Saturday, 24 March 2007

Establishing astronomical synchronisms for Babylon and Assyria

I have been dialoguing with Starwind about the timeframe between the return from captivity and the coming of Jesus. Starwind states:
I don't wish to belabor this, but I do want to ensure I've 'turned over every rock' to discover any error in my own research. So, 3 follow up questions, please?
I need to emphasize that I think scriptural data takes priority. That doesn't mean that other data is useless, it is just that I think scripture gives chronological data far more emphatically that some realise. So I strongly think that Daniel's prophecy refers to the time of Jesus. I also strongly think that the post Persian period is discussed biblically and has a clear scriptural resolution. I also think it is likely that God intends the Old Testament to give a chronology from Creation to Christ. That means that I have less time for chronologies that require Persian histories to give us the period between the Babylon captivity and Artaxerxes. Now that you know my biases...
1) On what basis do you think Ptolemy is wrong? And even so, the neo-babylonian regnal dates are established by modern archeologists/ chronographers independently of Ptolemy's King list which to my knowledge has neither been shown wrong (beyond a few hours in his star catalog) nor is it relied upon after 700BC as mesopotamian cuneiforms provide direct chronologies.
I am somewhat ignorant concerning Babylonian and Assyrian data. I am aware that it exists, but have not read a lot of it. However I do know a little (not a lot) about eclipses. I am also aware that previous revisionist material exists and I do not think it is beyond ancient (or modern) historians to fabricate data to encourage acceptance of their ideas.

Ptolemy was an astronomer. Although he may have access to data we no longer have, he also predicted astronomical events; he was certainly able to add data to his histories. I am not suggesting he did, just that it was possible with the understanding of astronomy of that time (as I understand the situation).

The problem with synchronising eclipses is that the archaeologists and historians already had a timeframe with which they were working with. So when eclipse data predicted on modern computers is matched with ancient data, they look to match eclipses that seem to appear at the same time. If there is an eclipse in Babylon at a time of about 700 BC, they are going to ignore eclipses that are several years prior or later. In fact they may ignore very close eclipses if they are reasonably sure of their dates by other means.

Now due to variation in the earth's rotation speed and some minor changes with the moon, there is a range of areas and times where eclipses occur. This is understood. When dealing with ancient times they calculate the error based on the difference between the calculated and written data. This is fine, but if you then use the data to say one date has preference over another (when there is a dispute) you are now arguing circularly. Standard date is X. Error in eclipse data is said to be x based on predicted versus observed (assuming X is true). New date is Y. This doesn't fit because the error is x. But if Y is assumed, then the error is y (based on predicted versus Y), and under that assumption then X may (or may not) be excluded. I am not saying that X is unacceptable, rather that so much is built on it that advocates of X exclude Y on several lines of evidence that seem to be independent on X but are actually dependent on it.

In terms of direct chronologies, the Assyrians have year lists. That is reasonable, but when were they written compared to the event? The fact that the Hebrew history gives the negative and the positive versus other histories that are adjusted to show the victor in a good light means that the Hebrew should be given a more credence. And I give it even more because it is scripture. When Thiele adjusts Hebrew data to fit Assyrian (removes about 50 years of Hebrew kingship) I don't buy it. I would adjust the Assyrian first. For the 2 reasons above and a third; a complex chronology within a history with multiple comparison points (Hebrew version) is intrinsically stronger than a list. That is also why I don't give much to Manetho's king list (that and he wrote centuries after the events).
2) If you date Cyrus decree to 3477 A.M. doesn't that equal 283 BC to which when 483 years is added => 200 AD which obviously can't be right for the fulfillment of Daniel's 69 weeks? Or is this an erroneous artifact of what you termed the "standard Hebrew dating"? Do you dispute the calendar conversion website I linked? Is there some other Hebrew dating you use?
No, because I don't use the standard Hebrew calendar. Modern Israel has AM dating based on calculations by Yossi ben Halafta. He dates from the creation of Adam. I don't agree with his interpretation of biblical data, so our AM dates don't match up. You can't compare the AM dates I give with the AM dates that is seen in Jewish newspapers. There will be a conversion factor. There is not likely a problem with the conversion on the website you mention, it is just they are using the standard Hebrew dating which I personally thinks needs tweaking to be more accurate.

I think Ussher's dating is more accurate than the modern Jewish one, though obviously prefer mine over Ussher's—they differ less though.
3) are you relying on the Sedar Olam for any of your chronology, and if so might you share a link or cite please to whatever you feel is the most credible source for Sedar Olam chronologies?
I am not relying on the Sedar Olam, my chronology is completely derived from scriptural references. What is interesting with the Sedar Olam is it gives the Persian empire a duration of about 80 years compared to the usual 200. And the Hebrew calendar you mention differs in the dating of the destruction of the first temple compared with the Gregorian/ Julian because of this period.

An aside, the number of Persian kings before the Greeks as given by Daniel does not square with profane chronology.
I'm not arguing so much as wanting to understand the basis for any alternative view, again just to ensure I understand and fully vet my own research.
Agreed. I think there is a lot out there, but there is much more in scripture than many realise. I think it worth the effort to read a lot of scripturally based chronological research. I recommend reading all of James Jordan's material. I disagree with him at times, but it is still essential reading. He is a preterist, so that will colour his views on eschatology but it has little impact on Old Testament chronology. Ernest Martin's book The Star of Bethlehem is about dating Christ's birth in the Julian/ Gregorian calendar. You can view the flash demonstration of the astronomical events before deciding to read the book. One needs an anchor from scriptural chronology to the current dating system. I think Martin provides the best evidence for the time of Christ's birth and the best anchor point (along with the date of his crucifixion) to Anno Domini.

2 comments:

  1. I recommend reading all of James Jordan's material. I disagree with him at times, but it is still essential reading. He is a preterist, so that will colour his views on eschatology but it has little impact on Old Testament chronology.

    Jordan computes 538 BC as Cyrus 1st year ("Daniel: Historical & Chronological Comments (VIII)" Biblical Chronology Vol. 7, No. 7 July, 1995) and Jordan then proposes times for the 7 weeks and 62 weeks of Daniel 9:25 & 26 ("Daniel: Historical & Chronological Comments (X)" Biblical Chronology Vol. 7, No. 9 Sepetmber, 1995):

    "The seven weeks of 49 years run from Cyrus's decree to the end of Nehemiah. The fact that these were literally 49 years establishes that the "weeks" of this passage are groups of years.

    "After the 62 weeks" must mean during the 70th. The cutting off of the Messiah refers to the events of ad 30, Jesus' excommunication and crucifixion. Notice that the coming of Christ's vengeance army, the Romans, is not said to happen in the 70th week, but only in a time after the block of 62 weeks."

    Jordan even proposes a detailed timeline for the 7 weeks from 538-489 B.C. in "Daniel: Historical & Chronological Comments (XI)" Biblical Chronology Vol. 7, No. 11 November, 1995 and "Daniel: Historical & Chronological Comments (XII)" Biblical Chronology Vol. 7, No. 10 October, 1995. Not surprisingly, Jordan proposes no similar timeline for the 62 weeks ending in Christ's crucifixion in 30 AD, because he doesn't have one that actually fits. I'm sure Jordan is aware of this difficulty with his theory.

    The only way Jordan can make this fit is to assume a "gap" between the 7 weeks and the 62 weeks. If the starting decree is Cyrus in -538 B.C. + 49 years = 489 B.C. and if the 62 weeks ended in A.D. 30 yields 30 - (62 x 7) +1 = - 403 B.C.

    So Jordan requires a gap between 489 B.C. (the end of the 7 weeks) and 403 B.C. (start of the 62 weeks) plus he implicity presumes some justification exists in Daniels prophecy for starting the 62 weeks in 403 BC and there is no such justification, neither biblically nor historically. Further, Jordan, as a Preterist, will tell you that no gap is allowed between the 62 weeks and the 70th week (in spite of Dan 9:26 describing events after the 62 weeks and before the 70th week of Dan 9:27), but he'll implicity rely on his own gap between the 7 weeks and 62 weeks (in spite of no biblical evidence whatsoever in Dan 9:25).

    Sincerely, getting Biblical Chronology right is difficult enough without wasting time on theories which seemingly avoid even the most basic validity checks, and aren't forthcoming enough to minimally identify and acknowledge known difficulties with what is proposed.

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  2. I am somewhat ignorant concerning Babylonian and Assyrian data. I am aware that it exists, but have not read a lot of it. However I do know a little (not a lot) about eclipses. I am also aware that previous revisionist material exists and I do not think it is beyond ancient (or modern) historians to fabricate data to encourage acceptance of their ideas.

    Ptolemy was an astronomer. Although he may have access to data we no longer have, he also predicted astronomical events; he was certainly able to add data to his histories. I am not suggesting he did, just that it was possible with the understanding of astronomy of that time (as I understand the situation).

    Regarding concerns over Ptolemy's kings lists, keep in mind that Ptolemy didn't invent them. Rather Ptolemy seems to have picked up where Hipparchus left off. Hipparchus derived his list in 2nd century B.C. presumably from then extant sources. What Ptolemy added were synchronisms with astronomical events and a summarized table (Ptolemy's Canon) of kings and their reigns.

    Ptolemy's astronomical observations and calculations were reasonably accurate and Hipparchus's sources of neo-babylonian king lists apparently were likewise reasonably accurate as they've not been changed appreciably over the last 2 millennia. The thousands of cuneiforms tablets and stelea, etc, unearthed since then has both confirmed these particular king lists from about 800 BC forward, but moreover, modern king lists are reconstructed entirely independently from the archeological artifacts.

    The problem with synchronising eclipses is that the archaeologists and historians already had a timeframe with which they were working with. So when eclipse data predicted on modern computers is matched with ancient data, they look to match eclipses that seem to appear at the same time. If there is an eclipse in Babylon at a time of about 700 BC, they are going to ignore eclipses that are several years prior or later. In fact they may ignore very close eclipses if they are reasonably sure of their dates by other means.

    There are about 230-250 eclipses every century but only 5 or fewer eclipses in any year, each of varying degree depending on location of the observer. Regardless, NASA's modern computations of when and where every eclipse occurred and its kind is undisputed. Within a the narrow location of an eclipse observer, and if the eclipse is described as total or partial, there are in fact very few eclipse events with which to synchronize with historical events. There were only two eclipses in 700 BC (see http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/SEcat/SE-0799--0700.html ) for example, but none whose eclipse paths were observable in Babylon ( see http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/SEatlas/SEatlas-1/SEatlas-0719.GIF ) in exactly 700 BC.

    So, if for example, some historical event was said to coincide with an eclipse in Babylon in 700 BC, then obviously there were none and someone has a lot of 'splain'n to do as NASA's calculations are likely (at least for now) deemed more reliable than ancient sources. So, yes, if eclipse synchronisms are not confirmed, then other means need to be relied upon and the eclipse inconsistency explained, legitimately.

    Conversely, Didodorus Siculus records a total eclipse on Aug 15, 309 BC which passed directly over Syracuse Sicily, "in the chancellorship of Hieromnemones at Athens and the consulship of Caius Julius and Quintus Æmilius at Rome" during which year Agathocles in Syracuse experienced "such an eclipse of the sun, that the stars appeared everywhere in the firmament, and the day was turned into night" which eclipse coincides with what NASA computes (see http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/SEatlas/SEatlas-1/SEatlas-0319.GIF and http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/SEcat/SE-0399--0300.html ) and this synchronism forms part of the basis for dating Olympic year 1 to 776 BC.

    When Thiele adjusts Hebrew data to fit Assyrian (removes about 50 years of Hebrew kingship) I don't buy it. I would adjust the Assyrian first. For the 2 reasons above and a third; a complex chronology within a history with multiple comparison points (Hebrew version) is intrinsically stronger than a list.

    While Thiele can be criticized for suggesting scriptural emendations to resolve some discrepancies, Thiele's (and McFall's) contributions are to explain the different regnal years systems used by different biblical writers. That does not require altering scripture. That is in fact no different than explaining the meanings of Hebrew words in context of Old Testament Israelite culture. Biblical writers didn't all refer to the same system when they each recorded some event. In so far as dating Daniel's prophecies goes, Thiele & McFall's work in fact reconciles biblical passages and secular history without altering either. That I'm aware of, I relied on no scripture emendations from any source. Rather, using Thiele/McFall reckoning I in fact reconciled seeming scriptural discrepancies without altering scripture.

    I won't pretend to be familiar with every criticism of Thiele & McFall, but by your criteria of formulating a complex chronology with multiple comparison points (in which I would include secular history), there are *none* that are "intrinsically strong" that don't also rely on recognition of different regnal year reckoning systems, co-regencies, calendar differences, and even modern eclipse computations. All reasonably complete ancient chronologies rely on both biblical and archeological sources, as they should since the truth will ultimately explain both. There is no reason to alter either. There is every reason to reconcile both. Note again above that Jordan made no effort to complete his theory with a timeline of Daniel's 62 weeks. Jordan is in no position to criticize Thiele.

    … I don't use the standard Hebrew calendar. … You can't compare the AM dates I give with the AM dates that is seen in Jewish newspapers.

    Perhaps your "dating" ought not to be referred to as "A.M." as there is an implied dating and conversion to other calendars that accompanies that terminology.

    There will be a conversion factor.

    Ok, but what is it? Until you lay this out in some detail there is little basis on which to analyze it. You gave a list, but no details about how your list is dated or substantiated other than it is "completely derived from scriptural references" which given that scripture does not purport to present a complete history of kings and empires (e.g. the intertestamental void) is rather problematic. I pointed out a problem using it to date Daniel's prophecy of 69 weeks but you assert your math is correct with the proper conversion, but you still haven't offered an explanation of what that proper conversion is.

    An aside, the number of Persian kings before the Greeks as given by Daniel does not square with profane chronology.

    And where did Daniel say he provided a chronology or even a list of all Persian kings? What Daniel said was after Cyrus, four more kings would arise in Persia, and that the 4th would arouse the Persian empire against Greece. Daniel did not state there would be no more Persian kings after the fourth nor that Greece would conquer Persia subsequent to the fourth Persian king.

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