The Change of 606 to 607 B.C. as the Start of the "Gentile Times"

Alan Feuerbacher

In this post I will challenge you to defend the honesty of the Watchtower Society on a major question. It will require you to look up information in a couple of 1940s-era books and perhaps other material, but I'm sure that a man of your resources can manage it. If you can not or do not respond, then it will be evident that you enjoy blowing smoke more than you do serious discussion.

From its inception until 1943 the Society taught that "the Gentile times" ran 2,520 years from October 1, 606 B.C. until October 1, 1914 A.D. This was based on the generally accepted date of 536 B.C. for the fall of Babylon and the return of the Jewish exiles to Judah. These dates were not universally accepted but the majority of scholars for centuries had done so. In 1876 C. T. Russell borrowed the "Gentile times" chronology from N. H. Barbour. Both of them appeared unaware that there was no "zero year" between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D., and so their end date should have been 1915, not 1914. In later years both of them became aware of the zero year problem. By that time Barbour had split from Russell and we will not consider him further. In 1904 Russell realized that there was a problem with his chronology and thereafter waffled back and forth on whether the "Gentile times" would end in October of 1914 or 1915.

By the turn of the century most historians had accepted the modern dates for the fall of Babylon and the repatriation of the Jews, 539 and 537 B.C. respectively. In 1913 one of Russell's close advisers, P. S. L. Johnson, informed Russell that the 606 date was wrong, based on this information. Russell accepted Johnson's information but somehow the new dates never got into a revised edition of Studies in the Scriptures. Likely by the time new printing plates could be scheduled to be made, the events of 1914 swallowed any possible changes. Oddly enough, the 1917 book The Finished Mystery contains a chart of dates, showing the destruction of Jerusalem in 607, not 606 B.C. Apparently the authors, Fischer and Woodworth, knew about Johnson's arguments and accepted them. Likely Rutherford, politician that he was, did not want to rock the boat by changing such a fundamental date as 606 B.C., especially when the "Millions" campaign got going and everything was supposed to end in 1925.

In 1935 C. J. Woodworth published a chart of chronology in The Golden Age that again showed the fall of Jerusalem and the start of "the Gentile times" in 607 B.C. A couple of articles in other WT literature appeared between then and 1943 alluding to the possibility of revising some dates based apparently on research Fred Franz was doing in the field of secular chronology, where the dates were as I mentioned above. Until 1943 the Society was unsure whether Babylon fell in 537 or 538 B.C., but was coming down on the side of 537 as the year of the repatriation of the Jews. By the end of 1943 they had changed the dates to 537 and 607, neatly dealing with the "zero year" problem. The error in the starting date and in neglecting the "zero year" problem canceled out, leaving 1914 intact as the end date.

Now we get to the bone of contention: In the 1943 book The Truth Shall Make You Free (p. 239) the Society changed the date for the start of "the Gentile times" from 606 to 607 B.C. The explanation is impossible to follow but gives the impression that the change is only a few months, from some time in early 606 B.C. back a few months to about the beginning of October, 607 B.C. One idea invoked was that the "vulgar year" of 606 B.C. actually started in October, 607 B.C., "Jewish time", because that was about when the Jewish year started. In making this explanation, however, the Society ignored the fact that Russell dated the beginning of "the Gentile times" to October of 606 B.C., so their implication that their change was only part of a year was an outright lie since it was a change of exactly one year. They also neglected to inform the reader that the real reasons for changing the date were a desire to correct Russell's error in neglecting the "zero year" problem, and that secular history proved Russell's starting date for "the Gentile times" wrong.

These lies and distortions resulted in some amusing problems. In the 1943 book, the Society forgot to change the date for the fall of Jerusalem, so that according to this book "the Gentile times" began ten months before Jerusalem fell! In other words, this book had the Gentile times beginning in October, 607 B.C. and Jerusalem falling ten months later in the summer of 606 B.C. The Society later translated the book into languages other than English, and in some cases (I've verified German, Danish and Arabic) the translated explanation had the change of date going from the fall of 607 back to the fall of 608 B.C. In both cases the end result was that 607 as a magic year remained the same, which meant that these non-English translations actually made no changes at all even while informing the reader that a change of part of a year was being made. This is rather like explaining to an English audience that 1+3=5 and to a German audience that 1+4=5, and therefore that 5 is a magic number they should put faith in.

The Society changed the date for the fall of Jerusalem from the summer of 606 to the summer of 607 B.C. in the 1944 book The Kingdom Is At Hand (p. 171), in another lying explanation. The footnote on the bottom of page 171 informs the reader that the chronological chart on the following pages shows the fall of Jerusalem in 607 B.C. and refers the reader back to page 239 of The Truth Shall Make You Free for an explanation. However, as I have said, that book never changed the date, and on page 239 made the explicit statement that Jerusalem fell in the summer of 606 B.C.

These lies were compounded further in articles on chronology in The Watchtower in 1952 and 1955. They glossed over the lying explanations and pretended that the change of dates was all in order. The 1988 Revelation Climax book (p. 105) compounded the lies even further by giving a terribly fuzzy reference to the 1943 changes and saying that it was "providential" that Russell's errors had canceled one another, leaving the 1914 date intact.

Now, Robert, you may think that this is not particularly a problem, but it indicates that the Society's leading writers, and therefore its leaders, were and are unwilling to tell the truth about their errors. It proves that these men love the status quo more than they do truth, and are unwilling to be embarrassed by telling the truth about a matter as important as the basis for the foundation date 1914. Can you imagine yourself writing an explanation that you know is wrong, and then presenting it to "Jehovah's people" in Jehovah's name?

I know from personal experience how the Society works, because some years ago I wrote a letter directly to the Writing Department asking them to explain the above matters in a way that anyone could understand. I received no response but learned about six months later that no one in the Department was willing to tackle trying to answer, and that they had written a letter to the congregation I occasionally attended inquiring about my "status" in an attempt to see if I were a vile "apostate". That was one of the main things that convinced me that the Watchtower Society is rotten to the core, since it condemns others for lying and yet lies about fundamental doctrines, and is more interested in protecting itself than in letting the truth be known.

As I have said before, Robert, apparently neither you nor the Society believe the words of Job 13:7-12, which boil down to "Jehovah will severely punish those who lie in his name". Since you're big on the punishment theme, I would think that this scripture would make you sit up and take notice.

Let's now see if you can manage an intelligent defense. And please don't invoke Jesus' conduct, as he never told lies in his father's name so that he had to defend against that charge.