Equinox and Solstice is in the Bible

by Herb Solinsky

 The Hebrew word TKUFAH, Strong's number 8622, occurs four times in the Bible, Ex 34:22; I Sam 1:20; II Chr 24:23; Ps 19:7. In 1907 when the well-known lexicon by Brown, Driver, and Briggs was published (see page 880 for TKUFAH), the Dead Sea Scrolls were not yet discovered and clarifying insightful meanings into some ancient Hebrew words were not yet available. The Dead Sea Scrolls use the Hebrew word TKUFAH in contexts before the time of Christ, and this is now discussed.

 In The Jewish Quarterly Review, volume 58, 1967-1968, pages 309-316 there is a paper published by Sidney B. Hoenig titled, "Textual Readings and Meanings in Hodayot (I QH)." This is from the Dead Sea Scrolls. On pages 312-313 he discusses two expressions found there: one is "TKUFAH of the day" and the other is "at the appointed time of the night at TKUFAH". Hoenig explains that the former means "zenith of the day" meaning "noon" and the latter means "at the appointed time of the night at zenith" meaning "midnight". It is particularly interesting that in the expression "at the appointed time of the night at TKUFAH" the Hebrew word for "appointed time" is MOED, the same word used for the holy days in Lev 23 and for seasons in Gen 1:14. Thus it is not foreign to ancient Hebrew to use or associate TKUFAH with MOED. This use of TKUFAH shows two heavenly bodies, the earth and sun, interacting on a daily basis so that at astronomically distinctive points in time TKUFAH refers to those points in time.

 In The Madrid Qumran Congress, volume 2, edited by Julio Trebolle Barrera and Luis Vegas Montaner (Leiden: Brill, 1992), there is a chapter by Johann Maier titled "Shire Olat hash-Shabbat. Some Observations on their Calendric Implications and on their Style". On page 146 Maier writes, "The Songs themselves are attached to the thirteen sabbaths of one quarter or season (tqufah) of a year, according to the editor the first quarter (the Nisan season) only." Here we see the Hebrew word TKUFAH used for the season of spring, which begins with the vernal equinox and ends with the summer solstice. Here also astronomically distinctive points in time involving the earth and sun define a time period called TKUFAH.

 The intertestamental apocryphal Book of Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus) contains the Hebrew word TKUFAH. This book was written in Hebrew about 190 BCE, but today only incomplete sections of it have survived, having been discovered with thousands of other Hebrew texts in the attic of a synagogue in Cairo, Egypt toward the end of the nineteenth century. The treasure of texts in that attic which survived for many hundreds of years is known as the Cairo Geniza. There are many copies of Sirach in Greek translation, and most of the Hebrew words in Sirach 43:7 are preserved, one of them being TKUFAH. The Greek translation for TKUFAH is SUNTELIA (Strong's Greek number 4930) which means completion, fulfillment, or destruction. These words indicate a point in time at which some event occurred. In harmony with this idea, the Jerusalem Bible translates Sirach 43:7, "the moon it is that signals the feasts, a luminary that wanes after her full". Here "her full" refers to the full moon and is translated from TKUFAH or SUNTELIA. Here TKUFAH refers to a natural distinctive time of the moon in its movement about the earth.

 These contexts from the Dead Sea Scrolls and from Sirach from before the time of Christ show the Hebrew word TKUFAH used to refer to natural distinctive points or time intervals associated with the heavenly bodies of the earth, sun, and moon.

 In A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by William L. Holladay (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), on page 394 the word TKUFAH is defined. The parentheses and square brackets are part of the text of that book by Holladay where he writes about TKUFAH "turning (of sun at solstice) Ps 19:7; (of the year, i.e. end of year, at autumnal equinox) Ex 34:22; (of the days [i.e. of the year] = end of year I Sam 1:20".

In Ex 34:22 Moses was told, in literal translation, "And you shall celebrate ... the Feast of Ingathering TKUFAH the year". There is no Hebrew preposition attached to TKUFAH here. In harmony with the astronomical uses shown above, this refers to the autumnal equinox. Certainly Moses was aware of the equinoxes from the knowledge he gained in his upbringing in Egypt (Acts 7:22), and the fact that the greatest pyramids had one wall aligned exactly east-west. Only on the days of the equinoxes does the shadow of a vertical object fall exactly east-west all day long. The ancients were easily able to determine an east-west line. Therefore the equinoxes are visible signs of the sun in relation to the earth and do fall within the purview of signs in Gen 1:14 "lights in the expanse of the heavens ... for signs and for festivals and for days and years". Note also that these, the lights in the sky, are for years. It would take some specific other Scripture, not some vague implication, to overturn the signs of the lights in the heavens for determining the festivals.

 I refrained from using references in the Talmud for TKUFAH to mean an equinox or solstice, although they have this meaning in the Talmud many times, because I do not accept the Talmud as a proper way to establish meanings of biblical Hebrew words. ~HS