Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 29
In past studies we saw that archaeologists have discovered records of three ancient deportations of people from Judah to Babylon: 605 BC, 597 BC, and 586 BC. Daniel was taken during the first captivity in 605 BC (Daniel 1:1-7). Many scholars believe Ezekiel was taken during the second captivity in 597 BC.
One thing the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel have in common among critics is they believe both were written later than the 6th century BC. The reason for that is simple – if Daniel and Ezekiel wrote during the 6th century BC, then the accuracy of their prophecies would be formidible to their opponents. As we saw in earlier studies, the Hebrew writing in Daniel is consistent with a 6th century BC dating, similar to Ezekiel’s Hebrew. Could it be that critics oppose these findings because of their anti-supernatural bias?
Let’s see what we can learn from archaeology – keeping in mind that this series is about what archaeological evidence existed in 1971 when I was an atheist investigating the claims of the Bible.
“Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.” Ezekiel 1:1-3
The first three verses of the Book of Ezekiel are specific about the time and place where Ezekiel lived when he first saw visions from God. Ezekiel was a Hebrew priest who lived ‘in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar’ in the “thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month.” Ezekiel may have been referring to his own age as being 30-years-old. The significance may have come from the age that Jewish men served as priests (see Numbers 4). The fifth year of “King Jehoiachin’s captivity” is significant because it dates Ezekiel’s vision to about 593 BC.
According to 2 Kings 24, Jehoiachin was 18-years-old when he became king, but he reigned in Jerusalem for only three months before King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, “in the eighth year of his reign,” attacked Jerusalem and took King Jehoiachin and the royal family prisoners back to Babylon.
An archaeological find known as the “Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle” has helped historians date the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II. The clay tablet (ABC5) was discovered during 19th century AD excavations in Babylon, but not translated for several decades. It details the first decade of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (total reign 605-562 BC). Archaeologist and Assyriologist Donald Wiseman worked for years at the British Museum and was able to decipher the Babylonian text. In 1956, Wiseman established the date of Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of Jerusalem based on the ancient tablet as March 16, 597 BC.
“In the seventh year (of Nebuchadnezzar-599 BC.) in the month Chislev (Nov/Dec) the king of Babylon assembled his army, and after he had invaded the land of Hatti (Syria/Palestine) he laid siege to the city of Judah. On the second day of the month of Adar (16 March) he conquered the city and took the king (Jeconiah) prisoner. He installed in his place a king (Zedekiah) of his own choice, and after he had received rich tribute, he sent forth to Babylon.” No 24 WA21946, The Babylonian Chronicles, The British Museum
This dating by a Babylonian clay tablet matches the Bible’s (2 Kings 24) dating of Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of King Jehoiachin in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Based on the Bible and the Babylonian Chronicle tablet, the fifth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity would have been in 593 BC (possibly July 593 BC). Ezekiel used the year of Jehoiachin’s captivity (and the beginning of his own exile) throughout his writings to date a variety of events (e.g. Ezekiel 1:2; 8:1; 20:1; 24:1; 29:1; 30:20; 31:1)
The name of the village where Ezekiel spoke to the Hebrew captives after God called him to a prophetic ministry was “Tel Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar” (Ezekiel 3:15). Archaeologists have led many excavations in the Khabur Valley and some believe the Khabur River is the same as the River Chebar. Professor Hermann Vollrat Hilprecht of the University of Pennsylvania believed he discovered the ancient Chebar River in the name Canal Kabari near Nippur. He conducted the Babylonian Expedition in the late 19th century AD. The modern city of Tel Aviv, Israel, may have been named after the ancient town of Tel Abib in Babylon.
The timing listed in the first few verses of the Book of Ezekiel places Ezekiel as a captive in Babylon in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity (593 BC). Jehoiachin reigned in Judah for only three months and was taken to Babylon in 597 BC along with many of his subjects. Ezekiel may have been among those early captives taken from Judah to Babylon.
An Objection Overruled
One objection to the authenticity of Ezekiel is the author’s dating events by “King Jehoiachin’s captivity.” Archaeologist W.F. Albright addressed the criticism of opponents, like C.C. Torrey, who believed Ezekiel was a revision of a 3rd-century pseudepigraphon because Jehoiachin would not have been referred to as “king.” German archaeologist Robert Koldewey excavated the ancient city of Babylon from 1899 – 1917 and discovered tablets in the royal archives that mentioned food rations for “Ya’u-kinu, king of the land of Yahudu” and his sons.
(a) To Ya’u-kin, king [of the land of Yaudu].
(b) 1/2 (PI) for Ya’u kinu, king of the land of Ya[hu-du]
2 1/2 sila for the fi[ve]sons of the king of the land of Yahudu
4 sila for eight men, Judaeans [each] 1/2 [sila]
(c) 1/2 (PI) for Ya’u [-kinu]
2 ½ sila for the five sons…
½ (PI) for Yaku-kinu, son of the king of the land of Yakudu
2 1/2 sila for the five sons of the king of Yakundu by the hand of Kanama.
(d) ….Ya]’u-kinu, king of he land of Yahudu […the five sons of the king] of the land of Yahudu by the hand of Kanama. (http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Doc5/grabbe.htm)
The Babylonians viewed Jehoiachin as the rightful king of Judah, thus supporting Ezekiel’s use of his title. Archaeologists dated the rations tablets from early 6th century BC, which also supports the biblical dating of the Book of Ezekiel.
One of the attributes of Ezekiel’s writing that stood out to me as a journalist was his use of specific dates and places in referring to his own historical connection to the exile. That’s the kind of information I would expect in an historical document. Plus, historical declarations can be compared to historical detail.
“Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of theLord was upon him there.” Ezekiel 1:1-3
“And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the LordGod fell upon me there.” Ezekiel 8:1
“It came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month,that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me.” Ezekiel 20:1
“Again, in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, write down the name of the day, this very day—the king of Babylon started his siege against Jerusalem this very day.” Ezekiel 24:1-2
“And it came to pass in the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, because Tyre has said against Jerusalem, ‘Aha! She is broken who was the gateway of the peoples; now she is turned over to me; I shall be filled; she is laid waste.'” Ezekiel 26:1-2
“In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the word of theLord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him, and against all Egypt.” Ezekiel 29:1-2
“Now it came to pass in the eleventh year, in the third month, on the first day of the month, that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude…” Ezekiel 31:1-2
“And it came to pass in the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him…” Ezekiel 32:1-2
“It came to pass also in the twelfth year, on the fifteenth day of the month, that the word of the Lord came to me, saying…” Ezekiel 32:17
“And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, that one who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, ‘The city has been captured!” Ezekiel 33:21
“In the twenty-fifth year of our captivity, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth dayof the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was captured, on the very same day the hand of the Lord was upon me; and He took me there.” Ezekiel 40:1
Ezekiel is known as one of Israel’s greatest prophets, but how good was he really? His prophecies against Israel’s enemies were specific, so how did Ezekiel do? How many did he get right and how many did he get wrong? We’ll take a look in the next part of our study, Convince Me There’s A God.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”