Did You Know?
Why did the Jews begin their Sabbath observance in the evening?
When Jehovah gave his people the law concerning the Day of Atonement, he said: “You must do no sort of work on this very day . . . It is a sabbath of complete rest for you . . . From evening to evening you should observe your sabbath.” (Leviticus 23:28, 32) This command reflected the view that each day began in the evening, after sunset, and ended at the subsequent sunset. For the Jews, the day thus ran from evening to evening.
This method of counting days followed the pattern set by God himself. The account concerning the first figurative day of creation states: “There came to be evening and there came to be morning, a first day.” The successive “days” are also counted in the same way, beginning in the “evening.”—Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31.
The Jews were not the only people to reckon days in this way. The Athenians, the Numidians, and the Phoenicians did likewise. The Babylonians, on the other hand, considered sunrise to be the beginning of each new day, while the Egyptians and the Romans reckoned their days from midnight to midnight, as is the modern custom. Present-day Jews, however, still begin and end their Sabbath observance at sundown.
What was a “sabbath day’s journey”?
After witnessing the ascension of Jesus to heaven from the Mount of Olives, his disciples returned to Jerusalem, which was “a sabbath day’s journey away.” (Acts 1:12) A traveler could walk perhaps 20 miles [30 km] or more in a day. However, the Mount of Olives is close to Jerusalem. So, what is meant by “a sabbath day’s journey”?
The Sabbath was a day on which the Israelites were to rest from their normal activities. They were not even to light a fire in their homes on that day. (Exodus 20:10; 35:2, 3) “Keep sitting each one in his own place,” Jehovah commanded. “Let nobody go out from his locality on the seventh day.” (Exodus 16:29) This law would allow the Israelites opportunity to rest from normal activities and to give increased attention to spiritual aspects of life.
Not content with the principles laid down by Jehovah’s Law, legalistically minded rabbis set about establishing exactly—and somewhat arbitrarily—how far a person could walk on the Sabbath, for example, to attend worship. In this regard, the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature states: “In consequence of the rigorous laws about the observance of the Sabbath . . . , it was enacted that no Israelite is to walk on the Sabbath beyond a certain distance, called a Sabbath-day’s journey.” That distance was set at 2,000 cubits, which corresponds to somewhere between one half and seven tenths of a mile.
[Picture on page 11]
Jerusalem as viewed from the Mount of Olives