The Biblical Basis of
the Sacred Calendar
Part Two: The Sacred Calendar in the
Few historical problems are more tangled than that of the sacred
calendar in Jesus' day. We can attempt to untie this "Gordian
knot" based solely on the historical evidence, and fail. Or
we can use the "sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God"
(Ephesians 6:17), and cut through to the correct solution to the
Two Incompatible Calendars
Supposedly, "The history of the Jewish calendar may be divided into
three periods -- the Biblical, the Talmudic, and the post-Talmudic. The
first rested purely on the observation of the sun and the moon, the
second on observation and reckoning, the third entirely on
But the Bible describes (in principle) a calendar much different from
that used by the Pharisees and Rabbis. The biblical calendar --
the calendar which God intended man to use from the beginning, as
adapted to Israel's needs -- was based on a hierarchy of astronomical
cycles which determined "signs, appointed times, days and
years". It took into account the relationship of noon to sunset on
a round earth, as well as the geography of the earth's land masses. It
also took into account the starting points of the daily and weekly
cycles (Day One of Creation Week) and of the monthly, seasonal, yearly
and precessional cycles (Day Four of Creation Week). It made adjustments
to the timing of the fall Holy Days (especially Atonement) relative to
the weekly Sabbath. Finally, it correlated the 19-year lunisolar cycle
with the Sabbatical Year and Jubilee cycles over a period of 950 years.
In effect, the biblical calendar began its months (all else being equal)
on the date of the mean conjunction of the sun and moon (the molad).
It geared the dates of its Festivals to the mean dates of the new
and full moons, all determined from a single referent (the date of
Tishri 1). It had a regular system for determining the lengths of
the months and years, a regular system of determining "leap
years", and a regular system of "postponements" to
the date of Tishri 1. Finally, it was based on calculation as
originally fixed after many years of observation (thus taking into
account the irregularities of the motions of the sun and moon), and was
reckoned according to world time (as based on the concept of a
"date line" far to the east of Jerusalem). All this is dictated
by the application of particular principles in a particular order.
This calendar would have been used by Israel's priests from the days of
Moses onward (cf. Exodus 12:1-2); and it would have been transmitted accurately
down to Second Temple times. Throughout its history, it would have been
in all essentials the same as the calendar we use in God's Church today.
This is because our calendar applies the correct biblical principles
in the correct order -- and because the biblical calendar always
would have followed the same principles in the same order.
This procedure would always have led to the same essential results,
with adjustments being made according to the needs of the time.2
This theoretical calendar allowed David, Jonathan and Saul to
predict with certainty the first day of each month (1 Samuel
20:5, 18, 24-27). Had David met Jonathan at night when the new crescent
was visible, he could not have said, "Tomorrow (machar)
is the new moon". (Remember, in Israel days began at sunset.)
Besides, David could not have deduced from simple observation how many
days would fall between one new crescent and another, unless 29 days had
already passed from the appearance of the last new crescent. In that
case, the 30th day automatically would have been the "new
moon". But would a hunted man (even a former shepherd, one familiar
with the skies) have automatically counted the number of days correctly?
Or would he have inadvertently risked the wrath of Saul (who was used to
"sitting at meat" on the "new moon") by possibly
missing the first thin new crescent when it appeared? Isn't the simplest
explanation of this simple statement rather that the dates of the
"new moons" were fixed according to some established
scheme, then officially published (orally or in writing) so that
everyone would know when they were?
Given the sound astronomical theory described in Genesis 1:14,
Israel must have had a fixed calendar from very early times --
just as did other ancient nations.3 In any
case, since the "signs" of Genesis 1:14 point to the mean
conjunction of the sun and moon, not the new crescent, as marking
the "new moon" (all else being equal), the "new
moons" in ancient Israel would have been based on the calculation
of the molad, not on the observation of the new crescent. Again,
this demands that ancient Israel had a fixed calendar, not merely a
"rough" calendar based on observation.
The Pharisaic calendar, by contrast, was empirical (i.e., based
on observation apart from astronomical theory). It began its months (all
else being equal) on the date of the new crescent (always at
least one local calendar day after the date of the molad). It
geared the dates of the Festivals to the dates of the approximate
new and full moons, as determined month by month. The lengths of
its months and years, the timing of its "leap years", and the
application of its "postponements" to Tishri 1 were all more
or less irregular. Finally, it was based on observation as
checked by calculation (rather ineffectively, due to the irregularities
of the motions of the sun and moon), and was reckoned according to local
Reconciling the Irreconcilable
Ancient and modern Jewish sources, seeking to uphold the authority of
both the received (i.e., the biblical) calendar and the Pharisaic
calendar, attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. They point to overlaps
in the results of the two calendars as proof of their essential
identity and equal authority. Had they understood the real
implications of the Scriptures, they would have realized that the
Pharisaic calendar has no biblical authority. As it is, many
Jewish, Christian and secular scholars (and many in God's Church,
ministers and members) have been confused by the "doublethink"
behind the Jewish commentaries on the calendar.4
Yet the biblical and Pharisaic calendars are inherently incompatible.
Their results sometimes overlap; but this is a matter of coincidence,
not of intent. Both could not have been in use at the same time in
Jesus' day, else the Jews would have been divided among themselves as to
when to keep the Holy Days. Yet we see Jesus, His disciples, and the
Jews keeping the same Holy Days at the same time, all the way through
the New Testament.
Jesus, the Church and the Calendar
So which method did Jesus and the early Church use to calculate the Holy
Days? Did they follow the reckoning of the Pharisees, merely because
"the scribes and the Pharisees [sat] on Moses' seat" (Matthew
23:1-3)?5 Or did they "obey God rather
than man" (Acts 5:29) and follow a calendar based on biblical
principles: the priestly calendar used in the Temple, in all
essentials (as we will see) the same as God's Church follows today?6
We know that Jesus and His disciples kept the Festivals and Holy Days on
the same days on which all "orthodox" Jews kept them (including
the Passover -- the proof of which deserves a separate article). We
also know that different sects of Judaism had various calendars (some of
which were not even lunisolar). The New Testament records no criticism
by Jesus of any sect on calendrical matters. Galatians 4:8-10 and
Colossians 2:16-17 apparently deal with (among other things) calendars
claiming to be "God-inspired" but which really enslaved
people to "the elements of the world". But the "calendar
issue" was at best a secondary matter to Jesus and the
apostolic Church of God.
But we also know that at least part of the Temple priesthood
(whatever other faults it had) would have preserved the calendar
correctly. Jesus and His disciples would have followed this calendar,
not any sectarian calendar. We know that the priestly calendar would
have been in force so long as the Temple was standing (that is, before
70 A.D.). The Sadducee priests, not the Pharisees, led the Sanhedrin its
efforts against Jesus and His apostles -- which certainly proves who
was in charge of religious matters at that time.
We need to remember that the Sanhedrin (the
highest civil and religious court in Judea) found its ultimate roots in
Deuteronomy 17:8-13, which laid out the procedure for trying cases too
difficult to decide at the local level. In effect, the highest court of
ancient Israel consisted of three parts:
1) The Aaronic high priest (verse 12);
2) The priests and Levites (verse 9);
3) The chief civil judge (verses 9 and 12).
After the time of the Book of Judges, the role of
chief judge passed to the king and (by extension) his princes and
officers (cf. 2 Samuel 8:15; 15:1-6; etc.). In Nehemiah's day, when
there was no king any longer, the role of chief civil judge was held by
the governor. Notice that Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and the
Levitical teachers instructed all the people on how to observe the Feast
of Trumpets correctly (Nehemiah 8:9-12).
After the Maccabean revolt, the role of chief
civil judge was held by the Maccabean priest-king. When the last
Maccabean priest-king died, the Pharisees (according to Josephus)
inherited everything "pertaining to the kingdom". They, with
the the priests and Levites and the high priestly family, formed the
Sanhedrin of Jesus' day.
Just as Moses sat before all the people so long
ago, hearing their most difficult civil cases and rendering judgments
based on God's laws (Exodus 18:13-26), so the scribes and Pharisees of
Jesus' day "sat in Moses' seat" in civil matters. By this time
-- in large measure, no doubt, due to the materialist skepticism of the
Sadducee party (cf. Acts 23:6-10) -- the Pharisees already had their
"traditions of the elders": civil judgments with ceremonial
implications (Mark 7:1-5), or even with moral implications (7:6-13),
usurping in part the prerogatives of their Levitical and priestly
brethren. Their concern was with transmitting these judgments (the
so-called "Oral Law") to the masses of the people. Jesus
rightly castigated many of these "traditions" as nullifying
the Word of God (the "Written Law", as the Pharisees sometimes
called it). Yet this reality did not nullify the requirement (in
principle) that the people do what the scribes and Pharisees commanded
them to do in civil matters (Matthew 23:1-3; cf. Deuteronomy 17:10-13).
What was to be done in things pertaining to Temple
observance was another matter entirely. This was the
jealously-guarded prerogative of the priests and Levites, and not even
the Pharisees (so insistent on the sanctity of the Torah themselves)
would have dared to go so far as to usurp it (cf. Numbers 16:1-18:7).
Whatever the Pharisees might have tried to enforce outside the
Temple courts in matters of worship, they had no power to enforce
anything within them. Thus, the calendar followed by the
priesthood -- and therefore by everyone who came to worship in the
Temple, including pilgrims from all over the known world (who
needed to have a pre-established calendar in order to time
their arrival) -- would have followed biblical principles as the
priests, not as the Pharisees, understood them.
Again, the priestly calendar would have been in
all essentials the same as our own, because it would have applied the same
biblical principles in the same order - including the long-secret
calculations that remain behind our own calendar. These calculations
(especially of the mean length of the lunar month) are accurate,
compared to the astronomical cycles they represent.7
So some critics notwithstanding, we can reliably extrapolate both our
sacred calendar and modern astronomy into the past to discover whether
the biblical or the Pharisaic calendar was used in Jesus'
Raymond F. McNair (writing for the now-defunct Global Church of God)
stated: "Some say that by using certain astronomical
calculations we can actually determine the exact position of the
phases of the moon for past years -- including the year of Jesus
Christ's crucifixion. Others, however, don't believe astronomical
calculations are totally reliable. They claim there are too many
imponderables in regard to the use of astronomical tables to know precisely
the time of day on which the astronomical new moon ... occurred in 31
A.D., the year of Christ's crucifixion -- or the precise hour when the
new crescent moon appeared on either Tishri 1 or Nisan or Abib 1 of that
same year. Such astronomical calculations, intended to prove the use of
postponements in Christ's time, appear to be unreliable!" (Global
Church News, July-August 1996, p. 21).
What are some of these "imponderables"? For one, the very
slight (but irregular) change in the rotation of the earth, due to
motions in the earth's core, seasonal and other weather changes (such as
El Nino and La Nina), tides, perturbations and even solar
flares. This leads over time to an increasing discrepancy between
extrapolations of Universal Time (based on the rotation of the
earth as measured at Greenwich) and Ephemeris Time (in practice,
based on very accurate measurements of the moon's motions against the
stars). Other "imponderables" might include cyclical or even
chaotic changes in the orbits of the moon around the earth or the earth
around the sun. In other words, time as reckoned by the rotation of the
earth and time as reckoned by the revolutions of the earth, moon and
planets become "out of sync". Obviously, since the sacred
calendar depends on the synchronization of these astronomical cycles, we
cannot simply extrapolate current measurements of heavenly motions into
But those who led Mr. McNair to doubt the reliability of astronomical
calculations forgot one thing: accurate astronomy and time-keeping did not
begin in the 20th century! We have records of various astronomical
phenomena dating back as far as 3,000 years, which we can
correlate theoretically with current measurements of the motions,
masses and interrelationships of the sun and planets. Of these records,
those concerning solar and lunar eclipses (dating back to about 700
B.C.) are most critical for the subject of the sacred calendar.
First, we should understand that Ephemeris Time (now superseded in
practice by other systems of time-keeping) "was the reference scale
used for comparison with rotational time [Universal Time] to determine
variations in the Earth's rotational speed from about 700 BC to AD
1955" ("Ephemeris Time", Encyclopedia Britannica,
15th ed., Vol. 4, p. 517).
How was this comparison made? By referring to accurate ancient
records of lunar and solar eclipses (which are included among the
heavenly "signs" of Genesis 1:14), such as the solar eclipse
of April 15, 136 BC, visible over Babylon. Such records "help
astronomers calculate exactly how fast Earth is slowing. If the length
of the day were constant, present-day calculations show that you would
have had to be at least 2,500 miles from Babylon to see the total solar
eclipse of April 15, 136 BC, but it was seen in Babylon, according to
two tablets now in the British Museum…" (Barry Evans, The
Wrong-Way Comet and Other Mysteries of the Solar System, TAB Books,
Thanks to records such as these, astronomers can introduce systematic
corrections into their calculations of past astronomical positions.
Even planetarium programs for the personal computer (such as Voyager
II™ for the Macintosh, which was used in researching this article)
can accurately portray the skies and the timing of astronomical
events in late biblical times. The margin of error in such programs'
calculations for Jesus' day is very small - enabling one to reliably
correct the timing of astronomical events. In addition, the Voyager
II™ program at least contains tables of ephmerides
(astronomical events such as solar and lunar eclipses) which are even
more accurate than the program can calculate, coming as they do from the
U.S. Naval Observatory (the most accurate source available).8
Finally, the rules of our received calendar, once adjusted according to
astronomical and historical data, can accurately determine the dates
that the biblical (in all essentials, the priestly) calendar would have
set in Jesus' day. At no time in Jesus' ministry is there any question
of a calendrical or astronomical extrapolation being "off"
enough to affect the outcome for calendrical purposes. (It is not a
question of the exact time being necessary; accuracy to the calendar
day is sufficient, and the actual margin for error is a matter of
minutes at most.)
Reckoning With Reckonings
With our faith in the stability of God's heavenly ordinances
restored (Psalm 148:1-6), let us return to the foundation of knowledge
(the Bible) and its historical and astronomical context.
The key to understanding the calendar as used in Jesus' day is the
dating of Jesus' ministry and crucifixion. Herman L. Hoeh summarized
much of this evidence in a booklet entitled The Crucifixion Was Not
on Friday (Worldwide Church of God, 1979 edition). In this booklet,
Dr. Hoeh refers to unspecified "astronomical tablets containing
more than a dozen precise records of eclipses", and "business
documents" dating from the time of King Artaxerxes I, which
establish the first year of Artaxerxes as reckoned by the Persians and
by the Jews. What are these unspecified records?
According to private correspondence from the Associates for Biblical
Research, the "business documents" to which Dr. Hoeh refers
are the famous Elephantine papyrii. At this writing, I do not have
acccess to any source that documents their contents. However, in Babylonian
Chronology, 626 B.C. to A.D. 75 (Brown University Press, 1956),
Parker and Dubberstein published the date of every "new moon"
(in this case, the new crescent) from Nisan of 626 B.C. to Adar
of 76 A.D. The original tablets on which these dates are based are among
the records to which Dr. Hoeh refers, and among those which allowed the
coordination of Ephemeris and Universal Time.
Artaxerxes' first year extended (in the Persian spring-to-spring
reckoning) from approximately "April, 464 to April, 463 B.C."
(Hoeh, Crucifixion, p. 10). (The first month of the Persian year
was actually the equivalent of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar.) According
to the fall-to-fall reckoning used by the Jews of the time, Artaxerxes'
first year was about "September, 464, to September, 463 B.C."
(ibid.) --actually, from Tishri 464 to Tishri 463 B.C.
Being Civil About Sacred Years
Some are troubled by the use of Tishri 1 as the "benchmark"
for the sacred year (which begins in Abib or Nisan, six months earlier).
At this point, let us digress to the matter of "civil" and
By comparing the biblical chronology with that given in the above
Babylonian records and others, we know that the Jews reckoned not only
the reigns of their own kings, but the reigns of foreign kings,
from Tishri 1 to Tishri 1 -- not Nisan or Abib 1 to Nisan or Abib 1.
They still did so as late as Ezra's time and afterward, long after the
ruling House of David departed from Judah. So from at least the time of
the last kings of Judah, the Jews observed a sacred year (beginning in
Nisan, as the Bible commands) and a civil year (beginning with Tishri
1). Judaism preserves this distinction by calling Tishri 1 "New
Year's Day" (even though its sacred year, like ours in the Church
of God, begins with Nisan or Abib 1). Yet the Talmud insists (cf. Rosh
ha-Shanah la, etc.) that the years of kings were always reckoned
spring-to-spring -- an assertion denied by the Bible and history.
Note too that the original Hebrew of Exodus 12:1-2 (in the Masoretic
Text, with its "musical accents") shows that God had made a revolutionary
change in how Israel was to reckon the beginning of the year. This
is consistent with Israel's use of a fall-to-fall reckoning for all
occasions, prior to the Exodus (as indicated by what Genesis 1 reveals
about the calendar).9 After the Exodus,
though, Israel apparently began its sacred year in the spring and its
civil year in the fall.10
In any case, the sacred calendar God preserved through the Jews begins
with Nisan or Abib 1, but is calculated from the date of Tishri 1 (as is
consistent with Genesis 1:14 and other verses). We have no biblical
authority for any other way of correlating the sacred and civil years.11
Counting "Weeks" of Years
Now let us return to the reign of Artaxerxes. According to Ezra 7,
Artaxerxes issued a decree to rebuild Jerusalem in the seventh year of
his reign. Since the Book of Ezra is a Jewish document, it must reckon civil
years fall-to-fall and sacred years spring-to-spring. Thus Ezra
"came to Jerusalem in the fifth month [of the sacred year]; this
was the seventh [civil] year to the king" (Ezra 7:8, literal
Daniel 9:24-26 reveals that there would be 69 prophetic
"weeks" of years (or 483 calendar years) "from (Hebrew min)
the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem
unto the Messiah the Prince" (v. 25, KJV). That decree was first
issued by Cyrus king of Persia, then reissued by Darius I, and finally
reissued by Artaxerxes I. Sixty-nine weeks of years "from"
Artaxerxes' seventh year (reckoned fall-to-fall, remember) brings us to
the autumn of 27 A.D, when Jesus was "about thirty" years old.
Three and a half years later, Jesus was "cut off, but not for
Himself", and "in the midst of the [70th] week [of
years]", thus "[causing] the sacrifice and the oblation to
cease" (Daniel 9:26). This brings us to the spring of 31 A.D., the
time of Jesus' crucifixion.
Some might be confused by the significance of "from" in Daniel
9:25. Our past teaching that Pentecost is counted "from (that is,
beginning with) the morrow after the Sabbath" seems to contradict
the above reckoning. Wouldn't the count "from" Artaxerxes'
seventh year start at the beginning of the year, not at the end of the
The answer lies in the usage of the Hebrew preposition min (or mi-).
In many places, min ("from") is defined "as
marking the period immediately succeeding the limit, after" (The
New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Genesius Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon, p. 581b).
Thus in Leviticus 23:15-16, when counting Pentecost, "from (mi-)
the morrow" means "after the morrow has arrived" or
"on the morrow" -- that is, from the start of the
"morrow". The same Hebrew phrase used in verse 15 is
translated "unto (mi-) the morrow" in verse 16 (KJV).
In both cases, the "limit" specified by mi- is the beginning
of the day.
In Daniel 9:25, the "limit" is the "going forth of the
commandment" to rebuild Jerusalem. The count of "weeks"
begins (in "clock time") after the
"commandment", not before it. In terms of calendar
years, the "limit" is Artaxerxes' seventh year (fall-to-fall
reckoning). After that year ends (not when it begins), the count of the
"weeks" begins. This reckoning is confirmed not only by
comparison with the New Testament, but with the testimonies of secular
historians as well (cf. Hoeh, op. cit., pp. 11-17).
Counting "from" Artaxerxes' seventh year, we come to the
autumn of 27 A.D., when Jesus began to preach. Three and a half years
later (as confirmed by Daniel 9:27 and New Testament chronology), Jesus
was crucified on a Wednesday Passover in 31 A.D.
Stumbling Over Leap Years
Our present sacred calendar puts "leap years" on Years 3, 6,
8, 11, 14, 17, 19 of the 19-year cycle. Because of the drift of the
lunar months against the solar seasons (due to the indivisibility of the
year by the month and the precession of the equinoxes), and because of
cumulative inaccuracies in the calendar calculations, the sequence of
leap years in the biblical calendar must have been different in Jesus'
day than it is today. Within a given 19-year cycle, the sequence of leap
years then would have been Years 2, 5, 7, 10, 13, 16 and 18. Thus A.D.
28 and 31 were Years 7 and 10 in the current 19-year cycle, and
therefore both leap years.
Some in God's Church and its sects have alleged that such a change of
sequence would only be a matter of a shift in the reckoning of the
"benchmark" for the Jewish calendar. (In effect, the real
sequence would not have changed; just the way the sequence was counted.)
Others claim that such a change would make "wild variations"
in the dates of the Holy Days, or put them "too late" in the
year. Neither charge has any basis in fact.
First, a one-year shift in the leap year cycle would ensure that
Passover fell no earlier than April 2 (and no later than April 27), and
Tabernacles fell no earlier than September 24 (and no later than October
22), throughout Jesus' lifetime. This is in complete accord with the
biblical commands. (Note that in Jesus' day, the spring equinox occurred
on March 23, rather than on March 21 as it does today. Likewise, the
fall equinox then occurred on September 25, rather than September 22 as
it does today.12) Yet the dates of the spring
and fall Festivals would always be late enough to ensure that the
harvests were ripened and gathered in time -- whereas the irregular
Pharisaic calendar sometimes required an arbitrary intercalation due to
the "late" ripening of spring crops.13
Now if the present leap year sequence were in effect in Jesus' day,
Passover in 31 A.D. would fall on Monday, March 26 (still in the
spring), not Wednesday, April 25 as it would under the shifted
leap year cycle. But the Bible proves that Jesus' last Passover was on a
Wednesday, not on a Monday -- and if our current leap year sequence were
used, Tabernacles in 31 A.D. would be almost wholly in summer, not
wholly in the fall. One cannot evade this by claiming that only the way
of counting the leap year sequence was changed between Jesus' day
and our own.
Finally, some claim that the year of Jesus' death was in 30 A.D., not 31
A.D. Passover would indeed fall on a Wednesday that year, according to
the biblical calendar. (There is no question that 30 A.D. was a
"common" year, thanks to the interrelationship of lunar months
and solar seasons.) But the Bible demands that Jesus died on a Wednesday
Passover in 31 A.D., not 30 A.D. This means 31 A.D. must have been a
leap year, which in turn confirms that the leap year sequence used in
Jesus' day was shifted one year from that used today.
Remember from Part One of this series that by biblical and
astronomical definition, some years in a 19-year cycle are common
years and some are leap years. Were the current sequence of
common and leap years used in Jesus' day, some years which were actually
common would have been considered leap years and vice versa. But shift
the sequence back by one year - reasonably, for the years prior to 142
A.D., when the Church of God came to believe14
the sequence was probably adjusted15 - and the
astronomical and calendrical calculations "line up" as to the
setting of the common and leap years.
Dating the Holy Days
In 31 A.D., the biblical calendar (as extrapolated from the modern
calendar) and the Pharisaic calendar would put both Trumpets and the
first day of Unleavened Bread on the same days -- that is, if the
Pharisaic calendar made 31 A.D. a leap year. This would not in fact have
happened (as we will see), since making 31 A.D. a "common'' year
would still put Passover in the spring (on Monday, March 26), even if
this made the true fall equinox occur on the last day of Tabernacles.16
Few realize that Exodus 23:16 and 34:22 do not signify the same thing.
As we have noted in Part One of this series, Exodus 23:16 says
Tabernacles must occur betse't ha-Shanah, "when the year
goes out". That is, it must occur at or after the beginning of the
new agricultural year, (i.e., at or after the fall equinox). Exodus
34:22 says that Tabernacles must occur tequfat ha-Shanah:
"(during the) turning of the year" (that is, during the period
ending one agricultural year and beginning another, as centered on the
fall equinox). In practical terms, these two statements combined mean
that the fall equinox may fall before or during Tabernacles, but
not after it. Likewise, Passover must fall "in the month of
Abib [green ears or buds]" -- that is, during the first month of
spring (see Part One).
Yet due to the interaction of the lunar months with the solar seasons,
in some years there are two lunar months in the spring and/or two lunar
months in the fall which a priori may meet these biblical
conditions. (For an explanation of why this may be so, see Part One
of this series.) In 31 A.D., there were two lunar months in the spring and
two lunar months in the fall which were "acceptable" a
priori. Thanks to this state of affairs, in 31 A.D. the Pharisees
(had they been in charge of the sacred calendar) would have put Passover
in 31 A.D. one month earlier (and on a different day of the week
besides) than do the adjusted calculations of our received calendar.
Only if the seasonal conditions did not permit them to do otherwise (or
so it would seem) did the Pharisees and later Rabbis ever intercalate a
13th month before the arrival of Abib/Nisan.
In any case, the other Holy Days during Jesus' ministry would have been
set on different dates by the biblical and Pharisaic calendars (even
assuming that they did not reckon leap years differently). For example
(all else being equal in both calendars), Trumpets in 30 A.D. would have
fallen on the Sabbath, September 16, according to the calculation of the
molad. (No postponements would have applied in this case.) It
would have fallen on Monday, September 18, according to the observation
of the new crescent. Only by Sunday night, September 17, would the new
crescent have been visible from Jerusalem. (Again, no postponements
would have applied.)
Now a careful analysis of John 7:37-53 and chapters 8 and 9 (especially
9:14-16) shows that the Last Great Day in 30 A.D. was not only a Holy
Day, but also a weekly Sabbath (cf. Hoeh, op. cit., pp. 18-23).
This means that Trumpets must have fallen on the Sabbath, not on Monday
-- and this means that in Jesus' day, the beginning of the month was
reckoned (all else being equal) from the calculation of the molad,
not from the observation of the new crescent.
True, the Holy Days are also Sabbaths, regardless of the day of the week
on which they fall. But the Holy Days are legally extensions of the
weekly Sabbath, not vice versa. Thus in John 19:31, John explains that
"great was that sabbath day" (literal translation).
This "sabbath" was a Holy Day, and thus not necessarily the
seventh day of the week. But in John 7:37, John speaks of "the last
day, the great (day) of the feast" (literal translation). He
then specifies that this Holy Day was a "sabbath" (John
9:14-16) -- which would not have been necessary to mention unless this
day were also a weekly Sabbath.
Thus the Last Great Day fell on the Sabbath, October 7, in 31 A.D. (It
would have not done so, according to either the biblical or the
Pharisaic calendar, in 29 or 32 A.D., as one would expect had Jesus died
in 30 or 33 A.D.) "The next spring (A.D. 31) the Passover and
crucifixion fell on a Wednesday," writes Dr. Hoeh. "Such a
combination of the eighth or Last Great Day on a Sabbath and the
Passover on a Wednesday occurred at no other time in Jesus' ministry
[according to the biblical calendar]! Nor would such a combination be
possible at any time in Jesus' ministry if the later, temporary
Pharisaic and Rabbinic custom of observation of the new moon [i.e., the
new crescent] were in force during Jesus' ministry" (Hoeh, op.
cit., p. 23).
What of the "second-first sabbath" in Luke 6:1 - called
simply a "sabbath" in the other Gospel accounts? The Greek
grammar does not fit the idea of "the second of seven Sabbaths that
were counted from Passover to Pentecost" (Hoeh, op. cit., p.
16), nor of the weekly Sabbath following the first Holy Day of
Unleavened Bread (as The Companion Bible and other works assume).
The first idea begs the question of why the second Sabbath to Pentecost
would require a special term (since it has no religious significance).
The second assumption puts the "second-first sabbath" on what
the Jews call Shabbat Chol ha-Mo`ed: the Sabbath during the
"profane" days of Unleavened Bread, on which Sabbath Judaism
holds special services. But were this day meant, why did Luke not use a
Greek translation of the appropriate Hebrew or Aramaic term?17
A simpler explanation is that the Greek phrase means "the second
Sabbath of the first rank" -- that is, the second Holy Day of
Unleavened Bread. Again, under the biblical calendar this Holy Day would
have fallen on the weekly Sabbath, April 23, in 29 A.D. -- the year
which the chronology of Jesus' ministry requires. (Thus there would have
been no Shabbat Chol ha-Mo`ed during Unleavened Bread that year.)
This is because Postponement Rule 2 (concerning an
"afternoon" molad) would have postponed Tishri 1 by one
day, in order to keep the calendar aligned with world time. By contrast,
the second Holy Day would have fallen one day later (Sunday, April 24)
were the "new moons" reckoned from the new crescent visible at
Again, according to the adjusted calculations of our received calendar,
in 31 A.D. Molad Tishri would have fallen about midnight on Friday. In
order for Passover to fall on Wednesday that year (given a constant 164
days between Passover and Trumpets18), Postponement
Rule 1 must have been in effect. Thus Trumpets would have fallen on
the Sabbath, October 6, ensuring that none of the fall Holy Days
would have been back-to-back with the Sabbath. By extension (because of
the hierarchy of restraints upon "work" given to the
Sabbath and Holy Days), the calendar in Jesus' day would have forbidden
Trumpets to fall on Sunday or Wednesday as well as Friday. With both
Rules 1 and 2 in effect (Rule 2 thanks to the implications of Genesis
1), Rules 3 and 4 also would have been in effect by logical
The Calendar and a Heavenly
So the biblical and astronomical data are consistent with the biblical,
not the Pharisaic calendar being in force in Jesus' day. There is one
other evidence, often overlooked, that we must examine.
We have already seen that the Pharisees (barring special seasonal
conditions in 31 A.D.) would not have made 31 A.D. a leap year. Yet 31
A.D. must have been a leap year in order for the Passover to fall on a
Wednesday; otherwise, Passover would have fallen on Monday, March 26.
(Again, had the Pharisees been in charge and had made 31 A.D. a leap
year, Passover would have fallen on the same day in their calendar as it
would according to the biblical calendar.)
But Peter's use of Joel 3:28-32 in Acts 2:17-21 shows that Passover in
31 A.D. could not have fallen in March. The time order in Joel's
original prophecy (as indicated by the original Hebrew) is 3:30-32, then
3:28-29. The signs in heaven and earth (including a darkening of the
sun and a reddening of the moon) must occur first; then, the offer
of salvation to those who "call upon the Lord"; then, the
outpouring of the Spirit and the gifts that accompany it. Since Peter's
statement in Acts 2:16 ("this is that... ") makes the whole of
Joel's prophecy (not just the beginning or ending of it) dual in
application, this means that a darkening of the sun and a reddening of
the moon must have preceded the events of Pentecost, when the Spirit was
poured out on those who "called upon the Lord" (first the
apostles, then those they baptized).
We know from the Gospels that a supernatural darkening of the sun
accompanied Jesus' crucifixion and death on Passover afternoon. Though
the Gospels do not mention a reddening of the moon, Peter's use of Joel
demands that such a "sign" must have closely followed the
darkening of the sun. According to astronomical calculation, a lunar
eclipse occurred high over Jerusalem the very night after Passover,
the "Night to be Much Observed": Wednesday, April 25 (Nisan or
Abib 15), 31 A.D. Had there been enough clouds in the earth's atmosphere
at the time, the moon figuratively would have "turned to
blood", or even been partially darkened.
These heavenly "signs" would have been seen all over the Roman
world. The darkening of the sun was recorded as far west as Rome;19
the lunar eclipse would have been visible all over the night side of the
earth. The Jews who came to Jerusalem for Pentecost would have wondered
what these "signs" meant. Was the prophesied "day of the
Lord" at hand? Peter answered that question in type, as part
of his introduction to the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.
His answer made his message that much more compelling to his audience.
A Cord Not Quickly Broken
Thus we may assert the following about the sacred calendar in Jesus'
1) It was based on a regular 19-year cycle of common and leap years, one
identical to the cycle used in our current calendar (save that the cycle
was shifted one year from that used today).
2) It began its calendar months (all else being equal) on the
calendar day of the mean conjunction of the sun and moon, not on the
calendar day when the new crescent was visible from Jerusalem.
3) It set the Festivals and Holy Days on the same calendar days that our
present calendar (extrapolated into the past and adjusted for the shift
in the 19-year cycle) would have set them.
4) It used the same fundamental rules of postponement (Rules 1 and 2,
and therefore 3 and 4) that are used in our received calendar.
In short, only the leap year sequence within a 19-year cycle was
demonstrably different in Jesus' day from that used today. At the end of
this paper, the interested reader will find a table presenting the
evidence for this assertion: the raw astronomical and calendrical data
as calculated by the Voyager II™ planetarium program, for the
years 3-40 A.D.
"Fudging" the Bible and
So why do early and modern Jewish sources point to the use of a different
calendar in the days of the Second Temple? The only possible explanation
is that these sources have misunderstood or misrepresented the biblical
and historical evidence. In other words, they have (willy-nilly)
"fudged" the Bible and history to their own advantage!
The sharp disagreement between the Talmudists on the most basic aspects
of the calendar, the Temple liturgy and many other matters proves that
they were ignorant or uncertain about many details of their own
traditions. For example, one Rabbi Simeon alleged that Rabbi Akiba
(1st-2nd centuries A.D.), while in prison, intercalated three years in
succession. (This would have happened after the fall of the Second
Temple.) "The Rabbis, however, retorted...'The court [of the
Sanhedrin] sat and intercalated each year at its proper time'" (Sanhedrin
12a, Soncino edition, p. 53). Does this mean that Rabbi Simeon erred
(because it is physically impossible to intercalate three
calendar years in a row)? Or did the other Rabbis err as to what the
Sanhedrin did (or would have done)? Or did Rabbi Akiba simply calculate
when the next three leap years would fall (as the editor of the Soncino
edition thinks) -- only perhaps to have his calculations overruled by
the Sanhedrin for one or another, empirical reason?
What then is the truth? After the fall of the Second Temple, the
Pharisees usurped the leadership of the Sanhedrin from the Sadducees.
From that time forward (and for several centuries), the calendar was
reckoned according to the Pharisaic method, not the method preserved by
the priests. Months were reckoned from the observation of the new
crescent, not from the calculation of the molad. The leap year
sequence became irregular, as did the number of "full" months
in the year and the length of the year.
The way the Pharisee-led Sanhedrin handled "postponements"
illustrates the empiricism of its calendar. The Pharisees had no
"noon or after" postponement for Tishri 1, because a local
calendar which begins its months with the new crescent does not
require one. On the other hand, the Pharisees did postpone
Tishri 1 in order to keep certain festival days (especially Atonement)
from falling back-to-back with the weekly Sabbath.
The problem, of course, lay in "postponing" Tishri 1 when the
new crescent fell at an "inconvenient" time. One cannot
"postpone" the moon in its heavenly motions! So the Sanhedrin speeded
up or prolonged its deliberations as necessary, and made special
observations in hopes of seeing the new crescent as early as
possible. If necessary, it used some astronomical
"hairsplitting" to move the day of the new crescent to a
"convenient" time. If the new crescent appeared before the
stars, it "belonged" to the preceding calendar day. If the new
crescent appeared after the stars, it "belonged" to the
current calendar day (cf. "Calendar", Encyclopedia Judaica,
columns 46 and 49).
Thus the Pharisaic and later Rabbinic calendar (as originally
influenced, no doubt, by one or another pagan calendar) was based
on the "narrow observation of days, and months, and seasons,
and years" (cf. Galatians 4:10, literal Greek).20
To the Pharisees and Rabbis, the adjustment of the calendar to the day
took precedence even over its adjustment to the month. After
that, it was adjusted to the seasons (by a simple count of twelve
lunar months per calendar year, until the timing of the spring equinox
and of the associated ripening of crops forced them to intercalate).
Only after that was their calendar adjusted to the year (and that
with considerably greater variation than in the adjustments to the year
made by our received calendar).
What were the fruits of the Pharisaic approach? From the time of
the Pharisees' ascendancy forward, Judaism had less and less unity on
calendrical matters. (For example, the Sadducees at times used false
witnesses to try to "throw off" the Pharisees' reckoning
from the new crescent!) It took the efforts of Hillel II and others to
restore the calendar to its biblical foundations (in its present form,
no later than the tenth century A.D.). Political infighting and intrigue
often marked even these efforts. Yet the result was a calendar with
rules "by which the astronomical facts [were] combined with the
religious requirements into an admirable calendar system" (Arthur
Spier, The Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar, p. 2).
Divine and Human Authority
It comes down to this: Do we trust the infallible God to work through
fallible (even unconverted) human authority? Or do we lose faith in
the way God works, and lean to our own understanding (cf.
Proverbs 3:5-8) in secondary, highly technical matters related to the
Law (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3-7)?
If we in God's Church (ministers and members) have the right spiritual
priorities, God will help us set in order even matters as technical as
the sacred calendar. We may not settle an issue fully at first -- but we
will settle it, sooner or later. Meanwhile, honest questions by
honest people are to be encouraged - not to be seen as evidence of doubt
or rebellion. (I have tried to answer the most important of such
questions, here in this series.) But those inclined to be factious,
about the calendar or anything else, should be shunned (cf. Titus
2:8-11). Their mixtures of truth and error come from the very
Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (cf. Genesis 3).
Whether such people want to believe it or not, God did use the
Jews despite themselves to preserve the sacred calendar. The
faithfulness of God, not of man, is at stake here. If the Jews did
not preserve the calendar in all its essentials, then God (not man)
is a liar! Yet all the evidence confirms God's faithfulness in this
matter. How He preserved the calendar through the Jews is an
interesting study of itself. Whether He did so need not be in
doubt within God's Church. ###
OF FULL MOONS (SPRING AND FALL), 3-40 A.D.
The following table lists the times of opposition
of the sun and moon (as given in the ephemeride tables of the Voyager
II™ planetarium program for the Macintosh, as provided by the U.S.
Naval Observatory), during the periods of March-April and
September-October for the years 3-40 A.D. (The Voyager II™
program automatically corrects for the historical changes in the earth's
rotation.) All times are given as GMT: Greenwich Meridian Time. Thus,
the opposition (and thus the lunar eclipse) on April 25, 31 A.D.,
occurred at 1912 (here, 19:12) hours GMT; it occurred about 9:30 p.m.,
local Jerusalem time. The calendar date of the astronomical full moon
during the month of Abib is marked in green; the calendar date of the
astronomical full moon during the month of Tishri is marked in yellow.
In both cases, the Hebrew months are reckoned according to the adjusted
calculations of the received calendar.
I have chosen the years 3-40 A.D. because this period covers two full
Metonic (19-year) cycles. Common and leap years as determined by the
adjusted rules of our received calendar are noted. (Remember that
in the Church of God's calendrical calculations, for the years before
142 A.D., the sequence of common and leap years was shifted back one
year from that used today.) For comparison, the table also gives the
sequence of common and leap years as they would be determined if their
sequence were left uncorrected (that is, as it is used today). Common
and leap years are reckoned fall-to-fall from the Tishri 1 preceding
"the month of Abib" in each year. Leap years as defined by
both sequences are marked in red.
Note that during this period of time, the spring equinox occurred on
March 23, rather than on March 21 as it does today. Likewise, the fall
equinox then occurred on September 25, rather than September 22 as it
does today. Let the reader keep in mind also that the following table
deals with exact times (as calculated) for the full moons in
various years, as converted to Greenwich Meridian Time (GMT). The
received Hebrew calendar, by contrast, deals with average values
for the times of the new and full moons, as originally calculated from a
benchmark originally measured noon-to-noon at a latitude that was
certainly not that of Greenwich.
The following table nevertheless gives the raw data that enabled me to
1) The sequence of common and leap years is determined by astronomical
factors as related to biblical law.
2) In some years between 3-40 A.D., the spring equinox fell within a
given lunar month before the calendar day of the full moon, or
after the calendar day of the full moon within the previous lunar month;
and the fall equinox fell before or during (never after) the
seven-day period beginning with the calendar day of the full moon, six
lunar months after the "month of Abib" occurred as defined by
the preceding conditions. These years were, by definition, common
years. All other years were, by definition, leap years.
3) During some leap years, a lunar month in the spring that would
otherwise be "acceptable" under astronomical and biblical
criteria could not be "the month of Abib", because Tabernacles
would then occur too early according to the same criteria.
4) During other leap years, a lunar month in the fall that would
otherwise be "acceptable" under astronomical and biblical
criteria could not be "the month of Tishi", because Passover
would then occur too early according to the same criteria.
5) During the remaining leap years (one of which is 31 A.D., the year of
Jesus' death), a lunar month in the spring and a lunar month in
the fall that would otherwise be "acceptable" under
astronomical and biblical criteria could not be "the months of Abib
and Tishri", respectively. This is because the following year was always
(by the same criteria) a common year (which is true of every year
that follows a leap year).