There are many who actually believe that the Sabbath year begins with the seventh month of Tishri and not with the first month of Abib (Nisan).
It’s in the Bible, right? Or maybe not. If you really believe it’s in the Bible, then I suggest we take a look at the relevant facts of the matter.
In order to addess this issue we must contend with the concept that the Jews, from the time of their return to Judaea from Babylon in 538 B.C.E. until the end of the Bar Kochba revolt (135 C.E.), officially began their Sabbath years with Tishri 1 (Sep./Oct.) of the sixth year of the Sabbath cycle, as had become their custom sometime after the Bar Kochba war.
This view is held as gospel not only by those presently advocating this particular practice but even by historians like Ralph Marcus and Zion Wacholder.1 This view, as we shall prove, is clearly false.
The supposition that the Sabbath year officially began with the first of Tishri arose as a Jewish Talmudic “interpretation” which had gained popularity among their chronographers during the second century C.E. As we proceed to dispel this error, the following facts must be considered.
The Seventh Month and the Jubilee
To begin with, a close examination of all the scriptural verses relevant to the Sabbath years (both regular and Jubilee) proves that there is no commandment to begin any of these years with the seventh month of the preceding year.2
The only time that the seventh month, later identified as Tishri, is mentioned in association with a Sabbath year is in Leviticus, 25:8-13, and here it has only to do with the year of Jubilee.
Furthermore, even in this passage from Leviticus it is specifically called “the seventh month,” not the first or the beginning of any year system. In fact, Scriptures specifically define the feast of the seventh month as occurring at “the going out of the year,” while events which happened during the spring are said to have taken place “at the return of the year.”3
The Talmudists misinterpreted Leviticus, 25:8-13 to mean that the observances of the Jubilee rituals designated for the seventh month belonged to the 49th year in the cycle. Nevertheless, a careful reading proves that the seventh month spoken of actually belongs to the 50th year, not the 49th.
And you shall count seven sabbaths of years, seven years seven times, and shall be to you the days of the seven sabbaths of years, forty-nine years. And you shall let sound a ram’s horn, a signal in the seventh moon, on the tenth of the moon. On the Day of Atonement the ram’s horn shall sound in all your land. AND YOU SHALL MAKE SACRED את (AYTH; THIS) YEAR, THE FIFTIETH YEAR, and you shall proclaim liberty in the land to all its dwellers. A Jubilee it shall be for you. And you shall return a male to his possession; and each to his family you shall return him. A Jubilee it is, the fiftieth year. A year it is for you, not shall you sow it and not shall you harvest that which grows of itself and not gather the unkept vine, for a Jubilee it shall be. Sacred it shall be to you. (Lev. 25:8-13)
This passage clearly states that 49 years had already been counted before one was to consider the seventh month, thereby placing the seventh month in the 50th year. Furthermore, the statement attaches to the duties of the seventh month the phrase, “and you shall make sacred this year, the 50th year, and you shall proclaim liberty in the land to all its dwellers.”
Day of Atonement Explained
Also, on the tenth day of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement, a ram’s horn or trumpet was to be sounded. The passage in no way implies that the trumpets were to be sounded because it announced the coming of the Jubilee, which would yet be six months off. Rather, it was to be sounded because one was in the seventh month of the Jubilee year and the nation was proclaiming “liberty.”
Further, the very fact that the seventh month is mentioned without a qualifying statement, such as, “being the first month of the Sabbath year,” demonstrates that this seventh month belongs to a year already in progress.
יובל (Jubil; Jubilee) literally means “the blast of a horn (from its continuous sound).”4 The year of Jubilee, therefore, is named from the fact that in that year the trumpet is blown. It would make no sense if the trumpet was blown in the middle of the 49th year, for in that case the 49th year would be the year of Jubilee (trumpet blowing).
Josephus, accordingly, pronounced that “the 50th year is called by the Hebrews Jubil; at that season debtors are absolved from their debts and slaves are set at liberty.”5
Philo adds clarification by noting that Yahweh “consecrated the whole of the 50th year.”6 Nothing is said about consecrating the last six months of the 49th year as the beginning of the Jubilee.
The awkwardness created by the explanation that the Jubilee year began with the seventh month of the 49th year in the cycle is further manifested by the fact that many of the Talmudic Jews actually started this year not with the first day of the seventh month but with the tenth day—the day that the trumpets of Jubilee were actually sounded.
The Babylonian Rosh ha-Shanah, for example, argues: “(Is the New Year for) Jubilees on the first of Tishri? Surely (the New year for) Jubilees is on the tenth of Tishri, as it is written, On the day of Atonement shall you make proclamation with the horn.”7
It is clear that the original scheme of the Jubilee and Sabbath cycles came to be obscured by inventive over-interpretations of later ill-informed theologians.
The prophetic character attached to the year of Jubilee and the seventh month of that year further compels us to place the trumpet blowing of the seventh month within the 50th year. The seventh month, for example, brings with it the Day of Trumpets on the first day, the Day of Atonement on the tenth, and the Feast of Tabernacles/Ingathering from the fifteenth to twenty-second days.
These celebrations point toward the final atonement of man by his death, resurrection into the Judgment which follows,8 the final quickening of mankind into immortal beings, and the attainment of true liberty from sin after the Judgment. At that time the great inheritance of land will be parceled out to those attaining salvation.
This liberty is symbolized by such things as the redemption of slaves and the land being freed from debt and returning to its original owner.9 The rightful time for “liberty” to be proclaimed, therefore, is within the seventh month of the Jubilee year.
The Tishri Year
The Talmudic doctrine that the month of Tishri in the sixth year of a Sabbath cycle should officially begin the Sabbath year is not proclaimed in any writings before the end of the second century C.E.
Important works from the first century C.E. and prior, which delve heavily into this subject, never even imply such an arrangement. They hold that the month of Abib (Nisan) is always the first month in determining scriptural practices.10
Josephus (c. 90 C.E.) states that before the Exodus the Israelites in Egypt, following Egyptian practice, observed the month of Marheshuan, called Dios (Oct./Nov.) in Greek, as the second month making the first month Tishri, yet with Moses it became the eighth month.
“Moses,” he points out, “appointed Nisan, that is to say Xanthicus (March/April), as the first month for the festivals, because it was in this month that he brought the Hebrews out of Egypt; he also reckoned this month as the commencement of the year FOR EVERYTHING RELATING TO DIVINE WORSHIP, but for selling and buying and other ordinary affairs he preserved the ancient order.”11
Notice that the month of Tishri, the seventh month, was the beginning of a year system practiced among the pagans in Egypt. We also know that the month of Tishri was used by the pagan Macedonians as the first month of their year.
Yahweh changed this system for the Israelites just before the famous Exodus of Egypt during the month of Abib, 1439 B.C.E.12
Josephus, living in the latter part of the first century C.E., points out that even in his day, writing some 20 years after the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, “the ancient order,” which began with Tishri, was only “for selling and buying and other ORDINARY AFFAIRS.”
Since the Sabbath year is part of divine worship, and in no way is to be construed as in the category of “ordinary affairs,” Josephus is here understood to mean that the sacred year was required to begin with the month of Nisan (Abib), roughly our April.
His comment also reveals the seed for the later view of the Talmudic Jews, the transition from the system used for “ordinary affairs” to things of “divine worship” being but a short step.
Philo (c. 40 C.E.) indicates the same thing as Josephus. He writes that the year began in the spring and that Moses “proclaimed a rest for the land and made the husbandman stay his work AFTER SIX YEARS.”13 He does not say “from the latter part of the sixth year” but “after six years.”
From the First Revolt (66-70 C.E.) against Rome, continuing through the Bar Kochba revolt (133-135 C.E.), the records show that the Jewish year was still reckoned from Nisan and not Tishri.14 It is important to note that the Sabbath year was still determined in this period by this same Nisan method.15
Four New Year Days?
The first time that we notice the reckoning of a Sabbath year as officially beginning with the month of Tishri in the year prior to the seventh year is from a passage in the Mishnah (about 200 C.E.):
There are four ‘New Year’ days: on the first of Nisan is the New Year for kings and feasts; on the first of Elul is the New Year for the Tithe of cattle (Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Simeon say: the first of Tishri); on the first of Tishri is the New Year for [the reckoning of] the years [of foreign eras], the Years of Release and Jubilee years, for the planting [of trees] and for vegetables; and the first of Shebat is the New Year for [fruit-]trees (so the School of Shammai; and the School of Hillel say: on the 15th thereof).16
This claim of four New Year days in one year is not substantiated in Scriptures, which proclaims only one New Year’s day, the first of Abib (Nisan).17
It is also important to notice that even in the Mishnah the first of Nisan was the New Year for “(Israelite) kings and feasts.” Tishri was used for “the years (of foreign eras).”18
There can be little doubt that the foreign era referred to means the Macedonian Seleucid era, which began its year with Hyperberetaeus (Sept./Oct.). Yet it was an era used by foreign peoples, not an early Israelite (i.e. from the time of Moses) or scriptural calendar system.
An important Talmudic work called Abodah Zarah confirms that the beginning month for the year had indeed been changed and that it now differed from the days when the Jews had their own kings.
While commenting upon the issues presented by the above passage from the Mishnah, it states:
The one refers to Jewish kings, the other to kings of other nations—the year of other nations’ kings being counted from Tishri, and of Jewish kings from Nisan. Now, IN THE PRESENT TIME we count the years from Tishri; were we then to say that our Era is connected with the Exodus it is surely from Nisan that we ought to count. Does this not prove that our reckoning is based on the reign of the Greek kings (and not the Exodus)? That indeed proves it.19
Time to conclude Part 1 in order for the reader to contemplate the information we have presented so far. In the meantime, be on the lookout for Part 2 where you should be able to gather enough of the pertinent facts to discover the truth of the matter.
Who was that masked man anyway?
Note: Adapted from a chapter contained in the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh Press titled The Sabbath and Jubilee Cycle.
Click this link for Bibliography and Abbreviations.
1 HUCA, 44, pp. 153-196; Marcus, Jos., vii, pp. 196f, n. a, pp. 694f, n. a, viii, p. 5, n. e.
2 E.g. Exod. 23:10-11; Lev. 25:1-28, 27:16-24; Num. 36:4; Ezek. 46:16-18.
3 Exod. 23:16, “going out of the year”; 1 Kings 20:26; 2 Chron. 36:10 “the return of the year”; NBD, p. 178, equates the “going out of the year” with the autumnal equinox and the “return of the year” with the vernal or spring equinox. Also see THP, p. 116, n. 5.
4 SEC, Heb. #3104.
5 Jos., Antiq. 3:12:3.
6 Philo, Spec. Laws 2:22.
7 B. R.Sh., 8a.
8 See Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:11-15.
9 Lev. 25:11-17.
10 See Jub. 49:1-10, 50:1-4; Philo Spec. Laws 1:35(180-189), 2:17-23(71-119); Jos., Antiq. 3:10:1-6, 3:8:4; a first century Jewish omen text (JNES, 48, pp. 201-214) and the Meg. Taan. (JQR, 10, pp. 237-243).
11 Jos., Antiq. 1:3:3.
12 Exod. 12:1-20, 13:4-10.
13 Philo, Spec. Laws, 1:35, par. 180ff, 2:21, par. 104.
14 IEJ, 21, pp. 40f and n. 11.
15 See SJC, Chaps. XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX.
16 R.Sh., 1:1.
17 Exod. 12:1-19, 13:4, 23:15, 34:18; Deut. 15:1.
18 Danby, Mishnah, p. 188, n. 7; cf. Gitt., 8:5.
19 B. A.Zar., 10a.