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New Moon

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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The term νεομηνία or νουμηνία (‘new moon’) as the name of a festal season occurs only once in the NT-Colossians 2:16. It is not used as a purely chronological term.

The Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] , it may be observed, uses a simple transliteration (neomenia) in the passage named, as also in some other places (e.g. Isaiah 1:13, Judith 8:6), whilst elsewhere it uses calendae as = ‘new moon’ (e.g. in 1 Samuel 20). The usage is not altogether consistent, but a rough distinction is perhaps intended between ‘new moon’ as denoting a festival and as simply a note of time. In ancient times the beginning of the month was proclaimed amongst the Jews by the high priest or president of the Sanhedrin when two witnesses had satisfactorily testified to the appearance of the new moon. The Romans had a parallel custom in the proclamation of the month by the Pontifex Maximus. Hence in this respect calendae, the Roman name for the first day of the month (the day of proclamation), was a good Lat. equivalent for the Hebrew rôsh-hâ-ḥôdesh, or ‘new moon.’ Note also Tertullian’s use of neomenia when referring to the new moon as a festival (de Idol. 14). ‘In later usage νουμηνία signifies generally the first day of the month, even when, according to the calendar employed, the months did not begin with the new moon’ (Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] II. i. 377).

The NT stands in great contrast to the OT in its paucity of reference to the ‘new moon.’ ‘New moon’ figures in the OT as a familiar and important season in the time-scheme of Hebrew life (see 1 Samuel 20, 2 Kings 4:23) with some holiday relaxations and customs associated with it. So was it with other peoples from earliest times.

It would be to go beyond our limits to venture on a general treatment of the subject here. For this see, inter alia, the article ‘New Moon’ by I. Abrahams in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) . Still it may be said that a reference to the moon and its changes naturally and inevitably entered into the first attempts of primitive man to mark periods of time. After the immediate and primary distinction between day and night, arising from the regular appearance and disappearance of the sun, the recognition of the month as the period covered by the surprising and ever-fascinating phenomena of the moon’s phases marked an important step in advance. And when due study of the procession of the seasons and the attendant solar phenomena led to the measuring of a year, the moon-period lost none of its importance. The ancients, however, soon found themselves confronted with puzzling problems in the effort to relate the months to the years. The fixed idea that every month must begin with the appearance of the new moon brought endless difficulties in its train. It took centuries to substitute the calendar month for the lunar month and secure as nearly as possible that the year should comprise twelve monthly periods preserving the same order of succession and a fixed correspondence with the seasons.

We can understand, too, how primitive man must instinctively have made the reappearance of the moon after obscuration an occasion for festal rejoicing. Even now we feel the charm of the first sight of the delicate pale crescent in the sky. And how natural it was that the celebration of the new moon should enter into the religion of nature-worshipping men, to whom the sun and moon were veritable gods and the terms ‘King of Day’ and ‘Queen of the Night’ more than poetic expressions! (As to the latter, we must not forget that the moon was regarded amongst some people as a masculine deity, as the German der Mond bears witness. Grimm [Teutonic Mythology, ed. Stallybrass, London, 1882-88, ii. 704] quotes an old Norse incantation, calling upon ‘New Moon, gracious Lord’ (cf. article ‘Moon’ in Chambers’s Encyc. vol. vii. (1891)].) Traces of such deification are sufficiently present in the OT: see Job 31:26 f., 2 Kings 23:5, etc.; whilst the phrasing of Genesis 1:16 in the creation-story surely echoes such conceptions of more ancient days.

The incorporation of the New Moon as a festival-both a holy day and a holiday-among Jewish feasts is best explained as the effort of monotheism to take up institutions already long existing, free them from objectionable features, and make them subservient to a worthier faith. Cf. the action taken by the Christian Church in relation to pagan festivals (e.g. Yule-Christmas), overlaying them with new religious associations.

When we consider how conspicuously the Sabbath figures in the NT, and what traces we have of such great annual feasts as Passover and Pentecost, it is singular that, save for a passing reference in Colossians 2:16 and Galatians 4:10, we have no hint that a monthly festival was still observed in apostolic times. We might have concluded but for these passages that the New Moon, so prominent in the OT, had fallen into desuetude. But in St. Paul’s phrasing in these two passages (especially Colossians 2:16) there reappears the three-fold classification of Jewish feasts which had become fixed in post-Exilic times (see Ezekiel 45:17, ‘in the feasts and in the new moons and in the sabbaths’; cf. Ezra 3:5). The classification plainly rests on the fundamental time-scheme: year, month, week (see also the particularly interesting grouping in Judith 8:6 : ‘the eves of the sabbaths, and the sabbaths, and the eves of the new moons, and the new moons, and the feasts and joyful days of the house of Israel’). St. Paul would not have spoken of ‘new moon’ and ‘months’ were it not that, as we know, the proclamation of new moon and the attendant celebrations were still regular features of Jewish life. But it is a noticeable fact that whilst the Christian Church developed a system of festivals closely parallel to that of the Jews in some of its outstanding features (Sabbath, Passover, Pentecost), it provided no counterpart to the festival of the New Moon.

In the 4th cent., it is true, we find St. Chrysostom vigorously denouncing Christians for observing the neomenia (Hom. 23: ‘in Kalendas’ or ‘in eos qui novilunia observant’-quoted by Joseph Bingham, Antiquities, XVI. iv. 17 [Works, new ed., vi. (Oxford, 1855) 226 n. [Note: . note.] ]). He complains of their giving way to intemperance and excess and practising divination in the hope of good luck. The things he condemns, however, were pagan, not Jewish. There is no reason to suppose that St. Paul in deprecating the observance of seasons in this way had the thought of such disorderly practices in his mind. So far as divination, e.g., is concerned, its connexion with the new moon must be of very ancient origin. Babylon had her ‘monthly prognosticators’ (Isaiah 47:13). Some quaint innocuous superstitions still lingering in folk-lore and connected with the first sight of the new moon, notions of good and bad luck attending thereon, no doubt have descended from some such ancient, far-off source. But Judaism has no trace of such features in the history of its New Moon celebration.

The Apostle is thinking of nothing but the observance of a system of times and seasons (the religious observance even) such as the Jews had, and its introduction into the life of the new community. He is apprehensive (‘I am afraid’ [Galatians 4:11]) lest harmful results should follow, imperilling their Christian liberty and bringing them under a ‘yoke of bondage.’ The Epistle to Diognestus, iv. (early 2nd cent.?) speaks disparagingly, if not contemptuously, of Jewish ‘superstitions relating to the Sabbaths … and their fancies about fasting and the new moon,’ and shows that St. Paul’s warning was not lost upon Christians of the following generations. Still the Apostle’s own doctrine of liberty as touching the observance or non-observance of such seasons (see Romans 14) must not be overlooked; and in Colossians 2:16, as Hort points out (Judaistic Christianity, Cambridge, 1894, p. 123), ‘the ceremonial distinctions do not appear to be condemned in themselves: the Colossians are simply warned in a strain hardly different from that of Romans 14 not to allow anyone to “judge” them in such.’

As to the mode of observing the day of the new moon in NT times, we know that (as in the case of other festivals) substantial changes had taken place as compared with what the OT reveals concerning earlier days. There was a time when, like the Sabbath, New Moon was observed by cessation of business (Amos 8:5) and labour, although no Pentateuchal legislation provides for this. In the post-Exilic period this disappears except in the case of women. A faint and curious trace survives to this day in the fact that the Jewish house-wife, whilst freely discharging such domestic duties as cooking, makes a point of refraining from needlework and employments related to her personal convenience on the day of the new moon. Again, with the fall of the Temple, the appointed sacrificial rites (Numbers 28:11 ff.) disappeared. At the same time the silver trumpets (Numbers 10:10, Psalms 81:3) ceased to sound. The only trumpet-blast that has since been heard in the synagogues of Jewry is that of the shôphâr, which is still sounded on the great New Moon, ‘the first day of the seventh month,’ i.e. the New Year’s Day of the civil year. It is pre-eminently a call to repentance.

No doubt St. Paul knew the sound of the shôphâr well; but there does not seem enough ground for suggesting, as Edersheim does, that Ephesians 5:14 (‘Awake!’) was inspired by the thought of that call, or that in Ephesians 5:8 we have an underlying reference to the appearance of the new moon (The Temple: its Ministry and Services, London, 1908, ch. xv. p. 300 f.).

The synagogue prayers now used for New Moon reflect in some portions, notwithstanding changes introduced in later periods, the usage of the synagogue whilst yet the Temple was standing. The constant petition that God will ‘establish a new altar on Zion’ so that ‘the burnt-offering of the New Moon’ may again be offered, is arrestive and may even seem pathetic to a Christian mind. But all can feel the beauty of the prayer: ‘Renew this month unto us for good and for blessing, for joy and gladness, for salvation and consolation, for support and peace, for pardon of sin and forgiveness of iniquity.’

Literature.-Besides the works alluded to in the article, see articles ‘New Moon’ and ‘Time’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ; ‘New Moon’ and ‘Month’ in Encyclopaedia Biblica ; ‘Festivals and Fasts (Hebrew)’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics ; ‘New Moon’ in Jewish Encyclopedia ; J. Meinhold, Sabbat und Woche im Alten Testament, Göttingen, 1905; E. Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] I. ii. [Edinburgh, 1890] App [Note: pp Appendix.] . III.; K. Wieseler, A Chronological Synopsis of the Four Gospels, Eng. translation , Cambridge, 1864, p. 401 ff.

J. S. Clemens.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'New Moon'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​n/new-moon.html. 1906-1918.
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