The Karaite Korner

Abib FAQ

Answers to frequently asked questions regarding the Biblical Calendar and how Abib is used in intercalation.

General

Q: What is Abib?

Q: What is the Biblical name for the First Month (Nissan)?

Barley

Q: Does Abib mean "Green Ears" or "Green, tender ears"?

Q: If the barley is hard and dry how can it be eaten?

Q: How can the Abib be observed in Sabbatical, Jubilee, and drought years?

Q: Does the Abib barley have to be from the Land of Israel?

Q: How did the Israelites know when the years began, during the 40 years of wandering in the desert?

Q: How could Noah have known when the year began during the Flood, without seeing the barley?

Q: Aren't computerized calculations "more objective" than observations of ripening Barley?

Vernal Equinox

Q: Is Genesis 1:14 proof that the calendar is according to the Vernal Equinox?

Q: Is the equinox (Tequfah) mentioned in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible)?

Q: Doesn't Josephus say that the New Year is determined based on the "1st of Aries"?

Miscellaneous

Q: Why don't the Rabbis follow the Abib calendar?

Q: Can we set the Biblical Calendar according to the agricultural activities surrounding the "Feast of Ingathering" (Sukkot)?


Q: What is Abib?

Answer.

Q: What is the Biblical name for the First Month (Nissan)?

The Torah calls this month: "The First Month" (Hodesh HaRishon) and also refers to it as "Month of the Abib" (Hodesh Ha'Abib). It should be noted that it is not called Month of Abib, but rather Month of THE Abib. Abib is not the name of the month, but rather describes the character of the month [since names in Biblical Hebrew can not get the definite article]. The name Nissan is a Babylonian month name, which was learned by Israel during the Babylonian exile.

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Q: Does Abib mean "Green Ears" or "Green, tender ears"?

No. Abib does not mean "green ears", despite the incorrect translation in the King James Bible. The precise meaning of Abib must be reconstructed by going into the fields and studying the barley and cross-referencing this with the Biblical evidence. The Bible often speaks of "Abib parched in fire". This refers to grain which is developed enough to be eaten after it has been parched. In contrast, "Green Ears" is such a broad term that it can refer to grain which when parched will shrivel up leaving no edible material. This has been confirmed by experiments. In order to be Abib, the barley must be more developed than Green, tender ears.

Biblical evidence also shows that Abib is a brittle state as can be seen from the description of the crops destroyed by the Plague of Hail:

"And the flax and the barley were smitten, because the barley was Abib and the flax was Giv'ol. And the wheat and the spelt were not smitten because they were dark (Afilot)." (Ex 9,31-32)

The full meaning of this passage and its ramifications for understanding the agricultural term Abib is discussed at: http://www.karaite-korner.org/abib.shtml

Q: If the barley is hard and dry how can it be eaten? Doesn't it need to be soft and chewy in order to be edible?

On the contrary, barley or wheat that is "soft and chewy" is virtually inedible without being roasted. If it is too "soft and chewy" the roasting will dry up the kernel leaving an empty husk.

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Q: How can the new year be set according to the barley in Sabbatical and Jubilee years? What about in drought years? Even if barley sometimes sprouts and grows "voluntarily" with no cultivation, isn't this is less likely in the Jubilee year and in years of severe drought.

Barley grows every year in the Holy Land whether farmers intentionally cultivate it or not. Unintentionally cultivated barley, also referred to as "volunteer" barley, is present all over the Land of Israel in very large quantities. In areas where barley had been cultivated in previous years, fallen seeds would have grown "voluntarily" in relatively large concentrations. However, even in areas where barley has not been cultivated since at least 1948, it continues to survive in great quantities. Volunteer barley grows in such large quantities that Arab shepherds have been known to harvest it with sickles to feed their sheep. Modern wheat farmers in Israel complain that they have to actively root out volunteer barley from their wheat fields and even then they can never get all of it. It is specifically the "volunteer" crops which the Torah gives the poor and Levites to eat in the sabbatical year, as we read in Lev 25,4-7:

"(4) But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest unto the land, a Sabbath for YHWH: you shall not plant your field...(5) That which grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap... (6) And the [produce of the] Sabbath of the land shall be for you for food; for you, and for your man-servant, and for your woman-servant, and for your hired workers, and for your stranger that sojourns with you. (7) And for your cattle, and for the wild-animals that are in your land, shall all its produce be for food."

In a Sabbatical or Jubilee year there would have been no difficulty to determine the Abib based on the "volunteer" barley. Even in the severe drought of 1998-1999 the volunteer barley was abundant throughout the Land of Israel, even in the Negev desert!

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Q: Does the Abib barley have to be from the Land of Israel or can we use barley in other lands as indicators of the New Year?

According to the Torah only the barley in the Land of Israel is relevant for the Biblical year, as we read in Lev 23,10:

"When you come to the land which I give you and harvest ITS harvest, and you will bring the sheaf of the beginning of your harvest to the priest."

We see here that it must be the barley in the Land of Israel ("the land which I give you"), which is harvest-ready by the Sunday which falls out during Passover. If there is no barley ready for harvest in the Promised Land by this time then that month is by definition not the "Month of the Abib".

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During the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (a desert), Israel kept a careful record of the months and years and also brought the Passover sacrifice (Nu 9) in the desert. Obviously, they could not have consulted the barley in the Canaan. Doesn't this prove the year is not dependent on ripening barley?

Technically there would have been no problem in sending messengers to the Land of Canaan (a 1 or 2 day journey from Sinai) to check the state of the barley crops. In fact, this is what the Karaites of Cairo did for nearly a thousand years, even though they were much farther from Palestine than the ancient Israelites in Sinai. A better question is what did the Israelites do in the year of the Exodus when sending messengers would have been very difficult (although not impossible), due to the conditions of enslavement. It would not have been sufficient for the Children of Israel to have simply checked the barley in Egypt since according to the Torah only the barley in the Land of Israel is relevant for the Biblical year, as we read in Lev 23,10:

"When you come to the land which I give you and harvest ITS harvest, and you will bring the sheaf of the beginning of your harvest to the priest."

We see here that it must be the barley in the Land of Israel ("the land which I give you"), which is harvest-ready by the Sunday which falls out during Passover. If there is no barley ready for harvest in the PromisLand by this time then that month is by definition not the "Month of the Abib". So if the Israelites in Egypt were unable to send messengers to check the barley crops in Canaan, how did they determine the beginning of the year in the year of the Exodus. The answer is given in Ex 12,2, namely that the beginning of the year was proclaimed by YHWH Himself, as we read:

"This month is for you the beginning of months; it is first for you of the months of the year."

Although the Israelites in the desert could easily have checked the Abib in Canaan, they probably continued to use the system of intercalation used in the year of the Exodus, that is Divine Decree. Most of the commandments only took full effect once the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan. This is said explicitly with many commandments and is quite obviously the case with the agricultural laws. In the desert there was no harvest. Are we to believe they did not celebrate Shavuot (Feast of Harvest) and Sukkot (Feast of Ingathering)?!? All indications are that these Feasts were kept even though their full significance as agricultural Feasts only came into effect when the Israelites entered the Land of Israel. Similarly, the use of the Abib as it grows in the Land of Israel would have only begun from when the Israelites entered the promised land (see also Lev 23,10 quoted above "When you come into the land which I give you...").

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Q: Genesis 8:13 shows that Noah could determine the first month without ever leaving the ark. Doesn't this prove the Biblical calendar is not dependent on observing the barley crop?

Noah himself did not know the date. What the verse in question says is:

"And it came to pass in the six hundredth and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth: and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and, behold, the face of the ground was dry."

The date is revealed to us (the readers) by the narrator (YHWH). The narrator often reveals information to the reader, which is unknown to the characters in a Biblical account. Not only was Noah unable to see the Abib, but he was also unable to see the New Moon because he was sealed into the Ark. Presumably he had no idea of the date, month, or year. Indeed, in a period before glass panes, the "window" (Gen 6,16) which Noah built into the ark would have been closed with a wooden shudder [until it was opened some time after the 10th day of the 10th month (Gen 8,6)]. So Noah, sealed into the ark, would not have even known whether it was day or night!

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Q: Aren't computerized calculations "more objective" than observations of ripening Barley?

A: Computerized calculations can not accurately predict when the barley will be in the state of Abib and therefore these calculations are useless for fixing the Biblical calendar. There are calculations which can predict when the vernal equinox will take place. However, the Torah does not command us to observe the Feasts according to the equinox, whereas it does command us to observe them according to the ripening Barley as we read in the verse:

"Keep the month of the Abib [=ripening barley] and make the Passover (sacrifice) to YHWH your God at night, because in the month of the Abib YHWH your God took you out of Egypt" (Dt 16,1)

Furthermore, the ancient Israelites did not have computers nor was the calculation of the equinox known when the Torah was given. Even once an "objective" way to calculate the equinox was discovered, the only way to acquire this knowledge was to learn the ways of the idolatrous astrologers, which the Torah strictly forbids, as we read in Dt 18,9-10:

"(9) When thou art come into the land which YHWH your God gives you, you shall not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. (10) There shall not be found among you ... an observer of times, or an enchanter..." note

The prophet Jeremiah also warns us not to learn astrology:

"Thus saith YHWH, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. " (Jer 10,2)

The prophet Isaiah speaks even more strongly against astrology:

"(13) Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. (14) Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame..." (Isa 47,13-14)

Note: According to some exegetes it is the "enchanter" (Kosem) who practices astrology, not the "observer of times" (Me'onen). Back

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Q: Doesn't Genesis 1:14 show that the Vernal Equinox, not the barley, determine the holy day seasons?

We read in Gen 1,14:

"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven, to divide between the day and the night and they will be for signs and for times (Moedim) and for days and for years."

From this verse it is not clear what is dependent on what. Certainly no mention of the Vernal Equinox is made. Perhaps the year is dependent on the moon or the stars? If the year is dependent on the sun, then what about the sun effects the beginning of the year? Gen 1,14 does not specify these things and we must turn to other Biblical passages to get a more precise understanding of the Biblical calendar. In Dt 16,1 we read:

"Keep the month of the Abib and make the Passover (sacrifice) to YHWH your God at night, because in the month of Abib YHWH your God took you out of Egypt"

Similarly we read:

"You will keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread; seven days you will eat unleavened bread, as have I commanded you, at the time of the month of the Abib, because in the month of the Abib you went out of Egypt." (Ex 34,18)

The word "Abib" refers to barley which has reached a certain stage in its development. This meaning of Abib is preserved in the verse:

"And the flax and the barley were smitten, because the barley was Abib and the flax was Giv'ol. And the wheat and the spelt were not smitten because they were dark (Afilot)." (Ex 9,31-32)

To keep the Passover Sacrifice in the Month of the Abib requires taking the Abib (ripening barley) as an indicator of the beginning of the year. This is entirely consistent with Gen 1,14, for the ripening of the barley is dependent on the seasons of the year and therefore indirectly is controlled by the sun. Central factors, which cause the barley to ripen, are the lengthening of the days and the increasing sunlight, changes in humidity, and other factors which affect the environment. Therefore, it is the sun, which indirectly causes the barley to ripen, and thereby acts as an indicator of years. It is this indirect effect which causes the barley to become Abib which Gen 1,14 is referring to when it says the sun and moon will be for years.

It should be noted that the equinox is never mentioned in the entire Hebrew Bible. Gen 1,14, which has often been cited as proof of the equinox theory, does not mention the equinox either. On the contrary, the use of astronomical calculations for determining the time of the equinox, was in this period synonymous with the idolatrous practice of fortune telling and was certainly not practiced in ancient Israel (Isa 47,13).

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Q: Is the equinox (Tequfah) mentioned in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible)?

Answer

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Doesn't Josephus say that the New Year is determined based on the "1st of Aries"?

The "1st of Aries" is a reference to the Vernal Equinox and as seen above the Pharisees determined the New Year based on 3 factors, one of which was the Vernal Equinox. In his autobiography, Josephus himself informs us that he is a Pharisee, so it is not surprising that he should quote the Pharisee practice of intercalation. As is Josephus' practice he only gives the details of a lwhich would be comprehensible to his pagan Greek readers. In this case Josephus does not mention the agricultural indicators of the New Year [according to the Pharisees the Abib and the Fruits] and only refers to the astrological indicators which his pagan audience would have been able to relate to. Josephus' repeating the Pharisee position on intercalation does not give it any more credence.

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Q: If the meaning of Abib in the Scripture is so obvious how come the Rabbis don't follow the Abib calendar?

Up until the 2nd centuries CE the Rabbanites in fact followed the Abib calendar. True, they supplemented the observance of the barley with their astronomical calculations of the equinox (which they learned from astrologers) and other non-Biblical factors. Nevertheless, their writings reveal a recognition that the barley has special significance for intercalating the year. A Brayta (2nd century CE Tanaitic source) quoted in the Talmud Bavli says as follows:

"Our Rabbis taught, Based on three things is the year intercalated: on the Abib, on the fruits of the trees, and on the equinox. Based on two of them the year is intercalated but based on one of them alone the year is not intercalated. And when the Abib is one of them everyone is pleased." (Bavli Sanhedrin 11b)

Another Brayta relates:

"Our Rabbis taught, The year is intercalated based on [the Abib in] three regions: Judea, Transjordan, and Galilee. Based on two of them the year is intercalated but based on one of them alone the year is not intercalated. And when Judea is one of them everyone is pleased because the Omer [Wave-Sheaf] Offering can only come from Judea." (Bavli Sanhedrin 11b)

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Q: Can we set the Biblical Calendar according to the agricultural activities surrounding the "Feast of Ingathering" (Sukkot)?

Answer.

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