Comments on Chapter III:

"The languages and script of the original documents"


III-A.  Linguistic pitfalls


In this chapter, Furuli says little about chronology. He starts by describing some of the basic features of the Akkadian, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Sumerian languages, with a view to discussing "to which extent the signs and peculiarities of a language may be the cause of some of the contradictory chronological evidence that we find." (p. 47) He gives Akkadian the most space and gives the other three languages just a few paragraphs.


On pages 49-56, Furuli provides general information about Akkadian signs for words, syllables, and numbers. In the middle of this discussion, on pages 52-54, he attempts to identify Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, as a deification of Nimrod. This is an old theory suggested by Julius Wellhausen in the late 19th century and subsequently picked up by many others, including Alexander Hislop in The Two Babylons (1916, 2nd ed. 1959, footnote on p. 44). It was adopted for some time by the Watchtower Society, which presented it in the book "Babylon the Great Has Fallen!" God's Kingdom Rules! (1963, pp. 33, 34) with arguments similar to those Furuli quotes from The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, The Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Jewish Encyclopedia, and The Two Babylons. The theory was included in the Watchtower Society's Bible dictionary Aid to Bible Understanding (1971, p. 668) but was dropped in the revised 1988 edition, Insight on the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 974). It was still briefly mentioned in The Watchtower magazine of April 1, 1999, on page 11.


On the modern reading and understanding of Akkadian, Furuli feels that, although, generally speaking, "we can have confidence in the translations of cuneiform tablets that have been published in English, German, French and other languages … it is important to be aware of the pitfalls" (p. 56). The pitfalls Furuli lists are: (1) the difficulty of piecing together broken tablets,  (2) the reconstruction of only partially legible signs, (3) the changed meaning of some signs through time, (4) the confusion of similar signs, and (5) the difficulty of correctly reading very small single signs. (p. 58)


Modern Akkadian scholars who have spent decades examining cuneiform tablets are aware of these and other pitfalls, but Furuli's experience in this area seems to be limited. Although he says that he is "able to read and work with original documents in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Akkadian" (p. 14), he seems to have examined the majority of the tablets he discusses or refers to only second or third hand, by consulting published copies, transcriptions, transliterations, and translations in works written by other scholars—some of which date from the late 19th century. That is evidently why, in the Introduction, Furuli says he is "interested to be informed about tablets where collation indicate [sic] errors in the published transliterations or transcriptions." (p. 14, ftn. 5; cf. also p. 58, ftn. 67) If such tablets are used in a scholarly work in support of a revised chronology, the collations should precede, not follow, publication. This stipulation is particularly important for a work that the author claims is aimed at replacing Parker and Dubberstein's classical study from 1956 on Babylonian Chronology.


For many years, I have asked modern Akkadian scholars to collate original tablets with odd dates in published translations, including a number of those used by Furuli and his coreligionists in support of their alternative chronology, often with disastrous results for the suggested revisions. Therefore, when Furuli claims that "scores of tablets have been published with anomalous dates, particularly in the New Babylonian Empire" (p. 58), it would be interesting to know which tablets he is referring to and to what extent he has had their dates collated afresh.


III-A-1:  The mysterious Marduk-shar-usur


As one example of "possible reading errors," Furuli refers on page 60 to a Neo-Babylonian tablet that Chad W. St. Boscawen found in 1877 among the Egibi tablets that had just arrived at the British Museum from Iraq. The tablet was dated to day 23, month 9 (Kislev), year 3 of a Neo-Babylonian king, whose name Boscawen first read as Marduk-sar-uzur.


Boscawen placed the name in a separate Addenda of a paper that was read before The Society of Biblical Archaeology in London on June 5, 1877. At a discussion held the following month (not the next year, as Furuli writes), on July 3, 1877, Boscawen stated that, on further examination, he had arrived at the conclusion that Marduk-sar-uzur "is a variant name for Nergal-sar-uzur" (i.e., Neriglissar). He explained:


"When we have some 2,000 tablets to go through, and to read names, which, as everyone who has studied Assyrian knows, is the most difficult part, because it is not easy always to recognize the same name, as it may be written four or five different ways, you may judge it is an arduous task. I have copied two apparently different names; but afterwards found them to be variants of the same name." (Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology (TSBA), Vol. VI, 1878, p. 78 and pp. 108-111)


Attempting to extend the Neo-Babylonian period (as required by the Watchtower Society's chronology), Furuli had argued in an earlier paper that Marduk-shar-usur must have been an extra, unknown king who ruled for at least three years during the Neo-Babylonian period. I discussed this idea at length in Supplement to The Gentile Times Reconsidered (1989), pp. 20-24. (See also the comments on Marduk-shar-usur in GTR4, App. for Ch. 3, ftn. 24.) Because Boscawen did not give the BM number of the tablet, it could not be identified and collated at that time. But in his new book, Furuli identifies the tablet as BM 30599, a transliteration and translation of which is published as No. 83 in Ronald H. Sack's Neriglissar—King of Babylon (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1994, pp. 224, 225). Furuli's identification seems convincing: The date on BM 30599 is the same as that given by Boscawen, "month Kislev, 23rd day, in the third year." Boscawen further adds that "the contracting parties are Idina-Marduk son of Basa, son of Nursin; and among the witnesses, Dayan-Marduk son of Musezib." (TSBA VI, p. 78) The same individuals also appear on BM 30599 (the latter not as a witness but as an ancestor of the scribe). Sack, however, reads the royal name on the tablet not as Marduk-shar-usur but as Nergal-šarra-usur (transliterated dU+GUR-LUGAL-SHESH).


But Furuli seems unwilling to give up the idea that an unknown Neo-Babylonian king named Marduk-shar-usur might have existed. Not only does he argue that the cuneiform signs for Nergal and Marduk can be confused but also that this "can work both ways," so that "it is possible that Boscawen's reading was correct after all" and also that it cannot be excluded that some of the tablets ascribed to Nergal-shar-usur should have been read as Marduk-shar-usur. (p. 62)


To determine whether such confusion is possible, I sent an email message to C. B. F. Walker at the British Museum and asked him to collate the original tablet (BM 30599). In his answer, he states:


"I have just taken BM 30599 out to check it, and I do not see how anyone could read the name as anything other than dU+GUR-LUGAL-SHESH. A reading Marduk-shar-usur would seem to be completely excluded. Our records show that the tablet was baked (and cleaned?) in 1961, but it had been published by T G Pinches in the 5th volume of Rawlinson's Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, plate 67 no. 4 in a copy which clearly shows dU+GUR. It was also published by Strassmaier in 1885 (Die babylonischen Inschriften im Museum zu Liverpool: Brill, Leiden, 1885) no. 123, again clearly with dU+GUR. So the reading cannot be put down to our cleansing the tablet in 1961, if we did." (Walker to Jonsson, October 15, 2003)


An anonymous Jehovah's Witness scholar from South America, who has been investigating this subject, has since written to a number of Assyriologists around the world about the matter. None of the 11 scholars who responded agree with Furuli's suppositions. One of them, Dr. Cornelia Wunsch in London, who also personally collated the original tablet, pointed out that "the tablet is in good condition" and that there is "no doubt about Nergal, as published in 5R 64,4 by Pinches. More than 100 years ago he already corrected the misreading by Boscawen." She also explains that "Boscawen was not a great scholar. He relied heavily on the notes that G. Smith had taken when he first saw the tablets in Baghdad." (Cf. GTR4, Ch. 3, B-3a, ftn. 67)


Clearly, Furuli has been trying to make too much of Boscawen's misreading of this tablet, partly because he had not collated, or asked anyone to collate, the original tablet before he published his book and evidently also, as shown by his comments, because his knowledge of Akkadian is insufficient.


III-A-2:  A second witness to a Neo-Babylonian king Marduk-shar-usur?


In further support of the possible existence of a king named Marduk-shar-usur, Furuli refers to "another tablet from New Babylonian times (BM 56709) dated on the 12th day, month x, in the 1st year of a king whose name starts with Marduk, but where the rest is broken. This king is unknown." (p. 61) This text is listed in the Catalogue of the Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum (CBT), Vol. 6 (London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1986, p. 215). In an unpublished list of "Corrections and additions to CBT 6-8" (Mon, Mar 18, 1996), which Walker keeps at the British Museum, Walker gives the following comments on the text:


"56709    Marduk-[…] 12/–/1    Dated at Borsippa. CT 55, 92 (not CT 56, 356).

                                                    The tablet is probably early Neo-Babylonian."


Note the word "probably" and the words "early Neo-Babylonian." This is a suggestion. Furthermore, scholars often use the term "Neo-Babylonian" to describe a more extended period than 625-539 BCE. The Assyrian Dictionary, for example, starts the period at about 1150 BCE and ends it in the 4th century BCE. (see GTR4, Ch. 3, ftn. 1) Maybe this is how Walker uses the term here. The names of about a dozen Babylonian kings between ca. 1150 and 625 BCE begin with Marduk-, including Marduk-apla-iddina II (the Biblical Merodach-Baladan, Isa. 39:1, who ruled in Babylon twice, 721-710 and 703 BCE), and Marduk-zakir-shumi II (703). Thus, as the royal name is only partially legible and we don't know exactly to which period the tablet belongs, it is useless for chronological purposes.



The examples above show how important it is to have the original tablets collated before using seemingly odd dates or royal names found in published translations to support chronological revisions. They also show that such readings should be done by experienced scholars who are linguistically competent.