The moon. It has been a recurring topic of discussion among Torah Observant groups in recent years. Not so much because of its size or shape or composition, but due to its use in ascertaining the Biblical months. That is, which lunar phases should be use to start counting the days of a month? Some argue for a crescent moon (the first visible sliver of a waxing phase); others for a conjunction (an astronomical moment in time when the moon is not visible at all). Yet still others have argued – albeit rarely – for a full moon. Then there are those who reject this lunar observation entirely in favor of a strictly solar calendar. By that I mean, that the moon is not used for determining or setting the months at all, and instead it should be the sun. This would mean a month (in Biblical terminology) would be a set number of days (either 30 or 31, depending on which variation of solar calendar theory one opts for), rather than the 29/30 days alternating found in the lunar calendar.
Now chances are, you’re reading this because you stumbled across it in the midst of your search into this very issue, or perhaps someone has shared this brief article with you. If you came across it and have no idea what this is even about – nor why you should care – well consider yourself blessed to not have waded into the mire as of yet. Nevertheless, it can be a fascinating study once all the pet doctrines and biases are set aside.
It seems these days that there are as many sides to this as there are people arguing about it. For the purposes of the present article though – and in the interest of brevity – I will keep my comments constrained primarily to the area a bit more aligned with my own expertise: Hebrew language. Here, that means looking specifically at the word חֹ֫דֶשׁ (chodesh) as found in the Tanakh.
A Word Study of חֹ֫דֶש
On the surface, the word is most often found translated – in most places – as “month.” In fact, that remains the general consensus for translation outside Hebraic groups and discussions. Some more recent Bible translations have opted for the rendering of “new moon” here, instead of “month” (this is typically the rendering found in translations favored by Hebrew Roots groups, such as the ISR Scriptures Version and the Hebrew Roots Bible).
Now the word חֹ֫דֶשׁ is found some 275 times in the Tanakh. It is usually translated only a couple of different ways depending on the context. For example, in the New American Standard Bible 2020 (NASB 2020), it is rendered as month or months (depending on if singular or plural) some 248 times. That’s 90% of the occurrences of the word. The rest of the time it is rendered as “[new] moon(s).”
That’s pretty straightforward in terms of the numbers. But the reason this question comes up revolves not around whether it should be rendered as “month” but whether that month is related to a lunar cycle or a solar one.
Qumran and the Solar Calendar
Now, I’m going to get anecdotal for just a moment. From my observations, this particular issue over whether the solar phase or lunar phase should be used to determine the Biblical month, has arisen primarily because of renewed interest in the writings found at Qumran, the Dead Sea Scrolls. The assumption is normally made that the solar calendar found in texts like 1 Enoch and Jubilees is older and therefore more original than the lunar calendar upheld by the later Rabbinic writings. This is point number 1: that the solar calendar is older and therefore more original (or at least closer) than the lunar calendar. One example of a Qumran calendar, often upheld in Hebrew Roots circles, is found in Jubilees 6:29-30:
29 And they set them upon the heavenly tablets. Each one of them is thirteen weeks from one to another of the remembrances, from the first to the second, and from the second to the third, and from the third to the fourth. 30 And all of the days which will be commanded will be fifty-two weeks of days, and all of them are a complete year.
Just a couple verses later we read:
32 And you, command the children of Israel so that they shall guard the years in this number, three hundred and sixty-four days, and it will be a complete year. And no one shall corrupt its (appointed) time from its days or from its feasts because all (of the appointed times) will arrive in them according to their testimony, and they will not pass over a day, and they will not corrupt a feast.
And lastly verses 36-37:
36 And there will be those who will examine the moon diligently because it will corrupt the (appointed) times and it will advance from year to year ten days. 37 Therefore, the years will come to them as they corrupt and make a day of testimony a reproach and a profane day a festival, and they will mix up everything, a holy day (as) profaned and a profane (one) for a holy day, because they will set awry the months and sabbaths and feasts and jubilees.
It should be apparent by now that the author of Jubilees was not only convinced of the truth of his own calendar, but was also convinced that the lunar calendar observed by his contemporaries was a method of blaspheming and corrupting the appointed times.
Such rhetoric and vitriol are common among the sectarian writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls. One need go no further than the DSS document Misqat Ma’asei Ha’Torah (4QMMT) to discover some of the pointed rhetoric there regarding the profane status of non-Jews simply for being non-Jews. Other DSS documents express disdain or even hatred towards fellow Jews who observed certain things differently (sound familiar, anyone?).
Regarding the calendar, similar such statements as are made in Jubilees are found in 1 Enoch.
1 Enoch 72:32:
32 On that day the night shortens and becomes nine parts and the day nine parts. Then the night becomes equal with the day, and the days (of the year) add up to exactly three hundred sixty-four days.
Once again, the Qumran community seems confident in their solar calendar.
To many people in the broader Torah Observant community, this seems like evidence itself. Many people take 1 Enoch and Jubilees on a canonical level, equating their authority with the 66 books of Scripture. I will argue the contrary elsewhere, but for now, I simply wanted to point out the DSS’s evidence when it comes to ancient support for the solar calendar.
One must ask, however, how this could be the case, if the word “month” found throughout Scripture – especially the Torah – is related to the moon. So here comes point number 2.
The Cycles of the Sun and the Moon
I have already noted how חֹ֫דֶשׁ (chodesh) is most often rendered as either month or moon. We will examine that more in-depth in a moment. For now, I want to try to articulate the second point often raised in support of a solar-based calendar. That is, the claim that חֹ֫דֶשׁ is not even the word for moon. Often, I have heard it asserted that the word for moon as found in Scripture is יָרֵחַ (yareach). To be sure, this is not false. Genesis 37:9, describing Joseph’s dream that the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to him, uses the word yareach for “moon.” Similarly, Deuteronomy 4:19 uses it when warning against worshipping the heavenly bodies. Job uses it in 25:5 and 31:26, and the Psalms feature it eight times. In fact, in the NASB 2020, the word יָרֵחַ is translated as “moon” in all 27 of its appearances in the Tanakh (100% of them).
So the question should then be asked: if the moon is yareach and not chodesh, why do we translate chodesh as “[new] moon”? Further, if the Torah is scant on details of the precise method of the calendar (that is, it does not say whether the month is set by the sun or the moon), and we supplement that understanding with 1 Enoch and Jubilees, is it not clear that the sun sets the month?
This is where we get to the more in-depth piece of the word study I mentioned a moment ago. The question typically posed is: why does חֹ֫דֶשׁ get associated with the moon?
Digging Deeper: Chodesh as Month
The short answer (sorry, here’s a spoiler): because the moon renews every 29-30 days.
Now for the longer answer.
See, the word חֹ֫דֶשׁ belongs to the חדש word-group which includes multiple other words. According to HALOT (the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, the foremost current lexical work for Biblical Hebrew), the given definitions for חֹ֫דֶשׁ are:
As can be demonstrated not simply by an examination of a handful of occurrences of חֹדֶשׁ, but by a fuller word study of the חדש word family together, it seems plain that the meaning of חֹדֶשׁ is related to a cycle of renewal. This then begs the question: what is it describing as renewed? The sun? The moon? The month (without direct reference to the sun or the moon)?
We could ask the logical question: how does the sun renew? Obviously, it rises and sets every day, and it has a cycle in that sense. But is that what is meant by the “renewal” in relation to the month? The moon has multiple phases and takes multiple days to wax and wane, and a month to renew from one phase to the next. The sun, however, renews daily, and has no phases. If it is day, the sun is shining. If it is night, the sun is not. That seems pretty cut and dry to me.
Further, the way the word חֹדֶשׁ is used in Scripture demonstrates that it cannot refer to simply a daily renewal of the sun. Take for example, Exodus 12:1-3. The oft-quoted passage opens the Passover instructions and states that, “This month (חֹדֶשׁ) shall be the beginning of months (חֳדָשִׁ֑ים) for you. It is to be the first month of the year to you.” Examine, too, Genesis 7:11 or 8:4, or many other references to other numbered months. The counting of the year is based on the number of months, not the number of days (as it would be on a solar calendar) or the number of weeks (as Jubilees states). In order for the Biblical data to fit, חֹדֶשׁ must be referring to a monthly renewal, which cannot fit with a reference to the sun.
The Moon and the Month
As mentioned previously, the word yareach means “moon” right? So why would there be two words for moon? Not to cause any offense, but I honestly find this question a bit silly. It’s like asking why we need so many different words in English for “bad.” Bad, terrible, awful, dreadful, and I could go on. The point is, we have multiple ways of referring to things just like most other languages. Including Hebrew. If I were explaining something about the moon, and used words like “crescent” and “conjunction” and “lunar” but never used the word “moon,” most people would still understand the topic. So it is in Hebrew as well. Yareach refers to the celestial body floating up in space, what we call the moon. Chodesh refers to the calendrical month as determined by the cyclical phases of the yareach. As such, chodesh does not refer to the moon directly, but only to its use in the calendar. You could even summarize it by saying the chodesh is determined by the yareach.
Meanwhile, the number of days in a month is never given in the Torah, or anywhere in Scripture. Nor the number of months in the year. If the calendar were, by design, a 12-month solar calendar of fixed days totaling 364, one need not observe any celestial cycles at all. No need for sighting the moon or calculating the conjunction, no need for observing the tequfah (equinox). It would be set and fixed. Yet there is no such designation in Scripture (though I will admit this is an argument from silence).
Some Issues with Qumran Documents
To go a bit further than just probing the logical questions, let us return for one final look at the Qumran calendars. Yes, I mean calendars, plural. While all are in agreement regarding the solar-based calculation of 364 days a year, there were multiple different calendars found among different documents. To me personally, I would have to ask the advocates of such a calendar’s employment for festival dates today: why the one you chose, and not any of the others at Qumran? Why not use the Qumran calendars found with astrological texts (yes, like horoscopes)? Why not use the ones associated with amulets found among the scrolls as well?
At any rate, that goes beyond the scope of this article, so I will digress.
In summary, I hope this – somewhat brief – article has answered at least as many questions as it has raised. The Biblical evidence – from a Hebrew language perspective – does not lend itself to reckoning the month by the sun: only by the moon. Some may argue a genetic fallacy, claiming that’s how the Babylonians did it. But one could equally argue the same, as the Egyptians likewise observed a solar calendar since before Israel’s slavery there. Further, many ancient Near Eastern nations observed a calendar based on the moon, and despite Babylonian influence evident in Scripture, the pre-exilic texts of Scripture demonstrate a calendar that is reckoned by the phases of the moon, not the sun.
 James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom, and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, vol. 2 (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1985), 68.
 Ibid., 68.
 Ibid., 68.
 James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1 (New York; London: Yale University Press, 1983), 52.
 James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
 Sacha Stern, “Qumran Calendars and Sectarianism,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Timothy H. Lim and John J. Collins, Oxford Handbooks (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 233.
 Nigel Strudwick, Texts from the Pyramid Age, vol. 16, Writings from the Ancient World (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 13.
5/16/2022 12:23:21 pm
This is a great summary. I appreciate your work on this topic. Shalom!
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J. A. Brown