Calendars of the Ancient Near East

Access ancient Jewish, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Roman calendars to better understand the Bible

The two primary parameters that shape human thinking, regardless of culture, antiquity, or language, are space and time…spacetime for the physicists among us. It is difficult to understand any communication without a common understanding of these parameters. Such simple phrases as “See you tomorrow” require both parties to have a similar understanding of “tomorrow”.

The Bible records over 4,000 of history, from the earliest human settlements from Mesopotamia to Arabia to the cosmopolitan Roman Empire. It thus covers dozens of cultures, nations, and tribes, each with their own understanding of space and time. The Quran doesn’t do this, and neither do the Vedas, the Tripitaka, or any Sutra. The Bible stands alone – no other book is like it.

However, the vastly different understandings of key concepts in Bible, such as space and time, make it tough to understand. Christians are baffled, and skeptics ridicule us and our Scriptures, calling both “incoherent” or worse. Moderns reading the Bible have to cross a gap of at least 2000 years, multiple languages, and many cultures. Further, the Bible is not written as typical modern history, although its historical accounts are reliable. It hits the highlights. As a result, readers tend to “telescope” events, believing that they occurred over days or weeks when in fact they happened over months or years.

We read about Moses’ law, David’s wars, and Elijah’s miracles, and think that Moses was legislating, David fighting, and Elijah working wonders all of the time. They weren’t. Each man was living life, including the slow, discouraging parts, just like we do. Nehemiah, for example, received the report of Jerusalem’s broken down walls in November but didn’t leave for Judah until the following spring. In the meantime, he prayed to ask God for guidance and prepared. Nehemiah’s trip from Susa to Jerusalem (over 900 miles) took up to two months by caravan. The walls of Jerusalem were begun in July and completed in early September. Ezra’s festivals followed soon after.

The calendars below, taken from AmazingBibleTimeline.com, can help modern Bible readers understand when events occurred in Scripture. Please also see Timeline of Events in the Iron Age and Calendars, Cultures, and Politics.

Calendar Highlights 2017

Calendar Highlights 2017

Important days

1 Jan – New Year’s Day (US)

4 Jan – Perihelion (earth is closest to the sun, 91,404,401 million miles)

6 Jan – Golden Ratio Day (1.6/1, found in the Pyramids of Giza and many other areas of art, literature, and culture)

6 Jan – Epiphany/Three Kings Day (Church tradition – the Magi Melchior, Caspar, Belshazzar visited the Holy Family)

16 Jan – Martin Luther King Jr, Day

20 Jan – US Presidential Inauguration Day

7 Feb – E Day (2/7, used in exponential and logarithmic functions)

11 Feb – Penumbral eclipse of the moon

12 Feb – Septuagesima Sunday (ninth Sunday before Easter)

12 Feb – Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday

20 Feb – President’s Day

22 Feb – Washington’s Birthday

26 Feb – Annual eclipse of the sun

28 Feb – Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras (feasting and celebration before Lent)

1 Mar – Ash Wednesday (first day of Lent)

14 Mar – Pi Day (3.14159, the radius constant of a circle)

20 Mar – Vernal Equinox (0629 EDT)

9 Apr – Palm Sunday (Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem)

10 Apr – Passover begins at sunset (commemoration of the Israelite’s release from Egypt)

14 Apr – Good Friday (the day Jesus was crucified)

16 Apr – Easter (the day Jesus rose from the dead)

16 Apr – Orthodox Easter (Easter as celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church

21 May – Rogation Sunday (prayer and fasting preceding the Ascension)

25 May – Ascension Day (the day Jesus ascended into heaven)

26 May – Ramadan begins at sunset (a month of fasting to commemorate Muhammad receiving the Koran)

29 May – Memorial Day

4 Jun – Whitsunday/Pentecost (celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit)

11 Jun – Trinity Sunday (first Sunday after Pentecost, celebrating the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost)

14 Jun – Flag Day and US Army birthday

18 Jun – Corpus Christi (second Sunday after Pentecost, honoring the Holy Eucharist)

21 Jun – Summer solstice (0024 EDT)

28 Jun – Tau Day, the other circle constant (6.28318)

3 Jul – Aphelion (earth is farthest from the sun, 94,505,982 million miles)

4 Jul – Independence Day

22 Jul – Pi Approximation Day (22/7 in military and European notation)

7 Aug – Partial eclipse of the moon

21 Aug – Total eclipse of the sun

4 Sep – Labor Day

8 Sep – Gravity Day (9.8 m/s2 is the gravitational acceleration at sea level averaged across the earth

18 Sep – US Air Force birthday

20 Sep – Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, day of shouting/blasting, Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה‎))

22 Sep – Autumnal equinox (1602 EDT)

29 Sep – Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement)

8 Oct – Light Speed Day (3×108 m/s)

9 Oct – Columbus Day

10 Oct – Powers of 10 Day (10/10)

13 Oct – US Navy birthday

19 Oct – Diwali (Hindu festival of lights, celebrating the victory of good over evil)

19 Oct – Diwali (Jain festival of lights, marking the attainment of moksha by the fordmaker Mahavira)

19 Oct – Diwali (Newar Buddhist (Vajrayana Buddhism – Kathmandu, Nepal) celebration by worshipping Lakshmi)

19 Oct – Bandi Chhor Divas (Sikh festival commemorating the release of Hargobind/Gwalior, the sixth Guru, from Mughal imprisonment)

23 Oct – Mole Day (Avogadro’s number is 6×1023)

31 Oct – Halloween

10 Nov – US Marine Corp birthday

11 Nov – Veteran’s Day

23 Nov – Thanksgiving Day

23 Nov – Fibonacci Day (Fibonacci sequence is 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34… It describes many natural phenomena)

3 Dec – First Sunday of Advent (the celebration of the coming of Christ)

12 Dec – Chanukah (Jewish festival of lights, celebration of the Maccabees’ victory over Antiochus IV Epiphanes )

12 Dec – Gross Day (12×12)

21 Dec – Winter solstice (1128 EDT)

25 Dec – Christmas Day

Chronological Cycles

  1. Dominical Letter Cycle (for calculating dates such as Easter) – A
  2. Epact (the age of the moon in days on January 1. It is used in calculating the date of Easter, and varies by 11 days from year to year because of the difference between the solar and lunar years) – 2
  3. Golden Number Lunar Cycle (Year’s position in a 19-year Metonic cycle, used to calculate the date of Easter. Calculation = Year/19, taking the remainder and adding 1. 2017/19 gives a remainder of 3+1=4) – 4
  4. Roman Indiction (a fiscal period of 15 years used for dating and transactions. For example, periodic reassessments for agricultural or land taxes) – 10th year
  5. Solar Cycle (periodic 11-year change in the sun’s activity and appearance, such as luminosity and sun spots. Activity typically peaks towards the middle of the cycle) – 10
  6. Year of Julian Period (chronological system used mainly by astronomers and based on the consecutive numbering of days from Jan. 1, 4713 BC) – 6730

Eras

1 Jan – Japanese year 2677

14 Jan – Roman (AUC) year 2770

28 Jan – Chinese (lunar) year 4715

22 Mar – Indian year 1939

19 Apr – Nabonassar year 2766

11 Sep – Diocletian year 1734

14 Sep – Byzantine year 7526

14 Sep – Grecian year 2329

20 Sep (sundown) – Jewish year 5778

20 Sep (sundown) – Islamic year (Hegira) 1439

14 Oct – Seleucid year 2329

 

 

Calendars, Cultures, and Politics

People follow calendars, but they also create and use them to advance their personal and political agendas.

In the absolute sense, time is dictated by the rhythms of nature as determined by the Creator. In the past it was viewed as the distance in history (as opposed to geography) between events. In that mindset, the idea of saving time was ludicrous. Time progressed at its own rate and rhythm and man could do nothing to change those realities. Ancients often wanted tasks to be quick and efficient just like moderns do, and for many of the same reasons, to maximize the duration of pleasant experiences and minimize that of unpleasant ones. However, in the ancient mind time was not like money, which could be stored. It had to be used.

Calendars are a way of dividing time into days, fortnights (14 days), and years. They are unnecessary in hunter-gatherer societies but are vital in agricultural societies. Calendars require reading, and in many ways form the foundation on which math is built. They allow man to track the weather, record planting dates, and schedule religious festivals. Calendars allow travelers to track long trips, and help coordinate the movements of merchants with their caravans and generals with their armies. This article is a brief summary of calendars in world history, and how people use them to reflect themselves.

The idea that time can be divided has endured from the beginning of humanity. The movement of sun and moon divide time into roughly equal segments. These segments are known as days, fortnights, and years. The idea that time is linear, not circular, makes counting years important. It was no longer adequate to welcome a new year; royal bureaucrats labeled them “the first year of King XXXX”, “the third year of King YYYY”, etc. The invention of the clock in Medieval Europe brought the idea that time could be divided not only by natural rhythms but by human ones.  Combined, these ideas give modern man his view of time.

Since nations must cooperate with each other in trade and other areas, all modern countries measure their days as 24 hours long and fortnights as 14 days long. Years are also more or less than same all over the globe. Other characteristics of measuring time, such as the names of months and years, the location of holidays on the calendar, and the identity of the first year, are highly political.

The Julian calendar was instituted by Julius Caesar in 46 BC to align dates for military and economic purposes in the Roman Republic (509-27 BC). Extending from modern Portugal to Syria and Belgium to Egypt, the Republic confronted a bewildering array of calendars, including the original Roman calendar, and Greek, Egyptian, and Persian ones. Astronomers and mathematicians had long known that a year was 365.25 days long, but only with this period of peace imposed by Roman arms (Pax Romana) did anyone have the power to align the disparate time systems. Though technically Caesar’s reforms applied only to the Roman calendar, within a century calendars in other provinces of the Empire aligned themselves with his. Since the previous Roman year was only 355 days, 46 BC had to be extended for several weeks to allow 45 BC to begin on 1 January. Having 12 months, 365 days and an additional day every three or four years, the Julian calendar became the standard in the Roman and later, Western world.

In 1582 the Gregorian Calendar, which made small improvements to its Julian ancestor, was adopted throughout the European world, which included the colonies in North and South America, India and the trading islands of the Pacific. Since the 16th century marked the beginning of European global domination, by the 20th century, every nation on earth used the Gregorian calendar, at least internationally. The Gregorian calendar remains the most common calendar worldwide.

The Islamic Calendar is a lunar or luni-solar calendar, not a solar one, and includes 12 months with 354 days. The first year is 621, the year Muhammad and his few followers escaped Mecca to Medina. It is used for religious purposes and to date certain events. The abbreviation is AH (Latin Anno Hegirae, “the year of the Hijra”). Authors writing about Islam, for example, will often use two dates in their work. The first surviving evidence of use of this calendar is AD 643/AH 22. Islamic calendars differ throughout the world, with Turkey and Saudi Arabia using slightly different versions.

Other calendars abound, largely for religious and political purposes. The Hebrew Calendar is a luni-solar calendar used predominantly for Jewish religious observances.  The French Revolutionary Clock and Calendar were used from 1793 to 1805. Its purposes were to convert France to a decimal system and remove all traces of religion and royalty from French life.  In the North Korean (Juche) Calendar the first year is 1912, the birth year of the “Eternal Ruler” Kim Il Sung. It officially replaced the Gregorian calendar in North Korea on 9 September 1997 (Juche 86). Day and month stay the same but the year is calculated by subtracting 1912 from the current year.

Russia retained the Julian Calendar (orthodox version) until 14 Feb 1918. After the communists took over in November of that year, they developed the Soviet Union Calendar and implemented it from 1929-1940. In keeping with Communist efforts at modernization and productivity, it implemented continuous 5 and 6 day work weeks, unlike the interrupted seven day week (Sundays off) in the Western World.

These are only a few of the many calendars that have been and are being used around the world. Calendars must be aligned to foster trade, communication and security within and between regions. However, they are also a reflection of the times and the people that implement them. Different peoples celebrate different holidays at different times. Even using a Gregorian calendar, New Years in the West is 1 January, but in Iran it is Nowruz (the first day of Spring), 19, 20, 21 or 22 March.

While no man can change time, every people has used its calendar to reflect its religion, politics, culture, and values. Having begun millennia ago, it is not likely to change now. While continuing to follow a standard to facilitate the activity of the modern world, we can enjoy the individuality of people groups, past and present, by looking at their calendar.

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 1

Christmas Tree

Genesis 1:1, 11-12, 24‑31; Genesis 3:22-24

Hang your tree up today.

Plant life forms the basis of life on earth; providing oxygen, food, shade, building materials, fabrics, and fuel. Plants also remove waste products, including carbon dioxide, and other human and animal waste. Life on earth would be impossible without plants.

Trees are the largest and often considered the most noble of the plants. Evergreen trees such as spruce, pine, and fir, seem to live through all seasons. Trees have long been symbols of the life sustaining power of God. Our reading today reminds us of their fundamental role in Creation, finding ultimate expression in the Tree of Life.

Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, to earth. Jesus is the Creator of all things and the source of physical life. He is the perfect sacrifice for our sins and the fountain of living water providing eternal life for those who believe.

Do you know where the first Christmas tree came from? There are many theories, some reaching as far back as Saint Boniface (born 7th century, died 5 June 754). Trees had long been important in pagan worship in Northern Europe. Donar’s (Thor’s) Oak, located in the state of Hesse, was considered sacred by many in Germany. In a challenge to the pagan deities, Boniface began to chop down the oak, and suddenly a strong wind blew it over. When Boniface was not struck dead by the Germanic gods, the people rejected them and accepted Christianity.   They continued using trees in services, but rather than worshipping spirits in the trees they worshipped the One who made the trees.  

Another story tells us that one evening Martin Luther was walking home through a forest in Germany. As he looked up through the trees he saw a host of twinkling stars in the dark sky. He thought about the Star of Bethlehem. As he gazed at the stars framed so beautifully by the branches of the fir trees, Luther was filled with awe. He wished that he could take that lovely scene home to his family so he cut down a small fir tree, took it inside his house, and decorated it with tiny flickering candles.

Green is associated with life and living things. The shoots and signs of growth in spring remind us of the color green. The evergreen Christmas tree speaks of life that will never end.

As you put up your Christmas tree today. read of Saint Boniface and Martin Luther. Turn out the lights and sit in the dark quietly. Light a candle and have the Scripture read. First the passage in Genesis and then John 12:44‑50. Sing softly the German Christmas carol “O Christmas Tree.” Think about the gift of God, Jesus Christ, which has made our own everlasting life possible.

O Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
In beauty green will always grow
Through summer sun and winter snow.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!

 

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
You are the tree most loved!
How often you give us delight
In brightly shining Christmas light!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
You are the tree most loved!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Your beauty green will teach me
That hope and love will ever be
The way to joy and peace for me.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Your beauty green will teach me.

O Tannenbaum

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur
zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!

 

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
Wie oft hat nicht zur Weihnachtszeit
Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Dein Kleid will michwas lehren:
Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Gibt Trost und Kraft zu jeder Zeit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Das soll dein Kleid mich lehren.

 

Advent Tree Family Devotions – Getting Started

Advent Devotional Tree ornaments 1 Advent Devotional Tree ornaments 2

Celebration #1 – The Advent Calendar

The season of Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and continues until Christmas Day. Traditionally, Advent calendars have had windows to open which mark the days between December 1 and Christmas Day.

This Advent calendar is based upon the idea of marking the days between those dates and using Christmas symbols to help us remember some of the significant events in the Christmas story and the history of our Lord’s life.

It is also based upon the idea of making a devotional calendar as a family to make this time of sharing each day a special part of the family’s celebration of Christmas.

These Advent decorations are historic symbols and are commonly used on Christmas trees. They were first designed and used by the earliest Christians and were found on jewelry, utensils, in the catacombs and in buildings. They are symbols used by the early church and by the church today to show the peoples’ faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is evident to all who view the symbols. They are always made in gold and white to symbolize majesty and purity.

We hope that as you make and use your Christmas Advent calendar, you and your family will more fully experience and enjoy Christmas, and create memories that will endure for generations. As we were created in God’s image to be creative, let your ability find full expression as you create your decorations together.

Each day there is a Bible reading and a devotional reading.  On most days, a Christmas carol follows the readings.  It is not necessary to read every Bible passage or sing every verse listed, but only as many as time and inclination allows.  Share the opportunity to read the Bible, read the devotion, and lead the carol, among family and friends.  Consider using these in church or in Bible studies. 

Our family enjoys sharing the devotions around a table or in a living room bright with Christmas lights and candles.  Sometimes we have egg nog or hot cocoa with Christmas cookies.  

The Advent Calendar and Symbols

There are several ways to make the Advent calendar. You may use paper, felt or other fabrics or materials, and adorn your decorations with sequins, beads and pearls and other trimmings.

Steps to follow:

1. Enlarge the tree pattern onto newspaper or a paper bag.  Cut your tree from green felt, construction paper, or some other material.

2.  Choose an appropriate neutral color for the background if you wish to make your tree and calendar into a banner.  Otherwise you will need to hang the tree from the top to the wall.

3. Using white and gold paper or felt, trace around the patterns or cut them right from the book and use them as a pattern.

4. When you are finished with the decorations, if you choose felt, decorate with sequins, beads and other trim as desired. Make them as fancy or ornate as possible for this is part of the symbolism.

5. If you make your decorations from paper, draw in some of the details as for example on the grapes, shell, etc.

6. There are two ways to attach the decorations to the tree. You can use velcro or snaps (for the felt only). Glue the velcro dots to the back of the decoration and to appropriate places on your tree (the ends of the branches and along a trim line (either imaginary or one you have glued on) Rickrack works great for this.

7. You will need 23 envelopes. Number these and put the appropriate decoration in each one.

8. Each day read one of more of the Scripture passages given, and then read the devotion.  Afterward, remove the decoration from the envelope, and attach it to the tree.

9. On Christmas Day the devotion to read does not include putting a decoration on the tree, but rather refers back to several that have already been affixed to the tree.

10. On Day 1, hang the tree and begin the observance. On all the other days, attach the decoration to the tree.

11. You may make all the decorations in advance or make them one at a time, each day, as your family chooses. If you choose to make them each day, be sure to allow enough time to complete the each one before reading the devotion. It is a good idea to have the patterns cut out in advance.

Supplies you will need – paper, pencil, scissors, eraser, large piece of green felt or construction paper 12 x 18″, large piece of white and gold paper or felt, velcro snaps (if using felt and velcro is not desired) glue sequins, beads, pearls, etc. needle and thread, rickrack and/or other gold trims, small silk flowers (for felt decorations), piece of ¼ or 1/8″ doweling to hang tree if a banner is made.