Festive Cycles and Arrangement of the Calendar
As talked about in the previous text, the signal fires created a serious inconvenience for the Jews because their enemies lit beacons to deceive them. At a distance, one could not tell if the signal was genuine or a fake. To solve this problem, special messengers were sent to announce the new moon. However, these were dispatched only 7 times in the year, just in time for the various feasts. The special times they were dispatched are as follows:
in Nisan, for the Passover on the 15th
in the following month Iyar, for the ‘Second Passover’, which was kept by those who had been debarred from the first one
in Ab (the fifth month), for the fast on the 9th, on account of the destruction of Jerusalem
in Elul (the sixth month), on account of the approaching solemnities of Tishri
in Tishri (the seventh month), for its festivals
in Kislev (the ninth month), for the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple
in Adar, for Purim
This practice practically eliminated all their difficulties except for the month of Elul. They wanted to be sure that they got the dates right for the festivals the next month, and it was very important for them to know if Elul had 29 or 31 days. The Rabbis finally ruled that Elul should be regarded as a month of twenty-nine days, since it had been that way since the days of Ezra. Then they ruled accordingly that New Year’s Day would be the day after the 29th of Elul. To make sure that they had the right day, however, it soon became the practice to keep New Year’s Day on two successive days. Since this time, this practice has been extended into a duplication of all the great feast days, with the exception of fasts. This practice still continues although the calendar has long been fixed, and they don’t have to worry about errors anymore.
Names of the Hebrew Months
The present Hebrew names of the month are supposedly derived from the Chaldee, or Persian, language. They don’t appear before the return from Babylon. Before that, the months were named only after their numbers, or else from the natural phenomena characteristic of the season. Many of these names are mentioned in the first books of the Old Testament.
Also, they divided the year into two seasons. The ecclesiastical season commenced with the month Nisan (the end of March or beginning of April), or about the spring equinox. The civil season commenced with the seventh month, or Tishri, and corresponded to the autumn equinox.
They also arranged their weights, measures, and money into civil and sacred measures. The Rabbis also added that for tithing the herds and flocks, the year was reckoned from Elul to Elul, and for taxing fruits from Shebat to Shebat.
The Eras Used by the Jews
The earliest era that was adopted by them was their deliverance from Egypt. During the reigns of the Jewish kings, time was computed from the year of their accession to the throne. After their return from exile, the Jews dated their years according to the Seleucidic era, which began in 312 B. C., or 3,450 from the creation of the world. For a short time after the war of independence, it became customary to reckon dates from the year of the liberation of Palestine. However, for a very long period after the destruction of Jerusalem (till 12th Century A. D.), the Seleucidic era remained in common use, when it finally gave place to the present mode of reckoning among the Jews, which dates from the creation of the world.
The week was divided into seven days. The Sabbath was the seventh day, and was the only day that had a specific title assigned to it. The rest of the days were just called by numerals.
Their day was considered as being from sunset to sunset. When they could see the first three stars appear in the sky, then they considered it the beginning of the next new day. Before the Babylonian captivity, the day was divided into morning, mid-day, evening, and night; but during their stay in Babylon, they adopted the division of the day into twelve hours, whose duration varied with the length of the day.
Their longest day consisted of 14 hours, 12 minutes; while the shortest consisted of 9 hours 48 minutes. So the difference was more than 4 hours, depending on the season.
On an average, the first hour of the day corresponded nearly to our 6 A. M.; the third hour to our 9 A. M.; the close of the sixth hour, to our mid-day; and at the eleventh hour, the day neared its close.
The Romans reckoned the hours from midnight, a fact which explains the apparent discrepancy between John 19: 14, where, at the sixth hour (of Roman calculation), Pilate brings Jesus out to the Jews. The Romans divided the night into four watches, while the Jews had three watches. The Jews subdivided the hour into 1,080 parts (chlakim), and again each part into 76 moments.
The Megillath Taanith, or ‘roll of fasts’, is probably the oldest Aramean post-biblical record that has been found preserved. It makes very plain 35 days in the year when fasting and public mourning were not allowed. One of those was the day of Herod’s death ! There is much more detail on Herod in the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah Archives on my Home Page.
Below is a calendar that shows the occurrence of the various Jewish Festive Days.