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The question popped into my head while I was thinking about the Jews, their exodus, and the founding of Jerusalem. I wondered why they didn't even write down the year they formed their city?

Why is there not a single date in the bible? We have no idea when anyone was born, people died, or when specific things happened.

I thought this would have been due to discrepancies in calendars or not having calendars, but when I did a little bit of research, I found they have had the Roman calendar since about 700 BC (at least). It is completely understandable that there wouldn't be dates for things, but I would have expected some.

We know the day, month, and year that people like Alexander the Great lived and died, so humans did keep record of these things. I just read something (on how the Jews kept genealogy) that said the Jews were meticulous record keepers, so why not write down dates? Even if it were just the year in which something happened.

The only references to time are relative in days, or years (ex. Matt 1:17, Acts 28:12)

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    We ourselves count time in a relative form - so many years since the year of the birth of Christ. What were you expecting? – Matt Gutting Dec 19 '14 at 19:20
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    This might be closed as primarily opinion based, but I think the assumption is wrong. There are dates, you just are expecting a different form. – fredsbend Dec 19 '14 at 19:31
  • There's no gregorian calendar dates, but have you read chapter 5 of Genesis? If Adam and Eve were year 0, then this is a pretty accurate account of the years that passed. – ShemSeger Dec 19 '14 at 19:53
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    @JacobValenta Remember, the Romans didn't even bother to name two of their months, and most of them were ordinal (Sept=7, Oct=8, Nov=9, Dec=10). Months just aren't that important to an agrarian society. They care about seasons - planting, harvesting, starving. Dates are of concern to bureaucrats and historians - and history to a Greek person would be totally different than to a modern (read Herodutus!) Asking "Why no dates" really is like asking a farmer why he doesn't wear a watch, or asking a fish why he doesn't ride a bike. – Affable Geek Dec 19 '14 at 20:46
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    I saw this question hotlinked in the sidebar of Biblical Hermeneutics. The answer that immediately came to mind was that there are no dates in the Bible, because in those days there were arranged marriages. People didn't go on "dates". – Dɑvïd Dec 20 '14 at 11:42
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The "AD/BC" way of counting dates that you want dates to 525 AD by Dionysius Exiguus. Prior to that, people kept time in "regnal" time, meaning that they would count the Xth year of the reign of Y. Since the Old Testament was pretty much complete by 400BC (nearly a milennia earlier) and the New Testament by 95 AD, it would be every bit as odd to see an "AD/BC" date as would to see a reference to Miley Cyrus in the text.

The Bible has many, many "regnal" dates, perhaps most famously in Luke:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

1 & 2 Kings does a lot of this as well:

16:23 In the thirty and first year of Asa king of Judah began Omri to reign over Israel, twelve years: six years reigned he in Tirzah.

Even the prophet Haggai gave us specific dates:

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying

These are the dates you should be looking for.

Finally, as a simple thought exercise - remember this. BC dates are before Christ. If you knew that you were living in, say, 587 BC, you'd know that the Messiah would be arriving in, oh, 587 years. Kind of removes the need for a prophetic word of God, don't you think?


Update: What about months?

The Hebrew Calendar has 13 months with different non-Roman names. (Or, more precisely, years in which there are two months of Adar) Even today, many countries use different calendars with different month names. Here in Esther, we read:

In the first month (that is, the month of Nisan), in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus’ reign, pur (that is, the lot) was cast before Haman in order to determine a day and a month. It turned out to be the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar).

Remember, the Romans didn't even bother to name two of their months, and most of them were ordinal (Sept=7, Oct=8, Nov=9, Dec=10). Months just aren't that important to an agrarian society. They care about seasons - planting, harvesting, starving. Dates are of concern to bureaucrats and historians - and history to a Greek person would be totally different than to a modern (read Herodutus!) Asking "Why no dates" really is like asking a farmer why he doesn't wear a watch, or asking a fish why he doesn't ride a bike.

  • Helpful, and definitly in the right direction. As maybe a followup question, why are months left out? Years are pretty long compared to what happens in them, and they were fully aware of months (Romans threw festivals at the end of every month) – Jacob Valenta Dec 19 '14 at 19:37
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    Est 3:7 In the first month (that is, the month of Nisan), in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus’ reign, pur (that is, the lot) was cast before Haman in order to determine a day and a month. It turned out to be the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar). – Affable Geek Dec 19 '14 at 19:40
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    The Hebrew Calendar has 13 months with different non-Roman names. (Or, more precisely, years in which there are two months of Adar) Even today, many countries use different calendars with different month names. – Affable Geek Dec 19 '14 at 19:40
  • Not a bad little bit of rep mongering, huh? Did this end up on the hot list for a brief stint? Not that I'm saying this isn't a good answer. Because it is a good answer. I guess I'm just jealous. – fredsbend Dec 20 '14 at 6:10
  • Crikey, didn't think it was 17 good though. Thanks. – Affable Geek Dec 20 '14 at 13:51
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But there are dates in the Bible, and as all dates, they are relative to something. In this case, relative to the reign of a king:

Nehemia 2:1

1 And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king [...]

Jeremiah 1:2

2 To whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.


I agree though that there are quite few dates in the bible. We still get a general idea of the timeline because it is recorded how long each king lived and reigned. It seems that while recording genealogy was deemed important, recording the exact dates of events was not (so much). The prophets were more concerned with their message, for example.

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Just to add one more example:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Isaiah 6:1

This form of dating was extremely common in the ancient world. In some respects, it is better that they did this instead of their own calendar dates, because those really only mean something if there is a reference point. Imagine you came to a brand new world and they decided to tell you a story. They then say that story occurred on the 6th day in the 3rd month of the 500th year. The natural question is 500th year in relation to what?

In these cases, these people expect that their king and when he lived, ruled, and died, are well known. For the most part they are, so historians often use other sources to create a relative timeline and they often usually are able to relate it to our own calendar in a roundabout way. Then they just use simple math to determine the dates for everything. For example, this work might be dated by knowing that another work mentions King Uzziah in relation to another king or event that we have already dated. That helps us date this work. Also, sometime ancient works mention celestial signs, such as eclipses. We can calculate when those would have occurred with a great deal of accuracy.

We do this today in our current system too. Our years start counting from the year Jesus was born (approximately).

You also should keep in mind that precision like we expect today was not expected out of historians in centuries past. Often getting "close enough" was good enough. Today, History is an effort to catalog facts. In most ancient writings there is usually a purpose to the writing, such as keeping the culture and religion of the people alive and known, which is the first objective. Then the facts kind of just find their way in there. There are exceptions, but in general, ancient writings are just not as meticulous.

protected by Community May 12 '18 at 19:23

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