Everlasting Kingdom: Unraveling the Bible’s Secrets

Chronology of Jubilees

How the Jews Commemorated Sabbatical Years

Gleaning a Harvest

Article Preview: This well researched article confirms the date of the Jubilee thru Biblical and historical dating methods. James Dwyer estimates, in passing, that the year of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) crucifixion appears to be a Jubilee year (30 AD—His assumption that years began in the “fall”) I do not agree with some of the conclusions on the links provided in this article. For that matter, I disclaim many things associated with other sites that I link to. This article was reformatted to conform with my usual style.

Sabbatical Years


It is significant that all of the early historical cases of Sabbaticals and jubilees (12 in total) closely agree in aligning with an arrangement of 7 sets of 7 years (plus a 50th year). From amid the string of identifiable cases it doesn’t seem feasible that a jubilee year (or a 50th year) could have been celebrated in any other year than the year 172-171 BCE.

These historical cases and their satisfactory chronological agreement with a cycle of 50 years then prove that only the year 172-171 BCE (probably reckoned from the autumn) did correspond with the occurrence of a jubilee year. Likewise, the year 122-121 (if it was celebrated) would have corresponded with the occurrence of a jubilee year.

Because the several instances of Sabbaticals and jubilee years are spaced throughout a wide number of centuries, it is clear that the cited 50th year was routinely reckoned--two times in each century.

The last time a jubilee year was officially celebrated in Judea may then have been as late as the year 122-121 BCE—and certainly no later. If not as late as the year 122-121 BCE, then a jubilee year was surely celebrated prior to the time of the Jewish revolt. From this premise, it can be concluded that a jubilee year certainly was celebrated in Judea in the year 172-171 BCE (probably reckoned from autumn of the year).

It is remarkable that the visions of the Temple (received by Ezekiel) and the messages of the new Temple (received by Haggai and Zechariah) were all received in correspondence with the epoch of a jubilee year.

If a jubilee year was celebrated in this modern era—as a projection of jubilees celebrated in the Temple Era—it is probable that the next jubilee year would correspond to the year 2029-2030 (reckoned from the autumn). However, due to some uncertainty inherent in the assumptions currently made and due to the antiquity of the cited source material, the current analysis should be considered to be very speculative.

In the late Second-Temple Era, the custom of letting the land rest in each 7th year was an important tenet of Jewish law. Flavius Josephus, a priest-historian who lived in the First Century CE, described the Jewish custom of observing the Sabbatical law in some detail. The writings of the rabbis and certain ancient contracts also make it clear that Jews living under the late Second Temple were careful to observe each of the Sabbatical years.

The law concerning the keeping of a Sabbatical year was complied with at a national level. Throughout the territory of Judea, it would have been mandatory—as a tenet of the constitution—for farmers to observe each 7th year as a Sabbatical year. The requirement to celebrate Sabbatical years throughout Judea would have been in force until the Second Temple fell (in 70 CE).

The Jubilee Year

Some ancient sources tend to indicate that the late Second-Temple practice of observing 7th years sprang from an earlier practice of celebrating a 50-year cycle. It seems that after 7 sets of Sabbatical years had been celebrated, each 50th year (called the jubilee) was also celebrated. The more primal practice of celebrating 7 sets of 7 years and a jubilee year is described in biblical texts—as follows.

Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land.... That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.... And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound.... And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land.... A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field. (from Leviticus, Chapter 25: 3-12 - English language translation based upon the KJV).

It then seems that a 50th year (like the Sabbatical year) was once specially celebrated (perhaps at some time prior to the late Second Temple).

According to what appears to be a more original practice, 7 sets of 7 years were first celebrated and then a jubilee year (or a 50th year) was additionally celebrated. The 50th—like the 7th—was specially observed (where in each 50th, crops were not sown, tended, or reaped).

Influence of the Greeks

The prospect that a 50th year was more anciently observed raises the question as to why/when a jubilee year was no longer celebrated under the late Second Temple. The point in time when a jubilee year was last observed appears to have been sometime within a rather lengthy period when the Greeks and then the Romans were in control of Judea (as further explained below).

It seems that Judea was at first subjugated by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE. Afterwards, Judeans were required to pay tribute or taxes to the more powerful Greeks. The requirement to pay taxes was tightened under the subsequent rule of the Romans (who likewise imposed taxes upon the Judeans).

Thus, the time and the reason for why a jubilee year was not observed under the late Second Temple was surely related—at least in part—to a requirement on the part of the Judeans to pay tribute to the Greeks and later to the Romans.

The Greeks appear to have given the Judeans an exemption from paying taxes in those years that were Sabbatical years. (as per Josephus and the Maccabees). The Romans likewise were generous enough to reduce taxes in each 7th year.

Even through tax concessions were granted, it is apparent the jubilee year was no longer celebrated in the late Second-Temple Era. Sources from this era make it clear that by the time of the 177th year Seleucid, Judeans were no longer celebrating a jubilee year. As shown below, these several sources make it unmistakably clear that a 50th year was not officially observed after the Second Century BCE.

The possibility that a jubilee year was not officially celebrated after the 177th Seleucid year (or 135-134 BCE) comes from late Second-Temple sources. These several sources confirm that a cycle of 7th years was celebrated in an unbroken cycle. The celebration of the unbroken cycle of 7 years can possibly be traced as far back in time as the year 135-134 BCE.

The Late Second Temple

As is more thoroughly documented in a link entitled: The Significance of 70 Years [off site] the chronology of Sabbatical years under the late Second Temple can rather satisfactorily be determined—as follows:

The year 135-134 BCE (or the year 177 of the Seleucid Era) was noted to be a 7th year in the writings of Flavius Josephus. In ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ he noted: “... there came around the year in which the Jews are won’t to remain inactive, for they observe this custom every seventh year, just as on the seventh day.” (Book 13:8:1).

The same year (135-134 BCE) was also noted to be a year of ‘rest’ in ‘Wars of the Jews’. In this book, Josephus noted the following: “the year of rest came on, upon which the Jews rest every seventh year as they do on every seventh day".

The year 44-43 BCE could have been a 7th year. In ‘Antiquities of the Jews’, Josephus stated that the Jews had a legal agreement with the Romans concerning a reduction of taxes in 7th years. In substantiation of this, he cited a decree from one of the Roman emperors. The decree stated when Caius Caesar was consul for the fifth time he ordered in the 2nd year of the current land-use agreement that a deduction in the amount of taxes that land users paid to the Romans should be granted to the Jews (refer to Antiquities, Book 14:10:5-6). If the current year (44-43 BCE) did correspond to the cited 2nd year of the land-use agreement then it might be possible to interpret this passage to mean that the respective year did correspond to a 7th year (as celebrated by the Jews).

Josephus rehearsed another Roman decree concerning a grant to Jews allowing celebration of the 7th years. This respective decree substantiates that Jews—under the late Second Temple—positively were celebrating Sabbatical years. “[Judea should pay a tribute yearly] ... excepting the seventh, which they call the sabbatical year, because thereon they neither receive the fruits of their trees, nor do they sow their land ... [taxes are to be paid] every year, the seventh year, which they call the Sabbatic year, excepted, whereon they neither plough, nor receive the product of their trees." (Antiquities, Book 14:10:6).

The year 37-36 BCE appears to have been both a 7th year and 70th year (as noted by Josephus). This year—the year when Herod was declared king at Jerusalem—is referred to as a ‘hebdomatikon’ year as follows: “Now the Jews that were enclosed within the walls of the city fought against Herod with great alacrity and zeal (for the whole nation was gathered together); they also gave out many prophecies about the temple, and many things agreeable to the people, as if God would deliver them out of the dangers they were in ... this happened to be a Sabbatic year [or literally, a ‘hebdomatikon’ year]” (‘Antiquities of the Jews’, 14:16:2).

The year 37-36 BCE is noted to have been both a 7th year and a 70th year in a second passage of ‘Antiquities of the Jews’. This instance is recorded in the next book as follows: “At this time Herod, now he had got Jerusalem under his power.... the Sabbatic year [or literally, a ‘hebdomatidon’ year] ... was still going on, and forced the country to lie still uncultivated, since we are forbidden to sow our land in that year.” (Book 15:1:2).

The year 55-56 CE (autumn-to-autumn) was almost surely a 7th year—based on an ancient Deed of Loan. This paper was recovered at Wadi Murabba near Bethlehem. This legal note explicitly stated that a ‘year-of-release’ was underway in the 2nd year of Nero Caesar. Because Nero ascended to the throne in autumn of the year 54 CE, there is hardly any doubt that the cited Sabbatical year (autumn-to-autumn) largely corresponded to 2nd year of the reign of Nero.

The year 69-70 CE (autumn-to-autumn) is shown to have been a 7th year by the early rabbis. The Taanith indicates that the Second Temple was destroyed in a post-sabbatical year (B. Taan., 29a). The Arakin has “thus it is found that it [= the destruction of the Second Temple] happened during the last part of a septennate” (B. Arak., 12 b). A Third Century rabbi (Hunna) computed the sabbatical cycle based upon the fact that the Second Temple was destroyed in a sabbath year (B. Azar., 9b).Rabbi Jose (Yose) ben Khalapha commented that the year prior to the destruction of the Second Temple was a sabbatical year (Seder Olam, 30). Because the Second Temple was destroyed in autumn of the year 70 CE then it’s easy to recognize from the rabbis that a Sabbatical year occurred immediately prior to the destruction of the Temple. Essentially, the Temple is indicated to have been destroyed in autumn of the year 70 CE very close to the boundary of a 7th year (at the end of the respective 7-year cycle).

The year 139-140 CE (autumn-to-autumn) also appears to have been a 7th year—as based upon another legal paper recovered at Wadi Murabba. This respective contract (Mur 24E) was written-down in late autumn of the year 134 CE. This sub-lease agreement describes what appears to be a 5-year lease term. The respective lease was to last until the ‘eve of the Sabbatical year’. It is clear that 5 years from autumn in the year 134 CE ends with autumn of the year 139 CE. Then, this respective year (139 CE) would have corresponded to the very beginning of a ‘year-of-release’.

From the cited late Second-Temple sources, the chronology of the once observed cycle of 7 years is rather easy to reconstruct. It is clear that a continuous run of 7-year cycles was counted between about 135 BCE and 139 CE. This period of history straddles some 273 years (or contains 39 cycles of 7 years). During this lengthy stretch of history, Sabbatical years were observed in the years 135 BCE, 44 BCE, 37 BCE, 55 CE, 69 CE, and 139 CE.

Based upon the indicated unbroken chronology of 7 years after about the 177th Seleucid year (as cited), it is quite clear that Judeans did not officially celebrate a jubilee year (or a 50th year).

Clearly, Sabbatical years were celebrated in an unbroken cycle throughout the late Second-Temple Era. It is of special interest that if the cycle of 7 years was extended from the First Century into this Twenty-First Century then a 7th year would have occurred in correspondence with the year 2000-2001 CE (from autumn-to-autumn). Essentially, the year 2000-2001 CE corresponded to the occurrence of a Sabbatical year—as an extension of the same cycle of 7 years as was once celebrated in the late Second-Temple Era.

Chronology of jubilees

The chronology of jubilee years is a bit more difficult to determine. This is because a jubilee year was not routinely celebrated in the late Second-Temple Era (as cited).

Even though a jubilee year has not been celebrated in the land of Israel for quite some time now, the topic of the once observed jubilee year continues to hold considerable interest among both Jews and Christians alike. The ancient custom of celebrating a very special year—a time when liberty was once proclaimed throughout the land—paints a vision of an early society that was truly grand.

As is shown in the prior section, it was surely at a time earlier than the late Second Temple when a jubilee year was last celebrated.

It here seems of some considerable significance that a monumental change in the priesthood and the Temple system came about in the year 167 BCE.

In this respective year, the Greek ruler Antiochus IV assumed control of the Temple. (The current dynasty of high priests was eventually deposed).

The actions of Antiochus IV are detailed at length in the books of the Maccabees, and also in the writings of the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus .

Judeans almost immediately took up arms in opposition to Greek control of the Temple. The Jewish armies were under the leadership of the family of Asamoneus, or the Maccabees.

The initial part of the revolt was largely successful in that Judeans soon regained control of the Temple. Even with the revolt ongoing, the Temple building was cleansed and rededicated in 164 BCE.

Eventually a deal was worked out between the Judeans and Antiochus (and his son). This truce agreement granted the revolutionary forces—headed up by the Maccabees—the governorship of Jerusalem and all of Judea.

Thus, it was at the time of the Jewish revolt from under Antiochus IV that the government of Judea underwent a major change. A new dynasty of priest-kings (the lineage from Asamoneus) ascended to the office of both King and High Priest (160 BCE).

The occupation of the civil and religious governments by the descendants of Asamoneus then seems to be an additional factor for the ultimate observance of an unbroken 7-year cycle. It is probable that the new ruling dynasty elected to eventually modify the celebration of the 50-year cycle.

Because the dynasty of Asamoneus assumed control of the Temple system in 160 BCE, and because it is very clear that a jubilee year was not observed under the late Second Temple (as cited), it is logical to believe that the last time a jubilee cycle was celebrated may have been prior to the cited Jewish revolt.

A jubilee year may have no longer been celebrated in Judea after about the time the Maccabees ascended to the throne of Jerusalem.

Locating the Jubilee Year

The Israelite celebration of a year-of-liberty (a 50th year) can only implicitly be determined from the historical record (as is further shown below).

To begin a sketch of just when early Israel might have once celebrated a 50th year (or a jubilee year), the biblical book of Ezekiel can be recited.

The author of the book of Ezekiel seems to indicate that a 50th year could have occurred in the year 572-571 BCE (autumn-to-autumn) or in the following year 571-570 BCE (autumn-to-autumn).

The author of Ezekiel—a priest—lived 4 centuries prior to the time of the cited Jewish revolt in 167 BCE. Consequently the author of Ezekiel was almost surely acquainted with the celebration of the jubilee cycle (as it was celebrated by the early order of high priests).

It is of great significance that this respective author was living at the very time when the first Temple was sacked and destroyed by the Babylonians (587-586 BCE).

In the last part of the book of Ezekiel, the author gives a futuristic description of a restored Temple system. Throughout nine full chapters’, the author meticulously describes a number of details concerning a revived Temple.

What appears to be unusual is that the author-priest was cautious to explicitly date the year in which his vision of the new Temple was received:

In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth [day] of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten, in the selfsame day the hand of the LORD was upon me, and brought me thither. (AV text of Ezekiel, Chapter 40:1).

Because the Babylonians ultimately burned the city of Jerusalem late in the year 586 BCE, the respective year that Ezekiel received his vision—14 years afterward—would have corresponded to the year 572 BCE.

Here, it is significant that in other portions of this book, the respective author appears to use a kingly dating system (or a time-track pegged to the time of the king’s captivity). The king’s captivity is indicated to have commenced in the year 597 BCE. Consequently, the year that corresponded to 25 years after the captivity would probably have been the year 572 BCE (reckoned spring-to-spring).

The double dating tends to confirm that Ezekiel received his vision of the new Temple in the year 572-571 BCE (reckoned from spring to spring).

Based upon the subsequent analysis, it ultimately becomes obvious that Ezekiel could have received his vision of a new Temple in correspondence with either the 49th year or the 50th year of a 50-year cycle. The respective year hypothetically corresponded with the time of a pending jubilee year (celebrated from autumn-to-autumn in either the year 572-571 BCE or 571-570 BCE).

The epoch of a jubilee year perhaps explains why the respective author of Ezekiel (a priest) drew such special attention to the year date of his receiving the vision. (Perhaps this year-date would have been specially understood by the priest-class—or by those who had maintained the Temple system—as pertaining to the epoch of a jubilee year).

In substantiation of the hypothesis that Ezekiel’s Temple vision was received in association with the epoch of a jubilee year, the books of Haggai and of Zechariah can also be recited.

The authors of both Haggai and Zechariah were prophets and they both recorded a divinely received message concerning the construction of the new Temple (just beginning).

The respective authors—like the author of Ezekiel—were careful to record the calendar date when their respective messages were received.

It is here of related interest that many of the messages concerning the construction of a new Temple (two chapters in Haggai and six chapters in Zechariah, or ‘eight total chapters’) were received in the year 521-520 BCE (the 2nd year of Darius II).

Thus, it is clear that if a jubilee year did occur in the time of Ezekiel (either in 572-571 BCE or in 571-570 BCE) then the cited 8 chapters recorded by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah were likewise written-down in association with the time of a jubilee year (in 521 BCE).

It then becomes significant that the latter occurrence of a hypothetical jubilee year in the time of Haggai-Zechariah (521 BCE) occurred 50 years later than did the occurrence of a jubilee year in the time of Ezekiel (571 BCE).

These alignments (located 50 years apart and spaced in alignment with other Sabbatical years—as explained below) perhaps point to the basic structure of the once adhered to jubilee cycle of 50 years.

Considering that the years 571 BCE and 521 BCE could have corresponded to jubilee years, a chronology for the jubilee time cycle can be tabled for a wide number of centuries.

Beginning with the jubilee year which occurred either in 572-571 BCE or in 571-570 BCE (in the time of the priest Ezekiel) and ending with the year in 121 BCE (as the time of the last possible jubilee-year celebration) the following chronological sequence is indicated:

A 50th year corresponded to 571 BCE
A 50th year corresponded to 521 BCE
A 50th year corresponded to 471 BCE
A 50th year corresponded to 421 BCE
A 50th year corresponded to 371 BCE
A 50th year corresponded to 321 BCE
A 50th year corresponded to 271 BCE
A 50th year corresponded to 221 BCE
A 50th year corresponded to 171 BCE
A 50th year corresponded to 121 BCE

The rabbis noted that both Sabbatical years and jubilee years were celebrated in correspondence with a year that was reckoned from autumn to autumn [which contradicts scripture: Exodus 11:1-7, 13:4-7]. Thus, jubilee years appear to have been offset by 6 months relative to civil year dating. Essentially, civil years commenced in the spring season but jubilee years did not commence until the fall season. This offset of 6 months between the beginning of the civil year and the beginning of the jubilee year makes the determination of the jubilee chronology a bit more uncertain. For example, if it can be determined that a jubilee year occurred in the year 571 BCE—as per civil year dating—then when did the respective jubilee celebration begin? If the respective jubilee year is assumed to have began with a minus offset of 6 months then the celebration would have commenced in autumn of the year 572 BCE. Conversely, if the respective jubilee year is assumed to begin with a plus offset of 6 months then the celebration would not have commenced until autumn of the year 571 BCE.

Now for Part 2

Part 2 Chapters Articles

Intro Disclaimer

Optionally, Celebration of 50 Years is of primary importance to anyone who wants to know about the 49 year (Sabbatical) or 50 year (Jubilee) controversy.]

James Dwyer
Everlasting Kingdom
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Minor update February 14, 2015