Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Does Vat 4956 Prove 587?

Many point to Vat 4956 as proof that Jerusalem was desolated in 587BCE. After all Vat 4956 is an eyewitness account of celestial phenomena that occured in the 37th year of Neb. It is so detailed that the astronomical events that are recorded in this tablet could have only occured in the year 568BCE. And since it was written in the 37th year of Neb.....Wait! What's that you say? It was not written in the 37th year of Neb by an eyewitness to the celestial events?

Well, maybe not. But it was observed in the 37th year of Neb and written a little while later while Neb was still king or shortly thereafter during the rule of other Babylonian kings by a very reliable and trustworthy person. No? It was written then either?

You might be very surprised to learn that the tablet known as Vat 4956 is admittedly a copy dated during the Seleucid period and the time of Berosus some 300 years after the supposed events that it records. The fact is we do not know how many times it was copied and handed down. We do not know if there really was an original tablet. We do not even know if 'in the 37th year of Neb' was originally in it or if the copyist added those words perhaps to reflect what they thought or what Beorosis thought at the time because amazingly it does reflect the beliefs of Berosus whose beliefs may have well been popular at the time. Who can really say? And remember this, it is not an inspired record from God.

It is much like this conclusion reached by one who thoroughly studied Vat 4956:

"VAT 4956 is one more document often cited to support the popular chronology. It is alleged to be a copy made during the Seleucid period, which lists many astronomical events from 568 BCE that are assigned to the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzer. There is, however, no evidence to support the claim that Nebuchadnezzer's 37th year occurred in 568 BCE from any contemporaneous documents. Thus, no one can exclude the possibility that this document was nothing more than a fabrication, compiled during the Seleucid period, possibly from a badly damaged tablet that lacked the name and the year of the king."

So then what really does Vat 4956 prove? It proves that there surely were people living almost 300 years after Neb that believed that his 37th year occured in the year that we now consider to be 568BCE only about 30 years before the conquering of Babylon by Cyrus. It proves that Vat 4956 may reflect well what was believed by Berosus and probably others at the time. But the simple fact is that any astronomer could research and describe events that occured in a certain year and then date it to any date they wanted such as in the 37th year of Neb.

Are you aware of another tablet that has been discovered which says something different. This tablet shows many celestial events that could have only happened in the year 588BCE. This tablet says these events occured in the 37th year of Neb also. If this tablet was written about 300 years after Neb then we have conflicting stories. Perhaps this person believed that Neb's 37th year was about 50 years before the conquering of Babylon by Cyrus in the year 588BCE as we know it. Can it really be so? Where is this tablet?

You will find it sitting on my dining room table as it is on a Big Chief tablet belonging to my preschooler and written by someone of modern times. But it well illustrates the nature and reliability of Vat 4956. An astronomer who lived in the time of Berosus could have very well written a document describing the celestial events of 588BCE and dated it to the 37th year of Neb and who would have known? Who could have argued with it?

Why would such a document as Vat 4956 be written if it is not true. Was it a conspiracy against the Watchtower which they knew would rise up in the future to proclaim 607 as the year of Jerusalem's destruction? That is the argument used in an attempt to discredit and show the foolishness of JWs. But consider.

Perhaps Vat 4956 was written for one of the following reasons. It could have been written to support those beliefs popular during the time. Or perhaps it was written to show that the sacred Jewish writings at the time concerning the 70 years of desolation and restoration were inaccurate. Or even consider that perhaps it was an attempt by Satan the Devil to obscure the date of Jerusalem's destruction in order to make Jehovah's prophets appear to be wrong about the 70 years of desolation and it has worked for the most part. Or even looking at the bigger picture, to confuse the starting and ending point of the seven Gentile times, to put forth the lie that 1914 is not the date of Christ's presence at all, in order to bring forth the notion: 'Where is this promised presence of his?'

As the Watchtower accurately put it way back in 1972:

"It should not be overlooked that the source of corroborative evidence should bear the earmarks of dependability. Can this be said about “VAT 4956”? Not really. The text is not an original and it contains numerous gaps. Certain terms found therein cannot even be understood now. Twice in the text the notation hi-bi (meaning “broken off, obliterated”) appears. Thereby the scribe acknowledged that he was working from a defective copy.

Even if, despite these problems, the astronomical information presents a true picture of the original, this would not establish the correctness of the historical data. As Ptolemy used the reigns of ancient kings (as he understood them) simply as a framework in which to place astronomical data, so the copyist of “VAT 4956” may, in line with the chronology accepted in his time, have inserted the ‘thirty-seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar.’ As admitted by the German scholars Neugebauer and Weidner (the translators of this text), the scribe evidently changed words to conform with the abbreviated terminology common in his day. But he was both inconsistent and inaccurate. So he could just as easily have inserted other information to suit his purposes. Hence both Ptolemy’s Canon and “VAT 4956” might even have been derived from the same basic source. They could share mutual errors."

But if Vat 4956 is inaccurate then doesn't this also undermine the evidence that Babylon was conquered in 539BCE? No it does not. For the 37th year of Neb can still be 588BCE and it does not effect 539 in any way. 539 as the date of Babylon's conquest is proven historically with the backing of Biblical evidence in many different ways.

In conclusion we might ask a few simple questions:

Who was the copyist of the VAT 4956? Was he an astrologist? Was he inspired by God? Did he have an agenda? Did he have any qualms about adding his own thoughts? Did he mind adding words to prove what he believed? Did he know Nebuchadnezzar? Was he there during the 37th year of Neb? Did he really copy it from anything or just make it up using known astronomical happenings from the year 568BCE? Was he a Godly man?

On the other hand:
Who wrote Ezekiel? Who was Isaiah? Who was Daniel? Who was Jeremiah? Who was Ezra? Who did they worship? Were they inspired of God? Did they add their own words?

Who should we believe? These Bible writers approved by Jehovah and inspired by him? Or some unknown copyist?