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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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The earliest measure of time on record is the day—'The evening and the morning were the first day'(). Here the word 'day' denotes the civil or calendar day of twenty-four hours, including 'the evening,' or natural night, and the 'morning.' or natural day. It is remarkable that in this account 'the evening,' or natural night, precedes 'the morning,' or natural day. Hence the Hebrew compound 'evening-morning' which is used by Daniel () to denote a civil day. In fact, the Jewish civil day began, as it still does, not with the morning, but the evening—thus the Sabbath commences with the sunset of Friday, and ends with the sunset of Saturday.

The inconveniences resulting from a variable commencement of the civil day, earlier or later, according to the different seasons of the year, as well as the equally varying duration of the natural day and night, must have been very considerable, and are sensibly felt by Europeans when traveling in the East, where the ancient custom in this matter is still observed. These inconveniences must be less obvious to the people themselves, who know no better system; yet they were apparent to several ancient nations—the Egyptians, the Ausonians, and others—and induced them to reckon their civil day from midnight to midnight, as from a fixed invariable point; and this usage has been adopted by most of the modern nations of Europe. We thus realize the advantage of having our divisions of the day, the hours, of equal duration, day and night, at all times of the year; whereas among the Orientals, the hours, and all other divisions of the natural day and night, are of constantly varying duration, and the divisions of the day vary from those of the night, excepting at the equinoxes.

The natural day was at first divided into three parts, morning, noon, and evening, which are mentioned by David as hours or times of prayer ().

The natural night was also originally divided into three parts, or watches (; ). The first, or beginning of the watches, is mentioned in ; the middle watch, in ; and the morning watch, in Exodus 24. Afterwards the strictness of military discipline among the Greeks and Romans introduced an additional night-watch. The second and third watches of the night are mentioned in , and the fourth in . The four are mentioned together by our Lord, in , and described by the terms 'the late watch;' 'the midnight;' 'the cock-crowing;' and 'the morning.' The precise beginning and ending of each of the four watches is thus determined:

1. 'The late' began at sunset and ended with the third hour of the night, including the evening dawn, or twilight. It was also called 'eventide' (), or simply 'evening' ().

2. 'The midnight' lasted from the third hour till midnight.

3. 'The cock-crowing' lasted from midnight till the third hour after, or to the ninth hour of the night. It included the two cock-crowings, with the second of which it ended.

4. 'Early' lasted from the ninth to the twelfth hour of the night, or sunrise, including the morning dawn, or twilight. It was also called 'morning,' or 'morning-tide' ().

The division of the day into twelve hours was common among the Jews after the captivity in Babylon. The word hour first occurs in the book of Daniel (); and it is admitted by the Jewish writers that this division of the day was borrowed by them from the Babylonians. Our Lord appeals to this ancient, and then long-established, division, as a matter of public notoriety: 'Are there not twelve hours in the day?' ().

This, however, was the division of the natural day into twelve hours, which were therefore variable according to the seasons of the year, at all places except the equator; and equal, or of the mean length, only at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes; being longer in the summer half-year, and shorter in the winter. The inconvenience of this has already been intimated.

The first hour of the day began at sunrise; the sixth hour ended at mid-day, or noon; the seventh hour began at noon; and the twelfth hour ended at sunset.

The days of the week had no proper names among the Hebrews, but were distinguished only by their numeral order [WEEK].





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Day'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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