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The Temple - its Ministry and Service #11

The Jewish Calendar


by Alfred Edersheim



'Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they
stood in the temple, What think ye, that He will not come to the
feast?' --JOHN xi. 56.


     THE symbolical character which is to be traced in all the
institutions of the Old Testament, appears also in the
arrangement of its festive calendar. Whatever classification of
the festivals may be proposed, one general characteristic
pervades the whole. Unquestionably, number "seven" marks in
Scripture the sacred measurement of time. The Sabbath is the
seventh of days; seven weeks after the commencement of the
ecclesiastical year is the Feast of Pentecost; the seventh month
is more sacred than the rest, its 'firstborn' or 'New Moon' being
not only devoted to the Lord like those of the other months, but
specially celebrated as the 'Feast of Trumpets,' while three
other festivals occur within its course--the Day of Atonement,
the Feast of Tabernacles, and its Octave. 1  Similarly, each
seventh year is Sabbatical, and after seven times seven years
comes that of jubilee. Nor is this all. Seven days in the year
may be designated as the

1 Further particulars are given in the chapter on the Feast of

most festive, since in them alone 'no servile work' was to be
done,' while on the so-called minor festivals (Moed Katon), that
is, on the days following the first of the Passover week and of
that of Tabernacles, the diminution of festive observances and of
restrictions on labour marks their less sacred character.


     Besides this general division of time by the sacred number
seven, certain general ideas probably underlay the festive
cycles. Thus we may mark two, or else three, such cycles; the one
commencing with the Paschal sacrifice and ending on the Day of
Pentecost, to perpetuate the memory of Israel's calling and
wilderness life; the other, which occurs in the seventh month (of
rest), marking Israel's possession of the land and grateful
homage to Jehovah. From these two cycles the Day of Atonement may
have to be distinguished, as intermediate between, applying to
both, and yet possessing a character of its own, as Scripture    
calls it, 'a Sabbath of Sabbatism,' 2  in which not only 'servile
work,' but as on the weekly Sabbath, labour of any kind was
prohibited. In Hebrew two terms are employed - the one, "Moed,"
or appointed meeting, applied to all festive seasons, including
Sabbaths and New Moons; the other, "Chag," from a root which
means 'to dance,' or 'to be joyous,' applying exclusively to the
three festivals of Easter, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, in which
all males were to appear before the Lord in His sanctuary. If we
might venture to render the general

1 These are: the first and the seventh days of the 'Feast of
Unleavened Bread,' Pentecost, New Year's Day, the Day of
Atonement, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and its
2 The term is rendered in the Authorised Version, 'Sabbath of
rest,' Lev. xvi.31; xxiii.32.

term "Moadim" by 'trystings' of Jehovah with His people, the
other would be intended to express the joyousness which was to be
a leading characteristic of the 'pilgrim-feasts.' Indeed, the
Rabbis expressly mention these three as marking the great
festivals; Reiyah, Chagigah, and Simchah; that is, presence, or
appearance at Jerusalem; the appointed festive offerings of the
worshippers, which are not to be confounded with the public
sacrifices offered on these occasions in the name of the whole
congregation; and joyousness, with which they connect the
freewill offerings that each brought, as the Lord had blessed
him, and which afterwards were shared with the poor, the
desolate, and the Levite, in the joyous meal that followed the
public services of the Temple. To these general characteristics
of the three great feasts we ought, perhaps, to add in regard to
all festive seasons, that each was to be a 'holy convocation,' or
gathering for sacred purposes; the injunction of 'rest' from 
'servile,' or else from all work; and, lastly, certain special
sacrifices which were to be brought in the name of the whole

     Besides the Mosaic festivals, the Jews celebrated at the
time of Christ two other feaststhat of Esther, or Purim, and that
of the Dedication of the Temple, on its restoration by Judas the
Maccabee. Certain minor observances, and the public fasts in
memory of the great national calamities, will be noticed in the
sequel. Private fasts would, of course, depend on individuals,
but the strict Pharisees were wont to fast every Monday and 
Thursday. 1

1 Because on a Thursday Moses had gone up to Mount Sinai, and
came down on a Monday, when he received for the second time the
Tables of the Law.
(A Jewish Pharisee idea, which cannot be proved in any shape or
form - Keith Hunt)

during the weeks intervening between the Passover and Pentecost,
and again, between the Feast of Tabernacles and that of the
Dedication of the Temple. It is to this practice that the
Pharisee in the parable refers 1  when boasting: 'I fast twice in
the week.'


     The duty of appearing three times a year in the Temple
applied to all male Israelites - bondsmen, the deaf, dumb, and
lame, those whom sickness, infirmity, or age rendered incapable
of going on foot up the mountain of the house, and, of course,
all in a state of Levitical uncleanness, being excepted. In
general, the duty of appearing before the Lord at the services of
His house was deemed paramount. Here an important Rabbinical
principle came in, which, although not expressed in Scripture,
seems clearly founded upon it, that 'a sacrifice could not be
offered for any one unless he himself were present,' to present
and to lay his hand upon it. 2  It followed that, as the morning
and evening sacrifices, and those on feast-days were purchased
with money contributed by all, and offered on behalf of the whole
congregation, all Israel should have attended these services.
     This was  manifestly impossible, but to represent the people
twenty four courses of lay attendants were appointed,
corresponding to those of the priests and the Levites. These were
the 'stationary men,' or 'men of the station,' or 'standing men,'
from 'their standing there in the Temple as Israel's
representatives.' For clearness sake, we repeat that each of
these 'courses' had its 'head,' and served for one week; those of
the station on service, who did not appear in Jerusalem, meeting

1 Luke xviii.12.    
2 Lev. i.3; iii. 2,8.

in a central synagogue of their district, and spending the time
in fasting and prayer for their brethren. On the day before the
Sabbath, on the Sabbath itself, and on the day following, they
did not fast, on account of the joy of the Sabbath. Each day they
read a portion of Scripture, the first and second chapters of
Genesis being for this purpose arranged into sections for the
week. This practice, which tradition traced up to Samuel and
David, 1  was of ancient date. But the 'men of the station' did
not impose hands on either the morning or evening sacrifice, nor
on any other public offering. 2  Their duty was twofold: to
represent all Israel in the services of the sanctuary, and to act
as a sort of guide to those who had business in the Temple. Thus,
at a certain part of the service, the head of the course brought
up those who had come to make an atonement on being cleansed from
any impurity, and ranged them along the 'Gate of Nicanor,' in
readiness for the ministry of the officiating priests. The 'men
of the station' were dispensed from attendance in the Temple on
all occasions when the 'Hallel' was chanted, 3  possibly because
the responses of the people when the hymn was sung showed that
they needed no formal representatives.
     Hitherto we have not adverted to the difficulties which
those who intended to appear in Jerusalem at, the feasts would
experience from the want of any fixed calendar.  As the year of
the Hebrews was "lunar,"

1 "Taan." iv. 2.
2 The only public offerings, with 'imposition of hands,' were the
scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, and the bullock when the
congregation had sinned through ignorance.
3 This happened therefore on eighteen days of the year. These
will be specified in a subsequent chapter.

not solar, it consisted of only 354 days 8 hours 48' 38". 


     This, distributed among twelve months, would in the course
of years have completely disordered the months, so that the first

month or Nisan (corresponding to the the Calendar., end of March
or the beginning of April), in the middle of which the first ripe
barley was to be presented to the Lord, might have fallen in the
middle of winter. Accordingly, the Sanhedrim appointed a
Committee of three, of which the chief of the Sanhedrim was
always president, and which, if not unanimous, might be increased
to seven, when a majority of voices would suffice, to determine
which year was to be made a leap-year by the insertion of a
thirteenth month. Their resolution 1  was generally taken in the
twelfth month (Adar), the additional, or thirteenth month
(Ve-Adar), being inserted between the twelfth and the first. A
Sabbatical year could not be a leap-year, but that preceding it
was always such. Sometimes two, but never three, leap-years
succeeded each other. Commonly, every third year required the
addition of a month. The mean duration of the Jewish month being
29 days 12 hours 44' 3 and 1/3", it required, during a period of
nineteen years, the insertion of seven months., to bring the
lunar era in accordance with the Julian.

     And this brings up yet another difficulty. The Jews
calculated the month according to the phases of the moon, each
month consisting of either twenty-nine or thirty days, and
beginning with the appear-

1 Tradition has it, that neither high-priest nor king ever took
part in these deliberations, the former because he might object
to a leap-year as throwing the Day of Atonement later into the
cold season; the king, because he might wish for thirteen months,
in order to get thirteen months' revenue in one year!

ance of the new moon. But this opened a fresh field of


     It is quite true that every one might observe for himself
the appearance of a new moon. But this would again partly depend
on the state of the weather. Besides, it left an authoritative
declaration of the commencement of a month unsupplied. And yet
not only was the first of every month to be observed as 'New
Moon's Day,' but the feasts took place on the 10th, 15th, or
other day of the month, which could not be accurately determined
without a certain knowledge of its beginning. To supply this want
the Sanhedrim sat in the 'Hall of Polished Stones' to receive the
testimony of credible witnesses that they had seen the new moon. 
To encourage as many as possible to come forward on so important
a testimony, these witnesses were handsomely entertained at the
public expense. If the new moon had appeared at the commencement
of the 30th day which would correspond to our evening of the
29th, as the Jews reckoned the day from evening to evening - the
Sanhedrim declared the previous month to have been one of
twenty-nine days, or 'imperfect.' 1  Immediately thereon men were
sent to a signal-station on the Mount of Olives, where
beacon-fires were lit and torches waved, till a kindling flame on
a hill in the distance indicated that the signal had been
perceived. Thus the tidings, that this was the new moon, would be
carried from hill to hill, far beyond the boundaries of
Palestine, to those of the dispersion, 'beyond the river.' Again,
if credible witnesses had not appeared to testify to the appear-

1 The formula used by the Sanhedrim upon declaring the new moon
was, 'It is sacred!'

ance of the new moon on the evening of the 29th, the next
evening, or that of the 30th, according to our reckoning, was
taken as the commencement of the new month, in which case the
previous month was declared to have been one of thirty days, or
'full.' It was ruled that a year should neither have less than
four, nor more than eight such full months of thirty days. 


     But these early fire-signals opened the way for serious
inconvenience. The enemies of the Jews lit beacons, to deceive
those at a distance, and it became necessary to send special
messengers to announce the new moon. These were, however,
despatched only seven times in the year, just in time for the
various feasts - in Nisan, for the Passover on the 15th, and in
the month following, Iyar, for the 'Second Passover,' kept by
those who had been debarred from the first; 1  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; and in Adar, for Purim. Thus,
practically, all difficulties were removed, except in reference
to the month Elul, since, as the new moon of the following month,
or Tishri, was the 'Feast of Trumpets,' it would be exceedingly
important to know in time whether Elul had twenty-nine or thirty
days. But here the Rabbis ruled that Elul should be regarded as a
month of twenty-nine days, unless a message to the contrary were
received - that, indeed, since the days of Ezra

1 Numb. ix.9-11.

it had always been so, and that accordingly New Year's Day would
be the day after the 29th of Elul. To make, however, assurance
doubly sure, it soon became the practice to keep New Year's Day
on two successive days, and this has since been extended into a
duplication of all the great feast days (of course, with the
exception of fasts), and that, although the calendar has long
been fixed, and error is therefore no more possible. (So "double
holy days" have fanished, as they should, for no such teaching
can be found in the laws of Moses [first 5 books of the Bible] -
Keith Hunt)


     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; 1 
Ziv, 'splendour,' 'flowering,' for the second; 2  Bul, 'rain,'
for the eigth; 3  and 'Ethanim, 'flowing rivers,' for the
seventh. 4  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

1 Ex. xiii.4; xxiii. 15; Deut. xvi.I.
2 1 Kings vi.1.
3 1 Kings vi.38.    
4 1 Kings viii.2.

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 division of "religious" and "secular" or "civil" from
"ecclesiastical" year is supported by certain verses in the law
of Moses - Keith Hunt)


     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 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.  
(There is no Scripture support to believe creation was in 3,450
B.C. - Keith Hunt)

     However, for a very long period after the destruction of
Jerusalem (probably, till the twelfth 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. 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 Internet will furnish you with information as to what year
the Pharisee Jews believe it is today, from creation, in the year
you may be reading this - Keith Hunt)


     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 (Again - the teaching of
some religious Jews, no Scripture backs it - Keith Hunt).
     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 Matt. xx.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 xix.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, 1  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 readerm we subjoin a calendar,
showing the occurence of the various festive days....

(Which I have not reproduced, as the reader can go on the
Internet and easily find the Jewish Calendar - Keith Hunt)


To be continued with "The Passover"


Edersheim gives here only a very brief summation of the Jewish
calendar. I have given on this Website in-depth studies to the
"Calendar Question" and hence who has the authority over the
calendar, which means also the setting on each first day of the
month, and further to that, the setting of how to figure the
Feast days of the Lord. The subject of the correct counting to
Pentecost is answered in studies under the section on God's
Festivals found on this Website.

Keith Hunt

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