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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

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The Hebrews had always years, of twelve months each. But at the beginning, and in the time of Moses, these were solar years, of twelve months; each having thirty days, except the twelfth, which had thirty-five. We see, by the reckoning that Moses gives us of the days of the deluge, Genesis vii, that the Hebrew year consisted of three hundred and sixty-five days. It is supposed that they had an intercalary month at the end of one hundred and twenty years; at which time the beginning of their year would be out of its place full thirty days. But it must be owned, that no mention is made in Scripture of the thirteenth month, or of any intercalation. It is not improbable that Moses retained the order of the Egyptian year, since he himself came out of Egypt, was born in that country, had been instructed and brought up there, and since the people of Israel, whose chief he was, had been for a long time accustomed to this kind of year. But the Egyptian year was solar, and consisted of twelve months of thirty days each, and that for a very long time before. After the time of Alexander the Great, and the reign of the Grecians in Asia, the Jews reckoned by lunar months, chiefly in what related to religion, and the order of the festivals. St. John, in his Revelation, Revelation 11:2-3; Revelation 12:6; Revelation 12:14; Revelation 13:5 , assigns but twelve hundred and sixty days to three years and a half, and consequently just thirty days to every month, and just three hundred and sixty days to every year. Maimonides tells us, that the years of the Jews were solar, and their months lunar. Since the completing of the Talmud, they have made use of years that are purely lunar, having alternately a full month of thirty days, and then a defective month of twenty-nine days. And to accommodate this lunar year to the course of the sun, at the end of three years their intercalate a whole month after Adar; which intercalated month they call Ve-adar, or the second Adar.

The beginning of the year was various among different nations: the ancient Chaldeans, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Armenians, and Syrians, began their year about the vernal equinox; and the Chinese in the east, and Latins and Romans in the west, originally followed the same usage. The Egyptians, and from them the Jews, began their civil year about the autumnal equinox. The Athenians and Greeks in general began theirs about the summer solstice; and the Chinese, and the Romans after Numa's correction, about the winter solstice. At which of these the primeval year, instituted at the creation, began, has been long contested among astronomers and chronologers. Philo, Eusebius, Cyril, Augustine, Abulfaragi, Kepler, Capellus, Simpson, Lange, and Jackson, contend for the vernal equinox; and Josephus, Scaliger, Petavius, Usher, Bedford, Kennedy, &c, for the autumnal. The weight of ancient authorities, and also of argument, seems to preponderate in favour of the former opinion.

1. All the ancient nations, except the Egyptians, began their civil year about the vernal equinox: but the deviation of the Egyptians from the general usage may easily be accounted for, from a local circumstance peculiar to their country; namely, that the annual inundation of the Nile rises to its greatest height at the autumnal equinox.

2. Josephus, the only ancient authority of any weight on the other side, seems to be inconsistent with himself, in supposing that the deluge began in the second civil month, Dius, or Markeshvan, rather than in the second sacred month; because Moses, throughout the Pentateuch, uniformly adopts the sacred year; and fixes its first month by an indelible and unequivocal character, calling it Abib, as ushering in the season of green corn. And as Josephus calls the second month elsewhere Artemisius, or Iar, in conformity with Scripture, there is no reason why he should deviate from the same usage in the case of the deluge.

3. To the authority of Josephus, we may oppose that of the great Jewish antiquary, Philo, in the generation before him; who thus accounts for the institution of the sacred year by Moses:— "This month, Abib, being the seventh in number and order according to the sun's course, or civil year, reckoned from the autumnal equinox is virtually the first, and is therefore called ‘the first month' in the sacred books. And the reason, I think, is this: because the vernal equinox is the image and representative of the original epoch of the creation of the world. Thereby God notified the spring, in which all things bloom and blossom, to be an annual memorial of the world's creation. Wherefore this month is properly called the first in the law, as being the image of the first original month, stamped upon it, as it were, by that archetypal seal."

4. The first sacrifice on record seems to decide the question. The time of the sacrifice of Cain and Abel appears to have been spring; when Cain, who was a "tiller of the ground," brought the first fruits of his tillage, or a sheaf of new corn; and Abel, who was "a feeder of sheep," "the firstlings of his flock," lambs: and this was done "at the end of days," or "at the end of the year;" which is the correct meaning of the phrase מקצ ימים , and not the indefinite expression, "in process of time," Genesis 4:3 . It is a remarkable proof of the accuracy of Moses, and a confirmation of this expression, that he expresses the end of the civil year, or "ingathering of the harvest," by different phrases, בצאת השנה , "at the going out of the year," Exodus 23:16; and תקופת השנה , "at the revolution of the year," Exodus 34:22; as those phrases may more critically be rendered.

But, in process of time, it was found that the primeval year of three hundred and sixty days was shorter than the tropical year; and the first discovery was, that it was deficient five entire days, which therefore it was necessary to intercalate, in order to keep up the correspondence of the civil year to the stated seasons of the principal festivals. How early this discovery and intercalation was made, is nowhere recorded. It might have been known and practised before the deluge. The apocryphal book of Enoch, which probably was as old as the Septuagint translation of the Pentateuch, stated that "the archangel Ariel, president of the stars, discovered the nature of the month and of the year to Enoch, in the one hundred and sixty-fifth year of his age, and A.M. 1286." And it is remarkable, that Enoch's age at his translation, three hundred and sixty- five years, expressed the number of entire days in a tropical year. This knowledge might have been handed down to Noah and his descendants; and that it was early communicated indeed to the primitive Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Chinese, we learn from ancient tradition.

This article would be rendered too prolix were we to notice the various inventions of eminent men in different ages to rectify the calendar by adjusting the difference between lunar and tropical years; which at length was effected by Gregory XIII, in 1583. This Gregorian, or reformed Julian year, was not adopted in England until A.D. 1751, when, the deficiency from the time of the council of Nice then amounting to eleven days, this number was struck out of the month of September, by act of parliament; and the third day was counted the fourteenth, in that year of confusion.

The next year, A.D. 1752, was the first of the new style. Russia is the only country in Europe which retains the old style.

The civil year of the Hebrews has always begun at autumn, at the month they now call Tisri, which answers to our September, and sometimes enters into October, according as the lunations happen. But their sacred years, by which the festivals, assemblies, and all other religious acts, were regulated, begin in the spring, at the month Nisan, which answers to March, and sometimes takes up a part of April, according to the course of the moon. See MONTHS .

Nothing is more equivocal among the ancients, than the term year. It always has been, and still is, a source of disputes among the learned, whether on account of its duration, its beginning, or its end. Some people heretofore made their year consist only of one month, others of four, others of six, others of ten, and others of twelve. Some have divided one of our years into two, and have made one year of winter, another of summer. The beginning of the year was fixed sometimes at autumn, sometimes at the spring, and sometimes at midwinter. Some people have used lunar months, others solar. Even the days have been differently divided: some people beginning them at evening, others at morning, others at noon, and others at midnight. With some the hours were equal, both in winter and summer; with others, they were unequal. They counted twelve hours to the day, and as many to the night. In summer the hours of the day were longer than those of the night; but, on the contrary, in winter the hours of the night were longer than those of the day.

While the Jews continued in the land of Canaan, the beginnings of their months and years were not settled by any astronomical rules or calculations, but by the phasis, or actual appearance of the new moon. When they saw the new moon, they began the month. Persons were therefore appointed to watch on the tops of the mountain for the first appearance of the moon after the change. As soon as they saw it, they informed the sanhedrim, and public notice was given by lighting beacons throughout the land; though after they had been often deceived by the Samaritans, who kindled false fires, they used, say the Mishnical rabbins, to proclaim its appearance by sending messengers. Yet as they had no months longer than thirty days, if they did not see the new moon the night following the thirtieth day, they concluded the appearance was obstructed by the clouds, and, without watching any longer, made the next day the first of the following month. But after the Jews became dispersed through all nations, where they had no opportunity of being informed of the first appearance of the new moon, as they formerly had, they were forced to make use of astronomical calculations and cycles for fixing the beginning of their months and years. The first cycle they made use of for this purpose was of eighty-four years. But that being discovered to be faulty, they came afterward into the use of Meto's cycle of nineteen years, which was established by the authority of Rabbi Hillel Hannasi, or prince of the sanhedrim, about A.D. 360. This they still use, and say it is to be observed till the coming of the Messiah. In the compass of this cycle there are twelve common years, consisting of twelve months, and seven intercalary years, consisting of thirteen months. We find the Jews and their ancestors computing their years from different eras, in different parts of the Old Testament; as, from the birth of the patriarchs, for instance, of Noah, Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:13; afterward from their exit out of Egypt, Numbers 33:38; 1 Kings 6:1; then from the building of Solomon's temple, 2 Chronicles 8:1; and from the reigns of the kings of Judah and Israel. In latter times the Babylonish captivity furnished them with a new epocha, from whence they computed their years, Ezekiel 33:21; Ezekiel 40:1 . But since the times of the Talmudical rabbins, they have constantly used the era of the creation.

There is not a more prolific source of confusion and embarrassment in ancient chronology, than the substitution of the cardinal numbers, one, two, three, for the ordinals, first, second, third, &c, which frequently occurs in the sacred and profane historians. Thus Noah was six hundred years old when the deluge began, Genesis 7:6; and presently after, in his six hundredth year: confounding complete and current years. And the dispute whether A.D. 1800, or A.D. 1801, was the first of the nineteenth century, should be decided in favour of the latter; the former being in reality the last of the eighteenth century; which is usually, but improperly, called the year one thousand eight hundred, complete; whereas it is really the one thousandth, eight hundredth; as in Latin we say, Anno Domini millesimo octingentesimo. There is also another and a prevailing error, arising from mistranslation of the current phrases, μεθ ' ημερας οκτω , μετα τρεις ημερας , &c, usually rendered, "after eight days," "after three days," &c; but which ought to be rendered "eight days after," "three days after," as in other places, μετα τινας ημερας , μετ ' ου πολλας ημερας , which are correctly rendered "some days after," "not many days after," in our English Bible, Acts 15:36; Luke 15:13 , the extreme days being included. Such phrases seem to be elliptical, and the ellipsis is supplied, Luke 9:28 , speaking of our Lord's transfiguration, μετα τους λογους τουτους , ωσει ημεραι οκτω : "After these sayings, about eight days," or rather about the eighth day, counted inclusively; for in the parallel passages, Matthew 17:1 , Mark 9:2 , there are only "six days," counted exclusively, or omitting the extremes. Thus, circumcision is prescribed, Genesis 17:11 , when the child is "eight days old;" but in Leviticus 12:3 , "on the eighth day." And Jesus accordingly was circumcised, οτε επλησθησαν ημεραι οκτω , "when eight days were accomplished," Luke 2:21; whereas John the Baptist, τη ογδοη ημερα , "on the eighth day." The last, which was the constant usage, explains the meaning of the former. This critically reconciles our Lord's resurrection, μετα τρεις ημερας , "three days after," according to Matthew 27:63; Mark 8:31; with his resurrection, τη τριτη ημερα , "on the third day," according to Matthew 16:21; Luke 9:22; and according to fact: for our Lord was crucified on Good Friday, about the third hour; and he arose before sunrise, πρωι , "early," on Sunday; so that the interval, though extending through three calendar days current, did not in reality amount to two entire days, or forty-eight hours. This phraseology is frequent among the most correct classic writers. Some learned commentators, Beza, Grotius, Campbell, Newcome, render such phrases, "within eight days," "within three days;" which certainly conveys the meaning, but not the literal translation, of the preposition μετα , "after." In memory of the primeval week of creation, revived among the Jews, after their departure from Egypt, their principal festivals, the passover, pentecost, and tabernacles, lasted a week each. They had weeks of seven years a piece, at the term of which was the sabbatical year; as also weeks of seven times seven years, that were terminated by the year of jubilee; and finally weeks of seven days. And it is remarkable that, from the earliest times, sacrifices were offered by sevens. Thus, in the patriarch Job's days, "seven bullocks and seven rams were offered up for a burnt offering" of atonement, by the divine command, Job 42:8 . The Chaldean diviner, Balaam, built seven altars, and prepared seven bullocks and seven rams, Numbers 23:1 . And the Cumaean sibyl, who came from Chaldea, or Babylonia, gives the same directions to AEneas, that Balaam did to Balak:

Nunc grege de intacto septem mactare juvencos

Praestiterit, totidem lectas, de more, bidentes.

"Seven bullocks, yet unyoked, for Phoebus choose, And for Diana seven unspotted ewes." DRYDEN.

And when the ark was brought home by David, the Levites offered seven bullocks and seven rams, 1 Chronicles 15:26 . And hence we may account for the peculiar sanctity of the seventh day, among the older Heathen writers, even after the institution of the Sabbath fell into disuse, and was lost among them.

THE FALLOW or SABBATIC YEAR. Agricultural labour among the Jews ceased every seventh year. Nothing was sown and nothing reaped; the vines and the olives were not pruned; there was no vintage and no gathering of fruits, even of what grew wild; but whatever spontaneous productions there were, were left to the poor, the traveller, and the wild beast, Leviticus 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 15:1-10 . The object of this regulation seems to have been, among others, to let the ground recover its strength, and to teach the Hebrews to be provident of their income and to look out for the future. It is true, that extraordinary fruitfulness was promised on the sixth year, but in such a way as not to exclude care and foresight, Leviticus 25:20-24 . We are not to suppose, however, that the Hebrews spent the seventh year in absolute idleness: they could fish, hunt, take care of their bees and flocks, repair their buildings and furniture, manufacture cloths of wool, linen, and of the hair of goats and camels, and carry on commerce. Finally, they were obliged to remain longer in the tabernacle or temple this year, during which the whole Mosaic law was read, in order to be instructed in religious and moral duties, and the history of their nation, and the wonderful works and blessings of God, Deuteronomy 31:10-13 . This seventh year's rest, as Moses predicted, Leviticus 26:34-35 , was for a long time neglected, 2 Chronicles 36:21; after the captivity it was more scrupulously observed.

As a period of seven days was every week completed by the Sabbath, so was a period of seven years completed by the sabbatic year. It seems to have been the design of this institution, to afford a longer opportunity than would otherwise have been enjoyed for impressing on the memory the great truth, that God the Creator is alone to be worshipped. The commencement of this year was on the first day of the seventh month, Tishri, or October. During the continuance of the feast of tabernacles this year, the law was to be publicly read for eight days together, either in the tabernacle or temple, Deuteronomy 31:10-13 . Debts, on account of there being no income from the soil, were not collected, Deuteronomy 15:1-2; they were not, however, cancelled, as was imagined by the Talmudists, for we find in Deuteronomy 15:9 , that the Hebrews are admonished not to deny money to the poor on account of the approach of the sabbatical year; during which it could not be exacted; but nothing farther than this can be deduced from that passage, Nor were servants manumitted on this year, but on the seventh year of their service, Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12; Jeremiah 34:14 .

THE YEAR OF JUBILEE followed seven sabbatic years; it was on the fiftieth year, Leviticus 25:8-11 . To this statement agree the Jews generally, their rabbins, and the Caraites; and say farther, that the argument of those who maintain that it was on the forty-ninth, for the reason that the omission to till the ground for two years in succession, namely, the forty- ninth and fiftieth, would produce a famine, is not to be attended to. It is not to be attended to, simply because these years of rest being known long beforehand, the people would of course lay up provision for them. It may be remarked farther in reference to this point, that certain trees produced their fruits spontaneously, particularly the fig and sycamore, which yield half the year round, and that those fruits could be preserved for some months; which explains at once how a considerable number of the people might have obtained no inconsiderable portion of their support. The return of the year of jubilee was announced on the tenth day of the seventh month, or Tishri, October, being the day of propitiation or atonement, by the sound of trumpet, Leviticus 25:8-13; Leviticus 27:24; Numbers 36:4; Isaiah 61:1-2 . Beside the regulations which obtained on the sabbatic year, there were others which concerned the year of jubilee exclusively:

1. All the servants of Hebrew origin on the year of jubilee obtained their freedom, Leviticus 25:39-46; Jeremiah 34:7 , &c.

2. All the fields throughout the country, and the houses in the cities and villages of the Levites and priests which had been sold on the preceding years, were returned on the year of jubilee to the sellers, with the exception of those which had been consecrated to God, and had not been redeemed before the return of the said year, Leviticus 25:10; Leviticus 25:13-17; Leviticus 25:24-28; Leviticus 27:16-21 .

3. Debtors, for the most part, pledged or mortgaged their lands to the creditor, and left it to his use till the time of payment, so that it was in effect sold to the creditor, and was, accordingly, restored to the debtor on the year of jubilee. In other words, the debts for which land was pledged were cancelled; the same as those of persons who had recovered their freedom after having been sold into slavery, on account of not being able to pay. Hence it usually hppened in the later periods of Jewish history, as we learn from Josephus, that, at the return of jubilee, there was a general cancelling of debts.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Year'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​y/year.html. 1831-2.
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