[b-hebrew] , cultic calendar, shanah

Yigal Levin Yigal.Levin at biu.ac.il
Tue Jul 23 09:08:40 EDT 2013

The basic meaning of $NH שנה is "repeat", and as such, a "shanah" is the time in which the seasons repeat themselves. In theory, one could start the shanah at any time: longest day, longest night, spring equinox, fall equinox or what not. However, since the calendar was also lunar, tied to the phases of the moon which are much more immediate and easier to see ("hodesh" means "new" and refers to the new moon), in practical terms the "year" will begin on some lunar date, and since 12 lunar months (354 days) fall about 11 days short of a solar year (365 days), a thirteenth "intercalary" month was added once in 3 years (or, to be precise, 7 out of 19 years). 


We know that in the Ancient Near East, some cultures began the year on the 1st day of Tishri, in the fall, while others began on the 1st of Nisan, in the spring. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah changed their "new year" according to what was done by the dominant power, be it Egypt, Assyria or Babylonia. Within the Bible, there is no mention of a "New year's day", but Ex. 12 commands the Israelites to consider Nisan to be the first month, and as far as can be understood, the text of the Bible then counts years from Nisan consistently. One could argue that the book of Genesis refers to a time before that was the rule, but I can see no reason to think that Genesis refers to different months.


The "day of blowing/shouting" on the first day of the seventh month (Tishri), which was later referred to as Rosh Hashanah, "the New Year" is not referred to as such in the Bible. Only in post-exilic/Second Temple times did Jews begin observing Tishri as the beginning of a "civil" calendar (Chris, you've got your "civil" and "cultic" calendars confused). In fact, the Mishnah mentions 4 "new years", for different purposes, something like different dates for academic years, fiscal years, tax years and so on. Today, many Jews will celebrate both their "Hebrew" and their "civil" birthdays, but nobody counts each one as a separate year.


In summary, there is NO evidence that anyone ever counted each half year as a "shanah". The ONLY reason to think so is if one insists on both taking the rather long lives of various biblical figures literally, and not believing that if God decided to grant someone a very long life he would do so. 


And then what do you do with Adam's 930 years? Assume that he counted each month as a year, and so lived 77.5 years? 


Yigal Levin

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