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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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SAhâneh (שָׁנָה, Strong's #8141), “year.” This word has cognates in Ugaritic, Akaddian, Arabic, Aramaic, and Phoenician. Biblical Hebrew attests it about 877 times and in every period.

This Hebrew word signifies “year”: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years” (Gen. 1:14—the first biblical occurrence of the word). There are several ways of determining what a “year” is. First, the “year” may be based on the relationship between the seasons and the sun, the solar year or agricultural year. Second, it can be based on a correlation of the seasons and the moon (lunar year). Third, the “year” may be decided on the basis of the correlation between the movement of the earth and the stars (stellar year). At many points the people of the Old Testament period set the seasons according to climatic or agricultural events; the year ended with the grape and fruit harvest in the month Elul: "[Thou shalt keep] the feast of harvest, the first fruits of thy labors, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labors out of the field” (Exod. 23:16).

The Gezer calendar shows that by the time it was written (about the tenth century B.C.) some in Palestine were using the lunar calendar, since it exhibits an attempt to correlate the agricultural and lunar systems. The lunar calendar began in the spring (the month Nisan, MarchApril) and had twelve lunations, or periods between new moons. It was necessary periodically to add a thirteenth month in order to synchronize the lunar calendar and the number of days in a solar year. The lunar calendar also seems to have underlain Israel’s religious system with a special rite to celebrate the first day of each lunar month (Num. 28:11-15). The major feasts, however, seem to be based on the agricultural cycle, and the date on which they were celebrated varied from year to year according to work in the fields (e.g., Deut. 16:9-12). This solar-agricultural year beginning in the spring is similar to (if not derived from) the Babylonian calendar—the names of the months are Babylonian derivatives. These 2 systems, therefore, appear side by side at least from the time of Moses. An exact picture of the Old Testamem “year” is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Year'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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