New Moon: Visible or Invisible?

Many believers seem to have questions concerning the correct way of determining the day of the new moon.  Should one look for the physical appearance of the (first crescent of the) new moon or is it more correct to do one’s calculations based on the point of conjunction (i.e. the exact moment each month when the moon moves in between the earth and the sun, and is therefore completely invisible)?  The latter method seems to be more accurate, as (in most cases) this will result in the moon to be closer to the “full moon” phase by the time of the First Day of Unleavened Bread and the First Day of Tabernacles (both of these days “begin” on the evening following the fourteenth day of that particular month).  During certain months the first crescent of the new moon only appears two days after conjunction.  If the first crescent of the new moon is used to determine the beginning of these months, the “full moon” may not be so full any more when it comes to the evening following the fourteenth day of those months.  It should be noted, however, that neither of these two methods of determining the beginning of the month, can guarantee a “perfect” full moon and in many cases the full moon following the fourteenth day of the month may appear to be perfectly “full” – even though the visible crescent may have been used to determine the beginning of that month.  One should keep in mind that a lunar month can only be 29 or 30 days long and if the method of conjunction is used to determine the beginning of a 30 day month, the moon will not yet have reached the “perfect” full moon stage by the end of the fourteenth day, as this point is not yet halfway through the full period of 30 days.

In the vast majority of cases where Scriptures make reference of a “month”, this happens in the context of the new moon, and not the full moon.  As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word most frequently used to refer to a month, is the word “chodesh” which is a form of “chadash”, meaning “to be new” and is almost certainly a reference to the “newness” of the moon introducing the beginning of each month. It is clear that the “new moon” has always been considered as the prime indicator for determining the beginning of a month.  It has been pointed out by some that Ps 81:4 may contain proof that the conjunction, that is, the dark or concealed moon, may (at least at one stage) have been considered to be the pointer to indicate the beginning of a month.  In this verse we read:  “Blow the ram’s horn on the Chodesh (New Moon), on the Keseh (Full Moon) for the Day of our Chag (Feast).”  The word “keseh” is translated by most translations as “full moon” but it originally comes from the word “kasah” which may have the following meaning:  “to hide, to conceal, to cover”. Advocates of the concealed moon theory therefore claim that Ps 81:4 is not speaking of two kinds of feast days upon which the ram’s horn is to be blown (the new moon and the full moon).  They say that this verse is referring to one and the same event:  the New Moon which, according to their understanding, is also a kind of concealment or covering up, because the moon cannot be seen.

The problem with this view is that nowhere else in Scriptures is the new moon referred to in this way.  The word “kasah” may also be understood to mean “to be covered with fat; to be fat” (like Israel who have covered themselves with fatness – see Deut 32:15) and it is not unlikely that in the case of Ps 81:4 this word may indeed have been used to refer to the full moon, which most definitely has the appearance of a moon grown fat.  It seems correct to assume, therefore, that Ps 81:4 is referring to two different events upon which the ram’s horn may be blown:  The new moon AND the full moon – in particular the full moon of those months in which the feasts of Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles are to be held.  When this verse is understood in this way, it corresponds perfectly with a verse like Num 10:10: “And in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed times, AND at the beginning of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over your peace offerings. And they shall be a remembrance for you before your Elohim. I am Yahweh your Elohim.”  It also needs to be pointed out that the word used for “feast” in Ps 81:4, the word “chag”, is not used to refer to the “new moon” anywhere in Scriptures.  If Ps 81:4 is understood to make a double reference to the new moon (only), this would be the only instance in Scriptures where a new moon day is called a “chag” and this, in itself, would raise serious questions as to the correctness of such an interpretation.

Apart from the fact that the Scriptural word for “new moon” (chodesh) is already, in itself, an indication that in ancient times, in Israel at least, the months were introduced by the (visible) newness of the moon, there are a number of indications in the Tanach that confirm that this concept has always been understood this way:

Gen 1:14 And Elohim said, “Let lights come to be in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and appointed times, and for days and years.”  From the very beginning the moon, like the sun, was meant to be a sign (Heb: “ot”).  Although the word “ot” was sometimes used in a figurative way, it usually referred to something that was visible and could clearly be seen, like in Gen 9:12 (“this – the rainbow – is the sign of the covenant between Me and you”); Gen 17:11 (“this – the circumcision – shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you”); Ex 4:30 (“Mosheh did signs in the sight of the people”); Ex 8:23 (“Tomorrow shall this sign – swarms of flies in Egypt – come into being”); Ex 12:13 (“The blood – on the doorposts – shall be a sign upon your houses”); etc.

Deut 16:1  “Guard (“shamar”) the month (“chodesh”) of Aviv, and perform the Passover to Yahweh your Elohim, for in the month of Aviv Yahweh your Elohim brought you out of Mitsrayim by night.”  The word “shamar” literally means “to take heed, to be circumspect, to look narrowly and carefully or to observe”.  Keeping this in mind, one may translate Deut 16:1 as follows:  “Look carefully for the new moon of Aviv and perform the Pesach in this month …”

In 1 Sam 20:5 David said to Yahunathan, “See, tomorrow is the new moon …” as though he knew without a doubt that the next day would be the day of the new moon.  But then, in the rest of the chapter, it turns out that two meetings, combined with meals, were being held on two consecutive days, in remembrance of the new moon.  This verse is in many ways not entirely clear and in the past it has been used (abused?) by proponents of almost every single viewpoint with regard to the new moon.  Those who favour the invisible new moon theory, point out that both David and Yahunathan seem to have known that the next day would be the new moon.  Those who favour the first crescent new moon theory point out that two days were set aside beforehand, so that if the new moon was not visible on the first day (the end of the 29th day of the month), another meeting was scheduled anyway (at the end of the 30th day of the month) so that the next day could be declared as the first day of the new month.  Those who favour the lunar Sabbath theory point out that two days were set aside in order for the new month to begin on the first day of the week, so that the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th day of the month could also be Sabbaths.  And those who feel that the normal new moon days were not intended to be days of assembly, point out  that this was no ordinary new moon, but the New Moon of Yom Teruah which, in their view, has always been celebrated over the stretch of two days.  In view of so much variation of opinion and even confusion with regards to this particular chapter, it may be the best option to disregard this chapter entirely and rather look at the bigger picture, emerging from Scriptures as a whole, and supported by the evidence of history.

There seems to be very little doubt that the visible (crescent of the) new moon has always been the standard and accepted way of determining the beginnings of the months in Scriptural times.  In another article we have put together an extensive list of research and reliable sources showing that this was indeed the case during the Second Temple period and the earthly life of Y’shua the Messiah.  We have no reason to doubt that even before this time the same method was used to determine the beginnings of the months of each year, both in Israel and in some of the other countries of the ancient world.  But for us the bottom line is this:  If Y’shua the Messiah followed the practice of his day and never once criticized or questioned the accepted and well documented practice of his day with regards to the beginning of months, we should most certainly follow his example and stick to the same practice.

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