Thursday, January 10, 2008
Book Review: "The Gentiles Times Reconsidered" by Carl O. Jonnson
I can honestly say that Carl Olof Jonsson deserves a Ph.D for this incredible work. "The Gentile Times Reconsidered" is an exhaustive investigation of the historical, archaeological, and biblical evidence used in support of the Watchtower's date of 1914 for Christ's second coming. Needless to say, Jonsson completely obliterated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Watchtower is incorrect in their chronology.
For those uninformed on the issue, the Watchtower maintains that Christ returned invisibly in 1914 to establish His kingdom. Allow me to sum this up as succinctly as I can. Luke 21:14, according to the Watchtower, supports the contention that the "Times of the Gentiles" began in 607 with the destruction of Jerusalem and will continue until "that time comes to an end." This is connected with Daniel 4, whereby Nebuchadnezzar describes a dream in which a large tree gets cut down. The Watchtower claims, on what authority I have no idea, that this represents God's rulership. The dream mentions "seven times," which corresponds to 2,520 years in accordance with their "year-day principle" in comparing Revelation 12:6,14 with Numbers 14:34. In other words, Revelation 12:6,14 claims that "3 1/2 times" equals 1260 days. Therefore, 7 times would equal 2,520 days. In order to fit this with their timeline, the Watchtower interprets these days as years. So when you add 2,520 years to 607 B.C., you get 1914.
Of course, this is littered with problems. About half of the book deals with archaeology and history; the other half with theology. I was thankful to find an emphasis on Jonsson's part to harmonize the secular evidence with the Biblical. It is no secret that most of today's archaeologists are no friend to the Bible. Therefore, when scholars attempt to find conflict with the Bible and archaeology, Jonsson was quick to refute. At any rate, the Jonsson reasoned, beyond any doubt, that the Watchtower's chronology is incorrect.
Basically, the chronology fails in their attempt to defend 607 B.C. as the date when Jerusalem fell. If the Watchtower is correct, then the witness of thousands of independent sources from various locations and times are wrong. But how can this be? Was there a conspiracy amongst the ancient Babylonians to throw the Watchtower's chronology off by 20 years? The Watchtower would never suggest this, but attempts to override these irrefutable evidences by attacking them with unsubstantiated claims and assumptions.
Fortunately, Jonnson's work spends a great deal of time rebutting the Watchtower's attempt to deal with the evidence. Anyone who has studied Watchtower literature knows that they are experts at misrepresenting scholars. The quoting of scholars in this case is no exception. Let me share an example. In the Watchtower publication, "Let your kingdom come," p. 187 they try to present the picture that Babylonian history might be in error, and that yet undiscovered material could drastically alter the chronology:
"Professor Edward F. Cambell, Jr., introduced a chart, which included Neo-Babylonian chronology, with the caution: 'It goes without saying that these lists are provisional. The more one studies the intricacies of the chronological problems in the ancient Near East, the less he is inclined to think of any presentation as final. For this reason, the term "circa" [about] could be used even more liberally than it is.'"
As Jonnson points out, the Watchtower did not mention that the chart referred to
"covers the chronologies of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Assyria and Babylon from c. 3800 to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., and although the term "circa" is placed before many of the reigns given in the lists for this long period, no circas are placed before any of the reigns given for the kings of the Neo-Babylonian period!" (p. 292)
So much for doubting the accuracy of the Neo-Babylonian sources!
The theological treatment of the chronology in this work was outstanding. It is the temptation of many Jehovah's Witnesses, when bombarded with this information, to say things to the affect of, "well even if the history doesn't match up, we're sticking to the Bible!" The problem is, you cannot establish an absolute date in this period of ancient history without appealing to the evidences mentioned in this work. Therefore, the Jehovah's Witness has two options, 1) abandon the 1914 date since we apparently can't accurately establish an ancient date, or 2) abandon the 1914 date because it conflicts with the evidence. The Watchtower can't have their cake and eat it too. Their standards are inconsistent and it is about time that they accept the reality.
But what about the Watchtower's claim that 1914 is supported Biblically? Nothing could be further from the truth. The Babylonian chronologies are in strong agreement with the Bible. The Watchtower would have us believe that the 70 years prophecy of Jeremiah 25:11 began in 607 B.C. with the fall of Jerusalem. There are two errors here. First, the destruction of Jerusalem didn't begin in 607 B.C., as pointed out earlier. But second, the 70 years did not begin with the destruction of Jerusalem. Instead, it began with the vassalage and servitude given to Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah 25:11 says, "This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years." Even a cursory reading of this verse shows that the seventy years isn't referring to the destruction of Jerusalem; it is referring to the servitude to the king of Babylon. In other words, the nations will serve Babylon for seventy years. Yes, the desolation is part of the prophecy. But the text simply says "this whole land WILL BE a desolation," not "for seventy years this land will be a desolation." But there are more problems. The Watchtower would, in fact, agree that Jerusalem would live in servitude to Babylon. And it cannot be denied from the text that this servitude would last 70 years. But think about this. If the servitude to Nebuchadnezzar began in 607 with the desolation, when did it end? 70 years would lead us to 537. But did Jerusalem stop serving Babylon in 539 or 537? Exactly. 539 B.C. In fact, according to Jeremiah 25:12, the seventy years would end when the king of Babylon is punished. When did that happen? 539 or 537? (the answer is 539) It sounds to me like the Watchtower chronology isn't that "biblical" after all! What's more is what Jeremiah 25:9 says:
"and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation."
Who are "all these nations round about?" Surely this is not simply referring to Jerusalem alone? Jeremiah 25:17-26 make this clear. But were these nations all destroyed in the same year? I think we're beginning to see that the Watchtower has a few things on their plate that they overlooked.
But why does this issue really matter? This issue matters because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jehovah's Witnesses are under the control of the Watchtower. They do not think for themselves; they think what the Watchtower tells them to think. I've been involved in personal Bible studies with Jehovah's Witnesses for practically the entire year of 2007 and i've seen this firsthand. The gospel is completely repelled because these people refuse to look at it because of their blindness. Few realize how important 1914 is to the Jehovah's Witness:
"Let the honest-hearted person compare the kind of preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom done by the religious systems of Christendom during all the centuries with that done by Jehovah's Witnesses since the end of World War I in 1918. They are not one and the same kind. That of Jehovah's Witnesses is really 'gospel,' or 'good news,' as of God's heavenly kingdom that was established by the enthronement of his Son Jesus Christ at the end of the Gentile Times in 1914." (Watchtower, May 1, 1981)
It is clear from the above quote that 1914 is, to the Jehovah's Witnesses, "gospel." This is why the Watchtower has been able to survive, given all the false prophecies they've given in the past; they cannot deny the "reality" of 1914 and Christ's heavenly kingdom established. The organization stands or falls on this fact. That is why this is so important. Your everyday Jehovah's Witness, unless he is a scholar of the organization, has no idea that there is controversy and reason to doubt the chronology (which encompasses the vast majority of Jehovah's Witnesses that would come to your door). One only hopes that, when shown this information, the Jehovah's Witness will begin the process of thinking for himself. And, by God's Grace, this will lead him to accepting Jesus Christ as his God and Savior (Titus 2:13).