Jehovah's Witnesses and 1914

Much of Watchtower teaching relates to the supposed invisible return of Christ in the year 1914. This date is based upon the seven times of Daniel chapter four and marks the end of the "times of the Gentiles".

Daniel chapter 4 is the story of how God punished the pride of Nebuchadnezzar with seven years of madness after forewarning the king by a dream about the felling of a great tree. Apart from the Witnesses, no other Bible scholars see any further significance in the story.

It is difficult to argue Biblical interpretations, however, because in the last resort all Bible scholars are human and fallible. What to one man is blindingly clear and obvious, to another is devious and obscure. Unless there is some way of proving that the interpretation is wrong, we must always face the possibility that perhaps the Watchtower is correct and all other Bible students are wrong.

Is there such a way? Can the Watchtower interpretation be shown to be incorrect? The answer is a definite "Yes".

The Watchtower claim that the "seven times" of Daniel 4 stretch from the ending of Israel's theocracy (direct rule by God) down to the restoration of the theocracy under Jesus. Israel's theocracy ended when the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the temple of Solomon in the year 607 BC.

In Biblical times people thought that there were 360 days in a year. Seven years therefore were the equivalent of 2,520 days. Most commentators accept that Bible prophecy uses a time scale of a day for a year, so the seven prophetic years of Daniel 4 represent 2,520 real years.

If you count 2,520 years from 607 BC you come to AD 1914 and this, say the Witnesses, was the year when Jesus began to reign invisibly in the heavens.

All this is a beautiful theory. It is unfortunate that the facts contradict it. Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 586 BC, not 607 BC! The Encyclopaedia Britannica, in its article on Nebuchadrezzar II says:

On expeditions in Syria and Palestine from June to December of 604 he received the submission of local states, including Judah, and captured the city of Ashkelon. With Greek mercenaries in his armies, further campaigns to extend Babylonian control in Palestine followed in the three succeeding years. On the last occasion (601/600) Nebuchadrezzar clashed with an Egyptian army, with heavy losses; this reverse was followed by the defection of certain vassal states, Judah among them. This brought an intermission in the series of annual campaigns in 600/599 while Nebuchadrezzar remained in Babylonia repairing his losses of chariots. Measures to regain control were resumed at the end of 599/598 (December to March). Nebuchadrezzar's strategic planning appeared in his attack on the Arab tribes of north-west Arabia, in preparation for the occupation of Judah. He attacked Judah a year later and captured Jerusalem on March 16, 597 BC, deporting King Jehoiachin to Babylon. After a further brief Syrian campaign in 596/595 Nebuchadrezzar had to act in east Babylonia to repel a threatened invasion probably from Elam (modern south-west Iran). Tensions in Babylonia were revealed by a rebellion late in 595/594 involving elements of the army, but Nebuchadrezzar was able to put this down decisively enough to undertake two further campaigns in Syria during 594.

His further military activities are known not from extant chronicles but from other sources, particularly the Bible, which records another attack on Jerusalem and a siege of Tyre (lasting 13 years, according to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus) and hints at an invasion of Egypt. The siege of Jerusalem ended in its capture in August 586 and in the deportation of prominent citizens, with a further deportation in 582.
Encyclopaedia Britannica vol XII p. 926 art. Nebuchadrezzar II

(You can find the same information in the Wikipedia article on Nebuchadnezzar II.)

You may wonder how these encyclopaedias can be so definite about the dates of the various events chronicled above - March 16, 596 BC for the first sack of Jerusalem and August 586 for its final destruction. The answer is very interesting.

In the first place the Babylonians were sophisticated astronomesrs. In their temple towers, called ziggurats, they kept records of every eclipse, both solar and lunar, noting down not only the day, month and year, but even the very hour when the event took place.

Because astronomers are able to work backwards and calculate when eclipses occurred, it is possible to link the Babylonian records very precisely into the system of chronology that we use today.

Secondly, archaeologists have discovered the Babylonian Chronicle for the early years of the neo-Babylonian empire, covering the first part of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, including the first sack of Jerusalem. As the encyclopaedia article points out, the Babylonian Chronicle does not cover the final destruction of Jerusalem. There is no problem, however. If the first sack took place in 597 and the final destruction took place eleven years later (2 Kings 25:2) then the end of Israel's theocracy took place in 586 BC.

The Watchtower organisation tries to get around these embarassing facts by asking whether we prefer to accept the testimony of heathen priests and astrologers or the infallible Word of God. They pretend that there is a contradiction between the Bible and secular history.

Obviously if there were a contradiction between the Bible and any other authority, a true Christian would accept the Bible. In this case, however, there is no contradiction.

The Watchtower manufactures a contradiction by their use of Jeremiah's prophecy about 70 years of captivity in Babylon. (Jeremiah 29:10) Their argument runs like this: Cyrus captured Babylon in 539 BC - one of the few "fixed dates" in history, they tell us. In his first year he made a decree allowing the Jews to return home but it took nearly two years (this is an assumption) before the Jews arrived in Jerusalem. This means that the 70 years ended in 537 BC so obviously they must have begun in 607 BC when Jerusalem was destroyed.

When we examine these statements we find that they are a very shaky foundation and in many cases misleading or wrong. For example: the year 539 BC is not a fixed date. That term refers to dates that can be fixed by an astronomical sighting such as an eclipse of the sun or moon. Although the reign of Cyrus is fixed by astronomical sightings, these did not occur in 539 so the first year of Cyrus is a calculated date, not a fixed date.

It is calculated in exactly the same way as the dates of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, relying on the records of heathen priests and astrologers. If the one is wrong, so must be the other!

We know that Cyrus did not begin to reign over Babylon in the year 539 BC because the Bible tells us that Darius reigned for at least one year. (Daniel 9:1) Even if we accept that Darius reigned for only one year, it still means that Cyrus did not start to reign until 538 BC and the captives did not return to Jerusalem until 536 BC (using the Watchtower assumption of two years between decree and return).

This means that the 70 years counted inclusively began in 605 BC, which happens to be the year when Nebuchadnezzar first took control of Jerusalem. (See the Encyclopaedia Britannica article above.)

In actual fact the 70 years did not end in 536 BC. God Himself tells us when the 70 years were to end. In Zechariah 1:12 an angel appears to the prophet and asks God:

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?"
New World Translation

This prophecy is dated to the second year of the Persian king Darius, which was the year 520/519 BC. The angel tells us that God's 70 year indignation against Israel is still continuing at that date.

Two years later, in the ninth month of the year 518/517 a delegation of Jews came to the temple to enquire whether they needed to continue to fast and mourn on the day the temple was burnt (2 Kings 25:8,9; Zechariah 7:35) This tells us that the 70 years had ended just before the delegation arrived. There are 70 years inclusive from 586 BC to 517 BC.

We see therefore that there is perfect harmony between the Biblical record and the facts of history, but that those facts do not support the theories of the Watchtower. We must conclude therefore that the interpretations of the Witnesses, which manufacture contradictons in order to survive, must be wrong. 1914 is an empty date.

There is one final fact that I would like to bring to the attention of any Jehovah's Witness who has read this far. Charles Russell, the founder of your movement, did not gain his ideas on chronolgy from the Bible. He was an ardent believer in the Great Pyramid of Egypt, a "Prophecy in Stone"! Unfortunately he used the Bible to support his theories about Khufu's pyramid instead of trying to find out what the Bible really taught.

Series III of Studies in the Scriptures contains this heading to chapter 10:

The testimony of God's Stone Witness and Prophet, the Great Pyramid in Egypt. General Description of the Great Pyramid - Why of Special Interest to Christians - The Great Pyramid a Storehouse of Truth

Charles Russell even sent out a survey team consisting of two of his English followers, John and Morton Edgar. They measured the interior passageways of the pyramid and wrote back to their friends:

We found there beautiful confirmation of the Pastor's views as day by day first one and then the other discovered fresh beauties in the symbolic and prophetic teaching of this marvellous structure.

Their two volumes, called The Great Pyramid - Passages and Chambers were published in 1910 and 1913. Not until 1928 did the Watchtower Society officially abandon its belief in Pyramidology.

To my Jehovah's Witness friends I would say: God's Truth is never contradictory. The sun and moon, which He put in the sky to measure "seasons and days and years" (Genesis 1:14) bear testimony that 586 BC, not 607 BC, is the year when Jerusalem fell. Zechariah the prophet tells us that the 70 years did not end until the fourth year of Darius.

Are you willing to accept this inspired testimony? Or would you rather rely on theories based upon the tomb of a heathen king - the Great Pyramid of Egypt?