Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
Crescent vs. Astronomical New Moon
In the first century A.D. the day of the New Moon was clearly determined by eyewitness observation. When two witnesses had seen the New Moon in the west (just after sunset), that day -- beginning with that sunset -- would be declared the New Moon day. The New Moon was declared when the new crescent was first seen in the west after the conjunction. The Jewish Talmud is very clear on this point.
by John D. Keyser
Unfortunately, many people have been led astray by an inaccurate understanding of the term “New Moon.” Modern astronomers adopted this term -- which had always referred to the first visible sliver -- and used it to refer to the conjunction when the moon passes between the earth and the sun. This is the time when the moon is not visible. The astronomers soon realized that the inaccurate use of the term “New Moon” to refer to the conjunction would lead to confusion. To be more accurate, scientists now distinguish between the “Astronomical New Moon” and the “Crescent New Moon.” As used by the astronomers, the “Astronomical New Moon” means the conjunction. In contrast, the “Crescent New Moon” means the first visible sliver. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (Unabridged Edition) defines the New Moon as: “The moon either when in conjunction with the sun or soon after being either invisible [Astronomical New Moon] or visible [Crescent New Moon] only as a slender crescent.”
Here are a number of reasons why we should use the first faint visible crescent rather than the invisible astronomical lunar conjunction:
1). The ancient Hebrews had no almanacs or telescopes to figure out when the lunar conjunction would occur -- they had no choice but to use the visible crescent.
2). The Hebrew words yerach and lebanah, translated "moon," are never used to describe the first day of the month. ONLY the Hebrew word hodesh is translated "new moon." In Gesenius' Hebrew/Chaldee Lexicon we find that the term hodesh (#2320) comes from #2318 and means to be new, or TO POLISH WITH A SWORD. In other words, it appears as a SCIMITAR or CURVED SWORD. It definitely is not invisible!
3). The historical precedent is VISIBLE crescents. Notice what Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible says --
"There was no fixed calendar till the fourth century...and the New Moon was declared from ACTUAL OBSERVATION. The EYE-WITNESSES were carefully examined on the 30th day of each month...if no witnesses were available, then the following day was New Moon" (article, "New Moon," p. 522).
The Jewish Encyclopedia states:
"The Sanhedrin was assembled in the courtyard ("bet ya'azek") of Jerusalem on the 30th of each month from morning to evening, waiting for the reports of those appointed to OBSERVE the new moon" (article "New Moon," p. 243. See also Mishnah R.H.i.7, ii. 5-7; Sanh. 102).
The article History of the Calendar says, "The history of the Jewish calendar may be divided into three periods -- the biblical, the talmudic, and the post-talmudic. The first rested purely on the OBSERVATION of the sun and moon, the second on OBSERVATION and reckoning, the third entirely on reckoning."
As the Encyclopedia Judaica notes --
"Originally, the New Moon was not fixed by astronomical calculators, but was solemnly proclaimed after witnesses had testified to the REAPPEARANCE of the crescent of the moon. On the 30th of each month, the members of the high court (Sanhedrin) assembled in a courtyard in Jerusalem, named Beit Ya'azek, where they waited to receive the testimony of two reliable WITNESSES; they then sanctified the New Moon. If the Moon's crescent was not seen on the 30th day, the new moon was automatically celebrated on the 31st day" (article, "New Moon," p. 1039).
4). Notice what Revelation 12:1-5 says:
"Now a great sign was seen in heaven -- a woman clothed with the sun, UNDER HER FEET THE MOON, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and about to give birth, and she screamed in the agony of labor....She gave birth to a son, a male child, the one who will rule all the nations with a staff of iron" (Jewish New Testament).
If an astronomer were to read this passage in the Bible, he would automatically think of the constellation Virgo at the point in time when the sun's path in the heavens crosses through her body. This event ALWAYS occurs in mid-October, the exact time of the Feast of Trumpets (New Moon of the 7th month) in many years. The Feast of Trumpets can occur as many as 29 days after September 21-23 (Autumnal equinox at the equator) or as few as the same day if the equinox and the New Moon crescent occur on the same day. Therefore, mid-October is a very typical time for this feast of YEHOVAH God. The Messiah was NOT born on December 25. Furthermore, in mid-October -- at the time of the New Moon crescent -- we SEE this phenomenon in the western sky soon after sunset. Rosh Hashanah actually means "Head of the Year" or the first day of the civil year (cp. Exodus 23:16-17 and 34:22-23).
Since the Virgo Constellation begins the 12 zodiac constellations, we know that all 12 stars (or constellations -- Genesis 37:9) are "on her head." In other words, she heads the yearly progression -- not Leo. Even today the Jews begin the year on the Feast of Trumpets. If the Messiah's birth was on this feast, then we know it was a New Moon that was VISIBLE to the apostle John. Since John SAW the moon "under her feet," it could NOT have been the lunar conjunction.
5). We know that Ezra the priest (Ezra 7:11-12) and Nehemiah both used the Babylonian names for the months of the calendar (Nehemiah 1:1; 2:1; 6:15). Since they had just come from Babylon, it stands to reason that they were actually using the Babylonian Calendar which used VISIBLE crescents -- NOT conjunctions. And YEHOVAH God was with them (Ezra 5:1-2; 7:27-28).
The “Concealed Moon” Theory
Some people have been confused by the use of the term “New Moon” in modern astronomy and have sought Biblical support for this incorrect meaning of the term. They usually cite Psalm 81:3, which says:
"Blow on a horn for the Hodesh (New Moon) On the Keseh (Full Moon) for the Day of our Hag (Feast)."
According to the “Concealed Moon Theory,” the term “Keseh” is derived from the root K.S.Y. meaning “to cover” and therefore means “covered moon” or “concealed moon.” According to this interpretation, when the verse says to blow on a horn on the day of Keseh it actually means “[blow on a horn] on the day of the Concealed Moon.” However, the language here DOES NOT support this argument because the second half of the verse also refers to the day of Keseh as “the day of our Feast (Hag).” In the Bible, Feast (Hag) is a technical term which always refers to the three annual pilgrimage-feasts (Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Tabernacles; see Exodus 23 and 34). The New Moon Day (Hodesh) is never classified as a “Pilgrimage-Feast” so Keseh/Hag cannot possibly be the same as the New Moon Day (Hodesh). It has even been suggested that Keseh refers to the Biblical holiday of Yom Teruah (Day of Shouting), which always falls out on the New Moon Day. Unfortunately for this theory, the Bible describes Yom Teruah as a Moed (appointed time) and never as a Hag (Pilgrimage-Feast) -- so Keseh/Hag cannot refer to Yom Teruah either!
It is more than likely that Keseh is related to the Aramaic word “Kista” and the Assyrian word “Kuseu” which mean “full moon” -- see Brown-Driver-Briggs p. 490b. This fits perfectly with the description of Keseh as the day of the Hag since two of the three Pilgrimage-Feasts (Hag HaMatzot and Hag HaSukkot) are on the 15th of the month, which is the time of the full moon!
The Length of “Concealment”
Another important point to consider -- and one that destroys the theory of the “Concealed Moon” -- is that there is NO ACTUAL “DAY” OF CONCEALMENT! In fact, the moon stays concealed anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5 days in the Middle East! It has been proposed that the “day” of the concealed moon is actually the day of the conjunction (when the moon passes between the earth and the sun). However, it was only 1,000 years AFTER Moses that the Babylonian astronomers discovered how to calculate the moment of the conjunction. Therefore, the ancient Israelites would have had no way of knowing when the moment of conjunction takes place and would not have known on which day (out of a possible 3.5) to observe the “Concealed Moon Day”!
It has been suggested by those who are determined to cling to this theory that the ancient Israelites could have looked at the “Old Moon” and determined the Day of Conjunction by when the Old Moon was no longer visible in the morning sky. Needless to say, such a method would not work in the Middle East where the so-called “concealed moon” can remain concealed for as many as 3.5 days! It is, in fact, common for the moon to stay concealed for 2.5 days and in such instances HOW would the ancient Israelites have known which day was the Day of Conjunction?
In contrast, the ancient Israelites would have been well aware of the Crescent New Moon. In ancient societies people worked from dawn until dusk and they would have noticed the Old Moon getting smaller and smaller in the morning sky. When the morning moon had disappeared altogether the ancient Israelites would have anxiously awaited its reappearance 1.5 to 3.5 days later in the evening sky. Having disappeared for several days and then appearing anew in the early evening sky they would have called it the “New Moon” or “Hodesh” (from Hadash meaning “New”). This is how the “New Moon” was determined during the time of Yeshua the Messiah and following centuries.
The Biblical New Moon is the “First Crescent”
If the Jews were keeping the Feast Days at the correct time, then they were also keeping the New Moons at the right time! And how were they determining the New Moons in Yeshua’s day? Notice!
"During the period of the Sanhedrin, a committee of the Sanhedrin met to evaluate reports of sightings of the LUNAR CRESCENT..." (Calendars, by I. E.. Doggett).
"Each lunar month began with the New Moon Sanctification by recognition of the Sanhedrin. Policy dictated that two witnesses in two different locations, IN OR NEAR JERUSALEM, must testify to sighting the NEW MOON CRESCENT. A vote by the Sanhedrin was then required to officially reckon a new month beginning" (Christian Era Calendars, by Clark K. Nelson).
"The Sanhedrin originally determined the new moon by actually observing the FIRST FAINT CRESCENT (or young moon) in the western sky" (Postponements: Another Mystery of the Ages).
Notice what the Bible encyclopedia Insight On the Scriptures has to say:
"...in postexilic times the Mishnah (Rosh Ha-Shanah 1:3-2:7) states that the Jewish Sanhedrin met early in the morning on the 30th day of each of seven months in the year to determine the time of the new moon. Watchmen were posted on high vantage points around Jerusalem and carried immediate report to the Jewish court after sighting the new moon. Upon receiving sufficient testimony, the court announced, 'It is consecrated,' officially marking the start of a new moon. If cloudy skies or fog caused poor visibility, then the preceding month was declared to have had 30 days, and the new month began on the day following the court assembly. It is also said that further announcement was made by a signal fire lit on the Mount of Olives, which was then repeated on other high points throughout the country. This method was evidently replaced later by the dispatching of messengers to carry the news" (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. Brooklyn, NY 1988. Vol. 2, p. 429).
This passage brings out the point that the Judeans did not determine the New Moons in their own particular locales, but that the New Moons were determined AT JERUSALEM and the news of their occurrences transmitted to the far reaches of the country -- and even further. During the Millennium the New Moons will also be determined at Jerusalem which, at that time, will be the capital of the world and the city where YEHOVAH God and His Messiah will reside. "...for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3) -- this also includes the calendar determinations!
In the first century A.D. the day of the New Moon was clearly determined by eyewitness observation. When two witnesses had seen the New Moon in the west (just after sunset), that day -- beginning with that sunset -- would be declared the New Moon day. The New Moon was declared when the new crescent was first seen in the west after the conjunction. The Jewish Talmud is very clear on this point. The Talmud is a historical document that reflects JEWISH understanding. It is NOT -- I repeat -- it is NOT in any way “inspired.” It is, however, the work Jews refer to as “the Oral Law.” Like Israel, the Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians and the Greeks also observed the first visible crescent for their new moons.
The Sanhedrin’s calendar council, called the Beth Din, was responsible for cross-examining the witnesses. Jerusalem was the prime location of observation, although the council would take testimony (when the seeing conditions were not good at Jerusalem) from witnesses who traveled to Jerusalem. In no case was the month ever made to be longer than 30 days, or shorter than 29 days.
“Hodesh” (New Moon) is derived from the Hebrew root H.D.SH. -- meaning “new” or “to make new/renew.” The New Moon Crescent is called Hodesh because it is the first time the moon is seen anew after being hidden for several days at the end of the lunar cycle. At the end of the lunar month the moon is close to the sun and eventually reaches the point of “conjunction” when it passes between the sun and the earth. As a result of this, very little of the moon’s illuminated surface faces the earth at the time of the conjunction, and it is not visible through the infinitely brighter glare of the sun. After the moon moves past the sun it continues on towards the opposite side of the earth. As it travels farther away from the sun the percentage of its illuminated surface facing the earth increases, and one evening -- shortly after sunset -- the moon is seen anew after being invisible for 1.5 to 3.5 days. Since the moon is seen anew after a period of invisibility the ancients called it a “New Moon” or “Hodesh” (from Hadesh meaning “new”).
Clearly, then, the determination of the New Moon day and the start of the month by the New Moon crescent is that approved and actually kept by the Messiah himself. NOWHERE DOES THE BIBLE AUTHORIZE US TO DO OTHERWISE!
According to Rabbinical Mathematics and Astronomy by W. M.. Feldman, “the Phase Method of determining the beginning of a month...prevailed until the time of Abbaye and Raba (middle of the 4th century), when it was REPLACED by the fixed calendar Method which makes use of a Mean Conjunction or Molad to determine the beginning of a month” (page 185). After the year 359 A.D. the rabbinic Jews began to observe the 1st of Tishri on the day of the conjunction (called the “molad”) rather than on the day of the visible crescent according to all previous tradition. The astronomically inclined rabbis acknowledge today that the current calendar used among them IS NOT the same as the ancient calendar used during the Second Temple Period.
This “new calendar” calculated the New Moons by a formula that is, at times, up to 15 hours in error. Postponement rules were introduced to make the calendar conform to certain “traditions,” and a system of intercalating a 13th month seven times in every 19 years was adopted which totally ignored the fact that the year must always start in the spring. So, from 359 A.D. onwards, the Jews followed a calendar which REPEATEDLY placed the Passover into the winter, and which REPEATEDLY placed the entire Feast of Tabernacles into the summer -- blatantly ignoring YEHOVAH’s instruction in Exodus 34:22.
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