[b-hebrew] Daniel and history

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Fri Jan 30 05:17:55 EST 2009

Dear George,

When we do scientific research we cannot start from scratch and do as 
Rene Descartes, saying "Cogito ergo sum". But we have to use 
conclusions drawn by others as helping hypotheses. However, the 
problem is that some of these conclusions are repeated over and over 
again, and they are never tested. That is the reason why I said that 
when we study Daniel, or any other book in the Tanakh, we both have 
to ask what the Hebrew text really says and to ask whether the 
history by which it is tested is reliable.

In the book of Daniel we find one saying that clearly is at odds with 
the universally accepted history, and that is chapter 9, verse 2. In 
this verse we learn that in the beginning of the Persian kingdom 
Daniel read about the 70 years when Jerusalem would be desolate. The 
same information is found in 2 Chronicles 36:21 where it is said that 
Jerusalem was a desolate waste for a full 70 years. Using the rules 
of lexical semantics, grammar, and syntax I am not able to  see any 
other meaning in the two passages than that Jerusalem was a desolate 
waste for a full 70 years. Yet, the history leaves only 49 of 50 
years for Jerusalem's desolate condition (and some say Jerusalem 
never was desolate). Is Daniel and the Chronicler wrong?

I have used a lot of time to scrutinize this question, and my 
conclusion is that the universally accepted history rather than 
Daniel is wrong! And I have published a book of 370 pages to show 
this. In this book I reproduce a page from a French book on 
chronology from 1818. The Neo-Babylonian chronology of this book is 
exactly the same that is found in modern textbooks and lexicons. How 
can this be at a time when no archaeological finds had been made? The 
answer is that the chronology of Claudius Ptolemy was accepted on the 
basis of faith, without any empirical evidence to bolster it. This is 
faith and not science!

In the second part of the 19th century cuneiform tablets were 
unearthed.  Because I know the scientific literature of this time I 
can say that these tablets were interpreted in the light of the 
chronology of Claudius Ptolemy, and the chronology of Ptolemy was 
viewed as confirmed by these tablets. But of course, this is circular 
reasoning! Then, in 1915 information about a new cuneiform tablet, 
VAT 4956,  with celestial positions and the years 37 and 38 of 
Nebuchadnezzar was published (P. V. Neugebauer and E. F. Weidner "Ein 
astronomischer Beobachtungstext aus dem 37. Jahre Nebukadnezars II 
(-567/66)". And it was claimed that this tablet without any doubt 
confirmed the chronology of Ptolemy. This tablet is the backbone of 
the present Neo-Babylonian  chronology and the view that the nation 
of Judah was only 49 or 50 years in exile in Babylon .

This philological, linguistic, and astronomical study of VAT 4956 was 
published in 1915, but after that time no similar study has appeared. 
In 1988 a transliteration of the signs on the tablet and an English 
translation was published (A. J: Sachs and H. Hunger "Astronomical 
Diaries and Related Texts from Babylonia Vol I diaries from 652 B.C. 
to 165 B.C"), but they did not publish a scholarly study of the 
tablet. This means that for 90 years the conclusions of Neugebauer 
and Weidner have been repeated over and over again, an no one has 
published a critical study of this important tablet!  When we review 
this situation today from a scientific point of view, we may ask: Can 
we trust the conclusions made in 1915, and the indirect confirmation 
of them  in 1988? The problem in connection with an answer is that 
very few persons today master the Akkadian language, and even fewer 
are experts in connection with the Akkadian astronomical language. 
And because of Systemzwang, these few tend to uphold the traditional 
viewpoints. So science may in a way deadlocked.

I have taught Akkadian for more than a decade, and I have studied the 
language of astronomical Diaries and other astronomical tablets. 
Moreover, because I have modern astronomical programs and colleagues 
at the University who are astronomical experts I have been able to 
deal with the tablet in a scholarly way. I took high resolution 
electronic pictures of the tablet at the Vorderasiatische Museum in 
Berlin, and on the basis of these pictures I have carefully studied 
each of the more than 600 cuneiform signs on the tablet. Thus, I have 
been able to test the 1915 results of Neugebauer and Weidner.  My 
conclusions are very different from their results. My basic finding 
is that that quite a lot of the cuneiform signs related to the 
planets and to the stars and star constellations are difficult to 
read, and when that is the case, the signs are often applied to the 
celestial bodies that are expected by modern computations. But this 
may be circular reasoning. Another finding is that the 13 lunar 
positions fit perfectly the year 587/86 but the fit is not so good in 
567/66, which is Nebuchadnezzar II's 37th year according to the 
traditional chronology. On this basis I suggest an expansion of the 
Neo-Babylonian Empire by 20 years, and that would fit the words of 
Daniel and the Chronicler. Corroborating this is a list of about 90 
dated contract tablets, which, taken at face value destroy the 
traditional Neo-Babylonian chronology, because the reign of each king 
was longer than believed. Have I by these findings proven that the 
traditional Neo-Babylonian chronology is wrong? No, because ancient 
chronology and history cannot be proven. But this study of mine is an 
alternative to the traditional scheme and deserves to be studied 

  I have used this example to illustrate that when we find information 
in the book of Daniel or in other books of the Tanakh that are 
believed to be at odds with our accepted knowledge of history, we 
both need to study the Hebrew text carefully, in order to ascertain 
what it really says; and we also need to ask whether the accepted 
view of history is reliable. Only after a careful study of both, we 
can draw balanced conclusions.

>I must say I am very, very surprised to read this. There are 
>numerous historical difficulties with Daniel. And contrary to your 
>claim, we know quite a lot about the last days of the Neo-Babylonian 
>Empire. We have documents aplenty. And the difficulties are not 
>limited to Darius the Mede. And even if they were, your position 
>above sounds quite evasive.
>Moore Theological College (Sydney, Australia)

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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