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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Watch of the Night

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(אִשְׁמֻרָה; φυλακή ). The Jews, like the Greeks and Romans, divided the might; into military watches instead of hours, each watch representing the period for which sentinels or pickets remained on duty. The proper Jewish reckoning recognized only three such watches. These would last respectively from sunset to 10 P.M.; from 10 P.M. to 2 A.M.; and from 2 A.M. to sunrise. It has been contended by Lightfoot (Hor. Heb. in Matthew 14:25) that the Jews really reckoned four watches, three only of which were in the dead of the night, the fourth being in the morning. This, however, is rendered improbable by the use of the term "middle," and is opposed to Rabbinical authority (Mishna, Berach. 1:1; Kimchi, On Psalms 63:7; Rashi, On Judges 7:19). We find, however, different opinions on this subject as early as the Talmud (Berach. 3, b, etc.). The Old Test. mentions expressly:

1. ראֹשׁ אִשְׁמוּרוֹת, head, first, of the watches (Lamentations 2:19).

2. אִשְׁמוֹרֶת הִתַּיכוֹנָה, middle watch (Judges 7:19), which, according to those who affirm that there were always four, means the middle of those three watches which fell in the time of complete night.

3. אִהִבּוֹקֶר morning watch (Exodus 14:24; 1 Samuel 11:11). Subsequently to the establishment of the Roman supremacy, the number of watches (vigiliae) was increased to four, which were described either according to their numerical order, as in the case of the "fourth watch" (Matthew 14:25; comp. Josephus, Ant. 5:6, 5), or by the terms "even, midnight, cock-crowing, and morning" (Mark 13:35). These terminated respectively at 9 P.M., midnight, 3 A.M., and 6 A.M. Conformably to this, the guard of soldiers was divided into four relays (Acts 12:4), showing that the Roman regime. was followed in Herod's army. (See Veget. De Re Milit. 3:8, "In quatuor partes ad clepsydram sunt divisae vigiliae, ut non amplius quam tribus horis nocturnis, necesse est vigilare;" Censorin, De Die Natal. Περὶ φ . τετάρτην; Josephus, Ant. 18:9, C. Περὶ φ . δευτέραν; Diod. Sic. 18, 40; Xenoph. Anab. 4:1, 5; Buxtorf, Lex. Talmud.; Fischerus, Prolus. de Vitiis Lex. N. Test.). Accordingly, in the New Test. four night-watches are mentioned (Mark 13:35):

1. Ο᾿ψέ, the late watch, lasting from sunset to the third hour of the night, including the evening dawn; also called ὀψία é ρα, even-tide (Mark 12:11), or simply ὀψία, evening (John 20:19).

2. Μεσονύκτιον, midnight, from the third hour to midnight.

3. Ἀλεκτοροφωνία, cock-crowing, from midnight to the third hour after midnight. This ended with the second cock-crowing.

4. πρωϊ v, early, from the ninth hour of the night to the twelfth, including the morning dawn or twilight. It is also called πρωϊ v α, morning-tide or morning (John 18:28). (See NIGHT-WATCH); (See VIGIL).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Watch of the Night'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/w/watch-of-the-night.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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