The Israelite Religious Dating System

ha-(Yom In religious contexts, Followers of the Way use the biblical Israelite method of dating the days, months and years.

The days of the week

As in the first chapter of Genesis, the days of the week are simply numbered, e.g. First Day, Second Day, Third Day etc. The first day of the week is Sunday, and the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath – Shabbat. Historically, the Sixth Day was also known as ‘the Day of Preparation’ (i.e. for the Sabbath).

Saturday evening to Sunday evening: First-day (Yom rishon)

Sunday evening to Monday evening: Second-day (Yom sheini)

Monday evening to Tuesday evening: Third-day (Yom shlishi)

Tuesday evening to Wednesday evening: Fourth-day (Yom revi`i)

Wednesday evening to Thursday evening: Fifth-day (Yom chamishi)

Thursday evening to Friday evening: Sixth-day (Yom shishi)

                                                     also: Day of Preparation (Yom hakhanah)

Friday evening to Saturday evening: Shabbat

A Hebrew day is from sunset to sunset – that is, from full darkness in the evening on one day, to deep twilight the following day. The new day does not begin at twilight; it ends with twilight.

There is a period of the day called, ha-arbáyim (eg Ex 12:6, 16:12), which literally means, ‘the two evenings’. A day ends with an evening, it does not begin with one. And a day only has one evening. This expression is the Hebrew way of saying, ‘twilight’ (between the two lights). The Hebrew expression beyn ha-arbáyim (lit. ‘between the two evenings’) means between the time when it first starts getting dark, to when it is almost dark.

The months of the year

Again, as indicated in the Hebrew bible (eg Gen 7:11 – Second Month, Gen 8:4 Seventh Month, Gen 8:5, Tenth Month), the months are simply numbered. In civil or secular contexts, the months can also be given their post-exile name (i.e. Nisan, Iyar, Sivan etc).

The first day of each month is declared upon the sighting of the first sliver of the New Moon by two witnesses.

The only month given a name in Torah is the first one. In reference to the month that the Israelites left Egypt, Ex 12: 2 says, “This month is to be for you the beginning of the months; it is for you the first of the months of the year”. Then in Ex 23:15 and again in Ex 34:18, with reference to celebrating the Festival of Unleavened Bread, it says, “Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.”

The first month is called Aviv, which means ‘ripe barley’. In ancient times, the first month was taken to be the month when barley ripened. So in about February/March, people were sent out to find ripe barley. As soon as a reasonable amount of ripe barley was found, the following month was declared to be the first month.

It was important to calculate the first month this way, because the first sheaf of barley could then be waved at the waving of the Omer, and First Fruits could be celebrated when the wheat harvest came in, and the Festival of Booths could be observed before the autumn rains came. Israelite society was an agricultural one, and so the ancient calendar was a lunar one, corrected for with leap years when the barley came ripe.

The rabbinical calendar is different. New months do no begin on the sighting of the New Moon, and the first month is not always in Aviv. The rabbinical calendar would not have worked in ancient agricultural Israel, since it would have thrown all the harvest seasons out of kilter.

The Origins of the Secular Names of the Months

The modern secular Hebrew names of the months all come from Babylonian and Akkadian. The earliest convention was to simply number the months, and there is some indication that they also had Canaanite names – the bible records four Canaanite names of months: 

Aviv – First-Month – literally ‘Spring’, from aviv: ripe barley (Exodus 12:2, 13:4, 23:15, 34:18, Deut. 16:1)

Ziv – Second-Month – literally ‘shining splendour’, perhaps referring to the flowers that come out at this time (1 Kings 6:1, 6:37)

Ethanim – Seventh-Month – literally ‘bountiful gift’ in plural, perhaps referring to the harvests at this time of year (1 Kings 8:2)

Bul – Eighth-Month – literally ‘rain’ or ‘showers’, referring to the rains that were expected at this time of year (1 Kings 6:38)

After the Babylonian Exile, the Jewish people took on the Babylonian names, which in turn mostly came from Akkadian:

First Month: Nisan – from Akkadian nisānu, which derives from Sumerian nisag: First fruits

Second Month: Iyyar – from Akkadian ayyaru: rosette, blossom

Third Month: Sivan – from Akkadian simānu: season, time

Fourth Month: Tammuz – from Dumuzu, the Mesopotamian god of shepherds, who was said to die in this month, hence the pagan month of mourning

Fifth Month: Av – from Akkadian abu: father

Sixth Month: Elul – from Akkadian ulūlu: harvest

Seventh Month: Teshri – from Akkadian tashritu: Beginning (this is why Babylonian Jews made this the first month of the year)

Eighth Month: Chesvan – from Akkadian arakh-samnu: month-eighth

Ninth Month: Kislev – from Akkadian kislimu: bloated, thickened, due to plentiful rains

Tenth Month: Tevet – from Akkadian tebētu: goodness (this etymology is not certain)

Eleventh Month: Shvat – from Akkadian shabatu: strike, referring to the heavy rains of the season

Twelfth Month: Adar – from Akkadian addāru: cloudy, dark (this etymology is not certain)

 Variants of these names are common to all the Semitic languages. For those worried about the Fourth Month having the name of a pagan god, remember that in English the months of January, February, March, April, May and June are all named after pagan gods. 

The dating of the years

Some Followers of the Way have taken to using the A.E. (“After the Exodus”) dating system. However, it is used only in religious contexts. Yet it is biblically based. 

This year-date system is the oldest year-dating system that the Israelite/Jewish people have. While Torah tells us how we are to calculate and number the days and the months, we are never told how to number the years.

As a result, Israelites/Jews have used various systems throughout the ages. The current system was supposedly worked out from the Creation of the world (A.M. = Anno Mundi = Year of the World). In the year 359 CE, the Jewish Sanhedrin under the direction of Hillel II, worked out from the ages of people mentioned in the bible, that the world was created 5762 years ago. We now know the world is not 5,762 years old, but many thousands of millions of years old.

In ancient times, the general method of relating the year-date was to mention which year of a king or Emperor’s reign it was (e.g. “in the fifth year of the reign of King Ahasuerus”). Another method was to say which year of independent Israel it was – in the First Jewish Revolt in the 1st century CE coins would have, for example, “Year 1 of Israel”, “Year 2 of Israel” etc stamped on them.

However, the oldest dating system which is recorded in the bible, is the one which reckons from how many years after the Exodus ( = A.E.) it was.

In 1Kings 6:1 it says, “And it came to pass, in the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites had come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of YHWH”.

Historians have worked out that the fourth year of King Solomon’s reign was the year 966 BCE. This means that, according to this dating system, the Exodus occurred in 1446 BCE.

Whether this is correct or not, neither I nor anyone else has any way of knowing with 100% certainty. However, what we do know, is that before Israel ever had kings to date their years by, Israelites dated their years by how many years after the Exodus it was.

Now, I don’t know who else does this now. Virtually everyone in the Jewish community (and this includes Karaites) use the Anno Mundi (A.M.) system. We are more than happy to use this system in normal circumstances in solidarity with the rest of our people.

As regards the A.E. system, we emphasise that this is a purely personal preference. In religious circumstances we tend to use the same dating system that the ancient Israelites first used.

Here are some coversions:

   from Mar/Apr 2017 – 3463 AE
   from Mar/Apr 2018 – 3464 AE
from Mar/Apr 2019 – 3465 AE
from Mar/Apr 2020 – 3466 AE
   from Mar/Apr 2021 – 3467 AE
from Mar/Apr 2022 – 3468 AE
from Mar/Apr 2023 – 3469 AE
from Mar/Apr 2024 – 3470 AE