Rodger C. Young


In chapter 25 of Leviticus, the people were commanded to start counting the years on their entrance into Canaan. After six years of normal farming, the seventh year was to be a Sabbath rest for the land, reminiscent of the command to remember the weekly Sabbath that was given at Mt. Sinai. In the Sabbatical year there would be no sowing or reaping (Lv 25:4, 5). It was allowed, however, to eat the “Sabbath products of the land” (Lv 25:6; Hebrew shabat ha-arets). There is some discussion among commentators on the exact meaning of this term, and whether it is identical to or differs from what modern farmers refer to as “volunteer growth,” that is, produce that grows spontaneously from scattered seed of the previous year’s crop.

Israel came to Mt. Sinai two months after they left Egypt (Ex 19:1) and departed from the mountain almost a year later (Nm 10:11). Their time at the foot of Mt. Sinai was spent in making furnishings for the Tabernacle. It was during this period that the book of Leviticus was given to Moses (Lv 27:34; the views of scholars who think otherwise will be discussed later). Thirty-nine years later, near the end of the 40 years in the wilderness, Moses was given another command related to the Sabbatical year. At the start of each Sabbatical year, during the Feast of Tabernacles, the Law was to be read to all the people (Dt 31:10–13). This suggests that one of the activities that the people could engage in profitably during the year when no field-work was permitted would be the studying of the Word of God. Other legitimate activities would have been improvements to their house or developing some craft or skill. It was not to be a year of no arduous labor whatsoever, as on the weekly Sabbath; all that was forbidden was planting and harvesting in the fields and vineyards.

BSpade 21:4 (Fall 2008) p. 110

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia PA was cast in England and shipped to Pennsylvania in 1752 in commemoration of the granting of the charter for the colony to William Penn in 1701. Inscribed around the upper part of the bell are the words, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” taken from Leviticus 25:10, the verse that announces the Biblical Jubilee. This text was chosen because of Penn’s Quaker ideal of religious and personal liberty, as expressed in the founding charter of Pennsylvania. The bell cracked when initially tested, and was only usable after two recastings. It was rung on July 8, 1776, as a summons to the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. The pealing of the bell for several hours on Washington’s birthday in 1846 expanded greatly a small crack that had appeared previously, and the bell has not been ringable since that time. It is tapped symbolically each Fourth of July. The first known usage of its popular name “Liberty Bell” was in a poem in an 1839 publication of the anti-slavery movement. Throughout its history the bell has been associated with aspirations for religious, political, and individual freedom, all related by its inscription to the liberty proclaimed at the Biblical Jubilee.

The words taken from Leviticus 25:10 are inscribed on the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land…” “Liberty” here is translated from the Hebrew word deror, meaning liberty or freedom. Deror implies more than just a release from financial obligations. In Isaiah 61:1 it refers to freedom for those taken captive. In Jeremiah 34:8 it refers to liberty or emancipation granted to bondservants. The Isaiah passage adds an eschatological dimension to the Levitical year of the Jubilee, characterizing it as the “year of the LORD’s favor” (61:2) in which good tidings (the Gospel) would be preached to the humble and oppressed, a prophecy which Christ applied to Himself in Luke 4:18–21. The prophet Ezekiel, aware that the Day of Atonement in his 25th year of captivity would mark the beginning of a year of Jubilee, was undoubtedly in despair because Jubilee. It was at this time of seeming absolute defeat that his people, held captive in a foreign land, were unable the Lord granted him the great eschatological vision that to experience either the obligations or the benefits of the comprises the last nine chapters of his book.

BSpade 21:4 (Fall 2008) p. 111

This concept of a year of release from ordinary duties has carried over into modern times. Many institutions of higher learning occasionally grant a Sabbatical year so that scholars can pursue intensively a line of interest without being encumbered by their usual day-to-day responsibilities.

In later years a third activity, the release of slaves, became associated with a Sabbatical year, although it was not specified in the Mosaic legislation. The Law of Moses stated that any Hebrew slave was to be released after six years of service, as measured from the day the service started (Ex 21:2). Perhaps because the Sabbatical year is called a year of release in Deuteronomy 15:9 (shenat ha-shemitah, “year of release,” translated as “year for canceling debts” in the NIV), it became customary to think of the Sabbatical year as a release for all slaves, irrespective of when their service began (Sarna 1973: 148).1 We thus have three activities that, if mentioned in Scripture or in some other source, might indicate that a Sabbatical year was being observed: the voluntary refraining from planting and reaping, the public reading of the Law, or the release of all slaves at one time, rather than on an individual basis as in the original statute given to Moses.

All of these activities are mentioned in Scripture. A year of voluntary refraining from sowing and reaping, the most distinctive and sure sign of a Sabbatical year, is mentioned in Isaiah 37:30 and its parallel passage 2 Kings 19:29. A reading of the Law to all the people occurred in the third year of

Michael Luddeni

Sennacherib on his throne receiving booty from Lachish. In 701 BC Sennacherib and his army came against Judah: “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them” (2 Kgs 18:13). Sennacherib’s own record states, “As for Hezekiah, the Judean, I besieged forty-six of his fortified walled cities and surrounding smaller towns, which were without number…I took out 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep, without number, and counted them as spoil” (Cogan 2000: 303). This also would imply the destruction or confiscation of Judean crops in that year, as indicated in 2 Kings 19:29 (=Is 37:30). But these same verses say that there was to be no sowing or reaping in the next year, which cannot be explained unless the next year was a Sabbatical year. Despite the perceived hardship of voluntarily letting the land lie fallow in the year after the siege was lifted, the Lord was faithful and “took care of them on every side” (2 Ch 32:22). The relief shown here is part of a larger depiction of the siege of Lachish (2 Kgs 18:14; 2 Chr 32:9) on display on the walls of a room in Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh, now in the British Museum, London. Since Sennacherib could not show the defeat of Jerusalem (2 Kgs 18:17–19:36), the best he could do was showcase the capture of Lachish.

BSpade 21:4 (Fall 2008) p. 112

Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 17:7–9), the 18th year of Josiah (2 Kgs 22:3, 23:1–2), and in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh 8:1–8). A simultaneous release of all slaves is described in Jeremiah 34:8–10. This indicates that the activities associated with a Sabbatical year were known in the ninth century BC (Jehoshaphat), the late eighth and early seventh centuries BC (Isaiah), the sixth century BC (Jeremiah), and in the fifth century BC (Ezra and Nehemiah).

These texts present an embarrassment to the classical Documentary Hypothesis, first made popular by Julius Wellhausen (1878) and regrettably still taught, in varying modifications, in most secular colleges and universities and in some seminaries and Christian colleges. The difficulty is that Wellhausen’s “JEDP” theory placed the priestly phase of the development of Israel’s religion as the last phase, to be dated to the exilic and post-exilic period. This was mandated by the evolutionary approach that Wellhausen and others imposed on the development of Israel’s religion, in which the period when priests had control and supposedly produced all the legislation regarding the priesthood was the last phase in the development. The legislation regarding the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, as contained in Leviticus 25 and 27, was assigned by these scholars to the imagined priestly editor “P” or his fellow editors, and any reference to activities associated with a Sabbatical or Jubilee year, including those just cited, were classified as interpolations into the account of Israel’s history, at an exilic or post-exilic date, by one of the P clan. Advocates of the “text-critical” or “historical-redaction” approach therefore divide passages that otherwise seem rational and orderly into P segments, D (Deuteronomic) segments, and so on. The arbitrary division of the text in this way is mandated by presuppositions about the development of Israel’s religion that are contrary to the Bible’s testimony about its sources. These presuppositions are anti-supernatural throughout, and we can only wonder why scholars with an anti-supernatural bias bother to write commentaries on the sacred text that proclaims the supernatural acts of God from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.

The mention of activities associated with a Sabbatical year therefore requires critics who place the Sabbatical-year legislation in the exilic or post-exilic period to fragment the Biblical text in ways that, without their anti-supernatural presuppositions, appear arbitrary and capricious. The Scriptural references to these activities are both clear and definite. The first of the three characteristics mentioned, the voluntary refraining from sowing and reaping, would never have happened simultaneously for all the land unless the year in question was a Sabbatical year. Consequently the prohibition of sowing and reaping in the “second year” of 2 Kings 19:29 (= Is 37:30) is the most definite of these Scriptures indicating the actual observance of the Sabbatical-year legislation. The Assyrians had destroyed the crop in the first year, but the slaying of 185,000 of their soldiers came the night after the prophecy (2 Kgs 19:35), so that nothing would hinder agricultural activity in the next year unless it was a Sabbatical year. The prophecy says that it was only in the third year that sowing and harvest could be resumed.

Although the public reading of the Law in the third year of Jehoshaphat and the 18th year of Josiah suggests that these were Sabbatical years, there could have been special circumstances that brought this about in a non-Sabbatical year. Even if these years were not necessarily Sabbatical years, it is clear that the command to read the Law to all the people was known. This command is found in a passage that refers to the Sabbatical year (Dt 31:10–13).

Regarding the release of slaves in the time of Jeremiah, the extenuating circumstances of the Babylonian siege may have provided a reason for the release in a non-Sabbatical year. It is of some interest, however, that William Whiston in the 18th century and Cyrus Gordon and Nahum Sarna in the 20th century thought that Zedekiah’s proclamation of a release would have taken effect at the beginning of a Sabbatical year (Whiston 1737/1964: 703; Gordon 1953: 81; Sarna 1973: 144–45).


After the verses related to the Sabbatical year, chapter 25 of Leviticus introduces the Jubilee, as follows:

The Lord said to Moses on [at]2 Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them…‘Count off seven sabbaths of years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.

“‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property’” (Lv 25:1, 8–13).

The chapter continues with further regulations for the Jubilee concerning the value of property as related to the number of years until the Jubilee, along with other particulars. For the present purposes, however, the only matters of interest are (1) the Jubilee year is a year of no sowing or harvest, the same as a Sabbatical year, and (2) the year is announced on the Day of Atonement, the tenth day of the month Tishri (roughly October).

Jewish tradition (Rosh HaShanah 1a in the Talmud) is that Sabbatical years and Jubilee years began in Tishri, the seventh month according to the religious calendar that starts in Nisan (roughly April). This is consistent with the text of Leviticus 25, which for both Sabbatical and Jubilee years speaks of sowing before mentioning reaping. In Israel, the sowing of the winter crops (barley and wheat) takes place in approximately November and reaping takes place in the spring. If the Sabbatical and Jubilee years started in Nisan, then the crop sown in the preceding fall could not be harvested, after which the fall sowing would be missed, thus resulting in two years without harvest rather than the one year that is intended in the legislation. Sabbatical and Jubilee years therefore started in Tishri, the month in which the Jewish Rosh HaShanah or New Year’s Day was celebrated in the past and is celebrated in our own day.

BSpade 21:4 (Fall 2008) p. 113

Length of the Jubilee Cycle

The language of Leviticus 25:8–13, when compared with the language of Leviticus 23:15–16, shows that the Jubilee year was identical to the seventh Sabbatical year. The latter passage established the Feast of Weeks (also called the Feast of Pentecost) as follows:

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them…‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD’” (Lv 23:1, 15–16).

Notice the first day of the counting: it was the day after a Sabbath. Counting ended “the day after the seventh Sabbath.” That makes 49 days. However, verse 16 says they were to count it as 50 days. This is commonly spoken of as inclusive numbering, in which the starting day is included in the total. It means that the 50th day is identical to the 49th day by non-inclusive numbering. The 50th or Jubilee year of Leviticus 25:10 is identical to the 49th year by the same reasoning.

Such a usage is common in both testaments. In Leviticus 23:34–36 the Feast of Tabernacles is to last for seven days, but the final day is called the eighth day. Perhaps the best known example is from the many statements that Christ was to rise on the third day, referring to the two days of elapsed time from Friday to Sunday.

There are also practical considerations that show that the Jubilee cycle was 49 years instead of 50. If the Jubilee was a separate year following the seventh Sabbatical year, then there would be two successive years of voluntary refraining from sowing and reaping, and there is no indication of such anywhere in Scripture. All these considerations establish that the Jubilee cycle was 49 years, and the Jubilee year was identical to the seventh Sabbatical year.3

The Calendar of Jubilee and Sabbatical Years

In ancient Near Eastern societies it was the responsibility of the priests to determine when the months began and to otherwise regulate the calendar so that agricultural activities and religious festivals could be observed at their proper time. Israel’s priests had the additional responsibility of counting the years of the Sabbatical cycles in order to be ready to proclaim the Jubilee on the arrival of the seventh year of

The “Peerless” Edition of the Holy Bible. Erie PA: Lovell Manufacturing, 188_.

Ezekiel receiving a vision in Babylon. Ezekiel, a priest (Ez 1:3), wrote his book while in exile. He was perhaps one of “the leading men of the land” taken to Babylon along with king Jehoiachin in 597 BC: “Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He also took from Jerusalem to Babylon the king’s mother, his wives, his officials and the leading men of the land” (2 Kgs 24:15). In Ezekiel 40:1, the information provided for the date of the following vision (the 25th year of his exile, on Rosh HaShanah, the tenth of the month, the 14th year after the fall of Jerusalem) establishes that this was a Jubilee year. Only in a Jubilee year was Rosh HaShanah observed on the tenth of the month (Lv 25:9). By itself, this text implies that a Jubilee cycle began in 1406 BC, the date when the conquest of Canaan began according to the date of the Exodus derived from 1 Kings 6:1. Both the Seder Olam and the Talmud state that a Jubilee began at the time of Ezekiel’s vision. Both mention that this was the 17th Jubilee, which implies that counting for the Jubilee cycles began in 1406 BC. The calculation methods of these rabbinic sources were incapable of producing such an exact match for the start of the Conquest as derived from 1 Kings 6:1; that it was the 17th Jubilee must have come from a correct historical remembrance.

BSpade 21:4 (Fall 2008) p. 114

the seventh Sabbatical cycle.

At any given time, then, the priests would have known which year the current year was in a Sabbatical cycle and which Sabbatical cycle it was within a Jubilee cycle. It would not have taken long for someone to discover that this system was useful in dating events and in determining a long-term calendar. There is a record of just such a usage. In Sanhedrin 40a, b the Talmud says that in the time of the judges, the courts recorded legal dates (of a contract or a crime) by specifying the day of the month, the month, the year within a Sabbatical cycle, and the Sabbatical cycle within the Jubilee cycle. The Samaritan community also apparently used the Jubilee and Sabbatical cycles as a calendar as late as the 14th century AD, when an editor of the Samaritans’ Tolidah wrote that he finished editing his copy in the fourth year of the fifth Sabbatical cycle of the 61st Jubilee cycle (Loewenstamm 2007: 734).4

For the modern chronologist, the usefulness of the Jubilee and Sabbatical years is that once a single Sabbatical or Jubilee year can be fixed with certainty, then any other reference to activities associated with a Sabbatical year should fall in a year that was before or after that year by an integral multiple of seven years. This principle is used in the chronology of the inter-testamental period, since there are explicit mentions of Sabbatical years in Josephus and First Maccabees.5 Dating these Sabbatical years has been the occasion of considerable controversy, with basically two competing systems. The two systems are associated with the name of Benedict Zuckermann, whose calendar places the start of a Sabbatical year associated with Herod the Great’s siege of Jerusalem in Tishri of 38 BC (1857/1974: 61), and the calendar of Ben Zion Wacholder, which starts the Sabbatical year one year later, in Tishri of 37 BC (1976: 32).

All attempts, however, to project post-exilic Sabbatical cycles back into pre-exilic times have failed, whether starting from a Sabbatical year beginning in Tishri of 38 BC (Zuckermann) or in Tishri of 37 BC (Wacholder). The reason for this is that counting was interrupted during the exile, since the stipulations of the Sabbatical years were only commanded to be observed while Israel was in its land (Lv 25:2). Even the regulations regarding the Feast of Tabernacles, which could be observed in a foreign land as is done in America today, had been forgotten by 445 BC (Neh 8:14). As part of the reforms under Ezra and Nehemiah, the observance of the Sabbatical years was reinstituted (Neh 10:31). That counting was renewed at this time is stated

Pergamum Museum, Berlin

Babylonian ration record mentioning Jehoiachin. During excavations in Babylon approximately 300 clay tablets containing administrative records were uncovered in a building adjacent to Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. Four of them, dating from 595 to 570 BC, are receipts for rations of oil issued to none other than Jehoiachin king of Judah. The section of the tablet seen here, now in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin, relating to Jehoiachin reads, “10 sila of oil to…Jehoiachin, king of Judah; 2 ½ sila of oil to…sons of the king of Judah” (Oppenheim 1969: 308). In 562 BC Nebuchadnezzar’s son Amel-Marduk, Biblical Evil-Merodach, became king. One of his first official acts was to release Jehoiachin: “In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived” (2 Kgs 25:27–30; for more information, see Shea 1991: 61). Correlating the Biblical dates for the beginning and ending of Jehoiachin’s captivity with Babylonian data establishes the date of the fall of Jerusalem as the summer of 587 BC, and the start of “Ezekiel’s Jubilee” as occurring in the fall of 574 BC.

BSpade 21:4 (Fall 2008) p. 115

explicitly in chap. 30 of the Seder Olam (second century AD) and the Talmud (Arakin 32b). We therefore should not expect that pre-exilic Sabbatical years can be back-calculated from those observed after the exile.

But there is a date to which the calendar of pre-exilic Jubilee and Sabbatical years can be anchored, and it is less ambiguous than Josephus’s account of a post-exilic Sabbatical year in the days of Herod. This date has all the desirable qualifications: it is precise; it is derived from a Biblical text; and it marks both a Jubilee and a Sabbatical year, thus providing at one stroke the needed starting-point so that the timing of pre-exilic Sabbatical and Jubilee years can be determined. This all-important date can be determined from the Hebrew text of Ezekiel 40:1, the verse that Ezekiel gives to date the vision that occupies the last nine chapters of his book.

A literal translation of Ezekiel 40:1 is,

In year twenty-five of our exile, on Rosh HaShanah (New Year’s Day), on the tenth of the month, in year fourteen after the city was smitten—on that very day the hand of the LORD was upon me and He brought me there.

What is striking here is the apparent inconsistency in saying it was both New Year’s Day and the tenth of the month. In order to reconcile this, most English translations render Rosh HaShanah as an indefinite “beginning of the year,” instead of the specific meaning that is familiar to all who are acquainted with the Jewish calendar, namely “New Year’s Day.” It seems that translators could not understand how “New Year’s Day” could be on the tenth of the month, and so they used the more indefinite expression, indicating that it was sometime around the beginning of the year. This is in spite of the meaning that Rosh HaShanah bears down to modern times, as referring to a specific day.6

Although Rosh HaShanah at present is always celebrated on the first of Tishri, there was one time when it moved nine days later to the tenth of the month. That was in a Jubilee year. Leviticus 25:9 says that the Jubilee year was to be announced by the blowing of the shofar on the tenth of Tishri, the Day of Atonement. Since in all other years the (agricultural) year started on the first of Tishri, it follows that Ezekiel’s vision was at the beginning of a Jubilee year. The Talmud agrees that Ezekiel saw his vision on the Day of Atonement7 at the beginning of a Jubilee year (Arakin 12a). The Hebrew text of the Seder Olam (chap. 11) states that Ezekiel saw his vision at the beginning of a Jubilee without citing the part of Ezekiel 40:1 saying that it was Rosh HaShanah and also the tenth of the month, indicating that the Seder Olam’s statement may have been based on historical remembrance and not on just the textual argument.

The establishing of Ezekiel’s vision as occurring at the beginning of a Jubilee year allows a complete calendar of Jubilee and Sabbatical years in BC terms to be constructed, once we determine the BC year of the vision. Ezekiel’s statement that the year was both the 25th year of the captivity he shared with Jehoiachin and also 14 years after Jerusalem fell cannot be reconciled with a 586 date for the fall of the city. It is, however, consistent with a date for the fall in the summer of 587 BC and a date on the tenth of Tishri, 574 BC, for the vision. An earlier article in Bible and Spade by Ermal Allen (2005) argued for the 587 date for the fall of Jerusalem, contra those scholars who place the event in 586 BC. My own article on the date of Jerusalem’s fall advocated 587, as did Allen’s article, and it also used a technique called Decision Analysis to show that placing the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC contradicts the chronology of the book of Ezekiel as well as the dates of the beginning and ending of Jehoiachin’s captivity given in 2 Kings 24:12, 25:27 and Jeremiah 52:31 (Young 2004a: 21–38).8

Applying the Jubilee Calendar to Sabbatical-Year Events

With this fixed date of Tishri, 574 BC, as marking the beginning of a Jubilee, the previous Sabbatical and Jubilee years can be calculated by going back in multiples of seven for Sabbatical years and multiples of 49 for Jubilee years. When this is done, each of the phenomena that were mentioned earlier as indicating a possible Sabbatical year falls in a year that was separated by an integral multiple of seven years from Ezekiel’s Jubilee. The only exception is the public reading of the Law in chapter 8 of Nehemiah, for which it has already been remarked that the rhythm of Sabbatical years was interrupted during the exile.

The exactness of the matches of the activities specified with the pre-exilic Jubilee and Sabbatical year calendar can be seen by examining the dates for all these events, as derived from the regnal dates of the kings of Judah given in Table 1. In order to appreciate the precision of these matches, it must be remembered that the Judean regnal year began in the fall month of Tishri. This is made explicit in the table by placing a “t” after each year figure, denoting that the year started in Tishri of the BC year indicated and then continued into the next BC year, ending the day before Tishri 1 of that year. In some cases, synchronisms with the northern kingdom allow the dates for a Judean king to be narrowed to the first half or second half of the Tishri-year indicated, but this is not shown in the table.9

The dates in Table 1 can be determined independently of any consideration of the Sabbatical and Jubilee cycles. Yet all the phenomena earlier mentioned as associated with a Sabbatical year agree with them, with the exception of the post-exilic reading of the Law under Ezra and Nehemiah. The dates match up as follows:

1.     The release of slaves by King Zedekiah (Jer 34:8–10) took place in Tishri of 588 BC, as shown by Sarna (1973: 144–45). The release was therefore in a Sabbatical year, two Sabbatical cycles before Ezekiel’s Jubilee and Sabbatical year in 574t.

2.     That 588t was a Sabbatical year is consistent with an ancient and well-documented tradition that the First Temple was burnt by the Babylonians in the “latter part” (Hebrew motsae) of a Sabbatical year.10 This happened in the summer of 587 BC, in the latter part of the Judean year 588t.

3.     The 18th year of Josiah, in which there was a public reading of the Law, was 623t. This was seven Sabbatical cycles (49 years) before Ezekiel’s Jubilee. Notice that this would place the event in a Jubilee year.

4.     In agreement with this, the Seder Olam (chap. 24) and

BSpade 21:4 (Fall 2008) p. 116

The “t” after the year in this table means that the official regnal year began in Tishri (roughly October) of the BC year indicated. In many cases it is possible to narrow the date to the first or second half of the year. As an example, Abijah began his reign in the latter half of 915t, that is, some time on or after Nisan (roughly April) 1 of 914 BC but before Tishri 1 of 914, and his reign ended between Tishri 1 of 912 and Nisan 1 of 911. This finer detail is not shown in the present table.

* Indicates non-accession reckoning, which means that the year the king came to the throne, instead of his first full year in office, was counted as his “year one.” In calculating elapsed time, one year must be subtracted from all non-accession figures, as is done in the last column. Reign lengths measured from the start of a coregency are assumed to be non-accession lengths, as are those for Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah, and Joash during the time of rapprochement when Judah adopted Israel’s non-accession system. The chronology of Ezekiel shows that Zedekiah’s years are also calculated by this method.

† Jotham’s 16 (15) years ended when his son Ahaz was installed by the pro-Assyrian faction in 736t, although some considered him the rightful ruler until his death in 732t, thus giving him the twenty years of 2 Kings 15:30. See Young 2004b: 585–86.

BSpade 21:4 (Fall 2008) p. 117

the Talmud (Megillah 14b) preserve the tradition that Josiah’s 18th year was a Jubilee year.

5.     Jehoshaphat’s third year, in which there was another public reading of the Law, was 868t, which was 42 Sabbatical cycles before Ezekiel’s Jubilee. Jehoshaphat’s third year is measured from the start of his sole reign, consistent with the synchronisms to his reign given in 1 Kings 22:51 and 2 Kings 3:1.

6.     If the Assyrian invasion described in chapters 36 and 37 of Isaiah and chapters 18 and 19 of 2 Kings began in 701 BC, as accepted by the majority of scholars, then the slaying of the 185,000 would have happened at sometime after the fall planting of that (BC) year (this explains why there was no harvest in the following spring, since the Judeans had no opportunity to plant in 701 BC). The “second year” of the prophecy, the year in which the people were voluntarily not to sow or reap, would then start in Tishri of 700 BC, which was 126 years, or 18 Sabbatical cycles, before Ezekiel’s Jubilee. For those who have advocated a second invasion by Sennacherib in either 688 or 687 BC, the fact that a Sabbatical year began in the fall of 686 BC would indicate the second of these two dates must be chosen for the second invasion.

The Difficulties This Presents to Late-Date Theories of Biblical Composition

It was mentioned earlier that references to activities associated with Sabbatical years that occurred before the exile are an embarrassment to theories that do not accept that the Sabbatical-year legislation was instituted by divine command to Moses at Mt. Sinai, as plainly stated in Exodus 23:10–11, Leviticus 25:1, and Leviticus 27:34. If the mention of these activities is an embarrassment, then the fact that their dates all fi t exactly into the Jubilee and Sabbatical-year calendar that can be derived from Ezekiel 40:1 is more than an embarrassment; it is a major setback, a stumbling block of the first order. No late-date editor could have invented these activities in an attempt to show that the Sabbatical-year legislation dated from early times. Such an editor could not have assigned the right dates, due to the complexity of the dating methods of the Biblical historians. The mention of these activities as found in Scripture, along with the incidental mention of when the activities occurred, must be genuine history.

The Rosetta Stone is famous as the text from which the French philologist Jean-François Champollion, following somewhat the earlier work of English physicist Thomas Young, was able to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. The text of the stone is a decree issued by Ptolemy V of Egypt in 196 BC, declaring the forgiveness of debts and release of prisoners after some civil unrest because of the heavy tax burdens on the Egyptian populace. It thus continues in the earlier tradition of Mesopotamian clean slate decrees, and, like them, its issuance seems to have been necessitated by a socio-economic crisis. The legislation of the Biblical Jubilee was intended to avoid such crises by specifying that clean slates were to occur at regular intervals, so that both debtor and creditor could plan accordingly. Economist Michael Hudson has argued that this legislation was eminently practical, contrary to many Biblical commentators who are not economists and who have labeled it “utopian.” The Mosaic Jubilee/Sabbatical-year laws also produced another significant advance in justice and the rights of the people, because the clean slate no longer depended on the whim of the monarch, but was enshrined in law (Hudson 1992: 35–37; 1999: 30, 31). A further example of the wisdom inherent in these laws is their usefulness in establishing a long-term calendar for the people of Israel, a subject that has been largely neglected in comparison with the many studies on their economic and social significance.

BSpade 21:4 (Fall 2008) p. 118

Michael Luddeni

The ruins of Jericho, looking southeast. “On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho” (Jos 4:19). The month the Israelites entered Canaan marked the beginning of the 41st year of their wandering, so that 40 years had elapsed since they left Egypt in 1446 BC (Dt 1:3). On the 14th day of the first month of the 41st year the Israelites celebrated Passover in the Promised Land (Jos 5:10), exactly 40 years after the first Passover in Egypt (Ex 12:1–30). The first month was the month Nisan, March-April in the modern calendar. Another indication that it was springtime when the Israelites came to Jericho is the fact that it was harvest time (Jos 2:6; 3:15), which occurs in the spring in the lower Jordan Valley (Warren 1869: 12–13). Moreover, evidence found in the ruins verified that the Israelite conquest of the city took place in the spring at harvest time—jars filled with grain were found in many of the buildings (Wood 1990: 56). It was at this time, when the Israelites first entered Canaan in 1406 BC, that the Israelite priests began counting the years for the Sabbath and Jubilee cycles as they were commanded in Leviticus 25:1–13.

The Date When Counting Started

Previously it was stated that the timing of all Jubilee years can be calculated by going back in 49-year intervals from Ezekiel’s Jubilee that started in Tishri of 574 BC, i.e. 574t in the notation of Table 1. The first year of this Jubilee cycle must have been 48 years earlier, in 622t, which is consistent with the tradition of the Seder Olam and the Talmud that the prior year (Josiah’s 18th year, 623t) was a Jubilee. If we go back 16 Jubilee cycles (16 x 49 = 784 years) from 622t, we find that the year beginning in Tishri of 1406 BC was the first year of a Jubilee cycle. According to the religious calendar that started the year in Nisan (Ex 12:2), this was in the year beginning on Nisan 1 of 1406 BC. This is identical to the date for the entry into Canaan that can be derived from 1 Kings 6:1, the verse that synchronizes Solomon’s fourth year with the 480th year of the Exodus-era. When used in conjunction with Edwin Thiele’s date for the beginning of the divided kingdom, 1 Kings 6:1 places the Exodus in 1446 BC and the beginning of the Conquest, 40 years later, in 1406 BC.11

There is only one chance in 49 that 1406 BC, the date for the entry of Canaan that is derived from 1 Kings 6:1, would start a Jubilee cycle if it is maintained that the book of Leviticus was not in existence at that time. The calendar of Jubilee and Sabbatical years therefore establishes the accuracy of the time of the Exodus and entry into Canaan as derived from 1 Kings 6:1, since these dates fit in exactly with the Jubilee/Sabbatical-year calendar.

Earlier, it was demonstrated that the timing of the Sabbatical years was known as early as the time of Jehoshaphat in the ninth century BC. But the Jubilee cycles now give evidence that their timing goes all the way back to 1406 BC. For those who hold to the non-Mosaic authorship of Leviticus, the situation has gone from embarrassing (the mention of activities associated with a Sabbatical year long before the exile) to a major setback (all the mentioned activities fit exactly into the Jubilee/Sabbatical-year calendar), to inexplicable. Late-date theories of the composition of the Pentateuch cannot explain how 1406 BC, when Israel entered Canaan according to 1 Kings 6:1, just happens to fall at the beginning of a Jubilee cycle, as derived from the Jubilee beginning at the time of Ezekiel’s vision (Ez 40:1).

For Late-Date Theories, It Gets Worse

The Seder Olam (chap. 11) and the Talmud (Arakin 12b)

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give the number of Ezekiel’s Jubilee: the 17th. This is in exact agreement with the entry into Canaan in 1406 BC. The authors of the Seder Olam and the Talmud could not have done the calculation to get this accuracy, because their known calculation methods were not adequate to solve the chronological problems of the kingdom period and the time of the judges. Their methods were even incapable of correctly calculating the 49 years between Josiah’s Jubilee and Ezekiel’s Jubilee, which indicates that the Jubilees at these times, as well as the number of Ezekiel’s Jubilee, were historically remembered, not calculated by later writers (Young 2006c: 77).

The date for the entry into Canaan based on the Jubilee calendar is derived by a method that is independent of the method of deriving this date from the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1.12 However, the dates given by the two methods are identical. This affirms the correctness of the 1446 date for the Exodus. But it does more: it shows that Thiele’s date for the beginning of the divided monarchy (the date that is essential for determining Solomon’s fourth year) is assured because it can be established by two independent methods.13

Since Thiele’s date for the division was derived by a careful study of the exact chronological data for the kingdom period found in Kings and Chronicles, the fact that the date has been independently verified gives confidence not only in that date, but in all other dates, reign lengths, and synchronisms that Thiele used to derive it. This is similar to balancing one’s checkbook against the ending balance shown in the bank’s statement: when our ending total agrees with the bank’s, then we can have confidence that all our individual figures and calculations that went into deriving our ending total are correct.

My previous article in Bible and Spade (Young 2008) established that the Scripture’s abundant chronological data for the time from Solomon to Zedekiah and Jehoiachin could not have been assembled into a coherent and exact chronological scheme, as they have been, unless all the data were authentic—i.e, true to history. These 124 specific and precise statistics are contained in five major books of the Bible (1 and 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) and cover more than 400 years of history. Their accuracy has now been verified by another method. Working backwards in time through these figures gives dates for the reign of Solomon that can be independently verified from the Jubilee calendar, thereby authenticating all the individual figures that went into the derivation of Solomon’s dates. The accuracy of the Scripture’s chronological data was completely unanticipated by liberal scholarship. But the result has a theological explanation in the doctrine of the inerrancy of all Scripture.

The calendar of Jubilee and Sabbatical years now joins its support to the earlier argument that was given as evidence in favor of inerrancy, which was that the 124 exact statistics for the chronology of the kingdom period fit into a coherent chronological scheme that matches Assyrian and Babylonian history at several critical points. Simultaneously, these two findings are testimony against all doctrines of limited inspiration, that is, doctrines which say that the Bible may have some spiritual truths, but it is too much to expect it to be accurate in all historical and scientific matters.

The Authorship of Leviticus

Thirty-one times the book of Leviticus says that the words of the passage about to be given were spoken by the Lord to Moses. Four times it is said that the words of the text were spoken to Moses and Aaron. Only once is it said that “The LORD spoke to Aaron” (Lv 10:8), but in a context where Moses apparently was present. The colophon14 that is the last sentence of Leviticus assigns the entire book to Moses: “These are the commands

The “Peerless” Edition of the Holy Bible. Erie PA: Lovell Manufacturing, 188_.

Moses, accompanied by Joshua, returns from receiving the law on Mt. Sinai (Ex 32:15–18). The Bible states that the law was given by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai, in contrast to the claims of many scholars that the Pentateuch was written by later authors or editors. The fact that Israel’s priests were keeping track of the Sabbatical and Jubilee calendar from 1406 BC onward demonstrates that the book of Leviticus, which contains the command to start counting the years when Israel entered the land, was written prior to that time. The only plausible candidate for authorship is Moses, in agreement with the multiple statements made in Leviticus about its origin.

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the LORD commanded Moses at Mount Sinai for the people of Israel.”

How are we to understand these statements, plus at least 23 additional statements in Leviticus that say that the commands written there are from the Lord? At the risk of appearing simplistic, there are only two possible interpretations: Leviticus has Moses as its human author—the traditional view of Judaism and Christianity—or it was written by someone else. Some interpreters have attempted a mediating position, saying that, although Moses did not write Leviticus, a person in the “Mosaic school,” or various persons who were imbued with the intellectual and spiritual “spirit of Moses” gave us the text of Leviticus. The authors then attributed their own writing to Moses because they were sure that their thoughts were in line with what Moses “would have thought,” and consequently they felt justified in assigning the name of Moses to their own composition. (Advocates of the non-Mosaic views sometimes allow that a few of the words may have originated with a semi-legendary figure named Moses.)

The honest reader will not hesitate to call this fraud. A pious fraud, a religious fraud, to be sure—but religious fraud, as found in the false prophets who appear throughout the OT, is presented in Scripture as the worst kind. Therefore there are only two possible broad classifications of the 36 statements in Leviticus that name Moses as the recipient of the words written there: either these statements are true and Moses was the author, or they are a deception from some unknown later personage or personages.

In support of the second of these opinions it could be said that the author “protests too much,” to borrow an expression from Shakespeare. According to this thinking, the author or authors have repeated to the point of monotony that these words are from Moses in order to persuade the reader, by multiple repetition, that a lie is the truth, a tactic well known to demagogues. Advocates of the post-Mosaic authorship of Leviticus therefore have a tentative explanation of the book’s repeated statements about who was receiving the words of the Lord: the repetitions are an attempt to repeat a falsehood enough times so that it will be accepted as the truth.

If, on the other hand, the words of Leviticus are really from Moses, then there is another explanation for the repetition. It is for the purpose of impressing upon the reader the seriousness of understanding and accepting that these really are the words of God spoken to His servant Moses. If this position is true, then it is a matter of no small consequence which of the two viewpoints we take; it is a matter that the Lord thinks is of major significance for us, so much so that He repeated who the author was often enough to risk uniform disapproval from all teachers of English composition.15 If we concede that there is even a possibility that the author of these words is who the text emphatically says is the author, then it becomes a matter of great importance to determine whether this is the case, or whether the “pious fraud” alternative is the truth.

It is here that the discoveries about the Jubilee and Sabbatical years become useful. The Jubilee/Sabbatical-year calendar provides a way of deciding between the two competing viewpoints for the authorship of Leviticus. The idea that Leviticus was written later than the time of Moses cannot account for the fact that Israel’s priests were keeping track of the Sabbatical and Jubilee calendar all the time that Israel was in its land, and their counting started in 1406 BC. But if counting started in 1406 BC, so far no other explanation has been given for why the priests should start then, except the explanation that the book of Leviticus, which contains the command to start counting the years when Israel entered Canaan, was written just before that time. If that is true, the only plausible candidate for authorship is Moses, in agreement with the multiple statements made in Leviticus about its origin.

For many years, Biblical scholars of a non-conservative persuasion have played the game of assigning the writing of the Pentateuch to late-date editors, including the imaginary P, P1, P2, PH (or H) and their ephemeral rivals D, Dtr, dtr1, and dtr2.16 But late-date theories have no explanation for the evidence that has been presented, showing that the calendar of Jubilee and Sabbatical years was known all through Israel’s time in its land, and the counting for these years started in 1406 BC. It would be tempting to say to those who have spent so much effort in multiplying late-date authors for the first five books of the Bible: the game is over.

This, however, would be unrealistic, given human nature. Opinions held throughout a scholar’s career are not easily relinquished. The most we can do is to wait to see if those who do not believe the Scripture’s statements about its authorship can offer any explanation of how their hypothetical late-date authors could have matched all the details given above for the Jubilee and Sabbatical-year calendar. The best scholarly tradition is to accept the simplest explanation that accounts for all verifiable observations, i.e., the hypothesis that has the most explanatory power. Nothing that the scholarly community has yet produced explains the various phenomena associated with the Jubilee calendar except the traditional view that Moses was the author of Leviticus, and its legislation was known all the time that Israel was in its land, starting in 1406 BC.

The Jubilee cycles therefore show which of the two competing ideas for the authorship of Leviticus is true. The book of Leviticus is the only credible source for the legislation of the Jubilee cycles that has ever been postulated.17 Therefore at least this one book of the Pentateuch must have been in the possession of Israel when it entered Canaan. This simple statement explains all the references to Jubilee and Sabbatical years found in Scripture. Until a better explanation is given for the many phenomena that have been cited, the traditional explanation that this legislation is from God, as it says it is, and was given by revelation to Moses at Mt. Sinai in 1446–1445 BC, as dated from both the Jubilee cycles and a literal reading of 1 Kings 6:1, is the most intellectually satisfying explanation, even if it is not likely to be accepted by those afflicted with a terminal case of anti-supernatural bias.

BSpade 21:4 (Fall 2008) p. 122


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