[b-hebrew] Genesis 41: 1: "Two Years of Days"

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Jul 17 10:36:47 EDT 2009


Karl:
 
Based on your latest post, I see that I must have misinterpreted your 
earlier post.  I see now that you agree that the Hebrews had a spring New Year in 
ancient times.  But apparently you are questioning whether the Hebrews also 
had a fall New Year in ancient times.
 
Here is what you said in your earlier post:  “Just as I expected, you don’
t have any information to back up your claims.  First of all, the Bible 
mentions only one new year a year. The second one was brought back from Babylon 
after the Babylonian captivity.”
 
What did you mean when you said “The second one was brought back from 
Babylon after the Babylonian captivity”?  The Babylonians did not have a fall New 
Year.  The Babylonians only had a spring New Year, and the first month of 
the Babylonian year was in the spring.  Ezra could not possibly have brought 
back a fall New Year tradition from Babylon.  No, the Hebrew tradition of a 
fall New Year long pre-dates the Babylonian Exile.
 
The first day of the New Year in the Jewish calendar of today is in the 
fall.  It occurs on the first and second days of Tishri, in the fall.  That is 
the time of the important annual harvest of fruits in Canaan.  The Biblical 
basis for the fall New Year is usually viewed as being Leviticus 23: 24-25.
 
Let me now quote from 
http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=246&letter=N&search=vernal equinox
as to the antiquity of a fall New Year for the Hebrews.  (Some of this I 
quoted in a previous post, but not the important material at the beginning.)  
I have placed a few comments of my own in brackets.
 
“—Biblical Data: 
 
In the earliest times the Hebrew year began in autumn with the opening of 
the economic year.  [That is to say, the early Hebrews had a fall New Year.]  
There followed in regular succession the seasons of seed-sowing, growth and 
ripening of the corn under the influence of the former and the latter 
rains, harvest and ingathering of the fruits. In harmony with this was the order 
of the great agricultural festivals, according to the oldest legislation, 
namely, the feast of unleavened bread at the beginning of the barley harvest, 
in the month of Abib [in the spring]; the feast of harvest, seven weeks 
later; and the feast of ingathering at the going out or turn of the year (; see 
Ex. xxiii. 14-17; xxxiv. 18, 22-23; Deut. xvi. 1-16). 
 
This system of dating the New-Year is that which was adopted by the Semites 
generally, while other peoples, as the Greeks and Persians, began the year 
in spring, both methods of reckoning being primarily agricultural and based 
on the seasons of seed-time and harvest.  [Please note that the Hebrews are 
usually viewed as starting out with a fall New Year.] 
 
The Regnal Year. 
 
The regnal year was evidently reckoned in the same way as late as the end 
of the seventh century B.C. This is evident from the account of the 
eighteenth year of King Josiah, in which only by such a reckoning can sufficient time 
be allowed for the events of that year which precede the celebration of the 
Passover, assuming, of course, that the Passover was celebrated at the 
usual time in the spring (II Kings xxii. 3, xxiii. 21-23). Only in the same way 
can the fourth year of Jehoiakim be made to synchronize with the 
twenty-first year of Nabopolassar, in which the battle of Carchemish was fought, and 
also with the first year of Nebuchadrezzar, the Babylonian year having been 
reckoned from the spring (Jer. xxv. 1, xlvi. 2). The second half of the Hebrew 
year would thus correspond to the first half of the Babylonian year. In 
Ezek. xl. 1 the prophet has his vision at the beginning of the year, apparently 
in the month of Tishri. The Levitical law places the beginning of the 
Sabbatical year in the autumn, on the tenth day of the seventh month, according 
to the later reckoning (Lev. xxv. 9). It has been pointed out also that the 
story of the Flood places the beginning of the deluge on the seventeenth day 
of the second month, which would, on an autumn reckoning, coincide with the 
beginning of the rainy season (Gen. vii. 11; Josephus, "Ant." i. 3, § 3).  
[I previously noted that in the 8th century BCE, long before the Exile, the 
Assyrian year started in the spring, but the Hebrew year started in the 
fall.] 
 
Possibly Two Modes of Reckoning.
 
…There is much difference of opinion as to whether or not there was in 
preexilic times a second mode of reckoning from the vernal equinox.  [That is, 
the question scholars dispute is whether in addition to the ancient fall New 
Year, the Hebrews in pre-exilic times also had a spring New Year.] This 
inference has been drawn from such passages as II Sam. xi. 1, I Kings xx. 22, 
26, and II Chron. xxxvi. 10. The expression used here, "at the return of the 
year," is, however, sufficiently explained as "the time when kings go out"; 
that is to say, the usual time for opening a military campaign. Of course if 
the law of the Passover (Ex. xii. 1; Lev. xxiii. 5; Num. ix. 1-5, xxviii. 
16-17) is pre-exilic, the question admits of no further argument. It seems, 
however, to be now very generally accepted that this law in its present form 
is not earlier than the sixth century and that it represents post-exilic 
practise. According to this legislation, which henceforth prevailed, the month 
Abib, or Nisan (March-April), became the first of the year. It is possible 
that this change was due, in part at least, to the influence of the Babylonian 
sacred year, which likewise began with the month Nisan. It appears, 
however, that the festival of the New-Year continued to be observed in the autumn, 
perhaps originally on the tenth, and later on the first day of the seventh 
month, Tishri.  [Please note that the ancient Hebrew fall New Year continued 
to be observed even after the Babylonian influence from Ezra’s day.]   
Josephus asserts (l.c. i. 3, § 3) that while Moses appointed Nisan to be the 
first month for the sacred festivals and other solemnities, he preserved the 
original order of the months for buying and selling and for the transaction of 
other business. The Seleucidan calendar, from 312 B.C., placed the beginning 
of the year in the autumn….”
 
Karl, both in the Bible, and in secular history, there is strong evidence 
that the ancient Hebrews celebrated a fall New Year.  You and I agree that 
the ancient Hebrews celebrated a spring New Year.  I hope the information in 
this post may convince you that a fall New Year is just as old a Hebrew 
tradition, if not older, as a spring New Year.
 
My point is that the Hebrew author of the Patriarchal narratives was 
intimately familiar with both a fall New Year and a spring New Year.  In his 
composition, he had two options.  He could present each person’s age as 
increasing by one only at the fall New Year (or possibly only at the spring New 
Year).  Or he could present each person’s age as increasing by one both at the 
fall New Year and at the spring New Year.  As to which option he actually 
chose, we simply look at the text of the Patriarchal narratives.  Every age in 
Genesis, beginning at Genesis 11: 26, makes perfect sense if the person’s age 
was increased by one both every fall New Year and every spring New Year.  
That explains both the references to N(R for Joseph and Ishmael, and also the 
ages at which people die, as well as Sarah’s age at Isaac’s birth.
 
All the ages in the Patriarchal narratives make perfect sense once we 
realize that the Hebrew author was intimately familiar with both a fall New Year 
and a spring New Year.  Each person’s age in that text is increased by one 
both at the fall New Year and at the spring New Year.  But when the Hebrews 
sojourn in Harran, Mesopotamia or in Egypt, the phrase “of days” is used at 
the beginning of those situations to tip us off that periods of years in 
those foreign lands are set forth in terms of 12-month years.  Periods of years 
in Canaan, by contrast, follow the way people’s ages are presented, 
increasing by one “year” both at the fall New Year and at the spring New Year.
 
Karl, the key to my theory of the case is to recognize that the Hebrew 
author of the Patriarchal narratives knew both a fall New Year and a spring New 
Year.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois 

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