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In Exodus chapters 19 and 20 we read of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Many believe this momentous event occurred during the first week of Sivan, the third month in the Hebrew calendar (see Exodus 19:1). Many Jewish scholars claim this event happened on Shavuot, the third annual feast day in the Jewish calendar. In today's fixed Jewish calendar that is always Sivan 6 (and also Sivan 7 outside of Israel).

However, before the creation of the fixed calendar in the fourth century CE, the first day of the month began when observers appointed by the Sanhedrin spotted the thin crescent of the moon in the western sky as the sun was setting. This means that months could vary, either 29 or 30 days each. No months had 31 days because if the crescent still hadn't been spotted on the evening of the 30th day, the new day would be declared the first day of the month.

A prelude to Shavuot was the feast of the Passover in the first month of the Jewish calendar. In the Jewish calendar, Passover fell on Abib 14 and the first feast day of the Passover fell on the next day. Rabbinical Judaism calls this feast day (Abib or Nisan 15) an annual Sabbath, of which there were seven every year. Current Jewish tradition holds the countdown toward Shavuot began with a 50-day countdown that began on the day after the annual Sabbath (Abib 16). If we assume that Abib had 30 days and Iyyar had 29 days, then Sivan 6 would be the 50th day since Abib 16, the day of the rabbinical waving of the Omer.

However, the Sadducees in the first century CE and the modern Karaites reckon the 50-day countdown differently than the Rabbis. They do not count down from the day after the annual Sabbath but the day after the first weekly Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Hence, with Sadducee and Karaite inclusive counting, Shavuot would always fall on a Sunday.

Under Sadducee's and Karaite's reckoning, there could be several days between the observance of the Passover meal and the first weekly Sabbath of the week-long Passover festival. Under their reckoning, Shavuot would always fall on a Sunday but it would also fall on a different day of the month of Sivan every year.

There are those who disagree with this and they have reasons why they disagree. Historian and author Daniel Gregg has written an article on the subject of Karaite's belief that Shavuot always falls on Sunday. His article required a lot of study so I thought I would offer everyone a chance to see his reasons for rejecting the Karaite position. Gregg maintains that the first Shavuot ever fell on the weekly Sabbath in the year of the Exodus.

https://www.torahtimes.org/CalendarChaos.html

This is a little odd because he elsewhere claims the Omer is waved on the day after the annual "Sabbath" of Nisan 15 as the Pharisees did but he believes the seven Sabbath countdown toward Shavuot begins on the first weekly Sabbath after the waving of the Omer. The difference between the two is Daniel Gregg believes the waving of the Omer comes after the first so-called annual Sabbath and before the first weekly Sabbath of the days of Unleavened Bread. Gregg then begins his seven Sabbath countdown from the first weekly Sabbath of Passover week.

Under the Sadducean and Karaite reckoning, however, the waving of the Omer occurs on the day after the first weekly Sabbath in the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This would be Sunday. This Sunday is day one of the beginning of the seven Sabbath countdown towards Shavuot. The first of the seven Sabbaths falls on the following Saturday. Gregg's so-called "first of the Sabbaths" falls a week earlier than the Sadducee and Karaite reckoning. This is enough to demonstrate Gregg's position is in error.

It is claimed by some historians that during Jesus' time on earth, the Pharisees controlled Temple Worship, and the Pharisees counting the seven weeks to Shavuot began the day after the first "annual Sabbath" no matter which day of the week it occurred. This would be Nisan 16. Then, the Pharisees would count the seven Sabbath (week) countdown from that same day. Hence, under their reckoning, they did not count seven Sabbaths, they instead counted seven WEEKS, even if the countdown began on a Tuesday, they would count seven weeks (and not Sabbaths) and the fiftieth day would fall on Tuesday. The same would apply if the Omer was waved on a Thursday. Fifty days later Shavuot would fall on a Thursday.

Other historians claim the Sadducees controlled temple worship during the life of Christ and they did not recognize Nisan 15 as a Sabbath. Furthermore, they waved the Omer on the day after the first weekly Sabbath after the Passover meal and counted down the seven Sabbaths from there. This is the position I believe.

I discussed in another answer some of the reasons why I don't believe the giving of the Law occurred on Shavuot. Here is the link to those reasons:

What is the correct date the Israelites arrived at Sinai?

Under Sadducean and Karaite reckoning Shavuot would fall on Sunday. Under Pharisee and rabbinical reckoning, Shavuot could fall on any day of the week, including the weekly Sabbath.

Those who claim the giving of the Law fell on the weekly Sabbath must admit IF Shavuot fell on that day, then it was the rabbinical reckoning of the feasts and counting that was in use and not the Sadducean reckoning. The argument fails however because Shavuot didn't even exist at that time. In the year of the Exodus the weekly Sabbath wasn't even revealed until weeks after the departure from Egypt. Likewise, there was no waving of the Omer that year and therefore no seven Sabbath countdown to Shavuot. The first waving of the Omer did not even begin until the children of Israel entered the Promised Land some 40 years later.

There are some who insist we cannot be sure what date Exodus 19 refers to:

Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament

In the third month after their departure from Egypt, the Israelites arrived at Sinai, proceeding from Rephidim into the desert of Sinai, and encamping there before the mountain. On what day of the month, the received text does not state. The striking expression הזּה בּיּום ("the same day"), without any previous notice of the day, cannot signify the first day of the month; nor can השּׁלישׁי החדשׁ signify the third new moon in the year, and be understood as referring to the first day of the third month. For although, according to the etymology of חדשׁ (from חדשׁ to be new), it might denote the new moon, yet in chronological data it is never used in this sense; but the day of the month is invariably appended after the month itself has been given (e.g., לחדשׁ אחד Exodus 40:2, Exodus 40:17; Genesis 8:5, Genesis 8:13; Numbers 1:1; Numbers 29:1; Numbers 33:38, etc.). Moreover, in the Pentateuch the word חדשׁ never signifies new moon; but the new moons are called חדשׁים ראשׁי (Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11, cf. Hengstenberg, Dissertations, vol. ii. 297). And even in such passages as 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 18:24; 2 Kings 4:23; Amos 8:5; Isaiah 1:13, etc., where חדשׁ is mentioned as a feast along with the Sabbaths and other feasts, the meaning new moon appears neither demonstrable nor necessary, as חדשׁ in this case denotes the feast of the month, the celebration of the beginning of the month. If, therefore, the text is genuine, and the date of the month has not dropt out (and the agreement of the ancient versions with the Masoretic text favours this conclusion), there is no other course open, than to understand יום, as in Genesis 2:4 and Numbers 3:1, and probably also in the unusual expression החדשׁ יום, Exodus 40:2, in the general sense of time; so that here, and also in Numbers 9:1; Numbers 20:1, the month only is given, and not the day of the month, and it is altogether uncertain whether the arrival in the desert of Sinai took place on one of the first, one of the middle, or one of the last days of the month. The Jewish tradition, which assigns the giving of the law to the fiftieth day after the Passover, is of far too recent a date to pass for historical (see my Archologie, 83, 6). From BibleHub.com Thanks to Gina for bringing this to my attention.

So my question is did the giving of the Law occur on Shavuot or did it not? Am I correct or not?

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No. There is no way to know which day of the third month that the Law or Torah was given to the people. The scripture only says "in the third month." There is no exact time given for the setting up of the camp at Mount Sinai, and logic would have to allow possibly two or three days for this. The scripture does not say on which day Moses went up the mountain to meet with God.

While the record states that God told Moses to give the people three days to prepare to hear directly from God's own voice (Ex. 19:10-11), we are not told how many days came before those three days. The reckoning of the giving of the Law on the feast day of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) is by tradition only.

Excerpt of Keil and Delitzsch Commentary at Ex. 19:1-

In the third month after their departure from Egypt, the Israelites arrived at Sinai, proceeding from Rephidim into the desert of Sinai, and encamping there before the mountain. On what day of the month, the received text does not state. The striking expression הזּה בּיּום ("the same day"), without any previous notice of the day, cannot signify the first day of the month; nor can השּׁלישׁי החדשׁ signify the third new moon in the year, and be understood as referring to the first day of the third month. For although, according to the etymology of חדשׁ (from חדשׁ to be new), it might denote the new moon, yet in chronological data it is never used in this sense; but the day of the month is invariably appended after the month itself has been given (e.g., לחדשׁ אחד Exodus 40:2, Exodus 40:17; Genesis 8:5, Genesis 8:13; Numbers 1:1; Numbers 29:1; Numbers 33:38, etc.). Moreover, in the Pentateuch the word חדשׁ never signifies new moon; but the new moons are called חדשׁים ראשׁי (Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11, cf. Hengstenberg, Dissertations, vol. ii. 297). And even in such passages as 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 18:24; 2 Kings 4:23; Amos 8:5; Isaiah 1:13, etc., where חדשׁ is mentioned as a feast along with the Sabbaths and other feasts, the meaning new moon appears neither demonstrable nor necessary, as חדשׁ in this case denotes the feast of the month, the celebration of the beginning of the month. If, therefore, the text is genuine, and the date of the month has not dropt out (and the agreement of the ancient versions with the Masoretic text favours this conclusion), there is no other course open, than to understand יום, as in Genesis 2:4 and Numbers 3:1, and probably also in the unusual expression החדשׁ יום, Exodus 40:2, in the general sense of time; so that here, and also in Numbers 9:1; Numbers 20:1, the month only is given, and not the day of the month, and it is altogether uncertain whether the arrival in the desert of Sinai took place on one of the first, one of the middle, or one of the last days of the month. The Jewish tradition, which assigns the giving of the law to the fiftieth day after the Passover, is of far too recent a date to pass for historical (see my Archologie, 83, 6). Source: Biblehub

Therefore, we cannot know the exact day of the third month (Sivan) on which the Law was given to Israel.

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  • Gina, excellent article? May I use your quote from Keil and Delitzsh on an answer I had elsewhere on BHSX? Commented yesterday
  • Saber Truth TIger, I copied that part of their commentary from the source at BibleHub.com If you use it, you should cite that same source.
    – Gina
    Commented yesterday
  • Thanks Gina. I will cite Bible Hub as my source but I am going to post it in my question above and I thought it might look a little weird if I have this post from BibleHub.com in my question and then your answer uses the same exact quote. I'll decide later if I want to re-quote a source in my question that you cite in your answer. Commented yesterday
  • I decided to use the quote. I thank you for bringing this to my attention. Commented yesterday

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