The Mystery of the Hebrew Calendar
Is the Hebrew Calendar God’s Coded Message to Mankind?
See also Jewish Festivals
The Christian Calendar
The Roman Empire followed the Julian calendar – one based on the sun (a ‘solar’ calendar). Today, many Protestant countries have adopted the Gregorian calendar, which is also a ‘solar’ calendar. Every four years an extra day is added to keep the calendar in step with the Earth’s progress around the Sun. In fact, the Gregorian calendar year differs from the solar year by just 26 seconds! The Gregorian calendar is today’s internationally accepted civil calendar and is also known as the “Western calendar” or “Christian calendar”.
Christmas: December 25 (close to the winter solstice, link) originally hosted two sun-related festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”), and the birthday of the Iranian god Mithras, Sun of Righteousness. Pagan Rome also held the festival of Saturnalia between December 17-25 i.e. also around the time of the winter solstice. The early church related ‘Sun’ to the Son of God, and the solstice to a rising of light (in the northern hemisphere), and wanted these pagan holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones, link, link. So it absorbed pagan sun-god concepts, as in the round sun-like wafer used in the Roman Catholic Eucharist. Even modern translations present Jesus Christ as the ‘Sun’ of righteousness (Mal 4.2). The birth of Christ was not celebrated, commemorated, or observed, neither by the apostles nor in the apostolic church – it was sufficient to know that Christ had risen. The Western Church first celebrated Christmas on December 25 in 336 after Emperor Constantine. It was because of its pagan origin that Christmas was banned by the Puritans.
Easter: Unlike the Jewish feasts, which were instituted by God, Easter is a celebration instituted by man. The early church wanted to celebrate the resurrection and used the Jewish Passover on Nisan 14 (full moon), not to celebrate the first Passover, but to commemorate the sufferings of Jesus, the true Passover Lamb. But, in a move to align the celebration date to the solar calendar, the Council of Nicaea in 325 fixed the date to the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal (Spring) equinox, thereby moving away from the Jewish festival of Passover. The Western Easter is rooted in paganism. The name itself, Easter, has its roots in ancient polytheistic religions, link, and is derived from Eastre, the goddess of Spring. The pagan festival honouring Eastre was held at the vernal (Spring) equinox, when the sun crossed the equator towards the north, offering new life. Similarly, it is claimed that the traditional Easter sunrise service reflects an ancient pagan custom of worship to the Sun God “Tammuz” at the vernal equinox, link.
In summary, unlike the seven God-inspired Jewish festivals, there is no warrant in scripture for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days. In fact, these Christian celebrations are more related to pagan festivals wrapped around the Roman solar calendar, than to God-inspired Jewish festivals wrapped around the Jewish calendar.
Time to Change?
In the light of this error of the Western church, should Christians have a re-think? Let’s assume that the birth, death and resurrection of Christ are so fundamental to mankind that we should celebrate them. After all, the birth was God coming to man, the death was God reconciling man to Himself, and the resurrection was God showing man the way to eternal life. The early church used the Jewish Passover on Nisan 14 to celebrate the resurrection, and Jesus Himself told believers to proclaim His death as a sign of the new covenant (Mat 26.26-29).
So how should sincere believers celebrate the birth, death and resurrection of the Saviour of mankind? At the very least, they can minimise the pagan aspects – even the seasons and dates – and stress the mission of Christ, link. On the other hand, some believers argue that God did not give man specific dates to celebrate the mission of Christ, link, and even holy communion is not assigned a date:
We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas [Charles Spurgeon, 1871]
If we adopt Spurgeon’s view, is there still a way of celebrating milestones in the mission of Christ? Perhaps we should be paying more attention to the Jewish calendar. The Jewish world maintains the statutes delivered by God to the Hebrew patriarchs, and these are also fundamental to Christian belief. Moreover, serious consideration of the Jewish festivals suggests they hold a deep message for mankind (see sidebar) and some festivals even go through into the Millennium – they are ‘statutes for ever’. The Western church needs to pay attention! She is missing something by ignoring Jewish feasts based on the Hebrew calendar. The difference in biblical basis between Hebrew and Christian festivals is striking, link.
Since the death and resurrection of Christ occurred during the Jewish Passover, the early church kept the annual celebration of the resurrection in proximity to the Jewish Passover (Nisan 14), link. So today, some Christians follow the early church tradition and observe a ‘Christian Passover’, a form of the Jewish Passover but with the freedom Christ gives from ritual (1 Cor. 5:7-8), link. The practice is found among Assemblies of Yahweh, Messianic Jews, and some congregations of the Church of God (Seventh Day), and is often linked to the Christian Easter, link. Organizations such as “Jews for Jesus” have long promoted Christian Passover services as a means for Jews to retain their cultural heritage while confessing Christian faith. This thirst of Christians to revisit their Jewish roots has been well expressed by Bratcher, The Voice:
(There is) a renewed awareness of the importance of the Old Testament Scriptures as Christian Scripture; a desire or even a need in our modern world to recover a sense of the sacred through liturgy and sacrament; the willingness to find new and innovative ways to worship; and perhaps even the enjoyment that comes from acknowledging the continuity with a 3,000 year old community of faith
The Hebrew Calendar
In contrast to the Christian calendar, the Jewish calendar is essentially a lunar calendar with twelve lunar months, each month starting on the new moon. This means each month has 29 or 30 days, which sums to 354 days a year (29.5 x 12). Since this is short of a solar year, it is corrected by adding an extra month (AdarII) in leap years in order to ensure that the seasonal feasts keep to their correct season. So strictly speaking it is called a ‘lunar-solar’ calendar.
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Want to Learn Ancient Hebrew?
The Hebrew Bible was written 2,500 to 3,500 years ago by a people whose culture and lifestyle were very different than our own. So a study of the ancient Hebrew alphabet, language and culture gives Christians a better understanding of the Biblical texts. But this is not just an academic exercise: Bible prophecy says that the ancient language of Canaan will be revived in the last days and will be spoken in the cities of Israel!
The Ancient Hebrew Research Center uses AUDIO to help you learn how to recognise and pronounce Hebrew letters, and how to create simple sentences. Or sign up for a professional online course from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.