The Essenes’ Calendar :: By Randy Nettles

The Essenes were a mystic Jewish sect living during the Second Temple period that flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. In 167 BC, the Jews, led by the Maccabee family, revolted against the Seleucid dynasty (Greeks that controlled Syria and Palestine) that now controlled Israel. After this time, the Hasmonean family (descendants of the ancestor of the Maccabees) who led the revolt combined the office of the king with that of the high priest at the Temple in Jerusalem. This was strictly forbidden in the law of Moses. Also, the Maccabees neither descended from the kings of Judah nor from the lineage of Zadok.


The three religious sects of Judaism — Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes — developed during the time of the Greek occupation of Judea and Jerusalem. All agreed on the basics of the law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets, but they disagreed on many interpretations of Scripture and certain rules and regulations. The Essenes were among the more oppositional to the current Hasmonean rule as well as the current operation of the Temple. They eventually lost power and influence within the Temple’s political governance and moved out. Some remained in Jerusalem, but others settled elsewhere.

Wikipedia writes, “The Jewish historian Josephus records that Essenes existed in large numbers; thousands lived throughout Roman Judaea. They were fewer in number than the Pharisees and Sadducees (the other two major sects at the time). The Essenes lived in various cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to voluntary poverty, daily immersion, and asceticism; their priestly class practiced celibacy. Most scholars claim they seceded from the Zadokite priests.

The Essenes have gained fame in modern times as a result of the discovery of an extensive group of religious documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are commonly believed to be the Essenes’ library. These documents preserve multiple copies of parts of the Hebrew Bible untouched from possibly as early as 300 BC until their discovery in 1946.

Some modern scholars and archeologists have argued that Essenes inhabited the settlement at Qumran, a plateau in the Judean Desert along the Dead Sea, citing Pliny the Elder in support and giving credence that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the product of the Essenes. This theory, though not yet conclusively proven, has come to dominate the scholarly discussion and public perception of the Essenes.” For more information, see Essenes – Wikipedia.

World History Encyclopedia writes, “Most of the members at Qumran spent their time both copying the books of the Jewish Scriptures as well as writing commentaries on the Prophets and apocryphal books. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the collected writings discovered in the caves near Qumran in 1946 by an Arab shepherd boy who took several of the manuscripts to a black-market antiquities dealer in Bethlehem. As the fragments and scrolls came on the market, they were distributed to an international team of scholars for translation and preservation. They include 225 biblical texts, copies of older apocalyptic texts, their own apocalyptic views, manuals, commentaries, hymns, prayers, horoscopes, and curses.

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures were the Masoretic texts of the 10th century CE. We now have manuscripts that are a thousand years older, and they confirm the careful textual transmission of this material over time. In other words, what we read now in the Jewish Scriptures are reliable copies of the original documents.” For more information on the Essenes, see Essenes – World History Encyclopedia.


This article isn’t about the Essenes or the Dead Sea Scrolls, but it was necessary to give some background information in order to write about the Essenes calendar. As I said before, the Essenes were not happy with the way the Temple was being operated, so they developed a calendar (solar) that they believed was more efficient than their original lunisolar calendar. They believed this fixed calendar would help the Temple run more smoothly by a precise rotating of the priests during Feast days.

This calendar is based on an ideal calendar of twelve 30-day months thought to have existed in ancient Mesopotamia, to which were added four cardinal days at the equinoxes (spring, fall) and solstices (summer, winter), making a total of 364 days. Each season would have three months of 30, 30, and 31 days with the cardinal day being the extra day at the end of the season for a total of 91 days. A 364-day calendar year divides into 52 weeks exactly (7 x 52 = 364) or 4 seasons x 91 days = 364 days.

Each season starts on the 4th day of the week (Wednesday). Every Feast of the Lord is on the same day of the week in the same month. Passover is always on a Tuesday, Nisan 14. The week of Unleavened Bread occurs from Wednesday, Nisan 15, to Tuesday, Nisan 21. Firstfruits is on Sunday, Nisan 26. Firstfruits initiates the “counting of the Omer” for 50 days until Pentecost. The 50th day, Pentecost, occurs on Sunday, Sivan 15. The summer solstice occurs the day after Sivan 30, the day before Tammuz 1.

The day after Elul 30 is the calculated fall equinox. The next day is Wednesday, Tishri 1, which is Trumpets. On Friday, Tishri 10, is the Day of Atonement. Wednesday, Tishri 15, through Tuesday, Tishri 21, is the Feast of Tabernacles. The next day, Wednesday, Tishri 22, is the day for reading and meditating on the Law of God. The winter solstice is included after Kislev 3 on a Tuesday. The last day of the month is Monday, Adar 30. The cycle then repeats. Wednesday, Nisan 1, or New Year’s Day, is the following day.

If you don’t count the cardinal days as one of the 30 days of the month, then this calendar could be called a 360-day calendar. Still, you have to count them in the weekly cycles (all four are figured as Tuesdays) and, therefore, the yearly calendar; so it is actually a 364-day calendar. This calendar was primarily used by the Essenes (but not the ruling group of Pharisees and Sadducees) as an ideal calendar for keeping the Feasts of the Lord on the same day of the week and month every year and for rotating the priests in the Holy Temple.

During the time of David, the priests were divided into 24 groups. Each group would work approximately two weeks per year. With 24 groups and 52 evenly divided weeks (if the Essenes calendar had been used), the service would rotate around the calendar ideally. John the Baptist’s father, Zachariah, was included in these priestly groups.

With only 364 days, the calendar would be very noticeably different from the actual seasons after several years, but there is nothing to indicate what was done about this problem. Scholars have made various suggestions. One is that nothing was done, and the calendar was allowed to change concerning the seasons. This would mean the Feasts of the Lord would not occur in their proper seasons. Another suggestion is that changes were made irregularly, only when the seasonal anomaly was too significant to be ignored.

The writings often discuss the moon, but the Essenes calendar was not based on the movement of the moon (observed) any more than indications of the moon’s phases on a modern Western calendar indicate that it is a lunar calendar. A recent analysis of one of the last scrolls remaining to be deciphered has revealed that the sect used the word tekufah to identify each of the four special days marking the transitions between the seasons.

Otherwise, the observance of the moon did not appear to influence the monthly calendar of the Essenes in direct contrast to what the Tanakh has stipulated. “Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, At the full moon, on our solemn feast day” (Psalm 81:3). We know from the ecclesiastical Jewish calendar that the 1st of every month occurred during a new moon and the 15th of every month occurred during the full moon. Passover and Tabernacles would always occur during a full moon. Trumpets would occur during the new moon. Each month would begin with a new moon.

We know the first four Feasts of the Lord were fulfilled prophetically by Lord Jesus. This means God would not have allowed these Feasts of the Lord to occur on any day other than their appointed day (days of the week and month). For example, we know Jesus died on Passover, Nisan 14, on a Thursday (IMHO). See Solving the Three Day Three Night Mystery – Grace thru faith.

If we are to believe the Essene calendar, Jesus would have died on a Tuesday (Nisan 14), which is not biblically correct. We know Jesus rose from the grave three days later on Firstfruits, Nisan 17, and not on Nisan 26 as the Essene calendar would have it. Firstfruits occurs on the first day after the Sabbath that follows Passover (or the first day of Unleavened Bread), not the second one. If you get the date of Firstfruits wrong, then you will get the date of Pentecost (50 days later) wrong as well.

The 364-day calendar looks good on paper and may be good for rotating the priests but is not biblically sound. The Jewish lunisolar calendar is the actual calendar used by Moses, the judges, and the priests and kings of Israel, not some mysterious 360-364 day calendar observed for several centuries by a small mystic religious sect in Israel.

One writer that hypes the Dead Sea Scrolls calendar says, “The mysterious 364-day solar calendar was used by the ancients from the time of Creation to about 170 BC. In the second century BC, it was replaced with a lunar calendar by corrupt Jewish priests. Today we know this corrupt lunar calendar as the modern Jewish calendar.” This is pure nonsense. The Jewish lunisolar calendar has been used by the ancient Hebrews since at least the time of Moses (and probably even before). “And God said, Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years” (NIV – Genesis 1:14).

Most ancient civilizations, such as the Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks, and even the Chinese, used the same lunar calendar (approximately 354 days) with 12 months per year. Some used an intercalary extra month periodically to bring the lunar calendar into alignment with the solar calendar, and others (such as the Arabs) didn’t.

The only change that was made to the Hebrew calendar is found in Exodus 12:1, where the first month of the year would now be in the spring, whereas before, it was in the fall. “Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.” What had been, in ancient times, the seventh month would now be the first month, and vice versa. The first day of the first month would be determined by the sighting of the new (crescent) moon of spring.


There are seven Feasts of the Lord – not nine or ten, but seven. Let’s look at the changes that the Essenes wanted to make to the Feasts of the Lord in Leviticus 23. Verse 5 says, “On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover.” Notice the verse doesn’t say “on Tuesday, the fourteenth day of the first month.” If God wanted Nisan 14 to be on a Tuesday every year, He would have said so. That means it can come on any day of the week.

The same can be said of the dates of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, from Nisan 15-21. The days of the week for these dates aren’t stipulated in Scripture. That means they can come on different days of the week in different years. There is an ongoing debate, which started centuries ago, on when the Feast of Firstfruits actually begins. This is significant as the day/date of Firstfruits will determine when Shavuot begins.

The Sadducees who controlled the Temple administration prior to 70 AD believed the “sabbath” of Leviticus 23:11 & 15 referred to the weekly Sabbath (Saturday) after the first day of Unleavened Bread. Karaite Jews and many Christian scholars also agree with the Sadducees in this regard. This author is in agreement with this interpretation, as no date is given in Scripture for this “sabbath.” The only Feasts of the Lord that aren’t given dates in Scripture are Firstfruits and Shavuot. I wonder why that is? However, with this interpretation, they both would occur on a Sunday.

After the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD and the Sadducees were no longer in control, historical records were updated to include the Pharisees’ counting method, which is now included in the Talmud. They believed the “sabbath” mentioned in Leviticus 23:11 was the first day of Unleavened Bread (Passover to the Jews), Nisan 15, when no work was to be done. It was considered a “special Sabbath” or a “high holy day.” The Pharisees evolved into the Rabbinic Jews of modern times. So, according to Rabbinic Jews, the day after this special “sabbath” day is Nisan 16. This is their date for the Feast of Firstfruits (the beginning of the barley harvest) and is when the counting of the 50 days begins.

The Essenes had an even different view of dating Firstfruits. They believed it should be on the Sunday following the seventh day of Unleavened Bread (21st of Nisan, which was on a Tuesday). So, the next Sunday (the last Sunday of Nisan) would be the 26th of Nisan. This is their date for the Feast of Firstfruits every year.

Which calendar interpretation best describes the typology of the Passover Lamb in Exodus 1-13 and the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14) to Jesus’ death as the Passover Lamb of God and his subsequent resurrection during Holy Week? Let’s look at the Sadducees’ Scriptural interpretation first. Jesus presented himself as king of the Jews on Palm Sunday, Nisan 10. This is the same date when the Israelites were to select a lamb for the Passover ritual. The religious ruling elites inspected Jesus’ words, actions, and doctrines, looking for defects for three days (11th, 12th, 13th), and then He was slaughtered on the Passover, Nisan 14.

Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights. He was resurrected on Sunday, Nisan 17, fulfilling the Feast of Firstfruits. “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus was resurrected on the Feast of Firstfruits, the same day the High Priest was waving the barley sheaf before the Lord. Later that day, many Holy people from Israel’s past were seen in the city of Jerusalem, also having risen from their tombs. (Matt. 27:53) This was the Lord’s wave offering, a sample of His harvest of souls.

The only calendar interpretation that fits the typology of Holy Week is the Sadducees, whereas the Sabbath mentioned in Leviticus 23:11 and 23:15 is the weekly Sabbath that follows Passover. This is the Sabbath that is within the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As you can tell by Scripture, the Feast of Firstfruits is a day-specific (always comes on Sunday) feast and not a date-specific feast. Ironically, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.

According to the Pharisees’ calendar interpretation, the Feast of Firstfruits would have occurred two days after the crucifixion of Jesus on Nisan 16. If Firstfruits represents Jesus’ resurrection, then this interpretation wouldn’t have fulfilled the prophecy of being in the grave for three days and three nights. The Pharisees’ believed in a resurrection of the dead, just not in Jesus’ resurrection.

The same can be said of the Essenes’ calendar. Their yearly date for the Feast of Firstfruits is always on Nisan 26, which would be 12 days from Jesus’ crucifixion on Nisan 14. If the Jews had been following this calendar, there is no way that the Feast of Firstfruits symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus as the firstfruits of those who have “fallen asleep.”

The Feast of Firstfruits is no longer observed by the Jews. Passover and Unleavened Bread are simply known as Passover. Passover Eve (or Preparation Day in the New Testament) comes on Nisan 14, and the seven days of Passover are from Nisan 15-21.

Barley is the first crop to rise out of the earth in the land of Israel. The next crop to rise out of the earth in Israel is wheat. Leviticus 23:15-21 describes the third Feast of the Lord, known as the Feast of Weeks (or Shavuot to the Jews ) or the Feast of the Harvest. This feast of the Lord comes 50 days from the Feast of Firstfruits. There are seven weekly Sabbaths included within these 50 days.

Instead of a sheaf of wheat being waved before the Lord, two loaves of wheat bread baked with leaven are waved. This is the only Feast of the Lord where leaven, which represents sin, is used for making bread. Many believe the two loaves represent the Church at the Rapture, which includes both Jew and Greek sinners. “But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23). Christ is the firstfruits of the early barley crop, and the “dead in Christ” are the firstfruits of the later wheat crop.

Regarding the Feast of Weeks, known as Shavuot to the Jews and Pentecost to the Greeks, if you get the date for the Feast of Firstfruits wrong, you will get the date for Shavuot wrong as well. And once again, we have three different interpretations for reckoning it.

The Bible mentions the Feast of Weeks and how to reckon it in Leviticus 23:15-16. There is no specific date given for it. The Essenes believed it would always come on Sunday, Sivan 15. The Pharisees believed it could come on any day of the week and occurred on Sivan 6 or 7. The Sadducees (and this author) believe it comes on a Sunday and can come on different dates depending on the date of the Feast of Firstfruits.

The three fall Feasts of the Lord — Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles — are all given dates in Leviticus 23 but are not assigned specific days of the week. However, the Essenes did assign them specific days of the week. Trumpets would occur on Wednesday, Tishri 1, every year. The Day of Atonement would occur on Friday, Tishri 10, every year. Tabernacles would occur from Wednesday, Tishri 15, to Wednesday, Tishri 22, every year.

The new and full moons were recorded periodically in the Essene calendar but played no part in determining the days of the month. The Essenes calendar was their own invention and not God’s original calendar, as some have erroneously claimed. If it was, we would have read about it in our Bibles. God wouldn’t have hidden it from us or allowed the Jews to use a different calendar, especially during the time of the first advent.

“In the Apostolic Era, various splinter groups such as the Essenes determined their own calendars independently of the Sanhedrin, but in so doing, they severed themselves from the broader community of Israel and made themselves irrelevant. Yeshua and the apostles, however, followed the calendar established by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem and thereby celebrated the festivals along with the rest of the nation. If that was not the case, the New Testament would have made note of the deviation.” {1}

In the next installment, we will examine the extra-biblical festivals of New Wine and New Oil as mentioned by the Essenes (or so believed) in a document called the Temple Scroll, which is the longest and best preserved of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Randy Nettles



{1} Is the Jewish Calendar Wrong? | DISCOVER | First Fruits of Zion (