The biblical year is important for us to know, as its different aspects are referenced all throughout the Bible. As mentioned previously in the article on The Biblical Calendar and Timekeeping: “through this system of marking the passage of time, God has provided us clues to historical biblical events, and a structure for weekly, monthly, and annual worship activities based in his word.”
The biblical year begins in the spring. How do we know this? This is how it was explained to Moshe/Moses:
Exodus 12:1 And YHVH spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2 This month [shall be] unto you the beginning of months: it [shall be] the first month of the year to you.
In order for us to know which month this is that YHVH is speaking about, we need a little more information. The context is provided just a little bit further on in Exodus.
Exodus 13:4 This day came ye out in the month Abib.
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 Aviv thou camest out from Egypt.
So we see the month they came out of Egypt is here named Abib (in the KJV) or Aviv (as the Hebrew pronunciation is of the word). That helps a little bit, but what part of the year does the month Aviv occur? Once again, the previous context gives us the answer:
Exodus 9:31 And the flax and the barley was smitten: for the barley [was] in the ear, and the flax [was] bolled.
During the plague of hail on Egypt, the text relates that the barley and flax were damaged because they were already ripening, and therefore ruined as a crop. The word for “bolled” flax is givol, which means “budding.” The word for barley being “in the ear” is aviv, meaning “green ears (of grain).” It’s the same word as the name of the first month.
So we see the month they came out of Egypt was the month Aviv, or greening ears of barley grain. As barley is one of the first ripening crops of the year, this always occurs in the spring in the middle East. This is how we know the biblical year, by the command of YHVH to Moshe, is to begin in the spring, in the month of aviv barley.
How long is a biblical year?
Since each of the biblical months are based on the 29.5 day cycle of the moon, each month can only be either 29 days or 30 days long. This averages out to a 12-month cycle that is approximately 354 days long. Since we know there are closer to 365 days in an actual solar year, this leaves a discrepancy of 11 days that need to be accounted for.
Now it is common knowledge that even our current 365-day solar-based calendar requires adjustments, since each circuit around the sun takes 365.25 days to accomplish. Therefore, we “lose” roughly a 1/4 of a day every year based on a 24-hour day. To counter this, a leap day is added at the end of February in every fourth year to keep us “in sync” with the annual circuit of the earth around the sun.
In like fashion, the biblical year needs to be adjusted occasionally due to the potential of losing 11 days in one year, not just 1/4 of one day. If it were not adjusted somehow, year by year the special festival days that YHVH appointed in Leviticus 23 would slip 11 days backwards through the calendar months. In three years, approximately one month would been “lost.” In eighteen years, the appointed times would be six months off of the natural seasons, with the spring festivals in the autumn, and the autumns festivals in the spring! This is something that cannot be allowed to happen, because according to YHVH’s command:
These are the feasts of YHVH, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons. Leviticus 23:4
The word “seasons” is moedim, meaning, “appointed times”. The word actually appears twice in this verse, as it is also the word translated “feasts”. So the verse could also read, “These are the appointed times (moedim) of YHVH, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim at the appointed times (moedim).” Now, we will be spending some time in other articles going into detail on the moedim that are described there in Leviticus 23, but for now let’s stay focused on the biblical year overall.
So, in order to keep the months at the appointed times of the annual circuit around the sun, the biblical calendar must account for this “lost” time somehow without compromising the clear commands to start the year in the spring (the month of Aviv) and to begin each month at a new moon. (See the article on The Biblical Month for more information).
To counter this, every so often a leap month is added into its cycle of months, and about every three years the biblical calendar contains thirteen months. (Remember, there is no command that a year is required to have only twelve months, just that the first month of the year must always be in the spring season). This is just like the 29th of February leap day inserted every four years in the current Roman calendar, except with the biblical calendar, it’s a whole month. This is called an intercalated month. This assures that the spring festivals always occur in the spring, and the fall festivals always occur in the fall.
Determining the beginning of the year
So, with all of the potential for mishap with a lunar calendar that can quickly get out of sync with the actual annual orbit of the earth around the sun, how can it be determined when it is the appropriate time to add the special leap month in any given year? Well, there are two corollary methods that can be taken into account, both with varying scriptural authority to back them up.
Now, before we start exploring these reference points, I want to make it clear that there are many different opinions about these reference points and how they are to be used. The Bible is only clear on these two points: each month begins with a new moon, and each year begins in the spring month of Aviv. That’s all. Any other determinations added beyond those two things are suppositional. However, these suppositions need to be addressed in order to ascertain the correct timing of the first month of the new year. We do find evidence in the Bible for these references, which include the ripeness of the barley crop, and the timing of the vernal equinox. There are many opinions about both of these aspects; however, I will do my best to explain how each of these ties into the determination of the start of the new biblical year.
To do so, I have created two separate articles, one for the Aviv Barley, and one on the Vernal Equinox. Hopefully by reviewing each of the independent methods, you will gain a greater understanding of the beautiful harmony that YHVH has instilled in the cycles of his creation.