Why the Jewish Count of Time Differs
CHRISTENDOM counts time from what is supposed to be the year of Jesus’ birth, anno Domini, A.D., “in the year of (our) Lord, i.e., Jesus Christ.”* Dates before that year are designated B.C., “before Christ.” Moslems count time from the year Mohammed fled Mecca, A.H., which was A.D. 622. The Jews count time from the beginning of creation, anno mundi, A.M., “in the year of the world.” (Webster) To avoid implied recognition of Jesus as Lord or Christ some, particularly among the Jews, avoid the abbreviations B.C. and A.D. and instead use B.C.E., “before the the common era,” and C.E., “the common era,” which Webster’s New International Dictionary says equals the Christian era, or vulgar era.
Time and again readers of The Watchtower have inquired as to why there is such a great difference in the way the Jews count time and the count of time as published in The Watchtower, April 1, 1951. According to the Jewish calendar, 3,760 years elapsed from the creation of Adam to 1 B.C., whereas the Watchtower calendar gave 4,024 (from fall of 4025 B.C. to fall of 1 B.C.), a difference of 264 years between the two. Thus the Jews today term the year 1958 A.M. 5718 instead of A.M. 5982. Why?
Strange as it may seem, although the date A.M. 5718 for 1958 has widespread use among the Jews, very few of them put any faith in the 3,760 years before Christ that it is supposed to be based on. In fact, there is great difference of opinion among Jewish scholars themselves as to the merits of Biblical chronology. Thus Dr. Edgar Frank, in his book Talmudic and Rabbinical Chronology (1956), deliberately avoids discussing the following all-important controversial factors regarding the Jewish traditional date. These he himself lists as:
“The proof of the accuracy of chronological data in the Bible.
“The relation of the Seder Olam, the basis of Jewish chronology, and the dates given in the Bible.
“Contradictions between the data in Jewish chronology and established ancient history.”
It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the Jewish Encyclopedia (1925) in a footnote states: “The foundation of Biblical chronology being still a matter of discussion, it is deemed desirable to present divergent views in separate articles”; which it does without attempting to harmonize conflicting views.—Vol. 4, p. 64.
More definite is The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (1941), for it states: “Biblical chronology follows no uniform system, but varies according to the writers of the books of which the Bible consists . . . Critics consider most of these figures in the Torah [Pentateuch] as mythical. The ages of the antediluvians are apparently derived from Babylonian mythology, while those of the patriarchs are held to be exaggerated.”—Vol. 3, p. 393.
However, there are exceptions. In striking contrast to the above writers is Dr. Philip Biberfeld. In his Jewish Universal History, Vol. 1, he endeavors to reconcile the Jewish traditional 3,760-year period with both Biblical chronology and secular history. It might be said that men such as he use with logic A.M. 5718 for A.D. 1958. Why other Jews use it is not entirely clear. It may be in order to avoid using the “Christian” calendar; or because of uncertainty; or because of respect for tradition; or because of not considering the matter of authenticity vital. Be that as it may, it will be of interest to note how the 3,760-year period was arrived at in the first place and how Dr. Biberfeld endeavors to reconcile it with Biblical chronology and secular history.
FROM ADAM TO ABRAHAM
Who is the one responsible for the 3,760-year Jewish tradition? Who first compiled it? And just wherein does his reckoning differ from that published in The Watchtower so as to account for a difference of 264 years? It is generally agreed that the Jewish date is the product of Jose ben Halafta, a Talmudic scholar of the second century. Termed the Seder Olam (“Succession of the World’s History”), it appears in the Seder Nizikim of the Babylonian Talmud.
Accepting the Genesis record, this calendar agrees with the Bible until the time of the Deluge. At that point its compiler made the common error of counting the flood as coming after Noah was 600 years old, whereas it came in the second month of Noah’s 600th year. (Gen. 7:11) The Jewish calendar at this point is one year longer that it should be, it marking the beginning of the Deluge as A.M. 1656 instead of 1655.
The Jewish calendar next gives the years from the Deluge to the birth of Abraham as 292 years, placing the birth of Abraham when Terah was seventy years old. But according to Genesis 11:32 to 12:4 Abraham was seventy-five years old when Terah died at the age of 205 years. Terah therefore was 130 and not seventy years old when Abraham was born. How was it that this error of sixty years—a very common one—was made? Because of misunderstanding Genesis 11:26, which reads: “And Terah lived on for seventy years, after which he became father to Abram, Nahor and Haran.”
Note that this text does not explicitly state that Abraham was born when Terah was seventy years old but merely that Terah became father to three sons after reaching seventy years. Just when each of the three sons was born this text does not say, but from other texts it is clear that Abraham was born when Terah was 130 years old. Abraham’s being mentioned first does not necessarily mean that he was the first-born. He no doubt was first mentioned because of his prominence, due to his being chosen by Jehovah. (Thus also Jacob is mentioned before his brother, although Esau was the older.) At this point the Jewish calendar is fifty-nine years short, it giving the birth of Abraham at A.M. 1948 instead of A.M. 2007.
FROM ABRAHAM TO THE COMMON ERA
The Jewish calendar next lists 500 years from the birth of Abraham to the exodus from Egypt. However, Abraham was seventy-five years old when God made his covenant with him, as noted at Genesis 12:1-4. And other Scriptural testimony (Ex. 12:41; Gal. 3:17) shows that 430 years elapsed between the making of this covenant and the making of the law covenant, right after the Exodus. We therefore cannot conclude otherwise than that from the birth of Abraham to the Exodus was 505 (75+430) years, not 500 years. Pinpointing this difference, we find that the Jewish calendar allows 210 years for the Israelites in Egypt, whereas it must have been 215. At this point the Jewish calendar loses five more years, it listing the date of the Exodus as A.M. 2448 instead of A.M. 2512 (1513 B.C.), a total of sixty-four years short.
In counting 480 full years from the Exodus to the building of Solomon’s temple the Jewish calendar gains but also errs one year. (1 Ki. 6:1) How so? In that what is involved is an ordinal number, 480th year, not a cardinal one, 480 years. That means that only 479+ years elapsed between the two events in question. By reason of this, another commonly made error, the Jewish calendar becomes sixty-three years short, it listing the beginning of Solomon’s temple as A.M. 2928 instead of A.M. 2991 (1034 B.C.).
Coming to the next period of time, the number of years that the “first” temple, or Solomon’s temple, stood, the Jewish calendar allows but 410 years, whereas it stood 427 years, according to the reigns of the various kings of Judah as recorded in the two books of Kings. This lack of seventeen years makes the Jewish calendar eighty years short at this point. However, it recognizes the period of desolation as seventy years, and so its eighty-year shortage also applies to the date it gives for the return of the Jews from Babylon: A.M. 3408 instead of A.M. 3488 (537 B.C.).
The final figure involved in the traditional Jewish calendar relates to the length the second temple stood, which is dated from the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon to its destruction A.D. 70. It gives this as 420 years. However, there is much confusion among Jewish scholars as to whether rabbi Halafta, its compiler, properly dated the destruction of the second temple. Because of a shortage of two years some say he erred two years; others say that he considered the year of Adam’s creation as A.M. 3 instead of A.M. 1. In either case, two years must be added, either before Adam’s creation or to the period from the return of the Jews from Babylon to A.D. 1 to arrive at the traditional 3,760 years before the common era. This last period therefore involves 353 years. Since 537 B.C. is a fixed date, it follows that the Jewish traditional calendar here comes short a total of 184 years. This, added to the previous lack of eighty years, gives us the total of 264 years, as previously noted.*
AN EARNEST BUT FUTILE ATTEMPT
As previously noted, Dr. P. Biberfeld claims to have harmonized the traditional Jewish chronology of 3,760 years before the common era with both the Bible and secular history. How does he endeavor to do this? And does he succeed? No, he does not, as the following will show.
Since he agrees with Jewish traditional chronology until the time of the entry of the Jews or rather Israelites into Canaan land, up to that point his chronology is already sixty-four years short, as we have previously seen. Next he takes exception to the 480 (479+) years that 1 Kings 6:1 states elapsed between the Exodus and the construction of the first temple. According to him not enough generations lived—as listed in the genealogy of David—to account for so long a period of time, and so he concludes that what the writer of Kings meant was the death of Joseph some 140 years earlier. Instead of 479 years he counts but 341 years, a shortage of 138 years, his calendar at this point being 202 years short.
Does Biberfeld have a strong point here? No, he does not; for, as previously pointed out in the Watch Tower publications, it appears that, due to the enmity of the seed of the Serpent, the line of descent of the seed of the woman experienced many difficulties in remaining unbroken, a son often being born when the father was very old.* Note, for example, that Noah’s son Shem was born when Noah was over 500 years old, whereas the average age of the father in the nine previous generations was but some 110 years till the next one in line was born. Then too, Terah appears to have had his first son when he was seventy years old, but Abraham was born to him when Terah was 130 years old. Likewise, it was when Abraham was far beyond the age of being able to beget a son that he begot Isaac, by the power of God’s holy spirit. It is also of interest to note that a generation was skipped by the seed proceeding from Judah by his daughter-in-law Tamar instead of by one of the sons of his legal wife. (Gen. 38:1-30) More examples could be given, but the foregoing should suffice to show that there is no basis for questioning the 479 years between the Exodus and the first temple because of the few generations listed in David’s ancestry.
Biberfeld next allows 385 years for the duration of the first temple instead of 427 years, thereby losing forty-two more years, for a total of 244 years short. He recognizes the seventy-year period of desolation, but lists the duration of the second temple, or from the return of the Jews from Babylon to the destruction of the second temple A.D. 70, as a period of 586 years. Counting back from A.D. 70, 586 years brings us to 517 B.C. Since both the Bible and secular history have united to prove that the Jews returned in 537 B.C., Biberfeld here is short another twenty years, making a total of 264 years difference between his chronology and that of the Bible. It is thus seen that he has failed to harmonize traditional Jewish chronology either with the Bible or with secular history.
To recapitulate. The two Jewish calendars that are based on the 3,760-year period before the common era, or Christian era, differ from that based on the Bible and published in the Watch Tower literature in the following respects:
Period Involved Watch Tower Halafta Diff. Biberfeld Diff.
Adam to Flood 1655 1656 1 1656 1
To Abraham’s birth 352 292 60 292 60
To the Exodus 505 500 5 500 5
To first temple 479 480 1 341 138
To desolation 427 410 17 385 42
To return of exiles 70 70 — 70 —
To A.D. 1 (autumn) 537 353 184 517 20
To present year 1957 1957 — 1957 —
Totals 5982 5718 264 5718 264
As previously noted in this magazine, Jesus was born about October 1, 2 B.C.
In computing the total years from any B.C. to any A.D. date one must not only add the two figures together but also subtract one year because of there not being any year A.D. or B.C. 0. Thus from 1 B.C. to A.D. 1 is not two years but only one year. It therefore follows that 420 years back form the destruction of the temple A.D. 70 reaches to 351 B.C. not 350 B.C. It is very likely that some Jewish chronologists overlooked this fact.
See Preservation, page 333.