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"Behold, the Lord cometh forth out of his place, and will come down.. And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place"
(Micah i. 3, 4)

Calibrating the Year of the 2nd Temple's Destruction

David Ben-Abraham

January 7, 2010


Maimonides wrote in his Responsa (responsum # 389) that the date in which we traditionally reckon the 2nd Temple's destruction is the year which preceded the 380th year of the Seleucid Era, otherwise known as the Year of Alexander (a date which corresponds to anno 69 CE). This means the destruction of the Temple fell out in the month of Av in 68 CE. The dating of 70 CE, on the other hand, is widely used by the Christian world to reckon the year of destruction. This treatise will prove the accuracy of the Jewish tradition.

Introduction:

The "Seleucid era" counting, or what is also known as the "Year of Alexander [the Great]," was a system of numbering years by Jews living in the Seleucid Empire, and which practice continued many years thereafter. The practice of reckoning years by this system is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (Avodah Zarah 10a): "Said Rav Nahman: In the Diaspora, it is not permissible to count [the date in years] except only by the kings of the Grecians." Its usage was common in the Jewish world until the thirteenth century.

Today, the counting based on this system has long since been abandoned by Jewish communities, excepting the Yemenite Jews who only recently abandoned its practice. Even so, court documents, marriage contracts, deeds of sale, Bible codices, etc. which were brought out of Yemen, were all dated in this old system of reckoning years according to the Seleucid Era counting, and called by the sages in their native vernacular לשטרי (Era of Contracts). Today's custom is to count the years according to the Tanna (R. Yose b. Rabbi Halpetha) who wrote Seder Olam, which counting begins from the creation of the world, or what is known as anno mundi. However, let there be no doubt. While the Seleucid Era counting has been abandoned, it has only been abandoned with regard to writing its date in legal deeds and pieces of correspondence, but is still relied upon by all observant Jews when determining the 2nd Temple's destruction. (1)

The actual counting of the Seleucid Era begins in the 6th year of Alexander the Great's reign, or in what was then the year 3449 anno mundi (312/1 BCE), and which date fell out some forty-one years after the re-building of the Second Temple (see: Seder Olam and Rabbeinu Hananel's commentary on Avodah Zarah 10a.). It is said that the Jews started this system of reckoning the years, in recognition of Alexander the Great who passed through their country and who received warmly the Jewish High Priest who came out to greet him. (2) When he saw the High Priest, he was dissuaded from any ill-designs he had formerly entertained about the Jews, saying that he had seen the likeness of the High Priest's image in a dream, which same person conducted him in his wars in the other habitable parts of the earth and gave him victory. Now just as the Jewish New Year begins in the lunar month Tishri (a month usually corresponding with mid-September in the Gregorian calendar), so, too, the Seleucid Era counting begins anew each year with the lunar month Tishri. Our current year of 2010 CE (or 5770 anno mundi) corresponds to the 2,321st year of the Seleucid Era (which year, as noted, actually began in Tishri of 2009, and ends in Elul of 2010). So far the introduction.

In Josephus' Antiquities, he brings down dates of events exclusively in the Seleucid Era counting. One such date is found in Antiquities XII. ix. 3, where Josephus speaks of "the one hundred and fiftieth year of the dominion of the Seleucidae," or 150th year of the Seleucid Era. According to the book, I Maccabees VI. 49, 53, in the 150th year of the Seleucid Era there was a famine in the land of Israel, which same year happened to be a Sabbatical Year, meaning it was the seventh year in a seven-year cycle.

This one piece of information is crucial, as it will help us to determine whether or not the date 68 CE (379 of the Seleucid Era) is indeed an accurate date which marks the destruction of Jerusalem's Temple, which was alleged to have been destroyed in the 1st year of the seven-year cycle. (3) 
Here, however, it is also important to note that the seven-year cycle which repeats itself every seven years is actually dependent upon the fixation of the Jubilee, or the fiftieth year, which year temporarily breaks off the counting of the seven-year cycle. According to Maimonides, the laws governing the Jubilee (e.g. release of Hebrew bondmen, and the return of leased property to its original owners, etc.) were never applied all throughout the 2nd Temple period, but the Jubilee was being used during the period of the Second Temple in order to fix and sanctify thereby the Sabbatical Year. (4) This means that the year of the Jubilee was always known unto them and used by them. A Sabbatical Year could not be fixed without the year of the Jubilee, since the Jubilee serves to break-off the 49-year count, before resuming its count once again in the 51st year. In layman's terms, seven years multiplied by seven years gives us forty-nine years. The 49th year is also a Sabbatical Year. However, the fiftieth year is not the 1st year in a new seven-year cycle, but rather is the Jubilee. Its number is NOT incorporated into the seven-year cycle. Rather, the new seven-year cycle begins afresh in the 51st year, and in this manner is the cycle repeated. Every fifty years is a Jubilee, and only in the following year is the seven-year cycle repeated.(5)

As noted, when the 2nd Temple was destroyed by Titus, it fell out in the 1st year of the seven-year cycle. Simple arithmetic reveals that if we take the number of sabbatical years which have passed since the Sabbatical Year of 150 of the Seleucid Era (7 + 7 + 7 + 7 + 7 + 7 + 7, etc.), accounting for the Jubilees which are also to be added to these years (49 + 1 + 49 + 1, etc.), up to the time of the destruction of the 2nd Temple which, according to Jewish tradition, fell out in the 1st year of a seven-year cycle, this puts the lunar month Av in the year 379 of the Seleucid Era (August of 68 CE) in the proper place in relation to the 1st year of the seven-year cycle. Had the destruction of the 2nd Temple been in 70 CE, this year would have been the 3rd year of the seven-year cycle.

 

Thanks to Josephus and to the First Book of Maccabees, we know the Seleucid Era dating when the people of Israel observed a Sabbatical Year during the Second Temple period. By necessity, a Jubilee would have fallen within the space of less than a 50-year interval from that Sabbatical Year mentioned in the above books, and this process would have repeated itself every fifty years, using as a starting point the Sabbatical Year mentioned in First Book of Maccabees. Based on this, if we count 50 years from any given Sabbatical year, it will always bring us back to another Sabbatical Year, and so on, and so on. This is what we have done when ascertaining the 1st year in the seven-year cycle, showing how the 2nd Temple was destroyed exactly in the 1st year of the seven-year cycle, just as it had been transmitted down to us by tradition.

 

According to Jewish tradition, this year (2010 CE), August will mark the 1,942nd year of 2nd Temple's destruction.

150th year of the Seleucid Era = Sabbatical Year
378th year of the Seleucid Era = Sabbatical Year
379th year of the Seleucid Era = 1st year of seven-year cycle

Our hope is that this short work will help our readers understand the validity of our oral traditions, and that they will come to appreciate them. (By the way: After the Temple's destruction, the seven-year cycle continued thereafter unabated, without the year of the Jubilee being calculated within each fifty-year period).

FOOTNOTES:

(1) Rabbi David b. Zimra wrote in the year 1561 CE, in his commentary on Maimonides (Mishne Torah, H. Shemita veyovel):
"On this calculation have all the people of the land of Israel relied… The opinion of our Master (Maimonides) it is the correct one, and is that which is practised amongst all the exiles."
(2) So writes Rabbi David, the grandson of Rabbi Moses b. Maimon, in his commentary "Midrash David," on Mishna Tractate Avoth (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:6). For an account of the story of Alexander the Great and the Jewish High Priest, see the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 69a); cf. Josephus, Antiquities XI. viii. 5.
(3) See: Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'anith 24a); Babylonian Talmud (Arakhin 11b). Rabbi Yoseph Karo in his commentary, Kesef Mishne (on Maimonides' Mishne Torah, H. Shemita veyovel 10:4), brings down this teaching in the name of Rav Ashi. It is important to note that, according to Maimonides (ibid.), the 1st year of the seven-year cycle spoken of here is actually the new Jewish year which ushered in two months later, in Tishri, following the Temple's destruction. However, in retrospect, it was unnecessary for Maimonides to explain the situation in this manner, seeing that in his Responsa (responsum # 389) he admits that we have an oral tradition which states that the Temple was destroyed in the 379th year of the Seleucid Era. By simple comparison with another record, discussed further on in this treatise, and which clearly puts the 150th year of the Seleucid Era as a Sabbatical Year, this would naturally make the 379th year of the Seleucid Era (the year of 2nd Temple's destruction) the 1st year of the seven-year cycle, without having to say that it referred to the year that came after the destruction.
(4) Maimonides (Mishne Torah, H. Shemita veyovel 10:3 – end).
(5) Maimonides (Mishne Torah, H. Shemita veyovel 10:7).

Replies to This Discussion

Just a thought on how the Christian world may have come up with the AD 70 counting for the destruction of the 2nd Temple.

Historians differ on the number of years of the reign of the various Caesars. For example, they differ with regard to Tiberius Caesar's reign. Epiphanius, in his Treatise on Weights & Measures (Syriac Version), pp. 28-29, says that Tiberius reigned for a total of 23 years. Josephus, on the other hand, in his Antiquities (XVIII. vi.10), says that Tiberius reigned for a total of 22 yrs., 5 months and 3 days. In his Wars of the Jews (II.ix.5) he says that he reigned for a total of 22 yrs., 6 months and 3 days. The difference accruing between these two opinions are at least six or seven months.

Epiphanius (ibid.) says that Caius (Gaius) reigned 3 years, 9 months and 29 days. Josephus (Antiquities XIX.ii.5) says that Caius reigned for 3 years and 8 months. The difference accruing between these two opinions are at least two months.

In the above two cases, Epiphanius' figures are larger than those of Josephus by eight or nine months.

Epiphanius (ibid.) says that Claudius reigned 13 years, 1 month and 28 days. Josephus (Antiquities XX.viii.1) says that Claudius reigned for 13 years, 8 months and 20 days. (This figure agrees with Dio, in his "Roman History"). The difference accruing between these two opinions are at least six months.

Epiphanius (ibid.) says that Nero reigned 13 years, 7 months and 27 days. Josephus, in his Wars of the Jews (IV.ix.2), says that Nero reigned for 13 years and 8 days. The difference accruing between these two opinions are nearly eight months.

By relying on several of these erroneous dates, which ever they might be, this could have caused the two-year difference between the Christian date of AD 70 for the destruction of Jerusalem, especially when we bear in mind that the AD fixation of dates was only given to events many years after they happened, while Jews have ever marked the destruction as 68 CE.
What is the last document from Temen with a Seleucid date?
Nice work, thank you, hope to amend time line as needed in next edition of my compilation 'the recent complex creation' to reflect the most accurate dating.
Currently rely on legacy of Sinai by Z. fendel which is well sourced
please clarify first if/where i have it wrong:
Temple II 420 year span 3408-3828
Galus Bavel 70 years 3338-3408
Temple I 410 years 2928-3338
Exodus - Temple I 480 Years 2448 - 2928
Birth Yitzchak - Exodus 400 Years 2048 - 2448
Birth Avraham - Birth Yitzchak 100 Years 1948 - 2048
Mabul - Dispersion from Bavel 1656-1996 = 340 Years
Avraham was 48 at dispersion from bavel in 1996
This year 5770, based on start counting years from year 1 not year 0.
5770- 3408 = 1942 years ago
now 2010 CE less 1942 years = 68CE
roger m.
Aryeh Shore said:
What is the last document from Temen with a Seleucid date?

Aryeh, Shalom!

It would be hard to cite for you the "latest" date in the Seleucid Era counting from documents originating in Yemen since ALL of them were written in the Seleucid Era counting, or what was called by them לשטרי = "Era of Contracts." Look at the court records, or Marriage contracts (Ketubba), all of them are written this way.

David
Roger,

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to your question. Yes, from what I can see so far, your calculations are correct. At least, according to Seder Olam. I checked the dates you brought down for the 1st and 2nd temples and their destruction.

Be well,
David
- Argument # 2 -

There is yet another way of proving the accuracy of the Jewish tradition. According to the Third Book of Manetho who brings down eight successive Persian kings and the number of years in which they reigned after Cyrus, Cambyses succeeded his father (Cyrus) and reigned over Persia five years, while Cambyses was succeeded by Darius, the son of Hystaspes, who reigned 36 years. It is this Darius who renewed the decree of Cyrus to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. According to Ezra 6:15, the Temple was finished "in the 6th year of the reign of Darius the king." It began to be built in the 2nd year of his reign (Ezra 4:24), in accordance with the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah.

This one date, the 6th year of Darius, being the year in which the Second Temple was completed, is perhaps the most crucial date we have in helping us to determine the number of years which have transpired since that time down to our own present age. For if we take this date, comparing it with the time frame mentioned in the Aramaic Scroll of Antiochus, [1] a book which, according to Rabbi Sa‘adia Gaon (882 CE – 942 CE) in the introduction to his book on Hebrew grammar, Iggaron (Kitāb asūl al-ša‘ar al-‘ibrāni), was written by the elders of the schools of Hillel and Shammai in the Chaldaic language, – and which is still preserved with us even to this day in an ancient Yemenite Baladi-rite Prayer Book [2] – we learn that from the Second Temple's rebuilding till the 23rd year of the reign of Antiochus Eupator, son of Antiochus Epiphanes, who invaded Judaea, there had transpired 213 years in total. Now Antiochus Eupator's father, Antiochus Epiphanes, had died in anno 149 of the Seleucid Era (=162 BCE), in which year his son obtained the kingdom, just as we learn elsewhere. [3] Twenty-three years later, that is, in the year 172 of the Seleucid Era, or what was then 139 BCE, which happened to be the 23rd year of the reign of Antiochus Eupator, the Second Temple had already stood some 213 years, meaning, it was built in 352 BCE! If these figures are correct, and we have no reason to doubt them, this puts Darius' 6th year of reign as 353/2 BCE. Jewish tradition holds that the Second Temple stood for only 420 years. Counting 420 years from 352 BCE brings us to 68 CE, the year of the Second Temple's destruction!

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Also known as "Megillath Benei Hašmonai" (The Scroll of the Sons of Asamoneus).
[2] This Prayer Book was originally compiled by Rabbi Yehiya Bashiri in 1618 CE and called Tiklal Bashiri. A manuscript copy of the Prayer Book was made in Yemen by the scribe, Shalom b. Yehiya Qorah, and given the name Tiklal Qadmonim. It is from this MS. copy that facsimile editions were published by Yosef Hubarah (Jerusalem 1964). See: Tiklal Qadmonim, pp. 75b (end) -79b (Megillath Benei Hašmonai), Jerusalem 1964.
[3] Antiquities xii.ix.2.
 

 

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