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From the information in Acts, what is the least amount of distance the disciples might have traveled, in order to get an idea of what they thought a "Sabbath's Day Journey" was?

NKJV, Acts 1:12 - Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.

Are there any historical evidences of how people defined a "Sabbath's Day Journey", (Hebrew Scripture, Josephus, Philo, Hillel I / Shammai, etc.).

For example: What is the map distance from where they started - to where they ended up? Are there any Scriptural references about how far "Israel's camp" was from the Tabernacle?

Note: Please note that I am asking for historical evidences and interpretations, but not anachronistic traditions, (like Rabbinicism which was 300 years later, etc.). The schools of Shammai and Hillel might be good sources, - IF - those sources can actually be dated to the Second Temple period.

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    It seems you may be overestimating the availability of historical sources older than the Talmud and misunderstanding the oral tradition from which it was formed. Quite simply, excluding these rabbinical sources basically restricts the understanding of a "sabbath day's journey" to Biblical texts which obviously leave this undefined. Rabbinicism's oral tradition probably had the same or similar definition to the Talmud, but it was not recorded until later as the Talmud. – James Shewey Aug 28 '17 at 1:39
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    I don't understand why you requested "Please no references to Rabbinicism" yet you allowed Hillel and Shammai as sources? – user6053 Aug 28 '17 at 3:57
  • @JamesShewey - Perhaps I am overestimating historical resources... But, I am hoping someone can help with map distances, and where approximately they might have been - and where they were headed to. – elika kohen Aug 28 '17 at 4:25
  • user6053 - Rabbinicism is much, much, later than HIllel and Shamai. If evidence like that from before Rabbinicism is available - then would be a very strong answer. But, the "form" of the argument you presented below is much, much, stronger, (though the application of the verse is arguable). For example, it could be argued that "Jesus often overruled tradition, and the disciples could have conformed to his teachings instead. But, if there is an actual distance between "the camp" and the "tabernacle" in Hebrew Scripture, that would certainly answer the question. – elika kohen Aug 28 '17 at 4:38
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    @SteveTaylor - Just an over sight. thanks! – elika kohen Aug 8 at 17:45
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The Rabbis determined their answer based on Joshua 3:4 where the distance from the tents to the Tabernacle was about 2000 cubits (.5+ miles). So the Jewish people would have been allowed to travel at least that far in order to participate in Tabernacle worship, therefore the Rabbi's permitted the same for the Sabbath. This specific regulation applied only to leaving the city, the prescribed distance being measured from the city gate. There was no travel limitation within the city proper.

Source: Link

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  • Elika kohen I like your take on the topic. As far as I am concerned the travel distance was part of that fence! Such as Jesus healing at the pool of Bethesda. Simply because the pool (at that time) was outside the city walls the Pharisees considered the healing to be "working on the sabbath." Had the pool been inside the city gates they would not have questioned the healing.. – user6053 Aug 28 '17 at 16:36
  • Yes to an extent. more was allowed in the privacy of the home. To keep from shutting the city down the rules were applied to anything within the city gates. More tomthat than fitting to present here but it's a summary. – user6053 Aug 28 '17 at 19:22
  • The measurement of the cubit is off in this answer. The common or average cubit was from the end of a man's middle fingertip to the elbow, or about 18 inches. That is 1.5 feet, and multiplying that times 2,000 cubits yields 3,000 feet, or little over 1/2 mile. It is not 7.5 miles. – Gina Aug 29 '17 at 1:36
  • @Gina Youre right. I don't know why or where I was adding the 7. But the rest remains true and I did edit my initial reply. – user6053 Aug 29 '17 at 2:01
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It was a little over 1/2 mile. As the comment above notes, the common cubit was about 18 inches, or 1.5 feet. Multiplied out, then 2,000 cubits comes to 3,000 feet, or 0.56 miles.

Excerpt from Barne's Notes on the Bible on Acts 1:12,

'A sabbath-day's journey - As far as might be lawfully traveled by a Jew on the Sabbath. This was 2,000 paces or cubits, or seven furlongs and a half - not quite one mile. See the notes On Matthew 24:20. The distance of a lawful journey on the Sabbath was not fixed by the laws of Moses, but the Jewish teachers had fixed it at 2,000 paces. This measure was determined on because it was a tradition that in the camp of the Israelites, when coming from Egypt, no part of the camp was more than 2000 paces from the tabernacle, and over this space, therefore, they were permitted to travel for worship. Perhaps, also, some countenance was given to this from the fact that this was the extent of the suburbs of the Levitical cities, Numbers 35:5. Mount Olivet was only 5 furlongs from Jerusalem, and Bethany was 15 furlongs. But on the eastern declivity of the mountain the tract of country was called, for a considerable space, the region of Bethany; and it was from this place that the Lord Jesus ascended." Source: here

And, an excerpt from Gill's Exposition:

"Which, is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey. The Syriac version renders it, "about seven furlongs", or near a mile; though Josephus (r) writes, that the Mount of Olives was but five furlongs from Jerusalem: perhaps this may be a mistake in the present copies of Josephus, since Chrysostom on this place cites this passage of Josephus, and reads seven furlongs; which exactly agrees with the Syriac version. A sabbath day's journey, according to the Jews, was two thousand cubits from any city or town, and which they often called, , "the bound of the sabbath" (s); and which they collect partly from Numbers 35:4 which they understand thus (t):

"a thousand cubits are the suburbs (of the city), and two thousand cubits the bounds of the sabbath. " Source is same as above.

The limitation of the travel allowed on the Sabbath was for travel outside of the city, and beyond the city gates. In Acts 1:12 the walk was from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives.

Excerpt from Encyclopedia of the Bible:

"It is assumed that the regulation had its origin in the Mosaic period in the injunction to the Israelite not to leave camp to collect manna on the sabbath (Exod 16:29). In the Jerusalem Targ. this command reads: “Let no man go walking from the place beyond 2000 cubits on the seventh day.” There are other regulations to which appeal is made in an effort to locate the origin of this practice or precept. One is the provision that the area belonging to the Levitical cities included land which extended from the wall 2000 cubits on every side (Num 35:5). Another is the supposed distance that separated the Ark and the people both on the march and at camp (Josh 3:4). As far as this specific regulation is concerned, it applied only to leaving the city, the prescribed distance being measured from the city gate. Within the city proper, no matter how large it might be, there was no such limitation.

The original intent of the provision was to insure a quiet, leisurely Sabbath and to keep it from becoming a harried and busy day (Exod 16:29). It was also designed to keep the Israelitish worshiper in the area of the center of his worship. The motive was noble but, unfortunately, it resulted in a barren legalism. As a consequence, there were casuistic schemes to circumvent it. It did, however, permit a legitimate exception. If one were caught at a distance on a journey, he might travel to the nearest shelter for safety. But there were deliberate schemes to by-pass the rule. One such scheme was to select a tree or a stone at a distance, place some food there, and declare: “Let this be my residence.” ' Source: here

Stanley M. Horton, Th.d. has pointed out:

"Some later rabbis invented a tradition that enabled them to get around this limitation. For example, since they were allowed to go 1,000 yards from their home, they defined their home as anywhere their personal possessions were. They would take a bag of worthless possessions, go 1,000 yards, put down a personal possession, and say, "This is my Sabbath home; I can go another 1,000 yards." By this means, they could go anywhere they wanted. No wonder Jesus said, "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men" (Mark 7:8)." Source: here

This much the same information that Judaism teaches its followers today.

"Jewish law sets the maximum walking range from one’s city to 2,000 cubits (3,049.5 feet, 0.596 miles (960 meters). [However, this measurement starts 70 2/3 cubits (112.24 ft.) from the city limits.] Practically speaking, this means that you may not walk a straight line more than .598 miles (3161.74 ft.) in any direction in the wilds outside your city limits.

"City limits" are not defined by the map you carry in your glove compartment.

According to halachah, unless there is more than 70 2/3 cubits between one house and the next, all contiguous housing is considered to be part of the same city. Therefore at times it would be permitted to walk even from one city to the next, as long as the whole way is populated. This can be complex, and a rabbi should be consulted before planning a long trek on Shabbat." Source Chabad.org

The McLintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia offers:

"The Jewish scruple to go more than 2000 paces from his city on the Sabbath is referred to by Origen (περὶ ἀρχων, 4, 2), by Jerome (Ad Algasiam, qu. 10), and by Oecumenius — with some apparent difference between them as to the measurement. Jerome gives Akiba, Simeon, and Hillel as the authorities for the lawful distance. "

"Josephus (War, 5, 2, 3) makes the Mount of Olives to be about six stadia from Jerusalem; and it is the distance between these two places which in Ac 1; Ac 12 is given as a Sabbath day's journey. Josephus elsewhere determines the same distance as five stadia (Ant. 20, 8, 6); but both were probably loose statements rather than measured distances; and both are below the ordinary estimate of 2000 cubits. " Source: here

The entire entry at McLintock and Strong is of interest for the machinations the Jews invented to get around the limit on the Sabbath day.

See the Cubit Conversion Chart here. Bold emphasis is mine.

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  • +1. "This measure was determined ... because it was a tradition that in the camp of the Israelites ... no part of the camp was more than 2000 paces from the tabernacle." How is this geometrically possible with the number of people, and if Israel didn't camp "in a circle"? The references to Acts 1:12, Josephus, and Chrysostom are very important. It would be more helpful to have quotes from those primary sources, than summary commentary.- which might not be that conclusive for people. I would definitely accept this as the answer, if those historical references are included. Thank you! – elika kohen Aug 29 '17 at 3:33
  • Other than a comment about Acts 1:12 regarding the traveling on the Sabbath day in Homily III for Chrysostom, I didn't find that he defined the length of the allowed journey. And, as there is preponderance identical information the sources referenced should be sufficient. – Gina Aug 29 '17 at 8:49
  • "The entire entry at McLintock and Strong is of interest for the machinations the Jews invented to get around the limit on the Sabbath day." Well the Jews at least keep the sabbath, at the same time try to live their lives in reasonable comfort, but what do the Christians do on sabbath. Do they sacrifice anything for god?? Don't tell me that this is the reason Jesus was upset with the Rabbis when he himself has abolished the laws of the OT! – Bach Aug 29 '17 at 18:17
  • I don't think I suggested that Jesus was upset with the Rabbis for only this issue. – Gina Aug 29 '17 at 22:59

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