On Measuring Time: The Hebrew Months—By Name

Before the Babylonian exile few of the months were identified by name. Numbers were the more common designation. During the exile the Jews adopted the Babylonian names of the months. The Bible records the names of most of the ancient Hebrew months.

As we have seen, the month given by the Lord to Moses to be “the first month of the year” was “Abib:” It was to be remembered because, “This day came ye out in the month Abib” (Ex. 13:4).

Abib is mentioned by name four times in the Bible (see Ex. 13:4; 34:18; 23:15; Deut. 16:1). And in the book of Esther, this first month is given a second name: Nisan. “In the first month, that is, the month Nisan” (Esther 3:7). There is yet another mention of Nisan in Nehemiah 2:1. “And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king.” It was during the month Abib that Nehemiah obtained permission from the king to go to Jerusalem and begin the rebuilding.

First Kings 6:1 gives us the name of the second month. “And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord.”

The third month was named Sivan. “Then were the king’s scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan” (Esther 8:9).

The fourth month, Tammuz, corresponds with our June July. It is mentioned (by number, though not by name) in Jeremiah 52:5-7.

The fifth month was Ab, comparing to our July or August.

The sixth month was Elul, mentioned in Nehemiah 6:15. “So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days:”

The seventh month was Ethanim, now known as Tishri and corresponding to our October. It is mentioned in I Kings 8:2: “And all the men of Israel assembled themselves unto king Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month.”

The eighth month was the month Bul, as mentioned in I Kings 6:38: “And in the eleventh year, in the month Bul, which is the eighth month.”

The ninth month was the month Kislev, mentioned by number in Jeremiah 36. Notice the details in this passage which identify the season of the year. “And it came to pass in the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, in the ninth month, that they proclaimed a fast before the Lord to all the people in Jerusalem, and to all the people that came from the cities of Judah unto Jerusalem.… Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him” (Jer. 36:9,22). This places the ninth month in the wintertime, and corresponds to our December or January.

This ninth month is mentioned by name in Zechariah 7:1. “And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chisleu.” (The spelling differs slightly, but the name is the same.)

We find the tenth month, Tebeth, mentioned in Esther 2:16. “So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.”

The eleventh month was Sebat, comparable to our January or February. It is mentioned in 1 Chron. 27:14, though its name is not given. This month is mentioned also in Zechariah 1:7, “Upon the four and twentieth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet.…”

The twelfth month was Adar. We read of it in Esther 3:7, “In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar.”

That gives us all the months of the Hebrew year. All are mentioned in the Bible by number, ten by name. It is interesting to note, however, that all the names mentioned except that of the first month (Abib) occur in passages written after the return of the Jewish people from captivity. This suggests that the names could have been learned in Babylon and brought to Israel, that they did not originate in Israel.

For More on the Month of Abib see our article “Abib is Coming!”