An Equinox, a Star, and Some Barley
- The spring (a.k.a. vernal) equinox
- The position of the star named Spica (meaning "ear of grain") in relation to the moon
- The maturation of the barley crop
Are you surprised by the above list? I was, when my studies led me to this understanding. Previously, I had thought that the ripening of the barley was the only sign needed for making the determination of the new year—that fresh ears of barley plus the observed sliver of the new moon equaled New Year's Day. Never mind that barley ripens at different rates in different regions and weather conditions.
When I went back and looked carefully at Exodus 12-13, I realized that YHVH never told the Israelites to look at the barley to kick off the first month. He called the month by the name Abib, which means "fresh grain in the ear," but he did NOT specify that the start of the month depends upon spotting the very earliest abib crops. One could easily conclude that YHVH Elohiym named the month what he did because the barley crops on average had reached the abib stage during that lunar cycle (i.e., month).
Moses told the Israelites, "Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out" (Exo. 13:4). The Jews claim that their forefathers' exodus from Egypt occurred in the spring. I have no reason to question that, since it seems logical that Elohiym would prefer not to displace hundreds of thousands of his people during the winter. Plus, Spring represents new beginnings, which the Exodus certainly was. Elohiym had already told Moses, "This month will be the beginning of months for you" (Exo. 12:1). It seems unlikely that YHVH would place the beginning of the year at the tail end of Winter instead of the dawn of Spring.
Logically, the observation of cereal grains of any kind could not have been the sole requirement in regards to tracking the calendar. How could Elohiym have made such a rule when he foreknew that the Israelites would be wandering in the desert for years, eating manna, with not one man among them planting crops? Yet they were able to keep the sacred calendar and some of the mo'ediym without getting a look at any fields of barley.
How did they do it?
By using the heavenly bodies, that's how. It's what the Egyptians did, and the Sumerians before them, and Enoch before them, and probably all of the patriarchs back to Adam.
Anyone can read the sky, regardless of their environment. Are you stuck in the desert, or at sea, or in the frozen tundra of Siberia? No problem, you can still approximate the date, because the night sky is the Creator's stellar clock.
Elohiym said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs to mark mo'ediym [appointed times], days, and years... And that is what happened: Elohiym fashioned two great lights... as well as the stars" (Gen. 1:14-16).
I recommend we name it The Kadosh Calendar.
Enoch, the 7th descendant from Adam, also noted in his writings that the stars factor into calendar calculations:
For the signs and the [appointed] times and the years and the days the angel Uriel showed to me... that they should rule on the face of the heaven and be seen on the earth, and be leaders for the day and the night; that is, the sun, moon, and stars, and all the ministering creatures which make their revolution in all the chariots of the heaven (1 Eno. 75:3).
Again, observations of barley are not always reliable. In particular, modern varieties of barley mature at different rates than many ancient varieties, and the latitude at which barley is planted also affects when it ripens.
Barley grown in the Golan heights will become abib weeks later than barley grown in the lowlands of southern Israel. Which are we supposed to use to determine the new year? What about barley growing outside of the bounds of modern-day Israel? After all, the Promised Land as it was described to Abraham extends much farther than the modern boundaries of the State of Israel. Should we take barley in those locations into consideration?
And what if we were having this conversation more than a hundred years ago, when no Jews were living in Israel, and no one in the wider world had any idea about the state of barley in Canaan? How then would we know when to start our year?
Do you see that it's just not practical in every circumstance to use this agricultural sign by itself?
Unlike grains, the celestial bodies are consistent. We should give them preference.
The Vernal Equinox
For those who aren't aware, the two annual equinoxes and two annual solstices are the days which mark the change of seasons.
The equinoxes are the two days when the sun crosses the celestial equator. These days possess a 1:1 ratio of daytime to nighttime; darkness and light are roughly equal across a 24-hour period. The solstices are the two days when that ratio is the most unbalanced; the longest period of daylight happens during the summer solstice, and the shortest period of daylight happens during the winter solstice.
The word tekufah can also mean "season." Depending on context, it can refer to either a pivot day itself, or the entire span of time between pivots.
Tekufah (Strong's H8622) shows up four times in the Protestant Bible:
- Exo. 34:22
- 1 Sam. 1:20
- 2 Chr. 24:23
- Psa. 19:6
Of those four instances, one of them (1 Sam. 1:20) seems to be talking about the cycle of pregnancy. That leaves us with three instances that are related to celestial bodies. Let's take a look at them one at a time.
[The sun's] going out is from the end of the heavens, his circuit (tekufato) to its ends; There is nothing hidden from its heat (Psa 19:6).
At the end (tekufah) of the year, the army of the Syrians came up against him: and they came to Judah and Jerusalem, and destroyed all the princes of the people from among the people, and sent all their plunder to the king of Damascus (2 Chr. 24:23).
The third and last instance of tekufah occurs in the book of Exodus:
"You are to observe... the Festival of Ingathering at the turn (tekufah) of the year" (Exo. 34:22).
Prior to Exodus 34, Elohiym gave a nearly identical command about the Feast of Tabernacles. It reads:
"And the Feast of Ingathering at the going out of the year (tzet hashannah), when you have gathered in your work from the field" (Exo. 23:16).
What is the "going out of the year?" The Bible doesn't define it for us, but the records of ancient Gentile nations do. Most of them described the time after the autumnal equinox as "the dying of the sun." They believed that the sun god diminished like an old man who withers away and dies, only to then be reborn in the spring. To the people of ancient Near East cultures, the year "went out" as the sun and vegetable life "passed away."
Obviously, we don't acknowledge a sun god, but it is true that the power of the sun wanes, and plants wither, in Fall and Winter.
Note that the above verses from Exodus say "at" the turning/going-out of the year—not "before" it. We're going to come back to that in a bit, because it's crucial information.
Karaite Jews such as Nehemiah Gordon claim that these instances of tekufah in Exodus have nothing to with the autumnal equinox. Rather, they say, it is entirely related to the harvest.
That sounds reasonable, at first. After all, the verses are certainly about harvests. But ask yourself this: Do agricultural harvests determine when the seasons change?
No! Not at all! Decreases in sunlight and temperature are what cause plants to change state. Vegetation does not decide by itself to change from active to dormant. This is not an opinion, but a reality demonstrated by the fact that we can grow plants indoors, under artificial lights, year-round.
Also, vegetable activity in the southern hemisphere is the reverse of that in the northern hemisphere. That means plant life does not contain an environment-independent internal clock.
I can't stress this enough: the behavior of the environment determines vegetable activity. Thus, the Karaite Jews are wrong to teach that the turn of the year is delineated by crop changes, rather than the environment. Changes in crops simply verify that the environment has shifted.
It all comes down to this: the ancient Hebrew people, like other ancient peoples, recognized the pivot points of stellar cycles, and used them to track the progression of time.
The Bible doesn't bother to clearly define tekufah for the reader for the same reason that Yeshua didn't bother to teach other Jews to keep the Sabbath: he didn't have to. During his ministry, the Jewish people were already keeping the Sabbath. (They weren't always observing it properly, but they did observe it.)
YHVH did not need to teach his people about the seasonal markers, because they were already using them.
We must always take historical context into account when we interpret Scripture.
Some say that tekufah merely refers to a yearly circuit, not a seasonal marker, but that's skirting the issue. How did the Israelites know when the circuit had completed? What marker(s) did they use, if not the equinoxes and solstices and constellations?
Although I don't follow the Jewish Talmud, it's worth noting that the Talmud repeatedly mentions that there are four fixed tekufot every year, those being the equinoxes and solstices. The rabbis never interpreted tekufot as being about flora or fauna.
Then there's the excellent evidence afforded to us by the Elephantine papyri, a large collection of Jewish letters written by Jews who lived in Egypt during the lifetimes of Ezra and Nehemiah. Spanning a period of seventy-two years, the letters and documents from Elephantine are double-dated using both the Jewish and Egyptian calendars. That allows historians to determine exactly when each Hebrew year began during that period of history. Not once during all of the years of their composition did the Jews in Elephantine begin the sacred year before the vernal equinox.
Are you still not convinced? Then read what an early-third-century Christian leader, Anatolius of Alexandria, had to say about the timing of the Passover:
But neither is this our opinion only, but it was also known to the Jews anciently, and before Christ, and was chiefly observed by them, as we may learn from Philo, Josephus, and Musaeus, and not only from these, but also from those still more ancient.... These, when they resolve inquiries on Exodus, say that all ought to sacrifice the Passover alike after the vernal equinox, in the middle of the first month.... But that the first month of the Hebrews must occur after the equinox may be gathered also from the book of Enoch.
Anatolius mentioned that the book of Enoch aligned with the testimony of Philo, Josephus, and others. What exactly does 1 Enoch teach about the equinox? Let's take a look now.
As Enoch describes the annual progress of the sun, we find this:
On that day, the daytime is equal to the night; it is the same: the night is nine parts and the daytime nine parts as well. The sun emerges from that gate and sets in the west; it returns to the east... (72:20-21)
On that day, the night is longer and is double the daytime; the night is twelve parts exactly and the daytime six parts. The sun has completed the chief points of its route. It again goes about to those chief points of its route... (72:26-27)
Even though the sun is traveling along a figure-eight path (from an earthly perspective), Enoch says that it has "chief points." That's the same as saying "turning points," or "tekufot." He's describing the apexes of that figure-eight path of the sun.
Having been authored before the great Flood, Enoch's book is the oldest scripture ever penned. That's why I scoff when people claim that the observation of equinoxes and solstices is a pagan practice. Elohiym himself, through Enoch, taught us about these things. Just because pagans do it too, doesn't necessarily make it wrong.
A later chapter in Enoch's Book of the Luminaries actually mentions the beginning of the year. It reads:
This is the law of the stars which set in their places, at their times, on their festivals, and in their months.... Their four leaders who divide the four parts of the year enter first.... At the beginning of the year Melkeyal rises first and rules—the one called the southern sun; all the days that fall within the period that he rules are 91 days. These are the signs of the days that are to be seen on the earth during the days of his rule... all the trees bear fruit and leaves come out on all the trees; (there is) a harvest of wheat, roses, and all the flowers that bloom in the field; but the winter trees are dried up (82:9-16).
On that note, here's something of interest: in the times before the pre-calculated Hillel II calendar, the Sanhedrin made sure that Spring was in swing before beginning Passover. The following is an excerpt from Chabad.org:
The primary factor, which overrode all others, was the spring equinox. If the spring equinox would fall later than the first half of Nissan[/Abib] (i.e., on the 16th or later), then the year was automatically declared to be a leap year.
However, it wasn’t enough for Passover to fall after the equinox, when it was “officially” spring; spring-like conditions needed to be evidenced. If in the land of Israel the barley had not yet ripened, and the trees were not yet blossoming with seasonal fruit—that, too, was sufficient reason to delay Nissan[/Abib] by adding a second month of Adar.
If we start the month of Abib at the first new moon after the vernal equinox, instead of letting it start before the equinox, then there will always be spring-like conditions and abib barley by the time Passover rolls around.
To find out, we should simply ask ourselves whether or not other ancient civilizations in contact with Israel knew how to pin-point the seasonal markers. It takes very little research to discover that yes, indeed, numerous ancient civilizations could do it.
The Sphinx at Giza. The Mnajdra temples on Malta. El Castillo at Chichen Itza. The Quetzalpapalotl Temple at Teotihuacan. Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
These and many other marvels in stone, built by a variety of people-groups, were constructed to align with equinoxes or solstices. For example, on a hill in Chankillo, Peru, stands a line of thirteen perfectly spaced towers, the remains of an ancient observatory. The towers span the entire north-to-south annual arc of sunrises and sunsets, and can be used to determine the date of equinoxes and solstices with very respectable precision.
The Israelites were most likely not in contact with South Americans, but they certainly had plenty of contact with Egypt, and with the cultures of southern Canaan, who erected the alignment stones of the Negev Desert. Astronomical knowledge could easily have changed hands during the time of the patriarchs, or before. (This is assuming that they even needed the help).
A Star Named Spica
Since greatest antiquity, the constellation of Virgo has represented a fertile young lady. In Sumer, the cradle of civilization, the constellation Virgo was known as "The Seed-Furrow." Hebrew speakers know the constellation as Betulah, meaning "young woman." The luminous star to her left side is called Spica.
Spica, designated Alpha Virginis, is the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo, and is one of the twenty brightest stars in the sky. It's Latin name means "ear of grain." One of it's names in Arabic is Sumbalet, which also means "ear of grain." The Arabs also gave it the name Simach, which may be a conjugate of the Semitic Tsemach, meaning "branch" or "shoot"—the same word used in Messianic prophecies about the descendant of David. In Hebrew, the star is called Zerah, which means "seed/offspring," and "righteous one."
What righteous man is the offspring of the virgin and a shoot from the line of David? Yeshua of Nazareth, of course. He is the promised Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:15).
(For those who may worry that this is astrology, please rest easy—this is merely reading signs, as per Genesis 1:14, whereas astrology tries to affect human destinies by understanding stellar influences on our lives.)
You may be wondering why I say that Spica represents barley rather than an unspecified type of grain. The answer has to do with the behavior of the Virgin and the Moon shortly after the vernal equinox. These two celestial actors—Luna and Virgo—come together in a particular way on Passover every year.
In the early weeks of Spring, as the sun is rising just north of due east, Spica dips below the horizon just south of due west, exactly opposite the sun. Then the full moon sets behind Spica, accompanying, as it were, the Virgin.
Also, it is only in the spring that Virgo inhabits the western sky at sunrise. During the autumnal equinox, for example, the full moon sets in the west, but Virgo is nowhere to be found.
The constellation Virgo's pre-dawn position each day shifts from higher in the sky to lower as Winter transitions to Spring. If she was moving up from below the horizon each day, then we wouldn't be able to see Spica until late in the month of Abib. Fortunately, it's the other way around, so we can easily verify that Spica is descending in a westerly direction day-by-day. Once the sun is rising close to due east, and the moon is setting ahead of Spica in the west, then it's time to start expecting the new moon of Abib.
When I saw this phenomenon for the first time (thanks to Mikal Shabbat Scriptural Studies), I was awestruck. The "barley" in the heavens is in the proper "stage" at the same time as the barley on the earth. Awesome!
Paul the Apostle explained to the Corinthians that Messiah Yeshua is the firstfruits of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23). Remember the sheaf of barley that the high priest waved on the Day of Firstfruits each year? That sheaf foreshadowed Yeshua. Spica, it would seem, is the celestial representative of his incarnation and his mission as the Passover Lamb. That is why Spica is accompanied by the Passover moon.
Ancient man believed that the western horizon was the portal to the Underworld. It's how the sun would get to Sheol at the end of each day, so that it could travel back to the east during the night. By that same way of thinking, Spica's descent to Sheol right before sunrise at Passover is a celestial way of saying that Yeshua's death as the Passover Lamb is what allows God's favor to shine on us again.
What amazes me about the above image is that the moon set while in the constellation of Libra, the scales of justice. How fitting! Elohiym took the terrible injustice that was done to Yeshua that day, and turned it into justification for everyone who believes.
It is generally believed that Job is the oldest book of the Bible, or at least that the events of the book took place hundreds of years before the Exodus. And yet we find constellations and starts mentioned by multiple characters throughout the story. Elohiym himself even questions Job about Ursa Major, the Pleiades, and Orion. He then asks whether Job can bring forth Mazzaroth ("the constellations") at the right time (38:32).
Elohiym couldn't be using such terms unless Job was already familiar with their meanings. (The Book of Enoch explains that the signs of the stars were taught before Noah's Flood.) Nowhere does the Bible define the Mazzaroth, or any particular of collection stars, but it nonetheless talks about them in Job, Isaiah, and Amos. The point is that not everything about everything is in the Bible.
To be fair, in all their writings about the calendar, the Jews never mention anything about Virgo or Spica. It would seem they didn't understand its relevance. But, then again, the Jews didn't know anything about Yeshua and what he would do at Passover. Today, we have the benefit of peering backward in time, through the magnifying lens of the New Testament. Now we can see the full extents of what Elohiym was up to, and this new perspective simply increases the certainty of what we already believed—that Abib must begin in Spring.
Fresh Young Ears of Barley
Barley is harvested in mid-to-late April in southern Israel, and in May in the north (for verification, here's a letter from a Director of Field Crops in Israel's Ministry of Agriculture). This fact must be conveniently ignored in order to start the month of Abib before the vernal equinox. Doing so puts the Day of Firstfruits in late March or early April, which is before the barley harvest is ready.
Note that the date of the Lord's crucifixion (April 25th, AD 31, as mentioned earlier) fell within the last week of April, when barley around Jerusalem is generally good to go. In that same year of AD 31, there was a full moon on March 27th, which was indeed after the equinox, but would have preempted the harvest.
Karaite Jews and the Hebrew Christians who follow them often jump the gun because they try to find the very first abib barley anywhere in southern Israel—the outliers, if you will—which is not necessarily what Elohiym asked for. The following verse will help you understand what I'm getting at:
"And when you bring a first-fruit offering to Yehovah; you shall bring your first-fruit offering as abib parched in fire or crushed Carmel" (Lev. 2:14).
That is why no one in Israel was allowed to eat the fruit of their barley fields until after the high priest had performed the waving of the sheaf on the Day of Firstfruits (Lev. 23:14).
The Timing of Sukkot
Like Passover, Sukkot occurs at the full moon, but the full moon of the seventh month instead of the first.
"On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, once you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of YHVH seven days" (Lev. 23:39).
The autumnal equinox usually occurs on September 23rd. Due to the fact that Sukkot must be held AT the tekufah, and that the harvest must be complete BEFORE that point, we can say confidently that Sukkot must fall during late September or beyond. Thus, Sukkot will be either one or two full moons AFTER Autumn begins. That should make a lot of sense in regards to the other full moon festival, Passover/Unleavened Bread. If Passover and the week of Unleavened Bread (which contains Firstfruits) happens in the Spring, then the week-long festival of Sukkot should happen in the Fall. That's nice parity.
Let's use the current year, 2019, as an example. There will be a full moon on September 13th, ten days before the equinox. That can't be Sukkot, because harvesting will still be in progress. So we proceed to the next full moon, which is on the night of October 13th. That will be the start of Sukkot, which is the fifteenth day of the seventh month—meaning that the first day of the seventh month should begin on the evening of September 30th, which so happens to be after the autumnal equinox. The whole seventh month will occur after the tekufah, during the first lunar cycle of the "going-out" part of the year.
If we were to step back 177 days (6 lunar months) from the first day of month seven, we would find ourselves at April 6th, which (surprise) was the date of the first new moon to follow the vernal equinox. So our current Hebrew year began on the evening of April 6th, 2019.
To recap: YHVH's appointed times are based on harvest times, so our calendar must conform to that reality. If the month of Abib is allowed to begin before the vernal equinox, then the Feast of Sukkot could occur before Autumn arrives. Instead of harvesting around the time of the Harvest Moon, when the produce is ripe, we would have to use stored or overripe foods for the feast. This is a very good reason why we need to start the year after the vernal equinox.
To sum up, here are the rules for declaring the new year:
- Abib 1 must fall on or after the spring equinox
- The pre-dawn position of the star Spica must be getting closer and closer to the horizon and to due west, so that by the time the sun rises on Passover, Spica will be just under the horizon and under the full moon
- A decent portion of the ancient barley crops in Israel must be in the abib stage, or nearly abib, at the time of the dark (conjunction) moon
- Once these three signs are present, the first waxing lunar sliver (i.e., one-fourteenth illuminated moon) sighted from Israel will mark New Year's Day
- If you started the first month at the correct time, then the autumnal equinox will occur before the seventh new moon sliver
So there you have it. It's not the simplest thing ever, but it isn't super complicated, either.
Will the Karaite calendar, which relies solely on the barley, often be correct? Yes, it will. Likewise, the Orthodox Jewish calendar will sometimes be correct. But, as they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
The insufficient Karaite calendar is a problem for some Hebrew Christians, but the Orthodox Jewish calendar is a problem for many others, including most Messianics. The sad fact is that the modern Jewish calendar does not respect the three sacred indicators that appear before the new year. Anyone following that calendar will end up celebrating YHVH's holy days at the wrong times.
If you are currently following the modern Jewish (i.e., Hillel II) calendar, I encourage you to put it away and begin using the true calendar of Holy Scripture. Especially if you are a congregational leader, you owe it to your flock to properly teach the Word of God, not the traditions of the Pharisees.
Some people in the Hebrew Christian walk need to dissociate themselves from errant Jewish traditions in the same way that the Reformers protested the corrupt doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, we disciples of Yeshua are priests of the Most High, responsible for teaching others to walk perfectly in the ways of Elohiym, even as Yeshua did. Far be it from us priests to blindly follow the teachings of men who lack the Holy Spirit.
Please understand that I'm not telling you to get into calendar-related arguments with Jewish folks. That isn't likely to bear good fruit. It may even be appropriate to occasionally join Jewish people in observances at their chosen times. But within our own Hebrew Christian congregations, we ought to be moving everyone gently towards the real mo'ediym.