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Another questioner asks about historical evidence for a day beginning at sunset (see Historical Evidence that the Jewish Calendar Day Began at Sunset?) I am interested in evidence specifically and only from the text of both Old and New Testament writings. For discussion purposes, I want to use these labels (apologies if there are standard labels I am unaware of):

  • Sunset Model — the legal Jewish calendar day (i.e., for law-keeping purposes) began at sunset and ended at the following sunset when a new day began
  • Natural Day Model — each new day starts at sunrise and ends at the following sunrise
  • Modern Legal Model — our legal calendar day begins at 12:00:00 AM and ends at 11:59:59 PM because precise time-keeping is now possible; since this does not seem to have any significance in Bible history or doctrine, I will just acknowledge it and set it aside
  • Ancient civil models — I am aware of ancient Babylonian, Greek, and Roman calendars and timekeeping methods; these may impact how Bible history was recorded but I think that would belong to a separate discussion

NOTE: To be transparent, I have no religious conviction that Christians are to keep the Law of Moses (and would instead argue that we do not). My interest in this subject is strictly to understand Bible history in its own right. For that, I want to be able to separate what is written from the religious/cultural traditions of both Judaism and Christianity that have arisen from human interaction with the writings. I recognize that the Sunset Model is generally (though not exclusively) accepted in Judaism today. I am not questioning Judaism’s historic interpretation and application of the Law according to the Sunset Model.

I believe there is nothing unique/special about timekeeping conventions in the Bible; generally speaking, the terms dawn, morning, day, daylight, afternoon, evening, dusk, twilight, night, today, tomorrow, yesterday, sunrise, and sunset denote exactly what they commonly mean. (They may be used metaphorically as well.) Scripture is replete with references to timekeeping and in every context, the natural understanding of these words is proper.

If that is true, the Natural Day Model fits the Bible narrative but the Sunset Model does not. No one ever referred the approaching evening as “tomorrow” or an evening’s preceding afternoon as “yesterday.” “Next day” always indicates a new daylight period, not the change of a legal day after sunset. Some examples are:

  • In the creation account of Genesis 1, God did his work, evening came, followed by the next morning, and a day had been completed. The first evening came after the first period of God’s work was done. The literary pattern fits the Natural Day Model, not the Sunset Model: [Work] … “and there was evening” … “and there was morning” = “the [ordinal number] day

  • Ruth gleaned “until evening.” Naomi asked, “Where did you glean today?” not, “Where did you glean yesterday?”

  • "On that day when evening came…” (Mark 4:35) and in Acts 4, Peter and John are put in custody “until the next day, for it was already evening.” I think I know exactly how to interpret these statements in the Natural Day Model.

  • John 20:1 and 20:19 show time progression from pre-dawn to late evening and it was still Sunday.

If we apply the Sunset Model, the history becomes nonsensical. Never did a new day start in the evening (and probably advocates of the Sunset Model would admit this because it is undeniable). So I wonder if it is a matter of “legal” vs. “conversational” styles. Although I know the Modern Legal Model is a real thing, colloquially I would never speak of “tomorrow morning” in order to convey 12:30 AM. Is that true in the Bible? I think it could be, but I don’t see it. If the narratives always follow the Natural Day Model but God really did establish the Sunset Model for law-keeping purposes, it should be explicit in the text I think. Otherwise, how did they know? This is the evidence I am looking for but so far, I cannot find it. If the Sunset Model is a true thing from God in order for Israel to keep the Law, how do we know that from Scripture?

I am beginning to conclude that the Sunset Model has rabbinical origins. One possible source I have found for the traditions of law-keeping according to the Sunset model is Nehemiah 13:19 —

As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day.

Nehemiah was trying to remedy a persistent violation of Sabbath law in his day but he did not appeal to anything written in the Law of Moses as “authority” for locking the gates on Friday night. He used his own authority to eliminate a major source of Sabbath violation by those under his rule. In other words, I can see that this instance might be taken forward as a tradition (starting the Sabbath on Friday night to prevent the possibility of violating the Sabbath day) but I don't see that this was part of the law given through Moses. If the day really started at sunset and it always had, why would Nehemiah have had to institute this regulation?

(If someone can tag this better than I did, please do. This is my first question.)

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    The answer you reference gives the material you seek. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/22060/…
    – Dottard
    Feb 16, 2022 at 20:58
  • How is this different from the impressive data already cited?
    – Dottard
    Feb 16, 2022 at 20:58
  • וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר יֹ֥ום אֶחָֽד (in Ge 1:5, MT)
    – Perry Webb
    Feb 17, 2022 at 0:21
  • @Dottard Thanks. I hadn't seen the second link you posted and don't know what you mean about the answer I referenced. And I don't really understand your question but I'll read the other post. The first link was not helpful to me.
    – ABN22
    Feb 17, 2022 at 1:20

1 Answer 1

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From Mark 15:

33 And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.

It's well into the afternoon before Jesus dies.

42 And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,

43 Joseph of Arimathæa, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.

44 And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead

The sun is going down on preparation day and they're making final preparations for the Sabbath--John 19 provides further detail as to why:

31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

32 Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.

...

42 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

The Jews are in a hurry to get the bodies off of the crosses so that they are not defiling the land on the Sabbath--breaking the legs of the condemned brought about a very quick death (it could take several days for someone to expire otherwise) They use a nearby tomb for Jesus because it's nigh at hand.


They are in a hurry because Sabbath starts at sundown.

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  • This point is one of the first things that made me start to question the Sunset Model when I was studying the chronology of Jesus's last week. How/where do I respond to this if I need more space than the comment allows? I could just add several comments but I don't want to violate the rules of etiquette for this site. Are multiple comments okay?
    – ABN22
    Feb 17, 2022 at 1:03
  • @ABN22 a few comments are okay; you can also modify the question if something needs to be clarified. Or, if you're thinking of something more in depth, you can ask a 2nd question, referencing the objections you take with this answer. Feb 17, 2022 at 1:17
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    @ABN22 thanks for this interesting perspective. My two cents - many of the first 7 actions could be carried out in parallel. In fact, the preparation of the funerary ointments could have been done while He was on the cross. That the women had to go do follow-up embalming/anointing on Sunday indicates they didn't have time to do it justice on Friday (or Saturday). Feb 17, 2022 at 2:37
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    @ABN22 let me add here, for what it's worth. First of all, I see that you have correctly ascertained that the herbal mixture of 100 lbs (Roman) = 75 lbs (Modern), so Nicodemus could have easily managed this himself. Secondly, there is definitive indication that all 75 lbs was not used within the wrapping process. See Biblehub.com/commentaries/john/19-39.htm under Jamieson-Fausset-Brown, and in particular his reference to 2Ch, 16:14. 75 lbs was not only used for the wrapping process, but also as a bed for lying on and quite possibly for the burning of....tbc... Feb 21, 2022 at 19:53
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    @ABN22 ...continuing on...*Further* spices were bought by Mary M and Mary the mother of James and Salome for use after the Sabbath, in order to anoint Jesus' body more. Feb 21, 2022 at 19:56

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