- Historical Evidence that the Jewish Calendar Day Began at Sunset?
- In the Gospels, How Should the Hours of the Day be Understood?
- Historical Evidence that the Jewish Calendar Day Began at Sunset?

1. Question, A Reference Request:

Is it possible to correlate the Methods of Time Keeping, with corresponding Calendar Systems?

In the Gospels, it is suggested that there is a contradiction - which may be resolved by pointing to two different timekeeping systems - how hours of the day are reckoned. (See In the Gospels, How Should the Hours of the Day be Understood?.)

Could those different timekeeping systems indicate which calendar system was in in use at the time - to know when the 14th, and 15th of Nisan, (Passover), actually started?

Mark 15:25, 18 KJV - And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.

John 19:14-16 KJV - And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour ...;

Some certainly known Time and Calendar Systems in Use - at that Time:

  • A.) Roman Time Keeping: Which correlates with the hours of day/night;
  • B.) Babylonian / Rabbinical Calendar System: With a Calendar day beginning at Sun-Set, (Jubilees 49:1);
  • C.) Priestly / Temple Calendar System: With a Calendar day beginning at Sun-Rise, (B. Talmud, Chulin 83a).

3 Answers 3



At that time of Spring, (the Vernal Equinox), the hours of the day would have corresponded with each other - regardless of the System used.

Temporal vs. Fixed Hours:

The first problem in using the day is to decide when it begins and ends – its phase – so that events may be assigned to a day without ambiguity. Some nations decided to begin their day at dusk, and some at dawn: the Egyptians chose dawn, as did the pre-Exilic Jews. The Babylonians chose dusk, which was generally followed by post-Exilic Jews. The Chinese and the Romans chose midnight, as we do ourselves today. People soon needed a more accurate measure of time, and it had to be one that was easy to establish and which everyone could agree on.

E. G. Richards says in Mapping Time:The Calendar and its History, page 44, early attempts to subdivide the day more precisely resulted in ‘hours’ whose duration (perhaps one twelfth part of the period from dawn to dusk) depended on the season, and which were called 'temporal hours': there were always exactly twelve hours of daylight, but the hours were longer in the summer than in the winter. The twelve hours of daylight were measured with remarkable simplicity by a vertical post or gnomon. The 'first hour' began when the sun rose over the horizon and the shadow of the horizon reached the first mark. The 'sixth hour' occurred when the sun was due south, and the gnomon cast no shadow either west or east of the post. When the gospels refer to the third hour, the sixth hour or the ninth hour, they are referring to the temporal hours measured from sunrise, not the time since the 24-hour day began in different cultures.

Note: Richard says that because it is difficult to make clocks in which the lengths of the hours in the day and the night are different, the equinoctial hour started to replace the temporal hour from the fourteenth century, after mechanical clocks had started to be made in Europe.

Hours Began at Sunrise:

In both the Babylonian, (Wikipedia Link, University of Singapore) and Roman Timekeeping Systems, the Hours of the Day began at sunrise.

Note: Regardless of when the Calendar Started, the Hours were synchronized to Sunrise and Sunset.

The Spring Equinox:

Because the Passover always followed the Spring Equinox, (the Month of Spring, Aviv, Exodus 13:4) - and given Jerusalem's latitude, there would have been 12 equal hours of day and night.

In other words, they would have all aligned - exactly:

Roman Time Keeping

Jesus' Parable Stating the Hours of the Day were from 1 to 12:

Matthew 20:1-8 - ... agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day ... 3. the third hour ... 5. ... the sixth hour ... 6. ... the eleventh hour ...

  • Dick - If I am understanding correctly, - A.) Is it valid to assume that the temporal/fixed distinctions - wouldn't cause too many complications, at this time of the year? B.) Jersualem, Mar 20, 2016 - Vernal Equinox, (Spring): Daytime = 12 Hours, 8 Minutes, 7 Seconds; C.) It seems as though they should still line up - at this point of the year, right? +/- a few minutes, maybe; D.) Roman Hours of the Day Apr 7, 2016 at 2:15
  • @elikakohen At this time of a year, temporal and fixed hours would more or less line up. As you see in your link, those who say that the synoptic 'sixth hour' is different to John's 'sixth hour' are relying on no evidence at all - except the anomaly between the two accounts. ie Jack Finegan (1964) argues that the "sixth hour" can be counted from midnight ...maintaining this position despite not having any evidence at all. Apr 9, 2016 at 0:49
  • - Dick A.) So that means, by all systems 6th to the 9th hour means 12-3pm? B.) I recommended an update to your answer, adding links, and formatting; C.) The only thing I added that we hadn't discussed - is Jesus' parable. D.) Let me know if it is okay, and I will mark it as the answer! :) Apr 9, 2016 at 1:58
  • @elikakohen A) Yes, 6th to 9th means 12-3pm. C) I'm not sure where the parable fits in, but that's fine. B,D) Your addendum is fine by me: it is illustrative, easy to follow and correct. NB: at the equinox, temporal hours are equal day & night, regardless of latitude. Apr 9, 2016 at 2:30

CLV Gn 1:1 IN A BEGINNING Created by the Elohim were the heavens and the earth. :2 Yet the earth became a chaos and vacant, and darkness was on the surface of the submerged chaos. Yet the spirit of the Elohim is vibrating over the surface of the water. :3 And saying is the Elohim, "Become light!" And it is becoming light. :4 And seeing is the Elohim the light, that it is good. And separating is the Elohim between the light and the darkness. :5 And calling is the Elohim the light "day," and the darkness He calls "night." And coming is it to be evening and coming to be morning, day one. Concordant Literal Version (CLV)
Indeed, it is verse 5 that holds interest for this posting. There is a biblical day that is simply provided for us in Genesis. The diagram below illustrates the individual components of His creation at the end of “day one”.

enter image description here

Repeating the above diagram into a Two-day diagram is depicted next. enter image description here

And thus the pattern repeats for a total of six days.

There are six occurrences of a Hebrew word (הָעַרְבָּיִם – e ◦orbim) translated “the-evening hours” in the Concordant Literal Version (CLV) [Exodus 12:6, 29:39, 41; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 28:4, 8]. “The evening hours” offers good meaning though the word is simply, and more literal in meaning as, “the-evenings”. In each of these verses the הָעַרְבָּיִם is preceded by the word “between” (בֵּין - bin). One of “the evenings” is as the sun crosses the daylight of morning to 12:00 o’clock (noon) beginning its decent toward the horizon. The next “the evening” is as the sun disappears from visibility beyond the horizon. “Between the evenings”, or “between the-evening hours” is commonly understood by current reckoning as “afternoon”.

The English word “afternoon” is not used in the CLV of the bible. The KJV uses the word once in Judges 19:8.

An additional search on Strongs H996 (between) and H6153 (the-evenings) results in five additional verses, Exodus 16:12, 30:8; Numbers 9:3, 5, and 11. Exodus 30:8 is particularly telling. Aaron is to set up the lamps “between the evening hours”. This would be accomplished in the “after-noon” daylight hours in order to be ready for the approaching darkness of night. The next diagram pinpoints “between the evenings”. enter image description here

  • I agree that between the evenings should be understood as 9th hour, not as the translated twilight. This is evidenced by the understanding at the time of Christ when the Passover lamb was killed between the evenings, but the priests were doing it at 9th hour. However, past that, if I'm understanding you correctly, much of what you are saying disagrees with other scriptures, historical understandings, and demands a very particular literal reading of a particular translation of the text. I do not believe it is justified to say that Genesis is telling us anything about time keeping.
    – Joshua
    Apr 21, 2016 at 12:31
  • @Joshua – The Mosaic Passover is based on two simple factors; 1) offering was to be made fourteen days after a new moon, Leviticus 23:15 (month of Aviv [Abib in KJV] Exodus 23:15), AND 2) enough ripe barley for the unleavened bread wave-sheaf offering on the day after the weekly Sabbath, Leviticus 23:11. When those two conditions exist, then it is the first month of the Mosaic calendar. Mosaic Aviv is a lunar/agricultural determination without regard to solar movements, thus there is no direct correlation between sun calendar systems and the Mosaic seven-month annual calendar.
    – LWise
    Apr 21, 2016 at 16:06
  • @Joshua – the Passover offering at about the ninth hour (Mark 15:34) is approximately 3pm, well “between the evenings”, as required. This form of hourly reckoning seems consistent throughout the Gospel record. There was darkness over the whole land from noon to 3pm (Mark 15:33). The priests had to wait until the darkness was removed before they knew it was legal to make their Passover offering.
    – LWise
    Apr 21, 2016 at 16:14
  • whoawhoawhoa...I was agreeing with you on that point. I understand how it worked. The problem is you are going for a noon to noon day, if I understand right, which is not argued by anyone, ever. It's evening to evening (Babylonian) dawn to dawn (Egyptian), or Roman midnight as the other historical method. Your two day chart needs to shift 6 hours one way or the other.
    – Joshua
    Apr 21, 2016 at 16:30
  • @Joshua – The ninth hour (as found in the Gospels) is nine hours since “daylight” hours commenced and is not referring to the beginning of a Genesis (Mosaic) day. Genesis 1:5 starts a day with “evening”. As scripture is read with the noon-to-noon reckoning many other Mosaic injunctions fall into place quite nicely, along with events in the Gospels. Other calendars accommodate solar movement. Not so with Mosaic, it is strictly lunar in tracking its months with days following the pattern in Genesis 1, not later man-made days.
    – LWise
    Apr 21, 2016 at 23:29

Our modern world depends upon timekeeping so precise that it takes into the effects of relativity to correct for infinitesimal variations. Not so the ANE. During the day one could measure time with the sun. I'm not sure how they measured at night! But overall the Roman system of measuring the time of day and the Jewish method were easily reconcilable just by shifting the start of the day by the appropriate difference in hours.

But dates would have been way trickier because at the time of the NT the Romans, like the Beatles, had an 8 day week:


In my experience those trying to reconcile the two calendars seem to suppose that the Romans had a seven day week and the apparent ease with which they reconcile dates across systems is illusory.

  • +1 : Simple, and to the point, and with a Beatles reference. Apr 21, 2017 at 17:32

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