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This year is 5772 / תשעב (Taf-Shin-Ayin-Bet) on the Hebrew Calendar. What is the earliest reference to the Year counting from the Creation of the world?

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I'm guessing here, but I imagine its from the end of the Roman Empire when counting by the year of a king was no longer feasible. Or during the Roman empire when they were uniting all the lands together. –  avi Nov 16 '11 at 20:02
    
Not exactly a date but Rashi points out (Breshit 11:1) that Dor Hapalaga said that every 1666 years the Rakyia "breaks down" as it happened in Dor Hamavul, so they decided to fix the Rakyia. –  rony Nov 16 '11 at 20:19
    
@avi: actually, I don't think Jews generally used the years of the Roman emperors much (except for dating gittin - see Gittin 79b-80a, that you have to use the era of the ruling power for those). In Eretz Yisrael (and some European countries influenced by it, such as Italy), until sometime in the period of the Geonim, they seem to have most generally used the era of the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash; in Bavel and Egypt they used the "Era of Contracts" (Seleucid Era) - and in Egypt that persisted until Radvaz abolished it in the 1500s. –  Alex Nov 17 '11 at 6:12
    
@Alex what else did the year matter except for things like Gittin? The tanach uses the date from the exodus of Egypt until the rise of kings, and then it just uses the years of the kings. –  avi Nov 17 '11 at 7:23
    
@Rony that would put the date at the time Rashi was writing, or at the time that the midrash he is quoting was written. –  avi Nov 17 '11 at 7:24
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2 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Seder Olam Rabbah, by R. Yosei ben Chalafta (2nd century), gives a unified chronology from Creation until his own times (although the last part of it, covering the Second Temple era and its aftermath, is given pretty short shrift).

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 9b) quotes a baraisa (also from, at the latest, the 2nd or early 3rd century) that makes a prediction for "the year 4231 after the creation of the world."

So evidently this counting was familiar by that period (which corresponds to the 3800s or 3900s since Creation), although it didn't become widespread until later.

(There is also a source - will have to look it up - that the kohen gadol, after having performed the Yom Kippur service and survived going into the Kodesh Hakodashim, would commission a commemorative plaque giving his name and the year since Creation. That would push the use of this era much earlier.)

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+1 for AZ, YK. I fail to see how SO implies anyone called the year "year N", N from creation. –  msh210 Nov 17 '11 at 8:54
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@Alex this is a super answer. That YK source could answer another question "When did Jews start dedicating plaques to the Shul?" (;-) –  David P. Hochman Nov 17 '11 at 12:56
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There was an article published recently in the periodical HaMa'ayan (Teves 5773 pp. 5-19) about this subject. The author quotes sources from the gemara and ge'onim in which they count years this way. However, he concludes that this wasn't the common way to count years at the time. Azaryah Min HaAdumim was the first the cast doubts on the age of this dating system; he writes that it probably originated either sometime after Rabbi Hilel HaNasi (4119/670) or after Rav Sherira Ga'on (~4350/900).

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