You are hereIn the Third Year of the REIGN of Jehoiakim
In the Third Year of the REIGN of Jehoiakim
by John Evans
In a lengthy comment on my recent piece (October 20) on the historical accuracy of the first few verses of Daniel 1, Jim Hopkins of Enterprise, Alabama offered a well-written negative evaluation of my claim that the evidence supports the belief that Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judea in 605 BC. In a lengthy comment on my recent piece (October 20) on the historical accuracy of the first few verses of Daniel 1, Jim Hopkins of Enterprise, Alabama offered a well-written negative evaluation of my claim that the evidence supports the belief that Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judea in 605 BC. Enterprise is a small city in southeastern Alabama that is famous for having a statue dedicated to the boll weevil, the insect that encouraged the local farmers to shift from cotton to peanuts as their primary cash crop. Upon reading Hopkins’s comments, I momentarily entertained the notion that he could be an Auburn graduate (I taught at the University of Alabama for thirty years). Whether he is or not, his comments deserve a serious and thoughtful response. They have forced me to do some additional work regarding the opening verses of Daniel so as to incorporate into my analysis the line of argument that he uses. The end result is that while I am as convinced as ever that those verses are historically accurate, my case in support of that belief is now more complete. So thanks Jim; I am grateful that you forced me to do a little more homework.
In my earlier article on the opening verses of Daniel, I argued that it is reasonable to believe that immediately after his defeat of the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and reduced it to vassal status before hastening to Babylon late in August of that year to claim the throne he inherited upon the death of his father, Nabopolassar, which occurred soon after that battle. I maintained that although the precise date of the battle is not known, the available evidence is compatible with the belief that Nebuchadnezzar had both the time and the incentive to force Jehoiakim, the king of Judah from 609 to 598, to swear allegiance to him before he had to return to Babylon. I also stated that the taking of temple valuables and captives from prominent families as indicated in Daniel 1:2-3 seems perfectly attuned to the practices of that era.
As supporting evidence for my argument in the October 20 article, I drew upon the Babylonian Chronicle, which seems to indicate that Nebuchadnezzar at least occupied all of Syria before his return and may well have had the opportunity to go a good deal farther. I also suggested that since Jeremiah 25 indicates that Jeremiah gave his great prophecy of seventy years of servitude to the king of Babylon in 605 BC, one can reasonably argue that the prophecy should start running from that year and that Nebuchadnezzar reduced Judah to vassal status immediately after the battle of Carchemish. In addition, I pointed out that 2 Kings 24:1 states that Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah during the reign of Jehoiakim; and while I did not elaborate upon the implications of this verse, I suggested that it is compatible with the idea that the invasion occurred in 605. Finally, I pointed out that according to Flavius Josephus, the third-century BC Babylonian historian Berossus supported the claim that Nebuchadnezzar brought Judah to heel immediately after Carchemish by stating that before he returned to Babylon upon learning of the death of his father, Nebuchadnezzar “set the affairs of Egypt and the other countries in order, and committed the captives he had taken from the Jews, and Phoenicians, and Syrians, and of the nations belonging to Egypt, to some of his friends.” Berossus also stated that Nebuchadnezzar adorned various temples in Babylonia at this time with the spoils of war.
Hopkins begins his proposed refutation of my October 20 article by stating that my defense of the integrity of Daniel 1 calls into question the integrity of both Jeremiah and Ezekiel. He writes that because Jeremiah 52:28-30 refer to deportations of Jews that occurred in the seventh, eighteenth, and twenty-third years of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar—dates that respectively correspond, he claims, to 598, 587, and 582—we must assume that no deportation of Jews could have taken place as early as 605. Moreover, he adds, Ezekiel 40:1 indicates that the fall of Jerusalem and the first deportation must have taken place in 598. Therefore, he concludes, both Jeremiah and Ezekiel are in conflict with the Book of Daniel’s claim of an earlier deportation.
I did not employ the word “deportation” in my October 20 article. I avoided it because I do not believe that Daniel 1 claims that a “deportation” from Jerusalem to Babylon took place in 605. What I did suggest was that some Jewish captives must have been taken to Babylon at that time. I also suggested that it is reasonable to infer from Berossus that some of these captives were trained for service to the Babylonian state. The deportations to which Jeremiah refers involved larger numbers of people than I am suggesting were exiled to Babylonia in 605 and were the consequences of military defeats and Nebuchadnezzar’s determination to punish rebellion. There is no evidence of any rebellion by Judah in 605, but there is evidence that Nebuchadnezzar reduced Judah to vassal status in that year. Moreover, although Jeremiah 52:28-30 refer to three deportations in which significant numbers of Jews were taken to Babylonia, verse 30 states that the total number of Jews taken in them was only 4,600. Even if one assumes that this figure includes only adult males, this number seems quite small. The implication is that Jeremiah’s account of the “deportations” is incomplete.
If one believes, as I do, that the prophet Ezekiel was a contemporary of a real prophet Daniel who lived in Babylon, it is difficult to accept the contention that the Book of Ezekiel indicates that no “deportation” could have occurred before 598. Incidentally, Old Testament scholars overwhelmingly prefer to place Ezekiel’s exile and the first deportation mentioned in Jeremiah 52 in 597 rather than 598, but that is hardly a major point at issue here. Ezekiel 40:1 refers to the date of the exile of Ezekiel, not that of Daniel. For those who may doubt that Ezekiel considered Daniel of Babylon to be a real person and that Ezekiel believed that Daniel’s exile occurred prior to 597, I suggest that they take a look at the article on the matter that I posted on this site in March 2003.
Hopkins claims that the way to reconcile Daniel with Jeremiah and Ezekiel is to “realize that Daniel is speaking about the 3rd year of the reign of Jehoiakim in servitude to Nebuchadnezzar.” I confess that until I read this statement, the idea that Daniel 1:1 could lend itself to such an interpretation had never occurred to me. After giving the matter a little thought, I have concluded that it had never occurred to me because it does great violence to the text of Daniel 1:1 and is exegetically unsound. The text of Daniel 1:1 clearly states that Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, not that he invaded Judea after Jehoiakim had been in servitude to him for three years. I have concluded that the interpretation of Daniel 1:1 that Hopkins offers is identical to that offered by the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW). Whether or not Hopkins is a proponent of JW theology, I profoundly disagree with his interpretation of Daniel 1:1.
In order to justify his contention that Daniel 1:1 should be understood as meaning that Nebuchadnezzar came to Judah only after Jehoiakim had reigned three years in servitude to him, Hopkins draws upon 2 Kings 24:1, whose text is as follows: “In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years; then he turned and rebelled against him” (NASB). The NIV’s translation is essentially the same, though it renders “came up” as “invaded the land.” Clearly, therefore, 2 Kings 24:1 indicates that at some time during the reign of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and reduced it to vassalage and that after a period of three years in that state, Jehoiakim rebelled. Hopkins states that this rebellion must have occurred in 598 (the last year of Jehoiakim’s reign) and that the period of vassalage commenced in 601.
There is, I insist, nothing in Daniel, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, the Babylonian Chronicle, or the writings of Berossus as recorded by Josephus that suggests that an invasion of Judah occurred in 601. To the contrary, the weight of the evidence from these sources indicates that such an invasion could not have occurred. In my judgment, the overall impact of these sources points to the following scenario of relevant events during Jehoiakim’s reign, which ran from 609 to 598. Jehoiakim was placed on the throne of Judah by Pharaoh Necho II in 609 when Necho removed Jehoiakim’s brother Jehoahaz from that throne. Jehoiakim’s accession to the throne occurred in Tishri (September-October) 609. The battle of Carchemish took place in 605, probably in either the late spring or early summer. Nebuchadnezzar’s army moved into the lands south of Carchemish before Nebuchadnezzar was recalled to Babylon because of the death of his father. Nebuchadnezzar returned to his newly acquired western lands soon afterwards, probably before the year 605 was over. He also visited these lands several times in subsequent years and was particularly interested in Lebanon because of the abundance of wood there that could be used for construction purposes in Babylonia. Skirmishes occurred on various occasions between the Babylonians and Egyptians along the Egyptian frontier during the next few years. A bloody battle between them took place somewhere along that frontier late in 601. It appears to have been a draw, but it also decimated the Babylonian forces to such an extent that it probably took several years for Nebuchadnezzar to adequately rebuild his army. A plausible speculation is that it was either shortly before this battle or immediately after it that Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar as indicated in 2 Kings 24:1. Because 2 Kings 24:2 states that “The LORD sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him [Jehoiakim]” (NIV), it seems likely that for some time after the great battle of 601, Nebuchadnezzar was unable to come against Jehoiakim with a large standing army. By the time Nebuchadnezzar’s army did move against Judah, in 597 or perhaps in 598, Jehoiakim was dead and had been succeeded by his son, Jehoiakim.
Jehoiakim died in 598, but none of the sources referred to above tells us how he died. Two Kings 24:6 states simply that “He rested with his fathers.” Two Chronicles does not even mention his death, though it does inform us that he reigned eleven years and was twenty-five years old when he became king (36:5). Interestingly, however, while the Book of Jeremiah does not tell us how Jehoiakim died in its historical summations, it offers the following prophecy pertaining to his death: “He will have the burial of a donkey—dragged away and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem” (22:19, NIV). Obviously, Jeremiah did not anticipate that the passing of Jehoiakim would be a cause for great national mourning!
According to Hopkins, the correct explanation of how Jehoiakim died is to be found in the works of Josephus, specifically in the massive tome Jewish Antiquities, which was completed a few years before Against Apion, the work in which he referred to the writings of Berossus. As Hopkins indicates, Josephus wrote in the earlier work that Jehoiakim’s demise occurred when Nebuchadnezzar punished him for his rebellion by launching an expedition against Jerusalem that resulted in the death of Jehoiakim in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy.
In detail, Josephus’s account of the events associated with the death of Jehoiakim runs as follows. In the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar routed the army of the Egyptians at Carchemish. The Babylonian forces then “took all of Syria, as far as Pelusium, excepting Judea”; i.e. they penetrated all the way to an Egyptian base on the west side of the Sinai Peninsula. After Nebuchadnezzar had reigned for four years, which was in the eighth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, he “made an expedition against the Jews, and required tribute of Jehoiakim.” Jehoiakim bowed to this demand and delivered the tribute for three years. Then, upon learning that the Babylonians were preparing an expedition against the Egyptians, Jehoiakm threw his support to Egypt and renounced the obligation to render tribute. Unfortunately for Jehoiakim, the Egyptians refused to engage the Babylonians in battle.
At this point in his narrative, Josephus inserted a summary of the stormy relationship between Jeremiah and Jehoiakim that materialized after Jeremiah condemned the king for allying himself with Egypt and prophesied about what was to happen to the city, its people, the temple, and the king. After noting that Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, ultimately escaped Jehoiakim’s anger, Josephus closed his account of Jehoiakim’s reign by writing that Nebuchadnezzar sent an expedition against Jehoiakim and that Jehoiakim surrendered Jerusalem without a fight. Once admitted into the city, however, Nebuchadnezzar went back on whatever promises he had made, killed Jehoiakim and many dignitaries, had the king’s body thrown over the walls without burial, installed Jehoiakim’s son Jehoiachin on the throne, and took three thousand captives to Babylonia, among them the prophet Ezekiel.
Relying primarily upon this account in Jewish Antiquities and completely ignoring what Josephus later wrote in Against Apion, Hopkins offers the following summary of key events during the time of Jehoiakim. Nebuchadnezzar did defeat the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605, which occurred in the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim (not the third year as stated in Daniel 1:1). Although the Babylonian army then occupied all of the territory between Carchemish and Pelusium, they (somehow) managed to do this without invading Judah. In the eighth year of Jehoiakim’s reign; i.e. in 601, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah as recorded in 2 Kings 24:1 and was bought off for three years by Jehoiakim’s payment of tribute. In 598, however, Jehoiakim did not pay the tribute, and his failure to do so provoked Nebuchadnezzar into launching an expedition to invade Judah. Jehoiakim admitted the Babylonians into Jerusalem without a fight, but Nebuchadnezzar had him killed anyway and commanded that his body be thrown over the walls of the city without burial. Jehoiachin then became king, but after a reign of only three months that extended into 597, some kind of revolt against the Babylonians took place that resulted in a siege. It was at this point, in 597 (not 598 this time), that Daniel was taken to Babylon.
Hopkins offers a brief comment on 2 Chronicles 36:6-7, which state that Nebuchadnezzar came against Jehoiakim, “bound him with bronze chains to take him to Babylon” (v.6), and brought articles from the temple in Jerusalem to a temple in Babylon. In contrast to various critical scholars who have seized upon these verses to claim that 2 Chronicles 36 is historically flawed since it erroneously claims that Jehoiakim was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, Hopkins claims that these verses can be reconciled with 2 Kings 24 and Josephus by concluding that while Nebuchadnezzar did intend to take Jehoiakim to Babylon, he must have decided instead to simply kill him in Jerusalem and replace him with his son Jehoiachin.
Hopkins closes his comments on my October 20 article by challenging me to provide a response. Accordingly, I shall now present a full listing of what I regard as the most notable errors and shortcomings in his analysis. I shall endeavor to keep my rebuttal as brief as I can without sacrificing intelligibility.
1. The claim that Daniel 1:1 should be interpreted to mean that Nebuchadnezzar launched an expedition against in 598 after that monarch had already been in servitude to him for three years flatly contradicts the text of that verse. There is no way that this verse (“in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it”) can be given the meaning that Hopkins assigns to it unless one assumes that its author made a mistake.
2. Hopkins does not address the evident conflicts between Josephus’s account in Jewish Antiquities and his later account in Against Apion in which Josephus drew upon the writings of Berossus.
3. Hopkins makes no mention of the Babylonian Chronicle.
4. It is a mistake to assume that because other Old Testament books than Daniel that deal with the Babylonian Captivity do not record a “deportation” of Jews in the aftermath of Carchemish, we must conclude that no Jewish captives were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon at that time. In particular, the fact that Jeremiah 52:28-30 do not mention any taking of Jewish captives to Babylon before 597 does not necessarily mean than no such taking occurred. The issue at hand must be evaluated using all the available evidence, not just some of it.
5. Although Josephus indicated in Jewish Antiquities that in the aftermath of Carchemish, the Babylonians occupied all of the territory to the south as far as the western part of the Sinai with the exception of “Judea” (Judah), that does not mean that his army somehow passed by Judah on its way to the Egyptian border and failed to force Jehoiakim’s submission. Nebuchadnezzar did not eliminate the kingdom of Judah until 586, and one can reasonably assume that the Babylonian army did not become an occupying force prior to the siege of Jerusalem that led to its destruction in that year.
6. According to Donald J. Wiseman, the leading authority on the Babylonian Chronicle, Nebuchadnezzar’s army fought a bloody drawn battle with the Egyptians late in 601. As a result, the offensive capabilities of the Babylonian army were evidently eliminated for at least a year. In Wiseman’s judgment, Nebuchadnezzar’s hostilities against the Egyptians in 601 help explain the rebellion of Jehoiakim referred to in 2 Kings 24:1. Contrary to what Hopkins claims, therefore, it seems unlikely that Nebuchadnezzar would have conducted a campaign against Jehoiakim in 601.
7. The most plausible way to interpret 2 Chronicles 36:6, which states that Nebuchadnezzar bound Jehoiakim with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon, is that the binding was a symbolic action to indicate to Jehoiakim what was in store for him should he oppose Nebuchadnezzar. Compare this with Hopkins’s contention that 2 Chronicles 36 should be understood as indicating that Nebuchadnezzar intended to take Jehoiakim to Babylon but decided to kill him instead. Two Chronicles 36:5 states that Jehoiakim “reigned in Jerusalem eleven years,” which implies that Jehoiakim was not taken to Babylon.
8. It is true that Jeremiah 22:19 proclaims that Jehoiakim “will have the burial of a donkey,” but neither in this verse nor elsewhere in Jeremiah does the prophet proclaim that Nebuchadnezzar will have Jehoiakim killed.
9. The Book of Ezekiel is consistent with the belief that Daniel the prophet was exiled to Babylon in 605, not, as Hopkins claims, 598.
Admittedly, explaining how Jehoiakim died is a major problem for those who would attempt to reconstruct the history of his reign. He would have been only about thirty-six when he “rested with his fathers” (2 Kings 24), and it is natural to expect that some kind of foul play was involved in his demise. That foul play need not have come from the Babylonians, however. More likely is an assassination by Jewish opponents. Josephus wrote in Jewish Antiquities that Nebuchadnezzar had Jehoiakim killed, but no other source supports this claim and its force is weakened by the fact that elsewhere in Antiquities, Josephus contradicted what he wrote later in Against Apion. It seems probable that Josephus came up with his explanation of Jehoiakim’s death in a misguided attempt to reconcile 2 Chronicles 36:6, 2 Kings 24:l, and Jeremiah 22:19.
Reconciling 2 Chronicles 36:6 with 2 Kings 24:1 continues to be a challenge, but it is one that does not lie beyond the reach of plausible speculation in line with the belief that the binding with bronze shackles of 2 Chronicles occurred in 605. If we assume that the invasion to which 2 Kings 24:1 refers also occurred at this time, then the subtraction of the three years of vassalage indicated in that verse brings us to 602. It is conceivable that the rebellion of Jehoiakim against Nebuchadnezzar began in that year and that the Babylonian king was prevented from coming against Jerusalem because of hostilities against the Egyptians. Remember that 2 Kings 24:2 refers to Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders coming against Jehoiakim after he rebelled, which implies that Nebuchadnezzar was unable to mount a full expedition against Jerusalem at that time and sent raiding parties into Judah instead.
There remains the challenge of reconciling Daniel 1:1’s “the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim” with the fact that Jeremiah 25:1 and 46:2 place the battle of Carchemish in the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim. Because this article will soon be exceeding the length I intended to assign to it, I shall try to limit my comments about this important problem to the bare essentials.
The reconciliation of Jeremiah and Daniel on the fourth year versus the third year point begins, of course, with the observation that the two books calculate the regnal years of kings in different ways. Several attempts of which I am aware have been made to accomplish the reconciliation along these lines. The approach that I favor begins with the observation that during the sixth and seventh centuries BC and even into the Hellenistic period, the prevailing calendrical system employed in both Judah and Babylonia was the Babylonian. In this basically lunar system, the first month of the calendar year—Nisan in Judah, Nisanu in Babylonia—overlapped March and April in the modern calendar. In Babylonia, and often in Judah as well, the regnal years of kings were reckoned from the first of Nisan/Nisanu. Among the Jews, however, the seventh month, Tishri, which overlapped September and October in the modern calendar, was sometimes used in reckoning kings’ reigns. According to Jack Finegan, who relies heavily upon the writings of Edwin R. Thiele, it was Thiele’s finding that Daniel uses Tishri-to-Tishri years in reckoning kings’ reigns, while Jeremiah uses Nisan-to-Nisan years.
From my study of what Finegan has written, I offer the following scenario as the most plausible way to reconcile Daniel 1:1 with Jeremiah 25:1 and 46:2. Daniel reckons Jeremiah’s third year from 1 Tishri 606. Jeremiah reckons Jehoiakim’s fourth year from 1 Nisan 605. The battle of Carchemish occurred in the late spring or early summer of 605, which corresponds to the fourth year of Jehoiakim as reckoned in Jeremiah 46:2. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah in the summer of 605 after the battle but before being recalled to Babylon late in August of that year. This invasion occurred in the third year of Jehoiakim as reckoned in Daniel and the fourth year as reckoned in Jeremiah.
There is one final point that I wish to make in this article. In the course of preparing it, I have gained a greater appreciation of the fact that one can make a strong case for the proposition that Jeremiah’s great prophecy of seventy years of servitude to Babylon (25:8-14, 29:10-14) should be considered as running from 609 to 539. The year 609 is a plausible starting point for the prophecy because that was the year in which the Babylonians under Nabopolassar defeated the Assyrians and Egyptians at Harran. Arguably, this defeat signaled the end of Assyrian sovereignty over the lands between Assyria and Egypt and ushered in the seventy years of Babylonian supremacy. Alternatively, one could start the running of the seventy years from 605 (which position I endorsed in my October 20 article). That was the year in which the Babylonians drove the Egyptians out of these lands. The 609 date offers a more exact fulfillment of the seventy years, but the 605 date more convincingly matches the establishment of Babylonian supremacy.
With that I rest my case—and also my fingers.
1. Flavius Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus, trans. by William Whiston (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1999), Against Apion 1.19 (137-138), 945. The number in parentheses is the page number in the standard Loeb edition.
2. See Alan Feuerbacher, “Refutation of Appendix in Let Your Kingdom Come,” http://geocities.com/Athens/Academy/6040/kc.htm.
3. Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, rev. ed. (Peabody, Mass., 1998), 253.
4. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 10.6 (84-98), 341-42.
5. Ibid., 10.6 (84-88), 341.
6. Ibid., 10.6 (89-95), 341-42.
7. Ibid., 10.6 (96-98), 342.
8. Donald J. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 29-30.
9. Finegan, Biblical Chronology, 246-47, 253. The works by Thiele upon which Finegan relies are Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings: A Reconstruction of the Chronology of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, 2d ed (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman, 1965), 28-30, 166 and A Chronology of the Hebrew Kings (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1977), 68n3.
10. On this point, see Feuerbacher, “Refutation” and Carl Olof Jonsson, “A Review of Rolf Furuli: Persian Chronology and the Length of the Babylonian Exile of the Jews,” http://user.tninet.se/~oof408u/fkf/english/furulirev4.htm. I am so impressed with Jonsson’s work that I shall be buying the fourth edition of his The Gentile Times Reconsidered when it comes out next month. The publisher is Commentary Press in Atlanta.