The Talmud’s Two Jubilees and Their Relevance to the Date of the Exodus -- By: Rodger Young
WTJ 68:1 (Spring 2006) p. 71
The Talmud’s Two Jubilees
and Their Relevance to the Date of the Exodus
Rodger Young is a retired systems analyst with degrees in physics and mathematics. He lives in St. Louis, Mo.
The Babylonian Talmud mentions two, and only two, occasions for the observance of a Jubilee. The question of whether there actually were Jubilees at the times specified, or whether these passages reflect a later projection of ideas back into a previous age, is a matter of some importance. It bears on the question of when Leviticus was written, because many scholars date the composition of Leviticus, particularly of the so-called “H” or Holiness Code that established the Jubilee and Sabbatical years (Lev 17–26), to exilic or post-exilic times. An exilic or post-exilic date for the Holiness Code would be difficult to maintain if it could be shown that Sabbatical years or Jubilee years were observed before the exile, since the observation of such rituals in the ancient Near East always presupposes their written codification.
One way to evaluate whether the two Jubilees mentioned in the Talmud were genuine historical events is to examine the dates assigned to them. The two passages are in b. Arak. 12a, mentioning a Jubilee in the time of Ezekiel, and in b. Meg. 14b, mentioning a Jubilee in the time of Josiah. The Arakin passage is as follows: “Is it not written: 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. Now which is the year the beginning of which falls on the tenth of Tishri? Say: This is the jubilee year.”1 The argument the Talmud presents here is that the verse quoted (Ezek 40:1) gave the day as both “the beginning of the year” (Rosh HaShanah or New Year’s Day) and also as the tenth of the month. Only in a Jubilee year did Rosh HaShanah move from its customary place on the first of Tishri to the tenth of the month. Consequently this verse associates Ezekiel’s vision with the beginning of a Jubilee year. The reason for the shift of nine days in the observance of the New Year is explained in tractate b. Ros Has. 8b: “AND FOR JUBILEE YEARS. [Is the New Year for] Jubilees on the first of Tishri? Surely [the New Year for] Jubilees is on the tenth of Tishri, as it is written. . .” The tractate then begins a citation from Lev 25:9–10, which says, “You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You sha...
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