Monday, 5 May 2014

Correction re Neo-Babylonian chronology

Dear readers,

My family's moto, since the 13th century, has been “Veritas vincit omnia” (“Truth conquers all”). What really matters, at the end of the day, is not what I think or what I prefer, but what is right.

In this post I would like to acknowledge that I was wrong in relation to the chronology of the Neo-Babylonian period (626 to 539 B.C.). What I have presented in written and spoken ministry (mostly in Portuguese) was wrong, and even though it is a detail which will only interest a small portion of the small readership of this blog, it is a detail that, to those who mind, really matters.

The correction

Until a few days ago I accepted the chronology presented by Martin Anstey (The Romance of Bible Chronology. London, Marshal Brothers, 1913). Two key dates in that chronological scheme are: 504 B.C. for the destruction of Jerusalem, and 454 B.C. for the first year of Cirus. Archeological discoveries in the last hundred years have proved that Anstey was wrong, and that the received chronology of that period is correct. Thus, I am forced to admit that the dates above should be changed to 587 B.C. and 539 B.C.

As time allows, I hope to correct any errors in this blog which are linked to this time period.

The explanation

Well, why did I follow Anstey? And why have I changed my views?

Anstey's arguments were very attractive based on the facts known when he wrote his book (1913). At that time, the received chronology for the Neo-Babylonian period was almost exclusively based on the writings of Ptolemy. As the dates presented by Ptolemy did not agree with Anstey's interpretation of the Old Testament (especially the prophecy of the seventy weeks in Daniel chapter 9), Anstey affirmed (and I repeated) that the words of the Hebrew prophet were more reliable than the words of an egyptian astronomer. There were no other ancient documents with which to confirm Ptolemy's dates, and he lived many centuries after those kings reigned; it just didn't seem wise to follow blindly his chronological scheme.

Today, however, the facts are different, and I have only recently had access to these facts (I'm not a scholar, by any definition of the term!). There are thousands of documents from ancient Babylon that have been discovered in the last hundred years or so, and as they are translated and published (a slow process), Ptolemy's chronology is consistently being vindicated. Here are two examples:

  • The astronomical diary known as VAT 4956 describes the position of the moon and the five planets (known at that time) on various different occasions during Nebuchadnezzar's 37th year. About thirty of these descriptions are well enough preserved to allow modern astronomers to calculate when they could have occurred, and comparing the B.C. date of these descriptions with the date in the Babylonian calendar (all the descriptions in VAT 4956 have the hour, day and month of observation) it is possible to determine, with certainty, that Nebuchadnezzar's 37th year went from the Spring of 568 B.C. to the spring of 567 B.C. Thus the regular motion of the celestial bodies (and not simply ancient lists of kings) establishes the date of Nabuchadnezzar's reign.
  • Not only that, but thousands of comercial contracts for that period have been discovered (search for “House of Egibi”, or “Egibi family tablets” for an example). All these contracts are dated with the inscription: “Year XX of king XXXXXX”. Among these thousands of tablets discovered, there are tablets dated to every year of every king mentioned in Ptolemy's canon.

Based on these facts, it is not possible for me to continue believing what I believed up to a few days ago. I must admit that the received chronology for the Neo-Babylonian period is trustworthy, and we have no reason to doubt it's accuracy.

Allow me to point out, however, that the issue here was never between the Word of God and the word of Ptolemy. When the wise men of this world openly contradict the Word of God (as in the “Creation x Evolution” debate) I have no qualms about taking a firm stand for the Word of God. But the question here was not really between the Hebrew prophet and the Egyptian astronomer, but between my theories and Ptolemy's facts.

So, I hope that sets the record straight :-)

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