Bible Chronology Timeline

Chronologies of the Mysteries of God

Genesis 5:1
“This is the book of the generations of
Adam. In the day that God created man,
in the likeness of God made he him”
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Chronology of Exile and Restoration

I. Introduction

The chronology of the historical books included in this volume (aside from that of Chronicles, which is covered in the treatment of Kings in Volume II) embraces the Babylonian exile and the restoration—that is, from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar in the Neo-Babylonian Empire to that of Darius II in the Persian Empire that followed it. In this period, more than in any other, the Bible narrative can be aligned with the sequence of historical events and with the ebb and flow of political, religious, and social forces in the Near East. This is possible because modern archaeologists have unearthed many monumental inscriptions and thousands of public and private documents. The latter were written mostly on clay tablets in Mesopotamia, with a smaller number on papyri in Egypt, some of which were found still rolled up and sealed.

These ancient original documents include contracts, deeds, other legal papers, letters, receipts, literary, historical, or religious texts, decrees, and diplomatic correspondence, written by professional scribes, but mostly relating to individuals. They furnish significant details about property, debts, wages, taxes, and the cost of living. They throw light on social customs—slavery, marriage, divorce—and occasionally reveal unexpected items of human interest. A mere inventory of personal property draws a vivid picture of a bride’s trousseau—her new dresses, one flounced, another striped, and so on—complete with her wicker clothes chest, her bronze mirror and bowls, and her little pots of cosmetics. A series of dated receipts tells a story of graft at the capital. And the date lines, in terms of the numbered years of many successive kings, are of prime importance in dating the reigns.

These ancient documents have piled up in museum storerooms faster than they can be translated and published. For example, the Brooklyn Museum Papyri, acquired more than 50 years before they were published in 1953, furnish a link in the chain of evidence for the Jewish calendar after the Exile, hence for the dating of Ezra and Nehemiah, and thus of the decree of Artaxerxes “to restore and to build Jerusalem,” on which two important time prophecies hinge.

In Ezra and Nehemiah, in Jeremiah and Daniel, in Haggai and Zechariah, are numerous dates in terms of the years of certain kings in the Neo-Babylonian and Persian empires. These dates can be located with a greater degree of certainty than those of any preceding or subsequent period of Bible history, and some of them are connected with important events such as the fall of Jerusalem, or prophecies such as the 70-year captivity or the 70 weeks.

Many events of the captivity and restoration of the Jews can be dated with certainty to the year, and often to the day—allowing always for the possibility of a day’s variation in the calculation of a lunar-calendar date, and sometimes of a month in case of uncertainty as to which year had the 13th month. Therefore in Volume III exact B.C. dates are sometimes given, with the high probability that they are correct to the day. The Babylonian month dates are derived from Parker and Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, and the 5th century Jewish dates from the tabulation by Horn and Wood. In some cases there is room for difference of opinion. For this reason a discussion of the means of arriving at these dates, and of the probable degree of certainty, is desirable. It is the purpose of this article to explain the dating employed in Volume III. Section II of this article will show how the archeological source documents provide the basis for a relatively complete B.C. dating of these reigns. Then Section II will take up the specific problems of Biblical chronology for this period.

II. Chronological Background of the Period Established

Ptolemy’s Canon.—The reigns of Babylonian and Persian kings during the captivity-restoration period are well established by numerous source documents. Most of these have come to light in recent decades. But formerly scholars depended on the canon, or list, of kings compiled by the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century A.D. Ptolemy’s Canon gives the lengths of the successive reigns of Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian-Egyptian, and Roman rulers from February 26, 747 B.C., to Ptolemy’s day, reckoned in Egyptian years. This scale of Egyptian calendar years has been definitely fixed by a series of eclipses mentioned by Ptolemy in his astronomical work known as The Almagest—eclipses dated to the day and hour in the Egyptian-calendar reckoning and identified with specific B.C. dates by modern astronomers.

NOTE: The question may be raised as to why Ptolemy’s eclipses can be dated so confidently, since the eclipse on which the Assyrian limmu list hinges has been assigned to more than one possible date. The reason is that the Assyrian record gives only the lunar month, while Ptolemy records 19 eclipses, dated to the day and hour, with the intervals between the eclipses stated precisely, in an Egyptian calendar era. A full moon (at which a lunar eclipse must always occur) falls on the same date in our calendar only once in 19 years; and in Ptolemy’s Egyptian calendar, with its gradual backward shift, a full-moon date can recur only after 25 years. Since only twice out of 12 or 13 full-moon dates in a year can the moon be eclipsed, the possibility of duplication is reduced still further. That is why there can be no doubt about Ptolemy’s eclipse dates.

Ptolemy’s Canon was derived from ancient records, and was subsequently recopied many times before it became available to modern scholars. Therefore some chronologists of a century or two ago felt free to revise the canon dating according to their theories. But in recent times Ptolemy’s accuracy has been increasingly confirmed by documents much more ancient than the canon, and free from the accumulated small errors so often found in recopied manuscripts.

Babylonian Tablets Outline the Reigns.—Since the birth of modern archeology, the gradually accumulating information derived from the Babylonian clay tablets has pieced together a pattern not only of the historical background but also of the chronology of the period. However trivial the contents of these documents, the date lines of a series of them, when arranged in time order, show approximately the time of the year at which each king came to the throne.

For example, if all the known tablets written during a series of reigns are arranged in time order, it will be noticed that the latest dated in one reign and the earliest in the succeeding reign are very close together, sometimes on the same day. A series of tablets might be compiled thus:




Nebuchadnezzar (43 yrs.) 43 6 14
43 6 26
Amel–Marduk (2 yrs.) “beginning of reign” 6 26
“ “ “ 7 19
1 2 1
1 11 18
2 3 15
2 5 17
Nergal–shar–usur “beginning of reign” 5 23
“ “ “ 6 12 etc.

The italicized dates show that the first tablet in the reign of Amel-Marduk (Biblical Evil-merodach) is dated the 26th of the 6th month, the same day as the last dated in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and that the last dated to Amel-Marduk, on the 17th of the 5th month of his 2nd year, is followed in less than a week, on the 23rd of the 5th month, by a tablet dated in the reign of his successor. Thus the length of his rule is known almost exactly. The series is similar for other reigns, with the earliest tablets in the “beginning of the reign” coming in the last part of the year that had begun as the last numbered year of the preceding king. Occasionally the tablet dates overlap, because documents written in distant villages were still dated in the old reign until news of the king’s death arrived, while scribes in the capital were using the new king’s name.

The series of earliest and latest tablets, whenever available, corroborates the lengths of the Babylonian and Persian reigns as given in Ptolemy’s Canon, and points out approximately the month and day of the new king’s accession. Dated tablets also show that the remaining portion of the last calendar year of the old king, between the change of reign and the next New Year’s Day (Nisan 1, in the spring) was called the “beginning of the reign,” or, as modern translators put it, “accession year,” while “year 1” was the first full calendar year.

NOTE: The Jewish-Egyptian papyri from Egypt similarly harmonize with Ptolemy’s Canon and show that the Jews used the accession-year system also; but they indicate that the Egyptians called the remainder of the (Egyptian) year in which the accession took place “year 1,” not the “beginning of reign,” or “accession year”

Series of Tablets Give Relative Chronology.—The tablets of this type (or the similar papyri from Egypt) supply only relative chronology. The whole series of Babylonian regnal years remains on a sliding scale in relation to the B.C. scale until we have some established B.C. dating on which to anchor the series. Ptolemy’s Canon and his eclipse records fix the B.C. dating of the years of the Egyptian calendar, not that of Babylonian. Although the incomplete series of relatively dated Babylonian tablets seems to agree with Ptolemy, they are not conclusive, because they are dated in a different calendar, and are sometimes subject to varying interpretations. The Saros Tablets (from the Seleucid period) contain a list of regnal years, 18 years apart in the saros cycle. These regnal years harmonize with Ptolemy and with the dated tablets as to the lengths of the reigns, but do not independently fix any B.C. date. But two tablets have furnished a check on Ptolemy’s Canon and offer definite, contemporary evidence for the B.C. equivalents of the Babylonian years. These will be discussed next.

Two Astronomical Tablets Fix Babylonian Dating.—Of unique value are two independent tablets—contemporary texts, each giving astronomical data covering a whole year. The first of these, from the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar, contains a series of observations from Nisan 1 (Babylonian New Year’s Day), year 37, through Nisan 1, year 38. The date for a single observation might be suspected of error, but modern astronomers tell us that a combination of records such as that appearing on this tablet, relating to the positions, of sun, moon, and planets, all of which move in differing cycles, can be located exactly in only one year. Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year was beyond doubt the Babylonian lunar-calendar year extending from April 23, 568 B.C. (to be exact, April 22/23, sundown to sundown) through April 12, 567 B.C. This of course places the 1st official year (that is, the first full year) of Nebuchadnezzar at 604/03 B.C., spring to spring, and similarly fixes all the years of his reign.

The second text of this kind contains a similar series of calculated astronomical data (proved correct by modern computation) fixing the 7th year of Cambyses as the Babylonian calendar year April 7, 523, to March 26, 522 B.C. (The Persian rulers, as kings of Babylon also, adopted the Babylonian calendar.) This tablet of Cambyses’ reign is particularly interesting because among other data it records an eclipse (calculated to have occurred on July 16, 523 B.C.) that is identical with one dated by Ptolemy in the same 7th year. Thus both ancient dating scales—the Egyptian solar years of Ptolemy and the Babylonian-Persian lunar years—are aligned with a fixed point in the B.C. scale and with each other.

Alignment of Egyptian and Babylonian Years.—This eclipse establishes the alignment of Ptolemy’s Egyptian years with the corresponding Babylonian years. Ptolemy began the 1st year of Cambyses by the Egyptian calendar on Thoth 1, January 3, 529 B.C., approximately three months before Cambyses’ 1st year began in the Babylonian calendar. Other source evidence shows that throughout this period any given year of any reign began, similarly, three to four months earlier in the Egyptian calendar than the same year in the Babylonian-Persian reckoning. The interval became progressively longer, because the Babylonian year always began following a new moon of March or April, while the Egyptian year had a gradual backward shift.

Double-dated Papyri From Egypt Yield Exact Dates.—A contemporary check on the B.C. dating of the Persian reigns during the greater part of the 5th century B.C. is furnished by numerous documents written on papyrus in the Aramaic language and found at the Jewish settlement on the island of Elephantine, in southern Egypt. Fourteen out of approximately one hundred of these are double-dated, carrying an Egyptian (solar) month date and a Jewish (lunar) month date, and in some cases two regnal year numbers differing in the two calendars. These double dates can be located in the B.C. scale within range of a single day.

NOTE: The method of arriving at the date of one of the Elephantine papyri can best be explained by an example (Papyrus 6 in the Brooklyn Museum collection published in 1953). A Jewish father’s gift of (part of?) a house to his daughter, who was to be married, was dated “on the 8th of Pharmuthi, which is the 8th day of Tammuz, year 3 of Darius” (II). Since Egypt was part of the Persian Empire at that time, the year was designated as numbered in the reign of the Persian ruler, but Pharmuti 8 is an Egyptian month date. The various nationalities in the empire retained their own calendars, and in this case the Jewish colonists at Elephantine used two calendars, the Jewish (lunar) and the Egyptian (solar). The problem is to find the year in which the 8th of the lunar month Tammuz happens to correspond to the 8th of the Egyptian month of Pharmuthi.

Since the Egyptians had a 365-day year, and no leap years, any Egyptian calendar date shifted a day earlier every four years by our reckoning. Consequently the Egyptian New Year’s Day (Thoth 1), which came on what we call February 26 at the starting point of Ptolemy’s Canon, had shifted back to January in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, and had moved into December in the reign of Darius I. The Egyptian years for this period are known from Ptolemy’s Canon and eclipse data; Pharmuthi 8 in the reign of Darius II was July, corresponding closely to the lunar month of Tammuz, which always began in June or July. But in only one year could Pharmuthi 8 be also Tammuz 8, since any Egyptian date moves one day in four years, but any lunar date shifts at least 10 or 11 days a year in our reckoning. The following table shows that the only possible year for this papyrus was 420 B.C.:

Year B.C.

Pharmuthi 8

Tammuz 8

422 July 12/13 (sunrise to sunrise) July 4/5 (sunset to sunset)
421 July 11/12 (sunrise to sunrise) July 22/23 (sunset to sunset)
420 July 11/12 (sunrise to sunrise) July 11/12 (sunset to sunset)
419 July 11/12 (sunrise to sunrise) July 1/2 (sunset to sunset)
418 July 11/12 (sunrise to sunrise) July 20/21 (sunset to sunset)
417 July 10/11 (sunrise to sunrise) July 8/9 (sunset to sunset)

Since Pharmuthi 8 and Tammuz 8 can be harmonized only in 420 B.C., this is evidently the year in which the papyrus was written. This was the year 3 in the Jewish fall-to-fall calendar. Ordinarily the year given on a papyrus is the Egyptian year, but in this case the date does not fit either the Egyptian or the Persian year 3, which covered the summer of 421 instead. Similarly in other double-dated papyri the Egyptian month date is possible in four consecutive years, but the lunar date can agree with the Egyptian in only one of these years. Thus the B.C. dates of these papyri can be determined.

These papyri are in complete harmony with the pattern indicated by the other chronological information on these reigns. Their Egyptian dating, agreeing with Ptolemy’s regnal years, shows that Ptolemy’s Canon was based on contemporary Egyptian reckoning. Their Jewish dates, reckoned by the accession-year system, harmonize with the Babylonian-Persian numbering, but not the beginning, of the years, for one of the papyri shows clearly that these Jews were using their own fall-to-fall civil year, not the spring-to-spring Babylonian year.

Thus by the two astronomically fixed years (the 37th of Nebuchadnezzar and the 7th of Cambyses), and by the double-dated papyri from Egypt, the regnal years of six of the Babylonian and Persian kings are positively known on contemporary evidence. Ptolemy’s eclipses add two more reigns that are apparently in harmony with these six. If the lengths of the other reigns as we have them are correct (and the evidence on these—from Ptolemy’s Canon, the Saros Tablets, and the series of dated tablets from Babylonia—seems to harmonize), then we can be certain of the B.C. equivalent of every regnal year of every Babylonian and Persian king throughout the period covered in this volume, as reckoned in both the Egyptian solar and the Babylonian lunar calendars.

How to Locate B.C. Dating of a Regnal Year.—The reader who desires to locate any given Babylonian or Persian regnal year may refer to the table of Ptolemy’s Canon. The B.C. dates given in the two supplementary columns at the right indicate the beginning of the official 1st year of each reign according to the Egyptian calendar (except that Ptolemy leaves out those kings who ruled less than a year, such as Labashi-Marduk, who followed Nergal-sharusur). From the year 1, any other year in the reign can be calculated to the day by computing years of exactly 365 days each, with no leap year. Throughout this period each Babylonian-Persian regnal year (in the Babylonian calendar) began on the next Nisan 1 after the corresponding Egyptian New Year; it always began after a new moon of late March or April. Thus the 1st year of Xerxes in the Egyptian calendar was 486/85 B.C. (beginning in December), but his year 1 in Babylonia was 485/84 B.C., spring to spring, while the corresponding Jewish year for Xerxes would presumably begin last of all, in the autumn of 485 (Tishri 1, following a new moon of late September to late October). But this Jewish sequence is not consistent. In some reigns the Jewish year would precede the corresponding Babylonian year by six months, while in others it would follow, depending on which New Year’s Day—Babylonian or Jewish—arrived first after the date of accession to usher in the 1st year of the reign.

NOTE: There is no reason to doubt that Jewish mode of regnal reckoning was the accession-year system, since that method seems to have been in use in the late period of Judah, shortly before the Exile, and is indicated for the only Jewish-calendar evidence in the Persian period, the double-dated papyri. If that system is applied to each king’s date of accession in this period, as derived from the various source materials, the result will be the following alignment of the Jewish regnal years with the Babylonian regnal years carrying the same number:

1. The Jewish year would begin in the autumn preceding the corresponding Babylonian spring year in the reigns of the Babylonian kings (Nebuchadnezzar through Nabonidus), and also of the Persian king Cambyses.

2. The Jewish year would begin in the autumn following the corresponding Babylonian year in the reigns of the Persian kings (Cyrus through Darius II) except Cambyses.

Before Nabopolassar and after Darius II there is insufficient evidence from the tablets to fix the date of accession. The reigns of less than one year are not relevant.

Section II has summarized the established basis on which any date in this period that is expressed in terms of regnal years can be computed. On the Egyptian and Babylonian-Persian dating scholars in general are agreed; the only room for variance of opinion is a difference in certain dates as calculated in the Babylonian spring-to-spring year and the Jewish fall-to-fall civil year. This difference will be discussed in the following sections of this article in connection with specific Biblical dates relating to the captivity and restoration of the Jews.

III. Beginning of the Captivity Under Nebuchadnezzar

The book of 2 Chronicles ends, and Ezra begins, with the narrative of the return of the Jews to Palestine from 70 years’ captivity in Babylonia. The first chronological problem of this article, therefore, is the dating of the Exile.

The 70 Years Predicted by Jeremiah.—The 70 years’ captivity has generally been accepted as beginning with the first deportation of Jews to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, and as ending with the return of a large group of the exiles under Zerubbabel, authorized by a decree of Cyrus in his 1st regnal year. The period has often been dated 606-536 B.C. Since an ancient lunar year cannot coincide with a Julian-calendar B.C. year beginning with January, ancient years are more accurately expressed in double form, thus: 606/05 B.C., etc. Therefore, to express it more exactly, this 70-year period would be, in the Jewish civil calendar, 606/05-537/36 B.C.

Jeremiah first predicted the 70-year captivity in the 4th year of Jehoiakim, or the 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:1-11), which was, according to the Jewish civil calendar, 605/04 B.C., from autumn to autumn. However, he still spoke of a 70-year captivity in a letter to the leaders who had been exiled to Babylon along with Jehoiachin seven years after his earlier prophecy (Jeremiah 29:1, 10). It would seem logical, then, to suppose that the prophetic period was reckoned, not from either prediction, but from a specific event, one that most reasonably fulfilled the requirements of the prophecy, namely, the beginning of the captivity. Both of the prophet’s predictions evidently referred to the captivity already begun (as will be seen) in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim (Daniel 1:1-6).

The Captivity in Three Stages.—The deportation to Babylonia took place in three principal stages, in the reigns of the last three kings of Judah:

(1) in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim, when some of the Temple treasures and a number of captives, including Daniel, were taken to Babylon (Daniel 1:1-3);

(2) at the end of the three-month reign of Jehoiachin, in the 8th year of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:8-16), when Jehoiachin, with others including Ezekiel, was taken captive (Ezekiel 1:1-3; 33:21; 40:1); and

(3) in the 11th year of Zedekiah, the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar, when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and the larger portion of the remaining inhabitants were deported to Babylonia (2 Kings 25:8-21).

Since Nebuchadnezzar’s reign is fixed astronomically, these three stages can be dated at 605, 597, and 586 respectively.

First Stage at Nebuchadnezzar’s Accession.—The beginning of the captivity came in Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year, before his year 1, for

(1) the 3rd year of Jehoiakim was the year in which Nebuchadnezzar came against Judah and took Daniel captive (Daniel 1:1-3, 6); and

(2) the 4th year of Jehoiakim was the 1st of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:1).

Corroborating this are (a) the record of Josephus (Against Apion i. 19), derived from that of the Babylonian historian Berosus, that Nebuchadnezzar was on a military campaign to Palestine and Egypt when suddenly called home to take the throne at the death of his father, Nabopolassar, and that he left captives, including Jews, to be brought home by the army; and (b) the Babylonian Chronicle tablet that dates his father’s death on Ab 8 (approximately August 15 in 605) and Nebuchadnezzar’s accession in Babylon on Elul 1 (approximately September 7).

Accordingly, Nebuchadnezzar’s official 1st year would begin in Babylonia at the next New Year’s Day, in the spring of 604 B.C. According to the Jewish reckoning, however, by the fall-to-fall civil year, it would be counted as beginning at the next Jewish New Year after the accession, about October, 605, not long after the first deportation. The prophecy of Jeremiah could have come very soon after, in the 4th year of Jehoiakim. Everyone would naturally have understood his 70-year prediction as referring to the captivity that had just begun. This date for the captivity, the 3rd year of Jehoiakim, 605 B.C., is in complete harmony with the dating of Nebuchadnezzar’s accession, and with the return of the exiles at the end of 70 years, inclusive.

The Older Theory of Nebuchadnezzar’s Supposed co regency.—Earlier commentators reached a different date in their attempt to account for (1) “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon” taking Daniel captive in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim before the 1st year of his reign (the 4th year of Jehoiakim); (2) Daniel’s three years of training (Daniel 1:5) before the 2nd year of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:1, 13); and (3) 70 years between the 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar and the 1st year of Cyrus (which Ptolemy placed in 604 and 538 B.C. respectively).

In seeking to solve these apparent discrepancies, Bible scholars equated Jehoiakim’s 4th year with 606 as the 1st year of a conjectured 2-year co regency of Nebuchadnezzar with his father; (See NOTE) they assigned Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to the 2nd year of his sole reign, with three years in between for Daniel’s schooling; and they reckoned the 70 years from 606 to 536, to which they adjusted the 1st year of Cyrus. Eventually this explanation came to be taken for granted, and to be regarded as established history instead of a learned conjecture.

NOTE: The conjecture that Nebuchadnezzar had a two-year co regency is credited to Petavius (Petau), a 17th-century Jesuit scholar. Petavius also conjectured a co regency of 10 years for Artaxerxes I, in order to begin the 71 weeks with the 20th year of the reign as counted from the beginning of the co regency. Ussher, with a slightly different ending date for the 70 weeks, followed Petavius in shifting Artaxerxes, but he abandoned Ptolemy here and placed Xerxes’ death 9 years earlier than the canon date for Artaxerxes’ reign. Few Protestant commentators followed this chronology for Artaxerxes, but for more than two centuries the margins of the Douay Bible and tables in the back of many KJV editions carried Ussher’s 467 and 454 B.C. for Ezra 7 and Nehemiah 2.

Now, however, the supposed discrepancies in the Bible have vanished completely in the light of the documents unearthed by modern archeology. The account is confirmed as it stands, for it is now known that: (1) Nebuchadnezzar was king for some months before his “first year” began; (2) Daniel’s training—if if it began in Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year, extended through the 1st year, and ended in the 2nd year—would have been counted as lasting three years by the inclusive reckoning commonly used at that time; and (3) the use of the Jewish fall-to-fall civil year makes it possible to reckon the 70 years inclusively from 606/05 to 537/36 B.C. without juggling the reigns.

The Dating of the 70 Years’ Captivity.—If the first year of the 70-year captivity foretold by Jeremiah was 606/05 B.C., autumn to autumn—the 3rd year of Jehoiakim, in which Daniel and others were taken to Babylon—then the 70th year of that period was 537/36 B.C. It will be seen, furthermore, in Section V that the return of the exiles under Zerubbabel, following the decree of the 1st year of Cyrus, can be assigned reasonably to this year.

Before leaving the period of the beginning of the captivity, however, it is necessary to note the basis for the dating of the second and third steps in the process. This is found in the chronology of Jeremiah, who predicted the 70 years’ captivity, and of Ezekiel, who was exiled to Babylonia with Jehoiachin.

IV. The Chronology of Jeremiah and Ezekiel

Dates in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.—The prophet Jeremiah began his work in the 13th year of Josiah, approximately 627 B.C. (Jeremiah 25:3), not long before the accession of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar’s father, who was soon to win Babylon’s independence from Assyria, to join with the Medes and Scythians to overthrow Assyria, and then to build an empire of his own (known as the Neo-Babylonian Empire). During these international upheavals Jeremiah warned that Judah must repent or fall a prey to foreign powers. In the 4th year of Jehoiakim, “the first year of Nebuchadnezzar,” he foretold the 70-year captivity, and many of his messages are dated to the month, day, and regnal year of Jehoiakim or Zedekiah (see Jeremiah 25:1; 26:1; 45:1; 36:9, 10; 28:1; 51:59; 39:1; 32:1). His ministry to Judah ended with the third principal stage of the captivity, at the fall of Jerusalem in 586.

Ezekiel was taken to Babylon with his king, Jehoiachin, in the 8th year of Nebuchadnezzar (see on 2 Kings 24:12; also on 2 Chronicles 36:9, 10), in the second principal stage of the captivity, in the spring of 597 B.C. Then he received his prophetic call in the 5th year of the captivity of Jehoiachin (Ezekiel 1:2), and dated his prophetic messages in years reckoned in era fashion from this captivity (see Ezekiel 1:1, 2; 8:1; 20:1; 24:1; 29:1; 26:1; 30:20; 31:1; 33:21; 32:1; 40:1; 29:17). His chronological reckoning must be considered in connection with that of Jeremiah, who dealt with some of the same events. Seven principal events are tabulated here, dated in years of Jehoiachin’s captivity and regnal years of Zedekiah (with B.C. dates as arrived at in the succeeding paragraphs).



Yr. of J’s Capt.

Yr. of Zedek.



B.C. Date

1. 10 10 9 Beginning of siege (Ezekiel) Ezekiel 24:1, 2 Jan 588
2. 10 10 9 Beginning of siege (Jeremiah) Jeremiah 39:1; 52:4 Jan 588
3. 9 4 11 End of siege; city falls Jeremiah 39:2 July 586
4. 10 5 11 City and Temple destroyed Jeremiah 1:3; 52:12 Aug 586
5. 5 10 12 Message reaches Ezekiel Ezekiel 33:21 Jan 585
6. 10 1? 7? 25 14th yr. from city’s fall Ezekiel 40:1 573/72
7. 25 12 37 Jehoiachin released in “the year” of Evil–merodach Jeremiah 52:31; cf. 2 Kings 25:27 March 561

The foregoing events from the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel must be dated consistently with one another; also with Jeremiah’s statement (chapter 32:1) synchronizing Zedekiah’s 10th year and Nebuchadnezzar’s 18th, and with those (Jeremiah 52:5, 12; 2 Kings 25:2, 8) placing the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in the summer of Zedekiah’s 11th year and Nebuchadnezzar’s 19th. The latter’s regnal years, astronomically fixed in the Babylonian spring-to-spring calendar, would begin half a year earlier in the Jewish civil (fall-to-fall) calendar; hence this summer date, in the half year during which the spring and fall years overlapped, would be in year 19 in either calendar, that is, in 586 B.C. (See NOTE) But Jehoiachin’s capture, which a Babylonian chronicle dates on Adar 2 in Nebuchadnezzar’s 7th year (approximately March 16, 597 B.C.), falls in his year 8 by Jewish count (being in the non-overlapping part of the year).

NOTE: Some modern authorities say 587, holding either (1) that the Bible writers (except in Jeremiah 52:28, 29) numbered Nebuchadnezzar’s regnal years one year higher than he himself did by the official Babylonian count, or (2) that the 19th year (2 Kings 25:8 and Jeremiah 52:12) is erroneous and must be corrected to the 18th year by Jeremiah 52:29. But the last-mentioned verse refers only the taking of a few captives not to the fall of Jerusalem; whereas verse 12 of the same chapter makes the Babylonians enter the city in the 19th year, in harmony with 2 Kings. Therefore there is actually no discrepancy, and 586 may be considered established. The question as to whether Jeremiah means to equate the 4th year of Jehoiakim with the accession year or with the 1st year of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:1) is not relevant to the Zedekiah-Nebuchadnezzar synchronisms.

The Various Possibilities Tested.—Opinions differ as to (a) whether Jeremiah and Ezekiel counted the years from spring or fall, and (b) whether the “1st year” of Jehoiachin’s captivity meant the year in which he was captured or the one beginning next thereafter, but it may be assumed (1) that both writers agree in dating the beginning of the siege, (2) that the news of the city’s fall must reach Ezekiel in a reasonable time (in 6 rather than 18 months), and (3) that Jehoiachin’s release must fall in either the accession year or the year 1 of Amel-Marduk. A consideration of all possible combinations of the variables (a) and (b), along with the above-mentioned specifications, seems to yield two most probable alternatives.

The B.C. Datings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.—The precise methods of reckoning used by Jeremiah and Ezekiel cannot be absolutely proved on the basis of probability, since what is most probable is not always what actually happened. But the best of the various possible combinations make it most likely that Jeremiah used the fall year and Ezekiel the spring year, although it is almost equally likely that Ezekiel reckoned from the fall as well as Jeremiah. In either case Ezekiel’s “1st year of the captivity” would begin in the spring or fall of 597, and Jeremiah’s 1st year of Zedekiah in the fall of that year. (See NOTE) On this basis the tabulated dates of the events agree remarkably.

NOTE: Some hold that Jeremiah as well as Ezekiel used the spring-beginning year but that Kings, Daniel and Ezra-Nehemiah used the fall year. There is considerable difference of opinion about Jeremiah.

The view that Jeremiah used the fall year encounters objections on three points: an anniversary reckoning for the 23rd year of his ministry, an inconclusive “this year” extending into the 7th month, and an apparent, but not necessarily actual, misfit with the date of the battle of Carchemish (see on chapters 25:3; 28:12, 16, 17; 46:2).

Yet a spring reckoning for Jeremiah raises even more serious objections on three points: If he reckoned Zedekiah’s year 1 from the spring, 597, half a year earlier than in 2 Kings, the final fall of Jerusalem occurred a whole year earlier (587); this date requires numbering Nebuchadnezzar’s year 18 as year 19 and assuming either that the news of the city’s fall took 18 months to reach Ezekiel in Babylon, or, if Ezekiel’s dates are shifted a year earlier, that his vision of the siege was a year early. If Zedekiah’s year 1 begins in spring, 596, the siege began a year later than according to Kings, unless it is assumed that the prophet changed to a fall reckoning (chapter 39:1) and then back. Therefore this book attributes a fall year to Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 52, an appendix carefully separated from “the words of Jeremiah” (see Jeremiah 51:64), does not necessarily indicate Jeremiah’s reckoning. Almost word the same as parts of 2 Kings 24-25, it reckons, like Kings, by Judah’s fall year. It counts the years of Jehoiachin’s captivity inclusively, as would be expected, from 598/97, as the synchronism of the 37th year requires.

Ezekiel, by either spring or fall reckoning, counts Jehoiachin’s captivity from 597/96—non-inclusively if it began with the known date of his capture, Adar 2, but inclusively if the starting point is his deportation “at the turn of the year” (see on 2 Chronicles 36:10), on or after Nisan 1. One explanation of a non-inclusive count would be the theory, based on archeological finds, that Jehoiachin was still a king in exile and that to Ezekiel, in Babylon, the “years of the captivity” meant Jehoiachin’s regnal years, with his year 1 beginning at the next New Year after his accession.

If Ezekiel, writing in Babylonia, employed the Babylonian calendar year, his use of the spring year would have no bearing on the question of the Jewish calendar year. But it seems extremely unlikely that Jeremiah, living and writing in the capital of Judah, should have used anything but the old Jewish civil fall-to-fall year, especially since it seems to be attested in the case of Josiah, under whom Jeremiah began his ministry. Some have pointed also to Jeremiah’s writing his messages in the 4th year of Jehoiakim, and having the scroll read to the people in the 9th month of the 5th year (Jeremiah 36:1-9), as more likely indicating an interval of two months plus (in the case of the fall year beginning in the 7th month) rather than nine months plus (as in the case of a spring year beginning with the 1st month). Further, the fall-to-fall year and the inclusive reckoning not only agree with the synchronisms in Kings, but also best harmonize Jeremiah’s prophecy of a 70-year captivity with the historical facts for the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus, at the beginning and end of that period.

V. Captivity Ends in Reign of Cyrus

Mention of the Babylonian captivity as the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy is followed immediately by that of Cyrus’ decree of his 1st year in which he encouraged the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland (see 2 Chronicles 36:21-23). Even before this decree Daniel had been anticipating the end of the 70 years. When Cyrus, already named in prophecy (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1), conquered the empire that had taken the Jews captive, Daniel knew that the time was near (Daniel 9:1, 2). Before proceeding to a discussion of the end of the 70-year period, it will be necessary to examine the chronology of the capture of Babylon by Cyrus and the dating of his reign.

The Conquest of Babylon by Cyrus.—Nabonidus, long known from Ptolemy’s Canon as the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, was conquered by the forces of Cyrus according to several contemporary accounts. The Cyrus Cylinder tells of the taking of Babylon without a pitched battle and of the immediate acceptance of his kingship. The Nabonidus Chronicle places the fall of Babylon in the 7th month of Nabonidus’ 17th year. This date, as reckoned from Nebuchadnezzar’s astronomically fixed 37th year onward, through the intervening reigns according to Ptolemy’s Canon and the tablets, would be in October, 539 B.C. Likewise, reckoning back from Cambyses’ 7th year, which is also astronomically fixed, we find that the 1st year of Cyrus as king of Babylon began in the spring of 538, (See NOTE) the next Babylonian New Year’s Day after the fall of Babylon. This date, according to both the Canon of Ptolemy and the contemporary tablets, is accepted today without scholarly dispute as the official Babylonian reckoning.

NOTE: The year 838 has long been known for Ptolemy as 1st year of Cyrus. This explains why older historians, who did not know the accession year preceded the 1st year, placed the fall of Babylon in 538. The city fell late in 539, but the first full year of Cyrus’ control over Babylonia, and thus over the Jews, began in 538.

Belshazzar and Darius the Mede.—But where do Belshazzar, the last “king of the Chaldeans,” and Darius the Mede, who took over his kingdom, enter the picture if the reign of Cyrus followed immediately after that of Nabonidus?

It is now known that Belshazzar’s kingship was not a separate chronological period following that of his father Nabonidus, but a joint rule in his father’s name. Tablets have been found identifying Belshazzar as the king’s eldest son, and as his representative during the father’s absence at Tema, in north western Arabia (from probably the 3rd to at least the 11th year of Nabonidus). The “Persian Verse Account of Nabonidus” says that Nabonidus “entrusted the kingship” to his eldest son “in the third year.” This is generally understood to mean in the 3rd regnal year (553/52, spring to spring). However, it has been suggested that “the third year” refers to the 3rd after the completion of a temple at Haran. Since the text says that this entrusting of the kingship to the son took place when Nabonidus was about to begin his conquest of Tema, and since he was in Tema before the 7th regnal year, this could not have been later than the 6th year (550/49). Thus for some years Belshazzar was an actual king, subordinate in rank but not in power in the government of Babylonia. Tablets written during his administration are dated in the years of his father, Nabonidus, the titular ruler of the land. Thus Belshazzar, the son and coregent, as the second ruler, could appropriately offer to make Daniel “third ruler in the kingdom” (Daniel 5:16, 29).

The chronological scheme allows just as much room for “Darius the Mede”—a name yet unknown in extra-Biblical contemporary records—as a ruler (See NOTE) as it does for Belshazzar as a ruler, though there was a day when the latter was unknown, except in the Bible record.

NOTE: “Darius the Mede” (who is mentioned only in Daniel 5:31; 6:1-28; 9:1; 11:1) is not to be confused with any of the three kings known to history as Darius. These were Darius I, also called Darius the Great, or Darius Hystaspes (522-486); Darius II (423-405/04); and Darius III (336/35-331). “Darius” alone is understood as Darius (I) the Great grandfather of Artaxerxes (so it is in Ezra 5 and 6, and in Haggai and Zechariah). “Darius the Persian” (see on Nehemiah 12:22) refers to the second of that name. Various views have been held, on the basis of secular records, identifying Darius the Mede with several characters known in extra-Biblical history by other names, but until further archeological information is available (as may be the case in the future), these cannot be considered conclusive.

That a “king” called Darius lived and reigned is not in question. The Bible record is clear. The only point in question is the relationship of his reign to that of Cyrus. It is evident that he reigned either before Cyrus or contemporaneously with him. Now the Babylonian records of that time and the Canon of Ptolemy count Cyrus’ reign as beginning immediately after the last year of Nabonidus. Therefore a reign of Darius the Mede contemporary with Cyrus would be in harmony with Scripture and secular records.

A further reason for viewing Cyrus as holding supreme power from the time of Babylon’s fall may reasonably be drawn from the fact that the Bible forecast that he was to be the conqueror of that great city, and thus of the great empire it represented (see Isaiah 45:1).

When Babylon fell, Darius, “of the seed of the Medes … was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 9:1). Even though Cyrus, the invincible conqueror of Babylon (Isaiah 45:1), was at the same time listed in the contemporary records as ruler, and had control of the new Persian Empire, it is not unreasonable to assume that he allowed Darius the Mede certain royal prerogatives for political reasons. On this assumption we may speak of Cyrus as taking over at the death of Darius the Mede.

This commentary, which seeks always to find a harmony between the inspired record and contemporary historical documents, sets forth the view that no necessary conflict exists between belief in Darius the Mede as a “king,” and also in Cyrus as a conqueror ruling immediately upon the collapse of Babylon.

The Bible does not say how long Darius the Mede reigned after he “was made king”; it merely mentions his 1st year (Daniel 9:1; cf. chapter 11:1). By the Babylonian reckoning, the fact that he had a 1st year would indicate that he ruled at least parts of two years—his accession year and his year 1. The absence of any further mention of him may mean that he never had a year 2, and that about that time Cyrus himself took over those royal honors or functions he had formerly allowed to Darius.

Cyrus’ First Year Begins New Empire.—It has been explained that the Babylonian sources place the fall of Babylon late in 539 and year 1 of Cyrus as beginning in the spring of 538. That accounts for the importance of 538 as marking the 1st year of the new empire, under Persian leadership, that succeeded the Babylonian. Cyrus had ruled as king for a number of years before he conquered Babylon, first of Anshan, then of Persia, afterward adding Media (including much of the territory of the former Assyrian Empire), and Lydia in Asia Minor (see the Nabonidus Chronicle; the Cyrus Cylinder; Herodotus i.46, 73, 75, 87, 88, 127-130; Strabo xv.3.8; Ctesias, cited in (See NOTE) Diodorus Siculus ii.34.6, 7; Xenophon tells a different story in his Cyropaedia i.1.4; i.5. 2-5; vii.5.37, 58, 70; viii.1.5–11; viii.5.17–19). But when Cyrus captured Babylon, he immeasurably increased his prestige in becoming master of the mother-city of ancient Semitic civilization, and thus the 1st year of his control of Babylon was called the 1st year of his reign. In his proclamation to his Babylonian subjects he proudly styled himself “Cyrus, king of the universe, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the world quarters.” Thus Cyrus conquered the Semitic world, and he lacked only Egypt (later to be added by his son) to round out the great Persian Empire, one that embraced the eastern Mediterranean world and stretched to the borders of India.

NOTE: Diodorus Siculus, translated by C.H. Oldfather and Russel M. Geer, Loeb Classical Library (10 vols.; London, 1923-1957 [vols. 8 and 12 forthcoming]

The short-lived Neo-Babylonian Empire, flowering briefly in the glories of Nebuchadnezzar’s golden city, was the first of Daniel’s series of four world powers, but also the last phase of ancient Semitic domination. Now the second of Daniel’s series, Cyrus’ new Persian Empire, marked the passing of leadership to the Indo-European peoples, who later, through the Greeks and Romans, were to develop the civilization that gave Europe its long dominant position.

Cyrus’ First Year in Relation to the Jews.—According to Scripture statements Cyrus’ decree permitting the Jewish exiles to return to Judea was issued in his first year (2 Chronicles 36:22; Ezra 1:1; Ezra 5:13). Since the fall of Babylon took place in Tishri (the 7th month) of 539, the year 1 of Cyrus began, by the reckoning of the Babylonian tablets, in the spring of 538. But the Jews reckoned differently; their civil years began in the autumn. The city fell after the Jewish New Year’s Day had passed. Hence the first Jewish year of the new regime could not have begun before the next Jewish New Year, Tishri 1, in the autumn of 538. By Jewish reckoning the decree might have been promulgated late in 537. It was necessarily issued some considerable time before the actual migration. If the decree was given in 537, and the journey of the exiles followed in the spring of 536, this would fulfill the 70 years of Jeremiah. A repatriation in the Jewish fall-to-fall year 537/36 would still be 70 years, inclusive, from the beginning of the Exile in the late summer of 605 (in the Jewish year 606/05).

The available information enables us to establish the 70 years as extending from about the time of the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign to somewhere near the beginning of Cyrus’ reign, but the exact B.C. dates are difficult to fix. More than one explanation has been offered in regard to the end of the period, the difference in method depending on the interpretation of the data concerning Cyrus and Darius the Mede. (See NOTE) The dates for the captivity are not pivotal points as are the dates involved in the time prophecies of Daniel; hence are not matters of doctrine. A detailed, long-term prophecy like the 70 weeks, on the other hand, is on an entirely different basis.

NOTE: The following explanations of the 70 years show various interpretations that have been set forth.

The first, based on data from the contemporary documents from Babylonia, offers satisfactory harmony between these sources and the Scripture; “the first year of Cyrus” was the Jewish civil year following that in which he took Babylon, the decree could have been issued as late as the autumn of 537. This would be in the early part of the year 2 by Babylonian reckoning, but still in year 1 by the Jewish fall-to-fall year. The decree was evidently issued in Ecbatana, for it was on file there some years later (Ezra 6:2, margin). That Cyrus was in Ecbatana in or preceding September, 537, seems to be indicated by a tablet in the archives of the Babylonian banking firm of “Egibi and Sons.” If the decree was issued about that time, it is highly improbable that the returning exiles could have set out before the spring of 536. Such a large group of travelers would require considerable time after the receipt of the decree in order to make the necessary preparations for the migration. One would also expect the four-month journey (see Ezra 7:8) so that the people could be settled in new homes in the once-ruined towns before the autumn rains began. That they were so settled before they gathered to Jerusalem in the end of the 6th month to celebrate the Jewish New Year on the 1st of the 7th month is evident from Ezra 2:70; 3:1-6. The foregoing explanation places the return in 536, in the spring following the edict of Cyrus. This is not out of harmony with the Bible dating of the decree in the 1st year of the reign, for the return, which followed the decree, is not dated. (In Ezra 7, on the other hand, Artaxerxes’ decree is undated, but the journey is definitely placed in the 7th year.) This explanation requires no juggling of the reigns at either end of the period. It is the basis for the comments on Ezra 1:1.

Many earlier writers began the 70 years with 606 as the supposed 4th year of Jehoiakim, and ended it 70 full years later by assigning the first two years of the new regime in Babylonia to a two-year reign of Darius the Mede, beginning the first year of Cyrus in 536 instead of 538. But there is no mention of a year 2 for Darius the Mede in the Bible, the only source for his reign.

A more recent modification of this view seeks to end the 70 years, inclusively reckoned, in the 1st year of Cyrus by allowing Darius the Mede an accession year and a year 1 preceding Cyrus:

First attack on Jerusalem 605 B.C.
Fall of Babylon 539
Accession year of Darius the Mede (when Daniel prayed, realizing that the 70 years of Jeremiah were about to end) 539/38
Year 1 of Darius the Mede (in which he presumably died) 538/37
Accession year of Cyrus (as supposed counted by those who did not recognize his reign until Darius died) 538/37
Decree of Cyrus and return of the Jews (in the 1st year of Cyrus so reckoned, but in the 2nd Jewish year as counted from the fall of Babylon) 537/36

This scheme, which puts the return in the summer of 536, within the latter half of the fall-to-fall year 537/36, would not be incompatible with the Bible record. Such a numbering of the years of Cyrus seems to be at variance with all the known contemporary dated documents, for the numerous extant tablets make no reference to Darius the Mede, and are dated in every year of Cyrus from his accession year through year 9. If Cyrus’ year 1 was 537/36 instead of the generally accepted 538/37, he could have had only 8 Babylonian years of reign before the 1st of Cambyses (whose 7th year is fixed astronomically) or 7 years by Jewish fall-to-fall reckoning. This scheme would have to be based on the assumption that Daniel presents a Jewish reckoning of Cyrus’ years different from anything known in Babylonian records at the present time.

Those who choose to begin the 70 years with 4th year of Jehoiakim, in which Jeremiah made the prediction first, may consider that the captives were taken in the campaign of the 3rd year of Jehoiakim yet did not arrive in Babylonia until the beginning of the 4th year, after the autumn Jewish New Year, but still in 605 B.C. Thus 605-536 B.C. is still 70 years by inclusive reckoning, although it would throw the beginning of the 70th year into the 7th month, in the autumn of 536.

Some have pointed out that there are 70 full years between 586 and 516, but the captivity was ended long before the completion of the Temple, which was in the spring of 515.

Some end the 70 years in 538, the first year after the fall of Babylon to Cyrus, and go back 70 full years, thus arriving at 608. They observe that Judah, after the death of Josiah, became a pawn in the hands of foreign or the setting up of Jehoiakim as a puppet of Egypt does not fulfill the specifications of a 70-year servitude to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:20, 21; Jeremiah 25:1-11; 29:1-10). Jehoiakim was put on the throne in 609, but there is no indication of Babylonian intervention until 605.

Some regard the 70 years as a round number, since the beginning date is not given.

It is to be hoped that just as archeology has cleared up the once-puzzling problem of Belshazzar, for instance, it will someday throw more light on Darius the Mede, the reign of Cyrus, and the end of the 70 years of Jeremiah.

Two other 70-year periods will be explained in section VI.

VI. The Period of the Rebuilding of the Temple

Building Program Begun.—Under Cyrus’ decree Zerubbabel, a prince of Judah, led 42,360 exiles to their homeland (see Ezra 1, 2). Then Zerubbabel’s pioneers gathered at Jerusalem, and on the 1st of the 7th month reinstituted the sacrificial services on the rebuilt altar in the court of the ruined Temple (Ezra 3:1-6). Not until the following spring, in the 2nd month of the 2nd year of their return (verse 8), did they begin to lay the foundation of their new sanctuary, and the painful contrast between the present small beginning and the past glory made the old men weep while the multitude shouted for joy.

Hindrances Until the Reign of Darius I.—Then, says Ezra, the adversaries of the Jews in the half-pagan province of Samaria (see on 2 Kings 17:23, 34; Ezra 4:2; 9:1) offered first help and then hindrance. They “hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:5). The sequence of Ezra 4 is debated, but the order of these kings has no bearing on any definite dates or on the fact that the reconstruction of the Temple “ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius” (Ezra 4:24). This 2nd year of Darius I was 520/19 B.C.

Construction Resumed in Reign of Darius.—After the long period of discouragement, during which the building program had ceased, the flagging zeal of the returned exiles was renewed by messages from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah in the 2nd year of Darius (Ezra 5:1, 2). They set to work on the Temple again, whereupon Tatnai, the governor of the province of “Beyond the River,” of which Judea was a part, asked for their authorization for the construction. Their claim to having authorization was verified by the finding of Cyrus’ decree in Ecbatana (Ezra 6:2, margin). Darius, who was himself a monotheist and an imitator of the liberal policies of Cyrus, offered financial aid.

The Temple Finished Under Three Decrees.—Then with opposition effectively removed, and with the enthusiastic leadership of the prophets, “they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king” (Ezra 6:14, 15), or approximately March 12, 515 B.C. Thus the actual building was finished in the reign of the second of the three kings mentioned in this text as issuing decrees in relation to the Temple—the edicts of Cyrus (about 537), Darius 1 (sometime after 520), and Artaxerxes I (458/57)—but further work was done on the Temple under the third decree, that of Artaxerxes (see on Ezra 6:14 and 7:27).

Ezra’s account of the resumption of the Temple construction in the 2nd year of Darius mentions the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, whose books furnish several additional specific dates in this period that must be discussed next.

The Chronology of Haggai and Zechariah.—The seven dates in the books of Haggai and Zechariah will be considered together, since all but one of them fell in the 2nd year of Darius I, and since the two prophets, being contemporaries and colleagues, presumably used the same calendar. These dates are specific; and only two of them are uncertain, because of difference of opinion as to whether the 2nd year of Darius is to be reckoned in the Babylonian-Persian spring-to-spring calendar or by the Jewish fall-to-fall civil calendar. Since Darius reckoned his accession from the autumn of 522, his Babylonian year 1 began in the spring of 521, at the Babylonian New Year’s Day, and his year 2 began in the spring of 520. But his accession year in the Jewish fall-to-fall civil calendar would end, and his 1st year begin, in the autumn of 521, when the next Jewish New Year’s Day came; and his 2nd year would begin in the autumn of 520. Darius’ years always began a half-year later by the Jewish calendar.

Since the Babylonian year was reckoned by months 1 through 12, while the Jewish year began with the 7th month and ended with the 6th, the order of months in any specified year indicates which type it was. If the events described in Haggai are presented by him in chronological order, then the 6th month was followed by the 7th in Darius’ 2nd year (Haggai 1:15; 2:1); and this would indicate that Haggai was reckoning that year as consisting of months 1 through 12, beginning with the 1st month (Nisan), in the spring. This has been assumed by commentators and historians generally, not only because it is the order of the narrative, but because that was the reckoning used in Babylonia.

It is well established that the 2nd year of Darius was 520/19 B.C., by either spring or fall reckoning. Then the lunar-month dates of Haggai and Zechariah, with the exception of the first two (Haggai 1:1, 15), can be assigned B.C. equivalents with certainty, for they fall in the half year in which the fall and spring years overlap.

NOTE: The official dating of the years of Darius I is well established by Ptolemy’s Canon and tow eclipse records, as well as the Saros Tablets. It is similarly anchored to the astronomically fixed 7th year of Cambyses by Darius’statement in his Behistun inscription that the false Bardiya (Smerdis) revolted in Media in the last month of the 7th year of Cambyses, seized the throne in the 8th year (the summer of 522 B.C.), and was defeated and killed by Darius on the 10th of the 7th month, in the autumn of the same year. From this date Darius counted his accession year, which lasted, by the Babylonian-Persian calendar, until the following spring, when his year 1 began on Nisan 1, 521. One modern authority, A. T. Olmstead, formerly interpreted the tablet evidence as indicating that Darius falsified the official record, and that his reign actually began two years later than the autumn of 522 B.C., but this view did not prevail, and Olmstead himself later abandoned it. Hence there is no reason to reject the accepted dating of Darius I’s 2nd year.

The opinion has also been put forth that Haggai and Zechariah were counting the years of Darius I by the old Judah fall--to-fall civil calendar year on the assumption that the chapters of Haggai are, like some other Bible passages, not presented in chronological order, and that the messages of Haggai in the 6th month (chapters 1:1 and 1:15) came after the messages of chapter 2, that is, in 519 instead of 520. However, there is no proof for this, and the sequence of events seems to be more reasonable if chapters 1 and 2 are regarded as being in consecutive order. If, as has been suggested, the dates involved in one of Zechariah’s 70-year periods imply that he reckoned by the fall-to-fall year, this would strengthen the possibility that Haggai, his colleague and contemporary, did the same. But there can be no dogmatic conclusion drawn in this matter. Zechariah’s three regnal dates (Zechariah 1:1, 7; 7:1), when taken alone, can be interpreted either way.

The dates are listed here in the order in which they occur in Haggai, with those of Zechariah inserted in place. The B.C. equivalents, probably correct approximately to the day, except for the first two, are added in the last column:





B.C. Equivalent

Haggai 1:1 6 1 2nd of Darius [Aug 29, 520?]
1:15 6 24 [Sept 21, 520?]
2:1 7 21 Oct 17, 520
Zechariah 1:1 8 Oct/Nov 520
Haggai 2:10, 18, 20 9 24 Dec 18, 520
Zechariah 1:7 11 24 Feb 15, 519
7:1 9 4 4th of Darius Dec 7, 518

Zechariah’s Seventy-Year Periods.—It has been noted that, in addition to Jeremiah’s prediction of the captivity, there were two other 70-year periods related to the Exile, both mentioned in retrospect. These were the 70 years of “indignation” against Judah and Jerusalem and the 70 years of the fast of the fifth month (in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple), in two messages of Zechariah dated respectively in the 2nd and 4th years of Darius (Zechariah 1:7, 12; 7:1, 3-5), or 520/19 and 518/17 B.C. If these were the 70th year of each period, the 1st year of each was, respectively, 589/88 and 587/86. Now, two events appropriate to these periods are the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, assigned on the best evidence to 589/88 B.C., and the destruction of the Temple (in the 5th month) in the summer of 586 (that is, 587/86, fall to fall). Thus these two periods may be understood as accurate time statements of 70 years, inclusive. Some explain these as referring to the 70 years of Jeremiah. But they have every appearance of being separate.

VII. The Chronology of Esther, in the Reign of Xerxes

The identification of the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther with Xerxes is generally accepted today, since the spelling of his name in the Hebrew (’Achashwerosh) is similar to that appearing in contemporary documents (see on Esther 1:1). The reign of Xerxes is known, not only from Ptolemy’s Canon, but also from a double-dated Elephantine papyrus. Hence the chronology of Esther presents no problems. The months, which attest the postexilic Jewish form of the Babylonian month names, do not by their sequence determine whether the regnal years were counted from spring or fall, since the year number is not mentioned in connection with the later events. Since all the action takes place in the Persian capital, the dates are probably Persian, and hence have no bearing on the Jewish calendar.

Bible Chronology Timeline - Page 6b