The Problem with
Setting Bible Historical Dates
Through the centuries, Bible students and scholars alike have been trying to establish dates for the events described in the Bible so that a link can be made to the second coming of Jesus and the Battle of Armageddon. As the result, some have focused on the first destruction of Jerusalem as a reference point, setting its date as 607-BCE. How did they arrive at this date?
Well, using the accepted secular date for the destruction of Babylon as 539-BCE and adding two years before Cyrus the Great issued his order to rebuild Jerusalem (537), then subtracting seventy years (per the prophecy of Jeremiah) brings us to a destruction of Jerusalem in 607-BCE. However, popular historical dating sets the destruction of Jerusalem at 586 or 587-BCE. And this is what the argument is about. So, which (if any) of these dates is correct?
If you believe the accepted historical dates; JeruSalem was destroyed around 586/87-BCE and King Cyrus (pronounced Kai-russ) of Persia conquered Babylon in 539-BCE. Then he allowed the Jews to return to their homeland two years later, in 537-BCE. Notice that this puts the period of JeruSalem's desolation at fifty years. So was JeremiAh wrong? For he quoted God as saying (at Jeremiah 25:11, 12):
'There'll be extinction throughout the whole land,
And you'll serve these nations for seventy years,
As well as Babylon's king.
And after seventy years are fulfilled;
On the king of Babylon and his wicked nation,
I will then take My vengeance,
For the unrighteous things that they'll do, says Jehovah.'
Then he again wrote (at Jeremiah 29:10):
'After the seventy years,
In Babylon have been fulfilled,
I'll come visit you and do as I said…
I'll bring your people back to this place… '
Well, how did that period work out in the end? At 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21, we read: 'Then he carried off everyone who was left to Babylon, where they served as slaves for him and his sons… until the Medes came along and fulfilled the words of Jehovah through JeremiAh, and after the land had observed its Sabbaths. For, during the seventy years that the land lay desolate, it was observing its Sabbath.'
Then DaniEl wrote (at Daniel 9:1-3): 'Well, it was in the first year of Darius (of Xerxes), who was from the seed of the Medes and who ruled over the kingdom of the Chaldeans, that I (DaniEl) came to understand the number of the years from the words that Jehovah had given to the Prophet JeremiAh; for there he prophesied that JeruSalem would lie desolate for seventy years.'
And the Prophet ZechariAh wrote (at Zechariah 1:12) that an angel from God said:
'O Jehovah of Armies;
How long will you fail to show mercy,
On JeruSalem and the cities of Judah?
For, this is the seventieth year of Your rage.'
Notice also, what the ancient Jewish historian said about this in 'The Works of Flavius Josephus,' as Translated by William Whiston under the subheading, 'How Cyrus, King Of The Persians, Delivered The Jews Out Of Babylon And Suffered Them To Return To Their Own Country And To Build Their Temple, For Which Work He Gave Them Money':
'In the first year of the reign of Cyrus, which was the seventieth from the day that our people were removed out of their own land into Babylon, God commiserated the captivity and calamity of these poor people, according as he had foretold to them by Jeremiah the prophet before the destruction of the city, that after they had served Nebuchadnezzar and his posterity, and after they had undergone that servitude seventy years, he would restore them again to the land of their fathers, and they should build their temple, and enjoy their ancient prosperity. And these things God did afford them; for he stirred up the mind of Cyrus, and made him write this throughout all Asia: Thus saith Cyrus the king: Since God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of the habitable earth, I believe that he is that God which the nation of the Israelites worship; for indeed he foretold my name by the prophets, and that I should build him a house at Jerusalem, in the country of Judea. '
So if we believe the Bible and an early historian, JeruSalem remained destroyed for seventy years.
Notice that, at Ezra 1:1-4, this piece of history is recorded: 'In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Word of Jehovah came through the mouth of [the Prophet] JeremiAh to awaken the spirit of King Cyrus. So, [Cyrus] sent a written proclamation throughout his kingdom that said, This is what Cyrus the king of Persia has decreed: All the kingdoms of the earth have been given to me by Jehovah, the God of heaven, and He told me to build a Temple to Him in JeruSalem of Judah. So, who of you are His people? His God Jehovah is now with him! Therefore, let him [return to JeruSalem] and build a Temple for the God of IsraEl, because He is The God in JeruSalem. Now, all the Judeans should leave the places where they've been staying and take up a collection of silver and gold, as well as of things from among their belongings and their cattle, [to rebuild] the Temple of God in JeruSalem.'
And later, at Ezra 6:1, 2, this is recorded: 'Then, after examining the library at the treasury in Babylon, King Darius issued a decree. For in the city of AchMetha, in the palace of the Medes, he found a scroll with a record that was written in the first year of King Cyrus, where he rendered a decree concerning the Temple of God in JeruSalem.
So, when does secular history say that he began his reign? It says that it began in 559-BCE (see the Wikipedia link, 'Cyrus the Great'). Notice that this is some twenty years earlier than what many consider to be the time of the conquest of Babylon (539-BCE) and just three years after the death of JeruSalem's destroyer, Nebuchadnezzar. Therefore, if secular history and the account in Ezra are both right; then Babylon must have been destroyed somewhere around 560-BCE, which pushes the destruction of Jerusalem back to about 630-BCE (if you believe the prophecy in Jeremiah, which says that Jerusalem would be destroyed for 70 years).
So notice: Two Bible accounts tell us that the Jews were released to return to their homeland during the first year of the reign of Cyrus, and this is substantiated by Josephus, who also said that this release came seventy years to the day from the destruction of Jerusalem!
Notice that the above linked Wikipedia reference about Cyrus claims that Cyrus was the conqueror of Babylon.
However, we read at 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21 that it wasn't the Persians,
but the Medes under a king named Darius who actually conquered Babylon. For at Daniel 5:31, 32 we read: 'However, that very night, BelShazzar
(the king of the Chaldeans) was killed and Darius the Mede took the kingdom as his own at the age of sixty two.'
Notice that Cyrus isn't mentioned in DaniEl's account until the next year (see Daniel 6:28).
Then at Haggai 1:1, 2, we read this: 'In the second year [of the reign] of King Darius, in the sixth month and on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of HagGai the Prophet, saying, Speak to ZerubBabel the son of ShealtiEl from the tribe of Judah, and to JoShua (son of JoZadek) the High Priest, and tell them that Jehovah the Almighty says this.'
So according to HagGai, this Darius was a king during the time of ZerubBabel. And according to Ezra 1:1, and 2:2, ZerubBabel returned to JeruSalem (by the decree of King Cyrus) in the first year of his (Cyrus') reign.
As you can see, it was Darius (the king of the Medes) who conquered Babylon. Then, about a year and a half later, Cyrus became the king of Persia… and seventy years to the day after JeruSalem was destroyed, he issued the order for the Jews to return to their homeland.
Also, at Haggai 1:14, 15 we read: 'So thereafter, Jehovah awakened the spirit of ZerubBabel (the son of ShealtiEl) from the tribe of Judah, the spirit of JoShua (the son of JoZadek) the High Priest, and the spirit of the rest of the people, and they went to work on the [Temple] of their God the Almighty Jehovah, which started on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year [of the reign] of Darius the king.'
Notice again what is said at Zechariah 1:1: 'It was in the eighth month in the second year [of the reign] of Darius that the word of the Lord came to ZechariAh.' Then verse 12 says: 'O Jehovah of Armies; How long will you fail to show mercy upon JeruSalem and the cities of Judah? For, this is the seventieth year of Your rage.'
We read again at Zechariah 7:1: 'Then in the fourth year of [the reign] of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to ZechariAh on the fourth day of the ninth month (which is Chislev).' And verse 5 goes on to say, 'In the fifth and seventh months, you have fasted, and you beat on your chests for seventy years.'
As you can see; King Darius, the conquerer of Babylon, continued his reign beyond the start of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia. And the seventy years that JeruSalem had been destroyed apparently ended in the second year of the reign of Darius and the first year of the reign of Cyrus (who was the king that released the Jews and sent them back to their homeland).
So notice that here in the prophecies of Haggai and in Zechariah we find a third and a fourth account that speaks of a king named Darius who reigned before and then concurrent with Cyrus. We can see that this Darius is not the later king of Persia also named Darius, who became the ruler of Persia (the first Darius was the ruler of Babylon, which he had conquered) after the death of Cyrus. For Zechariah 1:16 shows that God's Temple had not yet been rebuilt in the time of the first Darius!
However, in which year was Babylon destroyed, 539 or 559-BCE? Well, there is too much evidence that proves secular historians have gotten their dates wrong, partly because their list of kings is corrupted… so it's hard to tell. Either they have Babylon's destruction twenty years too late, or they have Cyrus' rule twenty-one years too early (we suspect the latter).
As for Darius the King of the Medes: modern historians say that there was no such person, for they say that the kingdom of the Medes was overthrown by Cyrus the Great in 548-BCE, and that Babylon was destroyed in 539-BCE (22 years after Darius actually conquered Babylon, if Cyrus truly started his reign in 559 as historians also claim). So Babylon (they say) was conquered by Cyrus the Persian, and the account in Daniel, which clearly says Darius the Mede did the conquering and that he ruled before Cyrus, is in error. Why? Because they think that when the Bible spoke of Darius the King of Babylon, it really meant Darius the King of Persia whose reign (522-BCE to 486-BCE) followed that of Cyrus.
Notice that this King of Persia named Darius is also mentioned in the Bible at Ezra 4:24). And according to historians, this man was born in 550-BCE. But just a few verses earlier, at Ezra 4:5, we read that Darius the Median king of Babylon was living during the time when King Cyrus gave the order to rebuild the Temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem. And since this Darius is testified to by so many Bible writers; any Christian who denies his existence is obviously denying the accuracy and inspiration of the Bible!
Yet, there appears to be a conflicting report as to who this Darius really was that conquered Babylon. For at Daniel 9:1, we read that Darius' father was Xerxes. So some might conclude that DaniEl was talking about the later Darius I. However, this is an impossibility, because:
1. Darius I was the father of Xerxes (not the son)
2. He lived well after DaniEl, so DaniEl couldn't have written about him!
Therefore, while we do trust the words of DaniEl (since Jesus quoted him extensively), the two words, of Xerxes, are either someone's erroneous 'clarification' (someone who also believed he was writing about Darius I but got his history wrong) that eventually found its way into the text, or that Xerxes was a rather common family or titular name given to Darius' actual Median father.
As to the existence and rule of Darius: Archaeological records tell us that there was in fact a lesser king under Cyrus, who was related to him and who was the king of Media. In fact, he was the grandfather of the later Darius I. Persian inscriptions give us the name Arsames, and he may have been the Darius mentioned in Daniel, Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah, since it is not unusual for ancient kings to be known by other names (actual and regnal).
Notice how Arsames is described as 'the son of Ariaramnes and perhaps briefly the king of Persia during the Achaemenid dynasty, but gave up the throne and declared loyalty to Cyrus II of Persia (Cyrus the Great). After this, Arsames most likely retired to his family estate in the Persian heartland of Parsa, and lived out the rest of his long years there peacefully, though he may nominally have exercised the duties of a lesser king under the authority of the Great King.' 'Another attestation of his reign is the Behistun Inscription, where his grandson Darius I lists him among his royal forebears and counts him among the eight kings who preceded him.'
Although some sources show that Arsames lived around 520-BCE, that may just refer to his death, since Cyrus is said to have lived and died prior to that time. However, it seems likely that historians have placed the reign of Cyrus much earlier than what is probable, because the given dates for Cyrus' free reign (not under Babylonian control) and the period given for Babylonian domination of the region overlap by about 20 years.
There is, of course, some chance that Arsames wasn't Darius, since Josephus wrote that his father was Astyages, while the father of Arsames is listed as Ariaramnes. However, the names of both fathers are similar, as are the circumstances of the reigns of the Bible's Darius and history's Arsames, so they seem to be referring to the same person (the Darius of the Bible).
Then, which is wrong, the Bible or the historians? If you simply look at the dates that historians provide for the reign of Cyrus the Great and compare them to the dates given for the lifetime of Nebuchadnezzar, and then consider the testimonies of four contemporary Bible writers and the account of one First-Century historian (Josephus), you'll see that the modern historians in their guesswork on the meanings of ancient inscriptions have either reached a wrong conclusion for the date of the destruction of Babylon, or for the reign of Cyrus! For example: If there was truly a King of Media who actually conquered Babylon, as those who were contemporaries have written, then secular historians have missed at least one king (and probably more) in their calculations.
If you believe in the accuracy of the Bible (as we do, for good reason); with research, you will see that the entire secular history and dating for the Achaemenid and Babylonian Empires is badly skewed, since it doesn't line up well with the contemporary accounts of Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Mordecai, the book of 2 Chronicles, or the writings of Josephus. So, reaching conclusions about which king is really being spoken of in Bible accounts (since the names that the Jews gave to those kings is not the same as the historians have chosen to use) and the dates of the events they were involved in is premature and will likely change as more accurate historical evidence is found. Yes, we have attempted to give you some ideas in our parenthetical notes, but these will be changed should we find out that they are wrong (it's the nice thing about an online Bible, the pages of which haven't been set in print).
Also, if Cyrus the Great decreed that the Jews could return to their homeland in the first year after taking over the reign from Darius, as Ezra wrote (and which is the logical sequence of events); and if his reign started in 559-BCE, as historians have said; then Babylon must have been destroyed somewhere around 560-BCE, not 539-BCE as they claim. As for us: We'll trust the Bible writers who lived back then and whose accounts can be verified as historical. However, since we know that there are errors in the secular chronology, we realize that the modern historical date for the beginning of the reign of Cyrus may be wrong… it could have been later. And if this is so, then 539 could well be the correct date for Babylon's destruction.
Notice that if you consider our Note, 'Parvaim or PharaOh Aim?,' you will see that PharaOh AmenemNisu of the 21st Egyptian Dynasty was likely a contemporary of King Solomon who contributed gold for the Temple of Jehovah in JeruSalem. In fact, he may also be the king whose daughter Solomon married. If this is true (and we suspect that it is), this happened sometime early in the reign of King Solomon (within the first 6 years, since that's when the Temple was built). The date given for AmenemNisu's reign is 1051–1047 BCE, and that suggests Solomon's reign was earlier than most people think… and even that may be too late! However, if we allow the range of say, 1055 to 1045-BCE as the first year of the reign of Solomon; then his death, which the Bible says happened 40-years later must have happened between 1015 and 1005-BCE. Then subtract the 390 years from the start of the reign IsraEl's King JeroBoam to the end of ZedekiAh's reign, and we get the destruction of JeruSalem as happening somewhere between 625 and 615-BCE!
As you can see, the Bible's contemporary accounts seem to imply that even 607-BCE may be a bit late for the destruction of JeruSalem. You could argue that the dates suggested in the Bible are inconsistent, showing it to be the unreliable source; but is that the case? Notice that the starting dates we have used in each of the above instances is based on the opinions of historians, so they are the more likely sources of the errors!
We are amazed by the fact that many who claim to believe in the Bible say that the books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Daniel, and Zechariah (as well as the Jewish historian Josephus) got all their numbers wrong, and that we should trust the illogical dates and series of events that are set for us by people who are openly opposed to the Bible and whose aim is just to prove it wrong. For these 'historians' refuse to accept the written contemporary and eye-witness accounts (and even the testimony of God and the angels) as history, while they teach their own interpretations of things written by royal engravers (which were often inscribed centuries after the reigns they describe) as the gospel. So, the question is: Do we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that it can be trusted?
As you can see, determining the date for the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon isn't as easy as it looks, since everything hinges upon trust in 'absolute' dates… and there simply aren't any such things! Notice this quotation from Wikipedia under the heading Absolute Dates: 'Absolute dating is the process of determining an approximate computed age in archaeology and geology. Some scientists prefer the terms chronometric or calendar dating, as use of the word absolute implies an unwarranted certainty and precision. Absolute dating provides a computed numerical age in contrast with relative dating which provides only an order of events.
'In archeology, absolute dating is usually based on the physical or chemical properties of the materials of artifacts, buildings, or other items that have been modified by humans. Absolute dates do not necessarily tell us precisely when a particular cultural event happened, but when taken as part of the overall archaeological record, they are invaluable in constructing a more specific sequence of events.'
So, whether you go with secular history or rely on Bible prophecies; you can argue as you wish, but the answer you select is currently improvable and still open to debate. For secular historical data is very questionable, the reference-point dates of Bible prophecies are unclear, the Orthodox Jewish historical dates leave little room to accommodate the eras of the Greek and Roman empires, and popular religious calculations of dates are provably based on inaccurate Bible texts and impossible rationalizations.
Of course, most historians point to astrological events to prove that their accepted dates are correct. However, as with anyone who wishes to prove their assumptions to be right; they tend to overlook the inaccuracies in their methods and the fact that some of their sources are questionable.
Also, if you do an online search, you will find several articles online proclaiming that there was no conquest of the land of Egypt following the destruction of JeruSalem, as was foretold in the prophecy of Jeremiah 44:27-30 and that of Ezekiel Chapter Thirty. So these sources say that the Bible was wrong again and that its prophecies can't be trusted. However, notice what we are told in the Wikipedia article about Nebuchadnezzar II under the subheading Life: 'After the destruction of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar engaged in a thirteen year siege of Tyre (585–572 BCE), which ended in a compromise, with the Tyrians accepting Babylonian authority. Following the pacification of Tyre, Nebuchadnezzar turned again to Egypt. A clay tablet, now in the British Museum, states: In the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the country of Babylon, he went to Mitzraim (Egypt) to wage war. Amasis, king of Egypt, collected [his army], and marched and spread abroad.'
So according to Babylonian records, the Bible is right; for here is an account of Nebuchadnezzar attacking Egypt. But notice that the account in Jeremiah says that the Babylonians would conquer PharaOh Hophra (Apries), who was the predecessor to Amasis. So, who was actually attacked by the Babylonians? The Wikipedia article about Amasis, under the subheading Life, tells us this: 'According to the Greek historian [Herodotus] … a revolt which broke out among native Egyptian soldiers gave [Amasis] his opportunity to seize the throne. These troops, returning home from a disastrous military expedition to Cyrene in Libya, suspected that they had been betrayed in order that Apries, the reigning king, might rule more absolutely by means of his Greek mercenaries … General Amasis, sent to meet them and quell the revolt, was proclaimed king by the rebels instead, and Apries, who had now to rely entirely on his mercenaries, was defeated. Apries was either taken prisoner in the ensuing conflict at Memphis before being eventually strangled and buried in his ancestral tomb at Sais, or fled to the Babylonians and was killed mounting an invasion of his native homeland in 567 BCE with the aid of a Babylonian army.'
It is interesting that the Wikipedia account puts this invasion of Egypt at 567, which current secular history sets as happening near the 'the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar!' So it appears as though (from all the above accounts) the Babylonians attacked Apries to install Amasis as the king of Egypt. And where was that battle fought? Near Cyrene Libya (not Egypt). Then, why was Apries (Hophra) using Greek troops to fight his battle? Was it because his land had been conquered by the Babylonians earlier and the Egyptians were forced to flee (possibly to Greece) during the 40-years of their desolation? We don't know, because there are insufficient secular records to verify such a hypothesis. All we have is the Bible account (which we trust). But if that's what happened, then all the dates that were set by secular historians are likely wrong, and Nebuchadnezzar's 37th year could have started much earlier than 567, which is what we suspect is true, because that would allow enough time for his successors (Evil-Merodach, Neriglissar, Labashi-Marduk, and Nabonidus) to rule before the beginning of the reign of Cyrus (current history puts the total of these reigns as only 3 years, concurrent with the reign of Cyrus, which conflicts with the Bible eye-witness accounts).
If you find this confusing, we've done our job. Leave dogmatic conclusion to those who have stopped learning and bought into someone else's doctrines. Follow the words of Paul to his young Protégé Timothy, when it comes to such high-minded matters. He urged this course of action at 1 Timothy 6:20, 21: 'O Timothy; Guard this hope and turn away from all the worldly babbling and all that is falsely referred to as knowledge, for it's through [such things] that some who once showed promise in the faith have been turned aside.'
If you consider the dates and look at the links we have provided at the end of the linked document, 1975 A Marked Date?, it becomes clear that the '6,000 years since the creation of Adam' (on which some religions have based their Armageddon predictions) has not only come and gone, but 7,000 years (another important part of their doctrine) has also… more than 500 years ago! So, determining the date for the first destruction of Jerusalem probably has nothing to do with Jesus' second coming or with the arrival of the Battle of Armageddon. And the earlier dates for the destruction of Jerusalem (607 or possibly 630-BCE) work better into our logical choice of Kamos (or possibly his brother, Ahmose) as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.