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Notwithstanding that Good Friday has a long-standing history as the accepted day of the Crucifixion, in our skeptical era when long-held views are routinely questioned, some Christian groups have used modern ways of counting to adopt a Wednesday or Thursday Crucifixion as an essential point of their doctrine. They claim that, notwithstanding its long acceptance by Christianity, Good Friday reflects a faulty understanding of Scripture. But we must attempt to look at the matter as the Jews themselves did, not impose a modern understanding of counting on the ancient text.

If we accept the inerrancy of the Scriptures, all of the passages in the New Testament dealing with the Crucifixion/Resurrection period simply must put Christ in the grave for the same amount of time. We cannot focus on just a single passage interpreted in isolation from its parallels. We owe it to the God of the Bible to seek a way to reconcile all of the various Scriptures on this subject with each other, not favoring one over all the rest.

Those who advocate for a Wednesday or Thursday Crucifixion over Friday adopt a particular interpretation of the expression “three days and three nights” in the “sign of Jonah” Jesus gave in Matthew 12:39–40:

But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (NASB 1995)

The traditional date for the Crucifixion puts Nisan 14 on a Friday. This makes the Nisan 15 “high day”—the proper biblical term, not “high Sabbath,” which is an interpretation—coincide with the regular Saturday Sabbath. The result is that, from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection, two nights and one full day pass. But those who see a so-called “high Sabbath” as an extra rest day to count say this is not enough time and violates Scripture. They adopt a hyper-literal modern perspective that insists each day and each night of Matthew 12:40 must be 12 hours long, no more and no less, then seek to account for three 12-hour days plus three 12-hour nights—a total of 72 hours for Jesus to be “in the heart of the earth.” They therefore object to the historical understanding that He was in the grave only from Friday evening to early Sunday morning.

Well, we may say the hearts of these folks are in the right place; they want to honor Scripture as the Word of God. But their understanding of the Word is improperly influenced by modern ways of counting time, so that what they are honoring is actually their particular interpretation. The fact is, “three days and three nights” in Matthew 12:40 reflects a known Jewish idiom. It is not to be understood as requiring exactly a literal 72-hour period from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection.

“Three Days and Three Nights” as a Jewish Idiom

It goes without saying that during His life, Jesus learned as a child the common language of His time, including its figures of speech and idioms. He did not speak King James English, or any English at all! Any idiomatic expressions He would have used would have reflected the vernacular of His day.1

When we do a search for verses in the New Testament dealing with the time between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, we find that Jesus Himself used different expressions at different times when speaking about it: “three days and three nights” (Mt 12:40), “after three days” (Mk 8:31), “in three days” (Jn 2:19), and “on the third day” (Lk 9:22).2 He would not have contradicted Himself; therefore all of these expressions must mean the exact same thing. The apostles Peter and Paul likewise used “on the third day” in Acts 10:40 and 1 Corinthians 15:3–4.

It is obvious that, despite the differences in expression, these passages must all refer to the same span of time. The only way we can reconcile them is if we do not try to apply a strictly literal modern English sense to them all. A solution is needed that allows them to peacefully coexist, to speak with one voice. We get this when we acknowledge that the ancient Jews characteristically reckoned the passing of time inclusively, such that part of a day was counted as a whole. This may not be the way we today are accustomed to reckoning time, but no matter. If we accept the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, we are obliged to view the writings in the New Testament through first-century eyes, acknowledging when they use idioms that are distinctive to them. It is pure stubbornness to do otherwise.

If we accept the reality that there were particular turns of phrase distinctive to Jewish expression in the time of Christ, it prepares us to understand how the statement in Matthew 12:40 was probably understood by Jesus’s hearers. The basic question before us is, does “three days and three nights” equate with 72 hours—three periods of 12 hours of daylight plus three periods of 12 hours of darkness—as a mathematically correct English rendering seems to indicate, or does it reflect an idiomatic Jewish expression that should not be interpreted that way?

Scripture is replete with examples that show we should regard “three days and three nights” as an idiom. A particularly clear example is seen in the story of Cornelius, the Roman centurion who asked Peter to visit him in Acts 10. Verse 3 says he saw a vision at the ninth hour of a certain day. Verses 7–8 then say he promptly responded to the vision by sending a couple servants and a soldier to Peter that same day. Then the next day (Acts 10:9), right after Peter saw a vision, the messengers from Cornelius arrived at his gate and explained their mission, and Peter invited them in to spend the night (10:17–23a). Then the next day (10:23b), Peter and some brethren left with Cornelius’s servants. They did not arrive at Cornelius’s home in Caesarea until the following day (10:24). The way we count time today, we would say that Peter arrived at Cornelius’s house three days after Cornelius dispatched his servants to fetch Peter. We would not include the day of their departure from Cornelius as part of the elapsed time. But what does Cornelius do? He relates his story, saying that “four days ago”—to the very hour, the ninth—he had his vision that prompted him to send his servants to Peter (v. 30). When one counts the hours from the time of the vision to the arrival of Peter, there were exactly 72 hours (three days), yet Cornelius called it the fourth day. This reflects the characteristic Jewish idiomatic way of reckoning time inclusively.

In the Tyndale commentary on Matthew, R. T. France likewise argues that “three days and three nights was a Jewish idiom appropriate to a period covering only two nights.”3 A webpage on Evidence Unseen that refers to France’s statement adds that the phrase “can be understood as ‘spanning three calendar days’” and further lists three examples from the Old Testament that show the phrase’s idiomatic usage:

Joseph put all of his brothers in prison for “three days,” but then we read that they were released “on the third day” (Gen. 42:17-18). Did they actually stay in prison for 72 hours? No, but this demonstrates that the Hebrews counted the part as the whole.

David came to his men in Ziklag “on the third day,” but then we read that David had not eaten for “three days and three nights” (1 Sam. 30:1, 12-13). Again, this is an idiom where the part is being counted for the whole.

Esther told Mordecai to fast for “three days, night or day,” but she came to the king “on the third day” (Est. 4:16-5:1). Again, this same idiom is being used for less than 72 hours.4

The website summarizes by observing,

Critics might argue that three days and nights are explicitly mentioned. But this misses the meaning of what an idiom is. Idioms—in any culture—simply shouldn’t be pressed for literality. . . .

. . . An idiom shouldn’t be pressed for technical precision.5

Other examples could be cited. Scripture defines “the third day” in Exodus 19:10–11 and Luke 13:32, where both speak of “today and tomorrow, and the third day.” This illustrates the kind of inclusive reckoning seen in the crucifixion accounts, which sees the day counting began as the first day. Leviticus 19:6–7 is similar: “It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and the next day; but what remains until the third day shall be burned with fire” (v. 6; NASB 1995). This idiomatic Jewish way of counting a third day inclusively should remove any doubt from our minds that it also applies to Matthew 12:40.

Jewish Christians today, who know the quirks of their language better than Gentile believers, agree that we are dealing here with a Jewish idiom. One, Joseph Hoffman Cohen, draws our attention to John 19:31:

“For that Sabbath day was an high day.” Bible students unacquainted with Jewish law and custom do not realize the significance of this passage, and so stumble into a wrong interpretation. The Sabbath day to the Jews means only the seventh day of the week; but Scripture often speaks of other holy days; if, for instance, any feast began on a Monday, then that Monday was a holy day in the Jewish colloquial, although the Scriptures, in order to distinguish between the common days and that holy day, call it a Sabbath but never, the Sabbath. A holy day is called a Sabbath only for the reason that certain work is forbidden and differs from the Sabbath on which all work is forbidden. Now it so happened that on this particular occasion, the first day of the Passover fell on a Saturday; hence the scrupulous care taken by the Evangelist, to specify, “that Sabbath day was an high day.” That is, it was a sort of double Sabbath, it being the regular weekly Sabbath Day as well as the first day of the Passover Feast. To prove that this Sabbath was the weekly Sabbath, one has only to consider the words, Day of Preparation. In Exodus 16:5 we read, “And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in,” which is the only time such an expression occurs in the Old Testament. On this expression the ancient rabbis built up hundreds of laws forbidding the eating, on the Sabbath, of food not prepared on Friday, whether it were fruit that fell from the tree or an egg laid on the Sabbath. Therefore, the words “Preparation Day,” which is another expression among the Jews for Friday, can never be applied to the day preceding any other day than the Sabbath when food could not be prepared.6

Another Jewish perspective is given by Rich Robinson, who is on the staff of the Jews for Jesus organization.7 Among other things, he points out that Josephus, in Antiquities 7.280–81 and 8.214, 8.218, uses “after three days” and “on the third day” interchangeably (in the latter passage, the original Greek literally says “after three days”). Robinson also observes the parallels between Matthew 4:2—“And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry” (NASB 1995)—and Mark 1:13 and Luke 4:1–2, which simply say that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days. In his estimate, the parallels in Mark and Luke suggest that the “forty days and forty nights” in Matthew is an expression equivalent to “forty days.”

There is also what that famous Messianic Jew, Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul, wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor 15:3–4; NASB 1995)

The sequence Paul gives implies the Lord died on Day 1, remained buried on Day 2, and was raised on Day 3 (the day of the wave sheaf of First Fruits—the typology of this ceremony with the resurrection of Christ is inescapable).

To summarize this discussion, “three days and three nights” is known to be a Jewish idiom that is equivalent with saying “three days.” Both Scripture and modern Jews know the idiom, and it is the height of presumption to argue against this united testimony and say it actually means 72 hours.

Three Days in the Talmud

Informed proponents of a Wednesday or Thursday Crucifixion know that the Friday advocates count each fraction of a day as a full day because it was an idiom, but dismiss it as an assertion made without evidence. But in fact, there is actually very strong historical evidence that this is precisely how the Jews themselves looked at things, and it is apparent in both the Talmud and Scripture.

Respected New Testament scholar John Lightfoot noted that in the Talmud, the Jews regarded half of a day as countable as a whole day. Speaking of a three-day period, he observed,

According to the first sense we may observe, from the words of R. Ismael, that sometimes four Onoth, or halves of a natural day, may be accounted for three days: and that they also are so numbered that one part or the other of those halves may be accounted for a whole. Compare the latter sense with the words of our Saviour, which are now before us: “A day and a night (saith the tradition) make an Onah, and a part of an Onah is as the whole.” Therefore Christ may truly be said to have been in his grave three Onoth, or three natural days (when yet the greatest part of the first day was wanting, and the night altogether, and the greatest part by far of the third day also), the consent of the schools and dialect of the nation agreeing thereunto. For, “the least part of the Onah concluded the whole.” So that according to this idiom, that diminutive part of the third day upon which Christ arose may be computed for the whole day, and the night following it.8

Under the entry for “day,” the authoritative Jewish Encyclopedia makes the same point from a different angle:

In Jewish communal life part of a day is at times reckoned as one day; e.g., the day of the funeral, even when the latter takes place late in the afternoon, is counted as the first of the seven days of mourning; a short time in the morning of the seventh day is counted as the seventh day; circumcision takes place on the eighth day, even though of the first day only a few minutes remained after the birth of the child, these being counted as one day. Again, a man who hears of a vow made by his wife or his daughter, and desires to cancel the vow, must do so on the same day on which he hears of it, as otherwise the protest has no effect; even if the hearing takes place a little time before night, the annulment must be done within that little time.9

These two references clearly illustrate, once again, that it was Jewish custom to count a part of a day as representing an entire day. It was a manifestation of a general norm, not only of the Jews but also the ancient Romans as well, of reckoning spans of time inclusively by including the start of the count in the count.

When all is said and done, the only fair thing to conclude is that when Matthew 12:40 speaks of “three days and three nights,” it means the exact same thing as “on the third day.”10 Friday was the first day, the Sabbath the second day, and Sunday, the first day of the week, was the third.



1 A number of biblical examples are given at “What Are Some Idioms in the Bible?,” Got Questions, Got Questions Ministries, last updated October 23, 2023,, and still others at Wes, “37 Bible Idioms & Phrases (Examples & Definitions),” English By Day, September 14, 2022,

2 The implications of this are discussed in depth in Joe Crews, 3 Days and 3 Nights (Roseville, CA: Amazing Facts, 2011),

3 R. T. France, The Gospel according to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 213; italics original.

4 “(Mt. 12:40) Was Jesus Dead Three Days and Three Nights or a Day and a Half?,” Evidence Unseen, accessed February 21, 2024,; bold in the original. Other respected commentators cited on this webpage are David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 327, and D. A. Carson, Matthew, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: With the New International Version of the Holy Bible, ed. Frank E. Gæbelein, vol. 8 of 12, Matthew, Mark, Luke (Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, 1984), 296.

5 “(Mt. 12:40) Was Jesus Dead Three Days and Three Nights or a Day and a Half?”

6 Joseph Hoffman Cohen, “Three Days and Three Nights?,” Messianic Good News, October 1, 2012, http://www‌; italics and bold in the original.

7 Rich Robinson, “Three Days and Three Nights,” Jews for Jesus, March 30, 2007, For Robinson’s interesting bio, see Rich Robinson, “Rich Robinson: Coming In through the Back Door,” Jews for Jesus, January 1, 2005,

8 John Lightfoot, From the Talmud and Hebraica (Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.), 152,; italics original.

9, s.v. “Day,” by Emil G. Hirsch and Michael Friedländer, accessed February 22, 2024,

10 For another discussion on the Jewish idiom, see “Did Jesus Fulfill the Sign of Jonah? — Three Days and Three Nights,” Never Thirsty, Like the Master Ministries, accessed February 22, 2024,


The following study came out of wondering whether the Exodus Hebrew Calendar intercalation pattern, presented in my previous article “In Search of the Original Hebrew Calendar,” would conflict with my 2018 study on the date of Christ’s birth.

Updating the Priestly Divisions Spreadsheet

A new version of the “Priestly Divisions, 70 AD–8 BC” Excel spreadsheet has been created, an update of the original 2018 version. The key difference is that a column for the Exodus Hebrew Calendar has been added. In my original “Pinpointing the Date of Christ’s Birth” article, the Hebrew dates in the priestly service table were taken from the Hebrew / Roman Calendar Comparison on the Church of God Study Forum (CGSF) website; for example, HERE is the CGSF calendar for AD 70. The intercalations (leap years) determined in the Exodus Hebrew Calendar research differ from those of the CGSF in certain years, leading to differences from the CGSF data of up to a month. It was discovered, though, that none of these changes impacted the analysis of the birth of Christ; the important periods of the two calendars happen to be in agreement.

In fact, in some ways the Exodus Hebrew Calendar is an improvement on the CGSF calendar for figuring out the date of Christ’s birth. Here is a section of the revised chart for AD 70:

DANIEL9 70 AD Priestly Divisions

Jewish dates begin around 6 pm the day before the Julian date it is customarily “pegged” to by today’s standard daylight-based date assignment method. For instance, on August 4, 70 AD, the CGSF Jewish date pegged to it – Av 9 – actually began at sunset the previous day, August 3, and continued until 6 pm on August 4, when it changed to Av 10. For the Exodus Hebrew Calendar column, Jewish dates were determined using the Parker and Dubberstein (P&D) Babylonian date calculator at That calculator pegs the Jewish date for August 4 one day earlier than the CGSF tables, Av 8 rather than Av 9. All of the dates given in the above chart are Saturday Sabbath dates. This means that the Exodus Hebrew Calendar pegs Av 9 to the next day, Sunday.

This calendar difference might be considered trivial, but it has some significance in view of what the Seder ‘Olam Rabbah reports (ch. 30). As quoted in the Milikovsky translation at

“When the First Temple was destroyed, it was the night after Shabbat, and it was the year after a Sabbatical year, and it was the service time of the Yehoyariv family, and it was the 9th of Av. The same is true of the Second [Temple’s destruction].”

The author of that article then observes,

The point here is that not only did the dates match, but even the day of the week, the place of the year in the seven-year cycle, and the priestly family doing the service in the Temple for that week matched.

We can see the new determination based on the Exodus Hebrew Calendar, by putting the Sabbath on Av 8, puts the 9th of Av on “the night after Shabbat.” That began at sunset on Av 8. The family of Jehoiarib started its service at midday on Av 8, so they were in charge on the 9th when the destruction took place. This date is apparently in conflict with what Scripture reports about the destruction of the First Temple, as discussed under “Biblical Depictions of the Destruction of the First Temple” at (2 Kgs 25:10–12 and Jer 52:12–14). This difference can be explained by the Jewish leaders desiring to seek synchrony between the destruction of the Second Temple, which they had accurate knowledge of, and the first. They thus chose to follow their tradition rather than the Scriptures, a penchant the Lord Jesus condemned in no uncertain terms:

Then the LORD said,
“Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,
Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous;
And the wisdom of their wise men will perish,
And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.”
– Isaiah 29:13–14

After quoting the above passage, Jesus followed up with these words:

“Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
– Matthew 15:10–14

(See also my comments under “Were Both Temple Destructions in Sabbatical Years?” at This is a caution to us all to exercise discernment in how much stock we place in Talmudic pronouncements.)

To summarize, the new data in the Exodus Hebrew Calendar intercalation pattern perfectly matches up with the starting point for counting back the priestly divisions to get to that of Abijah in 7 BC, when Zacharias was serving in the Temple (Luke 1:5–25). From this point the date of the birth of Jesus follows.

Making an Exception in 6 BC

In creating the Exodus Hebrew Calendar, I made the conscious decision not to try to analyze crescent moon observation studies – such as those of Schaefer and Hoffman, mentioned in the last article – to judge when it was likely that the moon was observed a day earlier at Jerusalem than at Babylon. I made the simplifying assumption that in the vast majority of cases, the two locations were close enough geographically that there would have been no difference in the crescent observation that started a month; and if there was, adherence to the same intercalation pattern (to keep the months the same during the exile) would have brought the calendars back to agreement quickly. I was thus generally content to allow the Babylonian data to set the first days of months for the Jews as well.

There was one notable exception to this approach, however, that I felt uncomfortable with: the determination of the date of Christ’s birth. As my “Pinpointing the Date of Christ’s Birth” article pointed out, the research of astronomer Michael Molnar set the Magi’s date for the astrologically-significant occultation of Jupiter by the moon in Aries as March 20 on the Julian calendar. When I used the Hebrew calendar from CGSF for 6 BC, I was thrilled to find that it pegged Nisan 1 to Saturday, March 20. That was so shocking, I stopped my analysis right there and accepted it as given. In retrospect, I erred by not digging deeper.

Digging Deeper

The development of the Exodus Hebrew Calendar gave a reason to do the necessary deeper investigation. I belatedly realized that according to the CGSF data, the sunset which initiated Nisan 1 was that of March 19, making Molnar’s sunset on March 20 the start of Nisan 2. As for the Exodus Hebrew Calendar, its default use of Babylonian – not necessarily Jewish – first days of months pegged Nisan 1 to March 22, so Nisan 1 began after sunset on March 21. Thus, neither of these worked perfectly with the idea that the birth of Christ was after sunset on March 20. Of course, we might simply shelve the whole idea of drawing a type/antitype comparison between the completed physical body of the newborn Jesus and completion of the mishkan Tabernacle on Nisan 1, but the comparison seems worth defending. Was there a way to resolve this apparent difficulty?

The basis for Molnar’s March 20 date was his determination that this was an important date astrologically for the Magi. As discussed in “Pinpointing the Date of Christ’s Birth,” they could not have determined this from observation, for in the environs of Babylon the occultation in the evening of March 20 was too low on the horizon to be visible. They could only have detected it from their knowledge of astronomical orbital geometry which the Greeks had previously developed and spread through Alexander’s former empire. It was thus a calculated occultation of Jupiter by the moon which the Magi detected. This leads to the suspicion that in the same way, instead of using the Babylonian observed crescent date given in P&D to mark the start of the spring lunation in 6 BC, calculated astronomical data played an important role, as did the 19-year intercalation cycle uncovered in “In Search of the Original Hebrew Calendar.”

The Astropixels website says the astronomical New Moon of Nisan in 6 BC was on March 19 at 21:28 UTC. When 2:21 is added to the UTC time to convert it to local Jerusalem time, this made it 11:49 pm, well after sunset and thus unseen. Nevertheless, the science of the day would have told the Jewish leaders the conjunction took place on the 19th, so they would have known to look for the first manifestation of the Nisan lunation shortly after sunset the following day, March 20.

The Sanhedrin, also called the Beis Din Hagadol (“the great house of law”), was the final arbiter of when to declare the start of a new month. Drawing mainly from the Jewish sage Maimonides, also known as Rambam, at the Halacha Knowledge Base notes:

Who determines Rosh Chodesh [the first day of the month] based on visibility of the moon? Although we explained above that Rosh Chodesh is determined by the moon’s visibility, nonetheless, this determination was not given into the hands of the individual viewer but rather to the Beis Din (emphasis added). Beis Din would first have to calculate as to whether it is possible for the new moon to be seen on the 30th day, and then collect testimony from witnesses who viewed the moon. After corroboration of the testimony, the Beis Din would have to declare on the 30th day that it is Rosh Chodesh. If for whatever reason Beis Din did not make this declaration, the month remains a 30-day month and Rosh Chodesh only begins the next day on the 31st day of the month.

In theory, then, only two sharp-eyed eyewitnesses were necessary to set the previous month at 29 days, otherwise that month was 30 days long whether or not eyewitnesses came forth. But there were exceptions – and these were based not on Scripture, but on the preferences of the Jewish leaders. The article continues:

Calculating the new moon? Even in the times of testimony, part of the Biblical command to sanctify the new month included that the Beis Din was required to calculate as to when the new moon would become potentially visible. If the moon would not be visible on the 30th day, based on their calculations, then the Beis Din would not accept testimony and any potential witnesses would be automatically disqualified as false or in error of what that which [sic] they saw. Rosh Chodesh would automatically be set for the 31st day. If Beis Din calculated that the new moon could be seen on the 30th day, then they would await witnesses to testify and be properly interrogated, corroborating their testimony. At times, despite the calculations, the moon is not visible due to clouds and position, and therefore the Beis Din must wait and see if in truth the moon was seen or not. We will now explore a case in which the new month on the 30th was determined based only on calculation and not on witnesses even in the times of the Sanhedrin.

Relying only on calculation – What was done in the event that witnesses did not come forward month after month? In the event that the moon was not seen for one month after the other, such as due to clouds or positioning, and hence no witnesses came forward, the future months are set not in accordance to testimony of the moon’s visibility but rather in accordance to calculation, having one month Malei [“full,” 30 days] and one month Chaseir [“missing,” 29 days], or two months Malei or two months Chaseir, in accordance to the calculation. The reason why this is done is because if the Beis Din would make every month Malei due to lack of testimony, then it would end up that after 10 months the new moon begins to appear 5-6 days before Rosh Chodesh, and there is no greater matter of ridicule than this, and it destroys the whole concept of basing the new month on the new moon. Thus, in conclusion we see that at times, even during the era of the Sanhedrin when the new month was sanctified based on testimony, they would have to set the new month based solely on calculation and negate testimony in order to prevent a catastrophic misalignment between the new moon and the new month. This matter was a tradition of Moshe from Sinai, that at times the Beis Din must forgo the testimony and rely solely on calculation. All the areas in the Talmud that mention the new month being set based on calculation alone refers to the above situation, in which the tradition applies (emphasis added).

If the above is true, it was not the word of eyewitnesses that mattered most, but the determination of the Sanhedrin. The “tradition of Moshe from Sinai” they claimed to have received apparently included the regular 19-year intercalation pattern that the Babylonians eventually also embraced.

As reflected in the calculated calendar of Hillel II, the Jewish calendar has the twelfth month, Adar, fixed at 29 days; see If the thin crescent moon was not observed the evening that began the thirtieth day, the month was reckoned as 30 days long, triggering the intercalation of an extra month. Hillel II's 30-day Adar intercalation trigger was apparently not created in a vacuum but reflected prior Jewish practice, though it is unclear when this approach to intercalation became standardized. P&D’s records reflect that many Babylonian years were intercalated despite having only 29 days in Addaru (for instance, in 13, 5 and 2 BC, and 18, 23, 26 and 32 AD – see the Exodus Jewish Calendar), so Jewish practice in this regard, as with not intercalating a second Elul, seems to have reflected a divergence from Babylonian customs. It was likely linked to Babylonian insistence on not starting Nisan until on or after the vernal equinox.

With this in mind, it stands to reason that if Adar in 6 BC had to have 29 days to conform with the 19-year intercalation cycles and presumably the ripeness of the barley harvest, the Sanhedrin would have decided of their own initiative to make it a Chaseir month, rather than allow a lack of eyewitness reports to make it Malei and result in adding an extra month to the year. According to the CGSF, Murphey, and the Exodus Hebrew Calendar, the Jewish calendar that overlapped with 7 BC included a thirteenth month that made it intercalated. Since there were never two intercalated years in a row, this strongly implies the Sanhedrin would not have allowed Adar in 6 BC to be a 30-day month requiring an added 29-day Adar-II. It would have disrupted the settled 19-year intercalation pattern which allowed the Jewish and Babylonian calendars to essentially match during the exile and thereafter (Zec 1:7, 7:1; Est 2:16, 3:7, 3:13, 8:9, 8:12, 9:1).

Insights from Sacha Stern

After the Maccabees removed the Seleucids from power and the Hasmonean Era began, the role of the Sanhedrin became increasingly influential. As ancient calendar expert Sacha Stern writes in Calendar and Community (Oxford, 2001):

Whether the Judaean calendar of the Hasmonaean period corresponded exactly to the Babylonian reckoning cannot be known. Hasmonaean rulers are more likely to have set their own calendar independently than to have relied on moon sightings and declarations of new moons that were being made in Babylonia, a region that was now part of a foreign kingdom. Still, the methods employed by the Hasmonaeans to determine lunar months were probably similar to those of the Babylonians (p. 30).

He adds on p. 31:

It is also questionable whether the Hasmonaeans made the same intercalations as in the Babylonian calendar, thus always celebrating Passover in the Babylonian Nisan – as had been the practice in the Persian period (e.g. at Elephantine). Datings from the Hasmonaean and early Roman periods… suggest that Jewish and Babylonian months regularly coincided. However, this evidence is too sporadic to prove that the Babylonian calendar was consistently followed and used… This [Babylonian] cycle may have been considered unsuitable to the Jews for a number of other reasons. Firstly, the intercalation of a second month of Ululu (Elul) in the 17th year of the Babylonian cycle may not have been acceptable to the Jews, for whom the subsequent month of Tishre had to correspond, every year, to the biblical 7th month: if an additional Elul were inserted, Tishre would have become the 8th month. To overcome this problem, a different 19-year cycle, without intercalations of Ululu, would have been needed; but then the Jewish calendar would not have been the same as the Babylonian… Nevertheless, it remains entirely possible – as the evidence indeed suggests – that the Jews of the Hasmonaean and early Roman periods relied to a large degree on the Babylonian cycle of intercalations.

This is precisely what I concluded in my previous article, when I found it necessary to assume the Jewish 19-year cycle counts began a year earlier than those of the Babylonians.

No longer tightly linked with the calendar decisions emanating from Babylon and its Seleucid successor, the Hasmonean Era saw the gradual increase in the influence of the priesthood on the Jewish calendar. This influence was manifested in some calendar manipulation to encourage late spring observance of Passover. This served to facilitate attendance at Temple activities that promoted national unity, especially the pilgrimage festivals which brought people from far and wide to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths. The efforts of Herod the Great to enlarge and embellish the Temple into a magnificent edifice also played a significant part in this.

Stern also points out (pp. 61–62):

The lateness of festivals in the first century BCE to first century CE must be attributed, therefore, to other factors… It is possible that intercalation in the Jewish calendar was based entirely, in this period, on the Babylonian system of intercalations [which kept the start of Nisan on or after the vernal equinox]… E. Schwartz has suggested that in the period of the Temple, Passover was celebrated late so as to enable pilgrims to reach Jerusalem on time for the festival. This suggestion not only is plausible in its own right, but also finds support in a rabbinic tradition that the year would be especially intercalated to allow the pilgrims already on their way to reach Jerusalem for the festival. If correct, this suggestion would explain why in subsequent centuries, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the observance of Passover appears to have receded to earlier dates in the solar year (emphasis added).

The point being made here is that these changes to the Jewish calendar during the first centuries BC and AD can be traced directly to calendar tinkering by the Jewish authorities. They diverged from the traditional, lunar observation approach to setting the start of months in favor of calculations and intervention to accomplish desired objectives. So it is fair to say that the Sanhedrin alone, with an eye to other factors besides eyewitnesses, made the final decision about what day to sanctify as the start of the month.

The Length of Adar and the Start of Nisan

In the case of determining the start of Nisan, there was an important additional factor in play not of concern with other months: if no eyewitnesses came forth the next morning to testify they had seen the crescent moon the evening that opened the thirtieth of Adar, that month was reckoned to have been 30 days long. Instead of segueing immediately to Nisan 1, an additional 29-day Adar-II had to be intercalated to the year. If this had happened in 6 BC, it would have added a second Adar rather than Nisan in March that year, resulting in Nisan 1 being postponed to April 20.

DANIEL9 Exodus Hebrew Calendar if 6BC had Adar II

Notice that using P&D’s Babylonian data pegs Nisan 1 to March 22, even though this would make Adar a 30-day month (counting inclusively from February 20 through March 21) requiring an intercalation, indicated by the strike-throughs. Thus, March 22 should have been the start of a 29-day Adar II. But against this is the fact that the 19-year regular intercalation cycle identified for the Exodus Hebrew Calendar in the previous article expects Julian 6 BC to not include an extra Jewish month! If Adar in 6 BC was actually only 29 days long by Jewish rather than Babylonian observations, though Nisan 1 would have been “pegged” to March 21 (matching the expected intercalation pattern), it actually started at sunset on March 20. As explains:

When G‑d created time, He first created night and then day. Therefore, a Jewish calendar date begins with the night beforehand. While a day in the secular calendar begins and ends at midnight, a Jewish day goes from nightfall to nightfall. Shabbat begins on Friday night, and a yahrtzeit lamp is kindled the evening before the yahrtzeit (anniversary of a person's passing), before nightfall. If the 10th of Iyar falls on a Wednesday, and a child is born Wednesday night after dark, the child's birthday is the 11th of Iyar.

Therefore, the Jewish date pegged to any Julian date actually started at sunset about six hours earlier on the previous Julian date during the biblical period, and technically still does for the Jews, even if modern calendars do not reflect this. This is what the Exodus Hebrew Calendar would have looked like – the asterisked date is the change:

DANIEL9 Exodus Hebrew Calendar corrected

When the Exodus Hebrew Calendar is made fully “Jewish” for the first three months of 6 BC by making expected Jerusalem crescent observation dates the first days of the months instead of the astronomical New Moons, it looks like this:

DANIEL9 Exodus Hebrew Calendar Jewish 6 BC

This makes it clear that the month of Adar had 29 days and was followed by Nisan, not Adar II, in 6 BC. Since the significant occultation of Jupiter by the moon took place one minute after sunset on Julian date March 20 at Jerusalem (Molnar, p. 120), that occultation took place on Jewish date Nisan 1, as the following chart indicates:

Astronomically-Determined Jewish Dates
DANIEL9 Chart of Nisan 1 in 6 BC

The 19-year intercalation pattern implies that the Sanhedrin would have expected eyewitnesses to have seen the crescent moon just after sunset on March 20, 6 BC. In addition, 6 BC would have marked the start of a new 19-year cycle (the “MC 1” on the calendar), providing additional motivation for the Jewish leaders to sanctify a crescent sighting on March 20, particularly if there was barley growth corroboration.

But because an observed crescent the evening of March 20 would only have been about 18.7 hours old (see below), notwithstanding that the intercalation cycle expects a 29-day Adar in 6 BC and the ultimate court of appeal was the Sanhedrin, it is fair to ask if such a young moon was potentially visible. This caused me to examine the observed lunar crescent studies of Schaefer, Yallop, Hoffman and others.

Evaluating Lunar Crescent Visibility

Five different parameters are often used to evaluate the likelihood when a thin crescent moon may first be sighted after a new moon conjunction:

Age is the time in hours between the astronomical conjunction and the observation.
ARCV is the altitude, the vertically-measured angle of elevation, of the moon above the sun. For a real-time observer who cannot track the sun’s location once it sinks below the horizon, it is the height of the moon above the horizon at sunset. The higher the altitude, the more likely a crescent will be spotted.
ARCL is the elongation, the separation angle between the centers of the sun and moon. For an observer, it is the angle formed by the moon relative to the sunset point on the horizon. The greater the elongation, the better the odds a crescent will be seen.
DAZ is the difference in azimuth between the sun and the moon. At sunset it is the horizontally-measured separation between them. As DAZ approaches 0, ARCL will decrease until it is equal to ARCV.

An illustration from Saudi astronomer Thaymer Alrefay (in The Observatory, Vol. 138, No. 1267 [December 2018], 267–291, online at helps distinguish between ARCV/altitude, ARCL/elongation, and DAZ/azimuth:

DANIEL9 Sun Moon angles

Lag is the time difference in minutes between sunset and moonset. As the moon moves higher in the sky on succeeding nights after the conjunction, the time lag between sunset and moonset increases. A larger lag implies greater visibility of a crescent moon, for the sun goes deeper below the horizon and the sky is darker, so the moon has greater contrast. This means a more easily visible crescent.

A Close Look at the Data: Stellarium

With this background, let us examine the pertinent data for March 20 and 21 in 6 BC, as reported by the free astronomy program Stellarium (downloadable from

DANIEL9 Stellarium moon stats 3 20 and 3 21 6 BC

From the conjunction at 11:49 pm on March 19 to the time of best visibility on March 20 (6:31 pm according to the LunaCal program, see below) was 18 hours and 42 minutes, making the moon’s age 18.7 hr (0.8 days). Sunset at Jerusalem on March 20 occurred at 6:10 pm and moonset at 6:50 pm, a lag of 40 minutes. At the time of best visibility, when the sky had dimmed slightly and the crescent contrasted better, the sun’s altitude was 5.3° below the horizon and the moon’s 2.6° above it, so the relative altitude (ARCV) was 7.9°; elongation (ARCL) was 8.0°, and the azimuth difference between the sun and moon (DAZ) was 2.4°. As for March 21, the moon’s age was 1.6 days (38.4 hr) with lag 95 minutes, ARCV 18.9°, ARCL 19.0°, and DAZ 3.0°. Do these statistics allow for a sighting of the crescent the evening of March 20?

The United States Naval Observatory

The USNO presents at a very helpful page devoted to discussing crescent moon visibility generally. It notes:

Although the date and time of each New Moon can be computed exactly, the visibility of the lunar crescent as a function of the Moon’s “age” – the time counted from New Moon – depends upon many factors and cannot be predicted with certainty. During the first two days after New Moon, the young crescent Moon appears very low in the western sky after sunset, must be viewed through bright twilight, and sets shortly after sunset. The sighting of the lunar crescent within one day of New Moon is usually difficult. The crescent at this time is quite thin, has a low surface brightness, and can easily be lost in the twilight. Generally, the lunar crescent will become visible to suitably-located, experienced observers with good sky conditions about one day after New Moon. However, the time that the crescent actually becomes visible varies quite a bit from one month to another. Naked-eye sightings as early as 15.5 hours after New Moon [0.6 day] have been reliably reported while observers with telescopes have made reliable reports as early as 12.1 hours after New Moon. Because these observations are exceptional, crescent sightings this early in the lunar month should not be expected as the norm (emphasis and bracketed notes added).

The USNO report thus allows for the possibility of the sighting of an 18.7 hr lunar crescent, and definitely one 1.6 days (38.4 hr) old, weather permitting. It also adds,

The visibility of the young lunar crescent depends on sky conditions and the location, experience, and preparation of the observer. Generally, low-latitude and high-altitude observers who know exactly where and when to look will be favored. For observers at mid-northern latitudes, months near the spring equinox are also favored, because the ecliptic makes a relatively steep angle to the western horizon during these months. The steep angle means the Moon's altitude will be greater just after sunset (emphasis added).

The emphasized words are pertinent to Molnar’s March 20 date, because both Babylon and Jerusalem are in the mid-northern latitudes and this date was just before the spring equinox.

Data from Schaefer

In L. Doggett and Bradley E. Schaefer, “Lunar Crescent Visibility” (Icarus 107 [1994], 388–403), Table IV on p. 393 reports observed crescent moons from a series of “Moonwatches,” the last being on May 5, 1989. Summarizing their observations, they reported on p. 402:

Previously, the youngest Moon ever seen with unaided vision was 15.4 hr by J. Schmidt; with optical aid [binoculars or telescope] the record was 14.9 hr by R. Moran (Schaefer 1988b). The record for observations with optical aid was broken by several groups during Moonwatch 4, with the new record being 13.4 hr by R. Victor (Table IV, observation 239). We note that the naked-eye sighting by S. O’Meara (Table IV, observation 252), at an age of 15.5 hr, is very close to Schmidt’s record.

Schaefer subsequently wrote (“Lunar Crescent Visibility,” that the Schmidt sighting had been discredited. The current record was set by John Pierce on February 25, 1990, who made a well-documented naked eye sighting of a 15.0 hr lunar crescent in eastern Tennessee. Another researcher, James Stamm, set the record for a telescope-assisted observation with a 12.1 hr sighting on January 21, 1996 at Tucson, Arizona. At can be found these details about the very early unassisted observation made by Pierce:

• Longitude: 83.5 W
• Latitude: 35.6 N
• Elevation: 1500 m
• Conjunction: 25 February 1990, at 08:54 UT
• First Visibility: 25 February 1990, at 23:55 UT
• Age (at First Visibility): 15 hours and 01 minute [18.7 hr]
• Lag time: 39 minutes [40 m]
• Elongation (ARCL at Best Time): 7.6° [8.0°]
• Relative Azimuth (DAZ at Best Time): 0.6° [2.4°]
• Relative Altitude (ARCV at Best Time): 7.6° [7.9°]

Those values are all less than or equal to those from Stellarium in brackets. They indicate that in principle, the lunar crescent on March 20, 6 BC could have been seen as well.

Clearer Visibility in Ancient Times?

Schaefer takes pains to emphasize his belief that the age and lag are poor measures of the likelihood a lunar crescent will be visible. These have historically been the main criteria for judging if a crescent could be seen. In the Summary of the above paper he states:

The age and moonset-lag criteria are found to be poor, the altitude/azimuth criteria can make a confident prediction only one-quarter of the time, while the best predictor by far is the modern theoretical algorithm.

The “modern theoretical algorithm” is actually the approach Schaefer himself devised for judging the visibility of a thin lunar crescent, so he has a bias towards it, even if seemingly well-deserved. It should thus not surprise us that he disparages, for one reason or another, earlier attempts using other criteria. But it must be pointed out that a key reason his algorithm works better than other approaches is because it takes atmospheric extinction coefficients for air transparency into account, calculating them “from seasonal, latitudinal and elevation correlations corrected for the seasonal average evening relative humidity” (p. 767). He is thus using current, not ancient, data to develop a theory useful for contemporary crescent predictions.

The interest here, however, is not in modern crescent visibility predictions, but in historical observations and their calendrical implications. Such dates were determined by the ancients using naked-eye sightings during the pre-industrial age, when it may reasonably be argued that the atmosphere on average was more transparent than today, enabling observation of crescent moons at a younger age. Just as we cannot legitimately assume that atmospheric transparency today is the same at all places, elevations and seasons, we cannot assume that at a single location it was the same in ancient times as in ours. The unknown ancient environment at Jerusalem can perhaps be approximated by using higher-elevation locations for sightings; this is reflected in Schaefer’s suggestion that Mauna Kea be used in an attempt to break the earliest unassisted crescent observation record. Commenting on James Stamm’s 12.1 hr telescope-assisted early crescent record, he suggests that

an observer at high altitude in northern California or Nevada should have been able to see Stamm’s record-breaking Moon with the unaided eye. An optimal latitude (such that the Moon stands directly above the Sun) will improve visibility, as will a site with low humidity. For site selection, however, observers should strive for elevation to get above the low-lying atmospheric aerosols. Elevation can make or break a sighting attempt.

Schaefer’s calculations take the expected clarity of the atmosphere – the extinction coefficient – into account, making it a marked improvement over older approaches to estimating when the earliest lunar crescent could be seen. It must be pointed out, though, that all of his data is since the Industrial Revolution. We can expect that in ancient times, except when impacted by volcanic eruptions, lower concentrations of greenhouse gases and cooler average temperatures (with a less dense atmosphere) resulted in the atmosphere being clearer than today. There would thus have been a higher likelihood in the biblical period that the light of a crescent moon could be more fully transmitted and less scattered (less reddened at sunset), particularly during the spring when the air was cooler, less dense, and humidity would have been lower. These factors would logically facilitate the sighting of a thin lunar crescent at a younger age, especially when coupled with the elevation of the Judean highlands. In short, if theory allows for such an early unaided sighting as Stamm’s in our time, we have to wonder what might have been possible for experienced and motivated observers 2000 years ago, in the clear air of early spring in Jerusalem at an elevation of ~2550 feet (780 meters).

In an older paper, “Visibility of the Lunar Crescent” (Q. Jl. Astr. Soc 29 [1988], 511–523), Schaefer compiled 201 lunar sighting reports and used them to analyze his theoretical model for lunar visibility. The ones of interest to us are those where the moon was observed with the unaided eye and its age was ≤18.7 hours. Besides the since-discredited 15.4 hr entry from Schmidt (Schaefer’s entry 44), it also lists naked-eye sightings at 16.5, 16.7 and 17.3 hr, with corresponding lag values of 22, 35, 37 and 38 minutes. With Stellarium giving us an age of 18.7 hr with moonset-lag 40, notwithstanding Schaefer’s low regard for these two criteria, they put an observed crescent on March 20, 6 BC in the realm of possibility.

None of these entries have an ARCL (elongation) as low as the 8.0° value returned by Stellarium. In this regard, in “First Visibility of the Lunar Crescent: Beyond Danjon’s Limit” (The Observatory 127:1 [February 2007], 53–59, online at, A. H. Sultan stated that “an elongation of about 7.5° is the lowest naked eye visibility limit,” though some researchers would push this lower (7° for Danjon and Schaefer, 6.4° for Odeh, 5° for McNally). These comments give theoretical justification for an observation with the 8.0° elongation reported by Stellarium.

The ancient criteria of age and moonset-lag, when coupled with the elongation, thus appear to offer value in evaluating crescent data in a narrow geographical region. Schaefer writes that the “zones of uncertainty” of the ancient criteria encompassed the entire world (Doggett and Schaefer 1994: 399), but we are only interested in comparing data over time from Babylon and Jerusalem. This means we need not concern ourselves with theory built in part on accommodating air transparency, humidity, etc. at other locations. M. Ilyas, who came up with the concept of using a Lunar Date Line (LDL) as a tool for estimating the time of earliest crescent visibility, admitted that “the simple criterion [moonset-lag] is remarkably good for the latitude region where the Ancients [meaning the Babylonians in particular] collected their observational data, illustrating the care with which their data was gathered” (“The Ancients’ Criterion of Earliest Visibility of the Lunar Crescent: How Good is It?” at https://www.cambridgeorg/core/journals/international-astronomical-union-colloquium/article/ancients-criterion-of-earliest-visibility-of-the-lunar-crescent-how-good-is-it/5D6FDE3F000DDFFD6300C805244763ED). Ilyas puts the moonset-lag lunar visibility confidence time at 46 +/- 2 minutes for 30° N latitude (p. 149), slightly more than the 40 minute lag given by Stellarium for Jerusalem at 31.7° N.

Information from Yallop

In 1997, UK astronomer Bernard D. Yallop followed up on Schaefer’s earlier work with his paper, “A Method for Predicting the First Sighting of the New Crescent Moon” (NAO Technical Note No 69, online at Using the q parameter he devised, he considered 295 pieces of crescent moon sighting data accumulated from 1859 to 1996. He arrived at some different conclusions about crescent visibility (the BDY column in his Table 4) than Schaefer (the BES column).

Unfortunately, his latitude/longitude entries indicate none of his data was obtained from Israel, so the relatively high elevation and specific environmental factors there (humidity and season of the year in particular) cannot be weighed in evaluating Yallop’s data. That said, I regard it as a reasonable, though unprovable, assumption that in the pre-industrial age, the atmospheric extinction coefficient that plays a major role in Schaefer’s, and indirectly Yallop’s, work was generally smaller than in modern times. This would have resulted in clearer air with less light scattering from aerosols and particulate matter, hence improved visibility of younger crescents than is possible today. With this in mind I focused on the crescent records which Yallop regarded as either easily visible (his criterion A), visible under perfect conditions (B), or possibly needing an optical aid to find the crescent (C). I gave less attention to his criterion D (definitely needing an optical aid), and ignored entirely his criteria E and F, where his formula indicated the crescent was not visible. Here is Yallop’s Table 5 explaining his criteria:

DANIEL9 Yallop Table 5

In Yallop’s Table 4, some entries he regarded as potentially visible crescents – having visibility codes V(V) or V(F) – are close to most of Stellarium’s March 20, 6 BC values (age 18.7 hr, lag 40, ARCV 7.9°, DAZ 2.4°). They are highlighted in the edited table below. Although there is not a single ARCL value in his A–C classes less than 9.1°, and the lowest given in class D – needing an optical aid to see the crescent – is 8.5°, recall Sultan’s opinion that “an elongation of about 7.5° is the lowest naked eye visibility limit,” while others felt it went as low as 5°. Hence, Stellarium’s 8.0° value should still be regarded as in potentially visible range, just not reflected in the specific data Yallop considered. Also, the ARCL would seem to be the value most directly affected by the atmospheric extinction coefficient; the smaller that angle (DAZ approaching 0°), the less separation of the crescent from the sun and its most intense glare. Clearer air would reduce diffused glare after the sun went below the horizon, increasing crescent visibility.

Yallop also included the following explanatory codes for the columns in Table 4. Particularly important data has been highlighted.

DANIEL9 Yallop 1997 Table 4 edited

My impression is that Yallop’s ARCL values where q ≤ -0.160 still leave the door open for the crescent moon of March 20, 6 BC being visible. Being ignorant of the atmospheric clarity of Jerusalem in biblical times, we cannot know whether a visual sighting theoretically possible today by first locating the crescent with an optical aid – V(F) – could have been made in ancient times without one by practiced Jewish eyes. Except for the ARCL, the other categories examined – age, lag, ARCV and DAZ – for March 20, 6 BC were all found to imply potential crescent visibility by Yallop.

Hoffman’s LunaCal Program

In addition, the program LunaCal by Roy Hoffman of the Israeli New Moon Society (downloadable at was looked at. A tool for judging the visibility of a young crescent moon, it was used to evaluate Molnar’s determination that March 20, 6 BC was the date of Christ’s birth. Under the default “DALT-width” criterion, LunaCal returns this result: “The New Moon is impossible to see with the naked eye but may be visible with a telescope or with binoculars. The closest to visibility is at 18:31 [6:31 pm].” However, if the Karaite criterion is used for seeing the moon, LunaCal returns, “The New Moon appears on Saturday, 20th March 6 between 18:01 and 18:35 [6:01–6:35 pm] if it is not cloudy. It is very difficult to see, ease of visibility 0.3. Probability of visibility: 30% probability of testimony: 65%.” The Maimonides criterion similarly returns, “The New Moon appears on Saturday, 20th March 6 between 18:01 and 18:35 if it is not cloudy. It is very difficult to see, ease of visibility 0.3. Probability of visibility: 32% probability of testimony: 66%.” Since testimony was important to the ancient Sanhedrin, that 65-66% probability should be noted. For the next day, March 21, 6 BC, LunaCal returns, “The New Moon appears on Sunday, 21st March 6 between 17:52 and 18:38 and fades or sets between 19:02 and 19:42 if it is not cloudy. It is very easy to see, ease of visibility 1.9. Probability of visibility: 100.00% probability of testimony: 100.00%” (emphasis added). All other criteria for seeing the moon that day yield essentially 100% visibility.

I point out here two things. One is that Hoffman’s program predicts that a visible lunar crescent on March 20 was possible using the Karaite criteria, and that 65-66% of observers would be expected to testify they saw the crescent; the second is that just after sunset the next day, March 21, it was a virtual certainty that the crescent was seen, and seen “easily.” This is consistent with the data from Stellarium for March 21, which gives the moon’s age as 40.8 hours at sunset with lag of 95 minutes. If it was seen “easily” that day, this implies it was visible the evening before as well, even if with difficulty.

Lastly, the opinion of the highly-regarded biblical chronologist Jack Finegan can also be noted: he places Nisan 1 in 6 BC on March 20 (Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Table 145, p. 299).


Due to setting aside the CGSF Hebrew calendar in favor of the Exodus Hebrew Calendar as the basis for dating, a re-evaluation of the Priestly Divisions calendar that undergirds the study of the date of Christ’s birth was necessary. It was found that not only did the different intercalation pattern of the Exodus Hebrew Calendar change none of the Hebrew dates essential to the “Pinpointing the Date of Christ’s Birth” study, by moving the date of the start of Jehoiarib’s Temple service from Av 9 to Av 8, a perfect correspondence was achieved with the Seder ‘Olam Rabbah records.

In addition, unlike the CGSF calendar, the Exodus Hebrew Calendar does not identify Nisan 1 with the Saturday Sabbath in 6 BC. Instead it aligns Nisan 1 with Sunday, the first day of the Jewish week. That is a better outcome, because Exodus 40 indicates work (Heb. mela'kah) was being done to construct the Tabernacle all the way up to the time the Shekinah overshadowed it. Since all work was forbidden on the Sabbath, the Exodus Hebrew Calendar works out better than the CGSF calendar by this criterion.

The work of several investigators indicates that a thin crescent sighting on March 20, 6 BC falls within the realm of possibility. In particular, the fact that John Pierce saw with unaided eyes a 15.0 hr crescent with age, lag, ARCL, ARCV and DAZ comparable with the March 20, 6 BC crescent is very significant. Since the intercalation pattern of the Exodus Hebrew Calendar does not allow for a second Adar in 6 BC, Adar only had 29 days that year, requiring Nisan 1 to be pegged to March 21 instead of March 22. The virtual certainty of a crescent sighting the evening of March 21 (lag 95) also justifies the expectation that the crescent was visible, though with difficulty, the previous evening.

In summary, the Exodus Hebrew Calendar is shown to not only offer no conflict with the work already done on the date of Christ’s birth, in several ways it supports it better than the CGSF Hebrew dates originally used. All of these considerations support putting Molnar’s occultation of Jupiter, which he persuasively demonstrated was understood by the Magi as indicating the birth of a King of the Jews, just after sunset on March 20 – the start of Nisan 1. While it must be admitted that the probability of a visual sighting of the crescent the evening of March 20, 6 BC is not favorable by today's criteria, we may presume that ancient Jewish observers, like today’s Karaites, would have been motivated to look very carefully for that crescent moon, particularly because it marked the start of their year. The necessity of 6 BC to not include an Adar-II, to conform with the expected 19-year intercalation pattern, strikes me as the decisive factor.


In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah
on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev… – Zechariah 7:1

So the king's scribes were called at that time in the third month
(that is, the month Sivan), on the twenty-third day… – Esther 8:9



In my last article, “The Hebrew Calendar of the Second Temple Era,” I wrote near its conclusion:

In certain ways the ancient Babylonian calendar more closely approximates what the Jews followed up to the fall of the Temple in AD 70. But, lacking firm evidence the Jews of that period ever followed the 19-year intercalation pattern that undergirds the ancient Babylonian calendar, the Metonic Cycle of the Greeks, and the modern calculated Hebrew calendar, we cannot simplistically equate any of these with the Jewish calendar before the first century AD.

As I was wrapping it up, I was intrigued to receive an email from an online acquaintance, Charles Murphey. He invited me to take part in a discussion on on a paper he wrote, “The Reconstructed Jewish Calendar of the Late Second Temple Period." This invitation held out the possibility of gaining fresh insights on the Hebrew calendar I had just spent several weeks investigating.

The result was two weeks of intensive online interactions with Murphey and a handful of other discussion participants. Murphey sought to answer this question: “Can the Calendar employed by the Jewish Leadership during the late Second Temple Period be reconstructed?” His aim was to delve into the Talmud for insights into the structure of the Jewish calendar around the time of Christ. This approach was different from mine, which paid no attention to rabbinical sources. Instead, I endeavored to figure out from Scripture, historical data in Parker and Dubberstein’s Babylonian Chronology 625 B.C.–A.D. 75 (henceforth “P&D,” accessible online HERE), astronomical data from NASA astronomer Fred Espenak on the website ( and, and data previously posted on the United States Naval Observatory website, what the Jewish calendar probably looked like in Jesus' day. These investigations suggested a way to equate the Jewish calendar and that of the Babylonians.

Parker and Dubberstein cover

It turned out that, although Murphey and I took different approaches, we shared a dependence on objective astronomical data to anchor our conclusions, resulting in our different paths leading to remarkably similar results. In fact, the calendars we devised differed in only one year out of a regular cycle of 19! This may not seem like much of a difference, but it results in different patterns of leap years – intercalary years – which impacts how similar the Babylonian and Jewish calendars were. This in turn affects whether certain years can be considered candidates for the crucifixion.

In this article I will describe how I approached this search for the original Hebrew calendar, its findings, how they differed from Murphey’s results, and their implications.

Preliminary Understandings

I undertook this study with a number of preliminary understandings based on Scripture passages and certain articles I had read. Some essential background is covered in the “The Hebrew Calendar of the Second Temple Era,” so I would ask the reader to check it out if anything written below is hard to understand.

1 – The original Hebrew calendar, ordained by God during the exodus, predated by centuries the similar lunisolar Babylonian calendar. The latter carried over into the Persian/Achaemenid and Seleucid eras. The Hebrew calendar’s roots are given in Exodus 12:2: “This month [when the exodus began in 1446 BC] shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.” It follows that we cannot speak of the later Jews copying the Babylonian calendar, though many assume this. The Hebrew calendar predated that of the Babylonians by centuries. This original calendar of the Hebrews used no names for its months, simply numbering them from first through twelfth month, with a thirteenth month used as needed to keep the first month aligned with the arrival of spring.

2 – The Hebrew calendar was originally based on visual observation of the light-connected cycles of the sun and moon. God says in Genesis 1:14, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs [Heb. 'owth; in this context, meaning regular tokens or indicators for time-keeping] and for seasons [Heb. moedim, “appointed times” the Hebrews were to observe] and for days and years…” The sun defined each day of 24 hours of alternating darkness and light. By cycling through a changing arc through the sky that progressed from south to north (the winter and summer solstices) and back again, it also defined the solar year. The light of the moon defined the start and end of each month, measured from one observed thin crescent moon to the next. We call this a lunation, which lasted 29 or 30 days. Although the modern Hebrew calendar uses calculations, from the beginning this was not so; the ancient Hebrews did not have the requisite astronomical knowledge, nor did they have a Temple to organize things around. So if we would follow Scripture, we cannot depend on rabbinical calculations. Actual observation of the behavior of the sun and moon was key.

3 – The primary significance of the Hebrew term abib in Scripture is to spring, not barley. Deuteronomy 16:1 says, “Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night” (NASB). In my previous article on the Hebrew calendar I wrote:

The term abib, as used in Scripture, refers to a descriptive characteristic of the lunation that marked the start of the year. That characteristic was the greenness of new vegetation generally, not of barley specifically; barley only comes into the picture in terms of the food crop spring was known for. The Jewish website recognizes this when it says that the Hebrew word abib translates as “spring.” … The oft-made association of “abib” with immature, still-green barley is a derived one, not the primary meaning of the word. It is not about barley per se, but about the season of spring in which the grain’s heads green up and fill out.

I also commented there,

Deuteronomy 16:1 ties in with this way of looking at the relationship between spring and the first month/lunation of the Jewish year. It says the Hebrews were to “observe” (Heb. šāmar, שָׁמַר) the “month” (Heb. chodesh, חֹדֶשׁ, the lunation) of abib (spring). Although chodesh is often equivalent to our word “month,” it also can refer specifically to the crescent new moon that starts a month. The verse can thus be read, “take note of the new moon at the time of spring greening.” The lunar crescent that marked the start of the Jewish year had to be that which fell in the spring.

During the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, there was no organized agriculture; the wandering Jews ate manna. Leviticus 23:10 states, “When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.” Without agriculture or first fruits wave-sheaf offerings until after the entry into the Promised Land, there was no cause during those years to watch for barley to reach the abib state of green ears. The suggestion that messengers could have gone from Egypt to Canaan to search for barley as the marker of spring (cf. makes little practical sense, and more so in the historical situation the Jews found themselves in during the exodus. They were to stay together and follow the LORD’s pillar of cloud and fire wheresoever it led (Num. 14:14, Neh. 9:12), so they would not have sent out messengers to go barley-hunting in Canaan. The arrival of spring in the Sinai wilderness would logically have been tied not to barley maturity but to other plants that greened up at the same time after spring rains, including wildflowers and the leafing-out of deciduous trees. The significance of the abib green-ear stage of barley lay in that it was an Egyptian crop (destroyed by the plague of hail, Ex. 9:31) which the ancient Hebrews would have connected with the start of spring. There would surely have been other similar indicators in non-crop plants which would have indicated the arrival of spring during the wilderness wanderings. In short, the “month of Abib” meant “the month of spring.” (It is unfortunate that the NASB translators chose to capitalize abib, for it was not a month-name in either the Egyptian or Hebrew languages.)

4 – The early Hebrew calendar paid no attention to the vernal equinox. This matter was covered in some detail in the previous article, especially under “Defining ‘Spring’.” After 500 BC the Babylonians settled on a pattern of intercalations that invariably placed their Nisanu 1 on or after the vernal equinox, usually the Julian date March 23. But the Jews did not do likewise; their choice of which lunation to call Nisan had always been tied to the greening-up of spring, without reference to the equinox. The Jews’ determination of Nisan apparently remained largely independent of Babylonian and Greek influence until the second century AD, when the Talmud reflects that the Jewish leadership, apparently influenced by Hellenistic Greek astronomy, began to redefine the Hebrew term tekufah from its Old Testament meaning “circuit” to a more technical meaning “equinox” (discussed in the previous article under “Significance of the Tekufah”; see also For this reason we cannot assume the Jews before that time used the vernal equinox to define spring. Instead, they used practical observation of growing vegetation – principally the barley crop after entering Canaan – to decide when spring had come, then assigned Nisan to the first lunation after that. (There is Talmudic evidence that the Jewish leadership during the first century AD allowed pragmatic considerations of facilitating Temple worship to influence when Nisan was started, but this seems not to have been related to the vernal equinox.) By starting with the apparent greening-up of plants, they guaranteed that the Passover and wave sheaf of first fruits would always take place when the spring harvest was ready.

Nor does it mean that closeness of a first sighted lunar crescent to the vernal equinox originally had any bearing on defining Nisan. First the external signs that spring had arrived were observed, then the date of the next lunation – the next observed crescent moon – was defined as Nisan 1. It therefore made no difference how close this lunation was to the vernal equinox. The Jews used the observed heavenly Lights of God to arrange their months and years, subject to Nisan beginning in the spring when things began greening up, including – but not limited to – the barley crop. Hence, for centuries the vernal equinox was a non-factor; what mattered was whether the greening-up of spring had arrived, regardless of whether the date of the first lunation of spring was closer to the vernal equinox than the subsequent lunation.

5 – The original Hebrew calendar introduced in Exodus 12 did not depend on the fall “appointed times” to define that calendar. If the beginning of the year was properly set with Nisan starting in observable spring, then just as this resulted in the first fruits being ready by Passover, it also followed that the fall harvest would be gathered in and properly celebrated in Tishri. Derek Davies wrote on his Bible Calendar website ( under “What the Jewish captives in Babylon remembered”):

The day that starts the seventh month is now called “Rosh Hashanah.” This phrase means “the head of the year” or “the beginning of the year.” But when that calendar was first used, some time after the destruction of the temple in the year 70, and before the calculation was disclosed in the year 358, the first month was still seen as the start of the year.

Just as Scripture indicates the Jews originally ignored the vernal equinox, they likewise paid no attention to the autumnal equinox. This is why the approach discussed in this article takes no thought for the date of Tishri, for Scripture itself does not, regardless of the later practices of Jewish leaders. It was not until long after the exodus that they – not God! – decided to make the seventh month the first month of the secular year. In short, since the seventh month followed directly from the first month’s placement, if the first month was properly set for the spring harvest, then the seventh would fit into its proper place automatically for the fall harvest.

6 – The Jewish calendar, by defining spring as the season of greening-up, sometimes assigned Nisan to the lunation before that of the Babylonian calendar, which defined spring by the vernal equinox. The Babylonians did not observe defined “appointed times” related to the maturity of crops like the Jews did, so they had no problem arbitrarily defining “spring” in reference to the astronomical equinox rather than the readiness of crops for harvest. This meant the Jewish calendar sometimes applied Nisan to the lunation prior to the Babylonians’ Nisanu. This difference in when the first month was observed impacted which years had 13 months, and must be taken into account when determining how to correlate the two calendars.

7 – The Jewish calendar did not follow the Babylonian calendar in intercalating a second Ululu-II once every 19 years. It only intercalated a year – added an extra month to it – by inserting an Adar-II as Month 13 as needed to stay in sync with spring, and did so not only in the years when the Babylonians included an Addaru-II, but also when they added an Ululu-II in Metonic cycle (MC) Year 17. That this was how the Jews would have dealt with Ululu-II years is seen in the Babylonian calendar in 446 and 427 BC. Whereas the settled intercalation pattern of the Babylonians would normally have inserted an Ululu-II at mid-year in MC 17, under the Achaemenid Persian ruler Artaxerxes I an Addaru-II at the end of those years was used instead. The next table, adapted from P&D, shows that after 465 BC there were two 19-year cycles where MC 17 skipped using an Ululu-II, instead pushing the September lunation into Tashritu (Jewish Tishri) and intercalating those years with a year-ending Addaru-II. After this two-cycle hiatus under Artaxerxes I, Ululu-II intercalations resumed in 408 BC. (The red numbers in the far right column of the table show the Babylonians' repeating 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern of non-intercalated years starting with their MC 1, to be discussed in the next section.)

DANIEL9 PD 466 402 BC

8 – The Jews during the exile used Babylonian month-names alongside their original numbered months, indicating the two calendars were closely related. This can be seen in the books of Zechariah (1:7, 7:1) and Esther (2:16, 3:7, 3:13, 8:9, 8:12, 9:1), where months are given with both the original Jewish numbered-month designation and the corresponding Babylonian name. This indicates the two calendars could be equated at that time in history, with both using the same intercalation pattern (not the same as the intercalated year sequence, as discussed below). Due to Jerusalem’s more westerly location, the first observed crescent moon was theoretically visible there thirty-seven minutes before it could have been seen at Babylon (P&D p. 25), so the Jews may occasionally have spotted the earliest crescent a day sooner than the Babylonians. Thus, we cannot presume on perfect synchronicity; but on the whole, Scripture indicates the two calendars were basically the same. The different bases of intercalation – crop readiness for the Jews, equinox proximity for the Babylonians – also led to some variability.

From the reign of Xerxes I (485–465 BC) onward, the P&D tables indicate the Babylonians observed a repeating 19-year cycle of intercalations, with a 13th month added every two or three years to keep the lunar cycles in sync with the growing seasons. Though popularly known as the Metonic cycle from its use in the calculated system devised by the Greek astronomer Meton beginning in 432 BC, this 19-year cycle was recognized by the Babylonians before his work, so calling the early Babylonian 19-year cycle “Metonic” is not exactly correct.

The Wikipedia article on the Metonic cycle states, “In the Babylonian and Hebrew lunisolar calendars, the years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19 are the long (13-month) years of the Metonic cycle. This cycle forms the basis of the Greek and Hebrew calendars.” But Wikipedia is mistaken here: those particular long years of each cycle would only be correct for the Hebrews if their cycles began in a year which correlated with the Babylonian sequence, which supposedly began in 747 BC (P&D Plate I, p. 6, reproduced below). Change the start year from which the Hebrews counted their 19-year cycles, and you change which years were their long years.


However, even if the particular sequence of long years changed, the pattern of intercalations every 19 years could still have been the same. The P&D tables demonstrate a regular 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern of non-intercalated years every 19 years, apparent in Plate I. This pattern starts with two consecutive non-intercalated years (years I and II, henceforth MC 1 and MC 2), then an Addaru-II intercalation in MC 3, then two more non-intercalated years followed by an intercalation in MC 6, and so on to create the pattern. If the Hebrew start year for counting cycles was one year earlier than that of the Babylonians – aligning its MC 1 year with the Babylonian MC 19, as I will later show was the case – then the intercalation sequence 1, 4, 7, 9, 12, 15, 18 would have had the same pattern of non-intercalated years as the Babylonian sequence 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 19. The only difference was the start point of counting. A Rolling Intercalation Chart will be presented later that presents all possible variants of this pattern (such as 1-2-2-1-2-2-2) over 19 years, then compares those options to P&D’s Babylonian data. This comparison will show that the 1, 4, 7, 9, 12, 15, 18 sequence, when offset one year earlier than the Babylonian 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 19 sequence, duplicates the Babylonian 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 non-intercalated year pattern. This common pattern connects the month-names and month-numbers of the two calendars, making the 1, 4, 7, 9, 12, 15, 18 intercalation sequence that of the presumptive Exodus Hebrew Calendar.

The Analysis

With those basic understandings set forth, we can use them to analyze the historical and astronomical data. Since we cannot assume that the lunar observation conditions at Jerusalem were the same as at Babylon, we cannot use the Babylonian data found in P&D to definitively determine the dates of first observed crescent moons at Jerusalem; we can only approximate them, even if relatively accurately. It is beside the point of this particular study to wrestle with the complex issue of determining precisely when first visible crescents were seen at Jerusalem; others have attempted this, including Karl Schoch (“The Earliest Visible Phase of the Moon,” The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 15, Issue 3-4 [July 1921], 194, online at; NASA astronomer Bradley E. Schaefer (“Lunar Visibility  and the Crucifixion,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 31 [1990], 53–67, online at; and Roy E. Hoffman (“Observing the New Moon,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 340, Issue 3 (April 2003), 1039–1051, online at I will note here just one thing: though Hoffman’s Israeli New Moon Society survey found every lunar crescent at least 27 hours after conjunction was visible, yet some sightings were made as early as 19.5 hours after the conjunction. This illustrates the inherent uncertainty in using observed earliest lunar crescents to establish the start of a month. The United States Naval Observatory presents a very helpful overview that discusses crescent moon visibility generally at

Granted, then, that there is some uncertainty in determining the precise date a historical crescent moon was first observed at Jerusalem, it is still possible to determine three things objectively: the observed first crescent moon dates at Babylon, subject to the accuracy of Schoch’s tables used by P&D (cf. p. 25); the corresponding astronomical New Moons preceding those dates by one to three days, which also applied to the Jewish calendar; and the intercalation pattern used at Babylon. Understanding that the Jews were able to equate their calendar with that of the Babylonians from the Achaemenid era on, we can then use the Babylonian intercalation pattern as a proxy for that of the Jews. This should allow us to equate the Babylonian and Jewish calendars during the exile as Scripture indicates.

Adjusting the Babylonian Data for Adar-II

Step 1 in analyzing the Babylonian calendar tables of P&D is to slightly modify them to match Jewish norms, eliminating the Ululu-II intercalations in MC 17 and replacing them with Adar-II months at the end of the year. For the period 19 BC–AD 37, this yields the following table:

DANIEL9 Babylonian 19 yr cycle Ululu II removed

The red arrows designate where Babylonian Ululu-II months were shifted over to Babylonian Tashritu/Jewish Tishri. (The asterisked dates of Babylonian observed first crescent moons correspond to astronomical New Moons at the end of the previous year – the observed first crescent was typically seen two or three days after the New Moon conjunction.) Since according to the P&D cycle start date of 747 BC the Ululu-II intercalations took place in MC 17, this chart tells us that MC 1 aligns with Julian years 6/5 BC, AD 14/15, and AD 33/34 (the last also noted on P&D Plate I). The numbers with blue backgrounds signify non-intercalated years; the darker blue sets apart the repeating pattern of three consecutive pairs of non-intercalated years separated by Babylonian MC years 11, 14 and 17. The intercalated years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 19 are given in red text on a yellow background. These three background colors will later be used when discussing the rolling options for non-intercalated year patterns.

Adjusting the Babylonian Data to place the Nisan Lunation in Spring

Step 2 is to make allowance for the Jews, who were not obliged to keep Nisan 1 on or after the vernal equinox, assigning an earlier lunation to Nisan than the Babylonians. A great distinctive of today’s Karaite sect is their focus on finding barley in Israel at the abib stage of green heads of grain. A website cited by Murphey,, shows that abib barley was found on dates which place Nisan 1 in the range March 12 to April 8:

DANIEL9 Karaite Nisans

In my previous article I similarly noted that another website, Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry, had an article titled “Abib Confirmed!” at This stated that green-head barley was observed six days before the lunation that began on March 14, 2021, making that date – by Karaite standards – Nisan 1. These two references constitute objective evidence that it is incorrect to limit Nisan 1 to dates on or after the vernal equinox, as the Babylonians did.

A page that used to be on the United States Naval Observatory website, but can still be accessed via the Internet Archive “Wayback Machine,” is at It presents New Moon dates from 25 BC through AD 38, listing for each year both the conjunction New Moon date on or preceding the vernal equinox, and that following the equinox. This information allows us to give alternative, earlier lunation dates for Nisan to the vernal equinox-determined dates given in P&D’s tables.

Redefining the First Year of the 19-Year Intercalation Cycles

Step 3 is to make a minimal adjustment – a redefinition of the cycle start dates – to the P&D tables modified in the first two steps, consistent with a simple strategy by which the Jews could equate the Babylonian calendar with theirs during the Achaemenid era.

To place the first fruits wave offering in spring, the Jews had to use lunations for Nisan close to the Karaite range of March 12–April 8, the adjustment made in Step 2; but at the same time, their calendar had to conform with the Babylonian 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern of non-intercalated years. Examining the P&D tables, one can see that the years with late dates for Nisanu 1 – those in the range of April 12–22 – are all in years which follow an Addaru-II intercalation on or after March 13. If all of the Addaru-II dates on or after March 13 are shifted down to become Nisanu 1 dates in the following year, it changes all of the years that now have earlier dates for Nisanu into 13-month intercalated years. This is seen in the next adjusted P&D table:

DANIEL9 Jewish 19 yr cycle with Adar II shifted to Nisan

To facilitate direct comparison, here are the Babylonian and presumptive Exodus Hebrew Calendar tables side-by-side:

DANIEL9 Babylonian to Hebrew Conversion

The foregoing changes to the P&D tables cause 19 BC, which originally was a non-intercalated year with Nisan starting on 4/14, to become a 13-month intercalated year with Nisan starting on 3/16. (To have Nisan start with the lunation of abib/spring in 19 BC, the 3/16 lunation had shifted forward from the previous Adar-II.) This shifting of Adar-II to the following Nisan changed neither the Julian year from 19 BC nor the Hebrew year from 3742. What it did do was redefine the starting point of the 19-year intercalation cycle to one year earlier, so that the intercalation pattern that would have applied to 20 BC of the original Babylonian table was applied to 19 BC instead. It all boils down to a change in the year the cycles began to be counted from, shifting the entire pattern of intercalations by one year.

Precedent for shifting the cycle start year is seen in 311 BC, the first year of the Seleucid Era. The P&D tables (pp. 36–37) show 311 BC (Seleucid Year 1) was an intercalated year that followed two years after an Ululu-II intercalation in 313 BC. Since, from the Achaemenid era on, every Ululu-II intercalation was in an MC 17 year, this means 311 BC corresponded with MC 19 of the original Babylonian pattern. But at the transition to the Seleucid Era, the original intercalated MC 19 of the Babylonians was redefined as the intercalated MC 1 of the Seleucids, in effect shifting the intercalation pattern up one year. (This shift of Seleucid MC 1 up to Babylonian MC 19 is reflected in the later Rolling Intercalations Chart at 6 BC, AD 14 and AD 33.) This shift made the Jewish pattern of intercalated years exactly match the intercalation pattern of the Babylonians. By redefining the cycle count starting point to a year earlier than the Babylonians, even though the MC years changed from the original 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 19 sequence to 1, 4, 7, 9, 12, 15, 18, they shared the same 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern in both calendars. This makes this strategy the primary candidate for the proposed Exodus Hebrew Calendar, subject to closer examination of the astronomical data.

Applying Astronomical New Moon Dates to the Data

Step 4 is to convert the observed first crescent dates from the adjusted P&D tables to corresponding astronomical New Moon dates. This is done by using Espenak’s data at This results in the following table:

DANIEL9 Astronomical New Moon Dates with PD Data using Babylonian Intercalations

The astronomical start date of each lunation given in that table allows constructing the following Exodus Hebrew Calendar (which can be downloaded HERE), where the Julian date of each lunation’s start is tied in with the astronomical New Moon. Except for yellow, used to highlight the astronomical first day of each lunation, the background colors used in the MC# column of the earlier tables are also applied to this calendar to facilitate tracking the MC patterns.

DANIEL9 Exodus Hebrew Calendar 19 BC-AD 37 rev 7/17/23This calendar demonstrates how the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern and the conjunction New Moons of every month fit together with the first visible crescents of the Babylonians from 19 BC through AD 38. The first visible crescents reported by the Babylonians unfailingly begin not more than three days after every conjunction. This indicates the reliability of the adapted Babylonian data (with the Adar-II > Nisan shift) as an indicator of the Jewish observed first crescents, showing that we need not assume dependence on the vernal equinox by the early Hebrews. This approach to creating a calendar avoids the subjectivity involved in deciding if any particular first crescent observation at Babylon matched up with that at Jerusalem.

It should be pointed out that this Exodus Hebrew Calendar, being primarily based on conjunction New Moons rather than observed first crescents, makes no attempt to follow Jewish calendar rules that fix the length for certain months at either 29 or 30 days, while allowing Heshvan and Kislev to vary from year to year (cf. The month-lengths in this calendar depend only on the first observed lunar crescent data from Babylon. It was decided to use this data – which was to some degree calculated, as P&D notes (p. 25, which refers to the use of some “unattested” dates in the tables, represented by the small letter “a” in Plate I) – without arbitrarily defining which months had 29 or 30 days. Since there exists one to three days of leeway between the conjunction and the first visible crescent, arbitrary month-lengths could be assigned if desired, but the subjectivity of this approach dissuaded me from doing so.

Closest to the Vernal Equinox?

The next chart, integrated into the Rolling Intercalations Chart, is based on the USNO data. It highlights in light blue, in columns 3 and 4 from the left, the lunation dates from 19 BC through AD 38 consistent with the Nisan 1 date range seen in the Karaite data (March 12–April 8). These astronomical New Moon dates, also found in Espenak’s data on the Astropixels website and reflected in the Exodus Hebrew Calendar, were then copied over to the first column at left as candidate Exodus Hebrew Calendar New Moon dates. Finally, since an objective is to maintain the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern of non-intercalated years which is integral to the Babylonian data, the light blue/darker blue/yellow color code applied to the MC# columns of the earlier adjusted P&D tables was added to the chart to indicate the years which conform to that pattern.

DANIEL9 Lunations consistent with Karaite and Murphey dataIt will be noted in the chart that I did not use the USNO’s earlier lunations in 16 BC, AD 4 and AD 23 (tinted in red – March 10, 9 and 10 respectively) for the Exodus Hebrew Calendar, instead assigning Nisan to the corresponding subsequent lunations on April 9, 8 and 8 (the last at 10 pm Greenwich time, therefore on Jewish date April 9). The earliest acceptable astronomical New Moon in the Exodus Hebrew Calendar is on March 11, seen in AD 12 and 31, because it fits the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern of the Babylonian data in P&D and the Karaite data. The latest acceptable Nisan 14 date is April 22.

Recall that the 15 years of Karaite data gave a range of possible observed first crescents from March 12 to April 8. With a difference of one to three days between the conjunction and the first visible crescent, this hypothetically would allow the earlier lunations reported by the USNO (on or before the date of the equinox) to be used for Nisan, which was Murphey’s approach (Column 2, incorporating the dates in the red-tinted cells of Column 3 as intercalated months). That I did not accept these three earlier dates – which, incidentally, follow a 19-year sequence – in my strategy reflects a key difference between Murphey’s results and mine. One can adhere to a Talmud-derived “rule” that the Nisan lunation had to be that closest to the vernal equinox. Or, one can maintain the Babylonian 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern of non-intercalated years in every 19-year cycle starting in 747 BC. But one cannot do both. The two approaches are incompatible, for using the earlier lunations in those three years makes them 13-month intercalated years. That disrupts, with an intercalated year, the start of the 2-2-2 block of consecutive pairs of non-intercalated years in the Babylonian pattern. Using the three earlier lunations leads to Murphey’s 2-1-2-2-1-2-2 pattern seen in the forthcoming Rolling Intercalations Chart. But no direct way is evident to go from this pattern to the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 Babylonian pattern, which is apparently required for the Babylonian and Jewish calendars to coincide during the exile. This difficulty led me to allow the Babylonian pattern of non-intercalated years to take priority, requiring the later lunations to be used for Nisan in 16 BC, AD 4 and AD 23. Using the earlier lunations for Nisan in those years destroys the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern.

Since the Hebrews during the exodus were simple pastoralists who were unlikely to have had the astronomical sophistication to observe the vernal equinox, and since Scripture describes the coming of spring in terms of plant growth (abib), the objective existence of an equinox-dependent “rule” at that early point in their history appears doubtful. It may indeed have been a “rule” adhered to by Jewish leaders during Talmudic times, but that does not make it a rule of the biblical period. There is no evidence it was adopted until after Greek astronomical knowledge had become pervasive in the Roman world and the need was seen, after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, to use a calculated calendar. The late redefinition of tekufah from “circuit” to “equinox” indicates this delayed change from biblical practice.

Summarizing the Data

With this background we can now bring things together visually. The following Rolling Intercalations Chart presents, to its left, a rolling sequence of all possible options of the non-intercalated year pattern 2-2-1-2-2-2-1. The red numbers in the cells indicate the MC years when 747 BC is assumed as the first year of cycle counting, which coordinates with 19-year cycles starting in 6 BC, AD 14 and AD 33 (the last indicated in P&D’s Table I). This pattern contains three pairs of non-intercalated years (in darker blue) that always follow consecutively as 2-2-2, together with a lighter 1-2-2-1 pattern. Color-coding these two sequences allows us to see more easily not only the close relationship between the proposed Exodus Hebrew Calendar and the Babylonian calendar, but also allows one to judge how similar other calendar strategies are to the Babylonian pattern.

Rolling Intercalations Chart

(Larger downloadable copy HERE)

When Nisan lunations are determined by being closest to the vernal equinox, making 16 BC, AD 4 and AD 23 (MC 10 years) intercalated, they replace the Exodus Hebrew Calendar intercalations in 17 BC, AD 3 and AD 22 (MC 9 years). This results in the 2-2-2 pattern being offset by 8 years from the 2-2-2 in the Babylonian sequence. This greatly complicates the effort of coordinating the Babylonian and Jewish calendars during the exile. One year in every 19 in the Babylonian calendar would not have matched with the Jewish calendar, being a lunation ahead of it.

But if we reckon that the Jews began counting their cycles in a year coordinated with the Seleucid Year 1 offset in 311 BC, the intercalated years match exactly. The observed first crescent dates from P&D and the Exodus Hebrew Calendar have been added on the right side of the rolling options. When the start of the 19-year cycle of the Exodus Hebrew Calendar is shifted up by one year, as shown in the last column on the right, then the intercalation pattern and resulting dates of the Exodus Hebrew Calendar precisely match the P&D Babylonian data. In effect, this shift up reverses the intercalation pattern change caused by shifting down the Addaru lunations to Nisanu lunations. Starting the cycle counts a year earlier returned the pattern back to its original Babylonian 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern.

Other Intercalation Strategies

Besides Murphey’s intercalation pattern, the Rolling Intercalations Chart also indicates the patterns yielded by two other strategies – that of D. Beattie on the website in the third column of the Rolling Intercalations Chart, and the Modern Calculated Hebrew Calendar (MCHC) followed by most Jews today in the fifth column.

The CGSF website states (

The “Hebrew” years illustrated here prior to the time of Maimonides are hypothetical, superimposing the Rabbinic computations backward in time through 142 AD. Prior to 142 AD the same Rabbinic methods of computation are used here, except that a change in the arrangement of leap years was made to “correct” a presumed calendar drift, thus allowing for the calculated calendar to support a Wednesday, 31 AD crucifixion of Jesus Christ. (Whether Jesus actually died in 31 AD is another story. But while astronomical evidence would allow for a Wednesday Passover that year, the current Rabbinic computations, without any adjustment, would not.)

The CGSF tables follow a 1, 4, 6, 9, 12, 14, 17 MC sequence when 6 BC is taken as a start year coordinated with the P&D Babylonian 19-year cycles. This yields a 2-1-2-2-1-2-2 pattern. It results in AD 30 being an MC 17 intercalated year, resulting in Nisan 1 of AD 31 being pushed forward to April 12, two days after the New Moon of April 10. This allows the CGSF to claim Nisan 14 was Wednesday, April 25. But the foregoing examination has shown that in AD 31 the Nisan lunation actually began the previous month, so that Nisan 14 was on Tuesday, March 27 in AD 31 (in the Full Moon column). There is no way to reconcile a Tuesday crucifixion with the New Testament records. Nor is there an apparent way to tie the Babylonian non-intercalated year pattern to this one, which is separated from it by six years. We are justified in regarding a proposed AD 31 crucifixion as an ad hoc determination made for theological reasons.

Similarly, the MCHC derived from Talmudic/rabbinical rules, which serves as the basis for many online Hebrew calendar calculators (e.g., the Fourmilab Calendar Convertor at, also gives no clear route for coordinating its Hebrew years with the Babylonian calendar. Again starting from AD 6, its MC sequence is 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 16, 19, yielding a non-intercalated pattern of 2-2-1-2-2-1-2. This conforms with neither the CGSF nor the P&D Babylonian calendar. It cannot be the basis by which the Jews equated their calendar with that of the Babylonians during and after the exile.


This analysis has demonstrated a way by which an equivalence between the Babylonian and Jewish calendars consistent with the passages in Esther and Zechariah can be seen, while avoiding the assumption that the early Hebrews knew anything about the vernal equinox. The evidence that equinoxes were not dealt with astronomically until Meton, plus the redefinition of tekufah by the Sanhedrin apparently not until the first century AD, indicates the Jews did not take the equinox into consideration until centuries after the exile. It also avoids making the unrealistic assumption that the Hebrews during the exodus tied their calendar determinations into the state of barley in Canaan. They were only concerned that the lunation which started their year fell in spring, which could be determined from the growth of other vegetation besides barley.

What implications does this study have regarding proposed dates for the crucifixion? These are always given in terms of observed first lunar crescents, not astronomical conjunctions. They are noted in the Exodus Hebrew Calendar as the Nisan 14 dates shaded in light red in the years AD 27–34, which were derived by reckoning the observed Nisan first crescents in the Babylonian data as Nisan 1. For example, the calendar shows that in AD 30, March 25 corresponded with the observed Nisan 1, three days after the conjunction New Moon on March 22. (This observed March 25 date also matches that independently arrived at by Murphey.) As a result, Nisan 14 corresponds with the Julian date Friday, April 7 as the Passover in AD 30. By the definition of the Jewish day, Nisan 14 began the previous Thursday evening at 6 pm, and ended at 6 pm Friday evening, when the Sabbath began at sunset. As the Full Moon column on the Rolling Intercalations Chart notes, the full moon began on Thursday night, April 6, at 8 pm; this means Nisan 14 was the night of the Passover full moon that year, and also the date of the crucifixion.

The Exodus Hebrew Calendar gives the following dates for Nisan 14 in the candidate years for the crucifixion:

  Year     Nisan 14     

    27    Thur, Apr 10
    28    Tues, Mar 30
    29    Mon, Apr 18
    30    Fri, Apr 7
    31    Tues, Mar 27
    32    Mon, Apr 14
    33    Fri, Apr 3
    34    Thur, Apr 22

Of these dates, those placing the crucifixion on any day of the week except Friday should be ruled out on the basis of the plain sense of the gospel accounts. The last 24 hours of Jesus’ mortal life began on Nisan 14, when He ate the Last Supper seder meal in the Upper Room with His disciples on Thursday evening after sunset. They then proceeded to Gethsemane under a Passover full moon; then came the betrayal by Judas and the Sanhedrin trial in the wee hours of Friday morning. The crucifixion began at mid-morning on Friday; He gave up His spirit around 3 pm that afternoon; and finally He was hurriedly laid in Joseph’s tomb (still on Friday) just before Nisan 14 ended at sunset. Then the Sabbath began as Nisan 15 got underway; He rested in the grave that Saturday; and then near dawn on Sunday, Nisan 16, He was resurrected. It all fits smoothly together.

Justin Martyr, in chapter 67 of his First Apology (ca. AD 155–157), affirmed this three-day sequence when he wrote: “For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples...” (emphasis added). This is confirmation that at a very early date, the Church recognized the Roman “day of Saturn,” i.e. Saturday, as the day that immediately followed the day of the crucifixion. It also confirms that Sunday was the “third day” when the risen Lord appeared to His disciples. This is solid historical evidence against any claims the crucifixion took place on a Wednesday or Thursday. Only a Friday crucifixion fits with what Justin Martyr wrote.

In his book Paul’s Early Period, Rainer Riesner reviews briefly the cases for several proposed crucifixion dates. He quickly dismisses some as having no significant scholarly support, leaving him to focus on 30 and 33 (pp. 54–58). He first notes (p. 54) that 33 is “astronomically possible.” The Exodus Hebrew Calendar confirms this, placing Nisan 14 in both years on Fridays. But as discussed in earlier articles in The Daniel 9:24–27 Project, AD 33 is incompatible with the probable date of the conversion of Paul, which Riesner places in 31/32 (p. 71). This independently testifies to the soundness of the case presented in my 2019 article, "How Acts and Galatians Indicate the Date of the Crucifixion,” which concluded, on the basis of historical and grammatical considerations, that Paul was probably converted in AD 31. There are additional difficulties with AD 33 connected with the timeline of Daniel 9:24–27, discussed in "Daniel 9:24-27: The Sixty-Ninth and Seventieth Weeks,” not the least of which is its dependence on the supposed 360-day “prophetic year” of Sir Robert Anderson. We have no biblical basis for assuming the first 483 years of Daniel’s “70 Weeks” followed anything but ordinary 365-day solar cycles. An AD 33 crucifixion also depends on the unsupported assumption that the public ministry of Jesus lasted for 3-1/2 years, though John’s Gospel only mentions three Passovers covering two full years.

Finally, in his Handbook of Biblical Chronology Table 179 (p. 363), Jack Finegan presents dates for Nisan 14 and 15 in AD 27–34. The dates as calculated by Fotheringham (“The Evidence of Astronomy and Technical Chronology for the Date of the Crucifixion,” Journal of Theological Studies 35 [1934], pp. 146–62, online at are based on his (and Schoch’s) determination of earliest visibilities of crescent moons, while those following P&D’s tables accommodate intercalated months in AD 27, 30 and 32 which cause the first day of Nisan to be postponed by one month:

                      Fotheringham Data

Year             Nisan 1                Nisan 14

AD 27          Friday, 3/28          Thursday, 4/10
AD 28          Wednesday, 3/17 Tuesday, 3/30
AD 29          Tuesday, 4/5         Monday, 4/18
AD 30          Saturday, 3/25      Friday, 4/7
AD 31          Wednesday, 3/14 Tuesday, 3/27
AD 32          Tuesday, 4/1         Monday, 4/14
AD 33          Saturday, 3/21      Friday, 4/3
AD 34          Thursday, 3/11     Wednesday, 3/24

Except for AD 34, where Fotheringham chose a very early observed first crescent date for Nisan outside of the Karaite date range, these dates match those in the independently-derived Exodus Hebrew Calendar. This should give us confidence in the reliability of this study.


Just a quick look at the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24–27 shows it involves a number of events placed in a framework of time. This requires that we understand some general background on how the early Jews kept their calendar. Having this understanding is the only way we can ground our analysis of the time factors in the real world. It will become apparent that an in-depth understanding of the passage involves discussing some complex calendar-connected matters, including how Jesus observed the Passover and its implications for the dating of the Crucifixion.

Overview of Ancient Hebrew Calendars

There were two different calendars in routine use by the ancient Hebrews. One, tied to the annual cycles of sowing and reaping, began in the seventh month in the fall, when barley was sown. This “civil” calendar was used to keep track of government and agricultural matters and provided a way to coordinate Jewish dating with that of other ancient cultures.

The other, commonly labeled the “ecclesiastical,” “religious” or “sacred” calendar, was assigned to the Israelites by God Himself and began in the spring. It began with what He simply called “the first month” in Exodus 12:2: “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.” This was the month when the Israelites departed from Egypt in the springtime under Moses. The early Israelites also called their first month by the Canaanite term Abib, which referred to the young green-ear stage of barley ripening characteristic of spring. The rest of the months were likewise known by their number, although a few were also referred to at times by their Canaanite names, such as Zif (the second month, 1 Kgs 6:1), Ethanim (the seventh month, 1 Kgs 8:2), and Bul (the eighth month, 1 Kgs 6:38).

The Jews used lunisolar calendars, where the months were based on lunar cycles while the year and its agricultural seasons was based on the longer cycle of the sun. Because the solar year is about eleven days longer than 12 lunar months, it was necessary to periodically add an extra month to keep the lunar calendar in sync with the seasons. A thirteenth “leap month,” technically called an intercalary or embolismic month, was inserted at the end of the previous year as needed. Evidently when it was established, the first month of the year always began on or after the vernal equinox, and added an additional whole month as needed to keep the first month in the spring and the seventh in the fall. This will be discussed further below.

During the Babylonian Captivity, the Jews began to adopt Babylonian month-names. For example, the name of their first month, Nisanu, passed into routine Jewish use, where it was transliterated into Nisan and supplanted the earlier designation “first month.” The names being synonyms, here we will generally use the name Nisan, which the Jews used during the time of Christ and still use today.

Following is a list of the numbered Hebrew months and their modern equivalent names. The first number is the month according to the civil calendar beginning in the fall, the second according to the sacred calendar beginning in the spring. During leap years when a thirteenth month is needed, the original 29-day month of Adar goes to 30 days, and an extra 29-day Adar II (also called ve-Adar) is appended after it.

5/11 Sevat (Jan/Feb)
6/12 Adar (Feb/Mar)
7/1 Nisan (Mar/Apr)
8/2 Iyyar (Apr/May)
9/3 Sivan (May/Jun)
10/4 Tammuz (Jun/Jul)
11/5 Av Jul/Aug)
12/6 Elul (Aug/Sep)
1/7 Tishri (Sep/Oct)
2/8 Heshvan (Oct/Nov)
3/9 Kislev (Nov/Dec)
4/10 Tevet (Dec/Jan)

The Calendar-Keepers in the Heavens

The differences between the calendar-keeping methods of the ancient Jews and those used today go all the way back to the book of Genesis. In Genesis 1:14–15, God set forth the purpose of the heavenly bodies He created:

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons [Heb. moedim, “appointed times” for holy convocations] and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.

Notice the repeated emphasis on the sun and moon as lights. God ordained not only that these heavenly bodies would provide light on the earth, but they would also provide a way to mark the passing of time. Thus, a calendar could be accurately kept using only the light of the sun and moon.

Defining the Biblical Day

The definition of a day is fundamental to any calendar. In our time a day lasts from one midnight to the next, but from the beginning it was not so. The nature of the biblical day used by the Jews can be elucidated from Exodus 12, Leviticus 23, Numbers 28 and Deuteronomy 16. These passages allow us to properly understand the sometimes ambiguous information about the Passover given later in the Gospels, ambiguous because over the centuries the Jewish leadership tinkered with their God-given calendar to make it easier to arrange Temple-centered activities without scheduling issues. Before we can use this information knowledgably, though, we must familiarize ourselves some basics about Jewish timekeeping.

“At Evening”: The Jewish Day began at Sunset

Most people are familiar with the repeated phrase in Genesis 1, “and there was evening, and there was morning,” before it states what day of Creation Week it was. As used there, “evening” was the hours of darkness, “morning” the hours of light, and the evening is listed first. This Genesis 1 pattern tells us that from the beginning of Creation, days were measured from a starting point in the evening. A day lasted from one “evening” to the next, with the term defined by the presence or absence of the sun’s light.

Not only was a biblical day measured from evening to evening, the Jewish “evening” very specifically began at sunset. This is supported by a number of passages. First consider Leviticus 23:27, 32:

On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement… It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening [Heb. ba erev], from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.

These verses reinforce that a biblical day lasted from one evening to the next, and add further detail. The Day of Atonement is defined here as extending from the evening of the ninth to the evening of the tenth, with severe consequences to any who violated its ban against any work within its time span (Lev 23:30, “As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people”). Since this is a day lasting for twenty-four hours, it must have had precise start and end times. But “evening” is not a precise term as we use it today. What exactly is meant by “evening” in Scripture? The key Hebrew expression which clarifies the biblical meaning of “evening” is ba erev1, בָּעָרֶב. Usually translated “at evening,” it is used in a number of places, including Leviticus 23:32. A precise idiomatic rendering of the phrase is “at sunset”—the moment when the solar disk sinks completely below the horizon. Leviticus 22:6–7 states that it is when the sun is “down” or has “gone in” (Heb.’, בּוֹא). This is also seen in Deuteronomy 16:5–6:

You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the LORD your God is giving you; but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset [ba erev], at the time that you came out of Egypt.

The KJV similarly renders verse 6 with, “Thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun.” The Everett Fox translation in The Schocken Bible is as literal as one can find: “... you are to slaughter the Passover-offering, at setting-time, when the sun comes in, at the appointed time of your going-out from Egypt.”

The expression ba erev means “sunset” wherever it is found. The Leviticus 23 account of the Day of Atonement confirms this, for that day was very precisely defined as “from sunset to sunset,” as The Schocken Bible renders it. As far as Scripture is concerned, then, a Jewish day as ordained by God was to be measured from when the sun passed completely below the horizon at sunset, to sunset of the next day. It was not measured from midnight to midnight, or from dawn to dawn.

“Between the Evenings”: From Sunset to Full Darkness

Exodus 12:6 builds upon this understanding of ba erev and takes it a bit further. It speaks of keeping a Paschal lamb in a household for several days before the Passover: “You shall keep it until (Heb. ‘ad, עַד) the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight” (Heb. beyn ha-arbayim, בֵּין הָעַרְבָּֽיִם). This expression is a Hebrew idiom that literally says “between the evenings.” The time it covered began at sunset (ba erev), at the moment the sun passed below the horizon, the moment the Jews understood the next day began, but then encompassed a little bit more time. Grammatically, ha-arbayim is what is known as a dual noun, one featuring a plural ending (-im) because, though used in a singular sense, it has two aspects, a beginning and an ending. Together they delineate a range of time.

The perceived ambiguity of “between the evenings” results in the Jews being inconsistent in how they interpret it, in how they decide how narrow a range of time it covers. It is found in eleven OT passages,2  and its seemingly imprecise nature has resulted in controversy that pits different groups of Jews against each other, whose opinions in turn influence Christian understandings.

The Karaites are a Jewish minority “characterized by the recognition of the written Torah [the first five books of the Bible] alone as its supreme authority in halakha (Jewish religious law) and theology.”3  They refer back to the early Exodus instances of the phrase beyn ha-arbayim to hold that it refers to the interval between sunset and full darkness—in other words, the period of twilight or dusk, as most English translations of the Bible render the idiom.4  They reject the oral traditions recorded in the Midrash and Talmud as binding, whereas most rabbinic Jews regard such oral interpretations as authoritative.

The Interpreter’s Bible under Exodus 12:6 contrasts the approach of rabbinic Judaism with that of other sects:

In Jewish orthodoxy the time of the slaughter, between the two evenings, is specified as in the afternoon, before sunset;  especially, the time approaching sunset.5 The Mishnah implies that any time after noon was valid for the slaying (Pesahim 5:3).6  Samaritans, Karaites, and Sadducees specify the time as after sunset and before darkness. The latter probably designates the more archaic practice.

Curiously conflicting with present rabbinic practice, in The Jewish Encyclopedia the Jewish Publication Society of America translates beyn ha-arbayim in every place where it is used as “dusk.” And in their Tanakh (the Jewish term for the Old Testament), they translate Exodus 12:6 and 16:12 as “at twilight.” By no stretch of the imagination can these translations be understood as beginning either just after 12 noon or in the afternoon. So we see that mainstream Jewish traditions and their modern Scripture translations are at odds with each other.

In their massive, highly regarded though older commentary on the Old Testament, Keil and Delitzsch similarly wrote:

Different opinions have prevailed among the Jews from a very early date as to the precise time intended [by beyn ha-arbayim]. Aben Ezra agrees with the Karaites and Samaritans in taking the first evening to be the time when the sun sinks below the horizon, and the second the time of total darkness; in which case, “between the two evenings” would be from 6 o’clock to 7:20... According to the rabbinical idea, the time when the sun began to descend, viz., from 3 to 5 o’clock, was the first evening, and sunset the second; so that “between the two evenings” was from 3 to 6 o’clock. Modern expositors have very properly decided in favor of the view held by Aben Ezra and the custom adopted by the Karaites and Samaritans...7

These observations indicate that we can set aside the rabbinic Jewish teachings based on oral tradition and accept that “between the evenings” refers to the twilight or dusk interval between sunset and full darkness. This period accommodated matters that took a bit of time to complete, in particular the slaying of the Passover lamb.

Defining the Biblical Month

Since the length of the week is self-evident—a count of seven days beginning with the first day of Creation, ending with the Sabbath day of complete rest from all labor—we can move immediately to the next main category of calendrical significance, the biblical month. This is when the moon plays the crucial role.

The First Day of Each Month

The dates set aside for the important Jewish festivals, God’s “appointed times” detailed in Leviticus 23, were based on using the moon to set the first day of each month. Psalm 104:19 affirms this role of the moon: “He appointed the moon for seasons” (moedim, the same word used in Genesis 1:14). The English translation of moedim as “seasons” tends to confuse matters, because it makes us think of the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. That, however, was not how the Hebrews understood the term. For them it referred to when the mandated festival seasons were to be observed.

One thing that stands out about these “appointments” is that their observance depended on accurately counting days. For example, Leviticus 23:5 says Passover was to be observed on the fourteenth day from the start of the first month, while the Day of Atonement would be on the tenth day from the start of the seventh month.

The first days of months were set by noting when the first visible crescent moon appeared after the previous waning moon vanished from the sky. According to the Mishnah Rosh Hashanah8 —a compilation of oral tradition of the Jews dating to about AD 200—two or three believable eyewitnesses were required for the priests to declare a new month had begun:

In reality, in ancient times the beginning of months in the Holy Land was determined (weather permitting) by the actual observation of the first visible lunar crescent. With two or three reliable witnesses, the day of the new moon was “sanctified” by the Jewish leaders so that the appropriate animal sacrifices and other offerings could be made at the temple. The message of the sanctification of the day was sent far and wide by signal fires and runners to keep all of the Jews in sync with Jerusalem—so that all could worship on the days that were sanctified and proclaimed based on the sighting of the new moons in Israel—so that all would gather for worship on the actual days on which the special holy day offerings at the temple were offered.9

This information gives us a reliable historical anchor for saying that up to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the Jewish calendar’s reckoning of months depended primarily on eyewitness reports of seeing the first visible crescent moon.

The Length of Each Month

Using the principle that it was by observation of the heavenly bodies that the biblical calendar could be determined, it would not have taken long for people to notice that there was not a perfectly fixed amount of time from one first observed lunar crescent to the next. The month consisted of a single lunar cycle, or lunation. Some months completed in 29 days, the rest in 30. Consistent with this, modern measurements have determined the length of the average lunar cycle is about 29.53 days.

Since observation of the moon’s light was key, the so-called conjunction, when the moon cannot be seen for two to three days, was ignored by the Jews. Use of the conjunction—the modern definition of a new moon—in geometry-based calendar calculations is first seen in the work of the Greek astronomer Meton in the fifth century BC. Although this knowledge apparently became known by the Jewish leaders later and allowed them to get a fairly accurate estimate when the next month would begin, prediction did not consistently replace sighting reports until about the fourth century AD, when the foundations of the modern Jewish calculated calendar were laid.10

In short, the biblical month had 29 or 30 days, no more, no less. If the first visible lunar crescent was seen low in the western sky after sunset on the 30th day after the previous month’s first crescent moon, the previous month was determined to have been 29 days long. Otherwise, on the following evening the new month was deemed to have begun whether or not the moon was seen, so the previous month was 30 days long by default.

Defining the Biblical Year

At different times in their history the Jews have used a variety of criteria for setting the start and end points of their year. This makes defining the biblical year an immensely complex undertaking.

Jewish leaders throughout history have displayed a propensity for “improving” on the minimal requirements God revealed in the Old Testament. By the time of Christ, they had diverged in important ways from original Old Testament teachings in a number of areas, developing oral traditions which guided how they interpreted Scripture. Jesus bluntly condemned this in Matthew 15 and Mark 7, when He criticized the scribes and Pharisees of His day as more concerned with keeping the “traditions of men” than following the words of God. This tendency extended to how they managed their calendar, for they began to value optimized Temple worship over the simple principles given in the Torah.

The Testimony of Scripture

Although the moon determined the months, it did not precisely define which month came first in the Hebrew calendar. There are two main Scriptures which shed some light on this:

Exodus 12:1–3: Now the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.”

Deuteronomy 16:1: “Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night.”

Recall that a month in ancient Israel was determined by lunar cycles. These cycles, also called lunations, originally had no names attached to them, just numbers. In Exodus 12:3 God simply called the first month “the first month.” He did not call it “Abib” as a month-name, nor did the Egyptians have such a month-name in their calendar. The term abib, as used in Scripture, refers to a descriptive characteristic of the lunation that marked the start of the year. That characteristic was the greenness of new vegetation generally, not of barley specifically; barley only comes into the picture in terms of the food crop spring was known for. The Jewish website recognizes this when it says that the Hebrew word abib translates as “spring".11  A footnote adds that abib comes from the Hebrew word eebeha (Heb. איבה), literally translated as “greenness.” It means “the month in which the grain fills out in its ‘greenness.’” Consistent with this, the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon gives one meaning of abib as “the month of ear-forming, or of growing green” (emphasis added). To go beyond this is to attach a narrower interpretation to the words than the text demands.

Defining “Spring”

By referring to abib “greenness,” God thus defined spring in very practical terms. In particular, it must be said that He did not define abib in terms of the vernal equinox. This is an erroneous association adopted by many commentators, especially Messianic Jewish believers steeped in rabbinical traditions. Apparently sometime in the first century AD, the leaders of the Sanhedrin found the Greek calculated methods of astronomy popularized by Meton to be useful in evaluating the truthfulness of eyewitness reports of the first lunar crescent of a month. This fixation on astronomical mathematics also led to the vernal equinox being used to determine the intercalations that defined when Passover was celebrated. This “tradition of men” was in time enshrined in the Mishnah, and still holds considerable sway over the thinking of many.

The resultant ambiguity in the definition of “spring” contributes to the confusion in defining the biblical year. Some Messianic Jewish interpreters insist that only a first crescent “on or after the vernal equinox” could start a new year, suggesting the equinox was observationally determined via the shadow cast by a post.12  Others, notably the Karaites, say that it is the state of the barley crop in Israel that is key, narrowly defining the required “greening” as only applying to barley.13 But from the Scriptures just given it appears that, if the first crescent of a new lunation happened when spring-like conditions already existed, then in principle not just Passover, but the entire first month could begin a few days before the vernal equinox. There was no apparent scriptural prohibition to starting the month of Nisan before the equinox; those who have problems doing this are using their own definition of “the month of abib” to forbid it.

It is interesting that in our day, the Karaites keep a close watch on the status of barley in Israel. In 2021 one website14  reported that greening barley was observed before the lunation that began on March 14 that year, making that date Nisan 1. The vernal equinox did not arrive until six days later on March 20. This illustrates that starting a Jewish year prior to the vernal equinox is quite possible, and it is wrong to legalistically decree that Nisan 1 could never fall before the vernal equinox.

Thus, the lunation that started the year was set within the season of spring, of greening up as the winter faded away. First springtime came, ushered in by the “latter rains” that made the hills bloom abundantly with wildflowers in March.15  After this came the first visible crescent moon of the springtime, which marked the start of the Jewish year. The oft-made association of “abib” with immature, still-green barley is a derived one, not the primary meaning of the word. It is not about barley per se, but about the season of spring in which the crop’s heads green up and fill out.

That this practical definition of spring is the right way to view it is also indicated by considering that agriculture is closely tied to growing zones. In the northern hemisphere, as one moves south things start growing generally earlier in the year. This is true entirely apart from the vernal equinox date. Though associated with the manifesting of spring, the equinox doesn’t cause it. The greening up that characterizes spring is due to several factors; increasing day-length alone doesn’t do it, as rainfall and proximity to the ocean are also involved. The equinox is a measure of how high the sun is in the sky at the midpoint in its celestial journey between the solstices, and is just one of several factors which triggers the renewed growth of vegetation in springtime. It is only an arbitrary, modern scientific definition of convenience that equates the vernal equinox with “spring,” and it is highly debatable that the ancients, prior to developing knowledge of astronomical mathematics, would have used the equinoxes to define spring and fall. Their calendars were keyed to the rhythms of growing things and how to keep their lunar cycles in sync with them.

Connecting these clues with the function of the sun and moon as the signposts for calendar transitions, we can say that the first month of each year was meant by God to begin with the first lunation of spring.16

Observe the Spring New Moon, then Count to Passover

Deuteronomy 16:1 ties in with this way of looking at the relationship between spring and the first month/lunation of the Jewish year. It says the Hebrews were to “observe” (Heb. šāmar, שָׁמַר) the “month” (Heb. chodesh, חֹדֶשׁ, the lunation) of abib (spring). Although chodesh is often equivalent to our word “month,” it also can refer specifically to the crescent new moon that starts a month. The verse can thus be read, “take note of the new moon at the time of spring greening.” The lunar crescent that marked the start of the Jewish year had to be that which fell in the spring.

The most obvious meaning of this phrase is that the Jews were to note the first crescent moon after greening vegetation indicated spring had arrived. Then they were to count days from this crescent moon—not from the date of the vernal equinox—to determine when to celebrate the Passover. Chodesh indicates this signal was tied primarily to the crescent moon, not the sun-dependent vernal equinox or the status of the barley crop.

Besides, during the forty years of wilderness wanderings the growth of a barley crop could never have served as an anchor for counting days; during the exodus the Hebrews were nowhere near cultivated fields of barley, but dependent on manna (Ex 16:35) for food. Yet they were still obliged to celebrate the Passover at the right time. The readily observable thing to watch for was the first crescent moon after vegetation in general had begun greening up.

The Testimony of History: The Babylonian Calendar

Like the Hebrews, the Babylonians used a lunisolar calendar of 12 months, and like the Jewish calendar it had to deal with the challenge of synchronizing the lunar year with the longer solar year. It likewise used the earliest sighting of a visible lunar crescent to set the first days of its months, and its year began in the spring, in the month they called Nisanu.

It is sometimes argued that these similarities indicate that during the exile the Jews, like a number of other ancient peoples, adopted the Babylonian calendar. The roots of the Jewish calendar, however, were inextricably tied to the Torah and thus deeply ingrained in their national identity, which they steadfastly maintained throughout the exile. This makes it extremely unlikely they would have permitted Babylonian customs to change their ways of determining days, months and years. This consideration, together with the lack of any clear historical evidence of Babylonian influence on the Jewish calendar, implies that the Jews simply maintained their ancient calendar customs unchanged while living in a foreign land. After all, is that not what they still do today?

Philo of Alexandria, in the first century AD, made a pertinent remark which has general applicability to the Jewish culture and its calendars at all times, including during the Babylonian exile:

But not all (peoples) treat the months and years alike, but some in one way and some in another. Some reckon by the sun, others by the moon. And because of this the initiators of the divine festivals have expressed divergent views about the beginnings of the year, setting divergent beginnings to the revolutions of the seasons suitable to the beginnings of the cycles. Wherefore (Scripture) has added, ‘This month (shall be) to you the beginning’, making clear a determined and distinct number of seasons, lest they follow the Egyptians, with whom they are mixed, and be seduced by the customs of the land in which they dwell (Quaestiones ad Exodum 1. 1, Marcus 1953: 4–5) (emphasis and bracketed comment added).17

After many years of calendar experimentation, in 503 BC the Babylonians implemented a 19-year cycle of intercalations, where a thirteenth “leap month” was added to certain years. They settled on a fixed pattern in which years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14 and 19 of each cycle appended an extra Addaru II to the end of a year, while in year 17 an extra Ululu II was added at midyear.18

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As the tables in Parker and Dubberstein show,19  this regular 19-year cycle of intercalations resulted, from 499 BC on, in forcing the whole month of Nisanu following the intercalation to start on or after the vernal equinox. This was doubtless connected with the Babylonians’ knowledge of astronomy, something the ancient Hebrews did not have. It must be emphasized that there is no evidence the Jews adopted this intercalation pattern until after the fourth century AD; for example, they never intercalated their eighth month, later called Elul, to match the Ululu II intercalation in the Babylonians’ 17th cycle. The longstanding Hebrew approach to the calendar, which like the Babylonians started the year in the spring with its first visible crescent moon, nevertheless resulted in the start of its first month closely matching the Babylonian determination of Nisanu 1.

This similarity opened the door during the exile, under the Persian Achaemenid rulers, for Jewish adoption of Babylonian month-names. This can be seen in the books of Zechariah (1:7, 7:1) and Esther (2:16, 3:7, 3:13, 8:9, 8:12, 9:1), where months are given with both the original numbered-month designation and the adopted Babylonian name. The use of Babylonian month-names is also seen in Ezra (6:15) and Nehemiah (1:1, 2:1, 6:15).

From these shared month-names we see that at that time in history, the Babylonian and Hebrew calendars must have been quite similar, but this does not allow us to conclude they were identical. The Babylonians arrived at their 19-year cycle of intercalations by relying on astronomy and experimentation, while the ancient Jews independently kept a similar calendar based on following God’s instructions in the Torah.

The Seleucid Era

After the fall of Babylon to the Persians, its calendar was taken up unchanged by its successors, save that under the Seleucids the whole intercalation pattern was shifted a year forward so the nineteenth year of its cycle aligned with the first year of the Seleucid era (311 BC). Because the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees use Seleucid Era dating, it appears that at this time the Jews were politically constrained to use that calendar, including its regular 19-year cycle of intercalations that started Nisan after the vernal equinox.

Later, in the second century BC, the Jews threw off their Seleucid overlords when the Maccabees rebelled against them during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, the abominable desolator of their Temple. This marked the start of the Hasmonean era, which brought with it changes in the Jewish calendar. According to Sacha Stern, an expert on ancient calendars:

Whether the Judaean calendar of the Hasmonaean period corresponded exactly to the Babylonian reckoning cannot be known. Hasmonaean rulers are more likely to have set their own calendar independently than to have relied on moon sightings and declarations of new moons that were being made in Babylonia, a region that was now part of a foreign kingdom… It is also questionable whether the Hasmonaeans made the same intercalations as in the Babylonian calendar, thus always celebrating Passover in the Babylonian Nisan [meaning, the Jewish Nisan at times began on a different day, so it could fall in a different month depending on how intercalation was done]. Datings from the Hasmonaean and early Roman periods… suggest that Jewish and Babylonian months regularly coincided. However, this evidence is too sporadic to prove that the Babylonian calendar was consistently followed and used. In this period, Babylonian [and Seleucid] intercalations were based on a fixed cycle of 19 years; this cycle is not attested in any Jewish source prior to the institution of the fixed rabbinic calendar (fourth century CE), which may suggest that until then this cycle had never been in use [by the Jews] (emphasis in original, bracketed comments added).20

These observations indicate that the end of Seleucid influence led to calendar change in Judea, connected with the renewed spirit of Jewish national identity at that time. Judea became ruled by high priests who apparently turned aside from Seleucid customs, including the calendar they had imposed on them, and returned to the way the Jewish calendar had traditionally been reckoned. That calendar, based on following Deuteronomy 16:1, apparently held sway from the start of the Hasmonean era through the end of the reign of Herod the Great. As the Jewish calendar in the Achaemenid era was in such agreement with that of the Babylonians that they could adopt the latter’s month-names, we may extrapolate from that to conclude there was a similar large degree of agreement between the calendars of the Hasmonean Jews and the Seleucids. As Stern put it, they “regularly coincided” without being identical; they followed different principles to arrive at similar end results.

The Herodian Period

During the Hasmonean period Rome began exerting its military might in the Near East. This led to Herod the Great coming to power over Judea in 37 BC, when with Roman aid he overthrew and put to death the last high priest/king of the Hasmonean line, Antigonus. Herod was an all-powerful despot who exercised absolute control over the high priest and the Sanhedrin, deposing or putting to death those who fell out of his favor.21  This political reality indicates that up to the time of Herod’s death in 4 BC, the priests were content with a defensive stance, preserving and conserving the heritage of past generations. This included a return to the calendar’s Deuteronomy 16:1 roots. Stern alludes to this, while also reflecting influence by the Mishnah:

It is also possible that intercalations in Judaea deviated sometimes from the Babylonian calendar because they were now governed, in accordance with biblical law, by the requirement that Passover in the first month be celebrated in the agricultural season of ’aviv, the ripeness of the crops—a requirement which might have conflicted sometimes with the Babylonian [and Seleucid] practice of beginning the year [not just Passover] after the vernal equinox (bracketed comments added).22

Significance of the Tekufah

Hence it appears that, from the Hasmonean period to the late first century BC, and probably extending somewhat into the first century AD until the political situation got settled after Herod, the Jewish calendar returned to following a straightforward understanding of Deuteronomy 16:1. As discussed earlier, this defined the first month as the first lunation after the greening up of vegetation—the distinctive characteristic of spring—commenced. Unlike with the Babylonian and Seleucid calendars, it was therefore permissible at that time for the Jewish month of Nisan to begin prior to the vernal equinox, so long as things were spring-like.

But it appears that, beginning in the first century AD, the Metonic 19-year cycle of intercalations began to exert a fresh, if subtle, influence on the Jewish leaders. In seeking greater control over the calendar which regulated Temple worship, the Sanhedrin began to use the vernal equinox as the main criterion for determining the arrival of spring. Along with this they began emphasizing the relationship of Passover, rather than the start of Nisan, to the equinox. This was also associated with an apparent tendency to depreciate the importance of eyewitness reports of the first lunar crescent, giving greater credence to the calendar priorities of the Sanhedrin.

This leads us to consider the difference in how the Hebrew term tekufah, “circuit,” was understood by the Jews before and after the first century AD. The reasoning given by a Karaite website appears sound:

The claim has been made by proponents of the equinox calendar theory that the word equinox actually appears in the Tanach. They are referring to the word Tekufah or Tequfah which appears in the Hebrew Bible four times. Tekufah is in fact the post-Biblical word for “equinox”, however, it never has the meaning of “equinox” in the Tanach. In Biblical Hebrew, Tekufah retains its literal meaning of “circuit”, that is something which returns to the same point in time or space [from the root Nun.Quf.Pe. meaning “to go around”]. To claim that Tekufah means equinox in the Tanach, just because it had this meaning in later Hebrew, is an anachronism (bracketed comments in original).23

That article presents the four instances of the biblical use of tekufah—Exodus 34:22, Psalms 19:7, 2 Chronicles 24:23, and 1 Samuel 1:20. It is clear in all of them that tekufah in Scripture has nothing to do with the equinoxes. Exodus 34:22 literally refers to the Feast of Ingathering (Tabernacles or Sukkot) at “the turning of the year” (Everett Fox translation).24  This reflects the literal lexical meaning of the term tekufah. By comparing this verse with the parallel passage in Exodus 23:16, which speaks of Sukkot as at “the end of the year,” it is readily seen that, biblically speaking, tekufah refers not to equinoxes but to the turning point of the agricultural year when one harvest is gathered in (Dt 16:13) and the next cycle of sowing and reaping commences. As the article concludes:

None of the four appearances of Tekufah in the Hebrew Scripture have anything to do with the equinox. Instead, this term is used in Biblical Hebrew in its primary sense of a “circuit”, that is a return to the same point in space or time. Only in Post-Biblical Hebrew did Tekufah come to mean “equinox” and to read this meaning into the Tanach creates an anachronism.

Stern likewise expresses skepticism that tekufah had anything to do with the equinoxes at this time: “In Exod. 34:22, the festival of Tabernacles is associated with the phrase תְּקוּפַת הַשָּׁנָֽה [circuit of the year]. Rabbinic sources interpret this phrase as meaning the (autumnal) equinox, but this is unlikely to have been its original meaning” (emphasis and bracketed comment added).25

The First Century AD

In the first century AD the power of the priesthood to regulate the calendar came into its own. With a magnificent new Temple, no dominating Herod, and Roman overlords who were content to take a largely hands-off approach as long as taxes were paid and the local authorities kept the peace, the priesthood was encouraged to break from their longstanding Scripture-based traditions in the interest of increasing the influence of the Temple over Judean society. This included tweaking intercalations to favor Passovers consistently late in the year, using strategies recorded in the Mishnah to facilitate attendance at Passover. J.B. Segal cited several rabbinic sources to show that, in the oral traditions codified by AD 200, the Sanhedrin could adjust some aspects of their calendar so it would better serve their aims:

A year may be made embolismic [intercalated] on three grounds—on account of the (state of the) green ears of corn or (that of) fruit (growing on the) trees or the (lateness of the) tekupha [the spring equinox]. Any two of these reasons may justify an embolismic year, but one of them (alone) does not justify an embolismic year. Everyone is glad when the (state of the) green ears of corn is one of them. Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel says, On account of the (lateness of the) tekufah.” (BT Sanhedrin 11b; Tosefta Sanhedrin ii. 2; JT Sanhedrin 1. 2 (fol. 18d) (bracketed comments added).26

There are indications that the rabbinic intercalation rules cited by Segal were connected with a presumed “rule of the equinox” by which the Jews intercalated their calendar whenever the vernal equinox would have otherwise landed on Nisan 16:

Rav Huna bar Avin sent this instruction to Rava: When you see that, according to your calculations, the season of Tevet, i.e., winter, will extend to the sixteenth of Nisan, and the spring equinox will occur after the sixteenth of Nisan, add an extra month to that year, making it a leap year. And do not worry about finding an additional reason to justify making it a leap year, as it is written: “Observe the month of spring” (Deuteronomy 16:1). That is to say, see to it that the spring of the season, i.e., the spring equinox, is in the new part of Nisan, i.e., the first half, before Passover.27

The “that is to say” remarks of Rav Huna illuminate how the rabbis of his time (third century AD) interpreted Scripture. Their redefinition of the meaning of Deuteronomy 16:1 is obvious. Having somehow adopted an unbiblical understanding that tekufah referred to the spring equinox—one suspects this was related to the spread of Greek astronomical geometry knowledge—they interpreted Deuteronomy 16:1 though that lens. Rather than viewing the verse as an admonishment to keep alert for when the first visible crescent of apparent spring arrived, they saw in it permission to celebrate Passover—at the full moon—even if it started on the very day of the vernal equinox. It is no wonder the Sanhedrin had to implement various postponement rules to compensate for Nisan theoretically starting before there was even a hint of greening manifested!

If one followed this Mishnaic precept that the calendar should be intercalated without hesitation if the vernal equinox would be as late as Nisan 16, this meant that Nisan could theoretically start up to 15 days before the astronomical start of spring. With a Julian vernal equinox date of March 23, if that was Nisan 15, the month of Nisan would have started on March 9! No wonder the Sanhedrin developed supplemental postponement rules; this was unrealistically early in the year. Witness the Babylonian calendar, which from 500 BC on never started Nisanu before March 23. Stern has pointed out:

It is possible that intercalation in the Jewish calendar was based entirely, in this period, on the Babylonian system of intercalations… However, it seems strange that as late as the first century CE, Roman Judaea and (even further) Berenike were still under the sphere of Babylonian calendrical influence. E. Schwartz has suggested that in the period of the Temple, Passover was celebrated late so as to enable pilgrims to reach Jerusalem on time for the festival. This suggestion not only is plausible in its own right, but also finds support in a rabbinic tradition that the year would be especially intercalated to allow the pilgrims already on their way to reach Jerusalem for the festival.28

For these reasons, from the Hasmonean era until the first century AD the biblical “month of abib” should be understood as the lunation starting with the first crescent moon after vegetation began greening up and spring-like conditions existed. The vernal equinox date was irrelevant during this era of Jewish history. The start of the month was determined by eyewitness reports in Jerusalem that were vetted by the Sanhedrin, not first crescent sightings made at Babylon, so the Babylonian calendar was likewise irrelevant, except insofar as it bore similarities to the Jewish calendar. The observed first crescent moon of spring seen at Jerusalem, where the moon was higher in the sky at sunset and might have been seen a day earlier than at Babylon, could have resulted in the Jewish month of Nisan starting a day sooner than the Babylonian month of Nisanu; and by the magic of intercalation, if the crescent sighting at Jerusalem was on the 29th day of Adar, the Jewish year could have started a full month earlier than at Babylon. We will see later that how the date of Nisan 1 is determined plays a significant role in the conclusions we reach regarding when Christ was born and crucified.

This situation began to change in the first century AD, when the Sanhedrin changed the definition of spring to refer to the vernal equinox. This resulted in the Jewish year consistently beginning later in the spring. Apparently what eyewitnesses reported about the first observed crescent moon was no longer regarded as determinative, but was taken under advisement, as indicated by the postponement rules found in the Mishnah. The decision whether to intercalate the calendar and push the observance of Passover a month later ultimately depended on the priorities of the Sanhedrin, not Scripture.


The various aspects of the Hebrew calendar were initially defined authoritatively by God in Scripture. Under the influence of Jewish leaders some things were modified over time, including the criteria for intercalating the calendar. This is why it is important to examine calendar-related matters in the context of the period under discussion, lest we make the error of applying customs followed at a later period to an earlier one when they did not apply.

After the fourth century AD, political opposition meant the Jewish ruling council was no longer able to effectively communicate first lunar crescent or intercalation decisions in a timely fashion to the Diaspora communities in Babylon and elsewhere. This led to the creation of the modern calculated Hebrew calendar. This calendar, built upon astronomical geometry principles initially seen in the Greek calendar of Meton in the fifth century BC and supplemented by rules developed by the Sanhedrin to avoid various scheduling inconveniences with Temple activities, provided a way for widely separated Jewish communities to follow the same calendar wherever they were. The use of eyewitness observation of lunar crescents to determine months gave way to using the invisible lunar conjunction and pure calculation. The result is that the Jewish calendar of our day often does not agree with that of biblical times.

For this reason, the modern calculated Hebrew calendar cannot be used to give conclusive answers to some dating questions. In important ways the ancient Babylonian calendar, from the Achaemenid era forward, more closely approximates what the Jews followed up to the fall of the Temple in AD 70. Lacking firm evidence the Jews of that period ever followed the 19-year intercalation pattern that undergirds the post-Achaemenid Era Babylonian calendar, the Metonic Cycle of the Greeks, and the modern calculated Hebrew calendar, we cannot simplistically equate any of these with the Jewish calendar before, and to some extent during, the first century AD.

We may summarize by saying that, although we do not know all of the details about how the ancient Jewish calendar was organized throughout its history, we have enough data culled from historical records to reach reliable conclusions most of the time. We have a high degree of reliability in Jewish chronology on a macro scale, because the dates of important historical events can be synchronized in multiple ancient calendars of the Jews, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. In particular, we have the requisite accuracy to arrive at reliable conclusions related to the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24–27.


1. See Coulter, Chapter 4 in The Christian Passover (online at

2. Ex 12:6; 16:12; 29:39, 41; 30:8; Lev 23:5; and Num 9:3, 5, 11; 28:4, 8.

3. Wikipedia gives a good summary at

4. In Chapter 3 of The Christian Passover (online at, Fred R. Coulter goes into great exegetical depth to demonstrate that the Hebrew expression beyn ha-arbayim can only refer to the interval between the completed passing of the sun below the horizon at sunset and full darkness. This conclusion was independently affirmed by Frank Nelte, “The Talmud Proves It... The O.T. Passover was at the Beginning of Nisan 14th,” at It is likewise upheld by the Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000, S. 787) and Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc, 2003, S. 652); the latter observes that it was “according to the opinion of the Karaites and Samaritans (which is favoured by the words of Deut. 16:6), the time between sunset and deep twilight.”

5. Discussed at

6. “Rava said: The mitzva of the daily offering is from when the sun begins to descend westward so that the evening shadows slant eastward, shortly after midday. What is the reason for this? It is because the verse states: In the afternoon [bein ha’arbayim], which we understand to mean from the time that the sun begins to descend westward [ma’arav].” Online at Gesenius’ Lexicon likewise affirms this as the Jewish view: “The Pharisees, however (see Josephus Bellum Jud. vi. 9, § 3), and the Rabbinists considered the time when the sun began to descend to be called the first evening… and the second evening to be the real sunset (Gr. δείλη ὀψία).”

7. Keil, K. and Delitzsch, C.F. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Exodus 12.

8. See The Mishna: Second Division: Appointed Times (Moed), Rosh Hashanah, Chapters 1 & 2.

9. Church of God Study Forum,

10. This is discussed in depth in books by Sacha Stern: Calendar and Community (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) and Calendars in Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

11. “When is the Jewish Month of Aviv?”

12. Cf. for example Derek Davies, “Determining equinoxes by observing the sun” at

13. There are helpful comments about this at and

14. “Abib Confirmed! - Yahweh's Restoration Ministry,”

15. Cf.

16. In agreement with this, see

17. Quoted in Sacha Stern, Calendar and Community (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 34.

18. Cf.

19. Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.–A.D. 75. Brown University Studies XIX. Providence, RI: Brown University Press.

20. Stern, op. cit., 30–31.

21. Cf. Josephus, Antiquities 17.6.4 (Loeb 17.164): “Herod…deprived Matthias of the high priesthood, as in part an occasion of this action, and made Joazar, who was Matthias’s wife’s brother, high priest in his stead.”

22. Sacha Stern, Calenders in Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 255.

23. Abib FAQ: Vernal Equinox and Tekufah. Karaite Korner,, accessed February 11, 2023.

24. The Five Books of Moses. The Schocken Bible, Volume 1, Trans. Everett Fox (New York: Schocken Books, 1995), 457.

25. Stern, op.cit, 52; in note 210 he suggests tekufah refered to the solstices, i.e., the endpoints of the sun’s circuit through the heavens.

26. J.B.Segal, “Intercalation and the Hebrew Calendar,” Vetus Testamentum Vol. 7, Fasc. 3 (July 1957), 250-307 (287).

27. Rosh Hashanah 21a, William Davidson Talmud (

28. Stern, op. cit., 61–62.

1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2”Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:


7Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”

9After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way… 16Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.

—Matthew 2:1–12, 16 NASB


A good number of books, videos and Internet articles have been published on the Star of Bethlehem. Some authors have apparently seen the story as profitable, vigorously marketing their materials and often using websites like infomercials to entice people to buy them. Others have websites where they provide their information free of charge, simply because they believe their view is correct.

Whatever the motives, in the end any suggestion is only as good as its starting assumptions. I am well aware that this caveat applies to the proposal I make in this article as well. I offer it for the reader’s consideration as an alternative to the better-known theories for three reasons:
1. It fits seamlessly together with an article I wrote in 2018, “Pinpointing the Date of Christ’s Birth”;
2. No one else whose work I’ve read has taken quite the same approach; and
3. I believe it has real value in providing a science-grounded explanation for the Star of Bethlehem that may be of value in defending the factuality of the Christmas story to a skeptic, because it does not require positing supernatural phenomena or extraordinary celestial events.

Biblical Background

In order for any suggestion about the Star of Bethlehem to have objective validity, it must be firmly based upon the passage that is the essential foundation for every theory about it. That passage is Matthew 2:1–16, quoted above. Anything unsupported by that passage must be regarded as mere conjecture, such as the dubious tradition that there were only three Magi and that they were kings.

Our first step, therefore, is to extract from Matthew’s passage details which are either plainly stated, or are necessary for a plain statement to be true. They include the following:

  1. Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great.
  2. Those who met with Herod were called the Magi, who were “from the east.” Since Matthew was a Jew, we expect he is talking about a land east of Judea.
  3. The Magi met with Herod in Jerusalem, so their arrival was not in winter, when Herod would have been at his winter quarters at Jericho.
  4. The Magi sought an infant whom they described as “king” of the “Jews.” These specific terms require an explanation.
  5. Because the Magi were “from the east,” and the very next verse (Mt. 2:2) describes the star as being seen “in the east,” the immediate context indicates it is not the star’s position in the sky that is meant, but the geographic location from which it was observed: the Magi’s homeland.
  6. That the Magi intended to “worship” this infant king, not merely visit him, meant he had religious significance to them. This needs explaining.
  7. The spread to “all Jerusalem” of the news about the Magi’s search for an infant king, plus Herod’s separate meetings with the Jewish leaders and the Magi, indicate the Magi spent at least a full day in Jerusalem. It also implies they were part of a caravan, which by its size would have attracted attention.
  8. When the Magi left Jerusalem, it was promptly “after hearing the king.” He sent them out with the command, “Go and search… and report to me.” They thus left without further delay, so as to cover the six uphill miles to Bethlehem before evening—a trek of about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
  9. That the star “went on before” them means it moved through the heavens that day to its ultimate position, but not necessarily that it was observable by the Magi while it moved. The text says the Magi “had seen” the star while back home in Persia, not that they saw it while en route to Bethlehem. We are not justified in supposing the Magi were actively following a star supernaturally visible during daylight hours.
  10. Since the star “went on before” them, we know it was a moving object. Therefore, when the text says the star “stood over” a particular house, we should understand it as describing a snapshot in time, not a supernaturally stationary object. The description only requires a combination of the star’s being rather low in the sky and its viewers looking in the right direction at the time it became visible.
  11. That the Magi “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” only after the star was seen over a Bethlehem house, not earlier in their travels, is best attributed to the fact that the star was not previously visible for natural reasons. The star also had distinctive characteristics that made it recognizable to the Magi as the same star they had seen the previous year in Persia.

Such are the basic facts and implications I see in carefully reading through the account. Now I will attempt to tie them in with my previous work, “Pinpointing the Date of Christ’s Birth.” In that article I focused on the birth date of Christ, so I did not deal with how the same star the Magi noticed in Persia might have later helped direct them to the Bethlehem home of Mary and Joseph the following year. The thoughts below address that issue.

Building a Theory of the Star of Bethlehem

“After” Jesus was Born

A preliminary observation is that Matthew carefully notes that the events he is about to relate took place “after” Jesus was born, not “when.” This indicates the passing of some time following His birth, which is related in Luke 2. There were shepherds in attendance at His birth but no Magi, and certainly no “kings of Orient” named Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. The Magi showed up later, after Mary and Joseph had relocated from Nazareth (Lk. 2:4) to Bethlehem.

“In the Days of Herod the King”

In keeping with my prior research documented in several articles of The Daniel 9:2-27 Project, I take it as a given that Jesus was born before Herod the Great’s death in the spring of 4 BC. (That year is further supported by a forthcoming journal article, “The Parthian War Paradigm and the Reign of Herod the Great,” which discusses corroborating evidence drawn from several hitherto neglected ancient historical sources.) According to the research of astronomer Michael R. Molnar that is detailed in my “Pinpointing” article, on March 20, 6 BC the Magi in Persia realized that Jupiter, the largest of the planets and regarded by the ancients as the “king” star, had entered the constellation of Aries. According to Molnar, the ancient astronomer/astrologer Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100–170 AD) reported in his compendium of astrological lore known as the Tetrabiblos (“Four Books”) that this constellation was understood by the ancients to represent the land of the Jews. After entering Aries, Jupiter—an evening star at the time—was occulted (hidden) by the Moon, emerging from behind the Moon after both had gone below the Persian horizon after sunset. This occulting phenomenon was understood by the Magi as indicating a royal birth, and was the impetus which sent them west the following year in search of the infant King of the Jews. The bulk of my article went on to document how multiple factors come together to corroborate that this was the date Christ was born. This provides the backdrop for us to understand the nature of the Star of Bethlehem. The Magi had previous experience with this star—actually a planet, but the ancients lumped them together—and would have remembered that it had been an evening star in the west when it first came to their attention.

The Time of the Magi’s Jerusalem Visit

Herod’s later query of the Magi as to when, exactly, they saw the star in Persia, must be understood in terms of his decision to kill all the babies of Bethlehem “from two years old and under” (Mt. 2:16). This probably means between the ages of 1 and 2. Thus, the Magi’s 6 BC sighting of the star in Persia can be placed at least a year before their journey west to Jerusalem, putting their Bethlehem visit in 5 BC.

One might wonder why the Magi would have waited a year before heading west to see the Child, but there is a reasonable explanation for the delay. As Molnar and other astronomers have pointed out, in Persia Jupiter would not have emerged from behind the New Moon on March 20th until after both it and the Moon had gone below the horizon (see HERE for the start of the occultation, while both were still above the horizon). Meanwhile, at Jerusalem further to the west, Jupiter would have emerged from behind the Moon while both were still above the horizon, but the lingering brightness of twilight would have made it very difficult to see Jupiter re-emerge a minute after sunset (see HERE). The Magi in Persia could have seen Jupiter as an evening star in the western sky in the days leading up to the occultation, but not necessarily on March 20th. They would thus have had to use astronomical calculations to appreciate the significance of how everything came together in the heavens on that particular day. Such a delayed realization helps provide an explanation for why they would not have immediately headed toward Judea to find the newborn baby.

That the Magi found Herod at his regular palace in Jerusalem, not his winter quarters at Jericho, indicates they arrived after winter had ended. A winter trip was unlikely, since it was the rainy season in Israel with the likelihood of temperatures below freezing at night, especially in the Judean highlands. They would probably have timed their trip to arrive in Judea not before early spring, when the roads would have been drier and the temperatures more pleasant than during the dry heat of summer. A fall trip would also have the drawback that they would have potentially had to make their return to Persia during the rainy winter season. This could also have factored into their initial delay in traveling to Jerusalem.

In summary, we should look for the Magi to have entered Jerusalem somewhat over a year after they had first seen the star back in Persia, probably in the spring of 5 BC, to do homage to the infant King of the Jews.

Magi “from the East”

To understand certain elements of Matthew’s story, we must also appreciate who the Magi were. By common consensus they are to be identified with the Zoroastrians of ancient Persia, a monotheistic sect with close ties to the Persian monarchy. They were “from the east,” which in the context of our passage refers to a land due east of Jerusalem. This matches up with ancient Persia. The Achaemenid Empire centered on Persia—which also incorporated Babylon under its umbrella, where Darius the Mede was placed in charge (Dan. 5:31, 9:1)—was organized by Cyrus the Great, under whom Daniel served toward the end of his long life. (Darius the Mede was known to the Greeks as Cyaxares II, and had been king of the Medes prior to ceding that position to his nephew Cyrus; see the e-book Darius the Mede: A Reappraisal by Dr. Steven Anderson.) We may therefore expect that the Magi would have been familiar with Daniel’s prophecies, and their perspectives on Jewish affairs would have been influenced by them.

A Babe to “Worship”

This background explains why they would have used the otherwise inexplicable word “worship” to describe the purpose of their journey. They did not just come to pay an official state visit, but to do obeisance to One whom they knew, from Daniel’s writings, had claims to deity. Foreigners do not “worship” ordinary royal princelings, and after all, there is no indication that they gave to King Herod anything other than the normal deference ordinarily extended to a political leader. Since “worship” is a word full of overt religious connotations, we must place its significance in the sphere of religion. Logically we must seek the answer in the Magi’s familiarity with Jewish prophecy by the influence of Daniel when he was on the royal courts of Darius and Cyrus. 

Seeking a “King” of the “Jews”

The Magi’s specific search for a “king” of the “Jews” is inseparable from the significance they attached to the star they saw “in the east.” Whatever was the nature of that star, there was something about it that prompted them to make these two very specific inferences. I have not been able to find any explanations as to why a comet, supernova, or fixed star in the constellations would have had these meanings attributed to it. The only candidates appear to be one of the planets, whose varied motions around the Sun resulted in various interactions with other celestial bodies, which were interpreted by the ancients as having various meanings. This agrees with Molnar’s analysis that it was Jupiter and its position in the heavens at a specific point in time that gave it the significance applied to it by the Magi.

A Star “in the East”

The expression “from the east” (Greek anatolē, Strong’s G395) was introduced to us in Matthew 2:1 as the place where the Magi lived. Therefore, the context indicates that when the expression “in the east” is used in 2:2 and 2:9 (again anatolē), it probably does not refer to the location of the star in the sky, but to the homeland of the Magi where they first saw it.

Against the in the east translationfollowed by the KJV, NKJV, NASB and HCSB, among othersis the fact that in 2:2 and 2:9, anatolē is preceded by the article (the). This has prompted some translators to render the phrase when it rose (NIV, ESV), at its rising (CSB), or as it rose (NLT). Because these clash with both the context set by 2:1 and Matthew's use of anatolē elsewhere (8:11 and 24:27), where it refers to east as a direction, I see the article as signifying the Magi's way of referring to their homeland, not as a simple compass direction that does not require the article.

Nevertheless, some translations prefer the alternative, apparently due to both the article and because modern astronomers see the phrase as referring to what is technically known as a heliacal rising of a star or planet before dawnbasically, as a morning star. This troubles me, for it smacks of inappropriately reading modern science into a descriptive historical text. But even if, for argument's sake, the phrase is translated when it rose or similar, this is not incompatible with the case developed below. It would simply mean that the Magi did visually observe the star in Persia after its path in the heavens took it around to the other side of the Sun, where it could have been seen in the predawn eastern sky. It would only have been after they did calculations that they would have realized the occultation of Jupiter by the Moon in Aries had taken place earlier, on March 20, 6 BC.

There is also the consideration that the star went on before them. If it was a planet, the Earth's rotation requires that it tracked across the heavens with a normal east-to-west path. The only way the Magi could have seen the same star later over a Bethlehem house, if they traveled there in the daytime, would have been in the west. It stretches credulity to imagine the Magi left Herod after midnight, journeyed in the dark of night on an unfamiliar route, and arrived at Bethlehem in the pre-dawn darkness to see the star rise in the eastern sky.

Meetings and a Secret Plan

The spread to “all Jerusalem” of the news about the Magi’s search, plus Herod’s separate meetings with the Jewish leaders and the Magi, indicates they spent at least a full day in Jerusalem before leaving for Bethlehem. If they stayed one or two days in Jerusalem, the walls and buildings of the city would probably have blocked the view of the star if it was low in the sky near the horizon, so it is unlikely they would have had the chance to identify it until near dusk the day they left for Bethlehem. If the chief priests and scribes consulted with Herod around mid-morning the day after the Magi’s caravan got to town, and Herod had his secret consultation with the Magi in the early afternoon of the same day, they could have departed in mid-afternoon for the approximately six-mile trek to Bethlehem. This would have taken roughly 1 to 1-1/2 hours at a leisurely pace to get there by evening.

The Star “Went On Before Them”

That the star “went on before” the Magi need not require us to conclude they were actively tracking it. All we must do is understand that the star was following its normal course in the heavens, invisible to all observers until the skies began to darken as dusk approached. We may expect that the star was not visible to them until after they entered Bethlehem.

It “Stood Over” a House

There is no indication in the passage that the Magi saw the star until they spotted it over a house in Bethlehem. They saw nothing to get excited about during their time at Jerusalem, nor while the star “went on before them” on the final leg of their journey. But when they saw it at last, shining in the dusk over the roof of a house, they recognized it as the same star that had gotten their special attention the previous year in Persia. This means it had some distinctive characteristics which allowed that identification, despite the fact that they were on the road and it was quite unlikely they had brought along all of their astronomical paraphernalia. Those characteristics would have included the star’s direction, its relationship to other known celestial objects, and its magnitude. A possibility immediately comes to mind that meets these criteria: it was Jupiter as an evening star, just as in Persia the previous year.

The Magi “Rejoiced Exceedingly”

That the star “stood over” a house also means it must have been rather low in the sky when it was first noticed, eliciting the abrupt rejoicing of the Magi. That they only now “rejoiced exceedingly” cannot have been due to the house itself, but to their sudden recognition of the star. At some point as they were walking along, likely on the west side of town, they suddenly became aware of the evening star “winking on” out of the diminishing light of dusk, and reacted with abrupt joy: “Hey, look! It’s that star we saw last year back in Persia!”

That the star was connected with a specific house would thus have been a function of the time of day and the direction they were looking in, not of extraordinary behavior by the star itself. “Stood over” certainly need not imply that the Lord’s Shekinah glory settled upon the roof, but only that, at the snapshot in time Matthew is describing, it was just above a particular home when it was recognized as the same significant star the Magi had observed the previous year in Persia. We can deduce that a similar time of day and direction would have contributed to their flash of recognition. These factors point to the Star of Bethlehem as being Jupiter functioning as an evening star, and not noticed until it was low in the sky near sunset and emerged from the deepening dusk over a housetop as they faced west. The miracle was in the timing of the evening star’s appearance relative to that house, rather than in the nature of the star.

Checking the Theory

The foregoing observations indicate that the Star of Bethlehem is to be identified with Jupiter, the “king” star, serving as the principle evening star that day, low in the western sky of Bethlehem. For this theory to be valid, it must be demonstrated that Jupiter was, in fact, prominently visible near the western horizon at Bethlehem sometime over a year after it had come to the attention of the Magi in Persia. Jupiter is not always visible in the western sky; the progression of its orbit takes it around to the other side of the Sun, where it becomes a bright morning star and, with the passing of time, gradually moves higher in the heavens. Eventually it crosses from the east side of the vault of heaven to the west, and as it moves lower in the western sky takes the character of an evening star once again.

To check whether Jupiter was an evening star at Bethlehem at least a year after March 20, 6 BC, I used the program Stellarium. I set its location at Bethlehem, and then let it run through the weeks from March 20, 5 BC to find out where Jupiter was. I discovered that during the first few weeks of April, 5 BC, Jupiter was present in the west, where it gradually declined from a high position in the sky to approach the horizon and later pass below it. I created an animation to show how, if the Magi were facing west at the proper time when the evening star first became visible at twilight, all of the requirements of Matthew 2 could be met. I chose the date April 13, 5 BC, and observed what happened in the west between 6:00 and 7:30 PM. Here is the resulting animation:

Star descending

The planet Jupiter on this date was not visible after sunset until it had declined to approximately 10° above the horizon, at which time its path took it just above the house I added to the animation. For comparison, on March 20, 5 BC Jupiter would have first become apparent in the west at about 30° above the horizon at 6:20 PM, while on April 1 it was about 20° above the horizon at 6:30 PM. So there exists a range of spring dates in which Jupiter might have served as an evening star that the Magi recognized in the western sky at Bethlehem. On about May 6, Jupiter passed around to the other side of the Sun, thereby ruling it out as a valid evening star for the rest of that year. So the window for the Magi to have seen it in the west in 5 BC was relatively narrow. A 4 BC sighting was out of the question, for Herod was in the throes of his final illness at Jericho the next time Jupiter could be seen in the west again.


The star seen by the Magi in Persia was identified, based on the research of the astronomer Molnar, as the planet Jupiter seen in the west in March of 6 BC. That a planet, known to the ancients as a star, could have such significance would be consistent with God’s declaration in Genesis 1:14, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” We do not excuse the role astrology may have played in formulating their interpretations, but it is at least conceivable that God set up the constellations with an advance awareness that the time would come when human beings would attribute certain meanings to the motions of the planets against their backdrop.

There is no need to propose extraordinary celestial events to explain the Star of Bethlehem. A comet won’t work, because it could not have been seen in the same general location one to two years apart; comets have highly elliptical orbits that send them back out of our region of space after a relatively brief viewing period. A supernova would not work either, because it would be part of the relatively fixed celestial background of the constellations and could not have gone before the Magi, nor taken on the significance they ascribed to it as signifying a “king” of the “Jews.”

As far as I can tell, the only workable solution for the identity of the Star of Bethlehem is the planet Jupiter functioning as an evening star in both Persia and Bethlehem in two consecutive years. After departing Jerusalem, the Magi would have initially used the directions they’d have been given by Herod to get to Bethlehem, not following a visible star. Since they had to ask where the King of the Jews would be born, it is apparent they did not have any extraordinary celestial phenomenon to guide their journey. If they left Herod in the afternoon, it would not have been until the brightness of daytime began dimming that the first stars would have become visible. I suggest that it was late afternoon when they got in sight of Bethlehem, and as the sun continued its decline in the west and they entered the town, the evening star “winked on” above one particular house. The Magi, suddenly recognizing it, “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Associating its sudden appearance with that house, they entered in… and thus became a fixture of Christmas celebrations ever since.

Stellarium [computer software], v 0.18.2 (2018). Downloaded from Updated version at


Where We’ve Been

Except for my last article on the ABR website, “A Closer Look: Daniel 8:14 Re-examined,” most of the recent articles in the series have given special attention to various aspects involved in interpreting Daniel 9:25. Here are links to those articles, oldest first:

The Seraiah Assumption and the Decree of Daniel 9:25
The Seraiah Assumption: Wrapping Up Some Loose Ends
Did Ezra Come to Jerusalem in 457 BC?
The Going Forth of Artaxerxes’ Decree Part 1
The Going Forth of Artaxerxes’ Decree Part 2

Of particular interest at this special time of year is my article on “Pinpointing the Date of Christ’s Birth.” With over 27,000 hits on the ABR website, it is humbling to see how popular it has been, indicating it has been well received and shared with others. If you have never read it, may I encourage you to do so? Its conclusions were arrived at independently of the main research on Daniel, but are consistent with it.

Daniel’s Seventy Weeks were Seventy Sabbatical Year Cycles

The present study moves beyond Daniel 9:25 to consider verses 26 and 27, which deal with things that take place during and after Daniel’s 69th week. We begin by first affirming a key finding of this study, discussed in Part 1 of “The Going Forth of Artaxerxes’ Decree.” It presented the case that the “weeks” of Daniel 9:24–27 should be understood as sabbatical year cycles following a fixed schedule, not arbitrary periods of seven years. Since sabbatical years were always counted from the first of Tishri, if the “sevens” of Daniel 9 are sabbatical year cycles, their restart in the postexilic period must be counted from that date in some year. That year was determined from the study in “Did Ezra Come to Jerusalem in 457 BC?,” which indicated that Artaxerxes’ seventh regnal year was 458–457 BC, and the decree promulgated during it was the only one that can be connected with both the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its restoration. Some teach that the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls by Nehemiah in 444 BC marked this decree, but these studies have shown no decree was issued that year; the letters (Heb. 'iggereth) issued to facilitate Nehemiah’s border crossings and purchase of building materials (Neh 2:7–8) did not rise to the level of an imperial decree (Heb. ta'am), being merely a means to implement a ta'am which had already been issued, but never effectively acted on. The official permission to undertake the city’s rebuilding traced back to the 457 BC decree, and the fact that it still had not been done, over a decade after it was authorized, must be the reason why Nehemiah was so upset to learn the walls still remained unrepaired (all Scriptures from the NASB):

Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol, that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men from Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven (Neh 1:1–4).

Nehemiah’s wall repair efforts were thus a delayed fulfillment of the rebuilding aspect of the 457 BC decree. The other aspect, the restoration referenced in Daniel 9:25, fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 1:21–26:

How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers…
Therefore the Lord God of hosts,
The Mighty One of Israel, declares,
“Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries
And avenge Myself on My foes.
I will also turn My hand against you,
And will smelt away your dross as with lye
And will remove all your alloy.
Then I will restore your judges as at the first,
And your counselors as at the beginning;
After that you will be called the city of righteousness,
A faithful city.”

This restoration was essentially a spiritual one, with Ezra serving as God’s agent to accomplish it. He did this by bringing with him a full complement of Levites, intensively teaching the people the precepts of the Law, and insisting that they be followed to the letter. Therefore, it was after Ezra’s arrival in 457 BC that the sabbatical year cycles stipulated by the Law were initiated, not after Nehemiah’s later construction-focused arrival in 444. We cannot use 444 BC as the anchor point for the start of the Seventy Weeks count.

That analysis, when joined with the evidence that Ezra’s return to the Land took place in the summer of 457 BC, led to the conclusion that the count of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks—seventy sabbatical year cycles—began on Tishri 1, 457 BC. This was the earliest possible date when it could be said that Jerusalem had been spiritually restored and a sabbatical cycle count could have been initiated. That this is the correct date is further indicated by the reading of the Law by Ezra on Tishri 1, 444 BC (Neh 8:1–2, cf. Dt 31:10–12), which signified that the year 444–443 BC was a sabbatical year. Taking the seven-year sabbatical cycle pattern back in time from that year marks 457–456 BC as the first year of a sabbatical cycle, corroborating the independently-determined date of Ezra’s arrival. This correlates perfectly with the sabbatical year pattern developed by Benedict Zuckermann. The pattern proposed by Ben Zion Wacholder is incompatible with this information from Scripture, as discussed in detail in Part 2 of “The Going Forth of Artaxerxes’ Decree.” In this way the words of Daniel 9:25 were fulfilled:

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.

Checking the Math

The word “until” was emphasized above because it is critically important to a correct understanding of verses 26 and 27. Daniel 9:25 says that from the issuing of the proper decree until—up to the time of—the “manifestation” (Gk. phaneróō, Jn 1:31) of the Anointed One, 69 sabbatical year cycles, 483 years total, would pass first. The little word “until” tells us the seventh year of the 69th sabbatical year cycle would come to a complete end before the Messiah would be revealed. This might shock people accustomed to thinking Daniel’s 69th week ended with the Crucifixion, but the text of Scripture is actually quite clear. It takes priority over the errors of prophecy teachers who have overlooked it.

So to review: this study determined that 457–456 BC, Tishri through Elul, was the first year of the first sabbatical cycle after the decree of Artaxerxes in his seventh year sent Ezra to Jerusalem. That same decree also authorized the rebuilding of the infrastructure—the walls and plazas—of the city, work which, to Nehemiah’s heartbreak at Hanani’s bad report, was delayed by opposition until Nehemiah decided to act on that decree and arrived in 444 BC. The first sabbatical year of the postexilic period was 451–450 BC. The second sabbatical year was seven years after that, which kicked off on Tishri 1, 444 BC with the reading of the Law by Ezra (Neh 8:1–2). If we plug these years into the table at, we find they match the pattern of Zuckermann. That of Wacholder, offset six months later, simply will not work with Scripture. When we carefully analyze Scripture itself and make it the starting point for everything that follows—not unproved church traditions of a 3/2 BC date for Christ’s birth, denominational distinctives, or complex theological arguments by those with a vested interest in a specific answer—we find that its plain sense and the ancient historical records are entirely congruent.

Using Zuckermann’s pattern, then, when we count 69 sabbatical year cycles forward from 457 BC, we find the final year of those 69 weeks of years spans Tishri 1 (September 30), AD 26 through Elul 29 (September 19), AD 27. Therefore, the prophecy of Daniel’s 70 Weeks informs us that the Messiah could not be manifested until Tishri 1, the Feast of Trumpets, AD 27 at the earliest.

The Underlying Unity of the Seventy Weeks

While this study did not pay much attention to Daniel 9:24 because it does little more than introduce the passage, one overarching thing it says needs to be kept in mind as we read the rest of the prophecy: “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city.” These seventy weeks thus have primary reference to God’s dealings with the Jews, not with the world or the Church, except insofar as Jewish affairs impact them. Saying this has nothing to do with any attempt to defend an overarching dispensationalist view, but only with faithful adherence to the text and context of Daniel 9:24–27.

This self-declared restriction on the scope of the prophecy is another reason for regarding the “weeks” as Jew-specific sabbatical year cycles. The focus on the Jews seen in 9:24 provides a common framework for interpreting the following three verses. And their scope can be narrowed down still further, for their direct connection with Jerusalem means they apply particularly to times when the Jews fully controlled their holy city. This is further evidence we are dealing with sabbatical year cycles, which are inseparable from the combination of (1) self-government of the Jews, by the Jews, from Jerusalem; (2), a fully-functioning Temple-based sacrificial system; and (3), the pursuit of agriculture within the Holy Land that includes land-rests every seven years. These deductions follow from the fact that the reinstitution of sabbatical year counts after the exile did not begin with Zerubbabel’s limited return to the Land, but only after both the rebuilt Temple and Ezra’s resumption of Torah adherence were in place. For these reasons we cannot say the Jews’ limited return to the Land seen so far in our day has restarted sabbatical year counting, which was interrupted when the arrival of the Lamb of God set aside the sacrificial system centered on the Temple. It will not restart until the Third Temple is built and full Torah observance reinstituted. Until then, the sabbatical cycle clock has been paused. The Seventieth Week has not yet begun.

Hasel and the Significance of the Hebrew Masculine Plural

In this connection it is worth noting a study by Seventh-day Adventist theologian Gerhard Hasel, “The Hebrew Masculine Plural for ‘Weeks’ in the Expression ‘Seventy Weeks’ in Daniel 9:24” (PDF at His thesis is that the use of the Hebrew masculine plural form of sabu’a in Daniel 9, markedly contrasting with the normally-used feminine plural ending (where the word generally refers to an ordinary seven-day week), signifies an underlying unity of the weeks. He claims this unity consists in their linear, gap-free sequence, such that the 70th week followed immediately after the 69th. In this way he finds support for the SDA contention that the 70th week was the years AD 28–34.

It must be said that Hasel’s grammatical analysis is solid and cogent. However, what kind of unity is intended is a separate issue. Must it consist in a consecutive chronological unity of the seven, 62 and one weeks as Hasel proposes, forcing us to start the 70th week as soon as the 69th week ends, or is it a unity of a different sort? If we remove the SDA doctrinal constraint which influences Hasel’s interpretation, another solution presents itself: the unity could consist in each “week” being a sabbatical year cycle. The use of the masculine plural form sabu’im in Daniel is, as many have noted, unique in the Old Testament. My suggestion is that it is unique to Daniel because it is one of the methods by which God “sealed” the book to make the prophecy difficult to decipher.

On page 113 Hasel notes:

It has become rather certain that such plurals are not employed in an arbitrary fashion, but that they serve particular and specific purposes. It is typical of nouns with plural endings in -im and -ot that the plural of -im is to be understood as a plural of quantity or a plural of groups, whereas -ot indicates an entity or grouping which is made up of individual parts. I hold that this is true of sabu’a just as it is known to be true concerning other nouns (emphasis mine).

Since a sabbatical year cycle is a group of seven years, we can immediately see how the masculine plural ending could refer to them in Daniel 9. The unity Hasel calls for us to recognize, therefore, is probably not of chronologically consecutive periods of seven, 62 and one “weeks,” but of a plurality of sabbatical year cycles.

Sir Robert Anderson and His 360-Day “Prophetic Year”

Now we turn to a past effort to make sense of Daniel 9:24–27, that of Sir Robert Anderson. His views were set forth in The Coming Prince in 1895, so they’ve been around for a long time. Anderson’s book was published following the popularizing of dispensationalism by John Nelson Darby in the first half of the nineteenth century, and was geared to supporting its key points in eschatology. As described by Bob Pickle at, they included the ideas that “the first 69 weeks of Daniel 9 began with the 20th year of Artaxerxes and ended about the time of the crucifixion of Christ”; “the 70th week is yet future”; and “the prince that confirms the covenant in Daniel 9:27 is a future antichrist who will stop the sacrifices in a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem.” Pickle summarizes Anderson’s theory, the essentials of which are set forth at

Anderson, like all expositors, considered the 69 weeks (483 days) to really be 483 years. He then multiplied these 483 years by what he called a “prophetic year,” a 360-day year. This gave him a total of 173,880 days, and effectively shortened the time period down to about 476 actual years, since a 360-day year is shy of the true solar year by over 5 days.

Although there are places in Scripture where a year appears to be defined as 360 days, we shall see that Daniel 9:24–27 is not one of them. But Anderson needed a strategy to make his Darby-determined starting point for counting the weeks—the 20th year of Artaxerxes Longimanus—fit together with a seemingly reasonable year for the “cutting off” of the Messiah. It required viewing the year as only 360 days long for the entire 483-year period. Toward this end he devoted his entire Chapter 6 in defense of this thesis; see Anderson draws his reader’s attention to the following passages:

Now this seventieth week is admittedly a period of seven years, and half of this period is three times described as “a time, times, and half a time,” or “the dividing of a time;” (Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 12:14) twice as forty-two months; (Revelation 11:2; 13:5) and twice as 1,260 days. (Revelation 11:3; 12:6) But 1,260 days are exactly equal to forty-two months of thirty days, or three and a half years of 360 days, whereas three and a half Julian years contain 1,278 days. It follows therefore that the prophetic year is not the Julian year, but the ancient year of 360 days.

Anderson’s analysis focuses on the 70th week, where he shows that passages in Daniel and Revelation appear to use a year of 360 days. But then, he extrapolates from this observation to the other 69 weeks. Is this valid? Here are the Scriptures he cited, with some notes in brackets to keep us grounded in the context:

Dan 7:25 He [the Antichrist] will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.

Dan 12:7 I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, as he raised his right hand and his left toward heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time; and as soon as they [the Antichrist and his forces] finish shattering the power of the holy people, all these events will be completed.

Rev 11:2 Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations [which follow the Antichrist]; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.

Rev 11.3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses [against the Antichrist], and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.

Rev 12:6 Then the woman [signifying the alert Jews] fled [from the Antichrist] into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

Rev 12:14 But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman [the alert Jews], so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent [signifying the Antichrist].

Rev 13.5 There was given to him [the Antichrist] a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him.

These passages show that Anderson’s 360-day “prophetic year” only applies to the second half of Daniel’s 70th week, during which the end-time Antichrist cracks down on the Jews and makes “alterations in times and law” (Dan 7:25)—which may imply he changes the calendar, possibly under Islamic influence, to a purely lunar-based one of 360 days. At any rate, nowhere in Scripture is a 360-day year applied to the other 69 weeks, or even to the first half of the 70th. We thus have no biblical basis for assuming the first 483 years of Daniel’s weeks followed anything but an ordinary calendar governed by a 365-day solar cycle. Anderson, however, began with Darby’s determination that the count of the 70 weeks began in Artaxerxes’ 20th year, then extrapolated a 360-day “prophetic year” to the entire time spanned by the first 69 sabbatical year cycles. He did this in order to arrive at a date for the Crucifixion that was in the expected ballpark. This strategy of assuming what had to be proved puts in grave doubt the validity of anchoring the weeks of Daniel 9:24–27 on the 20th year of Artaxerxes, completely apart from its problems already pointed out. As other articles in The Daniel 9:24–27 Project have explained (see in particular the discussion in the article on the Seraiah Assumption under the heading “Artaxerxes’ Seventh Year Decree Covered Both City and Temple”), the decree in Artaxerxes’ seventh year, 457 BC, is far preferable, and allows us to use ordinary solar years for adding up the weeks. When we join to that the fact that the 69th sabbatical year cycle had to conclude before both the Messiah’s manifestation and His crucifixion (remember the word “until”), we find Anderson misunderstood Scripture. But when we follow the approach taken in this study, every year up to the second half of the 70th week, when Scripture notes that the Antichrist makes “alterations in times,” is an ordinary calendar year.

The Interpretation of Harold Hoehner

In this regard we should also mention the analysis of Daniel 9 presented by Harold Hoehner of Dallas Theological Seminary. Cut from the same theological cloth as Anderson’s work but reflecting certain improvements—in particular, he moves Anderson’s 445 BC date for Nehemiah completing the wall to 444 BC, so the year of the Crucifixion moves from AD 32 to 33—his calculations in Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ likewise assume a 360-day “prophetic year” and share its weaknesses. Due in large part to the effective way his view has been promoted by dispensational teachers in books, conferences, radio and television, it is the paradigm chronology of Christ’s life adopted by a large portion of the evangelical world.

But may I encourage my readers not to equate commercial success with biblical accuracy? In the end, every teacher must be held accountable to the straightforward sense of the Word of God. The aim of this study has always been to go first to the Bible itself for answers rather than human teachers, regardless of their popularity or academic credentials. We must judge their teachings by the text of Scripture, not by how well they support favored theological perspectives. That is why I have drawn insights from people from a variety of backgrounds in this study. I think that because, like Anderson, Hoehner assumes Daniel’s count of the 70 "weeks" began in the 20th year of Artaxerxes and similarly requires positing a 360-day “prophetic year” for the entire period (not just the second half of the 70th "week), this aspect of his chronology should be rejected. His view that the 70th "week" is still future is not affected by this, though, and can be evaluated on its own merits.

An additional criticism against Hoehner’s view has to do with his AD 33 date for the Crucifixion. He did improve upon Anderson’s AD 32, when the Passover is impossible to reconcile with the gospels’ requirement that the Lord rose on the first day of the week (our Sunday). However, by choosing AD 33 rather than AD 30 which also puts the Resurrection on a Sunday, he had to make an unjustified assumption: that the Lord’s public ministry lasted for 3-1/2 years. That this is an assumption is seen in the fact that John’s gospel mentions only three Passovers by name (Jn 2:13, 6:4, and 11:55). This yields a public ministry of two years sandwiched between the first and last Passover, plus about half a year covering His baptism, temptation in the wilderness, and calling His disciples. (I discussed this further in my “Fifteenth Year of Tiberius” article.) The supposed fourth Passover, needed to stretch Christ’s ministry to 3-1/2 years and end in AD 33, was an unnamed “feast of the Jews” in John 5:1. Since the other three Passovers were consistently identified as such, if the feast in 5:1 was also a Passover we would expect it would have been similarly identified. The other two pilgrimage festivals celebrated in Jerusalem were Shavuot (Weeks) and Sukkot (Tabernacles). No one can say for certain what feast 5:1 refers to; my own suspicion is that it is Shavuot, the most minor of the pilgrimage festivals, lasting but a single day rather than a full week like the other two. It appears the only reason some regard it as a Passover is because it provides the extra time needed to push the Crucifixion into AD 33, which some unfortunately view as a non-negotiable date that must be defended at all costs.

Therefore, if Christ’s baptism was on or just after Tishri 1, AD 27 as this study indicates, the first Passover was that of AD 28, the second in AD 29, and the last—when our Lord was crucified—in AD 30. An AD 33 date for the Crucifixion also cannot be reconciled with the salvation of the Apostle Paul 14 years before the death of Herod Antipas, known from solidly documented history to have taken place in 44 AD. That analysis was given in “How Acts and Galatians Indicate the Date of the Crucifixion.” It shows that Paul was probably saved in AD 30 or 31, ruling out an AD 33 Crucifixion.

Those who enjoy technical math connected with calendars (I do not!) may find the discussion by Bob Pickle at further illuminates the problems posed by Hoehner’s approach. The biggest difficulty with the overall solution Pickle proposes is that it fails to account for the interregnum between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel, to be discussed below.

As an aside, I believe that the original year at Creation was 360 days long, with the solar and lunar cycles perfectly synchronized. This explains why the earliest Sumerian civilization after the Flood devised the base-60 standards of a 360-degree circle, 60 seconds to a minute, and 60 minutes to an hour. But I hypothesize that something happened during the “days of Peleg,” discussed on the ABR website (see and, when a cosmic impact threw the original precise balance between the solar and lunar cycles out of kilter, speeding up the Earth’s rotation and yielding its present 365-day solar year (faster rotation of the Earth would squeeze more days into the same absolute time span). That impact’s side effects included suddenly shifting the post-Flood mammoth herds, at literally breath-taking speed (remains indicate they were buried in wind-blown loess and died of asphyxiation) into the deep freeze of the high Arctic, wiping out the Clovis Paleoindian culture, and leaving behind an iridium-rich, radioactive “black mat” in the geological layers. But we are not addressing that story today. Those interested in more information can check the links.

To wrap up this section, I believe the straightforward sense of the passage allows us to say it exhibits an underlying unity of the “weeks” that lies in their being sabbatical year cycles. They are also unified in that the years, up to the last half of the 70th week, are ordinary 365-day solar years.

The Divisions in the Seventy Weeks

Now we turn to look at the nature of the divisions seen in the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks—the periods of seven, 62, and one week.

The First Seven Weeks

Some theologians point to the atnah disjunctive accent in the Masoretic text of Daniel 9:25 as reason to disconnect the coming of some “anointed prince” after seven weeks from the 62 weeks of building the city that follows. In his July 3, 2010 blog entry, Dr. Michael Heiser explains:

In Dan 9:25 the Masoretic tradition places what is called a disjunctive accent (atnah) between the words for “seven sevens / weeks” and “sixty-two sevens.” A disjunctive accent served to separate items on either side of the accent. That means the Masoretes saw a break (a disjunction) between the 7 weeks and the following 62. This in turn means that the “anointed one” comes at the end of the seven weeks, before the other 62 occur.

Less technically, the atnah functions like a comma or semicolon in English, introducing a separation in the flow of a sentence. Heiser observes that the ESV, RSV and NRSV renderings follow the Masoretic punctuation, implying that a messianic figure comes on the scene at the end of the first seven weeks. By this view the masiach could not be Jesus. On the other hand, he notes that the NIV, NLT and KJV ignore the Masoretic disjunctive accents “for one reason or another,” so in those translations the “anointed one” is manifested after the combined total of 69 weeks, thereby identifying him with Christ. J. Paul Tanner has also pointed out (“Is Daniel’s Seventy-Weeks Prophecy Messianic? Part 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra, July-September 2009, p. 326) that the early Greek translations of Daniel which preceded the Masoretic text—the Septuagint, Theodotion, Symmachus and the Peshitta—as well as the Latin Vulgate, likewise do not separate the seven and 62 weeks, but view them as a contiguous 69-week period between the decree and the coming of the Messiah, thus providing ancient support for ignoring the atnah.

What are we to make of all this? If we get down to the basics, keying on the atnah to interpret the verse puts a disproportionate emphasis on using uninspired, late-added punctuation of suspect theological impartiality (it was tied to rabbinical oral tradition) to determine the meaning of the text. Moreover, evaluating the disjunctive accent cannot be done without also considering what is supposed to have occurred on either side of it. It involves having an unclear messianic figure come on the scene 49 years after the counting of “weeks” begins, whenever that was, followed by 434 years during which Jerusalem was supposedly rebuilt. The available options are unsatisfying, with Antiochus Epiphanes and the martyred high priest Onias III often proposed as the messianic figure. But Don Preston, at, convincingly argues that Daniel 9:24 demands a Messiah who could make atonement, take away sin, and bring in everlasting righteousness, and thus had to be a fully legitimate high priest (Heb 2:17). Preston’s analysis shows that neither Antiochus Epiphanes nor Onias III qualify; only Jesus of Nazareth, a high priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:6, 10), fulfills the requirements.

As for the other side of the break, how reasonable is it to suppose that it took 434 years to rebuild Jerusalem? Daniel 9:25 describes that rebuilding as entailing the completion of “plaza (Heb. rĕchob) and moat (charuwts)” (Dan 9:25). These relate to infrastructure construction and repairing the walls (which have defensive moats—trenches—at their bases) that delineate the city limits, not the construction of individual homes and businesses. These infrastructure matters are the things which, if we stick the atnah into Daniel 9:25, supposedly took all of 434 years to complete! This is nonsense.

A better alternative is to ignore the atnah, with its resultant dubious “messiah” and extraordinary duration of city rebuilding, and seek another explanation why the first 49 years are mentioned separately from the 434 that follow them. Some interpreters who rightly regard the Messiah of Daniel 9:25 as Jesus have suggested that the first seven weeks of Daniel 9:25 referred to city rebuilding. However, the only clear time indicator in either Scripture or extrabiblical history bearing on the rebuilding is the completion of the wall repairs by Nehemiah in 444 BC, just 13 years after Ezra’s arrival (see the discussion in Part 1 of the Artaxerxes article). If it actually took 49 years there should be some relatively obvious event to validate it, but to my knowledge neither the Bible nor secular history provides one, whether the count is started in 457 or 444 BC.

On the other hand, since the walls and gates which Nehemiah repaired served to define the city limits, it is easy to see repairing them as equivalent to rebuilding the city. If finishing those repairs during the “times of distress” (Dan 9:25), when the “people of the land” under Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab attempted to sidetrack the work (Neh 2–6), was not the objective endpoint of the rebuilding, then what was it? Consider also that, when we read the account of the wall-completion celebration in Nehemiah 8:1, we are told the people gathered at the square (rĕchob) in front of the Water Gate. This and the account in Nehemiah 8:16, where the Feast of Booths was celebrated in two squares of the city, give us evidence that the plazas/squares had already been rebuilt by that time. As for other construction, all cities continually add homes and businesses and make infrastructure improvements as the years pass, so it seems impossible to use such construction to say at a certain point, “the city’s finished!” The walls which define the city limits, however, constitute a clear-cut, objective criterion of city completion. So it appears that saying it took 49 years to rebuild the city is purely arbitrary.

The Seven Weeks as a Jubilee Cycle

So, what do the first 49 years signify? My view is that the Lord directed Gabriel to set off the first seven weeks from the 62 that followed to mark the completion of a Jubilee of seven sabbatical cycles. In this way he provided us with a hint that the remaining 62 and one final week are also to be interpreted as sabbatical year cycles. Since a Jubilee merges seamlessly into the sabbatical year that follows it, yet at the same time can be regarded as a unit on its own, the “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” should be linked seamlessly together to fill the period “from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, until Messiah the Prince”—up to the time of His manifestation at His baptism.

Therefore, as discussed in Part 1 of the Artaxerxes article under “The ‘Weeks’ of Daniel 9:25 were Sabbatical Year Cycles,” the separate mentions of the seven and sixty-two weeks does not involve inserting a chronological gap of unknown duration between them. Without clear evidence for a gap, and in the face of strong evidence against one—namely, the presence of the Lord Jesus on Planet Earth at the right time when no gap is assumed, and without recourse to the dubious idea of “prophetic years”—sound logic demands that we take the position which explains the most factors without exegetical creativity purely for the sake of rescuing a theological construct. As Occam’s Razor teaches us, the simplest explanation that accounts for all the factors is probably the correct one. For these reasons it appears there was no gap separating the seventh week from the 62 that followed it. They constituted a continuous period of 483 years.

Thus understood, the perspective of this study is that the first 69 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy was an unbroken span of time from the issuing of the decree in the seventh year of Artaxerxes until the baptismal anointing (Acts 10:37–38) of Jesus Christ—483 years. When the one remaining week is added to the count, we arrive at 490 years—ten Jubilees set aside by the Lord for the Jews and their holy city. What a perfect number.

The Gap after the Sixty-Ninth Week: Theological Considerations

With the birth of the Church at Pentecost after the Lord’s crucifixion, God’s focus turned entirely from the Jews to the Gentiles. Peter saw his vision that the Gentiles were no longer to be regarded as “unclean” (Acts 10), and Paul went forth preaching the message of salvation by faith alone in the Messiah, not in keeping the precepts of the Law. These changes signified the drastic turn in the Divine dealings with humanity from the Jews and Jerusalem to the Gentiles. However, this process had begun during the Lord’s earthly ministry, when He spoke in parables to the Jewish multitude so that only the elect, those to whom insight was “granted,” might understand (Mt 13:10 ff). It is also seen earlier in John’s gospel, when Jesus tells the woman at the well, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23). The change in how God saved people was already in effect—the Temple and its priesthood were no longer the mediators between God and man. And the change is seen even earlier, in His discussion with Nicodemus in John 3:3–7 about the necessity of being born again.

Therefore, I believe we should posit that at the time the Messiah was anointed, God changed the object of saving faith from the keeping of Temple-based ordinances to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). The count of sabbatical year cycles progressed from Tishri 1, 457 BC to the very end of the 69th week, when it was interrupted at the time the Messiah was manifested at His baptism on or shortly after Tishri 1, AD 27. At that time the Father began turning His attention from the Jews and their holy city, an elect race, to an elect people where ancestry no longer mattered. Yes, Jesus was sent first to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:5–6), but now they were “found” by faith in the Messiah, not in keeping the Torah’s prescriptions.

The Gap after the Sixty-Ninth Week: Grammatical Considerations

Consistent with the above theological considerations, there is also a clear grammatical indicator of a chronological break between the end of the 69th week, immediately after which Christ was baptized, and the start of the 70th week. It is the preposition “until” (Heb. עַד `ad) in Daniel 9:25 alluded to earlier:

So you are to know and discern that from [1] the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until [2] Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks…

The lexicons show that `ad takes the meanings “as far as, even to, up to, until, while.” The context makes it clear that this passage is talking about the period of time that runs from event [1] to event [2]: the span of 69 sabbatical year cycles between the issuing of the decree in Artaxerxes’ seventh year and the manifestation of the Messiah. Since “until” in verse 25 signifies the 483 years must conclude before the Messiah comes, His crucifixion would necessarily have taken place after those 69 weeks ended, not during them. So, if the Crucifixion happened after the 69th week but before the 70th, there must be a gap, an interregnum, in the sabbatical cycle counting. That is simple logic, is it not? From these considerations it follows that Daniel’s Seventieth Week is still future.

The word “after” (Heb. אַחַר ‘achar) in Daniel 9:26 also corroborates this significance of “until,” by establishing a time indicator shared by two separate events:

Then after the sixty-two weeks [1] the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and [2] the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.

Far too many prophecy teachers, by uncritically taking Anderson and/or Hoehner at their word rather than carefully examining the text of Daniel for themselves, have overlooked the important word “after” and placed the “cutting off” of the Messiah during Daniel’s 69 weeks rather than in the gap after it. The bracketed numbers indicate that two distinct events—the Crucifixion and the AD 70 destruction of the city and sanctuary—share the same time indicator. Hence, both must be placed in the interregnum between the end of the 69th week and start of the 70th. Following the word “after,” Daniel says several things take place: the Messiah would be “cut off”; Jerusalem and its Temple would be destroyed (fulfilled in AD 70); and war and desolations (note the plural) would take place. These things take time. It is only following these intervening events that the one remaining week in the prophecy is introduced in 9:27. Hence, those things do not happen during the 70th week, but precede it. And since the 70th week arrives after an indeterminate period of time following the destruction of Jerusalem, it indicates a fashionable theology of our day, preterism, fails to do justice to a straightforward understanding of Scripture.

The “Anointed One” in the Gap

If we search the New Testament for associations of Jesus with “anointed,” one verse that comes up is Acts 10:37–38:

You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.

This verse makes a direct association between Jesus’ baptism and God’s actions at that time which distinctively made Him the Anointed One. Matthew 3:16–17 (NASB footnote: literally, “coming upon Him”), Luke 3:22 (“the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove”), and particularly John 1:31–33 further attest to this:

“I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’”

This manifesting of the Messiah could not have been through the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday as some prophecy teachers suggest, for that event offers no explanation of how Jesus was anointed. Besides, those who hailed the Lord’s entry that day were a fickle mob who immediately turned against Him—worldly Jews seeking only a political deliverer. Of these people the Lord said in Luke 19:41–44:

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

Only those few whose eyes were opened by the Spirit were able to recognize the time of their visitation, the manifestation of the Anointed One which marked the transition from the Temple-based system of righteousness based on sacrifices and Law-keeping, to one based on grace and being born again by the Spirit of God (Jn 3:3–7). For these reasons I am quite confident the “manifestation” of John 1:31–33 is the fulfillment of the words “until Messiah the Prince” in Daniel 9:25. John the Baptist was the forerunner (Mt 11:10, Mk 1:2–3, Lk 1:17, Jn 3:28) whose ministry gave notice that the long-promised Anointed One had arrived, when we may say that the Shekinah glory of God’s Presence came to rest and remain upon Jesus of Nazareth. It was no longer in the Temple. This was the glory the disciples later saw with unveiled eyes during the Transfiguration (Mt 17:2).

The Future Fulfillment of the Seventieth Week

If Daniel’s 69th week ended before the Messiah was “cut off,” that leaves one more week in the prophecy still to be accounted for. Verse 27 sets that out: 

And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.

If we insist on chronological continuity of the 70th week with the 69 that preceded it, it stands to reason the Messiah was crucified during the 70th week. But this begs the question of why the prophecy did not simply say, “in the seventieth week the Messiah will be cut off.” Furthermore, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple are included in the post-69th week period, which did not happen until Titus marched his legions into Jerusalem and burned the Temple about 40 years after the Crucifixion. “Desolations” are included in this period as well; by analogy with the desolations following the Babylonian exile, which did not end until after the Temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, it can be argued that in our own day the land of Israel remains in a state of desolation because many Jews are still scattered among the nations, Muslims still control access to the Temple Mount, and the Temple has not yet been rebuilt. And most obviously, it is not until verse 27 that “one week,” the final week of the 70, gets mentioned—after the Messiah is cut off and the Temple is destroyed.

A Few Thoughts about Preterism

At this point a bit must be said about preterism, because its tenets conflict with the plain sense of Daniel 9:24–27. Its foundational premise, inseparable from the allegorical/symbolic approach to interpretation it relies on, is that the bulk, if not all, of the eschatological material in Matthew 24 and Revelation has already been fulfilled through the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Preterists are forced to discount the testimony of Irenaeus, in Against Heresies 5.30.5, that John was banished to Patmos by Domitian around AD 95. They claim that Nero was the emperor who banished him, allowing them to say Revelation was written around AD 65 and thus preceded the destruction of Jerusalem; hence, much of the book was fulfilled in Roman actions against the Jews.

However, the historical evidences that Revelation was written after AD 90 during Domitian’s reign are varied and strong. The external evidences listed at include statements from Irenaeus, Eusebius, Hegesippus, Tertullian and Origen. Gordon Franz, in his article “Was ‘Babylon’ Destroyed when Jerusalem Fell in A.D. 70?,” also observes that the apocryphal book The Acts of John clearly states that John wrote the book of Revelation on Patmos during Domitian’s reign. Franz notes that preterist Peter Gentry selectively quotes from that book to make it sound favorable to his position:

After John demonstrates his power by drinking deadly poison [cf. Mark 16:18], and raising a couple of people from the dead, Domitian banishes him to an island. The last part of Gentry’s quote is, “And Domitian, astonished at all the wonders, sent him away to an island, appointing for him a set time. And straightway John sailed to Patmos.” Unfortunately for Gentry, the sentence does not end there. It goes on to say, “where also he was deemed worthy to see the revelation of the end” (ANF 8:560–562). The Acts of John clearly support the “late date” for the writing of Revelation and a futuristic view of prophecy, not the fulfillment in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet Gentry seems to be selective in his quotes to prove his point.

Moreover, there are strong internal evidences within Revelation itself that preterism must ignore or explain away. Not the least of these is the overview the Lord gives John at the outset of the book: “Therefore write [1] the things which you have seen, and [2] the things which are, and [3] the things which will take place after these things” (Rev 1:19). These instructions about what John is to write are surely not given in symbolic language. The first addresses the initial vision from 1:10–20; the second covers the spiritual state of the seven churches of John’s day described from 2:1–3:22; and the last covers 4:1 through the end of the book, events to happen after the book was written and distributed to the churches. Even the very first verse alludes to this truth, when John writes that he is about to describe things that “will soon take place”—i.e., in the future. The same thing is affirmed all the way at the end of the book (Rev 22:6). So even if preterism insists that the book was written in Nero’s day, the content of the book itself looks to the future. My sense is that preterists need to seriously consider whether their approach falls under the warning given at the very end of the book: “if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev 22:19).

John also declares that Revelation was both a vision and a prophecy (Rev 1:3; 9:17; 22:7, 10, 18, 19). Recall that Daniel 9:24 says a purpose of the Seventy Weeks is “to seal up vision and prophet.” The Two Witnesses, in what to all appearances is an event future to the writing of the book, are said to prophesy in Revelation 11:3: “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” To maintain their view, preterists must give evidence that two individuals arose during Nero’s reign, while the Second Temple was still standing (Rev 11:1), who worked miracles for 3-1/2 years, were killed, openly resurrected three and a half days later before enemy eyewitnesses, and whose raising was followed by a great earthquake that destroyed a tenth of Jerusalem (Rev 11:13). None of these things are even hinted at in the ancient historical records that have survived, indicating they remain future. We should conclude that “vision and prophet” have not yet been sealed, so it follows that Daniel’s Seventy Weeks were not fulfilled in Roman times.

A little bit of reflection shows that if the exegesis of Daniel 9:24–27 presented in this study is correct, with the fall of Jerusalem taking place during an interregnum between the 69th and 70th weeks, then preterism cannot be reconciled with Daniel 9:24–27. It requires the fall of Jerusalem to Titus in AD 70 to be placed in the 70th week, but the plain sense of Daniel 9:26 puts it between the 69th and 70th. Everything specified in Daniel 9:27 belongs to the final seven years and is still future: the “firm covenant” with the many, the stopping of sacrifice and grain offering, the abomination of desolation, and the final defeat of the Antichrist. The historical events that prefigured them during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes happened during the 69 weeks leading up to the manifestation of the Messiah, not during the interregnum or the 70th week. This determination is based solely on Daniel 9:24–27, without reference to Matthew 24 or Revelation. Those two books should be viewed through the lens of the prior revelation given to Daniel, not the other way around. The principle of “progressive revelation” applies, where information in Scripture is interpreted in the light of what was already revealed. We must not start with Revelation and attempt to interpret Daniel from it.

Who was “He” in Daniel 9:27?

In April 2020 I received an email from someone reading through my Daniel studies:

I would very much appreciate your take on the identity of the person referred to with the pronoun “he” of verse 27......”And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week.....” Hopefully this subject will comprise a portion of an article as you reach that verse. To me the answer to that question is an eschatological keystone.

It is time to tackle that question. Let’s begin by pulling together verses 25–27, with extraneous text about the destruction of Jerusalem removed and no verse divisions to obscure what the pronouns refer to:

Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.... And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.

I have bolded what appear to be at least two, probably three, distinct individuals:

(1) The masiach, the Anointed One. He is cut off—crucified—sometime during the interregnum after Daniel’s 69th sabbatical year cycle concludes and before the 70th begins. In the act of being cut off He drops out of the immediate context, and therefore cannot be the antecedent of “he” later in the passage.

(2) The “prince who is to come.” He shows up at the start of the 70th sabbatical year cycle, when he makes a “firm covenant” with the Jews for that “one week.” Since he was still “to come” at the time Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, this person had nothing to do with that destruction. According to Josephus, those whose hands actually destroyed the city and the sanctuary in AD 70 were Roman legions (Legio XV Apollinaris, Legio V Macedonica, Legio XII Fulminata, and Legio X Fretensis) drawn largely from Arabia and Syria. This indicates the “prince to come” would arise from Islamic ancestors. (Helpful overviews of the historical source information from Josephus and Tacitus can be found at and To the point: since the Messiah of verse 25 had already been cut off, the “prince who is to come” is the only possible grammatical antecedent of “he” in Daniel 9:27. Because the Jewish religious practices he puts a stop to require a Temple, it must be rebuilt, so it definitely looks like a future event.

(3) The “one who makes desolate.” Although it is grammatically possible that this person is the same as the “prince to come,” the fact that the reference changes from “he” to “one” implies someone else is in view. This may be the same individual as the false prophet who is introduced after the Antichrist in Revelation 13:11.

So, “he” is the “prince to come.” He first shows up during the post-69th week interregnum, a time of unspecified duration. This rules out both Antiochus Epiphanes and Onias III from the Maccabean era, for they lived during Daniel’s first 69 weeks. Titus, however, arose after the 69th week; could he be identified with the “prince to come”? This is not possible either, because he made no covenant with the Jews that he later violated after 3-1/2 years; moreover, Titus was a native Roman with no ethnic connection to the Syrian legionnaires who did the actual Temple destroying (Titus wanted to preserve it). We must look for someone else as the “prince to come,” someone arising out of the post-69th week interregnum and by his covenant with “the many”—in context meaning the Jews, the “people and city” of Daniel which the whole prophecy applies to—initiates the last week of the 70. Since “sacrifice and grain offering” are intimately connected with that final week, and since there has been no Temple to make them possible since the Roman legions destroyed it 1,950 years ago, a necessary prerequisite for beginning Daniel’s 70th week is the rebuilding of the Temple. Therefore, since “sacrifice and grain offering” still have not been reinstated, we are still in the post-69th week interregnum. (Notice that positing a rebuilt Temple here has nothing to do with dispensational theology, but is an essential inference of the prophecy; how can the Jews restore “sacrifice and grain offering” without a Temple and priesthood to offer them?).


The purpose of this article has been to build upon the many months of research involved in The Daniel 9:24–27 Project to understand key aspects of the final two verses of the prophecy. This investigation has been Bible-centered from beginning to end. I did not approach the passage with the intention of using it to validate or disprove any particular system of theology, whether reformed, dispensational, adventist, preterist, pre-trib, post-trib, or anything else. My goal was simply to determine, to the best of my ability, what the plain sense of this fascinating passage taught. I found myself disagreeing with some teachers of considerable repute on important details, while agreeing with them on others.

In the end, all I can say is that I followed the biblical and historical evidence where it seemed to be leading. With prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit, I used the skills developed from my seminary training, my innate orientation to detail (over the years I variously worked as a draftsman, medical technologist and computer programmer), and my love of ancient history and systematic theology to arrive at my own conclusions. Looking back over this work, I have a lot of confidence those conclusions rest on solid reasoning mixed with, I trust, spiritual sensitivity. The reader must judge whether I succeeded. My hope is that the Lord will be pleased to use these efforts to help unseal the book of Daniel in our day. After all, He did say in Daniel 12:9, “the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.” They will not always be sealed.

I am not certain what direction The Daniel 9:24–27 Project will take after this. In these articles I have tried not to go off into eschatology more generally, but limited myself to getting a comprehensive (!) understanding of Daniel 9:24–27. Perhaps, God willing, this work will serve as a springboard to jump into the minefield of competing theological loyalties which constitutes eschatology studies today. We shall see how He leads.

Download PDF version here: A Closer Look: Daniel 8:14 Re-examined

Where We've Been

When I undertook my examination of Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks covered in Daniel 9:24–27 almost two years ago, it soon became apparent that a comprehensive study required going outside of that text. Accordingly, one of my early articles in the series was “Understanding the 2,300 ‘Evenings and Mornings’ of Daniel 8:14,” posted at In that article I wrote:

We could spend considerable time evaluating what various Bible commentators have had to say about the 2,300 “evenings and mornings.” One website ( observed that, of an assortment of “prominent scholars” between the years AD 430–1781 that dealt with the meaning of the 2,300 “evenings and mornings,” 21 claimed the 2,300 days represented years; six said they denoted the number of days to reach the end of the world; three claimed the period was 2,300 literal days; and one opined that the time represented 1,150 24-hour days. Folks, this diversity of opinion—which continues to our day—does not exactly engender confidence that a solution can be easily found! Nor does it mean that I, who would boldly sally forth into theological territory the prudent avoid, can come up with a better alternative than those who have gone before me. Nevertheless, when I stumble upon a workable solution offered by others to a seemingly intractable exegetical problem, as I did in this case, it seems good to pass it along.

In what followed, after first laying out general background on Daniel 8:14, I focused on an article I had found while searching for insights on how to understand the 2,300 “evenings and mornings” of Daniel 8:14. That article, by Fred P. Miller at, proposed that we can get a precise solution to the 2,300 evening-mornings by using a 360-day year derived from the Greek historian Herodotus. I saw biblical support for that proposal in the 360-day year we get from reconciling Daniel 7:25 and Revelation 12:6, 12:14, and 13:5. That was good enough to get me excited about Miller’s proposal. I concluded the article with these words: “I commend this solution to you for understanding the 2,300 ‘evenings and mornings’ of Daniel 8:14.”

Second Thoughts on Using Herodotus' Calendar

As my studies have progressed since then, I have had second thoughts about Miller’s solution. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Herodotus lived c. 484–420 BC. If the vision in Daniel 8 has to do with the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes—as the vast majority of interpreters hold—then we are dealing with Seleucid Era (SE) dates. The Seleucid Era began in the spring of 311 BC as the Jews reckoned it (the Greeks began their SE dates six months earlier, in the fall of 312 BC), over a century after Herodotus’ death. The Jews used the SE calendar during the Maccabean period. We get the date for Antiochus’ “abomination of desolation” from 1 Macc. 1:54, 59 (RSVA version):

54Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege upon the altar of burnt offering… 59And on the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar which was upon the altar of burnt offering.

The year 145 SE corresponds with 167 BC. The “abomination” was not the sacrifice done on the twenty-fifth, but the pagan altar erected upon the Jewish altar ten days prior. Later, at 4:52–53, we read of the restoration of the altar and reinstitution of the regular burnt offering three years later in 148 SE/164 BC:

52Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, 53they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built.

Notice the bolded words. In a previous article (, I pointed out that when the month-number of the Jewish year is presented before the month-name, it indicates that a first-month (Nisan)-based calendar was in primary use:

Yet at the same time we also have solid, Scripture-based evidence, corroborated by abundant historical records, that Babylonian names became associated with but did not entirely replace those month-numbers during the exile. This is seen in Esther 3:7: “In the first month, which is the month Nisan…until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar”; Esther 8:9, “the third month (that is, the month Sivan)…”; and Zechariah 1:7, “…the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat…” Note that the numbered form is given first and provides the essential identification of the month in the minds of the exiled Judeans, while the names Nisan, Sivan, Shebat and Adar are given as secondary identifiers influenced by the Babylonian captivity (cf. the list of month-names at From this evidence it follows that the religious (God-ordained) calendar took priority in Jewish minds over the Babylonian civil calendar, and is more accurately described as first month-based rather than Nisan-based. It is rooted ultimately in what the LORD established long before the Babylonian captivity.

Since 1 Maccabees treats the month-name Chislev as a parenthetical explanation for “ninth month” like those examples from Scripture, we can conclude that the Maccabean-era Jews applied the Greek year numbering to their ancient sacred calendar, so that instead of starting the years in the fall of 312 BC as the Greeks did, they began their SE year-count in the spring of 311 BC. This results in the following table, where each Seleucid Era (SE) year begins in the “first month,” Nisan (N). The BC equivalents are approximate, beginning about four months before the corresponding SE years. The Olympiad information ties in with what Josephus reported about these events in Antiquities 12.7.6 (Loeb edition 12.321). The gold color signifies that the temple was rededicated during a sabbatical year that began in the month of Tishri (T) in 164 BC.


The Metonic Cycle

The bottom line is that we cannot tie Herodotus’ 360-day year length to the Maccabean era. That being the case, neither can we use the idea that extra months of 30 days (intercalary or “leap” months) were added to the calendar on a regular every-other-year pattern as Herodotus taught. In fact, in the fifth century BC, the Greek astronomer Meton devised a more accurate strategy for synchronizing lunar-based calendars with the solar-based agricultural seasons, and this was adopted by the Jews under Greek influence. The 19-year Metonic cycle had a standard year-length of 354 days. According to Wikipedia (, “Traditionally, for the Babylonian and Hebrew lunisolar calendars, the years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19 are the long (13-month) years of the Metonic cycle. This cycle forms the basis of the Greek and Hebrew calendars…” It appears, then, that only twice in 19 years were intercalary months added every other year by the Jews, whereas Herodotus indicates it was the regular pattern. And the fact that the month-name given in 1 Maccabees is Kislev rather than a Macedonian name shows a specifically Jewish approach was taken.


From these two considerations—the length of the year and when intercalary months were added—there is reason to question the strategy Miller used to reconcile 1,150 days of twice-daily sacrifices in Daniel 8 with the three years and ten days between the desecration of the temple (1:54) and its restoration (4:52). Its validity depends on a 360-day year and a regular pattern of alternating intercalary years. If instead we use the Metonic cycle with three years of 354 days, then presume two of them included extra intercalary months of 30 days, then add an extra ten days, we get a total of 1,132 days of two regular sacrifices per day, totaling 2,264 “evening-mornings.” This is 36 offerings, or 18 days, a bit short of the total required by the prophecy. And if only one of the three years was an intercalary year, we have to consider the possibility that only 1102 days, or 2204 “evening-mornings,” passed.

It is at this point that many give up trying to find a way to reconcile the prophecy of Daniel 8 with the history in 1 Maccabees. Of greater concern is that it appears, at least superficially, that Scripture cannot be reconciled with what history tells us. In what follows I want to push forward in search of a solution.

Exegesis of Daniel 8

Of course, the above deliberations about the calendar used during the Maccabean period only apply if the “rather small horn” of Daniel 8:9 is identified with Antiochus IV Epiphanes, in whose time Seleucid dating was in effect. Not everyone agrees. One person emailed me to say that this “horn” is to be identified with Rome, not Antiochus IV Epiphanes (or any other king of Greek derivation, for that matter). Learning this spurred me into buying a couple of books—Daniel: The Vision of the End by Jacques B. Doukhan, and God Cares: The Message of Daniel for You and Your Family by C. Mervyn Maxwell—so I could see for myself what this reasoning is based on.

First, we look at the pertinent verses of Daniel 8 as given in the NASB. Verses 8–9 include certain words rendered in Hebrew with their genders noted, since they will be important to evaluating the analysis of Doukhan and Maxwell, and others in italics are supplied by the context:

8Then the male [tsaphiyr, masc noun] goat [‘ezim, fem noun but masc in plural, as here] magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn [qeren, fem noun] was broken; and in its place there came up [`alah, verb] four conspicuous [chazuwth, fem noun] horns [supplied] toward the four winds [ruach, fem noun] of heaven. 9Out of one ['echath, fem adj] of them [mehem, Strong’s #1992, hem prefixed with min (“from”), pl masc or fem pronoun] came forth [yatsa', verb] a rather small [tsa`iyr, fem adj] horn [qeren, fem noun] which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land [supplied]. 10It grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down. 11It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. 12And on account of transgression the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper. 13Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that particular one who was speaking, “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?” 14He said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored” (emphasis added).

The angel Gabriel subsequently explains to Daniel the meaning of that vision in verses 16–26, but we will save that for our discussion of context.

Is the “Rather Small Horn” Rome?

Some teach that the “rather small horn” of Daniel 8:9, by equating it with the “little horn” of Daniel 7:8, must represent Rome. To maintain this equivalence, they say that typical English translations of Daniel 8:8–9 are misleading. Such translations cause us to think the grammatical antecedent of “them” (mehem) in verse 9 is the word “horns” rather than “winds,” thereby making the small horn of 8:9 a Greek. To keep their understanding that the “rather small horn” must refer to Rome, they argue that the antecedent of “them” must be “winds,” a point made primarily through analyzing the gender of nouns used in the passage. As Maxwell puts it:

Readers of the English versions sometimes assume that when the Bible says that the little horn arose out of “one of them,” it means that it arose out of one of the four horns. What the Bible really means, however, is that the little horn arose out of one of the four winds; that is, that it arose out of one of the four directions of the compass. (We are dealing with an idiom.)

How can this be?

Nouns in Hebrew have grammatical gender. They are considered to be either masculine or feminine. Many other languages also employ grammatical gender. And it is a rule in all of them that pronouns must agree with their antecedent nouns in being similarly masculine, feminine, or neuter. Even in English we think of a ship as feminine and refer to one with the feminine pronouns “she” and “her.”

In the Hebrew for Daniel 8:8, 9, “horns” is feminine, and “winds” is either masculine or feminine. In the phrase “out of one of them,” the pronoun “them” is masculine. This means that the antecedent noun for “them” cannot be “horns” but must be “winds.” Thus the little horn was to appear out of one of the four winds. It was to arise from one of the four directions of the compass (p. 158).

Pronoun Antecedents and Noun Genders

Close examination of the above statement, however, reveals it to be a mixture of truth and error. Contrary to Maxwell’s claim that the pronoun mehem is masculine, it is actually gender-independent. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), a standard reference work, observes at entry #504 that it is a “third person plural independent nominative pronoun.” TWOT also points out, at entry #480 dealing with the third person singular pronoun ’, that it likewise is gender-independent and can take the meaning “he,” “she,” or “it,” depending on the context. We must conclude Maxwell is wrong to claim mehem must be a masculine noun requiring a masculine antecedent.

There are also problems with Maxwell’s blanket statement that “winds” can be either masculine or feminine. It is true that some grammars call it a “common gender” word that can take either a masculine or feminine verb, but we still have to let the specific context determine how ruach should be regarded in each case. In the authoritative Koehler-Baumgartner-Richardson-Stamm Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) it states (p. 1197), “Generally רוּח is fem.; only seldom is it masc., as in Ex 1013.19 Nu 1131 Is 5716 Jr 412 Ezk 2726 Ps 5112 7839 Jb 415 82 203 418 Qoh 16 319.” The given instances are apparently the sum total of places where ruach is masculine. No Daniel passages are included. Hence, we should conclude that Maxwell is mistaken in claiming that ruach is a masculine noun as used in Daniel 8.

Doukhan similarly tries to get around the apparent sense of the text—that “them” refers to one of the four Greek “horns” of 8:8—by claiming that there is a “curious disagreement of genders in the Hebrew phrase ‘one’ (feminine) of them (masculine)” (p. 28). The -ath ending of the adjective “one” ('echath, הָאַחַת), which modifies “them,” is feminine. Because Hebrew requires that adjectives must agree in gender with the noun they modify, it shows the independent pronoun “them” is being treated as a feminine noun. We therefore expect the pronoun “them” to be paired with a feminine antecedent. There is thus no disagreement of genders, and linking “them” with the feminine noun for “horns” is quite grammatically valid. Maxwell and Doukhan thus cannot rule out “horns” as the antecedent of “them” on the basis of gender.

The above analysis of grammar-related issues made me realize how important it was to really understand what was going on in the Hebrew text of Daniel. I would like to impress on my readers that it is critical to give the Holy Spirit first dibs at explaining the Word to you, not a commentator! That includes me. By praying for insight and then wrestling directly with the text ourselves, we should at least get a general idea of what it says before we allow anyone else to tell us how to understand it.

A Word Study

Now we turn to look at some Hebrew terms in Daniel 8. Our objective is to determine whether it is legitimate to equate the “little horn” of Daniel 7, which arises out of a beast representing the Roman Empire, with the “rather small horn” of Daniel 8. To evaluate this concept, this phase of our study focuses mainly on the Hebrew terms chazown (“vision”), mar'eh (“vision” or “appearance”), and ha-tamiyd (“the regular”), along with a few other words.

I put together the following raw data, with emphasis added in places and a few notes of my own in parenthesis. For brevity only key verses are covered. The NASB is used.

Dan 8:1 In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king a vision (chazown) appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously (in Daniel 7).

Dan 8:2 I looked in the vision (chazown), and while I was looking I was in the citadel of Susa, which is in the province of Elam; and I looked in the vision (chazown) and I myself was beside the Ulai Canal.

Dan 8:5 While I was observing, behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous (chazuwth) horn (qeren) between his eyes.

Dan 8:8 Then the male goat (the Grecian empire) magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn (Alexander the Great) was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous (chazuwth) horns (in italics because it is supplied; it refers to four kingdoms led by Alexander’s generals Lysimachus, Cassander, Seleucus and Ptolemy) toward the four winds of heaven. (Since “conspicuous” [chazuwth] is paired with “horn” [qeren] in 8:5, the context expects us to likewise supply qeren to go with chazuwth here.)

Dan 8:9a Out of one of them (apparently one of the four “conspicuous horns,” which were the kingdoms arising from Alexander’s four Greek generals) came forth a rather small horn… (Since it is a horn, and since the preceding four horns were derived from the one large horn representing Alexander, this “rather small horn” was in turn derived from one of the four; horns logically give rise to other horns, making this “rather small horn” a ruler of Greek extraction.)

Dan 8:9b …which grew exceedingly great toward (rose powerfully against) the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land. (The “Beautiful” is Judea. This geographic description of the lands the “rather small horn” rose powerfully against cannot be interpreted apart from 8.9a, which defines this king as arising from Grecian forebears.)

Dan 8:10 It (the “rather small horn” of 8:9) grew up to (rose against) the host of heaven and caused some of the host (the Jews) and some of the stars (Jewish religious leaders) to fall to the earth (be killed), and it trampled them down. (“Host” simply means a group and here refers to the Jews, because “it” in this context derives from Alexander. The metaphor thus must refer to human beings, not heavenly beings.)

Dan 8:11 It (the “rather small horn”) even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host (God); and it removed the regular (ha-tamiyd) sacrifice (“sacrifice” is in italics because it is supplied by the context and the use of the article ha-, not by a specific Hebrew term) from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down.

Dan 8:12 And on account of transgression the host (the Jews) will be given over to the (“rather small”) horn along with the regular (ha-tamiyd) sacrifice (supplied); and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper.

Dan 8:13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that particular one who was speaking, “How long will the vision (chazown) about the regular (ha-tamiyd) sacrifice (supplied) apply, while (during the time) the transgression (caused by the “rather small horn” king) causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place (qodesh—in context, of the Jerusalem temple) and the host (the Jews) to be trampled?”

Dan 8:14 He said to me, “For 2,300 evenings (`ereb sing.) and mornings (boqer sing.); then the holy place (qodesh) will be properly restored.” (Due to the singular nouns, “evening-mornings” is a more literal translation.)

Dan 8:15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision (chazown), I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked (mar'eh) like a man.

Dan 8:16 And I heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, “Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision (mar'eh).”

Dan 8:17 So he came near to where I was standing, and when he came I was frightened and fell on my face; but he said to me, “Son of man, understand that the vision (chazown) pertains to the time of the end.”

Dan 8:26 “The vision (mar'eh) of the evenings (`ereb) and mornings (boqer) (lit. “the evening-morning vision”) which has been told is true; but keep the vision (chazown) secret, for it pertains to many days in the future.”

Dan 8:27 Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. (Since Gabriel was commanded to give Daniel the intended understanding, we must assume he fulfilled that command. Daniel’s feeling sick should be attributed to the emotional shock of learning about severe future persecution of the Jews and desecration of the temple.) Then I got up again and carried on the king’s business; but I was astounded at the vision (mar'eh), and there was none to explain it. (Apparently Daniel wanted further explanation not of what would happen, which Gabriel adequately explained, but why it would happen.)

This word study allows us to broadly say that the entire chapter of Daniel 8 is devoted to a single, self-contained vision, which verses 1 and 2 call a chazown. It should not be interpreted in terms of similar outside symbolism such as the horns of Daniel 7, but only within the limits of its own mar'eh. Notice in particular verses 16 and 17; since both words are to be “understood,” they effectively tie mar'eh and chazown inextricably together.

The lexicons indicate that chazown refers to the phenomenon of a visionary experience, whereas mar'eh focuses more on the particular content of a vision, which must be defined within the individual context. According to Strong’s Concordance, mar'eh refers to “a view (the act of seeing); also an appearance (the thing seen), whether (real) a shape (especially if handsome, comeliness…), or (mental) a vision…” The emphasis of mar'eh, therefore, is on appearance, and is not limited to the “mental” realm of a vision. As for chazown, Strong’s defines it as “a sight (mentally), i.e. a dream, revelation, or oracle:—vision.” This definition reflects the meaning that we generally have in mind when we think of a prophetic vision, whereas mar'eh carries the idea of such a vision’s specific appearance or content. Since mar'eh is necessarily tied to the immediate context each time the word is used, the mar'eh of Daniel 8 stands on its own. Its “horns” should not be interpreted according to similar imagery in chapter 7 without clear contextual reasons for doing so.

Interpreting “the Regular”

Another word demanding special attention is ha-tamiyd, translated “the regular.” A reader of my original article wrote to me:

Since Dan. 8, 11, and 12 use tamiyd without “sacrifice,” we would tie in the other tamiyd items as well, such as the showbread (Ex. 25:30) and the burning lamps of the 7-branched candlestick (27:20).

My own exegetical examination of the term tamiyd was partly motivated to see if it was really necessary to connect the showbread and candlestick with “the regular”—essentially, to discern if “the regular” meant the entire setup of the holy place in the temple, including the furnishings, or it was restricted to the whole burnt offering that was replenished on the altar twice a day. What caught my attention was that in Daniel 8, 11 and 12, the reason the Hebrew term for “burnt offering,” `olah, was not included in those passages was because for the Jews it was redundant. In those particular instances, the article “the” (Heb. הַ, ha-) is added to tamiyd, making what is elsewhere an adverb meaning “continual” into a noun with a particular idiomatic meaning. That noun form of the word, ha-tamiyd הַתָּמִידַ, designates a particular thing that is continual: the never-ceasing whole burnt offering on the altar, dedicated entirely to God to honor Him, with nothing eaten by the priests. The word “sacrifice” is added in English translations of those passages only because writing “the regular” or “the continual” would be confusing for us, though not for the original Jewish readers. Actually, it would have been better for the supplied word to have been “offering,” because the “whole burnt offering” was purely for the honor and pleasure of God, not in expiation for any sins (see Ex 29:38–42). This ties in with what verse 8:11 says: the “rather small horn” removed “the regular” from Him. It was something for God’s pleasure that got taken away, not an expiatory sacrifice for human sins. A standard reference work, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, has this to say (emphasis added):

1157a     תָּמִיד (tāmı̂d) continuity.
Most frequently this word is used in an adjectival genitive construction with ˓ōlâ for the continual whole burnt offering made to God every morning and evening (Ex 29:42; Num 28:6, 10, 15, 23; Ezr 3:5; Neh 10:34; cf. Ezk 46:15, every morning; and the continual minḥâ [sacrifice], Num 4:16; Neh 10:34; Lev 6:13. The word is used alone [not modifying another] to designate the daily burnt offering in Dan 8:11–13; 11:31; 12:11. Numbers 4:7 refers to the “bread of continuity” meaning the bread that was always there.

Similarly, the Enhanced Brown, Driver and Briggs Lexicon says (abridged from p. 556):

תָּמִיד Strongs8548 TWOT1157a GK9458 n.m. Dn 12:11 continuity;—ת׳ always absolute;— 1. earliest and oftenest as adverb, continually: a. of going on without interruption = continuously, Ho 12:7 Je 6:7 Na 3:19 Is 21:8; 49:16; 51:13, 52:5, 58:11; 60:11, 62:6, 65:3 Ob 16 Hb 1:17 Dt 11:12 1 K 10:8 = 2 Ch 9:7, 1 Ch 16:11, 37; … in ritual, Lv 24:8, cf. Ex 25:30 (shew-bread), Lv 24:2, 3, 4, cf. Ex 27:20 (of lamp), Ex 28:29, 30, 38. b. of regular repetition: meals 2 S 9:7, 10, 13; 2 K 25:29 = Je 52:33; journeys 2 K 4:9; cf. Nu 9:16; Ps 71:3; of ritual: sacrifice, לַיּוֹם תָּמִיד Ex 29:38; cf. 1 Ch 16:40; 23:31 2 Ch 24:14. 2. as substantive [functioning as a noun]: a. of uninterrupted continuity, אַנְשֵׁי ת׳ Ez 39:14 men of continuity, i.e. men continually employed for the purpose; ... b. of regular repetition אֲרֻחַת מ׳ 2 K 25:30, i.e. a regular allowance, = Je 52:34; especially of ritual: קְטֹרֶת ת׳ Ex 30:8; most often עֹלַת ת׳ Ez 46:15 (every morning), Ex 29:42 (morning and evening, so) Nu 28:6 Ezr 3:5; עֹלַח הַתּ׳ Nu 28:10, 15, 23, 24, 31; 29:6, 11, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 31, 34, 38 Ne 10:34. c. (late) הַתּ׳ alone = daily (morning and evening) burnt-offering Dn 8:11, 12, 13; 11:31; 12:11 (so Talmud, even in plural תְּמִידִין) (brackets and some emphasis added).

So we see that both standard exegetical tools teach the same significance of ha-tamiyd in Daniel 8, 11 and 12: when it stands alone and does not function as a modifier, it refers to the daily burnt offering set out by the Levitical priests in the temple twice a day.

Extending the 2,300 “Years” into the “Heavenly” Sanctuary

Some teachers have tried to get around the difficulties in maintaining the Rome view of the “rather small horn” by adopting an allegorical interpretation, in which “the regular” is shifted from the temple in Jerusalem to the heavenly realm, where it is said to represent the continual priestly ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. But this allegorical approach divorces the term ha-tamiyd from its plain-sense use in Scripture, where the term refers to the ritual first prescribed in Exodus 29:38–42 (cf. also Numbers 28:2–6):

Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two one year old lambs each day [yom], continuously [tamiyd]. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning [boqer] and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight [`ereb]; and there shall be one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering with one lamb. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight [`ereb], and shall offer with it the same grain offering and the same drink offering as in the morning [boqer], for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. It shall be a continual [tamiyd] burnt offering [`olah] throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there.

Thus Scripture says that what is “continual” is a whole burnt offering upon the altar by the Levitical priests. We should resist the temptation to allegorize this passage by claiming it applies to activity taking place in a “heavenly” sanctuary. To allegorize is often to make an exception to plain-sense interpretation, and should only be resorted to if the text itself—not a desired interpretation—demands it. Allegory is only necessary here for one who insists that the “rather small horn” of Daniel 8:9 must refer to the Roman Empire. But exegetical support to back up that assumption is lacking, calling an allegorical approach into question. If instead the 2,300 refers to the twice-daily tamiyd offering in the earthly temple spanning only 1,150 days—one day per “evening-morning,” where each Jewish day begins at sundown, as in Genesis 1—there is no need to bring an allegorized “heavenly” sanctuary into the picture. From this I must conclude that ha-tamiyd in Daniel 8 has everything to do with events leading up to the suspending of 2,300 whole burnt offerings, offered twice daily over a period of 1,150 days in the earthly temple, and nothing to do with anything happening in heaven.

Besides, if the holy place (qodesh) in Daniel 8:14 that is “restored,” “put right,” or even “justified” after 2,300 years is a heavenly one, then the context demands that it be the same qodesh that was “trampled” in 8:13. How could a “trampling” take place by a mere human king of a qodesh in heaven? If we admit that is impossible, it is equally impossible for 8:14 to refer to the heavenly sanctuary. The immediate context therefore demands that the qodesh in 8:14 is that in the temple at Jerusalem, not an allegorically-supplied one in heaven.

An Earth-based Chazown

Another advantage of keeping the sanctuary tied to the earthly plane is because the chazown in Daniel 8 is Earth-based. Gabriel says matter-of-factly that the vision deals with kings of Media, Persia and Greece (8:20–21), with no indication it includes any other nations or events in heaven. If we use other visions of Daniel as an interpretive guide, the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in Daniel 2 clearly has the third kingdom of bronze referring to Greece, while the fourth “strong as iron” world kingdom in 2:40 refers to the Roman Empire. Likewise, in 7:6 the third, four-headed leopard-beast in that vision corresponds to Greece, while the fourth beast of 7:7, “dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong,” having “large iron teeth” and “ten horns,” is clearly the Roman Empire. There is no doubt that the visions of chapters 2 and 7 include a reference to the Romans.

Then we come to chapter 8, where the goat clearly refers to the empire of Greece and the horns refer to four Grecian kingdoms arising from it. Verse 8:21 says the large horn represents the first individual king of the empire, and is without dissent Alexander the Great. In keeping with the horn imagery within the context, the remaining horns are all connected with the kingdom of Greece. Then what does it say in 8:9? “Out of one of them”—that is, out of a kingdom belonging to one of the four generals of Alexander—“came forth a rather small horn.” This is the point where, if the pattern seen in Daniel 2 and 7 held, we would expect a mention of the Roman Empire to come into the picture as an animal of some sort distinct from the goat, preferably with some mention of iron. But all we have is a “rather small horn”—and it was of Greek extraction! If the “rather small horn” is Rome, from which of the four Greek generals did the Roman Empire arise? None. We cannot build the entire case for the “rather small horn” being the Roman Empire only on the ambiguous second half of 8:9, “which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land, as some do. The first part of the verse is at least as important as the second. Those who wish to see Rome referenced in Daniel 8:9b must also present a solid exegetical case for how the Romans better fulfill 8:9a than Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king whose campaigns in Egypt (south); Persia, Parthia and Armenia (east); and Palestine (the “Beautiful Land”), also fulfilled 8.9b. (The paper, “The Stability of the Seleucid Empire under Antiochus IV” at, discusses all three of these campaigns by Antiochus.)

The bottom line is, we cannot interpret the second half of Daniel 8:9 without also doing careful exegesis of the first half of the verse. And by clearly indicating the “rather small horn” arose from a Greek kingdom, the first half does not support equating it with Italian Rome. Its description as a “rather small horn” also clashes with the “powerful as iron” beast representations of Rome in the visions of Daniel 2 and 7.

The Testimony of Josephus

Yet another reason why we should reject Rome as being the “rather small horn” in Daniel 8 comes from Josephus. In Antiquities 12.7.6 (Loeb 12.321–22) he wrote:

This desolation happened to the temple in the hundred forty and fifth year, on the twenty-fifth day of the month Apelleus, and on the hundred fifty and third olympiad; but it was dedicated anew, on the same day, the twenty-fifth of the month Apelleus, on the hundred and forty-eighth year, and on the hundred and fifty-fourth olympiad. And this desolation came to pass according to the prophecy of Daniel, which was given four hundred and eight years before; for he declared that the Macedonians would dissolve that worship [for some time] (emphasis added).

We see that Josephus assigned the “relatively small horn” of Daniel that disrupted the sanctuary to “the Macedonians.” This obviously refers to Antiochus Epiphanes, and constitutes important historical testimony against the Rome interpretation.

Contextual Clues from Daniel 7

Now let us see if the surrounding context supports interpreting Daniel 8:9 as 2,300 tamiyd offerings. I asked this question of the text: “Can a ‘rather small horn’ arise from ‘winds’ in Daniel 8:8?” Or better, since both “winds” and “horns” are used figuratively, which is more likely: that “them” refers to preexisting kings, or to compass directions?

Since Daniel 7 is written in Aramaic, we cannot directly compare its words with chapter 8, which was written in Hebrew. Nevertheless, the descriptions used for the various “beasts” in the vision of chapter 7 allow us to confidently match up their symbolic attributes with Babylon (the winged lion), the Medo-Persian empire (the bear), the Greeks (the four-headed leopard), and Rome (the ten-horned dreadful beast with iron teeth). I am unaware of any who disagree that the fourth beast represents Rome. Where disagreements come in is how to identify the kings or political entities represented by the ten horns and the “little horn” which arises from the ten; but for our purposes it is enough to say that the fourth beast of Daniel 7 is Rome and entities arising from its empire.

The question before us is whether the context of Daniel 7 indicates that the “little horn” there is the same as the “rather small horn” in Daniel 8. Verses 7–8 tell us how the “little horn” in Daniel 7 arose:

7After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it...

Daniel 7 begins with ten horns on the head of a dreadful beast. They symbolically represent ten kings or kingdoms. After them a little horn comes up among the existing ten, displacing three that had already existed. Now compare this with what happens in Daniel 8:8–9a:

8Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven. 9Out of one of them came forth a rather small horn…

Again we begin with a number of pre-existing horns, four in this case. Again we have a little horn arising from a previous group of horns. Completely apart from our earlier word study, and just using the example of apocalyptic imagery of chapter 7 as a general guide, would we not expect that the pronoun “them” in verse 8:8 refers to the four horns? This is not to say that the small horns in both cases must have identical symbolism—the symbols must be contextually defined within each self-contained chazown vision—but only that in both cases, we see that new horns arise from others that pre-existed. In each vision a group of horns gives way to a single small horn of special significance. This contextual consideration, together with the fact that the four-wind distribution is tied to the four generals of Alexander, indicates that “them” in Daniel 8:9 does not refer to the four “winds,” as some have proposed, but to the four “horns.” The imagery requires the small horn to arise from a pre-existing horn, not a wind. The four winds are the four directions in which Alexander’s four generals parceled up the Greek empire among themselves after his death. They have no direct connection with the single “rather small horn.”

What about Gabriel’s Explanation of the Vision of Daniel 8?

Rather than focusing almost exclusively on grammar-centered matters to understand Daniel 8:8–14, in my opinion we should be more interested in how the angel Gabriel explains the vision, since he was delegated with that task and had comprehensive knowledge of what it meant. In Maxwell’s book there is hardly anything about what Gabriel says. On page 159 he writes:

But of course the Bible doesn’t state that the little horn of Daniel 8 is Antiochus Epiphanes, and there are many ways in which he does not fit the prophecy at all. Horns represent kingdoms, and he was only an individual king—a part of one of the four horns. He did not appear at the “latter end” of the Seleucid kingdom (Daniel 8:23) but approximately in the middle of the line of Seleucid kings… And he did not really “prosper” (verse 12) or grow “exceedingly great” (verse 9) (emphasis in original).

The only thing in that statement directly connected with Gabriel’s explanation of the vision is the reference to 8:23, so we will ignore the comments about 8:9 and 8:12. Here is the angel’s information in Daniel 8, with crucial information bolded:

16And I heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, “Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision.” 17So he came near to where I was standing, and when he came I was frightened and fell on my face; but he said to me, “Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end.” 18Now while he was talking with me, I sank into a deep sleep with my face to the ground; but he touched me and made me stand upright. 19He said, “Behold, I am going to let you know what will occur at the final period of the indignation, for it pertains to the appointed time of the end. 20The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia. 21The shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king [Alexander the Great; this horn is equated with a specific king, not a kingdom]. 22The broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place represent four kingdoms which will arise from his nation, although not with his power [the kingdoms of Lysimachus, Cassander, Seleucus and Ptolemy]. 23In the latter period of their [those four kingdoms, not just their first kings] rule, when the transgressors have run their course, a king will arise [an individual, the “rather small horn”], insolent and skilled in intrigue…

The information given in the vision must be interpreted in the light of what Gabriel says about it. He identifies the principle parties as the kingdom of Greece, its first king (Alexander), and four smaller kingdoms which arise out of Alexander’s large one. In the “latter period” of these four kingdoms—“latter period” is very subjective, but it requires all four kingdoms to still exist, so it was before their assimilation into the Roman Empire—an individual king would arise from one of those four Greek kingdoms. By comparing this explanation with the vision, it is clear that the “rather small horn” must arise from a Grecian kingdom. I do not think there is any way to accept Gabriel’s explanation and still claim that the “rather small horn” could be a Roman, or that it arose from a “wind” rather than a “horn.”

It follows that the rationale for equating the “rather small horn” with Rome in Daniel 8 is eliminated contextually as well as by grammar and word study considerations. There remains no objective reason to justify interpreting “evening-morning” in Daniel 8 allegorically, as anything other than “the regular” offered up twice a day by the Levites in the temple. Instead of trying to find a way to fit 2,300 years into the eschatology derived from Daniel, it would be far more fruitful to seek a way to explain how 2,300 “evening-mornings” were fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes.

Reconciling Daniel’s 2,300 Evening-Mornings with 1 Maccabees

Having accumulated what I think is sufficient evidence that the proper way to interpret the 2,300 “evening-mornings” of Daniel 8:14 is as 1,150 days of twice-daily whole burnt offerings, it is time to seek a different way of connecting it with the history recorded in 1 Maccabees than that offered by Fred Miller. In reviewing 1 Maccabees carefully, I belatedly realized I had overlooked something important: “the regular” was interrupted sometime before the pagan altar was erected, so the 1,150 days should be counted from that earlier time. The burnt offerings were stopped by Antiochus prior to the desecration of the temple. The vision of Daniel 8 encompasses the full amount of time the burnt offerings were interrupted, but the dates given in 1 Maccabees only cover the period between the desolation of the altar and its restoration. 1 Maccabees does not specify the date when offerings ceased before the abomination was set up. This is why the number of missed sacrifices between the abomination and rededication is less than the 2,300 given in Daniel 8. Here is a condensation of 1 Maccabees 1, using the RSVA version found online at, with some significant information emphasized:

7And after Alexander had reigned twelve years, he died. 8Then his officers began to rule, each in his own place. 9They all put on crowns after his death, and so did their sons after them for many years; and they caused many evils on the earth. 10From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of Antiochus the king; he had been a hostage in Rome. He began to reign in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks…

20After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned [to Israel] in the one hundred and forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. 21He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils… 24Taking them all, he departed to his own land…

29Two years later [145 SE] the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force… 31He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. 32And they took captive the women and children, and seized the cattle. 33Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. 34And they stationed there a sinful people, lawless men. These strengthened their position; 35they stored up arms and food, and collecting the spoils of Jerusalem they stored them there, and became a great snare. 36 It became an ambush against the sanctuary, an evil adversary of Israel continually. 37On every side of the sanctuary they shed innocent blood; they even defiled the sanctuary. 38Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled; she became a dwelling of strangers; she became strange to her offspring, and her children forsook her. 39Her sanctuary became desolate as a desert…

41Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, 42and that each should give up his customs… 44And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, 45to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and feasts, 46to defile the sanctuary and the priests, 47to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, 48and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, 49so that they should forget the law and change all the ordinances. 50“And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.” 51In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. And he appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the cities of Judah to offer sacrifice, city by city… 54Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege upon the altar of burnt offering59And on the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar which was upon the altar of burnt offering.

To summarize, this extended reading of 1 Maccabees indicates the following occurred:

(1) In 143 SE, Antiochus took away the golden altar in the temple. Technically this altar was only stolen, and in light of later verses we may assume that after Antiochus departed for his homeland, that altar was promptly replaced. This was most likely a simple altar of undressed stones (1 Macc. 4:47).

(2) Two years then passed, after which we learn that “a chief collector of tribute” arrived in Jerusalem with a large force in 145 SE. He wreaked havoc around the temple, posting troops in the city and defiling the sanctuary. This would necessarily have caused “the regular” to cease, since offerings could never be given if the holy place was defiled by the entry of unclean Gentiles. The result was that “her sanctuary became desolate” at that time and the people forsook worshiping there. This is when we should understand the ha-tamiyd offerings were interrupted. However, the exact date this began, as far as I can tell, is nowhere given in the histories.

(3) Shortly after this official letters arrived, which decreed that burnt offerings were to cease and altars replaced by pagan altars on which unclean animals were to be sacrificed. “Inspectors” were appointed to ensure compliance with Antiochus’ diktat. The result was that they “erected a desolating sacrilege upon the altar of burnt offering.” “The regular” ha-tamiyd, however, had already been stopped earlier by “a chief collector of tribute.” So we have the cessation of “the regular” sometime prior to the desecration of the altar, a desecration triggered by erecting a pagan altar on it, which was first used ten days after it was set up.

(4) Three 354-day years and one or two 30-day intercalary months after this, the Maccabees were victorious over the Seleucid forces and rebuilt the altar, rededicated it, and resumed “the regular” once again. This fulfilled the prophecy of Daniel 8:14.

As discussed earlier, the Jewish use of the Metonic cycle indicates that less than 2,300 “evening-morning” offerings were missed between the desolation and restoration of the altar—perhaps 2,264 or 2,204. Either way, the remaining missed regular burnt offerings of the 2,300 fell between the desecrating of the sanctuary by “a chief collector of tribute” and the erection of the “abomination of desolation” on the altar by a later ‘inspector.” Precision may elude us in the historical data, yet all of the data of both history and Scripture still smoothly reconcile with each other. And that is what matters.


This study has looked in rather great depth at two questions: the nature of the 2,300 evening-mornings of Daniel 8:14, and how to reconcile the passage with the historical record of 1 Maccabees. In contrast with Miller’s proposal, the solution put forth here does not allow one to come to the precise answer Miller’s solution seemed to promise. As a former draftsman and computer programmer, I have always valued precision. I have found, though, we have to be content with only as much precision as the actual evidence God has preserved for us allows. Exactness cannot be an end in itself. In this particular case, I think there is an overwhelming amount of historical, grammatical and contextual evidence which, when viewed with unbiased eyes, indicates that reading 2,300 years into the “evening-mornings” of Daniel 8:14 is not justified by the inspired text. It should thus play no role in seeking an accurate understanding of the prophecy of Daniel 9:24–27.

Download PDF version here: A Closer Look: Daniel 8:14 Re-examined

DANIEL9 DanielBanner

Know therefore and understand,
from the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem
Until Messiah the Prince,
There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;
The street shall be built again, and the wall,
Even in troublesome times.

– Daniel 9:25, NKJV

Scriptural Support for the Decree of Daniel 9:25

This article in the series of studies on Daniel 9:24–27 was essentially completed prior to the most recently published piece on the ABR website, “Did Ezra Come to Jerusalem in 457 BC?” ( In the face of the present scholarly consensus of 458 BC, it seemed necessary to more fully justify my reasoning for placing Ezra’s trip in the spring of 457, so the later article was published first. With that done, the 457 BC date will be regarded as established. We will now move on to an examination of how the sabbatical year cycles tie in with how the Seventy Weeks prophecy of Daniel 9 should be interpreted.

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