The history of the development of various measurements for time, and the making of instruments for determining them, is an interesting one. Before the days of Abraham, the Chaldeans had set up a system of days and seasons and had divided the periods of darkness and light into parts. Their seven-day week had been accepted by Egyptians before the time of Moses. Day and night were determined by the sun. The week, no doubt, was determined by the phases of the Moon. The month was based on the recurrence of the new moon. In order to provide in the calendar for the extra days of the solar year over the twelve lunar months, the Jews added an intercalary month. They had no way of determining an absolute solar year, so the extra month was added every third year, with adjustments to provide seven extra months each nineteen years. It was added after the spring equinox, hence was called a second Adar (the preceding month being Adar). This method of keeping the lunar and the solar years synchronized was probably learned by the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity.

For ages, years were not numbered consecutively as we number them, but were counted for some outstanding event, such as the founding of Rome. The Hebrews had a civil year that began at the vernal equinox, after the custom of Babylon, and a sacred year that began with the harvest or seventh month (Lev.25.8-Lev.25.9). They divided the year into two seasons, Seedtime or winter, and Harvest or summer (Gen.8.22; Gen.45.6; Exod.34.21; Prov.10.5).

Ancient people had no method of reckoning long periods of time. The Greeks did develop the idea of eras, or connected time elements. The Olympian era dated from 766 b.c.; the Seleucid era from 312 b.c. Their year began on January 1. In Asia Minor the year began with the autumn equinox. It is, therefore, difficult to determine any precise date for events occurring during New Testament days. Luke’s dating of events (2Cor.1.5; 2Cor.2.1-2Cor.2.2; 2Cor.3.1) when John the Baptist began his ministry is the only definite fact on which to determine the times of Jesus with any certainty.

The Hebrews used great and well-known events like the Exodus, the Babylonian exile, the building of the temple, and the earthquake (Amos.1.1) as fixed points for indicating the time of other events. In the Maccabean age the beginning of the Seleucid era (312 b.c.) became a starting point.

Additional Material

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

tim: The basis of the Hebrew measurement of time was the day and the lunar month, as with the Semites generally. The division of the day into hours was late, probably not common until after the exile, although the sun-dial of Ahaz (2Ki 20:9; Isa 38:8) would scent to indicate some division of the day into periods of some sort, as we know the night was divided, The word used for "hour" is Aramaic she`a’ (sha`ta’), and does not occur in the Old Testament until the Book of Daniel (4:33; 5:5), and even there it stands for an indefinite period for which "time" would answer as well.

1. The Day:

The term "day" (yom) was in use from the earliest times, as is indicated in the story of the Creation (Ge 1). It there doubtless denotes an indefinite period, but is marked off by "evening and morning" in accordance with what we know was the method of reckoning the day of 24 hours, i.e. from sunset to sunset.

2. Night:

The night was divided, during pre-exilic times, into three divisions called watches (’ashmurah, ’ashmoreth), making periods of varying length, as the night was longer or shorter (Jud 7:19). This division is referred to in various passages of the Old Testament, but nowhere with indication of definite limits (see Ps 90:4; 119:148; Jer 51:12; Hab 2:1).

In the New Testament we find the Roman division of, etc.). But the use of the word in the indefinite sense, as in the expressions: "day of the Lord," "in that day," "the day of judgment," etc., is far more frequent (see Day). Other more or less indefinite periods of the day and night are: dawn, dawning of the day, morning, evening, noonday, midnight, cock-crowing or crowing of the cock, break of day, etc.

3. Week:

The weekly division of time, or the seven-day period, was in use very early and must have been known to the Hebrews before the Mosaic Law, since it was in use in Babylonia before the days of Abraham and is indicated In the story of the Creation. The Hebrew shabhua`, used in the Old Testament for "week," is derived from shebha`, the word for "seven." As the seventh day was a day of rest, or Sabbath (Hebrew shabbath), this word came to be used for "week," as appears in the New Testament sabbaton, sabbata), indicating the period from Sabbath to Sabbath (Mt 28:1). The same usage is implied in the Old Testament (Le 23:15; 25:8). The days of the week were indicated by the numerals, first, second, etc., save the seventh, which was the Sabbath. In New Testament times Friday was called the day of preparation (paraskeue) for the Sabbath (Lu 23:54).

4. Month:

The monthly division of time was determined, of course, by the phases of the moon, the appearance of the new moon being the beginning of the month, chodhesh. Another term for month was yerach yerach, meaning "moon," which was older and derived from the Phoenician usage, but which persisted to late times, since it is found in the Aramaic inscriptions of the 3rd century AD in Syria. The names of the months were Babylonian and of late origin among the Hebrews, probably coming into use during and after the Captivity. But they had other names, of earlier use, derived from the Phoenicians, four of which have survived in "Abib," "Ziv," "Ethanim" and "Bul."

See Calendar.

5. Year:

The Hebrew year (shanah) was composed of 12 or 13 months, the latter being the year when an intercalary month was added to make the lunar correspond with the solar year. As the difference between the two was from ten to eleven days, this required the addition of a month once in about three years, or seven in nineteen years. This month was added at the vernal equinox and was called after the month next preceding, we-’adhar, or the "second Adar." We do not know when this arrangement was first adopted, but it was current after the Captivity. There were two years in use, the civil and the ritual, or sacred year. The former began in the autumn, as would appear from Ex 23:16; 34:22, where it is stated that the "feast of ingathering" should be at the end of the year, and the Sabbatic year began in the 7th month of the calendar or sacred year, which would correspond to September-October (Le 25:9). Josephus says (Ant., I, iii, 3) that Moses designated Nican (March-April) as the 1st month of the festivals, i.e. of the sacred year, but preserved the original order of the months for ordinary affairs, evidently referring to the civil year. This usage corresponds to that of the Turkish empire, where the sacred year is lunar and begins at different seasons, but the financial and political year begins in March O.S. The beginning of the year was called ro’sh ha-shanah, and was determined by the priests, as was the beginning of the month. Originally this was done by observation of the moon, but, later, calculation was employed in connection with it, until finally a system based on accurate calculation was adopted, which was not until the 4th century AD. New-Year was regarded as a festival.

6. Seasons:

The return of the seasons was designated by summer and winter, or seed-time and harvest; for they were practically the same. There is, in Palestine, a wet season, extending from October to March or April, and a dry season comprising the remainder of the year. The first is the winter (choreph), and this is the seed-time (zera`), especially the first part of it called yoreh, or the time of the early rain; the second is the summer (qayits, "fruit-harvest," or qatsir, "harvest").

Seed-time begins as soon as the early rains have fallen in sufficient quantity to moisten the earth for plowing, and the harvest begins in some parts, as in the lower Jordan region, near the Dead Sea, about April, but on the high lands a month or two later. The fruit harvest comes in summer proper and continues until the rainy season. "The time when kings go out to war" (2Sa 11:1; 1Ki 20:22) probably refers to the end of the rainy season in Nican.

7. No Era:

We have no mention in the Old Testament of any era for time reckoning, and we do not find any such usage until the time of the Maccabees. There are occasional references to certain events which might have served for eras had they been generally adopted. Such was the Exodus in the account of the building of the temple (1Ki 6:1) and the Captivity (Eze 33:21; 40:1) and the Earthquake (Am 1:1). Dates were usually fixed by the regnal years of the kings, and of the Persian kings after the Captivity. When Simon the Maccabee became independent of the Seleucid kings in 143-142 or 139-138 BC, he seems to have established an era of his own, if we may attribute to him a series of coins dated by the years "of the independence of Israel" (see Coins: MONEY; also 1 Macc 13:41 and 15:6,10). The Jews doubtless were familiar with the Seleucid era, which began in 312 BC, and with some of the local eras of the Phoenician cities, but we have no evidence that they made use of them. The era of the Creation was not adopted by them until after the time of Christ. This was fixed at 3,830 years before the destruction of the later temple, or 3760 BC.

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