Furuli, Rolf J., Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian Chronology. Volume II of Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian Chronology Compared with the Chronology of the Bible. Oslo, Awatu Publishers, 2nd ed., 2008. 376 pp., numerous photos and tables. – Reviewed by Professor Hermann Hunger, Vienna, Austria.



Editorial comment:


In his work on the chronology of the Ancient Near East Dr. Rolf Furuli in Oslo, Norway devotes much space to ancient astronomy. His discussion of the ancient Babylonian astronomical cuneiform tablets covers more than 140 pages. Of these, 93 pages – about a quarter of the book – contain a detailed astronomical and linguistic analysis of one particular tablet: VAT 4956, an astronomical “diary” dated to the 37th year of the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II. It is most appropriate, therefore, that Rolf Furuli’s work is here reviewed by Professor Hermann Hunger, who not only is a world-famous authority on cuneiform and the languages of ancient Babylonia and Assyria, but who is also the leading expert on the astronomical observational cuneiform tablets. He has for decades been studying and translating these texts. His transcriptions and translations have so far been published in five large-sized volumes.

    Most of the references in Professor Hunger’s review to various works and articles are given in abbreviated form. The full titles are given in a reference list at the end of the review.



After a preface and an introduction on “Assumptions and Perspectives”, the book has three parts, one each for Neo-Babylonian, Neo-Assyrian, and Egyptian chronology. There is a closing chapter “Open-mindedness and the study of ancient chronology”, 6 appendices, and a bibliography.


“Assumption and Perspectives” (p. 17-26)

The introduction begins with a famous error from medicine about spinach which went undetected for a long time because people did not check the sources. Then it is noted that “presuppositions tend to color interpretations”, and that presuppositions ought to be clearly stated.

    I am completely on F.’s side that “truth” is not decided by “the consensus of the majority of scholars”. If truth cannot be found, the consensus may be of some help.

    Most of the introduction tries to show that chronology is uncertain because assumptions and interpretations are not certain. As an illustration F. mentions cuneiform tablets dated to Nebuchadnezzar and Amel-Marduk that seem to show that tablets were dated to a king after his death. F. states that the “traditional chronology” is based on Ptolemy, but this is at least an abbreviation: part of the basis of the “traditional chronology” is the so-called “Canon of Ptolemy”, which was included in some manuscripts of his “Handy Tables”. However, this list must be older than Ptolemy because such a list was needed by astronomers long before him.

    On p. 26 F. declares as the “approach of this book” that “the Bible, cuneiform tablets, and different kinds of historical data are put on the same level”. This overlooks the differences between these data: literature cannot be treated in the same way as daily records; royal inscriptions may stress the king’s achievements and forget his failures; texts far removed from the events they describe may be less reliable than those composed close to the time of the events, etc. A critical evaluation of the sources is unavoidable for history writing.



The section on the Neo-Babylonian Empire begins with the heading of Chapter 1: “The Neo-Babylonian and Biblical Chronology contradict one another” (p. 28-43).

    F. first notes some of the sources for the traditional chronology, ascribing it to Ptolemy, and then claims: “the Bible says explicitly that Jerusalem was a desolate waste for a full 70 years” (p. 30). By assuming that Babylon was conquered by Cyrus in 539 and the Jews returned in 537, then “we reach the year 607 as the time for Jerusalem’s destruction”. This is the basic point of F.’s “Oslo chronology”.

    The statements about the full 70 years of desolation are not necessarily supported by the Biblical texts, as can be seen from C. O. Jonsson, The Gentile Times Reconsidered (4th ed., 2004), p. 191-235. F. presents his point of view on p. 32ff.


Chapter 2 (p. 44-55) is used to cast doubts on the cuneiform texts concerning Neo-Babylonian history, the chronicles and royal inscriptions.


Chapter 3 (p. 56-66) concerns business documents. F. begins with examples of errors by scholars in reading tablets (p. 56 note 60: a restoration is a modern scholar’s assumption which may be wrong, as in the case quoted; on the other hand, the extent to which the writing of a sign can vary does not depend on modern readers). F. then uses the unclear sequence of rulers towards the end of the Assyrian Empire to pretend that the tablets do not fit the traditional chronology. Note 66 on p. 58 is meant to prepare the way for the identification of Kandalanu and Nabopolassar. F. refers to the Akitu Chronicle, which states that “arki mKan-da-la-nu (‘after Kandalanu’), in the accession year of Nabopolassar”, claiming that arki mKan-da-la-nu can also be translated “thereafter Kandalanu” or “this other Kandalanu”. However, arki Kandalanu can NOT mean “this other Kandalanu”.

    The change of reign from Nebuchadnezzar to Amel-Marduk and Neriglissar is documented in NBC 4897; because this contradicts F.’s chronology, he says it “cannot be used” (see below on Appendix A).


Chapter 4 (p. 67-89) looks for Neo-Babylonian kings not mentioned by Ptolemy (i.e., in the Ptolemaic Canon).

    Right away, on p. 67, one purpose of the discussion is stated: “if we have to push the reigns just one year back, VAT 4956 is valueless as a chronological witness”. I do not understand this: why is VAT 4956 valueless if we push back the chronology? We will have a hard time to push back the chronology because VAT 4956 simply provides a date for year 37 of Nebuchadnezzar.

    Since there were several pretenders to the Babylonian and Assyrian throne after Assurbanipal, adding up all their attested years leads to more years than are assumed in the traditional chronology. But of course this need not be a correct approach because some kings may have ruled at the same time.

    P. 73: Nabű-na’id’s inscriptions sometimes add adjectives to the word for reign (palű), like damqu or kinu. But palű does not refer to specific years of his reign, but to his reign in general. Therefore he qualifies it as “good” or “reliable, legitimate”. One cannot expect that a Babylonian king would ever consider his reign as not legitimate. No chronological inferences can be made from this use of words.

    P. 79: The Dynastic prophecy does not include all kings, and therefore is useless for chronology. The words “For three years” (broken before and after) need not even refer to a length of reign.

    P. 80: Another possible unknown Neo-Babylonian king suggested by F. he finds in the signs for the name idAG-GI on a tablet published by M. Jursa in 1997. F. erroneously transcribes the name as Nabű-šalim. But a name Nabű-šalim would mean “Nabű is well”, and this is not an appropriate statement (F.’s wrong translation: “Let Nabű have peace” is equally blasphemous). If GI stands for šalāmu, only -mušallim or -ušallim would make sense.

    P. 82: Why does a man named Mar-šarri-uur have to be a king? On the contrary this is a servant’s name.

    I have only remarked on some incorrect details. Throughout this chapter, the reader is presented with possible reasons for doubts about the traditional chronology, although no conclusions are offered. But the tendency to expand the length of the Neo-Babylonian Empire is always present. – [For additional details on chapter 4, see: http://goto.glocalnet.net/kf3/review4.htm - eds.]


Chapter 5 (p. 90-95) deals with the astronomical diaries. First, the possibility of errors is stressed. Then, the asymmetric preservation is described: only few diaries exist from before 400 BC, and some of these are copies. To say that they are virtually non-existing is not justified; there are just few of them. F. turns the argument around and says that diaries were not made during that time. Since there exist tablets that contain planetary observations from this period, F. immediately suspects them to represent backward calculations. However, the positions obtained by calculating backwards would soon have been rather wrong. At least one could see by modern calculations that they were wrong. However, there is no reason why backward calculation should have been done at all (see below on Appendix F).

    In his summary, the existence of astronomical observation in the Neo-Babylonian Empire is denied.


Chapter 6 (p. 96-125) deals with VAT 4956, called the “most important astronomical diary”. Most of the details are found again in Appendix C, but some have to be discussed here.

    I had the privilege to complete an edition of this tablet from a manuscript by A. J. Sachs in Diaries, vol. I. It will therefore be understandable that I respond in detail to F.’s statements which imply that I did a bad job. Of course any errors in the edition (two have been found, but are of no chronological consequence) are my responsibility. For the edition, I used the published copy of E. Weidner and a photo from a negative in the collection of the Vorderasiatische Museum which certainly was made before World War II. I did not collate the original. As will be seen immediately, I am very lucky that I never had this tablet in my hand!

    Right away, the possibility is entertained that the tablet is a forgery. An excursus on modern forgeries is brought to strengthen the possibility. However, these modern forgeries are made by molds, so they cannot contain information not originally present on a genuine tablet. If VAT 4956 were such a forgery, it would still give us the picture of a genuine tablet.

    The tablet was bought in Baghdad and came to the Vorderasiatische Museum in 1906. It is now baked and consists of three pieces glued together (p. 98). F. then describes “several strange things in connection with the publication of the tablet (p. 99). The first editors, P. V. Neugebauer and E. Weidner, did not mention that the tablet consisted of three pieces; F. thinks they ought to have mentioned it, and he raises the possibility that the tablet was not broken in 1915. He also thinks that it is strange that Weidner published line 18 of the reverse alone in 1912, and attributes this to Weidner’s competition with F. X. Kugler. In view of the importance of the tablet, Weidner ought to have published a copy as soon as possible. But a copy only appeared in 1953. F. concludes that Weidner and Neugebauer deliberately wanted to prevent colleagues from examining the original tablet, and that “they had something to hide” (p. 101). F. does not elaborate what they may have had to hide. I do not know the policy of the Vorderasiatische Museum at the time, but in general colleagues would have been allowed to see (and collate) a tablet that was already published. Nowadays one cannot ask Weidner any more for his reasons, but it is likely that they were not malicious. He may have been obliged to publish the copy in the Vorderasiatische Schriftdenkmäler (published by the Museum), and there may have been financial problems in production during the 1920s. 

    The “strange features” which F. cannot explain as anything but “conscious tampering” will be discussed below (Appendix C). On p. 102 F. assumes that a “forger wrote the signs on the reverse side while he was looking at the original”. However, no modern forger would be able to copy cuneiform writing so as to seem original; years of scribal training are required. Besides, there is no way of successfully adding cuneiform writing to a dried tablet. The tablet would be too hard to produce the neat writing as is preserved on VAT 4956.

    P. 112: the passage concerning year 38 is a catch-line, giving the beginning of a tablet following the present tablet. Contrary to F.’s accusations it is extremely unlikely that a modern forger or tamperer would have bothered to add this. For an example of such a catch-line in another diary, see Diaries I p. 476f. No. -168 line A21’: the diary concerns months V to VIII, and the catch-line is the beginning of month IX. The existence of this catch-line on VAT 4956 is of course no indication that “the scribe had an agenda”.

    The following pages present more or less F.’s results from more detailed discussions in Appendix C, so I shall restrict myself to a few remarks.

    P. 117: F.’s argumentation that the use of the words “at that time” signifies “some uncertainty” and indicate that positions were “calculated rather than observed” is mistaken. inušu “at that time” introduces a summary of planetary positions; there is no uncertainty involved. In later diaries, this summary is usually placed at the end of each monthly section.

    P. 119: F. argues that the data on VAT 4956 stem from different sources, stating: “In lines 6 and 7, river levels and a report of the killing of someone at the order of the king are reported for an intercalary Addaru. This must refer to the previous year or to another year and would require a tablet different from those reporting lunar and planetary data. Yet this anomalous intercalary Addaru is found on VAT 4956 between months I and II.” However, lines 6 and 7 first report a change in river level that happened to stretch from the preceding intercalary Addaru to the current month. The killing of someone at the order of the king is not connected to this time span, but happened in month I; the day number, now broken, must have been mentioned in line 6. This is no indication of different sources.

    Further, F. holds that the diary was composed in Seleucid times, because “to view the constellations as animals, either alone, or as representing the 12 zodiacal signs, was a late custom, and there is no evidence of the zodiac from the Neo-Babylonian Empire or earlier.” To view some constellations as animals is not at all a late custom; the mulAPIN document from the early first millennium BC is full of such names, including their parts. These expressions can therefore NOT be used as an argument that the tablet was composed in Seleucid times.

    P. 122: In support of the claim that someone has tampered with the tablet F. states that the first line, where the date and the name of the king had been written, “is partly erased”. But in my opinion, the first line is not partly erased, but partly damaged.

    On this page, the suspicion that someone tampered with the tablet in modern times has, in F.’s mind, already become “evidence”.

    P. 123:  Attempting to add 20 years to the Neo-Babylonian period F. suggests that the tablet originally was dated to year “57”, which a modern scholar changed to “37”. He says: “A person in the first part of the nineteenth century saw that the celestial positions fit 568/67 well, and on the basis of the accepted chronology he concluded that 57 was an error for 37.” However, no person in the first part of the 19th century would have been able to understand the celestial positions; the first reliable identifications of stars were made by Epping in 1881.

    I too can see what F. calls a “small angular wedge” under the three bigger (and clearer) angular wedges. This small impression is oriented differently and less deep; I consider(ed) it a scratch, not a wedge.

    As for someone adding the numbers 37 and 38, there is no way of successfully adding cuneiform writing to a dried tablet. The tablet would be too hard to produce a neat writing as is preserved on VAT 4956. There are examples of tablets which were inscribed after they had started to dry; this can be recognized easily (see e.g. Diaries III pl. 209 No. -104 Rev.).

    Also, only trained scribes can produce writing that looks like the ancient one. The modern fakes which F. discusses on p. 96f. are produced from molds, so they are not pertinent.


Chapter 7:  Other Astronomical Tablets (p. 126-133)

(LBAT 1421, 1415, 1416, 1417, 1419, 1420, 1386; the Saturn tablets SBTU IV No. 171 and BM 76738+76813)


P. 127f.: in LBAT 1421, it is not “difficult to explain” why the number 45 can come before year 42: 45 is not a year number.

    F. confuses the intercalary months for years 36 and 41 of Nebuchadnezzar: according to Parker & Dubberstein p. 5, year 36 had an intercalary Addaru, and year 41 an intercalary Ululu. Apart from this, F. inserts an unattested intercalary month between these years in order to displace the lunar eclipses of year 42 so that they do not fit 563 BC! F.’s proposal however is wrong even on his own assumptions: the eclipse of October 16, 583 BC occurs in month VII, and there was no eclipse in month XII (on March 13, 582 BC, the earth’s shadow missed the moon, see Huber & De Meis, Bab. Eclipse Observations, p. 186; consequently, no eclipse is listed in Kudlek & Mickler). LBAT 1421 may not prove any chronology but it agrees with the traditional one.

    In the meantime, F. has claimed on the ANE-2 internet forum that LBAT 1421 refers to year 42 of Artaxerxes I (for F., 433/2 BC), but this too can be proven to be incorrect. (See: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ANE-2/message/12432 and



“PART TWO:  THE NEO-ASSYRIAN EMPIRE” (Chapters 8-13, p. 134-237)

The second part discusses the Chronology of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

    This section begins on p. 134 with synchronisms between the Bible and Assyrian sources. These show that the chronologies cannot easily be brought in agreement. F. spends much time on discussing possible errors in Assyrian sources and on trying to undermine the reliability of king and eponym lists.


In Chapter 11 (p. 183-195), F. tries to add years to the Neo-Assyrian Empire by attributing longer reigns to some kings (from dubious sources) or by confusing their rule in Babylonia or Assyria.


Chapter 12 (p. 196-212) treats the “last kings of Assyria and their Babylonian counterparts”. First, the identity of Kandalanu is discussed. F. proposes to identify him with Nabopolassar.

    On p. 203, F. stresses the many possible readings of cuneiform signs. But while this is true in a general way, it does not justify confusing signs which are different. There may be occurrences of nu which look like pap, and vice versa. But in principle there is a clear difference between them, as can be seen from Labat’s sign list. So taking the sign nu as pap and reading it as a logogram for naaru requires supporting evidence; otherwise it remains a reading mistake.

    As a next step, F. contends that the sign kan is similar to ag, and that therefore the beginning of the name Kandalanu can be read AG and refer to the god Nabű. No mention is made of the required divine determinative. I looked up p. 33 and No. 143 in Labat, and I do not see the similarity postulated by F.

    Having by two misreadings made the name Kan-da-la-nu somewhat similar to Nabű-apla-uur, F. still has to equate da-la with apla. The signs read ibila are NOT the same as tur (Labat 144); F. misunderstands Labat. peš and gal are not variants of the same sign; only peš-gal is attested as a (rare) logogram for aplu. F. then suggests that dal-la (sic; the signs written are da-la) could be a “direct reference to” aplu or synonymous with aplu because dallu is associated with the idea little. Actually, dallu means “inferior”.

    Confusion continues with the claim that kan could also be read šarru (LUGAL). Only a very sloppy LUGAL could approach the appearance of kan. However, this is not enough for F.: the reading šarru is replaced by bel, in order to produce a god’s name. In the next lines, Bel turns into Nabű without further discussion. The following paragraphs elaborate on how to make Bel (=Marduk) and Nabű synonyms. This is all added to confuse the reader more and more into making him believe that something real may be in these speculations. Just a philological note: F. keeps translating imperatives (uur “guard!”) by precative forms (“let ... save”); but there is a separate precative form in Akkadian, in this case liṣṣur.

    For one more text suggesting the impossibility of equating Kandalanu and Nabopolassar see ADRT vol. V, No. 52, where in col. II events in the time of Kandalanu are followed by events in the time of Nabopolassar, clearly considered separate persons.


Chapter 13 (p. 213-237) presents new chronological schemes of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. In the first paragraph, we read “the eclipse of the sun in the eponymy of Bur-Sagale can refer to any one of several eclipses”.

    The solar eclipse in the eponymy of Bur-Sagale had to be impressive because an unexpected solar eclipse will only be noticed when it is total or almost total; even when 95% of the sun is eclipsed there is no noticeable diminution of brightness.

    The importance of this eclipse for dating the Assyrian eponym list is widely assumed, and therefore efforts are made by some people to undermine it. I noticed such an attempt recently on “Wikipedia”, and commented on it in AoF 35 (2008) 323-325. For an English translation, see:  http://goto.glocalnet.net/kf4/dating.htm

    F. also negates its value. On p. 247 he says that it is an issue of “faith versus faith: Do we believe that the solar eclipse of 763 is the one reported in the eponymy of Bur-Sagale, or do we believe in the chronology of 2 Kings?” One can however date the eponym list astronomically by other means than the solar eclipse. As shown in the above-mentioned article, there are other astronomical tablets from the seventh and eighth centuries BC that independently of each other support the traditional chronology for this period, including the date established for the solar eclipse.

    We can therefore identify the solar eclipse in the eponym list as that of 763 BC. At the same time, the traditional chronology of Assyria in the 1st millennium BC remains correct. Occasional wrongly identified eponyms or kings’ names in dates cannot detract from this.

    Whether there exists a chronology in the Bible that contradicts the traditional Assyrian chronology can be left to Bible scholars. Whatever they find may be independent of Assyrian chronology, but cannot change it.




Chapter 14: “Egyptian Chronology” is dealt with on p. 238-245 very briefly. According to F., it cannot be absolutely dated and does not help to decide problems encountered in Babylonia and Assyria.


“Open-mindedness and the Study of Ancient Chronology”

The final chapter (15) talks of open-mindedness: since “any ancient chronological scheme is built on subjective interpretations, assumptions, and paradigms”, we should “manifest a humble attitude instead of insisting that our chronological scheme is the only correct one” (p. 246). F. then lists his main points why VAT 4956 is supposed not to be a usable chronological witness.

    In the end, F. reminds us that “we should weigh everything carefully” (p. 250). Having done so, and remembering the “spinach example”, I do not accept the many wrong arguments brought against the “traditional chronology” although these are printed in this book.



Appendix A:  An Analysis of the Ledger NBC 4897 from the Eanna Temple”

Appendix A (p. 251-262) was dealt with by C. O. Jonsson at:


    His result is: “The tablet NBC 4897 does show, clearly, that Nebuchadnezzar ruled for 43 years, and that his son and successor Amel-Marduk ruled for 2 years and was succeeded by Neriglissar”. The suspicions and suppositions of F. can therefore be disregarded.


“Appendix B:  An Analysis of the Celestial Positions of [the diary] BM 32312” (p. 263-270) 

F. uses the horizon system (altitude and azimuth) for planetary positions. This is not practical because one has to decide for which time of the night the positions are to be found. Whether an entry on the tablet is “right or wrong” could more easily be determined by longitude and latitude.

    Line i, 7: there is no day connected to this entry about Mercury’s and Saturn’s last appearances, but it is placed between the 14th and the 17th. As the text explicitly says, these phenomena were not observed because of bad weather. The guesses were not very good; for Mercury it is too early, for Saturn too late.

    Line i, 10: “it [Mars] came close” is not a vague formulation. As can be seen from line iv 15’f., “it came close” is the equivalent of a distance of 1 finger between the planet and a star. But even if it were a vague formulation, it does not necessarily imply calculation.

    I do not see why the words “lip” and “head” of the Scorpion suggest a zodiacal sign. On the contrary, they suggest an animal picture. A zodiacal sign would be referred to by “beginning” or “end”, if a more precise indication than just a sign was intended. Therefore, the inference (note 296) that there is an inconsistency between lines 10 and 12 (which is again used to suspect that the tablet was calculated backwards) is wrong.

    Line iii, 4’: “20” was marked as uncertain by a question mark and cannot be used for calculations.

    Line iv, 15’: “conjunction” means that two celestial bodies have the same longitude. This does not necessarily imply that they are very near to each other.

    “Front” of Aries was an attempt to read the signs at the beginning of the line. Of course, it would have to mean a specific star of Aries, otherwise a distance makes no sense. I have not tried to identify which star could have been meant.

    In footnote 300, F. puts forward the idea that an “astrologer wrote the words in order to cause his readers to believe that the tablet contained genuine observations”; characteristically, F. accuses the ancient scribe of lying.


“Appendix C:  An Analysis of [the diary] VAT 4956” (p. 271-333)

Section C1 (p. 271-274): “An analysis of the published drawing of the tablet”

P. 271: A drawing of VAT 4956 by E. F. Weidner is found in AfO, 1953, XVI:2, Tafel XVII. F. states that “the name of the one who made the drawing is not found in the periodical”, but that the drawing was made by Weidner is explicitly stated on page 220.

    F. first states that “the drawing is not accurate” because, while the picture of the reverse shows that the break on the tablet “continues up to the top of the tablet”, on the drawing it stops earlier, “perhaps going up to line 4”. But in this case it is the same as “up to the top of the tablet”, because a piece is broken out above line 4. So there is no fault with Weidner’s copy here.

    “The four other lines” were not drawn with help of a straight scale; especially the line after the first section of the obverse, and after the first section of the reverse as well, are quite similar to the line below line 11, except for the small interruption in the middle.

    I don’t know whether Weidner did his copy from a photo or from the original.

    P. 274: this is a comparison between Weidner’s copy and F.’s photo. In some cases, one can be uncertain. I note the following corrections to F.’s contentions:

    L 15: the three horizontal wedges in the vertical break are clearly visible, while F. sees only two. The vertical wedge is visible, but damaged by the break.

    L 16: the four horizontal wedges in the vertical break are seen, but vaguely. F. sees only two on his photo.

    I don’t understand the numbers 2:1, 2:3 etc. I tried to follow the horizontal break and find the signs from F.’s description.

    2:1: all six heads are visible in the horizontal break. F. sees none on his photo.

    2:3: two horizontal wedges are visible. F. sees none.

    2:4: F. sees no wedge on his photo. I don’t understand it. The wedges drawn are there.

    2:7: of the “three heads” on the copy, F. sees none on his photo. If the sign “3” is meant, just before the horizontal break meets the vertical one, three heads can be nicely seen on the enlarged photo on p.  279.

    4:3: if this is in line 19, to the left of the break, then 6 wedges are seen, 4 even on F.’s photo (p. 281).

    4:4: the drawing shows dele-bad across the break, which F. calls “misleading”, as his photo shows only parts of the signs. But even if the break goes right through the signs dele-bad, this is not that misleading because dele-bad is absolutely clear.

    5:6: yes, the right upper wedge of “6” is lost in the break. If Weidner made his copy from the original, and if he did it soon after the tablet came to the Museum, one could argue that he still saw the wedge, and that it was lost later.

    6:7: this seems to be line 21. Four horizontal wedges are seen on the drawing; on the photo, they are not clear (why?), but I would take them to be four, see again the enlargement on p. 286.

    6:8: this is probably the sign TU (KU4 in my edition). In Weidner’s copy, the head of a vertical wedge is drawn on the upper side of the break; I assume F. means this by horizontal wedge. Its head is in fact missing on F.’s photo, lost in the break. This time I clearly see this lost head on my photo, and it is also clear on the reproduction on plate 3 of my edition. So this wedge definitely has been lost after Weidner’s copying.

    7:1: this is on the edge; a photo is found on p. 288. The sign is a clear BAR, one vertical and one horizontal wedge.

    7:4: the sign is not that obscure. It can be kalag: the lower part is partly broken off, but the right end of the lower horizontal is still visible.

    8:4: Contrary to F.’s statement, parts of two oblique heads can be seen on the photo, even on the blurred one on p. 289.


    So much for Weidner’s copy. On the following pages, its supposed mistakes are criticized again; I shall not comment on this.


Section C2 (p. 274-291) poses the question:

Do the three pieces of VAT 4956 belong together?”

P. 274: “From line 7 to line 16, the signs ... are somewhat eroded or erased”. This is not the case.

    Table C.1 (p. 275, 276) contains “comments on the signs on the sides of the vertical break”. To these comments the following remarks have to be made:

    (Line) 3: the break goes through the number 19 but the reading is certain. F. tries to introduce an element of uncertainty by saying “we could have expected observations after day 19”. It is quite possible to have no observations for ten days.

    4: the sign gur is quite clear, in spite of the break going through it. The words to the left of the break and those on the right form a continuous, meaningful sequence (reporting on prices) which is very frequent in diaries. It is conclusive that both sides belong to the same tablet.

    6: Contrary to F.’s statement, there are only two horizontal wedges on the left side of the break; what he may have taken to be a wedge in the lower part of the sign is just a scratch. Also, there is no reason why the horizontal wedges should continue from the left side of the break to the right side. There are two horizontal wedges in the left part of the sign šap, and there are two or three in the right part, but those in the right part are not a continuation of the left ones, but start anew in the middle of the sign. Therefore, the alignment of the wedges can NOT suggest that the two pieces were not part of the same tablet.

    9: on the right side of the break, there is one horizontal, one oblique and one vertical wedge. This is exactly the shape of the sign qa. The description of qa given by F. (“one horizontal, and two oblique wedges”) is incorrect. All wedges required for the signs ib-bat-qa are correct and well visible.

    10: the break runs through the sign suhur; I don’t understand that there is no connection between right and left part. The wedges are NOT indistinct on the old photo, and Weidner’s copy represents them correctly. The somewhat abbreviated form of suhur used in the diaries can be seen e.g. on LBAT 176 rev. 4’ = No. -372 C rev. 4’ (ADRT I, p. 112, 113; see also photo on pl. 17 of the edition).

    11: I don’t see why there is no connection between left and right part: the number “1” is to the left of the break, and the measure gur is to the right of it.

    12: the sign ga2 is always slightly lower than hun, so the fact that they are of different height is of no significance. When talking about the sign hun, F. mistakes one vertical wedge to be a horizontal; thus he arrives at a wrong count. There is no vertical missing and no horizontal too much. Since the signs hun and ga2 form a meaningful word, there IS a connection between left and right part.

    13: The break is running through the first vertical wedge of the number “2”, and thus there IS a clear connection between left and right part.

    14: the sign a is clear on the photo, the upper vertical wedge is not lacking. The body of the upper horizontal wedge of kal is crossing the break; it is not lower on the right side than on the left. At least one of the two verticals in the middle is clearly visible on the photo. Therefore, this line does not speak against the left and right part belonging to one piece.

    15: the sign ulu3 is quite likely. There are, as expected, three horizontal wedges on the left. Two (or maybe three) small vertical wedges run through the lower two horizontals, again as expected. The final vertical’s head is damaged by the break, but part of the head and its body can be seen on the photo. This clearly speaks for the left and right part being on piece.

    16: the sign ge6 may not be seen by F., but most of it, three horizontals and one angular wedge, is clearly visible on the photo. There is an obvious continuation from left to right.

    17: there is no horizontal wedge continuing across the break as F. says. The right end of mah is damaged by the break, and the head of the horizontal wedge belonging to the sign “˝” is lost in the break. The rest of this horizontal is visible on the right side of the break. It is therefore meaningless to connect this horizontal to anything on the left side of the break, and the position of these traces has no bearing on the question of the two pieces being one tablet.


    The analysis of Table C1 shows that there are NO instances that speak against the one-piece possibility. It is quite clear that the two pieces form a single tablet.


 P. 277ff. F. examines the signs on the horizontal break on the reverse and contends that “in some cases the upper parts are displaced to the left and in others to the right, while most letters have no displacement at all”.

    Figure C.4 (p. 279-281) deals with the first 7 signs on line 18.

    1: the heads of the vertical wedges of the sign “6” are small, but clearly visible. There is a displacement between the upper and the lower row; but this is not due to a displacement of the parts of the tablet, but to the way the sign is written. The upper row tends to be displaced to the left, or be more to the left than the lower row; this is even the case with the example F. brings from the obverse. The “something like the head of a horizontal wedge” to the left is a crack; a small piece is broken away at the edge, which is why neither S/H nor N/W mentioned this.

    2: the sign is si, and is “indistinct” only on F.’s blurred photo which accompanies C.4 (I cannot avoid noting that only the photos of the reverse are blurred, while those from the obverse are nice and clear!) In speaking of the angle of the upper horizontal wedge, F. may have mistaken the break for a trace of the wedge. Otherwise, his comments are obscure to me; there is no displacement visible. So the most natural conclusion is that this sign is a nice si, and can easily be compared to the si photographed from the obverse.

    3: the sign IS e. The two horizontal wedges are visible even on F.’s photo. There is no angle difference as F. states. On my (published) photo the upper horizontal can be seen in its entirety above the break; no angles are to be compared. The “right horizontal line” can only represent one horizontal wedge; I do not see how it can be displaced. The assertion that the space of this sign is broader on the lower part than on the upper comes from the fact that the upper of the two verticals on the right of the sign e is usually farther to the left than the lower one. We have seen a similar usage in writing the number 6 at the beginning of the line.

    In the old photo, the parts of the sign fit together perfectly.

    4: the sign IS gu4. I do not see any displacement in the upper horizontal (for the supposed displacement in the preceding sign e, see above). The two angular wedges at the right end of gu4 can be nicely seen on the old photo. The proposed alternative readings make no sense.

    6: “The LOP [lower piece] and UP [upper piece] are perfectly joined together in this place, and this fact, together with the fact that there is no displacement in the previous sign, shows that the displacements on the other signs are real.” (p.281) I do not understand the logic of this statement.


P. 282ff. examines the signs along the right part of the horizontal break.

    Figure C.6 (line 18):

    1: it is a plausible conjecture to expect a measure after a number and before the words “below Venus”.

    2: the break is just above the right part of šap, and this is why nothing is seen on the upper part.

    3: dele-bad refers to Venus, not Mercury as F. states. The doubts voiced by F. about the sign bad are probably caused by the break going through the sign.

    5: the sign IS u3. The horizontal wedge of the “ši” part is visible, and the second part of the sign in Neo-Babylonian frequently has only three horizontal wedges, see Labat’s sign-list.


    Figure C.7 (line 19), p. 283, 284:

    1: F. says that the first part of a-kal “is not seen on the picture” (the close-up photo on p. 283). The sign is clear on the old photo, however, so the “picture” is irrelevant. I don’t know which a-kal on the obverse F. photographed, but the a-kal in line 6 looks very much like the one in rev. 19 – so NO difference in handwriting is discernible.

    3: the sign which F. copied from Labat is not in as he claims, but rab (L 149); the drawings in Labat are not aligned on the left and right page, but the situation is clarified by dashed lines. The correct Neo-Babylonian form of in corresponds well with the sign on the tablet. On a good photo (see S/H plate 3) the six angular wedges are visible.

    5: there is no doubt about the reading dele-bad. On F.s photo, it does indeed seem that parts of the two left wedges are displaced. On the old photo (S/H plate 3) there is no such displacement. If, as F. says, this “suggests that someone has tampered with the tablet”, then this happened after the old photo and the copy by Weidner were made. I very much hope that the displacement is only an artificial effect on F.’s photo.

    7: F. mentions possible different readings, but he does not propose a meaningful sentence to be derived from them. His proposals therefore have only the purpose to produce the impression of uncertainty.


    Figure C.8 (line 20), p. 285, 286:

    1: there is nothing strange about the two vertical wedges being deeper; the same is the case in the sign from the obverse compared by F.

    5: because F. took the wrong sign from Labat, the sign on the tablet looks different. There is NO doubt that it is in.

    6: see my remarks above on 5:6.

    7: the sign was a nice gu4 (see photo in S/H plate 3), so F.’s alternative readings are ruled out. If it really is damaged now, this happened after Weidner’s copy. But F.’s photo may just be blurred.


    Figure C.9 (line 21), p. 286, 287:

    1: F. questions the earlier reading of the sign: “The wedges of signs one, two, and three are obscure. We simply cannot know how many signs there are and where each sign starts and ends. So the reading of the three signs ur-bar-ra, as both N/W and S/H have, is simply conjecture.” (p. 286) This contention is ridiculous; the reading of former editors was not conjecture, but reading. The signs are not obscure (see photo in S/H plate 3), and their shapes conform to Labat’s list.

    2: the sign for bar is obscure on F.’s photo only.

    3: see above to 1.

    6: the reading of the sign (sip) is clear. On F.’s detail photo it is blurred; his large photo on p. 272 and the old photo in S/H are better.

    8: see my remarks above to 6:8 on p. 274. The four angular wedges are visible on the old photo, and I see them also on F.’s photo. So the sign IS ku4.


    Figure C.10 (upper edge), p. 287, 288:

    1: there are not two horizontal wedges as F. contends, but one vertical and one horizontal. Because the head of the vertical wedge is very wide, one could mistake its right tip for a horizontal wedge body. Again, the sign is better visible on the old photo, S/H plate 1. It IS bar.

    3: there are two horizontal wedges in this sign, not one as F. claims; the body of the upper one is not visible because the vertical wedges were drawn on top of it. The last vertical consists of two wedges on top of each other; I can see this even on F.’s picture. The “mark” below the horizontal wedge is very weak and certainly fortuitous; there are several such “marks” on the same picture which are certainly not intentional.

    4: see my remark above on 7:4 on p. 274.

    5: the sign may be obscure on F.’s picture, but it is a clear ma on the old photo.


    Figure C.11 (upper edge): See my remark above on 8:4 on p. 274.


Section C3 (p. 291-296):

“A difference in handwriting on the obverse and reverse sides”

There are always small differences possible in the handwriting of the same person. To show that handwritings are different, the differences must be clearly discernible and consistently used. Unfortunately, F. does not give the line numbers from which he took his examples. On the whole, there is a tendency to use blurred pictures, mostly of the reverse.

    usan: the differences are negligible; the same number of wedges is used.

    an-ki-an: the second horizontal of an on the right is small but visible. No remarkable difference otherwise.

    nu: the pictures are blurred and useless.

    si: the obverse sign does not have a horizontal wedge as F. claims, but a vertical one (as is required for si). The reverse sign is blurred and only partly photographed, so a comparison is not possible.

    kur4: the signs look similar to si above, but both pictures are blurred.

    dib: I don’t know which reverse sign is used but the picture is not clear. What can be seen is quite similar to the obverse sign.

    e: the reverse sign is indistinct on F.’s picture. For the obverse sign, F. again mistakes a vertical wedge for a horizontal.

    e3: a sign can be written more narrowly depending on how much space is available. I don’t see why F. believes that a different tool was used for the reverse.

    en: I don’t know what is “more ‘primitive’” in the reverse sign. Since the exact place is not given, one cannot look at the sign independently. The second vertical wedge does have a head even on F.’s photo, but it is less clear.

    gaz: the heads may look bigger on the picture but this probably comes from lighting. The lowest angular wedge is very similar in both signs; on the reverse, it is slightly longer.

    illu: the picture of the reverse is so bad that nothing can be compared.

    ku4: the missing angular wedges are only missing on the bad picture in the book.

    na: this time the obverse picture is useless. The shape of both signs is the same, but more cannot be seen.

    pisan: I don’t understand the comments of F. Both signs have two horizontal heads. Since the place where the signs are on the tablet is not indicated, comparison is impossible.

    In conclusion, there is NO evidence that two different scribes wrote obverse and reverse.


Section C4 (p. 296-300) asks:

“Is the name ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ and the numbers ‘37’ and ‘38’ original?”

The section begins with a repetition of F.’s suspicion that the tablet may have been tampered with. Then a photo is presented of the number 37 in line 1. This photo is blurred, but F. bases his discussion on it. The signs are not erased, but slightly damaged; the same happened to the signs at the end of line 1. F. says that the last part of the number “can be 7, if the sign represents a number”. No cuneiform sign other than the number 7 has this form, so the if-clause is superfluous and misleading. If F. had looked at the old photo (in S/H plate 3), he could have seen that there are three angular wedges, as is required for “30”. He could also have seen that the “mark that could be the rest of a fourth angular or oblique wedge” is probably a scratch. It is definitely impossible to read the number 50 or even 40. It is strange that no kam occurs after 37; but since kam is present in the other instances of year numbers on the tablet, this can be assumed to be a mistake of the scribe.

    F. makes much of the different appearance of the number 38 on the edge of the tablet when compared to other numbers “8”. However, this difference can be explained by the fact that this line is written on the edge. In order to write on the edge, the tablet must be held with the edge up, and the hand cannot be put on the tablet to find support in writing. But whether this explanation is true or not, the number is clearly 38. To assume a different tool is not necessary, but if so the tool can only have been a reed stylus. A drill or grinding machine would never have produced marks like those of a stylus. Since the 37 on the edge is quite normal, F. admits that it may be original, but still supposes that someone may have tampered with the tablet and in this case may have had “a better result than in the case with the number 38” (p. 299).

    On p. 300, F. says, “The conclusion is that there are several clues that the dates were incised into the tablet in modern times, but the evidence is not conclusive either way.” Rather, the conclusion must be that incisions made in modern times are not proven. There exist experts in such matters who could have determined with certainty by which tool the impressions were made. No such experts were consulted by F.


Section C5 (p. 300-316) considers the

“Identification of the celestial bodies”

Table C.2 examines the positions of planets and stars.

    (Line) 2: the sign an can refer to Mars as F. says, but not here where it is a determinative. In S/H, sim was assumed to be an abbreviation of sim-mah which is a word for swallow. The translation is literal, but from other texts it is known that the “swallow” is a part of Pisces. The other readings for the sign sim listed by F. are simply wrong, they refer to different signs. If the sign were damaged, one could think about these readings, but the sign is clear. Therefore, only the first two of F.’s six translation proposals are meaningful (“‘Saturn was in front of sim.’ ‘Saturn was in front of Pisces.’”).

    4: ana ūmi elű is a technical term for “acronychal rising”. Other translations are misunderstandings. The meaning of the text is certain. Acronychal rising in 568 BC is calculated for Month I, day 14. In 588 BC, it occurred in month VI; so 588 BC does not fit, contrary to F’s claim that “the information fits both 588 and 568”.

    9: genna is given in Labat only in its Assyrian form, but Labat states that it is composed of TUR+DIŠ. This has two vertical wedges, contrary to F.’s statement. On VAT 4956, the sign is composed of TUR in its Neo-Babylonian form plus DIŠ (a single vertical). The remaining comments of F. on the sign are all wrong.

    ina igi cannot mean “be visible”. If igi is to be read as a form of amaru, ina amari means “in seeing”. But here igi is to be read panu “front”.

    The comments on sim are as wrong as before. Similarly, F.’s comments on mah concern things not written on the tablet and can be disregarded. The remaining “possibilities” only exist as long as one does not try to produce a correct Akkadian sentence; once this is taken into account, the meanings are clear.

    10: The dele of dele-bad is clearly visible on the old photo. And the sign is NOT tar as F. states. The words about Venus are the remnants of an observation of the moon which is said to have stood to the west of Venus. The formulation is quite characteristic and can be found frequently in later diaries, for instance in No. ‑378:11’. F. says “The words can be interpreted in different ways and fit both 588 and 568 B.C.E.”; but in 588 Venus was a morning star which does not fit the text.

   10: the discussion of alla and ku4 introduces signs which are not visible on the tablet and are therefore of no significance. It has to be stressed however that ku4 is correctly written, and it looks exactly like the Neo-Babylonian form given in Labat.

    The comments about ud and du are an excellent example of how readers can be led by F. to think that there are possible meanings to the signs which have been overlooked by earlier translators. F. says on p. 304 that “using ‘Praesepe’ as a reference for alla is, to the best of my knowledge, without parallel in the other diaries, and should not be used”. But there are similar expressions in ADRT V No. 54 rev. III 17’ and 61 rev. III 16, where a translation “Praesepe” fits the context (and the astronomy). When I chose Praesepe as a more precise meaning of alla in this line, I did so because of the observations reported: within 2 days, Mars could not move through all of Cancer, so alla here may have meant only part of it, and Praesepe is possible, as already stated by N/W. On the other hand, a translation “the 5th, a tempest blew” is impossible because ud is never used for tempest in the diaries. e3 (ud.du), “to go out”, is natural after “to enter”.

    The position of Mars in Cancer is impossible in 588 BC, but the position is not wrong, contrary to F., for 568 BC.

    10: the ud sign does NOT have an extra oblique wedge to resemble pi as claimed by F.; this extra wedge is to be read ina. The remaining comments of F. about this sign are wrong. šu2 can mean “to set”, but ina šu2 can only mean “in the west”. It can also mean “during setting”, but that does not give a meaningful sentence.

    On the maš sign Furuli says, “The form of the sign is strange, and nothing is seen of a following tab sign” (p. 305). But maš is NOT strange, and the beginning of the following tab sign is clearly visible on the photo. The interpretation possibilities mentioned by F. do not exist. I restored “rose” which is not preserved on the tablet because a Mercury phenomenon is expected, and a first visibility in the west occurred on Ayyaru 12.

    11: in astronomical texts, lugal can NOT refer to Mars or α Centauri. As for the computations, it is unfortunate that F. chose the horizon system which varies throughout the night. In the ecliptic system, Venus is clearly above Regulus on the date in 568 BC, but somewhat less than one cubit.

    12: on Simanu 1 as given by F., Mercury and Mars were about 8° in longitude from Regulus, which corresponds well to 4 cubits. By choosing the horizon coordinates, F. gets confusing results.

    13: as I stated in the Diaries edition, there are problems with understanding šer-tam DIB; but there are no problems in identifying the signs, contrary to the confusing comments by F. dib does NOT lack its vertical wedge, it is just below the uppermost horizontal.

    13: si4: it may not be possible for F. to know which sign is written, but it IS si4 and means Antares. Why is the sign dele said to be not connected with bad? If one connects it to the sign before, no meaning appears. To list possible meanings of bad which are not applicable here, only produces confusion.

    tar is not strange, but a frequent Neo-Babylonian form of the sign. Of course good grammar would require ana tari, but case endings are not well observed in Neo-Babylonian.

    kun may be zibbatu, but giš.kun is rapaštu. So giš.kun here cannot refer to Pisces, and rapaštu is a well-known part of the lion constellation. ur is not difficult to interpret, but difficult to explain away. The sign is there, and it confirms that we are dealing with a star in the Lion.

    3’: Of the mul sign, F. says: “The sign is strange and difficult to identify. … The sign mul and the following four signs would hardly have been read as N/W and S/H do if Capricorni were not already calculated to be the star mentioned” (p. 309). But mulx is NOT a strange sign; it is AB2. It occurs several times on this tablet (and also on others) as a sign for “star”. The wedges of murub4 are not indistinct but clear; there is a small damage to the uppermost part of it but no wedge is lost. ša2 is not erased but partly broken. Of si, the upper horizontal is broken, not erased; the sign can be identified. maš2 looks as expected (and frequently found in diaries), see the Neo-Babylonian form in Labat No. 76. I do not understand why Weidner, Sachs and I are considered not competent enough to find the correct reading without computation.

    5’: ki is certain. ir is exactly as it should be in Neo-Babylonian; F.’s statement that ir has three vertical wedges is correct only for Neo-Assyrian, so his comments are irrelevant.

    The sign bil is not erased, but the end is broken. bil has two horizontal wedges in the beginning, and so does the sign here; F.’s statement that it has only one horizontal is wrong. pa can NOT be read giš, and the following sign is not da, so considering Hyades is groundless. F.’s translations are to be discarded.

    6’: suhur is somewhat abbreviated in the diaries, but the form seen here is frequent. maš2 looks exactly how the sign should look in Neo-Babylonian (see Labat), it is not unclear. While “the full name of Capricorn” is “suhur maš2”, maš2 is the usual abbreviation in the diaries and other astronomical texts.

    As for the position of Venus, “below” is probably a mistake for “above” because Venus almost never has a sufficiently negative latitude in Capricorn to be below γ or δ Cap. As usual, F. suspects calculation.

    19’: dele-bad was discussed above for Figure C.7.

    ana is NOT erased but complete and clear. dur is NOT erased but slightly damaged. It is quite possible to see it.

    sim is not strange, but has the required form for Neo-Babylonian; no wedges are missing. The same is true for mah; it looks exactly as the example in Labat.

    Of the sign for ku4, F. says, “The sign has some resemblance with ku4, but there are several differences as well” (p. 312). ku4 has so much resemblance with ku4 that it can only be ku4.

    An observation of this kind can help to find where the “band” connecting one fish to the other lies, but it cannot be proven correct.

    20’: for the supposedly invisible gu4 see my remarks on Figure C.8 above.

    There is a horizontal scratch below the dele of dele-bad. One cannot form igi out of this and the preceding u as does F. dele cannot be interpreted as idim; bad might be, but it makes no sense here. The gods mentioned by F. would have to be identified by the divine determinative. Only the reading dele-bad for Venus is possible. Of the name Anunitu, the signs a and nu are preserved (as can also be picked out on F’s photo on p. 272). The “conjecture” to restore Anunitu is based on the fact that a “band” is mentioned before. So the restoration is not ‘nothing but conjecture’ (p. 312), but is based on reasonable grounds.


Table C.4 (p. 315-316):

Alternate interpretations of the cuneiform signs

    Most of the errors in this table have already been dealt with above.

    Nisanu 1: only one interpretation about Pisces is possible.

    Nisanu 11 or 12: only “acronychal rising” is possible.

    Ayyaru 1 Saturn: see above on Table C.2; all translations by F. are wrong.

    Ayyaru 1 Mercury: only “was not visible” is correct.

    Ayyaru 3: the sign is Cancer; all other translations are wrong.

    Ayyaru 10: only “Mercury in the west” is possible.

    Ayyaru 18: see above on Table C.2 on line 11. lal2 means “to weigh”, not “to bind up”.

    Simanu 1-5: most of F.’s translations are impossible.

    Tebetu 19: β Capricorni is certain.

    Šabatu 1: F.’s translations are wrong; the only name that can be restored is Sagittarius.

    Šabatu 4: Capricorn is certain.

    Addaru c. 20 and 26: Venus and Mercury are certain.


    The conclusion is that F.’s “alternatives” are based on misunderstandings.


Section C6 (p. 316-333) discusses

“the lunar observations”

The treatment of the lunar data by F. has been examined by C. O. Jonsson at the internet address http://goto.glocalnet.net/kf2/review.htm. Jonsson proves that the data fit 568/7 BC, and not 588/7 BC as claimed by F.

    I do not need to add anything to Jonsson’s calculations with which I agree completely. Only a few remarks on translation:

    Nisanu 1: It may seem unnecessary to remark on this, but the ingressive meaning “became visible” is deduced from the most likely reading innamir of the verb, and from the fact that the moon was not visible on the days before, so it “became visible” again.

    Ayyaru 1: “the moon in the sun standing” is pseudo-literal because it is not correct English – or may be understood as “the moon standing inside the sun”. The Akkadian infinitive construction ina šamši uzuzzi can be translated as “during the standing of the sun”; I tried to render this intelligible by using “while the sun stood there”. See W. von Soden, Grundriss der akkadischen Grammatik, § 150 g.

    Simanu 5: I cannot find qararu “thick” in the modern Akkadian dictionaries. Anyway, in the phrase “thick end”, the adjective would have to follow the substantive in Akkadian. There is also a ša2 between kur4 and til. So the correct translation remains “the bright star at the end of the Lion’s foot”.

    Addaru 1: F. argues that, “The expression ‘at that time’ in connection with Jupiter is interesting, because it suggests that the planet positions are taken from a different source than the lunar positions” (p. 329). There is no reason to assume that the planet positions are taken from a different source. inūšu (“at that time”) begins a new sentence, so the position of Jupiter is independent of the moon.


It may be interesting to mention an entirely different approach to evaluate the lunar data.

    In Under One Sky: Astronomy and Mathematics in the Ancient Near East (J. M. Steele and A. Imhausen [eds.], Münster 2002), pp. 423-428, F. R. Stephenson and D. M. Willis have evaluated the lunar data in VAT 4956 and come to the conclusion that the date 568/7 BC can be “confidently affirmed”.

    Stephenson and Willis used the “Lunar Three” to check the date. These are the following time intervals: sunset to moonset (SS-MS) on the first evening of the month; sunrise to moonset (SR-MS) on the first morning on which the almost full moon set after sunrise; and moonrise to sunrise (MR-SR) on the last morning on which the moon was visible before conjunction. I repeat the table from p. 424 of their article:


Year 568/7 BC, beginning April 22/23



Julian Date







568 May 5







568 Jun 17







568 Jun 20







567 Feb 12







567 Mar 14







567 Mar 26






    As Stephenson and Willis say, each interval increases by about 12° per day, so the correct day can usually be identified by comparing text with computation. I have repeated their computations for 568/7 BC, and I agree with their results. In the following, I do the same computations for the year 588/7 BC, both for the dates given by Parker & Dubberstein, and for those claimed by F., which are shifted by about one month.


Year 588/7 BC, beginning April 3/4



Julian Date







588 Apr 17/18!







588 May 28/29







588 Jun 1/2







588 Jun 15/16







587 Jan 24/25







587 Feb 23/24







587 Mar 7/8!







Year 588/7 BC, beginning May 2/3



Julian Date







588 May 16/17!







588 Jun 27/28!







588 Jul 1/2!







588 Jul 15/16!







587 Feb 22/23







587 Mar 24/25







587 Apr 6/7!






The dates with an exclamation mark disagree with the calendar, in the sense that the measurements of the intervals could not have been taken on the date given on the tablet if the tablet were referring to year 588/7. The differences between text and computation are in both cases much larger than in 568/7 BC. Using the words of Stephenson and Willis, 588/7 BC can be confidently excluded.



“Appendix D:  The Use of Names in Akkadian” (p. 334-336)

Appendix D, “The Use of Names in Akkadian”, only produces uncertainties by providing examples of misreadings of such names even by competent scholars, or by differing opinions on damaged passages. The forms of the name of the Babylonian king Nabű-kudurru-uur in the Bible cannot be used to make any statements about the Akkadian name because the scribes of the Bible need not have understood the name and could easily have misspelled it. So this is no justification for attributing two names to the king.

    I have commented above on the interpretation of names for which this appendix is supposed to prepare the way.


“Appendix E:  A Saturn Tablet Supposedly from the Reign of Kandalanu” (p. 337-351)

Appendix E concerns a tablet published by C. B. F. Walker concerning Saturn. F. begins by listing only the completely preserved signs, giving translations of these. Broken passages are only partly indicated, so this table gives an unclear impression of what is on the tablet. There are also errors in the translations.

    The following has to be said to F.’s comments:

    Line 1: the sign in question looks more like nu than like pap, because the head of the crossing oblique wedge is below the horizontal; F.’s statement of the contrary is falsified by the copy. This applies to all three occurrences of this sign; it is ALWAYS nu. If F. can bring evidence from somewhere else (photo?), this would have to be clearly stated. Therefore, assuming the possibility that Nabopolassar was mentioned in line 1 is without basis.

    Line 4: Walker does NOT take nu to mean “not seen” but restores igi after nu.

    Line 6: How VAT 4956 writes mul is of no importance for the present tablet. There is more than one way to write the star determinative.

    Line 7: F.’s translation “in the end of month IV cloud not” is wrong because he left out part of the line; the correct translation is: “in the end of month IV, last appearance; clouds, not observed”.

    Line 8: the scribe would show his incompetence by using NIM to indicate “morning” since first appearances of Saturn are always in the morning. The signs mean “it was high” (šaqâ = NIM-a), which is frequent in diaries.

    Line 9: given the calendar dates, it is superfluous to entertain meanings like “cloud over” and “be dark”; the dates clearly refer to last appearances, as F. accepts anyway.

    Line 15: “Year 8 month VI, day 5 behind AB.SIN going down”; F. does not translate that month VI was intercalary; ŠU2 is not “going down”.

    Line 16: if Saturn was between Virgo and Libra, the restoration ina [DAL]-BAN is a good idea by Walker.

    Line 18’: writings that combine syllables and logograms do occur occasionally. ša3 is libbu, correctly translated by Walker as “within”.

    Line 20’: ba-il means “it was bright”; the word cannot refer to “ruler” in Akkadian.

    Line 23’: the translation of muššuh may be open to discussion, but “Hydra” is out of the question because ŠU2 occurs already before it; the indication of where the planet was at last appearance would have preceded ŠU2. ‘Hydra’ is impossible also because, if Saturn was near Antares (Scorpius) in Year 11, and was gradually moving into the region of Ophiuchus/Sagittarius about a year later in Year 12, how could it suddenly jump 30+ degrees in the opposite direction back to Hydra in the intervening months?

    On p. 340 F. makes the erroneous statement that words referring to body parts of constellations were not possible in the 7th century because they would require knowledge of the different signs of the zodiac. I don’t understand how he arrives at this opinion; maybe a misunderstanding of the difference between zodiacal constellations and zodiacal signs is the reason.

    On p. 341 F. gives coordinates for Saturn and ε Leonis in several years which are 59 years apart. He then says that in 646 “Saturn was not in the head of the Lion but 7° below”. This is unavoidable because Saturn’s latitude can never be more than 2.9°, and ε Leonis has a latitude of 9.5°. In addition, the use of the horizon coordinate system obscures the situation because its coordinates change in the course of the night. Walker used ecliptic coordinates; the longitude of Saturn is a much better indicator of how close the planet was to the star. F. also ignores that first and last appearances do not have to happen close to a star but can happen a few degrees away from it. The observer will tend to use well-known stars as reference. Therefore, unless distances between Saturn and a star are given, it is not meaningful to look for a “fit”.

    Year 2: Saturn is half a degree behind ε Leonis, so referring to the “head of the Lion” is correct.

    Year 4: “in the middle of the Lion” is correct because the Lion’s head (ε) is at 104° and its rear foot (β Vir) at 140° longitude.

    Year 6: that Saturn was much lower than β Virginis was not important; but Saturn was also much behind it.  

    Year 7: Saturn is a little bit (0.2°) behind α Virginis.

    Year 8, last appearance: Saturn was 8° behind α Virginis, therefore “behind the Furrow” as the tablet states. There is no other bright star to refer to. The distance in latitude is only 4°.

    Year 9: F.’s doubt of the reading is not necessary.

    Year 10: while the later diaries speak of the “head of the Scorpion” and this tablet has “forehead of the Scorpion”, it is nevertheless likely that β Scorpii is meant. Its longitude is 207.1°, so Saturn is in front of it; and its latitude is 1.34°, not much different from 2.2° which is given in Walker’s text for Saturn.  

    Year 12: since it is not known which star of Sagittarius (and Ophiuchus) was meant by “beginning/head” and “middle” of Pabilsag, one cannot state that “the position of Saturn is wrong”. Walker mentioned two stars (β Ophiuchi [p. 72] and θ Ophiuchi [p. 74]) which would have been in the appropriate position, but we do not know their Akkadian names. Assumptions about backward calculation are not required by the text.

    Year 13: see year 12.

    Contrary to F.’s claim on p. 345, of thirteen positions one is wrong (year 7), one is strange (year 6), two cannot be verified (year 12 and 13), and seven fit well. There is no reason to assume backward calculation on the basis of the two non-fitting data.


    Table E.2 (p. 346-347) gives the differences between last and first appearances in the text and according to calculation. “In the text” means that the year number is assumed to be regnal years of Kandalanu (by Walker) or regnal years of Nabopolassar (by F.). There are, as is to be expected, differences between text and calculation, and F. admits (p. 349) that with his proposal there are higher differences. But he not only considers this not decisive, he simply asserts that both(!) proposals “corroborate retrocalculation”. And even the sequence of intercalary months, briefly discussed on p. 350, is assumed to have been a product of the scribe who did the backward calculations.


Appendix F:  Which Positions Could Be Calculated?” (p. 352-362)

First F. quotes several modern scholars who state their belief that positions could be predicted. This means that future positions could be calculated in advance. F. however takes these statements to justify his belief that positions were calculated backwards. On p. 353, last paragraph, he also introduces the suspicion that a scribe by means of backward calculation wanted to give his readers a misleading impression that the other positions were observed. The statement that weather conditions were predicted in the Goal Year texts is wrong; there are no details of weather in them. The only weather that is quoted is “clouds” within the context of past observations to explain the lack of some data.

    On p. 355, F. quotes D. Brown as a source for the conclusion “that there is no evidence from the letters and reports with astrological contents that a detailed knowledge of the cycles of the moon and planets existed at that time”. But this is exactly why the texts from this time (even if preserved in copies) will contain observations, and only very rarely predictions.

    In the following pages, passages from the astrological correspondence of the Assyrian kings of the 7th century are used to find whether the constellations along the ecliptic were seen as animals. There are several misquotes here, and F. did not realize that the word for “star” is used for whole constellations as well. Thus his conclusion that the constellations of the 7th century had a different reference than the zodiacal signs of the second half of the 1st millennium is without foundation. As he correctly quotes, the zodiac of 12 signs of equal length was introduced in the 5th century; before that, a number of constellations along the ecliptic were used whose sizes were different from each other and cannot easily be determined.

    On p. 359, F. claims that “no scholar would deny that backward calculations did occur”. But the scholars he quotes speak only of “predicting”, not backward calculation. F. adduces the Goal Year texts as examples, quoting D. Brown. But Brown again only speaks of “predicting”. The Goal Year texts collect, from earlier diaries, those data for each planet which are one whole period in the past of the Goal year. So these texts make predictions for the future by means of past observations. There is no need to make calculations of the past; the scribes had the records of past observations, and they used them to predict future phenomena. To try to calculate positions in the past must have seemed superfluous to the authors of the Goal Year texts.

    Therefore, the “evidence” for backward calculation is based only on modern suspicion.


    The author states in his preface: “No claim is made that the Oslo chronology is the only true and reliable chronology”. Herewith the claim is made that the Oslo chronology is NOT a true and reliable chronology.


An Emotional Section:


At the end, I feel I have to add an emotional section. On p. 290f., we read:


    “A consideration of the data above together with the unusual publication history of the tablet leads to the following hypothesis: VAT 4956 is an authentic cuneiform tablet that was copied from older tablets in one of the last centuries B.C.E. It came to the Vorderasiatische Museum in Berlin in 1906 as one single entity. Someone discovered that the tablet was extremely important because it was an astronomical tablet with the hitherto oldest astronomical observations. These observations seemed to fit year 37 of Nebuchadnezzar II according to the chronology of Ptolemy, but a clear connection with Nebuchadnezzar II was lacking. In order to make this connection perfectly clear, the one working with the tablet used a modern grinding machine on the edge of the tablet, thus incising the signs for ‘year 37’ and ‘year 38.’ The first line with the name of the king was also manipulated. Because of the vibration, the tablet broke into three pieces, which were then glued together. It was discovered that the fit of the signs on both sides of the break on the reverse side was not perfect, and a grinding machine was used to try to remedy this.”


And on p. 333:


    “The following principal conclusions can be drawn on the basis of the discussion of VAT 4956: The Diary may be a genuine tablet made in Seleucid times, but in modern times someone has tampered with some of the cuneiform signs, or, the tablet was made in modern times; the obverse side was made by the help of a mold, and the signs on the reverse side and the edges were written by someone. Because of the excellent fit of all 13 lunar positions in 588/87, there are good reasons to believe that the lunar positions represent observations from that year, and that the original lunar tablet that was copied in Seleucid times was made in 588/87. Because so many of the planetary positions are approximately correct, but not completely correct, there are good reasons to believe that they represent backward calculations by an astrologer who believed that 568/67 was year 37 of Nebuchadnezzar II. Thus, the lunar positions seem to be original observations from 588/87, and the planetary positions seem to be backward calculations for the positions of the planets in 568/67.”


This conclusion accuses an unnamed person of criminal acts: this person at least “has tampered with some of the cuneiform signs”, but may even have faked half of the tablet. Since the tablet reached the Vorderasiatische Museum in 1906 and was published in 1915 in the condition reflected by the photo in the Museum’s archives, the accusation concerns any people working there at this time, including e. g. Ernst Weidner. In defence of him and all others possibly involved, I state that the accusation is utterly groundless, and I express my disgust of an author whose “open-mindedness” leads him to such accusations.


Hermann Hunger









ADRT I (S/H) – Sachs, A. J. and H. Hunger, Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylonia, Vol. I: Diaries from 652 B.C. to 262 B.C. (Wien: Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1988).


ADRT II (S/H) – Sachs/Hunger, ibid., Vol. II: Diaries from 261 B.C. to 165 B.C. (Wien 1989).


ADRT III (S/H) – Sachs/Hunger, ibid., Vol. III: Diaries from 164 B.C. to 61 B.C. (Wien 1996).


ADRT V (S/H) – Sachs/Hunger, ibid., Vol. V: Lunar and Planetary Texts (Wien 2001).


ADRT VI – Hunger, ibid., Vol. VI: Goal Year Texts (Wien 2006).


AfO, 1953 – Archiv für Orientforschung, Band XVI, Zweiter Teil (1953).


AoF 35 – Altorientalische Forschungen, Vol. 35 (2008).


Brinkman, J. A., A Political History of Post-Kassite Babylonia, 1158-722 B.C. (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1968).


Brown, D., Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy-Astrology (Groningen: Styx Publications, 2000).


Diaries – see ADRT I, II, and III.


Grayson, A. K., Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (Locust Valley, N.Y.: J. J. Augustin, 1975; reprinted by Eisenbrauns, 2000).


Huber, Peter J., and Salvo De Meis, Babylonian Eclipse Observations from 750 BC to 1 BC (Milano: Mimesis, 2004). 


Jonsson, C. O., The Gentile Times Reconsidered, 4th ed. (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 2004).


Jursa 1997 – Jursa, Michael, “Neu- und spätbabylonische Texte aus den Sammlungen der Birmingham Museums und Art Gallery,” Iraq, Vol. LIX (1997), p. 97-174. Tablet No. 47.


Kudlek, M., and E. H. Mickler, Solar and Lunar Eclipses of the Ancient Near East from 3000 B.C. to 0 with Maps (Kevelaer: Verlag Butzon & Bercker, 1971).


Labat – Labat, René, and Florence Malbran-Labat, Manuel d’épigraphie akkadienne, 6th ed. (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1988).


LBAT – Sachs, A. J., Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts (Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University Press, 1955).


mulAPIN – A cuneiform document comprising two tablets summarizing the astronomical knowledge before the seventh century B.C. Some forty copies have been found, the oldest dated copy of which is from 687 B.C. The original was probably composed about the beginning of the first millennium B.C. Translated and discussed by H. Hunger and D. Pingree, MUL.APIN: An Astronomical Compendium in Cuneiform (Archiv für Orientforschung, Beiheft 24; Verlag Ferdinand Berger and Söhne, Horn, Austria, 1989).


N/W – Neugebauer, P. V., and E. F. Weidner, “Ein astronomischer Beobachtungstext aus dem 37. Jahre Nebukadnezars II. (-567/66),” Berichte über die Verhandlungen der Königl. Sächsischen Gesellschaft  der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig: Philologisch-Historische Klasse, Band 67:2, 1915, pp. 29-89.


Parker, R. A., and W. H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C. – A.D. 75 (Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University Press, 1956; reprinted by Wipf & Stock Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 2007).


Parpola, Simo, Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal, Part II: Commentary and Appendices (Kevelaer – Neukirchen-Vluyn: Butzon & Bercker – Neukirchener Verlag, 1983; reprinted by Eisenbrauns 2007). (A number of Simo Parpola’s volumes are available on the web:



Steele, J. M. and A. Imhausen (eds.), Under One Sky. Astronomy and Mathematics in the Ancient Near East (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2002).


Stephenson, F. R., and D. M. Willis, “The Earliest Datable Observation of the Aurora Borealis,” in J. M. Steele and A. Imhausen (eds.), Under One Sky. Astronomy and Mathematics in the Ancient Near East (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2002), pp. 421-428.


Walker, C. B. F., “Babylonian observations of Saturn during the reign of Kandalanu,” in N. M. Swerdlow (ed.), Ancient Astronomy and Celestial Divinations (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London: The MIT Press, 2000), pp. 61-76. Christopher Walker’s discussion of the Saturn tablet is also available on the web: http://www.caeno.org/_Eponym/pdf/Walker_Saturn%20in%20Kandalanu%20reign.pdf.