The "Wednesday" Crucifixion Argument

Wednesday-crucifixion champions, who base their contentions upon the wrong Passover full moon, often seek to bolster their Position by misuse of tables secured from the United States Naval Observatory. Are these reliable authorities?

By GRACE E. AMADON, Research Worker, Takoma Park, Maryland

The importance of the Position of the ancient Passover month can scarcely be overestimated by those who hold to a Friday crucifixion. The question of true Mosaic chronology was the first step the 1844 Adventists had to take in determining the true tenth day of the seventh month in that year. Wednesday-crucifixion champions, who base their contentions upon the wrong Passover full moon, often seek to bolster their Position by misuse of tables secured from the United States Naval Observatory. This disavowal of the unjustifiable conclusions based upon the Observatory letter is published by express per­mission of the Director of the Naval Observatory. The Bible and standard astronomical tables of the moon are the basic authorities relating to this prob­lem.--Editor.

There are some who claim that the cru­cifixion of our Lord occurred on Wednes­day, the fourth day of the week. Their argument is chiefly based upon an erroneous interpretation of a letter issued by the U. S. Naval Observatory. This letter was in reply to a request for a list of "paschal" full-moon dates during the crucifixion period. Inasmuch as the "Wednesday argument" is largely based (I) upon a wrong application of Scripture, (2) upon a mistaken period for the Jewish months, and (3) upon an improper use of authority as support for the problem, it is opportune to answer the argument in question.

Following the Passover reckoning of the modern Jewish calendar, the Wednesday ad­herents choose March for the crucifixion full moon. Since the form of Jewish calendation today did not begin to formulate until about the fourth century A. D., and since pressure and persecution from Rome compelled the Jews to remodel their primitive system to such an extent that the position of their feast period (from Passover to Day of Atonement) was vitally changed,' it would be futile to use the feast dates of the modern Jewish computation as a pattern for those dates incident to the time of Christ.

On the other hand, no generally recognized Jewish calendar for the first century is avail­able; and, since modern Jewish reckoning is a standardized form accepted by the leading al­manacs of modern times, if one were to ask the United States Almanac Office for a series of paschal full moons relating to the time of Christ, a table of the first full moons after the vernal equinox would doubtless be sent in response. Such full moons are called equinoc­tial moons. They are also denominated astro­nomical, in contrast to the fictitious moons of an ecclesiastical nineteen-year cycle. But they can be understood as paschal only in the sense that modern Jews and Catholics alike employ the first full moon after the spring equinox as a basis for computing Passover and Easter. This, however, is no evidence that such was the observance in the first century.

About twenty years ago, a certain table of first-century full moons was issued by the U.S. Naval Observatory upon request, and much publicity has been given to this table by those supporting a Wednesday crucifixion. Since wrong conclusions are being drawn from this list of full-moon dates, it is the purpose of this discussion to show :

I. That the U. S. Naval Observatory Almanac Office does not establish historical dates ; that it accepts for use only those chronological tables which have been confirmed by astronomy and history, and have been endorsed by society in general.

2. That March, though one of the paschal months of modern Jewry, did not belong to the paschal sea­son of the first century.

3. That the specifically outlined full week of pas­sion events, as recorded in the Scriptures day by day from 8 Nisan to 14 Nisan, the crucifixion day, could not have been thrust into a less number of days, nor would it allow an earlier beginning than Friday eve­ning, when Jesus came to Bethany.

Naval Observatory not Authority for Crucifixion Date.—The Bible itself is su­preme authority for the day of the week upon which the crucifixion occurred. This is recog­nized to such an extent that with chronologers and astronomers of all schools, evidence from the crucifixion narrative—prophecy, parable, or evangelistic record—takes precedence over astronomical data. The authority next in im­portance pertains to Jewish practice in the time of Christ, and naturally, as regards this, early Jewish testimony is important. But be that as it may, the Wednesday argument appar­ently looks to the lunar calendar for its main support, which alone is not sufficiently vital as a lone support apart from Scripture testimony.

In January, 1919, a table of equinoctial full moons from 24 A. D. to 38 A. D. was sent upon request to E. E. Franke, by the U. S. Naval Observatory, at which time Captain W. S. Eichelberger was the director. In his accompanying reply, as afterward published in the -Franke" pamphlet, Captain Eichelberger said:

"In reply to your letter of January 15, you are informed the astronomical full moon occurred Tues­day, March 27, A. D. 31, i h. P. M., Jerusalem time, Julian calendar. This time may be accepted within two or three hours.


"W, S. RICHELBERGER, Commander (Math.), Di­rector Nautical Almanac."

On March 28, 1924, Captain Eichelberger wrote in answer to an inquiry from the editor of American Sentinel (Washington,. D. C.) relative to the date of the Passover moon of 31 A. D. Following is the director's letter, as published in the American Sentinel of Septem­ber, 1934, page 3:

"In reply to your letter dated March 27, 1924, you are informed as follows : The first astronomical full moon following the vernal equinox of A. D. 34 oc­curred, according to the Julian calendar, on Tuesday, March 27, at 2 h. P. M., Jerusalem civil time.

"By direction of the superintendent, U. S. Naval Observatory,

"Very truly yours,


Captain (Math.), U. S. Navy, Director Nautical Almanac."

In the foregoing letters, there is nothing to indicate that the date March 27, 31 A. D., was submitted as a Passover moon, and much less as a crucifixion date. By Captain Eichel­berger it was called the "first astronomical full moon following the vernal equinox." By the inquirers it was called "the time of the Passover," "the year of Christ's crucifixion," "the paschal full moon," etc., arid by some the date was accepted as "proof positive of the day that Christ was crucified." To a later cor­respondent (1929) with reference to the same table, the director of the observatory further explained the meaning of the terms previously employed:

"The astronomical full moon next after the spring equinox of A. D. 31 (Julian calendar) occurred on Tuesday, March 27. The dates of the paschal full moons according to Jewish observance between A. D. 24 and A. D. 38 are uncertain. The rules employed in the present Jewish calendar are of later adoption. . . . The Christian ecclesiastical calendar was not fixed until the Council of Nice, 325 A. D. Some of the questions involved are discussed in the article on 'Bible' in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. III, p. 890).


"W.S. Eichelberger, Captain (Math.), U. S. Navy, Director Nautical Almanac."

(Navy Department Letter File, EN23/H5(1)(652)

In harmony with U. S. Observatory tradi­tion, the information contained in the Captain Eichelberger letters is purely of an astro­nomical nature. The dates were computed from Schram's chronological tables, and a cor­responding list of full moons is also found in Ginzel.' But neither the U. S. Observatory nor these other standard authorities point out any one of the astronomical full moons in their first-century tables as a Passover moon. Con­sequently, the conclusion drawn by the -Franke" pamphlet, and by other similar tracts and periodicals, that March was the crucifixion month, or that March 27 or 28 in 31 A. D. was the day of the cross, is not supported by the U. S. Naval Observatory, which sent out the Eichelberger table purely as astronomical full moons, and not as Passover dates.

March not a Paschal Month in First Century—The following list of full-moon dates is a copy of that portion of Captain Eichelberger's moon list that includes the years of Christ's public ministry. The dates that are too early for Passover are marked with an asterisk:

Eichelberger Table

"Astronomical Full Moons"


Mar. 29th, Mon.

6 A.M.*


Apr. 17th, Sun.



Apr.      6th, Thurs.



Mar. 27th, Tues.



Apr. 14th, Mon.



Apr.   3rd, Fri.

5 P.M.*


Mar. 23rd, Tues.

3 P.M.*

According to the Mosaic law, it was com­manded that a sheaf of ripe barley be brought to the priest to be waved before the Lord on the second day after the Passover.' The law called this day the "morrow after the sabbath." It is therefore consistent and conclusive that the ancient Passover had to concur with the full moon of barley harvest as shown in the diagram; and in the foregoing table of moons, the asterisk checks those dates which are too early for the ripening barley. They are conse­quently too early for the Passover moon. The following citations show the relation of the sacred harvest sheaf to the seasonal location' of the Passover moon of Nisan:

a.  Passover Feast in Nisan Does Not Agree With March in Palestine: "The feasts which Moses com­manded to be celebrated in the first, third, and sev­enth month do not agree with the climate of Palestine in March, May, and September."'

b.  The Moon of Barley Harvest Coincides With April: "But this much we may with certainty affirm, that the first moon of the Israelitish year must always have fallen within our April. It was that moon, in the course of which, in Palestine, ripe ears of corn could always be had, and hence it had the name of ear moon (Abib). On the sixteenth day of it, which was the second day of the festival of the Passover, the first fruits of the ripe ears of corn were to be pre­sented to God."'

c.   April the Beginning of Harvest: "In the warm­est parts of that country [Palestine], harvest begins about the middle of April ; and it is finished every­where in seven weeks; that is, it lasts until the begin­ning of June."'

 ivisan corre.sponds to April: "But more correctly it [Nisaril belongs to April, since always in that very month it either begins or ends, or is wholly included."9

e.    Jewish Feasts Did Not Interrupt Harvests: "A harvest festival falling in the midst of harvest . . and a feast of tabernacles in the midst of vintage, or before it, or still more, in the rainy season of November and December—would have been such crying absurdities that they must have immediately shown and corrected themselves."'

f.    Passover in Xanthicus [Maccabees, Joseph-us] Signifies in April: Michaelis : 'Therefore, in the month Xanthicus, that is, April.' Scaliger : "Aprilis —Xanthicus." Kugler : "Xanthikos (Nisan) ; Arte­misios (Ijjar)," etc."

The last reference (f) is important because Josephus is sometimes mistakenly quoted as placing the Jewish Passover in March, although the Macedonian month Xanthicus is commonly considered as corresponding with April. Zeit­lin's discussion of the chronology of "Megillat Thane' should be mentioned as opposing an exact April—Xanthicus, but he has over­looked the Josephus synchronisms which de­mand the coincidence. Such authorities as Jahn, Horne, Faber, Buhle, and Prideaux also agree with the foregoing citations that Nisan was most nearly congruous with April. Scali­ger gives the paschal limits in the time of Christ as from April 8 to May.

Not for some time after the Council of Nice did a fixed calendar with March Passovers arise in Jewry. This eventually resulted in the well-known polemical war among rabbanites and Karaites over the dates of their festivals —a controversy that continued throughout the Middle Ages. The rabbanites stood for a cal­endar based upon the equinoctial nineteen-year cycle, while the Karaites revived ancient prac­tice with respect to the barley harvest and literal observation of the moon.'"

Consequently, according to many witnesses, March was not the ancient Passover month. It was, instead, an appointed time for rain. If the rain did not come in its season to prepare the harvest for the Pass­over festival, and the people fasted and prayed, and were repentant, showers of mercy healed the land." If, on the other hand, the irregularities of the lunar year created discordance between the as­tronomical moon and the harvest, then the following adjustment was made:

"But if, by the discordance of the moons -with the solar year. the end of the twelve moons fell back so far within March, as that, by the middle of the next moon, ripe ears were no* to be expected, and of course the feast of the Passover could not he cele­brated; then they were obliged to reckon this as the thirteenth moon of the preced­ing year ; that is, in other words, to intercalate a moon, which the Jews in their calendar now terminate Veaddar, or the second Adar. To ascertain when this intercalation was to take place, did not require ob­servations of the heavenly bodies : it was a point which every husbandman could decide by merely looking at the corn fields in the most southern part of Palestine." "

Moses did not have it in his power to adopt a strictly astronomical solar year by which to correct the lunar year of the Israelites, f or in his day the Egyptian year was a wandering year. "But," says Michaelis, "he availed him­self of the aid of an economical solar year, which never admitted an error of a whole month without correcting it, and which every husbandman could easily comprehend.'

Hence, seeing that such was the basis of Jewish reckoning in early centuries, if one employs equinoctial moon dates with which to solve the crucifixion problem, looking for the death of Christ a moon too early, as in March. or during the first few days of April, the true date will be entirely overlooked. This has been a significant cause of failure in many lines of research with reference to the crucifixion date. Therefore, one must conclude that the Wednes­day argument for the crucifixion is based upon a calendar that does not fit the first century. Accordingly, it is inconsistent to cite the United States Naval Observatory as confirming the crucifixion date.

(To be concluded in June)


1 Sidersky, David, "Etude sur l'origine astronomi­que de la chronologie juive," Menzoires presentes par divers savants a l'Academie des Inscriptions et belles-lettres de l'institute de France, Vol. XII, part 2, p. 650. Paris, 1913.

2 Schram, Robert, "Kalendariographische und chron­ologische Tafeln," pp. 356-367, Leipzig, Igo& Ginzel, F. K., "Handbuch der mathenzatischen und technischen Chronologie," II Band, PP. 573. 574,

3 Leipzig, 101

4 From the Eichelberger Table of full moons, pub­lished by E. E. Franke.

5 Lev. 23:10, 11.

6 Michaelis, John David, "De Mensi bus Hebraeorum Commentatio," p. 17, Bremen, 1763.

7 Michaelis, "Commentaries on the Laws of Moses," pp. 182, 183. Tr: by Alexander Smith. London. 1814.

81d., p. 168.

9 Venerable Bede, "De Temporum Ratione," Giles edition, p. 169, London, 1843.

10 Michaelis, John David, "Commentaries on the Laws of Moses," p. 208.

11 Michaelis, "De Mensibus Hebraeorum Commen­tatio," p. 37.

12 Scaliger, Joseph, "De Emendation,e Temporum," p. 379

13 Zettlin, Solomon, "Megillat Taanit and Jewish History," Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. to, ch. IV.

15 Scaliger, I. c., p. 265.

16 Albiruni, "Chronology of Ancient Nations, p. 69. Tr. Sachau, London, 1879.

17 2 Chron. 7:14.

18 "Michaelis, "Commentaries on the Laws of Moses," p. 207.

19 Id., p. 206.

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By GRACE E. AMADON, Research Worker, Takoma Park, Maryland

May 1942

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