The questions about the chronology of the reign of Artaxerxes I and its supposed relation to the 70 weeks of Daniel 9:24-27 would require a minor book to answer, and such a book is, in fact, what I have been planning to write for some years. I have been collecting material on the subject for many years, and in 1989 I even wrote a brief draft in Swedish. Other projects, however, have occupied my spare time since then, and I don’t expect to be able to resume the work on the 70 weeks within the next few years. The following discussion is an examination of the arguments brought forth by the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society in support of the idea that Artaxerxes I acceeded to the throne in 475 BC, not in 465 BC as is held by modern historians.
What follows is a brief summary of the Swedish paper on the chronology of Artaxerxes’ reign.
1. Was Xerxes a coregent with his father Darius?
It is true that the Watch Tower Society attempts to solve the problems created by their prolongation of Artaxerxes’ length reign from 41 to 51 years (his accession being dated to 475 instead of 465 BC) by abbreviating the reign of his predecessor Xerxes (485-465 BC) from 21 to 11 years, arguing that the first 10 years of Xerxes’ rule was a co-rule with his father Darius.
There is not the slightest evidence in support of such a coregency. The Watch Tower Society’s discussion on pages 614-616 of its Bible dictionary Insight on the Scriptures, volume 2 (1988), is a miserable distortion of the historical evidence. Thus, on page 615 they claim:
The Watch Tower Society, then, quotes Herodotus completely out of context, leaving out the subsequent sentences that refute their claim. Incredibly, they introduce this forgery by terming it "solid evidence"!
Other "solid evidence" presented in their Bible dictionary in support of the coregency is of the same quality, for example the bas-reliefs found in Persepolis, which Herzfeld in 1932 felt indicated a coregency of Xerxes with Darius. (Insight 2, p. 615) This idea, however, is dismissed by modern scholars. The very fact that the crown prince is pictured as standing behind the throne shows that he is not a king and a coregent, but an appointed successor. Second, no names are found on the relief, and the conclusion that the man on the throne is Darius and the crown prince is Xerxes is nothing but a guess. J. M. Cook, in his work on the history of Persia, argues that the crown prince is Artobazanes, the oldest son of Darius. (Cook, The Persian Empire, New York 1983, p. 75) Other modern scholars, such as A. B. Tilia and von Gall, have argued that the king cannot be Darius but must be Xerxes, and that the crown prince, therefore, is the son of Xerxes! (Cook, p. 242, ftn. 24)
As "evidence from Babylonian sources" for the claimed coregency the Watch Tower Society first refers to "a palace for Xerxes" that was built in Babylon in 498-496 BC. But there is no evidence to show that this palace was built "for Xerxes". J. M. Cook refers to Herodotus’ statement that Xerxes was appointed successor to the throne as late as one year before Darius’ death in 486 BC and adds:
The final "evidence" for the claimed coregency consists of two clay tablets held to be dated in the accession year of Xerxes. According to the Watch Tower Society both tablets are dated several months before the last tablets dated in Darius’ final regnal year. (Insight 2, p. 615) This "overlapping" of the two reigns, it is argued, indicates a coregency.
But either the Watch Tower Society conceals the real facts about these two tablets, or they have done very poor research on the matter. The first tablet, designated "A. 124" by Thompson in his Catalogue from 1927, is not dated in the accession-year of Xerxes (486/485), as Thompson indicated. This was a copying error by Thompson. The tablet is actually dated in the first year of Xerxes (485/484 BC). This was pointed out as far back as in 1941 by George G. Cameron in The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature, Vol. LVIII, p. 320, ftn. 33. Thus there was no "overlapping" of the two reigns.
The second tablet, "VAT 4397", published as No. 634 by M. San Nicolo and A. Ungnad in their work from 1934, was dated by them to the fifth month ("Ab"). It should be noted, however, that the authors put a question mark after the month name. The sign of the month on the tablet is damaged and may be reconstructed in several ways. In the more recent work by Parker and Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, published in 1956, where the same tablet is designated "VAS VI 177", the authors point out that the tablet "has the month sign damaged. It might be IX  but more probably is XII ." (Page 17) The original guess by Nicolo and Ungnad is dropped altogether. As Darius died in the 7th month, a tablet dated to the 9th or 12th month in the accession-year of his successor is quite all right. There was no overlapping between the two reigns.
2. The flight of Themistocles
Much has been made in the Watch Tower publications of Themistocles’ flight to Persia. This argument is an old one, originating with the Jesuit theologian Denis Petau (Petavius) and archbishop James Ussher in the seventeenth century. It was presented in great detail by E. W. Hengstenberg in his work Christologie des Alten Testaments, published in Berlin in 1832. According to the Greek historians Thycudides and Charon of Lampsacus,
Artaxerxes was the king that Themistocles spoke with after his arrival in Persia. The Watch Tower Society argues that Themistocles died about 471/70 BC. Artaxerxes, there
fore, must have began his rule before that date and not as late as in 465 BC. (Insight 2, p. 614) These arguments have a superficial strength, only because the Watch Tower Society leaves out some very important information. In proof of their claim that Themistocles met Artaxerxes after his arrival in Persia, they quote Plutarch’s information that "Thucydides and Charon of Lampsacus relate that Xerxes was dead, and that it was his son Artaxerxes with whom Themistocles had his interview". But they left out the second part of Plutarch's statement, which says:
But even if Themistocles really may have met Artaxerxes, there is nothing to show that this occurred in the 470’s. There is no evidence whatsoever in support of the claim that Themistocles died in 471/70 BC. None of the sources referred to by the Society says so, and some of them, including Plutarch, clearly show that he died much later, in about 459 BC. (Plutarch's Lives, XXXI:2-5) A considerable time passed after the attempt to defame Themistocles in Athens in the archonship of Praxiergus (471/70 BC) until his interview with Artaxerxes (or Xerxes). It took several attempts before the enemies of Themistocles succeeded and forced him to flee, first from Athens and finally from Greece. Cambridge Ancient History (Vol. 5, pp. 62ff.) dates this flight to 569 BC. He first fled to some friends in Asia Minor, where he stayed for some time. The Society quotes Diodorus Siculus in support of the 471/70 date for the beginning of the defamation of Themistocles, but avoids to mention Diodorus’ statement that, on Themistocles’ arrival in Asia Minor, Xerxes was still on the throne in Persia! (Diodorus Siculus, XI:54-59) This, of course, conflicts with Thucydides’ statement that Themistocles’ letter from Asia Minor was sent to Artaxerxes.
After some time, evidently after some years, in Asia Minor, Themistocles finally went to Persia. There he first spent one year studying the language before his meeting with the king. This meeting may have occured toward the end of 465 BC or early in 464 BC. As historian A. T. Olmstead argues, Xerxes may very well have been on the throne when Themistocles arrived in Persia, but may have died shortly afterwards, so that Themistocles, after his year of learning the language, met Artaxerxes. In this way the conflicting statements by the ancient historians may at least partially be harmonized.
After his meeting with the Persian king, Themistocles settled in the city of Magnesia, where he lived on for some years before he died. (Plutarch's Lives, XXXI:2-5) It is completely impossible, therefore, to date his death to 471/70 BC, as done by the Watch Tower Society.
3. The two tablets dated to years ”50” and ”51” of Artaxerxes
In support of the claim that Artaxerxes ruled for 51 years instead of 41, the Watch Tower Society refers to two tablets dated to his ”50th” year and ”51st” year, respectively. The first tablet, listed as BM 65494 in E. Leichty and A.K. Grayson, Catalogue of the Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum, Vol. VII (London, 1987), is still unpublished. The second tablet, CBM 12803 (= BE 8/1, 127), on the other hand, was published in 1908 by Albert T. Clay in The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania, Series A: Cuneiform Texts, Vol. VIII, text 127. All authorities on Achaemenid history agree that both of these cuneiform tablets contain scribal errors.
As the Watch Tower Society points out, the tablet published by Albert Clay is double-dated. The date on the tablet is given as, ”51st year, accession year, 12th month, day 20, Darius, king of lands.” (Insight, p. 616) This text, then, seems to equate the 51st year (evidently of Arta-xerxes I; the name is not given in the text) with the accession-year of his successor Darius II.
But once again, the Watch Tower Society does not tell the whole truth. The reason is, that the whole truth changes the picture completely. Many dated tablets are extant from the end of Artaxerxes’ reign, thanks to the discovery of a cuneiform archive from the Murashu firm. In Istanbul Murashu Texts (Istanbul, 1997), V. Donbaz and M. W. Stolper explain that the Murashu archive is ”the largest available documentary source for Achaemenid Babylonia in the years between Xerxes and Alexander.” (Page 4) Nearly all of the tablets are dated to the reigns of Artaxerxes I and his successor Darius II. The number culminates in the last two years of the reign of Artaxerxes and the first seven years of the reign of Darius II, as shown by the graph below, published by Donbaz and Stolper on page 6 of the work quoted above. The archive includes over 60 texts from the 41st year of Artaxerxes and the accession year of Darius II, and culminates with about 120 texts dated to the 1st year of Darius II!
All Murashu texts with preserved years; numbers of texts by year.
As shown by the ancient Greek historians, the months following upon the death of Artaxerxes was a chaotic period. His son and successor Xerxes II was murdered by his brother Sogdianus after only a few weeks of reign. The usurper Sogdianus then held the throne for about seven months, after which he was killed by Darius II in February, 423 BC. But as Sogdianus was never acknowledged as the legitimate king, the scribes continued to date their texts to the reign of Artaxerxes for some months after his death. It is even possible that Artaxerxes died toward the end of his 40th year, as some scholars argue, so that the scribes had to extend his reign artificially to include a 41st year. This is still a question debated among scholars.
Not until Darius II ascended to the throne in the 11th Babylonian month (corresponding to parts of February and March, 423 BCE) did the scribes begin to date the texts to his reign also. But to avoid any confusion, the scribes usually double-dated the texts, mentioning both the 41st year [of Artaxerxes] and the accession-year of Darius II. They did this, because it was important for them to keep an exact chronological count of the reigns, as this was their calendar and the ”era” by which they dated various events, such as political events, astronomical observations, and economic transactions.
A number of such double-dated tablets have been discovered. F. X. Kugler, on page 396 of his Sternkunde und Stemdienst in Babel, II. Buch, II. Teil, Heft 2 (Munster 1924), presented the chronological information on four of these tablets. Other tablets of this kind have been found since. Ten such double-dated tablets are now known, of which all except one equate ”year 41”, evidently of Artaxerxes I, with the ”accession-year of Darius.” The exception is CBM 12803, the text that has year ”51” instead of ”41”. And all except one (BM 33342) of these ten texts belong to the Murashu archive. The nine texts double-dated to ”year 41, accession-year of Darius” are:
BM 54557: (= Zawadzki JEOL 34:45f.) Text from Sippar [?]. Although dated only to the accession-year of Darius II (month IX[?], day 29), the body of the text refers to a span of time “from month V year 41 of Ar(takshatsu ... ) to the end of month XII, year 41, accession of Darius.” (Information on this text was received from Prof. Matthew W. Stolper, the leading expert on the Murashu archive, in a letter dated January 29, 1999).
Bertin 2889: Text from Babylon dated to ”day 26, month XI, year 41, accession-year of Darius.” The text is not published, but information on the date was received by Jean-Frédéric Brunet from Dr. Francis Joannès on July 3rd, 2003. (Mail Brunet-Jonsson, December 22, 2003)
BM 33342: Text from Babylon dated to “month Shabatu [month XI]; day 29; year 41, accession-year, Darius, King of Lands.” (Matthew W. Stolper in AMI, Vol. 16, 1983, pp. 231-236) This text does not belong to the Murashu archive.
BE 10 no. 4: (= TuM 2/3, 216) Text from Nippur dated to day 14, month XII, year 41, accession-year of Darius II, king of the lands.
BE 10 no. 5: Text from Nippur dated to day 17, month XII, accession-year of Darius, king of the lands. The first line says “until the end of Adar (month XII) of year 41, accession-year of Darius, king of the lands.”
BE 10 no. 6: Text from Nippur dated to the accession-year of Darius. Month and day are illegible, but lines 2f. mention the whole year “from the first month of year 41 to the end of month XII of the accession-year of Darius.”
PBS 2/1 no. 1: Text from Nippur dated to day 22, month XII, year 41, accession-year of Darius II.
BE 10 no. 7: (= TuM 2/3, 181) Text from Nippur dated to month I, day 2, year 1, of Darius II. Line 6 mentions receipt for produce for, “year 41, accession-year of Darius.”
PBS 2/1 no. 3: Text from Nippur dated to month I, day 5, year 1, of Darius II. Lines 2-3 refers to taxes for the period “up to the end of month XII, year (4)1, (ac)cession year of Darius.” Line 13 says: “until the end of Adar [month XII], year 41.”
Explanation of abbreviations used in the list:
Arehaologische Mitteilungen aus Iran.
The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania, Series A: Cuneiform Texts, ed. by H. V. Hilprecht (Philadelphia, 1893-1914). Vols. 1-6 edited by Albert T. Clay in 1904.
G. Bertin, Corpus of Babylonian Terra-Cotta Tablets. Principally Contracts, Vols. I-
VI (London, 1883). Unpublished.
Jaarbericht van het Vooraziatisch-Egyptisch Genootschap “Ex Oriente Lux”.
Pennsylvania. University. University Museum. Publications of the Babylonian Section
(Philadelphia, 1911 – ). The first two volumes were edited by Albert T. Clay.
Texte und Materialien der Frau Professor Hilprecht Collection of Babylonian
Antiquities im Eigentum der Universität Jena (Leipzig).
All these nine texts agree in showing that Darius II acceded to the throne in the 41st year of his predecessor. The tablets clearly show that Artaxerxes I cannot have ruled for more than 41 years. As stated above, the text published by Albert Clay in 1908, the only one quoted by the Watch Tower Society, belongs to the same category of doubled-dated texts as those quoted above, the only difference being that it gives the predecessor of Darius a reign of 51 years instead of 41. It is quite clear that the number ”51” on that tablet contains a scribal error. This is the only reasonable conclusion to draw, as the only alternative is to claim that the figure ”41” on all the other nine tablets listed above are errors.
It is difficult to believe that the Watch Tower Society’s writers were completely ignorant of the existence of several double-dated tablets from the accession-year of Darius. To quote only the two tablets with scribal errors (years ”50” and ”51”) and keep silent about all the double-dated texts that equate Darius’ accession-year with year ”41” of his predecessor is far from honest.
Albert T. Clay, who published the tablet with the erroneous figure ”51” on it, was well aware that it was a scribal error. To the right of the erroneous figure in his published copy of the text he pointed out that ”51” was a ”mistake for 41”:
Tablet ”CBM 12803”, published by Albert T. Clay as No. 127 in The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania, Series A: Cuneiform Texts, Vol. VIII (Philadelphia, 1908), P1. 57.
Such an error was easy to make, as the difference between ”41” and ”51” in cuneiform is just a small wedge—one touch with the stylus. Such errors are not unusual. The text with the figure ”50” instead of ”40” is just another example of the same kind of error. Professor Matthew W. Stolper explains:
Yes, it is quite an easy error. As you may know, the sign that indicates ”year” before the numeral ends with four closely spaced angle-wedges. The digit ”40” in ”41” is represented by four more closely spaced angle-wedges, in slightly different configuration. It would take a simple slip of the stylus to add the extra wedge. – Letter Stolper-Jonsson, January 29, 1999.
Artaxerxes’ reign astronomically fixed
The decisive evidence for the length of Artaxerxes’ rule is the astronomical information found on a number of tablets dated to his reign. One such text is the astronomical "diary" "VAT 5047", clearly dated to the 11th year of Artaxerxes. Although the text is damaged, it preserves information about two lunar positions relative to planets and the positions of Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. This information suffices to identify the date of the text as 454 B.C. As this was the 11th year of Artaxerxes, the preceding year, 455 BC, cannot have been his 20th year as the Watch Tower Society claims, but his 10th year. His 20th year, then,must have been 445/44 BC. (See Sachs/Hunger, Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylonia, Vol. 1, Wien 1988, pp. 56-59.)
There are also some tablets dated to the 21st and last year of Xerxes. One of them, BM 32234, which is dated to day 14 or 18 of the 5th month of Xerxes’ 21st year, belongs to the group of astronomical texts called "18-year texts" or "Saros texts". The astronomical information preserved on this tablet fixes it to the year 465 BC. The text includes the following interesting information: "Month V 14 (+x) Xerxes was murdered by his son." This text alone not only shows that Xerxes ruled for 21 year, but also that his last year was 465 BC, not 475 as the Society holds!
There are several "Saros texts" of this type covering the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes. The many detailed and dated descriptions of lunar eclipses from different years of their reigns establish the chronology of this period as an absolute chronology.
Two other astronomical tablets from the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes, BM 45674 and BM 32299, contain dated observations of the planet Venus. Again, these observations establish the chronology of this period as an absolute chronology.
Thus we have numerous astronomical observations dated to different parts of the reigns of Xerxes and Axtaxerxes preserved on cuneiform tablets. In many cases, only one or two of these observations would suffice to establish the beginning and end of their reigns. The total number of astronomical observations dated to their reigns, however, are about 40 or more. It is impossible, therefore, to change their reigns even one year! The Society’s dating of Artaxerxes’ 20th year to 455 BC is demonstrably wrong. This, of course, also proves that their interpretation of the 70 weeks of Daniel is wrong.
The seventy weeks of Daniel
A number of applications of the 70 weeks of Daniel have appeared throughout the centuries. Some of them, including that of the Watch Tower Society, have to be discarded at once, as they can be shown to be in direct conflict with historically established dates. They have nothing to do with reality.
If Artaxerxes’ 20th year was 445/44 instead of 455, it is still possible to start from that year, provided that we use a "prophetical year" of 360 days instead of the solar year of 365,2422 days. This was demonstrated by Sir Robert Anderson in his book The Coming Prince (first published in 1895). His application has recently been improved upon by H. W. Hoehner in his book Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (1977), pages 135ff. These authors show that the 476 years from Artaxerxes’ 20th year, 445/44 BC, to the death of Christ ( if set at 33 A.D.) correspond to 483 years of 360 days. (476x365,2422 is 173.855 days, and if this number is divided by 360 we get 483 years.) This is just one example of an application that at least has the advantage of a historically established date at its start.
There is, of course, much more that can and should be said about this subject. On the preceding pages I have just tried to summarize a few of the more important observations. Now and then members of Jehovah’s Witnesses and others have written to me about this problem, and maybe this summary can be of some benefit to others, too, who are asking about the matter. In the future I hope to find time for writing a more detailed discussion on the subject.