January 24, 2012

Roger Beckwith's Blind Spot, (or) The Profitability of Intercalation, Part 1 (of 4)

Among other things, Roger Beckwith's Calendar and Chronology (2001) argued persuasively that Jerusalem's Passovers didn't follow the 19 year metonic cycle of lunar observance. Of course, he was right because the cycle had not yet been standardized. In Jesus' day, the spring New Year was set by observing the moon visually.  Observe one day too late (or too quickly, perhaps?) and the Passover Night could wind up "one day off" from the actual date of the moon's astronomical fullness. (We'll get to months in a moment.)

We'll get to the money part very soon, also. Bear with me for just a bit, please.

Although modern astronomy can now retroactively calculate which precise dates new and full moons appeared on, Beckwith's best point is that we can't be sure *they* called it precisely, each year. Therefore, in any given year, it's somewhat possible that the festival might have been held a day early - or a day late - although presumably they also got it precisely right on occasion. Perhaps the sky watchers even called it correctly most of the time. We're not 100% sure.

However, none of that is Beckwith's major point, nor the point of this post. The day was not the big deal. As alluded to just above, the real problem is knowing which month the Jerusalem festival was held, each year. Since the lunar cycle naturally requires a 13th month in occasional years - a bit more than every 3 years, or more approximately 7 of every 19, just about - that "leap month" would push back the religious new year, and the Passover season was always held in that first month.

Point: while we've long believed Jesus died in April, Beckwith suggested it could have been March.

Again, the key point is that Judea doesn't seem to have developed a formalized schedule of leap years based on the Metonic Cycle... and despite just how naturally as the Metonic Cycle really does kind of work itself out for anyone who looks into it veeeery deeply, Beckwith's general point here has to stand - we shouldn't retroactively insert the Metonic Cycle into our expectations of when the Jewish leap years occured. Therefore, it's entirely possible that the Judean authorities chose not to insert a leap month in some year we'd expect them to... which means the crucifixion - in whatever year it took place - could have taken place possibly a month sooner than we think.

At least, that's the theory. On paper, it's true. But how practical is Beckwith's concern?

Was there any other way of determining time, at that time? How early could Passover be scheduled?

April? March? February?

If there were no firm rules about this whatsoever, were there any other constraints on their judgment?

As I'll show you very soon, I believe that they were.

To be continued...

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