A Discussion of the Biblical Material in the Book Persian Chronology and the Length of the Babylonian Exile of the Jews, by Rolf Furuli (RF), Oslo 2003.
[Editor’s note: Kristen Jørgensen is a professional Danish linguist with a sound knowledge of the Biblical languages.]
This recent book purports to be a scientific treatment of the subject given in the title, by a Norwegian scholar introducing himself as a lecturer of Semitic languages at Oslo University. The greater part of it consists of a discussion of ancient Middle East chronology based on astronomical observations found on clay tablets and in other old written sources. However, the only part to be discussed here is the material found in chapter four, on pages 75-92, and in the abstract on page 15. A close reading of this chapter creates serious doubts about the intentions of the author, however, as his aim seems merely to prove his sectarian views about the title theme. Right from the outset it points in that direction, as evidenced both by the subtitles and the skewed argumentation, so as not to speak of the various errors and mistakes. Before going into the main text we may take a look at the abstract:
This short paragraph is nothing less than presumptuous: to present categorical statements from the outset along with an unproven conclusion must be regarded as very poor method as seen from a scholarly viewpoint. Indeed, an abstract at the beginning of a thesis is supposed merely to present the theme and the problems to be treated, maybe even outlining the methods to be used in solving them. Any discussion of the final results should be left to a summary at the end, as exemplified in so many learned works. RF’s claim that there are six Bible passages mentioning ‘a Babylonian exile of 70 years’ is erroneous: there is no such passage anywhere in the entire Bible! Consequently, the rest is to all practical purposes quite false, simply because God’s inspired Word, the Bible, nowhere states explicitly how long that period was to last but leaves it to the reader to figure it out from the historical facts - and they fully support the view that the exile lasted for no more than half a century. Indeed, it is not mere tradition but diligent Bible scholarship in conjunction with the findings of archaeology, history and chronology which leads one straight to this sound conclusion, a fact which has been substantiated by much competent Bible research over the years.
The Bible ... The subtitle on page 75 repeats the erroneous claims already made and so needs no further comment. However, RF’s continued presentation of false information without the giving of proper evidence reveals his purpose: he evidently wants his readers to believe these claims before any proof is presented! This is the method of propagandists, not of honest scholars who are weighing all possibilities carefully before making a decision. Now, as to Leviticus 26, partially quoted by RF, it is evident that punishment for idolatry in Israel was not just a possibility, it was a sure thing, but it is not so sure that Exodus 20:5 implies the same idea; after all, it says nothing about an exile and the mention of later generations may as well refer back to Genesis 15:13-16, whence we learn that at that time the sins of the Amorites had not yet reached their full measure, and so no action would be taken against them just then.
In the latter part of the first paragraph RF tells us that ‘the captivity of the Jews in Babylon is spoken of as an exile’, which is hardly news, but of the three scriptures referred to containing the term gâlût (which may be translated ‘captivity’, or ‘exile’, even ‘exiles’ or ‘captives’ collectively) one is slightly off: Jeremiah 52:32 should be 52:31.
The final clause of this paragraph is also deceptively formed: Jeremiah 25:11 does not connect the 70 years with the exile but with the servitude of ‘these nations’ under Babylon, and 29:10 clearly applies them to Babylon and to no one else! Actually, RF admits as much in the very first clause after the quotations, saying, ‘... but the text does not say explicitly that it refers to an exile for the Jewish nation’! Of course it doesn’t, for that simply would not have been true. Aside from the poor syntax of parts of these paragraphs this statement is a gem by which the author actually casts aspersions on his own argumentation right from the outset! His grammatical analysis ‘of’ (not ‘in’) Jeremiah 25:11 is defective: he ignores the first clause in which the subject is ‘this whole country’, ‘will become’ is the verbal, and ‘a desolate wasteland’ is the subjective complement. Then, of course, ‘these nations’ is the subject of the latter clause, and ‘will serve’ is the verbal, while ‘Babylon’ is what is usually called the direct object (the term ‘patient’ used by the author belongs to the so-called ‘Case Grammar’ and is not commonly used in connection with Hebrew which lost its case endings in antiquity. However, his use of it makes no difference whatsoever for the analysis of this Hebrew text). Moreover, he states quite correctly that according to the grammatical analysis ‘“Babylon“... is the nation that should experience the period of 70 years’, after which he blows it by falsely claiming that, ‘Nevertheless, the writers of Daniel and 2 Chronicles understood the words of Jeremiah to imply a 70-year exile for the Jewish nation’! Now, it may be said with absolute certainty that they could not have understood Jeremiah’s words to imply anything like that, simply because the prophet never stated that with even a single word anywhere and so, if anyone ‘understood’ them in that way it would be either a gross error or, even worse, a deliberate misrepresentation of the inspired message. Barring extreme sloppiness on the part of the writer, the latter may well be the case!
Really, it boggles the mind to try to fathom this claim, that two inspired spokesmen of Almighty God should have misrepresented the inspired words of another faithful servant of God, an inspired prophet who served in Jerusalem during one of the most turbulent periods of her history and who was faithful in performing the task which Jehovah had entrusted to him, despite all the difficulties and hardships he had to suffer for 40 years in Jerusalem and some time later in Egypt! This is a harsh treatment of Jeremiah, as well as of Daniel and the Chronicler who evidently had no difficulty in understanding Jeremiah’s words, as is obvious from a close reading of the scriptures in question. By the way, the quotation from 2 Chronicles at the bottom of page 75 is not merely from 36:20, but includes verse 21, even though it is not marked as such.
Actually, RF’s entire argumentation in this part of the chapter rests on a falsehood, a sly deception: His statement on page 76 that it ‘turns the matter upside down’ to begin with what he calls the ‘ambiguous words’ of Jeremiah 25:10, is all wrong! Things are just the other way around: the one turning matters topsy-turvy is RF by his claiming that Jeremiah’s inspired words are ‘ambiguous’, which they are not - indeed, there is absolutely nothing ‘ambiguous’ or erroneous in the prophecies of Jeremiah about the fate of Judah and Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians. Apparently, RF has invented this postulate as an excuse for seeking a different explanation of these matters. Moreover, here he also shows that he is aware of the problems he is creating for himself, because after claiming falsely that the land was desolate for 70 years he says, ‘Whereas we at first glance do not understand Jeremiah 25:11 this way, there need not be any problem here.’ No, in this he is right, for all problems disappear if we ignore his attempts to twist the truth of God’s Word. This will be further elucidated in the analysis to be set forth here.
No ambiguity in God’s Word
Nonetheless, he persists in his false claims: after his quotations from 2 Chronicles and Daniel he claims that the words of these two writers are ‘unambiguous’ and since they ‘lived after the exile was terminated, ... they knew the real length of it.’ This is correct, of course, only it does not prove his contention for, as stated, Jeremiah’s words are as unambiguous as theirs, and since he received his prophetic message from Jehovah God by inspiration, it was utterly correct in all details. The entire argumentation found in this paragraph and the next two is false to the core: while it is true that in certain uninspired writings it may be possible to explain ambiguous passages by means of unambiguous ones dealing with the same subject matter, this principle is not applicable here, since none of the inspired scriptures dealt with are ambiguous! The only reason why the author claims that (thus far with no evidence at all) is that he clearly has an axe to grind, namely to gain support for the age-old claims of certain sectarian expositions made long ago by people who knew altogether far too little about the ancient history of Israel and her neighbouring countries and of the chronology of that period to deal correctly and scholarly with such matters. Even today their successors haven’t learned to do it properly but stick stubbornly to their ancient falsehoods!
At this stage a few words may be said about these early sectarian matters, about which even RF may know too little: When young Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the movement of the Watchtower people (to whom RF belongs), known since the 1870’s as the Bible Students, but since 1931 as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, published his dogma about the ‘Gentile Times’ of Luke 21:24 as being a period of 2,520 years, counting from 606 BCE (much later tacitly ‘corrected’ to 607!) to 1914 CE, he based this dating on an incorrect chronology used by certain small Adventist groups with which he had been associated for some time and from whom he had learned most of his views about ‘the last days’ and the beginning of ‘the millennium’, and evidently he did not try to find out what real scholars had to say about these subjects. Indeed, if he had done so, he might have learned that even before he was born historians had figured out a better chronology for Judah and the Neo-Babylonian empire, as may be seen in Dr. Alfred Edersheim’s History of the Jewish Nation from the late 19th century, in which he cites dates for the destruction of Jerusalem from several learned works, the earliest one of which is Dr.G.B.Winer’s Biblisches Realwörterbuch from 1847-48 (published four years before Russell was born!), which gives the year as 588 BC, while a scholar named Clinton has 587, exactly like modern scholars nowadays! So why did not Mr Russell look to the competent scholars of his day for the correct date? That would have saved him from many a mistake and his followers from the long series of disappointments which they have suffered over the years down till this very day!
The 70 years, the desolation of the land and Daniel 9:2
Well, back to pages 76, 77 of RF’s book where we find another slanted subtitle, after which he goes on to Daniel 9:2, making an analysis of the Hebrew text, giving a literal rendering of it and quoting the New World Translation for good measure (in this he cuts a corner by writing ‘70’ instead of ‘seventy’). The Hebrew is transliterated, but his system does not seem to conform to any of the well-known standard systems: it employs the letter [æ], which is only used in Danish and Norwegian, never in English texts; also, he does not transliterate the divine name as Jehovah orYahweh as is usual in English-language publications, but uses the Jewish substitute ‘adônay (‘‘my lord’), which is not really a transliteration. There are other irregularities in his system, but let this suffice for the moment.
Strangely enough, in his grammatical analysis he does not deal with the Hebrew text but with the secondary English rendering, except for the tiny preposition le, which he somehow maltreats together with the verb with which it is connected. Also, it is incomplete, as he omits the initial time adverbial (bishenat ‘achat lemâlekho, ‘in year one of his reign’) and the rest is defective - e.g., the subject in the first part of the sentence is not just ‘Daniel’, but in Hebrew‘ani Dâniêl, rendered in NW ‘I myself Daniel’, the inclusion of the personal pronoun ‘ani (‘I’) showing that the subject is emphatic - Daniel had checked matters for himself in ‘the Scriptures’. He also omits the quite important adverbial bassepârim (‘in the Scriptures’) which shows that the aging Daniel did not waste his time but checked the inspired Scriptures at once when the time was up. The definition of the direct object (DO) is somewhat incorrect, too: first come the core words mishpar hashânim (‘number of years’), followed by an embedded relative clause,‘asher hâyâh debhar-YHWH ‘el-Yirmiyâh-hanâbhî (‘which gave word of Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet’). Finally, the last part of the DO is the clause lemall’ôt lechorebhôt Yerûshalâyim shibhim shanâh, in which lemall’ôt is the infinitive, le being the infinitive marker and the verb mal’e (‘to fill, fulfill, complete’) is in the timeless and intensive piel conjugation (‘in order to fully complete’), while lechorebhôt Yerûshâlayim is a prepositional phrase functioning as an adverbial (‘in regard to/for Jerusalem’s desolations’), and lastly, shibhim shanâh, (‘seventy years’) is the direct object. RF’s analysis of the word lemall’ôt, i.e., that ‘the preposition plus infinitive serves as a temporal accusative whose adjunct is 70 years’, for which he refers to Ronald J. Williams’ Hebrew Syntax An Outline (2nd ed. Toronto U.P. 1976, p. 48, § 268) for proof, is in error; indeed, if he had studied the paragraph referred to and the references from it in detail he would have noted that le does not function in that way except when directly connected with a term expressing some time element, as in Williams’ examples, e.g. 2 Chronicles 11:17, leshanim shalosh (‘for three years’).
Thus, the prepositional phrase lechorebhôt Yerûshalâyim, ‘for desolations of Jerusalem’ functions as an adverbial indicating the purpose intended, namely to fix the absolute end of the desolations of Jerusalem, i.e., when the 70 years ‘for Babylon’ were to end. As for RF’s little comparison with a ‘simpler clause’, it is really of no value at all, and that goes for his paraphrase, too. The framed statement in bold-faced type is rather irrelevant: true, there is no need to take the word chorebhôt (fem. plur., construct) to signify several desolations of Jerusalem, but neither is it logical to apply it to ‘the many ruins of the city’, because in Hebrew the so-called plural form may also signify fulness, intensity, magnitude, extension and similar concepts, according to the context, and here it is most likely used to show that the full and complete desolation of Jerusalem would end exactly at the time designated by Jehovah himself, as made known through his prophet Jeremiah. (Cf. Johs. Pedersen, Hebræisk Grammatik, Copenhagen 1926, pages 197, 198, § 115) However, we ought to note that RF correctly connects the complete desolation of Jerusalem with the final conquest by the Chaldeans (in 587 BC, not 607), but he errs again when he stubbornly sticks to a ‘period of 70 years’ for the Jewish exile, even though he is not able to present any real evidence, simply because there is none. Let us just see how NASB renders Daniel 9:2:
in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the peophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. – Cf. also RV, ASV, RSV, AAT, Moffatt, Amplified, Rotherham.
Please note the fine wording ‘for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely seventy years’: here the emphasis is placed where it belongs, namely on the latter part of the period of desolations, when it is to be completed. Here many others have failed in exactly the same way as RF, taking the period of seventy years to signify the total number of years of the exile; a clear example of this grammatical error in a modern translation may be seen in The Good News Bible:
In the first year of his reign, I was studying the sacred books and thinking about the seventy years that Jerusalem would be in ruins, according to what the LORD had told the prophet Jeremiah. – Cf. also NEB, NAB, and NASB.
Interestingly, the GN-Bible renders some of the parts excellently, such as ‘I was studying the sacred books’, because no doubt that was what Daniel was doing; naturally, this high official of the Babylonian government had copies of the sacred books for his own private use, including the prophecy of Jeremiah, thus being able to make sure of these things, for which he had waited a lifetime! But modern scholars who do not really believe in the inspiration and the complete integriity of the Bible unfortunately distort parts of it, as may be seen in the translations here referred to.
2 Chronicles 36:21
Going on to this scripture (pp.78-80), RF transliterates-cum-translates the Hebrew in the same imperfect way as before, quoting the quite imprecise NWT to boot; indeed, if he had used the more recent NIV he might have imparted a better understanding to his readers. For the sake of completeness we may begin with verse 20 which gives us the necessary background knowledge (NIV):
He [Nebuchadnezzar] carried into exile to Babylon the remnant who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the Kingdom of Persia came to power.
Now, in this there is no mention of the number of years that this exile was to last, neither is its beginning dated; however, as to the latter point it is clearly shown that it would only begin after the putting of the enemies in the city to the sword, which happened in 587 BCE; and as to the former point we learn that it would end when Persia took over from Babylon, that is, in 539 BCE. This is in full agreement with Jeremiah’s statement, and does in no way contradict his inspired prophecy.
Then, in verse 21, the Chronicler introduces a new element of which Jeremiah had said nothing, namely that during the exile of the Jews the land had enjoyed its rest as had been prophesied long ago in Leviticus 26:15-35; also, he points out that this would last until it had ‘paid off its sabbaths’. As the law of God stated in Leviticus 25, each seventh year was a sabbath year of rest during which the land was to lie fallow, and each fiftieth year was to be a Jubilee year of liberty in which the land should also remain fallow. However, Jeremiah never referred to these parts of the law with a single word, a fact to be kept in mind when dealing with verse 21, especially the latter part of it:
The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolations it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfilment of the word of the LORD spoken to Jeremiah.
Please note that the text does not say, ‘all the seventy years for Babylon it rested’, which would have been erroneous; what it does say is that the land ‘rested’ until the seventy years mentioned by Jeremiah (‘for Babylon’) ‘were completed’ - and since Jeremiah never mentioned the sabbath rest in any of his prophecies, the part of verse 21 dealing with that cannot be included in the reference to ‘the word of the LORD spoken to Jeremiah’! The only part to be included in this reference is the one about the ‘seventy years’ allotted to or ‘for Babylon’, during which ‘these nations’ (defined in 25:9 as ‘all these nations round about’ of which there is an extensive list in 25:17-26) were to serve the kings of the then world power. Consequently, the ‘exposition’ made by RF is patently false as far as the Chronicler’s understanding of Jeremiah’s prophecy is concerned.
How about the accents?
Then, on page 79 RF directs our attention to the fact that in the Masoretic text certain accents are used to mark the middle of verse 21, dividing it into two sentences (better, ‘clauses’) and then also to mark the middle of each of these two parts. Now, this is quite correct - for a fact, there are no less than fourteen accent marks in this verse, although they do not all have the same significance. As it is, RF does not identify the accents in question, which are 1) the ‘atnach (Ù), seen under the penultimate syllable in the word shabbetoteyha, and the zaqeph qaton (:), to be seen over the penultimate syllables of the words Yirmeyahu and shabhatah. The first one is commonly styled a ‘verse divider’, and is thought to represent as a punctuation mark either a comma or a semicolon, according to the length and structure of the verse, and the latter one is regarded as a less powerful sign, no more than a comma and maybe not even that. However, as far as the semantic contents of the verse and its proper interpretation are concerned, these signs have no authority whatsoever, and RF’s attempt to utilize them for that purpose is quite futile.
As it is, these accents were invented long after the inspired consonantal Hebrew texts were written down: according to the textual critics they were added by the so-called Masoretes (8th-10th century CE) who also invented the vowel points to indicate the traditional pronunciation of the sacred texts. These signs were applied, first and foremost, as accent marks, to indicate the stress and rhythm to be applied to the words and phrases in public reading. Even at that, neither they nor the vowel points were ever used in the most sacred of all the scrolls, those used for public reading in the synagogues. They are quite useful, however, as they show textual scholars how the ancient consonantal Hebrew manuscripts were read and understood by the Jewish scholars of the Tiberian school who furnished them with vowel points and accent marks. This is a well-known fact, of course, but these signs are never used by reputable Hebrew scholars in the way suggested by RF. In this paragraph and note 118 he actually commits another real blunder, when he tries to make out that the lines of this verse form a parallelism! Let’s just take a closer look at this strange contention:
Is there a parallelism?
RF postulates that the four parts into which he divides verse 21 ‘speak about the same thing’, putting b) and c) together, although his idea about viewing the sabbaths from different angles seems rather strange; indeed, they do not, but even if they did, we must remember that in true Hebrew parallelisms different viewpoints on the matters discussed are quite common and simply make for variations of style. What he fails to see, however, is what has just been pointed out, namely that in Jeremiah’s prophecy referred to here there is no mention of a sabbath rest, and so that feature cannot be part of any exposition of his prophecy. For the very same reason his statement that since the accents seem to place a) and b) together they are to be regarded as one unit is in error semantically, and again, RF’s part b) of the verse has nothing to do with the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy! Actually, the putting together of a) and d) would have been a better idea semantically, since both mention the fulfilling of Jeremiah’s prophecy, but this will not do stylistically, since parallel elements must stand parallel, in successive lines. And when he then makes his rephrased ‘parallels’, in which the order is a), b), d), and c), he muddles his own exposition well and truly, because this is quite impossible semantically and stylistically.
Actually, the structure of this verse may be regarded quite differently, as a) and d) both refer to the fulfilment of Jehovah’s prophecy about the seventy years as spoken by Jeremiah, and so they may be seen as belonging together in their reference; b) and c) then stand as an embedded addition from the hand of the Chronicler, quite likely because he wants to remind his readers of the catastrophe which had befallen the Judeans because they had neglected to keep Jehovah’s commandments about these matters, and maybe also because in the days after the homecoming and the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah they had again begun to violate the sabbath in various ways, maybe even the sabbatical years, although this is not mentioned. – Nehemiah 13:15-22.
Another failure of his, indeed, the initial one, is however a very common one with amateurs and those with an axe to grind, namely that he has separated this verse from its context, in this case from the preceding verse (20) which I included above. For a fact, the connection is easily seen, because the entire contents of that verse, about Nebuchadnezzar carrying the remnant which had escaped the sword off to Babylon to be servants of him and his sons after him, until the kingdom of Persia came to power, is evidently what is referred to in the first part of verse 21, as it says literally, ‘to fulfill word of Yahweh by mouth of Jeremiah’ (Kohlenberger’s literal translation). To that part may then be added RF’s part d) about the seventy years which Jeremiah had said were ‘for Babylon’. Thus we have a fine statement by the Chronicler about the prophecy of Jeremiah, into which he puts his own explanatory addition about the fulfilment of the ancient prophetic threat from the Mosaic law about the sabbath rest for the land during the enforced exile of the people in the land of the enemy.
As shown above, RF’s claim that 2 Chronicles 36:21 is a parallelism is in error, which anyone even superficially acquainted with this form of Hebrew style would realize, first of all simply because the entire chapter of which this verse is a part is composed in plain prose, and Hebrew parallelisms only occur in poetry! From the time of Bishop Lowth who first of all Westerners described this feature of Old Testament poetry it has been customary to classify parallelisms according to their contents and style. Actually, the only type in which successive lines ‘say the same thing’, as RF claims for parts of verse 21, is the one called ‘Synonymous Parallelism’, of which we may quote a typical example as rendered in Ps. 149:2, NIV: ‘Let Israel rejoice in their Maker, let the people of Zion be glad in their King.’ In this ‘Israel’ corresponds to ‘the people of Zion’, ‘rejoice’ corresponds to ‘be glad’, and ‘their Maker’ to ‘their King.’ Thus these two lines constitute a perfect ‘synonymous parallelism’, because both parts express exactly the same thought, howbeit with different words. This type is found time and again in all the poetic writings of the Hebrew Bible, also in quite a few of the prophetic ones, as may be seen in the tripartite example from Jeremiah 10:10, NIV: ‘But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.’
The fact that this verse is not a parallelism is also shown by the very accents which RF used in his argumentation: In the Hebrew Bible there are two systems of accents, one for prose and another one for poetry, that is, some of the marks are used in both systems, but in different ways - and the accents to which he referred and their use as mentioned by him show that he has in mind the ones used in prose texts! Also, one well-known feature of the ancient Hebrew manuscripts is that prose is always written in lines of even length, but poetry is written as verse in uneven lines, according to the sense, as may even be seen in some modern translations, e.g. in the NIV, where Jeremiah’s poetic parts are printed like that; this is however ignored in many Bible translations, such as in the NW-Bible.
How are these verses to be translated?
Let us, for the sake of completeness, just take a closer look at the two verses we are dealing with, to see how they are composed; this example is taken from NIV (emphasis added),
20 He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until (‘ad) the kingdom of Persia came to power. 21 The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until (‘ad) the seventy years were completed in fulfilment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.
Please note that the particle ‘ad (‘until’) is used not only where RF incorrectly wants to render it while (v. 21), but also in the phrase ‘until the kingdom of Persia came to power’ (v. 20), in which it would be impossible to render it ‘while’, and it is only logical to regard it as having been used in the same sense in both verses. As shown by his context, RF’s reason for rendering it ‘while’ is apparently that he dislikes the usual term ‘until’ being used here, ostensibly because it does not fit his prejudiced ideas. This particle ‘ad has as its basic meaning ‘(continuation, duration), as far as, unto’, (Gesenius-Kautzsch-Cowley, Hebrew Grammar, § 103 o) as it ‘indicates the distance from, the approach towards’, i.e. ‘until’. According to the Hebrew-German Handwörterbuch by Gesenius-Buhl (pages 563-565), the sense is ‘bis, bis zu, haüfig mit Einschluss des Zielpunktes ... so daß der Zielpunkt als erreicht vorgestellt w(ird)’; that is, the distance or time indicated by ‘ad is viewed as ‘reaching from the starting point to and including the point aimed at.’ See also the Hebrew and English Lexicon by Brown, Driver and Briggs, pages 723-725, where we find similar definitions by Dr. Samuel Rolles Driver (who handled the treatment of all particles expertly in that work) in full accord with its basic semantic content. This accords fully with its use in 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21, where it is normally rendered ‘until’ by modern translators, also where RF wants to make it mean ‘while’, which will not do, because here there is no element necessitating a departure from the usual sense of the word. True, the lexicon lists ‘while’ as a possible meaning of it, but in BDB page 725 Dr. Driver tells us that it occurs only rarely in that sense and he gives us no reason to accept RF’s aberrant views. As it is, in 2 Chronicles 36:21 we find that all English versions render it ‘until’, and the German ones ‘bis, bis zu’, while in other languages we find words of exactly the same meaning, such as ‘indtil’ in Danish, ‘til’ in Norwegian and ‘till’ in Swedish. As for the meaning ‘while’, I haven’t been able to find a single translation using that in 2 Chronicles 36:21.
Finally, we may as well discard RF’s German ‘example’ (which seems to be taken from a bad joke) and rewrite the framed text printed in bold-face type on page 80 to bring it into accord with the truth of God’s Word, the Bible:
“The words of Jeremiah 25:11, 29.10, Daniel 9:2 and 2 Chronicles 36:20, 21 are all clear and unambiguous: Judah and Jerusalem were to become desolate and remain in this condition from the final destruction of the city in 587 BCE until the end of the 70 years ‘for Babylon’, which period ended in the year 539 BCE, when Babel fell to Medo-Persia.”
This is what the Bible and history, supported by chronology and archaeology, agree on in all details.
What was the objective of Jeremiah?
This is RF’s next subtitle, and the rest of page 80 and the better part of page 81 are filled with his speculations along the twisted and contorted trail he has chosen to follow. Really, it is not necessary to speak of the prophet’s objective at all beyond his strong desire to complete the task his heavenly father had given him, about which we read in Jeremiah 1:4-10, NW, from which we may learn of Jehovah’s objective in appointing Jeremiah as his prophet in Jerusalem:
“Before I was forming you in the belly I knew you, and before you proceeded to come forth from the womb I sanctified you. Prophet to the nations I made you.’ ... to all those to whom I shall send you, you should go; and everything that I shall command you, you should speak. ... Here I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have commissioned you this day to be over the nations and over the kingdoms, in order to uproot and to pull down and to destroy and to tear down, to build and to plant.” (emphasis added; cf. vss. 11-19)
Actually, that is how Jeremiah’s task has been understood by Bible scholars at all times, not only by Christian ones, but also Jewish ones, such as Dr. Joseph Klausner who wrote about Jeremiah that he
‘intervenes in the political life of his nation, contending not only with priests and popular teachers, but also with kings and princes, prophesying not only against Judah and Jerusalem, but also against the Gentiles and foreign powers, and the whole of the then known world, enfolding them all in his all-embracing grip, and scrutinizing them with the acute vision of the eagle.’ – Jesus of Nazareth, translated by H. Danby, London 1929. (Page 390, emphasis added)
Being a priest himself Jeremiah knew the law well and so he was no doubt familiar with the contents of Leviticus, the volume that more than any other part of the Mosaic law addressed the priests, and quite naturally he would also know the contents of chapter 26 with all its promises of rewards for faithfulness and dire threats about punishment for disobedience. However, even at that he never quotes from this chapter, and even though he in his prophecies mentions the Judean exile reasonably often he never connects it with a sabbath rest for the land. So, RF’s claim about Leviticus 26 being the ‘theme’ of Jeremiah’s book and his ‘point of departure’ doesn’t hold water, it is as farfetched as the other parts of his homespun yarn. Actually, the Bible itself furnishes some very clear evidence about the text from which the Chronicler took the parts of his statement about the ‘sabbath rest’ mentioned in connection with Jeremiah’s prophecy: the relevant words in 2 Chronicles 36:21 are shown here, followed by the corresponding ones from Leviticus 26:34, 35:
‘ad-ratsetah ha’arets ‘et -shabbetoteyha kol-yemey hashammah shabbatah
until-she-enjoyed the-land her-sabbaths all-days to-be-desolate she-rested
‘az tirtseh ha’arets ‘et-shabbetoteyha ...kol-yemey hashammah tishebat
then she-will-enjoy the-land her-sabbaths ...all-days to-be-desolate she-will-rest
These statements are nearly identical, the only differences being found in the words expressing time, namely the two introductory particles and the tenses of the first and the last verb in each of them: in Leviticus the first particle is‘az, an adverb signifying ‘then’, here clearly referring to the future, while the Chronicler has‘ad, a preposition meaning ‘until’, pointing back in time. Both use the same verbs, in almost the same grammatical form, namely qal, 3rd prs sg fem, the only difference being in the tense; the first verb is ratsah (‘to enjoy’), for which Leviticus has the future tirtseh (‘she will enjoy’), while the Chronicler has the preterite ratsetah (‘she enjoyed’), signifying the past. Then the final verb is shabbat, (‘to rest’), with the Chronicler it is in the preterite, shabbatah, (‘she rested’), while in Leviticus it is tishebat (‘she will rest’), in the future tense. The subjects, the direct objects and the time adverbials, also the verbs following (hashammah, ‘to be desolate’) are identical in both clauses.
There can be little doubt that the Chronicler had both the prophecy of Jeremiah and the book of Leviticus to hand when he penned the last chapter of his book, and it is interesting to see how he took exactly the relevant parts of Leviticus 26:34, 35 and added them to his own statement in 36:21 which included the information from Jeremiah, who, however, had nothing from Leviticus at all.
Alas, on page 80 RF persists in his stubbornness, stating quite untruthfully that ‘Jeremiah was the first to mention an exile of 70 years’ which he was not, for neither he nor anyone else did that! He mentioned the seventy years, also the exile and its end, but neither he nor any other prophet stated in just so many words that that exile would last 70 years! Apparently we have to repeat that statement time and again, because RF stubbornly refuses to admit that simple truth! Then, in the last passage before RF’s ‘parallels’ we note a printing error in the third line from the bottom, where ‘lead’ should read ‘led’. As for the many scriptures he has selected for these ‘parallels’, there is of course nothing wrong with them, only they do not prove his contentions, which of course couldn’t be expected.
However, let us take a look at these parallels in which he compares verses from Jeremiah with verses from Leviticus: first, we note that not one of the verses here taken from Jeremiah contains a literal quotation from Leviticus! They even seem to have been chosen rather haphazardly, as though RF has merely picked them out at random from a concordance, with no proper study of their contents, to wit:
In the first one, Jer. 11:10 vs Lev. 26:14, the latter ought to have been or at least included verse 15, and the next one, Lev. 26:31, should have been or included verse 32; then, Jer. 14:1 ought to have been 14:1-7, and the next to last actually spoke of, not just pestilence, but included sword and famine in the punishment to be meted out. Finally, the sixth and last one is a real howler: RF’s ‘text’ says, ‘the holy place would be destroyed.’ Now, at this stage of Judean history this could mean only one thing, the temple of Jerusalem; however, Leviticus 26:31, 32 does not say anything about that place (nor about the tabernacle, for that matter), instead we find a prophecy against Israel’s false worship and the punishment for it, which would hit their ‘high places’, their ‘incense altars’ and their ‘lifeless idols’, also their ‘sanctuaries’, no doubt the kind spoken against in Amos 4:4, 5; 5:5; 7:9 and 8:14! Worse still for RF, Jer. 22:5 does not refer to ‘the holy place’, but to ‘the king’s house’, the royal palace in Jerusalem! – Jer. 22:1-5.
Actually, any really diligent study of these matters could easily have produced many more excellent verses to be used here, but once more RF has been too sloppy in his research. Obviously, he is not interested in getting at the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but only at connecting his erroneous views with the idea of 70 years for the exile and the sabbath rest of the land, a fact becoming even more obvious when his list of twelve quotations from Jeremiah 4:7 to 44:22 presented on page 81 is checked: As it is, there is nothing strange in these scriptures – after all, Jeremiah had been given the task of prophesying about these events and that he did faithfully, which was his true objective. This becomes even clearer when we realize that all but one of these statements are parts of ‘messages from Jehovah’, and the one exception, the very last one, is from Jeremiah’s speech to the Jewish remnant on the basis of just such a message! Also, we know that he was not the first to speak in this vein: Isaiah had in his time spoken just as candidly, Micah had spoken up in the same manner, and so had others during the years of increasing idolatry. As it was, however, Jeremiah was the man on the spot: he was in Jerusalem where the action was, serving for an entire generation right to the end - and when the Babylonians offered him to go with them in safety to Babylon, he stayed on in the city and he even served with the remnant of the people in Egypt for some time. – Jer. chapters 40-51.
A faulty list of quotations
Then, on page 81 we find some more peculiarities: first, according to RF himself these quotations are taken from NWT, i.e., the Watchtower Bible, but they are not, they are all straight from the NIV! The first three seem to be defective in semantic content, as the writer does not include any reason for the severe threats uttered, and the same can be said about 25:18, which starts in the middle of a judicial statement, so that the reader will have to find out for himself what the culprits mentioned have done to deserve the punishment with which they are threatened. Also, in the last clause of 9:11, NIV has ‘so that no-one’, while RF merely has ‘so no one’. The same error occurs further down, in the rendering of 34:22. Moreover, the fifth one is not from 9:22 but is a partial repetition from 9:11! Then in 33:10 RF breaks off his quote in the midst of a clause, so that we do not get to know ‘what will be heard once more’ – actually, he should have included verse 11 to make this quotation a complete and natural one. The next one, purportedly from 33:12, is not from that verse but is a short repetition from verse 10, and in the quoted part of 34:22 we are not told what the ‘it’ is that is to be destroyed so thoroughly – that item, mentioned no less than three times, is ‘this city’, Jerusalem, as shown in verses 18-22b. It is extremely difficult to take the work of RF seriously!
At that time Jehovah had wisely placed three trusted and faithful prophets in strategic positions for his purpose: the priest Jeremiah in the midst of Jerusalem, close to the king, the leaders and the priests; Ezekiel, also a priest, was with the exiles in faraway Babylon, and Daniel and his three friends, all of them from the royal tribe of Judah, in the heart of the world empire, in Babylon the capital, where they even had the ear of the king, the one called ‘my servant’ by Jehovah himself. (Jer. 25:9; 27:6) Now, if RF really had in mind to paint a true picture of the situation for Judah and Jerusalem in those fateful days, the historical and the prophetic books furnish enough material for that purpose. Apparently he does not have that in mind, however, and so when he turns to Jeremiah 25:11 and 29:10, it is seemingly in order to find some much needed support for his views by means of a grammatical analysis. Let’s see how he goes about this intricate task (pages 81-87).
In the paragraphs leading on to RF’s transliteration-cum-translation of this verse he is back in his cantankerous mood, questioning the renderings of NIV, NW and other modern translations, raving about the structure of the verse, suggesting as possible ‘solutions’ to his hypothetical ‘problems’ either a different sense of the Hebrew or the acceptance of the rendering of the LXX; none of these options seems feasible, though, because in spite of RF’s imaginings the Hebrew text is clear and unambiguous, while the LXX evidently is deficient in this case. This is clear even from RF’s slightly skewed rendering, both his transliteration and the translation of the words and phrases; a more precise literal translation of the Hebrew would go like this:
11 and-she-will-become all-the-land the-this to-(a)-waste to-(a)-desolation
and-they-will-serve the-nations the-these king-(of) Babylon seventy year(s)
As this verse is part of a larger passage (Jer. 25:8-14), the first item is the usual Hebrew conjunction ve- (‘and’) prefixed to the verb in the usual way. Since Hebrew verbs can express number and person of the action described they actually also express the subject, as seen here; however, when there is also an overt subject they will of course be in agreement grammatically: thus the ‘she’ of the first phrase (ve - plus the Hebrew verbal) is in agreement with the overt subject, ‘all the land the this’ (in Hebrew,‘erets, ‘land’, is feminine). The last two phrases of the first line constitute the subjective complement, showing what ‘the land will become’, the use of two synonymous phrases expressing emphasis. In the second line the syntax is equally natural: beginning with the conjunction ve- (‘and’), followed by the verbal with an implied subject, fully agreeing in its grammatical form with the overt subject, both being masculine plural and the overt subject very emphatic with its postpositive double determination. The direct object is ‘king of Babylon’, the time adverbial expressing the time limit for the service of ‘these nations’ to ‘(the) king of Babylon’, namely ‘seventy years’. It is all very clear and unambiguous, and it is almost impossible to imagine that anyone would try to pervert the sense of this short verse. RF hasn’t given up having his way; though, even though he admits that he understands quite well what ‘the natural analysis would be’ (at least of the latter part), and he even shows what it ought to be. Nevertheless, he doesn’t accept it, but tries to circumvent it in his own devious way. Let us take a close look at things.
Who, indeed, are ‘the nations these’?
Even though RF quite correctly identifies the subject, the verbal and the direct object of the latter clause of Jeremiah 25:11, and mentions the ‘different nations’ and ‘all these nations around’ several times (cf. page 82, 83) he tries again to muddy the waters by calling the statement in Jer. 25:11 about ‘these nations’ as servants of the king of Babylon ‘vague and unspecified’, and on page 84 he speaks about them as ‘some undefined nations’. Actually, this is not only incorrect, it is incredibly naïve, for ‘these nations’ are certainly neither ‘undefined’ nor ‘unspecified’ - they are even ‘specified’ in the very chapter of Jeremiah under discussion: first, we read in verse 9 that Jehovah would send ‘and take all the families of the north ... even [sending] to Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon and I will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about’’ (emphasis added). Moreover, we do not need to be in doubt as to their identity, for in the very same chapter, in verses 17 to 26, they are ‘specified’ very detailedly: First, Jeremiah tells how he is to make ‘all the nations to whom he [Jehovah] sent me drink the cup of his wrath’, and after having mentioned Jerusalem and the towns of Judah and their rulers, he begins in the south and then goes on listing all the neighbouring nations, to the west, north and east, ‘all around’ the land of Israel. Please consult a good Bible Atlas for this (NIV; emphasis added):
Pharaoh, king of Egypt, his attendants, his officials and all his people, and all the foreign people there; all the kings of Uz; all the kings of the Philistines (those of Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the people left at Ashdod); Edom, Moab and Ammon; all the kings of Tyre and Sidon: the kings of the coastlands across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz and all who are in distant places; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the foreign people who live in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, Elam and Media; and all the kings of the north, near and far, one after the other – all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. And after all of them, the king of Sheshach [Babel] will drink it too.
Really, for anyone to call this lot ‘unspecified’ or ‘undefined’ is truly nonsensical, as is RF’s entire argumentation about these matters. And even if ‘these nations round about ’ had not been listed so carefully, there would still have been plenty of evidence for the normal understanding, because the Hebrew word for nations is a much used standard term for the heathen or Gentile nations all around Israel: In Robert B.Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, 2nd ed., p. 256 (Grand Rapids 1978) we read about the Hebrew term goy (‘nation’, in plural goyim, spelt goim in the book):
Throughout the historical books, the Psalms, and the prophets, the word goim primarily signifies those nations which lived in the immediate neighbourhood of the Jewish people; they were regarded as enemies, as ignorant of the truth, and sometimes as tyrants.
This is corroborated by Brown-Driver-Briggs (page 156), according to which this term (goy) is used ‘usually of non-Hebr. peoples’. In a way, the seed of this development was sown very early -- as we know, when Noah’s offspring had reached 70 generations the Scriptural narrative began focusing on Shem’s line, and from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his twelve sons onward the focus was narrowed down to just one nation, the chosen one, especially after the law covenant was given to it at Sinai. Of course, that did not mean that the other nations were never mentioned again, but from then on they were on the sidelines, as it were, as ‘the nations’, meaning the non-Jews, i.e. the heathen or Gentiles, as they are often called in older translations, such as KJV. The word itself occurs more than 830 times in the Hebrew Bible, and of these 86 or more than 10% are found in the book of Jeremiah; actually, in accord with the developments of his time, it is the Bible book with the most occurrences of this word. It is primarily used in the plural (goyim), often determined (haggoyim) and with the word kol (‘all’) in front; thus kol-haggoyim (‘all the nations’) occurs 16 times in Jeremiah; there are also definite forms like the one in 25:11, that is, haggoyim ha’elleh (‘the nations the these’). This is a very emphatic construction, indicating (like all the determined ones, only stronger than most) that the nations referred to are well known to both the speaker and the listener. To anyone familiar with the contents of the prophecy of Jeremiah this comes as no surprise. – Gen. 10:1-32; 11:10-12:5; 17:1-27; 26:1-5; 35:22b-27; Ex. 19:1-20:21; 24:1-18; 34:1-17; Deut. 7:1-7; 11:23, 24; 26:17-19; 28:1; Josh. 11:23; 2 Sam. 7:23; l Kgs 4:20-25.
Actually, we have other witnesses to the understanding of Jeremiah defended here, namely the Watchtower writers who produced the book “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial” (New York 1990), in which we read on page 127, paragraph 20:
Jehovah’s controversy with the nations (25:1-38). This chapter is a summary of judgments that appear in greater detail in chapters 45-49. By three parallel prophecies, Jehovah now pronounces calamity for all the nations on earth. First, Nebuchadrezzar is identified as Jehovah’s servant to devastate Judah and the surrounding nations, “and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” Then it will be Babylon’s turn, and she will become “desolate wastes to time indefinite.” – 25:1-14 (emphasis added).
Thus the Watchtower people are in full agreement with the Bible on this point, although their pupil, RF, has chosen to view things differently. Actually, he again shows that he knows full well what is the natural translation of the latter clause in Jer. 25:11, namely the one shown as number 1 on top of page 84, ‘and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.’ Moreover, his claim that the context focuses ‘upon the inhabitants of Judah rather than on some undefined nations’ is palpably false: as has been already demonstrated clearly, the nations in question are very well defined! To be sure, the focus is here a broad one, including both Judah and Jerusalem first, and then all those surrounding nations, because they would all come under the heel of Babylon. And RF’s strange contention, that the designation ‘its inhabitants ... as mentioned in verse 8’ (should be 9) ought to be understood as the antecedent, not of the pronoun ‘they’, which does not occur in the Hebrew, but of the embedded (or implied) subject from the verb ‘abhedu, down in verse 11, is so farfetched from both a syntactical and a semantic viewpoint, that it is utterly impossible to take it seriously. Indeed, this can be said about his entire tortuous effort about this subject.
What does ‘et mean in front of melekh?
On page 83 RF once more turns to a tiny Hebrew particle for help in his quandary; this time it is the particle ‘et, which is seen prefixed to the word melekh in the latter clause of Jer. 25:11. As the analysis showed, the phrase ‘et-melekh babhel (‘king [of] Babylon’) constituted the direct object of that clause, signifying the one ‘these nations’ would have to serve for seventy years, and the particle ‘et functioned as the objective marker, as it generally does in Hebrew. However, RF does not want that to be so, and so he says, ‘While the particle ‘et is often used as object marker, it can be used as a preposition with the meaning “with” as well.’ Now, this needs a little modification, for in reality there are two etymologically different Hebrew particles spelled ‘et, not just one, as anyone can see for himself in the Hebrew dictionaries. Unfortunately they are always spelt in the same way when they do not take suffixes, and they are also both connected to the next word by the Hebrew hyphen, the so-called maqqeph, as the ‘et found in Jer. 25:11 is. This ‘et fits the description very well of the so-called accusative particle, which is ‘prefixed as a rule only to nouns that are definite’, that is, they need no article - proper nouns, titles, names of cities and nations, etc., are definite wihout it.
At any rate, since there is no formal difference in this case, the context must decide which ‘et we are dealing with, and here the syntax is clear: as shown in the above analysis: ‘abhedu (‘they will serve’) is the verbal, haggoyim ha’elleh (’the nations the these’) is the overt subject, and so, quite naturally, ‘et-melekh babhel is the direct object. This is not only the ‘natural analysis’, it is simply the only analysis that makes sense! The renowned Hebraist Dr. Driver, who wrote the articles on all the various types of particles in the Hebrew and English Lexicon by Brown, Driver and Briggs, gave both particles excellent treatment in that dictionary, which see (pp. 84-87). Of course, he could not include all the occurrences, for ‘et occurs more than 10,000 times in the Hebrew Bible, and of them more than 830 are found in the book of Jeremiah. (A.M. Wilson,‘The particle ‘et in Hebrew’, Hebraica ,Vol. 6, 1890, No. 2, pp. 139-150; No. 3, pp. 212-224) Happily, Dr. Driver also made a most excellent translation of The Book of The Prophet Jeremiah (London, 1906), and his rendering of Jeremiah 25:11 is quite clear and unambiguous as may be seen in the section prefaced by this subheading:
Judah, therefore, not less than the neighbouring countries, will be laid waste by the Chaldaeans, and be subject to them for seventy years. (See verses 11 and 12 below):
11 And this whole land shall be a waste, and an appalment: and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith Yahweh, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldaeans; and I will make it desolate for ever.
Let us just take a good look at another very authoritative translation, made by a grammarian and lexicographer of very high standing in continental Europe, similar to the one enjoyed by Dr. Driver in the English-speaking world, namely Professor Frants Buhl of Copenhagen and Leipzig, who edited Wilhelm Gesenius’ large Hebrew-German Handwörterbuch for a number of years. He also translated the Old Testament into Danish (Det gamle Testamente, Copenhagen 1910) and here follows his rendering of Jeremiah 25:11, 12 in Danish:
11 og hele dette land skal blive til en Ørk, og disse Folkeslag skal trælle for Babels Konge i halvfjerdsinstyve Aar. 12 Men naar der er forløbet halvfjerdsinstyve Aar, straffer jeg Babels Konge og dette Folk, og gør det til evige Ørkener. (Cf. the English rendering below):
11 and all this land shall become a desert, and these nations must slave for the king of Babylon for seventy years. 12 But when seventy years have run their course, I will punish the king of Babel and this people, and make it into everlasting deserts.
Now, these two eminent Hebraists are most certainly not the only ones who have rendered Jeremiah’s words in this way; facts are, I haven’t been able to find a single translation or commentary opting for the solution suggested by RF, i.e., to regard the ‘et prefixed to melekh (babhel ) in verse 11 as the preposition meaning ‘with’, and I take it for granted that RF has failed in this regard too, or else he would no doubt have told us about it. Consequently, we shall disregard RF’s very unorthodox idea as a mere figment of his imagination and stick to the natural and straightforward sense of the Hebrew text of Jeremiah, exactly as the real experts in Biblical Hebrew have rendered it.
What about the LXX and the Old Ethiopic?
As for the LXX, preferred by RF, we agree with the view expressed in the Watchtower publication Insight on the Scriptures, vol. II, page 32 (in the article about the Book of Jeremiah):
The majority of scholars agree that the Greek translation of this book is defective, but that does not lessen the reliability of the Hebrew text.
As it is, the LXX lacks about one seventh of the Hebrew text and the translators have taken many liberties with it, omitting words and phrases here and there, adding others not found in the Hebrew, and it is generally unreliable. After all, it is a second-hand text, a translation into an Indo-European language, made by people who may not have been too well acquainted with Classical Hebrew, and who admittedly made many mistakes. Regarding the Old Ethiopic, which RF also favours, it is an even weaker witness; no one knows when it was made but apparently it took centuries to complete, and the oldest manuscripts are rather late, no earlier than the 13th century CE. Moreover, it is to a great degree influenced by the LXX, and it cannot really be regarded as an independent witness. After all, Jeremiah was an inspired prophet and his original prophecies taken down in Hebrew and preserved in that language to this very day are the best evidence we have about these matters. The Hebrew text is also supported by the ancient Semitic translations, the Aramaic Targum Jonathan and the Syriac Peshitta, which are much closer to the original Hebrew than the Greek LXX.
However, there is one more scripture mentioning the seventy years, the short verse here mentioned, and to this RF now turns (page 85), apparently hoping that he can finally prove his point. However, it is as though the long and hard uphill battle has taken his breath away, for he offers neither transliteration nor translation; instead he again focuses on a tiny particle, the preposition le prefixed to the word babhel, which he feels has been wrongly rendered by the standard translations. Let us just take a look at the verse in question, transliterating and translating it for the benefit of the reader:
|I-will-visit||you||and-I-will fulfill||to-you||my-word||the-good-(one)||to-return||you||to-the place||this-one|
Among the many modern translations the NIV gives a good and adequate rendering, but the NWT fails in one point and that is the one that RF wants, for it renders lebabhel ‘at Babylon’, as against NIV’s ‘for Babylon’. Let’s recall that Dr. Driver, who wrote all the articles on the prepositions in Brown-Driver-Briggs, also translated the Book of Jeremiah into reasonably modern English (in 1906); here is his version of Jeremiah 29:10 (emphasis added):
10 For thus saith Yahweh, As soon as seventy years be accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in bringing you back unto this place.
Moreover, he placed an interesting subtitle over this section in the 29th chapter, showing how he understood this important scripture; it goes like this:
For no restoration will take place till the seventy years of Babylonian domination are ended, when those now in exile with Jehoiachin will turn to Yahweh, and he will bring them back (cf. xxiv, 5-7).
Since we are investigating the semantic contents of the preposition le, we may as well note that Professor Buhl used the very same word in Danish, ‘for’, and that the noted German grammarian and translator Emil Kautzsch (who edited Gesenius’ Hebrew grammar later translated into English by A. Cowley) used the German form of the same preposition, namely ‘für’, in front of the word ‘Babel’. Actually, already Luther had used the preposition ‘für’ here, as early as in 1534. The same usage (‘for Babel’) is found in the translation by Dr. Chr. H. Kalkar (Copenhagen 1847), who as a converted Jew was an expert in Biblical Hebrew. As it is, all the most serious and reasonably literal translations have ‘for’ here, or words to that effect; NEB has a slightly different wording: ‘When a full seventy years have passed over Babylon,...’ and AAT has: ‘As soon as Babylon has finished seventy years,...’, while Moffatt has: ‘As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are over,...’. The Jewish translation Tanakh agrees with Moffatt, while the older ones by Leeser and JPS use ‘for’. As is well known, the KJV has ‘at Babylon’, which is not so strange when one bethinks that it most likely was influenced by the Vulgate’s ‘in Babylone’; after all, most of the early English translations until and including the KJV were influenced by that old Latin version – also, the knowledge of Biblical Hebrew was rather imperfect then, but fortunately it has improved enormously since 1611. Curiously, the so-called ‘New King James Version’ (1982) has kept the ‘at’ here; however, the reason may well be that the editors did not want a total revision (cf. the Preface), but rather a mere modernization, such as the replacing of obsolete words like ‘thou, thee, thy’ and ‘thine’ with the modern pronouns ‘you, your’ and ‘yours’.
However, when the Revised Version came out in 1885 the knowledge of Hebrew was much greater – there were no less than ten professors of Hebrew in the so-called ‘Old Testament Company’ who revised the Hebrew part of the Bible (including Jeremiah), and so things were changed. One of the real experts among them was Dr. Driver, who has been mentioned already, and it would have been unthinkable for him to render such a preposition wrongly. At that time he was already engaged in the work of compiling the great Hebrew lexicon, in which he gave an expert account of the preposition le on pages 510-518, covering a total of 16 columns. Here he classified the meanings of le under seven main headings and a lot of subheadings and even lesser groups, totaling 69 semantic variants, some even overlapping. The very smallest main heading, with no subgroups at all, is No. 2 (page 511), ‘Expressing locality, at, near’, which does not, however, contain anything supporting RF’s views.
Dr. Driver gives as the general sense of this preposition ‘to, for, in regard to, ... denoting direction (not properly motion, as (‘el) towards, or reference to; and hence used in many varied applications, in some of which the idea of direction predominates, in others that of reference to ... very often, with various classes of verbs, to, towards, for.’ Similar explanations are given in Gesenius-Buhl and Köhler-Baumgartner. Interestingly, it was not only in the Revised Version but also in its transatlantic counterpart, the American Standard Version of 1901, KJV’s ‘at Babylon’ had been corrected to ‘for Babylon’, and that wording has been kept in the versions later made in that tradition, such as the RSV of 1952 and the NASB of 1977. By the way, on page 86 RF says that the LXX ‘has the dative form babulôni, the most natural meaning being “at Babylon”.’ Now, the Greek form is correct, but the sense is not, for in Greek the dative used here is the dativus commodi et incommodi. (Also called ‘the dative of advantage and disadvantage’, cf. C.F.D.Moule, An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek, 2nd ed., Cambridge U.P., 1971, p. 46) See W.W. Goodwin, A Greek Grammar, London et al, 1970, pp. 247ff., § 1165, which says: ‘This dative is generally introduced in English by ‘for’.” This is of great importance, as may be seen from the statement by F.C. Conybeare and St. G. Stock in A Grammar of Septuagint Greek (Grand Rapids 1980) § 38, in which they discuss the peculiar syntax of the LXX:
The Construction of the LXX not Greek. ... the LXX is on the whole a literal translation, it is to say, it is only half a translation – the vocabulary has been changed, but seldom the construction. We have therefore to deal with a work of which the vocabulary is Greek and the syntax Hebrew.
Apparently, then, the translators of the LXX understood the phrase lebabhel correctly and so rendered it in the best possible way into a Greek form having exactly the same sense as the original Hebrew, i.e. ‘for Babylon.’ Why Jerome didn’t imitate this fine effort when making the Vulgate is not known, but in connection with his ‘in Babylone’ and KJV’s ‘at Babylon’ we ought to realize that such a rendering does not in any way ‘prove’ RF’s contentions about the length of the exile and Jerusalem’s devastation: We know from Jeremiah 25:11 that ‘these nations [i.e., ‘these nations all around’, the ones defined so clearly in Jeremiah 25:17-26] shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years’, and these seventy years would naturally pass for all and sundry, whether ‘in’ or ‘at’ Babylon or elsewhere. Mark you, neither this scripture nor anyone else says ‘for Judah’ or ‘for ‘Israel’ or for ‘the exiles’! So, even though RF and his fellow believers stubbornly stick to their erroneous interpretation of the inspired words of Jehovah spoken by Jeremiah, they have no solid evidence for their ideas!
In the case of the sense of le in Jeremiah 29:10 we have the clear evidence outlined in a work which RF does not mention, namely Professor Ernst Jenni’s Die hebräischen Präpositionen. Band 3: Die Präposition Lamed (Stuttgart et al, 2000). In this monumental work Dr. Jenni lists and categorizes each and every occurrence of le in the entire Hebrew Bible, all 20,725 of them! Here we find le as used in Jeremiah 29:10 (in lebabhel) on page 109, ‘Rubrik’ 4363, where it is listed with a few other scriptures in which some forms of the verb ml’ [mal’e], ‘voll werden (Tage/Jahr[e])’, ‘(to become full, complete, (days/year[s])’ occur; it is listed as a subgroup under 436, ‘Dauer’ (‘duration’). Thus the verbal lemall’ot in 2 Chronicles 36:21 means, as shown earlier, ‘to complete fully’ and the verbal melo’t ‘to be completed’ (qal infinitive construct) in Jeremiah 29:10, while the direct object lebabhel means ‘for Babylon’: this corresponds to Dr. Driver’s definition 5. g. (b), where le is said to be ‘corresponding to the Latin dativus commodi’, with the general meaning ‘for’, and that brings us back to the LXX-rendering mentioned above with the ‘dativus commodi’ Babulôni, giving exactly the same meaning. In his ‘argumentation’ RF referred to some other scriptures in which le had been rendered with a local meaning, as ‘at’, ‘in’ or ‘to’, and of course Jenni has these verses in his classification, e.g. defining le in Jeremiah 51:2 as a ‘personal dative of Babel, personified as world power’, and Jeremiah 3:17 as a ‘local directional’. Both of these are used correctly in their contexts, agreeing with the general sense of le, ‘to, towards, for’, and the full details about them and their various uses (e.g. the ‘local’ or ‘directional’) can be found in Dr. Jenni’s very precise classification.
As for the last scripture mentioned by RF in this connection, Jeremiah 40:11, a check on some translations of this verse shows that not everything is as simple as RF appears to think; if, for instance, he had checked the LXX, he would have found a genitive construction in Jer. 47:11 (corresponding to MT’s 40:11), which Sir Launcelot Lee Brenton rendered ‘the king of Babylon had granted a remnant to Judah’ in the Bagster Septuagint. (Reprint of 1976). The very same construction is found in Rotherham’s The Emphasized Bible, while the NASB uses ‘left a remnant for Judah’; several versions have ‘a remnant of Judah’ (e.g. NKJV; RV; ASV) and Leeser’s Jewish translation has ‘left a remnant unto Judah’. Let us also take a look at a very scholarly Norwegian rendering by Mowinckel and Messell in DET GAMLE TESTAMENTE De senere Profeter (Oslo 1944), page 417: ‘Babelkongen hadde unt Judafolket en rest’, (‘the king of Babylon had granted the people of Judah a remnant’) and then, for the sake of good order, we’ll close this little check-up by quoting NW: ‘the king of Babylon had given a remnant to Judah.’ (Emphasis added where pertinent) Even though quite a few versions have ‘in’ as suggested by RF, it appears to be impossible to get a complete consensus on the way to render le in this verse!
In his discussion of the possibility of using le in a local sense as ‘at’ (page 86, § 2) RF points out that ‘The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew lists about 30 examples of this meaning’. Now, this is not so strange and it is actually a very small percentage when we recall that this preposition occurs more than 20,000 times in the Hebrew Bible. To be honest, that learned dictionary does not seem to offer the most comprehensive or the most detailed treatment of le, for it has only a total of 373 examples in its entry on that preposition (pages 479-485), while Brown-Driver-Briggs has more than 1500! What is more, whenever BDB has treated a category of le as found in one of the books of the Bible, it usually adds that the listed examples are followed by many more in that book or chapter. Moreover, it brims with grammatical and general linguistic information, adding many useful references to Aramaic, Syriac and other Semitic tongues for the sake of comparison.
Regarding the examples of le being used in the sense of ‘at’, RF is somewhat less than accurate, for in section 4. in the dictionary he uses, which treats ‘of place, at, by, on, along, over’, there are only 11 examples of ‘at’, not 30! The section lists 31 verses with a total of 35 examples of ‘local’ le, some of which are even rendered ‘for’, ‘to’, or by other words, and there is no added grammatical explanation of any kind whatsoever. Of course, Gesenius-Buhl and Köhler-Baumgartner also have plenty of information on this preposition and its usage, so as not to speak of Professor Jenni’s magnificent volume quoted above.
One more point about lebabhel in Jeremiah 29:10: On page 85, the last six lines, RF relates that of 70 translations in his library only six had the ‘local’ meaning, that is, ‘at’ in English, which means that the other sixty-four had something else, presumably ‘for’ or a similar wording. Why this didn’t give him pause is difficult to understand -- how can he prefer six renderings to sixty-four? Unfortunately, he identifies only the six he prefers, and not a single one of the majority, the sixty-four with which he disagrees, a fact which only adds to the evidence for his marked prejudice. Of course, NWT is really not a good witness, for the false dogmas of the Watchtower translators undoubtedly caused them to use this rendering. As for the KJV, we have already seen why that old and really outdated version is to be disregarded in this context, and the same may be said about the other English ones as well, e.g. Harkavy’s Hebrew-English edition from 1939, in which the English translation is actually taken directly from the KJV! Lamsa’s slightly newer version (from 1957) is no better, as it is heavily influenced by the KJV, and one needs only a short survey of Helen Spurrell’s A Translation of the Old Testament from the Original Hebrew (London 1885) to see that her rendering is clearly patterned on the old KJV, even though it is certainly not a mere copy - to the contrary, she has many renderings which are clear improvements on KJV, such as using JEHOVAH instad of ‘the LORD’. Interestingly, in her Preface she made a special claim about the text from which she made her translation:
It seems scarcely necessary to mention that the translation is made from the unpointed Hebrew; that being the Original Hebrew.
Actually, it would have been strange for her not to have copied the pattern of the old KJV, which had held the field as the ‘Authorized Version’ for centuries; indeed, to have abandoned it entirely might well have impaired the acceptance of Miss Spurrell’s version, which she claimed had ‘almost entirely occupied her time for many years past.’ It is an interesting coincidence that her translation was published in London in 1885, in the very same year in which the Old Testament part of The Revised Version was issued, a fact, however, which precludes her having had access to this new edition, in which the ‘at’ in Jeremiah 29:10 had been replaced by ‘for’.
Now, of course the Swedish Church Bible of 1917 does not have the English ‘at’ or some particle directly representing it, as e.g. ‘på, vid, hos’, but it has ‘i’ (‘in’) which doesn’t prove a thing because, as stated above, the ‘seventy years’ which had been decided ‘for’ Babylon’s dominion, would also pass ‘in’ or ‘at’ Babylon, as well as in all the lands mentioned, in Judah as well as among the Gentiles. Also, this old Swedish version has now been replaced by no less than two new ones (in 1998 and 2000) which both correctly read ‘for Babylon’ in Jeremiah 29:10. Actually, since all the faulty supports of RF have now fallen by the wayside, he ought to accept defeat and start using the correct renderings of the other sixty-four! And since he has begun to look at the Scandinavian Bibles, he might check the NW-Bible in Danish which has had ‘for Babylon’ in Jeremiah 29:10 ever since the first edition was printed in 1985, and it is unchanged in the large study edition of 1993!
The words of Zechariah
This section will not be treated here, since the verses used by RF have no relation to the subject under discussion, cf. C.O. Jonsson, The Gentile Times Reconsidered, 4th ed., Atlanta 2004, pp. 225-229.
A theological attempt ...
Thus far it has been a very disappointing experience to go through RF’s twisted and contorted attempts to ‘prove’ his outlandish views about the length of the devastation of Jerusalem and Judah and the exile of the Judeans, but this section testifies to a stubbornness in the matter of doctrine on RF’s part which is hard to comprehend. Here he deals with a two-part article by an Adventist scholar named Ross E. Winkle who has gone through all the relevant material about this topic and written a well-researched and well-formulated piece which by dint of its careful scholarship and its sober style outshines RF’s ‘fuzzy’ and ‘muddled’ product by far.
He quite correctly sees Winkle’s conclusion as the opposite of his own: ‘There is no passage in the Bible which definitely says that Jerusalem and Judah should be desolate for 70 years while the people were exiles in Babylon!’ What RF does not concede, however, in the face of the overwhelming Biblical and linguistic evidence for Winkle’s conclusion, is that it is correct! In fact, Winkle proves his point in a very careful and methodical way, far removed from RF’s prolix and clumsy attempts to pervert the clear and incontrovertible truth of God’s Word. Actually, despite his lengthy and confused efforts, RF does not prove one single point of his Watchtower-inspired theory, for the very simple reason that it is not true!
Some of his arguments in this part are nothing less than ludicrous: he does not like that ‘Winkle seems to assume that what the Bible says is true’, (indeed, what is wrong with that? Doesn’t the Watchtower people reason in the same way as Winkle?) and neither does he like Winkle’s acceptance of ‘the traditional chronology’ - but here Winkle stands on firm ground: the Bible is God’s own inspired word, truthful and inerrant, and what RF calls ‘traditional chronology’ is certainly not based on ‘circular arguments’ but on many years of diligent research by serious and competent scholars! Of course, mistakes have been made over the years, especially in the infancy of this science, but in time they have ben corrected whenever new evidence came to light, and today the ancient history and chronology of the Middle East for the first millennium B.C.E. is well-established and trustworthy in practically all aspects, notwithstanding RF’s contrary claims and his unproven pet theories.
RF truly feels unhappy about Winkle’s beginning from Jeremiah’s testimony and his going on from there to Daniel and the Chronicler, while he himself starts with Daniel and the Chronicler and then goes back to Jeremiah; however, in a situation like this the ideal method is actually to begin from the beginning, which naturally means to take Jeremiah’s prophecies first and then, having familiarized oneself with their message, to move on chronologically to the later reactions to these early prophecies and their fulfilment, going first to Daniel and then to the somewhat later Chronicler. In this way the true picture of the events of those times emerges clearly, and that is evidently what Winkle tries to do even though he takes the Chronicler before Daniel, probably because he wants to handle the matter of the ‘sabbath rest’ for the land properly, without getting it mixed up with the message of Jeremiah’s prophecies, and this he does very well indeed.
RF also dislikes Winkle’s reference to the literary style of some of Jeremiah’s verses, and in this connection he refers to pages 210, 211 in Winkle’s article; this is very good, for thus he reveals whence he has his ideas about ‘parallelisms’ (cf. RF, pp. 79, 80). Let us just take a look at this, before we move on: RF claimed that 2 Chronicles 36:21 formed in four lines a genuine Hebrew parallelism, which I disclaimed, showing that this stylistic feature does not occur in Hebrew prose such as the text in question. Nevertheless, Winkle was first to suggest something like that, even though he did not make quite the same claim that RF did, no doubt because he knew better. Winkle wrote the following about 2 Chronicles 36:20b-21 (pp. 209-211):
In this passage there are two sets of parallel clauses, either beginning with ‘ad or lemallot. Displaying the text according to a quasi-poetic style (in order to highlight the parallels) results in the following (my translation):
1 And they were servants to him and his sons
2 until (‘ad) the reign of the kingdom of Persia
3 in order to fulfill (lemallot) the word
4 of the LORD in the mouth of Jeremiah
5 until (‘ad) the land had enjoyed its sabbaths
6 (all the days of its desolation
7 it kept sabbath)
8 in order to fulfill (lemallot) seventy years
Line 2 completes the thought of line 1, while lines 3-4 further clarify lines 1 and 2. Line 5, which starts with the same word as line 2, must be parallel to it.
After this Winkle quotes three examples of this kind of ‘parallel structure’ (Exodus 16:35; Jeremiah 1:3; 2 Chronicles 36:16), and he is right as far as the similarity of structure is concerned. However, none of these examples fulfill the criteria for true poetic parallelism such as found in the poetic writings in the Hebrew Bible. Instead of this we may apply to them the words of Professor E. König of Bonn University as found in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. V, p. 116) where he issued a warning against regarding everything rhythmic in Hebrew prose as though it were parallelisms:
It must be remembered that the higher form of prose, as employed especially by good speakers, was not without a certain kind of rhythm.
Indeed, this higher form of prose by such eminent speakers as the great prophets, e.g. Jeremiah, whose book is written for a large part (more than half) in poetic form (cf. NIV), and who also penned the all-poetic book of Lamentations, often used a structure resembling parallelism, but we must remember that simple syntactical parallelistic structures do not on that count alone qualify as true parallelisms; for that the sense, the meaning must be parallelistic, and the form follow the rules of this special style of Semitic poetry (for this, see R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, London 1970, Part Twelve, I. Hebrew Poetry; pages 965-975, and similar works).
Apparently, Ross E. Winkle was well aware of this when he wrote the above, for he did not claim that he was dealing with genuine poetic parallelisms, but designated the form of his ‘parallel clauses’ a ‘quasi-poetic style’, and in this he was correct because that was all that they were. It seems as though RF overlooked this and so made another one of his typical mistakes; this he also does when he intimates that Winkle’s argument ‘puts the text upside down’, because he himself is the one who does that, misinterpreting the clear messages of Jeremiah, Daniel and the Chronicler. Moreover, it seems that he also borrowed something else from Winkle who says in the last few lines on page 211, that ‘modern translations of vs. 2 [Dan. 9:2] are rather ambiguous as far as the timing of the seventy years is concerned.’ This is, of course, correct, as Winkle’s examples (and several others) prove, but it is one thing to point out that some of the ‘modern’ translations are ‘ambiguous’, disturbing the sense of the text by their poor rendering, and then to claim that the inspired words of Jehovah uttered by the prophet Jeremiah to God’s chosen people are ambiguous and need interpretation by somebody living many years later, who had seen their fulfilment. RF adds to his errors when he says that ‘Winkle takes for granted that both the Bible and the traditional New Babylonian chronology are true’, not on the basis of linguistic knowledge, but ‘by appealing ... to more elusive reasons’, because this is just the other way around - the only elusive reasons presented in this connection are ‘Made by RF’!
Said in all fairness, Ross E. Winkle’s article is one of the best and most sober disquisitions on this subject I’ve yet seen, and it is certainly worth having and reading, which can hardly be said about RF’s bit. Indeed, there is more true scholarship in Winkle’s two short articles than in RF’s entire fourth chapter dealt with here, and probably even though all the chapters in his book were included.
The two poles ...
In this last section of RF’s ‘exposition’ he reverts to his chronological speculations, repeating once again his false claims about the Bible stating that the exile lasted seventy years, but since these utterly untrue speculations have been thoroughly disproved in the foregoing, there seems to be no need to go into this discussion again.
Summary and Conclusion
Having gone through RF’s discussion of the scriptures mentioning the seventy years it is time to assess his effort: First, his treatment of the Hebrew text, including his transliterations, grammatical ‘analyses’ and translations are too imprecise and far below par for someone introducing himself as a lecturer of Semitic languages in a reputable university. Actually, his understanding of Classical Hebrew and his command of its grammar, usage and style appear to be defective. Moreover, his entire argumentation consists of the feeblest possible postulates, to wit:
He begins by presenting some very categorical statements, entirely without evidence, after which he surmises that the parts of the inspired Bible text with which he disagrees are ‘ambiguous’, which they are not; then he tries to make the Hebrew text say something which simply is not in it, and when that appears impossible he opts for the LXX and the Old Ethiopic versions, both of which are defective or faulty in the verses referred to. In his dealings with the main scriptures under discussion, from Jeremiah, Daniel and the Chronicler, he bases much of his argument on three tiny particles, trying to make them say what no Hebrew dictionary, grammar or translator accept, all apparently in the hope that his gullible readers will believe him. The only grammar book he refers to is a rather short syntax, actually little more than a collection of samples whose author does not even stay within the referential framework of Hebrew grammatical nomenclature, but creates his own terms, which, of course, is not very helpful to the students. And the only Hebrew dictionary to which he refers casually is a new and relatively little known work, which, when examined, does not even support his claims! And in his description of a truly scholarly treatment of the subject he has chosen for himself he appears to be entirely out of his depth - it is as though he cannot see the wood for the trees!
In a sense, it is somewhat difficult to find out exactly what RF believes in, because for years he has been known as a member of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, defending their positions on the matters discussed in his book. However, apparently he does not share their absolute faith in the Bible as God’s inspired and truthful word, such as when he claims that parts of God’s Word are ‘ambiguous’, which they are not according to the usual Watchtower doctrine; their views of the entire Bible may be summed up in Paul’s statement, ‘All Scripture Is Inspired of God and beneficial’ (2 Tim. 3:16, 17), cf the Watchtower publication bearing that title. Furthermore, he criticizes the Adventist scholar Ross Winkle for ‘assuming that what the Bible says is true’, which for him apparently is a mere starting point for his own private ruminations. As for the chronology of the period in question, he also feels entitled to assess these matters for himself, without any regard for the weighty results of the diligent research by numerous competent scholars worldwide. In this method, however, he seems to emulate his Watchtower mentors, who also handles such matters in their own way, as was revealed by Raymond Franz, the former member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses who wrote the long chapter on chronology in the book Aid to Bible Understanding (New York 1969, 1971); in his own book Crisis of Conscience (Atlanta, 4th edition 2002), he explained that in trying to prove historically the date set for Jerusalem’s destruction by the witnesses (607 BCE) he discovered that there was no evidence for this whatsoever. Now, what did this seasoned Watchtower writer do under such circumstances? This he explains in detail (page 26):
Everything pointed to a period twenty years shorter than our published chronology claimed. Though I found this disquieting, I wanted to believe that our chronology was right in spite of all the contrary evidence. Thus, in preparing the material for the Aid-book, much of the time and space was spent in trying to weaken the credibility of the archaeological and historical evidence that would make erroneous our 607 B.C.E. date and give a different starting point for our calculations and therefore an ending date different from 1914. ... like an attorney faced with evidence he cannot overcome, my efforts was to discredit or weaken confidence in witnesses from ancient times ... [so as] to uphold a date for which there was no historical support.
This confession of Mr Franz is very revealing, as it shows to what length Jehovah’s Witnesses will go when it comes to defending their ancient dogmas, and it is evident that Rolf Furuli has learned from this method: he is willing to discredit God’s Word and twist it for the sake of the doctrines of the sect to which he belongs; a very deplorable attitude, which, however, is in near perfect tune with that of the leaders of the organization. Indeed, the entire presentation is one long and stubborn manipulation of the facts in a most non-scientific way, as can be seen in his very selective use of ‘evidence’, omitting, avoiding or denigrating anything and everything which is not in accord with his prejudiced views. And when he has to face the sound interpretations by reputable scholars, he does his very best to circumvent them in a mode reminiscent of the style employed for long by his mentors, the leaders of the sect to which he belongs. This is not really a scholarly work which may be used to edify truth-seeking people, but a narrow-minded, sectarian work of little consequence.