In the previous article on The Biblical Year, I mentioned how there needs to be some sort of correlating indicator to know when a leap month needs to be intercalated to keep the biblical year in tune with the seasons. In this article, I would like to review one of those indicators: the aviv barley.
A clue that God has given us is in the Hebrew name of the first month itself: Aviv, which can mean green in the ears. The name of the month is this corroborating reference point: the ripeness of the barley in the fields. Barley that is aviv has been used to determine which new moon determines the first month of the new year. How did this work?
When the first barley in Israel was inspected to be aviv and would be ripe for harvesting within fifteen days of the upcoming new moon, that upcoming new moon would be considered the start of the month of Aviv.
So, for example, when coming to the end of the 12th month and getting ready for the sighting of the new moon to (possibly) declare the beginning of the year, the ripeness of the barley is checked as a “second witness” to the new year. If the condition of the barley is such that it can be harvested approximately 2 weeks later (at the offering of the first of the firstfruits, Ex. 23:19, 34:26), then that new moon is determined to be aviv, and hence, the start of the new year. If, however, the barley will still not be ripe within the next few weeks, it is not yet the season of aviv barley, and the extra month is proclaimed at that new moon to allow the barley to ripen further. The month Aviv will then be declared at the following new moon, and the spring appointments of Passover, Unleavened Bread, etc. will commence at that time, in their season.
The key thing to understand here is the timing of the barley harvest is critical, because no barley was allowed to be harvested in Israel until the firstfruits had been brought before YHVH during the week of Unleavened Bread in month of Aviv:
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 [i.e., the barley] unto the priest: And he shall wave the sheaf before YHVH, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath [during the week of unleavened bread] the priest shall wave it.
Lev 23:14 And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your God: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
If the month of Aviv was declared late, the harvest would be lost. If the month of Aviv was declared too early, there would be no grain to offer in the Temple. Thus, aviv grain was crucial to declaring the new year, because it was also crucial to the offering of the firstfruits during the week of Unleavened Bread.
Now, some are of the opinion that the aviv barley should not be used as an indicator of the start of the new biblical year, since YHVH commanded that only the heavenly lights should be used for determining times.
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:
As you can see in this famous passage, there is no mention of inspecting crops to determine the seasons. However, those who do think it is valid believe that since the cycle of the aviv barley is tied to the solar year and only becomes ripe in the spring time, that checking the ripeness of the barley still uses the sun (as the prime ripener of the grain) for the indication. Since the grain is required to be used in the first moedim (appointed times) of the biblical calendar, then it would be natural to coordinate the timing of the moedim with its ripeness.
This method does require a physical evaluation of the grain in the twelfth month, and also does require an authoritative body of some sort to declare the “official” start of the new year. In times past, the Sandhedrin (as the ruling body of Jewish officials) served this purpose.
Additionally, as the whole next year hangs on a visual inspection of grain within a two-week period, there is no firm way to know when the new year begins, since all of the remaining months depend on finding aviv barley. Therefore, no forward planning can be made until knowing when the year has been declared as officially starting.
So, while there is no command such as “Thou shalt inspect the barley to determine the beginning of the new year,” and as barley was critical to be used in the performance of the moedim, it would appear to be a legitimate method that doesn’t necessarily violate any other scripture in assisting the determination of when the new year was to start.
To explore another possible option for determining the start of the new biblical year, please see the article on the Vernal Equinox for more information.