Academic

Watchtower's Math Problem

Archaeologist measuring piece of floor in excavation of Jerusalem

How they built the foundation of their religion on a historical inaccuracy and defend their mistake with dishonesty


The year 2011 was a milestone in my personal awakening from Watchtower. I was in my early 40s, had recently graduated from college, and had spent the previous 2 or 3 years silently struggling with a lot of nagging questions about the religion I had been devoted to for my entire life. The questions I was wrestling with seemed to cover just about every aspect of my faith:

  • Would Jehovah actually execute every man, woman, and child whom he deemed unworthy of living forever?
  • Would I withold a life-saving blood transfusion from one of my children because my parents' religion told me to?
  • Why were the number of Memorial partakers increasing every year when everything I learned as an adolescent Witness indicated that the number of anointed on earth should be nearing zero as we approached Armadeddon?

Many of my questions reflected my intense desire to understand the deeper aspects of the religion. Having just graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from Tulane University, I was no longer content with the Watchtower's superficial answers, their dumbed-down writing style, and their way of deflecting tough questions by admonishing us to 'wait on Jehovah.' Additionally, I had an overabundance of secular material available to me in the university's online library system, and over the previous 5 years I had learned how simple the quest for knowledge can be once I had the tools (and courage) to question my own faith.

One of the questions that I had would take me down a rabbit hole, one that was as deep and disorienting as anything Alice experienced. The question was simple: why does the Watchtower insist that Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 607 B.C.E. while every other secular source I could find gave a different date: 587/586 B.C.E.?

If you the reader are unsure of why the answer to this question could completely undermine everything the Watchtower teaches, including their claim to be God's chosen channel of communication with humankind, I encourage you to pause here and look on the Watchtower's official website, jw.org, at the following references[1]. They can all be found by going to the "Library" section.

  • Watchtower, 2011: October 1 and November 1
  • Insight on the Scriptures: article on 'Chronology'
  • Reasoning from the Scriptures: article on 'Dates'; subheading 'Why do Jehovah's Witnesses say that God's kingdom was established in 1914?'

Why the year 607 B.C.E. got my attention

Throughout my life, I have been an epistemophile. If a topic piques my curiosity then I am inclined to take a deep dive into it, try to understand it, reverse engineer it, and prove to myself its validity (or lack thereof). Growing up in a Jehovah's Witness household had a dampening effect on my love of learning, as we were instructed to limit the scope of our research to Watchtower publications and a handful of secular sources that had been cherry-picked for us by the Watchtower. Imagine being a young person who loves to hunt but is only permitted to hunt with a toy bow and arrow in a petting zoo; that's exactly how I felt growing up. And so I spent most of my first three decades pushing away any deeper questions related to Watchtower teachings or my personal beliefs. 

But when I started college in my mid 30s, I was given the green light to ask any question, challenge any answer, fact-check any (and every) authority, and find my own way through sources of information. I was majoring in journalism, a field that emphasizes the skills of thorough research, discernment between credible and unreliable sources, and problem solving to find answers to challenging inquiries. While a student, I also did some freelance journalism for a local news service, gaining real-time experience in identifying and evaluating my own sources and crafting well-rounded narratives. 

With this newfound confidence in myself, I began looking more critically at Watchtower teachings. For me, college was a game-changing experience, an opportunity to do actual research instead of playing make believe in Watchtower's intellectual petting zoo. 

One of the topics I decided to dig into was the date of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. I had always heard from the Watchtower that it was 607 B.C.E., but I also recalled reading that there was some debate about that year in the scientific community. Little did I know that there actually isn't a debate about this; every single source I have seen, aside from the Watchtower or someone trying to defend the Watchtower, agrees that the actual date was 587/586 B.C.E. I have never seen a credible source even suggest otherwise. This fact actually adds an unexpected challenge for any of Jehovah's Witnesses who are looking to satisfy their own search for truth: no one writes anything that argues the year.

If someone told you that the World Trade Center buildings in New York City were destroyed in 1981 instead of 2001, would you even feel that you needed to prove them wrong? If you did decide to research the topic, would you expect to find any articles on the topic "1981 vs. 2001"? Of course not, because there is no controversy. For the same reason, you just won't find articles (outside of Watchtower) that even suggest there is controversy between 607 and 587. Why not? My guess is because serious archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and academics in general have far more important things to do than to debate a non-issue with an insignificant American religion, one that prefers to rewrite world history rather than admit that their founder was relying on inaccurate information.

This lack of scholarly debate, however, should not be mistaken for a lack of evidence. In fact, the evidence for 587 BCE as the year of Jerusalem's destruction is robust, multidisciplinary, and widely corroborated, a fact that I was only beginning to understand. But I wasn't satisfied simply reading other peoples' opinions, so I decided to use the researching skills I'd discovered in college. I wrote a personal email to Dr. Eilat Mazar. Dr. Mazar, who passed away in 2021, was a renowned archaeologist specializing in Jerusalem's history. The Biblical Archaeology Society calls her the "Queen of Jerusalem Archaeology"[3], and the Watchtower had used her as a source[4].

My email to Dr. Mazan was simple and straightforward. One of the Watchtower's publications had mentioned one of her excavations related to 'Jerusalem's destruction in 607 B.C.E.', so I simply asked her if she supported 607 as the correct date. She emailed me back with a firm 'no':

"In all my publications, I have mentioned 586 BCE as the year for the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and I have never given any other optional date." 

To me, this statement did two things. First, it highlights the disparity between scholarly consensus and the Watchtower Society's teachings. And second, it demonstrates the Watchtower's willingness to dishonestly misuse the work of experts to give their writings the appearance of academic authority. I don't need a college degree to recognize deliberate, brazen deception. 

Biblical Interpretation Cognitive Dissonance Crisis of Faith Critical Thinking Doctrinal Origins Education Questioning Research

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