[b-hebrew] Dates of Ezra and Nehemiah

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Sep 19 07:42:10 EDT 2006


Dear Peter,

I have now read almost fully both papers, skipping only certain
sentences that became too tedious because of the computations
involved.

In addition to the error in quoting the Bible I noted last time, there
are two additional errors of Hebrew in the second article.  Not
proofreading Biblical quoted verses is a very strange position for
someone who holds that all Biblical verses, including numbers in
the text, were transmitted accurately.  I generally do not have much
patience for someone who does not quote the Bible correctly in a
published article or book.  If he didn't take the time to read his article
for errors before publishing it, why should I read it?  If he can't
recognize an error in Hebrew when he reads the article for errors,
why should I accept his analysis of such Hebrew idioms as the
preposition l-?  One doesn't have to use Hebrew when quoting the
Bible.  One can use transliteration.  One can quote the translation.
But if one uses the Hebrew, let them quote it properly!

Moving on, contrary to your statement in the last post on the matter,
in his other article, he does not discuss the "months are always
counted from Nisan" theory at all.  He assumes it as a given (p. 599
in the middle of the first paragraph).  I think this is an unlikely
position for fall-based calendars.  The Torah assumes a spring-based
calendar, and this is why months are numbered from the spring. There
are reasons to consider that various verses of the Torah are based on
different calendars: the Deluge occurs in a timeframe of a lunisolar
year adjusted to 364 days based in the fall, during the deluge 5
months are counted 150 days which appears to refer to a 360 day
calendar, and the description of the Omer count would seem to
assume a 364 day calendar.  It is rather hard to identify such shifts
especially when numeric months are used.  Is it only a coincidence
that month 2 through 7 of the deluge would fall in the winter if a
fall based calendar is used?  Then the following festival of wine,
celebrated by Noah on the first of the first month, appears equivalent
to a fall wine holiday.  These appear to point at a fall based calendar
being assumed.  Significantly, they count months from the fall, not
the spring.  The current Jewish calendar essentially views the new
year in the fall, but this is probably a result of the Greeks imposing
their conventions after a spring method of counting was adopted with
the canonization of the Torah.

Another example has to do with Jeroboam's self-declared holiday
(1 Kings 9:26-33).  The viewpoint of the description is that of a
Judean author - Jeroboam "invented" the month.  However, this
would allow us a glimpse of a significant calendar change event.
Under a fall-based counting method, the 8th month would be
"Iyyar" (or its pre-Babylonian equivalent).  If we also assume that
Jeroboam intercalated a month out-of-sync with Judean
intercalations, then that month would be the equivalent of Nissan.
Intercalary months were normally added prior to the new year --
in the late summer in fall-based systems, and in the late-winter
in spring-based systems.  This is not a hard rule, however.  In
any case, the announcement and presence of the king during
the holiday ceremony, along with the intercalary month, seems
to suggest that this was not just "a holiday", but the New Year
holiday.  This makes sense: Jeroboam, perhaps in an attempt to
differentiate his kingdom from the southern kingdom, shifted the
calendar to a spring-based calendar, and added an intercalary
month for added effect.  It would explain how so early the
Northern kingdom began using a spring-based calendar, which
is a point left unexplained in the article.  It assumes, however,
that the southern kingdom counted months from the fall, not
the spring.  Young's statement that months were always counted
from the spring, appears to have little basis, and is left unexplained
in the article.

Another issue with Young's articles is that his later article makes
use of Thiele's "partial foreign system" whereby only part of the
foreign system is used by a local system in referencing the
foreign system's dates, in p. 32 n. 17.  However, in his earlier
article, he starts out by calling this a "problem" (p. 590) and solves
this "problem" by concluding that in referencing a foreign system,
the local system used the foreign system's dates.  This seems a
very unlikely position to me.  The most sensible position, in my
opinion, is for the local system to use the local system's
conventions when referring to foreign events.  In any case, how
can he use this "problematic counting method" in his later article
when his earlier article considered it an important problem that
has to be solved in Thiele's system?

The Talmud is essentially a collection of legal discussions.  Each
discussion is a long line of statements and counter-assertions,
sometimes building two positions in the discussion.  The previous
description I included was basically a summary of the relevant
discussion in Megillah 14b.  It still remains that the Talmud never
refers to year 18 as a Jubilee year but only that one side in the
discussion suggests that during this year the Jubilee year-system
was placed in force again since captivity ended for the 10 tribes.
I don't have the resources to be able to do the same for the
discussion in Arachin, but the discussion in Arachin does include
an important statement:  "It is written [in Ezekiel 40], 'in the
25th year of our exile, in the New Year, in the 10th of the month,
14 years after the city was destroyed' -- which New Year occurs
on the 10th of the month? Conclude from here that it was the
Jubilee year [on which the Day of Atonement has a prayer
service and perhaps other customs as the new year]".  The
conclusion that Ezekiel 40 is speaking of a Jubilee is therefore
based on eisegesis, and probably a wrong one because the
simplistic meaning of Ezekiel 40 is that "New Year" is the
initial month of the year.  For the Rabbis, a long time after
numerical months were abandoned, there was no month
"New Year", so they concluded that it was referring to the
New Year ceremony itself.  Viewing this statement in
context of the immediate discussion shows that it is not
some remembrance from hundreds of years earlier.

I don't view Talmudic statements as infallible.  I think each
statement the Talmud makes has to be analyzed to see
where it belongs in the discussion that it appears.  There
is much more analysis that could be done before a
statement made in the Talmud can be useful for historical
purposes, but in any case, I don't believe any statement
made by the Talmud can allow us to reconstruct the
historical reality of times BCE.  These are the reasons
that I said Young was misusing the Talmud.

Yitzhak Sapir



More information about the b-hebrew mailing list