[b-hebrew] Genesis 8:22

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at ont.com
Thu Apr 27 12:33:13 EDT 2006

Dear Yitzhak,

>  > HH: The word  MW(D ("time") clearly can refer to the seasons of
>>  nature.  In Jer 8:7 it refers to the migration season for birds. In Ps
>  > 104:19 it refers to nature's seasons:
>I think you are mistranslating Psalm 104.  The word mw(d very often
>refers to the full moon holiday.

HH: A full moon holiday is foreign to the context 
of the natural world of Psalm 104:

Psa. 104:18 The high mountains belong to the wild 
goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys.
Psa. 104:19 The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.
Psa. 104:20 You bring darkness, it becomes night, 
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
Psa. 104:21 The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.
Psa. 104:22 The sun rises, and they steal away; 
they return and lie down in their dens.
Psa. 104:23 Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.

HH: What do wild goats care about a full moon 
holiday? What do beasts of the forest care about 
it? What do lions care about it?

HH: Here is a small piece of writing about this part of Psalm 104:

The second section which mentions mankind, verses 
19-23, demonstrates Yahweh's sovereignty over 
creation by appointing heavenly bodies to 
regulate the seasons and days. The key word here 
is "for the seasons" The rest of the section is a 
series of specific illustrations on how the sun 
and moon regulate the animal world and man. Key 
terms are used to express the regulation of the 
natural world by the moon and sun. The sun knows 
"its setting or going down" darkness becomes 
"night" all forest life roams under the cover of 
"night" the sun "rises" to mark the end of the 
day; man goes out to his work "until evening"

The specific illustration demonstrating the 
regulation of the moon and sun is the interplay 
between mankind and the lion. The lion hunts at 
night and rests in the day; mankind rests at 
night and "tills" the land in the day. Here man 
and animal are placed on an egalitarian level as 
workers from the natural world who illustrate how 
wonderfully the sun and moon regulate the cycle 
of time.

>   This appears clearly from its use to
>denote the special holidays such as Passover and Sukkoth.

HH: I know, but that's not the context here.

>  Even
>Shavuoth is included because the date given in the Bible falls on the
>15th of the month when assuming a 12x30 or 4x91 calendar, and this
>can be considered a further development from an original date in the
>15th of a lunisolar calendar.

HH: Fine, but the context does not mention the sabbath.

>   Moed also appears in conjuction with
>the term Hodesh (new moon) and also Hag and Shabbat, the later
>also probably a term for the full moon in certain cases.

HH: FIne.

>   In the case
>of Psalm 104, this kind of interpretation is also very plausible.  In
>fact, the moon is not usually associated with the seasonal calendar
>(this is the role of the sun), so this interpretation of Psalm 104 is
>probably more likely, and yours seems rather unlikely.

HH: The moon is related to the cycle of day and 
night, to the cycle of months, to the tides. It 
seems to do other things. Here are a few quotes 
from people writing on this topic (note 
especially the second quote):

  Neil F. Comins's What if the Moon Didn't Exist 
addresses this very possibility [the existence of 
the earth without the moon] in an article. His 
consensus--he's a physicist, by the way--is that 
the Earth would rotate much more rapidly, and 
hence probably be a windier and stormier place.

"According to three French scientists, the moon's 
gravity is now believed to be what keeps the 
earth's axis inclined 23 degrees, thus ensuring a 
regular change of seasons. (Nature, February 18, 
1993)." -"Awake!," 7/8/94, p. 4.

To the already striking list of factors that make 
planet Earth uniquely suitable for life, 
astronomers may have to add another item: the 
Moon. Our satellite does far more than provide an 
ornamental night light for the skies and create 
tides. According to computer studies by French 
astronomers, it also helps to regulate earth's 
obliquity, that is, the degree of tilt of its 
spin axis. Mars, which does not have such a large 
satellite, has apparently shifted in its degree 
of tilt between 10 and 50 degrees over the ages. 
This instability has probably caused catastrophic 
climate changes, with the polar caps melting and 
then refreezing. The computer studies revealed 
that without the moon, which exerts a restraining 
influence, the earth's obliquity may well have 
shifted by some 85 degrees. Thus, the French 
astronomers conclude: "One might consider the 
Moon to act as a potential climate regulator for 
the Earth."- Ibid., 9/22/93, pp. 28,29.

HH: Here's a comment about moon and time marking, 
showing that the moon could mark not only days 
and months but seasons (I capitalized the key 
word "seasonal" below) and cycles of years:

Just as much as the sun, the moon has always been 
an object of wonder and veneration. It is a 
spectacular night sky object, and has the 
advantage over the sun that it can always be 
looked at directly. Its cycle of phases during 
each month is obvious and those phases, and the 
months themselves, are a convenient way of 
dividing time and describing different periods of 
time in a pre-literate society.

Anyone observing the moon even casually over the 
period of a year would inevitably notice several 
interesting facts.

The most important is probably that the twelve or 
thirteen full moons over the course of the year 
do not rise and set in the same positions on the 
horizon. The full moons in summer rise and set 
much further to the south compared with those in 
winter. This means that the full moons of summer 
are in the sky for a shorter period than those of 
winter, and reach a lower altitude in the sky. 
From the perspective of a pre-technological 
society, it would seem very lucky that the winter 
full moons rose earlier and set later, providing 
light through the long winter nights just when it 
was needed most. In fact, it probably seemed 
miraculous. The full moon nearest to midwinter is 
always the highest and longest shining full moon 
of the year, and everyone has experienced bright 
moonlit frosty nights around the winter holiday.

Once this SEASONAL difference in the full moons 
had been noticed, a further fact would probably 
have been observed as well, as the years passed. 
This is that from year to year the rising and 
setting positions of these winter and summer 
solstice moons themselves change. The change from 
one winter solstice or summer solstice to its 
equivalent a year later is about 3°. (This is the 
same as the width of six moon diameters, and the 
change would be plain to any careful observer.) 
This is the most obvious way in which the other 
cycle of the moon's movement reveals itself. The 
moon goes through a cycle of horizon positions 
which repeats itself every 18.6 years. 
Fundamentally, the cycle is of a widening and 
narrowing band of rising and setting positions 
which the moon at any phase can attain. At one 
extreme point of the cycle, called the 'major 
standstill' (following Alexander Thom), the moon 
will rise and set far to the north, well beyond 
the position of the sun at the summer solstice. 
Two weeks later, the moon will be rising and 
setting far to the south, only appearing in the 
sky for a very short period.

Figure 9 illustrates the very different paths of 
the full moon across the horizon at the winter 
solstice and the summer solstice, during the 
lunar major standstill period. The contrast in 
rising positions and the time that the moon is in 
the sky at those two times of year is very 
marked, and would not have been missed by people 
who spent most of their lives out of doors. 
During the period of the major standstill the 
moon at phases other than full will swing between 
the two limits shown; in other words a waxing or 
waning moon could appear in the extreme positions 
to north or to south. But the only full moons 
which will attain the extreme positions shown in 
the diagram are those closest to the summer and 
winter solstices.

Just over nine years later, during the 'minor 
standstill', the limits of the moon's path have 
contracted, and the positions of the solstice 
full moons will be as shown in Figure 10. It will 
be seen that now there is less of a contrast 
between the summer and winter full moon 
positions, though the winter full moon is still 
in the sky for a much longer period than the 
summer full moon. Again it must be remembered 
that at other times of year during the minor 
standstill the moon's phases will move between 
those limits, with a waxing or waning moon 
capable of reaching the limiting positions.

Such are the fundamentally simple movements of 
the sun and the moon across our skies. The key 
positions for the sun are the two solstices and 
the two equinoxes, and for the moon the positions 
of the full moon closest to the two solstices at 
the times of the standstills. The easiest way of 
defining and recording such events for a society 
with no writing or instruments is by erecting 
permanent markers which cause a viewer to look 
towards the positions on the horizon where the 
sun or the moon will rise or set at the times in 
question. It is now accepted that this is part of 
the purpose of many of the standing stones, stone 
circles and chambered cairns erected in the late 
stone age or Neolithic period, and in the early 
Bronze age.

>As for Jeremiah, I had considered the possibility that the terms in
>Jer 8:7 refer to constellations.  The main argument is the joint
>terms sws and (gwr, which appear jointly in places I consider to
>be astrological contexts.  This example is a rebuke of astrology.

HH: The obvious meaning of the passage stands:

Jer. 8:7 Even the stork in the sky knows her 
appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and 
the thrush observe the time of their migration. 
But my people do not know the requirements of the 

HH: This text is unmistakably taking about the 
migration patterns of birds, which are seasonal.

>In Isaiah 38:14 it appears as part of a prayer following an
>astrological sign (Isaiah 38:8).  I would also argue there are
>reasons to read the Balaam inscription, where this term also
>seems to appear, as an astrological document.  While these
>considerations are not conclusive, the word "seasons" as the
>translation of Jer 8:7 is not necessary, and the usual translation
>"appointed times" is more reasonable in this case as well.

HH: But they are times that come seasonally.

Harold Holmyard

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list