Sunday, September 23, 2012

Inclusive & Accession Year Reckoning


The sixth century abbot, Dionysius Exiguus, created the calendar based on the Christian Era.  Before that time, there were no BC or AD years.  Instead, years were based on the reigns of kings or emperors e.g. the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar.  There were two methods of recording those so called regnal years.

Ezra was a scribe who was skilled in such matters as the reigns of kings.  He consistently used accession year reckoning to record specific years in the reigns of Persian emperors.  Under that system, the accession year, most often a partial year, wasn’t included in a king’s regnal years.

Ezra’s book began in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia.  If you've read my article entitled The Conquest of Babylon, you know that Cyrus captured Babylon without a battle.  On October 29, 539 BC, he entered the city’s gates and, with thunderous applause, its inhabitants acknowledged him as emperor.  His first regnal year, as ruler of Babylon, was 538/537 BC according to accession year reckoning.

Artaxerxes reigned from 465-424 BC.  His decree that sent Ezra to Jerusalem was proclaimed in his seventh regnal year.  That year was 458/457 BC according to accession year reckoning based on Judah's civil calendar which celebrated an autumn new year.

The reign of Darius was a little more complicated.  I like the chronology presented by Yamauchi, author of “Persia and the Bible.”  Shortly before Cambyses' death, Gaumata the usurper began his revolt on March 11, 522 BC.  By mid-April, he was recognized as emperor in Babylonia and by July 1, he was recognized as emperor throughout the entire Persian Empire.  On September 29, his masquerade ended and he was slain by Darius the Great. 

Like Gaumata, it took a few weeks before Darius was recognized as emperor.  He wasn’t the obvious heir and had to subdue those who challenged his claim to the throne.  His accession occurred after the beginning of the Jewish year 522/521 BC.  Ezra said that Zerubbabel’s temple was completed in the sixth year of Darius the Great.  Using accession year reckoning, we arrive at 516/515 BC.  In fact, Yamauchi says the second temple was finished on March 12, 515 BC.

Inclusive reckoning was the popular method of recording time when the Gospels were written.  Under that system, partial years and partial days were counted as complete years and complete days.  For example, the time between Christ’s death and resurrection was about forty hours.  He died at 3 PM on Good Friday and rose from the dead at dawn on Easter Sunday.  However, it was recorded as three days.  That’s because the part days on Friday and Sunday were counted as full days.

Luke used inclusive reckoning to record the year of Christ’s baptism.  He was baptized in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar.  Tiberius’ accession year was 14 AD.  That partial year was considered his first regnal year.  Hence his fifteenth regnal year was 28 AD, the calendar year when Jesus was baptized.

11 comments:

  1. It should be noted that the account of the events described in Ezra 4:1-5 is continued at Ezra 4:24. The events described in between took place during the reigns of Xerxes & Artaxerxes.

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  2. For the story of Cambyses, Gaumata, & Darius, click Persia on the sidebar.

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  3. Scriptural references: Ezra 1:1; 6:15; 7:8; John 2:19-22; Matthew 27:63; Luke 3:1

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  4. Nehemiah also used accession year reckoning to record specific years in the reigns of kings. He was sent to Jerusalem in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes. Since Artaxerxes’ accession year was 465/464 BC, his 20th regnal year was 445/444 BC.

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  5. Regnal Year Reckoning: When determining a specific year in the reign of a king, there is accession-year reckoning and non-accession-year (inclusive) reckoning. For example, when a king dies, an heir apparent becomes his successor. Most often this occurs in the middle of a calendar year. Some count that partial year as his accession year and the next calendar year as his first regnal year. Others count his accession year as his first regnal year.

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  6. Regnal year reckoning is very complicated. Both accession year & non-accession year (inclusive) reckoning were used in Judah & Israel. Judah’s civil calendar recognized a fall new year however their religious (sacred) calendar recognized a spring new year. Both the northern kingdom of Israel & Babylonia celebrated a spring new year. Edwin R. Thiele is credited with unraveling the various reckoning systems.

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  7. Judah’s civil calendar celebrated New Year’s on Tishri 1 while their sacred calendar celebrated New Year’s on Nisan 1. The northern kingdom of Israel celebrated New Year’s on Nisan 1. Tishri 1 occurred in late September or early October on our modern Gregorian calendar. Nisan 1 fell in late March or early April of the Gregorian calendar. Hence Tishri 1 and Nisan 1 can be equated with October 1 and April 1 respectively.

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  8. 538 BC was the date that Judeans returned from their captivity in Babylon according to many historians. Daniel used accession year reckoning, based on a spring new year, to record the angel Gabriel’s appearance and Cyrus’ command to release the captives. Both the Babylonian calendar and Judah’s sacred calendar recognized New Year’s Day in the spring. Gubara a.k.a. Darius the Mede captured Babylon on October 12, 539 BC on behalf of his benefactor Cyrus the Great. On October 29, 539 BC, Cyrus installed Gubara as his client king. That made Gubara’s accession year between October 29, 539 BC and April 1, 538 BC. Hence his first regnal year was from April 1, 538 BC to April 1, 537 BC. Ezra applied the same regnal year reckoning to Cyrus who was emperor of Persia and Gubara’s overlord. According to the Book of Ezra, the exiles were settled in Judah by October, 538 BC. Scriptural references: Ezra 1:1, 3:1; Daniel 9:1

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  9. If Daniel used accession year reckoning based on Judah’s civil calendar, Gubara’s first regnal year was from October 1, 538 BC to October 1, 537 BC. That would place the exiles in Judah by April, 537 BC.

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  10. Artaxerxes’ accession year began after October 1, 465 BC and ran until October 1, 464 BC. Consequently 464/463 BC was his first regnal year according to accession year reckoning. That would make 458/457 BC his seventh regnal year, the year Ezra was sent to Jerusalem.

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  11. For the reign of Darius, Yamauchi gives us two Gregorian dates. September 21, 520 BC was the date when Judeans resumed construction on the Second Temple. That occurred in the 2nd regnal year of Darius the Great according to Ezra 4:24. March 12, 515 BC was the date when Judeans finished building the Second Temple. That occurred in the 6th regnal year of Darius the Great according to Ezra 6:15.
    Zechariah & Haggai encouraged the Jews to resume construction on the Second Temple. Haggai used accession year reckoning based on Judah’s sacred calendar to record the date when Judeans resumed construction (Haggai 1:15). His reckoning coincides with Yamauchi’s Gregorian dates.
    Many believe Ezra used accession year reckoning based on Judah’s civil calendar to record the year when Judeans resumed construction on the Second Temple. Based on Judah’s civil calendar, the Jewish year began in late September or early October. Assuming the Jewish year 520/519 BC began between the Gregorian dates of September 16 & September 21, September 21, 520 BC occurred in Darius’ 2nd regnal year and Ezra’s reckoning also coincides with Yamauchi’s Gregorian dates.

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