Sacred Time and Luke
Sacred Time and Luke
Southeastern Pennsylvania and Northern Delaware were without Internet connection on January 12, 2005 during business hours. I suppose we will soon read what the economic cost of this downtime was. The expression “time is money” is a statement about the values of our society. Was there any notion of time in the first century or any means of measurement of that time? Two groups of people did in fact measure time: astronomers and priests. “Ancient priests kept track of it as a way of serving God. For them time was sacred.”[i]
After the prologue, Luke states: “In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah . . .”[ii] Luke mentions the division of Abijah without any explanation, but Theophilus the High Priest would need none. Did Luke also provide us with a time marker in telling us that Zechariah was of the division of Abijah?
As a priest, Zechariah served five weeks in the Temple, two one week periods and during the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot, also known as Pentecost and Sukkoth, when all Jews were enjoined to travel to Jerusalem to perform the necessary sacrifices and rites at the Temple.[iii] Josephus proudly tells us that he was a member of a family belonging to the first of twenty-four courses of priests or divisions.[iv] The priestly division of Abijah would have been the 8th weekly course in the priest service cycle. If this calendrical cycle could be correlated to a known date, and if it were known to be continuous, then the cycle could potentially be used to establish other historical dates. Plummer concluded his discussion of the twenty-four courses with these words: “but we know far too little about the details of the arrangement to derive any sure chronology from the statement made by Lk.”[v]
According to John Pratt, the Dead Sea calendar scrolls make it clear that for a period of seven years, the 24-Week Priest Cycle of courses constituted one uninterrupted cycle, with each family serving for one week, beginning about midday each Saturday. Moreover, the precise week in which they served can be determined.[vi] The course of Abijah appears in the Synchronistic Calendars (3Q320-321a) as well as other calendar texts found at Qumran. Furthermore, accepting rabbinic tradition as summarized by Finegan,[vii] that the Temple was destroyed during the weekly service of the course of Jehoiarib, on the calendar date of the ninth day of Ab equivalent in the year 70 CE to Aug 5 means that a fixed end point has been established.
Pratt believes that he has solved the puzzle but other individuals, such as Roger Beckwith, studying the same data have come to different conclusions. Although Plummer’s conclusion that we do not have enough information may no longer be true, more analysis is required. However, Pratt has vindicated Augustine in establishing the sacerdotal concerns of Luke.
[i] Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls, A New Translation (New York: Harper-Collins, 1996), 297.
[ii] Luke 1:5.
[iii] Bock (1996), 76; Plummer (1896), 8-9.
[iv] Life 1 §2; Ant.7.14.7 §§363-67; Against Apion 2.8 §108; (1 Chronicles 24:7-19; 2 Chronicles 23:8).
[v] Plummer, 9.
[vi] "Dead Sea Scrolls May Solve Mystery," Meridian Magazine (12 Mar 2003).
[vii] Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1998), 275.