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A Basic Guide to the Original Biblical Calendar:

WITH SUGGESTIONS FOR MODERN PRACTICE

By Andrew Gabriel Roth

 

Wheel of Stars addresses detailed and complex elements of the Biblical calendar, but some folks prefer to learn the basic rules first.  So for those who want the basics, the following is a brief synopsis of how ancient Israel set the Hebrew years according to the constellations.  While we examine these elements, we'll also avail ourselves of the best science that modern astronomy has to offer.

 

     I also want to point out that as my publisher and I release the calendar grids, we have gone to great lengths to acknowledge some of the other calendar schools and show how their dates are calculated as well, to be open and fair, and for you to make comparisons.  Our calendar material also strives to show two levels of understanding.  One is to recover the actual Hebrew dates, the other is to explore the controversy over what some of those dates mean.  I believe it is very important to keep those concepts as separate considerations to avoid any potential confusion.

 

     With those thoughts in mind, let us proceed to some of the rules:

 

1)      The Hebrew day ends at sunset. Although technically speaking the next day actually can be said to begin at darkness or when one to three twilight stars appear.  Still, sunset is the most useful marker for tracking the solar 24 hour day without bowing down to the sun, moon and starry host as forbidden by YHWH.

 

2)      The Shabbat is separate from any other solar, lunar or constellation cycle.  YHWH didn’t need or use the sun, moon or stars to count to 7 and commands us to count the same way.  Contrary to the opinions of some speculators, we have never lost the seven day week nor have we lost the days themselves.  Yes indeed, the Romans had major difficulties keeping time, the Master of the Universe doesn't have those same difficulties.  Many issues affected the calendar days but not the days of the week.  Wednesday would still be Wednesday (as in the 4th day of the week) but perhaps the 7th day instead of 12th day etc.  Also, please bear in mind that Roman issues have no effect on how YHWH ordered His days in Scripture.

 

3)      Keep the Shabbat where you live; but the Festivals and Rosh Kodesh (beginning of the months) are on Israel time.  Since the days are marked by the setting of the sun, they have to be a local phenomenon.  However, in another sense we sanctify the moon over Jerusalem skies as well, and this is most important for Festivals like Passover and Tabernacles with are tied to the full moon in their respective months.  However, “Israel time” is with respect to setting up the 24 hour period of a Festival—it will still have to begin at the time of sunset where you live based on that day it is sanctified in Israel, by the cycles of the sun and moon.

 

4)      The Hebrew month always begins in darkness, on the sunset after the lunar conjunction.  This is a key process where sun and moon work together in harmony.  Our days must be solar and 24 hours long.  So when the month ends on day 29, the solar day simply needs to “catch” up to bring us to the first day of the new Hebrew month.  So it is not just the moon getting renewed as a “chodesh” but the sun as well. 

 

5)      As a corollary to the above, sight the moon more often than just once a month.  Put simply, if the waxing crescent of the New moon is a sign, why not also treat the waning crescent of the Old moon as a sign also?  The same idea applies to the full moons that are supposed to align with Festivals—they are signs too as is sunset!  So when you see the last day of the Old moon on day 28, observe that every 29th day the moon will not be seen.  It has gone into conjunction and doesn’t appear at its expected time.  That next sunset is the new month.

 

6)      In modern practice, it comes down to this:  Look up the time of the lunar conjunction (adjusted for Jerusalem time, which is 2 hours after Universal Time, the most common measure used on astronomical websites like NASA and US Navy) and compare it to when the sun will set.  If it is before sunset then when that day ends in darkness, the new month will begin.  If it is after sunset, then the sunset on the following day is day 1.

 

7)      The Hebrew Solar Year runs from the sunset after the Vernal Equinox to the sunset after the next Vernal Equinox.  Again it’s the same concept we saw for the month.  The difference is that it is the sun and stars that are working together as opposed to the sun and the moon for the month.  So when the stars tell us spring is here, the day that happens must “catch up” and end the year at sunset.  The length of the tropical year is exactly the same whether reckoning its start at midnight or at sunset.  The year, also like the month and the Shabbat, is based on where you live since sunset is again marking the time.

 

8)      The Hebrew Lunisolar Year is based in aligning the New Moon of spring as defined as the New Moon nearest to the Vernal Equinox.  1 Abib can happen either before or after the VE but Passover cannot ever happen before the VE; it is, as Josephus said, regulated by the lunar cycle that is in the sign of Aries which back then was the first sign of spring.  It is irrelevant what modern astrology marks now; rather, the first star sign of spring is fixed (now Pisces) and that’s what the Hebrew calendar synchronizes to.

 

9)      Modern Tip: Look up the moment of the VE and then take the nearest New Moon.  If the New Moon happens on March 16th that is only an average of five days off from the VE so that’s a no-brainer.  However a New Moon can happen as late as April 4th and still be 1 Abib as well.  When we do this, the barley will be ripe, but remember the barley didn’t set the time of Pesach for the first 40 years of its existence and was ruined the year of the Exodus, so it is the result of spring not the cause of spring.

 

10)  The 19 year Metonic Cycle was never endorsed by YHWH, but it can be properly used and patched.  This is the heart of the Rabbinic calendar, but the cycle itself was discovered in Athens and Babylon and adapted for Jewish use much later.  The Metonic can lose a day every 218 years, which is better than the Julian calendar that most of us abandoned long ago.  Metonic can also create problems occasionally by allowing 1 Abib to happen in late February, or, for Pesach (Passover) to touch the last few days of April.  Neither is correct as they will choose New Moons that are not nearest to the VE.

 

11)  The VE trumps all.  In terms of ancient reckoning, they would have recognized that occasionally the arrival of the Vernal Equinox can interfere with the way we count the Hebrew month.  While extremely rare, this happened in 30 CE, the year Y’shua Mashiyach was crucified.  The VE came and prevented a 30th day for Adar from happening.  We know this had to be the case because without it happening there is no Sign of Jonah timeline (Matthew 12:38-40) and Y’shua goes up to the stake on a Friday afternoon otherwise, contradicting his own words!

 

 

12)   The omer count is a fixed 50 day count from the 16th of Abib.  However, 6 Sivan is only an average.  The Hebrew months are not always going lock step between 30 and 29 fixed days but are tied to the cycles of the moon and their relationship to sunset.  Occasionally we get two 29 or 30 day months back to back, but never more than two.  As a result, 6 Sivan is not the guaranteed time of Shavuot, but the 50th day after the 16th of Abib is.  This is why the ancient traditions are unanimous about the 50 day length and the starting point, but the fixing of 6 Sivan only happens after the advent of the Rabbinic calendar.  Other rules, like the setting of Purim to keep it from hitting on a particular week day, must be left to the due diligence of the Beit Dinnim and each individual congregation.

 

 

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