The Mystery of the Lost Jubilee: Part XVI – Jubilees Across Time

In part 15 of this series, we showed how Mark Twain and Theodore Herzl’s work related to the Jubilee.

Today, we look at an absolutely imposing topic that has been the subject of intense debate for as long as anyone can remember!

Do today’s Jubilee years connect back to when the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan under Joshua?

And the definitive answer to that question is: “pause, sound of clearing of throat, ahem, uhm, well….”
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Because the answer is that there is no definitive answer to this simple question — a question that is so appropriate, so obvious that even a child might ask it. Did God not say “when you come into the Land which I shall give you”?

Simple But Difficult

Here are the reasons that this simple question is so profoundly difficult to answer.

First, the identity of the year that Joshua crossed the Jordan river with the Children of Israel to enter the Land is not universally agreed upon. For the moment, let us explore the Jewish tradition through Seder Olam.

Seder Olam is the famous Jewish book which was the first written attempt to put together a chronology of time from creation until the day of its writing, which was around 100 C.E. The Seder Olam, still followed today, gives us the current Jewish year of 5776 since creation. The Jewish tradition in Seder Olam has Joshua’s entry at year 2488.

Jordan River at site of Joshua’s Crossing. (Photo: Bob O’Dell)
Jordan River at site of Joshua’s Crossing. (Photo: Bob O’Dell)

Second, the Children of Israel did not settle down immediately, but had to conquer the Land in a series of battles. That took time. Jewish tradition is that they spent the first seven years conquering the Land, and the next seven years dividing the Land between tribes and appropriating the Land to the various families within the tribes. That would mean that “Year One” of the counting would not have occurred until 14 years after entry.

If that is the case, then Year One would be in 2488+14 = 2502.

So let’s continue within the Jewish chronology and see how that year fits. The number of years that have passed since that “year one” is 5776 (this year) – 2502 (“year one”) = 3274 years. If you start counting from that year one in multiples of 49, the last Jubilee was 40 year ago in 1976, and does not fit any of the key dates in Jewish history that have been discussed in this series of articles. And you have another, bigger problem, which is that the Shemitah cycles don’t fit either. None of the Jewish Shemitah cycles being counted in more than 2000 years match – they are all off by 2 years.

Can we solve the problem if we count by 50 years rather than 49? No.

What about the Jewish exile, and the idea that the Land had to rest for seventy years? If we were to stop counting Shemitah years during the 70 years of exile, does it solve the problem of the Jubilee dates? No, that puts the last Jubilee in 2004.

More Difficulties Explained

Now for another twist. The Seder Olam and archeological records are in disagreement over the date of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple. Archeology dates that to 586 BCE, give or take a year. However, the Seder Olam dates it to the year 3338 which equals about 422 BC, a difference of 164 years. Let us suppose that Seder Olam is wrong on this point, but correct on everything else. If we were to factor in this gap of 164 years, does that solve our problem? No, it puts the Jubilee in 2008, which also does not match key events in Jewish history. One of our readers, chronology researcher Jim Lewis, suggests Jewish History in Conflict: A Study of the Major Discrepancy between Rabbinic and Conventional Chronology by Mitchell First for further study on that 164 year gap.

Another Jewish tradition that is not aligned perfectly with Seder Olam is that Adam was created in Year 1, rather than before the start of the calendar. That would add 1 to all the dates. Another Jewish opinion is that Year 1 was so short – only the 7 days of creation – that would add two years to Seder Olam dates.

And there are many more variations that have been proposed that generally fall into one of three categories:

  1. Finding other “mistakes” in Seder Olam, (in addition to the 164 year gap) that when added together cause everything to fit – the coming into the Land, all the way to the Shemitah years and Jubilee. This has been attempted and we can discuss such ideas in the future.
  2. Using Seder Olam, but positing that the existing Jewish Shemitah years got off-cycle somehow, and concluding that the Shemitah cycle being followed in Israel today must be fixed. We find this solution very unappealing for a few reasons:
    1. There is strong evidence that the Shemitah cycles have been kept since the time of Ezra. Why should we assume that their decisions would be unaligned with the past? At least the Shemitah cycles would have been known, if not the Jubilee.
    2. Getting the Nation of Israel to change its Shemitah cycle would be nearly impossible after over 2000 years of keeping it in a certain way.
    3. There is natural evidence that the existing Shemitah cycles ARE correct, and the pattern of Jubilee type events occurring in 1967 and 1917 fits perfectly with those same Shemitah cycles that have been kept for thousands of years. If the existing Shemitah cycles were so off-base, then why would God seem to be corroborating them with Divine providence in 1917 and 1967?
  3. Concluding that the work of God today is a new work, and therefore we should not even attempt to connect to the past. This opinion results in a discussion about the character of God Himself. Our view is that the work of God on the earth is perfect and majestic. He has shown time and time again how He will work through history and tie events together in a perfect way that is nothing less than the work of a master artist. Why should Jubilees across time be exempt from His artistry?

Our Opinion

It would make us feel much better if the Jubilee dates tied back to dates of the past. The current Shemitah cycle of the Jewish calendar DOES seem to be consistent since the time of Nehemiah and Ezra after the Jewish exile, who called for the people of Israel to hear the law, to remember the covenant, and to dedicate themselves to keeping the sabbath years. While there was no mention of the Jubilee in those books, the pattern of the Shemitah was reestablished, and one view proposed by today’s Jewish Sanhedrin was that the Jubilees were counted in the time of Ezra, even if they were not celebrated. In addition, some researchers find evidence that the Sabbath years identified by Josephus in his writings in the first century do fit perfectly with the Shemitah years of today, so it is reasonable to assume that they also tie back a few hundred more years to the time of Nehemiah and Ezra.

Besides just us, it seems to be a common theme that many people want to solve this problem, including our readers and chronologist around the world. In fact the Jewish writers of the apocryphal Book of Jubilees, written in the second century BC, put forward a whole history and chronology from Adam to the Joshua entering the Land. This book counts Jubilees in 49 year cycles (as we have often proposed in this article series) but it actually puts forward a chronology that has the Children of Israel entering the Land in year 2450 on exactly the 50th Jubilee from creation! While this book is not canonized, and has inconsistencies when compared to the Hebrew Bible, our point is about intent! A writer 22 centuries ago wanted to see everything fit together in a harmonious way, just as we are discussing here!

We are not saying everything MUST fit, but rather that there seems to be a YEARNING to make it fit. Is there any reasonable chronology that is

  • Consistent with all Scripture;
  • Finds Joshua going into the Land on a “Jubilee from creation;” and
  • Once the counting begins (perhaps in the 14th year), aligns to the existing Shemitah years and the year 1967 as a Jubilee?

It seems never to have been done. Will it ever be done?

Connect with Others

Do you understand NOW why the Jubilee has caused so much frustration and confusion among Jewish and Christian chronology researchers over hundreds if not thousands of years?

Next Time

Join us next time as we continue to watch current events and examine all clues to the meaning and the Mystery of the Lost Jubilee.