|Jeremiah's 70 Years|
For reference let me bring up my own answer to this issue, from another place and with reference to Jeremiah 29:10 particularly:
This verse says nothing about the Exile. The seventy years begins at 609 BC, the start of the Babylonian Empire, or at 605 BC, the year Babylon defeated Assyria and became the ruling power in the area; and ends in536, when the Jewish people returned to Judea (rounded up to the 70 because of inclusive counting of the entire year) or 535, the year that the foundations of the new Temple were laid down, symbolizing the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian captivity.
(Skeptics may retort that there is no reason to choose the laying of the Temple foundations as the ending point; the actual defeat of Babylon (540) or the return to Judah from Babylon, authorized by Cyrus (538), they would say, is better. This would result in totals of 65 and 67 years. Either of these might be reasonably accepted in view of Jeremiah's 70 being a rounding up to the nearest ten, in line with the rounded number which represented a human lifespan. Berry/Lippard's "48 years," while a sufficient account of the number of years from the fall of Jerusalem (587) to the fall of Babylon (540), fails to take into account that in 29:10, Jeremiah is communicating with Jews who were taken captive in an earlier incursion by the Babylonians. The Exile started much earlier than 587 for some of them: The OT records at least three separate deportations to Babylon. Indeed, for poor King Jehoiakim [2 Kings 24:2, 2 Chron. 36:6] the Exile began c. 598, when he was carried off to Babylon in fetters. Finally, as noted, the number of years is that of a human lifespan and may be programmatic; on the Black Stone of Esarhaddon, 70 years is give as the "period of time during which Marduk shows displeasure toward Babylon." -- Holladay, Jeremiah commentary, 669. Price also brings this up later, and despite Skeptic X, this is not a switch from, but verification of, his earlier position.)
Overall, Price's analysis of this prophecy matches my own. The critic begins by saying almost nothing about the fulfillment itself, but by engaging a long digression about the LXX version of the Ch. 25 passage and the textual history of Jeremiah, which he supposes to be proof of substantial tampering and editing that indicates a prophecy written after the fact. What little is said otherwise involves calling a rounding of 69 years to 70 "strained", which says nothing against the ancient practice of rounding, which no ancient person had to strain to do.
In the third 1997 issue and beyond, Price ably addresses much disinformation concerning textual issues and the LXX, and other diversions. I would like to quote Price on these points:
Now, let's use some common sense right here, not [...]'s brand (because it is tainted with subjective theories), but common sense that deals with objective evidence. Suppose, for a moment, that it was true that long after Jeremiah was dead some redactor changed the date in the text in order to make it appear as though the prophecy was fulfilled. [... ] seems to imply that the change took place in the middle ages sometime before the 9th century, but anyone with common sense can see the flaw in that conclusion. Let's suppose it was changed sometime shortly after the return from the captivity, say in the days of Ezra. But by that time, Jeremiah's book would have been copied hundreds of times and circulated among the Jewish communities throughout the Middle East, in Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, etc. Now here is an interesting question for common sense evaluation: How did that fraudulent redactor manage to change all the textual exemplars and all the copies in all those places so that all textual witnesses in all forms, including manuscripts, translations, and commentaries (such as Daniel and Josephus) have the same readings? Common sense consideration of [...]'s hypothesis reveals how ridiculous such an idea is, and it leads one to conclude that the only way all extant witnesses to the text could agree on these details would be that they were from the hand of the original author, Jeremiah. This is a widely accepted law of textual criticism: when all the textual witnesses agree, the reading is original. Those who would question the validity of this date would not dare to do it on the grounds of the objective textual evidence, but must resort to subjective theories. Therefore, common sense demands that the date of this prophecy is authentic on the basis of the objective evidence.
Mr. [...] objected that "it isn't chronologically possible to establish a seventy-year exile for the Judeans who were taken into captivity during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar." Mr. [...] has made another of his usual blunders at this juncture. He has mistaken vassalage for captivity. Jeremiah's text says "these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years." While it is customary to refer to this period as a captivity or an exile, because most of it includes the time in which the Jews were in exile as captives, yet the text says "serve" not "be captives" or "go into exile." Technically, the text refers to vassalage, not captivity. Judah and the surrounding nations became vassals of Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C.
Mr. [...] objected to my date of the Jews' return from the Babylonian captivity in the year 536 B.C. He did so on the grounds that Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 and that the Jews must have returned in 538. However, in this he displays an ignorance of the cultural practice among the Babylonians and Persians for dating regnal years of their kings. Among these ancient neareastern people, the regnal year of a king was counted from the New Year's day following the kings ascension to the throne. This is different than the practice of western cultures by which [...] erroneously judged the present situation. Cyrus conquered Babylon on October 16, 539 B.C., and thus became the sovereign of the Medo-Persian Empire. However, the following New Year's day was not until March 24, 538. So his first regnal year extended from March 24, 538, to March 23, 537 B.C. Sometime within that year, Cyrus issued the decree for the captive nations to return home (2 Chron. 36:22). It is likely that the decree was issued late in the year, because administrative duties would have been heavy for the months immediately following the conquest of Babylon; less important details, like the affairs of foreign captives, would naturally be postponed. Taking into account the slow pace at which government business took place, the amount of time required to summons, assemble, and organize a large company of returnees, and the time for such a large group to travel the long distance from Babylon to Jerusalem, it is reasonable to expect that the convoy did not arrive in Judah until some time in 536.
Mr. [...] objected that my explanation of the 70 years of servitude was not established with rigorous precision. In this he demonstrates his ignorance of the hermeneutics of historic research. Reasonable common sense expects that an ancient text should be interpreted according to how it would have been understood by the people to whom it was addressed, not according to 20th century scientific precision. From extant contemporary literature from that period, I provided two examples of how the ancient Jews understood the 70 years of Jeremiah's prophecy. In both cases, the Jews regarded the elapsed time to be consistent with their understanding of 70 years. In insisting on 20th century scientific precision, [...] is neither reasonable, nor is he exercising common sense.
The critic's reply in issue 3 of 1997 is quite instructive. He begins with question, "Why not also believe in miracles recorded elsewhere?" This is merely a diversion in context, but as noted in previous responses, I am quite willing myself to give other writers (Suetonius, the Quran, etc.) the benefit of the doubt about recorded miracles. My question then is, "Why should this be a problem?" He also offers the diversion of Jer. 34:2-5, addressed here.
Then he tries calling Jeremiah a liar:
Jeremiah a liar by his own admission: In chapter 37, Jeremiah was accused of being a Chaldean sympathizer (a charge that was not without some merit, as we will see later) and was imprisoned in Jonathan's house by the princes of Judah. As superstitious kings living in superstitious times so often did, Zedekiah wanted a prophet's prediction of the future, which at the time looked dismal with Nebuchadnezzar's army having laid siege to Jerusalem, so Zedekiah had Jeremiah brought to him (38:14-16). When the prophet told him that he could save his life only by going out of the city to Babylon's princes, Zedekiah then said, "Let no man know of these words, and you shall not die. If the princes hear that I have talked with you, and they come to you and say to you, `Declare to us now what you have said to the king and also what the king said to you; do not hide it from us, and we will not put you to death,' then you shall say to them, `I presented my request before the king that he would not make me return to Jonathan's house to die there'" (vs:24-26). The princes did come to Jeremiah and ask about his conversation with the king, and Jeremiah "told them according to all these words that the king had commanded" (v:27).
In other words, if Jeremiah's account of this incident is accurate, he admitted that in certain situations he would and did lie...
This is ironic, since Jeremiah's admission of lying, if that is indeed what this is, amounts to proof that he was more generally inclined to be truthful. Someone who admits to a lie isn't generally thought to be a congenital liar, but is thought to be a person who made a human mistake and deserves consideration.
In this case, we wonder whether the critic would have had the nerve to spill the beans when under order from a king who could have had his head lopped off with a finger snap. Personally I rather doubt it, and Price doubted it as well in issue 5. There is also a chance that Jeremiah was protecting others against the wrath of the princes (who would execute anyone who proposed surrender), in which case we would have a moral hierarchy of the "lying about Jews in your cellar" variety. Either way, one wonders how it could be relevant here for Jeremiah to lie since he would be in no position (being dead!) to change his prophecy once the 70 years were completed. But then it is objected:
It is also noteworthy that in answering Zedekiah's question about what the future held for him, Jeremiah did not tell him that if he went out of the city to meet the Babylonian princes, all of his sons would be killed in his presence and he himself would be blinded and imprisoned for the rest of his life. We have to wonder if Zedekiah would have left the city if he had known this. To say the least, if Jeremiah was a real prophet, who could see into the future, he was a bit deceptive in answering Zedekiah's question about the outcome of Nebuchadnezzar's siege.
Such actions as happened to Zedekiah were the norm of the day when a conquering nation came to call. Jeremiah no more needed to tell him to expect this or some other infliction than he had to tell him that the sun was coming up tomorrow. Moreover, as Price went on to point out, Zedekiah got what he did because he tried to escape -- not because he went out to meet the Babylonians in surrender.
In closing in issue 3, the critic once again reasserts the skeptical faith-paradigm that Jeremiah's prophecy was made or altered after the fact. Not a word is said with reference to any of Price's arguments above.
By 1997's Issue 4, the critic had two more months to address some of Price's issues above. His response to the idea of two editions by Jeremiah is to call it names ("ridiculous") and quote back a liberal commentary that says Jeremiah went through many hands. This amounts to the critic. quoting himself as an authority; not that it matters, since he offers mere quotes, with no textual specifics.
He then points to the similarity of Jer. 52 to 2 Kings 25, reaching the conclusion that one copied the other or both used a common source. Why this should be a problem is not indicated. The critic also adds in about a numerical difference in the LXX and Masoretic texts which is easily considered a copyist error issue. A long diversion is also offered on similarities between Jeremiah and Obadiah -- again, why this should be an issue is not made clear. It's never explained why there is some problem with Biblical writers using a common source or common motifs; it is merely assumed, without explanation, to be evidence of malfeasance or plagiarism, or to somehow prove a problem for inspiration. The categories of intellectual property rights were unknown to the ancients, who considered it virtuous to imitate and copy the works of others.
The brunt of the case, however, consists in relying on the view of liberal scholarship of Jeremiah and other OT works as severely edited compositions. "...to prove his case, Price will have to demonstrate that these critical methods [used by liberal scholars] are invalid." An elephant hurled, we think, and a way for the critic to quit the field. Here's my own elephant in reply: These critical methods have been widely shown to be invalid by further study.
The the critic once again addresses the precision issue (69 vs 70 years), first by calling it names ("in the Never-Never Land of biblical fundamentalism"). Price's comments about the technicalities of regnal years is dismissed thusly: "When biblicists encounter chronological discrepancies in the Bible, they can usually be expected to argue that ancient cultures dated events and reigns differently from modern societies..."
In response the critic can do no more than object that Price provided no source for this assertion, and ask: "I couldn't help wondering how the Persians would have calculated the first year of Cyrus's reign if he had conquered Babylon on March 25, 539. Would he have reigned one day short of a year without the Persians counting this as the first year of his reign?" This is formulated in a way that makes it sound like the Persians, if they did indeed reckon this way, were obviously extremely stupid. Actually the answer to the question is yes, and it is not the place of a modern to think that this is somehow a problem or an impossibility. Price provides verification on this later, which passes without comment from the critic.
The critic then hedges, "I'm not saying that Price is wrong about the Mideastern method used in counting regnal years, but even biblicists themselves will sometimes argue that this method wasn't always used." He then uses an example of similar applications, from Babylon and Judah, in works written from differing points of view (Daniel in Babylon, Kings from Judah). Later he also accuses Price of misrepresenting such data with regards to the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, but don't expect any analysis about how the regnal year system was used in Nebuchadnezzar's time and place.
Price's note about the time needed for other admin duties is merely dismissed as "speculation" and as a "maneuver". This does nothing to counter the hard reality that such duties would have been real and would have existed. The speculation has more than adequate grounding to be accepted, and is no different from speculations offered by secular historians looking to resolve their own puzzles.
Indeed, the critic admits as much with his own counter-speculation:
If speculation is allowed, I can play that game too and argue that freeing the captives would "likely" have been a pressing administrative concern of Cyrus and not the "less important detail" that Price says it was. Although Cyrus had conquered Babylon, Egypt was a potentially powerful enemy sitting on his southern border, so freeing the Jewish captives would have reestablished Judah as a loyal buffer state between the Persian Empire and Egypt, an administrative matter that Cyrus would surely have attended to more expeditiously than Price contends. Indeed, this is exactly how many historians interpret Cyrus's motives (Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, 1987, p. 252). According to the Cyrus Cylinder (now in the British Museum), Cyrus didn't just allow foreign captives to return to their homelands; he also permitted the Babylonians to continue worshiping their deities (Ibid., p. 251). These enactments indicate that Cyrus considered civil peace and secure borders a much higher priority than Dr. Price imagines. Since Cyrus left Babylon in 538 and returned to his palatial residence in the Median city of Ecbatana (Ibid., p. 251), it is hardly likely that he delayed issuing his decree until late in 538.
We find it curious that the critic cites, but does not quote, the Eerdmans entry, but the above is no more than a plethora of unmade connections and overstated claims. Note the qualification that Egypt was a "potentially" powerful enemy -- in what sense? Did Egypt have designs on Persia? And when would it go from potential to actual? And if they did have any power, how long would the Jews be of use, especially since there were already many Jews in Egypt? Isn't it just as likely that the Jews would join forces with Egypt? That Cyrus permitted the continued worship of deities has no logical relationship to returning captives; it does show a sign of desire for civil peace, but has nothing to do with secure borders, and at any rate as formal Persian policy required no administrative action as such -- not along the lines of analyzing issues surrounding returning captives to their homeland.
The critic also questions the relevance of the journey home, and the two years added, but as noted in our own answer, it hardly matters, and still works out as a number of years programmatically communicable as 70 (as evidenced, again, by the Babylonian parallel). Very interesting is the question, "Why didn't Yahweh have Jeremiah hit the prophetic nail right on the head so that there would be no room for nasty skeptics like me to dispute that he was a prophet inspired of God to see into the future?"
Why should Yahweh bow to modern demands for precision literalism rather than offer a message with programmatic clarity for an oral culture? 70 years, as the typical human lifespan, was much easier to keep in mind than 67 or 68. A modern person can figure out the round number issue based on the parallels of other ancient societies using round numbers in military and commerce figures. He has hindsight the ancients would not.
One issue that may be of relevance is that the critic points to a translation that says that the 70 years are to be "in Babylon". This he takes to refer to Judah physically in Babylon. In 29:10 the issue lies in the proper rendering of the preposition. Some versions say "in" or "at". The NRSV says, "Only when Babylon's seventy years are completed...", making the 70 years Babylon's thing, not Judah's. The clinching interpretive clue is found in our previous cite:
Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
Thus the captivity isn't what the 70 years referred to. Babylon celebrated victory over the Assyrians, according to what source you consult and what event you consider the clincher (the fall of Assyria? the fall of Nineveh?), in 612, 609, or 605 -- and then we aren't even considering other, smaller nations Nebuchadnezzar may have conquered prior to this. Either way Babylon's 70 years began rather before Judah's exile. Note that this does not require, as the critic thinks it does, that Jeremiah made the prediction before any part of the 70 years began -- such a prophecy would still qualify as unlikely as a naturalistic guess if it was made for the first 30-40 years while Babylon was still in change.
Finally the critic returns to the textual issues by saying that he still thinks there are too many variations in the textual tradition (and wonders why the texts weren't preserved perfectly -- why should they be? -- see here), and quotes a work of Frank Cross on the DSS. But Cross (and Shanks) is not contrasting a view like Price's to a view like the critic's, he is contrasting a view of perfect preservation to a view like Price's. Price and Cross are on the same side and the critic is quoting as broadly as possible in order to avoid engaging specific textual issues. As Price puts it:
Mr. [...] has called attention to some general problems regarding consensus among the witnesses to the text of Jeremiah; in comparing it with the texts of other biblical books, the text of Jeremiah has more variations. But this problem does not hinder a reasonable recovery of the authentic text. In my earlier discussion of Jeremiah's text, I demonstrated that the text of the debated prophecy is valid, but how does the text of Jeremiah compare with the texts of ancient secular historical documents? In spite of its textual variations, compared with any ancient secular text, the witnesses to the text of Jeremiah far exceed them in number, diversity, antiquity, and consensus; that is, the evidence is extraordinary. Let Mr. [...] provide the witnesses to any ancient secular historical document that come anywhere near those for the Book of Jeremiah with respect to number, diversity, antiquity, and consensus; or let him cease quibbling over textual validity.
Price also comments on the authorship of Jeremiah, and challenges the critic, as I have Skeptics regarding the Gospels, to make a comparison to any other ancient document using the same criteria. However, the critic also doesn't get the point about two versions of Jeremiah -- one shorter, one longer -- not being a problem. The ancients did not perceive it as such.
As the debate continued, it went into philosophical issues beyond our scope. Indeed most of the critic's final response consists of such issues, and historical data is barely touched upon. Only the last fifth gets down to hard data.
Dr. Price trotted out the same old saw that we hear so often from biblicists who cannot support the historicity of their claims: If we can't trust the Bible, then "all ancient history is invalid" (p. 5). Price doesn't seem to understand that historians don't just automatically accept everything that ancient documents say. They evaluate the information and make judgments based on sound critical methods. If historians accepted everything that ancient documents say, then history books would be filled with tales of men who were born of virgins, performed various miracles, received visions, and foretold future events, but even though these claims permeate ancient literature, they have not been presented as facts in reputable histories, because they were rejected by common-sense critical methods of evaluation. Price apparently expects the Bible to be exempted from the same type of scrutiny.
This is simply another elephant thrown in the ring, and relates also back to the issue of whether "fundamentalists" reject miraculous events in other works. As noted, I do not, not out of hand, but I want to know why this should be a problem. Secular historians, of course, may have their own biases, but most will treat such claims by saying that they were reported and make no statement one way or the other about the validity thereof. A fair historian will do as E. P. Sanders has done, or Michael Grant, where the empty tomb and resurrection appearances are concerned: admit that the data show that the tomb was indeed empty, and that the disciples did believe that they had seen the Risen Jesus, and acknowledge that the cause is beyond testable history to explain.
The authorship of an ancient document is determined by the internal claims of authorship," Dr. Price said, and then paraded before us four lines of scripture references in Jeremiah where the text says "the word of the LORD (or its equivalent) came to Jeremiah," but if such as this proves anything about authorship, then a Mormon could prove that the books of Nephi were written by a man named Nephi, who lived in Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah; that the book of Jacob was written by a man named Jacob 55 years after Nephi left Jerusalem; that the book of Enos was written by a man named Enos, etc., etc., etc. Dr. Price is approaching this subject as if he thinks that in a time when there were no copyrights or national archives to protect the integrity of documents, it would have been impossible that someone could have altered or revised a text after its author had completed it. To make his case, however, he must present to us unimpeachable evidence that scholars are wrong when they say that this is exactly what happened to the book of Jeremiah, which is the work of many writers over a long period of time.
One would have preferred to see the critic try to argue this with something like the works of Herodotus or Tacitus, but since that's beyond his expertise, Nephi is the best we can expect. Of course in this case authorship by Nephi, on the scale of ancient textual witnesses, isn't even close. With apologies to my Mormon contacts, we have no equivalent to a copy of Nephi's work found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and earlier, as with Jeremiah; we have no external witnesses (like Josephus and the rabbis with Jeremiah), and the textual issues are far from being comparable. To this there may be added issues related to the social complex surrounding Mormonism vs. Judaism.
In regard to the witnesses of Ezra, Chronicles and Daniel, we are told:
However, all of these books are recognized as postexilic works. As such, they were written after the Babylonian captivity, so they would not constitute evidence that Jeremiah's 70-year prophecy was in his original work. The most they could prove would be that the prophecy was in the Jeremiah text at the time that the books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Daniel were written. What Dr. Price must find is clear, incontestable evidence in external sources that Jeremiah made this prophecy before the fact and that it was not put into the text by revisionist scribes and editors.
In other words, even if there were only 70 years, 50 years, whatever; even if the texts are sufficiently uniform, and there is no evidence in the varied and uncontrollable textual tradition for malicious tampering, that's enough room for a Skeptic of faith to throw in the spectre of "revisionist scribes and editors". Another Skeptic writes in the sixth issue, "It could well be that there were a thousand 'prophets' making predictions about how long the Chosen People would remain in captivity in Babylon. Some said 5 years, some said 100, some said forever. Which one gets remembered? The one who came closest."
So where is the evidence that these other 999 prophets (or however many) existed and made such a range of predictions? I think this shows well enough, what lengths will be gone to by Skeptics in order to preserve their religion.
In 1998 Price called the critic down on a few other points, some of which were apparently due to his error in reading. The critic's responses, however, consisted of no new arguments, merely restating the original case, calling up old issues of TSR already refuted here; adding more polemic ("Thousands of variations in the text that they transmitted, not even to mention the existence of two distinct versions of the book of Jeremiah, are sufficient to justify the suspicion that these guardians of the sacred text had not been above tampering with it to make it conform to prevailing views of the times. To think otherwise is to assign a far higher degree of integrity to the Hebrew scribes than biblicists are willing to grant to the scribal transmitters of other ancient religious documents." --actually the critic has no idea what degree of integrity such scholars will grant to other ancient religious documents; and textual criticism is a far more complex matter than that; he also has no more than a fallacious argument of "guilt by association" to cite, without regard to such complexities as the nature and purpose of ancient literature and scribal transmission); see here on things like the parting of the Red Sea, etc.; appealing tp Josephus uncritically; addressing Price's "motives" and biases; and this comment:
Price wagged in the second law of thermodynamics, of course, and said that these "atheistic physicists" had sought to "avoid the necessary conclusions demanded by" this law by "expand[ing] their conception into a mega-universe" with characteristics of eternality that cannot be verified. I suppose Price expects us to believe that a professor of Bible and Hebrew at a fundamentalist seminary is in a better position to evaluate a scientific theory than are some of the most renown physicists in the world. I hope he will excuse me for suspecting that these physicists have given due consideration to the second law of thermodynamics and see no conflict that it poses to the theory of an eternally existing, self-perpetuating universe.
The comment is ironic because for years, this critic -- a teacher of English at a community college -- has been implicitly claiming to be in a better position to evaluate material related to the Bible than some of the most competent scholars in language and Biblical history and society.