A History of the Biblical Calendar
Scriptural References :
ASV – American Standard Version; GLV – Green’s Literal Version
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons [Hebrew: moed – Strong’s H4150 ‘properly an appointment, that is, a fixed time or season’], and for days and years … And God made the two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. (Genesis 1:14,16 ASV)
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)
These are appointed seasons of Jehovah, holy gatherings, which you shall proclaim in their appointed seasons [Hebrew: moed]. (Leviticus 23:4 GLV)
Observe the month (chodesh) 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. (Deuteronomy 16:1 ASV)
So each Biblical month begins at the new moon, and the year begins with the month of the Abib, the month of Passover. (The Egyptian calendar began with the season of Inundation [of the Nile] in midsummer, which was prefaced by the appearance of Sirius just before dawn. Each day began at sunrise, and the month began at the sunrise following the disappearance of the old moon.)
Originally every month was 30 days long – as shown by Noah’s flood, when “the waters prevailed over the earth one hundred and fifty days” (Genesis 7:24), from the seventeenth day of the second month” (7:11) to the seventeenth day of the seventh month” (8:4) – 5 months x 30 days. Today, a lunar month is either 29 or 30 days, and it is impossible for there to be 5 consecutive months of 30 days each.
Exodus 12:2 and Deuteronomy 16:1 were therefore all the calendar instruction that the Israelites needed – there was no requirement to add a 13th lunar month every 2 or 3 years to align the calendar with the solar year.
Ancient documents confirm that a year comprised 12 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)
“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)
“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.)
This was the time period of the Old Testament prophets and of Daniel, when:
“He is changing times and seasons” (Daniel 2:21 – Young’s Literal Translation)
What was affecting the Earth and causing the “changing times and seasons”?
At the Babylonian Akitu festival, the high priest would recite the following prayer before the statue of Bel (who was also known as 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”):
“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 to a solar year of 365 days and lunar months of 29 or 30 days? Most retained twelve 30 day months and added ‘5 days of nothing’ at the end of the year. For example:
“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)
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.”
Daniel and his companions were taken captive to Babylon during this period when Jehovah was “changing times and seasons”. Nebuchadnezzar found these young men 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)
The intercalation of a 13th month 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.
After 70 years of captivity in Babylon: “in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah (Jer.29:10) 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)
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 determine when it was the 7th biblical month? What instruction was received from Daniel – who was alive during the reign of Cyrus (Dan.6:28)? The books of Ezra and Nehemiah contain no definite statements as to the rule for adding a 13th month. Detailed information about the Second Temple calendar can however be found in the Mishnah, a collection of 63 tractates, divided into 6 orders, one 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 may be regarded as significant. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to assume that the Mishnaic system was perpetuated well into the Amoraic period (third to fifth centuries).”
(Sacha Stern, Calendar and Community : A History of the Jewish Calendar, 2nd century BCE – 10th century CE, p.164)
There were other calendars in Palestine during this period in history, most notably the Samaritan calendar of the Northern Israelites, who continue to this day to observe the annual festivals at Mount Gerizim. Jesus Christ, however, observed the annual festivals at the Temple in Jerusalem, in accordance with the calendar observed there.
Jesus Christ died in the late afternoon of the 14th of Abib, the day before the Sabbath, which was also a High Day, the 15th of Abib, on the calendar of the Second Temple.
‘The Jews therefore, because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross upon the sabbath (for the day of that sabbath was a high day), asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.’ (John 19:31 ASV)
The procedure for determining the beginning of a year is described in detail in the Tosefta, Tractate Sanhedrin, section 5:2. Herbert Danby, in the introduction to his translation of Tractate Sanhedrin, issues a warning about the Tosefta: “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.”
Some of the Mishnah and much of Tractate Sanhedrin 5:2 is rabbinic opinion, which must be stripped away, and the basic reasons given for intercalation 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
“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)
If the fields of barley (the early corn-crop that grows wild all over Palestine) was not ready to begin harvesting on the Sunday after Passover, a 13th month was to be added.
(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 given 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 rabbis taught that there are four seasons, but there are only two Biblical seasons: Summer and Winter. The seasons of Spring and Autumn cannot be found in the scriptures.
‘Equinox’ is translated from the Hebrew word tqufah (Strong’s H8622: a revolution, i.e. (of the sun) course, (of time) lapse). It 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) also 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 Spring Equinox’ is a meaningless term, since the equinox occurs on March 20 or 21 every year, and cannot therefore be either late or early.
The lateness of the tqufah’ (or t’shubah), the turn of the year, meant that the weather had not yet turned – it was still wintry.
5.2.3 On the basis of evidence 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.”
“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 Mishnah records that the declaration of the new year was publicized throughout the land and some parts of the diaspora by a system of beacons (and later via messengers. The Palestinian and Babylonian Talmudim both write of a chain of beacons eastward across Jordan to Pumbeditha in Babylonia.
Rabbi Gamliel is recorded as sending letters to the brethren in Syria, Asia Minor (Turkey), Media (western Iran) and Yawan (Macedonia).
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, Jews in the diaspora, desiring unity, observed each annual holy day for two days, in order to be sure of keeping the day that the calendar court had sanctified. This tradition is kept today by Orthodox Jews living outside Israel (except for the Day of Atonement – as they do not want to fast for two successive days!).
The distance from Jerusalem to Babylon by road is 900 miles, and sometimes the chain of beacons failed or the messengers did not arrive by the 15th of the month. The Babylonian rabbis developed a ‘rule of the equinox’ for fixing the start of the year, for occasions when news regarding intercalation had not been received from Palestine by Passover – and if this proved to be the wrong decision, correction was made for the subsequent appointed times.
The rabbis sought biblical justification for this rule, teaching 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.
“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 7-8 April – 18 days later than the true equinox.)
“With the introduction of the permanent calendar … the independent computation of the beginnings of the four seasons, the Tequfoth, has lost its importance. Nevertheless, in all our annual calendars we find the dates of the four Tqufoth listed … on the day of Tequfah Nisan in the first year of the 28-year sun cycle … we praise God as the Creator of the universe and especially of the sun in a special blessing.”
(Arthur Spier, The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar)
Some Jewish communities outside the land and Christian churches, most of whom had no desire to follow ‘the practice of the Jews’, followed various time cycles, usually based around the equinox, for calculating future dates for Passover/Easter.
“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, ibid, p.225)
Emperor Constantine wrote to the Syrian and Palestinian absentees from the Council of Nicea: “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.”
There was no unanimity at this council, however, as to the format for calculating Easter Sunday. In 525AD Dyonysius Exiguus published his Easter table, which the Roman Catholic church soon began to use. His paschal table is an adaptation of the 19 year Alexandrian cycle, with intercalations in years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17 & 19. This table has the same cycle and leap year sequence that would later be adopted for the Jewish calculated calendar.
In the 7th century the Islamic Empire came to power in the Middle-east. The Caliphate, which by the 9th century stretched from the Indian border to Spain, gave the Pharisees religious autonomy across the empire under a system known as the Exilarchate. Karaites and some other Jewish groups vigorously opposed their religious governance, but could not prevent the Pharisees from becoming by far the dominant sect in Judaism (now known as ‘Orthodox’ Jews).
The raised status of the Pharisees is exemplified by the Exilarch of Babylon’s letter in 835/36, in which he referred to himself as “the head of the yeshivot, the rabbis and all Israel.” The exilarch supported the Palestinian court’s calendar decisions, however, since “we always rely on them, lest Israel be split into factions.”
“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.184-5)
Adapting the 19 year cycle to the calendrical rules that had gradually been developed over the previous centuries was a difficult task, and its achievement is generally credited to Rabbi Nahshon, Gaon of Sura in Southern Babylonia, 871-879AD. The ‘four parts’ or ‘four gates’ table (probably referring to the four days of the week on which 1st Tishri may fall – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday) corresponds to the modern calendar – but requires the calculation of the Molad Emtzai.
“The earliest datable reference to the present day molad calculation is in the work of the Muslim astronomer al-Khwarizmi on the Jewish calendar, dating from 823/4CE, where the lunation of 29 days, 12 hours and 793 parts [1 hour = 1080 parts] is explicitly given.” (Sacha Stern, ibid, p.205)
“In the early 12th century Rabbi Avraham b. Hiyya acknowledged that the rabbinic mean lunation of 29 days, 12 hours and 793 parts, was identical with Ptolemy’s in his 2nd century classic work of astronomy, the Almagest … It also appears indeed that the epoch assumed in the rabbinic calculation of the molad was based on that of Ptolemy.(Sacha Stern, ibid, p.207)
An alternative theory has been proposed – that ancient Babylonian astronomers had calculated this lunation, and that the Jews borrowed their calendar from them and not from Ptolemy.
“Whether the molad calculation was borrowed from Babylonian astronomers, or from an Arabic translation of Ptolemy’s Almagest that would have been made at the 9th century Abbasid capital of Baghad, in the heartland of Babylonia, the geographical origins of this molad would have been the same. It was in Babylonia, indeed, that this molad would have become known to the Jews and incorporated into the present-day rabbinic calendar.” (Sacha Stern, ibid, pp.209-10)
“Inasmuch as the present-day molad calculation and the ‘four parts table’ were both Babylonian in origin, the contribution of the Babylonian rabbinic community to the normative Jewish calendar would thus have been considerable: for the molad calculation and the ‘four parts table’ constitute the foundation of the present-day rabbinic calendar. There is thus a case to argue that the calendar in use nowadays is essentially a Babylonian calendar.” (Sacha Stern, ibid, p.275)
In the summer of 921AD a dispute arose between Palestine and Babylon, which was centered around the definition of the recently introduced postponement rule of Molad Zaqen – ‘late conjunction’. (The calendar was now based on the ‘molad’ and not on the time of first visibility of the moon.)
The rule of Molad Zaqen in the modern Jewish calendar 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 – a rule that 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)
This dispute arose from the announcement by the Palestinian Gaon in the summer of 921AD of the calendar dates for the next three years. Passover in 922AD was to be on Sunday, and the year ‘defective’ (one day less than the ‘regular’ year), whereas the Babylonian leadership had calculated that it would be on Tuesday, and the year ‘full’ (one day extra).
The Babylonians had calculated Molad Emtzai to be at 18 hours and 247 parts, thus the Molad Zaqen rule would come into effect. Ben Meir of Palestine explained that their ‘four gates’ table was defective by 642 parts (35 minutes 40 seconds), though he could provide no explanation for this difference, other than saying it resulted from an ancient system of calculation handed down to him. R. Saadia ben Yosef of Babylon complained that he had artificially superimposed his 642 parts on their ‘four gates’ table, and rejected his computation.
Molad Zaqen is a strange rule to introduce into a fixed calendar based on the conjunction, if its purpose were to postpone the molad to the evening of the first possible sighting of the moon – which is what the Worldwide Church of God taught, Even if the rule had said 12 hours (6am) rather than 18 hours (noon), it would still be impossible to sight the new moon on the following evening.
Two of the four postponement rules are clearly arithmetical, and 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.”
This dispute gave the Babylonian rabbis an opportunity to take over control of the calendar, and become the central authority for all religious matters.
“In the early 10th century, Ben Meir reports that every year, at the end of the feast of Tabernacles, the head of the Palestinian academy would ascend the Mount of Olives and announce the calendar dates that had been calculated for the following year. These dates would then have been disseminated across the Diaspora, in good time before the next Passover. This old tradition demonstrated, in Ben Meir’s view, that the Palestinian court had always retained supreme authority over calendrical decisions …
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 Babylonian leadership held the view – expressed in this article on Ben Meir in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) – that the calculation of the calendar (indeed all Judaic teaching) was the prerogative of Babylon. Calendrical decisions had always up until this time come from Palestine, because of the Talmudic prohibition of intercalation outside the land – which the Babylonians could not directly oppose. Their response (probably by Saadia) 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.”
“In 921CE or 922CE, a person named Aaron ben Meir tried to bring the authority for the Jewish calendar to Israel from Babylonia by asserting an arithmetic argument in favor of Israel being the center for the Jewish calendar, which would have resulted in the authority of the Jewish calendar being moved to Israel. However, the Babylonian Jewish academic leader Sa’adiah Gaon opposed him, based on his version of the calendrical rules for the modern Jewish calendar and finally, all Jewish communities ignored his opinion. 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 the notion that the modern Jewish calendar might have been based on Babylonian time is rejected out of hand by Jewish calendar scholars, who instead point to the 642 parts in the calendar reckoning of the 3rd century Babylonian rabbi, Samuel of Nehardea. (His calendar, based on the 4 tekufoth [equinoxes/solstices] remains part of the modern Jewish calendar, but only for ritual purposes, owing to its inaccuracy for long term use.) He 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. Their conjecture is that this calculation might have formed the basis of Ben Meir’s ‘ancient system of calculation’ for the molad of Nisan, and it somehow got rounded down to a whole number of hours.
The ‘four gates table’, however, was based on the molad of Tishri, not Nisan. The traditional reason given for this is that Tishri was now regarded as the month of creation, and therefore the molad of Tishri should determine the start of the calendar year. 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.”
Ben Meir failed to challenge the use of the molad of Tishri, because Palestine was in agreement with the calendar year beginning in Tishri. An argument for an ‘ancient system of calculation’ based on the molad of Nisan was thus undermined.
The holy days and annual festivals today are not, however, based on Babylonian time, but further east, due to an eastward drift of the reference point of the molad.
“A ‘new moon’ (astronomically called a lunar conjunction and in Hebrew called a molad) is the moment at which the sun and moon are aligned horizontally with respect to a north-south line (technically, they have the same ecliptical longitude).
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 the mid-4th century the traditional date 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 Karaite opposition to this ‘new’ fixed calendar, and affirm that it was really of ancient origin, i.e. a ‘tradition’, which the Jewish people therefore must continue to keep.
Many theories were put forward as to when and why 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 became the definitive version was 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 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 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 Hillel the Patriarch.
Lacking any reference to this ‘Hillel the Patriarch’ in the 4th century, the Encyclopedia Judaica resorts 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 has been accepted as fact by most in the Churches of God today since the publication of Herman Hoeh’s article, ‘The Hebrew Calendar – Authoritative for God’s Church Today!’ (Good News, March 1981).
Herman Hoeh’s article was a response to criticism that the Hebrew calendar did not calculate the times of sighted new moons, which was what was taught by Herbert Armstrong and Kenneth Herrman (an astronomer whom Herbert Armstrong appointed in 1952 to deal with the subject of the calendar).
The Hebrew calendar to Herman Hoeh was one of the doctrines of “God’s Apostle”, and therefore a truth from God. He had been the first to call Herbert Armstrong by this title, at the Festival of Tabernacles in 1951, although it was not until 1974 that Mr Armstrong referred to himself in a ministerial letter as ”your fellow minister, whom you call God’s apostle.” In 1992 Joseph Tkach (Snr) used similar terminology, writing in the Worldwide News, 31 March 1992: “When referring to Mr. Armstrong or myself, however, the Church uses the term apostle.”
Fred Coulter says of Herman Hoeh, in Three Critical False Doctrines:
“Because he was accepted as an eminent scholar, his views were accepted and very few challenged his conclusions, yet he apparently did this in order to be politically correct with the leadership of the church.”
Fred Coulter has no problem with the Hebrew Calendar, which he claims was passed secretly to the Levites and Priests at Mount Sinai – despite Exodus 24:3-4 :
‘And Moses came and told the people all the words of Jehovah, and all the ordinances: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which Jehovah hath spoken will we do. And Moses wrote all the words of Jehovah…’ (ASV)
Herman Hoeh’s article, The Hebrew Calendar – Authoritative for God’s Church Today! begins with: ‘A changed world since 1930’ – “… Herbert W. and Loma D. Armstrong for seven years – 1927 to 1933 – they had to observe God’s festivals alone – by themselves as a family – even while fellowshipping with the little remnant of God’s people in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Not until 1934 were others, brought to conversion by their ministry, willing to keep God’s festivals with them. This little group in Eugene, Ore., became the mother church of what today is the Worldwide Church of God.”
Herbert Armstrong was ordained by the Church of God 7th Day in 1931, and received his Ministerial License Certificate from the Oregon Conference in 1932. In 1933 there was a split away from the Stanberry, Missouri (now Denver Colorado) church. In the Autumn of 1934 Herbert Armstrong decided to switch employment to the new group, based in Salem, West Virginia.
Herman Hoeh continues: “Gradually the word spread. A few others already associated with the scattered remnants of God’s Church listened. Among them was a man of some prominence. Unfortunately he jumped the track spiritually. He invented the false teaching that one must speak only Hebrew when using the names and titles of God and of Jesus Christ.”
The man whom he avoids naming is Clarence Dodd. He was “a man of some prominence” in business, holding an important position with a large oil company, and was the Salem church’s Secretary-Treasurer. He was not a man to whom “the word spread” in 1934 – he began observing the annual holy days in West Virginia in 1928. After Herbert & Loma Armstrong joined the Oregon Conference of the Salem Church in 1934, others were not “brought to conversion by their ministry” – they joined others who were already keeping the annual holy days.
“Clarence O. Dodd states that he began to keep the Passover in 1928, and immediately began keeping the other Feast Days of the year” …
“Vera Henion, who with her husband Dave Henion moved to Oregon in October of 1934 … learned much of her beliefs concerning the Holy days from Dodd’s tracts and articles … She wrote questions to Dodd, and recalls that Armstrong’s knowledge of the Holy days was increased through her, as she gave him Dodd’s material and they studied them together … (She) believes it was the latter part of 1935 that she started keeping the Holy Days, along with 40-60 others, including the Helms, McGills, Davises and Armstrongs.”
“M.L. Ogren, son of C.W. Ogren, reports that he was with the Salem group. He started keeping the Feast Days in 1934, at age 20. He reports that Salem generally kept them from 1934 to 1937, but later dropped the practice … Ogren came to believe in the Feast Days through C.O. Dodd and his own self-study.”
John Kiesz recorded that, “It was in the fall of 1937 when Elder Armstrong’s credentials were revoked by the Salem Church of God organization. The reason given by the Board of Twelve for this action was because he taught and kept the annual Feast days. But the real reason seems to have been because of his unco-operative attitude …
I was on the Board of Twelve when Armstrong was issued ministerial credentials in 1934, and also when his credentials were revoked in 1937. May I state that I personally did not participate in the revoking procedures. Following this incident of revoking Armstrong’s credentials, he and I remained close friends.”
Clarence Dodd founded The Faith magazine and the Faith Bible and Tract Societyin 1937, in order to spread understanding of Church of God doctrine and especially the annual holy days. In an edition in 1938 he included, as a filler, a clipping about the use of Hebrew names for God and Jesus, which prompted a stream of comments and questions. This obliged him to study the matter, and resulted in his “jumping the track spiritually.” The magazine became the main forum for the discussion of sacred names, but the history of the sacred names movement has been just that – a movement, not a corporate organization.
Herman Hoeh continues: “But this man did set in motion a movement among the scattered remnants of God’s people. That movement, itself now terribly divided [unlike the WCG, which suffered only two major schisms in the 1970s] claims to observe God’s annual Holy Days. But almost none of them has been willing to acknowledge the authority of the calendar God authorized to measure time – the Hebrew calendar.”
“Herbert W. Armstrong addressed this problem head-on in the Good News Letter of 1940. The man referred to above had published earlier that year the date March 22 as Passover. The Stanberry, Mo., and Salem, W.Va., organizations (of the Church of God, Seventh Day) published the date as April 21 (each meaning the night at the end of the day, of course).”
The Stanberry (now Denver) and Salem churches were to observe the Lord’s Supper in the evening of the 14th day of Abib (Nisan) in the Jewish calendar, while Clarence Dodd had decided that the biblical year should begin with the new moon nearest the vernal equinox.
Herbert Armstrong’s 1940 letter states that, “There is NO BIBLE AUTHORITY WHATSOEVER for figuring the 1st day of the 1st month from the new moon NEAREST the Spring equinox! … after going into the matter with all the Eugene brethren, and other brethren who have made a special study of this question, we have unanimously agreed that the Hebrew calendar has been preserved correct by the Jews.”
However, in his 1952 booklet, How Often Should We Partake of the Lord’s Supper? (final paragraph) he reverts to the Church’s confused teaching that: “The first day of the new year always begins with the day nearest the Spring equinox, when the new moon is first visible to the naked eye AT JERUSALEM (not in the United States). The Jewish calendar as used by Jews today is correct.”
The Denver church today does not have a calendar doctrine, but the annual dates it publishes for the Lord’s Supper are the Jewish calendar dates. The Salem church remains confused. Doctrinal point no.15, states: “The visible new moon nearest the vernal equinox is the beginning of the first month. The day starts in the evening.”
This makes no mention of the Jewish calendar, but in 2014 the Lord’s Supper was observed on the 14th day of the Jewish calendar – which we queried. The church did not reply, but in 2015 the Lord’s Supper was observed on Friday evening, 3rd April, the 14th day from the visible new moon. The new moons in its 2015 calendar, however, are all astronomical new moons. The March new moon is shown as Friday the 20th, so the 14th day from then was Wednesday evening, 1st April – whereas the Lord’s Supper on the Jewish calendar was Thursday evening, 2nd April.
When Clarence Dodd published his festival dates for 1940, Herbert Armstrong acted promptly: “As soon as I learned of Brother Dodd’s published dates for the festivals this year, I sent him a telegram asking for his authority for his dates.”
John Kiesz records that Herbert Armstrong was a member of the church board at this time: “It is a mistake for anyone to state, as was done by Marion J. McNair in his book [Armstrongism: Religion Or Rip-Off? – PDF p.95], that Armstrong continued as an unofficial organization, between 1937 and 1946, until he incorporated as the Radio Church of God. Actually, he organized the Churches of God in Oregon shortly after his credentials were revoked. In the month of July, 1940, ministerial credentials were issued to me – John Kiesz – signed by the following Board Members: 1. Herbert W. Armstrong [and 6 named others].”
The other board members were perhaps so confused about the calendar issue that they were content to allow him to investigate and report on the matter individually.
Herman Hoeh continues: “Mr. Armstrong wrote that ‘many of the brethren are in doubt and want the facts.’ And he gave them facts – in detail. Then he added:
‘In conclusion, unless God has preserved His sacred calendar through the Jews’ …”
He moves straight to Herbert Armstrong’s conclusion, because he doesn’t want to discuss Mr Armstrong’s “facts” – with very good reason.
His first “fact” is that “the modern Jewish calendar had come down intact without change since 100 A.D. – that much is proved by history.”
Apart from there being no such historical proof, Herman Hoeh is going to contradict Mr Armstrong later in his article, claiming that the Jewish calendar was indeed changed – by the Pharisees.
Mr Armstrong asks: “WHO HAS PRESERVED THIS TIME, this sacred CALENDAR? To whom did God give it? To whom were ‘the oracles of God COMMITTED?’ To ISRAEL AND JUDAH, of course! Israel LOST the Sabbath, LOST time, LOST even her national name and identity. But JUDAH NEVER DID. Judah has kept TIME in respect to the weekly SABBATH. The Jews rejected Christ. They apostatized in doctrine, BUT THEY WERE STRICT, STICKLERS FOR THE LETTER. Would such a people have lost their CALENDAR? If so, TIME IS LOST! There is no other source thru whom God could have committed AND PRESERVED His calendar. He did COMMIT it to them. Therefore it must be thru them He has preserved it! They had the calendar correct at the time of Christ. They figured Passover, all the feasts, as He did.”
So, he argues, Israel lost God’s calendar, but Judah never did.
His second “fact” is that the Samaritans are not the Northern Kingdom of Israel, but a Jewish sect, and it is they who have preserved God’s calendar.
“Further PROOF comes thru the continuous observance of Passover by one Jewish sect, going by the name of ‘Samaritans’.
In the Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th edition, Vol. 17, page 357, we read:
‘The Samaritans have throughout their history observed the Passover with all its Pentateuchal ceremonial and still observe it down to the present day. THEY SACRIFICE THE PASCHAL LAMB, which is probably the oldest religious rite that HAS BEEN CONTINUOUSLY KEPT UP’.
Here are the ONLY people who have kept Passover, continuously, thru all generations without a break, exactly as God gave it to them under the old Testament form. They have NEVER made any change in their doctrines regarding Passover, or the manner of observing it. Could THEY have lost the calendar – the way of figuring WHEN to take it – as God committed it to them? Hardly! Yet they use today the same calendar all the Jews use – the sacred original Hebrew calendar!
Interesting, too, is the fact they observe Passover on the eve, or night part of the 14th, not on the 15th. They kill the lamb between sunset and dark at the very beginning of the 14th.
They observe the FEAST the night of the 15th. Also, they have continued to figure Pentecost from the morrow after the WEEKLY SABBATH during the days of unleavened bread, the true Bible way – instead of from the first annual Sabbath.
In conclusion, unless God has preserved His sacred calendar thru the Jew, then WE DO NOT KNOW how to figure Passover or ANY of the holy days this year. For there is NO AUTHORITY for any other day.”
Mr Armstrong warned earlier in his letter that “In Dan 7:25, the ‘little horn’, or papacy, was to ‘think to change TIMES’ as well as laws.” He wants to clarify that, by calculating Pentecost differently from the calendar observed by the mainstream ‘Orthodox’ Jews (who are the descendants of the Pharisees), he is not ‘thinking to change times’ – it’s the Jewish sect of the Samaritans who have correctly preserved the sacred calendar.
The Samaritan calendar is not, however, the same as the Hebrew calendar observed by the Churches of God. The method of intercalation is kept secret by the priests, but the dates published for recent years indicate that the year begins at the conjunction following the vernal equinox – which is set at March 25, not March 20/21. This results in the festival dates being one month later than for the Jews in 40% of years – which is the case for the 2015 calendar. The leap year sequence and the calculation of the conjunction (molad) of the sun/moon are different. Rosh Hashana is the new moon of the 1st month, not the 7th. The Samaritans do not postpone.
Herman Hoeh continues quoting from the 1940 letter: “As soon as I learned,” Mr. Armstrong continued, “of [the man’s] published dates for the festivals this year, I sent him a telegram asking his authority for his dates. His reply is that he bases his method of figuring on certain statements of profane history found in encyclopedias. He replies, ‘In some Bible dictionary, or encyclopedia, or Jewish encyclopedia, I read something like this: ‘The ancient reckoning of Passover was from the actual sight of the new moon nearest the vernal equinox’.”
Notice that Herman Hoeh even removes “Brother Dodd’s” name from this quote – he doesn’t want the reader to discover any ‘facts’ about Clarence Dodd.
Mr. Armstrong continues: “Bro. Dodd also cited Josphesus, Jewish historian, to indicate that Passover could never be earlier than March 20th, or later than April 19th … while in the Britannica I find statements supposed to be historic that it ALWAYS began with the first new moon AFTER March 21st.”
In 1940 the astronomical new moon was at 04.23 (Jerusalem time) on March 9th. Clarence Dodd presumably decided that the new moon would be visible in the evening of that day, thus Passover would be the evening of March 22nd.
Herbert Armstrong wrote concerning the visible new moon: “The New moon occurs, IN JERUSALEM, (World Almanac), at exactly 10:18 P.M., the night of April 7th, which is the eve of April 8th. However, God had the new moon observed by the naked eye and by this method (i.e. God’s calendar that the Samaritans have preserved) the first day of the 1st month begins the following sunset, April 8th. Thus Passover comes AFTER SUNSET APRIL 21st…”
(Both men had to make an assumption as to when these new moons would become visible, and modern astronomical data tells us that they were both one day early.)
If there had not been a postponement (which happens in 4 years out of 10), the 1st day of the 1st month in the Jewish calendar would have begun at sunset on April 7th – 4 hours before the astronomical new moon. This surely would have caused him to reject the Jewish calendar.
Herman Hoeh continued: “Forty years have passed since this controversy came and went … It is now the 1980s and most people have had little instruction from God’s Word on the authority of the Hebrew calendar, its history and preservation. It is every whit as intriguing as the story of the copying and preservation of the written Word of God, the Bible.”
The Church’s instruction in articles on the Hebrew calendar from 1940 to 1980 was that a month began when the new moon was observed by the naked eye in Jerusalem – as stated above by Mr Armstrong. Herman Hoeh is going to contradict this teaching, so he omits the above quote and makes no reference to all the other articles published in this 40 year period.
After his blunder in the 1952 Passover article, Herbert Armstrong passed the calendar issue to one of his pioneer students, Kenneth Herrmann, an astronomer, who wrote three calendar articles for the Good News magazine.
God’s Sacred Calendar (Good News, March 1953, pp.7-9)
“The Passover had to be at the time of the early grain harvest for the high priest waves a sheaf of the new grain crop on the morrow after the Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. “Keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.” (Ex. 13:10). No other grain could be cut until the wave sheaf was offered. (Check Ex.23:14-17, Deut.16:9-16 and Num.28:2 also.)
To keep the month in accord with the year, God intended that a 13th month be added in certain years. Seven times in a 19 year cycle this 13th month must be added to keep the year in accord with the seasons. Then the cycle is repeated.”
“The observation of the new moon is to be made from Jerusalem, not from the North American continent. The seven to ten hours difference in time between Jerusalem and the part of the country you live in will make actual observation of the new moon from America misleading.”
Which is the Calendar Christ Used? (Good News, February 1957, pp.3-8)
This article reiterates the arguments put forward in 1940 and 1953.
Prove God’s Calendar Correct! (Good News, October 1957)
The period between the Molad (average conjunction) of Tishri and the sighting of the new moon varies. If the Molad occurs before midnight, the new moon might be seen on the following evening, in which case a postponement of one day would result in Rosh Hashana (New Year’s Day) coinciding with the first visibility of the new moon in Jerusalem. Mostly, the new moon will become visible on the second evening after the Molad, but on rare occasions not until the third evening afterward.
A two day postponement is unusual, but this happened in both 1957 and 1958! Kenneth Herrmann was writing during a year when the new moons of the 1st and 7th months were being sighted in California a day earlier than the Jewish calendar. He writes: “Doesn’t the faint crescent of the new moon become visible at an earlier time to the observer in California than to an observer in Jerusalem? Yes, it does and for a number of reasons … The crescent of the new moon could thus be seen one day earlier by California observers about 40 per cent of the time.”
He then gives God’s unequivocal instructions as to the beginning of a month:
“What are God’s instructions? If the people of Jerusalem, where God’s permanent headquarters are to be, cannot see this crescent of the moon following sunset, then the entire world east and west of that city must delay beginning the month till the following sunset. This is the ordinance as it was given by God. We are not free to begin earlier because of the way we see it.”
In the summer of 1952 Herbert Armstrong was planning to begin broadcasting in Europe on Radio Luxembourg, in English, French and German. Now fully aware of the 19 year cycle, he began to wonder what personal significance it might have, his radio ministry having started in January 1934.
Herman Hoeh wrote, in What are the Times of the Gentiles?(Plain Truth, June 1953) that the Tribulation “would probably begin about 1972, after which preaching the true gospel will no longer be possible. This is a very significant date – 1972. It is only 19 years from 1953, the year that the ‘World Tomorrow’ broadcast first reached Europe!
If you read the February issue of the ‘Good News’ you will recall that Mr. Armstrong wrote that January of this year, 1953, marked the completion of the first 19 year cycle, which began in January 1934, when the ‘World Tomorrow’ broadcast first went on the air, carrying the gospel of the Kingdom to North America.
And Mark wrote that this gospel must first be preached and published in all the world AND THEN SHALL THE END COME! (Mark 13:10). This final work of carrying the true gospel of the kingdom of God to the world is a fulfillment of prophecy!”
How Often Should We Partake of the Lord’s Supper? (Tomorrow’s World, March 1971)
Herbert Armstrong had published 1975 in Prophecy in 1956, and had been writing regularly, counting down this 19 year cycle toward January 1972, when the Church would flee to the ‘Place of Safety’ – probably Petra – just before the start of the 3½ years Tribulation – so the 19 year calendar cycle was well known.
After all that, somehow his 1952 Passover article was allowed to be re-published unedited, thus we return to his confused teaching that: “The first day of the new year always begins with the day nearest the Spring equinox, when the new moon is first visible to the naked eye AT JERUSALEM (not in the United States). The Jewish calendar as used by Jews today is correct.”
This is the Passover article, published as a booklet in 1974, with the final paragraph edited as follows: “The first day of the new year begins near the spring equinox when the new moon usually is first visible to the naked eye at Jerusalem (not the United States). The Jewish calendar as used by Jews today is correct.”
So the biblical year is now defined as beginning usually (rather than always) on the day of the visible new moon at Jerusalem near (rather than nearest) the spring equinox.
This not only contradicts “God’s instructions” according to Kenneth Herrmann, but also is still contrary to the Jewish calendar. In the period 1959-1974, the Jewish new year began before the new moon became visible at Jerusalem in every year but one.
“A new year is to begin in the spring. ‘This month (Nisan or Abib) shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you’ (Ex. 12:2). This first month of God’s sacred calendar is called, in the Bible, Abib (Ex. 13:4). It means the month of ‘green ears’. Later the Jews called it Nisan (Esther 3:7) – a Babylonian word having a similar meaning.
The beginning of this month and of all God’s months generally occurs at the appearance of the first faint crescent of the new moon in the west just after sundown (observed from the Holy Land). The astronomical new moon calculated for the United States is, in general, a day or two earlier.”
Although this article has Herbert Armstrongs byline, it’s not his style of writing, and also it lacks the usual BLOCK CAPITALS and exclamation marks! The article did not appear in either the Plain Truth or the Good News – as it would surely have done if he had actually written it.
Kenneth Herrmann did not publish any articles on the biblical calendar after October 1957. However, as the church’s designated expert on the subject, in 1969 he received from a church member one of probably many queries about the calendar. He subsequently sent a copy of his reply to a minister, John Ritenbaugh.
In his reply Kenneth Herrmann quotes ‘The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar’ by Arthur Spier – so he now understood how this calendar conflicted with the articles he had written in the 1950s. The 1969 Calendar Letter, by Kenneth C Herrmann, is reproduced by Frank Nelte, followed by his comments on it.
John Ritenbaugh takes an opposite view, in The Cancerous Calendar Controversy, where he also quotes from Arthur Spier’s book (1952 edition): ‘The rebirth of the state of Israel rekindles in us the hope that a new Sanhedrin, recognized by the whole people of Israel, will be established again in our time. It will be the task of the Sanhedrin to make a decision as to when and how the sanctified calendar of Hillel II is to be modified in accordance with the requirements of astronomy and the Torah.’
“He is saying some adjustments need to be made, because none have been made in centuries, but it will take Divine Guidance and Authority to come up with an improvement over what we have.”
So John Ritenbaugh considers the Sanhedrin to be the ‘Divine Guidance and Authority’ for the biblical calendar.
Norbert Link of The Church of the Eternal God quotes from Herman Hoeh’s 1981 article: ‘the authority of Jerusalem in the person of Hillel II did speak in A.D. 358-359 to authorize the present Hebrew calendar throughout the future until such time as a new court sitting in Moses’ seat be reestablished in Jerusalem’.
He responded to a request for clarification by stating: “This means that, if and when a legitimate court (Sanhedrin) is formed and active in Jerusalem, sitting in Moses’ seat, and IF they were to make changes to the current Hebrew calendar, then this would indeed be applicable for God’s Church.”
Most churches that observe this calendar do not have such a clear position, but as Kenneth Herrmann stated in his 1969 letter, the biblical authority for the calculated Hebrew calendar rests solely on Romans 3 – i.e. the ‘Orthodox’ Jews have preserved the Oracle of the Calendar. If, therefore, an official Sanhedrin were either to adjust the calculated calendar, or return to observation of the crescent new moon (as advocated by the Temple Institute and the Israeli New Moon Society), the Churches of God would be obliged to do likewise.
Reactions to Kenneth Herrmann’s change of view on the calendar brought pressure on him and and the leadership at WCG’s HQ in Pasadena. Craig White records, in Pioneers of the Worldwide Church of God: “In 1972 Mr. Herrmann was put on extended Sabbatical leave due to political problems in the Pasadena administration and transferred to the Big Sandy area …”
Herman Hoeh’s article continues: “Why do God’s festivals fall when they do? Have we ever asked why Passover does not fall on the eve of Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday? Or why the fast of the Day of Atonement does not occur on Friday or Sunday? Or why the seventh day of the Festival of Tabernacles does not fall on the weekly Sabbath – but the eighth day commonly does? These are all curious features of the calendar God caused the Jewish people to preserve for us.”
Instead of answering these questions directly, he diverts to quoting WCG’s sole authority for the Hebrew calendar – Romans 3:1-2 What advantage then hath the Jew? … Much every way: first of all, that they were intrusted with the oracles of God.
“But what if the people to whom the oracles were committed sinned – rebelled against God’s authority? Did that mean God would not preserve His revelation through them? Not at all. He simply pruned off those who refused to preserve His revelation for men. That is one reason the 10 tribes of Israel were cut off and sent into exile.”
“But what were the oracles committed in a public way to the Jews? The Hebrew Bible only? By no means! The Hebrew calendar also! For without the calendar, it would be impossible to fulfill correctly what is written in the Hebrew Bible about hallowed annual times.”
So the “oracles” (utterances of God – Greek ‘logion’ Strong’s 3051) contain not only the written law of which annual festivals and holy days we are to keep, but also the oral law of when we are to keep them – the Hebrew calendar.
The Samaritans – the 10 tribes of Israel who were cut off – have also preserved the written Torah, and they have also preserved a different Hebrew calendar.
In order to give authority to the Hebrew calendar of the Pharisees, Herman Hoeh links it to the authority of the seat of Moses: “The scribes – copying of the text of the Hebrew Bible was one of their duties – were in authority. Jesus said so. They sat on Moses’ seat. They, not their jealous critics among modern and ancient scholars, determined for us the manner in which the Bible’s text should be preserved. And the Pharisees, too, sat on Moses’ seat. It was their court that determined the Hebrew calendar. It was their court’s decision that determined which day was the beginning of each month. Once that was determined it was the people’s responsibility to keep holy the days God made holy – according to the dates on the Hebrew calendar.”
Exodus 18:13-16 Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood about Moses from the morning unto the evening … Because the people come unto me to inquire of God: when they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.
Matthew 23:1-3 Then spake Jesus to the multitudes and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.
The people were to abide by their civil judgements, given according to the law written by Moses, but they should not observe their works, some of which Jesus describes in the remainder of chapter 23. The Pharisees lived according to their Oral Law, not the law given to Moses.
Herman Hoeh admits here that the Sanhedrin decided which day was the beginning of each month – therefore a fixed Hebrew calendar could not have been in force.
After this diversion, he addresses the “curious features of the calendar God caused the Jewish people to preserve for us.”
He actually answers only one of his questions – “why the fast of the Day of Atonement does not occur on Friday or Sunday?”
“Remember what Jesus said of the Pharisees? ‘They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matt.23:4). The later Pharisees and their rabbinic successors did exactly that for centuries when it came to determining when the Day of Atonement was to fall.
(The “rabbinic successors” of the “later Pharisees” are the ones who have preserved the Jewish calendar – the mainstream Orthodox Jews, who place the traditions of their elders above scripture.)
You will remember that I asked above how many readers were aware that the Day of Atonement on the Hebrew calendar does not fall on a Friday – the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath.Do you know why this occurs? And what rule of the calendar determines this?
Think for a moment what it would be like for housewives to prepare food for the Sabbath on a Friday that is a fast day! Of course the Day of Atonement is so important a fast that no food is to be prepared that day at all. So housewives would have to prepare food on a Thursday for the weekly Sabbath. That would be burdensome. If Atonement were to fall on Friday, housewives would have to prepare food for the weekly Sabbath on a Thursday. And that is exactly what the Pharisees anciently required be done!”
Of the 3 largest churches to split from the Worldwide Church of God, only the Living Church of God offers any scholarship on the subject of postponements. John Ogwyn, in the Nov/Dec 2000 issue of Living Church News writes :
“For six of these days – the first and seventh Day of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Trumpets, the first day of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day – Moses was to instruct Israel that “no servile work” be done. However, the weekly Sabbath and the Day of Atonement were different. On these two days, “no work whatsoever” was to be done. Clearly God placed these two days in a slightly different category than the others. Additionally, in describing Trumpets, the first day of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day, the term shabbaton, translated “Sabbath,” was used. For the weekly Sabbath and the Day of Atonement a different descriptive term – shabbat shabbaton – was used, translated “a Sabbath of rest.”
Recognizing that God set the weekly Sabbath and the Day of Atonement apart in their level of sanctity, the Levitical priesthood sought to implement these instructions in proclaiming the festivals. They realized that the Day of Atonement, a shabbat shabbaton upon which “no work whatsoever” was to be done, should not be the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath (which would occur if the first of Tishri came on a Wednesday). Additionally, they avoided the weekly Sabbath being the preparation day for Atonement, which would happen if Tishri 1 fell on a Friday.
This practice also avoided the weekly Sabbath, shabbat shabbaton, being the preparation day for the other three fall holy days which were only shabbaton, (this would occur if Tishri 1 came on a Sunday). Note that according to Exodus 12:16, the first and seventh days of Unleavened Bread in the spring were in a different category; God had specifically approved the preparation of food on these days. And Pentecost, of course, always fell on Sunday as a result of God-ordained calculation.”
The other two of the largest churches express ignorance of the reasons for the postponement rules.
The Church of God a Worldwide Association Hebrew Calendar Study Paper, p.25 states: “It is true that dehiyyah (a) prevents the Day of Atonement from falling immediately before or after the weekly Sabbath. It is clearly more convenient to avoid this happening, but is this the reason for the rule? We simply don’t know.”
COGWA also states that “There is nothing unbiblical about any of the rules of postponement.” This is contradicted by the United Church of God Hebrew Calendar Doctrinal Statement, which states on p.6 :
“… neither does the Bible list rules of postponement. Who authorized them? When were they created? No one really knows the answer to these questions. In the year A.D. 358, Hillel II released the rules for calendar calculation, which included the rules of postponement. Prior to this time, the whole subject was shrouded in mystery. No one knows when these rules were added to the calendar. Could they have been a part of the calendar from the beginning? Possibly. Were they a part of the calendar during the days of Christ? We simply do not know. We do not know when the Jews began using a calculated calendar instead of simply relying on visual observation.”
Herman Hoeh, had posed the question, “why the seventh day of the Festival of Tabernacles does not fall on the weekly Sabbath?” – but he doesn’t answer it, and neither does John Ogwyn address the question. Is this because they don’t know – or they do know, but dare not reveal the answer.
If the Day of Trumpets were to be on a Sunday, the seventh day of the Festival of Tabernacles (Hoshana Rabba) would then fall on the weekly Sabbath. The ritual of beating the willow twigs on this day was deemed by the rabbis to be ‘work’ that is inappropriate for the Sabbath.
“If Rosh Hashanah fell on a Sunday, Hoshanah Rabbah would fall on the Sabbath and would call for the elimination of certain rituals which the pharisaic rabbis did not want to forgo.” (Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol.25, No.1, 1997; Article by Rabbi Saul Leeman, Why is Pesach So Late This Year?).
“Sunday is considered unfit, because with Rosh ha-Shanah falling thereon, the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Hosha’na Rabbah), on which the ceremony of “beating the willow-twigs” is an important part of the service, would fall on the Sabbath, and the observance of the ceremony could not be permitted.” (Henry Malter, Saadia Gaon: His Life and Works)
“Rosh Hashana never falls on a Sunday because that would mean that Hoshana Rabba (the last day of Sukkot, which always falls on 21 Tishri) would fall on a Saturday, which would not be desirable. In Talmudic times, Hoshana Rabba was regarded as a day much like Yom Kippur. It brought to an end the long holiday period beginning with Rosh Hashana, and was considered to be the one final opportunity to reverse an unfavorable decree issued against the individual on the High Holidays. If Hoshana Rabba were to fall on the Sabbath, this would interfere with the ceremony of beating a bunch of hoshanot (willows) during the synagogue services, an action forbidden on the Sabbath.” (Alfred J. Kolatch, The Jewish Book of WHY, p.228)
Why do Church of God leaders who observe the Hebrew calendar postpone the Day of Trumpets (and thereby also Passover and all the other annual holy days) by one day, because of a ritual which they have never performed?
Herman Hoeh continues: “The Pharisees put major emphasis on precise visual observation of the first faint crescent of the new moon.
They overlooked Leviticus 23:26-32. So whenever the first faint crescent of the seventh new moon of the year was seen just above the western horizon after sunset on Tuesday evening, for example, they declared that day, Wednesday (which begins the previous evening), to be the new moon. Consequently that new moon became the first day of the month and the Day of Trumpets. The result was the 10th day of the month – Atonement – would fall on a Friday in such a year.
They were more concerned with the visual appearance of the moon’s first crescent than they were with the spiritual requirements of the Day of Atonement.”
The Good News of October 1957 declared the sighting of the new moon at Jerusalem to be an ordinance of God:
“If the people of Jerusalem, where God’s permanent headquarters are to be, cannot see this crescent of the moon following sunset, then the entire world east and west of that city must delay beginning the month till the following sunset. This is the ordinance as it was given by God. We are not free to begin earlier because of the way we see it.”
The Good News of March 1981 declared the sighting of the new moon at Jerusalem to be an ordinance of the Pharisees.
“It is not required that the first faint crescent visible in Jerusalem always be declared the new moon. What is important is that the authority to declare it arises from Jerusalem! The authority of Jerusalem in the person of Hillel II did speak in A.D. 358-359 to authorize the present Hebrew calendar throughout the future until such time as a new court sitting in Moses’ seat be re-established in Jerusalem.”
This was the article that introduced the Jewish fairy tale of Hillel’s calendar to the membership of the Worldwide Church of God.
The Sanhedrin had not been based in Jerusalem since the destruction of the Temple in 70AD. In the 4th century it was located at Tiberias in Galilee.
Having dealt with the new moon question, he now addresses when to begin the year.
“The Bible makes plain that the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread must fall in the month of Abib, the first month of the Hebrew calendar (Ex. 12:2, Deut. 16:1). The month Abib has been known, since the Babylonian Captivity, as Nisan, a word derived from the Semitic root nesu, meaning ‘to start’. It starts the months of the year. Abib is derived from aviv, meaning ‘ears’ or ‘green ears of grain’. The first month is the month in which green ears of grain – begin to ripen – barley first, then winter wheat, which is usually still in green ears when barley ripens.
Are we free to decide for ourselves when we think the month Abib – the month of green ears – should occur? Are we to decide the matter on the basis of the state of the harvest in the Holy Land today? Some sects who refuse to use the words God and Jesus Christ claim so.”
At last we learn what has prompted his article – and it isn’t the irrelevant reason he stated earlier in the article – “the fact that the Passover this year, 1981, is the eve of April 18. It falls on the eve of a Sabbath.”
Some in the WCG had become aware of ‘sacred names’ sects, whose basis for beginning the year was the state of the barley harvest in Israel. They were also beginning each month at the sighting of the new moon – which is what the WCG had previously taught – yet the Hebrew calendar new moons were nearly always earlier than the sighted new moons. The new moon doctrine therefore had to be changed.
“How, then, is the month Abib or Nisan determined? It has already been determined! The matter was decided by Hillel II and his court in the fourth century A.D.”
He explains that only the new moon of the seventh month is calculated and, “Since the Bible does not declare which months have either 30 or 29 days, it is an arbitrary decision, enacted by those who are in authority over God’s calendar. God has left it to them to keep it simple. If He had not liked their decision He would have caused them to change it.”
So God was unhappy with the Pharisaic sighting of the new moon, and therefore caused “Hillel and his court” to change to a fixed calendar of their own devising, with which he has been happy ever after?
Herman Hoeh continues: “Second, even if it were permissible to have Passover as early as March 20 – the very beginning day of Spring – the Festival of Tabernacles would fall too early.”
(March 20 was the day of the Vernal Equinox. 1981 was an intercalated year in the Hebrew Calendar. If a 13th month had not been added, Passover would have fallen on March 20 in 1981.)
“Did you ever notice that the Bible requires the Feast of Tabernacles, commemorating the second and great harvest of human beings, to at least reach the beginning of Autumn?”
No, you wouldn’t have noticed that. Summer and Winter are the only two Biblical seasons. Spring and Autumn – and also Equinox – are nowhere mentioned in the Bible.
He then quotes Exodus 34:22‘Thou shalt observe … the feast of ingathering at the turn of the year’ (Jewish Publication Society translation).
“What is the ‘turn of the year’? The Hebrew word translated ‘turn’ is tequfah, meaning ‘revolution, circuit or end’. It is used specifically for the equinoxes or solstices. It is here specifically referring to the autumnal equinox – when day and night approach equal length. It normally falls on Sept. 23 this century. But if the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles were one month earlier this year the Festival would fall on Sept. 14-20. And that is wholly in summer and plainly contrary to Exodus 34:22.”
‘Solstice’ also is not found in the Bible. The translation of tequfah as equinoxes and solstices, marking the beginning of the four biblical seasons, is rabbinic opinion.
Herman Hoeh wrote earlier: “Are we free to decide for ourselves when we think the month Abib – the month of green ears – should occur? Are we to decide the matter on the basis of the state of the harvest in the Holy Land today? Some sects who refuse to use the words God and Jesus Christ claim so.”
The Hebrew Calendar dates for the Feast of Tabernacles in 1981 were Oct.13-19, and we now learn that these sects would be keeping it Sept.14-20, because Abib – the month of green ears – was a month earlier than in the Hebrew Calendar. The meaning of the word ‘Abib’ is unknown, but it cannot mean ‘the month of green ears’, as the barley needed to be ready for harvesting in this month – the ceremony of the first wave sheaf being cut taking place on the Sunday within the Unleavened Bread festival. If ‘green ears’ were indeed the understanding of these sects, they were keeping the festivals one month too early – in which case Herman Hoeh would have been right, but for the wrong reason.
Those who use the Vernal Equinox to determine the start of the biblical year mostly do so on the basis of it being an astronomical ‘turn of the year’. Those who go by the new moon following (rather than at) the Equinox translate Exodus 34:22 ‘the feast of ingathering after the turn of the year’. Herman Hoeh should have used this alternative translation, because Sept.14-20 is ‘at’ the Autumnal Equinox, but Oct.13-19 is ‘following’ the Equinox – over a month afterwards.
He knows that the times of the festivals in the Hebrew Calendar are determined by a 19 year cycle, so why is he saying that they are at the tequfah – the ‘turn of the year’?
1981 was only 6 years after the failure of ‘1975 in Prophecy’, which was based on the 19 year time cycle. Herbert Armstrong maintained that his ministry began in 1931, exactly 100 19-year time cycles after Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. His radio ministry to North America began in January 1934, and the broadcasting to Europe began exactly 19 years later, in January 1953. He therefore supposed that the gospel would go out to all the world and be completed in January 1972, at which time preparation would be made for fleeing to the ‘place of safety’ – probably Petra. The 3½ years Great Tribulation would begin at the start of that biblical year, and Jesus Christ would return on the Day of Trumpets, 1975. A great many people had organized their lives on the assumption that they would be fleeing to the place of safety. Some had even sold most of their assets and donated them to the church for the ‘end-time work’ – since these assets would not be needed after 1972. This ‘great disappointment’ was fresh in people‘s minds.
There was also the influence of Herbert Armstrong’s confused teaching about the biblical calendar in his 1952 article, How Often Should We Partake of the Lord’s Supper? : “The first day of the new year always begins with the day nearest the Spring equinox when the new moon is first visible to the naked eye AT JERUSALEM (not in the United States). The Jewish calendar as used by Jews today is correct.”
This article was reprinted in the March 1971 issue of Tomorrow’s World. It also comprised a chapter of the 1974 booklet, Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days – Which? – but with the word ‘always’ changed to ‘usually’. (This booklet was soon withdrawn, and in 1976 a completely new booklet was published, with the same title, but without any reference to the equinox or 19 year cycle.)
Tens of thousands left the Worldwide Church of God during the apostasy of Joseph Tkach Senior’s leadership (1986-1995). All its major offshoots were started by groups of prominent WCG ministers, who have continued to observe the Hebrew Calendar. There is no clear consensus among the groups who do not adhere to this calendar, but a significant majority begin the biblical year either at the visible new moon following the Vernal Equinox or by the Abib Barley method – about 40% for each.