The Sabbath More Fully Lesson 8: Timing and Calculating the Holy Days
Calculating the Beginning of the Biblical Year

Before we can address when the Biblical year begins, we must understand when a Biblical month begins. The Biblical month begins at the Rosh Hodesh. This is the Hebrew term translated as New Moon. The primary meaning of Hodesh is actually "New Moon" or "New Moon Day" and it is only by extension that it came to mean "month", that is, the period between one New Moon and the next.

The primary meaning of Hodesh - being the a day, rather than a month of days, is preserved in a number of passages such as 1 Samuel 20:5 in which Jonathan says to David "Tomorrow is the New Moon (Hodesh)". Clearly, in this verse Hodesh is used to refer to the specific day on which the month begins and not the entire month.

Another passage which uses Hodesh in its primary sense is Ezekiel 46:1 which talks about "The Day (Yom) of the New Moon (Ha-Hodesh)". Clearly in this verse Hodesh (New Moon) is a specific event and the beginning of the month is the day on which this event (New Moon) occurs.

Additionally, Rosh Hodesh is from the Hebrew root word chadash which means that the moon is "renewed" or "rebuilt". Some have wondered if the New Moon day should be when the sky is black, meaning the moon is in its conjunction phase. On a standard calendar, the days indicated as new moon days are when the moon is completely invisible, being in the conjunction phase. These conjunction days, now astronomically called new moon days, were not the biblical New Moon days. This is clear from the root meaning of Rosh Hodesh. The moon is not "renewed" or "rebuilt" when it is in the conjunction phase. It is "renewed" and "rebuilt" when one sights the first visible sliver of the moon, following the conjunction phase. So, to be perfectly clear, the biblical day of the New Moon is the day after the night on which the first visible sliver of the moon is sighted. This is when the moon is renewed or rebuilt.

Annual Sabbatarians believe that the new moon is a significant factor in determining the start of the Biblical year. The question and point of controversy slips in over which new moon to use and how that new moon is designated.

There are many points of view on this subject. But, for the purpose of this study, we will address the three main viewpoints regarding the start of the Biblical year. They are:

  • The year begins with the first new moon after the barley is “Abib” in Jerusalem.
  • The year begins with the new moon NEAREST the vernal equinox (in 2007 that was March 20).
  • The year begins with the first new moon AFTER the vernal equinox.

Having three distinct and differing views on when the Biblical year begins has created three distinct and differing dating systems for determining when the annual Sabbaths take place. Once again, the devil has accomplished quite a divide-and-conquer coup against YHWH's sincere followers.

In this study, let us prayerfully consider these three views and examine them with Scripture.

Can it be Proven from the Bible that the Biblical year Starts with the Barley Being "Abib" in Jerusalem?

First, it must be noted that the majority of Sabbatarians do not keep the Seventh-day Sabbath by Jerusalem time. The Seventh-day Sabbath is kept for the 24 hour period between Friday evening sunset and Sabbath evening sunset (Leviticus 23:32). All Sabbaths (annual also) are kept from evening to evening. This is because YHWH made the Biblical day to start with the evening (Genesis 1:5).

If we do not get online to find out when the Seventh-day of the week has fully arrived in Jerusalem for determining the timing of the Seventh-day Sabbath, why would we get online to determine when something is happening in Jerusalem to determine when the Biblical year begins?

While this methodology is an unaddressed inconsistency among Barley believers, there is an equally obvious reason for it. If people tried to calculate the beginning of the year by the Barley in their own area, there would be no dating consistency among annual Sabbatarians at all. Susie's grain would come up a few days before Jane's and so on. And the result would be that Susie and Jane feast-keeper would soon be having to keep these holy days alone in their own homes as no one's dates were in agreement. The command to "assemble" ourselves together would be completely unheeded. Thus, for consistency, Barley believers start their calculation of the Biblical year by the first new moon following the Barley being "Abib" in Jerusalem.

The modern Karaite movement, led by Nehemiah Gordon (webmaster of, largely follows this view. But, before we decide if this view is the correct one or not - Biblically, we must look at what the Bible has to say about "Abib".

The term "Abib" is mentioned four times in the Bible. Here are all four of the Biblical mentionings of the word "Abib":

  • Exodus 13:3-4 - “And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten. This day came ye out in the month Abib."
  • Exodus 23:15 - “Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before Me empty).”
  • Exodus 34:18 - “The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt."
  • Deuteronomy 16:1 - “Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.”

Adding no concepts other than what is plainly stated in these Scriptural references, we find the following:

  • "Abib" is the Biblical name of a month.
  • Passover and Unleavened Bread take place during the month of "Abib."
  • Because Passover and Unleavened Bread take place in the first month of the Biblical year, we can safely conclude that the Bible is telling us that "Abib" is the name of the first month of the Biblical year.

Now, we must not jump to fast regarding making these texts say things they do not state. Barley believers add the following additional beliefs to the above list:

  • "Abib" refers to a certain stage of ripeness in the barley harvest.
  • "Abib" begins at the first new moon after the barley has reached this certain stage of ripeness.
  • Not just any barley will do - the barley ripeness in question is Jerusalem barley.

But none of these additional beliefs is supported by the four mentionings of the word "Abib" in the Bible. So, let us examine the meaning of the Hebrew word "Abib." Perhaps the connection to barley is found in the meaning of this word.

According to Strong’s Concordance #24 – Abib means “to be tender, green, young ear of grain, green ears of corn.” So where does the barley come into people’s minds regarding Abib? It isn’t found in the Bible verses using this term, nor is it found in the Hebrew meaning the of the word.

Barley comes into significance in the month of Abib because of its use in the ceremony of First Fruits. First Fruits is a holy day that falls within the week of Unleavened Bread, which falls within the month of Abib. For more detail on the timing of First Fruits, Read our online First Fruits study.

At First Fruits, a special "sheaf of firstfruits" was to be waved. Leviticus 23:10-11 - “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.”

No details about what comprises the "sheaf of firstfruits" are given in Leviticus 23:10-11. But, the Bible does specify the grains used in First Fruits in 2 Kings 4:42. “And there came a man from Baalshalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof. And he said, Give unto the people, that they may eat.”

Biblically then, we find proof for the following statements:

  • "Abib" is the name of the first month in the Biblical year.
  • "Abib" is translated to mean "greening" or a time when plants are "tender" and there are "young ears of grain".
  • Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits are holy days that take place during the month of Abib.
  • Barley and corn are the grains used in First Fruits.
  • It would be needed to have some freshly harvested barley and corn in order to keep First Fruits in Bible times.

But having barley for wave sheaf is a far cry different from waiting for the Jerusalem barley to be in a certain stage of ripeness and then watching for the next new moon. The fact remains that the Bible never says to calculate the start of the year from the barley being in any stage of ripeness. It merely suggests a connection in timing. There is a big difference between general timing of having barley and the precise timing of watching for the first new moon after Jerusalem's barley is at a certain stage of ripeness (this is the Karaite viewpoint).

This is a jump in thinking that has no overt (stated in the texts) or covert (found in the Hebrew meaning) Scriptural basis. Let us examine the Karaite viewpoint, promoted on the Karaite Korner (website). The following statement is taken from the Karaite Korner website:

"...The actual timing of the pilgrimage feasts is dependent upon the barley harvest in Yerushalayim, which can only be determined by waiting upon YHWH. The best source of this information is presently obtained by accessing the Karaite Korner web site, as the Karaites specialize in the agricultural barley calendar issues." (Nehemia Gordon,

On the one hand, the Karaite viewpoint for starting the year seems to be using the first new moon following the Jerusalem barley being "abib", but on the other hand, they use the Vernal Equinox to determine historical new moons. This practice weakens their argument, rendering them inconsistent at best. One example of this practice is the Karaite contention that the Day of Atonement, in the year 1844, was on September 23. Why does this come up? The Karaites make this statement in order to contend with Seventh-day Adventists, who claim that the Day of Atonement was October 22, 1844. Now, this article is not about the argument for which day was Atonement in 1844. The purpose of this article is to show inconsistency in how the Karaites determine the holy Days. For that purpose, alone, let us continue in this vein.

The typical Karaite viewpoint on this is stated most powerfully in a statement endorsed by Nehemia Gordon, himself (as it appears on the Karaite Korner website.) Robert K. Sanders, with Nehemia's endorsement wrote: “Yom Kippur 1844 was celebrated by the Karaites in September and not October is confirmed by a Karaite Tomb Stone inscription cited by Abraham Firkowitz in his book "Avnei Zicharon" (lit. 'Stones of Remembrance'. published Vilna 1872). Seventh-day Adventists have FAILED to provide any Karaite calendar or any documentation from the Karaite Jews to show their Day of Atonement was on October 22 and that it was a month later than the Rabbinical Date. S. S. Snow was wrong in setting the wrong date and Ellen G. White was wrong in endorsing it with her prophetic seal. Ellen's date of October 22, 1844 HAS BEEN IMPEACHED, AS WELL AS HER SANCTUARY AND INVESTIGATIVE JUDGMENT DOCTRINE.” (

Clearly, in this statement, the Karaites have inadvertently revealed a deep inconsistency in their dating. How can the Karaites arrive at such a firm date (September 23, 1844) when there are no clear records of Jerusalem's barley harvest in the year 1844? Not only are the Karaites sure that Yom Kippur was on September 23 of the year 1844, many Messianic Karaites teach that they can calculate the day of the week upon which Passover fell in Christ's lifetime. There are definately no barley harvest records going back that far! In these historical cases, Karaites switch back to the Vernal Equinox way of dating. Through using US Naval Observatory calculations, it is possible to accurately pinpoint the start of any year, even going back into the time of the life of Christ. And if you can pinpoint the start of the year, you can find any given feast day (such as Passover - upon which Christ died). This is because the US Naval Observatory is capable of pinpointing any Vernal Equinox and any new moon.

Rabbi Scheinerman, in Jerusalem, puts the Jerusalem barley growing season into early summer! (See: This gives a pretty wide window in which to have the first of the year and still have barley in Abib.

But, the question it boils down to is: does the year have to wait for barley to be ripe to begin? Or can there be a first month of the Biblical year without a barley harvest at all? If there can be a Biblical beginning of the year without a barley harvest, then the logical conclusion is that the barley is not the critical indicator of the year's beginning.

There are three very serious issues which starting the year with the Barley doesn't address. Please consider these three considerations:

  1. Consideration # 1: The Jubilee years had no grain planting - no barley

    For two successive growing seasons (the Sabbath and Jubilee years), no grain was to be planted and, therefore, no maturing barley was available to consult (Lev. 25:1-24). True, barley sometimes sprouts and grows voluntarily with no cultivation, but this was less likely in the second year. It was illegal to reap volunteer grain in the 50th year, so Israel probably allowed their flocks to graze the fields. This was legal (Lev. 25:7,11).
  2. Consideration # 2: Noah knew the beginning of year while the earth was covered with water - no barley

    During the flood, Noah was able to determine the first day of the year without consulting a barley harvest. Genesis 8:13 “And it came to pass in the six hundredth and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth: and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and, behold, the face of the ground was dry.”
  3. Consideration # 3: During the Wandering in the Wilderness (40 years) Israel started the years - no barley

    During the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (a desert), Israel kept a careful record of the months and years - apparently without consulting the barley harvest in Canaan.

How Does the Bible Say to Calculate the Start of the Biblical Year?

While the Bible never once tells us to calculate the from the barley. The Bible does tell us that the heavens are to be used for calculating days, festivals (annual holy days) and years. Genesis 1:14 - “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.”

From the New Jerusalem Bible translation:

"God said, "Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years" (Genesis 1:14).

From the New American Bible translation:

"Then God said: "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years" (Genesis 1:14).

If the heavenly lights are to be used to "indicate" years, they must be used to determine the start and end of the year. But how does this work? And is this Biblical? Or is this just another example of humans putting words into Scripture that simply aren't there?

For the majority of those who use the heavenly lights to determine the beginning of the Biblical year, it is the Vernal Equinox they look for as the key event. From there, some division in perspective follows. Some believe the closest new moon to the Vernal Equinox is the first day of the first month of the new year, while others believe that the first new moon after the Vernal Equinox is the first day of the new year.

Before we address which new moon (if any) surrounding the Vernal Equinox should be used as the first day of the Biblical year, let us first determine whether the Vernal Equinox is a valid starting point at all. Perhaps, it like the barley harvest is putting words in Scripture that simply aren't there.

But Vernal Equinox Isn’t In the Bible! Is it?

While it has been given a very pagan name, the celestial event which has come to be called "vernal equinox" is certainly a heavenly happening. And it has being taking place anually in the heavens since ancient times. But, this in and of itself is not compelling enough evidence to denote that this heavenly event is the one that begins the year as mentioned in Genesis 1:14.

"It seems to have been understood all over the world, from ancient times until now, that the vernal equinox signals the arrival of spring and the autumnal equinox signals the arrival of fall. ... Wait until the sun signals the arrival of spring at the equinox, then select the first visible new crescent for the beginning of months: ... the first month of the year to you." A Paper, "Does Close Count?," by Henry Wylle.

Having been a common denotation for the beginning of Spring also does not put the Vernal Equinox in a favorable position as being the indicator of the beginning of the Biblical year. The real issue is what does the Word of God say on the subject? But, before we go to the Word of YHWH on the subject, let us first be very clear about the science of the vernal equinox.

The equinox is either of two points on the celestial sphere at which the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator. Either of the two times during a year when the sun crosses the celestial equator and when the length of day and night are approximately equal; the vernal equinox or the autumnal equinox. The term "vernal equinox" is Middle English, from Old French equinoxe, from Medieval Latin aequinoxium, from Latin aequinoctium: aequi-, equi- + nox, noct-, night. Equinox literally means "equal days and nights."

To further understand this solar event, please consider the illustration above. The upper panel shows that on an equinox (which occurs twice a year: once in the Spring and once in the Fall), neither half of the Earth points directly towards the Sun. In fact, the Sun is at the equator, so both halves of the Earth are getting about the same amount of sunlight.

The bottom panel of the picture shows how the sun looks to someone standing on the ground at the equinox. The equinox occurs when the sun "crosses" the equator.

Having given a brief overview of the science of the equinox, let us now address the real issue at hand. Does the Bible tell us that the equinox is the marker for the beginning or end of the Biblical year? If so, this is the celestial event which denotes which new moon is the first of the Biblical year. If not, this cannot be the correct method for determining the year. The ultimate event must be Biblical if it is truth.

At first, it appears that there is no Biblical reference to the vernal equinox. It simply isn't there as any Bible student can confirm by searching the Strong's Concordance. But this is only how things appear at first. Instead of trying to find the vernal equinox term in the Bible going from English first, let us search for it in Hebrew. Hebrew words have multiple meanings and the translators of the Bible may have selected from any one of them when translating the original text.

The Hebrew word for equinox is tekufah. This word refers to the solstices as well as to the equinoxes. And notibly tekufah is in original Hebrew text of the Bible!

Tekufot (plural) means "seasons;" literally, "circuit, to go round." The four seasons in the year are called tekufot. More accurately, tekufot is the beginning of the four seasons. ...Tekufah stands for the true, not the mean, equinox. The tekufah (singular) of Nisan denotes the sun at the vernal equinox. The next tekufah denotes the summer solstice. The third tekufah denotes the fall equinox. And the fourth tekufah denotes the winter solstice.

The four Tekufot of the Biblical year are:

  • Tekufah Nisan or Abib, the vernal equinox (Spring) - This occurs when the sun enters Aries; this is the beginning of spring, or "eit hazera'" (seed-time), when day and night are equal.
  • Tekufah Tammuz, the summer solstice - This occurs when the sun enters Cancer; this is the summer season, or "'et ha-air" (harvest-time), when the day is the longest in the year.
  • Tekufah Tishri, the autumnal equinox - This occurs when the sun enters Libra, and autumn, or "'et ha-hair" (vintage-time), begins, and when the day again equals the night.
  • Tekufah Tevet, the winter solstice - This occurs when the sun enters Capricornus; this is the beginning of winter, or "'et ha-oref" (stripping-time), when the night is the longest during the year.

The original Hebrew word Tekufah appeared in four Scripture texts. Let us see if any of them refer to the beginning or ending of the Biblical year.

  1. First use of Tekufah in Scripture - It is called the "end of the year"

    "And it came to pass at the end of the year [tekufah], that the Syrians came up against him..." (2 Chronicles 24:23).
  2. Second use of Tekufah in Scripture - It is referred to as the "year's end"

    "And you shall observe the feast of weeks, even the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end [tekufah]" (Ex. 34:22).
  3. Third use of Tekufah in Scripture - It refers to the whole circuit of the heavens as they progress through the seasons

    "In them [the heavens] He has set a tent for the sun, which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man runs it's course with joy. It's rising is from the end of the heavens and it's circuit [tekufah] to the end of them, and there is nothing hid from it's heat" (Psalm 19:4,5 RSV).
  4. Fourth use of Tekufah in Scripture - It refers to the time when Samuel was born

    "And it came to pass, when the time [tekufah] was come about, that Hannah conceived, and bore a son..." (1 Samuel 1:20).

Of these four quotations, two use the term tekufah to refer to the end of the Biblical year. This appears to support the teaching that the vernal equinox is the end of the year from which we watch for the first new moon. The new moon following the vernal equinox, or more accurately the tekufah, is the first day of the new year.

We can be certain of this, because Scripture tells us to use the Spring New Moon - Abib - to start the biblical year. We find this in Exodus 12:2 - "This month (New Moon) shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you." From the context, we can be certain that this first new moon of the biblical year is in the Spring, because it refers to the timing of Passover. Additionally, we find that Spring is when the prior biblical year comes to an end. If the prior year ends in the Spring, it is logical then that the new year must also start in the Spring:

"And it came to pass, after the year was expired (tekufah) , at the time when kings go forth to battle..." (2 Sam. 11:1 KJV). For clarity, here's the same verse in the Revised Standard Version: "In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle, ..." (Ibid., RSV) Biblically then, the end of the year was the Spring - marked by the Tekufah.

Most Christians have heard of the significant finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls (largely found in Qumran - see the above map). But, many have not heard of a small, equally significant limestone device found along with the scrolls. Pictured below, archaeologists have determined that this Qumran Sundial was used for the purpose of determining the Spring tekufah (vernal equinox).

Uwe Glessmer and Matthias Albani, "An Astronomical Measuring Instrument from Qumran", The Provo International Conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Technological Innovations, New Texts, and Reformatted Issues, edited by Donald W. Parry and Euguene Ulrich (Boston: Brill, 1999), p. 442.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1944 edition, Vol. 4, states under "Calendar - Ecclesiastical Calendar" that "The Jews celebrated their Passover on the 14th day of the first month, that is to say, the lunar month of which the 14th day either falls on or next follows the day of the vernal equinox." Later in this same volume, under "Calendar - Jewish", it is stated that "The Feast of Passover, on 14 Nisan (Abib) could not begin before the spring Tequfah." The term Tequfah is defined as "the mean beginning of the seasons" - so the "spring Tequfah" referred to here is the vernal equinox. The Biblical year starts with the lunar month in which Passover (the 14th day of the month) falls on or after the spring equinox."

Tekufot in the Encyclopedia Judaica confirms this. It states, "The equinox occurs because of the (apparent) action of the sun. The earth, which is tilted 23.5 degrees, circles the sun, creating our seasons (spring, summer, fall and winter). The equinox occurs when the sun "crosses" the equator. The Hebrew word is tekufah, and refers to the solstices as well as to the equinoxes."

Additional historical confirmation for tekufah being the end of the Biblical year is found in the writings of Flavius Josephus and Philo Judaeus. Both of which were Jews contemporary to Christ.

“In the month... which is by us called Nisan, and is the beginning of our year, on the fourteenth day of the lunar month, when the sun is in Aries, (for in this month it was that we were delivered from bondage under the Egyptians,) the law ordained that we should every year slay that sacrifice which I before told you we slew when we came out of Egypt, and which was called the Passover; and so we do celebrate this passover in companies, leaving nothing of what we sacrifice till the day following. The feast of unleavened bread succeeds that of the passover, and falls on the fifteenth day of the month, and continues seven days, wherein they feed on unleavened bread...” Flavius Josephus

As is shown in the above picture, the time "when the sun is in Aries" is the tekufah or vernal equinox.

"Moses puts down the beginning of the vernal equinox as the first month of the year, attributing the chief honour, not as some persons do, to the periodical revolutions of the year in regard of time, but rather to the graces and beauties of nature which it has caused to shine upon men; for it is through the bounty of nature that the seeds which are sown to produce the necessary food of mankind are brought to perfection … Now wheat and barley are among the things which are very necessary…" Philo Judaeus. Translated by C.D. Yonge. "A Treatise on the Life of Moses, Book II, XLI." The Works of Philo Complete and Unabridged. Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.

It is important to understand the timing of the Biblical year, as it affects the timing of YHWH's annual holy days. Ezekiel 20:19-20 - “I am the LORD your God; walk in My statutes, and keep My judgments, and do them; And hallow My Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.”

But, whatever your view on the dating - or whether or not you agree with this study - we hope and pray that the issue of dating the holy days will not serve to isolate you. Let it never keep you from assembling together! We encourage you if you find yourself alone with your interpretation of dates to keep those dates in your home, but still come to the "convocations." This will make sure no one misses the heavenly blessing YHWH intended for us at these beautiful times. As it says in Hebrews 10:23-25 - “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

For more information on this important subject, ask for our DVD titled "When Does the Biblical Year Begin?

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