On Measuring Time: A Second (Autumnal) New Year

At some time, not noted in Scripture, the Hebrew people began observing a second new year which they still recognize today. This second new year (in the fall of the year) is often identified as their “civil” new year in contrast to the “sacred:” This new year falls in the seventh month, known in ancient Israel as Tishri.

Why a second new year? The Encyclopedia gives us this information (under the heading, “Passover”): “The Passover was kept in the month Abib in commemoration of the rescue of the Israelites by Jehovah out of Egypt which took place in that month. In order to make the season more remarkable, it was ordained that henceforth the month in which it took place should be reckoned the first of the national religious year. From that time accordingly the year began in the month Abib or Nisan, March to April of our calendar, while the civil year continued to be reckoned from Tishri, September to October.”

There doesn’t seem to be any clear record of when the observance of the second calendar was instituted. There is ample evidence, however, that the Jewish people did have two calendars, one beginning with Tishri in the fall and one beginning with Abib in March and April of our time. From available evidence it would appear that they kept their religious feasts according to the spring new year as God commanded them but that for their civil year and for recording the reigns of some of their kings, they kept the fall new year.

A note in Winston’s Dictionary is of special interest. While this dictionary is not intended to be a religious dictionary at all, it does mention when the Hebrew people kept the new year and why. We quote: “During the exile, under the influence of the more scientific Babylonian calendar, the new year was observed in the spring month, Nisan, at the time of the equinox. During this time the memory of the old year was preserved by an ecclesiastical new year observed in the autumn:” But then the dictionary goes on to say, “From the sixth to the first century B.C. the year began with Nisan:” This brings us to the time of the birth of Christ.

Concerning the spring or fall new year, scholars seem almost to contradict one another. Some say that from the time of the Babylonian captivity the Jewish people kept a spring new year; and others say, or at least infer, that from the time of the Babylonian captivity they kept the fall new year. The Winston Dictionary states that beginning with the sixth century B.C., they kept the spring new year, starting with the month Nisan.

Hebrew people today recognize the fall new year. They begin their year with Tishri, the seventh month. But they also recognize the month of Nisan or Abib as far as their Passover observance is concerned.

We do not know when the Jews began celebrating the beginning of their civil new year in the fall. But evidence is overwhelming that they started their sacred new year in the spring. Exodus 12:2 is a direct command from the Lord to Moses.

The writer in a Bible dictionary states that there is a “hint” of a spring new year in the Bible. But it is more than a hint. It is a direct command from the Lord. All the feasts and festivals commanded by God were based upon a spring new year beginning with Abib or Nisan, which means green ears, newly ripened grain.