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In Acts 1:12, the distance between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives is described as a "Sabbath day's walk." Now, my Bible's footnote attributes this distance to be one kilometer long but it gives no indication as to how it got that number.

In the NIV Text Notes that my Bible comes with, it says that a Sabbath day's walk was a distance "drawn from rabbinical reasoning based on several OT passages" and gives a few Old Testament verse references. One reference is to Exodus 16:29, which says

Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.

So based on this, wouldn't a "Sabbath day's walk" be a total of zero kilometers? Because "no one is to go out" on that day?

Another verse that my Text Note references (and is also referenced by other sources, such as this website) is Joshua 3:4, which, when added to verse two and three says

After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

But this is just describing the Israelites crossing the Jordan River, and how much distance they should keep from the Ark of the Covenant? It has nothing to do with the Sabbath or a distance of walking?

So where does the term "a Sabbath's walk" come from? And how long is it?

*And if it really does stem from the Joshua reference, why would the rabbis use that verse? How does it make any sense?

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The exact value of a "Sabbath day's walk" is 2,000 cubits, which works out to about 5/8 of a mile, or one kilometer. Commentator Craig S. Keener explains the logic and biblical basis:

The figures were natural extrapolations from Exod 16:29 (one must not leave one's place on the Sabbath) and Num 35:5 (identifying one's place as 2,000 cubits square) [Acts, v1, p735]

Numbers 35:5 in particular reads:

And you shall measure, outside the city, on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits, the city being in the middle. This shall belong to them as pastureland for their cities. [ESV]

Keener confirms that the 2,000 cubit figure matches what we know of the geography of Jerusalem. He also argues that Luke knew this was the value used by the Pharisees, as recorded in later rabbinic tradition, such as the Mishnah:

On that day, Rabbi Akiva expounded [the verse], (Numbers 35:5) "You shall measure outside the city on the eastern outskirts, two thousand cubits..." (Numbers 35:5) [...] , and another verse says (Numbers 35:4) "... from the wall of the city and outward, 1000 cubits around." [...] One-thousand cubits is for the open land, and two thousand cubits is the Sabbath border [the distance one can travel from the city on Sabbath]." (Mishnah Sotah, 5:3)

  • Good use of outside text for a source. I'm not so sure about the Numbers 35:5 reference being solid evidence, as it seems like it's kind of unrelated and talking about just the dimensions of a city. But the Mishnah Sotah reference is good. – Guy Jan 9 '17 at 19:13

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