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The 2001 Translation CommentariesWas Jerusalem destroyed in 587 or 607 BCE?

Jeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem
Jeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem, by Horace Vernet, 1844

Many persons have tried to work out exactly when Biblical events occured, but not just to establish an historic timeline. Some have done so in order to predict when Christ would return, or to predict the end of the world.

The date most frequently argued over is the date for Jerusalem’s first destruction. The standard accepted date in archaeology is 587 or 586 BCE, but others point to various scriptures which indicate 607 BCE. Which date is correct?

This article presents two theories which attempt to harmonize the Bible account with the secular chronology. The first argues for a mistranslation, and the second argues for erroneous scribal corrections. However, are either correct?


Contents

Abstract

Both proposed dates of 587 and 607 BCE start their calculations from the secular date of 537 BCE (as the year in which the Persian Empire released the Jews back to their homeland). They count back either 50 years (using secular chronology) or 70 years (using certain Bible texts) to arrive at their respective dates.

A natural reading of the Bible texts would cause most people to arrive at 607 BCE. However, the achaeological evidence disagrees, and strongly supports the 587 BCE date. Can the two be reconciled? Perhaps.

Theory #1 is that it may be a translation issue, where key verses have been translated in a way that gives a wrong impression to the reader. This article provides some alternative translations to test the theory. If this is true, then the 587 BCE date would also work with the Bible narrative and chronology.

However, it is still very hard to view the Bible texts as meaning anything other than Jerusalem being in ruins for 70 years. So we explore theory #2: that the key Bible texts originally said 50 years, but were ‘corrected’ by scribes sometime before the 3rd century BCE. This article also describes this theory.

The conclusion reached is that it is not yet possible to arrive at a satisfying answer.


Theory #1: The texts are mistranslated and giving a wrong impression

Anyone who reads the Bible texts regarding the destruction of Jerusalem would likely come to the conclusion that Jerusalem was destroyed, then lay in ruins for 70 years, and was then rebuilt. However, the 587 BCE secular date does not allow for this, since the Jews had returned home only 50 years later in 537 BCE. Can the Bible text be reconciled with secular history?

Perhaps, if the key verses have been slightly mistranslated to obscure what was ‘really’ happening. When ‘fixed’, the Bible account could completely align with secular sources.

Let’s try it and see what happens.

Jeremiah 25:8-12

This is the main key verse. All other verses are quoting the words of this verse. So if our understanding of this verse alters, it has a domino-effect on all the others.

It says:

‘“I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.

I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.

But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever”.’ –New International Version

As you can see, it certainly reads like this:

  1. Nebuchadnezzar will come
  2. He will make Judah a ‘desolate wasteland’
  3. Then a 70-year time period will begin
  4. After 70 years, Babylon will be desolated

This is the natural conclusion that most people would come to in English.

However, we’re exploring the theory that we’re misunderstanding the text. With one small adjustment to our understanding, we can align Biblical history and secular history. What is this ‘adjustment’?

Well, what if the 70 years is actually referring to how long Babylon will be the world power? Therefore, the destruction and violence is only part of what will happen during the 70-year time period. You see, Babylon had recently defeated the former world power, Assyria. Now the new schoolyard bully was Babylon. God could have been saying how long this entire episode of history would last.

If true, then when God said that “these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years” he was saying that Babylon would be the new world power for a total of 70 years until it too, would come to an end. Jeremiah said these words in the 4th year of Judean King JehoiAkim (Jeremiah 25:1), so if our theory is correct, then the 70 years had begun about 3 years earlier.

Jeremiah’s listeners may not have understood this, however. In the previous year the King had formally aligned with Babylon and become a vassal king (2 Kings 24:1; 2 Chronicles 36:5). So when Jeremiah mentioned the 70 years, some may have thought that serving Babylon began the previous year. Others may have thought the 70 years began when Babylon killed the Assyrian king, or when they captured Assyria’s capital city. Indeed, if our theory is right, then it would mean that the Bible never actually says when the 70-year time period begins, only when it ends (with Babylon’s defeat). However, if it ends with Babylon’s defeat, then it would be logical for it to begin with Assyria’s defeat.

This may be why years later Daniel suddenly realized that the 70-year time period was over. Babylon was defeated, so obviously the nations were no longer subject to Babylon (now they were subject to the Persians). Counting back 70 years from the defeat of Babylon in 539 BCE brings us to 609 BCE – the exact year that Babylon finally defeated Assyria according to secular chronology. So it does match up pretty well.

Okay, so that’s the theory. If it’s right, then the Bible text and secular history actually agree.

Let’s paraphrase the above verse to see if it works:

‘All of Judah will [eventually] become a desolate wasteland. And [additionally,] all of these nations must serve the king of Babylon for [a total of] seventy years.’

That could be right, I suppose.

However, let’s look at the other verses and see whether they can be understood this way (or not).

Jeremiah 29:10

Jeremiah sent a letter to some of the exiles who were already in Babylon. He reassured them, saying:

‘This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.’ –New International Version

This already sounds like it can conform to our theory. It doesn’t say ‘after 70 years of Jerusalem being in ruins’, but that Babylon herself is the one experiencing a 70-year time period.

A few Bible translations, however, render this quite differently. They say 70 years in or at Babylon, to imply that it’s talking about the Jewish people being physically in the city or empire of Babylon. For example, the New Living Translation says:

This is what the LORD says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.

This is not what the Greek Septuagint says. That text (from the literal interlinear text) says:

For thus said the LORD, Whenever is about to be filled in Babylon seventy years I will visit you...

In other words, the seventy year prophecy will be fulfilled in Babylon; it’s not a statement about the location of the captives. Other translations agree.

Similarly in the Hebrew text, the phrase appears as “at Babylon” in the interlinear, but the word ‘at’ is just the standard placeholder for the Hebrew preposition לְ, which means to, for, or ‘with regards to’. That’s why most Bible translations say “for Babylon” or something like that. So yet again, it’s not a statement about the location of the captives. It’s a prophecy that will be fulfilled upon Babylon herself (as our translation says), and this fits our theory.

So that’s good so far. On to the next verse...

2 Chronicles 36:21

The books of Chronicles was a second retelling of Israel’s history. It reports the 70 years this way:

‘The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.’ –New International Version

As you can see, a natural reading of the text certainly sounds like it’s saying that the land was desolated for 70 years. Some scholars and translators have certainly thought that too, just look at the following Bible translations. They have deliberately worded the verse to sound even more like that:

‘The land experienced its sabbatical years; it remained desolate for seventy years, as prophesied.’ –NET Bible

Judah was an empty desert, and it stayed that way for 70 years, to make up for all the years it was not allowed to rest.’ –Contemporary English Version

However, the actual Bible manuscripts do not sound like this. For the 2001 Translation, we use the Greek Septuagint, so let’s look at the literal interlinear version:

the to fulfill the word of the LORD through the mouth of Jeremiah until the land favorably receives its Sabbaths by observing the Sabbath all the days of its desolation to observe the Sabbath in the fulfillment of seventy years

Now, the word translated as “fulfillment” literally means to fill something completely, like a bucket of water. So we could understand it to mean that the land observed its Sabbaths until the 70-year time period was fulfilled or complete, at which point it stopped observing Sabbath. It might not be, I suppose, explicitly stating that the land was empty for 70 years.

So, could it align with our theory that Jeremiah’s 70 years are actually a reference to Babylon’s time as world power? Perhaps. Let’s retranslate the verse to show how it could be understood:

‘In fulfillment of God’s words to Jeremiah, until the land had properly completed its Sabbaths, it observed the Sabbath every day that it was desolated. This was in order to [properly] observe the Sabbath. It did this right up until [the] 70 years were complete.

However, this isn’t without problems. The account in 2 Chronicles does not give a start-date for this 70 years, nor does it describe it at all. As I said, a casual reader or listener would probably not understand it this way. Almost everyone listening to it would think that the land was empty for 70 years worth of Sabbaths. If our theory is correct, then the only way for a reader or listener to get the correct meaning would be to go back and read Jeremiah. When 2 Chronicles was first written, however, people at the time may have understood it correctly since it was recent history for them.

Yet with wording like that, is it any wonder that 1st century historian Josephus clearly believed that the 70 years was the length of time Jerusalem lay uninhabited?

Okay then, let’s see what the last verse has in store...

Daniel 9:2

The Medo-Persians have arrived and conquered Babylon. Their Empire is no more, and Daniel discerns that the 70 years must now be over. He says:

‘I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.’ –New International Version

Again, any honest reader would take that to mean that the city of Jerusalem would be desolated for 70 years. How else could it be read?

However, if we look at the actual Greek Septuagint text again (in the literal interlinear), it turns out that it could be rendered in line with our theory too:

I Daniel perceived in the books the number of the years of which became the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for a fulfillment of the desolation of Jerusalem seventy years.

Similar to earlier, the word “fulfillment” here can mean to fill something up completely, like a bucket of water. We could also say ‘complete’ or ‘fulfill’. We could easily read this as meaning bringing to an end, or bringing to a completion.

Let’s re-render the verse more literally with our theory in mind:

I, Daniel, perceived in the books how many years it would be until Jerusalem’s desolation would be brought to an end – it would be [at the end of the] seventy years that God spoke about to Jeremiah the prophet.

This could work. I could argue that it’s just as faithful to the original wording as any of the other translations, and the insertions are no worse than others frequently added by translators to clarify meaning. Actually, this wording could work for either view – whether Jerusalem was desolate for 70 years, or whether it would merely stop being desolate at the end of a 70-year time period.

To be honest, it’s still not very clear. If Daniel’s belief is in line with our theory, one wonders why Daniel couldn’t have done us a big favor and phrased it differently.

(If you’re wondering where the 70 years mentioned in Zechariah are, keep going)

Does theory #1 work?

The entire discussion rests on whether the words of Jeremiah (“This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years”) mean that Jerusalem is destroyed and then empty for 70 years, or whether it’s a broader statement about Babylon being the world power for 70 years, which includes desolations.

If the latter is correct, then the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem (plus the other nations) are just part of the events foretold to occur during that time period. The other references to 70 years in Jeremiah 29:10, 2 Chronicles 36:21, and Daniel 9:2 are referring back to this first description.

If we understand the verse that way, then Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BCE and all problems between Biblical and secular chronology for the Babylonian period evaporate. Further, over on Beroeans.net they have detailed information showing how related events fit very well into the 587 BCE-based chronology. This includes the 70 years prophecy for Tyre, the 40 years of desolation for Egypt, and the references to 70 years in Zechariah.

Remember too that if 587 BCE is correct, and our theory about the 70 years is correct, then we have a remarkable confirmation of the Bible text. Counting back 70 years from 587 BCE we come to 609 BCE, the exact date that Assyria was defeated by Babylon. Further, the date is confirmed by the voluminous amount of highly detailed chronological records kept by the Babylonians, including the position of the planets and eclipses. Anyone who wanted to claim that the Bible is nothing more than a fairy story would have some explaining to do!

What about the 607 BCE date? That would no longer be necessary.

So, we’re all good then? No more problems? Hmm... not quite.

Tribute to Egypt

One problem is that the Babylonians did nothing to Judah for the first 3 years of this 70 year period of servitude. If it began in 609 BCE, then Babylon did not come and make Judah a vassal kingdom until 3 years later in 606/605 BCE. Therefore, one could say that Judah was not serving Babylon for 70 years, but for about 67 years.

Between 609 and 606 BCE, Egypt was dominating Judah. The Egyptians even put JehoiAkim on the throne and received tribute payments of gold from Judah (2 Kings 23:33-34), forcing Judah to put taxes on the people so they could afford the continuing payments (2 Kings 23:35).

Of course, Babylon soon defeated Egypt at the battle of CarChemIsh in 606/605 BCE (described in Jeremiah chapter 46). Before that time, though, could we really say Judah was serving Babylon? Well if we’re honest about it, no, not if they’re paying tribute to Egypt.

Perhaps we’re reading too much into it, or missing some key detail. After all, Babylon was still the new world power after defeating Assyria. However, we must be completely open, honest, and transparent, and admit that it’s hard to explain how Judah could be serving Babylon while paying tons of gold and silver in tribute to Egypt and imposing oppressive taxes to pay that tribute for three entire years. Taxes so oppressive that they were mentioned in 2 Kings 23:33-34 and 2 Chronicles 36:3 along with the amounts requested.

If we were to travel back in time to those years, and ask a random Jewish business owner (whom the Egypt-appointed King is taxing to death in order to pay the King of Egypt), “how does it feel to serve the King of Babylon?”, we can only imagine how puzzled he would be.

It’s quite annoying to be so close to a fitting explanation, but it’s not the exact fit we were hoping for. However, we haven’t talked about the elephant in the room...

Readers naturally understand 70 years

The biggest problem is that the casual, natural reading of the texts would never lead a reader to conclude that it’s talking about 70 years of servitude – even if it were true.

Let’s say that we get a bunch of volunteers off the street, give them any Bible translations we can find, and tell them: “We want you to work out the date of Jerusalem’s destruction just using your Bibles. No history books, no Google, no encyclopedias, just the Bible. To help you, you can start from the date that the Jews returned home, which is 537 BCE.”

Sooner or later everyone would find the verses mentioning 70 years, probably the one in Daniel, and would naturally count back 70 years to arrive at 607 BCE. Of course they would; the words of Jeremiah, 2 Chronicles, and Daniel can easily be read that way. Let’s be honest with ourselves here.

Nobody would count back 50 years because “50 years” is never mentioned. None of the dates given for various kings allow you to reach 50 either, the only way to reach that number is by using secular chronology, but we haven’t given our volunteers any secular chronology; we only gave them Bibles.

Yet our volunteers would hardly be alone...

A popular view

As mentioned previously, even the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus believed that Jerusalem was in ruins for 70 years; in other words, his writings indicate 607 BCE several times. Here’s just one example:

‘the King of Babylon, who brought out the two tribes, placed no other nation in their country. By which means all Judea and Jerusalem, and the temple, continued to be a desert for seventy years’ –Antiquities of the Jews – book 10

And if modern readers and an ancient historian would think that, then what did the early Christians think? Yes, it seems that they thought the same. The 2nd century Christian writer Theophilus of Antioch wrote a summary of Bible history, in which he states:

...and after him Jehoiakim, 11 years. Then another Jehoiakim, 3 months 10 days; and after him Zedekiah, 11 years. And after these kings, the people, continuing in their sins, and not repenting, the king of Babylon, named Nebuchadnezzar, came up into Judaea, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah. He transferred the people of the Jews to Babylon, and destroyed the temple which Solomon had built. And in the Babylonian banishment the people passed 70 years. ... He [Jeremiah] signified beforehand that they should also return into their own land after 70 years. These 70 years then being accomplished, Cyrus becomes king of the Persians... –Theophilus to Autolycus

So even though 587 BCE may well be correct, believing in 607 BCE is hardly strange. It is the natural reading of the Bible texts, and something like it was apparently the normal belief among both 1st century Jews and early Christians. Therefore, whenever this part of history was discussed in the Synagogue, or in early Christian gatherings, they probably believed and stated that Jerusalem was uninhabited for 70 years.

So believing that Jerusalem was uninhabited for 70 years hardly means that you’re stupid or crazy. For all we know, even the Apostles may have believed it.

Also, the vast majority of modern Bible translations have wording that suggests or even explicitly describes Jerusalem being in ruins for 70 years – even in wording that goes well beyond the original text! (see above)

The modern translations are especially odd, since most translations are sponsored by Churches, and official Church chronologies always seem to support the secular 587 date which says it was 50 years. Further, the translators are usually academics who almost always support the secular chronology, yet they’re the ones translating verses in ways that support 70 years even more explicitly than the original wording. You have to wonder what on earth is going on?

No wonder there is so much confusion, even the ‘experts’ are confused!

However, theory #2 might clear all this up... if it’s true.

Theory #2: The texts which say 70 years were corrupted

If you read our page on why we use the Greek Septuagint, you will see a great example of how dates and years reported in most Bibles are wrong. What happened?

The Hebrew Masoretic text of Genesis was deliberately corrupted in the late 1st/early 2nd centuries CE. The Rabbis changed the dates and years of the patriarchs to either to make them more realistic, or as part of a hair-brained conspiracy to discredit Jesus and the early Christians. Thankfully, the correct numbers survived in the Greek Septuagint translation, and you can read the correct numbers in our translation today; but most Catholic and Protestant bibles use the incorrect, fraudulently altered numbers! (Eastern Orthodox bibles still use the correct numbers.)

So if years and dates in Genesis were once fraudulently altered, could the same thing have happened to the verses in Jeremiah, 2 Chronicles, and Daniel talking of 70 years? Could they have originally said 50 years? Or could they at least have been worded more in line with theory #1 (above)?

When could it have happened?

Well, if such a corruption happened, it was not done in the 1st century CE like the changes we just talked about. It must have occurred much, much earlier – between the late 6th century BCE (when the Jews returned home) and before the 3rd century BCE (when the Septuagint was created).

Yet why would anyone make this change? We don’t know, but here’s a pretty good theory! It may have been a mistake. What if 5th or 4th century BCE copyists had got confused, and thought they were ‘correcting’ an earlier copyist mistake that wasn’t really there?

Have I piqued your curiosity? Well, it all comes to down to a misunderstanding of Zechariah chapters 1 and 7, and a (possible) fraudulent insertion into Daniel 9:1.

The other 70 years

Here’s the problem. Zechariah 1:1 and Zechariah 7:1 says that the Jews were under God’s rage for “70 years” and mourning for “70 years”. Now, according to the Bible text:

Those statements (according to 587 chronology) were made 19 and 21 years after Babylon was defeated during the reign of Darius the Persian. At this point the Jews had been home for about two decades by this point. Got that? Great.

Now, let’s first establish that these dates do indeed add up in 587 BCE chronology with a 50-year long destruction of Jerusalem:

The 70 years mentioned in Zechariah 1:1 were spoken in 520/519, and counting back takes us to 589, the year in which the seige of Jerusalem began according to secular chronology; that’s the same seige that ended in the city’s destruction. So it makes sense to say 70 years have passed, because they have. It was the 70 year anniversary of the attack upon Jerusalem. Remarkable.

As for the 70 years mentioned in Zechariah 7:1, it was spoken in 518/517, and counting back takes us to 587 BCE, yes the 70th anniversary of Jerusalem’s final defeat and destruction according to secular chronology. Astounding!

Okay, so these statements work perfectly with a 50 year (587-based) timeline. So what’s the problem? Well...

Let’s imagine you’re a 4th century BCE scribe

Imagine, if you will, a world in which Zechariah speaks of 70 years, but the key texts in 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, and Daniel all say 50 years. Yes, let’s imagine that these texts were altered to say 70 years, but right now it’s the 4th century BCE, and they haven’t been altered yet.

Further, you are a leading Jewish scribe. You are in charge of making copies of the sacred texts and managing a small team of scribes whose job is to preserve the Bible for future generations.

One day, a fellow scribe, who has been studying the texts recently, comes to you and says he’s found a horrible contradiction. He’s worried that a simple copyist error has messed up the Bible chronology! Anxious to investigate, you lay out the necessary scrolls to compare them, and to your horror you see that the scribe may be right!

What do you see? Well, Zechariah talks of 70 years of God’s anger and 70 years of fasting, and plainly puts these statements in the 2nd and 4th years of King Darius. Why is that a problem? Well, unfortunately, you don’t know it, but both you and your fellow scribe are quite confused about this man Darius. You don’t realize that Zechariah is referring to King Darius the Persian (also known as Darius the Great). You (wrongly) think he’s talking about King Darius the Mede. How so?

Well it’s not because you haven’t had your coffee yet. You see, there were two kings named Darius:

  1. The first King Darius was Darius the Mede, the man who conquered Babylon. We read about him in the book of Daniel.
  2. The other, younger, King Darius was a later Persian King called Darius the Persian, also known as Darius the Great (for more info see this page). According to 587 chronology (and this theory too), that’s the Darius mentioned in Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai.

According to Josephus, the two were actually related; Darius the Mede was Darius the Persian’s great uncle. However, you, the chief scribe, are being a bit misled into thinking that the Darius in Zechariah is the earlier one when he’s actually the later one! Why? What is misleading you?

It could simply be that you don’t realize that “King Darius” in Zechariah is referring to Darius the Persian. Zechariah actually never says ‘...the Persian’, it just says ‘Darius’.

However, it’s also possible that you’re being misled by a very odd (possibly fraudulent) addition to the text of Daniel which would (wrongly) indicate that the two men are one and the same. Even today we struggle to explain these odd words! What are they?

“Darius of Xerxes”

If you look at Daniel 9:1 (even in our translation), it describes Darius the Mede as “Darius of Xerxes”. Normally these words would mean “son of Xerxes”, however that’s not possible. Xerxes wasn’t even born yet. So either Xerxes was a family name, or Daniel didn’t write those words and someone inserted them later. Or to put it bluntly, the words “of Xerxes” might be fraudulent (note that some translations say “son of Ahasuerus”, which is probably an alternative name for the same man).

Now, our scribes are smart. They know that Darius was the father of Xerxes, not his son! After all, Xerxes was pretty famous (he’s also known as Xerxes the Great). They’d be pretty familiar with the mattter. At this time, one of Xerxes’ family members might even be the current Persian King.

So they might think that when the book of Daniel speaks of “Darius of Xerxes”, it’s saying that he was in the family line of Xerxes.

So one scribe says to another: Wasn’t Xerxes’s father called Darius? That’s right! Ohh, so this is that Darius, then? The father of Xerxes? Oh, alright then...

Yes, the scribes erroneously think that the words “of Xerxes” are there to tell readers that this Darius character in the book of Daniel is King Darius the Persian. They think that the two people are one and the same man! And as far as the scribes can see, this is all “according to the Bible” and “according to Daniel”, no less! (Funnily enough, some modern-day historians make the same error!)

After all, it’s normal for kings to have multiple titles. Indeed, Darius the Persian was not only ‘King of Kings’, but also ‘King of Babylon’, and ‘Pharaoh of Egypt’! Even Persian King Cyrus was also known as ‘King of Media’. So why couldn’t ‘Darius the Mede’ be ‘Darius the Persian’ too?

Our scribes have it all wrong, of course. It’s pretty clear that Darius the Mede and Darius the Persian were two separate men.

Therefore, our scribes mistakenly date the statements in Zechariah (about 70 years passing) to the 2nd year of the wrong King Darius! They date them to the 2nd year of Darius the Mede – that is, just two years after Babylon was defeated, and a year after the Jews returned home!

Well now, with these wrong dates in mind the scribes present you with a horrific problem! Now it looks like there’s a massive contradiction in the Bible text! Zechariah “says” (so they think) that just a year after returning home, the Jews have been in exile for 70 years, while Jeremiah, 2 Chronicles, and Daniel all say that it was only 50 years!

Oh dear! There must be a scribal error! What will we do?

After all, Hebrew/Aramaic numbers are so easy to get wrong. They don’t have numerals; instead they number the letters of the alphabet. If we did that in English, 1 would be A, 2 would be B, and so on. So the ‘mistake’ would only require getting one letter wrong. The number for 50 would be the letter Nun, and 70 would be the letter Ayin.

There’s no suggestion that they were accidentally changed, as they don’t look at all similar in the two scripts used at the time (Paleo-Hebrew or Imperial Aramaic). So our scribes have no idea how such a ‘clear error’ could have occurred. But that’s not the point. No, the point is that you, as the scribe, would be well aware that only a small mistake was required to mess up the chronology, but also only a small correction would be required to ‘fix’ it!

Let’s ‘fix’ it!

So, with this “confirmation” from Daniel and Zechariah, you gather your team of scribes together around the watercooler for an announcement. You tell them that at sometime in the past (before you started working there, of course) there was an unfortunate copyist error introduced to Jeremiah. This error has been repeated in the other verses that refer back to these same words of Jeremiah (in Daniel and 2 Chronicles).

You go on to explain that the number 50 should actually read 70, so that the different Bible accounts all match up with each other. After all, the Bible can’t contradict itself; it’s the word of God! So we must be the ones who screwed up!

You might go on to explain how 70 makes more sense anyway. The number 70 appears repeatedly as an important symbolic number in the Old Testament, and we associate the number 7 with the Sabbath, and the Bible texts clearly and unambiguously say that desolation was to pay off the Sabbaths.

So you give the command to your staff to make the corrections. From now on, all new copies say “70 years”, and existing copies have a marginal note added to say “should read 70 years”. Now all of the Bible accounts about the exile and desolation agree with each other! Jeremiah, 2 Chronicles, Daniel, and Zechariah all line up and say 70 years! Hurray!

Good work, men! I’m glad we spotted that one, the consequences could have been terrible!

A possibility

Did this actually happen? I have no idea. We don’t have any manuscripts from this time period to prove it, nor any other historical records that mention any such events. It’s just a theory. Could it have happened though?

Ezra only compiled the Old Testament canon in the 5th century BCE. During that time the nation was still rebuilding itself, and the numbers of Jews was small; therefore the number of scribes must have been very small indeed for quite some time. Indeed after the Jews returned home, Zechariah 4:10 called it ‘the day of small things’. So if someone ordered these ‘corrections’ to be made at some point within a few decades (or perhaps a century) of Ezra’s day, then very few people and very few copies would need to be ‘fixed’.

Indeed, there were few other points in Jewish history when the population was low enough to make changing the Bible text (and getting away with it) so easy. There are few copies to change, and few people knowledgeable enough to object.

Maybe one day we’ll find an ancient fragment that mentions 50 years, but considering the very small number of copies made at that that time, and the enormous time that has passed, we have to accept that it’s probably never going to happen.

So unless an angel comes down from heaven to tell us, this theory will remain nothing more than speculation.

My thoughts

So what is my conclusion? Was Jerusalem destroyed in 587 or 607 BCE? To be completely honest with you, I don’t think it’s possible to be dogmatic about either date.

On the one hand the secular evidence for 587 BCE is astounding, complete with stellar observations and it fits nicely with other events in the Bible narrative.

But on the other hand, as a Bible-believer, I can’t just ignore the fact that natural readings of the texts say that Jerusalem was abandoned for a full 70 years. Even retranslating them to mean that Babylon was the world power for 70 years (as we have tried above) is very hard to do – even if it is correct.

While that interpretation can indeed fit in well with other events it the Bible timeline, it still leaves open unanswered questions, such as:

How could Judah be serving Babylon for 70 years while paying tons of gold and silver to Egypt for the first 3 years? Why didn’t the Bible mention 50 years? Not even once? Why are the texts mentioning 70 years worded in such a misleading way? Was it supposed to be misleading? Why does the account of these events in 2 Chronicles mention how many tons and pounds of gold and silver were paid in tribute to Egypt (2 Chronicles 36:3), but doesn’t bother to tell us how long the city was destroyed for? Ezra even tells us how many wine chillers and washbasins were returned to Jerusalem, but doesn’t take the opportunity to put the 50 years in writing and clear everything up. (Ezra 1:9) And why did the 1st century Jews and the early Christians teach it was 70 years if it was really 50?

Let’s just be honest with ourselves. The secular chronology and the Bible chronology do not agree on the date. What on earth is so wrong with admitting that? I feel that the attempts to reconcile the two (such as theory #1) are quite disappointing. You may feel otherwise, but I’m just not feeling it.

However, I am curious about theory #2. It’s possible that the texts were corrupted in a hair-brained attempt at ‘fixing’ them, all caused by misidentifying Darius the Mede. They may have originally read 50 years and not 70. After all, this is not the first time that Bible dates have been corrupted. However, unless we discover some ancient manuscript that says “50 years” in Jeremiah, 2 Chronicles, or Daniel, then this is just speculation. The theory could be true, but it’s impossible to verify.

So was Jerusalem destroyed in 587 BCE or 607 BCE?

Well, as a Bible-believer, I refuse to believe that the original autographs of the Bible text, as inspired by God, would be wrong. So I say that either:

As to which it is, I’m keeping an open mind. I’ll leave the dogmatism to others.

Page changes

2021-02-18 Published.

2021-02-20 Typo.


The search for Bible truth

Also, please see the many scriptural commentaries, as well as our translator notes.