Daniel in the Critic's Den

By Sir Robert Anderson

Appendices 4


     ACCORDING to the Mishna (treatise Rosh Hathanak), "On the 1st of Nisan is a new year for the computation of the reign of kings and for festivals." To which the Jewish editors of the English translation of the Mishna add this note: "The reign of Jewish kings, whatever the period of accession might be, was always reckoned from the preceding Nisan; so that if; for instance, a Jewish king began to reign in Adar, the following month (Nisan) would be considered as the commencement of the second year of his reign. This rule was observed in all legal contracts, in which the reign of kings was always mentioned." This rule, I may add, will explain what Christian expositors and critics are pleased to call the "errors" in the chronological statements of Scripture as to Jewish regnal years. Full information on the subject of the present Jewish year will be found in Lindo’s Jewish Calendar, and in the Encyc. Brit., 9th ed., article "Hebrew Calendar."

     But while their calendar is now settled with astronomical accuracy, it was not so in early times. And nothing is certainly known of the embolismal system then in use, to adjust the lunar to the solar year. But the testimony of the Mishna is definite that the great characteristic of the sacred year, as ordained in the Mosaic age, remained unchanged in Messianic times; namely, it began with the first appearance of the Paschal moon. The Mishna states that the Sanhedrim required the evidence of two competent witnesses that they had seen the new moon. The rules for the journey and examination of the witnesses contemplate the case of their coming from a distance, and being "a night and a day on the road." The proclamation by the Sanhedrim may therefore have been delayed for a day or two after the phasis, and the phasis may sometimes have been delayed till the moon was 1d. 17 h. old. So that the 1st Nisan may sometimes have fallen several days later than the true new moon. (See Clinton, Fasti Rem., vol. ii. p. 240.)

     All writers therefore who, e.g., fix the date of the Crucifixion by assigning it to a year in which the Paschal full moon was on a Friday, are clearly wrong. The elements of doubt are: (i) The time of the phasis; (2) the appearance of the necessary witnesses; (3) the rules to prevent the festivals falling on unsuitable days; and (4) the embolismal system in force, of which we know nothing certainly. The use of the Metonic cycle in settling the Jewish calendar dates only from the fourth century A.D.; and as the old eight years’ cycle was in use among the early Christians for settling Easter, the presumption is that it was borrowed from the Jews. Let me illustrate this by A.D. 32, the year which Scripture itself marks out as the year of the Crucifixion. The true new moon was late on the night (10h. 57m.) of the 29th March. The proclamation of the Sanhedrim therefore would naturally have occurred on the 31st. But, as above explained, it may have been delayed till 1st April; and in that case the 15th Nisan should have fallen on Tuesday the 15th April. But according to the scheme of the eight years’ cycle, the embolismal month was inserted in the 3rd, 6th, and 8th years; and an examination of the calendars from A.D. 22 to 45 will show that A.D. 32 was the 3rd year of such a cycle. And as the difference between the solar year and the lunar is 11.5 days, it would amount in three years to 33.75 days, and the addition of a 13th month (Ve-Adar) of 30 days would leave an epoch still remaining of 3.75 days. And the "ecclesiastical moon" being that much before the real moon, the Passover festival would have fallen on Friday (11th April). 1 have dealt with this question at greater length in The Coming Prince, pp. 99 - 105.