An Exodus Calendar

What day of the week was the first Passover?
How long did the matzoh last in the desert?
When did we first see Miriam’s well?

I’m tracking the course of my novel on a calendar spreadsheet. The 1995 secular days do not match the Ancient Egyptian Hebrew ones (which is okay, since my kids have Passover at home and then find themselves in Egypt before the Exodus).

1995 is easy. A quick trip to HebCal tells us that the first night of Passover in 1995 was Friday April 14th. Which makes the first full day of Passover Saturday April 15th.

Exodus timing (1313 BCE? Or??) is a bit harder. We have to find one day that year that tells us when Shabbat (aka the Sabbath) was and work forwards and/or backwards to get the rest. Was the Hebrew calendar the same as today? We have no idea, but the Torah says it was, so we’ll go with it.

The Hebrew slaves did not celebrate Shabbat. Having to work every day with no day of rest was a major reason for the Exodus in the first place. The Hebrew calendar may not have even been noted at all.

In Exodus 12, God tells Moses and Aaron “This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.” Starting a month as the moon was new was likely familiar to them, but the names and order of the months would have been different. Here, the first month is Nissan (note that the Jewish calendar recognizes several “New Years” and the Nissan one is important but not the one (Tishrei) we mark with Rosh Hashana).

In the modern calendar, Nissan has 30 days. Next comes Iyyar with 29 days. Then Sivan with 30 days. After that is Tammuz with 29 days.

The date of the Exodus (always Nissan 15, regardless of year) wasn’t random. The middle of the month is the full moon. What better timing for packing in haste and starting a journey to parts unknown?

Because the dates are moon timed, they will fall on different days of the week each year. So, what day of the week was that first Passover?

The best place to find this answer is a month later, in the first week of manna in the wilderness, after the matzoh ran out. For this is the time when the Hebrews learn about Shabbat and what they can and can not do on that day.

The Hebrews gathering manna.
James Tissot  (1836–1902)  — The Gathering of the Manna

On Iyyar 15, the Hebrews complain to Moses that they have no food. The next morning, Iyyar 16, manna first appears. Rashi tells us that is a Sunday because on the 6th day of manna (a Friday), the Hebrews were instructed to gather a double portion, as there would not be any manna falling on Shabbat (it is God’s day of rest after all).

This means the first Shabbat was Iyyar 22. Next, I found a modern calendar with Iyyar 22 on a Saturday (1999) and opened it to more easily find other days.

The first Passover seder was a Wednesday night, with the first day of Passover and the beginning of the Exodus journey occurring on a Thursday.

From the 1728 Figures de la BibleThe Israelites eat the Passover

Iyyar was not just the first Shabbat of the Hebrew slaves and the giving of manna. It is also when Miriam’s well first made its appearence (though that is another post for the future).


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