Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chapter 1. The Creation Day Sabbath

The Book of Genesis[1] tells how in the beginning the world was covered with an endless ocean of total darkness. On the first day a supreme command brought forth the light so there would be both day and night. On the second day the world was cleft in two, where the region above formed the heavenly firmament and the region below became the earthly habitat. The third day saw the waters recede into their reservoirs both above and below so that dry land appeared from which both herb bearing seed and fruit producing trees began to grow.

On the following day, the fourth day, "God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day; and the lesser light to rule the night: ...."

The fifth day brought forth the living creatures that were in the waters and in the air, and on the sixth day the animals and man were formed to live upon the land. Finally, when all His work was completed, the Creator rested. This then was the seventh day, which was blessed and sanctified.

The two great lights mentioned here on the fourth day of creation came to be known as the sun and the moon. The repetitious rising and setting of the sun marked passing of each day, while the growing and ebbing phases of the moon marked the passage of each month. When these two luminaries were synchronized together they determined the length of the Jewish luni-solar year. During the days of the second Temple, the temple priests in Jerusalem regulated the calendar according to cycles of both the sun and the moon. The first sighting of the crescent new moon was used to calibrate the beginning of the month and the dates for the annual pilgrim festivals. Since twelve lunar months fall short of a solar year by just more than eleven days, an extra lunar month was added every second or third year for the purpose of keeping the spring equinox at the proper season of the year. The temple priests probably used the astronomical alignment of the temple to periodically realign the lunar year with the solar year[2]. The exact procedure for adding the intercalary month has not survived, but a variety of different methods were known at the time when the second Temple stood in Jerusalem.

Early Greek culture used a cycle of 99 lunar months to approximate a period of eight solar years. The first four years, or Olympiad, lasted 49 months, while the second Olympiad lasted 50 months. Later, at the time of Alexander the Great, when the Greeks came in contact with Babylonian astronomy, the Metonic cycle was discovered as being more accurate. This cycle lasted 235 lunar months or very close to nineteen solar years. Seven out of the nineteen years contained an extra "intercalary" month.

The Egyptians, who had a long history of using a stable calendar, did not use the moon to reckon the length of the year. Since the year was observed as being close to 365 days, the Egyptians simply kept the year at this fixed length. The planting season occurred earlier in the year as a number of years rolled by. This displacement, however, only amounted to just about two weeks over a span of sixty years. The most important aspect of the Egyptian year occurred at the earliest pre-dawn sighting, or heliacal rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. This annual sidereal event accurately predicted the time when the Nile would overflow its banks. The Egyptian priests also noted that the moon resynchronized itself with the Egyptian year every twenty-five years. The count of 309 lunar months closely approximated twenty-five Egyptian years. This period was known as an Apis cycle, and was observed on an anniversary day when a young white bull calf replaced the sacrificed bull of the former cycle.

The most amazing cycle of all was known as a �Great Year,� or as a Neros (Naros) cycle of 600 years, where 600 solar years is very nearly equal to 7421 lunar months. The ancient Chaldeans were credited with the discovery of this grand epoch, which can be broken down into ten periods of sixty years each, or, alternately, into a dozen periods of fifty years each. Various cultures have consequently relied upon the Neros cycle to delineate the transition of one historical age into another.

The special sanctity of the number seven, as represented by the creation day sabbath, influenced every aspect of Jewish culture and religious activity. We are even informed by one account[3] that the seven-branched menorah housed in the Jerusalem temple represented the seven planets. A chronotropic heptameter, or reckoning of time punctuated by intervals of seven, stimulated the entire body of Jewish culture. Every recognizable seventh cycle of time was hallowed as a sabbath, whether it be a day, week, month, year, or week of years. The most important year of all climaxed by a "week of weeks" was said to be the "fiftieth" year or the Jubilee, and restarted a new calendrical cycle of 606 lunar months. This cycle of 606 lunar months might possibly have been the result of averaging three 99 lunar month cycles with one Apis cycle of 309 lunar months (3 x 99 + 309 = 606). In this way, eighteen intercalary months could be uniformly distributed among the seven "weekly" cycles by adding three lunar months in an odd numbered week of years, and two lunar months in an even numbered week of years. A system of this sort abides by the long-standing tradition, which says[4] "A leap year must not be appointed neither in the Sabbatic year nor in the following year. But when were they used to be established? On the eve of the Sabbatic year." Accordingly, the second, fourth, and sixth years, or alternately the third and sixth years, in a seven-year cycle could be designated as thirteen-month intercalary years. This method would naturally enough preserve the tradition of observing an intercalary year in every pre-Sabbatic year or sixth year and not ever in a Sabbatical year within any seven-year cycle. If an orderly pattern such as this had been followed, then the temple authorities would have been able to plan a schedule for the annual festivals for a half century at a time.

In any event, whatever the means used by the temple priests to regulate the years, the first lunar month, Nisan, marked the beginning of the religious New Year and the starting point for counting the months. The first day of Nisan was known as the New Year's Day for Kings, and the seven days beginning with the Nisan full moon commemorated Passover (Pesach). The day following the culmination of the seven weeks from the Passover Sabbath was set aside as the Festival of Weeks (Shavuoth). In addition, the seventh month of Tishri was filled with special religious days: the first day of the month (Rosh Hashanah) started the civil New Year; the tenth day was observed as a Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the week beginning with the full moon marked the Festival of Booths (Sukkoth).

A four-year period was called a "heavenly day"[5]. The first fourth day (Wednesday) falling in the religious new year after a "week of heavenly days" or dominical cycle of twenty-eight years, was celebrated as a Creation Day anniversary known as the "Blessing of the Sun" (Bircas Hachama)[6]. Prayers filled with messianic hope and thanksgiving for the blessing of life were offered to honor this significant occasion. In addition, seven-year periods were called a "week of years". In the land of Israel every, seventh year defined a formal period of rest for the land and its people. After seven weeks of years, a Jubilee was commemorated and "liberty was declared throughout the land."

The seventh day of the week, the annual religious pilgrim festivals, the seventh year, and the Jubilee were all designated as a sabbath. The Jewish scriptures highlight the significance of each sabbath occasion as part of Jewish religious life. In particular Leviticus (chapter 26, verses 2 thru 13) explains:

"Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord your God.
�If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them;
�Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.
�And your threshing shall reach into the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely."

Again in Exodus (chapter 31, verses 21 thru 17), where Moses hears the divine words directed towards the people of Israel, the scripture states:
"Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generation; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.
�Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
�Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
�Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.
�It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed."

During the first 120 years of the Roman Empire, starting from the days of Julius Caesar, prominent Roman rulers such as Julius Caesar, Tiberius, and Titus invariably took note of the Jewish religious practice involving elaborate sabbath custom. Over the course of time, one can sense a definite shift in their opinions as Roman control gradually increased over Judaea.

Josephus, a Jewish historian (circa 37 CE - 100 CE), tells of a decree issued by Julius Caesar during a time period when the Jewish people were first subject to Roman control. The ruling was written in both Latin and Greek, and inscribed on a brass tablet. A portion of which follows:[7]
"(Julius) Caius Caesar, imperator the second time, has ordained, that all the country of the Jews, except Joppa, pay tribute for the city of Jerusalem every year except the seventh year, which they call the sabbatical year, because therein they neither receive the fruit of their trees, nor do they sow their land; ... ."

At another time, when Judaea lost its sovereignty and had been incorporated as part of the Syrian province, the Roman historian Suetonius related how, when Tiberius visited Rhodes[8], "... a professor of literature named Diogenes used to lecture every 'Sabbath' - and, when Tiberius wanted to hear him some other day of the week, sent a slave out to say: ' Come back on the seventh day!' Diogenes now turned up at Rome and waited at the Palace door to pay Tiberius his respect; Tiberius� only revenge was a mild message: 'Come back in the seventh year.'"

Some time shortly after the destruction of the Jewish Temple, when Roman tolerance towards the Jewish sabbath had definitely declined to a low point, Titus commented[9], "We are told that the seventh day was set aside for rest because this marked the end of their toils. In the course of time the seductions of idleness made them devote every seventh year to indolence as well. Others say that this is a mark of respect to Saturn, either because they owe the basic principles of their religion to the Idaei [those associated with Mt. Ida on the island of Crete], who, we are told, were expelled from the company of Saturn and became the founders of the Jewish race, or because, among seven stars that rule mankind, the one that describes the highest orbit and exerts the greatest influence is Saturn. A further argument is that most of the heavenly bodies complete their path and revolutions in multiples of seven."

During the period of Roman domination, divergent Jewish values concerning the sanctity of the sabbath and the destiny of the Jewish people ultimately led to open conflict between the imperial forces and their Jewish subjects. At a time almost a decade following the death of Herod the Great, Judaea lost its status as an allied state and became a subject state. Exemptions honored by Julius Caesar concerning the Sabbatical year were apparently either curtailed or annulled entirely. The Jewish agricultural taxes, which had been withheld by religious zealots increasingly, fell overdue with the passage of every seventh year. Eventually, Rome raided the temple treasury for payment, and shortly thereafter Judaea revolted. After an initial defeat, Rome retaliated. The Roman military response had been planned to synchronize with the upcoming Sabbatical year when Jewish forces would be at their greatest disadvantage. The superior Roman military strength overpowered the uprising, and the Jewish temple was destroyed. Despite the loss of the temple, many of the customs surrounding the Sabbatical year, the seven-day week and the sabbath survived either in actual practice or at least recalled in an oral tradition. However, the Roman rulers were never able to reconcile themselves with a sacred time of rest, which allowed for the will of Heaven to rule supreme on earth. Rome preferred an arrangement where divine regulation was limited strictly to heaven, and the divine right to rule on earth remained uninterrupted in the custody of the Roman rulers below.




[1] Genesis 1, chapter 1, chapter 2, verses 1 - 3.
[2] Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Erubin V, 22c.
J. Morgenstern, The Book of the Covenant," HUCA, V, 1927, p. 45.
J. Morgenstern, The Gates of Righteousness," HUCA, VII, 1929.
[3] Josephus, Antiquities III, 7, vii
"It (the menorah) was made with its knops, and lilies, and pomegranates, and bowls, (which amounted to seventy in all,) by which means the shaft elevated itself into as many branches as there are planets, including the sun among them. It terminated in seven heads, in one row, all standing parallel, to one another; and these branches carried seven lamps one by one in imitation of the number of planets."
"The seven lamps branching off from the lampstand symbolized the planets, the twelve loaves on the table the Zodiac circle and the year."
[4] Babylonian Talmud, Tract Sanhedrin, Ch. I, "To the intercalary month," etc.,
Volume 8, page 27, English Edition, Rodkinson
[5] Heavenly week - 28 years, a great cycle - Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (p.170)
"the sun is a great creation, whose circuit lasts 28 years and begins again from the beginning". - Secrets of Enoch, XV, 3b
The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden, New American Library
Baraita (Ber.59b) great cycle 28 years - the sun returns to it original position to the stars & planets (i.e. days of the week) Targum Jon. Gen 1.16
28 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7
[6] Birkhat Hahamaha - Blessing of the Sun
Babylonian Talmud Berakoth 59b (pg 389)
"Our Rabbis taught, He who sees the sun at its turning point, the moon in its power, the planets in their orbits, and the signs of the zodiac in their orderly progress, should say: "Blessed be he who has wrought the work of creation. And when [when does this happen]? - Abaye said Every twenty-eight years when the cycles begins again and the Nisan [Spring] equinox falls in Saturn on the evening of Tuesday, going into Wednesday."
See also The Jewish Encyclopedia, Sun, Blessing of the
[7] Josephus, Antiquities, XIV; 10;1,6
[8] Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Tiberius 32
[9] Tacitus, The Histories, The Jews 5.4

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