How Long Is "Three Days"?

Realm of Research--Historical and Scientific Findings

By JULIA NEUFFER, Research Assistant, Review and Herald

It has been shown (in part 1) that a corn­' mon Biblical mode of counting was inclusive —that is, counting the first and last units of a series. For example, from the fourth to the sixth year of a king was reckoned as "three years." (2 Kings 18 :9, so.) This principle can now be applied to explain the supposed "con­tradiction" in regard to Daniel and the begin­ning of Nebuchadnezzar's reign.

Critics of Daniel contended that the book was untrustworthy because it called Nebuchadnez­zar "king" in the third year of Jehoiakim, in the face of Jeremiah's statement making the first year of Nebuchadnezzar correspond to the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Dan.1:1 and Jer. 25;1) ; also because Daniel, after "three years" of training at the court of Babylon, was already installed as one of the "wise men" in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar. (Dan. 1-7, 18-20; 2:1, 12, 13.)

Formerly a standard reply of theologians was that Nebuchadnezzar, who was said to have been recalled by his father's death from the command of the very expedition in which Daniel was taken captive,' must have already shared the throne as coruler for two years, beginning in 606 B.C. This coregency they con­sidered necessary in order to have three com­plete years, counted in the modern manner, be­tween the first year of Nebuchadnezzar's joint reign and the second year of his sole reign; and likewise to have seventy full years for the Baby­lonian captivity, which they calculated to end in 536.

William Burnet (1724) credits this idea of the two-year coregency to the learned Catholic theologian Petau, better known as Petavius (1627). He bases it on a theological require­ment rather than on historical evidence when he makes the conditional statement : "If with Petavius, in order to wake up the Seventy Years of the Babylonish Captivity, we begin Nebuchadnezzar's Reign two years sooner than the common Account, in his Father's Life­time."'

Now, the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, ac­cording to "the common Account," as Burnet calls it, was not in dispute then, nor is it now, for it has long been accepted among scholars in general as astronomically fixed at 604/3 B.C. The difference was that the defenders of Daniel contended that Nebuchadnezzar must have had two "first" years—the first year of his joint reign, beginning in 6o6 B.C., and the first year of his sole reign, beginning in 604 B.c. Counted from the supposed coregency, in 6o6, three complete years for Daniel's training period would end in 603—the second year of the sole reign. The following diagram illustrates the old ex­planation: 

(See PDF)

This coregency theory was held by Ussher (1650), Prideaux (1715), Isaac Newton ( 1728 ) , Birks (1844), and others—although not by Hales (1809), who altered Ptolemy's canon to get the same result—and it found its way into popular commentaries such as Barnes's and Clarke's.' Indeed, it came to be taken so for granted that writers cited it without know­ing that its basis was a conjecture which had been assumed necessary to make history fit the Bible. The theory seemed in that day to be the only alternative to accepting the critics' charge of Biblical contradictions. Yet its proponents did not realize that the unbeliever was in a po­sition to retort that, if the first year of either the coregency or the sole reign corresponded to the fourth year of Jehoiakim, then Daniel was taken to Babylon in either the second or the fourth year of the latter king, which would contradict Daniel's own statement that Nebu­chadnezzar's expedition came "in the third year of Jehoiakim," (See preceding diagram.)

Give Daniel a Hearing

The only fair way to treat an alleged contra­diction is not to assume that the writer did not know what he was doing, but to give him a hearing and see what facts his statements, just as they stand, will yield. Frequently that is all that is necessary. In this case there are three consecutive years mentioned:

I. In the third year of Jehoiakim, Nebuchad­nezzar came against Jerusalem and took Daniel captive. (Dan. 1:1.)

2. The following year, corresponding to the fourth year of Jehoiakim, was the "first year" of Nebuchadnezzar. (Jer. 25:1.)

3. In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel interpreted the dream. (Dan. 2:1.)

Nebuchadnezzar had ordered that certain of the young captives be trained for "three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king." (Dan. 1:5.) Then "at the end of the days that the king had said," Daniel and his three Jewish companions ranked highest in the final examination; `.`therefore stood they before the king" (Dan. I:18, 19)—or "they became attendants of the king." (Goodspeed.) Obvi­ously, then, the "three years" of training had ended. When Nebuchadnezzar had his famous dream, they were already ranked among the wise men who stood before the king, and were, therefore, included in the death sentence. (Dan. 2:1, 2, 13, 14.) This was in the second year of the king, that is, the third of the three years outlined above; and it has already been pointed out (in part ) that in the Bible "after three years" can be equated with "in the third year."

Daniel's training period, then, like the siege of Samaria between the fourth and sixth years of Hezekiah and the seventh and ninth of Hoshea (2 Kings 18:9, io), can be correctly reckoned three years by inclusive count, as Dr. Thiele's earlier article has shown.' There is nothing, therefore, in the book of Daniel to re­quire a two-year coregency in order to get the three years in a well-attested Biblical usage, between Daniel's capture and his interpreta­tion of the dream.

So far, so good. We have our three years ac­counted for by beginning them in the year pre­ceding Nebuchadnezzar's first year, making them 605-603 B.C. inclusive. It might be added here that the seventy-year captivity can also be counted inclusively from 605 just as readily as Daniel's three years or any other inclusive period which has been examined; in fact, Jose­phus definitely regarded these seventy years as inclusive, for he referred to them as ending with the return in the first year of Cyrus, or in the seventieth year.'

Daniel's account is consistent, then, but one point remains to be cleared. The reader may ask why he should exchange 6o6 for 6o5 if that still requires the assumption of a coregency to account for Daniel's calling Nebuchadnezzar "king" in the year which Jeremiah reckons as preceding his first year. The answer—aside from the possibility that the word king could be used in anticipation—is that it requires no co-regency at all. Not until comparatively recent years could we know what Petavius and his theological successors did not know and what Daniel was well aware of: that there was noth­ing unusual in Nebuchadnezzar's being on the throne in the year preceding the officially desig­nated "first year" of his reign, according to the customary reckoning of Babylonian kings. Archaeologists in recent decades have found thousands of legal and commercial documents inscribed on clay tablets dated by the years of the various kings. These datings demonstrate that the unexpired portion of the calendar year after a king's death was called his successor's "beginning of kingship," or, as modern trans­lators call it, his "accession year"; and that the next Babylonian calendar year—the first full year of the new king—was designated as the "first year" of his reign.' The first year began in the spring with the annual New Year's festi­val, during which the new king "took the hands of Bel," after the ancient custom, in token of his formal installation to rule in the name of the patron god of Babylon, Bel-Marduk.' The accompanying diagram shows that Nebuchad­nezzar had a fractional "accession year" inter­val about eight months long according to the Babylonian calendar, finishing out the year in which his father's death occurred and extend­ing from early August 605 B.c., according to the Babylonian tablets, to the beginning of his official first year the next spring, in 604.8

Daniel's three years would thus be (I) ac­cession year, (2) first year, (3) second year—three years inclusive, with no need for any year not attested beyond dispute for Nebuchadnez­zar's reign.

Astronomical Dating

It has been pointed out that the first year of Nebuchadnezzar can be exactly dated by mod­ern astronomical calculation. In the first place, it can be located in terms of the Egyptian cal­endar in Ptolemy's canon, or list, of the kings,  which can be checked by nineteen lunar eclipses recorded by regnal year, day, and hour, in Ptolemy's astronomical treatise Syntaxis Math­ematike (Mathematical Composition), better known as the Almagest.

(See PDF)

Modern astronomers can identify these eclipses without confusion, because a lunar eclipse returns to the same calendar date only after many years. Phases of the moon repeat themselves in our calendar once in nineteen years, but only once in twenty-five years in the Egyptian calendar which Ptolemy used.' Ob­viously there is not a chance that a series of nineteen eclipses extending over many cen­turies could be placed incorrectly, and yet fit Ptolemy's specifications to the hour.

The second astronomical check on Nebu­chadnezzar's first year is a contemporary docu­ment—a Babylonian clay tablet from the thirty-seventh year of his reign. It bears a series of observations from Nisan 1, year 37 (in the spring), through Nisan 1, year 38. This se­quence proves that the regnal year was the regular lunar calendar year beginning on New Year's Day ; and observational data for sun, moon, and rive planets fix the thirty-seventh year as 568/7 B.C." which corroborates Ptole­my's canon date for the first year as 604/3 B.C.

Thus modern findings are seep to be in com­plete accord with the Bible account ; for Neb­uchadnezzar's accession in 6o5 B.C., his first year in 604/3, and his second year in 603/2 exactly fit the specifications for Daniel's three years without any juggling. The alleged con­tradiction and the supposed necessity for a con­jectural coregency vanish in the light of later knowledge of the Babylonian method of regnal dating and the well-attested Biblical practice of reckoning inclusively.

The evidence which remains to be examined for the occurrence of this inclusive method in the ancient world, and even in parts of the mod­ern world, will show that the theory of the Wednesday crucifixion is the result of a mod­ern, rather provincial point of view.

-To be concluded in March


Flavius Josephus, Against Apion, bk. s, chap. 19 ; Jewish Antiquities, chap. ii, sec. 1, in the Loeb Classical Library, Josephus, vol. 1, pp. 214-219; vol. 6, pp. 278-281.

2 William Burnet, An Essay on Scripture-Prophecy (New York, 1724), P. 147. (Italics supplied.) See Dionysius Petavius, Rationarium' Temporum (Venice, 1733), vol. 2, p. 403.

3 James Ussher, The Annals of the World (London, 1658), pp. 95, 96; Humphrey Prideaux, An Histori­cal Connection of the Old and New Testaments (Lon­don, 1858 ed.), vol. I, pp. 53, 90 ; Isaac Newton, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (London, 1728), p. 38; T. R. Birks, The Four Prophetic Em­pires, ad ed. (London, 1845-46), P. 25 ; William Hales, A New Analysis of Chronology (London, 5830), vol. p. 270; see Barnes', Clarke's, Scott's and other older commentaries on Daniel.

4 Edwin R. Thiele, "Solving the Problems of Daniel" THE MINISTRY, August and September, 1941.

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, bk. II, chap. 1, sec. t, in the Loeb Classical Library, Josephus, vol. 6. pp. 314, 315.

6 Sidney Smith, "Chronology : Babylonian and As­syrian," Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago, 1945), vol. 5, p. 655; A. T. Clay, The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania, Series A: Cunei­form Texts, vol. 8, part I, ID. 35.

7 Smith, /oc. cit.; Robert William Rogers, A His­tory of Babylonia and Assyria, 6th ed. (New York, 1915), vol. I, PP. 436, 437.

8 Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, 626 B.0-AD. 45 (Oriental In­stitute Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, no. 24, Chicago, 1942), P. 9.

9 These cycles are illustrated in graphic form by Lynn H. Wood, "The Kahun Papyrus and the Date of the Twelfth Dynasty (With a Ehart)," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, October, 1945, no. 99, P. 6 and chart.

10 "Paul V. Neugebauer and Ernst F. Weidner, "Ein astronomischer Beobachtungstext ant dem 37. Jahre Nebukadnezars II (-567/66 [568/67 B.c] )," Berichte fiber die Verhandlungen der Konigl. Sachsischen Ge­sellschaft der Wissenschaften vu Leipzig. Philolo­gisch-historische Klasse, May, 1915, vol. 67, part 2, PP. 34-38, 66.

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By JULIA NEUFFER, Research Assistant, Review and Herald

February 1949

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