparison of calendars, see NASA’s website page.
Please be aware that the Judean Religious calendar shown here is the calendar in use today.[xv] Historically the Judean Civil (agricultural) along with the Israelite (Northern Kingdom) calendar differs by six months from the religious calendar that was used by the Kingdom of Judah at this time period. I.e. The Secular Jewish New Year started with the 1st day of Tishri (month 7), but the first month is taken as Nisan.[xvi]
To assist us to keep following the right direction in our journey of discovery, we need to be aware of certain landmarks and signposts and they will be covered in the following article. This next article will set the out the landmarks we need to keep in view as we travel by beginning with (2) summaries of key chapters from the Books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles arranged in chronological order of events. This will enable the reader to familiarise themselves quickly with the content of these books.[xvii] It will also allow for a quick reference later on so it will be easier to place a particular scripture in both context and time period.
Your Journey of Discovery Through Time – Chapter Summaries – (Part 2), arriving soon ….
[i] NWT – New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures 1989 Reference Edition from which all scripture quotations are taken unless otherwise indicated.
[ii] Eisegesis [< Greek eis- (into) + hègeisthai (to lead). (See ‘exegesis’.)] A process where one leads into study by reading the text based on pre-conceived ideas of its meanings.
[iii] Exegesis [< Greek exègeisthai (to interpret) < ex- (out) + hègeisthai (to lead). Related to English ‘seek’.] To interpret a text by way of thorough analysis of its content.
[iv] There is therefore no discussion or analysis of cuneiform records as the focus is on the Bible’s record. All dates used are relative to the accepted date by all parties of October 539 BCE for the fall of Babylon to Cyrus. If this date was moved, likely all other dates in this discussion would also move by an equal amount, thereby having no effect on the conclusions drawn.
[v] Any inaccuracies of quotation and fact are unintentional and have survived numerous proof-readings. Therefore, the author would appreciate feedback by email at Tadua_Habiru@yahoo.com for any inaccuracies of quotation or fact or to the comments associated with this article.
[vi] Including Jehovah’s Witnesses as of the writing of this article in August 2018.
[vii] Despite the known flaws of the NWT Reference Edition, it remains for the most part (at least in the opinion of the author) a good, consistent, literal translation, certainly for the Bible books that were referenced in this Journey through Time. It is also the translation which most long-standing Jehovah’s Witnesses are likely to be most familiar with and comfortable in using.
[viii] Suggestions (used by the author) include https://www.biblegateway.com/ , https://www.blueletterbible.org/ , http://www.scripture4all.org/ , http://bibleapps.com/ , http://biblehub.com/interlinear/ ; These all contain multiple translations and some contain Hebrew Interlinear Bibles and Greek Interlinear Bibles with links on words to Online Strong’s Concordance. http://www.lexilogos.com/english/greek_translation.htm# , http://www.biblestudytools.com/interlinear-bible/
[ix] Literal Translations include: Young’s Literal Translation, New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, NWT Reference Edition 1984, and Darby’s Translation. Paraphrase Translations (not recommended) include: NWT 2013 revision, The Living Bible, New King James Version, NIV.
[x] Chronological – in relative date or sequence order of events.
[xi] Spelling of Names of months varied through time and according to translator but the ones most commonly found are provided. The Jewish and Babylonian month names are given together in many places in these articles, the convention that is used is Jewish / Babylonian.
[xii] The actual month was Nisan / Nisannu which usually started around 15th March in our modern-day calendar.
[xiii] Her actual reign started 6th February 1952 on the death of her father King George VI.
[xiv] Accession Year commonly referred to as Year 0.
[xv] Before the 6th Century AD the Jewish calendar months were set by observation rather than being of fixed length, so the lengths of a particular month at the time of the Babylonian Exile may have differed by +- 1 day per month.
[xvii] A quick full reading of these Bible books over a short period of time is highly recommended to (a) confirm the summaries in the articles, (b) give background and (c) familiarize the reader with the events, prophesies, and actions of that time period from Josiah’s reign through to the early Persian Period.