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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 9a

taught: Persian rule lasted thirty-four years after the building of the Temple, Greece ruled one hundred eighty years during the existence of the Temple, the Hasmonean rule lasted one hundred three years during temple times, the House of Herod ruled one hundred three years. Thence onward, one should go on counting the years as from the Destruction of the Temple. Hence we see that it was two hundred six years,1  yet you say one hundred eighty years! — But for twenty six years the Romans kept faith with Israel2  and did not subdue them, and therefore those years are not reckoned in the period during which Rome cast her dominion over Israel.

Said R. Papa, if a3  Tanna is uncertain about the minor figures [of any year] let him ask a notary what year it is according to his reckoning and add twenty thereto; he will then find his solution.4  As a mnemonic sign take the verse, Thus I have been twenty years in Thy house.5

If on the other hand a notary is uncertain, let him ask a Tanna what the year is according to his reckoning and deduct therefrom twenty years and he will find his solution.6  As a mnemonic [memorise] 'The Scribe is sparing the Tanna is redundant.'7

The Tanna debe Eliyyahu taught:8  The world is to exist six thousand years; the first two thousand years are to be void;9  the next two thousand years are the period of the Torah, and the following two thousand years are the period of the Messiah. Through our many sins a number of these have already passed [and the Messiah is not yet].

From when are the two thousand years of the Torah to be reckoned? Shall we say from the Giving of the Torah at Sinai? In that case, you will find that there are not quite two thousand years from then till now [i.e., the year four thousand after the Creation], for if you compute the years [from the Creation to the Giving of the Torah] you will find that they comprise two thousand and a part of the third thousand;10  the period is therefore to be reckoned from the time when Abraham and Sarah had gotten souls in Haran11  for we have it as a tradition that Abraham was at that time fifty-two years old. Now, to what extent does our Tanna encroach [on the other thousand]? Four hundred and forty-eight years! Calculate it and you will find that from the time when they had gotten souls in Haran till the giving of the Torah there are just four hundred and forty-eight years.12

Said R. Papa: If the Tanna13  does not know the exact number of years [of the period of the Messiah] that have passed let him ask a notary what year he uses in his writings, and on adding forty-eight to it he will find his solution.14  As a mnemonic

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Before the destruction, i.e., at the end of the Greek dominion, that Rome began, to extend her dominion.
  2. V. p. 40.
  3. So D.S., a.l.
  4. The Eras in use among Jews in Talmudic Times are: (a) ERA OF CONTRACTS [H] dating from the year 380 before the Destruction of the Second Temple (312-1 B.C.E.) when, at the Battle of Gaza, Seleucus Nicator, one of the followers of Alexander the Great, gained dominion over Palestine. It is also termed Seleucid or Greek Era [H]. Its designation as Alexandrian Era connecting it with Alexander the Great (Maim. Yad, Gerushin 1, 27) is an anachronism, since Alexander died in 323 B.C.E. — eleven years before this Era began (v. E. Mahler, Handbuch der judischen Chronologie, p. 145). This Era, which is first mentioned in Mac. I, 10, and was used by notaries or scribes for dating all civil contracts, was generally in vogue in eastern countries till the 16th cent, and was employed even in the 19th cent, among the Jews of Yemen, in South Arabia (Eben Saphir, Lyck, 1866, p. 62b). (b) THE ERA OF THE DESTRUCTION (of the Second Temple) [H] the year 1 of which corresponds to 381 of the Seleucid Era, and 69-70 of the Christian Era. This Era was mainly employed by the Rabbis and was in use in Palestine for several centuries, and even in the later Middle Ages documents were dated by it. One of the recently discovered Genizah documents bears the date 13 Tammuz 987 after the Destruction of the Temple — i.e. 917 C.E. — (Op. cit. p. 152, also Marmorstein ZDMG, Vol. VI, p. 640). The difference between the two Eras as far as the tens and units are concerned is thus 20. If therefore a Tanna, say in the year 156 Era of Dest. (225 C.E.), while remembering, naturally, the century, is uncertain about the tens and units, he should ask the notary what year it is according to his — Seleucid — era. He will get the answer 536 (156 + 380), on adding 20 to which he would get 556, the last two figures giving him the year [1] 56 of the Era of Destruction.
  5. Gen. XXXI 41.
  6. If in the same year, (225 C.E.) — 536 Seleucid Era — the Scribe, remembering that he is in the 6th century is uncertain as to the exact number of the year to be used by him, he will ascertain from the Tanna that it is the year 156 E. of D., and on subtracting 20 will get 136, the last two figures of which give him the tens and units of his year [5] 36.
  7. I.e., in regard to the use of vowel letters the Scribe (of Biblical scrolls) frequently employing the scriptio defectiva, where the Tanna uses the scriptio pleno. Thus, the Scribe has to deduct from, the Rabbi to add to, the given number.
  8. V. p. 22, n. 10.
  9. I.e., without possessing the Divine Law.
  10. The exact number is 2,448 years which is arrived at as follows (v. Gen. Chap. V and XI):
    Age of Adam at birth of Seth130 years 
    Period from Adam to Noah1,056 years 
    Age of Noah at birth of Shem (allowing 2 years from
    birth of Japhet, Noah's eldest son)
    502 years 
    Period from Noah to Abraham892 years 
    Age of Abraham at birth of Isaac100 years 
    From birth of Isaac to birth of Jacob60"
    Age of Jacob on arriving in Egypt130"
    Israelites' sojourn in Egypt210"
    Period from birth of Abraham to Exodus from Egypt500 years 
    Period from Creation to Exodus and Giving of the
    Law at Sinai
    2,448 years 
  11. Gen. XII, 5. These words are taken by the Targum and other Rabbinic commentators to refer to the heathen men and women whom Abraham and Sarah respectively gained for the worship of God.
  12. The birth of Abraham was, as given above, in the year of Creation 1948 (1,056 + 892); add thereto the fifty-two years that passed till his proselytising activity and you get exactly 2,000, i.e. 448 years before the Giving of the Torah.
  13. Who said before that 'a number of these have already passed', etc.
  14. As the notary uses the Seleucid Era, the year 1 of which corresponds to 380 before the Destruction, and as the year 4,000 of Creation corresponds to 172 after the Destruction, the difference between the two eras is 552 (380 + 172), which 48 would bring up to even hundreds.
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‘Abodah Zarah 9b

take the phrase, Forty-eight cities.1  If, on the other hand, the notary is uncertain as to his number, let him ask the Tanna how many he counts and deduct therefrom forty-eight and he will find his solution. As a mnemonic, take the phrase, 'The Scribe is sparing, the Tanna is redundant.'2

Said R. Huna the son of R. Joshua: If one does not know what the year is in the Sabbatical cycle of seven years,3  let him add one year [to that in the era of the Destruction] and let him put aside the hundreds as Jubilee Cycles and convert the remainder into Sabbatical Cycles [of seven years each] after adding thereto two years for every complete century; what is left over will give him the number of the given year in the current Sabbatical Cycle. As a mnemonical sign [for adding two years for every century, think of the verse]. For these two years hath the famine been in the land.4

Said R. Hanina:5  From the year four hundred after the destruction onwards, if one says unto you. 'Buy a field that is worth one thousand denarii for one denar' — do not buy it.6  In a Baraitha it is taught: From the year four thousand two hundred and thirty-one of the Creation of the World onward, if one says unto you. 'Buy thee a field that is worth a thousand denarii for one denar,' do not buy it. What difference is there between these two [given periods]? — There is a difference of three years between them, the one of the Baraitha being three years longer.7

There was [produced in court] a document which was dated

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Assigned to the Levites. Num. XXXV, 7.
  2. V. supra p. 43, n. 3.
  3. Scripture enjoins that every seventh year is to be kept as a Sabbatical Year, on which there is to be observed: (a) A land release [H] the fields being allowed to lie fallow, and the produce of the vineyards and olive-yards left ungathered by the owner for his servants, the poor and the strangers, 'and what they leave the beast of the field shall eat' (Ex. XXV, 8 and Lev. XXV, 1, seq.). (b) Monetary release a [H] according to which all debts incurred were forfeited at the end of the Sabbatical Year (Deut. XV, 1, 2) a procedure which was modified by the institution of the Prosbul by Hillel the Elder. The Bible does not furnish any fixed data as to the year from which the Sabbatical Cycle is to be counted. There is, however, a talmudic tradition (Ta'an. 29a) that the Second Temple, as well as the First, was destroyed on the 9th of Ab in the year immediately following a Sabbatical Year. This means that the Sabbatical Cycle began on the year preceding the year 1 of the Era of Destruction. Some authorities, however, (Maim. Yad, Shemittoth X, 4) take the statement in Ta'an. to mean that the Destruction was on the Sabbatical Year itself, so that the Sabbatical Cycle is to begin with the year 1 of that Era. Another matter of dispute is the fixing of the Jubilee Year, i.e. the year following the completion of seven Sabbatical Cycles, in which all slaves were freed and all real estates reverted to their hereditary owners (Lev. XXV, 10). According to the Rabbis (Ned. 61a and R.H. 8b-9a) the fiftieth year was excluded from the Sabbatical Cycles, so that it formed a 'blank' year after every seven cycles. But according to Rabbi Judah it formed both the Jubilee Year and the first of the next Sabbatical Cycle, so that these cycles followed on in uninterrupted succession. (It must be pointed out that the Jewish Encyclopedia in the article 'Sabbatical Year and Jubilee', Vol. X, p. 606, not only designates Rabbi Judah b. Il'ai wrongly as Rabbi Judah Hanasi, but his statement, too, is misrepresented to mean that the Jubilee Year is to be regarded as 'identical with the seventh Sabbatical Year'.) The rule given by R. Huna for computing the year of the Sabbatical Cycle is based on the opinion that (a) the Sabbatical Cycle began with the year preceding that of the Destruction, and (b) that, in accordance with R. Judah's view, the Jubilee Year did not interrupt the succession of Sabbatical Cycles. Applied to the present year, 1934 C.E. — 1865 E. of D. — this process would work out as follows: — 1865 + 1 = 1866. Leaving aside hundreds take 66 and add thereto 2 for every 100: 66 + (18 X 2) = 102. Divide total by 7: 102 / 7 = 14 (remainder 4). Thus the year 1934 is the 4th of the Sabbatical Cycle.
  4. Gen. XLV, 6.
  5. In the first generation of the third century.
  6. As the coming of the Messiah will then be imminent, when Israel will be rehabilitated in the Holy Land.
  7. The year 1 of Destruction is equal to 3828 of the Era of Creation (4000 — 172, v. p. 42, n. 7 (b)); hence the period given by R. Hanina is 4228 (3828 + 400), while the one given in the Baraitha — 4231 — is three years later. This Baraitha is of particular importance on account of its allusion — the earliest on record and the only one in the Talmud — to the Era of the World (generally designated Anna Mundi) which is now in use by Jews well nigh universally. While familiar to the Rabbis of the Talmud, it is not known to have been used as an Era until long after the close of the Talmud (Azariah de Rossi, Me'or 'Enayim. Vienna, 1829, 152a). Among the earliest evidence of its use are epitaphs dating from 822 and 827 C.E, in the catacombs of Vnosa (Poznanski Encyc. of Rel. and Eth, s.v. Calendar) also a Genizah scroll describing an incident as having occurred on the 3rd Shevat in the year 4772 A.M. (1012 C.E., J. Mann, HUCA. Annual, Voi. 111, 259). The attempt which had been made to ascribe the use of this Era to Sherirah Gaon in his famous Epistle, has been disproved (Posnanski ZDMG, LXVIII, 121). Likewise, an epitaph which the Karaite Firkowitz professed to have discovered in Crimea registering the Era of the World in 151 B.C.E. has been pronounced as spurious by Harkavy (Altjudische Denkmaeler, p. 161). Solomon Ibn Verga's [H] contains a description of the Yom-Kippur Service in the Temple by the Roman Consul Marcus in which mention is made of the Era of the World [H] (Amst. 1709, p. 52b); but 'That description is a late forgery' (Buchler). Dr. F. C. Ewald (Aboda Zara Nurnberg, 1856, p. 68, note) suggests that it was early in the 10th century that the Jews, who were mostly settled in Spain, on dispensing with the Seleucid Era, adopted the A.M, for fear of being compelled to use the Christian era, but this suggestion lacks historical basis. Much better founded is the assertion of Mahler (op. cit. 158) that the C.E., which came into general use in France and Germany in the 10th century, found its way into Spain about two centuries later, and that it was about that time and for that reason that the Era of Creation gained general currency among the Jews. In computing this conventional Era, a number of uncertainties have, naturally, to be compromised (see Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. IV, p. 68). To convert any given year from A.M. into C.E. — apart from the thousands — 240 is to be added; thus, the present year A.M. 5694 plus 240 gives [1] 934 C.E. To convert from C.E. into A.M. add 3760: thus, 1934 + 3760 = 5694.
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