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The ‘Biblical’ Calendar is even more complicated than usual in 2015 ...
One church is ‘Changing the Rules of its Biblical
Calendar for 2015’
- resulting in the dates being brought forward by a month!
(See letter below calendar dates.)
‘A History of the Biblical Calendar’ is a work in progress
and is continued below the letter ...
(but we'll check the apostrophe's)
The seven ‘Biblical’ calendars observed by the 7th Day Churches of God (within which there are variations), including the 2015 dates, are shown below.
 Hebrew (i.e. Jewish) Calendar - a link is given here, as a few groups keep Passover and/or Pentecost on the Jewish calendar dates, and/or non-Biblical Jewish festivals.
Churches of God Hebrew Calendar
largest Church of God 7th Day (HQ in Denver) and the largest
offshoots of the Worldwide Church of God utilize the mathematical
framework of the Hebrew calendar, but observe some of God's appointed times on different dates.
12 lunar months equal 354 days, a lunar calendar has to add
(‘intercalate’) a 13th
month every 2 or 3 years to keep it in line with the solar
year. The Hebrew calendar does this in years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17
& 19 of a 19 year cycle.
The Hebrew calendar year begins at the Molad
Emtzai, which in 2015 will be on Sunday, 13th September. The postponement rules do not, however, allow the year to begin on a
Sunday, so the Day of Trumpets will be on Monday, 14th September.
First day of the dark phase of the moon, nearest
the March Equinox.
[00.45, 21st March, Jerusalem time], when the light of the old moon has disappeared.]
(Only two small churches are known to use this calendar system,
and none are known to use the first day of the dark phase of the moon, following the March equinox.)
Day of the astronomical new moon (conjunction of sun/moon) [11.36, 20th March], nearest
the March Equinox [00.45, 21st March, Jerusalem time].
 Day of the astronomical new moon (conjunction of sun/moon),
[20.57, 18th April],
the March equinox [00.45, 21st March, Jerusalem time].
some groups it's the day after the conjunction – i.e. the same day
as the Equinox -
assuming Jerusalem time is being utilized.
Evening of the re-appearance of the light of the moon – visible
in the brief period between sunset and moonset - nearest
the March equinox.
Evening of the re-appearance of the light of the moon – visible
in the brief period between sunset and moonset - following
the March equinox..
Evening of the re-appearance of the light of the moon – visible
in the brief period between sunset and moonset- in the
month that the wild barley in Israel will be ready for harvesting by
the Sunday after Passover (Leviticus 23:10-12).
dates below are based on New Moon and Equinox times at Jerusalem, but if other time zones are used, the dates might be a month different.
dates for the 3 annual festivals (Exodus 23:14-16)
are printed in
green, and the 7 annual holy days are in red.
|First Day of|
- 4 Oct
- 2 Oct
- 3 Oct
- 3 Nov
- 5 Oct
|First Day of|
* The new moon was certain to have been visible on the evening of 21 March,
but the sky was cloudy over Jerusalem. For those who require sighting by the
naked eye at Jerusalem, these dates are a day later - and Pentecost is 31 May.
** New moon visible in North America, Monday evening, but doubtful in Jerusalem.
Changing the Rules of the Biblical
Calendar for 2015
Esposito of the Congregation of Yahweh (Jerusalem) has written to his members to explain why he is
beginning the biblical year on March 21, which is contrary to the calendar rules in
Lesson 11 of his correspondence course, ‘The Biblical Calendar’ :
“Clearly from scripture we are to start the year in spring
after the vernal equinox and not in winter before it; thus, the next
new moon after the equinox was the beginning month of Aviv, thus always
occurring in the spring.” (p.7)
In 2015 the March equinox will occur at 00.45 on March 21 (Jerusalem time).
‘new moon’, he means the astronomical new moon (conjunction of sun and
moon), which will occur at 11.36 on March 20 and 20.57 on April 18
(Jerusalem times). He begins a month at the following sunset, so the new
year should begin at sunset on April 19. However, he will begin the new
year at sunset (17.51) on March 21, almost 5 hours before the equinox.
His letter, ‘2015 and the Start of the Year’, shows that he is adjusting his ‘biblical calendar’ - method  - in order to bring forward the start of the year by one month, because his ‘biblical calendar’ does not synchronize with the Aviv barley method 
conjunction actually happens a few hours before the equinox (it actually happens 13 hours before, on the 20th), some may
wrongly assume that there should be another month added to the calendar,
which would be inaccurate, since March 21, 2015 is both the first day of
spring and also the first day of the new month, which would have to be
Aviv, since spring and the new year would already be here.
The day of
the equinox is NOT the last day of the old year but the first day of
Spring/Summer, one can verify this on any celestial website including
timeanddate.com. The day starts at the following sunset after
conjunction, which in this case is the same day as the equinox, which
makes it Aviv one. The month is based on the day cycle, but the year is
based on the season and moon cycle.
The biblical calendar is a
cyclical calendar based on both the celestial movement of the sun, moon
and stars and confirmed by the agriculture in Israel. In 2015 the cycle
is complete and the equinox occurs on March 21, which is also the first
day of the new month, which would make it Aviv one, and not Adar 2. To
wait a full extra month would make no sense and would throw off the
entire agricultural cycle in which I have witnessed to for the last 15
years here in Israel.” ....
thing that has been amazing is in my 15 years living here in Israel not
once has the agricultural cycle ever disagreed with the biblical
calendar, but each year confirmed it. This can only come from Yahweh, as
some years start early as this year and some years later, but every year
was confirmed by Yahweh from heaven from the harvest fruits at the
This year we got such early rain in November as never
before and everything turned green one month early in mid November
instead of mid December. I have never seen it happen this early in the
15 years I have been here and the almost 20 years of coming to Israel.
So I can almost say with certainty that there will be Aviv barley in
March in preparation for the feast of firstfruits as the barley grass is
already about 3 inches high, which is extremely rare for this time of
year. The miracle is it could have just as easily gone the other way
like last year, which had very little rain and later barley, but again
Yahweh confirms His biblical calendar from His Holy Land.
apologize if our literature on this subject made it somewhat confusing,
since we stated that to start the year you should wait until after the
equinox and then the next new moon is Aviv one, but it is more properly
stated you should wait ‘until’ the equinox and then start the new year
as in cases such as 2015, where the equinox (new year) and new moon (new
month) fall on the same day, making it clearly Aviv 1, and not Adar 2.
Neither word is in scripture but is assumed and. when taking the whole
calendar into account, including the agricultural cycle here in Israel,
than it is clear that ‘until’ is more properly implied than ‘after’.”
A History of the Biblical Calendar
Scriptural References :
ASV - American Standard Version; GLV - Green's Literal Version
The sun and moon declare our annual appointed times with God:
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, 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)
These are appointed seasons of Jehovah, holy gatherings which you shall proclaim in their appointed seasons (Leviticus 23:4 GLV)
Chodesh (Strong’s H2320) is defined as ‘the new moon; by implication, a month’.
This month (chodesh) 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 (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)
Each Biblical month begins at the new moon, and the first month of the year is Abib (Nisan), the month of the 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, while 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 of 30 days each. 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 - a.k.a. Marduk:
(“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.” - Jeremiah 50:2 GLV):
“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 then turned 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)
did the nations adjust to a solar year of 365 days and 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.”
Clements Markham, The Incas of Peru)
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
and his companions were taken captive to Babylon during this period
when Jehovah “is changing the times and the 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
Was it due to their influence that the Babylonians retained a luni-solar calendar?”
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
(Mark Cohen, The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient
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)
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 .... In 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. 1 year 2 months later (8:1).
months x 30 days + 5 days = 425 days. Since the lunar month now
averaged 29½ days, a 13th month must have been intercalated during
months x 29½ days = 413 days + intercalary month = 442 or 443 days.
After 70 years 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 determine when it was the 7th biblical month? What instruction did he receive 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 calendar rules, but detailed information of the Second Temple calendar can 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 in Jerusalem, so the focus must be on the calendar there.
The procedure for determining the beginning of a month is described at length in tractate Rosh ha-Shanah, and is graphically described on the Temple Institute website.
The gospels show that Jesus Christ died in the late afternoon of the 14th of Abib, the preparation day for the High Day, the 15th of Abib, on the Jewish Temple calendar.
‘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.”
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 (which grows wild all over Palestine) are 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 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
Summer and Winter are the only biblical seasons. The season of Spring cannot be found in the scriptures.
Equinox here derives from the Hebrew word tqufah (Strong’s H8622), which 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)
The ‘spring equinox’ is the result of rabbinic teaching that the ‘turn of the year’ in Exodus 34:22 may be interpreted as ‘equinox’ - thus fixing the time of the Festival of Tabernacles at the September equinox - then they taught that the March equinox was also a tqufah - and subsequently that the two solstices were also tqufahs - thus four seasons.
The vernal equinox occurs on March 20 or 21 every year. It cannot therefore be either late or early.
T’shubah (Strong’s H8666) is the ‘end of the year’ - 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’ (or t’shubah) 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.
The ripeness of the barley was assessed in the above three areas.
5.2.4, 5.2.5 & 5.2.6 The following 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 Repetition of 5.2.5 with more detail.
“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)
5.2.7 The year is not to be intercalated unless the spring equinox is still distant the greater part of a month.
The Mishnah records that the new year declaration (Rosh ha-Shanah) was publicized throughout the land and further north into the diaspora by a system of beacons (but later via messengers. The Palestinian and Babylonian Talmudim both write of another chain of beacons eastward across Jordan to Pumbeditha in Babylonia.
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 news by the end of
that day. The distance from Jerusalem to Babylon by road is 900
miles. Even if they’d had the resources of the Pony Express, whose team of riders could cover up to 250
miles in 24 hours, it would have taken 4 days to reach Babylon. The
reality seems to have been much slower and less reliable.
use local new moon sighting, Jews in the diaspora bowed to the
authority of the Palestinian calendar court, and observed each annual
holy day for 2 days, in order to be sure of keeping the day that the
court had sanctified. This tradition continues today for Orthodox Jews
living outside Israel (except for the Day of Atonement - to avoid
fasting for two successive days).
A ‘rule of the equinox’ was agreed
for use 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
subsequent appointed times.
“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)
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.)
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.”
Spier, The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar)
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 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 decision, 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)
This deference to the Palestinian court’s decisions would not last much longer - and neither indeed would empirical observation.
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. His ‘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’.
“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 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 rule of Molad Zaqen - ‘late conjunction’. (Fixed calendars were based on the ‘mean conjunction’ - the time of first visibility of the moon could not be calculated.)
The rule in the modern Jewish calendar states that, if the molad of Tishri occurs on or after the 18th hour (i.e. noon), the 1st of Tishri must be postponed to the next day.
This rule 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 the molad of Tishri to be at 18 hours and 247 parts, thus the Molad Zaqen rule would come into effect. Ben Meir of Palestine argued that their ‘four gates table’ was in error by 642 parts (35 minutes 40 seconds). He issued an adjusted table, bringing the molad back by 642 parts - before noon - so that the rule did not apply. R. Saadia ben Yosef of Babylon complained that he had artificially superimposed his 642 parts on their table, and could give no explanation for this difference of 642 parts, other than saying it resulted from the ancient system of calculation handed down to him.
Ben Meir then proposed amending the Molad Zaqen rule to 18 hours 642 parts, which would affect the calendar far less. Changing the ‘four gates table’ would affect the times of all future molads, thereby changing the dates of the festivals and holy days in many more years. This proposal was also rejected.
Molad Zaqen is a strange rule to introduce into a fixed calendar based on the conjunction. If its purpose was to postpone the molad to the evening of the first possible sighting of the moon, it could have been set at 12 hours (6am), when 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, however, wasn’t really about the science of the calendar, whose calculations were correct. It was about which ‘authority’ the people would follow, and whoever won the battle for power would decide which was the ‘correct’ calendar.
“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. However, 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 difference between the time zones of Jerusalem and Babylon, but the notion that the modern Jewish calendar might have been based on the time zone of Babylon 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. (Ben Meir had declared his calendar dates for the next 3 years in the summer, not the winter.) His argument for an ‘ancient system of calculation’ based on the molad of Nisan was thus undermined.
holy days and annual festivals today are not, however, based on a time
zone in Babylonia, 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
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.
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’)
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 of the introduction of the fixed calendar?
(to be continued)