The New Moon and the Passover
According to God's law, each annual observance must be celebrated on a specified day of a lunar month. It is necessary for the first month of the sacred calendar to be calculated each year to coincide with the spring equinox in order to ensure that each annual observance will fall in its proper season. Therefore, it is extremely important for the Calendar Court's calculations to be confirmed by a visual sighting of the new crescent.
With the beginning of the sacred year fixed, all annual observances and festivals can then have their dates calculated. However, although the astronomical calculations could be made with precision, the first day of each month was always confirmed by a physical observation of the New Moon to make sure there were no mistakes in the calculations.
ADJUSTING THE CALENDAR
There were many reasons the Calendar Court could adjust the beginning of the first month either forward or backward, which would affect the day upon which the Passover and the annual festivals were to be observed. The following are some of these reasons:
- To insure that the Passover was observed in its proper season.
- To insure there would be grain that was ripe enough for the Tanufa (i.e., Wave Sheaf Offering).To allow the rains to cease in order to ensure the safety of travelers to Jerusalem.
- To allow for the repair of river bridges destroyed by rain.
- To allow for rain damaged cooking ovens used in the roasting of the Passover lamb to be repaired. To allow enough time for those of the Diaspora (scattered Israelites and Jews) who could not reach Jerusalem because of conditions of travel to make the journey and arrive in time.
The Judges of the Calendar Court were very sensitive to the severity of their responsibility to calculate and determine, with utmost accuracy, the New Moons and the dates of the annual observances.
At the end of each month, several watchmen were placed on commanding heights around Jerusalem to watch the sky for the new crescent. As soon as each of them detected the new crescent, he hastened to the house called 'Beth Yazek', which was kept for this purpose. The witness was then examined by the president of the Calendar Court. When the evidence for the appearance of the New Moon was deemed satisfactory, the president rose up and formally announced it, uttering the word 'mekuddash' which means it is consecrated or sanctified.
If, after the fourth or fifth day, up to the 15th of the month witnesses came from faraway, and testified that they had seen the New Moon, the Court was bound to alter the beginning of the month and authorize it to have started a day earlier. However, in the month of Tishri and Nisan (Nisan was not included in this rule), the Court would accept witnesses up to the middle of the month, after which any change would be irrelevant because Tishri's first day was the first day of the civil year and Nisan is the first month of the sacred year and it contained the Passover, which is observed on the 14th/15th.
In the event that witnesses had not arrived at the Court within a predetermined time to confirm the visual sighting of the New Moon, the Court had the authority to sanctify the observance of two New Moon days and two annual festival days if any festivals fell within this particular month. This was done to avoid missing the proper date of an observance which was commanded for all who worshiped the God of Israel.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NEW MOON
The new moon indicates the beginning of a new month and is very important to God, which is noted by the extra sacrifices that were commanded to be offered on the first day of a new month.
Historically, the first day of a new month was and still is a day to take note of (Col.2:16-17). During the time of David, the scriptures indicate that a special meal was held to commemorate the beginning of the month.
The Two New Moon Observances
Because the observance of the New Moon was a special event, it was of major concern among the Israelites to observe it on the correct day. This concern is obvious when we read the account in 1.Sam.20:4-24 which shows two New Moon meals being celebrated by King Saul and his servants.
This account takes place in a field where David was hiding for fear of being killed by King Saul who discovered that Samuel had anointed David to be the new King of Israel. Here, Saul's son Jonathan promises to find out what his father's intents are toward David at the New Moon celebration and then return and tell David:
"Then said Jonathan to David, Whatsoever your soul desires, I will even do it for you. And David said to Jonathan, Behold, tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field to the third day at even. If your father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family" (vs.4-6).
"And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul. Then Jonathan said to David, Tomorrow is the new moon: and you shall be missed, because your seat will be empty" (vs.17-18).
"So David hid himself in the field: and when the new moon was come, the king sat him down to eat meat " (v24).
The above verses show one New Moon commemoration meal was observed, but verse 27 shows another meal being eaten to commemorate a New Moon.
"And it came to pass on the morrow which was the second day of the month, that David' s place was empty: and Saul said to Jonathan his son, Wherefore comes not the son of Jesse to meat neither yesterday; nor today" (v27).
The phrase 'the second day of the month' is more correctly translated as the following:
"And on the next day was the second new moon [va-yehi mi-mohorat ha-hodesh ha-sheni]. And on the next day/And in the morning it was the second new moon."
But, why would King Saul celebrate two New Moon days when these days could be calculated with exact accuracy? The answer is quite simple when we view things in a purely legalistic way as the Israelites did. When the astronomical calculations were made and the appearance of the New Moon was calculated to be so close to the horizon to make it too difficult or impossible to be seen at sunset, or it was simply too cloudy to see it, two New Moon days were observed. This double observance would ensure that the correct day had been observed and was not missed because of the lack of a visual sighting of the new crescent.
THE ALTERNATE PASSOVER AND THE TWO FESTIVALS OF UNLEAVENED BREAD
In 2.Chronicles, chapter 30, we find the account of King Hezekiah and others keeping the alternate Passover and two consecutive seven day Festivals of Unleavened Bread:
"And the whole assembly took council to keep other seven days: and they kept another seven days with gladness. For Hezekiah king of Judah did give to the congregation a thousand bullocks and seven thousand sheep; and a great number of priests sanctified themselves. And all of the congregation of Judah, with the priest and the Levities, and all the congregation that came out of Israel, and that dwelt in Judah, rejoiced" (2.Chron.30:23-25 KJV).
The King and the assembly sanctioned a Passover observance (including some of the Priests), and two complete seven day Festivals of Unleavened Bread.
THE NEW MOON MESSENGERS
Messengers were sent out to verify the sanctification of the New Moon for Nisan and for Adar/Iyyar (for the 2nd Passover). In the places they could reach in good time, each New Moon was only to be observed one day. But, in places where messengers could not reach in good time, two days were to be observed, because the people would be unsure which day had been declared the New Moon day (29th or 30th).
If no witness came on the 30th day, the month was declared full, which means it had 30 days. But, if the witnesses came later and their witness was determined to be true, the month would be adjusted to 29 days. In the months of Nisan and Tishri the witnesses had to come before the middle of the month, for either month to be adjusted. This is because the festivals which fell within these months would have already been calculated and celebrated, making the change irrelevant.
Maimonides notes it is strange that they would change it up to the middle of the month when the day was already past.
Palestine did not observe two consecutive New Moon or annual festival days because the messengers were able to reach the area in time. However, there were ten places which were more than ten full days of travel away which observed two New Moons.
If the moon cannot be seen for two days at the end of the month, and appears after the 2nd day, that day is counted as the beginning of the month. If the moon appeared on the 30th day, it became the 1st day of the new month. If it did not appear on the 30th day, the new month began on the 31st day from the first day of the last month—A lunar month never has more than 30 days.
The only New Moon observed with regularity for two consecutive days in Palestine was the New Year (New Moon of Tishri. i.e., The Feast of Trumpets) because people could not travel on this day.
TWO CONSECUTIVE DAYS OF PASSOVER
Here is a key to understanding the chronological mystery in the gospel accounts of two consecutive Passover ceremonies—one before and one after Christ's crucifixion.
The Gospel accounts show that Jesus and his disciples ate a legal Passover before his crucifixion. These accounts also show that many of the Jews also ate a legal Passover after his crucifixion (Jn.18:28). The Gospel of John shows that there were two distinct preparation days for two distinct Passover observances to be held on two consecutive days. The question is not were there two Passover observances the year Jesus died? The Bible shows there were. The question is How could there be two Passovers in one year?
The only possible way the Calendar Court would approve two consecutive days of Passover would be a situation where there was a difficulty in the sighting of the New Moon to confirm their calculations for the beginning of Nisan, or for some other reason which the Bible nor history records. Whatever the reason for the Court's decision, the fact remains that Jesus, knowing that he was about to die, chose the first of the two authorized Passover's to observe with his disciples. It does not matter whether or not many others ate it when he did—the fact is that Jesus did eat the Passover prior to his death.
Below are four methods that show how there could be two time periods during the month of Nisan which would allow for two consecutive Passover's to be observed the year of Jesus' crucifixion:
- If the month of Adar was first proclaimed short, then long, the change would have been made.
- The fact that both a defective (short) and an embolistic (full) month were possible shows that the crescent moon, which was crucial to this situation, was in some way difficult to determine for the month of Nisan.
- If the arc of vision of the New Moon for this time of year was between 9 and 14 degrees, the new moon's crescent would not have been visible in all of Palestine at the same time.
- Although the new crescent had been calculated to be seen on a certain day, it may not have been seen because of poor weather or some other natural phenomenon. Because the confirmation of the new crescent was the duty of witnesses, situations where there was a conflict between the witnesses and the calculations could easily happen.
A calculation of the arc/angle of vision between 9 and 14 degrees for a new moon means that the New Moon would not be visible in all of Palestine at the same time; therefore, any of the following scenarios could explain why there were two observances of the Passover in 30 A.D.:
- One or more witnesses came before the Court to testify he had seen the new crescent in its proper time. Another witness came later to testify that he had seen it at the beginning of the 31st. The only reason that this witness' testimony would be accepted is if he came from a latitude closer to Jerusalem than the other witnesses had come.
- The Court's calculations declared Adar to have 30 days because of a lack of witnesses, but the Court's calculations were shown to be incorrect when a witness appeared who proved to have seen the new crescent.
- The Court sat the entire 30th day of Adar waiting for witnesses who did not come, so the Court declared Adar to be a full month. However, the Court's rule was that, if a witness came in Tishri or Nisan prior to the middle of the month and declared that they had seen the new crescent at the proper time, their testimony was accepted without questioning it.
- One source states that if the Passover fell on a weekly Sabbath, situations could arise that would necessitate work on the Sabbath, (such as cooking), which was prohibited. Therefore, there would be two consecutive days of Passover sanctified to accommodate the differing opinions of the Sadducees and the Pharisees as to how strictly to observe the rules of the law concerning the Sabbath. See Chwolson, Das letzte Passahmal Jesu, 2nd ed., St Petersburg, 1904; Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition p. 890.
Even though this seems to be the most logical of the hypotheses, no historical proof to date can be found for its support.
There are many other hypotheses that could be put forth to explain the Court's approval of two consecutive Passover's, but without concrete proof from history or astronomical calculations, any hypothesis is just that. For reasons only known to God, he did not deem it necessary to document in the scriptures the reason this determination was made; he only saw fit to record the events.
However, without a doubt the scriptures document two Passover observances: one before and one at the time of Christ's crucifixion.
Whatever the circumstances were that occurred during the end of the month of Adar and the beginning of Nisan, the scriptures clearly show that a discrepancy occurred either in the Court's calculations or the sighting of the new crescent. This discrepancy resulted in the month of Adar being declared short (29 days) and then full (30 days), which allowed for two consecutive days of Passover observance.
Today, many people believe that God required the Israelites and the Jews to keep the annual observances on their prescribed dates with exact precision without the slightest deviation. However, this certainly was not the case at all, because there were many discrepancies and deviations in the calculations and the sightings of the New Moons. It is important to remember that the Passover was such a significant event that, in the very beginning of its initiation with Israel, God made special allowance for variations in the day of its observation.
By B.L. Cocherell b5w36