The Abib and Barley Error – Part 2

In Part 2 of our discussion, we will delve deeper into the Pharisaic influence on many followers of Yahweh regarding the practice of considering the maturity of barley to determine the month of Abib and the scriptural New Year.

Picking up from where we left off in Part 1, the month-name ha-Abib was next connected by the Pharisees with the day of the omer wave offering. An עמר (omer) is a dry measure or gathering of “newly cut grain,”32 as in “a heap.”33

Omer Wave Offering
The omer wave offering of newly cut grain was a requirement under the Torah of Moses as a gift to Yahweh, being the first-fruits  from each year’s harvest. The offering occurs in the spring at the time of Unleavened Bread and is directly connected with the Promised Land. This offering is described in detail by the book of Leviticus.

When you come into the land (of Promise) which I am giving to you, and have reaped its harvest, and have brought in this omer, the beginning (first-fruits) of your harvest, to the priest, then he will wave this omer before Yahweh for your acceptance. On the day after the Sabbath the priest will wave it. (Lev. 23:9-11)

Technically, the instructions from Scriptures do not specifically mention which first-fruits from which harvest. It only indicates in a subsequent passage that the Israelites were not permitted to eat bread, קלי (qali; roasted whole grains),34 or כרמל (karmel; fruits and produce)—all indicating a variety of produce—derived from the new year’s crops until after the omer wave offering had been made.35

The Pharisees then put together these various concepts. The month-name ha-Abib was connected with “barley abib” and the fact that barley was the chief spring crop used in Judaea during the first and subsequent centuries C.E.

In turn, “abib roasted with fire,” which was required as one of the first-fruit offerings to Yahweh, was coupled with the “roasted whole grains” from the new year’s crop that could not be eaten until after the omer wave offering was made. These details were then joined with the fact that barley was the grain of choice utilized by the Jews of this period for use as the omer wave offering.36

Their conclusion was simple. For barley abib to be used for the omer wave offering, it had to be the month of ha-Abib. The green ears of barley, therefore, had to be mature enough for this use. Further, since barley grain only had to be mature enough for the omer wave offering, only the day of the omer wave offering had to come after the beginning of the solar year, i.e., after the vernal equinox (Nisan Tequphah).

The Pharisees found support for their construct from the passage in Joshua 5:10-12, which reports that when the Israelites first invaded the land of Kanaan they ate the stored grain of the country until the day after the Passover; then on the next day after that, i.e., the 16th of Abib, the manna ceased.

Under Pharisaical interpretation, the day the manna ceased was the 16th of Abib/Nisan, the day permanently designated by the Pharisees as the day of the omer wave offering.

The term כרמל (karmel), which is used in Leviticus 23:14, to name one of the items described as forbidden until after the omer wave offering, is also important for our discussion. The word literally refers to “a planted field (garden, orchard, vineyard or park); by imp. garden produce.”37 Holladay notes that the word not only includes “fresh, newly ripe grain” but an “orchard” with “fruit trees & vines” and a “plantation of trees” in general.38

With this passage, we now see the Pharisaic justification for using both the maturity of the fruit on fruit trees as one of the primary reasons, along with the tequphah (spring equinox), for intercalating the year.

Some present-day Jews also believe that an additional reason for considering the condition of the fruit on trees was its connection with Pentecost, the time when the pilgrims bring the first-fruits to Jerusalem.39 “If it happens that the fruit is unripe, the year will be intercalated so as to prevent a special journey.”40

The Problems with Barley and Fruit
There are a number of problems with using the maturity of barley and the condition of fruit trees to determine the beginning of the scriptural year.

The first and foremost problem is that nowhere in Scriptures is such an instruction given. Indeed, to use them stands in the face of the direct and specific instructions from Scriptures that days, months, and years are determined by the greater and lesser illuminations shining in the open expanse of the heavens:

And eloahim said, Let there be מארת (maroth; illuminations)41 in the רקיע (raqia; open expanse)42 of the heavens (i.e., the atmosphere surrounding the earth)43 to divide between the day and the night and let them be for signs and for moadim and for days and years. (Gen. 1:14)

Neither do the problems for the Pharisaic view stop here. By using crops, there is no specificity. At what point, for example, does one determine that the barley grain or the tree fruit is mature or green enough? Which fields and which trees are eligible? Do one field and one tree qualify, or is there a need for a quorum?

Neither is there a specific time that crops mature as a whole. Generally speaking, “The harvest of barley begins in the Jordan Valley about the middle of April and in the highlands up to a month later.”44

Yet even the rabbis admitted that in some regions of the Promised Land the produce ripens far earlier than elsewhere.45 As a result, the process becomes a matter of human interpretation, which can vary from one person to the next.

Such difficulties also had to be addressed by the Pharisaic leaders. To give some structure to the system, the Pharisees decided to further embellish their formulas.

From What Location?
The Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, as well as the Tosefta, all report:

Our Rabbis taught: (The grain and fruit of the following) three regions (are taken as the standard) for deciding upon the declaration of a leap-year: Judaea, Transjordan, and Galilee. The requirements of two of these regions might determine the intercalation but not those of a single one. All, however, were glad when one of the two was Judaea, because the barley for the omer (wave offering) was obtained in Judaea.46

Maimonides likewise writes:

With regard to the barley harvest, the court took into consideration the following three regions: Judaea, Transjordan, and Galilee. If the barley crop was ripe in two of these regions but not in the third, the year was not intercalated; if, however, the barley crop was ripe in one of them but not in the other two, and if the fruit of the trees had not yet sprouted, the year was intercalated. These were the three main grounds for intercalation—in order that the (lunar) years would coincide with the solar years.47

Therefore, under Pharisaic interpretation, it was not just some random barley field or orchard in the Promised Land that was to be considered. Instead, it was the fields and orchards in two out of three regions. And who determined how many fields and orchards out of each region were necessary to meet the criteria?

Again, it became a matter of personal interpretation on the part of the ruling rabbis, especially the Nasi. The power to interpret rested in their hands. Once more, the Pharisees had created a system that was wholly unscriptural and benefited them politically.

Times of Drought
Another difficulty comes with the issue of drought years, times of unusual weather conditions, and years when locusts “devour the land.” (2 Chron. 7:13)

In the days of Elijah the prophet, for example, the land of Israel suffered from a severe drought that lasted for three-and-one-half years, and during the entire time, no rain fell. (1 Kings 17:1, 18:1; James 5:17)

Another period of drought and famine struck the regions of Galilee, Transjordan, and Judaea during the reign of Herod the Great. Herod was forced to spend vast sums of money to import grain from other countries in order to save the populace.48

Without rain, there can be no crops or fruits. If there is no grain in the fields or fruit on the trees for two or more years, how then does one determine the beginning of the year?

At the same time, what about periods of excessive rain or late snows that can last well into the spring? These also can retard the growth of grains and fruits.

Does one postpone Passover until late May? Is the personal judgment on the maturity of grain and fruit-tree conditions really a valid way of determining when to begin the scriptural year?

Another difficulty comes with the misuse of the month-name ha-Abib as if it was directly connected with the maturity of the barley crop.

J. B. Segal writes:

Neither the appearance of the barley crop nor the ingathering of the fruit corresponds to an exact point of time. They vary from year to year and from locality to locality. A lunation named after one of them and bound to a fixed place in the calendar will quickly lose its association in time with the phenomenon whose name it bears. Conversely, instructions for farming which use the names of calendar months use them only as an approximation, not as fixed points in a calendar.49

Furthermore, as Ephraim Wiesenberg points out, חדש האביב (khodesh ha-Abib) literally means the “month of spring.”50 This conclusion agrees with Philo’s statement that the Festival of Unleavened Bread comes in the first seasons of the year, and that Moses “calls springtime and its equinox“ the “first season.”51

Hebrew month names before the Exile only indicate that they “made careful observation of the seasons.”52 Ha-Abib is actually connected with the general time of the vernal equinox, at which time the grain crops and fruit trees are in the ordinary course of events flourishing.

As Philo writes:

For at the equinox the corn crops, our necessary food, become ripe, while on the trees, which are in full bloom, the fruit is just beginning to appear. This (fruit) ranks second to the corn, and therefore is a later growth.53

Simply because crops generally ripen at the time of spring and its equinox does not mean that one can, in turn, date the beginning of the year by the maturity of crops or the condition of fruit trees. There are just too many variables.

In addition, one cannot judge the present calendar system with one that existed in the years of Moses, when the ha-Abib month was first mentioned. The 30-day months, 360-day year, of the time prior to Hezekiah must not be confounded with our present 29.53 days.54

Another important variant has been the constant change in weather and climatic conditions throughout the Middle East over the last several millennia.55

J. B. Segal’s Comments
To assist us in addressing the validity of the Pharisaic use of the maturity of barley and fruit on trees to intercalate the year, we should now like to introduce some of the important and studied comments on the subject made by J. B. Segal, the well-known authority on the ancient Jewish calendar.

He points out that the Pharisaic usage of grain and fruit to intercalate the year was no more than a popular interpretation used to manipulate the calendar. For example, regarding the passage in the Babylonian Talmud, which gives this interpretation, Segal writes:

Observation of the grain crops is also, as I have endeavored to show, no more than a popular interpretation of the motive for the adjustment of the lunar calendar to the tropic year at the time of the spring equinox. The state of the fruit harvest, referred to in this passage {B. Sanh., 11b}, is exactly parallel; fruit was offered at Pentecost, as the ‘Omer, or sheaf of corn, was offered each day between Passover and Pentecost. That “everyone was glad” when the grain rather than the fruit harvest was a criterion is self-evident, for on the former depended the economic prosperity of the nation during the ensuing year.56

Segal concludes that the popular belief that the Jews actually used barley and fruit trees to determine their years is unwarranted.

Scholars have assumed from this passage that the actual method of intercalation among the Hebrews lay in the observation of the state of the crops. The authorities, it is held, inspected the barley in the early spring; if it appeared to be late in ripening, an extra month was inserted. This hypothesis cannot be accepted.57

Segal adds:

But it is in the highest degree of improbable that the priests could, by looking at green ears of corn, forecast exactly when they would ripen, and, by relating this to the state of the moon, decide whether an additional month should be inserted or not. . . . An agricultural season, as I have already observed, cannot be regarded as a fixed point of time. In Palestine, indeed, another factor makes observation of the state of barley crop wholly impossible as a guide to intercalation. The country has areas of such varying climatic conditions that the grain crops never ripen on a uniform date. Even in a normal year the time at which they ripen varies from place to place over a period of approximately six weeks;58 and in this respect the Rabbis divided Palestine into three areas—Judea, Transjordan and Galilee.59

Why then use barley grain and fruit trees at all when calculation was obviously more reliable?

Segal concludes:

If a system of regular intercalation by computation was established already in the first century A.D., why, it will be asked, did the Rabbis continue to encourage the people to make observations of natural phenomena? The calendar authorities themselves, as we have noted, looked with disapproval upon this popular interference with their prerogatives.
The explanation lies, I believe, in the interpretations of the phrase ‘regular intercalation’. The basis of regular intercalation is summarized clearly by Geminus Rhodius—there must not be two successive years with an intercalary month, nor should there be more than two successive years without an intercalary month. It should not be imagined, however, that the system was followed among the Jews—or among other ancient peoples—with slavish conformity to rules of arithmetic or astronomy. On the contrary, the course of intercalation was modified in certain conditions, largely through evolution of SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CIRCUMSTANCES.

The use of the maturity of barley and the condition of fruits on trees, therefore, were merely tools used by the Pharisees to manipulate the calendar in order to address social and economic problems.

It ingratiated the rabbis to the people and at the same time made the Pharisaic leaders appear to be essential to the entire process.

It was not a matter of following Scriptures, but rather a ploy to address what the Pharisees perceived to be social and economic necessities in their country.

What this two-part series has revealed is the underlying foundation for today’s practice of considering the maturity of barley as a factor to determine the month of Abib and the New Year.

The evidence has shown that these foundational roots stem from the Hillelic Pharisees who utilized three primary reasons to intercalate a year:

  The maturity of barley.

  The condition of fruit trees.

 The lateness of the tequphah (spring equinox).

At least two of these reasons were needed before intercalating, and one was required to be the lateness of the tequphah (spring equinox). The condition of grains and fruits due to the omer wave offering now became a condition for intercalating the year.

Regarding the validity of using the maturity of barley and the condition of fruit trees, it must be recognized that at no time are we instructed by Scriptures to adjust the beginning of the year based upon these techniques.

These methods were at first considered auxiliary reasons, but after 70 C.E. they were raised to a higher level because they gave the appearance of being somehow more scripturally based.

Meanwhile, the month-name ha-Abib (“the Green Ears”) does not require us to date that month based upon the maturity of barley. It was merely the name given to the first month of the year and was labeled as such because of its association with the spring season.

Ha-Abib was to be dated based upon the season not based upon the maturity of barley or the condition of fruit trees. If Passover always came after the beginning of the solar year (i.e., after the vernal equinox), then it would always fall in the spring and at the season of greening ears.

The Hillelic Pharisees, on the other hand, associated ha-Abib specifically with barley grain and the omer wave offering. Since roasted grain and fruit could not be eaten until after the omer wave offering was made, for the Hillelic Pharisees the maturity of barley and fruit trees became important in their formula.

There are a number of inherent problems that are manifest when one uses barley and fruit trees to date the beginning of the new year.

Namely, such a method is without scriptural authority, lacks specificity, is too heavily burdened by allowing subjective interpretations and personal preferences, and does not address the varied climatic conditions that could either bring on an early appearance of crops or—as would occur in severe prolonged drought periods—an absence of crops altogether.

The opportunistic rabbis knew that such unusual periods negated any legitimate use of crops and orchards for determining a new year. Their solution was to fall back on the only real scriptural determinative of a year they had: the tequphah (spring equinox).

When based solely on the tequphah, “if the rabbis declared the year to be intercalated, behold, this is deemed intercalated.”61

Nevertheless, in times of expediency, they even dismissed the use of the tequphah (spring equinox)!

The evidence ultimately proves that the auxiliary reasons were merely tools used by the Pharisees to manipulate the calendar.

It is also clearly evident that the auxiliary reason of barley maturity is still unwittingly perpetuated to this day by many of the so-called elders and teachers of Yahweh’s truth, especially those of the various Sacred Name groups.

It is unfortunate indeed that this errant teaching has permeated so many who claim to be followers of Yahweh.

Surely it would be wise for everyone to heed the following from the book of Mark:

And he (Yahushua) charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. (Mark 8:15)

Note: Adapted from the forthcoming publication by Qadesh La Yahweh Press, “The Festivals and Sacred Days of Yahweh, Vol. III”.


Click this link for Bibliography and Abbreviations.

32 CHAL p. 277, “(newly) cut ears of grain (not sheaves; the stalks were cut off right under the ears.”
33 SEC Heb. #6014, 6016.
34 SEC Heb. #7039, “roasted ears of grain:—parched corn”; CHAL “roast . . . parch.”
35 Lev. 23:14.
36 Jos. Antiq. 3:10:5; Philo Spec. 2:29 §175.
37 SEC Heb. #3759.
38 CHAL p. 164; cf., Isa. 10:18; 2 Kings 19:23.
39 Num. 28:26.
40 HEEBT, Sanh. 11b, col. a, n. 4.
41 The Heb. word מארת (maroth) comes from אור (aur), meaning “to be (caus. make) luminous (lit. and metaph.). . . illumination or (concr.) luminary (in every sense, including lightning, happiness, etc.)” (SEC, Heb. #215216), “light, brightness, lightning, luminary . . . fire, the light of fire” (HEL p. 9); ” The word מארת (maroth) refers to “light” (HEL p. 9), ”a luminous body or luminary, i.e. (abstr.) light (as an element); fig. brightness, i.e. cheerfulness; spec. a chandelier—bright, light” (SEC Heb. #3974).
42 The Heb. word רקיע (raqia) refers to “the expanse of heaven, atmosphere, sky” (HEL p. 251), “prop. an expanse, i.e. the firmament or (apparently) visible arch of the sky” (SEC Heb. #7549)
43 The word for heavens is שמים (shamayim), meaning, “to be lofty; the sky (as aloft)” (SEC Heb. #8064), “heaven, the sky” (HEL p. 270). In Scriptures there are three heavens (2 Cor. 12:1-5), father Yahweh dwelling in the third or highest heavens (Job 22:12; Matt. 5:16, 45, 6:9, 8:21, 12:50, 16:17, 18:14; Mark 11:25-26; Luke 11:2; etc.). Though the physical orbs of the sun, moon, and stars exist in the second heavens (Jer. 8:2), this passage from Genesis makes it clear that we are here speaking only of the “מארת (maroth; illuminations),” i.e., lights as an element from these orbs. These illuminations or elements of light shine in the רקיע (raqia; open expanse, sky, firmament) (see above n. 41), which is the first heavens. For example, the birds fly in this “רקיע (raqia; open expanse)” (Gen. 1:20) and this רקיע (raqia; open expanse) is defined as “heaven” (Gen. 1:8).
44 HBC p. 33, n.2; cf., HDB 1, p. 49.
45 “And is it not so that there is no place in which the produce ripens earlier in the entire land of Israel than in Baal Shalisha?” (Tosef. Sanh. 2:9e; J. Nedarim 6:8:3d; J. Sanh. 1:2:7hh).
46 B. Sanh. 11b; cf., J. Sanh. 1:2:7f-i; Tosef. 2:3:a-d.
47 Maimonides Code, 3:8:4:4.
48 Jos. Antiq. 15:9:1-15:10:4. Also see our discussion of these years in SJC, chap. xxi.
49 VT 7, p. 256.
50 EJ 12, p. 1175. The English seasonal term “spring” similarly comes from the idea to “spring forth” or “sprout.”
51 Philo Spec., 1:35 §181.
52 VT 7, p. 256.
53 Philo Moses 2:41.
54 In Scriptures we have evidence of a 360-day year (e.g., Gen. 7:11, 24, 8:3-4, where 5 months equals 150 days, i.e., 30 days per month).
55 For the change in the climate, e.g., see AESEN pp. 3f, 11; Kraeling, Atlas p. 108; OD pp. 183-186.
56 VT 7, p. 287.
57 VT 7, pp. 265266.
58 F. M. Abel, Gevographie de la Palestine, I, p. 116.
59 VT 7, pp. 266267.
60 VT 7, p. 301.
61 J. Sanh. 1:2:7c; Tosef. Sanh. 2:2c.

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