Outlook on postponements affects festival observances
This page contains the lead article in the February issue of The Journal. For other articles on the postponements, please see the printed edition. The other calendar articles in the issue are as follows:
By Dixon Cartwright
DALLAS, TexasIf you haven't yet heard about the calendar postponements, just wait a while. Questions about the Hebrew calendar and the touchy subject of its postponements are a hot topic in many of the Churches of God. To some people postponements are no big deal; to others they're the mark of the beast.
What are they? Do the brethren need to be concerned about them? Do they make any difference one way or the other?
A conference at the Hilltop Inn here Jan. 3-5 convened to take up those questions in earnest. Billed as a Friends of the Sabbath get-together, the meetings were sponsored by a group called the Scattered Brethren.
The Scattered Brethren is a ministry founded by Lawrence Maayeh of Plano, Texas. Mr. Maayeh invited anyone interested in the Hebrew calendar and the postponements-whether for or against them-to attend and present pros or cons on the subject.
What subject? We still haven't answered the big question: What are postponements?
Postponements are, well, delays
Postponements are regulations built into the Jewish calendar that can delay for up to two days the beginning of the year. The rules-four of them-were placed there under the direction of a rabbi named Hillel II in A.D. 358 when the Sanhedrin was disbanded. The postponements were part of the calculations established at that time for Jews to determine the times to observe the festivals.
Critics of postponements, such as James Russell of the Church of God in Truth and Mr. Maayeh of the Scattered Brethren, say that no man has the right to postpone the festivals. They draw direct comparisons between annual feasts and the weekly Sabbath.
Mr. Russell goes so far as to equate acceptance of the postponements with bearing the mark of the beast (see Mr. Russell's article beginning on page 11 of print version).
Other postponement critics don't go that far, but they do feel something is terribly wrong. Why should people be allowed to tamper with the holy days? Isn't that precisely the same thing as postponing the Sabbath to Sunday?
Can God be pleased with our keeping the festivals on days at times that were determined by mere men?
Advocates of the postponements, on the other hand, note the difficulty in finding unambiguous biblical directives on which to base calendrical decisions. If God were all that concerned about exactly which 24-hour period was the first day of the year, wouldn't He have spelled it out more clearly in Scripture?
Critics of the Hebrew calendar wonder why knowledge of the mysterious postponement rules has been kept from Church of God brethren for decades. Why hasn't anyone talked about them?
Actually, from personal experience this writer knows they were talked about at least at some times in the past. In second-year Bible at Ambassador College, Big Sandy, Texas, in the 1967-68 school year, students of Benjamin Chapman's class had to memorize the rules-postponements included-of the Hebrew calendar.
The final exam included demonstrating the ability to convert any Julian or Gregorian date to the corresponding day on the Hebrew calendar and vice versa.
Anti-postponement people are not at all agreed on what to do after they decide that postponements need to be rejected. Decisions still have to be made. Is a new moon the astronomical conjunction of the earth, sun and moon (which at that moment is invisible from earth), or is it the first thin crescent of the moon visible from a particular spot on earth (usually Jerusalem)?
How much should a person who eschews postponements rely on astronomy and technology? Do we figure from Jerusalem time or local time? Or should we be living on Gilgal time? After all, Gilgal is where the Israelites first heard of the festivals.
The questions and considerations go on and on. At least six points of view were heard from at the Dallas conference, most of them against postponements and in favor of some sort of observation-calculation fusion.
Why we are here
The several pages devoted to the postponements in this first issue of The Journal is a sincere effort to help inform brethren of the Churches of God about a subject that is worrying many of them.
The brethren would do well to determine, with God's help, whether the postponements are inspired and must be observed, are added by man and therefore obfuscate the time of God's annual Sabbaths, or are somewhere in between: maybe a handy way to know when other brethren are keeping the feasts but, in a strict sense, optional.
In some cases the brethren may ultimately need to decide whether they can live at peace with other brethren who take a different stance on the postponements.
Make peace, not war
Norm Edwards of Charlotte, Mich., publisher of the newsletter Servants' News, is one who calls for church members to live in amity with each other in spite of calendar differences. Mr. Edwards, who says he cannot find sufficient scriptural reason not to observe the postponements, points out that following them helps brethren worldwide keep the festivals at the same times.
On the other hand, James Russell obviously and sincerely believes a festival postponed is no better than a weekly Sabbath postponed. The Roman church postponed the Sabbath. Where's the dime's worth of difference?
As you might expect, the answers are not quite that cut and dried. Please read these pages, and others in the next issue, to get an idea of the divergence of opinion. Please especially notice that not everyone who avoids the postponements keeps the festivals at the same time.
Evident at the Dallas conference was a commendable willingness to hear each other's points of view. One could have wondered, while sitting in the audience, whether the speakers themselves had had any idea of the differences of opinion, even among anti-postponement speakers, that they would encounter among their brethren.
But they all listened and politely asked and answered questions. No doubt, for some speakers, on at least some technical points, it was back to the drawing board after the conference.
The Journal hopes and prays that, by openly reporting on the arguments pro and con, it can help its readers better prepare to make sound judgments in this matter. The publisher and staff believe it far better to openly discuss troublesome issues, even those that could disrupt, than to shelve them and hope they quietly go away.
The disagreements over postponements are not likely to go away on their own. Postponement critics have brought up interesting points that need to be discussed. Postponement proponents have brought up equally interesting arguments.
In Dallas to open the meetings was John Merritt, one of the original founders of Friends of the Sabbath and a practicing physician from Waukesha, Wis., who was in town also for meetings of the board of the new International Bible Learning Center.
In his opening address Dr. Merritt encouraged conference participants to "share your ideas, explore your ideas, challenge one another, seek truth and know it, grasp hold of it and hold it. But follow the will of God in being unified."
He introduced Mr. Edwards, a 1978 graduate of Ambassador, as the next speaker. Mr. Edwards, who with Mr. Maayeh moderated much of the three days of meetings and delivered the sermon the morning of the Sabbath, introduced the calendar and the concept of postponements.
Mr. Edwards noted that calendar concerns would be a lot easier "if we had 30-day months and 360-day years." He summed up two fundamental questions that speakers would address here:
The calendar alluded to in the Bible was based on lunar months, the time it takes the satellite to encircle the earth; that is, about 28 days.
A problem is that 12 lunar months don't add up to 365 days. Therefore a 12-month lunar calendar doesn't work out; it gets out of sync with the seasons.
So at times a 13th month must be added, which brings up one of the disagreements. When, precisely, should the 13th month be inserted?
"There are no great instructions in the Scriptures," noted Mr. Edwards, "and this is what leads to a lot of the controversy."
He quoted Leviticus 23, which talks about "proclaiming" the festivals: "The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts."
But just what do you mean "proclaim"?
"Who proclaims today? The Jews don't even have the Sanhedrin anymore. So do we proclaim it? At one time we would have said, of course, headquarters would proclaim that."
Mr. Edwards said he wants to do what His Creator wants him to do. But "the only problem is I've got 150 papers [about the calendar] back home telling me what the Eternal wants me to do, and they're all different."
Mr. Edwards (whose article on calendar basics begins on page 9) said his personal view is that, since the calendar used by Jews is the one used by most Sabbatarians, and since he has not been able to "utterly prove" another system correct, "I feel I will continue to keep the Jewish calendar, not because it's perfect or because Jews are great, but because it is the system that most Sabbath-keepers that I work with use."
Mr. Edwards told a little story:
"We all know there's going to be a time of judgment, a resurrection. Imagine for a moment somebody being raised from the dead. The voice from the throne says, 'Hello, did you keep My laws?'
" 'Yes, I did the best I could most of the time.'
" 'Did you keep the Sabbath?'
" 'Yes, I did.'
" 'Did you keep the holy days?"
" 'Yes, I did, ever since I was converted.'
" 'What day did you keep Passover on? And by what calendar did you keep it? How did you decide when was the first month?'
"In other words," Mr. Norman interrupted himself, "does a person have to understand all that for salvation?
"Or will we be asked when did you clothe the hungry, feed the needy? When did you feed Me?
"Yes, when you did it to the least of these My brethren you did it to Me."
Here are the speakers and synopses of their arguments. Elsewhere in this issue and the next are a sampling of writings of some of these people and others who advocate various positions on the postponements.
First observable crescent
Herb Solinsky of Carrollton, Texas, believes a new month starts with the first observable crescent moon in Jerusalem, and the year begins with the first new moon after the spring equinox.
This means that Mr. Solinsky recognizes the beginning of the month usually one or two days later than the extant Hebrew calendar. About 20 percent of the time his dates agree with those on the Hebrew calendar.
He referred to the testimony of Philo, a first-century Jew, who said the month began with the first observable crescent and who encouraged people to go to Jerusalem to keep the feasts.
Mr. Solinsky believes the Israelites kept the calendar based on actual sightings of the moon, but he uses a computer program to predict when the first crescent will be observable from Jerusalem.
He allows that his calculated methods may deviate from actual observation in a few cases, such as when a small crescent is only briefly visible. He would defer to actual sightings in Jerusalem at those times.
True astronomical conjunction
James Russell of Corona, Calif., believes the year begins with the new moon closest to the spring equinox. He believes the months begin at the "true" astronomical conjunction (when the earth, moon and sun are in line). This system usually starts the month one or two days before the Hebrew calendar and fairly often starts the year a month before the Hebrew calendar.
Using the true astronomical conjunction is different from the method used by the Hebrew calendar, which is based on the mean, or average, conjunction; that is, it assumes that every cycle of the moon consists of 29.530594 days.
In reality the moon's orbit is not round and is not on exactly the same plane as the earth's orbit around the sun. Thus Mr. Russell's method requires complex calculations to come up with.
Mr. Russell acknowledges that these calculations were probably beyond the abilities of ancient observers.
Rick Eckert of Orange Beach, Ala., presented a system in which the new year is based on the progress of the barley harvest in ancient Israel. Unlike most other calendar scholars, Mr. Eckert believes the months should begin with the full, not the new, moon.
Use of the full moon for this purpose means each festival varies at least two weeks from the same festival based on most other calendar systems.
Whether the feasts are to be kept two weeks earlier or later depends on the barley harvest each year.
Mr. Eckert says he has actually planted barley to determine when to start the year.
The main scriptural reference used by Mr. Eckert is Psalm 81:3, which says, "Blow the trumpet in the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day." Since the Hebrew contains no coordinating conjunction between "full moon" and "on our solemn feast day," Mr. Eckert concludes that "feast day" is the same as "full moon."
He acknowledged that he had learned much at the conference and that other calendar theories could hold some validity.
Moon and stars
Michael Turner of Plano explained a system that uses the first observable crescent to begin the month, in that respect similar to Mr. Solinsky's views.
However, Mr. Turner uses the moon and stars to determine the start of the year, specifically the sighting of the moon in the constellation Taurus. This approach means the year often begins a month later than that determined by the Hebrew calendar.
Because of the "procession of the equinoxes," Mr. Turner's method allows the calendar to get out of sync with the seasons about 13 days every 1,000 years.
Mr. Turner commented that many people assume any reference to the stars or signs of the zodiac are of pagan origin. Citing Job 9:9 and other scriptures, he noted that God created the constellations, but false religions exploited them for their own use.
Mr. Turner has developed a calendar system that would be observable in essentially the same manner all over the world.
Raider of the lost Ark
Vendyl Jones of Arlington, Texas, who refused to sign an autograph as "Indiana" (even though he is the real Indiana Jones), talked about a solar calendar based on 52 weeks of seven days with a leap day at the spring feast and an extra day every fourth year at the fall feast.
In this calendar are exactly 12 months in each year with no correlation between the month and the cycle of the moon.
His preliminary comments prompted so many questions that he didn't finish explaining his calendar.
Mr. Jones, who claims to be close to finding the Ark of the Covenant and the ashes of the red heifer, also spoke of his archaeological projects in the Middle East and his studies at his Vendyl Jones Research Institutes in Arlington.
Alva Nelms of Temple, Texas, was not on the schedule but asked to address the conference.
Mrs. Nelms said the calendar "must be simple enough for a shepherd to understand" and "must not have fragmented time periods."
Some in the audience interjected at that point that those requirements are not in the Bible.
Mrs. Nelms advocated using the last visible crescent of the moon as the beginning of a month, observed just before sunset rather than just before sunrise.
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