This article is going to be quite heavy going as it involves looking at ancient astronomical observations and correlating them with star charts. I have to thank my friend Chris Owens aka. “Londo Mollari”, because the majority of the research comes from his articles (which I’ve reproduced without changes here) and from his brilliant video series “When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-K8pyVfKcU&list=PLyNx0oM_bmgDJHQFzgm4L0rRuPpwTOVmz).

 


 

On November 1, 2011, a Watchtower article entitled “When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed? Part Two—What the Clay Documents Really Show” was published. In the article, Watchtower claims that the “astronomical diary” tablet known as VAT 4956 proves that Babylon was destroyed in 607 BCE.

Now, as laypeople, how can we prove or disprove this claim? Most people reading this blog post cannot read Babylonian cuneiform and are not experts on astronomy. To tell you the truth, even as a linguist who speaks multiple languages, my own knowledge of cuneiform and the Akkadian language expends only to knowing how to count using the sexagesimal system and a few other symbols like “year”, “month”, “day” and “king”.

babyloniannumbers

So, how on earth can we verify what any ancient cuneiform tablet says if we can’t read it?

Well, it’s absolutely unnecessary for you to know even an ounce of cuneiform, so of course, we will have to rely somewhat on experts. I am going to teach you how to do the calculations yourself and reach your own conclusions based on the available evidence. All you need is:

  1. A translation of the tablet VAT 4956 (now kept in the “Vorderasiatisches Museum”, Berlin): http://www.caeno.org/pdf/F019_Translation.pdf
  2. A list of modern constellations and their Babylonian equivalents: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_star_catalogues
  3. Free astronomical software: SkyChart 4.0 or SkyMap Pro 11.04 (or if you don’t want to or can’t download software to your computer, the slightly less sophisticated, but just as effective http://skyviewcafe.com/)

Be aware that if you use SkyViewCafe.com, you should subtract 1 from the number of the year you want to look at because Sky View Cafe uses Astronomical year numbering, which includes a year zero. So, the year 1 BCE would be [0], 2 BCE would be [-1], 500 BCE would be [-499]. If you’re using  the Skychart software however, you do not need to do this.

 

Pinpointing an exact year

The Skychart software can help us see what ancient skies looked like, and using this software coupled with the translation of VAT 4956 and the constellational equivalencies, we can see exactly what the ancient Babylonian astronomer saw as he looked up into the sky and exactly when it was.

The planets and constellations appear in the sky at different rates of regularity, and in combination, the 5 planets known by the ancient Babylonians (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) repeat their approximate positions about once every 18,588 years, far longer even than recorded human history. That figure gets far bigger if we include eclipses, comets and constellations. So we can safely say that every night sky in history (and even in pre-history) has been unique. We can refer to any record of the sky as a “cosmic fingerprint“.

The first line of the VAT 4956 tablet says:

1. Year 37 of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Nisannu 1st, the moon became visible behind the Bull of Heaven; [sunset to moonset:] …. [ …. ]

So we have to use our Skychart software to find a year when, on the 1st of Nisannu, the moon became visible behind the Bull of Heaven (Taurus).

I looked painstakingly through the sky charts for every for every year from 599-500 BCE in order to find the correct year. We only need to search the sky charts for the first new moon after the spring equinox (1st day of Nisannu which was New Year’s Day for the Babylonians), so this narrows our search considerably.

moonsliver

The moon must be above (in Babylonian, “behind”) the constellation of Taurus. The moon must also look like the above picture on that day, with a sliver of light indicating the beginning of a new month.

Half an hour of so of searching and the only Babylonian New Year’s Day that matches those criteria is the 22nd of April 568 BCE. The sun was going down and the sliver of the new moon was becoming visible.

 

568-04-22 the moon became visible behind the Bull of Heaven;
“the moon became visible behind the Bull of Heaven”
 Moon

Do all of the other observations fit too?

In Line 2, the tablet says (still talking about the 1st day):

2. Saturn was in front of the Swallow. The 2nd, in the morning, a rainbow stretched in the west. Night of the 3rd, the moon was 2 cubits in front of [ …. ]

As we saw in the previous post, the Swallow was a small constellation which was made up of stars which we now classify as parts of Pisces and Pegasus (specifically the pentagonal part of Pisces and the star Epsilon Pegasi, the “nose” of Pegasus the winged horse).

If Saturn was in front of the Swallow (meaning just under it), then we have confirmed that this is the exact year this tablet was written.

568-04-23 Saturn was in front of the Swallow

Bingo, Saturn is right there, exactly under the Swallow (the 5 pentagonal stars of Pisces) and it stayed close to there for that entire year.

Saturn’s orbit is about 29 years, but another observation on the second side of the tablet reveals the positions of not one, but two faster-moving planets, Venus (whose orbit takes 225 days) and Mercury (which has an orbit of 88 days). This combination of planets greatly narrows things down.

19′: …., …., The 21st, overcast; the river level rose. Around the 20th, Venus and Mercury entered the “band” of the Swallow. From [ …. Jupiter, ]

So we would expect to see Venus and Mercury join Saturn on the 21st day of Month XII of that year (568/567) and sure enough there they are with Saturn behind (below) the Swallow (Pisces/Pegasus):

 

SaturnVenusMercury.png

It doesn’t happen very often that all three planets are seen together, so that nails 568/567 as the date this tablet was inscribed.

We could do this for all of the rest of the observations of the tablet, but this article would be very long indeed. Needless to say, the astronomical observations made by that Babylonian scribe can be pinpointed to a specific sky chart from the year that spanned from April 568 to March 567 BCE. We can even tell in some cases exactly what time the scribe made the observations. Truly a cosmic fingerprint.

 

A Lunar Eclipse

A lunar eclipse happens when Earth passes directly between the sun and the moon casting Earth’s shadow onto the moon. It is often called a “blood moon” because the moon turns a reddish colour due to a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering, the refraction of light (in this case red light) onto the moon. I witnessed my first blood moon early in the morning of the 28th of September 2015. It was total between 2:11 to 3:23am, but this picture is from around 1:30am.

lunareclipse

Here is an animation of how it looked sped up x3600

Animation_September_28_2015_lunar_eclipse_appearance.gif

The trusty Skychart software confirms what my own eyes saw.

2015eclipse.png

A Lunar Eclipse in Ancient Babylon

A lunar eclipse that occured in the 15th day of Month III (Simānu) that can further pinpoint the year the tablet was written.

Lines 17 and 18 of the tablet reads:

17: [ …. ] The 15th, one god was seen with the other; sunrise to moonset: 7o30′. A lunar eclipse which was omitted (could not be seen) […. ]

18: [ …. the moon was be]low the bright star at the end of the [ Lion’s ] foot [ …. ]

Looking again at the Skychart software and counting 2 lunar months and 15 days to the 15th of Simānu, we can see that the lunar eclipse described on the 17th line of the obverse side of the tablet, took place on the 4th of July 567 BCE. This ever so partial eclipse started in the evening and could not be seen from Babylon because it would have been daytime, but it was predicted by their scribes so they knew it had happened.

LE-0567-07-04P
A NASA chart showing how the eclipse would have looked like. Remember [-0567] in Astrological Time means 568 BCE
Here is what the sky would have looked like from Babylon an hour or so after the sun had set:earthumbra.pngEarth’s umbra (or shadow) is shown in red, but it obviously isn’t visible in the real sky. The Babylonians would have just missed the lunar eclipse; the umbra and the moon would have been moving slowly apart.

Watchtower’s Rebuttal

Year 18 of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule is the year that Babylon conquered and destroyed Jerusalem. Most historians agree that this was 587/586 for the reasons stated above. However, The Watchtower stands alone in defiant disagreement.

 

Watchtower chronology relies on counting backwards 2520 years from 1914 to the destruction of Jerusalem to 607 BCE. Due to the importance of 1914 for Watchtower chronology, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a clear agenda in trying to pinpoint the 37th regnal year of Nebuchadnezzar as 588 BCE rather than 568 BCE.

If Year 37 was 568 BC, Year 19 was 587 BC.

If Year 37 was 588 BC, Year 18 was 607 BC.

The Watchtower article of November 1, 2011, entitled “When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed?—Part Two What the Clay Documents Really Show” says this:

The tablet [VAT 4956] mentions a lunar eclipse that was calculated as occurring on the 15th day of the third Babylonian month, Simanu. It is a fact that a lunar eclipse occurred on July 4 (Julian calendar) of this month during 568 B.C.E. However, there was also an eclipse 20 years earlier, on July 15, 588 B.C.E.

If 588 B.C.E. marked the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar II, then his 18th year would be 607 B.C.E.—the very year indicated by the Bible’s chronology for the destruction of Jerusalem! (See the time line below.) But does VAT 4956 provide further corroborating evidence for the year 607 B.C.E.?

In addition to the aforementioned eclipse, there are 13 sets of lunar observations on the tablet and 15 planetary observations. These describe the position of the moon or planets in relation to certain stars or constellations.18 There are also eight time intervals between the risings and settings of the sun and the moon.18a

Because of the superior reliability of the lunar positions, researchers have carefully analyzed these 13 sets of lunar positions on VAT 4956. They analyzed the data with the aid of a computer program capable of showing the location of celestial bodies on a certain date in the past.19 What did their analysis reveal? While not all of these sets of lunar positions match the year 568/567 B.C.E., all 13 sets match calculated positions for 20 years earlier, for the year 588/587 B.C.E.

page_23_thumb_large

Gaps in the record?

The claim in the image above scanned from the Watchtower article is that there are gaps in the Babylonian records, and they have “proven” this by picturing 6 tablets. Is it really true that there are gaps in the records? Is it true that the Babylonian Chronicles only account for 35 years of the Neo-Babylonian period?

Yes, it is true, but we don’t need to just use the chronicle tablets. There are literally hundreds of thousands of dated clay tablets in the museums of the world which are not chronicle tablets. There are historical inscriptions, official correspondence, mundane letters, administrative and legal texts, were found thousands of divinatory, magical, medical, literary and lexical texts and even letters of customer service complaint.

British museum archaeologists alone have discovered more than 50,000 clay tablets from the Neo-Babylonian period from the ancient cities of Sippar, Babylon, Borsippa, Uruk, Larsa, Ur and Kutalla. Many of these tablets are dated.

The British Museum website outlines the clay tablets in its possession, a total of far more than 125,000:

  • Early Dynastic (c.3200–2500 BC) – 500 items from Ur, Fara
  • Old Akkadian (c. 2500–2200 BC) 150 items
  • Ur III (c. 2200–2000 BC) – 30,000 items from Lagash, Umma, Ur, Drehem
  • Old Assyrian (c. nineteenth–eighteenth centuries BC) – 700 items from Anatolia
  • Old Babylonian (c. 1900–1650 BC) – 20,000 items from Sippar, Ur, Larsa, Uruk, Kutalla, Kisurra
  • Non-Mesopotamian – 400 items including Alalakh in Syria, Amarna in Egypt, Elamite texts from Iran and Hittite texts from Anatolia
  • Neo-Assyrian (first millennium BC) – 25,000 items from Kuyunjik, Nimrud
  • Neo-Babylonian (first millennium BC) – 50,000 items from Sippar, Babylon, Borsippa, Uruk, Larsa, Ur, Kutalla.

125,000 clay tablets in the British Museum alone, not counting the tablets in the Louvre, the Israel Museum, the Smithsonian, the National Museum of Iraq and countless other world-class museums.

So, while it is true that the Babylonian Chronicles only cover 35 of the 88 years of the Neo-Babylonian period, collectively, on these 50,000 tablets there are records for every single year of the Neo-Babylonian period and for every king.

The Eclipse

The Watchtower claims that the eclipse mentioned in VAT 4956 refers not to the one on 4 July 568 BCE, but to the one which occured on 15 July 588 B.C.E.? The Skychart software tells us that it was also an eclipse that the Babylonians missed.

moonset
Moonset
moonrise
Moonrise

We can see that the Babylonians wouldn’t have seen the eclipse because at moon set, Earth’s umbra was coming toward the moon, and at moonrise, it was moving away. The eclipse happened while the moon was below the horizon.

But even though the eclipse matches, there are several problems with this 588 date.

First, VAT 4956 dates the eclipse to the 15th of Month III (Simanu). If this date were true, then counting backwards from 15 July 588 BCE, the 1st of Month I (Nisannu) would have been early May.

However, the first day of the Babylonian year, Nisannu 1, began at the first new moon after the vernal equinox (21st March), so it could never began as late as May.  According to tables in R. A. Parker & W. H. Dubberstein’s book Babylonian Chronology, the 1st of Nisannu never once in the 700-year period covered by the charts (626 BCE – CE 75) began as late as in May.

And in fact, the eclipse for 588/587 is recorded in another clay tablet. In an online article Carl Olof Jonsson says:

Very interestingly, the lunar eclipse of July 15, 588 BCE was recorded by the Babylonians on another cuneiform tablet, BM 38462, No. 1420 in A. Sachs’ LBAT catalogue, and No. 6 in H. Hunger’s Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylonia (ADT), Vol. V (Wien, 2001). I discussed this tablet on pages 180-182 of my book, The Gentile Times Reconsidered(3rd ed. 1998, 4th ed. 2004). The chronological strength of this tablet is just as decisive as that of VAT 4956. It contains annual lunar eclipse reports dating from the 1st to at least the 29th regnal year of Nebuchadnezzar (604/603 – 576/575 BCE). The preserved parts of the tablet contain as many as 37 records of eclipses, 22 of which were predicted, 14 observed, and one that is uncertain.

The entry containing the record of the July 15, 588 BCE eclipse (obverse, lines 16-18) is dated to year 17, not year 37, of Nebuchadnezzar! This entry reports two lunar eclipses in this year, one “omitted” and one observed. The first, “omitted” one, which refers to the eclipse of July 15, 588, is dated to month IV (Duzu), not to month III (Simanu). So it cannot be the eclipse dated to month III on VAT 4956. That this eclipse really is the one of July 15, 588 is confirmed by the detailed information given about the second, observed lunar eclipse, which is dated to month X (Tebetu) of year 17. The details about the time and the magnitude help to identify this eclipse beyond all reasonable doubts. The whole entry reads according to H. Hunger’s translation in ADT V, page 29:

“[Year] 17, Month IV, [omitted.]

[Month] X, the 13th, morning watch, 1 beru 5o [before sunrise?]

All of it was covered. [It set eclips]ed.”

Another problem is that the rest of the astronomical observations do not match up with the sky as described in the tablet.

Coming back to line 2 of the tablet we can see that Saturn was in the Swallow:

2: Saturn was in front of the Swallow. The 2nd, in the morning, a rainbow stretched in the west. Night of the 3rd, the moon was 2 cubits in front of [ …. ]

Saturn’s orbit around the Sun lasts 29.4 years, and seems to move across our sky very slowly. This means that Saturn was in the Swallow for the entire year of Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th regnal year (568/567 BCE), as we can see with these two screenshots taken on the first day of Month I (Nisannu) and the 21st day of Month XII (Addaru) respectively.

568-04-23 Saturn was in front of the Swallow
1st of Nissanu
SaturnVenusMercury
21st of Addaru

So the tablet’s 1st of Nisannu matches up with the 23rd of April 568 BCE, but where was Saturn in Watchtower’s date of 4th April 588 BCE?

A quick search on Skychart reveals that Saturn at that time was not near the Swallow at all.

saturn588.png

No, in 588 BCE, on the Babylonian New, and throughout the whole of 588/587, Saturn was between the constellations of Gemini and Cancer. This is a completely different part of the sky from Pisces.

1607.m10.i307.n025.F.c06.371650822+zodiac+constellation+map.jpg

We can see that Watchtower and Jehovah’s Witness apologists are completely wrong about when the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was. They have tried to manipulate the data to prove that the 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar, when Jerusalem was destroyed, was 607 BCE, but time and time again, the astronomical observations do not match the 37th year to 588 BCE, but to 568 BCE.

The cosmic fingerprint doesn’t lie. Year 37 was 568 BCE, so Jerusalem was destroyed in Year 18, 587 BCE. Watchtower chronology doesn’t stand a chance.

 

REFERENCES

Jonsson, Carl Olof (2004) The Gentile Times Reconsidered(3rd ed. 1998, 4th ed.)

Jonsson Carl Olof (2007) A critical review of Rolf Furuli’s 2nd volume on chronology: Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian Chronology. Volume II of Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian Chronology Compared with the Chronology of the Bible (Oslo: Awatu Publishers). http://kristenfrihet.se/kf2/review.htm

Londo Mollari, reproduction of an article written by Londo Mollari: https://xjwfriends.com/2018/02/08/vat4956/ (originally posted at http://www.jwlove.org/category/vat-4956-2/ – Website defunct)

R. A. Parker & W. H. Dubberstein (1956) Babylonian Chronology (Brown Univeristy Press)

Translation of the tablet VAT 4956: http://www.caeno.org/pdf/F019_Translation.pdf

Free astronomical software: http://www.ap-i.net/skychart/

A list of Babylonian constellations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_star_catalogues

Babylonian Calendar Converter: http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/babylon/babycal_converter.htm

User: AnnOMaly – https://www.jehovahs-witness.com/topic/216051/do-all-13-sets-lunar-positions-on-vat-4956-fit-year-588-587-b-c-e

Astronomical diary VAT 4956: http://www.lavia.org/english/archivo/vat4956en.htm

Ancient Fish in the Stellar Sea – Remnants of Babylon – http://onesky.arizona.edu/2015/10/ancient-fish-in-the-stellar-sea/

The Watchtower (2011) When Was Ancient Jerusalem Destroyed?—Part Two: What the Clay Documents Really Show https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2011810

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