As we proceed in our quest for discovering the Scriptural International Dateline, in Part 2 we will investigate other sources supporting the idea of a spherical earth.
These sources will include ancient and late Jewish views along with references from ancient Greek philosophers and geographers. Also, additional citations from Scriptures will be provided.
First, a number of ancient Jewish writers describe the earth as being round in shape. The Jerusalem Talmud (late 4th century C.E.), for example, points out that the world “is shaped like a sphere.” (Talmud Yerushalmi, Aboda Zarah, 3:1)
Numbers Rabbah (12th century C.E.) also says that the world is “constructed like a ball,” (Num. Rab., 13:14) while Rambam not only quotes this midrash but adds that the world is surrounded by water.
The Zohar, a 13th century collection of works containing material going back to Shimon bar Yochai, a rabbi of the second century C.E., up into at least the Talmudic period, states:
In the book of Rab Hamnuna Saba it is explained that all the inhabited land rolls in a circle like a ball . . . there are inhabited lands in the world that when it is light for those on one side of the sphere it is dark for those on the other. (Zohar, Vayikra, 10a)
This text even realized the polar regions, writing:
There is an inhabited land where there is day only and no night, save for a little while. (Zohar, Vayikra, 142)
Even more interesting, the Zohar reports that ancient writers speak of “seven lands” of the earth, defined as “one below the other, with a firmament separating each and every land.”
This arrangement was common practice among many ancient civilizations, which spoke of one land situated at a different level from others, despite the fact that people knew that they were merely at a distance and further across the curve of the earth.
For example, the Greeks made the Kimmeri who lived north of the Black Sea to reside in the underworld of Hades, while in Norse history we read of nine levels of lands, the lowest, called Niflheim (= Hell, Hades), even though Niflheim was actually the northern polar region.
Yet, the Zohar explains the true meaning behind these ancient reports by concluding:
He (Yahweh) does not disagree with them in his words that they are all ONE GLOBE that is divided into SEVEN PARTS. (Zohar, Vayikra, 142)
Said another way, there are seven great lands (continents) on the earth, thus a recognition of this fact long before the rediscovery of North and South America, which began with Columbus in 1492 C.E., and Antarctica in 1820 C.E.
The above views are not only accurate but reflect an agreement with Scriptures. Neither was the idea of a spherical earth isolated to the Israelites and Scriptures.
In ancient India, for example, the Rigveda (c.1000 B.C.E) speaks of a spherical self-supporting earth. Bronze mirrors from the Han Dynasty in China (206 B.C.E–220 C.E.) show their belief that the earth is a circle. Later, Aryabhata (476–550 C.E.) deals with a spherical-shaped earth and the motion of the planets.
The leading ancient Greek philosophers and geographers, as another example, were also aware of this fact. Pythagorus (6th century B.C.E.), to demonstrate, refers to a spherical earth, as do both Parmenides and Empedocles (5th century B.C.E.).
Plato (427–347 B.C.E.) likens the earth to:
One of those balls which have leather coverings in twelve pieces, and is decked with various colors, of which the colors used by painters on earth are, in a manner, samples. (Plato, Phaedo, 110b)
In this regard, both Plato and Diodorus (1st century B.C.E.) speak of how ancient mariners sailed around the world. (Plato, Timaeus, 24e-25a; Diodorus, 5:19:1-5, 5:20:1-4; Strabo, 1:3:2.)
Leaving from between the Pillars of Heracles—i.e., through the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco—they would sail “a number of days to the west” across the Atlantic Ocean until they came to a great island (continent), one the size of Libya (Africa) and Asia put together. Crossing this great continent, they would sail further west to “other islands,” i.e., Hawaii, the Polynesian islands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, and so forth, “and from these islands you would pass to the whole of the opposite island (continent) which the true ocean surrounds,” (Plato, Timaeus, 24e–25a) i.e., you would return to Asia, which along with and opposite to Africa and Europe is surrounded by the great ocean.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.), while speaking of “the circle of the horizon,” notes that the earth’s surface is “spherical,” adding that “the ocean is one,” i.e., it surrounds the landmass as one body of water. (Aristotle, de Caelo, 2:14, 298, 2-10)
Eratosthenes (276–194 B.C.E.) estimated the circumference of the earth to be 252,000 stadia, (Strabo, 2:2:2) or about 28,968 miles if the Attic stadion is used, or about 27,802 miles if the Delphi version is used. The circumference of the Earth around the poles is now measured at 24,859.82 miles, while the circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901.55 miles, showing that Eratosthenes’ result was not far off.
Aristarchus of Samos (c.310–c.230 B.C.E.) and the Chaldaean Seleucus of Seleucia (fl.150 B.C.E.) argued that the earth is spherical and orbits the sun. (History of Western Philosophy (2004), p. 215; Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 500: 527–529)
Posidonius (c.135–51 B.C.E.) speaks of “the circumference” of the earth and refers to the earth’s poles. (Strabo, 2:2:2-3.)
Strabo (7 C.E.) wrote, “the earth as a whole is sphere-shaped” and that the ocean surrounded the earth. It is also the basis of the geography of Claudius Ptolemy (c.140 C.E.). (Strabo, 2:2:1, 1:1:8-9)
The Flat Earth Fallacy
The late and false notion in Europe during the Dark Ages that the earth was flat came about due to a period of barbarian dominance, when vast amounts of ancient knowledge had been lost and ignorance flourished. Opinions were not built upon Scriptures or observations but, instead, derived from pagan superstitions, a belief in sea monsters at the edge of the world, and speculations.
Flat disc and other flat earth models appear to be no more than a misunderstanding of the much more ancient symbols and diagrams meant to depict the earth.
The square writing character of the Chinese for the earth as well as the earth drawn as a circle on a flat surface, for example, were misunderstood to be true representations. Such nonsense infected both European academia and the Church of that period. Nevertheless, the highly educated classes of the world, from Muslim Spain and Africa east to India, still retained the truth regarding this matter.
The Jews of Babylonia
The next important detail is that in Scriptures the Israelites living in Babylonia, located about 540 miles to the east of Jerusalem, kept the Sabbath on the same day as those living in Judah. They differed only in the fact that those of Babylonia began their Sabbath day slightly earlier due to the timing of sunset. This detail is important for two reasons.
First, as the time of sunset moves west across the globe, there is no question as to which day of the week it is for those lands lying to the west of Jerusalem. The legal date has already begun in Jerusalem, so it stands to reason that as the sunset moves westward the same day is in progress.
For that reason, we never read of any dispute regarding which day of the week it was in those lands located west of Jerusalem.
Second, and more importantly, we find that in Scriptures the lands located well to the east of Jerusalem were also part of the same day. However, the sunset would pass those living in the east before coming to Jerusalem.
This evidence will prove that the Scriptural International Dateline must set somewhere westward of those European and African countries lying west of Jerusalem and, at the same time eastward of those countries lying to the east of Jerusalem, at least east beyond Babylonia.
It will also show that the Scriptural International Dateline was not at Jerusalem itself. For in that case, people would have been observing the Sabbath and festival days on the west side of the city on one day, while those on the east side would have been observing them on another.
Not only is there no evidence that this problem ever existed but it would break the scriptural “part of” rule, breaking the Promised Land, which extends eastward to the Persian Gulf, permanently into two different days. (For the “part of” rule, see pages 6-7 of “Rules for the New Moon.”)
We begin by noting that at no time did any Israelite or other writer report that after leaving Jerusalem or any city from Israel or Judah and traveling to or from the Assyrian and Babylonian regions would one lose a day or have to recalculate which day of the week it was, a requirement if they had crossed the Scriptural International Dateline. This issue would become extremely important when trying to keep a Sabbath or festival day.
Evidence from Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther
Scriptural examples come from the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, where mention is made of the dates while both in Babylonia and Judaea (Ezra 3:1-8; Neh. 1:1, Esther 1:10, etc.). Jews traveling from Babylonia to Judaea, for example, say nothing about having to compensate for the loss of a day of the week.
As one example, we read in Ezra:
And we departed from the Ahua stream (in Babylonia) on the 12th day of the 1st month to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our eloahi was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and ambush along the road. And we came to Jerusalem and stayed 3 days. On the 4th day, within the house of our eloahi . . . (etc.). (Ezra 8:31-33)17
The book then goes on to give subsequent dates that took place in Jerusalem, i.e., on the 20th day of the 9th month and on the 1st day of the 10th month (Ezra 10:9, 16-17). The Israelite writers even used Jewish month names for events in both the east as well as the west.
The dates on royal decrees issued in Persia in the days of Esther, as another example, stood both in Persia and Judaea, for even the date for Purim as it occurred in Persia was followed in Judaea (for example, Esther 9:13-22).
Indeed, when fire signals were sent from Jerusalem along to Babylon to confirm the festival days and the beginning of years and new moons, never once was it said that the day of the week was in question. In fact, when the discussion arose later among the Pharisees about how to calculate a new moon, the only differing opinion was regarding how many hours belonged to the old and new moon before it could be valid.
Babylonian Rosh ha-Shanah
Nothing is said about waiting until the shadow of sunset encircled the earth after leaving Jerusalem to reach the people in Babylon, which would mean a recognition of a dateline:
Rabbi Zera said in the name of Rabbi Nahman: The moon is invisible for 24 hours (around the new moon). For us (in Babylon) 6 of these (hours) belong to the old moon and 18 to the new (moon); for them (in Palestine) 6 hours to the new (moon) and 18 (hours) to the old (moon). (Babylonian Rosh ha-Shanah, 20b)
Furthermore, the Promised Land extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf south of Babylonia. If the Scriptural International Dateline had set anywhere between these two regions, it would have permanently divided the Promised Land between two different dates, thereby breaking the “part of” rule.
The Words of Daniel the Prophet
Proof that the same sunset that passed by Babylonia was recognized as the same beginning of the day as the sunset that passed by Jerusalem is found in the book of Daniel. Daniel was called a righteous man (Ezek. 14:14), a favored prophet of Yahweh and, accordingly, a strong adherent to the Scriptures and keeping the correct Sabbath and festival days.
In Daniel 10:1, we read that a vision occurred “in the 3rd year of Cyrus, king of Persia,” i.e., in his 3rd regnal year since his conquest of Babylon in autumn of 539 B.C.E.
Since these kings used the accension year system and began their official reign in the spring, the year under consideration began in the spring of 536 B.C.E. It was in this year, we are told, that the prophet Daniel “was mourning 3 weeks (Dan. 10:2).” The text then adds:
I did not eat desirable food, and flesh and wine did not come to my mouth, and I did not at all anoint myself until 3 weeks of days were fulfilled (completed). And in the 24th day of the first moon (Nisan), and as I was upon the side of the great river, which is the Tigris, I then lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain male was clothed in linen and his loins were girded in fine gold of Uphaz. (Daniel 10:3-4)
In the vision that followed, these 3 weeks of days (21 days) were also discussed when the angel told Daniel, “the prince of the kingdom of Persia stood in front of me 21 days (Dan. 10:13).” The important remark that Daniel had not eaten desirable food or anointed himself “עד מלאת שלשת שבעים ימים (ad malath shalshuth shabuaim yumim; until filled up/completed 3 weeks)” provides us with an important clue.
The Hebrew phrase “עד מלאת (ad malath; until filled up/completed)” literally means that three complete 7-day periods/weeks or 21 days had transpired. They were full or complete because each week ended with a Sabbath day.
Moffatt translates this passage to read “till three full weeks were over. Then, on the twenty-fourth day of the first month . . .”
The Jewish Publication Society bible reads, “I Daniel was mourning three whole weeks . . . neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled. And in the four and twentieth day of the first month . . . (etc.).”
The Amplified Bible translates verses 2 and 3 as “for three whole weeks” and “for the full three weeks” as do others.
The New Jerusalem Bible has “until these three weeks were over,” at which time came the events dated to the 24th day of the first month (Nisan).
Accordingly, the vision took place on the 24th, immediately following the three full weeks of mourning. Since a “complete week” is from the beginning of the first day of the week until the end of the Sabbath, it is also clear that Nisan 23 was a Sabbath. The 21 days of mourning would, in turn, begin on Nisan 3.
Using our established method for the calculation of New Moon days and the beginning of a New Year (see “Rules for the New Moon” and “The Beginning of the Year), we discover that in the year 536 B.C.E. the Sabbath day did, in fact, fall on the 23rd day of Nisan in Jerusalem.”
This detail, in turn, means that the Sabbath day observed in Babylon occurred on the very same day that it would have occurred in Jerusalem, only beginning about 36 minutes earlier. Yet, there is no Scriptural International Dateline lying between the two regions.
Indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever that a permanent line determining a date change was ever located anywhere between India and Spain among the Jews of the ancient world.
Cycle of the Week and Sabbath Day is Correct
That the cycle of the week and the Sabbath day as observed by the Jews in the 1st century C.E. was correct is also confirmed for Christians by the fact that the messiah, Yahushua, kept the same day, as did his followers and the apostles. In addition, both Jews and Christians have for centuries religiously kept the order of the days of the week.
Christians, for example, not only observed the 1st day of the week as the day of the Resurrection but most, as well, kept the weekly Sabbath.
Socrates Scholasticus (c.379–c.440 C.E.), for example, points out:
For although almost all assemblies throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the Sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this. The Egyptians in the neighborhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Thebais, hold their religious assemblies on the Sabbath, but do not participate of the mysteries in the manner usual among Christians in general: for after having eaten and satisfied themselves with food of all kinds, in the evening making their offerings they partake of the mysteries. (Scholasticus 5:22)
Sozomen (c.400–450 C.E.), likewise, writes:
The people of Constantinople, and almost every-where, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria. There are several cities and villages in Egypt where, contrary to the usage established elsewhere, the people meet together on Sabbath evenings, and, although they have dined previously, partake of the mysteries. (Sozomen 7:19)
As the Catholic Church of Rome continued to gain power over the other assemblies, based upon their own prejudice, the observance of the Sabbath day and some of the festival days were set aside.
Nevertheless, their anti-Jewish stance forced them to stringently observe the 1st day of the week in an effort to avoid confusing it with the “Jewish Sabbath.”
It is also manifest that the scriptural calendar used in such works as Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther all reveal that the weekly Sabbath cycle continued on the same passage of sunset from Persia to Spain with no Scriptural International Dateline lying between Persia and Judaea. Additionally, there is no evidence that there was a dateline even as far east as China.
There clearly was no alteration of the Sabbath day or any other day of the week from Persia to Spain. Yet the sun set and the day began in Persia and in Babylonia prior to the same day beginning in Judaea and later in Spain.
Late Jewish Views
After the Dark Ages were over and mariners again sailed around the world, the problem of losing and gaining a day once more emerged. This caused a problem among Jews and Christians who were moving around the world with regard to their religious observances.
In response, more recent Jewish scholars began to grapple with the issue as it relates to Scriptures. In this regard, there has developed several major opinions.
Various Rishonim (leading Rabbis and Posqim, Posqim being legal decisors, who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries) held that the halachic dateline ran through the midst of the Pacific Ocean.
Their view looks very similar to our present Civil Dateline. They placed Japan and New Zealand on the west side and Hawaii on the eastern side of the dateline. Yet there were different views.
More recently, Rabbi David Shapiro in Bnai Tzion has the line slant westward through the Bering Straits, through the Pacific Ocean at about 177° E (west of Fiji), then east of New Zealand.
Others, such as Atzei Sodeh, held the opinion that the line is at 169.7° W, from the eastern tip of Siberia directly south through the Pacific Ocean, 10° east of the Civil Dateline. (A Traveler’s Guide To The International Dateline, Rabbi Dovid Heber, Star-K Kashrus Administrator, Summer/Fall 1997)
The Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, 1878–1953) and others based their opinion on the Baal Ha-Maor’s interpretation of the gemara in the Rosh Ha-Shana, 20b. The Baal Ha-Maor argues that the Jewish court at Jerusalem only had the right to declare a New Moon day up until noon of the day of the molad. For them, 18 hours of the day had already passed and 6 hours remained.
As a result, they determined that the dateline ran 90° to the east, at 125.2° E., the compass line from sunrise to mid-day. This line ran south through Russia, China, and Australia. Yet this computation placed the dateline through the middle of such cities as Changchun, China, and Rawlinna, Australia, as well as dividing the Philippines.
Nevertheless, the halachic dateline of the Chazon Ish compensated. As a reflection of the “part of” rule, he argued that Scriptures did not permit a land or city to be divided in the observance of Sabbath or other religious observances. As a result, the eastern landmasses were considered secondary (tafel) to the western landmasses.
With no division allowed, the line was moved east of the Asian continent. It ran just east of Russia and Korea, then south back along the 125.2° E longitude line through the East China Sea.
The Chazon Ish placed Japan, New Zealand, and Fiji on the same side of the dateline as the United States. From the East China Sea the line continued south through the Philippine Sea and then through the Indonesian islands. The dateline next turned eastward around the Australian coast until it came to Antarctica.
More recently, Harav Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky stressed Chazal’s Judaic principle that Jerusalem was the center of the world. This view has some scriptural basis in that Jerusalem is called “the center of nations” (Ezek. 5:5) and the land of Israel is defined as “the center of the earth” (Ezek. 38:8-18).
The ends of the earth, accordingly, both end and begin on the opposite side of the globe, which they made to be 180° from the sacred city, i.e., at 144.8° W. According to this view, Tucazinsky’s dateline runs south from the Gulf of Alaska, east of Hawaii, and continues south through the Pacific Ocean. This model, as we shall see, comes much closer to the scriptural definition. Each of these theories touch upon some elements of the truth.
Summation of Part 2
The conclusion by the Chazon Ish that a landmass should not be divided follows the “part of” rule in Scriptures. The sight of someone crossing over a dateline in the middle of a city, whether to keep two Sabbaths in a row or to avoid keeping any Sabbath, clearly misses the intent of Scriptures.
The Rishonim were also correct, as we shall see later, when they recognized that the scriptural dateline must run across the vast span of an empty ocean.
There is also a great deal of merit with Tucazinsky’s construct, which is built upon the idea that Jerusalem was the center of the world. Yet, all these attempts, to one degree or another, miss the mark. Following modern longitudinal lines, which are arbitrary and unscriptural, has no scriptural basis.
The Chazon Ish and others who mark out an International Dateline based upon the passing of 18 hours and the remaining of 6 hours mentioned in the Rosh ha-Shana, i.e., 90° to the east of Jerusalem, also has no substance.
The Rosh Ha-Shana was based upon Pharisaic oral traditions and not Scriptures. They purposely ignored the contradiction contained in the same passage from the Rosh Ha-Shana.
In this text, we are told that in Babylon the reverse was true. There were 6 hours belonging to the old day and 18 hours yet remaining to the new.
In complete contradiction, this arrangement would place the dateline 6 hours or 90° to the west of Babylon, drawing a line down the middle of Greenland, through the Atlantic, and through the eastern part of Brazil.
Our solution to this problem actually lies in what the Scriptures proclaim about the International Dateline.
Looks like is time to proceed onward to Part 3 to discover what our final conclusion will reveal regarding the Scriptural International Dateline.