A History of the Biblical Calendar

Additional material last posted on the 15th of November 2019

(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, Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms)

“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 Rabban 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

R. Jannai said in the name of Rabban Shimeon, the son of Gamaliel:
He used to say: “In that the pigeons are still tender
and the spring Iambs thin, it is fitting in my opinion 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].”

The declarations of the Bet Din were publicized throughout the land and to the diaspora beyond by via messengers, but to the majority of Jews who lived in Babylonia and Persia, a thousand miles away, a chain of torches was originally used.

“Immediately upon proclaiming, The day is hallowed!, messengers on horseback were dispatched to bring the news of the sanctification of the new moon to all the villages of Israel and beyond. The swift broadcast of the news was essential in order to enable all to observe Rosh Hashana on the proper day.
Simultaneously, the proclamation of the new moon would go out from Jerusalem by way of torches lit by specially appointed relay teams who were located on strategically places hill tops. Using this method, the news could be transmitted quickly all the way to the Jewish communities of Babylon and Persia. Speed was of the essence in order to enable all to observe Rosh Hashana and the following holidays in their proper times. Temple Institute, Rosh Hashana.

Originally [they had no need to send out messengers to inform the people of the new moon, rather,] they used to light [a series of torches which, when sighted, was a sign of the new moon], but when the heretics perverted [justice and tried to mislead the people by lighting their own torches] they enacted that messengers should go forth [to announce the new moon].” Mishnah, Moed Rosh Hashanah

Sometimes the chain of beacons failed or the messengers did not arrive by the 15th of the month. Furthermore, the new moon was declared in the morning, so it was impossible for those in the diaspora to receive the declaration of Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets) by the end of that day.

Rather than use local new moon sighting, the Babylonian rabbis, desiring unity, ordered the observation of each annual holy day for two days, to ensure that the day the calendar court had sanctified was being kept. This tradition is continued today by Jews living outside Israel (except for the Day of Atonement – as they do not want to fast for two successive days!).

The Babylonian rabbis introduced a ‘rule of the equinox’ for fixing the start of the year, for those occasions when news from Palestine regarding intercalation was late – and if this proved to be wrong, correction was made for the subsequent appointed times. Their guideline was to begin the year at the nearest new moon to the equinox, so that Passover would begin close to the equinox but always after it.

The procedure for determining the beginning of a year is described in detail in the Tosefta, Tractate Sanhedrin, section 5:2. The Tosefta (meaning addition, supplement) contains much rabbinic opinion on the Mishnah.

Herbert Danby writes, in the introduction to his translation of Tractate Sanhedrin:
“The Mishnah and Tosefta, which are here translated, may be regarded as together giving the bulk of the traditions on the subject in the form in which they existed at the close of the second century A.D. The Mishnah gives an ordered, comprehensive sketch of the regulations which governed the legal courts; while the Tosefta goes over similar ground in a freer manner, frequently repeating, occasionally contradicting, and constantly supplementing not always relevantly the substance of the more authoritative and final code.”

Since much of Tractate Sanhedrin 5:2 contains rabbinic opinion, the basic reasons given for determining the new year must be compared with Scripture.

5.2.2. There are three signs which make it evident that the year should be intercalated:

(a) the premature state of the corn-crops.

If barley, the early summer corn-crop that grows wild all over Palestine, will not be ready for harvesting to begin on the Sunday after Passover, the new year is delayed by one month.

“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)

(b) The undeveloped state of the tree products.

And He spoke a parable to them: ‘You see the fig tree and all the trees … Now when they sprout leaves, seeing it, you will know from yourselves that now the summer is near.’ (Luke 21:29-30 GLV)

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)

Here are included two other Biblical indicators of the end of winter and the beginning of summer: the end of the rainy winter season and bird migration.

(c) The lateness of the Spring Equinox

The astronomical equinox occurs at a specific time each year, so how can it be deemed to be late? (see below)

5.2.7. The year is not to be intercalated unless the spring equinox is still distant the greater part of a month. How much is the greater part of a month ? Sixteen days. R. Jehuda says : Two thirds of a month, twenty days. R. Jose says : Account is taken of the year and if, before Passover, there still lack sixteen days of the equinox, they intercalate another month.

The biblical calendars used today stipulate that either Passover must be after the equinox [3] [4], or that the new year must start after the equinox [5] [6].

It was quite usual for the rabbis to have differences of opinion, but whatever date they chose to begin the year, this rule was only a guideline for the Babylonian rabbis, as calendrical decisions had to come from Palestine, because of the Talmudic prohibition of intercalation outside the land.

The word ‘equinox’ is not found in scripture. It is translated from the Hebrew word tqufah – Strong’s H8622: a revolution, i.e. (of the sun) course, (of time) lapse. Tqufah is found in 4 verses:

“And you shall observe a Feast of Weeks for yourself, the firstfruits of the harvest of wheat; also the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.” (Exodus 34:22 GLV)
‘And it happened when the time had come around, Hannah conceived and bore a son.’ (1 Samuel 1:20 GLV)
‘And it happened, at the turn of the year, that the army of Syria came up against him …’ (2 Chronicles 24:23 GLV)
‘his going forth from the end of the heavens, and his orbit to their ends’ (Psalm 19:6 GLV)

T’shubah (Strong’s H8666) means the ‘end of the year’ – i.e. the end of winter in 2 Samuel 11:1; 1 Kings 20:22,26; 1 Chronicles 20:1; 2 Chronicles 36:10.
It is used in a different sense in 1 Samuel 7:17, Job 21:34 and Job 34:36.
The kings usually waited until the end of winter to begin their military campaigns, because the rains had ceased
(Song of Solomon 2:11), facilitating easier troop movement.

The lateness of the tqufah, the turn of the year, meant that the season had not yet turned – the weather was still wintry, but the rabbis began to teach that the ‘turn of the year’ in Exodus 34:22 may be interpreted as ‘equinox’ – thereby fixing the Day of Trumpets as the closest new moon to the September equinox (and consequently fixing the 1st day of Abib as the closest new moon to the March equinox. They then taught that the March equinox was also a tqufah – and subsequently that the two solstices were also tqufahs – thus four seasons. (Biblically there are only two seasons – winter and summer.)

“The rule of the equinox is attested in a single passage in the Babylonian Talmud (Rosh ha-Shanah 21a) … implies that 15 Nisan, the first day of Unleavened bread, cannot occur before the vernal equinox. In this recension, the term aviv is treated as synonymous with tequfah (equinox).” (Sacha Stern, ibid, p.167)

The computation of the equinox – Tequfah Nisan – was based on a solar year of 365¼ days, which is inaccurate for long term use, but it remains part of the modern calculated calendar for ritual purposes. Tequfah Nisan is now April 7-8 – 18 days later than the true equinox.

5.2.3 On the basis of evidence (of aviv barley) derived from three countries used they to intercalate the year: Judaea, the land beyond Jordan, and Galilee. They may intercalate on the basis of two of these, but not of one only; though in this latter case the intercalation would hold good. And if Judaea were one of the two they rejoiced, because it was from there that the offering of the firstfruits came.

5.2.4, 5.2.5 & 5.2.6 These were additional indicators in years when there was doubt about the barley being ready for harvesting.

5.2.4 The season of the kids or lambs or pigeons had not yet arrived.

5.2.5. R. Jannai said in the name of Rabban Shimeon, the son of Gamaliel: He used to say: “In that the pigeons are still tender (Song of Solomon 2:12) and the spring Iambs thin (Exodus 12:2,3,5), it is fitting in my opinion to add thirty days to this year.”

5.2.6. It happened once with Rabban Gamaliel (see Acts 5:33-39) and the elders, that they were sitting on the steps in the Temple Mount … And to our brethren, the exiles of Babylon, and those in exile in Media, and all the other Israelites in exile, “May your peace be increased! We make known to you that the pigeons are still tender and the lambs thin, and that the season of spring is not yet come. It seems fitting to me and to my colleagues that we add to this year thirty days.”

“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)

“The Talmudic sources report that the Council intercalated a year when the fruit had not grown properly, when the winter rains had not stopped, when the roads for Passover pilgrims had not dried up, and when the young pigeons had not become fledged. The council on intercalation considered the astronomical facts together with the religious requirements of Passover and the natural conditions of the country.(Arthur Spier, The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar (1952).

The calendar described in the Mishnah could be observed only by those peoples who could be reached by messengers from Jerusalem. In Romans 15:24-28 Paul expressed his intention to travel to Spain. According to the Sonnini manuscript, Paul preached on Mount Lud in London, where St. Paul’s Cathedral now stands. This document might not be considered credible, but there is plentiful evidence of Christianity in Britain and Ireland centuries before Emperor Constantine sent Augustine to Britain in 597AD.
(Review of
The Celtic Church in Britain, by Leslie Hardinge.)
Synod of Whitby in 664 signalled the end of Celtic Christianity in Britain.

So how did Christians living far away from Palestine decide when the first month should be?
Documents on the
Quartodeciman controversy in the 2nd century AD, concerning the new observance of Easter on the Sunday after Passover, do not explain how the western churches were determining this.

“Eastern computations of the date of Easter were based on the rule of the equinox, first attributed to Dionysius of Alexandria in the mid-3rd century with an 8-year cycle, and then reiterated in c.277CE by Anatolius, also from Alexandria but residing in Laodicea (Syria), with a more accurate 19-year cycle …
We do not know how early the Easter cycles were used in practice by Christian communities, but by the early 4th century, and certainly by the Council of Nicea (325CE), the Roman cycle of 8 or 84 years had become standard in the West, and the Alexandrian cycle of 19 years in the East.”
(Sacha Stern, Calendar and Community, a History of the Jewish Calendar, 2nd Century BCE – 10th Century CE, p.224-5.)

Tables of these yearly cycles were constructed, so that the start of the biblical year could be known years in advance. A 13th month was added, for example, 3 times in the 8-year cycle and 7 times in the 19-year cycle.

(Some people think of the equinoxes as the days when daylight and night are equal. Modern astronomers call them equiluxes, which occur a few days before the equinoxes. The times of equiluxes vary according to latitude, and equinoxes according to longitude. There is no equilux at or close to the equator, as day and night are always 12 hours each.)

After the Council of Nicea Constantine informed the Syrian and Palestinian absentees that: “It was resolved by the united judgement of all present that this feast ought to be kept by all and in every place on one and the same day … And first of all it appeared an unworthy thing that, in the celebration of this most holy feast, we should follow the practice of the Jews.”

Although the Council had agreed that Easter Sunday be kept by all on the same day, no decision was made as to the method of calculation. Subsequent history of the Easter question reveals continued confusion within the Catholic church over the next 200 years.

It was not until after 525AD, when Dionysius Exiguus published his Easter table, that the Roman Catholic church agreed on a unified system. His paschal table was an adaptation of the 19 year Alexandrian cycle, with intercalations in years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17 & 19 – a sequence that will be familiar to students of the Hebrew calculated calendar.

“Dionysius ignored the existing tables used by the Patriarchate of Rome, which were prepared in 457 by Victorius of Aquitaine, complaining that they did not obey Alexandrian principles … Ultimately, Dionysius Exiguus’s Easter table … must have been adopted at Rome and also have arrived in Britain and Ireland, where however in both cases certainly not before the second quarter of the seventh century.” (Dionysius in Wikipedia)

In the 7th century the Islamic Empire came to power in the Middle-east. The Caliphate, which by the 9th century stretched from the border of India to Spain, gave to the Pharisees in Babylonia religious autonomy across the empire under a system known as the Exilarchate. Jewish dissidents known as Karaites vigorously opposed the rabbinic traditions and laws, but could not prevent the Pharisees from becoming by far the dominant force in Judaism.

The raised status of the Pharisees is exemplified by the Exilarch of Babylon’s letter in 835/36AD, in which he referred to himself as “the head of the yeshivot, the rabbis and all Israel.” He acknowledged one exception to his authority. The Talmud prohibited decisions on the calendar being made outside Palestine, so the Exilarch was obliged to support the Palestinian calendar court’s decisions … “we always rely on them, lest Israel be split into factions.”

By the early 6th century AD the Babylonian calendar was based on the conjunction, but this and other calendar changes were not implemented until the Geonim, the rabbinic leaders in Babylon, seized control of the calendar in the 10th century.

“The date of R. Ahai b. R. Huna’s demise does confirm, however, that in the early sixth century the rabbinic calendar was based on the conjunction … corroborated by another date in R. Sherira’s epistle …
Of far greater importance, however, is a much later document from the Cairo Geniza: a letter of a Babylonian exilarch … with detailed calendrical instructions for the year 835/6 CE … According to the Exilarch, the setting of Passover on Tuesday was dictated by a concern to avoid visibility of the new moon before the first day of the month. This concern does not exist in the present-day rabbinic calendar. Once discovered and published in 1922, the exilarch’s letter proved beyond doubt that, almost five hundred years after R. Yose and ‘Hillel the Patriarch’, the fixed calendar in its present-day form had still not been instituted.” (Sacha Stern, ibid, pp.183-5)

The story of Hillel II supposedly publishing the present-day Hebrew calendar in 358/359 AD was one of several historical myths introduced into the Worldwide Church of God by the church’s ‘biblical historian’ Herman Hoeh – but this fairy tale did not emerge until the 11th century, as explained in the next quotation.

The following section, describing the development of the various elements of the present day rabbinic calendar, is somewhat technical.

Why does the Jewish calendar year begin in the 7th month?

“1st day of Tishri or Tishrei = New Year For Years (i.e. this is the date for when Creation occurred in Jewish tradition, that is, the creation of the world and of Adam and hence is the date for when the year number changes in the Hebrew/Jewish calendar), that is, just as the 1st day of Nissan or Nisan is the date from when months are counted in the Hebrew/Jewish calendar, the 1st day of Tishri or Tishrei is the date from when the years are counted in the Hebrew/Jewish calendar …
Originally, the Civil New Year occurred on the 1st of Nissan or Nisan, when the reign of kings was dated beginning on the 1st day of Nissan or Nisan. Later on, after the exile of most of the Jews who lived in the Kingdom of Judah to Babylonia by the conquering Babylonians … the practise of observing the New Year For Kings and Festivals on the 1st day of Nissan or Nisan was ended and the Civil New Year was changed from the 1st day of Nissan or Nisan to the 1st day of Tishrei (or Tishri), that is, on Rosh Hashanah. The Civil New Year is known as the ‘head of the year’ or ‘Rosh Ha-Shanah’ in Hebrew when the Jewish year number increases and this occurs in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, the Hebrew month of Tishri (or Tishrei), which occurs in either in September or October in the Gregorian calendar.
Note that although Hillel II is reputed by tradition to have developed the modern Hebrew calendar, no mention of this exists in the Talmud, which itself was completed around 500 C.E. Hai Gaon (969-1038), the head of the Pumbeditia, Babylonia Jewish academy of learning in the 11th century was the first person to mention that Hillel had formed the modern Hebrew calendar.
In addition, it is impossible to apply modern Jewish calendrical rules to post-Talmudic dates (beyond 500 C.E.). Instead, based on the evidence, it is now widely believed that the arithmetic rules for calculating dates in the modern Jewish calendar were developed in the 7th to 8th centuries in Babylonia by the heads of the Jewish academies of learning, known as the Geonim. Based on the account of the Muslim astronomer al-Khwarizmi, it is also believed that most of the modern arithmetic rules were in place by about 820 C.E.
(Elimelech David Ha-Levi, Jewish (Hebrew) Calendar – Origin And History)

In order to explain away the contradiction between the biblical new year in Exodus 12:1-3 and Rosh Hashana being the 1st day of the new year, a subtle deception was introduced into the Worldwide Church of God that the 1st of Nisan was the beginning of the Jewish religious calendar year and the 1st of Tishri was the beginning of the civil calendar year. In the Jewish Calendar, Rosh Hashana is a major religious holy day, but Rosh Chodesh Nisan is merely one of the other 11 ‘new moons’ – not even a minor holy day.

As explained earlier, the Babylonian rabbis interpreted the Hebrew word ‘tqufah’ in Exodus 34:22 to mean ‘equinox’: “And you shall observe a Feast of Weeks for yourself, the firstfruits of the harvest of wheat; also the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.”(Exodus 34:22 GLV)

According to Strong’s, tqufah H8622 means: a revolution, i.e. (of the sun) course, (of time) lapse – and is translated in the KJV: circuit, come about, end – e.g.
1 Samuel 1:20 Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son …

The rule of the equinox is attested in a single passage in the Babylonian Talmud (Rosh ha-Shanah 21a) … implies that 15 Nisan, the first day of Unleavened bread, cannot occur before the vernal equinox. In this recension, the term aviv is treated as synonymous with tequfah (equinox).” (Sacha Stern, ibid, p.167)

Astronomers could not calculate the equinoxes precisely, so in the 9th century AD the Babylonian rabbis adopted the 19 year cycle, with the same intercalation sequence as that devised by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century.

The 1st day of Tishri is normally the Molad Emtzai (mean conjunction) – however, Rosh Hashana may be postponed by a day or two, as rabbinic rules do not allow it to fall on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday. A ‘four parts’ or ‘four gates’ table – referring to the four days of the week on which Rosh Hashana may fall – was devised to allow for this.

The calculation of the Molad Emtzai was also not a Jewish invention.

“Already in the early twelfth century R. Avraham b. Hiyya acknowledged that the mean lunation of 29 days, 12 hours and 793 parts [1 hour = 1080 parts] was identical with Ptolemy’s in his second-century-CE classic work of astronomy, the Almagest …all the moladot in the rabbinic calendar occur only about 50 minutes later than Ptolemy’s mean conjunctions. This discrepancy of about 50 minutes can be partly explained by the fact that Ptolemy’s figures were based on the longitude of Alexandria, whereas the rabbinic molad would have been based on a longitude further east, perhaps that of Jerusalem. This would reduce the discrepancy by over 20 minutes. (Sacha Stern, ibid, p.207)

Sacha Stern is reluctant to acknowledge that Babylon lies 50 minutes east of Alexandria, and is thus the location of the molad calculation.

Calendar authority still remained with Palestine, but in the summer of 921AD a dispute arose with Babylon, which would enable the Babylonian rabbis to take control of the calendar at last.

“The survival of this Palestinian rabbinic monopoly, from the Mishnaic and early Amoraic periods until at least the 9th century, was not a mere archaism but an inherent necessity. Because the calendar calculation was not yet fully standardized or fixed, the responsibility for calculating calendar dates had to be restricted to a single authoritative body, so as to safeguard the rabbinic principle of calendrical unanimity. This authoritative body not only calculated and announced the dates of the calendar, but also decided, at its discretion, how the calendar calculation was to be carried out.” (Sacha Stern, ibid. pp.188-189)

The dispute was centered around the definition of the recently introduced postponement rule of Molad Zaqen – ‘late conjunction’, which states that, if Molad Emtzai occurs on or after the 18th hour (i.e. noon), Rosh Hashana (Day of Trumpets) must be postponed to the next day.

The Worldwide Church of God taught that, if the new moon were sighted between noon and sunset, Trumpets was to be postponed until the following sunset. It is, however, impossible to see a new moon during daylight hours, or within 6 hours after the conjunction.

Two of the four postponement rules are clearly arithmetical. Remy Landau reasons that Molad Zaqen is also an arithmetical rule.

“Dehiyyah Molad Zaqen creates considerable puzzlement and debate among scholars, some of whom have questioned whether or not it was actually rooted in R. Zera’s dictum found in the Talmud tractate Rosh Hashannah 20b. Traditional references imply that Dehiyyah Molad Zaqen has something to do with the visibility of the new moon on Rosh Hashannah, possibly over Jerusalem.
Calendar arithmetic, however, suggests a more compelling but entirely different functionality for this rule … When Dehiyyah Molad Zaqen is removed from the calendar rules, the calculated time of the molad can be seen to exceed the first day of some months by as much as 5 hours, 23 and 4/9 minutes, which by no coincidence is exactly 6 hours later than its current maximum value.”

We know the lateness of this postponement rule, as it could not have been in effect in 835/6AD:
“That molad zaqen was not observed is confirmed beyond doubt in the exilarch’s letter of 835/6CE, in which time the molad Nisan (836CE) is explicitly given as Tuesday ‘in the daytime … at four hours’, i.e. approximately 10am … This means therefore that the subsequent molad of Tishre, according to the exilarch’s reckoning, would have been on a Thursday at least 4 hours later, thus well into the afternoon. But since Passover of 836CE was to occur on a Tuesday (according to this same letter), the subsequent Rosh ha-Shanah would have been on a Thursday – on the day of the conjunction, when this conjunction occurred in the afternoon.
This demonstrates that, as late as 835/6CE, the rule of molad zaqen was not yet observed. (Sacha Stern, ibid, p.196)

In the summer of 921AD the Palestinian Gaon, Ben Meir, announced the calendar dates, countermanding the Babylonian understanding that the Molad Zaqen rule would come into effect. Ben Meir, however, stated that the Babylonian ‘four gates’ table was defective by 642 parts (35 minutes 40 seconds). He could provide no explanation for this, other than saying it resulted from an ancient system of calculation handed down to him. Rabbi Saadia ben Yosef of Babylon complained that he had artificially superimposed his 642 parts on their ‘four gates’ table. The Babylonian leadership not only rejected Ben Meir’s computation but also Palestine’s right to calculate the Jewish calendar. Their response was to claim that the two versions of the calendar had always been in agreement, and Ben Meir’s 642 parts was an aberration, a sudden divergence from the traditional calendar.

To be sure, in earlier generations the rabbis of Babylonia would send and ask for the Palestinian rabbis’ yearly decisions regarding the months of the year, because they were not expert in the order of intercalation in the same way as the Palestinians. Therefore, they used to write to them.
But already many years ago, sages from Babylonia went up to the land of Israel, and investigated with the sages of the land of Israel in the ‘court of intercalation’, and searched and inquired into this matter, until they understood it very well. And now, for many years already, they set the months on their own in Babylonia, and the sages of the land of Israel also calculate and set the months on their own. And in all these years, their calculation has been the same and there and there has been no difference between them; for the calculation is well established, the festivals are sanctified according to the same rule and the same principle, and the calculations were all given by the same shepherd. We have never seen such a disruption or breach …
Behold there are elders in the yeshivot who have advanced in years and who are very old, and none of them remembers that Babylonians ever needed to ask the Palestinians for the intercalation of years and the setting of months. Rather, you set the calendar according to your custom, and we also follow the custom of our fathers, and we set the calendar in our own way, but the calendar is one and the same.”

“This controversy proved that the rules for the modern Jewish calendar were in place by 921CE or 922 CE, except for the rules for calculating the year. Finally, in 1178 CE, Maimonides described in full all of the rules for the modern Jewish calendar, including the rules for determining the modern epochal year.”
(Elimelech David Ha-Levi, Jewish (Hebrew) Calendar – Origin And History)

642 parts of an hour (35 minutes 40 seconds) is the time difference between Jerusalem and Babylonia, but many modern Jewish calendar scholars are reluctant to accept that the calendar is based on Babylonian time, and instead speculate that the 642 parts come from a calendar reckoning by a 3rd century Babylonian rabbi, Samuel of Nehardea, who calculated that the first tekufah in the year of Creation was at sunset: 7 days, 9 hours and 642 parts prior to the conjunction of the sun and moon in the month of Nisan, and it somehow got rounded down to a whole number of hours.

The ‘four gates table’, however, is based on the molad of Tishri, not Nisan.
This was a change from 835/6, when the Exilarch of Babylon, quoting from the Palestinian calendar declaration, wrote that, “the moon of Nisan is to be born in the daytime of the third day of the week,” and he supported the Palestinian court’s decision: “we always rely on them, lest Israel be split into factions.” Palestine was now in agreement with the calendar year beginning in Tishri, so Ben Meir’s argument for an ‘ancient system of calculation’ based on the molad of Nisan was undermined.

The holy days and annual festivals today are not, however, based on Babylonian time, but further east, owing to an eastward drift of the reference point of the molad.

The period between two new moons is a synodic month … a long-term average length called the mean synodic month (also called the molad interval) is 29 days, 12 hours, and 793 parts (i.e. 29.530594 days) … This value is as close to the correct value of 29.530589 days as it is possible for a value to come that is rounded off to whole parts (1/18th minute).

The discrepancy makes the molad interval about 0.6 seconds too long. Put another way, if the molad is taken as the time of mean conjunction at some reference meridian, then this reference meridian is drifting slowly eastward.
If this drift of the reference meridian is traced back to the mid-4th century, the traditional date of the introduction of the fixed calendar, then it is found to correspond to a longitude midway between the Nile and the end of the Euphrates.
The modern molad moments match the mean solar times of the lunar conjunction moments near the meridian of Kandahar, Afghanistan, more than 30° east of Jerusalem.

Furthermore, the discrepancy between the molad interval and the mean synodic month is accumulating at an accelerating rate, since the mean synodic month is progressively shortening due to gravitational tidal effects.” (World Public Library, ‘Hebrew Calendar’)

The Jews base the phrase ‘midway between the Nile and the end of the Euphrates’ on Genesis 15:18 – In that day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates’ (ASV).

Cairo, Egypt, is at 30.0° latitude 31.2° longitude, and Al Qurnah, Iraq (which lies at the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris), is at 31.0° latitude 47.4° longitude, so halfway is 39.3° longitude – which is close to the Jordan-Iraq border.
Jerusalem is at 35.2° longitude. Kandahar is 2 hours east of Jerusalem at 65.7°.

Why is it important that the mid-4th century be the traditional time for the introduction of the fixed calendar? Apart from enabling pseudo-scriptural support for the original reference meridian of the molad, there was a need to combat opposition to this ‘new’ fixed calendar, and affirm that it was really of ancient origin – meaning, it is now a ‘tradition’, so therefore the Jewish people must continue to keep it.

Many theories were put forward as to how long ago the fixed calendar was introduced.

Maimonides, in his great treatise on the calendar c.1178AD, wrote that the fixed calendar was instituted “from the end of the period of the sages of the Talmud” (after 500AD), but in another place that the Mishnaic (observational) calendar was practised “until the days of Abaye and Rava” (4th century).

Some Rabbis interpreted 1 Chronicles 12:32 to mean that the ‘sons of Issachar’ understood the ‘secret of intercalation’: ‘And of the children of Issachar, men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do’. R. Ya’aqov b. Shimson wrote in 1123/4AD: “For they saw that the Sanhedrin was declining, so they studied the ‘secret of intercalation’ to know what Israel should do, and designed tables for the calculation of festivals and new years.”

The theory that caught hold and has become the definitive version is the calendar of ‘Hillel the Patriarch’ (a.k.a. Hillel 2, to distinguish him from Hillel the Elder, founder of the House of Hillel in the 1st century AD)

The theory of the Hillel calendar derives entirely from a remark in a paper written in 1123AD by R. Avraham b. Hiyya, in which he quoted R. Hai Gaon (early 11th century) as saying: “… until the days of Hillel b. R. Yehuda in the year 670 of the Seleucid era (358/9AD), from when they did not bring forth or postpone, but kept to this cycle which was at hand …”

All that may reasonably be deduced from this brief statement and context is that this Hillel was a man of authority in a community that decided to adopt a 19 year time cycle for intercalation.

R. Zerahiah ha-Levi (mid 12th century) interpreted the rabbi’s remark to refer to the publication of a full calculated calendar, even supplying reasons as to why this was supposedly done: “… in the days of Hillel b. Yehuda, son of our holy Rabbi, who instituted a calendar based on calculation and not on observation, because of the pressure of exile, that there were no witnesses to go and testify before the court, and court envoys were not able to go to all places and announce the court’s decisions, because of the disruption of the roads.”

A century later Nahmanides embellished the story: “From the time of Hillel … in the year 670 of the Seleucid era, 4118 A.M. [358 AD], the Sanhedrin in Erez Israel ceased and it ceased to have experts, and it was he who regulated the order of intercalation, reckoned the years, and fixed the months for generations to come.”

The Encyclopedia Judaica (2007) treats ‘Hillel’s calendar’ as factual on p.110 – and yet admits on p.358 the influence of tradition, and that the calendar was developed gradually to the end of the 1st millennium AD – so therefore the Sanhedrin could not have been dissolved.

(p.110) “Because of the serious condition of the communities of Erez Israel and the deterioration of the *Galilean center, Hillel II agreed in principle to limit the authority of the nasi and his functions in connection with the proclamation of the New Moon, the fixing of the festivals, and the intercalation of the year. He thereupon published Sod ha-Ibbur (‘The Secret of Intercalation’) and Kevi’uta de-Yarha (‘The Fixing of the New Month’). According to a tradition mentioned by Hai Gaon and quoted in the Sefer ha-Ibbur of Abraham bar Hiyya (ed. H. Filipowski (1851), 97) this took place in 358 CE”
(*The Sanhedrin moved to Yavne after the destruction of the Temple, then to Usha.)

(p.358) “There is, on the other hand, unimpeachable evidence from the works of writers with expert knowledge of the calendar that the present ordo intercalationis and epochal molad were not yet intrinsic parts of the calendar of Hillel II, these being seen still side by side with other styles of the ordo intercalationis and the molad as late as the 11th century. Also the four dehiyyot developed gradually … By the tenth century the Jewish calendar was exactly the same as today.”

There is no record whatsoever in the Talmudim of these momentous events – not of the publication of a fixed calendar in 358/9AD, nor of the dissolution (or limitation of authority) of the Sanhedrin, nor any mention of a person called Hillel.

Lacking any reference to this ‘Hillel the Patriarch’ in the 4th century, the Encyclopedia Judaica resorted to identifying him as Julius: “In the well-known letter of Julian the Apostate to the Jews (written in Antioch in 362), the emperor addressed ‘the patriarch Julius’ (Hillel), calling him ‘brother Julos the patriarch’ …” (p.110)

The Hillel Calendar fantasy was accepted into the Worldwide Church of God as fact by the publication of Herman Hoeh’s article, ‘The Hebrew Calendar – Authoritative for God’s Church Today!’ (Good News, March 1981).

Herman Hoeh’s mis-teaching was one of last steps in the fractured understanding of the biblical calendar in the modern 7th day church movement, starting from the institution of the first annual ordinance – Lord’s Supper/Passover – in the 19th century. This article will conclude in 2020 with a study of this history.


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