Prophet Jeremiah’s “Seventy Years” of Babylonian Rule

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by

Damien F. Mackey

Scholarly opinion differs as to what constitutes the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem of the prophet Jeremiah’s predicted period of “seventy years” of service under Babylonian rule.

The opinion expressed here is that a revised chronology of the Neo-Babylonian empire, structured along biblical lines, is required to make mathematical sense of Jeremiah’s words.

Introduction

The following list shows the conventional sequence of Neo-Babylonian (or Chaldean) kings, also known as “Dynasty XI”, naming six kings in total:

Dynasty XI of Babylon (Neo-Babylonian)

• Nabu-apla-usur 626 – 605 BC

• Nabu-kudurri-usur II 605 – 562 BC

• Amel-Marduk 562 – 560 BC

• Neriglissar 560 – 556 BC

• Labaši-Marduk 556 BC

• Nabonidus 556 – 539 BC

Instinctively, as a revisionist, one can anticipate that that will be too many kings, too many years. And, according to my Neo-Babylonian revision, which has taken seriously the biblical sequence of kings, there are too many kings. I have suggested, in fact, two too many.

The Book of Daniel, for instance, passes directly from Nebuchednezzar, to Belshazzar, to the Medo-Persian kingdom. Daniel 5:

18 Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor.

22 But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.

30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, 31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

With this in mind, I concluded in the course of my Neo-Babylonian revision:

Neo-Babylonian Dynasty Needs ‘Hem Taken Up’. Part Two: How the Kings Line Up

https://www.academia.edu/22962577/Neo-Babylonian_Dynasty_Needs_Hem_Taken_Up._Part_Two_How_the_Kings_Line_Up

The following new arrangement of the neo-Babylonian kings was suggested in Part One:

https://www.academia.edu/22954569/Neo-Babylonian_Dynasty_Needs_Hem_Taken_Up_._Part_One_Seven_Kings_Become_Four

• Nabu-apla-usur [Nabopolassar]

• Labaši-Marduk

• Nabu-kudurri-usur II = Nabonidus

• Amel-Marduk = Neriglissar = Belshazzar

[End of quote]

The six kings of conventional Neo-Babylonian history (according to which the biblical king “Belshazzar” is completely omitted) have here been reduced to only four.

Now, as we shall find, the collective reign of these four kings covers very close to 70 years (to be considered a round number), just as Jeremiah had been inspired to foretell (Jeremiah 25:1-14):

The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. So Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people of Judah and to all those living in Jerusalem: For twenty-three years—from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day—the word of the Lord has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened.

And though the Lord has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention. They said, “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the Lord gave to you and your ancestors for ever and ever. Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not arouse my anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you.”

“But you did not listen to me,” declares the Lord, “and you have aroused my anger with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves.”

Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, 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. I will bring on that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.”

A New Reckoning

Without a streamlined chronology, scholars who attempt to make mathematical sense of Jeremiah’s “seventy years” end up having to admit to more than one period of that length of time. For instance, we read this juggling Christian version of it at: http://walvoord.com/article/250

The precise prophecy of Jeremiah 25:11-12 predicts that the king of Babylon would be punished at the end of seventy years. Jeremiah 29:10 predicted the return to the land after seventy years. For these reasons, it is doubtful whether Anderson’s evaluation of Daniel 9:2 as referring to the destruction of the temple itself is valid. The judgment on Babylon and the return to the land of course took place about twenty years before the temple itself was rebuilt and was approximately seventy years after captivity beginning in 605 b.c. Probably the best interpretation, accordingly, is to consider the expression the desolations of Jerusalem, in Daniel 9:2, as referring to the period 605 B.C. to 539 B.C. for the judgment on Babylon, and the date of 538 b.c for the return to the land.

This definition of the expression the desolations of Jerusalem (Dan 9:2) is supported by the word for “desolations” … which is a plural apparently including the environs of Jerusalem. The same expression is translated “all her waste places” in Isaiah 51:3 (cf. 52:9). Actually the destruction of territory formerly under Jerusalem control even predated the 605 date for Jerusalem’s fall.

Although it is preferred to consider Daniel 9:2 as the period 605 b.c.-539 b.c, Anderson may be right in distinguishing as he does the period of Israel’s captivity from the period of Jerusalem’s destruction. Zechariah 1:12, referring to God’s destruction of the cities of Judah for three score years and ten, may extend to the time when the temple was rebuilt. This is brought out in Zechariah 1:16 where it is stated, “Therefore thus saith the Lord; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem.” It is most significant that the return took place approximately seventy years after the capture of Jerusalem in 605 b.c, and the restoration of the temple (515 b.c) took place approximately seventy years after the destruction of the temple (586 b.c), the latter period being about twenty years later than the former. In both cases, however, the fulfillment does not have the meticulous accuracy of falling on the very day, as Anderson attempts to prove. It seems to be an approximate number as one would expect by a round number of seventy. Hence, the period between 605 b.c and 538 b.c would be approximately sixty-seven years; and the rededication of the temple in March of 515 b.c, would be less than seventy-one years from the destruction of the temple in August of 586 b.c

What is intended, accordingly, in the statement in Daniel 9:2 is that Daniel realized that the time was approaching when the children of Israel could return. The seventy years of the captivity were about ended. Once the children of Israel were back in the land, they were providentially hindered in fulfilling the rebuilding of the temple until seventy years after the destruction of the temple had also elapsed.

[End of quote]

Or this Jewish version (in connection with Daniel 9), according to which article there were actually “three different prophesies concerning 70 years” (“Daniel 9 – A True Biblical Interpretation”) https://jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/answers/jewish-polemics/texts/daniel-9-a-true-biblical-interpretation/

Chapter 9 begins as follow:

“I Daniel considered (or contemplated) in the books the number of the years which the word (דבר ~ Devar) of G-d came to Jeremiah the Prophet that would accomplish to the destruction of Jerusalem” Daniel 9:2

Here Daniel uses the word (דבר ~ Devar) when pondering the numbers of years that Jeremiah had spoken about. Jeremiah had twice prophesied concerning a 70 year period.

Once Jeremiah said:

“and these nation shall serve the King of Babylon 70 years and it shall come to pass when seventy years are accomplished that I will punish the King of Babylon and that nation … and make it everlasting desolation” Jeremiah 25: 11-12

This prophesy states that Babylon would dominate Israel for a total of 70 years.

Jeremiah also says:

“After 70 years are accomplished to Babylon I will take heed of you and perform My good word towards you in causing you to return to this place.” Jeremiah 29:l0

This prophesy states, that after the 70 years, in addition to the end of Babylonian domination, the Jews would also return to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile.

There are two Jeremiah prophesies concerning: 1) subjugation, and 2) return to Jerusalem.

Jeremiah’s 70 years start from the initial subjugation of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. This took place 18 years before the destruction of Jerusalem, as demonstrated by the following passages,

We know that the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in the 19th year of King Nebuchadnezzar. As it says:

“In the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan the chief executioner was in service of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem… and destroyed the Temple of God” Jeremiah 52:12-13

The 19th year means that 18 full years had already been completed.

Nebuchadnezzar started to subjugate Jerusalem in his first year of his rule; this can be derived from the following verses;

“in King Yehoyakim’s third year (three completed years) Nebuchadnezzar came to besiege Jerusalem” Daniel 1:1

“in the fourth year (three completed years) of Yehoyakim which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar” Jeremiah 25:1

These verses demonstrate that Nebuchadnezzar started to besiege Jerusalem in his first year and the destruction of Jerusalem took place in his “19th” year. Therefore, 18 complete years had passed from the beginning of the siege until the destruction of Jerusalem. During these 18 years Jerusalem was laid siege and completely surrounded.

Scriptures also indicate that the 70 years of Jeremiah were completed with the advent of Cyrus the King of the Persian Empire. As it says:

“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled.” Ezra 1:1-3

“Those who survived the sword he exiled to Babylon, where they became slaves to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia began to reign. This was the fulfillment of the word of God to Jeremiah, until the land would be appeased of its Sabbatical years, all the years of its desolation it rested, to the completion of 70 years. In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, upon the expiration of God’s prophesy spoken by Jeremiah. God aroused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia and he issues a proclamation… to build God a Temple in Jerusalem.” 2 Chronicles 36:20-23

In addition to the Babylonian rule ended in fulfillment of Jeremiah 25:11-12, Cyrus also gave permission, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 29:l0, to the Jews to return to Jerusalem, as it says;

“Whoever is among you all his people, let his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord G-d of Israel.” Ezra 1:4

It is important to remember that from the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, 18 years before the fall of Jerusalem, until the fall of the Babylonian Empire, when Cyrus came into power, 70 years had elapsed. By subtracting the 18 years subjugation before the destruction of the first Temple from the total of 70 years we are left with 52 years. This proves that King Cyrus arose to power and fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophesy 52 years after the destruction of Jerusalem.

This plays an essential role in understanding Daniel 9. Daniel yearned not only for the Babylonian Empire to cease 70 years after the subjugation of Jerusalem; he yearned to see the return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple.

When Daniel begins speaking in chapter 9 it is in the first year of Darius the Median.

…. Daniel was confused because although he now witnessed that, with the advent of Darius the 70 years to the Babylonian subjugation were over in fulfillment of Jeremiah 25:11-12, Daniel had not yet seen the fulfillment of Jeremiah 29:10 that promised that after the 70 years the Jewish exiles would return and rebuild Jerusalem. He did not foresee that very shortly Cyrus world rule and fulfill this promise.

Daniel thought that perhaps, due to the sins of Israel the date had been delayed. This is why Daniel confesses for the sins of the people in verse 4-20 and says.

“Now I was still speaking and praying and confessing my sins and the sins of my people Israel and casting my supplications before the Lord My God about the holy mountain (the Sanctuary as seen in Isaiah 56:7) of my God.” Daniel 9:20

This explains why at the beginning of chapter 9 Daniel contemplated the number of years to the destruction of Jerusalem and not to the subjugation, as it says.

“I Daniel contemplated the calculations, the number of years about that which the word of God came to the prophet Jeremiah, to complete the 70 years to the destruction (לחרבות ~ L’Charvot) of Jerusalem.” Daniel 9:2

Daniel saw that the subjugation was over but he [not] only wanted to see the return to Jerusalem he wanted to know when the destruction would end with the building of the second Temple.

In fact, after one year of rule by Darius, King Cyrus took power and fulfilled Jeremiah 29 and allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem. But Daniel’s desire to understand the years of Jeremiah to the destruction of Jerusalem, result in the revelation of a new and additional understanding of Jeremiah:

There are now three different prophesies concerning 70 years.

1. 70 years of subjugation (Jeremiah 25)

2. 70 years till they return to the Jerusalem (Jeremiah 29)

3. 70 years of the destruction of Jerusalem (Daniel 9).

[End of quote]

The length of time occupied by the Neo-Babylonian empire according to my revised list of kings, from Nabopolassar to Belshazzar, was:

Nabopolassar 21 (virtually all lists seem to agree with this number);

Labashi-Marduk 1

Nebuchednezzar II 43

Beshazzar 3-4

Totalling up these numbers: 21 + 1 + 43 + 3-4, we get: 68-69. That is very close to the number 70, which is perhaps a round number, anyway, according to what we read above: “It seems to be an approximate number as one would expect by a round number of seventy”.

It could be argued that it was only during the reign of Nebuchednezzar II, and not during the two decades of rule of his father, Nabopolassar, that Judah came under the direct influence, and servitude, of Babylon. This, however, appears to be a scriptural way of putting things, like in the case of Moses’ (Exodus 12:40): “Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years”. The apparent discrepancies with the latter case are well explained at:

http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=796

and summarised as follows: “As Hoehner wrote: “In conclusion, the 430 years went from Abraham’s call to the Exodus. The first 215 years was their sojourn in Palestine and the last 215 years in Egypt. The 400 years was from the weaning of Isaac to the time of the Exodus” (1969, 126:309)”.

For those 430 years, the Hebrews lived within the Egyptian realm; just as for Jeremiah’s 70 years, they lived within the Babylonian realm.

Terminus a quo

The count of the “seventy years” begins with the call of Jeremiah in the 13th year of King Josiah of Judah, which date must coincide very nearly with the beginning of the rule of Nabopolassar, the beginnings of Babylon. By the time that Jeremiah specifically refers to the “seventy years”, in a text that is heavily cross-dated:

The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. So Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people of Judah and to all those living in Jerusalem: For twenty-three years—from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day—the word of the Lord has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened.

“twenty-three” of those “seventy years” have already elapsed, leaving approximately 47 years.

These latter are filled up by the 40+ years of Nebuchednezzar and the 3-4 years of his son, Belshazzar.

Terminus ad quem

Ezra 1:1 tells us what is this point in time: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing …”.

And, in that very same year, “the first year of Darius the Mede” (Daniel 9:1) – he being Cyrus – Daniel knew that the time had come to completion: “… in the first year of his reign, 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”.

Now, thanks to the providential intervention of king (Darius =) Cyrus:

Cyrus as ‘Darius the Mede’ who Succeeded Belshazzar. Part One: King Belshazzar

https://www.academia.edu/24223840/Cyrus_as_Darius_the_Mede_who_Succeeded_Belshazzar._Part_One_King_Belshazzar

that seemingly interminable “desolation of Jerusalem” had at last reached its terminus ad quem.

Part Two:

Zechariah and the “Seventy Years”

Not only do the testimonies of the prophets Jeremiah and Daniel necessitate a streamlining of the conventional Neo-Babylonian sequence of kings, as was argued in Part One, but also now, as we shall find, the “seventy years” of Jeremiah further point to the need for a revision of the Medo-Persian succession, even beyond the recognition of “Darius the Mede” as king Cyrus.

The life of the prophet Jeremiah did not end
with a supposed martyrdom in Egypt.

As I argued in:

Complete Jeremiah

https://www.academia.edu/29677998/Complete_Jeremiah

Jeremiah re-emerges in post-exilic times, in the guise of various prophetic alter egos all designated by his office of “the prophet” (הַנָּבִיא): “This title (han-nâbî) is applied only to Habakkuk, Haggai, and Zechariah” (Ellicott’s Commentary).

Accordingly, I tentatively identified the post-exilic Jeremiah with (of interest here) Zechariah.

This identification, if correct, has some potent ramifications.

Let me briefly re-visit some of the pros and cons – as pointed out in that article – arising from an identification of Jeremiah with Zechariah:

In Favour

To identify Jeremiah with Zechariah would immediately solve this most vexed of scriptural problems: https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=658

Who was Matthew Quoting?

by Dave Miller, Ph.D.

….

After reporting in his gospel account about Judas’ suicide and the purchase of the potter’s field, Matthew quoted from the prophets as he had done many times prior to chapter 27. He wrote: “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me’ ” (27:9-10). For centuries, these two verses have been contemplated by Christians and criticized by skeptics. The alleged problem with this passage, as one modern-day critic noted, is that “this is not a quote from Jeremiah, but a misquote of Zechariah” (Wells, 2001). Skeptics purport that Matthew misused Zechariah 11:12-13, and then mistakenly attributed the quotation to Jeremiah. Sadly, even some Christians have advocated this idea (see Cukrowski, et al., 2002, p. 40). What can be said of the matter?

“What can be said of the matter” is that Matthew was quoting Jeremiah, but in the latter’s post-exilic guise as Zechariah.

And it would also serve to fill out the duration of the ministry of the prophet Haggai, which, according to estimates based upon the Book of Haggai alone, “was short, lasting only four months”

(http://www.bible-studys.org/Bible%20Books/Haggai/Book%20of%20Haggai.html)

However, the prophet was old at this stage, anyway, by my estimations, so his post-exilic ministry must of necessity have been rather brief.

….

Ezra 5:1 would now read as connected with a waw (וּ): “Now Haggai the prophet even Zechariah the prophet …”.

And so my explanation would enable for the integration of Haggai 1:1: “In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai …”, with Zechariah 1:1: “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah …”. Etc.

The same prophet, operating in the very same regnal year!

It might also explain why Haggai (= Habakkuk) is accorded no genealogy, since Zechariah (1:1) will go on to supply that lack, “… Zechariah, son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo …”.

Problematical

To identify Jeremiah with Zechariah would mean having to cope with an additional Hebrew name for the prophet. I have already loaded down Jeremiah with the additional names of Habakkuk and Haggai, but Habakkuk is easily explained as a foreign (Akkadian) name given to Jeremiah presumably by the Chaldeans. Haggai I take to be a hypocoristicon of Habakkuk. It was not uncommon, however, for Israelites to acquire a new name at a turning point in their lives – the well-known example of Jacob to Israel, for instance.
….

Another problem with my reconstruction is that, whilst Jeremiah-as-Habakkuk in the time of king Cyrus is reasonable (I have estimated Jeremiah by now to be in his mid-eighties), to stretch the prophet further to embrace Haggai/Zechariah, presumably in a later Persian phase again, would make him extremely old.

This matter, involving as it does, a fairly substantial renovation of Medo-Persian history, will need to be left to another time.

But what I am very excited about is that Zechariah 1:12, situated as it is still “in the second year of Darius” (v. 7), speaks of the culmination then of Jeremiah’s 70 years: “Then the angel of the LORD said, ‘LORD Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?’”
….

[End of quotes]

“This matter, involving as it does, a fairly substantial renovation of Medo-Persian history, will need to be left to another time”. Well, I think that that “time” has now come.

The prophet Zechariah (tentatively Jeremiah) we now find referring to the “seventy years” in the context of a Persian king, “Darius”, who is universally considered to have begun to reign some two decades after the first year of Cyrus (c. 539 BC) – which year we have determined to have brought an end to Jeremiah’s “seventy years” of Babylonian servitude:

• 539-530 – Cyrus the Great

• 529-522 – Cambyses (son)

• 522 – Smerdis (Bardiya) (brother)

• 521-486 – Darius I, the Great

Zechariah 1:7-13 reads:

On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.

During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.

I asked, ‘What are these, my lord?’

The angel who was talking with me answered, ‘I will show you what they are’.

Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, ‘They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth’.

And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, ‘We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace’.

Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?’ So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.

This situation leads me to conclude – albeit tentatively, since it is a big call historically speaking – that this “Darius”, too, must be the same as Daniel’s “Darius the Mede”, who is Cyrus.

The prophet Jeremiah, as Zechariah, is here once again associated with those “seventy years” that had by now just recently been completed.

To identify the “Darius” of Zechariah, of Haggai (1:1), with a presumed Persian king reigning some two decades later than (Darius =) Cyrus necessitates that commentators must look for a separate “seventy years” terminating at that later point.

Next step?

The conventional Medo-Persian succession will need to be – just as was found to be necessary in the case of the Neo-Babylonians – seriously truncated.

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