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Mathematical Bias and the Biblical Calendar
(Revised 2015)

By: Shawn Richardson

Section 13:

TODAY'S OBSERVATIONAL CALENDARS

We have already seen historical documented proof of calendars that were based on pure observation - including the Babylonian and Sumerian calendars. In fact, when you study any historical calendar, you will find they all originated with a repeating observation and analysis of the heavenly bodies. It is only over the course of time that man established calendar systems, using mathematics, to create repeating cycles of timetables. Although some of these mathematical calendars eventually become very impressive based on their overall accuracy, it's really apparent in our more recent history that we have grown accustomed to relying on these man-made calculations in lieu of simply looking to the sky - especially in determining when specific annual events take place. This has created a mathematical bias in our overall thinking of time itself. Today, this mathematical thinking is so ingrained into our everyday lives that it can take some time to readjust back to the concept of keeping calendars solely based on observation. Our first notion is to believe that observation cannot be consistent and could cause discrepancies.

Even though it may be true that a single observer could be in error, multiple participants dramatically reduce any mistakes that can be made. More often than not, any mistake that is made is in how the observer interprets what is seen and how it should apply to scripture. Whereas mathematical discrepancies can range widely when you attempt to build a repeating formula based on averages. Not to mention, fixed formulas don't allow for any variance for the many variables involved - including the moon, sun, curvature of the atmosphere, crops, cloud formations, rainfall, temperature, altitude, longitude, latitude, and the mountains blocking one's view. Even if you were able to accurately calculate just one of these variables within a calendar formula, meshing all of them together into a single formula that can be used by any one person universally around the globe is, quite frankly, impossible for man to accomplish accurately on their own. The truth is that men rely on mathematics in order to feel that they are in control. Relinquishing that control to Yehovah's creation can be unsettling unless they also rely on Him for everything else in their lives.

But are we too late? Has math replaced all known civil calendars today? Knowing that observation is best when you have multiple participants, can we go back to the simplistic method of watching the skies and still function in a mathematical world? Can even a small group of people still function on a calendar that is based solely on observation? Yes. In fact, there are several groups of civilized people that still use such a method today. One of two very strong examples includes the Islamic calendar. Many Christians (and Jewish Orthodox) would stop right here. How can you consider an Islamic belief system when it comes to a Biblical Calendar? If you're thinking the same thing, then I ask that you just bear with me for a moment.

The Islamic calendar has been established as an orderly method throughout Islamic history. Even today, this calendar is established using observation of the moon to begin its months every cycle - starting when the new moon crescent is sighted anywhere in the world as the sun goes down! The Wikipedia Encyclopedia further explains the Islamic calendar history[24]:

And what is the hilal? The Wikipedia Encyclopedia[21] explains:

Sound familiar? This method of establishing months is exactly what we just read from the Bible! In fact, Islamic history closely correlates with Christian and Jewish history from the time of Abraham. Much of today's Muslim faith is also founded upon Biblical text. But, just as mainstream Christianity believes the New Testament has abolished much of the Old Testament (instead of the Old serving as the foundation for the Covenant that the New advocates), Muslims have also changed or ignored portions of the original laws established by Yehovah in the Torah in favor for the Quran (along with portions of the New Testament). They believe that older texts have not been properly preserved and have become invalid over time. Because of this, the Islamic belief system has retained certain truths while others have been lost or replaced. Their calendar is no exception. Although Islamic tradition does not recognize the Aviv harvest to begin its years, it instead measures years on a repeating 12-month lunar cycle. This places the start of the Islamic year on a constant drift earlier from the season in which it was last established - making their New Year fall at anytime during the solar year. However, they continue to observe and announce the sightings of new moon crescents every month and determine their annual festivals on such sightings. They begin each month geographically from where the moon was first sighted and use a system of eyewitness testimony (similar to the Sanhedrin system).

Even though the Islamic calendar is merely an example, many will immediately brush it aside. This is mainly due to a perceived matter of authority and the fact that the oracles were left with the Jews and, consequently, select the Hebrew Calendar. But, as we have read, not all Jews follow the Hebrew Calendar system. The Karaite Jews have used an observed calendar within their history, and continue to do so today, which they have derived from the scriptures (or the Torah). Karaite Jews trace their origins back to the Middle Ages and believe to have come from the Sadducees of Yeshua's time (while the Pharisees became known as Rabbis). This also makes the Karaites a member of the Judah tribe whom were entrusted with the living oracles. A group named Karaite Korner explains this history[27]:

The Karaite Jews, by rejecting the Rabbinical teachings and reverting back to Biblical scriptures, eventually regressed back to an observed calendar. We see here that the Karaite movement started in the 8th century - about the same timeframe secular history claims the current Hebrew calendar was starting to be established in its current form. Because the calculated Hebrew calendar was introduced by a Rabbinical authority, the Karaite Jews rejected the Orthodox Jewish traditions that contradict scripture. These included specifically the calculating of an intercalation cycle in the calendar (the 19-year cycle), using the Molad calculation of the moon (instead of the new moon crescent) and instituting calendar postponements. The Karaite Jews also believe that the Biblical signs of the new moon crescent and green-eared barley must be observed to establish a calendar - but specifically from Jerusalem.

As we have discussed earlier, forcing a fixed "timeline" through Jerusalem is not strictly instructed within the Bible. But Karaite Jews believe that an observation method was originally utilized by the Sanhedrin at the Temple. Since the temple was originally located in Jerusalem, they continue to practice their observations from this location. Karaite Jews publish reports of sightings from Jerusalem regularly. Even though the Karaite's provide an excellent example of Jewish peoples following a calendar method based solely on observation, many organizations in the Western World ignore this fact. The United Church of God uses the belief of a Jerusalem "dateline" as a basis for its rebuttal of using such a calendar concept. In their article "Does God Give a Calendar?", they state[52]:

This is a valid argument against Jerusalem as a dateline. Yet, as we have already learned in this paper, even the Hebrew Calendar uses Jerusalem specifically in its Rules of Postponement to determine when the month of Tishri begins before or after the noon hour (the calendar United Church of God supports). We have already discussed the mathematical bias that is used when applying a mathematical "dateline" using Jerusalem or any other location (which the Bible does not give), but all other aspects of the Karaite calendar serve as excellent examples of Biblical scripture. It is simply the Jewish view of establishing law that causes them to use Jerusalem to be tied to the Biblical calendar. It should be noted that not all Karaite Jews use the Jerusalem dateline and is considered a "gray area" to the Karaite community.

Both of these calendar examples support a continuous history of calendars based on pure observation still intact today. With the exception of a Jerusalem "dateline" being applied to the Karaite calendar and the Islamic calendar ignoring the start of the year with the month of Aviv, these two calendars provide excellent examples of Biblical concepts. Therefore, we can see that this concept does work and it is certainly not a new idea that has been recently concocted by self-appointed calendar "experts" as some groups would have you believe. An observation-based calendar is not only historically established, we have also seen that it is Biblically required! It is not a random method made up by men attempting to interpret the Bible and randomly create a calendar method for themselves. There are certainly different versions of observed calendars today that are based on different beliefs (i.e. Christian versus Jewish views on Jerusalem) and that still apply a mathematical bias (such as the spring equinox or use of the conjunction), but all are genuinely concerned with following the instruction given in the Bible, which is clearly not the Hebrew calendar.

Finally, there are an ever-increasing number of groups keeping Festival dates based on a calendar of observation rather than calculation. A list of some of these groups is listed in the appendix. Although some variances do exist between the groups, many attempt to be in line with Biblical instruction. Hebrew calendar supporters will often reference the fact that there are so many variations of observable calendars as a reason to reject observation all-together. Although it is true that many variations exist, they primarily boil down to different view points on very few items. One is the specific phase of the moon that should be used (waxing crescent, conjunction, new moon and some waning crescents), second is the start of the year (using aviv barley, the spring equinox - with the new moon either closest to or immediately following) and, finally, whether observation can take place globally or limited to Israel (defined either by modern day or Biblical borders). All of these points have been discussed earlier in this paper.

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