WEIGHTS, AND MEASURES
The basis of the Hebrew measurement of time was the day and the lunar month,
as with the Semites generally.
The division of the day into hours was late, probably not common until after the exile,
although the sun-dial of Ahaz (2 Kings 20:9; Isa 38:8) would tend to indicate some division of the day into periods of some sort,
as we know the night was divided.
The word used for "hour" is Aramaic she`a'
(sha`ta'), and does not occur in the Old Testament until the Book of Daniel (Dan 4:33; 5:5),
and even there it stands for an indefinite period for which "time" would answer as well.
(from Fausset's Bible Dictionary, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1998 by
|Ahaz' sundial implies the Jews' acquaintance with hours
before the Babylonian captivity. During it, they would certainly
meet with that division of time which prevailed for ages at Babylon.
|The Egyptians too in early times knew it, Lepsius
says as far back as the 5th dynasty.
|Astronomers knew in ancient times the "hour," that is the
24th part of a civil day; its use in common life is said not to have
begun until the fourth century A.D.
|The hour which is the 12th part of the natural day, between
sunrise and sunset, is of the same length as the astronomical hour only at
|In our Lord's days the Jews must have had dials, and
clepsydrae or water hourglasses, as these were long known to the
Persians with whom they had been so closely connected.
|Christ alludes to the day hours, John 11:9, "are there not
twelve hours in the day?"
|The 3rd, 6th, and 9th hours are mentioned often as the
regular hours of prayer (Acts 2:15; 3:1; 10:9).
||9:00 am, approximately
||12 noon, approximately
||3:00 pm, approximately
The term "day" (yom) was in use from the earliest times,
as is indicated in the story of the Creation (Gen 1).
It there doubtless denotes an indefinite period, but is marked off by
"evening and morning" in accordance with what we know was the method of reckoning the day of 24 hours, i.e. from sunset to sunset.
This common word has caused some trouble to readers, because they have not noticed that the word is used in several different senses in the English Bible.
When the different uses of the word are understood the difficulty of interpretation vanishes.
We note several different uses of the word:
||Daylight till dark
|| This popular meaning is easily discovered by the context, e.g. Gen 1:5; 8:22, etc. The marked periods of this daytime were
morning, noon and night, as with us. See Ps 55:17.
The early hours were sometimes called "the cool of the day" (Gen 3:8).
After the exile the day, or daytime was divided into twelve hours and the night into twelve (see Matt 20:1-12; John 11:9; Acts 23:23);
| 6 a.m.
|| first hour
| 9 a.m.
| 12 noon
The hours were longer during the longer days and
the hours were shorter during the shorter days,
since they always counted 12 hours between sunrise and sunset.
|| 24 hours
|| Day also means a period of 24 hours,
or the time from sunset to sunset.
In Bible usage the day begins with sunset (see Lev 23:32; Ex 12:15-20;
2 Cor 11:25, where night is put before day). In the creation
account of Genesis 1, evening is first, then morning.
|| The word "day" is also used of an indefinite period,
e.g "the day" or "day that" means in general:
|| Gen 2:4; Lev 14:2
| "day of trouble"
| "day of his wrath"
| "day of Yahweh"
| "day of the Lord"
||1 Cor 5:5; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Peter
| "day of salvation"
||2 Cor 6:2
| "day of Jesus Christ"
||It is used figuratively also in John 9:4,
where "while it is day" means "while I have opportunity to work, as daytime is the time for
In 1 Thess 5:5,8, "sons of the day" means spiritually enlightened ones.
|| We must also bear in mind that with God time is not reckoned as with us
(see Ps 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8).
|| The apocalyptic use of the word "day"
in Dan 12:11; Rev 2:10, etc., is difficult to define. It evidently does not mean a natural day.
|| On the meaning of "day"
in the story of Creation we note
||The word "day" is used of the whole period of creation (Gen
||These days are days of God, with whom one day is as a thousand
The whole age or period of salvation is called "the day of
salvation"; see above. So we believe that in harmony with Bible usage we may understand the creative days as creative periods.
The night was divided, during pre-exilic times, into three divisions called
watches ('ashmurah, 'ashmoreth), making periods of varying length,
as the night was longer or shorter (Judg 7:19).
This division is referred to in various passages of the Old Testament, but nowhere with indication of definite limits (see Ps 90:4; 119:148; Jer 51:12; Hab 2:1).
In the New Testament we find the Roman division. But the use of the word in the indefinite sense, as in the expressions:
"day of the Lord," "in that day," "the day of judgment," etc.,
is far more frequent.
Other more or less indefinite periods of the day and night are: dawn,
dawning of the day, morning, evening, noonday, midnight, cock-crowing or crowing of the cock,
break of day, etc.
Jewish night watches:
| The Jews,
like the Greeks and Romans, divided the night into military watches instead of
each watch representing the period for which sentinels or pickets remained on duty.
The proper Jewish reckoning recognized only three such watches. These would last respectively from
|Sunset to 10 P.M
10 P.M. to 2 A.M
2 A.M. to sunrise
It has been contended by Lightfoot (Hor. Heb. in Matt 14:25) that the Jews really reckoned four watches,
three only of which were in the dead of the night, the fourth being in the morning.
This, however, is rendered improbable by the use of the term
"middle," and is opposed to Rabbinical authority (Mishna, Berach. 1:1; Kimchi, On Psalm 63:7; Rashi, On Judges 7:19).
We find, however, different opinions on this subject as early as the Talmud (Berach. 3, b, etc.).
The Old Test. mentions expressly:
||Head, first, of the watches (Lam 2:19)
||Middle watch (Judg 7:19), which, according to those who affirm that there were always four,
means the middle of those three watches which fell in the time of complete night.
||Morning watch (Ex 14:24; 1 Sam 11:11)
Roman night watches:
Subsequently to the establishment of the Roman supremacy, the number of watches
(vigiliae) was increased to four, which were described either according to their numerical order,
as in the case of the "fourth watch" (Matt 14:25; comp. Josephus, Ant. 5:6, 5),
or by the terms "even, midnight, cock-crowing, and morning" (Mark 13:35). These terminated respectively at 9 P.M., midnight, 3 A.M., and 6 A.M. Conformably to this, the guard of soldiers was divided into four relays (Acts 12:4), showing that the Roman regime. was followed in Herod's army. (See Veget. De Re Milit.
||6 PM to 9
||The late watch
From sunset to the third hour of the night, including the evening dawn.
Even-tide (Mark 12:11), or simply evening (John 20:19).
||9 PM to Midnight
From the third hour to midnight.
||Midnight to 3 AM
Midnight to the third hour after midnight. This ended with the second cock-crowing.
||3 AM to 6
The ninth hour of the night to the twelfth, including the morning dawn or twilight.
It is also called
prw=ia, morning-tide or morning (John 18:28).
(from McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 2000 by Biblesoft)
The weekly division of time, or the seven-day period, was in use very early and must have been known to the Hebrews before the Mosaic Law,
since it was in use in Babylonia before the days of Abraham and is indicated in the story of the Creation.
The Hebrew shabhua`, used in the Old Testament for "week,"
is derived from shebha`, the word for "seven." As the seventh day was a day of rest,
or Sabbath (Hebrew shabbath), t his word came to be used for
"week," as appears in the New Testament sabbaton,
sabbata), indicating the period from Sabbath to Sabbath (Matt 28:1). The same usage is implied in the Old Testament (Lev 23:15; 25:8).
The days of the week were indicated by the numerals, first, second, etc.,
save the seventh, which was the Sabbath. In New Testament times
Friday was called the day of preparation (paraskeue)
for the Sabbath (Luke 23:54).
The monthly division of time was determined, of course, by the phases of the moon,
the appearance of the new moon being the beginning of the month, chodhesh.
Another term for month was yerach, meaning "moon,"
which was older and derived from the Phoenician usage, but which persisted to late times,
since it is found in the Aramaic inscriptions of the 3rd century A.D. in Syria.
The names of the months were Babylonian and of late origin among the Hebrews,
probably coming into use during and after the Captivity. But they had other names, of earlier use, derived from the Phoenicians, four of which have survived in
"Abib," "Ziv," "Ethanim" and
"Bul" (see The
The Hebrew year (shanah) was composed of 12 or 13
months, the latter being the year when an intercalary month was added to make the lunar correspond with the solar year.
As the difference between the two was from ten to eleven days, this required the addition of a month once in about three years,
or seven in nineteen years.
This month was added at the vernal equinox and was called after the month next preceding,
we-'adhar, or the "second Adar."
We do not know when this arrangement was first adopted, but it was current after the Captivity.
There were two years in use,
||The civil and the ritual, or sacred year.
It began in the autumn, as would appear from Ex 23:16; 34:22,
where it is stated that the "feast of ingathering" should be at the end of the
| Sabbatic Year
||The Sabbatic year,, or Civil Year, began in the 7th month of the calendar or sacred year,
which would correspond to September-October (Lev 25:9).
Josephus says (Ant, I, iii, 3) that Moses designated Nican (March-April)
as the 1st month of the festivals, i.e. of the sacred year,
but preserved the original order of the months for ordinary affairs, evidently referring to the civil year.
This usage corresponds to that of the Turkish empire, where the sacred year is lunar and begins at different seasons, but the financial and political year begins in March O.S.
The beginning of the year was called ro'sh ha-shanah, and was determined by the priests,
as was the beginning of the month. Originally this was done by observation of the moon,
but, later, calculation was employed in connection with it, until finally a system based on accurate calculation was adopted,
which was not until the 4th century A.D. New-Year was regarded as a festival.
The return of the seasons was designated by
for they were practically the same.
There is, in Palestine,
|| winter (choreph)
|| called yoreh, early rain
|| October to March or April
| dry season
|| seed-time (zera`)
or qatsir, "harvest").
| remainder of the year.
Seed-time begins as soon as the early rains have fallen in sufficient quantity to moisten the earth for plowing,
and the harvest begins in some parts, as in the lower Jordan region,
near the Dead Sea, about April, but on the high lands a month or two later.
The fruit harvest comes in summer proper and continues until the rainy season.
"The time when kings go out to war" (2 Sam 11:1; 1 Kings 20:22)
probably refers to the end of the rainy season in Nisan.
We have no mention in the Old Testament of any era for time reckoning, and we do not find any such usage until the time of the Maccabees.
There are occasional references to certain events which might have served for eras had they been generally adopted.
Such was the Exodus in the account of the building of the temple (1 Kings 6:1)
and the Captivity (Ezek 33:21; 40:1) and the Earthquake (Amos 1:1).
Dates were usually fixed by the regnal years of the kings, and of the Persian kings after the Captivity.
When Simon the Maccabee became independent of the Seleucid kings in 143-142 or 139 BC - 138 BC,
he seems to have established an era of his own, if we may attribute to him a series of coins dated by the years
"of the independence of Israel".
The Jews doubtless were familiar with the Seleucid era, which began in 312 BC,
and with some of the local eras of the Phoenician cities, but we have no evidence that they made use of them.
The era of the Creation was not adopted by them until after the time of Christ.
This was fixed at 3,830 years before the destruction of the later temple, or 3760 BC.
(from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by