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I'm trying to explore the symbolic uses of time in the Fourth Gospel. My question is: "What is the significance of 4pm (the tenth hour) to first century, and older, Jews?

John 1:39 (KJV), He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.

John 1:39 (NRSV), He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

I note here that it says "almost the tenth hour." I figured the author may have been using this as a sort of anticipation building or indicating of a new beginning, or something that is about to happen. I googled this and found an article describing how the modern day state of Israel was established at exactly 4pm on May 14, 1948. That piqued my interest. Why did they wait for that exact moment? Couldn't find an answer.

But at the same time, 10th hour is a relative measure in these contexts. The NRSV transaltes it as 4'oclock, but that would only be true on one of the two equinox days of the year when the day is exactly 12 hours of daylight long. Otherwise, relative time defined the day with the sixth hour always at noon. The equinox day in 1948 was March 20th, not may 14, so this was not the tenth hour.

So the tenth hour is 2/3 of the way from apex sun (noon, 6th hour) to sunset (when the next day starts.

1 (dawn)

2

3

4

5

6 (noon)

7

8

9

10 ("almost the tenth hour," John 1:39

11

12 (sunset)

I was able to find in Josephus

Josephus [Wars (vi.ix.§ 3)]: "...their feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour to the eleventh, etc." (roughly corresponding to 3 o'clock pm to 5 o'clock pm).

So is this an illusion to preparation of Jesus for sacrifice? Is there some other meaning? I can't imagine that that was the reason behind modern Israel defining it's new beginning at 4pm. This wikipedia page says they selected the meeting time at "16:00 (a time chosen so as not to breach the sabbath)."

There doesn't seem to be an indication of the time of year, in John 1. Does anyone have a deeper Jewish background (or can phone a rabbi friend), and can provide an answer on the significance of it being "almost the tenth hour?"

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    There is no point in continuing a (long) journey, if evening and nightfall are close by. – Lucian May 23 '20 at 18:56
  • You should post that one as an answer. I think it makes a ton of sense. Simple is often best. – Gus L. May 23 '20 at 21:30
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The comment in John 1:39 is a simple expression of the fact that in an agrarian society, food preparation, and the preparations to receive it, required a little time. The evening meal would be approaching so with only 2 hours of daylight left, it was better to stay the night, than either start a new journey to Galilee (John 1:43) or another task.

A similar situation developed when Jesus was with the two men on the way to Emmaus, who invited Him to dinner (Luke 24:29).

Such practices were common eastern hospitality.

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John 11:9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.

Oddly, Jesus seems to be saying there are twelve hours in a day, but asks this as a question. Which causes me to to ask the question also. Why does he say that?

Twelve hour days

If you divide the day into twelve hours, the first hour begins at dawn and the twelfth hour ends at sunset.

If that is the correct way of determining hours then the twelfth hour begins an hour before sunset, and likewise the eleventh two, and the tenth three. Thus making about the tenth hour about three to four o'clock.

Ten hour days

If however there are ten hours in a day, then the evening begins at the eleventh hour.

This would make sense of "for" in "They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour." It being close to the end of the day.

It would also somewhat fit with coming in at the eleventh hour. But in context this doesn't seem to make so much sense.

Eleven hour days

Matthew 20:6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?

Matthew 20:9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

Well, its a possibility, but I cannot see how to conclude that except by forcing this passage to fit that explanation.

Hours as divisions of the sky

If one imagines the hours instead as divisions of the sky, and how one might reckon that by eye in a time that I assume did not have many timepieces. Then one would look up at midday and say it is about the sixth hour. One would not expect to think oh it's 5 minutes to the sixth hour and therefore the sixth hour hasn't come yet. One would say, it's about the sixth hour.

Seasons

One has to also ask how seasons affect the length of day and the hours. Do we divide the sky into a certain number of hours, or do we keep the hours as positions fixed?

If the hours are fixed in their positions (exactly how needs thinking through) then the day lengths would vary according to the seasons. And exactly twelve (if that is the right number) at the equinoxes.

Then it makes sense that there are times when the tenth hour is time to retire to one's abode, and times when there is light remaining at the eleventh hour.

I would suggest a study John 11, 12 would lead you to think it was almost the passover, that Jesus talks about the twelve hours in the day. This would fit with it being an equinox, making this interpretation plausible.

It being the tenth hour and reason to abide, would therefore fit with it being winter. Though I cannot see an obvious confirmation or conclusion to that point.

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