A calendar is an orderly system of dividing time into years, months, weeks, and days. Long before man’s creation, God provided the basis for such measuring of time. Genesis 1:14, 15 tells us that one of the purposes of the “luminaries in the expanse of the heavens” is that they might serve for “seasons and for days and years.” The solar day, the solar year, and the lunar month are thus natural divisions of time, governed respectively by the daily turning of the earth on its axis, by its annual orbit around the sun, and by the monthly phases of the moon in its relation to earth and sun. The division of time into weeks and the division of the day into hours, on the other hand, are arbitrary ones.
From the first man Adam forward, time has been measured in terms of years. Thus, Adam was “a hundred and thirty years” of age when he became father to Seth.—Ge 5:3.
Monthly divisions also came into use. By the time of the Flood we find time divided into months of 30 days, since a period of 5 months is shown to equal 150 days. (Ge 7:11, 24; 8:3, 4) The same record also indicates that Noah divided the year into 12 months.—See YEAR.
Seven-day periods are mentioned at this time and may even have been in regular use since early in human history. (Ge 7:4, 10; 8:10, 12) There is, however, no evidence of a divinely required weekly Sabbath observance by man until God’s positive instructions to Israel following their Exodus from Egypt.—See WEEK.
Various calendar systems have been developed by men in the past, and a number continue in use today. Early calendars were mainly lunar calendars, that is, the months of the year were counted by complete cycles of the moon, as, for example, from one new moon to the next new moon. On the average, such lunation takes about 29 days, 12 hours, and 44 minutes. The months were usually counted as of either 29 or 30 days, but in the Bible record the term “month” generally means 30 days.—Compare De 21:13; 34:8; also Re 11:2, 3.
A year of 12 lunar months falls about 11 days short of a solar year of 365 1⁄4 days. Since the solar year determines the return of the seasons, there was need to adjust the calendar to this solar year, and this resulted in what are called lunisolar, or bound solar, years—that is, years in which the months were lunar but the years were solar. This was done by the addition of a number of days each year or of an additional month during certain years to compensate for the shortness of the 12 lunar months.
Hebrew Calendar. The Israelites used such a lunisolar, or bound solar, calendar. This is evident from the fact that Jehovah God established the beginning of their sacred year with the month Abib in the spring and specified the celebration of certain festivals on fixed dates, festivals that were related to harvest seasons. For these dates to have coincided with the particular harvests, there had to be a calendar arrangement that would synchronize with the seasons by compensating for the difference between the lunar and solar years.—Ex 12:1-14; 23:15, 16; Le 23:4-16.
The Bible does not indicate what method was originally used to determine when additional days or an additional, or intercalary, month should be inserted. It is logical, however, that either the vernal or the autumnal equinox served as a guide to indicate when the seasons were falling behind sufficiently to require calendar adjustment. Though not specifically mentioned in the Bible, a 13th month that was added by the Israelites to accomplish this adjustment was called, in postexilic times, Veadar, or the second Adar.
We do not find record of a definitely fixed or standardized form of Jewish calendar until the fourth century of our Common Era (c. 359 C.E.), when Hillel II specified that the leap years of 13 months should be the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th of each 19 years. Such a 19-year cycle is commonly called the Metonic cycle, after the Greek mathematician Meton (of the fifth century B.C.E.), although there is also evidence that such a cycle was perfected before him by the Babylonians. (See Babylonian Chronology, 626 B.C.–A.D. 75, by R. A. Parker and W. H. Dubberstein, 1971, pp. 1, 3, 6.) This cycle takes into account that every 19 years the new and the full moons fall again on the same days of the solar year.
The Jewish months ran from new moon to new moon. (Isa 66:23) Thus, one Hebrew word, choʹdhesh, rendered “month” (Ge 7:11) or “new moon” (1Sa 20:27), is related to cha·dhashʹ, meaning “new.” Another word for month, yeʹrach, is rendered “lunar month.” (1Ki 6:38) In later periods, fire signals were used or messengers were dispatched to advise the people of the beginning of the new month.
In the Bible the individual months are usually designated simply by numbering according to their position in the year, from the 1st through to the 12th. (Jos 4:19; Nu 9:11; 2Ch 15:10; Jer 52:6; Nu 33:38; Eze 8:1; Le 16:29; 1Ki 12:32; Ezr 10:9; 2Ki 25:1; De 1:3; Jer 52:31) Only four months are named prior to the exile in Babylon, namely, Abib, the first month (Ex 13:4); Ziv, the second (1Ki 6:37); Ethanim, the seventh (1Ki 8:2); and Bul, the eighth (1Ki 6:38). The meanings of these names are strictly seasonal, thus giving additional proof of a lunisolar year.—See the individual months by name.
In postexilic times the names of the months used in Babylon were employed by the Israelites, and seven of these are mentioned: Nisan, the 1st month, replacing Abib (Es 3:7); Sivan, the 3rd month (Es 8:9); Elul, the 6th (Ne 6:15); Chislev, the 9th (Zec 7:1); Tebeth, the 10th (Es 2:16); Shebat, the 11th (Zec 1:7); and Adar, the 12th (Ezr 6:15).
The postexilic names of the remaining five months appear in the Jewish Talmud and other works. They are Iyyar, the 2nd month; Tammuz, the 4th; Ab, the 5th; Tishri, the 7th; and Heshvan, the 8th. The 13th month, which was intercalated periodically, was named Veadar, or the second Adar.
Eventually the length of most of the months was fixed as having a specific number of days. Nisan (Abib), Sivan, Ab, Tishri (Ethanim), and Shebat regularly had 30 days each; Iyyar (Ziv), Tammuz, Elul, and Tebeth regularly had 29 days each. Heshvan (Bul), Chislev, and Adar, however, could have either 29 or 30 days. The variations in these latter months served to make necessary adjustments with the lunar calendar but also were used to prevent certain festivals from occurring on days viewed as prohibited by later Jewish religious leaders.
Whereas the sacred year began in the spring with the month Abib (or Nisan) by God’s decree at the time of the Exodus (Ex 12:2; 13:4), the Bible record indicates that prior to this the Israelites had counted the year as running from fall to fall. God gave recognition to this arrangement so that, in effect, there was a dual system of a sacred and a secular or agricultural calendar used by his people. (Ex 23:16; 34:22; Le 23:34; De 16:13) In postexilic times, Tishri 1, in the last half of the year, marked the beginning of the secular year, and the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah (head of the year), is still celebrated on that date.
In 1908 the only approximation of an ancient written Hebrew calendar was found at the site of Gezer, and it is believed to be from the tenth century B.C.E. It is an agricultural calendar and describes agricultural activity beginning with the autumn. In brief, it describes two months each of storage, sowing, and spring growth, followed by one month each of pulling up flax, barley harvest, and a general harvest, then two months of pruning the vines and, finally, one month of summer fruit.—Le 26:5.
The chart accompanying this article shows the months in their relation to both the sacred and secular calendars and also their approximate correspondence to the months of our present calendar.
The frequent references in the Gospel accounts and the book of Acts to the various festival seasons show that the Jewish calendar continued to be observed by the Jews during the time of Jesus and the apostles. These festival seasons serve as a guide for determining the relative time of the Biblical events of that day.—Mt 26:2; Mr 14:1; Lu 22:1; Joh 2:13, 23; 5:1; 6:4; 7:2, 37; 10:22; 11:55; Ac 2:1; 12:3, 4; 20:6, 16; 27:9.
It should be noted that Christians are not governed by any sacred or religious calendar specifying certain holy days or festivals, a point that is clearly stated by the apostle Paul at Galatians 4:9-11 and Colossians 2:16, 17. The one event that they are required to observe annually, the Lord’s Evening Meal, at Passover time, is governed by the lunar calendar.—Mt 26:2, 26-29; 1Co 11:23-26; see LORD’S EVENING MEAL.
Julian and Gregorian Calendars. In the year 46 B.C.E., Julius Caesar issued a decree changing the Roman calendar from a lunar to a solar year. This Julian calendar, based on the calculations of the Greek astronomer Sosigenes, had 12 months of arbitrary length and a regular year of 365 days beginning on January 1. It also brought in the use of leap years by the addition of an extra day every four years, to compensate for the extra fraction of a day in the length of the tropical year, which has a little less than 365 1⁄4 days.
The Julian calendar year was actually a little more than 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than the true solar year. Thus, by the 16th century a discrepancy of ten full days had accumulated. In 1582 C.E., Pope Gregory XIII introduced a slight revision of the Julian calendar, whereby the leap years every four years were retained but with the exception that only those century years with a number divisible by 400 were to be counted as leap years. By papal bull in 1582, ten days were to be omitted in that year, so that the day after October 4 became October 15. The Gregorian calendar is now in general use in most parts of the world. It is the basis for the historical dates used throughout this publication.
Whereas Christians today customarily use the calendar in effect in their particular land, they are aware that the God of eternity, Jehovah, has his own calendar of events not governed by human systems of reckoning. As his prophet Daniel wrote: “He is changing times and seasons, removing kings and setting up kings, giving wisdom to the wise ones and knowledge to those knowing discernment. He is revealing the deep things and the concealed things, knowing what is in the darkness; and with him the light does dwell.” (Da 2:21, 22) So, in his position as Universal Sovereign he stands far above our spinning earth, with its day and night, its lunar cycles, and its solar year. However, in his Word, the Bible, God does helpfully relate his actions and purposes to such measurements of time, thereby allowing his creatures on earth to learn where they stand in relation to his grand calendar of events.—See CHRONOLOGY.
[Chart on page 390]
Calendar Months of the Bible
Jordan swells from rains, melting snow
Flax harvest. Barley harvest begins
Dry season begins. Mostly clear skies
Barley harvest. Wheat harvest in low areas
Summer heat. Clear air
Wheat harvest. Early figs. Some apples
Heat increases. Heavy dews in areas
First grapes. Vegetation and springs dry up
Heat reaches maximum
Grape harvest begins
Harvest of dates and summer figs
Summer ending. Early rains begin
Harvest concluding. Plowing begins
Wheat and barley sown. Olive harvest
Rain increases. Frost. Mountain snows
Maximum cold. Rainy. Mountain snows
Green lowlands. Grain, flowers developing
Cold weather lessens. Rain continues
Almond trees blossom. Fig trees bud
Frequent thunder and hail
Carob trees blossom. Citrus fruit harvest
An intercalary month was added seven times in 19 years generally as a second Adar (Veadar)
[Diagram on page 391]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
1st NISAN (ABIB) March—April
Start of sacred year
15-21 Unfermented Cakes
16 Offering of firstfruits
2nd IYYAR (ZIV) April—May
14 Late Passover (Nu 9:10-13)
3rd SIVAN May—June
6 Festival of Weeks (Pentecost)
4th TAMMUZ June—July
5th AB July—August
6th ELUL August—September
Dates, Grapes, Figs
7th TISHRI (ETHANIM) September—October
Start of secular year
1 Trumpet blast
10 Day of Atonement
15-21 Festival of Booths or Ingathering
22 Solemn assembly
8th HESHVAN (BUL) October—November
9th CHISLEV November—December
25 Festival of Dedication
10th TEBETH December—January
11th SHEBAT January—February
12th ADAR February—March
14, 15 Purim
13th VEADAR March