When was Jerusalem Destroyed?

INDEX:
*Secular History Prefers 586-587
*What Secular Sources Say
*Biblical Dating
*The Seventy Years of Jeremiah
*Daniel’s Understanding of the Seventy Years
*Ezra’s Understanding of the Seventy Years
*The Testimony of Zechariah
*The Lifespan of Daniel
*Footnotes

EDITOR'S NOTE:

We strongly suggest that you forego the reading of this document and click on the linked document, The Problem with Setting Bible Historical Dates instead, since it reflects the latest research.

Secular History Prefers 586-587

A quick look at any secular source will give 586 or 587 -BCE as the year of Jerusalem’s destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. Yet many people feel it was actually destroyed some 20 years earlier in 607-BCE (1). Proponents of the 607 date, state it is based on biblical evidence rather than secular histories. The answer of when the correct date for Jerusalem’s destruction has become very important to several groups who use the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar as the starting point for calculations relating to Christ’s return, the apocalypse, the gentile times or the history of the modern nation of Israel.

This document is not an attempt to discredit any individual or group, for many of them have been and continue to be very zealous in their worship. Nor are we trying to counter doctrines that are dependent on a specific date. However since any calculation is only as good as the date you start with, lets examine the current evidence used for one date or the other. Is it reliable or suspect?

What Secular Sources Say

A good place to start is by looking at general reference works and encyclopedias. Below are some brief quotes from respected secular sources. Use the Bibliography links to read the entire articles.

... The intervening years after the fall of Samaria (722-BCE), and after the destruction of Jerusalem (586-BCE), were probably marked by closer intercourse, similar to the period of union in the popular traditions relating to the pre-monarchical age. (b1)

... This brought about the final siege of the city, which was at length taken and destroyed (B.C. 586). (b2)

... Some of the most important prophets and poets lived during the Babylonian Exile, the period of captivity that followed Babylon’s conquest of Judah in 587 or 586 B.C. ()

... In 586 B.C. it fell to the Babylonians, and the Temple was destroyed. (b4)

... Nebuchadnezzar subsequently engaged in several military campaigns designed to increase Babylonian influence in Syria and Judah, capturing Jerusalem in 597 BC, bringing King JehoiAchin to Babylon. Another siege of Jerusalem occurred in 586 BC, ending in the destruction of both the city and the Temple and the deportation of many prominent citizens to Babylon. (b5)

... Ashkelon was utterly destroyed by [Nebuchadnezzar], the Babylonian leader who later destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple in 586 B.C.E. (b6)

... A new revolt occurred (588-587 BC) in Judea. After a siege of about a year, Jerusalem was finally destroyed in 586 BC ... (b7)

You will note all of the sources vary by no more than 1 year in their dating and do not mention any dissention or uncertainty. We will examine on what evidence this is based, and whether that evidence is reliable; first however let us examine the bible, as it remains the best most accurate source of information on ancient history.

Biblical Dating

The Bible contains no absolute dates, since our calendar was not invented when any part of the Old Testament was written. It is not possible, therefore, to date events directly. However, the Bible does provide many relative dates.

One example can be found at Daniel 1:1 ‘In the third year of the kingship of JehoiAkim the king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and proceeded to lay siege to it.’ Then follows an account of how the holy things in the temple were taken to Babylon, and some prominent Israelites were taken captive; among them Daniel. In Daniel 2:1, we likewise find an event dated in the 2nd year of Nebuchadnezzar.

This was how events were dated in the Biblical times. If we can date the reigns of the Kings, in this case JehoiAkim and Nebuchadnezzar, we can date the events. Any dating therefore requires some independent non-Biblical evidence. Only relative dates can be taken from the Bible itself. To reach actual dates we need an event that is dated both in the bible and in secular history. Using one of these pivotal dates we can use the relative dates of the bible to calculate the actual dates. The one date nobody seems to have a problem with is the capture of Babylon by Cyrus the Great in 538 -BCE

The Seventy Years of Jeremiah

The problem is that during the period of the Judean exile the biblical record is less than comprehensive. One can easily order and count events during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, however perhaps because there were no reigning Judean kings to base dates on, the bible is nearly silent as to the historical timetables until the days of Babylon’s capture. The only biblical dating possible is based on a prophesy of Jeremiah, and some references by Zechariah.

Consider first Jeremiah 25:11-12: ‘And all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it must occur that when seventy years have been fulfilled I shall call to account against the king of Babylon and against that nation,’

Supporters of the 607 date for Jerusalem’s destruction say this scripture shows that 70 years would pass from the time of Jerusalem’s destruction and the land being desolate, to the time when the Jews would be restored to their homeland (2). Is this the case?

Well remember Jeremiah prophesied not only to the Judeans, but he was commissioned as a ‘prophet to the nations’ (Jeremiah 1:5). Who were the nations Jeremiah was speaking of with the phrase ‘these nations’? Continue down to Jeremiah 25:17-26 and he makes clear it would include all of the nations in the Palestinian area and even to the rest of the earth. And although the context speaks of desolations, you will notice the seventy years themselves were a time of servitude, not desolation. Also, notice that the end of the seventy years would be marked not by a return of the Jews but by an accounting with Babylon.

Next, let’s look at Jeremiah 29:10, as it is presented in several translations:

‘This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.’ - NIV

‘For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.’ - NASB

‘For thus says the Lord, When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you and keep My good promise to you, causing you to return to this place.’ - AMP

‘After Babylonia has been the strongest nation for seventy years, I will be kind and bring you back to Jerusalem, just as I have promised.’ - CEV

The King James and other bibles have confused matters slightly by their incorrect use of the phrase ‘at Babylon’ rather than ‘for Babylon’, but that aside, a look at the context in Jeremiah 29:4-11 shows these words to be part of a letter sent from Jeremiah to those who were taken captive from Jerusalem in the second (of three) deportations. This second deportation happened eleven years before Jerusalem’s final destruction. Jeremiah is telling the captives they should settle themselves and not expect a quick return as some false prophets had predicted, for only after seventy years had been accomplished ‘for Babylon’ would they return. This only makes sense if the seventy years had already begun.

If the seventy years were to begin with the destruction of Jerusalem some ten years after Jeremiah’s words were written, it would mean the people Jeremiah was writing to would have to wait even longer than seventy years. Plus to do so would mean God had already decided that Jerusalem would be destroyed. And if this were this case, the later warnings recorded at Jeremiah 38:17, 18 would have no meaning. It reads:

‘Jeremiah now said to Zedekiah: ‘This is what Jehovah, the God of armies, the God of Israel, has said, ‘If you will without fail go out to the princes of the king of Babylon, your soul will also certainly keep living and this city itself will not be burned with fire, and you yourself and your household will certainly keep living. But if you will not go out to the princes of the king of Babylon, this city must also be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they will actually burn it with fire, and you yourself will not escape out of their hand.’

If God had already decided to burn the city ten years before he did it, such a warning would have been futile. However if we understand the seventy years to be years of servitude, then the warning to Zedekiah is clear, serve Babylon and the city and its inhabitants will be spared, rebel against God’s appointed agent, Nebuchadnezzar, and be destroyed.

Daniel’s Understanding of the Seventy Years

The prophet Daniel was aware of the contents of Jeremiah’s letter, and personally experienced its dramatic fulfillment when the King of Babylon saw the writing on the wall – literally. Daniel interpreted these mysterious writings:

‘And this is the writing that was inscribed: ME’NE, ME’NE, TE’KEL and PAR’SIN. ‘This is the interpretation of the word: ME’NE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and has finished it. ‘TE’KEL, you have been weighed in the balances and have been found deficient. ‘PE’RES, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.’ (Daniel 5:25-28)

Yes, God had ‘numbered the days’ of the kingdom of the Babylonians. Exactly seventy years after they finally defeated the Assyrians, the Medes and the Persians under King Cyrus put an end to the Babylonian dominance. Daniel concludes: ‘In that very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed’ (Daniel 5:30).

This obviously refers back to the prophecies of Jeremiah. This ‘numbering of days’ was of course revealed in advance and not kept secret (Amos 3:7).

Let’s look at Jeremiah 25:11, 12 again and note the order of events:

‘And all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it must occur that when seventy years have been fulfilled I shall call to account against the king of Babylon and against that nation,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.’

First the seventy years had to run out, and then the king of Babylon would be called to account. Any interpretation that puts the ending of the seventy years after Babylon was called to account, is a contradiction of the text.

The Exiled Jews no doubt appreciated the significance of the end of the Babylonian empire. They knew that this would have to happen before they could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and the city. Only after ‘seventy years are completed for Babylon’ would Jehovah fulfill his words to ‘come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.’ (Jeremiah 29:10)

It was these words that Daniel found when he started to examine these prophecies immediately after the fall of Babylon:

‘In the first year of his reigning I myself, Daniel, discerned by the books the number of the years concerning which the word of Jehovah had occurred to Jeremiah the prophet, for fulfilling the devastations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.’ (Daniel 9:2)

Daniel simply says that seventy years had to pass before Jerusalem’s devastations could end. He does not say that these seventy years started when Jerusalem was destroyed. Many translations use the plural, ‘devastations.’ This would seem to argue against applying the seventy years to a single devastation of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. The Jerusalem Bible even uses the expression ‘the successive devastations of Jerusalem.’

The Hebrew word for ‘devastation’ is chorbah. It does not mean complete destruction. Nebuchadnezzar took prisoners and booty from Jerusalem already in his accession year. Every year after this, his army passed through the land, no doubt causing more destruction, added to this the Bible speaks of marauder bands causing havoc in this time (2 Kings 24:2; Jeremiah 35:11). Ezekiel refers to ‘the inhabitants of these devastated places’ (Ezekiel 33:24, 27), which makes it obvious the word need not necessarily refer to places that are completely devoid of people. Comparing also Nehemiah 2:17, we see that the Bible calls Jerusalem devastated even after the Jews had returned to it. The term devastated place or devastations does not then have to be applied just to the time after Jerusalem’s destruction, but can rightly apply to the entire period.

We can see that Daniel 9:2 gives no support to a 607 dating. First, Daniel nowhere states that the seventy years started when Jerusalem was finally destroyed. Second, the devastations of Jerusalem started many years before the final destruction.

Ezra’s Understanding of the Seventy Years

The next Bible verse we will examine in regards to the seventy years is also concerned with the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Again, the text must be examined with the words of Jeremiah himself in mind. Ezra the scribe concludes his chronicles about the kings of Judah with these words:

‘Furthermore, he carried off those remaining from the sword captive to Babylon, and they came to be servants to him and his sons until the royalty of Persia began to reign; to fulfill Jehovah’s word by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid off its Sabbaths. All the days of lying desolated it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.’ (2 Chronicles 36:20, 21)

These words could imply that the land was desolated for exactly seventy years. But even if that is the case, the devastations still started before the final destruction of Jerusalem, so this lends no support to the 607 dating. Moreover, Ezra did not say that the period of seventy years ran parallel with the period the country laid desolated. He simply said that the seventy years had to end before the time of desolation was over.

Consider as well Ezra’s reference to the Sabbaths. Since Jeremiah nowhere mentions Sabbath years in relation to the seventy years. Ezra must be referring to another prophecy recorded at Leviticus 26:33-35. Ezra does not equal the time needed to pay off Sabbaths with the seventy years. He refers to two different prophecies, and states that two periods had to be completed before the Jews could return: the Sabbath rest and the seventy years of Babylonian supremacy.

There are two principles in relation to the Sabbath rest worth remembering. If the land had to rest for seventy years, this would have to mean that for 490 (7 x 70) years, the Jews had not kept Sabbath. This takes us back before the reign of the righteous David, even before Saul who was the first king. Is it likely that the country did not hold Sabbath for a single year during the reigns of Saul, David, Solomon, and Josiah? On the other hand, using accepted chronology the country was desolate (in this sense, not being used for agriculture) for approximately 50 years (536-BCE to 586-BCE = 50 years). This (7 x 50 years) brings us back very close to the time of the division of the Kingdom, which is attributed to the faithlessness of the king.

Let us now look at the remaining biblical evidence, the testimony of Zechariah.

The Testimony of Zechariah

Consider Zechariah 1:7 which reads: ‘On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, that is, the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of Jehovah occurred to Zechariah the son of BarachiJah the son of IdDo the prophet.’

Most everyone seems to again agree that this corresponds to February 519-BCE. Notice what a messenger of God said at that time as recorded in verse 12 of Zechariah: ‘So the angel of 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?’

Yes, for 70 years God had denounced the cities of Judah. This takes us back to 589-BCE. According to backers of the 607 chronology, nothing of significance happened this year, moreover It would be ludicrous for this angel to say the cities had been denounced for ‘seventy years’ if this period started eighteen years after the complete destruction of the capital! In the established chronology however, this was the year when Nebuchadnezzar started the final siege on Jerusalem (2. Kings 25:1; Ezekiel 24:1, 2; Jeremiah 52:4).

Supporters of the 607 chronology have likewise linked these seventy years with the prophecy of Jeremiah, however if this angel was talking about a seventy year period from 607 to 537 - that had ended some 18 years earlier then why would the angel ask ‘how long?’ These very words demonstrate that at this point the period of denouncing had not yet ended. And since they continued, they must have started with a major event in 589-BCE. This seventy years is not the same as that of Jeremiah, nor is it even a prophetic period. The angel is simply stating that for seventy years of time Judah has been denounced, and is asking how much longer it will continue to be so.

Zechariah later delivers an even more fatal blow to those who insist on the 607 chronology. Consider Zechariah 7:1-5:

‘Furthermore, it came about that in the fourth year of Darius the king the word of Jehovah occurred to Zechariah, on the fourth day of the ninth month, that is, in Chislev. And Bethel proceeded to send Sharezer and Regem-melech and his men to soften the face of Jehovah, saying to the priests who belonged to the house of Jehovah of armies, and to the prophets, even saying: ‘Shall I weep in the fifth month, practicing an abstinence, the way I have done these O how many years?’ And the word of Jehovah of armies continued to occur to me, saying: ‘Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, When you fasted and there was a wailing in the fifth month and in the seventh month, and this for seventy years, did you really fast to me, even me?

The chronological evidence in these verses gives a wealth of information. They had been fasting in the fifth month in order to commemorate how on that day NebuZaradan, the chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard, after two days of inspection, burned down the city of Jerusalem and its temple. They also fasted in the seventh month to commemorate the assassination of Governor GedaliJah, who was of the royal house of King David and whom Nebuchadnezzar made governor of the land for the Jews that were allowed to remain after the destruction of Jerusalem.

The Israelites asked if they should continue this fasting, so they were obviously doing it at the time and had been for seventy years. The date given for this vision of Zechariah (Chislev 9, 4th year of Darius) corresponds to November 518-BCE. This presents a problem if you want to date the destruction of Jerusalem at 607-BCE since this is some ninety years before. When we count seventy years however we come to the accepted chronology of 586/7-BCE.

The Lifespan of Daniel

If one puts the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 there is a major problem with the lifespan of the prophet Daniel as well. Recall that Daniel was exiled to Babylon (3) and completed three years of training. Then in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar he interpreted the dream of the immense image (Daniel 2:1). As a result, Daniel was made ‘ruler over all the jurisdictional district of Babylon and the chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon’ (Daniel 2:48). It would be hard to imagine Daniel was put in such a position as a mere boy. He must have been at least 18 years, and likely older.

Daniel continued to serve in the royal court well into the days of the Medes and Persians (Daniel 10:1). If we are to use the 607 chronology then his interpreting the Dream of the immense image occurred in 624-BCE. This is 86 years before Cyrus conquered Babylon, and since Daniel 10:1 was written in the third year of Cyrus that would make Daniel at least 107 years old, and likely even older. Using the established chronology, he is a much more reasonable 87 years old.

Footnotes

(1) Although some other dates have been proposed the difference in understanding of any biblical dating of this time period is always in the length of the exile of the Jews, which is a primary point of this article.

(2) Cyrus issued an order almost immediately after taking power (538-BCE) allowing the Jews to return to their homeland, and some did return by the next year (537-BCE). If you assume the seventy years to be from the destruction of Jerusalem to the Jews return, then starting from 537 and counting backwards you reach 607-BCE.

(3) Although Daniel 1:1 refers to Nebuchadnezzar as king when he attacked Jerusalem and took Daniel captive, Nebuchadnezzar’s father NaboPolasar was still alive thus these years are counted to him, as is Nebuchadnezzar’s ascension year. Calling him king is not unusual, especially for Daniel, when we consider the account of Belshazzar, who Daniel also called king, and history only recently acknowledged as co-regent. So while Nebuchadnezzar may not have yet been the supreme ruler of the land officially he likely was so in daily practice.

Bibliography

(Sorry, this is a contributed article whose author is no longer available to us; and we have found that several of the links below are no longer available due to the number of years since this document was written.

(b1) http://86.1911encyclopedia.org/J/JU/JUDAH.htm
(b2) http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/nebuchadnezzar.html
(b3) http://www.worldbookonline.com/wb/PrintArticle?id=ar401940&ss=h2&ed=na
(b4) http://www.bartleby.com/65/je/Jerusale.html
(b5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebuchadnezzar_II_of_Babylon
(b7) http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/n/nebuchad.asp

EDITOR’S NOTE: While we (the editors) tend to agree that 607-B.C.E. may be a closer date for the destruction of JeruSalem because it appears to be more in line with Bible prophesy, we have found that the point which readers attempt to use this date in order to prove (that mankind has been on the earth for just a little over 6,000 years) is probably badly flawed, for it is based on obvious miscalculations and on flawed scriptural texts. Please consider OUR NOTE in the article by Jehovahs Witnesses, ‘1975 – A Marked Date?’ Also, see OUR NOTE AND THE LINKS concerning the obvious errors in the Masoretic text periods in Genesis Chapters 5 and 11.

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One of our advisors sent the following note: ‘I would remove the argument about the lifespan of Daniel. Most scholars that I know (if they accept 607) do not accept that Daniel was in Babylon for the second year of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel's life becomes a sliding scale, fitting it into the timeline where it makes sense. It really is a moot point, since we have no universally accepted point of Daniel's birth. Also, there are records of Nabonidus' mother (if I remember correctly) living to the age of 107.’