Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities

By John R. Bartlett | Go to book overview

7

JEWISH CALENDAR RECKONING IN THE GRAECO-ROMAN CITIES

Sacha Stern

It is reasonably well attested that Jewish communities, all over the Roman empire, observed the Sabbath and the Jewish or Biblical festivals. 1 If so, they must have had ways of reckoning their dates. In some cases, it may have been sufficient for them to establish the individual dates of annual festivals: for instance, that Passover would occur on the first full moon in the spring. But the celebration of new months, noumeniae, is also well attested in a number of Diaspora communities, and this implies a continuous calendar, running from month to month through the whole year. This suggests that Jewish communities reckoned their own calendars, of which the main function was to determine the dates of Jewish noumeniae, fasts, and festivals.

Evidence, however, of Jewish calendar reckoning in the Graeco-Roman diaspora is relatively slim - which explains why modern scholarship has so far neglected its study. Jewish dates hardly appear in inscriptions and documents from the entire Hellenistic and Roman periods (with the only exception of Judaea in the first two centuries of this era). In Egypt and Cyrenaica, in particular, Egyptian dates are consistently used in all Jewish inscriptions and papyri. 2 This may reflect, of course, the demands of public life or the conventions of the 'epigraphic habit'. But we are entitled to wonder whether the absence of Jewish dates does not indicate, instead, that they were simply never reckoned. The question arises, indeed, whether we should always assume that the Jews reckoned a calendar that was different from the official calendars of the Graeco-Roman cities.

In the context of this chapter I will not present a comprehensive or detailed analysis of the evidence relating to Jewish calendar reckoning in

1 Schürer 1973-87: vol. III.1, 144-5, nn. 26, 28-9.

2 For inscriptions generally, see Frey 1936-52. For inscriptions from Egypt, see Horbury and Noy 1992. For inscriptions from Cyrenaica, see Lüderitz 1983. For papyri, see Tcherikover, Fuks and Stern 1957-64 (principally from Egypt) and Cotton, Cockle and Millar 1955:214-35.

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