Imagine you are a juror in an unusual trial. It is now more than half completed. Prosecuting attorneys have rested their case against the defendant who was charged with misrepresentation by making this claim:
“For a period during historical times the solar year contained twelve lunar cycles that averaged 30 days, resulting in a total length of 360 days for both twelve lunations and the solar year.”
Expert witnesses for the prosecution said that both angular momentum and the second law of thermodynamics precludes such a possibility. This seemed to confirm what you have always believed—that for the entire period of human history, the year was, like it is now, a little longer than 365 days. You are ready to find the defendant guilty. But please wait for the defense to present its case! Your opinion could be swayed by evidence that follows. Will you see to it that justice is served?
Defense witnesses are, or were, real people. Of course, none of them were at the fictional trial related here. But testimony is from their written works, none of which were composed to support the defendant’s point of view. Footnotes give book, chapter and verse.
For his first witness, the defense attorney has just called the historian Plutarch, who lived in the first century of this era.
Question: “In The Life of Numa you wrote about Roman history and irregularity of months in their early calendar. What were lengths of lunations and the year believed to be when Rome was founded?”
Plutarch: “…during the reign of Romulus…(they) held to this principle only, that the year should consist of three hundred and sixty days.” (1)
(You can quickly look at a footnote by clicking on its reference number. Then, to return to the footnoted text, press your browser’s Back button.)
Q. “Please tell us about five days being subtracted from twelve of the moon’s periods and then added to the solar year’s 360-day length.”
Plutarch: “They say that the Sun, when he became aware of Rhea’s intercourse with Cronus, invoked a curse upon her that she should not give birth to a child in any month or year; but Hermes, being enamoured of the goddess, consorted with her. Later, playing at draughts with the moon, he won from her the seventieth part of each of her periods of illumination, and from all the winnings he composed five days, and intercalated them as an addition to the three hundred and sixty days.” (2)
Q. “Thank you, sir. For the jury’s sake, let me point out that—using Plutarch’s figures—a seventieth of twelve 30 day lunations would be five days and a fraction. That amount of time subtracted from 360 days results in a little over 354 days, the same as twelve present lunations. When added to 360, it is identical to current solar year length!
“Plutarch’s testimony seems to confirm my clients belief that the solar year was previously 360 days—identical with the number of days then in twelve lunations.
“I now call Samuel A. Goudsmit to the stand. Mr. Goudsmit, you wrote a book titled Time. In it you state that early Egyptians began their year when the star Sirius was seen to come over the eastern horizon just before sunrise. Was that the only way they marked the passing of time?”
Goudsmit: “They also kept a separate year made up of 12 fixed 30-day months…Later, to make their lunar year jibe almost precisely with Sirius’ rising, they tacked five extra days onto the year.” (3)
Q. “Where did Egyptians think these days came from?”Goudsmit: “To account for them they created the myth of Nut, the sky goddess, who had been unfaithful to her husband, Re, the sun god. In retribution, Re decreed that she should bear a child ‘in no month of no year.’ But Nut’s lover Thoth played dice with the moon and won five days a year. Because these days were outside the calendar, Re’s decree did not apply. Nut’s son was born on the first of them.” (4)
At this the prosecuting attorney jumped to his feet and shouted:
“Your honor, this is the second fairy tale that has been told by a defense witness. We can’t allow that kind of evidence to be introduced into this trial.”
The judge agreed, saying “The defense will confine its case to factual information.”
Q. “Certainly, your honor. But isn’t it interesting that the myth we just heard parallels the story told by Plutarch? In both accounts the moon gambled and lost. As a result, five days were subtracted from twelve lunations and added to the solar year’s length.
“I now call Thomas Key to the witness stand. How did the Romans treat those extra five days, Mr. Key?”
Key: “So completely were these five days considered by the Romans to be something extraneous, that the soldier appears to have received pay only for 360 days.” (5)
“That seems to confirm Plutarch’s statement that Romans in Romulus’ time considered the year to be only 360 days in length. I now call Frank Parise to the witness stand. Tell us, Mr. Parise, in The Book of Calendars that you edited, what was said about the older Egyptian 360-day calendar year changing to one of 365 days?”
Parise: “This 360 day calendar, like so many others, was changed during the 8th century B.C. to one of 365 days. The extra five days was simply added to the end of the year.” (6)
Q. “Mr. Parise, is it true that the Chinese Zodiac is based on 360 degrees just like the one used in the west?”Parise: “The number of degrees…does not add up to 360 because in the 4th century B.C. the Chinese astrologers suddenly changed the division of the circle from 360 degrees to 365 degrees 15 minutes.” (7)
Q. “That would indicate earlier Chinese believed the yearly circle contained 360 days, but by the 4th century B.C. came to grips with the fact that it was then about 365.25 days.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, prosecution argued that because 360 is such a nice, round number, early peoples used it instead of actual year length as a measure of the year’s span. But shortening the calendar to some arbitrary number of days is contrary to its primary purpose. (8)
“My client maintains that when calendars had only 360 days in their year, a lunation was approximately 30 days, and twelve of them almost exactly matched a solar year’s length. This contention is supported by all of the defense witness statements we have heard including Mr. Parise’s comment about Chinese astrologers changing the number of degrees they consider to be present in the year’s circle.
“We now call Robert H. Dott, Jr. to the stand. Mr. Dott, you and Roger L. Batten wrote the book titled Evolution of the Earth. In it you describe the study of growth rings in fossil materials and claim that they provide values for the number of days in the year at the time they were formed. Who did the original studies on corals?”
Dott: “Professor John Wells of Cornell University.” (9)
Q. “I understand that ‘modern’ is the term used in your field to refer to the past few millennia. How many lines per year did Professor Wells find on modern corals?”
Dott: “on average… 360 lines per year.” (10)
Q. “Thank you, sir. No further questions. Defense calls Mr. L.E. Doggett to the stand. Mr. Doggett, you wrote extensively about calendars. Will you please tell the court about the unusual manner in which religious calendars on the Indian sub-continent divide their months into lunar days?”
Doggett: “Lunations are divided into 30 tithis, or lunar days. Each tithi is defined by the time required for the longitude of the Moon to increase by 12° over the longitude of the Sun. Thus the length of a tithi may vary from about 20 hours to nearly 27 hours.” (11)
Q. “Let’s see if I understand this. They divide the 360 degrees in a circle by twelve degrees and the result is 30. So it seems that the twelve degree arc of a tithi is designed to make the length of every lunation 30 days, in spite of the fact that the mean lunar period is now about 29.53 days.
“Tell us, Mr. Doggett, how do they reconcile the 30 tithis with actual lunar cycles?”
Doggett: “During the waxing phases, tithis are counted from 1 to 15 with the designation Sukla. Tithis for the waning phases are designated Krsna and are again counted from 1 to 15. Each day is assigned the number of the tithi in effect at sunrise. Occasionally a short tithi will begin after sunrise and be completed before the next sunrise. Similarly a long tithi may span two sunrises. In the former case, a number is omitted from the day count. In the latter, a day number is carried over to a second day.” (12)
Q. “So there are 30 tithis in every lunation. This devious procedure is obviously an attempt to reconcile observed lengths of lunar cycles with those that averaged 30 days for a time during the B.C. era as my client claims. Do they have a similar arrangement for solar months?
Doggett:”A solar month is defined as the interval required for the Sun’s apparent longitude to increase 30º, corresponding to the passage of the Sun through a zodiacal sign (rasi). The initial month of the year, Vaisakha, begins when the true longitude of the Sun is 23º 15′. Because the Earth’s orbit is elliptical, the lengths of the months vary from 29.2 to 31.2 days.” (13)
Q. “So the Indian religious calendar’s solar month is also divided into 30 parts! By these actions, Indians can observe holy days in their original time frame, assuming they originated when lunations lasted 30 days.
“Our next witness is Elias Joseph Bickerman. Mr. Bickerman, you wrote a book about calendars that is now in the reference section of many libraries. How well did nations in the first millennium B.C. succeed in modeling months and the year in their calendars?”
Bickerman: “All the ancient calendars before the Julian year (except for the late Babylonian 19-year cycle) were inadequate. They diverged from the sun, disagreed with the moon, and…differed one from another.” (14)
Q. “This would indicate either that early civilizations were grossly incompetent in the simple task of measuring the length of lunar cycles and the year, or that the time for both moon and Earth to complete their orbits changed after those calendars were created. Did any early historian comment about this?”
Bickerman: “Censorinus, writing in 238, when Julian time-reckoning had already been accepted by the majority of Greek cities, explains the disarray of pre-Julian lunisolar calendars by uncertainty concerning the actual duration of the solar year.” (15)
Q. “Thank you Mr. Bickerman. The ‘uncertainty’ Censorinus wrote of may well be explained by changes in year lengths between the time of 360 day calendars and that of Julius Caesar. My client has suggested that there may have been one or more intermediate year lengths between those of approximately 360 and 365.24 days.
“I now call the Biblical author Enoch to the stand.
Q. “Please tell us, sir, about the year’s length.”
Enoch: “In 3 years there are 1,092 days, and in 5 years 1,820 days, so that in 8 years there are 2,912 days.” (16)
Q. “That indicates you believed solar year length to be 364 days during your lifetime. Thank you, sir! I now call John P. Pratt, Meridian Magazine contributor, to the stand. Mr. Pratt, I understand that you specialize in both religious chronology and ancient calendars. Was Enoch the only person in his area and time frame who believed that the calendar should reflect a year length of 364 days?”
Pratt: “Both the Qumran Calendar described in the Dead Sea Scrolls and also the calendar of the Book of Jubilees had 364 days.” (17)
Q. “Thank you Mr. Pratt. Apparently Enoch wasn’t the only person who witnessed a 364-day year. Now I call Herodotus, father of history, to the stand. Please tell us sir, how well did the Egyptian calendar match seasons in what we now know as the fourth century B.C.?”
Herodotus: “Egyptians, by allotting thirty days apiece to each of the twelve months (and adding five days outside of the number in each year), make the cycle of the seasons come out to the same point as the calendar.” (18)
Q. “Now, will you please tell the court about the Trojan breastplate described in your third book?”
Herodotus: “The breastplate was of linen and with many figures woven into it, and decorated with gold and cotton embroidery. The greatest wonder of it is that each single fine thread of the fabric has in itself three hundred and sixty strands, and they all can be seen to be there. One exactly like it was dedicated by Amasis, in Lindus, to Athena.” (19)
Q. “I point out to the jury that Athena is a name used in Homer’s Odyssey for an astronomical object that some consider to have been the planet Venus. Homer implied it had an interaction with the moon and Mars. If it interacted with the moon, it also affected the Earth and could have been the agent that changed lengths of lunations and the solar year.
Q. “Your honor, with your permission I’ll introduce this terra cotta slab into evidence. Jurors may view it at An Ancient 360-day Calendar. Defense rests its case.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, we all know that science today is far advanced from its state during the first millennium B.C. Scientific testimony for the prosecution has shown that in historical times neither the moon’s period nor that of the year could have changed by the length of time claimed by the defense. Do your duty and find the defendant guilty of misrepresentation.”
“You have heard testimony from both historical figures and modern calendar authorities that clearly call into question the belief that lunar cycles and solar years were always the same lengths as we observe them to be today. What else but some prior time when twelve lunations whose average was about 30 days—almost matching a 360-day solar year—would have caused peoples all around the world to take actions and make statements such as you have heard today in this trial?”
Judge’s Instructions to the Jury:
“Jury members will consider only evidence given in this trial. Any preconceived notions should not influence your decision. Please go into the jury room and submit your vote to the foreman.”
Now it’s your chance to express an opinion. How do you find the defendant? You can express any comments or merely vote by sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Plutarch. (c. A.D. 75) Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Lives, The Life of Numa.
(2) Plutarch. Isis and Osiris. Section 12 (c. A.D. 80) Translated by Frank C. Babbit.
In Section 44 of the same work Plutarch states: “Then again, the Moon herself obscures the Sun and causes solar eclipses, always on the thirtieth of the month;” This would be the case only if each calendar month started on the day a new lunar crescent could first be sighted, and lunations were a full 30 days in length.
(3) Goudsmit, Samuel A. Time. New York: Time Incorporated, 1966. p. 69.
(4) Goudsmit, Samuel A. ibid., p. 69.
(5) Key, Thomas Hewitt Calendarium
(6) Parise, Frank. Editor. The Book of Calendars. New York: Facts On File, Inc. p. 126.
(7) Parise, Frank. ibid., p. 217.
(8) Goudsmit. op. cit. p. 55
(9) Dott, Robert H. Jr., Roger L. Batten. Evolution of the Earth. New York, NY. 1981. p. 288. (10)
(10) Dott, Robert H. Jr., Roger L. Batten. ibid., p. 210.
(11) Doggett, L.E. Calendars. Sausalito, California 94965: University Science Books.
(12) Doggett, L.E. ibid.
(13) Doggett, L.E. ibid.
(14) Bickerman, Elias Joseph. Chronology of the Ancient World.Ithica, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1968. p. 210.
(15) Censorinus. de Die Natali.
(16) Charles, R.H. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament
Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1913. Book of Enoch, Chapter 74, Verse 12.
(17) Pratt, John P. Enoch Calendar Testifies of Christ, Part II.
(18) Herodotus. The History. (5th century B.C.) Chicago & London:
The University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Translated by David Grene. p. 132., Book 2, Verse 4.
(19) Herodotus. ibid. p. 232, Book 3, Verse 47.