New Testament Chronology

New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)

Kenneth Frank Doig
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Exact Dating of the Birth and Crucifixion of Jesus

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Chapter 2
CALENDARS FROM THE EXILE TO
THE FIRST CENTURY BCE

The Jewish and Babylonian calendars were at first distinct. With the separation from Jerusalem the calendar differences were soon blurred and lost to many exiles.

I. The Exile Calendar - Sixth to Fifth Century BCE

Nebuchadnezzar first carried off captives from Jerusalem in February of 604 BCE. He again besieged and captured Jerusalem on March 16 of 597 BCE, and the Jews were again under the Babylonian yoke. When they later pursued an independent course Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem a third time, and after two years the city fell on June 18, 586 BCE. The invaders destroyed the city and Temple and led many surviving Jews into captivity in Babylon. Some Jews fled to Egypt, and a few were left in Judea. In Babylon the Jews came into contact with a luni-solar calendar similar to their own, a calendar that influenced their reckoning of time.

The sixth century saw the shift from the Exodus calendar to an Exile calendar similar to the Babylonian calendar. To the Judeans the Exodus calendar and the Babylonian calendar must have initially seemed almost identical. In the first year of captivity in Babylon the new year began on April 1, 585 BCE with the sunrise for the Jews and sunset for the Babylonians. However, with the intercalation of the second Ululu in 564 BCE1 the following Babylonian new year was on April 14. It would have been immediately apparent to knowledgeable Jews that the Babylonian calendar did not match their Exodus calendar for festivals. There were already Jews living in Babylon from the first deportation who would have been familiar with the Babylonian calendar, including Daniel. Many of these Jews would have already adopted the Babylonian dating, and there would have been some pressure for its general use. Did the Jews drop their calendar and adopt the Babylonian calendar? Or, did they maintain the Exodus calendar for festivals and use an adopted Babylonian calendar only for civil purposes?

The Jews did adopt month names similar to the Babylonian months. These names have been used since then and are still used in the present day Jewish calendar. The months are: Nisan (Neh. 2:1; Esther 3:7), Iyyar, Sivan (Esther 8:9), Tammuz, Ab, Elul (Neh. 6:15), Tishri, Marheshvan, Kislev (Neh. 1:1; Zech. 7:1), Tebeth (Esther 2:16), Shebat (Zech. 1:7) and Adar (Ezra 6:15; Esther 3:7, 3:13, 8:12, 9:1). With the new month names the year still began in the spring, "in the first month, which is the month Nisan." (Esther 3:7) The Babylonian calendar also began in the spring.

All references to months by the post-captivity Biblical writers refer to months numbered from Nisan. This is confirmed by the three historical books, Ezra,2 Nehemiah3 and Esther.4 The prophet Zechariah also used this system,5 and it was probably used by his contemporaries, Haggai and Malachi. The use of the calendar beginning in Nisan by the prophets suggests that the Exodus calendar may have been set aside as the religious calendar. Or, were only the month names changed, while retaining the other features of the Exodus calendar? In any event, the new year was retained in the spring, now beginning in Nisan.

One pair of passages has been used to try to establish that the new year now began in Tishri. In Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 it is written, "Now in the month Kislev, in the twentieth year, . . ." and "it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes. . . ." Since the twentieth year of Artaxerxes appears to occur both before and after Nisan, must this not mean that his regnal year is measured from Tishri? The rabbis debated this in the Talmud, but the Tishri new year was said to refer to only foreign kings, not Jewish kings (Rosh Hashanah 3a-3b). One rabbi correctly noted that the first reference to the twentieth year did not mention Artaxerxes and might refer to something else, but he offered no solution. That solution is here presented.

Artaxerxes reckoned his own reign from Nisanu, and the Jews reckoned from Nisan. The dissenting rabbi was correct in that the twentieth year did not refer to the regnal year of Artaxerxes. It actually referred to being the twentieth year from the first decree of Artaxerxes that prohibited the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Ezra 4:21). This was the subject of concern between the men from Judah and Nehemiah (Neh. 1:2-4). Artaxerxes I became king on the death of Xerxes by Abu (August) of 465 BCE,6 and certainly by Kislev.7 The decree was apparently promulgated in Kislev of that year, as evidenced by Ezra's mention of that month. The twentieth year of the decree was actually in Artaxerxes' nineteenth regnal year since he used accession reckoning. The new year in Nisan for his twentieth regnal year fell in 445 BCE.8 Nehemiah here reckoned the new year from Nisan, since he observed the Feast of Booths in the seventh month, not the first month (Neh. 8:14-18). Nehemiah did not reckon from a new year beginning in Tishri. This subject will be discussed in greater detail in the chapter "The Three-Year Ministry and the Seventy Weeks of Daniel."

Whether the day began in the morning or evening during this period is not clear from Scripture. Concerning a fast it was said, "do not eat or drink for three days, night or day," (Esther 4:16) which suggests that the day was shifted to beginning in the evening. Also, did the Jews shift their new year to begin only after the Vernal Equinox and use the Babylonian method of intercalating an extra month? The Exile calendar is not clear and may only have been used in a period of transition. The calendar of the Jews who fled to Egypt can be better determined.

II. The Elephantine Papyri - Fifth Century BCE

Elephantine Island is in the Nile near Aswan in upper Egypt. During the fifth century BCE there was a colony of Jewish soldiers there. They were part of a military garrison protecting the southern limits of the Persian Empire. Almost a hundred Aramaic documents have been recovered from there. Outside the Bible these provide the earliest documentation of the political, economic, social, and religious life of a Jewish community from the southern Diaspora. Many of these are double-dated legal documents that give some insight into calendar reckoning of the period. The papyri from Elephantine demonstrate that the post-exile Jews used a calendar similar to the Babylonian calendar.9

Many of these legal documents include the required Egyptian civil year date and the regnal year of the current Persian king according to non-accession reckoning based on the Egyptian calendar. The two earliest papyri dated in 494 and 483 BCE contain only the Egyptian date, which suggests that the Jewish dating was not used that early.10 Soon thereafter a date using the new Jewish month names is also given according to the Babylonian calendar, the calendar used by their Persian overlords. Double-dated documents cover the period 471 to 402 BCE. From these it can be established that the Jews at Elephantine used reckoning similar to the Babylonian calendar. This included evening to evening days, a new year beginning in Nisan only after the Vernal Equinox, and the use of an intercalated sixth month. There was little, if any, difference between the Jewish and Persian reckoning.

The Jewish dating is given in the same sequence as contemporary portions of the Bible and Jewish documents of the second commonwealth: day-month-year.11 This was unlike the contemporary Egyptian and Neo-Babylonian documents. It was also unlike the earlier Monarchy, year-month-day, indicating that this was not a continuation of the Exodus calendar.

The dating of most of the double-dated papyri is straightforward, although a few documents may contain scribal errors. The Jewish date can only be reconciled to the known Egyptian date by consistently using sunset reckoning. The reign of the Persian king is given according to Egyptian reckoning. The regnal year is one year higher than Persian reckoning when it falls between the Egyptian new year on Thoth 1 (December during the period) and the Persian new year on Nisanu 1 (March/April). If the Jews had reckoned from Tishri then the Egyptian regnal year also would have been one year higher between Nisan and Tishri, or vise versa; this situation did not exist. Thus, the Jews reckoned the reigns of the Persian kings as from Nisan. This would be expected for a Persian military garrison.

There is one document, Kraeling 6, which has been interpreted to be reckoned from a Tishri new year.12 This conclusion is not necessary. The date is given as Pharmuthi 8 = Tammuz 8, year 3 of Darius II. This is one of only two documents that gives the year of reign after the Jewish date, instead of after the Egyptian date. However, Kraeling 6 is said to be the one exception to using the Egyptian regnal year. The reign in Egyptian year 3 by non-accession reckoning or Persian year 3 by accession reckoning would fall in 421 BCE, where no match of the two dates can be made. Pharmuthi 8 and Tammuz 8 do match in the evening of July 11 in the following year, 420 BCE. If one uses accession reckoning from Tishri then year 3 of Darius II would be in 420 BCE. Can we use this one example to establish Jewish dating from Tishri? It may be only a scribal error of writing the prior year 3 instead of 4, similar to errors on other documents. The other papyrus that gives the year after the Jewish date, Kraeling 1, can be interpreted correctly only by using the reign as according to Egyptian reckoning, and no match can be made using a Tishri new year. Would the document have been legal using only a Jewish year, and not the required Egyptian year, or at least the Persian year? This would not be expected. Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 has been used in support of this calendar using a Tishri new year, but this was shown above to be an unwarranted conclusion. One document by itself, interpreted as an exception, cannot prove that the Jews at Elephantine used a new year in Tishri.

The Jews of the period also recognized an intercalated month after Elul, or a second sixth month. For example, one Elephantine document, papyrus AP 6,13 equates Kislev 18 with Thoth [17], year 21, in the beginning of the reign of Artaxerxes. Day 17 of Thoth is restored, the only other possibilities being the seventh or fourteenth. This document must have been written shortly after the death of Xerxes in his twenty-first year and the accession of Artaxerxes I in December of 465 BCE. The Egyptian and Jewish dating match on January 2, 464 BCE. Of interest here is that according to the Babylonian calendar the previous Nisanu 1, or Nisan 1, began on March 24, 465 BCE. In that year there was an attested intercalated second Ululu after the sixth month.14 The Jews at Elephantine did intercalate a second Elul during this period, and perhaps the practice continued for some years.15

Almost all of the datable documents can be referred back to a Nisan beginning only after the Vernal Equinox exactly as the Babylonian calendar. There is one possible exception, Kraeling 8, where Tishri 6 = Payni 22, year 8 of Darius II.16 A match is achieved on October 22, 416 BCE if there was a scribal error where Payni 22 was actually the following Epiphi 22, or a match on September 22, 416 BCE if the Jewish month was Elul instead of Tishri. However, there is a match with no scribal error on September 22 if Tishri is measured by the reckoning of the Exodus calendar, where Nisan could begin before the Vernal Equinox.17 This would place Nisan 1 on March 26, 416 BCE, instead of matching Nisanu 1 on April 23 in that year. This scribe may have returned to the old reckoning, but a few following documents still refer to Babylonian dating from after the Vernal Equinox.

One document of 408 BCE to the Persian governor of Egypt informed him of the destruction of the local Jewish temple. In that document only the Jewish months are used without reference to an Egyptian date. The Jewish months must have been directly equivalent to the Babylonian/Persian months for use in a letter to a high Persian official.18

In the main the Elephantine papyri support that the Jews in the Egyptian Diaspora of the fifth century BCE used a calendar identical with the Babylonian calendar. The few possible exceptions, perhaps from scribal errors, do not support the use of a calendar similar to the Jews of the northern Diaspora, with its fall new year and no intercalated sixth month. An open question is whether the calendar on the papyri was used only for civil purposes,19 or was it also used for religious observances?

III. The Second Temple Calendar - Fifth Century BCE

The use of the Exile calendar that matched the Babylonian calendar must have been of short duration. Although the year still began in the spring, that calendar was different from the earlier Exodus calendar and all the Jewish calendars that followed. Jewish tradition has long denied the use of an intercalated second Elul (Rosh Hashanah 12b), but by the fifth century BCE this was a permanent feature of the Babylonian calendar. As will be discussed below, there is evidence from the first century CE that there was a "shift" in the Greek Syro-Macedonian calendar so that it matched the Jewish calendar instead of the Babylonian calendar. This implies that the Babylonian and Jewish calendars were already different, and the change probably occurred before Alexander the Great ever set troops in the Middle East.

The Jews who returned to Jerusalem did shift from the Exile calendar to what can be called the Second Temple calendar. This calendar was probably identical with the Exodus calendar excepting the names of the months. The Jews would have acquired some skill in calculating calendars from the Babylonians, but the extent of use is not known. The calendar would have included the beginning of the new year again within two weeks before or after the Vernal Equinox and the elimination of the intercalated sixth month, or second Elul. What caused the shift back to the old calendar reckoning?

After the return of the exiles from Babylon, they completed the Second Temple on Adar 3 of the sixth year of Darius (Ezra 6:15), or March 12, 515 BCE. They observed the Passover that year during the following Nisan (Ezra 6:19), which was still equivalent to Babylonian Nisanu. However, it was not until 445 BCE that the Jews again celebrated the Feast of Booths in the seventh month (Neh. 8:14), still equivalent to Babylonian reckoning. The next Babylonian intercalated second Ululu was in 408 BCE.20 It would have been apparent to the Jews that there could not be an extra month between the Passover in the first month and the Feast of Booths in the seventh month.21 The Jews must have eliminated the second Elul in 408 BCE and would have begun the following Nisan on March 16, a month earlier than Nisanu on April 14. The return to the Exodus calendar for festivals probably occurred about this time. No following Jewish second Elul is attested. It is also probable that these Jews would have reevaluated all of their calendar reckoning. They recognized at this time that Scripture and earlier tradition called for a day beginning at sunrise, as later observed by the Sadducees. This Second Temple calendar with a sunrise day and spring new year was in effect for festivals at least until the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, except for several disruptions.

IV. The Syro-Macedonian Calendar - Fourth Century BCE

In the late fourth century BCE Alexander the Great swept out of Macedonia, and the nations of the east fell before him. Little is known of the original calendar used in Macedonia, but the concern here is with its adaptation and use in the Middle East. After the death of Alexander his generals divided his empire, and the area of Syria and eastward eventually fell to Seleukos Nikator. Seleukos used the Macedonian lunar calendar. The following years of the Seleucid Era are dated from his accession that according to Babylonian or Jewish reckoning began in the spring of 311 BCE.22 The Syrian Greeks began their new year in the fall, and his year 1 is dated from the prior fall on Dios 1, 312 BCE. The later dating of coins confirms this. The kings of the Seleucid Empire used non-accession reckoning with the first partial year counted as year one. How did the widely used Syro-Macedonian calendar relate to the Jewish Second Temple calendar and Babylonian calendar? The answer to this question is important to one proof establishing the date of Jesus' birth.

Alexander died in Babylon on the Macedonian date Daisos 29.23 A Babylonian astronomical diary dates his death as, "Month II, Babylonian day 29, king died."24 In the year Alexander died, 323 BCE, the Macedonian month of Daisos and the Babylonian month of Aiaru coincided. The conclusion was that Syro-Macedonian and Babylonian calendars were, or became, identical, excepting when the year began.

The equivalence of the two calendars was seemingly demonstrated from three dates given by Ptolemy.25 These are Thoth 27 (Egyptian) = Appelaios 5 (Syro-Macedonian), year 67 of the Seleucid Era; this calculated date of November 18, 245 BCE = Arahsamnu 5 (Babylonian). Thoth 9 = Dios 14, year 75; October 29, 237 BCE = Tashritu 14. Tybi 14 = Xanthikos 5, year 82; March 1, 229 BCE = Addaru 5. Of note is the date in 227 BCE that follows an intercalated sixth month, or second Ululu.26 This was said to establish the Greek use of the Babylonian nineteen-year cycle and system of intercalation. The Macedonians already used a day measured from evening to evening. Except for the beginning of the new year and the month names, the Macedonian calendar of the early Seleucid Era has been reputed to match the Babylonian calendar.

In the first century CE a curious thing supposedly happened in the relationship of the Syro-Macedonian calendar to that of the Jews and Babylonians. In the fifth century BCE the Exile calendar of the Jews was for a time identical with the Babylonian calendar. Using the spring new year as a point of reference, Nisanu = Nisan (see Chart III). Then, by the end of the fourth century BCE the Macedonian calendar of the Seleucid Era was supposed identical with the Babylonian calendar, except that the Syro-Macedonian version began the new year in the fall, Dios 1. This made Artemisios = Nisanu. There is no verified equation of Artemisios = Nisan of the Jews during that Period. However, as will be discussed below, near the end of the first century CE Josephus equated Xanthikos = Nisan. This indicates a one-month shift of one or two of the three calendars. This calendar shift seems confirmed by Josephus by such as, "the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus." (Wars VI 5:3) What happened to the calendar alignments?

The Syro-Macedonian calendar was supposedly equivalent to the Babylonian calendar from the time of Alexander down to the early first century CE. The sequence of coins from 15/16 CE from Seleucia27 on the Tigris fits the earlier correlation derived from Ptolemy, as discussed above. The coins are dated with the month and year from the reign of Artabanus II and to years 326 and 327 of the Seleucid Era. The coins contain the marks of two different controllers of the mint, which allows the sequence of the coins and dates to be laid out. The coins demonstrate that in 15 CE Artemisios = Nisanu of the Babylonians.

In Seleucia, again, were found another group of coins dated with both the year and month from the reign of Gotarzes II.28 These are dated to year 357 of the Seleucid Era, or 46/47 CE. These coins are in an uninterrupted sequence from Xanthikos to Hyperberataios only if the date "shift" has taken place and Xanthikos = Nisanu of the Babylonians. If the year was begun with Artemisios then there would be an unlikely break in the coin sequence with Xanthikos at the end. These few examples suggest that the Syro-Macedonian calendar shifted from the Babylonian months and became equivalent to the Jewish months sometime between 15 and 46 CE. The difference would still have been that the Jewish calendar began in the spring and the Syro-Macedonian calendar began in the fall.

At Dura-Europos a horoscope was found scratched on a plaster wall.29 From this it was found that Panemos 1 fell on June 25-26 in 176 CE. This date would have begun the fourth Babylonian month, Duzu. This would equate Xanthikos = Nisanu, again confirming the later shift.

The suggested reasons for the "shift" of the Syro-Macedonian calendar are speculative. These include a single unnecessary intercalation30 or confusion from the new calendar introduced by the Romans. The change has been suggested to have taken place earlier in the court at Antioch, but took time to spread to outlying areas. The early Christian community at Antioch contained many Jews. It was large and active, and their use of a Jewish version of the calendar may have influenced such a change.

However, it is here proposed that there was no shift of the Syro-Macedonian calendar and that the months were always about equivalent to the months of the Jewish Second Temple calendar. The problem lies in the Babylonian, Syro-Macedonian and Jewish months being about equal when the new moon occurs after the Vernal Equinox, from about March 24 onwards. However, when the new moon was observed during the prior two weeks, the months of the Syro-Macedonian and Jewish calendars occurred one month ahead of the Babylonian months. The presumed equivalence of the Syro-Macedonian calendar with the Babylonian calendar is derived from the initial equivalence of Daisos with Aiaru in 323 BCE, the year Alexander died. In that year Nisan 1 or Xanthikos 1 occurred on March 16, while Nisanu 1 began on April 15. Based on the assumption that this relationship always existed between the Babylonian and Syro-Macedonian calendars the dates given by Ptolemy were presumed to relate to Babylonian months. This was probably not so. The relationship of the seven dates discussed above are reinterpreted in Chart II. The letters "A" and "B" under "Vernal Equinox" refer to whether the new moon was visible "After" or "Before" the cutoff date of March 23/24.

Chart II
Syro-Macedonian Months from Seven Dates
Year Vernal
Equinox
Nisan1
Xanthikos 1
Nisanu 1 Syro-Macedonian
Month
Babylonian
Month
323 BCE B March 16 April 15 Daisos 29 Aiaru 29
245 BCE B March 23 April 22 Appelaios 5 Ara 5
237 BCE A March 25 March 25 Dios 14 Ara 14*
230 BCE** B March 9 April 8 Xanthikos 5 Addaru 5
15 CE B March 11 April 9 Artemisios Nisanu
46 CE A March 28 March 28 Xanthikos Nisanu
176 CE A March 29 March 29 Panemos Duzu
                    *It is here suggested that the Syro-Macedonian calendar did not acknowledge the second
                    Ululu, and the equivalent month in a normal year was Ara.
                    ** Xanthikos 5 fell in the following Julian year, 229 BCE.

The months have now been reevaluated to equate the Syro-Macedonian month in permanent alignment with the Jewish months. This approach has the same initial weakness of presuming the alignment and then using that alignment to prove itself. However, here there is the added strength of eliminating the inexplicable calendar "shift," and this alignment is fully compatible with the calendar equivalence reported later by Josephus. The permanent alignment of the Jewish and Syro-Macedonian months is shown in Chart III. The Jewish month names are aligned with the original Babylonian month names when the new moon was observed during the two weeks after the Vernal Equinox, Column A. The Jewish and Syro-Macedonian months were shifted one month earlier than the Babylonian months when the new moon was observed during the two weeks before the Vernal Equinox, column B. The "before" column was applicable from March 23 or before since the earliest day of the Babylonian new year was March 24. This chart would be representative of a year when there was no intercalated extra month. The month of intercalation is indicated by (Inc), and the New Year by (NY).

Chart III
Jewish/Syro-Macedonian/Babylonian Calendar Comparison
Jewish
Exodus
Jewish
Second Temple
Syro-Macedonian Babylonian A Babylonian B
Abib (NY) Nisan (NY) Xanthikos Nisanu (NY) Addaru (Inc)
Ziv Iyyar Artimisios (Inc) Aiaru Nisanu (NY)
Tsach Sivan Diasos Simanu Aiaru
IV Tammuz Panemos Duzu Simanu
V Ab Loos Abu Duzu
VI Elul Gorpiaios Ululu (Inc) Abu
Ethanim Tishri Hyperbertaios Tashritu Ululu (Inc)
Bul Marheshvan Dios (NY) Arahsamnu Tashritu
IX Kislev Appelaios Kislimu Arahsamnu
X Tebeth Audynaios Tebetu Kislimu
XI Shebat Peritios Shabatu Tebetu
XII (Inc?) Adar (Inc) Dystros Addaru (Inc) Nisanu

According to this arrangement the Syro-Macedonian new year on Dios 1 was equivalent to the eighth Jewish month of Marheshvan. The New Year began after the Autumnal Equinox, but not before as with Tishri. Since Josephus repeatedly equated Xanthikos with Nisan there was not likely an intercalated month between Dios and the sixth month of Xanthikos. The intercalated month was probably an extra seventh month of Artimisios. Plutarch (Alexander 16:2) related that before the Battle of Granicus in 334 BCE some of Alexander's officers wanted to avoid battle and "thought they ought to observe the customary practice in regard to the month, for in the month of Daesius the kings of Macedonia were not wont to take the field with an army. This objection Alexander removed by bidding them call the month a second Artemisius."31 The avoidance of war in Daisos may be related to remaining at home for the harvest, although the second Artimisios was probably the normal intercalary month. However, the extra month was probably not actually required in 334 BCE. Also, an Egyptian papyrus of the second Century CE gives a date in terms of "the intercalary month Artemisios."32 The Syro-Macedonian and Jewish Diaspora calendar months appear to have been about equivalent. Both may have intercalated in a nineteen year cycle that originated in Babylonia.33 Only the fall new year was one month apart, with a possible shift because of different months of intercalating. Both reckoned the day from sunset. Dating by the Seleucid Era of the Syrians was common Jewish practice, as will be seen in the books of Maccabees and Josephus. The use of the Syro-Macedonian calendar would have given weight to the Jews who supported the use of the Diaspora calendar.

V. The Jewish Seleucid Era - Second Century BCE

The Syro-Macedonian version of the Seleucid Era retained the earlier Greek new year in the fall. However, the Jews used a version of the Era that began the new year in the spring.34 This is shown in 1 Maccabees, which was originally written in Hebrew toward the end of the second century BCE. This book describes Antiochus IV Epiphanes' attempt to eradicate Judaism and his desecration of the Temple. An extant Greek version translates, "Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Kislev, in the year 148, they arose and offered sacrifice according to the law on the new altar of holocausts." (1 Macc. 4:52) This event is know today as Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, and it occurred in December of 164 BCE.35 That year was year 148 only if measured from Nisan. If measured from Tishri, or Dios, the year would have been 149. Here, the Jews continued measuring from the first month being Nisan, as evidenced by Kislev being the ninth month. First Maccabees further notes that the Feast of Booths was in the seventh month (10:21), and Shebat is named as the eleventh month (16:14). The later book of 2 Maccabees also dates from Nisan, naming Adar as the twelfth month (15:36).

The Jewish use of the Seleucid Era dated from Nisan continued through the first century CE. In about 93 CE the Jewish historian Josephus recounted the same event, when, "on the twenty-fifth of the month Casleu, which the Macedonians call Appelleus, they lighted the lamps . . . the twenty-fifth of the month Appelleus, in the 148th year, and on the 154th Olympiad." (Ant. XII 7:6) Again, this can only be the 148th year if the new year began in Nisan. December of 164 BCE fell in the first year of the 154th Olympiad. Josephus consistently dated from the spring for all his dating,36 and this after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

VI. The Jewish Calendar Controversy - Second Century BCE

After Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE his generals divided the empire. Ptolemy took Egypt and brought Judea under his control. The descendants of Seleukos Nikator ruled Syria, and they eventually gained control of Judea in 198 BCE. The Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes determined to Hellenize his territories, and he outlawed Judaism. There followed the death of many loyal Jews and finally the desecration of the Temple in 167 BCE. Then Antiochus would have initiated the use of the Syro-Macedonian calendar to replace the Second Temple calendar.37

Judas Maccabee arose against the Syrians to cleanse the Temple in 164 BCE. The rededication was on Kislev 25, the same day as the desecration and the monthly celebration of Antiochus' birthday.38 The Judeans had won for themselves a measure of independence. They would likely have returned to the Second Temple calendar at that time, perhaps over the objections of some Jews.

The trauma of the Jewish persecutions and "abomination of desolation" in the Temple led the Judeans to examine again their beliefs and practices. Where had they gone wrong to have brought God's wrath upon them? The religious debate splintered the Jews. Soon after this event Josephus noted that "there were three sects among the Jews, who had different opinions concerning human action." (Ant. XIII 5:9) The Syrian desecration of the Temple crystallized the three sects at that time.

The Sadducees strictly followed the five books of Moses, and believed that evil was due to man's own folly. They continued the use of the Second Temple calendar that was a reflection of the Exodus calendar described in the Pentateuch.

The Pharisees39 followed Scripture and the oral traditions of the elders; they believed that God sometimes intervened in world events. They used the Diaspora calendar.

The Essenes40 followed Scripture and the "revelations" of their Teacher of Righteousness, who was perhaps their messiah who heralded the End of Days.41 They believed that the will of God controlled all events. They valued asceticism and lived the lifestyle of a priest.42 They used the Jubilee calendar, as will be discussed in the following section. The Essenes have also been equated with the Hasideans who joined Judas in the revolt (1 Macc. 2:42) and later accepted Alcimis as the Priest of Aaron (1 Macc. 7:13-14). They have also been equated with the later Herodians, perhaps incorrectly.43

The calendar differences between the three sects were crucial. Each calendar often yielded different dates for the required feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. If the Second Temple calendar was again used in 164 BCE the situation probably soon changed. The High Priest, Alcimis died in the second month of year 153 (1 Macc. 9:54), or May of 159 BCE. From this time until Jonathan became High Priest in October of 152 there was no High Priest for eight years (Ant. XIII 2:3). What happened at the Temple in Jerusalem?

For two years Judah was undisturbed, and then the brothers of Judas Maccabee withdrew from Jerusalem. It has been suggested that at that time the Teacher of Righteousness of the Essenes assumed the High Priesthood, and the Jubilee calendar was used in the Temple.44 Such seems a probable solution to the control of the Temple during this period. The omission of such a fact in later Jewish writings would not be surprising, considering this might be viewed by many as another desecration, this time by Jews. Control of the Temple ritual was short lived, and many Essenes later withdrew to Qumran near the Dead Sea,45 where evidence of their calendar has been found.46

The Essene reaction is partly found in the Book of Jubilees, which was written within a decade of 150 BCE.47 It contains several tirades against those who followed a lunar calendar and rejects that calendar, noting that "I (the angel of God) shall command you (Moses) and I shall bear witness to you so that you may bear witness to them because after you have died your sons will be corrupted so that they will not make a year only 364 days." (Jubilees 6:38) The Jubilee calendar is also described in the book of 1 Enoch that was last revised48 about 110 BCE.49 The dispute over correct religious dating at the Temple was left to the Sadducees and Pharisees.

The Syrian King Alexander made Jonathan High Priest, and he "put on the sacred vestments in the seventh month of the year 160, on the festival of Tabernacles," (1 Macc. 10:21) or October of 152 BCE. The Hasmonean rulers wavered between support of the Sadducees and Pharisees. Jonathan initially sided with the Pharisees, and it is likely that the Diaspora calendar would have been adopted for use in the Temple.

The Pharisees ran afoul of the High Priest, John Hyrcanus, who ruled from 134 to 104 BCE (1 Macc. 16:14). Hyrcanus was influenced to "leave the party of the Pharisees, and abolish the decrees they had imposed on the people, and punish those that observed them." (Ant. XIII 10:6) Hyrcanus and the Sadducees would have also abolished the use of the Diaspora calendar and returned to the Second Temple calendar.

After the death of Alexander Jannais in 76 BCE his Queen Alexandra, "restored again those practices which the Pharisees had introduced, according to the traditions of their forefathers, and which her father-in-law, Hyrcanus, had abrogated." (Ant. XIII 16:2; Wars I 5:2) The bitterness of the dispute can be found in that six of the seven feast days of the Pharisees celebrate victories over the Sadducees.50 The calendar controversy was again resolved in favor of the Pharisees and the Diaspora calendar.

However, this situation was probably short lived as the rise of Aristobulus to power in 67 BCE again returned the Sadducees to favor. The priests of the Sadducees then controlled the Second Temple until its destruction in 70 CE. The probable calendars used at the Jerusalem Temple can be summarized as follows:

Chart IV
Calendars Probable at the Jerusalem Temple
Years Calendar System
ca.408-167 Second Temple calendar
167-164 Syro-Macedonian calendar
164-157 Second Temple calendar
157-152 Jubilee calendar
152-134 Diaspora calendar
134-76 Second Temple calendar
76-67 Diaspora calendar
BCE 67-70 CE Second Temple calendar
VII. The Jubilee Calendar - Second Century BCE

The Essene calendar of Jubilees was probably part of a personal "revelation," recorded within a decade or two after the cleansing of the Temple by Judas Maccabee.52 This calendar is described toward the end of the century in the book of 1 Enoch. Enoch "was the first who learned writing and knowledge and wisdom, from (among) the sons of men . . . who wrote in a book the signs of the heaven according to the order of their months, so that the sons of man might know the (appointed) times of the years according to their order, with respect to each of their months . . . And the weeks according to jubilees he recounted; and the days of the years he made known." (Jubilees 4:17-18)

This Jubilee calendar began in the spring at the Vernal Equinox (1 Enoch 72; Jubilees 7:2), but only on a Wednesday.53 It was a fixed solar calendar of 364 days in four quarters of thirteen weeks; the months sequenced as 30, 30, and 31 days per quarter (1 Enoch 72; Jubilees 6:29-32). The day began at sunset (Jubilees 49:1-2). The calendar was fixed from year to year as follows:54

Chart V
Jubilee Calendar
Months: I, IV, VII, & X II, V, VIII, & XI III, VI, IX, & XII
Wednesday
1
8
15
22
29
 
6
13
20
27
 
4
11
18
25
Thursday
2
9
16
23
30
 
7
14
21
28
 
5
12
19
26
Friday
3
10
17
24
 
1
8
15
22
29
 
6
13
20
27
Saturday
4
11
18
25
 
2
9
16
23
30
 
7
14
21
28
Sunday
5
12
19
26
 
3
10
17
24
 
1
8
15
22
29
Monday
6
13
20
27
 
4
11
18
25
 
2
9
17
23
30
Tuesday
7
14
21
28
 
5
12
19
26
 
3
10
18
24
31

This calendar fell one and a quarter days short of a solar year and would have soon receded from beginning at the Vernal Equinox, or about a month every twenty-four years. One would expect that there was some sort of intercalation to adjust periodically to the solar year, but Enoch states, "the year is completed scrupulously in 364 fixed stations of the cosmos." (1 Enoch 75:2-3) Any intercalation would upset those fixed positions. Only the 364-day year is to be used, even to all the generations. One cannot presume that an intercalation was used, and the resultant calendar shift would have contributed to the general rejection of the Essene doctrine. As such, they were probably viewed by most priests as a cult, and the Essenes imposed self-exile to the wilderness. Their polemics against the establishment and its lunar calendar are reminiscent of present day religious cults with their withdrawal from society, special insights, revelations into the dating of the advent of God's Messiah, or other supposed requirements of personal salvation.

There is no evidence of intercalation in the Jubilee calendar, but it is noted that the calendar is under "the dominion of the sun." (Jubilees 4:21; see also 2:9) Thus, several possible schemes of intercalation have been proposed. One method of adjusting for the missing one and a quarter days in the solar year has been suggested as intercalating five weeks during a twenty-eight year cycle.55 More interesting is the suggestion that after seven Sabbatical years, or forty-nine years, that seven weeks, or forty-nine days, were added, and "these days were called a `year' and named the Jubilee Year."56 However, the easiest solution would have been to add one week as required to maintain the New Year as beginning on Wednesday at about the Vernal Equinox. All of this is speculation.

The Jubilee new year began only on a Wednesday, the fourth day of creation week when God created the sun.57 Then the Passover lamb was always slain on the afternoon of Tuesday, Nisan 14. That evening began Wednesday, Nisan 15, when the Passover meal was eaten, and that day of the week was holy. However, the Essenes did not discern that the first Passover could not have occurred on Wednesday. In the year of the Exodus Zif 15 must fall on Saturday;58 this preceded the first week of manna and the first Sabbath rest (Exod. 16:1-13). If Abib in the Exodus year was thirty days long (a requirement of the Jubilee calendar), then the first Passover on Nisan 15 fell on Thursday. If it was a twenty-nine day lunar month then Passover was on Friday. The first Passover must have been on Thursday or Friday, but never on Wednesday. Yet, the Essenes condemned their fellow Jews as lost because they observed the required festivals on the `wrong' days of the week. The use of this calendar virtually disappeared after the destruction of Qumran in 70 CE.

VIII. The Jewish Legal Calendar - Second Century BCE

Legal contracts were dated from Nisan from the time of Simon the High Priest in 142 BCE. First Maccabees reads: "In the year 170, (142 BCE) the yoke of the Gentiles was lifted from Israel, and the people began to write as the dating formula in bills and contracts, `In the first year, under Simon, high priest, commander, and chief of the Jews.'" (1 Macc. 13:41-42) Further, "On the eighteenth of Elul in the year 172 (140 BCE), which is the year 3 under Simon, high priest . . . all contracts in our country be drawn up in his name." (1 Macc. 14:27, 43) Simon came to power after Tishri, in the winter (Ant. XIII 6:6-7) of 142 BCE. The reference to Elul in 140 BCE is before Tishri and would only be the second year if reckoned from a Tishri new year. If the year is reckoned from Nisan, as was the Jewish Seleucid Era, it is correctly the third year. Therefore, legal contracts according to the era of Simon were dated from Nisan.

The written record continues to support Nisan as the official beginning of the new year on into the first and second centuries of the Christian Era. This will be further discussed in the following chapter.



Notes:

1. R. A. Parker & W. H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.-A.D. 75 (Providence: Brown Univ. Press, 1956), 31.

2. Ezra noted the Feast of Booths in the seventh month (3:4-5) and that the new moon festival was still being observed. Also, Passover was in the first month (6:19).

3. Nehemiah 8:14-18 notes that the Feast of Booths was observed in the seventh month.

4. The writer of Esther equated four months with their position according to the spring new year, noted in 2:16, 3:7, 3:13, 8:9, 8:12 and 9:1.

5. Zechariah identified Shebat as the eleventh month (1:7) and Kislev as the ninth month (7:1).

6. Parker & Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, 17.

7. S. J. Horn & L. H. Wood, "The Fifth-Century Jewish Calendar at Elephantine," JNES 13 (1954), Papyrus AP6.

8. With a Tishri new year the following Nisan of his twentieth year would fall incorrectly in 444 BCE.

9. Horn & Wood, "Elephantine."

10. J. Morgenstern, "The Three Calendars of Ancient Israel," HUCA 1 (1924), 21.

11. B. Porten, Archives from Elephantine (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1968), 196-197.

12. Horn & Wood, "Elephantine," 14-16.

13. Horn & Wood, "Elephantine," 8-9.

14. Parker & Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, 6, 31.

15. B. Z. Wacholder & D. B. Weisberg, "Visibility of the New Moon in Cuneiform and Rabbinic Sources," HUCA 42 (1971), 237.

16. Horn & Wood, "Elephantine," 16-17.

17. In 416 BCE the Vernal Equinox fell on about March 27. The calendar drift that required the change to the Gregorian calendar occurs in reverse as the Julian calendar is artificially projected backwards.

18. J. Morgenstern, "Supplementary Studies in the Calendars of Ancient Egypt," HUCA 10 (1935), 111.

19. E. J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World 2nd ed. (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1980), 25.

20. Parker & Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, 6, 33.

21. In the present Jewish Civil Calendar the number of days from Nisan 1 to Tishri 1 is fixed at 177 days.

22. M. J. Geller, "Babylonian Astronomical Diaries and Corrections of Diodorus," BSOAS 53, 1 (1990), 2 places the dating of the era from Simanu or Duzu, in June/July of 311 BCE.

23. Plutarch, Alexander 75. The dates of Daisos 28 (Alexander 76) and Daisos 30 (Aristobulus) are also reported. The date of the twenty-eighth mentions that he died towards evening, and the twenty-ninth began at sunset. The thirtieth has been explained by Daisos being a 29-day month and the numbering of the day skipping from the twenty-eighth to the last day being the thirtieth. See Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World, 38.

24. A. E. Samuel, Greek and Roman Chronology (Munich: Oscar Beck, 1972), 141.

25. Samuel, Chronology, 140.

26. Parker & Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, 6, 39.

27. J. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1964), 63-65; Samuel, Chronology 143.

28. Finegan, Biblical Chronology, 66; Samuel, Chronology, 143.

29. Finegan, Biblical Chronology, 65-66; Samuel, Chronology, 142.

30. Bickerman, Chronology, 25.

31. Finegan, Biblical Chronology, 59-60.

32. Finegan, Biblical Chronology, 59-60.

33. Wacholder & Weisberg, "Visibility of the New Moon," 241.

34. The dating in 1 Maccabees is often understood that Syrian events used the Syro-Macedonian Seleucid Era from the fall of 312 BCE, and Jewish events used the Babylonian Seleucid Era from the spring of 311 BCE.  See J. A. Goldstein, I Maccabees (Garden City: Doubleday, 1976), 23-25.  However, the Jewish rather than the Babylonian months are named, and these calendars were not equivalent. The Jewish Seleucid Era from the spring would be a more accurate designation.  This writer suggests that all dating in Maccabees is reckoned from Nisan of 311 BCE.
    L. L. Grabbe, "Maccabean Chronology: 167-164 or 168-165 BCE," JBL 110, 1 (1991) attempts to establish Jewish dating from the spring of 312 BCE and the first Hanukkah in 165 BCE.  This is not consistent with Geller's (note 22) dating the era from June/July of 311 BCE.  The approach is also taken that all dating is from the fall Macedonian new year, and the first Hanukkah fell in 165 instead of 164 BCE. See J. C. Vanderkam, "Hanukkah: Its Timing and Significance According to 1 and 2 Maccabees," JSP 1 (1987).

35. Bickerman, Chronology, 189.

36. For example, Ant. III 10:3 and 10:5 for festivals, XI 5:4 for events and for reigns of rulers such as Herod the Great, XIV 14:5, XIV 16:2 and XVII 8:1 in context.

37. This has been explained as the fulfillment of "alterations in times" in Dan. 7:25.

38. J. C. Vanderkam, "2 Maccabees 6, 7A and Calendarical Change in Jerusalem," JSJ 12 (1981).

39. The Pharisees were a lay scribal movement that emerged to challenge the priests with oral traditions, but this process was not complete by the second century BCE. See S. N. Mason, "Priesthood in Josephus and the `Pharisaic Revolution'," JBL 107 (1988).  E. Rivkin, "Beth Din, Boule, Sanhedrin: A Tragedy of Errors," HUCA 46 (1975), 195 notes further that the Pharisees are nowhere to be found in Ben Sira or any pre-Hasmonean source, and the Beth Din, a purely Pharisee religious assembly, was not known before the Hasmonean Era. However, H. Mantel, "The Dichotomy of Judaism During the Second Temple," HUCA 44 (1973) concludes the split begun with Ezra, Nehemiah and the sons of Golah who returned from Babylon, who became the Hasidim and later the Pharisees.

40. The conservative Essenes were probably a direct outgrowth of the "abomination of desolation" in 167 BCE. Josephus reported the division of the sects at the time this occurred, as may be inferred from his later addition of a fourth sect at the time that sect was formed (Ant. XVIII 1:2-6; Wars II 8:1-14).  L. H. Schiffman, "The New Halakhic Letter (4QMMT) and the Origins of the Dead Sea Sect," BA 53, 2 (1990), 69 concludes that "The earliest members of the sect must have been Sadducees who were unwilling to accept the situation that came into being in the aftermath of the Maccabean revolt (162-164 B.C.E.)."  These were probably the "sons of Zadok" whom the Maccabees replaced as high priest.

41. P. R. Davies, "The Teacher of Righteousness and the "End of Days,"" RQ 49-52 (1988).  In "Qumran and Apocalyptic or Obscurum Per Obscurius," JNES 49, 2 (1990) Davies later notes the confusion in current scholarship created by associating an apocalyptic community with Qumran.

42. J. Kampen, "A Reconsideration of the Name "Essene" in Greco-Jewish Literature in Light of the Recent Perceptions of the Qumran Sect," HUCA 57 (1986).

43. W. Braun, "Were the New Testament Herodians Essenes? A Critique of an Hypothesis," RQ 53 (1989).

44. Vanderkam, "2 Maccabees," 72.

45. For example, P. R. Davies, Qumran (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983) places the establishment of an Essene community at Qumran in about 150-142 BCE. However, N. Golb, "Khirbet Qumran and the Manuscripts of the Judaean Wilderness: Observations on the Logic of Their Investigation," JNES 49, 2 (1990) notes the thin evidence that connects the Essenes with Qumran.

46. Finegan, Biblical Chronology, 44-57.

47. O. S. Wintermute, trans., "Jubilees," The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vol. 2 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), 43-44.

48. According to J. T. Milik the oldest Aramaic version dates from the late third or early second century BCE. Reported by Vanderkam, "2 Maccabees," 56.

49. Isaac, trans., "1 Enoch," The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vol. 1 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 7.

50. Found in the Megillat Ta'anit. See H. Lichtenstein, "Die Fastenrolle Eine Untersuchung Zur Judisch-Hellenistischen Geschichte," HUCA 8-9 (1931-32).

51. Ant. XIII 16:2 notes Aristobulus supported the Sadducees against his mother.

52. The Essene calendar was not a revival of the Exodus calendar or of that used during the First Temple period.  It is often projected back to explain its later use by the Qumran sect.

53. Finegan, Biblical Chronology, 53-55.

54. A. Jaubert, "Le Calendrier des Jubiles et les Jours Liturigiques de la Semaine," VT 7 (1957), 35.

55. Finegan, Biblical Chronology, 56.

56. S. Zeitlin, Studies in the Early History of Judaism (New York: KTAV, 1973), 194-211.

57. The present Jewish calendar specifies that Nisan 1 cannot fall on Sunday, Wednesday or Friday.

58. J. C. Vanderkam, "The Origin, Character, and Early History of the 364-Day Calendar: A Reassessment of Jaubert's Hypotheses," CBQ 41 (1979), 395, suggests that II 15 was a Friday and that the people complained for two days. This attempts to defeat a straightforward reading of Scripture which here establishes the exact dating of the first Sabbath. Also, there is no evidence that this modern equivocation, or the need for it, was known to the Essenes.

 

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