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The Equinox Error

This study explains why it is not necessary to set the head of the year according to the vernal equinox (and indeed, why it is wrong to do so).

When we live in the land of Israel, all Israelite males must come up to Jerusalem three times a year; and Yahweh says not to appear before Him empty-handed.

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 16:16
16 “Three times a year all your males shall appear before Yahweh your Elohim in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before Yahweh empty-handed.”

In addition to our normal tithes (which we discuss in Torah Government), during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Yahweh wants us to bring Him a special offering called the wave sheaf offering (or omer, in Hebrew). Yahweh says not to eat any of that year’s crops until after we have presented Him with this special omer (sometimes called the firstfruits offering.)

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 23:10-11, 14
10 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest.”
11 “He shall wave the sheaf before Yahweh, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it….”
14 “You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your Elohim; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.”

In The Torah Calendar we show that Yahweh does not want all of the barley to be ripe before we present Him with the omer. He just wants us to show our faith and love for Him by bringing Him the very first of the edible barley before we eat any of it ourselves. (In ancient times this could be a very big show of faith, because the people could run out of food in winter.)

If you take barley that is not hard ripe (but is still a little green), it has enough water in it that if you parch it in fire, it will yield a tasty meal similar to puffed wheat. Barley that is at this stage of development is called aviv (אָבִיב) barley. The New King James Version calls this “in the head,” because that is where the development is going on.

Shemote (Exodus) 9:31
31 Now the flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was in the head and the flax was in bud.
(31) וְהַפִּשְׁתָּה וְהַשְּׂעֹרָה נֻכָּתָה | כִּי הַשְּׂעֹרָה אָבִיב וְהַפִּשְׁתָּה גִּבְעֹל

It is really cool of Yahweh to allow us to bring Him barley that is not yet fully ripe, so we can start to eat of our crops as soon as possible. Yet clearly, there has to be something there to eat. If we would not want to upset an earthly king by bringing him an offering that could not be eaten, then how much more should we bring an edible offering to the King above all kings?

It stands to reason, then, that the best way to keep from bringing Yahweh a worthless offering is to wait until after we have already physically sighted aviv barley in the land of Israel before declaring the head of the year. If we do things that way, then there is no possibility of upsetting Yahweh, by presenting him with an inedible omer. This method is simple and foolproof, both of which are characteristics Yahweh likes. So why do things any other way?

For some reason, some people want to do things another way. Just as there are lunar Sabbatarians, there are also proponents of trying to merge the Greek concept of the equinox into Scripture.

An equinox is defined as that point in time when the day and the night are of equal length. This concept was first established by the Chaldean (Babylonian) astronomer Kidinnu circa 379 BCE. It has nothing to do with the Torah of Moshe. Babylonians and also Greeks paid attention to astrology, and the movements of the heavenly bodies. Yahweh said this was because He gave the worship of the sun, the moon and the stars as a heritage to all of the other people under the heavens (but that His people should take care not do the same).

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:19
19 “And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which Yahweh your Elohim has given to all the [other] peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.”

Some people think the word tekufah (תְקוּפָה) refers to an equinox in the Tanach (Old Testament), because that is how the word is used today. However, that is not accurate. Today the English word gay is taken to mean something completely different than it meant a hundred years ago. As we will show, that is also the case with the word tekufah, since the concept did not even exist in the years when the Tanach was written.

Strong’s Concordance defines a tekufah as a complete cycle of time (i.e., a complete circuit) or a “revolution,” without any mention of an equinox.

OT:8622 tequwphah (tek-oo-faw’); or tequphah (tek-oo-faw’); from OT:5362; a revolution, i.e. (of the sun) course, (of time) lapse:
KJV – circuit, come about, end.

The root word at OT:5362 means “to strike,” referring to how the sun bursts forth in the dry desert air, changing the temperature quickly, and encompassing everything with its heat.

OT:5362 naqaph (naw-kaf’); a primitive root; to strike with more or less violence (beat, fell, corrode); by implication (of attack) to knock together, i.e. surround or circulate:
KJV – compass (about, -ing), cut down, destroy, go round (about), inclose, round.

Neither definition says anything about an equinox. Neither one makes any kind of reference at all to equal parts night and day. They only mention going around, circulating, completing a circuit, or making a compass. In other words, they refer to completing a cycle of time (of whatever length).

The word tekufah (תְקוּפָה) is only found four times in Scripture, and we will look at all four. The first instance is Psalms 19:6 (19:7 in Hebrew versions).

Tehillim (Psalms) 19:1-6
1 The heavens declare the glory of Elohim; and the firmament shows His handiwork.
2 Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.
4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
5 Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
6 Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit [tekufah] to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Equinox theorists suggest verse 6 refers to an equinox because it talks about how the sun travels a circuit from one end of the sky to the other. However, the definition of an equinox is when the day and the night are of equal length, and this passage says nothing at all about that.

Tehillim (Psalms) 19:6
6 Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
(7) מִקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם מוֹצָאוֹ וּתְקוּפָתוֹ עַל קְצוֹתָם | וְאֵין נִסְתָּר מֵחַמָּתוֹ

Clearly, the word tekufah does not mean equinox in this context, because if we try to substitute the word equinox into the reading, we get nonsense.

Tehillim (Psalms) 19:6 (Nonsense version)
6 Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its equinox to the other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Yes, the sun does rise in the east, and it sets in the west; but this does not mean the Torah commands us to begin our calendar after the equinox (when the day and the night are equal parts in length); and to suggest that it does is to seriously distort the text.

The word tekufah is also used in Exodus 34:22. Yahweh tells us to observe the Feast of the Ingathering (i.e., Tabernacles) at the end of the year (tekufat hashanah, תְּקוּפַת הַשָּׁנָה). Equinox advocates say this refers to the fall equinox, but what it really says is that by the Feast of Ingathering (i.e., Tabernacles) the year has made a complete circuit.

Shemote (Exodus) 34:22
22 “And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end [circuit, completion].”
(22) וְחַג שָׁבֻעֹת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ בִּכּוּרֵי קְצִיר חִטִּים | וְחַג הָאָסִיף תְּקוּפַת הַשָּׁנָה

We know that this word cannot mean “equinox” for the same reasons we saw before: if we substitute the word equinox into this passage, we get an absurdity.

Shemote (Exodus) 34:22 (Nonsense version)
22 “And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s equinox.”

We need to understand that the word tekufah does not mean the same thing as the word end (in most European languages). Rather, it refers to the completion of a cycle (and in this case, the completion of the cycle of the three annual pilgrimage feasts). This is a poetic meaning, and we should not mangle it.

The next use is in 1 Samuel 1:20, where it says that “in the process of time” (l’tekufat hayamim) Hannah conceived and bore a son.

1 Samuel 1:20
20 So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from Yahweh.”
(20) וַיְהִי לִתְקֻפוֹת הַיָּמִים וַתַּהַר חַנָּה וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן | וַתִּקְרָא אֶת שְׁמוֹ שְׁמוּאֵל כִּי מֵיְהוָה שְׁאִלְתִּיו

The literal meaning of l’tekufat hayamim is “in the course of days.” In this case it refers to Hannah’s term of pregnancy, and if we try to plug the term equinox in here we get total nonsense.

1 Samuel 1:20 (Nonsense version)
20 So it came to pass in the equinox of days that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from Yahweh.”

Finally, the word tekufah also appears in 2 Chronicles 24:23, which tells us about how the army of Syria came against Judah and Jerusalem at the tekufat hashana, or the “cycle of the year.” The New King James Version translates tekufat as “in the spring.”

2 Chronicles 24:23
23 So it happened in the spring [tekufat] of the year that the army of Syria came up against him; and they came to Judah and Jerusalem, and destroyed all the leaders of the people from among the people, and sent all their spoil to the king of Damascus.
(23) וַיְהִי לִתְקוּפַת הַשָּׁנָה עָלָה עָלָיו חֵיל אֲרָם וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִַם וַיַּשְׁחִיתוּ אֶת כָּל שָׂרֵי הָעָם מֵעָם | וְכָל שְׁלָלָם שִׁלְּחוּ לְמֶלֶךְ דַּרְמָשֶׂק

This is a translation error. To see this, let us compare it against 1 Kings 20:26, which speaks of l’teshuvat hashanah, or the “return of the year” (לִתְשׁוּבַת הַשָּׁנָה). This word is translated identically as “spring.”

1 Kings 20:26
26 So it was, in the spring of the year, that Ben-Hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel.
(26) וַיְהִי לִתְשׁוּבַת הַשָּׁנָה וַיִּפְקֹד בֶּן הֲדַד אֶת אֲרָם | וַיַּעַל אֲפֵקָה לַמִּלְחָמָה עִם יִשְׂרָאֵל

Neither tekufat nor teshuvat mean spring, yet both are translated as “spring” in the New King James Version because armies normally went out to war in the spring. However, the army did not wait for the equinox to pass before they went out on campaign. They could not have cared less whether or not the days and nights were of equal length. Only, they waited for the spring rains to pass, so they could travel on dirt roads without getting bogged down in the mud.

Clearly, none of the four places where the word tekufah is used in Scripture refers to an equinox. Instead, they refer to the sun’s daily course through the sky, the completion of the three annual pilgrimage festivals, Hannah’s forty week gestation, and the time when kings went out to war. Yet amazingly, some still insist this is proof that we cannot begin the year until after the equinox has passed, based on Genesis 1:14-19.

B’reisheet (Genesis) 1:14-19
14 Then Elohim said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons [וּלְמוֹעֲדִים], and for days and years;
15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
16 Then Elohim made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.
17 Elohim set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth,
18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And Elohim saw that it was good.
19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Equinox advocates argue that when Genesis 1:14 says the sun and the moon are used to divide the day from the night, this is referring to the equinox (when the day and the night are of equal length). This seems like a real stretch. If Yahweh wants us to go by the equinox, why does He not just say so? And how can Yahweh be commanding us to use the equinox, when the idea was invented some 1,500 years after the giving of the Torah (by the Greeks, no less)?

In response, equinox advocates attack the aviv barley method, retorting that the commandment to establish the head of the year by the barley is not directly stated in the Torah either. However, their argument does not work, because as we have already seen, there is a need to make sure that the barley is edible (aviv) before we can hold the wave sheaf offering, while the equinox is completely irrelevant to the wave sheaf.

Let us also look at Exodus 9:31 again, where we are told that the barley was already in the head (aviv).

Shemote (Exodus) 9:31
31 Now the flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was in the head [aviv] and the flax was in bud.

Scripture makes a point of telling us that the first month of the year came soon after the barley was aviv.

Shemote (Exodus) 12:2
2 “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.”

The same cannot be said for the equinox.

We could stop here, but it is helpful to see how the rabbis first decided to bring the equinox into their intercalation process, in which the head of the year is established. (Just the fact that the equinox has not always been included in the rabbinic intercalation process says something important, but so does the manner in which the equinox first came to be included.)

Rabbi Gamliel (Gamaliel) was Shaul’s (Paul’s) teacher.

Ma’asei (Acts) 22:3
3 “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamli’el, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ Torah, and was zealous toward Elohim as you all are today!”

Gamliel was also a contemporary of Yeshua.

Ma’asei (Acts) 5:34
34 Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamli’el, a teacher of the Torah held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while.

The historic record in Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 11b, then, tells us that about 50 CE, Gamliel began establishing the head of the year based not just on the barley, but also on the state of the fledgling doves and the newborn lambs.

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 11b
It once happened that Rabban Gamliel was sitting on a step on the temple mount, and the well-known scribe Yochanan was standing before him with three cut sheets [of parchment] lying before him. He [Gamliel] said to him [Yochanan]… “take the third [sheet] and write to our brethren, the exiles of Babylon and to those in Media, and to all the other exiled [sons] of Israel, saying: ‘May your peace be great forever! We beg to inform that the doves are still tender, and the lambs are still young, and the aviv [barley] is not yet ripe. It seems advisable to me and to my colleagues to add thirty days to this year.’”

This passage perfectly illustrates how the rabbis see their authority with regard to Torah. The rabbis do not believe it is their job to follow the Torah of Moshe to the letter. Rather, they believe Yahweh gave Moshe the authority to establish “Torah law” however he saw fit; and that when Moshe died, the authority to establish “Torah law” then transferred to his successors (i.e., Joshua, and so on). Because the rabbis see themselves as heirs to this authority, they have no qualms about changing the Torah to suit themselves, as when Gamliel did when he took the fledgling doves and the newborn lambs into account (over and beyond the barley).

The Talmud also records how Gamliel’s son, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel I, was faced with a similar situation a generation later, and issued an identical ruling, postponing the start of the calendar year based on factors other than the aviv barley. Rabban Yannai quotes Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel below.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 11a
R. Yannai said in the name of R. Shimon b. Gamliel: “We beg to inform you that the doves are still tender, and the lambs are still young, and the aviv is not yet ripe. I have considered the matter and thought it advisable to add thirty days to this year.”

From approximately 50-80 CE, the head of the year was no longer being based on the barley alone, but was being based on a total of three agricultural factors.

  1. The state of the barley
  2. The state of the fledgling doves
  3. The state of the newborn lambs

From a certain standpoint this decision made sense. The barley, the doves, and the lambs all need to be at a certain state of maturity before the Passover and the wave sheaf can be offered. However, if we will stop to think about it, when the barley is aviv, the lambs and the fledgling doves will also be ready, so really there was never a need to widen the scope beyond what Yahweh commands. Yet the way the rabbinical mind works, once a “legal precedent” had been established for widening the scope to take other agricultural factors into consideration, it was a simple matter to widen the scope a little more, to include the equinox.

Flavius Josephus’ works are dated circa 90 CE, some 60 years after Yeshua’s death. While writing for a Roman patron, Josephus said that the Jews would establish the start of their calendar year in the Roman month of Xanthicus.

Josephus, Antiquities 3:10:5, circa 93-94 CE, Whiston Translation
“In the (Greco Roman) month of Xanthicus, which by us is called Nisan, and is the beginning of our year, on the fourteenth day of the lunar month, when the sun is in Aries (for in this month it was that we were delivered from bondage under the Egyptians)….”

While Josephus was once a highly respected priest, we need to remember that Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 CE, and at the time Josephus wrote Antiquities he was writing to please a Greco-Roman patron. Since he depended upon pleasing this Greco-Roman patron for his livelihood, he probably framed his explanation in terms his patron could easily understand.

It is probably precisely due to the Roman subjugation that Latin terms such as equinox made their way into the Talmud at all. The first use of the term equinox is found in Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 11b, which is dated circa 100 CE, some 30 years after the fall of Jerusalem (and maybe some 1,600 years after the giving of the Torah). [Note: to intercalate is to insert a day or a month into a calendar.]

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 11b
“Our rabbis taught: ‘Based on three things is the year intercalated: on the aviv, on the fruit of the trees, and on the equinox. Based upon two of them the year is intercalated, but based on one of them alone the year is not intercalated; but when the Aviv is one of them, everyone is pleased.’”

Everyone was pleased when the aviv barley was one of the factors used in determining the head of the year, but this is not the same as taking extreme care to stick to the letter of Yahweh’s Torah. In fact, this passage is a perfect illustration of the kind of thing Yahweh prohibits at Deuteronomy 4:2, where He tells us not to add to His laws, so that we can keep His laws (rather than our own laws).

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:2
2 “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your Elohim, which I command you.”

Notice how the specific language implies that if we add to Yahweh’s commandments, they are no longer His commandments, but our own. This is exactly what our rabbinical brothers (both Orthodox and Messianic) do when they decide for themselves what the “Torah law” for the day is (instead of clinging to Yahweh’s Torah).

Our Jewish brothers and sisters continued to determine the head of the year from the temple mount, so long as they still had free access to Jerusalem. However, after the Jews were mercilessly crushed in the aftermath of the Bar Kochba revolt circa 135 CE, the Romans then banned the Jews from entering any part of Judea (southern Israel). Because the rabbis could no longer enter the warmer regions, such as the Gaza and the Jordan Valley (where the barley ripens the soonest), it was no longer possible for the rabbis to base the head of the year on the aviv barley. Yet since the rabbis had already established a “legal precedent” of basing the head of the year on something other than the barley, they were now mentally primed to embrace a man-made calendar in which the head of the year was based primarily on the equinox.

Change often happens slowly. It is interesting to note that even after 135 CE (one hundred years after Yeshua’s ministry), the rabbis still taught that it was not ideal to establish (or intercalate) the head of the year before aviv barley was found. We know this because Tractate Sanhedrin 12a (which dates after 135 CE) speaks of a time when Rabbi Akiva intercalated three years in advance. The reason he did this was because he was in prison after the Bar Kochba revolt, facing execution. (Though his role in the Bar Kochba revolt was not clear, he was executed in 137 CE.)

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 12a
“Our rabbis taught: We may not in the current year, intercalate the following year, nor intercalate three
years in succession.
R. Shimon said: [However,] it once happened that R. Akiva, when kept in prison (following the Bar Kokhba Revolt) intercalated three years in succession.”

Rabbi Akiva may have felt it was necessary to establish the start of the year three years in advance because the nation was in total disarray. He may have felt that it was necessary to buy time for his brothers to recover from their miserable defeat at the hands of the Romans, and to establish new leadership.

Rabbinical Judaism, however, is legally oriented, and it holds that any ancient legal precedent gives grounds for a similar (or repeat) decision (even if that decision goes against the Torah of Moshe). Thus it was that when the Romans banned the Jews from entering Judea (i.e., southern Israel, where the barley ripens the soonest), they had to retreat to the Galilee, and look for some other way to establish the head of the year. Since there was already a precedent involving the use of the equinox, and since they could no longer see when the first of the barley became aviv, they felt they had good cause to intercalate the years in Galilee. This may explain a later entry in Sanhedrin 11b, which some scholars believe was written after the Bar Kochba Revolt (i.e., after 135 CE, but before 200 CE).

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 11b
Our rabbis taught: Years may only be intercalated in Judah; but if it was intercalated in the Galilee, it stands.

In 200 CE the Sanhedrin officially moved to the Galilee in order to find relief from Roman persecution (here euphemistically referred to as “the Evil Eye”):

Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 1:18:3b
“It once happened that 24 villages from the domain of Rabbi [Judah the Prince] came together to intercalate the year in Lod [near the present Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv]. The Evil Eye [i.e. Roman soldiers] entered them, and all of them died on a single occasion. From that time they removed the intercalation of the year from Judah and permanently established the rite in Galilee.”

Euphemisms, such as “the Evil Eye,” were generally used to avoid being punished for recording the sins of the Roman Empire (as such things were typically punished by death). However, the story continues in our time. Having been barred from Jerusalem and Judea, the rabbis had little choice but to adopt new means of declaring the head of the year. Eventually, in the fourth century CE the rabbis created a calendar called the Hillel II calendar, which uses a brilliant mathematical algorithm to approximate the date the barley actually comes ripe in the land. Interestingly, this algorithm never declares the head of the year before the vernal equinox. Although it has issues, most years it approximates the appearance of the new moon within a day or two.

Even though our Jewish brethren are now back in the land, the rabbis still use the Hillel II calendar to this day (2013 CE), and this is a problem. While the Hillel II calendar was a brilliant solution during the years that brother Judah was unable to observe the ripening of the barley in the land of Israel, now that they are once again able to directly observe the barley harvest, the time has come (and now is) to return to keeping the Father’s Torah the way He says to keep it (based on the aviv barley alone).

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