[b-hebrew] Dates of Ezra and Nehemiah

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Tue Sep 19 08:29:50 EDT 2006

On 19/09/2006 12:42, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:
> 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!
I think you should address these remarks to the respected scholarly 
journal which published this material, and the online version of it (for 
which the Hebrew may have been retyped). These typos may not be the 
responsibility of the author at all.

> 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.
I agree that this is a complex issue and Young has not dealt with every 
aspect of it. But there is good evidence in the Hebrew Bible for months 
being counted from the spring. You can only ascribe this to Greek 
influence if you take the minimalist position that the whole Tanakh is a 
Hellenistic production. The most relevant such evidence is that Ezra's 
journey to Jerusalem is dated to the 1st to 5th months, and it is 
unlikely that his party would have undertaken this journey in winter. 
Nehemiah 8:1-2 also makes much more sense if it follows the 25th of Elul 
(6:15) by a few days.

> 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.
Young's position, which I think is explained in the article and 
certainly is in private correspondence with him, is that months 
continued to be numbered from the spring (just as we continue to number 
September to December as the 7th to 10th months in Latin although they 
are now our 9th to 12th months) but that the northern and southern 
kingdoms used different conventions (which also varied over time) for 
reckoning the start of the civil new year, especially as used for regnal 

> 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?
I am not in a position to answer this. I suggest you ask Young.

> 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 take your point. Young was looking for the little evidence which 
suggests when jubilee years might have been celebrated, and found these 
two references which happen to fall neatly 49 years apart I think. This 
may of course be a coincidence, and it could be that neither refers to 
an actual jubilee year. But this seems to be the best evidence we have 
for the pre-exilic jubilee cycle.

> 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.
Fair enough. You obviously know a lot more about the Talmud than me, and 
probably than Young.

I would still be interested on comments on my suggestion that Ezra and 
Nehemiah travelled together, although I am aware of the objection from a 
couple of dates in Nehemiah.

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

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