THE HEBREW CALENDAR: IS IT VALID FOR TODAY?
IS THE HEBREW CALENDAR VALID FOR US TODAY?
The calendar has been a recurring source of doctrinal controversy. Many articles and papers have proposed different methods of calculating the dates of the annual festivals, and at least half-dozen different calendars and calculation methods have been offered.
This has troubled many sincere brethren who want to do what pleases YHWH. With all the controversy, they are unsure. But does YHWH really expect each individual to become an expert on calculating these matters?
We can understand the "calendar issue" by asking three simple questions, and by answering them from the Scriptures. Do the rules of the current Hebrew calendar conform to Biblical principles and guide lines? Does YHWH expect each one to determine the calendar for himself, or did He entrust some authority to make calendar decisions? And can we really know what calendar Y'shua and His apostles used?
Is the Hebrew Calendar Based Upon the Scriptures?
Do the Scriptures give guidelines regarding the calenda
The Hebrew word chodesh is translated "month" in English-language Bibles. Its root meaning involves "making new" or "repairing". The moon orbits the earth, going through phases as its position changes in relation to the sun and the earth. Approximately 29-and-a-half days, the moon comes into exact conjunction between the earth and the sun, and the three orbs are in straight line with one another, though not necessarily on the same plane. In conjunction, the moon is totally dark, reflecting none of the sun's light. As it moves westward, away from the conjunction, it again begins to reflect light. Depending on the observer's location and the earth's position at conjunction, the new moon will generally not be visible until one or two days after the conjunction.
Note that basing the new month upon physical sighting of the new moon would require keeping Yom Teruah for two days! An observer cannot know, in advance, on which day he might see the new moon. Depending on the exact time of conjunction, he might see the crescent either on the 30th or the 31st day after the last new crescent. Since days begin at sunset, observers would have to keep the 30th day after the new crescent of Elul (6th month) as a set apart time, as they might see the new crescent that evening, though they would more commonly see it on the following evening.
For this reason, even in the
Another more significant issue - the intercalary year - also requires a calendar calculated in advance. Intercalary years are those in which a 13th month is added. Twelve lunar months are equal to just over 354 days. A SOLAR YEAR IS, EQUAL TO JUST OVER 365 DAYS. Using a calendar based only on 12 lunar months, this 11-day difference would cause the festivals to occur about a month earlier every three years in relation to the year and the seasons. Yet Wayyiqra (Leviticus) 23: 10-11 mandates that the priests should offer an omer of barley as a wave offering to YHWH on the first day of the week of the feast of Unleavened Bread, beginning the 50 day count to Pentecost. Clearly, this required that the first month, Abib or Nisan, could not be allowed to fall so early that no ripe grain would be available for the offering. This required the addition of a 13th month about every three years. But how was this addition determined?
Those who argue for direct physical sighting assert that the priests examined the grain crop each year before the end of the 12th moth, and if they saw that it would not be ripe soon enough they added a 13th month to postpone the first month for about 30 days. The only alternative would be a regular cycle, calculated by the priests, to determine which years had 12 and which had 13 months. Is there biblical evidence as to the priests' practice? There certainly is!
Acts 2, for instance, reminds us that Jews came to
How could a calculated calendar have been figured anciently? In antiquity, man had only two ways of knowing the time of the new moon. One was by physical sighting of the crescent; the othe
Some today wish to offer a substitute calendar based not on average or observation, but on figures they obtained from the NASA or the US Navel Observatory. These figures are derived from satellite observation and are supposed to be more exact than the averages from which the traditional Hebrew calenda
Please understand, if there is one calendar that we can absolutely prove that Y'shua and His disciples DID NOT use, it is one based on satellite observation! The only calculated calendar that could possibly be used until about after 1968 was one based upon the average length of time between conjunctions.
How were these averages obtained? Conjunctions of the sun, moon and earth are invisible except during a solar eclipse. Solar eclipse can occur only at the time of the new moon. Because the moon's orbit is normally a few degrees above or below the plane of the earth's sun orbit, it is usually invisible when it is lined up in a direct line with the earth and sun - the time of conjunction. However, when the moon is on the exact plane of the earth - sun orbit it will block the sun as it moves across, thereby making an eclipse of the sun.
A lunar eclipse, which can be seen on earth far more frequently than a solar eclipse, is the exact opposite of a solar eclipse. It can occur only at the time of the full moon, exactly halfway between conjunctions, when the moon is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. By carefully recording the time of such eclipses and calculating the amount of time between them, the ancients were able to arrive to the average length of time between conjunctions. We speak of an "average" because the actual length can vary from month to month by a few hours, primarily because of the earth's elliptical orbit around the sun and the resulting variation in the sun's gravitational pull on the moon. While satellites may enable us to record conjunctions that are invisible from earth, ancient man could only based upon averages.
Using eclipses, the average length of time between conjunctions of the sun, moon and earth can be calculated. This figure can then be used to calculate the new moon for years and centuries in advance. While the exact conjunctions (invisible from earth anyway, except during a solar eclipse) may vary from the calculated molad (a Hebrew term referring to the "birth" of the moon) by up to a few hours, the calculations average out over time. And they are always very close; not accumulating lost or gained time even over many centuries.
The Hebrew calendar uses 29 day, 12 hours and 793 parts (an hour contains 1,080 parts) as the duration of the average lunar month. This works out to 29.53059 days in decimal form. According to the 15th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, modern astronomers using satellites and computers have come up with the figure 29.530589 - one-one millionth of a day difference.
How did the Hebrew calendar come to use such an accurate figure for the average length of the month? Some contend that they adopted their number from Babylonian or Green Astronomers. There is a problem with that theory, however. The figure used by the Greeks, Babylonians and Egyptians was not accurate as that used by the Jews! If we grant that
Do the Scriptures support using eclipses to calculate the length of time from one new moon to another? It certainly does! Notice Bereshit (Genesis) 1:14. YHWH set the sun and the moon for signs and seasons. The Hebrew word for sign, 'ot', is a term that often refers to remarkable and dramatic signs. It is used in Shemot (Exodus) 4:8-9 for instance, to describe the dramatic wonders the YHWH worked in ancient
Additionally, the heavenly bodies were fo
Other biblical guidelines concern the seasonal timing of the Passover festival and the Feast of Tabernacles. We are told that Unleavened Bread is to be celebrated in the month of Abib, which means "green ears" Shemot (Exodus) . From Wayyiqra (Leviticus) 23 we also learn that once Israel entered the Promised Land there was to be a priestly ceremony involving the offering of the wave sheaf, the omer, on the [first day of the week] during the days of Unleavened Bread. The grain harvest could not begin until after that occasion. These stipulations require that Passover come early spring.
Also Shemoth (Exodus) 34:22 refer to the Feast of Tabernacles as coming at the "end of the year". (Hebrew, tekufah). This term literally means a "circuit" or "revolution" of time - a cycle. In later Rabbinic Hebrew, tekufah became a technical term referring to the equinox and by extension, to the season following. Howeve
We have seen that the Scriptures give guidelines that require a calculated calendar, such as Yom Teruah (Trumpets) being celebrated for one day and not two. It also shows that the interactions of the sun, moon and earth were to be factored in so that the numbering of the days of the month would be connected with the phases of the moon. We have also seen that celebration of the festivals is tied both to the beginning of the grain harvest and to the time when crops were to be gathered into barns at the end of the summer. But are other aspects of the calendar, such as the so-called "postponements" also necessary and based on scriptural guidelines? We must note that in the Hebrew calendar, the new moon of the seventh month (Tishri) is calculated rather than the new moon of the first month (Abib). As this is the only new moon that is designated as set-apart time, it is also the new moon that is most essential to determine. The other set-apart days are figured from it. There is also an astronomical reason for this practice, since the time from the vernal equinox (spring) to the following autumnal equinox (fall) is about a week longer than from the autumnal equinox to the following vernal equinox.
The "postponements" are simply calendar adjustments that determine which day should be proclaimed as the first day of Tishri. Where there are generally said to be four postponement rules, actually there are two primary ones. The other two are just logical extensions of the first two, to ensure that a year does not have too many or too few days.
The first rule we should look at states that if the calculated conjunction, the molad of Tishri, occurs after on a given day, the first day of the month is "postponed" until the following day. This rule results from the way time is measured on a round earth, and the length of time the moon takes to move out of conjunction and beyond the arc of the sun. After all, the term for "new moon" in Scripture refers to the "repairing" of the moon. While a calculated calendar does not require that the visible crescent be sighted, it should at least be theoretically possible to sight that crescent. And it takes six hours past the conjunction before the moon has moved far enough beyond the sun's arc to begin reflecting the light once again - the "repairing" of the moon. Whether or not a reflection is actually seen is purely incidental, as the calendar is based upon the calculated averages. Clearly though, this postponement rule is not merely based upon a Pharisaic tradition, rather, it is mandated by Scripture and by astronomy.
The other main rule is that if the calculated molad of Tishri occurs on the [first day of the week], the fourth day of the week, or the sixth day of the week, the first day of the month, which will be Yom Teruah, is considered to begin on the following day, i.e. the second, the fifth or the seventh day. What is the scriptural basis for this? In Wayyiqra 23, where YHWH first gave Moshe a detailed list of His festivals, He explains that this day's levels of sanctity fell into two categories. For six of these days - the 1st and the 7th Day of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Yon Teruah, the first day of Tabernacles and the Eight Day - Moshe was to instruct
Recognizing the YHWH set the weekly Sabbath and Yom Kippur apart in their level of sanctity; the Levitical Priesthood sought to implement these instructions in proclaiming the festivals. They realized that Yom Kippur, a Shabbat Sheraton, 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 the fourth day of the week. Additionally, they avoided the weekly Sabbath being the preparation day for Yom Kippur, which would happen if Tishri 1 fell on the sixth day.
This practice also avoided the weekly Sabbath, Shabbat Sheraton, being the preparation day, the other three Fall set-apart days which were only Sheraton, (this would occur if Tishri 1 and came on the first day of the week) Note that according to Shemoth (Exodus) 12:16, the first and seventh days of Unleavened Bread in the Spring were in a different category. YHWH had specifically approved the preparation of food on these days. And Pentecost always fell on the first day of the week as a result of YHWH's ordained calculation.
Two other rules concerning postponements are really just logical extensions derived from the first two, regulating the number of days in a year so that the first of each month stays connected with the new moon. The calendar adjustments regarding Tishri 1 are based upon instructions YHWH gave to the Levitical Priesthood through Moshe in Wayyiqra (Leviticus) 23. YHWH made clear that two days - Sabbath and Yom Kippur - had a special degree of set-apartness, and based upon those instructions the Priesthood sought to conform their celebrations to His wishes.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CALENDAR?
Does YHWH expect individuals to determine His calendar for themselves? Many self-appointed calendar experts each claim that their calendar is the right one. Did YHWH intend the calendar to be proclaimed by an authoritative body - or is it "every man for himself?" Increasingly, we see people simply doing what is right in their own eyes. IS YHWH THE AUTHOR OF SUCH SPIRITUAL ANARCHY? To whom did YHWH give responsibility for the calendar?
YHWH told Moshe: "The feasts of YHWH, which you shall proclaim to be set apart convocations, these are my feasts" Wayyiqra (Leviticus) 23:2. But who was to do the proclaiming, and what does this mean?
The Hebrew term for convocation is miqra, which refers to an officially called or designated assembly. In Bemidbar (Numbers) 10:2, Moshe was told that two silver trumpets were to be made and one of their major uses was "for the calling [Hebrew miqra] of the congregation". Who was to use those trumpets; "and these shall be to you as an ordinance forever throughout your generations." Verse 10 explains that "in the day of your gladness, in your appointed feasts, and at the beginning of your months: the Priests were to sound the silver trumpets.
The noun miqra is derived from the verb qara, the verb rendered "proclaim" in Wayyiqra (Leviticus) 23:2 and 23:4. What exactly does it mean? It is the same word used in Bereshit (Genesis) 1 where Elohim "called" the light Day and "called" the darkness "Night" Bereshit (Genesis) 1:5, where He "called" the firmament Heaven (1:8) "called" the dry land Earth and "called" the gathered waters the Seas (1:10).
How does this relate to the set-apart days? In Wayyiqra (Leviticus) 23, we learned that a certain group, (your, plural) was responsible for naming or designating the days on which the congregation was to assemble before YHWH. Bemidbar (Numbers) 10 explains that this refers to the Priesthood and shows the means YHWH gave them to announce the designation of the new moons and festival days. It was not an individual matter for each Israelite to arrive at by himself; rather it was a collective matter to be proclaimed by an authoritative body.
But there is more! Most read right over the implications of who was to name, or designate, the days that would be considered YHWH's appointed festivals. The Priesthood was given the right to name, or designate, those days - in the same way that YHWH gave Adam the authority to name, or designate the animals He had created. YHWH gave the Priesthood guidelines and principles by which they were to designate those days, but He did not spell out every single detail. He gave them the principles with which they had to make judgments!
It is important to notice the difference between the weekly Shabbat that Elohim gave to mankind, and the annual festivals that He gave [us]. YHWH did not tell the Priesthood that they were responsible to name or designate the weekly Sabbath. Elohim Himself had proclaimed the weekly Sabbath at the end of the creation week. Mankind was simply told to "remember" and keep set-apart the time that Elohim Himself had previously designated. The annual festivals were different, as Leviticus 23:2 and 23:4 show. While each individual could simply remember to observe the seventh day of the week, this was not possible with the annual festivals. Their exact timing would vary somewhat from year to year, regulated by the principles that YHWH gave Moshe in Wayyiqra (Leviticus) 23 and elsewhere. So we see that while the weekly Sabbath is to be remembered by each of us as individuals, the annual festivals are to be named or designated on the calendar each year by an authoritative body. They were never intended to be an individual matter.
If each of us seeks to determine our own calendar, we will end up celebrating the festivals on a variety of days. Yet YHWH is not the author of confusion (1 Cor ) nor is He the source of the spiritual anarchy that many so effectively promote today. Paul told the brethren in Colosse that they were not to let any man judge them in matters pertaining to set-apart days, new moons, or Sabbaths, bur rather "the body of Messiah" (Colossians 2:16-17, KHV). [Many have again and again concluded that the current Hebrew calendar, preserved in the Jewish community, is authoritative today].
WHICH CALENDAR DID Y'SHUA USE?
We know from the Brit Chadasha that the Messiah observed the set-apart days and festivals commanded in Wayyiqra (Leviticus) 23. Did He do so based upon a calculated calendar such as we use today - one that included the so called "postponement" rules - or did He use a calendar based solely upon physical sighting of the new crescent? One thing is for sure, Y'shua did it correctly! If we know what He did, then all we have to do is follow His example. But is it possible to know what He did? Absolutely!
The place to go to find the kind of calenda
Interestingly, many who claim to reject the Hebrew calendar because they consider it a tradition of the Pharisees have used the Talmud as their source of calendar information and definitions - rather than simply using the Scriptures itself! While later Rabbis tried to harmonize the traditions of an observed calendar favored by the Pharisees with the principles of a calculated calendar (preserved by a Sadducee Priesthood), the two are not really compatible. Much of the Talmud's tortured logic relating to the calendar comes from its attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. However, we are not dependent on the record of the Talmud, or Josephus for that matter, to know what calendar Y'shua used. We have the authoritative record of the Brit Chadasha itself.
From the scriptural record, we are able to match three festivals during Y'shua's ministry with the days of the week on which they fell. As we will see, these three festival dates are compatible only with one calendar model - the calendar used by Y'shua thus stands revealed by the Brit Chadasha!
The year of Y'shua's crucifixion, and therefore of [the Last Supper], can be established clearly by correlating the prophecy of Daniel 9 with the historical occurrence described in Ezra 7. Daniel explained that there would be a time period of 70 prophetic "weeks" - i.e., 490 prophetic "days". We are told that 69 of these "weeks" (i.e. 483 years) would run from the decree to rebuild
Secular history makes plain that the Artaxerxes seventh year occurred in 458-457 BCE. The only question is whether or not the author Ezra/Nehemiah (one book in the Hebrew scriptures) was figuring the years of Artaxerxes' reign by counting from fall to fall or spring to spring. A careful comparison of Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 shows that a fall-to fall reckoning was used. Nehemiah refers to an event in the month of Kislew (December) of the 20th year of Artaxerxes, followed later by an event in the month of Nisan (April) in the 20th year of Artaxerxes. The only way that both of these events could have occurred in the king's 20th yea
This means that when Ezra 7 says that Ezra arrived in
This reference to Ezra gives us a benchmark. We also know from the scriptural record, apart from these calendar questions, that Y'shua the Messiah was crucified on the 4th day of the week and resurrected 3 days and three nights later, at the end of the weekly Sabbath. This means that the Passover of 31CE, the scripturally established time of His crucifixion, had to occur on the fourth day of the week. Additionally, we will see that the day of the week is made plain for two other festivals dates. One is the Great Day of 30CE, which occurred on a weekly Sabbath. And scripture shows that the second set-apart day of Unleavened Bread in 29CE fell on a weekly Sabbath. Now examine how we date these two festivals.
Yochanan 7 - 13 recounts the events of the fall festival period preceding Y'shua's final days. A careful reading also shows that most of the events of Yochanan 8 - 10 happened on the Great Day. Y'shua's word in the temple during the evening of this day is recorded in Yochanan 7: 37-39. At verse 53, Y'shua and His disciples went to the Mount of Olives for the night, returning to the temple early the next morning - the daylight portion of the Great Day (Yochanan 8: 1-21).
If we simply read on through the next chapters, we find that the woman taken in adultery and the healing of the blind man both occurred on the same day. From Yochanan 9 we already knew that the blind man was healed on an annual Sabbath; Yochanan 9:14, using the definite article with its Sabbath reference, states plainly that it was also a weekly Sabbath, which is why such an issue was made of the healing.
Yochanan gives us the basis for reconstructing the chronology of Y'shua's ministry, noting His words and actions on several specific festival occasions. We have already seen that Yochanan the Immerser immersed Y'shua in the fall of 27CE, just when Daniel's prophecy showed the Messiah should appear. Six months later, at the Passover season 28CE, He suddenly came to the temple and began His public ministry (Yochanan 2). When we carefully read Yochanan 6 - 13, we see that this is a continuous sequence of the last year in Y'shua's life, from the Passover of 30CE to the Passover of 31CE. Therefore, the only Passover not commented on in Yochanan's gospel is that of 29CE - and the events of that year's festival season adequately covered in the other three Gospel accounts.
Mattithyahu, Mark and Luke all record the disciples plucking ears of grain to eat as they walked with Y'shua through the grain fields. The placement of this incident - Mattithyahu 12:1 - 8, Mark 2:23 and Luke 6:1 - 4 shows that this occurred early in His ministry, not during the Passover the year before His crucifixion. This only leaves the Passover season of 29CE.
How do we know this incident occurred at the Passover season? Luke 6:1 makes this clear by describing that it happened "on the second Sabbath after the first". What does that mean? The Greek phrase used is 'en sabbato deuteroproto', which literally means "the second Sabbath of first rank." This expression can only refer to the seventh day of Unleavened Bread, the second Sabbath of the first rank occurring in the year.
The rest of the story contained in the accounts of Mattithyahu, Mark and Luke, shows that this was also a weekly Sabbath. All three writers link the event in the grain fields with a latter incident described as "another Sabbath" (Luke 6:6) when Y'shua healed the man with the withered hand. This phrase, taken togethe
Do these facts provide evidence for the kind of calendar Y'shua recognised in His lifetime? Using today's calculated Hebrew calendar, notice what the dates of these events in the Y'shua's ministry would be. Remember that today, leap years are years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19 - a 19 year cycle instead of the earlier 2, 5, 7, 10, 13, 16 and 18. How do the dates from the calculated calendar compare to what would have been obtained by sightings of the new crescent moon?
In 29CE, the last day of Unleavened Bread would have occurred on Sabbath. April 23, according to our traditionally calculated Hebrew calendar. This date results from applying one of the postponement rules, since the molad (the new moon) of Tishri that year occurred after noon and the reckoning of Tishri 1 would therefore have been postponed to the next day. This is the only way that the last set-apart day of Unleavened Bread could have come on a weekly Sabbath in 29CE. By contrast, using computer generated models to determine the timing based upon the observable new moon in
As for the Great Day in 30CE, calculations based on the traditional Hebrew calendar show that it would have occurred on Sabbath, October 7. No postponement rules would have been involved. But, significantly, the Great Day would have occurred on the weekly Sabbath if and only if the calenda
In 31CE, the calculated date for Nisan 1, according to the traditional Hebrew calendar, was the 5th day of the week, April, 12. This would have occurred only if the postponement rule that did not allow Yom Teruah to come on the 6th day had been in effect. The calculated molad of Tishri came on the 6th day in 31CE and only by having postponed Tishri 1 to a Sabbath would Passover in 31CE have come on the 4th day. It is true that the observable new moon of Nisan would also been seen on that April, 12, thus coinciding with the calculated date for Nisan 1. However, we have just seen that the dates of the other set-apart days mentioned during Y'shua's ministry only coincide with the proper day of the week when they are figured based upon a calculated molad rather than an observable crescent. As we saw earlier, the biblical calendar guidelines require calculation rather than physical sighting.
There is one additional point regarding the timing of Passover in 31CE. Passove
The timing of the three festivals during Y'shua's ministry is clearly shown in the Brit Chadasha. The Passover of 31CE would have occurred on the 4th day only if there were a fixed calendar cycle making 31CE an intercalary year. A calculated calenda
A CALENDAR FOR US TODAY
The rules of the current Hebrew calendar are based upon Biblical principles. These rules, as we have seen, can be deduced directly from scripture and do not depend on Talmudic traditions and legends. Furthermore, Scripture clearly reveals that YHWH assigned to an authoritative body, anciently the priesthood, responsibility to name or designate the annual festivals. This was never intended to be a matter of private interpretation. In addition, we have the example of Y'shua Himself, as given in the Gospel accounts. The calendar He used is far more in accord with the one used today than are any of the alternative models that have been proposed.
It is interesting that we have historical witness and testimony; from no less an authority than Roman Emperor Constantine. Three centuries after Y'shua's crucifixion, the true disciples were still reckoning the festivals dates by the same calendar used by the Jewish community. At the Council of Nicea, held in 325CE, the timing of the Paschal festival was discussed; the early Catholics were replacing Passove
Note the excerpts of
Is the Hebrew calendar valid for us today? Absolutely! It adheres to the revealed guidelines of Scripture, was proclaimed by authoritative accepted by Y'shua Himself and was kept by the early disciples from the beginning. What more could we ask?