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Mathematical Bias and the Biblical Calendar
(Revised 2015)

By: Shawn Richardson

Section 5:

BIBLICAL YEARS

Now that we have established the Biblical Day and Month, one major element remains: the Biblical Year. Just as our mathematical bias persuaded us to assign a fixed number of days to a given month, we are also determined to assign a fixed number of months in a given year. For those of us comfortable with the Gregorian calendar, we assign twelve months per year. As we learned in the previous chapter, a lunar cycle lasts just over 29 1/2 days and does not easily divide into the solar year. The solar year lasts just a few days shy of 12 1/2 lunar months. But, does the Bible explain to us how many months we should keep in a given year or when the New Year should begin? To understand the answer to this question, we need to turn to the scriptures. We are told directly by Yehovah Himself in Exodus 12:2[1]:

This instruction was given to Israel at the time of their exodus out of Egypt. The following statements continue the rules of keeping the Passover. We also know that the Passover was observed in the same month, the first month (or renewed moon). Exodus 13:3-4[1] further explains the month Israel left Egypt:

Understanding the definition behind the word month as being translated from Chodesh (Strong's 2320), we can understand these verses as saying:

So, to understand when the Biblical Year begins, we just need to know one thing: when is the renewed moon of Aviv? Aviv (also translated Abib) is used here as a very specific term. We will see that this Hebrew term is not necessarily a proper name given to the first month; rather it is a descriptive state of being.

Proper names within the Hebrew language, though, always contain an inherent meaning (and still do today) within their construct. Unlike our traditions in the Western World where names are merely a unique reference label (not much unlike a number assigned by a computer), the Hebrew language is broken down into representative segments (similar to a group of picture images that, when combined, form a word or name). When Yehovah gives a name for someone or something, the meaning is always perfectly represented. Here, some translations phrase this as "the month Aviv", others say "the month of aviv". Either way, we must look at the meaning behind the term or name aviv. Let's start with the King James' version translation from Strong's (24), which translates as[3]:

Exodus 13:4 specified that the first month was of aviv. With this definition, we would infer that the new moon crescent was of green, young ears of grain in the fields. Another translation is often green, tender ears. In either case, we see that the name Aviv itself is a reference to the growing stage of crops. This definition, however, is derived outside of Biblical resources (as there is no "root" word used within the Bible to better define its meaning). So, we must look further for other references in order to understand the context. Exodus 23:15[1] refers, once again, to the month of Aviv:

Additional references to Aviv are found in Exodus 34:18 and Deuteronomy 16:1. As we mentioned earlier, seasons (as we refer to them today) were only defined as summer and winter in the Bible. Essentially, the year was broken into two parts - the season of harvesting and the season of winter. People were agrarian in nature and were quite aware of which crops would be ripened and when. The people at the time of Moses would have identified perfectly with Yehovah's description of the first month. They would have understood what aviv referred to and as being related to crops. We are also given a very specific description during the plague of the hail prior to Israel leaving Egypt in Exodus 9:31-32[1]:

This describes a state of mature barley as being brittle enough to be damaged by hail and not flexible (Afilot) enough to take on the barrage of the storm. Barley is the first cereal grain to be harvested every year. This makes the translation "green ears of corn" a bit misleading. The Karaite Korner, a group dedicated to observing the barley harvests within the land of Israel, claims the Strong's definition of green ears is not completely accurate. They explain in the FAQ page that[61]:

The full meaning of this passage and its ramifications for understanding the agricultural term Aviv is discussed in an article titled "Abib (Barley)"[62]. With the additional support from Exodus 9 above, we can conclude that Aviv is a reference to the state of the harvest - more specifically, that of the barley harvest.

The use of barley crops to determine the year is further supported after Israel would arrive in the Promised Land where we are told that, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Yehovah commanded a wavesheaf offering (Leviticus 23:10-12) that consisted of the first picked barley of the harvest. In fact, this command included that none of the early harvest could even be consumed until this event took place. This wavesheaf offering began the Feast of Firstfruits - or the count to Pentecost. Obviously, the requirement of having ripened barley available for the wavesheaf offering was an extremely important factor at the start of each year and, since the people could not eat it until it was offered, it was vital to identify the correct month that would be of Aviv. As the article above references, Leviticus tells us, in even further detail, what conditions (or stages of growth) the barley would be acceptable as an offering - giving us a further description to the meaning of Aviv. Leviticus 2:14[1] states:

This specifies that the firstfruit offering of aviv barley could be either 1) parched in fire, or 2) as crushed Carmel. Therefore, at the time the grain is given as an offering, if the seed within the barley heads have not matured past the milky stage and would simply burst open when squeezed or parched in a fire, it is not yet aviv. However, if it is simply moist, but not quite enough to be crushed into flour, a fire could be used to remove the moisture and, then, be crushed. At this stage of growth, Barley is often visually green in color, but with tell-tale signs of yellowing. This stage would be acceptable for the offering. Additionally, barley stalks at this stage would be better protected against hail damage. All together, these indicators would be considered as being in a state of aviv. If the new moon crescent arrived at a time when barley could be found in such a condition to be used in the Wave Sheaf, then the season had obviously arrived and everyone would be gearing up to harvest and partake in what they reaped. They obviously would be ready for the Wave Sheaf so that they could begin to eat of the year's new produce.

If a renewed moon arrived with no aviv barley ready to harvest, then declaration of a new year would not begin until the following renewed moon sighting. This would mean that the barley harvest could mature to a level of hardened grain - visibly yellow in color. For more information regarding the barley harvesting, see Growth and Development Guide for Spring Barley[15].

We can see, then, that the scriptures give us yet another sign on which to measure our Biblical Calendar. The renewed moon remains the primary marker for the start of the Biblical Month, but with the added caveat of aviv barley being available (assuming it is proper for the Wave Sheaf barley offering) it also marks the first month of the Biblical Year. The Israelites would have clearly understood the significance behind the word/name Aviv. Today, many often dismiss this term as simply an arbitrary name to a defunct calendar that not even the Hebrew calendar retains (it has renamed the first month as Nissan). But now that we have a better understanding with an applied context, we can use this meaning and apply it to scripture. For example, in Exodus 34:18[1] we can understand the commandment given to Yehovah's people as follows:

There are those that argue if any kind of green herbage exists in the land then the month should be considered Aviv. But as we have seen, it is required that the plant be matured enough to be parched in fire, at a minimum. Then the question becomes: does the year begin when any aviv plant is discovered at the necessary level of ripeness in a particular location or do you wait until it can be found throughout all the land? We have learned that the Biblical Calendar is based on signs and events. Therefore, any aviv barley that is found (at least, where it grows naturally) would be a sign, or marker, from which to begin the year. Waiting for the entire region to be filled with aviv barley would be like waiting until the moon was full to determine it was renewed. Additionally, we have the wave sheaf offering that requires only the first fruit of the land (as a whole), not the first fruit of every patch of land growing barley.

We now have the basis to begin the Biblical New Year. But, if the appointed Festivals are to be based on aviv barley specifically, where should we look? Just as there is nothing specified as to how much aviv barley is required, we are not told where to search for it. The people of Israel were given the instruction of identifying the first month (in the first month) while they were in Egypt. But barley is grown today in various locations around the world and at different times of the year. In fact, barley is grown during the late fall and winter months quite regularly in farmlands located in the southern hemisphere (as this is their warmest months). Of course, we do know that the Passover season took place in the spring timeframe, but large amounts of barley are also grown within North America at about the same time of the year, but its maturity levels of growth can vary from that in Egypt or Israel significantly to deter results depending on various factors, including area weather conditions. Furthermore, crops can be grown in controlled environments, such as greenhouses, any time of the year. If aviv barley is instructed as our sign of reference, how do we know which barley is accurate?

Although barley may be located in various locations throughout the world, it hasn't always been the case. Obviously referring to barley grown in controlled conditions under man's guidance should not be considered when looking for aviv barley at the time of the renewed moon. This, then, would lead us to question the authenticity of barley exported to various locations around the world that take advantage of climate conditions at various times throughout the year. This means that our best, most logical choice would be to look to indigenous barley - the geographical origin where barley historically grew naturally.

Natural, or wild, barley is referred to as Hordeum spontaneum. Its origins spread from regions of North Africa and Crete in the west (primarily Egypt), to Tibet in the east. It grows most abundantly in the Fertile Crescent region (with modern-day Israel located in the middle of this region)[63]. According to the scriptures, the original borders of the Promised Land extended well beyond the modern-day borders of Israel. Yehovah's borders included all of the land from the river of the Nile in the east (in Egypt) to the Euphrates River in the west (located in modern-day Iraq). This entire region is located directly inside the Fertile Crescent. The earliest evidence of wild barley in an archaeological context comes from the Epipaleolithic at Ohalo II at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. In other words, barley originated in Israel with the Fertile Crescent having the conditions in which it grows naturally. Therefore, this geographical region would provide a point of reference that would match that within scripture. This area would have included Egypt, which is where the people of Israel were located when they were instructed to use the aviv to begin their Biblical Year. Although the Fertile Crescent region contains both harvested (Hordeum Vulgare) and wild (Hordeum Spontaneum) barley, the wild barley is much rarer the further you go outside of this region[1].

Just as with the renewed moons, there are some that believe you must only observe barley from Jerusalem; however, the city itself does not have a history of growing barley - either cultivated or wild. Barley is generally located a few miles outside of Jerusalem itself, closer to the river.

Although barley was grown in Egypt, it would not have been in such a large abundance in the wilderness. Arguments abound that Israel could not have used such a method during the 40 years of dwelling in the wilderness following the exodus out of Egypt. However, there is no certainty that Hordeum Spontaneum did not exist entirely. In fact, barley is relatively drought tolerant[64]. After coming out of Egypt, if Israel did not have any wild barley to determine the start of their years, Yehovah still tabernacled with them at the temple and He most certainly would have known when this occurred (if not caused it to grow). But since we are not given examples of Yehovah giving this instruction every year, another possibility is that they looked to an alternative source. The fig trees, which still exist in the wilderness today, bloom at the same time each spring in this region during the breba fig crop[45]). It is likely that figs would have been harvested while in the wilderness as a primary source of food and would have served as a strong equivalent to barley. This is conjecture, of course, but perhaps this is why Hosea 9:10 compares Israel to grapes in the wilderness[1]:

We also saw earlier that the wavesheaf offering was referred to as the firstfruits. By harvesting fig trees, as an early-season crop, Israel may have inferred from the barley wavesheaf (that they were to begin after entering into the Promised Land) being called the first fruits as also being the first fruits of the harvest season. We also read earlier that Yeshua referenced a fig tree as an indication of the growing seasons (in Matthew 24). In either case, most that argue against aviv barley to begin the year based on availability in the wilderness is also based on conjecture. We also know that the people utilized scouts to search and report back findings to the camps - this was likely the simplest solution as aviv barley certainly would have been in nearby locations.

So now, just as we learned that the new moon crescent arrives with the blowing of a trumpet while gathering together in fellowship, we see here that the new moon crescent of Aviv arrives at the same time, but with the existence of ripened barley (capable of being harvested) in the fields within the Promised Land. Communication of such findings would have been simple as everyone came together during the New Moon Festival. If there were no reports of aviv barley in the fields, then another month was added to the current year.

Now that we have read the instructions regarding the Biblical Year, we may notice that there is no scriptural foundation for a pre-determined number of Biblical Months within a given year. Just as a lunar month lasts 29.53 days, a solar year (a full orbit of the Earth around the Sun) lasts 365.24 days (or about 12.37 lunar months). Yes, this means that a Biblical Year can last either 12 or 13 months. The calculated Hebrew calendar resolves this by inserting a 13th month (or leap-month) into the year at various times on a rotating 19-year cycle. This is similar to the Gregorian calendar inserting a leap-day once on a 4-year cycle (unless the year is divisible by 100 but not 1000). Of course, there are those that believe the Hebrew calendar always existed. But this is not true. The Wikipedia Encyclopedia[20] confirms:

However, through the simple task of observing the barley fields, we can rather easily determine that the New Year has begun (especially if it is communicated). It is the visible sign of the harvest that is given to us directly by Yehovah Himself when he named the first moon Aviv. This is how we can truly know when His season has arrived: at the moon's crescent of Aviv - regardless if it's the 12th or 13th month!

Now, some think they find fault with the Aviv method by claiming that the entire time it takes to harvest barley lasts anywhere from six to eight weeks and could not possibly be used to refer to one specific month of the year. But aviv does not refer to the harvest process itself, but rather the availability of barley ready to harvest at the time of the renewed moon. This is likely confusing to some because they may believe that each person throughout the land was required to bring their own barley as an offering. But the Wavesheaf ceremony, which required the first portion of harvested barley, was not performed for each individual - rather for the entire community as a whole. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains this service[65]:

This ceremony was, essentially, a kick-off of the harvest season. The important factor was that barley would be ready in time to perform this ceremony which required it to be aviv. It did not require all of the land or each household to have aviv no more than the moon is required to be full of light to be considered new.

The use of crops by the Children of Israel has always been intricately tied directly into the Festivals of Yehovah that were kept within their seasons. The Wikipedia confirms this connection[46]:

Judaism 101 further makes this connection to the ancient calendar explaining when the 13th leap-month would be inserted prior to the first month[35]:

We see here that Israel (the Sanhedrin) considered several variables, over time, when the renewed moon was declared the first renewed moon of the year. But only the term Aviv is directly instructed by Yehovah within scripture. Only with the method of observation can all of the signs given by Yehovah in scripture be preserved: the sun, moon and harvest seasons.

There are other arguments that claim the Bible supports use of the equinox (or the equilux - a definition used in the Enoch calendar that indicates equal day and night in Jerusalem). Many refer to the Hebrew word tquwphah, used by Moses in Exodus 34:22 when describing the three pilgrimage Feasts. Even though we have already seen direct instruction from Yehovah to Moses that the moon of aviv was to be the first month, the mere possibility that the equinox is referred to in scripture opens up a new Biblical variable to support calculation. Tquwphah is used Biblically in context to the year's end, or the end of the harvest. The Hebrew meaning of the word tquwphah (Strong's 8622[3]) is:

Therefore, the best meaning would be full circuit or completion. Psalm 19:6[1] also uses this word in relation to the cycle of the sun:

This is referring to the daily cycle of the sun from an observer's perspective - there is no further detailed explanation here of the solar equinox. This same Hebrew word is also used to describe the time of year kings go to war (II Chronicles 24:23) and for the cycle of pregnancy (I Samuel 1:20). Therefore, its meaning cannot be specifically equinox, nor is there nearly enough detail given in either context or meaning of the word. It is merely a cycle that could be attributed to any number of repeating events. So, what repeating event is being used in Exodus 34:22-23[1]?

The context here is referring to the pilgrimage harvests throughout the year. These harvests are a repeating event every year and end with the wheat harvest in, what we now call, the fall season. With the context of Psalm 19 using the word tquwphah in a daily manner, there is no reason to radically assume this is referring to the complex anatomy of the Earthly equinox in relation to its orbit around the sun. That being said, some refer to specific star constellations that occur at the time of the equinox that many claim to use to determine spring. In combination with the requirement that Passover take place in the spring, the rule used is to count a month as the first of the year if it causes the 14th (Passover) to fall on or after the arrival of the constellations that correlate with the equinox. In recent years, this method happens to also correlate with the arrival of Aviv barley within the Fertile Crescent at the same time. Whether this method trumps that of physical Aviv, however, is not specified within scripture and cannot be fully supported. It also is a future event that must be calculated or predicted at the time of the renewed moon, the event from which we begin to count the days of the Biblical Month.

Let's now return, for a moment, to the topic of the flood and the account of Noah referencing particular days of the year. Is it possible that Noah kept a method of observation with the celestial movements being similar (or the same) as we see them today? We already mentioned that the scriptures tell us that the rain began to fall on the 17th day of the 2nd month in Genesis 7:11. Verse 12 describes the rain lasting 40 days and 40 nights followed by an additional period of 150 days in verse 24 where we are told the waters prevailed (remained). The next chapter repeats another 150-day period in verse 3 that describes the period of time the waters abated (decreased). Some question whether this describes two periods of 150 days or just one. However, it would not be logical that the waters could prevail (remain) and abate (decrease) at the same time nor does it fit in the overall timeline, as we will see. Those that believe Biblical months were once measured as a fixed number of 30 days each assume the flood consisted of two 150-day periods starting on the 17th day of the Second month and ending on the 17th day of the Twelfth month. Additionally, it is assumed that the initial 40 days were part of the first 150-day period. This theory seems to be supported in Genesis 8:4 that describes the ark coming to rest on the 17th day of the Seventh month upon the Ararat mountains (what seems to be exactly five 30-day months, or 150 days, since the rain began to fall - assuming, of course, the ark came to rest on mount Ararat on the exact same day the waters began to abate).

The story of Noah continues, however, where we are told that the flood waters were no longer seen on the first day of the year in Genesis 8:13 (with the ground still likely to be saturated and not completely dried to walk upon until the 17th day of the Second month as described in Genesis 8:14). So, what happened between the supposed 17th day of the Twelfth month and the first day of the following year?

Now that we know an observed calendar year can last either 12 or 13 lunar months, let's consider the total number of days that seem to be described in the story of Noah. First, the rain began to fall either 45 or 46 days from the start of the year (the first month being either 29 or 30 days, plus 16 days in the second month). If you add 40 days/nights for rain, 150 days for water to prevail (remain) and 150 days for water to abate (decrease), you end up with 385 or 386 total days in the first year. This just happens to fit the total number of whole days it takes for 13 Synodic lunar cycles (29.53 days x 13 = 383.9, or 384 whole days). If you allow for variance of the moon not being sighted on the 29th day (as there were no eyewitnesses to prove otherwise), you also end up with either 384 or 385 possible days in an observed year. This method matches exactly with the account given. Even if Noah could not determine the exact length of each specific month during the flood using observation, his determination would have eventually self-corrected upon confirmation of the actual lunar cycle.

This leads to the final question: where was Aviv barley to determine the new year following the flood? We mentioned earlier the possibility of fig trees serving as an equivalent to barley that may have been unavailable to the people of Israel in the wilderness during the Exodus. Consequently, Genesis 8:11 describes the dove returning to the ark with a plucked olive leaf in her mouth that seems to have served as a corresponding sign of agricultural growth. Noah could have taken this into consideration to determine the following renewed moon as the first of the year (and scripture seems to include the story of the dove for this very reason).

It is a disadvantage to many of us today who ignore agriculture as a natural sign of timing and weather conditions. In these modern times, we rely mostly on mathematical formulas to predict seasons (usually based on the calculated equinox or equilux). In the past few hundred years, many relied on almanacs to help predict seasons and assist farmers in planting at the right times. Although these almanacs were based on mathematics, many considered them to be more accurate as they factored in specific elements such as sunrise and sunset, weather, tides, and so forth with respect to time. In other words, the math was more closely based on an observer's perspective. Even city dwellers recognized the accuracy of such publications over that of local meteorologists when it came to long-term forecasts. But even the readers of such almanacs would often fall prey to the desire to predicting such events.

The fact remains that a mathematical calendar simply cannot provide the flexibility of knowing when crops will be ready to harvest. As the saying goes, "actual results may vary". Many will feel that using the Biblical Signs for a calendar is extremely unreliable and find it difficult to break free from their comfort zones. The challenge came when the people left the Promised Land and were no longer able to observe the barley growth. This led to the decision to mathematically average the observed cycle. The long-term result, however, has led many to turn to the Hebrew calendar that uses this average method and completely ignore the instructions given to them by Yehovah Himself when the opportunity to observe barley, once again, from the Promised Land became possible again. We'll discuss this further as we begin to see how the Hebrew Calendar has developed throughout history.

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