New Moon

NEW MOON (See Calendar; Feasts)

The term has three Biblical connotations: (1) the monthly festival (Eng. VSS generally “new moon,” as LXX); (2) the day, as a chronological point of reference (Eng. VSS, LXX usually “month,” but RSV occasionally “new moon,” e.g., Exod 19:1); (3) by extension, as a synonym for yeraḥ, the period between new moons; particularly with month names (Abib in Exodus; always with Babylonian names; and in 1 Kings 6:1, 38; 8:2, perhaps for style).

The importance of the new moon lies in the fact that it is usually easily observable, whereas the night of full moon is not so readily determined, and partly in a sense of relief at its appearance, quickened by superstition and mythology (Nilsson, 151ff.; Dalman, Arbeit und Sitte, 10ff.). Thus the new moon was traditionally marked by feasting in the local community, accompanied by religious ceremonies. When David did not appear at Saul’s table for such an occasion, the king assumed that ritual impurity was the reason (1 Sam 20:5, 26).

In a more sophisticated society, such holidays can be irksome; Amos satirized the preoccupation of money-grabbing merchants fretting against the interruption of their activities; preoccupation which knew no scruple as to how profit was made (8:4-6). Isaiah (1:13f.) shows another side of the picture; upper classes delighting in frequent religious ceremonies to gratify their self-esteem. J. Morgenstern (HUCA III, 86) characterizes the new moon as a “convenience rather than a formal system of division,” surely a false antithesis; as is his definition (HUCA I, 18) of “month” measuring time, and “season” as fixing a date.

Date reference point. A day within a month is identified with reference to ḥoḍesh (not yeraḥ), using the lameḏ of reference; or, rarely, beṯ (e.g., Num 10:11; 1 Kings 12:33), reflecting the derived use of ḥoḍesh for “month period” (as in Num 28:14, “months of the year”; Num 10:10; 28:11, “beginning of the month”). The two usages occur together, e.g., Leviticus 16:29 ḇăḥōděsh hăshsh ’bē'ē be’äsōr lăḥōḏěsh. In Exodus 19:1, RSV renders “new month,” in view of “that day” later in the v.

Lapse of time would naturally be reckoned in new moons just as years were counted by New Year days (see Nilsson, 9ff., “pars pro toto” theory).

Observation. The moon’s synodic period (from conjunction to conjunction with the sun) is not an exact number of days, and the angle of its path to the horizon changes with the seasons; so its reappearance could not be predicted with complete certainty. This may explain the two-day feast of 1 Samuel 20:5. The Talmud has rules to cover observation of the crescent, since the precise dates of festivals depend on it (Nilsson, 244ff.).


P. Nilsson, Primitive Time Reckoning (1920); J. Morgenstern, HUCA I (1924), 13ff.; G. Dalman, Arbeit und Sitte in Palastina I (1927); VetTest 5 (1955), 37ff.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

See Astrology, sec. I, 6; ASTRONOMY, sec. I, 3, (1); FASTS AND FEASTS.

See New Moon; Fasts and Feasts.