Biblical chronology II

 THE BIBLICAL — HEBREW YEAR

The Biblical year is the luni-solar year. It is designated “luni-solar” because this calendar uses the lunar (moon) cycles to determine months and solar (sun) cycles to govern the year. This was the method used by most of the ancient world. Solar years average 365.24219879 days or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 45.975 seconds. The revolution of the moon or the completion of a lunar cycle such as the new or full moon varies slightly in length, but averages 29.530587 days. Thus 12 lunar cycles take only about 354 days (354.367056), approximately 11 days less than the length of the solar year.


The following is part 2, a continuation of a summary of a larger work by Dr Floyd Nolen Jones (2001) entitled “The Chronology of the Bible.” This I scanned and converted to text from the back notes in my King James Easy Reading Study Bible (KingWord Press, Humboldt, TN) pp.527-530. Read part 1 first. Editorial comments are in {} brackets and my emphases in bold.


God does declare that one of His main intended purposes for the creation of the sun and moon was so that man could use them for the measuring of time. The sun allowed the setting of days and years; the moon was given to set the feasts or festivals and the months began at each new moon (Genesis 1:14-16; Psalm 104:19; etc.). Indeed, the Hebrew word “month” is derived from the word “moon”.

Having noted that the lunar year consists of but about 354 days or approximately 11 days less than the length of the solar year, the difficulty with merely using a lunar calendar becomes readily apparent. Being shorter than the solar year, the seasons would occur at earlier and earlier dates through the years. As the Jewish feasts unto the Lord were to be regulated according to the harvest of the various crops (Exodus 34:22 etc.), such a departure from the actual season would be totally impracticable as the feast days would move “backwards” each year by nearly eleven days in relation to the solar seasons. If this had been allowed, the commemoration of the Exodus from Egyptian bondage would have “wandered” throughout the four seasons and its agricultural significance would have diminished. However, a specific Biblical commandment prevented this:

Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt:) Exodus 23:15 (author’s italics)

Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night. Deuteronomy 16:1.

To offset this effect, the lunar calendar is “solarized” among today’s Jews by intercalating (inserting or adding) a month. Having been initiated by Hillel II in the fourth century AD, their present day calendar is no longer an observed calendar. In order to keep the seasons from drifting from their normal solar positions, an extra month of 29 days (known as either Veadar or Adar II) is added every third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth year of a nineteen year cycle just before the month of Nisan (Abib). The modern Hebrew colloquially refers to the thirteen-month year as a “pregnant year” and is the Jewish variant of the Gregorian leap year. By the periodic addition of this thirteenth or leap month seven times in a nineteen-year cycle, the correlation of the lunar month with the solar year is assured.

The luni-solar Biblical year in which the feasts and months were regulated by the revolutions of the moon was adjusted to the solar year, not by astronomical or mathematical calculation, but by direct observation of the state of the crops and the physical appearance of the moon. Thus the months, beginning at the new moon, were lunar but the year, which controlled the condition of the crops, was solar. It was this latter feature that kept the calendar from drifting. The resulting system was complete, faultless, and self-adjusting. It required neither periodic correction nor intercalation.

The Israelites would know when each new moon would appear, for experience would have taught man from the earliest days that it would occur the second or third day after they observed the old or “dark” moon. Biblical proof of this assertion may be seen in that David and Jonathan knew that the following day would be a new moon (1 Samuel 20:5,18). Experience would also teach them that the new moon could only be seen at sunset, near the sun as it travels toward the north.

Obviously, weather conditions would be a constant threat to a calendar based upon observation and could complicate its precision. The advantage of using lunar months is that the phases of the moon remain precisely fixed, and the observed calendar is self-correcting. As indicated by the account of the Deluge (Genesis 7:11,24; 8:3-4), some method was available by which Noah could still mark the months. Of course, this recorded data may have been given by revelation to Moses as he wrote of the account over eight centuries after the actual time of the Flood.

However, should fog, clouds or a prolonged period of overcast prevent the moon from being seen, the thirtieth day after the previous new moon could have been reckoned and the new month began on the morrow. Yet such is not certain or necessary. The correction could inherently be made as soon as visibility returned for whether one can actually see the moon on a given day or night does not alter its precise period of revolution. These revolutions remain constant over time and thus allow a precision that is unattainable in a calendar which is calculation dependent.

At the Exodus, God had the Jews change the beginning of their year from Tishri (Autumn, September–October) to Abib (Spring, March–April; Exodus 12:2; 13:4; cp. 9:31 and 23:15). The resulting Hebrew new year began when the crops reached a certain degree of maturity in the spring. “Abib” means “first ear of ripe gain” or “green ears”. Abib was the time marked by the stage of growth of the grain at the beginning of its ripening process after the stalks had hardened. The first new moon after the full ripe ear would begin the next year. Fourteen days later they killed the Passover lamb, and shortly thereafter began the harvest.

A little known yet equally significant factor assisting the Jews in regulating their calendar was that of the presence of the almond tree which was indigenous to the land of Israel. The Hebrew word for almond is “shaked” (dqv) which means the “watcher”, “awakener”, “alerter” or “to watch”. The tree was so named because it is the first to awaken from the dormant sleep or “death” of winter, putting forth its conspicuous white (or possibly roseate) blossoms in profusion around February.

The appearance of these early bright blooms, viewed in stark contrast to the landscape still shrouded by the drab shadow of winter, was the annual clarion announcing the impending arrival of spring. From their first sighting, the Jews would be alerted to observe closely the status of the corn (barley, not Indian corn) in the field with relation to the following new moons. Again, as both these occurrences were dependent upon the sun’s light and warmth as related to the tilt of the plane of the ecliptic, the year could not drift. Since plant growth and development are controlled by the sun, the Biblical month “Abib” occurs at the same solar season each year.

Accordingly, it should be seen that all the other months are lunar being determined by the first appearing of the new moon, but Abib is solar as its beginning is first determined and governed by the sun. The continual connection of the historical event of the Exodus with the agrarian month Abib by means of the luni-solar year is the Lord’s way of reminding Israel that the success of the crops is dependent on the same God who brought them out of the land of Egypt.

Moreover, although in more recent years the Jews have referred to the intercalary 13th month as Veadar, there is no such designation or even the hint of such a concept in Scripture. It is almost certain that the early Hebrews never employed such a concept in their calendar. For example, David’s assignment of the monthly captains “who came in and went out month by month throughout all the months of the year” were but twelve (1 Chronicles 27:1-15). This is confirmed by Solomon’s twelve monthly officers who looked over the Kings food supplies “each man his month in a year” (1 Kings 4:7).

Indeed, such was totally unnecessary under the conditions as described in the preceding. After seeing the almonds blossom and waiting for the first new moon after this event in which the barley was also fully ripened, the new year would begin automatically. If by the middle or end of Adar the Barley were not at the “Abib” stage of maturity (and thus ripe enough for offering the first Fruits), the following new moon would not be declared. Thus the twelfth month, called Adar (Esther 3:7, 9:1), would simply become an extended long month rather than adding a thirteenth.

The almond tree brought forth its fruit in late February or early March before the time of the Passover on the fourteenth of Abib (Nisan) and the Feast of First Fruits which took place on the following Sunday (the seventeenth, Leviticus 23:9-14, cp. 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). Thus, the almond blossoms and fruit became natural representations or symbols of spring’s resurrection victory of life over the cold bleak death of winter.

In keeping with this symbolism, God instructed that the almond tree’s nut, bud, and flower be placed on the central shaft and six branches of the golden lamp stand (menorah, Exodus 25:31-40, 37:17-24) as prophetic tokens of Messiah’s resurrection. As in the instance of Aaron’s dead staff (or rod) which brought forth buds, blossoms, and yielded almonds, God demonstrated that authority is based on resurrection power and as it was the resurrection which proved that Aaron was the chosen of the Lord even so the Lord Jesus was authenticated as Messiah (Greek = Christ: Numbers 17, cp. Romans 1:3,4).

THE ASSYRIAN SNARE

During the year when a certain Bur-Sagale was eponym, the record states that “In the month of Simanu an eclipse of the sun took place”. Astronomical computations have supposedly “fixed” this date as June 15, 763 BC (Julian, Gregorian = 7 June 764). Thus, with the epony of Bur-Sagale established, the year of every other name on the list has also presumably been “fixed” as “absolutely reliable” by merely numbering consecutively in both directions from that anchor point. Nearly all scholars consider the matter to be closed and settled beyond doubt or discussion.

This might be true if somehow we knew that the Assyrian list were complete and without error. To the contrary, at least two clear contradictions are known to exist. These arc ( l) the addition on one of the main four lists (Ca3) of the name Balatu at the year BC 787 and (2) another name (Nabu-shar-usur) which is out of sequence when compared to the other three lists. Other eponym difficulties are disclosed in the author’s aforementioned book. All these problems are merely ignored or glossed over in almost all of the pertinent literature.

Furthermore, every competent historian, archaeologist, Egyptologist, Assyriologist etc., knows that inscriptions and other ancient records are not always reliable in all details. The account given in one place may vary considerably from that found in another. An achievement of one king may be claimed by the king who succeeds him. Sometimes both opposing kings claim a victory for the battle. Specific details of a victory may grow in splendor and magnitude in the reports of succeeding years.

In point of fact, it is extremely rare that the loss of a battle or war is admitted by these nations. This stands our in bold contrast to the Hebrew record contained in the Holy Scriptures. Even the names of kings and other important personages who later came into disfavor may be completely obliterated from that nation’s historical records, only to show up in the preserved records of contiguous, contemporary kingdoms. A well known example of the latter is that of Thutmose III (c.1504–1450 BC) who had all mention of his aunt’s name (Hatshepsut, 1504–1482 BC) obliterated from the Egyptian annals. He had come to the throne as a child. She arrogated a co-regency with him at that time and dominated him for years.

511H8haGV4L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The problem is then, that at such places of apparent disagreement the trend in modern scholarship for the past 150 years has been to accept these profane, secular materials — especially that of the Assyrian Eponym List as correct. This data is then imposed upon the Biblical record and where there are discrepancies, the Biblical record is overruled and forced to fit the secular outline by the arbitrary invention of many non-Biblical co-regencies. That is, they assign the label of infallibility to the Assyrian, and to a lesser degree the Babylonian, and Egyptian historical records (such as they are where they relate to the Biblical time frame while they admit that errors exist elsewhere. All this is done as though the Hebrew record, which is by far the most complete and uninterrupted, is of no consequence as to its veracity. Even if one were to disregard the supernatural nature of the Scriptures, he would expect these men to accept the Hebrew record as valid an historical witness as the records of any other kingdom. Such treatment is, to say the very least, inconsistent with the usually accepted practice in history and archaeology.

Thus, the strong possibility that such has happened to the Assyrian records exists, though modern scholars are loathe to admit this. This is especially evident where the Assyrian and Biblical records of the Hebrew kings are not apparently in harmony (although there are places where clear agreement exists).

The net result of all this is that some have reduced the actual length of the Kingdom of Judah’s existence by 30 years, and as much as 44 (E.R. Thiele) and even as much as 53 years (W.F. Albright). These men, including Christian scholars, feel completely justified in this wicked practice because of the aforementioned eclipse calculation concerning the eponym of Bur-Sagale as being BC 763. The author is not altogether unfamiliar with such calculations having been formally introduced to the same while engaging in the discipline of astronomy in his days at the university.

As to eclipse calculations, we mention that though eclipses occur at very precise, predictable intervals — the famous eclipse of Thales recorded by Herodotus has been awarded five different dates ranging from BC 607 to 585 by different astronomers. The reader should be thereby warned of the danger and mistake of regarding such astronomically determined dates with the infallibility of a mathematical calculation.

These differences may be due to errors of observation by the historian, calculation error by the astronomer, and errors of identification on the part of the chronologist who may wrongly conclude that the dated eclipse calculated by the astronomer is the same one described by the historian. For example, it could have been cloudy, etc., so that the phenomenon which was calculated to be seen, was not seen.

Such calculations are often given as final authority but this mistake is basic. It assumes that the strength of a chain is the strongest link rather than its weakest.

THE CORRECT AND ONLY TRUE SOURCE

However, the Word of God is its own commentary and that it contains within itself all data necessary for its complete chronology. The secular-profane data may be examined along with the Scriptures, but it must not be taken as judge. It is merely a witness. The Holy Scriptures — in context — are the only and final authority on the matter. Thus, where the secular fits, its witness has spoken the truth, where there is disparity — the witness has been misunderstood or has lied.

This is the very opposite mind-set which we see in vogue before us today. Such imprudent men dare to place their intellects above the Word of the Living God and impiously sit in judgment over the Biblical account. This mind-set says in effect, if I cannot understand or ferret out the meaning of this verse or that statement from the Holy Writ, then the Scripture must be wrong. Far better and wiser would such be to humble one’s intellect and education before Him “with whom we have to do” and admit to ignorance and the need for revelation from the Spirit of that same LORD. Prudence demands this since it is these very words that will judge the souls and deeds of all when we stand before the Lord Jesus on that day.

This author’s approach, the Biblicist’s frame of reference, is that whenever possible, without violating the Scriptural data in its proper context, the integrity of the Assyrian, etc. records should he maintained. When there is an irreconcilable conflict, the integrity of the Holy Writ is placed above, not only the Assyrian, but all other documents. In such instances, it is presumed that the documents are either in error, suffer scribal emendation or their testimony has simply been misunderstood or misinterpreted by the archaeologist, Assyriologist etc. Thus, it is the Assyrian, etc. documents which require confirmation. The actual situation is that the Scriptures are needed to “throw light” upon the other nations’ chronologies, not the reverse as is the current vogue.

NISAN OR TISHRI REGNAL YEARS

Scripture clearly portrays the undeniable fact that the Judaic Monarchy used the Nisan-to-Nisan year for dating the reigns of their kings. For example, the Book of Jeremiah records:

Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him (Jeremiah 36:22).

The king referred to in the citation above is wicked Jehoiakim, son of Josiah — the very Josiah in question (Jeremiah 36:1, 9). From the verse, the “ninth” month (“Chisleu”, Zechariah 7:1) is obviously a winter month and the ninth month of Jehoiakim’s fifth year (36:9) can only fall in the winter season if the year begins on 1 Nisan, not 1 Tishri in which case the ninth month would fall around May.

Another example is to be found nearly a century earlier at the time of Hezekiah. The first month of the first year of Hezekiah’s rule over the Kingdom of Judah was also the Passover month (2 Chronicles 29:3, 17; 30:1-5, 13, 15); thus he was using the Nisan method of reckoning, not the Tishri. Indeed, 2 Samuel 11:1-2 demands that the Nisan year was being used in David’s day.

THE CURRENT SORRY STATE OF AFFAIRS

We find it most disconcerting that nearly all modern devotees of the Assyrian Academy, without the slightest reservations, now pretend they have taken a purely dispassionate scientific position and approach free of presuppositions, all the while decrying that the methodology of their Biblical opponents is founded on no more solid a foundation than “religious blind faith”, holding back progress and the cause of science and history. Again, both sides are saturated with presuppositions and are exercising great faith in their extant documents and techniques. One side admits to this, the other more or less blindly denies it. The multitudes sit on the sidelines mesmerized and intimidated. Not wishing to be deemed unprogressive, uninformed and unaware of the true state of the matter, they invariably buckle and gravitate toward the views of the Assyrian School.

Unfortunately, all the great champions of the past are dead and too few have dared to seize the fallen torch and stand in the gap to protect the faithful from the critical attacks on the validity and veracity of the Word of God. Not willing to spend the enormous time and intellectual energy necessary to become adequately informed so that their own faith will be rooted and grounded, few have been able to answer the call. As a result, most are not “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh … a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) and thus be able to “convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9). Truly, these are evil days. Christian, gird up the loins of your mind.

It is not that the Biblicist is blindly opposed to the “hard facts” of Archaeology. The Assyrian data is of considerable value, but its limitations must be taken into account. It must be seen that it is not the “facts” that are at issue. The real difficulty lies in the presuppositions, goals and hidden agendas brought to the problem. The data are the same for both camps. The crux of the matter is in the relative value each researcher places upon the various inscriptions and writings of antiquity.

The facts and implications elucidated in this section should not only be illuminating to the Biblicist, but be of equal concern to the liberal theologian and secular inquirer as well. Irrespective of worldviews and presuppositions, honest inquirers deserve the right to be privy to all data, suppositions, and opinions that they may form logical intelligent decisions.

Further Reading

2 thoughts on “Biblical chronology II

  1. Hi John,

    I love that connection between Abib, the Exodus, and the success of crops.

    Also, I had never thought of that connection between the almond tree, the lampstand, and the resurrection.

    Thanks for pointing out the five different dates for the eclipse of Thales (based on astronomical/mathematical calculations). This has implications for another recent article of yours on mathematics (which I will ask about separately).

    In the meantime, this article points out the intricacies and accuracy of the Jewish calendar. I understand that 2015 AD is equivalent to 5775 in the Jewish calendar. I also understand that the Jewish calendar is based on the number of years since creation.  However, if Ussher’s chronology is based on 4004 BC (ie just over 6000 years ago), is the age of the earth more likely to be around 5800 years, or 6000 years? Do you hold to an exact date/year of creation? 

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    • Michael, No I don’t hold to an exact date of Creation. I once did a calculation from which I got 4174 BC for the date of Creation but it depends on the accuracy of the date of Solomon’s reign. I would never be dogmatic as chronology is historical science, but something like 6000 years has passed since Creation.

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