ANCIENT HEBREW CALENDAR

The following reconstruction describes an old Hebrew soli-lunar calendar which synchronised the heavenly bodies regularly per seven years, and again in the forty-ninth year. Following that, another forty-nine year cycle would repeat using the same formula. The pattern of leap-years never needed to change, although it does seem there were changes to the Jewish calendar from about the Persian - Greek period, not for the better it might be added, but probably to comply with the governing empires of that time.

Sabbatical Time Measurement

The first thing to be noticed is how units of time were distinguished by the 'shabuwa', a word which simply means 'heptad' or 'week'. By contrast, the Egyptian 30-day month was divided into three 'decans' of ten days each, but the Hebrew calendar was strictly sabbatical. The following is a breakdown of time measurement in it:

  • a 'week' of days (7 days)
  • a 'moon' (one month)
  • a 'time' (one year)
  • a 'time, times and half a time'
  • a 'week' of years (7 years)
  • a 'jubilee sabbath' (49 years)
  • a '70-week jubilee' (490 years)

Old Hebrew calendar The 'week of years' was akin to our 'decade', and 'jubilee' might be likened to our 'century', albeit shorter. The longer '70-week jubilee' is alluded to in both Testaments and is also mentioned in fragments of manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Scroll 11Q13)

A 'moon' (lunar month) is typically 29 or 30 days, so when the year was completed it only reached 354 days, about eleven days short of the Sun's 365¼ day rotation. As a result, the year slipped back each season, and an extra (thirteenth) month had to be inserted every so often. It was added at the end of Adar, according to a sabbatical formula if my proposition is correct - not according to primitive observation of seasons as it is usually assumed to have been done.


Concerning the Modern Jewish Calendar

A common area of confusion concerning the biblical calendar arises from an assumption that the modern Hebrew calendar is the same as the ancient one. It isn't. The misunderstanding is not helped by rabbinic experts either, who make the same assumptions as everyone else. It's a good calendar, it's soli-lunar, and it works. Why look for another? Also, a false credibility bolsters the assumption since the modern Hebrew calendar is not really modern. It is similar to, and can be traced back to the Greek, Persian, and Babylonian empires. Now, that is old.

But it is not as old as the one of which we speak. Moses set up a calendar eight hundred years before the Babylonian empire existed. Earliest calendar references go back to the Bible's book of Genesis, but as far as an exclusive Hebrew system is concerned, the first mention is found with instructions given to Moses at the time of the Exodus.

"This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you." (Exodus 12:2)
It was the month of Abib (later renamed Nisan) and what is being said here is clear; the first of Abib was to become New Year's Day.

It begs the question: If Moses was given a new start to the year, when was New Year under the calendar from which they had come? The Egyptians called it the "opening of the year" and it started with the star, 'Sirius', which appeared in the sky in July when the first season was ushered in by the flooding of the river Nile. They associated the life-giving inundation of their crops with Sirius, bringer of new life. In mentioning this I do not mean to discuss the Egyptian Sothic cycle. I only wish to make the point that the Hebrew calendar was not copied from Egypt. The Bible's calendar was unique in its operation and different from neighbouring countries.


Bible Calendar References

The next reference to an exclusively Hebrew calendar is not as obvious because it's function related to religious festivals and the release of debts. I am referring to the 'Jubilee.'

"Count off seven sabbaths of years - seven times seven years - so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you ... The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you." (Leviticus 25:8-11)
However, Jubilee is more than what meets the eye. Apart from radical agriculture and 'debt release' provisions, it contained precisely 600 lunar cycles from the 1st of Abib to the 10th day of the forty-ninth year! Apparently Jubilee was part of a soli-lunar system designed for the keeping of time.

Then there is the Sabbath system itself. There are various descriptions of the Sabbatical years but without any direct mention of calendrical formulas. Perhaps that is why they haven't been noticed. Nevertheless, when looking beneath the surface of the biblical text, the Sabbath 'weeks' contain formulae relating to the placement of intercalary months. We shall look at these soon.

In later references we notice special calendar terms and numbers which occur in the prophetic writings. An example of how a year was called a 'time' is found in King Nebuchadnezzar's bout of insanity. He boasted,

Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?
And he was humbled.
O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will. Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles feathers and his nails became like birds claws. (Daniel 4:16-32)

Similarly, there are mentions of a 'time, times and half a time.' It is 3½ years, and is one half of a Sabbatical cycle. Then, there are the curious numbers of 1260, 1290 and 1335 days which appear in the books of Daniel and Revelation. They have baffled students with commentaries calling them 'unknown calculations' and popular end-time writers dreaming up fanciful ideas as to what they might mean. Please deduct 30 (one month) off 1290. Please deduct 30 + 30 + 15 (2½ mths) off 1335. In both cases it equals 1260 days.

If we select the Day of Atonement, the 10th Ethanim, and add 1260 or 1290 days, it always resets itself to the Hebrew New Year Day, the 1st of Abib, three and a half years later. To demonstrate this, some known examples are given in the table below. Clearly, these figures are intercalations to an underlying calendar.

Chart showing count from Day of Atonement

DoA EVENT

BIBLE REFRENCE

DoA DATE

T,T, and ½ TIME

FINISH DATE

Dedication of temple

1 Kings 8:2

10 Ethanim 955 BC

1290 days

1 Abib 951 BC

Exiles return under Ezra

Ezra 3:4

10 Tishri 537 BC

1290 days

1 Nisan 533 BC

Completion of the wall

Nehemiah 8:13

10 Tishri 444 BC

1260 days

1 Nisan 440 BC

Jesus goes to the feast

John 7:2

10 Tishri 28 AD

1290 days

1 Nisan 32 AD

At this point it is necessary to rectify a translation error in the text of Daniel 12:12. Most Bible versions translate it as 1335 days but that is not actually what it says! The Authorised Version (and the original Hebrew) writes, "Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days," however for the sake of simplicity, modern translators have taken the liberty of adding the two figures together. Bad move! It might seem odd but they were separated for a reason and the meaning is better understood when left as they are. When 1290 days is added to the Day of Atonement, requiring an extra month to reach the 1st of Abib, a further fifteen days stretches the date to Passover, 15th Abib. 1290 days plus fifteen is 1305. Yes, blessed is he who comes to the 1305 days! Blessed indeed!


Division of the Week

Every soli-lunar system, be it Hebrew, Greek or Babylonian, realises that the lunar year needs adjustment about every third year. Therefore it is not by coincidence that the Hebrew heptad of years was divided in half and called, a 'time, times and half a time.' The division of the week was for calendar purposes.

Calendar diagramAs shown here, the first segment overlapped the previous Sabbath by half a year, starting on the Day of Atonement before resetting itself to the 1st of Abib three and a half years later. Separating the two halves were 186 days, taken out of the equation because an extra month was not permitted in-between the sacred festivals of the first six months. It is my thought that this gap between the two segments was referred to as the 'midst of the week' as alluded to in Daniel 9:27. Likewise, the second segment began on the Day of Atonement of the middle year resetting itself to the start of the next Sabbatical cycle.

In the old way of organising leap-years, the first 'time, times and half' had two months added bringing it to 1290 days, and to the other segment was added one month bringing it to 1260 days. By understanding how these numbers count to New Year's Day, we are provided with an answer to what the prophet meant when he said: "From the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days." (Daniel 12:11) 1290 days to what? That is the question we would like to know! However, Daniel would have expected his original readers to have known that he meant from the Day of Atonement to New Year in the midst of the week.

Now, when the days in 7½ years are summed up, a figure of 2746 is created equalling 93 lunar months. Then each subsequent 7½ years alternated between 92 and 93 months until seven 'weeks of years' completed the Jubilee of forty-nine years. Please compare the columns below:

7½ x 12 =
90 months

10 days from 1st to 10th Tishri

leap years =
3 months

+ 1290 + 186 + 1260 = 2746 days

Total =
93 months

÷ 29.53 (lunar cycle) = 93 months

In the case of the alternate 92 months, the diagram would show 1260 days on both sides. I have checked this model over hundreds of years, and come to the conclusion that by combining the formula with actual sightings of New Moon, the calendar would have been virtually mistake-proof.


Placement of Intercalary Months

When seven overlapping weeks as described are spread over one Jubilee, a pattern of eighteen intercalary months appears that can be repeated indefinitely in each subsequent Jubilee cycle. Please examine the adjacent diagram showing fifty years divided into blocks of seven. The seventh year (Sabbath) is indicated by a red square and the position of leap-months indicated by green dots. Notice how a 13th month is never added on a seventh year. Also notice how the fiftieth year is superimposed over the forty-ninth year and first year of the following cycle. The regular pattern of leap-months may be summarised as follows:

Chart showing placement of Intercalary Months

1st 7 years

2 + 1 leap mths

2nd 7 years

1 + 1 leap mths

3rd 7 years

2 + 1 leap mths

4th 7 years

1 + 1 leap mths

TOTAL 18 leap months

5th 7 years

2 + 1 leap mths

6th 7 years

1 + 1 leap mths

7th 7 years

2 + 1 leap mths

Calendar diagram

As can be seen, a total of eighteen intercalary months are added every forty-nine years. This 'Jubilee cycle' created the same overall effect as our modern Metonic system does, but it had a different way of going about it. The Metonic cycle moves gradually through each year, adding seven months over nineteen years, whereas the Hebrew method was 'Sabbatical' and avoided adding to Sabbath years. It is mentioned in the Rabbinic writings, (Tos. Sanhedrin 2:9) because a 13th month would have increased the seventh year, extending the Sabbath planting restrictions and creating an unnecessary burden on the people.

When compared with modern calendars, a few intercalary months are offset by one year but never did it wander off the seasons. The calendar given to Moses all those years ago worked. Moreover, it worked as well as, if not better, than any system we have today!

There are implications here for liberal scholars and their theories of a primitive Israelitish nation evolving out of Canaan, whose knowledge of astronomy was only copied from the 'sophisticated' cultures around about. On the contrary; not only was the Hebrew calendar superior to Egypt's wandering year, but it predated Meton by a thousand years. There was nothing anywhere else quite like it.


The Fiftieth Year

This brings us to the second synchronisation. In addition to the 'week', the Bible reveals a 49-year Sabbatic cycle starting New Year, 1st of Abib, following the previous block of forty-nine. They would have intercalated months as explained using the short cycle, until it reached the 10th day of the 7th month of the 49th year, upon which a special 50th year was announced. This might seem strange but another astronomical formula is at work. The gap between the two events comes to 17718 days - a figure equalling exactly 600 months. This gap never alters; it is always the same.

Now, 600 months equal 50 lunar years which explains why the Jubilee 50th year is superimposed over the other years. It takes 48½ solar years to equal 50 lunar years, so the 'overlaid' Jubilee is a device that equalises the solar and lunar cycles to 50 years each, after which the new cycle began afresh. The math is as follows:

48 years x 365.242

= 17531.62 days

6 months x 29.53

= 177.18 days

to 10th Tishri

= 9 days

TOTAL

= 17718 days

÷ 29.53

= 600 months

÷ 12

= 50 lunar years

In a few words, the pre-Metonic Hebrew calendar was an overlapping 7½ year cycle of alternating 92 / 93 months, crosschecked by a cycle of 600 months after 48½ years. Its distinguishing mark was a Sabbatical 'stamp' making it unique from every other national calendar.



The Atonement Clock

Find related information in Christian Gedge's book, 'THE ATONEMENT CLOCK'. See the calendar synchronise with mind-boggling accuracy over hundreds of years!

* Yes, there was a timeline running beneath the scriptures!
* Yes, it is important to biblical understanding!
* Yes, it had a purpose and was going somewhere!


More information here.