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Names of the Hebrew Months
The present Hebrew names of the months are variously supposed to be derived from the Chaldee, or from the Persian language. They certainly do not 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 seasons, as Abib, 'sprouting,' 'green ears,' for the first (Exo 13:4; 23:15; Deut 16:1); Ziv, 'splendor,' 'flowering,' for the second (1 Kings 6:1); Bul, 'rain,' for the eighth (1 Kings 6:38); and Ethanim, 'flowing rivers,' for the seventh (1 Kings 8:2). The division of the year into ecclesiastical, which commenced with the month Nisan (the end of March or beginning of April), or about the spring equinox, and civil, which commenced with the seventh month, or Tishri, corresponding to the autumn equinox, has by many likewise been supposed to have only originated after the return from Babylon. But the analogy of the twofold arrangement of weights, measures, and money into civil and sacred, and other notices seem against this view, and it is more likely that from the first the Jews distinguished the civil year, which began in Tishri, from the ecclesiastical, which commenced in Nisan, from which month, as the first, all the others were counted. To this twofold division the Rabbis add, that for tithing the herds and flocks the year was reckoned from Elul to Elul, and for taxing fruits often from Shebat to Shebat.
The Eras Used By the Jews
The earliest era adopted by the Jews was that which was reckoned to commence with the 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 312 BC, 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 (probably, till the twelfth century AD), 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. To commute the Jewish year into that of our common era we have to add to the latter 3,761, always bearing in mind, however, that the common or civil Jewish year commences in the month of Tishri, i.e. in autumn.
The week was divided into seven days, of which, however, only the seventh--the Sabbath--had a name assigned to it, the rest being merely noted by numerals. The day was computed from sunset to sunset, or rather to the appearance of the first three stars with which a new day commenced. Before the Babylonish captivity, it was divided into morning, mid-day, evening, and night; but during the residence in Babylon, the Hebrews adopted the division of the day into twelve hours, whose duration varied with the length of the day. The longest day consisted of fourteen hours and twelve minutes; the shortest, of nine hours forty-eight minutes; the difference between the two being thus more than four hours. On an average, the first hour of the day corresponded nearly to our 6 a.m.; the third hour (when, according to Matthew 20:3, the market-place was full), to our 9 a.m.; the close of the sixth hour, to our mid-day; while at the eleventh, 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, while at the third hour of the Jewish, and hence the ninth of the Roman and of our calculation (Mark 15:25), He was led forth to be crucified. The night was divided by the Romans into four, by the Jews into three watches. The Jews subdivided the hour into 1,080 parts (chlakim), and again each part into seventy-six moments.
For the convenience of the reader, we subjoin a calendar, showing the occurrence of the various festive days--
1--Nisan Spring Equinox, end of March or beginning of April. Day 1. New Moon. Day 14. The preparation for the Passover and the Passover Sacrifice. Day 15. First Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Day 16. Waving of the first ripe Omer. Day 21. Close of the Passover.
2--Iyar Day 1. New Moon. Day 15. 'Second,' or 'little' Passover. Day 18. Lag-le-Omer, or the 33rd day in Omer, i.e. from the presentation of the first ripe sheaf offered on the 2nd day of the Passover, or the 15th of Nisan.
3--Sivan Day 1. New Moon. Day 6. Feast of Pentecost, or of Weeks--7 weeks, or 50 days after the beginning of the Passover, when the two loaves of first ripe wheat were 'waved,' commemorative also of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.
6--Elul Day 1. New Moon.
7--Tishri Beginning of Civil Year Day 1 &2. New Year's Feast. Day 3. Fast for the murder of Gedaliah. Day 10. Day of Atonement; Great Fast. Day 15. Feast of Tabernacles. Day 21. Close of the above. Day 22. Octave of the Feast of Tabernacles. (In the Synagogues, on the 23rd, Feast on the annual completion of the Reading of the Law.)
8--Marcheshvan or Cheshvan Day 1. New Moon.
9--Kislev Day 1. New Moon. Day 25. Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, or of Candles, lasting eight days, in remembrance of the Restoration of the Temple after the victory gained by Judas Maccabeus (BC 148) over the Syrians.
11--Shebat Day 1. New Moon.
* The Megillath Taanith ('roll of fasts'), probably the oldest Aramean post-biblical record preserved (though containing later admixtures), enumerates thirty-five days in the year when fasting, and mostly also public mourning, are not allowed. One of these is the day of Herod's death! This interesting historical relic has been critically examined of late by such writers as Derenbourg and Gratz. After their exile the ten tribes, or at least their descendants, seem to have dated from that event (696 BC). This appears from inscriptions on tombstones of the Crimean Jews, who have been shown to have descended from the ten tribes. (Comp. Davidson in Kitto's Cycl. iii. 1173.)