Notes on the Gentile Times and 1914
The Watchtower Society says it is "God's channel of communication" and the principal dispenser of "the Truth" during "the last days of this old system of things." Its claims hang largely on the assertion that in 1914, Christ came into Kingdom power in the heavens, and in 1919 appointed certain governing members of the Society as a "faithful and discreet slave" to impart spiritual food to the body of believers. This essay examines the basis of the Society's claims about 1914, but is by no means a complete discussion.
The Society's base chronological calculation is as follows: The "Gentile Times" of Luke 21:24 was a period of 2520 years starting in 607 B.C. and ending in 1914 A.D. The Society says the Bible definitely shows Jerusalem fell in 607 B.C. and that any other date for Jerusalem's fall is inconsistent with the Bible. However, multiple, independent secular historical sources, in conjunction with the Bible, show that Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 B.C. The Society uses the 539 B.C. date for the fall of Babylon as an anchor for its chronology. See Appendix B for a discussion of the history of the Society's attempts to establish 539 B.C. as an anchor date. However, the same evidence the Society says fixes the 539 B.C. date also fixes 587, not 607 B.C., for the fall of Jerusalem.
It is possible that the views expressed in this essay are incorrect. However, they reflect the best scholarship available today on the subject of Neo-Babylonian chronology. The Watchtower Society discounts all evidence that conflicts with its view, preferring to rely on the chronology Charles Taze Russell borrowed from the Second Adventists in 1876, but most of which the Society abandoned by 1930.
The evidence presented in this essay is presented in a spirit of open communication. This openness is well described in the magazine Technology Review, February/March 1992, published at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The article "Looking for a Few Hungry Samurai" gave general advice to moonlighting authors who want to write for the magazine, and offered suggestions on how an author could succeed in writing:
The Watchtower of August 1, 1980, page 14, lists a belief that Christ's presence began in 1914 as fundamental. Similarly, the January 1, 1983 Watchtower said on page 11:
If the Watchtower Society's suppositions regarding Bible chronology are wrong, in particular with respect to 1914, then all doctrines based on such dates are wrong. If the Gentile times did not end in 1914, then Christ did not return in that year, the Governing Body was not appointed "over all his belongings" as "the faithful and discreet slave" in 1919, and the Society has no monopoly on publishing spiritual truth.
As a general principle, faith must be based on facts, historical or otherwise. A study of history is fundamental to faith in the fulfillment of prophecy, because such cannot be demonstrated aside from history. If an interpretation of the Bible conflicts with demonstrated facts the interpretation must be wrong. This has been demonstrated time and time again by those who predicted the end of the world based on a faulty interpretation of scripture, which they had claimed was "scripturally, scientifically, and historically... correct beyond a doubt." (The Watchtower, June 15, 1922)
In print, the Society is adamant that 1914 is a correct prophetic date. Although it presents a firm front in its publications, not everyone in the organization believes that 1914 is so well established. With reference to the uncertainty of time prophecies the Society's late third president Nathan Knorr once said:
The November 1, 1986 Watchtower stated on page 6 that "in 1981 Jehovah's Witnesses published convincing evidence in support of the 607 B.C.E. date. ('Let Your Kingdom Come,' pages 127-40, 186-9)" This book, which we will refer to as KC, used secular historical evidence to establish the key date of the Society's chronology: "Historians calculate that Babylon fell in early October of the year 539 B.C.E." (p. 136). Nevertheless, the book set up a dichotomy between "secular records" and the Bible:
A footnote referred the reader to an appendix on pages 186-9. We will spend some time on the arguments presented in this "Appendix," and we will show that the evidence the Society presents is biased, incomplete and misrepresentative of the facts. The following list of evidences is an outline of what is available to prove that Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 B.C. The symbol (KC) means the line of evidence is mentioned in the Appendix.
1. Chronicles, historical records, and royal inscriptions from the Neo-Babylonian period, beginning with the reign of Nabopolassar and ending with the reigns of Nabonidus and Belshazzar, show it ran from 626 to 539 B.C., not from 645 to 539 B.C. as the Society claims.
2. Business and administrative documents.
3. Astronomical diaries.
4. Saros (lunar eclipse) texts.
5. Synchronisms with contemporary Egyptian chronology show Watchtower chronology consistently off by 20 years.
Let Your Kingdom Come discounts all the above evidence, saying on p. 187:
This shows that the Society recognizes there is almost no historical evidence supporting the 607 date -- otherwise they would present it and not resort to the lame argument that "people make mistakes, so we're not convinced." A chronology that has to be based on "yet undiscovered material," because it is demolished by the discovered material, is resting on a weak foundation. If an idea, refuted by an overwhelming mass of discovered evidence, is to be retained based on "yet undiscovered material" that might support it, all ideas, however false, could be retained on the same principle. But it should be remembered that such a faith is not founded upon "the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld"; it is founded upon wishful thinking. Let Your Kingdom Come says that its arguments rest on solid Biblical evidence, so that secular chronology must be rejected. We will examine this claim at length.
Under the subjects "Chronology," "Nebuchadnezzar," "Jehoiakim," "Jehoiachin" and "Captivity," in both the Insight book, and the Aid book upon which it is based, no historical evidence from the Neo-Babylonian period is presented showing that the 607 B.C. date for Jerusalem's destruction is valid. Instead, much space is devoted to trying to weaken the credibility of the historical and archeological evidence.
In the Babylon book, the historical evidence is even blatantly misrepresented. On page 134 the book says:
However, Harper's Bible Dictionary actually says that Jehoiakim reigned for 11 years, from 609-598 B.C., and that
The only evidence Let Your Kingdom Come presents are two excerpts from Josephus and one from the 2nd century writer Theophilus, both of which can be demonstrated to have presented, not valid historical information based an contemporary Neo-Babylonian documents, but their own interpretations of the Bible. One of Josephus's statements is even contradicted later in his works by one that directly supports 587 B.C. as the date of Jerusalem's destruction.
The Society's chronology rests on 539 B.C., the date of Babylon's fall (see Appendix B). If all the objections raised by Let Your Kingdom Come are valid, what reason do we have for accepting any date at all from the Neo-Babylonian era established by historians -- in particular 539 B.C.? If 587 is rejected then 539 must be rejected too. The August 15, 1968 Watchtower said (p. 490-1) concerning Cyrus's overthrow of Babylon:
Then are listed many other authorities that confirm the 539 date. All these references also list 587/6 B.C. for the destruction of Jerusalem, but the article makes no mention of this. Further, pp. 493-4 says of the date 537 B.C., when Cyrus issued his decree permitting the Jews to return to their homeland:
Similarly, Insight, Vol. 1, p. 453, says:
Similarly, Let Your Kingdom Come states on p. 186: "Historians hold that Babylon fell to Cyrus's army in October 539 B.C.E."
See Appendix B for an extended discussion. Note that the above calculations rely on:
But both Let Your Kingdom Come and Insight (pp. 448-50, 454-6) reject all these methods of calculating historical dates when they point to the conclusion that Jerusalem fell in 587 B.C., not 607 B.C. What manner of scholarship and reasoning is this?
(For a more thorough examination of these issues, see The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonsson.)