The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phrase search: "names of god"
- Exclude terms: "names of god" -zerah
- Volume/Page: v9 p419
- Diacritics optional: Ḥanukkah or hanukkah
- Search by Author: altruism author:Hirsch
search tips & recommendations


A historical period or reckoning of years, dating from some important event or fixed point of time. A striking event of a lasting effect is generally taken as a starting-point for a new era. The Bible contains a few instances of this kind: the Flood (Gen. xi. 10); the Exodus (Ex. xvi. 1, xix. 1, xl. 17; Num. i. 1, ix. 1, x. 11, xxxiii. 38; Deut. i. 3; I Kings vi. 1); the earthquake in the days of Uzziah (Amos i. 1); the Babylonian Exile (Ezek. xl. 1). After the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile they arranged their dates according to the reigns of the Persian kings, just as before the Exile they dated events according to the reigns of the kings of Judah and of Israel.

Era of Jubilees.

According to Lev. xxv. 8, the Israelites were commanded to count seven Sabbatical cycles of seven years each and to observe the fiftieth year as the year of jubilee. The period of fifty years is called a "jubilee." There is no record in the Bible of the actual beginning of the jubilees nor of their actual ending. Tradition relates that the fifteenth year after the entering of the Israelites into the land of Canaan was the first year of the first jubilee period. Tradition likewise states that the observance of the jubilee year was discontinued after the conquest of Samaria by Shalmaneser (Maimonides, "Yad," Shemiṭṭah we-Yobel, x. 8). But no information is given in regard to whether the counting of the jubilee periods was continued after the fall of Samaria, and, if so, in what manner it was continued (ib. x. 3-4). As, however, the law concerning witnesses enjoins that they must answer the question, "In what jubilee period, in what Sabbatical cycle, and in what year of the cycle did the event in question happen?" (Sanh. v. 1), it may be assumed that the counting of jubilees and Sabbatical cycles continued in practise and was generally known (see Seder 'Olam xxx.). But neither in the Bible nor in Talmudical literature is any instance given of an event dated in this way. In Neubauer's catalogue of the Hebrew manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (No. 2493) the following date is given: "1797 Sel. 3d year of the Sabbatical cycle."

The Seleucid Era.

The Jews of post-Biblical times adopted the Greek era of the Seleucids. The Greek era ("ḥeshbon hayewanim"), or the era of contracts ("minyan sheṭarot"), dates from the battle of Gaza in the autumn of the year 312 B.C. This was used by the Jews as early as the Book of Maccabees (I Macc. i. 11), though the author of the first Book of Maccabeesdeals with the year as beginning with Nisan, while in the second book the beginning of the year is placed in Tishri (see the elaborate discussion in Schürer, "Geschichte," i. 36-46; and the literature mentioned on p. 46). It has even been suggested that the Feast of Trumpets was not regarded as the "New-Year" until about 130 B.C. For a time, indeed, it seemed possible that the Jews would adopt an era of their own from the period of their deliverance under the Maccabees. Several coins of Simon are dated from "the year of the salvation of Israel."

There are two eras which may properly be called "Jewish": the era of the Destruction of the Temple and the era of the Creation ('Ab. Zarah 9a). These were employed by the tannaim, while the "era of the Greeks" was used by the "safre" (scribes or clerks) in drawing up contracts or other mercantile documents. The relation of the three eras to one another may be expressed by the following equation: 1 after Destruction of Temple = 3829 A.M. = 381 Sel. = 1 Sabb. cycle = 69 C.E.

The Era of the Creation.

The present usual method among Jews of recording the date of an event is to state the number of years that have elapsed since the creation of the world. It appears to have arisen from an attempt to establish a connection between the lunar cycle of eight years and the Metonic cycle of nineteen years by which this is brought into connection with the solar year, the arrangement being made that by calculations from a fixed point the date of the new moon could always be ascertained by reckoning the number of cycles which had elapsed since the era of the Creation, determined by the mnemonic "beharad" (), which refers both the era and the beginning of the lunar cycle to the night between Sunday and Monday, Oct. 7, 3761 B. C. at 11. h. 11⅓ m. P.M (ב referring to the second day, ח to the fifth hour after sunset, and to the 204 minims after the hour). Rühl has shown that the adoption of this era must have taken place between the year 222, when Julius Africanus reports that the Jews still retained the eight-year cycle, and 276, when Anatolius makes use of the Metonic cycle to determine Easter after the manner of the Jews. It may be further conjectured that it was introduced about the year 240-241, the first year of the fifth thousand, according to this calculation, and that the tradition which associated its determination with Mar Samuel (d. about 250) is justified. The era of the Creation occurs in the Talmud (Ab. Zarah 9b), but is used for dating for the first time in Sherira Gaon's Epistle (see Azariah dei Rossi, "Me'or 'Enayim," p. 96); but this does not occur in the best manuscripts which date after the Seleucid era. The era of the Creation occurs in Shabbethai Donnolo (c. 946), and in Tanna debe Eliyahu (974). Maimonides used the era of the Creation as well as the Seleucid era and that of the Destruction of the Temple ("Yad," Shemiṭṭah, x. 4). The abrogation of the Seleucid era is attributed to David ibn Abi Zimrah about 1511, but it still remains in use among the Yemenite Jews, most of the manuscripts of the Midrash ha-Gadol being dated after it.

Strict Jews have an objection to using the Christian year as seemingly recognizing the founder of the era, though occasionally it occurs even in Hebrew books, as in Abulafia's "Gan Na'ul" (comp. Jellinek, "B. H." iii. 40, note 7) and in the writings of Meyer Katzenellenbogen. Modern Jews frequently use the Christian date, but rarely add the "A.D." Jews in Mohammedan countries sometimes use the era of the Hegira.

  • Ideler, Handbuch der Chronologie, 1825, pp. 528-537, 568, 583;
  • Lewisohn, Gesch. des Jüdischen Kalenderwesens, pp. 28-35;
  • F. Rühl, Der Ursprung der Jüdischen Weltära, in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 1898, pp. 185, 202;
  • idem, Chronologie der Mittelalters, pp. 184, 189 et seq., Berlin, 1897;
  • S. L. Rappaport, in Busch's Kalendar for 1884;
  • Seder'Olam;
  • Abraham b. Hiyya, Sefer ha-'Ibbur, iii.;
  • Isaac Israeli, Yesod'Olam, iv.
A. M. F. J.
Images of pages