A Biblical History of the Calendar

(Scriptural References: ASV American Standard Version; GLV – Green’s Literal Version)

There is much confusion today over the biblical calendar, but in the beginning the calendar was simple.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years.” (Genesis 1:14,16 New International Version)
(Sacred times Hebrew: moed Strong’s H4150 ‘an appointment, a fixed time’.)

This month [Hebrew: chodesh – Strong’s (H2320)] ‘the new moon; by implication, a month’] shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.” (Exodus.12:2 ASV)

Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto Jehovah thy God; for in the month of Abib Jehovah thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night. (Deut.16:1 ASV)

There are scriptural references to other months – “the second month” (Genesis 7:11, 8:14) etc. up to “the twelfth month”. How many days were there in a solar year?

During Noah’s flood (Gen 7:19) … the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered.
“the waters prevailed over the earth one hundred and fifty days” (v.7:24), from the seventeenth day of the second month” (v.7:11).
and the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters decreased. And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat. (ch.8:3-4)

The waters prevailed over the mountains from the 17th day of the 2nd month to the 16th day of the 7th month, i.e. 5 full months, totalling 150 days.

Ancient secular documents agree with the biblical account that a year comprised 12 lunar months of 30 days each.

At first the astronomers of Babylon recognized a year of 360 days, and the division of a circle into 360 degrees must have indicated the path traversed by the sun each day in its assumed circling of the earth.” (Moritz Cantor, Lectures on the History of Mathematics.)

The Assyrians, like the Babylonians, had a year composed of lunar months ….
The calendar assigns to each month thirty full days.” (R. Campbell Thompson, Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon in the British Museum.)

A year consists of twelve months. A month consists of 30 days.” (The Arabhatiya of Aryabhata – an ancient Indian work on mathematics and astronomy)

Yet the fact is that no one has ever established that the 365-day calendar was in use prior to the early seventh century.” (Mark Cohen, The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East.)

All over the world we find that there was at some time the same calendar of 360 days, and that at some later date, about the seventh century before the present era, five days were added at the end of the year, as ‘days over the year’, or ‘days of nothing’ … a series of catastrophes occurred that changed the axis and the orbit of the earth and the orbit of the moon.” (Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision)

Daniel, who had been captured and taken to Babylon in the late 7th century BC, declared:
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He causes kings to pass away, and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who know understanding. (Daniel 2:20-21 GLV)

What was affecting the Earth and causing the “changing times and seasons”?

At the Babylonian Akitu festival, the high priest would stand before the statue of Bel (a.k.a. Marduk) – see Jeremiah 50:2 GLV: Babylon is captured, Bel is put to shame, Merodach is broken in pieces, her images are put to shame, her idols are broken in pieces.”

The high priest would then recite the following prayer to Bel:
“My lord is just. Is his name not ‘My Lord’?
My lord causes trembling. My lord is the prince of all the lands …
Jupiter, bearer of signs to the universe! My Lord! My Lord, be calmed!
Mercury, who brings rain! My Lord! My Lord, be calmed!
Saturn, star of justice and right! My Lord! My Lord, be calmed!
Mars, blazing fire! My Lord! My Lord, be calmed!”
The high priest would then turn to pray to Bel’s consort, Beltiya:
“My lady, turn back! Turn back! My lady, be calmed! …
Venus, brightest star – this is a name for my lady,
Bow-star, who fells the mighty – this is a name for my lady,
She-goat star, who scans the heavens – this is a name for my lady,
Star of Abundance, the star of abundance – this is a name for my lady,
Star of Dignity, the star which moves out of orbit …”
(Mark Cohen, The Cultic Calendars Of The Ancient Near East)

Bel, thine abode is Babylon … thou controllest laws by thy laws … thou burnest up the mighty ones by thy flame.” (Stephen H. Langdon, The Mythology of All Races)

“By causing the heavens to tremble and the earth to quake,
By the gleam which lightens the sky,
By the blazing fire which rains upon the hostile land,
I am Ishtar. Ishtar I am by the light that arises in heaven,
Ishtar the queen of heaven am I by the light that arises in heaven.”
(Stephen H. Langdon, Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms)

How did the nations adjust their calendars to the upheavals in the heavens and on the earth, resulting in changes to the lengths of the lunar month and the solar year? Many retained twelve 30 day months and added ‘5 days of nothing’ at the end of the year, e.g.
The Peruvian year was divided into twelve Quilla, or moons, of 30 days. Five days were added at the end, called Allcacanquis.” (Sir Clements Markham, The Incas of Peru)

It was subsequently recognized that the solar year was a fraction more than 365 days.
In 238BC a decree at Canopus, Egypt, declared, “from this time onwards, one day, a festival of the Good-doing Gods, shall be added every four years to the five additional days before the New Year, so that all may know that the error of deficiency which existed formerly in respect to the arrangement of the seasons, and of the year, and of the views usually believed concerning the general ordering of the heavens, hath been rectified and filled up satisfactorily by the Good-doing Gods.”

During the captivity in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar found Daniel and his companions to be “skilful in all wisdom, and endued with knowledge, and understanding science” (Daniel 1:4 ASV). “And in every matter of wisdom and understanding, concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his realm.” (Daniel 1:19-20 ASV).

Was it due to their influence that the Babylonians retained a luni-solar calendar?”

The months were strictly lunar (in this case, because it was the first visibility of the new crescent that marked the start off each new month), and those lunar months were combined with a variable year that could average out to the same length as the solar year. Every two or three years an intercalary lunar month was added (usually a second Ulul [6th month] or a second Adar [12th month]). (Mark Cohen, The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East)

On the basis of three letters which record the announcement of the intercalary year, Parker and Dubberstein [authors of Babylonian Chronology: 626BC-AD75] suggest that, during the Babylonian period, the directives for intercalation came from the king, whereas during the subsequent Achaemenid period [Persian empire], priestly officials in Babylon gave the orders.” (ibid)

A year comprising 13th lunar months is evident in the book of Ezekiel, written during the Babylonian captivity:

…. in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month …. which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity, the word of Jehovah came expressly unto Ezekiel.” (1:1-3 ASV).
After Ezekiel had dwelt at Tel Aviv for 7 days (3:15), the word of Jehovah came again, saying that he should lie on his left side for 390 days, then on his right side for 40 days (4:4-6).

More than 437 days had thus elapsed when Ezekiel was sitting in his house on the 5th day of the 6th month in the 6th year, i.e. 14 months later (8:1).
The lunar month now averaged 29½ days:
14 months x 29½ days = 413 days + intercalary month = 442 or 443 days.
An intercalary month is needed to account for there being more than 437 days in this period.

For thus saith Jehovah, “After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.” (Jeremiah 29:10 ASV)

“In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years whereof the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah the prophet, for the accomplishing of the desolations of Jerusalem, even seventy years.” (Dan.9:1-2 ASV)

After the Medes and the Persians had overthrown the Babylonian empire, Cyrus, king of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem to build the house of Jehovah.

… in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying … “Whosoever there is among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of Jehovah, the God of Israel (he is God), which is in Jerusalem … When rose up the heads of fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, even all whose spirit God had stirred to go up to build the house of Jehovah which is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:1,3,5 ASV)

An account from King Cyrus, inscribed on a clay barrel now in the British Museum, states: “To the sacred cities located on the other side of the Tigris river, I sent back to the ruins of their holy places, the articles which were used in their sanctuaries. I also allowed to return to their homes the former citizens of the land. I also made an effort to repair their dwelling places.”

And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem … And they kept the feast of tabernacles, as it is written. (Ezra 3:1,4 ASV)

And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month …And they found written in the law, how that Jehovah had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month … Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the ordinance. (Nehemiah 8:2,14,18 ASV)

How did Ezra and Nehemiah know when it was the 7th biblical month? If they received instruction from Daniel, it is not recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. We do, however, have detailed information about the calendar that was observed at the Second Temple, as the Jews recorded it in the Mishnah, a collection of 63 tractates, divided into 6 orders, one of them being the Mo’edim (the appointed times of Jehovah).

“The calendar of the Mishnah is discussed and debated in detail in both the Palestinian and the Babylonian Talmudim … The fact that no other calendar system is ever referred to in the Talmudim (completed around 500AD) may be regarded as significant.” (Sacha Stern, Calendar and Community : A History of the Jewish Calendar, 2nd century BCE – 10th century CE, p.164)

During the period of the Second Temple the start of a new year was determined by the Great Sanhedrin which met there, who primarily used two biblical requirements to decide upon intercalation, i.e. whether or not an extra month should be added to the previous year, thereby delaying the start of the new year.

Firstly, the barley (the early summer corn-crop that grows wild all over Palestine) needed to be sufficiently mature for harvesting to begin on the Sunday after Passover.

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye are come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest unto the priest: and he shall wave the sheaf before Jehovah, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.” (Leviticus 23:10-11 ASV)

Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: from the time thou beginnest to put the sickle to the standing grain shalt thou begin to number seven weeks … And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto Jehovah thy God …” (Deuteronomy 16:9-10 ASV)

Secondly, there needed to be a sufficiency of lambs for the Passover.

“This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you … In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb.” (Exodus 12:2,3 ASV)

If there was doubt as to intercalation, the Great Sanhedrin considered secondary signs in nature of the end of winter and beginning of summer.

For, lo, the winter is past; The rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; The time of the singing of birds is come, And the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land;
The fig-tree ripeneth her green figs, And the vines are in blossom; They give forth their fragrance. Song of Solomon 2:11-13 ASV

The President of the Great Sanhedrin was the ultimate decision maker:
It once happened that Rabbi Gamliel was sitting on a step on the Temple Mount, and the well-known scribe Yochanan was standing before him with three cut sheets [of parchment] lying before him. He (Gamliel) said to him (Yochanan) … take the third [sheet] and write to our brethren, the Exiles of Babylon and to those in Media, and to all the other exiled of Israel, saying:
“May your peace be great forever! We beg to inform that the doves are still tender, and the lambs are still young, and the Aviv is not yet ripe. It seems advisable to me and to my colleagues to add thirty days to this year.” Tractate Sanhedrin 11b

The procedure for determining the beginning of a month is described in detail in the Mishnah, Moed Rosh Hashanah:

When Bet Din sanctifies the new month, either on the thirtieth day when there is satisfactory testimony to the sighting of the new moon, or on the thirty-first day when there is no testimony, they send out messengers of the court to inform the distant communities which day is Rosh Hodesh.

If they [the Bet Din that was to sanctify the new moon] did not [personally] know him [the witness or witnesses who sighted the new moon] they [the Bet Din of that city] send another [set of character witnesses along] with him [who are known to that Bet Din, who testify regarding their trustworthiness]. Originally testimony regarding the new moon was accepted from anyone, but when the heretics perverted [justice and bribed witnesses to testify false sightings] it was ordained that testimony is accepted only from those who are known [to be trustworthy].

[to be continued …]

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