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After hearing an adverse report about the survivors in Jerusalem,Nehemiah begins to pray & fast for Jerusalem.It is said it was in the twentieth year in the month of Chislev.

1st encounter with Nehemiah in Chislev

Nehemiah 1:1 NKJV

1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan a the citadel, 2 that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.

Again we meet Nehemiah before the king & it is said it was in the month of Nisan twentieth year

2nd encounter with Nehemiah in Nisan

Nehemiah 2:1 NKJV

1 And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before.

According to the Jewish calender their year begins in the month of Nisan,so how could the month of Nisan be still the same year (twentieth)?

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    This discrepancy is already addressed by the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 3a-b), the suggested answer being that gentile kings' reigns are counted with the year starting in Tishrei, but I'm not sure how valid that answer is, seeing as the Babylonian and Persian calendars also started in the spring. – b a Jun 4 '18 at 10:48
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    From personal experience, I can attest that in the first month of a new year I will often write the previous year where I mean the current one. – David Starkey Jun 4 '18 at 15:17
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    According to the Jewish calendar, their year begins in the month of Nisan - There are two Jewish calendars, not one. The civil calendar, starting in Tishri, and the ecclesiastical one, beginning with Nisan. – Lucian Jun 6 '18 at 11:06
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    @Lucian. But not in the period that we are discussing. – fdb Jun 6 '18 at 11:17
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    @fdb: The Egyptian captivity (because it is from them that the Jews adopted the autumn New Year) predated the Babylonian captivity by centuries. – Lucian Jun 6 '18 at 11:34
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The problem has long been noted by commentators. Here, for example, is Rashi's discussion:

the twentieth year: This refers to the twentieth year of King Darius, who is identical with Artaxerxes. In Tractate Rosh Hashanah (3a, b), we find that the phrase “the twentieth year” is mentioned twice using similar wording [to teach us that it is speaking of the identical year]. It states below (2:1), “And it came to pass in the month of Nissan of the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, etc.” The years were calculated from the month of Tishrei. It says here, “And it was in the month of Kislev of the twentieth year, etc.” This refers to the Kislev coming after Tishrei. Further down it says (2:1), “And it was in the month of Nissan of the twentieth year, etc.” This refers to the Nissan of the same year. And I cannot explain that they calculated their years from the month of Nissan and that the incident mentioned below: “And it was in the month of Nissan, etc.” occurred before this incident: “And it was in the month of Kislev, etc.” It is true that events [in the Torah] are not necessarily recorded in chronological order. Nevertheless, the chapters indicate that the second chapter took place only because of the events of the first chapter.

His admission of puzzlement at the discrepancy between Neh 1:1 and 2:1 is plainly stated: "And I cannot explain that they calculated their years from the month of Nissan and that the incident mentioned below ... occurred before this incident..."!

I think just about every commentator takes a stab at it (I confess I haven't checked them all!). So far as I'm aware, the fullest discussion is by H.G.M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah (Word, 1985), pp. 168-170. It isn't possible to reproduce three pages of discussion here. But Williamson offers these as the main explanations, "though not all are equally plausible" (p. 169):

  • Nehemiah was using a calendar with the new year marked from Tishri. This is the suggestion of Edwin Thiele (Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings [Paternoster, 1966], p. 30). But not only is this confusing, but later studies have shown Thiele's suggestion to be unlikely in any case.
  • As a variation, some theorize that we have already in evidence the later Jewish custom of an autumnal new year, but again it is highly unlikely in Nehemiah's day.
  • Of course, textual emendation is always an option! And it was exercised by Wilhelm Rudolph in his major Nehemiah commentary (1949), p. 102, who suggested that the Hebrew read "in the nineteenth year of Artaxerexes the king", but his explanation for how this textual situation came about does not convince many.
  • There are other, yet more far-fetched rewritings of 1:1, but I omit these.
  • Some suggest that these date formulae relate to regnal rather than calendar years. This has been defended by Elias Bickerman, "En marge de l'Écriture. I. - Le comput des années de règne des Achéménides...," Revue Biblique 88 (1981): 19-23.1 His argument runs as follows (quoting Williamson's summary) -

    [Bickerman] argues that in court circles, in which Nehemiah moved, it would not have been unusual to follow the regnal rather than the calendar year, and he cites an independent example from Thucydides (8:58) to support this claim... [other data omitted] ... Thus 1:1 would refer to December 446 BC and 2:1 to the following spring.

Williamson finds Bickerman's solution "the neatest explanation", provided that his "arguments are sound" -- and they appear to be. So, following Bickerman, Williamson concludes (p. 170):

In so personal a composition, Nehemiah may be allowed to have used the calendar most familiar to himself, since he was not primarily addressing his Jewish compatriots in his memoir. The best alternative solution is one which sees the confusion arising at some [editorial] stage in the handling of the material.


1 Those interested in Bickerman's work might also wish to consult: W. Kendrick Pritchett, "Thucydides' Statement on His Chronology," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 62 (1986): 205-11. The first page (free to view) summarizes Bickerman nicely.

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Robert Young in his Analytical Concordance states that

Chisleu is the 9th month of the Jews which began with the new moon of December

and

Nisan is the first month of the year, beginning with the new moon at the end of March.

He also says that Nisan is the name of the Babylonian god of 'spring'. I take it that it is a Chaldee word, not pure Hebrew.

['Abib' is the Hebrew name given to the first month of the Jews as we read in Exodus 13:4.]

Thus I understand that the first mention, in Nehemiah 1:1, is of the Jewish calendar year and the Jewish calendar month (the ninth month) Chisleu.

And I understand that the second mention, Nehemiah 2:1, is of the year reckoned according to the reign of Artaxerxes (by the Babylonians) and is the month called (by the Babylonians, in Chaldee) Nisan.

I take it that as the narrative of the book progresses, Nehemiah - having first fixed the context of the book within Jewish history, then switches to Babylonian details in order to fix the history within the time frame, and documentation, of the Babylonian empire.


I am not clear as to what Nehemiah calls 'the twentieth year' in his opening verse. I am not clear as to what fixes the time by what occurred twenty years previously.

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It is because Nehemiah was counting using a Tishri to Tishri (Sept/Oct) calendar. Consequently, the switch-point from one year to the next occurred in the autumn instead of the spring. Nehemiah’s account of Artaxerxes’ 20th year says, “In the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year,” then proceeds to mention the same ‘twentieth’ in the following Nisan. (Neh. 1:1, 2:1) If the Persian calendar was being quoted, it would have switched to the 21st year but it didn’t. So, Artaxerxes’ reign was being measured from Tishri.

Yes, the Persian New Year began in Nisan (spring) and so did the Jews. (Exodus 12:2,17) but there were certain exceptions to the old Hebrew calendar:

  1. Once every 49 years the Hebrews inserted a 50th year, and this ‘Jubilee year’ was the only exception to the usual Nisan calendar. It started in Tishri and was announced on the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 25:8-11)
  2. Also, when it came to a king’s reign, the kingdom of Judah used to offset his ‘regnal year’ to Tishri in a manner similar to how we designate a ‘fiscal year’ today. (This information is from the research of Dr. Edwin Theile)

So, Artaxerxes’ reign was being measured according to one of the above rules.

A final matter needs to be mentioned here. The original Hebrew calendar did not have a ‘Rosh Hashanah’ New Year as our modern Jewish one does. Neither was there a distinction between ‘civil’ and ‘ecclesiastical’ calendars as so often claimed when discussing this subject; there was only one biblical calendar and it started in Nisan! However, at some stage during the Persian-Greek eras, the Nisan New Year was shifted permanently to Tishri. This was the subject of serious debate during the Inter-testament era. Perhaps this change began during Nehemiah’s time but we cannot say that with certainty.

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The count begins when Artexerxes assumes kingship. He ascended to the throne upon the death of his father Xerxes and the death of his elder brother Darius, the crown prince. Hevwas said to have been murdered around the same time as Xerxes. This was in August-September of 465 BC. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xerxes_I

Here we see Nehemiah is clearly referring to Artexerxes Regnal year

Nehemiah 2:1

  >1And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence.

The context between Nehemiah 1 and 2 is very similar and we see Nehemiah very saddened by the events occurring in the land of Judah. By this we can safely assume, I believe, not much time has elapsed. Therefore, Nehemiah 1 also using king Artexerxes as a “time marker”

He became king and This was in Elul (6) possibly Tishri (7). Therefore, the year of Artexerxes would renew in Elul. So we have Nehemiah 1 coming 19 years and 3 months (20th year) into the reign of Artexerxes. Then Nehemiah 2 comes about 4 months later 19 years and 7 months into his reign (20th year). then about 5 months later in Elul he completes 20 full years as king and enters his 21st year. The bottom line, the count begins with the king ascended to the throne.

I will add that there is some conflicting historical accounts as to exactly when he became king. However, the count would begin after he became king.

The notion that Darius Hystaspes and Artexerxes were the same is all but eliminated in several passages where Ezra the scribe makes a clear distinction between the 2. Clearly indicating these are 2 distinct and separate persons

Ezra 6:14

14And the elders of the Jews were successful in building through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.

Note above a clear distinction was made between the 3 separate kings which allowed the Jews to prosper in building

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