Some have cited the ancient tablet known as BM21946 as proof of their theory that Neb conquered Jerusalem and took exiles in his first year. Is this true?
With this work we did not intend to examine the secular evidence to prove 607 or disprove 587. However, upon investigating this piece of secular evidence, we were surprised to see that it actually supports 607 -based chronology rather than any of the 587 theories. In fact, we believe this document disproves the idea that Neb took exiles in his first year in 605 BCE (secular chronology) once and for all.
The tablet is an ancient chronicle mainly consisting of a history of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquests. It is probably a copy of an earlier version. It contains 48 lines of text, many of which are damaged and can only be partially read. Other lines of text have been permanently lost. The text itself is very propagandistic, putting Neb and Babylon in a constant good light, while putting others in the worst light possible. Military victories are always portrayed as glorious, whereas military defeats are glossed-over and down-played. Neither in victories nor defeats are any Babylonian losses ever mentioned.
Line 8 of this chronicle covers the year 605 BCE in secular chronology, and there appear the words “At that time Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole area of the Hatti-country.” Now, some argue that the “Hatti-country” covers a wide area of land, including Judah and Jerusalem. Therefore, they cite this as proof that King Neb did indeed come to Jerusalem and take exiles in his 1st year.
However, a reading of the whole tablet shows that this is clearly not what the author of the tablet had in mind, and that such an event is quite impossible according to the chronicle’s own text. How so?
First, you need to understand what was happening at that time. The chronicle documents Neb’s victory over Egypt at the famous battle of Carchemish. This battle was so significant that Jehovah himself spoke to Jeremiah because of it at . The battle took place about 720 km (450 miles) to the north of Jerusalem, on the modern Turkish-Syrian border. Due to their defeat at this battle, Egypt lost its grip over the entire region and Babylon then ruled supreme.
We know from other sources that this battle occurred in May/June of that year. After this, the chronicle makes the statement that Neb conquered “the whole area of the Hatti-country”. Now, the chronicle goes on to say that about two months later in the middle of August, Neb’s father Nabopolassar died. Hence, Neb returned to Babylon to be crowed King and arrived in early September.
What does this all mean? It means that for Neb to have attacked Jerusalem and taken exiles in this year, he must have accomplished the following all within 3 months:
The problem with this scenario is that is it physically impossible.
First of all, consider that Neb returned to Babylon to be crowned King. If he was in the vicinity of Jerusalem when he heard of his father’s death, then hurried home to be crowned, the following problem arises: According to the chronicle Neb’s father died on the 8th day of the month of Ab. Then, 22 days later, Neb was crowned King back in Babylon on the 1st day of Elul.
Therefore, if Neb was at Jerusalem when his father died, there was a window of just 22 days for a messenger to be dispatched and for Neb to return home. That’s an average of 11 days each way, 11 days for the messenger to go to Jerusalem, and 11 days for Neb to return to Babylon. Considering the great distances involved, this is impossible.
Both the messenger and King Neb would have had to average 107 km (66 miles) per day along major routes, or 81 km (50 miles) per day in a straight line. Both of these routes are over extremely rough terrain, especially the latter route.
This is impossible. A good pace for an army is 15 miles per day. For a horse and chariot about 30 miles per day is good, and about 45 miles per day is the limit, but that pace cannot be maintained for 11 days in a row.
The obvious answer is that King Neb was no where near as far south as Jerusalem when he heard of his father’s death. If a messenger was sent to him, wherever he was, he was within 10 days riding distance of Babylon. If no messenger was sent, he must have been on his way home for some time.
What does this mean for us? It means King Neb had even less time to conquer all of the Hatti-country including Judea.
In fact, to accomplish what some 587-promoters are arguing, Neb would have had to travel from the battlefield at Carchemish to Jerusalem, and then to Babylon. This is a distance 2,250 km (1,400 miles) along major routes, or 1,900 km (1,180 miles) in a straight line. At 24 km per day (15 miles per day) that would take 78 days of pure traveling time. That’s like walking from:
Also keep in mind that this traveling time is not taking into account extra days needed for things such as replenishing supplies, conquering all the cities, laying siege to Jerusalem, or even to chase after and finish off the Egyptians after the battle (as the tablet states). We also don’t know how long the battle of Carchemish lasted.
As a final point, we are being extremely generous with the 24 km per day (15 miles per day). One work (Wilson 1969: 235, n. 1.) claims that the quickest rate of travel over the rugged Canaan terrain is about 11 km (7 miles) per day.
To claim that in a period of 90 days, at least 78 of which is pure traveling time, Neb accomplished all of this, is unrealistic and humanly impossible. How could Neb had conquered all those cities and small Kingdoms (including Judea and Jerusalem) in the absolute maximum of 12 full days remaining for pure conquest? It is absurd.
The tablet shows us that Neb did in fact return to the Hatti-land numerous times in the later years. The last recorded visit to the area by Neb was about 7 years before his death. Yes, so rather than it taking about 12 days to conquer the whole Hatti-land and Jerusalem, it really took him about 40 years! Indeed, the chronicle testifies to this fact, for it itself gives away the fact that the whole area was not conquered in that year.
On line 17 it is stated that “all the kings of the Hatti-land came before him and he received their heavy tribute.” Does this really mean “all the kings”? Apparently not, for the next lines contradicts this and say: “He marched to the city of Ashkelon and captured it... he captured its king and plundered it... he turned the city into a mound”.
So in on one line it claims “all” the kings of the region are giving him tribute, yet the next few lines speak of Ashkelon being conquered. Obviously, “all” the kings is a bit of an exaggeration. Additionally, numerous times Neb returns to the area with his troops. The chronicle even ends with stating that Neb was, yet again, mustering his “troops ... and marched to the Hatti-land”. If the whole area was already conquered, we wonder why he repeatedly returned with his army year after year.
The answer is obvious. When the chronicle originally said “At that time Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole area of the Hatti-country”, it was talking about the result of the victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish. That is, in fact, the event it is talking about when it says “at that time”. In context it says, “the Babylonian troops overtook and defeated them [the Egyptians] so that not a single man escaped to his own country. At that time Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole area of the Hatti-country.”
Yes, Egypt was no longer the superpower in the region – that was now Babylon. Beforehand Egypt had been taking tribute from the Kings in the region (including Judah, at times). Now that passed to the Babylonians instead. Any who resisted this change would suffer at the hand of Babylon’s army – as Ashkelon later did.
The BM21946 tablet does not support the idea that Neb took exiles from Jerusalem in his 1st year. On the contrary, he did not have enough time to do so. Neb did not win the Battle of Carchemish, conquer the whole Hatti-country, and travel 1,900 km in the space of 90 days. It is impossible. On the contrary, the chronology of the chronicle lines up well with 607-based chronology. This is what we feel most likely happened:
After the battle of Carchemish, Neb may have heard or already knew that his father was very sick and would not live much longer. Neb set up camp at Riblah (320 km / 200 miles north of Jerusalem) and left some of his army there until the time that he should return. He tied up a few loose ends in the area and then headed back to Babylon. When his father died he was already well on his way to Babylon and was within 22 days of Babylon.
He then returned to Riblah with his army and began to carry out campaigns against the region from there. He defeated many of the nations and in February 624 he returned home again with much tribute, but not with any Jewish exiles or tribute from Jerusalem. He celebrated the new year in the spring of 624, and his first year as King began. He then returned to Riblah to continue his campaign in the Hatti-country.
On this occasion he headed down to Ashkelon and conquered it. Once again he returned to Babylon in February 623 and celebrated the new year in Babylon. This seems to be the only thing he did in that year of importance. To think that he just swept over the whole country in less than 3 months time before his father’s death and conquered the whole area from Carchemish to Egypt is totally absurd.
In his 4th year as King (620 bce) he finally headed to take care of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was well fortified and would not be an easy conquest. Jehoiakim, who was in his 8th year, offered tribute, allegiance, and a bribe to avoid the conflict. Neb was satisfied with this, and thus continued on to Egypt. This event is covered in the Bible at .
This is actually the first time he went as far as Egypt, it seems. The battle was fierce and Neb was defeated. He headed back to Babylon and stayed there until the 5th year to bolster his army. Meanwhile, Jehoiakim probably celebrated and became less afraid of Babylon due to the defeat of them by the former regional power of Egypt.
Neb returned to the area in his 6th year, but didn't even go near Jerusalem. The chronicle says, “from the Hatti-land he sent out his companies, and scouring the desert they took much plunder from the Arabs, their possessions, animals and gods.” Perhaps this was done to fortify his army and make it stronger.
Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, King Jehoiakim was feeling that Babylon had grown weak and had not made any campaigns into the area around Judea. Hence, he decided he could rebel and Egypt would protect him. Therefore, the very next year Neb came back again and attacked Jehoiakim – killing him and soon thereafter taking his son Jehoiachin captive before leaving Zedekiah in charge. The siege began late in 618 and ended early in 617. Jehoiakim thought he could again bribe his way out of it again – but this time it didn't work.
The capture of Jehoiakim is the first time where Judah and Jerusalem are specially mentioned by name in the tablet. It says, “In the seventh year, the month of Kislev, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and encamped against (i.e. besieged) the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Adar he seized the city and captured the king.” This king would be Jehoiakim. Next, “He appointed there a king of his own choice (lit. heart), received its heavy tribute and sent (them) to Babylon.” This king of “his own choice” would be Zedekiah.
So the first mention in the chronicle of Jerusalem being besieged and tribute being taken — is also the first time it is described in the Bible. It is also the first batch of exiles recorded by Jeremiah. The chronicle does not mention similar events happening earlier, in Neb’s first year, whatsoever. Why? Because such an event is an apostate fantasy. It never happened. Their own secular evidence fails to mention it, but is happy to mention all events that are in full agreement with the Bible and 607 chronology. Why is that? Because Neb did not conquer Jerusalem in his first year. The first time exiles were taken according to the tablet, is in his seventh year - in total agreement with the Bible and 607 chronology.
Further, the chronology in the tablet makes it clearly impossible for exiles to be taken in his first year. There is not enough time. Neb was not Superman, he could not fly. No exiles were taken, or could have been taken, in Neb’s first year according to BM21946.
The contents of the chronicle all lines up perfectly with the Bible’s account and the 607-based interpretation. On the other hand, 587 promoters who insist exiles were taken in Neb’s 1st year turn a plausible chain of events and dates into an absurd mish-mash of grossly unrealistic demands and a ridiculous time-scale – all based on the misinterpretation of a single line in the BM21946 chronicle. Clearly, no exiles were taken in Neb’s first year and Neb could not conquer the whole area in a few days. How absurd to even suggest it! Both the secular evidence and the Biblical evidence proves it could not have occurred.
Interestingly, the Jews of Jesus’ day (and thus, the early Christian congregation) didn’t believe such an event happened either. We know this because the historian Josephus who lived during the first century wrote about the history of the Jews, and had this to say about the time of Neb’s conquest of the Hatti-country:
“So the king of Babylon passed over Euphrates, and [over the course of many years] took all Syria, as far as Pelusium [on the border with Egypt], excepting Judea.”
About 4 lines missing
Upper lines missing.
For more thoughts on the secular evidence, see: