Enoch's calendar - Background to the times of John the Baptist


#1

You may be aware of the book of Enoch mentioned in Jude 14 - a non-canonical book, but deemed to be canonical in the old Ethiopian Church. Are we also aware of the unusual calendar described in the book of Enoch and other suppressed writings?

The book of Enoch was considered lost until three copies turned up in Abyssinia in 1773, and it was translated into English by R.H. Charles in 1906. After that came the Dead Sea scroll discovery in 1946, and that’s when people started asking questions about the calendar. My purpose in posting this topic is to discuss Enoch’s calendar. Please don’t open arguments of ‘canonicity’ in this thread!

What makes this calendar interesting is how it’s use, and its popularity, was during the same period when John the Baptist began his ministry. Moreover, the Qumran community who followed this calendar lived in the same locality as John. So, let us discuss the following questions:
[LIST=1]
*]Was this calendar the original Hebrew one, different to the modern one?
*]What were the Qumranites counting in their calendar calculations?
*]Does it provide helpful background to the times of John the Baptist?
*]Can Enoch’s 364-day calendar be synchronised with our 365.24 day year?
[/LIST]
I’m not sure how many people might be interested in this topic, but if you are, please add your thoughts and I’ll add mine. Do you think this background info is of value to our understanding of the gospel?


#2

Let me try.

First, I would say that the Enoch solar calendar is the innovation. The current lunisolar calendar is the one that Jews had generally used since the Babylonian period (after all, the common Hebrew names for months are derived from Akkadian names), and even before that, in pre-exilic times (the two OT terms for ‘month’, yeraḥ and ḥodesh, relate to the moon). Actually, if you look through history and different cultures, calendars based on the moon tend to be more older than ones based on the sun.

The Jewish calendar, as you might know, is lunisolar: the months are lunar but the years are solar (brought into line with the course of the Sun). Though the months follow the lunar cycle, the lunar months must always align themselves with the seasons of the year, which are governed by the sun. A lunar year (= twelve phase cycles of the moon) would equal around 354.37 days, but a solar year (the time for the sun to return to the same position in respect to the stars of the celestial sphere) would add up to approximately 365 days. So after about three years, the lunar months would be out of sync with the solar year by about a month. That’s why every two or three years the Jewish calendar would have an extra month, to keep the two in sync.

Apparently, somewhere around the 3rd-2nd century BC (which was when the Astronomical Book section of Enoch and Jubilees - the two works which were big about solar calendar - was written), some Jews apparently had the idea of adopting a solar calendar, because the lunisolar one that they had been using was not entirely perfect.

In those days, the new months used to be determined by observation, not calculation. (That’s the one difference between the Jewish calendar back then and the Jewish calendar now: Jews have switched to calculating.) Observers had to look for the first faintly glowing lunar crescent following a new moon and then work slightly backwards from there. That’s all well and good, but then you had to factor in clouds or bad weather or lunar eclipses that could delay people from seeing the moon.

You also had seasons as an additional factor: Passover for example had to fall in the spring, and the first fruits of barley were offered in the Temple during the festival of Unleavened Bread. But if temperatures were unseasonably cold and barley could not be presented, there’s no choice but to delay the feast by adding in an additional month to give ample time for the weather to warm and the crops to grow.

Apparently, the solution some Jews was: if the calendar we’re using right now is that ‘faulty’ and complicated (all those extra months and delays and stuff), then why not use a different calendar? In their view, their solar calendar was better because it was unchanging (or so they claimed), and the festivals fell on set times. Some of them began to attack those who still held to the lunar calendar: God, they said, fixed the order of the universe so that festivals would fall on the same seasons, the same days, every year. It wasn’t just social, but also cosmic: the idea was that the earthly worship in Jerusalem must be synchronized with the celestial worship in the heavens. Only the solar calendar fits that requirement, in their view.


#3

Cyberseeker, your point 4 interests me.

In Allegro’s book The Dead Sea Scrolls, a Reappraisal, he says, at one point, “One of the most hated innovations of the Hellenistic movement was the introduction of the Greek lunar calendar, with the periodic insertion of an intercalary month,” though he doesn’t provide any historical information about the alleged hatred or any resistance to the switch to the new calendar, which he doesn’t even give a date for.

When he describes the Enoch calendar, Allegro seems to be saying that the basis is an unvarying year of 52 weeks = 364 days without any leap years ever — no intercalary months, not even any intercalary days. Or did I misunderstand Allegro’s explanation of the Enoch calendar? It seems inherently unlikely that any society should ever have kept to a strictly 364-day calendar for any length of time, since it would so soon get out of step with the true mean solar year of 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds.

It would obviously make a difference if the calendar was used for liturgical purposes only. Muslims have no problem, apparently, with Ramadan and their other festivals occurring eleven or twelve days earlier every year, because they have never used their calendar (as far as I am aware) for planning farm activity, which historically must have been one of the prime reasons, in any society, for having a calendar at all in the first place. When you’ve finished gathering in the harvest, it’s useful to know how long you need to wait before you start sowing the seeds for the next one.

In Judaism, it’s hard to imagine that any calendar might be used for liturgical purposes only since, as you say, the major feasts were timed to tie in with the equinoxes, with the first fruits, and so on. If the Enoch calendar was ever really used in practice at Qumran or anywhere else in Israel, surely it must have allowed for intercalation in some form or other. Is that what you’re saying here, in your point 4?

Thanks
Bart


#4

That was inferred from a passage in the book of Jubilees, which is highly polemical against people who used the lunar (or lunisolar) calendar, Daniel 7:25 (“He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time” - as you might know, admittedly quite a number of scholars think that Daniel was written somewhere during the Seleucid period), and the information in 1 Maccabees (1:58-59) and 2 Maccabees (6:6-7) that says the Seleucids forced the Jews to celebrate the date on which Antiochus IV was born each month - which is only possible if the Jews followed the lunar calendar in effect in Seleucid territory.

A few scholars like James Vanderkam or Hanan Eshel proposed the following scenario: somewhere during the 3rd century BC, priests in the Jerusalem Temple began to use the 364-day solar calendar. Up to this point, the Jews would have used the (lunisolar) Babylonian calendar, just like their neighbors. (Eshel proposes that the Astronomical Book in 1 Enoch was written as a sort of priestly propaganda piece to gain acceptance for the shift.) Under the influence of the priests, the people also began to use the solar calendar for religious festivals, although for non-religious matters (agricultural for instance) they might have continued using the old lunar calendar based on observation.

By the 2nd century BC, (ca. 175 BC) the Seleucids forced the Jews to use (again?) the lunisolar calendar only, this time the Macedonian one. During the same century there was a backlash against the Hellenized priests among conservative elements in Judea (y’know, the Maccabean revolt and all that), which in turn led to a lessened reliance on them. This was said to be the context in which the highly-polemical Jubilees was written: it was a defense of the priestly solar calendar against critics.

Eventually, the solar calendar faded into oblivion as the Jews, even after the Seleucids were defeated, stuck with the lunar calendar even for religious observances: AFAIK by the time of Jesus, only the Qumran sectarians really held to it. In fact, if we didn’t have the evidence of them using the solar calendar, we would have assumed that they used the lunar calendar as well.

When he describes the Enoch calendar, Allegro seems to be saying that the basis is an unvarying year of 52 weeks = 364 days without any leap years ever — no intercalary months, not even any intercalary days. Or did I misunderstand Allegro’s explanation of the Enoch calendar? It seems inherently unlikely that any society should ever have kept to a strictly 364-day calendar for any length of time, since it would so soon get out of step with the true mean solar year of 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds.

The thing is, the earliest layers of Enoch (well, the various books of it) actually seem to presuppose a 360-day calendar. At some point, the work was edited so that it now gave a 364-day calendar.

I’ve read this idea that the 364-day calendar was actually based on the Egyptian calendar (which is solar, has 365 days - twelve months of thirty days each plus an extra five days - and no leap years). The Egyptian calendar may have been imported and adapted during that time period when the Ptolemies ruled Judea (323–200 BC) - which is after all the time we begin to see evidence for it.

Which actually brings us to the question: why did the Jews decide to reduce the number of days from 365 to 364? One idea that is that they were reduced for religious reasons: the Jews may have found the ‘extra’ five days objectionable because they were not part of any month (they were “days out of time”), and/or because the Egyptians thought that these five days were the birthdays of five gods. So what they did was eliminate one day, and relocate the remaining four days within the twelve months. Not to mention, 364 is a number dividable by seven, which yields exactly fifty-two weeks.


#5

He is right about how they hated it. The Qumran community rejected the post-Babylonian calendar and the temple authority’s festival dates because they believed the true calendar had been abandoned by the priests and replaced with an alternative system. Their scrolls show instead a calendar that operated with a unique Sabbatical formula. This, they believed to be the original and those who departed from it were apostate. They said:
“All the children of Israel will forget and will not find the path of the years, and will forget the new moons, and seasons, and Sabbaths and they will wrongly determine all the order of the years. For this reason the years will come upon them when they disturb (misinterpret) the order, and make an abominable day the day of testimony, and an unclean day a feast day, and they will confound all the days, the holy with the unclean, and the unclean day with the holy; for they will go wrong as to the months and sabbaths and feasts and jubilees.” (Book of Jubilees 6:33-37)

As to when the Jews switched from their original calendar, I estimate it to have been about the 3rd century BC. We don’t know exactly when the changes took place but it seems Jubilee stopped soon after Nehemiah. The New Year change from Nisan to Tishri would have come soon after that. Hecataeus of Abdera, a Greek historian who lived during the conquests of Alexander, is credited with saying, “Under the rule of nations during latter times, namely, Persians and Macedonians … the Jews greatly modified the traditions of their fathers”. Edersheim adds, “after their return from exile, the Jews dated their years according to the Selucidic era.” It is known that the Selucid New Year was Dios, the Greek equivalent to Tishri.

I have a study of the Inter-Testament period that you can print out on pdf if you wish. It includes a little on these calendar changes, and has chronological charts to go with it.
5loaves2fishes.net/pdfs/silentyears.pdf


#6

But I think they meant theirs to be lunisolar too. Although Enoch does not mention intercalary months, it does acknowledge how the lunar cycle falls behind the solar cycle. So, it seems to infer that ‘leap’ months might need to be added. The issue for them was not, “does the Greek lunisolar system work?” , but* “how can we rediscover the ancient Hebrew lunisolar system.”* Whether they got it right of course, is another story.


#7

Correction. It was solar like you say, but what I meant to say was that they still expected intercalations in order to sync with the 365.24 tropical year. Their problem, however, was how to add days in multiples of seven. It had to conform to a Sabbatical pattern.

One authority on the D.S. scrolls, Jean Carmignac, believed 7 extra days were added every Shemitah year.


#8

If it is John the Baptist’s time you are concerned with, Josephus is the authority. Astrology was elevated to an art form by the High Priesthood and they were experts at it. And Josephus was a Second Temple priest with first-hand knowledge. If anything in your theory is contradicted in Josephus, I would default to Josephus.

The day would begin when certain stars were able to be identified, not a part of the moon. Special priests were assigned this duty. It was a big deal- it was thought that the stars were windows into the divine world.

It was essential that the month began on a new moon, or as close to it as possible. That meant that the full moon occurred at mid-month.

As the lunar Calendar would be light on the average of 10-11 days per year compared to a Solar year, every three years a month was added in the summer- Adar II. As Patrick mentioned, the first fruits day of the Passover would have to be after the harvest. However, I do not think there was ever a time when the Passover month was changed because of a bad harvest.


#9

Well, Josephus’ description of the Essenes is so similar to to the Qumran community that most scholars assume they are the same sect. He doesn’t have much to say about their calendar though, so we use the Dead Sea scrolls as our authority as far as that subject is concerned.


#10

Most scholars do not agree with that.


#11

[quote=patrick457]The thing is, the earliest layers of Enoch (well, the various books of it) actually seem to presuppose a 360-day calendar. At some point, the work was edited so that it now gave a 364-day calendar.
I’ve read this idea that the 364-day calendar was actually based on the Egyptian calendar (which is solar, has 365 days - twelve months of thirty days each plus an extra five days - and no leap years). The Egyptian calendar may have been imported and adapted during that time period when the Ptolemies ruled Judea (323–200 BC) - which is after all the time we begin to see evidence for it.
[/quote]

That sounds right. The ‘Enochian’ calendar starts at 360 days. The difference is that it is presented in its first stage of intercalation with the rotation of planet Earth. Four of its days were additions - intercalory days. The four seasons, each consisting of three 30-day months, had a leap day added at the end of the third month so that each quarter increased from ninety to ninety-one days. In so doing, the year increased from three hundred and sixty to three hundred and sixty-four.
“In the numbering of all their days in which the sun traverses heaven, entering into and departing from the doors for thirty days … together with the four which are added within the calendar which divide the four portions of the year … and the year is completed in three hundred and sixty-four days.” (Enoch 82:4-6)

The reason why 364 days were chosen in preference to the Egyptian 365, was because of their strict sabbatical emphasis. There are seven days in the week and there are 52*7=364 days (exactly) in the year. Any deviation from this pattern is strongly condemned and that is the clue to additional intercalations. There would be no add-hoc leap-year additions whenever it suited unless the days were in multiples of seven and applied according to a pre-defined sabbatic formula.

One authority on the D.S. scrolls, Jean Carmignac, believed 7 extra days were added every Shemitah year, and it’s surprising how close Enoch’s calendar got to ours when that is done. I’ll try to show the detail later.


#12

Do you REALLY think John the Baptist kept his own Calendar separate from the Jewish Lunar Calendar- a Calendar that had worked for four thousand years?

Really?


#13

#14

I never said that John was a member of the Qumran community. I said that he lived in the same period and lived in the same locality. Just to set your heart at rest Steve, I do not think that John was an actually member of their community, but it should be obvious that he would have known them well, and been familiar with their beliefs.

With that in mind, I would like to ask people to discuss the following questions:
[LIST=1]
*]Was this calendar the original Hebrew one, different to the modern one?
*]What were the people of Qumran counting in their calendar calculations?
*]Does it provide helpful background to the times of John the Baptist?
*]Can Enoch’s 364-day calendar be synchronised with our 365.24 day year?
[/LIST]


#15

That’s the thing. Some Qumran specialists (Carmignac is one) have theorized - emphasis on the ‘theorized’ - that maybe the Community intercalated additional days every now and then to keep their calendar in sync with the true solar year, but the thing is, AFAIK we really have no explicit evidence for the supposed intercalation in the Qumran literature. In other words, we don’t know how the intercalation exactly worked, or whether they even intercalated, because our sources are silent about it. (One author, Sacha Stern, thought that maybe the users of the calendar actually didn’t. After all, the solar calendar-using Egyptians also never had leap years, and their calendar went out of wack as a result, but they never cared much apparently.) What we have are essentially scholars’ guesses.

IMHO the idea that intercalation was done in the 364-day solar calendar is sensible (most Jews after all laid emphasis on celebrating the festivals in the correct seasons; the Qumran sources as far as we know concur), but we haven’t amassed enough information to say how they exactly did it, if they ever did it. (In fact, if ever the calendar was used as it was - no intercalations - in real life, it would have been abandoned quickly because of this deficiency. In fact, that’s the reason why some people think the solar calendar never caught on among Jews as a whole in the long run.)

Speaking of which, I’ve found this article that asserts that the various literature found in Qumran actually record different calendars. They all have some similarities (for one, they’re 364-day solar calendars), but the specific mechanics are different. So the assertion is, that the Dead Sea Scrolls actually represent the literature of not one, but different groups who apparently used different calendars.


#16

My own opinion is that Qumran was a sort of workshop/retreat for the High Priesthood of the Second Temple.

According to Josephus, the Second Temple priests specialized in Astrology and setting the Calendar was very important- Lunar based as it was.

Probably the Priests knew the solar Calendar as well as they did the Lunar, and adjusted whenever it was called for. Remember, even the ancient Babylonians could forecast lunar eclipses.

These were smart people. They used the lunar calendar because of their theory that the night sky was the key to understanding the heavenly world of the divine along with the movement of the celestial bodies. That’s why their “day” began at dusk. First, the world of the divine held sway for twelve hours, and then followed the day- the world of man. They believed that as it was in Heaven, so too is it on earth- humans follow the dictates of heaven.

References to the Jewish Calendar are peppered through Josephus’ writings. I am not sure if addition of a summer month (Adar II) every three years to recalibrate with the solar calendar came out of the Second Temple era or was added later. But the Priests had their ways.

Remember, too, that Jerusalem is situated pretty much on the equator. This means that the growing season was dependent on weather patterns and not the length of the day- at the equator, day and night has 12 hours. The weather patterns were influenced greatly by the Sahara desert, which grew enormously in size as Rome grew and demanded more resources from Northern Africa. Presumably, there was a predictable rainy season every year- probably in summer (but who knows?).

The Second Temple Priests without question knew the solar patterns- vernal equinox, autumnal equinox, the winter and summer solstices- as well as any group in the ancient world. They just had no good reason to default to it, and the moon and stars were much more interesting!


#17

That is an interesting link. I’m inclined to agree with it, and it may help explain how John the Baptist had similarities but also differences to the Qumran group. I believe that John was focused on* ‘the times’* but I doubt that the 364-day calendar was part of it. However, there was a calendar issue where John would have shared the Essenes disagreement with how the temple authorities did it.

During the period of Helenisation the Jews had shifted New Year from Nisan to Tishri. This may seem a small matter, but it affected the timing of the 7-year cycles that would count to Messiah, as prophesied by Daniel.


#18

What is your source for the shift in the New Years celebration by the ancient Jews?


#19

It ain’t really disputed that the Qumran Community was connected to the Temple priesthood in some way, because the Dead Sea Scrolls do hint at it.

The group’s origin story claims that the founder or leader of the group, the ‘Teacher of Righteousness’ (usually reckoned to be a priest, specifically a Zadokite - because his title in Hebrew, moreh tzedeq, seems to be a pun on Tzadoq ‘Zadok’) left the Temple with his followers after being antagonized and pursued by the ‘Wicked Priest’, usually interpreted to be a high priest, both because of his name (ha-kohen ha-rasha’ - a pun on ha-kohen ha-ro’sh ‘the chief priest’?) and the fact that he is said to have “ruled over Israel” (the group seems to have accepted the Wicked Priest at first, because it is said that he was “called by the name of truth when he first arose”).

All the while, the Priest supposedly pursued and spied on the Teacher and tried to put him to death, committing other evil acts besides like “taking the wealth of the gentiles” or polluting the Temple. Eventually, the Priest is said to have met a nasty end: he was struck with some kind of disease (then again, this could be figurative) and eventually killed by gentiles.

The ‘Wicked Priest’ is usually reckoned to be one of the Maccabees or the Hasmonean high priest-kings. The usual suspect is Jonathan Maccabee, the founder of the Hasmonean dynasty (because he does kind of fit the time period, not to mention that he did kind of usurp the high priesthood from the Zadokite lineage, led several successful campaigns against the Greeks and was later killed by gentiles), although it’s possible that the title actually refers to a different person (Simon Maccabee or even Alexander Jannaeus are two other candidates) or even to a number of different high priests.

For something on-topic: the interesting thing is, the Wicked Priest is said to have pursued the Teacher in his place of exile during the Day of Atonement.

Woe to him who causes his neighbors to drink; who pours out his venom to make them drunk that he may gaze on their feasts! (Habbakuk 2:15)
Interpreted, this concerns the Wicked Priest who pursued the Teacher of Righteousness to the house of his exile that he might confuse [literally: swallow] him with his venomous fury. And at the time appointed for rest, for the Day of Atonement, he appeared before them to confuse = swallow] them, and to cause them to stumble on the Day of Fasting, their Sabbath of repose.

Since the high priest wouldn’t have had time to chase dissidents on the Day of Atonement (because he would have been busy with rituals and all), this is usually interpreted to mean that the Teacher and the Priest didn’t follow the same calendar: for the Teacher and his followers, the day the Wicked Priest pursued them was Yom Kippur.


#20

One reckoning of the Israelite/Jewish calendar (a variation on the Babylonian calendar, universal throughout the Near East) began in spring, in the month of Nisan (Babylonian Nisanu - March-April), aka Abib (the older, Canaanite term). You can see it in Exodus:

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. …]”

There is also a second way of reckoning years, this one starting from autumn, specifically, the month of Tishri (September-October). So in effect, you actually have two first months: Nisan and Tishri. Nowadays, Nisan-years are used for religious purposes (which is why it is sometimes called the Jewish religious calendar), while Tishri-years are used for civil purposes (hence, the Jewish civil calendar). Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is on Tishri.

We don’t know exactly when the Israelites/Jews had this kind of double system: one scholar, Edwin Thiele, thought that the civil Tishri-year was actually the southern, Judahite calendar, while the religious Nisan-year was the northern calendar. In other words, he places the adoption during the pre-Babylonian Exile monarchy. (Another guy, Gershon Galil, thought the opposite: Tishri-years were northern while Nisan-years were southern.)

Many people, however, seem to think the shift happened later, maybe somewhere just before or after the Exile or even during the time of the Seleucid Greeks. I mean, the Macedonian calendar (also based on the Babylonian calendar BTW) begins around October.

However, I’ll add: the 10th-century BC agricultural Gezer calendar (possibly one of the earliest specimens of Hebrew writing we have) actually begins in autumn: “two months of gathering” (September, October).


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