Rabbi Shlomo Cohen
Secular scholars posit an additional 165 years in Jewish history, based on a list of Persian kings, which disagrees with Jewish history as given by traditional sources such as Seder Olam Raba, Tzemach Dovid or Seder HaDoros.
Jewish chronology gives 410 and 420 years for the 2 Batei Mikdash with a 70 year exile between them.
The secularists add those 165 years somewhere in the beginning of the time of the second Bais HaMikdash, increasing the time it stood from 410 years to over 560. Much ink has been spilled trying to reconcile these two disparate views. Reading several of these papers and trying to follow their abstruse reasoning gave me a headache.
Many of the people using this argument are either trying to disprove the Torah or undermine Emunas Chachomim. With sufficient obfuscation, their arguments sound pretty weighty. It also seems that they, ipso facto, grant more credence to any modern secular sources and assume, a priori, that any error is on the part of Chazal.
From Roman history we know that the date of the destruction of the second Bais HaMikdash was approximately 70CE. Can we now date the construction of the first Bais HaMikdash from secular sources?
As it turns out, I believe we can. King Hiram of Tyre was a contemporary of King Solomon and, in fact, helped him build the first Bais HaMikdash. Ergo, we can date Hiram from secular sources.
Enter Josephus, (admittedly a Jew, although a turncoat), who quotes Menander of Ephesus, (voila, here’s our non-Jewish source) who gives a list of the kings of Tyre where, you guessed it, our very own Hiram appears. Modern secular scholars use Menander’s list to date the building of Carthage and accept his dating for the first Bais HaMikdash as well. Menander’s date happens to be 968BCE.
From 968BCE through 70CE equals 1,037 years (there was no year zero) minus the 900 = 137
So, from one source, the Persian kings, secular scholars posit an additional 165 years. Yet, from a different secular source other scholars posit an additional 137 years. We now have three disparate chronologies.
Herodotus wrote over 125 years after the events.
Menander wrote over 678 years after the events.
Tanach was contemporary with the earlier events, Seder Olam Raba written by R’Yosi ben Chalafta 3909 [149CE] 100 years after the events.
Now let’s see the balance of the arguments.
On the one hand, we have an ancient list of 10 Tyranian kings. Well, we also have a list of Persian kings. However, both of the lists are the result of modern scholarship, generally archaeology. We must always keep in mind that archaeology is fraught with alternative possibilities as well as a huge number of differing interpretations.
“The accepted Persian chronology is based almost entirely upon the works of Greek historians who lived between nineteen and twenty-three centuries ago. One of the main sources is the “father of history,” Herodotus. As a historian, Herodotus was sarcastically referred as the father of lies for “quoting eyewitnesses about things they could have never seen, inventing and manipulating factual material.”
“Although the factual accuracy of the works of Herodotus is defended by some, others regard his works as being unreliable as a historical source. Fehling writes of “a problem recognized by everybody”, namely that much of what Herodotus tells us cannot be taken at face value”.
“The accuracy of the works of Herodotus has been criticized since his own era. His ancient critics included Cicero, Aristotle, Josephus and Plutarch. Cicero said the works of Herodotus were full of legends or “fables”, and Harpocration wrote a book on “the lies of Herodotus”. Duris of Samos called Herodotus a myth-monger. Voltaire described Herodotus as both “the father of history” and the “father of lies”, and Hartog more recently also called him “The father of all liars”.
[taken from the Wikipedia article on Herodotus]
“Due to the fact that Alexander the Great destroyed the bulk of Persian records when he conquered Persia, the only records of the Persian period are the Greek stories and Jewish tradition. For Torah Jews, who possess emunat chachamim, there is no question that Chazal are more trustworthy than Herodotus and company. But even on a more empirical level, there is much reason to see Jewish historical traditions as more reliable than the Greek histories. The Greek historians picked their stories up as they passed through the lands of Persia, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. Sometimes they heard the stories at home in Greece from Persian immigrants. It would be no wonder if they got their facts confused. But the Jewish traditions regarding this period originated in the Babylonian and Persian communities and were passed down directly until they found their way into the Babylonian Talmud. Local history is much less likely to be misunderstood than stories, often taken out of context, about somebody else’s history.”
[quoted from Fixing the History Books Dr. Chaim S. Heifetz’s Revision of Persian History by Brad Aaronson]
After the MiddleAssyrianKingdom there is an uncertain period in Assyrian history. The current cornerstone of chronology for this time is the Assyrian King List which, unfortunately, conflicts with other records such as the Synchronized King List and the Babylonian King List. In any event, the rulers of Assyria in this time were all fairly weak, except for Tiglath-Pileser I. Note too that this chronology is based on assumed synchronisms with Egypt in the previous period.
Let us continue.
Next, we find a connection with Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel and Yechezkel. Now there is a difference of about 140 years between our chronology and that of the secularists.
Then there is Sancheriv invading Eretz Yisroel. There is a 153 year difference here.
Clearly, both positions can’t be correct, ergo:
-both are wrong, or
-one is right and the other wrong.
Upfront, let me state that I am an orthodox rabbi and I have Emunas Chachomim.
This is not a particularly scholarly paper, nor am I a trained historian. However, I am going to stick my two cents into this argument.
But, wait a second! Did Menander actually say that Hiram completed the Bais HaMikdash in 968BCE – Ridiculous!!! First of all, there was no BCE until there was a CE. Even then, this system of standardized dating was developed in about the year 525CE but did not come into common use until about 800CE. All Menander was able to do was name the kings and give the length of their reign. Prior to standardized dating every individual kingdom used its own king’s regnal years.
The background necessary to understand the fundamental problem of this issue is beyond the scope of this paper. However, the website below is a MUST READ for anyone interested in the issue.
The Revision of Ancient History – A Perspective
By P John Crowe
In short what Crowe says is that all ancient history, in particular, the king lists are pegged to Egyptian king lists.
Enter Emmanual Velikofsky, who, in 1952, published a series of books, the first of which was “Age of Chaos”. His contention was that Egyptologists were off by about 600 years. Naturally, Velikofsky, being an outsider, was castigated by academia. Accepting his work would mean upsetting careers and trashing their lives’ work. Although mainstream academics vilified him, many others see a great deal of merit in what he had to say.
In conclusion, instead of calling Jewish chronology, Jewish history and the text of Tanach or the words of Chazal mistaken, we see that the real question devolves on the secular historians. Their conclusions are little better than educated guesses. They make up time lines and then claim that the Torah is wrong.
After over 250 years of trying, academia has thus far failed to satisfactorily call any historical point of Tanach, or any historical statement of Chazal into question.