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Essene Passover Dates

The point of the analysis below is to illustrate that only in A.D. 30 did the Essene Passover Eve fall 1 day before the Jewish Passover Eve. In all other years the Essene Passover Eve fell in a different week or fell after (not before) the Jewish Passover.

Consequently, A.D. 30 is the only year in which Jesus and His disciples could observe the Essene Passover exactly one day before the Jews and Pharisees etc. observe the Jewish Passover, and hence A.D. 30 is the only year in which Jesus could both observe Passover in the upper room and then Himself be the sacrificial Passover Lamb of God the following day on Jewish Passover.

No other year satisfies all the criteria to harmonize the gospel Passion Week accounts, and hence A.D. 30 stands alone as the only "fit" for the year of crucifixion.

Note that key anchor dates are highlighted in:
Jerusalem Vernal Equinox*
Nisan 14th Passover Eve
Julian dates
Essene date
Julian dates
Gregorian dates
26 March 22, 12 MN, Fri Nisan 1, Wed April 4 March 22 April 2, Thu March 20, Fri
27 March 23,   6 AM, Sun Nisan 1, Wed April 5 April 9 April 3, Sat April 7, Wed
28 March 22, 12 M, Mon Nisan 1, Wed April 4 March 29 April 2, Sun March 27, Mon
29 March 22,   6 PM, Tues Nisan 1, Wed April 4 April 16 April 2, Mon April 14, Sat
30 March 22, 12 MN, Wed Nisan 1, Wed April 4 April 5 April 2, Tues April 3, Wed
31 March 23,   5 AM, Fri Nisan 1, Wed April 5 March 26 April 3, Thu March 24, Mon
32 March 22, 11 AM, Sat Nisan 1, Wed April 4 April 14 April 2, Fri April 12, Mon
33 March 22,   5 PM, Sun Nisan 1, Wed April 4 April 3 April 2, Sat April 1, Fri
34 March 22, 11 PM, Mon Nisan 1, Wed April 4 March 22 April 2, Sun March 20, Mon
35 March 23,   5 AM, Wed Nisan 1, Wed April 5 April 11 April 3, Tues April 9, Mon

AM - Latin ante meridiem, meaning literally "before midday", i.e. morning or before noon
M   - Latin meridies, meaning literally "midday", i.e. noon
PM - Latin post meridiem, meaning literally "after midday", i.e. afternoon or evening
MN - Latin media nox, meaning literally "midnight"

* add 2 hours to convert UTC/GMT to Jerusalem timezone using US Naval Observatory data

** Assume Essenes "set" their calendar to 1 Nisan Wednesday on the Vernal Equinox:

The differences in which day of the week Passover was observed between the Essenes and the Jews (Pharisees, Sadducees, etc.) is due to their different practices in starting their respective annual calendars. The Fourmilab Calendar Converter determines Hebrew dates according to the Jewish method and Hillel II rules. But that same converter does not compute Essene dates - we must do that ourselves:

  1. Enter the Vernal Equinox (VE) date (already Julian) determined by USNO into the Fourmilab Calendar Converter Julian input, and then "calculate".
  2. Readout the ISO-8601 day of year VE date (converted from the Julian VE)
  3. Add 13 days to ISO-8601 VE date and calculate again
      (Because Essene new year on Nisan 1 + 13 days => Essene Passover Eve on Nisan 14)
  4. Readout the Julian & Gregorian equivalent dates for Essene Passover Eve
      (Note that we ignore the weekdays and the Hebrew conversion readout because the Essene & Hebrew calendars are different, and the converter does not compute Essene calendrics.)

An Essene Passover?

It is speculative and questionable that John the Baptist was an Essene, but it is now generally recognized that prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, there were Essenes in Jerusalem, the "upper room" was likely located in an Essene quarter of Jerusalem, the Essenes were the likely inhabitants of Qumran, and the Essene/Qumran calendar was a 364 day solar calendar at odds with the calendrics of the Sanhedrin:

As recently as 2007, Magen Broshi concludes:

It is well nigh certain that Palestinian Judaism in the last two centuries of the Second Commonwealth was divided into three religious movements (or parties). There is absolutely no need to change the reigning theory—Qumran must have been an Essene community. ... [and of the] ca. 100 scholars who deciphered, read, commented upon and published the Scrolls. Hardly any of them expressed doubts about the Essene identification. [pp. 32-33]

Magen Broshi (of the Israel Museum), "Essenes at Qumran? A Rejoinder to Albert Baumgarten",
Dead Sea Discoveries, Volume 14, Number 1, 2007 , pp. 25-33

Edward L. Cohen explains that the Essenes understood the problems with the 354-day lunar calendar, and generally used their 364-day solar calendar instead:

As far the calendar, the Essenes actually had two of them. The first one, from the scrolls, was a lunar one. It had 354 [= 6x(29 + 30)] days. As we indicated, the moon goes around the earth in approximately 29 1/2 days; that is why we get this peculiar number of days. Since the holidays came from the second one, not much else is gleaned from the 354-day calendar. The second is much more complicated. It had 364 days and was solar. Since 3x354 + 30 = 3x364, it is thought that an extra month of 30 days was added to the lunar one every three years (at the end of the three years) to make up for the difference to keep everything normal. See [EW:§§22-23] for translations of plates 4Q321, 4Q320 from the Hebrew, which delineate the equivalences. We now know that the solar (364) calendar was the mainstay with the luni-solar (354) calendar playing a much lesser role. [EW:1O8] indicates that the Essenes kept track of the luni-solar only to point out errors in case they would eventually be in charge in Jerusalem. 4QMMT [QSl, QS2, QS3, SH2:173-174] also points to a 364-day calendar. Yadin found evidence [YN1:173] that the same calendar was used by those at Masada, thus perhaps linking the two sects. In fact, while excavating, he found the Book of Jubilees, which will be discussed later, in its original Hebrew text [PM:186-189]. (p5-6)

In essence, the Jubilee calendar was the one used by the Qumran sect: surveys of this can be found in [FL:146-156] although no mention of the intercalation is mentioned; and in [VP:126-l30]. In the latter, the author notes [VP:129-130]:

"One can ask one self whether the refusal of the community to celebrate the common Jewish feast-days at the same time as the rest was not the most decisive reason for the formation of the sect. No certain answer can be given, because it is so difficult to determine the history of the community and the motives of their conduct as long as our data are incomplete." (p7)

Edward L. Cohen, "Calendars of the Dead-Sea-Scroll Sect",
CUBO Matematica Educacional, Vol. 5, No- 2, (1-16). JUNIO 2003.

Bargil Pixner reports that Essenes lived in Jersusalem in Jesus' time:

I believe we now have sufficient evidence not only to identify our gate as the Gate of the Essenes but also to conclude that a community of Essenes lived here on Mount Zion in Jesus' time.

Bargil Pixner, "Jerusalem’s Essene Gateway - Where the Community Lived in Jesus’ Time",
Biblical Archaeology Review, Volume 23 Number 3 May/June 1997, p4

Sidnie White Crawford argues that relative to rabbinic Judaism, the Qumran residents were a subset of a broader Essene population:

Qumran, therefore, was not the only Essene settlement in Judea, but rather a large Essene center. In support of this, we know that there were Essenes active in Judea at large. For example John the Essene was a leader in the Jewish Revolt. [p. 32]

The weight of agreement between the classical sources and the scrolls makes the equation of ‘Qumran settlers = Essenes’ highly probable. [...] It does not seem reasonable to scrap the identification of the Qumran sectarians as Essenes, when there is such substantial correlation between the scrolls and the classical sources, because we have new evidence that doesn’t quite fit the old definition. Instead, what is needed is an expansion of the term ‘Essene.’

I would suggest that the group of Jews who inhabited Qumran may have evolved over time, from a group with deep roots in Palestinian Judaism, who split with other Jews over such disputed things as law and calendar, to a sect with highly developed doctrines of, for example, predestination and angelology, which set them apart from other Jews. This is the group that Josephus is describing. Therefore, I would argue for the continuing identification of the Qumran sectarians with the Essenes. [pp. 32-33]

Finally, the group at Qumran, which we have identified as the Essenes, appears to have deep roots in Palestinian Judaism, adopting ideas cherished earlier in Palestine, in particular the solar calendar. Evidence for this is found in the prevalence of books such as I Enoch 72-82 (the Astronomical Book) and Jubilees (14 copies) from the early phase of habitation at Qumran. [p. 34]

Sidnie White Crawford, "Response to “New Documents: Qumran and Gnostic Writings' by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Jr."
Faculty Publications, Classics and Religious Studies Department, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1991

James A. Walther proposes (in 1958) that the Lord's Supper was a Passover observance according to the Qumran solar calendar (i.e. Essene):

The proposition in brief is this: The difficulties attendant upon the analysis of the chronology of Passion Week may be reduced by recognizing that the old solar calendar, evident in the Book of Jubilees and in Enoch, in use in Qumran, and perhaps reflected in the OT itself, may well have provided the occasion for Jesus' observance of the Passover at the time he instituted the Eucharist. (p116)

J. T. Milik in his recent monograph, Dix ans de de'couvertes dans le de'sert de Juda, mentions manuscripts from Cave IV which place the observance of the Passover on Tuesday;9

9 ... Since then Milik has published additional fragments from Cave IV bearing on the Essene calendar and its relationship to the official calendar, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, IV (1957), 24 ff. In the current fascicle of Biblica, XXXIX/l (1958), 72-77, Vogt has taken the 4Q data and attempted to reconstruct the official calendar over against the Essene calendar. His tables demonstrate a three year cycle with a one-day-plus remainder. If this is adjusted, the fourth year will bring the official Passover in the same week as the Essene observance (as in the first year), but one day later. While the Essene Passover always falls on Tuesday evening, the official Passover would occur on Wednesday evening, the first year, on Thursday evening in the fourth year, and on Friday evening in the seventh year. (fn p117)

James A. Walther, "The Chronology of Passion Week"
Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 77, No. 2. (Jun., 1958), pp. 116-122. p117

Joseph M. Baumgarten accepts that the Qumran residents followed the solar calendar as described in Jubilees:

Today it is becoming increasingly evident that the calendar was actually one of the main areas of disagreement between the sect and its opponents. This is evident from the constant emphasis in our texts on the proper times and seasons and the dramatic interference of the wicked priest with the sect's observance of the Day of Atonement (1QpH 11.4-8). In addition to the explicit reference to Jubilees in CDC, the fact that the sect followed the solar calendar of that book has been inferred by Yadin from the twenty-six mišmarot (priestly courses) mentioned in 1QW. A new fragment from Cave IV describing the rotation of the mišmarot now seems to confirm this inference.Ib Since these calendaric differences involved the priesthood and the temple, it is clear that we have to reckon with the calendar as one of the major issues involved in the separation of the sect from the Pharisaic community.'. (p255)

Joseph M. Baumgarten, "Qumran Studies",
Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 77, No. 3. (Sep., 1958), pp. 249-257.

The point of the foregoing is not to argue that Jesus was an Essene in some fashion. Rather, the point is merely to establish the archaeological and historical background that Essenes lived in Jerusalem and Judea and observed the Old Testament feasts on a 364-day solar calendar, and establish the feasibility (and opportunity) of an Essene Passover different from the "Passover of the Jews" as John referred to it (John 2:13, 11:55).

Consequently, based on best fit of the date and upper room location, Jesus and His disciples (and company) were likely hosted by Essenes when they observed Passover, and presumably it was an Essene observance of Passover according to Essene calendar keeping that Jesus observed in the upper room with His disciples. The Essenes are also generally recognized as being the most pure and devout sect whereas by contrast Jesus characterized the Pharisees as a 'brood of vipers whose father was Satan' and the Sadducees were agitating for an unscriptural revision in Counting the Omer to the Feast of Weeks. So it is not unreasonable that Jesus would observe an Essene Passover as opposed to that orchestrated by the Pharisees' power struggles against the Sadducees (see also Two Passovers?).

So, the Passover that Jesus observed in the upper room was likely the Essene Passover and not the Jewish Passover (which was 1 day later), and we wish to ascertain how the Essenes determined Passover observances and how that compared to the Jewish Passover observances (table above).

In the Book of Enoch, there is a reference to the 1st month in which "the day becomes daily longer and the night nightly shorter" which is understood as following the vernal equinox:

In this way he rises in the first month in the great portal, which 7 is the fourth [those six portals in the cast]. And in that fourth portal from which the sun rises in the first month are twelve window-openings, from which proceed a flame when they are opened in 8 their season. When the sun rises in the heaven, he comes forth through that fourth portal thirty, 9 mornings in succession, and sets accurately in the fourth portal in the west of the heaven. And during this period the day becomes daily longer and the night nightly shorter to the thirtieth 10 morning.

Book of Enoch 72:6-10

The Essene Passover is assumed to follow Qumran practices according to the solar calendar described in the Book of Jubilees:

The proper method of marking the passage of time is the “movements” of the sun (solar calendar) (6:23-31); in fact this was one the purposes for which the sun was created (2:9). This means that the year is to be 364 days long, consisting of [4 units of] 13 weeks [including] four “days of remembrance” after the solstices and the equinoxes (see 6:32-38). This solar calendar is equally divisible by seven into fifty-two weeks, which means that the Sabbaths and the festival days will always fall on the same day of the month for every year. These four units of thirteen weeks are each divided into three non-lunar months. Since God created the sun on the fourth day, the year must always begin on a Wednesday. The festivals always fall on the same day of the week and same day of the month each year. (As already indicated, there is a probable reference to 1 Enoch 72-82 in Jub. 4:17.) The larger units of marking the passing of time are the “week” (period of seven years) and the jubilee (7 x 7 = 49 years). Throughout the Book of Jubilees, the author attempts to date all significant events by this method.

Barry Smith, "The Book of Jubilees - 2.4. Calendar"

So the Essene sacred year always began on the vernal equinox and is, by definition, Wednesday, 1st day of the 1st month (Nisan or Abib). Consequently, the Essene Passover will always begin 6 PM Tuesday, 13 days later (Nisan 14). The key point being Essene Passover always began "Tuesday" evening, 13 days after the vernal equinox. To outsiders, the Essenes would appear to observe the vernal equinox and (regardless of whatever the previous day was) declare that day to be Wednesday 1 Nisan. However, within the Essene community this would be entirely self-consistent. Their 364-day year had exactly 52 x 7-day weeks and since the vernal equinox varied by less then 6 hours one year to the next, for all practical purposes the Essenes never really adjusted their calendar - it was never off by more than a few hours and any observation errors would likely be attributed to occluded viewing conditions when the Sun's position and daytime transit duration could not be observed and measured. But to outsiders, comparing the Essene date and day of the week to other calendar systems, the Essenes would appear to be resetting their calendar to Nisan 1 every vernal equinox.

So, understandably due to different calendar keeping systems, the Essenes and everyone else would disagree on what the date was. This probably wouldn't surprise too many people as most nations and/or peoples were using different calendar systems anyway, and calendar keeping was somewhat of a high-priestly mystic craft. But what would be odd (ostensibly) is that everyone else would agree on what the day of the week was, except the Essenes who would observe their own weekday.

Jewish observance of Passover, however, varied depending on their postponement rules. It always began evening of Nisan 14th (by the Jewish sacred calendar), but the day of the week on which Nisan 14th fell varied because the postponement rules varied when the Jewish Civil year was recognized to have begun, and thus when (6 months later) the Jewish Sacred year began.

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(last updated October 10, 2013)