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When reading literature about the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, I always wonder which year it took place. Some books say 586 B.CE. and some say 587 B.CE. Is this because we don't know? Or is there some other reason? If we don't know, what are the arguments for one or the other of these dates?

I also know the Jehovah's Witnesses say it was in 607. If someone has anything to say about any facts that contradict this year I would love to hear it.

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    I think that is pretty well known. But adding a source for it won't hurt. Added a link to an article that supports 607 B.CE. – Niclas Nilsson Dec 5 '15 at 10:52
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    Links have a tendency to break. It would be better if you added the quote in directly. – Spencer Sep 19 '18 at 14:10
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    Some books says 586 B.CE. and some says 587 B.CE. Is this because one don't know? Or is there some other reason? - It's because years begins at different times for different peoples.. – Lucian Jul 29 '19 at 3:25
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Wikipedia - Siege of Jerusalem

All of the contemporary records, whether Hebrew or otherwise, rely on regnal dating systems. There are two points of confusion, particularly when dating the reigns of Israelite or Jewish kings: which calendar is used and when does the first year start. I'll try to clarify farther down using Queen Elizabeth II as an example.

Religious or Secular Year?

The Hebrew historians used two different calendars and, to some extent, continue to do so today. Some historians used the religious calendar, which starts in the spring with the first month, Nisan. Passover is Nisan 14. Some historians used the secular calendar, which starts in the fall with the seventh month, Tishri. Rosh Hashanah ("New Year") or Yom Teruah ("Day of Trumpets") is Tishri 1.

Regardless of which calendar was used, Nisan was the "first month" and Tishri the "seventh month". In similar fashion, whether we use the calendar year (January - December) or an arbitrary fiscal year (July - June), January is still January and July is still July.

Unlike the British, the historians of the Bible always started the year at one of these two points: Nisan 1 or Tishri 1. British historians start the regnal year with the date of accession. For Queen Elizabeth II, then, the British regnal year starts on 6 Feb every year.

Accession or Non-Accession?

Some historians used an "accession" regnal year. From the date of ascension to the last day of the year, the regent served the "accession" year. The first day of the calendar year following that began the regent's first year.

Other historians used a "non-accession" regnal year. From the date of ascension to the last day of the year, the regent served the first year. The first day of the calendar year following that began the regent's second year.

Applied to Queen Elizabeth II

Let's put this in perspective of a modern calendar with Queen Elizabeth's reign. We'll presume two calendars: the calendar year (roughly equivalent to the religious year) and the fiscal year (starting on July 1, roughly equivalent to the secular year).

  • By accession counting in the religious year (Jan - Dec):
    • 6 Feb 1952 - 31 Dec 1952 was her accession year.
    • 1 Jan 1953 - 31 Dec 1953 was her first year.
    • 5 Aug 2015 occurs during her 63rd year.
  • By accession counting in the secular year (Jul - Jun):
    • 6 Feb 1952 - 30 Jun 1952 was her accession year.
    • 1 Jul 1952 - 30 Jun 1953 was her first year.
    • 5 Aug 2015 occurs during her 64th year.
  • By non-accession counting in the religious year (Jan - Dec):
    • 6 Feb 1952 - 31 Dec 1952 was her first year.
    • 1 Jan 1952 - 31 Dec 1953 was her second year.
    • 5 Aug 2015 occurs during her 64th year.
  • By non-accession counting in the secular year (Jul - Jun):
    • 6 Feb 1952 - 30 Jun 1952 was her first year.
    • 1 Jul 1952 - 30 Jun 1953 was her second year.
    • 5 Aug 2015 occurs during her 65th year.

Confused Yet?

This is the source of the confusion. While the historians gave us some clues by lining up the reign of the monarch in the Northern Kingdom with the reign of the monarch in the Southern Kingdom, the Northern Kingdom no longer existed by the time of the second siege of Jerusalem. Historians have done their best to line up the reigns of the monarchs of the Southern Kingdom with the reigns of kings from other kingdoms, such as Babylon. Whenever they try to do this, they still have to examine all the information in order to answer those two questions: "Accession or Non-accession?" "Nisan or Tishri?"

Take another look at the Wikipedia article at the top of this answer. Thiele is assuming an accession year count where Albright does not. They both agree that the year started on Tishri 1.

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  • Wow! I'm confused - but impressed! ;-) – TheHonRose Jul 22 at 17:36
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According to our present calendar and the most widely accepted chronology the year was 587.

Considering only the date of 607 given by Jehovah's Witnesses: it is quite incompatible with almost everything else we know.

One of the most prominent proponents of this 'theory' is Rolf Furuli, offering us his modestly named 'Oslo-chronology' in his book:

Rolf Furuli: "Persian Chronology and the Length of the Babylonian Exile of the Jews Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Persian Chronology Compared with the Chronology of the Bible", R. Furuli: Oslo, 2003)

This work relies quite heavily on many quite 'original' observations, conclusions and cherry picking of evidence. It was reviewed as:

Once again we have an amateur who wants to rewrite scholarship. […] Part of his redating is fairly modest: he accepts the beginning and end of Achaemenid rule according to the standard dating, and puts the beginning of Darius I’s reign only one year later than is conventional. He argues, however, that the first 11 years of Xerxes’ reign overlap with the last 11 of Darius, and that Artaxerxes I came to the throne in 475 BCE and ruled 51 years. (F. has indeed found the interesting fact that a couple of tablets have the years ‘50’ and ‘51’ for Artaxerxes, but he admits that overwhelmingly tablets make 41 his last year and none is found between 41 and 50, suggesting the obvious: a scribal error.) Gifted amateurs have sometimes revolutionized scholarship, notably M. Ventris and Linear B. But Ventris was willing to work with specialists such as J. Chadwick whereas F. shows little evidence of having put his theories to the test with specialists in Mesopotamian astronomy and Persian history. Perhaps the most telling point is his rather naive argument that the 70 years of Judaean captivity must be a literal 70 years of desolation of the land because some biblical passages make such a statement. A second volume is promised; we shall see if it is any more convincing.
— Lester L Grabbe: Review of "FURULI, ROLF, Persian Chronology and the Length of the Babylonian Exile of the Jews Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Persian Chronology Compared with the Chronology of the Bible, 1 (Oslo: R. Furuli A/S [furuli@online.no], 2003), pp. 251. n.p.", in: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 28(5), 40–58,'3. History, Geography and Sociology', 2004. DOI

An argument that rests entirely on word for word literal truth of every passage in the bible is a very weak one.

While Furuli's picking of 'evidence' is sometimes straightforwardly transparent – like when in chapter three he asserts that while the change of reign from Nebuchadnezzar to Amel-Marduk and Neriglissar is documented in tablet NBC 4897; because this contradicts F.’s chronology, he says it “cannot be used” – his most important argument rests the already mentioned on this page tablet VAT 4956.

And this tablet is egregiously misdated by JW-adherents and Furuli.

A more detailed analysis of some aspects and problems with the book, its methodology is here by Hermann Hunger, Vienna, Austria, author of " Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylonia, Vol. I: Diaries from 652 B.C. to 262 B.C.", Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften: Wien, 1988)."

A layman's compatible analysis of the astronomical calculations and implications would read like:

The cosmic fingerprint doesn’t lie. Year 37 was 568 BCE, so Jerusalem was destroyed in Year 18, 587 BCE. Watchtower chronology doesn’t stand a chance.
"The Astronomical Diary, VAT 4956", XJW Friends, 18 Feb 2018.

[…] three lunar eclipse tablets that establish Nebuchadnezzar’s reign: LBAT 1419, LBAT 1420, LBAT 1421. Even these are not the only ‘game in town’, but they are enough to provide dozens of absolute dates that prove Nebuchadnezzar’s 18th year, the year Jerusalem was destroyed, was 587 BC.
VAT 4956

And in
— John M. Steele and Annette Imhausen [eds.]: "Under One Sky: Astronomy and Mathematics in the Ancient Near East", Ugarit-Verlag: Münster 2002, pp421–428, we see F. Richard Stephenson and David M. Willis have in their chapter "The earliest Datable Observation of Aurora Borealis" en passant also evaluated the lunar data in VAT 4956 and come to the conclusion that the date 586/7 BC can be “confidently affirmed”.

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What makes life a wee bit tricky(!) is that the Bible sometimes gives the year of the reign (eg "in the eighteenth" of King Big-Wig) using the Jewish method of reckoning and sometime gives it using the Babylonian method of reckoning. The Jewish method was the non-accession year method and the year started on the new moon on the 1st Tishri (about September) and the Babylonian method was accession year with the year starting on the new moon on 1st Nisanu (about Mar/Apr). In both methods the year number of the reign is increased by 1 on New Year's Day, but in Accession Year dating the year of reign becomes 1 after the first New Year's Day (before that it was "the year of his becoming king"/accession year) and in non-accession dating the year of reign becomes 2 after the first New Year's Day, and the 11 months and 17 days or the single day(!) of reign before that was the 1st year.

The salient example of use of both the Jewish and Babylonian method is found in the same chapter, Jeremiah 52:12 ("in the nineteenth year") and Jeremiah 52:29 ("in the eighteenth year"). Now Jeremiah 52:28 to 52:30 appears to be a summary from Babylonian sources because verse 28 speaks of taking captive in Neb's 7th year (cf 2 Kings 24:12, the Jewish dating method) and the Babylonian Chronicle BM 21946, Grayston's ABC5 also speaks of this event happening in Neb's 7th year:

[Rev.11'] In the seventh year, the month of Kislîmu [OP: Hebrew, Kislev, 9th month], 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 [OP: Hebrew Adar, 12th month] he seized the city and captured the king.

[Rev.13'] He appointed there a king of his own choice, received its heavy tribute and sent to Babylon. See https://www.livius.org/sources/content/mesopotamian-chronicles-content/abc-5-jerusalem-chronicle/

From this we can conclude that Jer 52:28-30 is using the Babylonian method and may simply be quoting from Babylonian sources. This means that Jerusalem was burned in the 18th of Neb. Babylonian method. Using "Babylonian Chronology - 626 BC to AD 75" by Richard A. Parker and Waldo Dubberstein (1956), the standard work for chronology for the date range, 10 Ab (5th month) of the 18th of Neb.(Jer 52:12 with year changed from Jewish method "19th" to Bab. method "18th") equates to 28 August 587 BC Julian, 22 August 587 bc Gregorian.

Rodger Young also claims that only 587 BC can satisfy all the data, in his paper "When did Jerusalem fall?" www.rcyoung.org

As for the Jehovah's Witness teaching, the date of the destruction of Jerusalem is critically important for Jehovah's Witnesses, and it is critical it is 607 BC. From that they get the date 1914 AD, which underpins their whole theology. In 1914 AD they claim that Jesus returned invisibly, and a few years after that Jesus declared that only the Jehovah's Witness organisation was acceptable to him and Jehovah God. If 607 BC is wrong, then there would be little to undergird 1914 AD as the date of Jesus return, nor any JW doctrine to support his declaring of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society as the only religious organisation acceptable to Jehovah God.

Carl Olof Jonsson's "The Gentile Times Reconsidered" (1968) is very thorough. It is an expansion of his investigations into the date of the destruction of Jerusalem, It is all on his website here http://kristenfrihet.se/english/epage.htm

For a more thorough answer using more Biblical information, and examining the JW position in more detail, see my answer at https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/78711/evangelical-christians-claim-jerusalem-was-destroyed-in-either-587-or-586-bce-w/78765#78765

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  • The rant on Jehovah's Witnesses is unnecessary - especially when it takes up a third of your post. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 11 at 9:28
  • @Pieter Geerkens - OK I will reconsider. I did wonder myself. – Andrew Shanks Aug 11 at 9:39
  • @Pieter Geerkens - I've changed it – Andrew Shanks Aug 11 at 9:48
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    @Pieter Geerkens - Though I 'm not sure it was a "rant" - You prob. see all religions as equally rubbish, if someone gets some company by belonging to a religion then that's good as far as you are concerned. Maybe you think "if any religion is right then it would be the JW's". Maybe someone you know was a JW who you liked and others were against her. I am not against JWs, I am very heavily for them. what I am against are the falsehoods of the Watchtower, an organisation that traps people o if you realize it is wrong and leave you leave all your JW friends behind. – Andrew Shanks Aug 11 at 10:11
  • @PieterGeerkens But JW are taking up half of the question! // The 'funny' thing is that according to 'them' Jesus was also in (heavenly?) parusia in 1874, making '1914 is doomsday aka the end'. If you want to include JW, then the history of this flexibility for harmagedon prognosis might be interesting? – LаngLаngС Aug 11 at 10:25
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7 year old question, but still some evidence not considered. Original post brings up the difference between what JWs believe (607 BCE) and what secular sources quote (586/587 BCE).

The return date is pretty undisputed- 537 BCE. And the Bible specifies an exile of 70 years. So, a 70 year exile ending in 537 BCE would have to start in 607 BCE. Secular sources don't mind at all refuting the Bible, so they're OK with a 50 year exile starting in 587... but as many people cite this date as more authoritative than scripture... most people just know "that's the date we're told (sure that someone has some sort of physical evidence)."

The physical evidence is a Babylonian tablet labeled VAT 4956

The opening line of this tablet reads: “Year 37 of Nebukadnezar, king of Babylon.” Thereafter, it contains detailed descriptions of the position of the moon and planets in relation to different stars and constellations. Also included is one lunar eclipse. Scholars say that all these positions occurred in 568/567 B.C.E., which would make the 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar II, when he destroyed Jerusalem, 587 B.C.E. But do these astronomical references irrefutably point only to the year 568/567 B.C.E.?

The tablet mentions a lunar eclipse that was calculated as occurring on the 15th day of the third Babylonian month, Simanu. It is a fact that a lunar eclipse occurred on July 4 (Julian calendar) of this month during 568 B.C.E. However, there was also an eclipse 20 years earlier, on July 15, 588 B.C.E.

If 588 B.C.E. marked the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar II, then his 18th year would be 607 B.C.E.—the very year indicated by the Bible’s chronology for the destruction of Jerusalem! (See the time line below.) But does VAT 4956 provide further corroborating evidence for the year 607 B.C.E.?

In addition to the aforementioned eclipse, there are 13 sets of lunar observations on the tablet and 15 planetary observations. These describe the position of the moon or planets in relation to certain stars or constellations.18 There are also eight time intervals between the risings and settings of the sun and the moon.

Because of the superior reliability of the lunar positions, researchers have carefully analyzed these 13 sets of lunar positions on VAT 4956. They analyzed the data with the aid of a computer program capable of showing the location of celestial bodies on a certain date in the past. What did their analysis reveal? While not all of these sets of lunar positions match the year 568/567 B.C.E., all 13 sets match calculated positions for 20 years earlier, for the year 588/587 B.C.E.

One of the places where the lunar observations fit 588 B.C.E. even better than 568 B.C.E. is shown in the tablet reproduced on these pages. On line 3 of that tablet, we read that the moon was in a certain position on the “night of the 9th [of Nisanu].” However, the scholars who first dated the event to 568 B.C.E. (astronomical -567) acknowledged that in 568 B.C.E., the moon was in that position on “the 8th of Nisanu and not on the 9th.” To support dating the tablet to 568 B.C.E., they postulated that the scribe erroneously wrote “9” instead of “8.” But the lunar position in line 3 finds an exact match on Nisanu 9 of 588 B.C.E.

Clearly, much of the astronomical data in VAT 4956 fits the year 588 B.C.E. as the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar II. This, therefore, supports the date of 607 B.C.E. for Jerusalem’s destruction—just as the Bible indicates.
When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed?​—Part Two – jw.org

... so... the only evidence that supports 587 BCE... actually confirms 607 BCE.

The strangest outlier come from Jewish sources that put the Babylonian siege starting at 425 BCE, with the temple destroyed in 423 BCE, and the return to israel at 353 BCE. Chabad.org

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No one questions the date of Cyrus' conquest of Babylon: 539 b.c.e., nor his release of the Jews in 537 or 538.

Four different Bible writers say the Jews were in captivity 70 years:

  • Jeremiah 25:11;
  • Daniel 9:2;
  • 2 Chronicles 36:21;
  • Zechariah 1:12.

70 years before 537/38 would be 607/608. The 'scholars' who are stuck on 587 or 586 are relying on a Latin copy of an Armenian script translated from a lost Greek record written by Eusebius who quotes a timeline of Babylonian kings written down 200 years after the fact by a Babylonian priest named Berossus (the same Berossus who wrote about dog-headed horses and fish who walked upright and spoke).

You can read more about biblical derived chronology here.

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    welcome to History SE, please consider add other sources as well to your answer, bible had many historical events in itself, but we can't say it is a history book. – CsBalazsHungary Mar 1 '15 at 8:08
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    @CsBalazsHungary Re "Scholars..are relying.." etc. No scholars are not relying on any flimsy evidence at all. See Carl Olof Jonsson 14 minimum different lines of evidence on his website linked in my reply. – Andrew Shanks Nov 22 '18 at 8:18
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I have done extensive review of the available information from the internet on the time when Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and I believe the information is well documented and properly presented such that a layman like myself could confidently assert that Jerusalem was originally captured by the Babylonians in 607 BC. There is now a preponderance of evidence to support this assertion and the literature is well documented with compelling evidence in support of this assertion. In addition much research has uncovered additional to conclusively prove that this date should be accepted as the date this unfortunate and tragic event befell the unfortunate Israelites of that time Should you have supporting information to prove otherwise, I would welcome your response.

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    Um, if there is a preponderance of evidence, can you provide some? – Semaphore Dec 4 '15 at 21:22
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    Sorry, -1. Please post some of this abundant evidence and I'll revoke the downvote. – Felix Goldberg Apr 23 '16 at 6:26

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