(Heb., ya·reʹahh; Gr., se·leʹne].
The moon, as the “lesser luminary for dominating the night,” was provided by God as a means for marking “appointed times.” (Gen. 1:16; Ps. 104:19; Jer. 31:35; 1 Cor. 15:41) The Hebrew word for “moon” is closely related to the Hebrew word yeʹrahh, meaning “lunar month.” Since the lunar month always began with the appearing of the new moon (Heb., hhoʹdhesh), the term “new moon” also came to mean “month.” (Gen. 7:11; Ex. 12:2; Isa. 66:23) The Greek word men likewise has the basic idea of a lunar period.—Luke 1:24; Gal. 4:10; also Colossians 2:16, where men is prefixed by the Greek word for “new.”
The word leva·nahʹ, meaning “white,” occurs three times in the Hebrew text poetically describing the white brilliance of the full moon that is particularly evident in Bible lands. (Song of Sol. 6:10; Isa. 24:23; 30:26) The word keʹseh or keʹse, meaning “fullness,” also appears twice and is translated “full moon” in some versions.—Ps. 81:3; Prov. 7:20, RS; NW.
Since the average lunation from new moon to new moon is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.78 seconds in length, the ancient lunar months had either twenty-nine or thirty days. This may originally have been determined by simple observation of the appearance of the new moon’s crescent; but in David’s time we find evidence of its being calculated beforehand. (1 Sam. 20:5, 18, 24-29) Nevertheless, in postexilic times Talmudic writings state that the Jewish Sanhedrin met early in the morning on the thirtieth day of each of seven months in the year to determine the time of the new moon. Watchmen were posted on high vantage points around Jerusalem and carried immediate report to the Jewish court after sighting the new moon. Upon receiving sufficient testimony the court pronounced the word “Mequd·dashʹ” (consecrated), officially marking the start of a new month, and the previous month was declared to have had twenty-nine days. If cloudy skies or fog caused poor visibility, then the preceding month was declared to have had thirty days, and the new month began on the day following the court assembly. It is also said that further announcement was made by a signal fire lit on the Mount of Olives, which was then repeated on other high points throughout the country. This method was evidently replaced later by the dispatching of messengers to carry the news.
In the fourth century of our Common Era a standardized or continuous calendar was established so that the Jewish months came to have a fixed number of days, with the exception of Heshvan and Kislev, which still vary between 29 and 30 days according to certain calculations.
NEW MOON OBSERVANCE
Among the Jews each new moon marked the occasion for the blowing of trumpets and the offering up of sacrifices according to the Law covenant. (Num. 10:10; 2 Chron. 2:4; Ps. 81:3; compare Isaiah 1:13, 14.) The offerings prescribed were, in fact, even greater than those normally offered on the regular sabbath days. (Num. 28:9-15) While nothing is stated specifically as to the new moon’s marking a day of rest, the text at Amos 8:5 indicates a cessation of labor. It was apparently a time of feasting (1 Sam. 20:5), and also an opportune time for gathering and instruction in God’s law.—Ezek. 46:1-3; 2 Ki. 4:22, 23; Isa. 66:23.
The seventh new moon of each year (corresponding with the first day of the month of Ethanim or Tishri) was sabbatical, and the Law covenant decreed it to be a time of complete rest. (Lev. 23:24, 25; Num. 29:1-6) It was the “day of the trumpet blast,” but in a greater sense than that of the other new moons. It announced the approach of the atonement day held on the tenth day of the same month.—Lev. 23:27, 28; Num. 29:1, 7-11.
While guided by the moon as a time indicator in determining their months and festival seasons, the Israelites were to remain free from the practice of moon worship that was prominent in the nations around them. The moon-god Sin was the city god of Ur, the capital of Sumer, from whence Abraham and his family departed for the Promised Land. Though the inhabitants of Ur were polytheistic, the moon-god Sin, a male deity, was the supreme god to whom their temple and altars were primarily devoted. Abraham and his party traveled from Ur to Haran, which was another major center of moon worship. Abraham’s father, Terah, who died in Haran, apparently practiced such idolatrous worship. (Gen. 11:31, 32) In any case these circumstances add weight to the significance of Joshua’s warning to Israel prior to their entry into the Promised Land, as recorded at Joshua 24:2, 14: “This is what Jehovah the God of Israel has said, ‘It was on the other side of the River [Euphrates] that your forefathers dwelt a long time ago, Terah the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they used to serve other gods.’ And now fear Jehovah and serve him in faultlessness and in truth, and remove the gods that your forefathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt, and serve Jehovah.”
Job also lived among moon worshipers and he faithfully rejected their practice of kissing the hand to the moon. (Job 31:26-28) The neighboring Midianites used moon-shaped ornaments, even placing them on their camels. (Judg. 8:21, 26) In Egypt, where both Abraham and later the people of Israel resided, moon worship was prominently practiced in honor of the moon-god Thoth, the Egyptian god of measures. Every full moon the Egyptians sacrificed a pig to him. He came to be worshiped in Greece under the title of Hermes Trismegistus (Hermes Thrice Greatest). Moon worship, in fact, extended all the way to the western hemisphere, where ancient ziggurat temples dedicated to the moon have been found in Mexico and Central America. Note, too, that in English the second day of the week still derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon worship of the moon, Monday originally meaning “moon-day.”
The moon worshipers attributed powers of fertility to the moon and looked to it to make their crops and even their animals grow. In Canaan, where the Israelites finally settled, the worship of the moon was carried on by the Canaanite tribes with the accompaniment of immoral rites and ceremonies. There the moon was sometimes worshiped under the symbol of the goddess Ashtoreth (Astarte). Ashtoreth was said to be the female consort of the male god Baal, and the worship of these two frequently ensnared the Israelites during the period of the Judges. (Judg. 2:13; 10:6) King Solomon’s foreign wives brought the contamination of moon worship into Judah. Foreign-god priests directed the people of Judah and Jerusalem in making sacrificial smoke to the sun, moon and stars, a practice that continued until King Josiah’s time. (1 Ki. 11:3-5, 33; 2 Ki. 23:5, 13, 14) When Jezebel, the daughter of the pagan king Ethbaal who ruled the Sidonians, married King Ahab of Israel she also brought with her the worship of Baal and, apparently, of the moon-goddess Ashtoreth. (1 Ki. 16:31) The Israelites again met up with moon worship during their exile in Babylon, where the times of the new moons were considered propitious by the Babylonian astrologers for making forecasts of the future.—Isa. 47:12, 13.
God’s Word should have served as a protection for the Israelites against such moon worship. It showed the moon to be simply a luminary and a convenient time indicator, but devoid of personality. (Gen. 1:14-18) At the time of their approaching Canaan Jehovah specifically warned the nation of Israel that they should not worship him as being represented by his heavenly creations. Anyone practicing such worship was to be stoned to death. (Deut. 4:15-19; 17:2-5) By his prophet Jeremiah, God later declared that whether they were kings, priests, prophets or of the common people, such ones should become as “manure upon the face of the ground.”—Jer. 8:1, 2.
Some have tried to read into the text at Deuteronomy 33:14 an evidence of pagan influence or a superstitious attitude toward the moon. In the Authorized Version this text speaks of the “precious things put forth by the moon.” However, as more modern translations show, the sense of the word “moon” here is actually “months” or “lunar months” and basically refers to the monthly periods in which the fruits ripen.
Similarly, Psalm 121:6 has been held by some to indicate a belief in the idea of illness caused by exposure to the moonlight. By reading the entire Psalm, however, it becomes evident that such assumption is unfounded, since the Psalm rather expresses in poetical form the assurance of God’s protection against adversity’s stroke under all circumstances and at all times, whether in the sunlit day or the moonlit night.
Still others have taken exception to the term “lunatick” found in the Authorized Version at Matthew 4:24 and Matthew 17:15. This expression comes from the Greek word se·le·ni·aʹzo·mai and literally means “stricken by the moon.” In modern translations it is rendered by the word “epileptic.” Matthew’s use of this common Greek term for an epileptic on these two occasions does not mean that he attributed such illness to the moon nor that the Bible so teaches, but simply indicates that he used the word that was evidently, among Greek-speaking people of that time, the currently understood name for an epileptic. In this regard, we might note that the term “lunacy” is today primarily a legal term used by the courts to designate a degree of insanity, even though they do not attribute such insanity to the effects of the moon. Christians today similarly continue to use the name Monday for the second day of the week even though they do not view it as a day sacred to the moon.
IN THE COMMON ERA
In the days of Christ Jesus and the apostles, moon worship was not in practice among the Jewish people. They did, of course, observe the new moons in accord with the Law covenant. The new moon of each month is still observed by Orthodox Jews as a minor day of atonement for sins committed during the month just ended.
Nisan 14, when the moon was approaching fullness, marked the time of the celebration of the Passover and also the time of the initiation by Jesus of the memorial supper or the Lord’s Evening Meal in memory of his death.—Matt. 26:2, 20, 26-30; 1 Cor. 11:20-26.
With the entrance of the new covenant, replacing the Law covenant, some of the Jewish Christians, as well as others, tended to hold to the practice of the celebration of the new moons as well as of the sabbath days, as shown by Paul’s corrective counsel at Colossians 2:16, 17 and Galatians 4:9-11.