Shadow on the Steps: Time Measurement in Ancient Israel

By Rogland, Max | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Shadow on the Steps: Time Measurement in Ancient Israel


Rogland, Max, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Shadow on the Steps: Time Measurement in Ancient Israel. By David Miano. Resources for Biblical Study 64. Atlanta: SBL, 2010, xx + 267 pp., n.p. paper.

This study takes its title from the reference to the episode in 2 Kings 20/Isaiah 38 in which the Lord offers to turn back the shadow on the steps of the "dial of Ahaz." The author will argue on the basis of the biblical text as well as archaeological evidence that these "steps" most likely corresponded to subdivisions of the day measured by a solar clock at the king's palace. The study is more comprehensive in scope, however, and examines a variety of systems of time measurement in ancient Israel, including daily, monthly, yearly, and larger units of time (e.g. generations), and also considers methods for reckoning genealogical and regnal chronologies.

In contrast to scholars who believe such systems to be largely irretrievable from the extant sources (e.g. Vanderkam), the author maintains that several can be reconstructed to a significant extent and with a reasonable degree of confidence. The focus of the study is on the data from the Primary History (PH) rather than the Chronicler's account, and instead of seeking to discern one overall system capable of harmonizing all of the PH's chronological data, the author strives to delineate the particular time measurement system utilized by the various putative sources of the PH. To this end, the author takes as his starting point a fairly standard approach to the Documentary Hypothesis as represented by Friedman's The Bible with Sources Revealed. (One notes in passing that Friedman's work has been subjected to criticism; see, e.g., Christophe Levin in Review of Biblical Literature 6/2006, but this need not undermine the study's results entirely.)

After a brief introduction, the author proceeds in chapter 1 to examine the various calendars in use in ancient Israel and the intervals used for time measurement. In contrast to much popular opinion, the author argues that in most of the documentary sources the day is viewed as beginning in the morning rather than the evening, in accord with Egyptian reckoning and in contrast to Mesopotamian and Athenian Greek practice. The sole exception to this is the abundant Priestly material, which views the day as beginning in the evening, thus indicating that the "liturgical day" (represented by P) and the "secular day" were reckoned differently. The chapter examines the various terms used for divisions of the day (cf. the "steps," mentioned above) and night (e.g. "watches"), as well as the names and numbers used for designating months. He urges caution in assuming too quickly that the beginning and ending of months was based simply on the phases of the moon, as there are a number of pieces of evidence that run counter to this. In discussing the beginning and ending of the year, the author notes a variety of systems in use, and ultimately he argues for the existence of an "agricultural year," "civil year," "liturgical year," and "regnal" year. The chapter concludes with a discussion of lunar, solar, and lunisolar calendars and the use of intercalation (periodically adding an extra month to a year) in order to deal with discrepancies created by purely lunar calendars (pp. …

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