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I'm aware that the Hebrew calendar is lunar based, normally consisting of 12 lunar months and 354.37 days. I'm aware that, to keep the 3 festivals in sync with the seasons, an extra month is added every 2 to 3 calendar years. I am also aware that leap months were more informal back in the ancient days and based on observation, as opposed to being more structured and consistent like how it is now.

My question is: is it possible that, while there were still leap months every now and then, the common understanding of the time measurement of a year back in ancient Israel was simply 12 lunar months? For example, if I were to say "5 years from now" would that be interpreted as 5x12 lunar months or New Moons, or would leap months be considered in that measurement of time?

The reason why I'm asking this is because of Jeremiah's prophecy about the 70 year captivity. Some secular historians would say the captivity lasted from 605 BCE to 537 BCE. That would make 68 solar years, but that's 70 lunar years, or 841 lunar months. Maybe the Israelites at the time added an occasional leap month into their civil calendar, but maybe they also viewed a year as being twelve months. Thus, when Jeremiah prophesied that they would serve Babylon seventy years, they could've interpreted that to mean 70 lunar years. Is this a possibility?

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    If I recall correctly, the laws of contractual obligations explicitly discuss if you agree to do something "within a year" vs. "within 12 months" because of this distinction. Would something like that answer your question? – Shalom Jun 21 '17 at 9:38
  • I would suggest that the year in ancient Israel was structured around an agricultural cycle, so a "year" (as one example) was one harvest to another harvest. The division into months as a way to measure that, and the introduction of a leap year, in order to align harvest holidays with harvest events (and keep Passover in the Spring) would be less important. Other year measures (years of kingship, age of crops) would be based on the cyclical years, not the months. – rosends Jun 21 '17 at 12:10
  • See Bava Metzia 102a, Megillah 5a, Erkhin 31, and most importantly probably Nedarim 61 (and 63) – Double AA Jun 21 '17 at 13:19
  • "I'm aware that, to keep the 3 festivals in sync with the seasons" - Not exactly. The reason for adding the extra month was specifically because Pesach had to be in the spring. There were other concerns that were related to the barley ripening and people travelling to Jerusalem for Pesach. The other holidays were affected as a result of adjusting Pesach's date. – DanF Jun 21 '17 at 14:31
  • I would extend this concept even farther back to the 40 years of travelling in the desert. Considering that Pesach had to be in the Spring, I have little doubt that they must have added an extra month then, as well. – DanF Jun 21 '17 at 14:33
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My question is: is it possible that, while there were still leap months every now and then, the common understanding of the time measurement of a year back in ancient Israel was simply 12 lunar months?

I don't know of any evidence of what the common understanding was.

But it seems like common sense to count years the way they're numbered, or according to the passing of Rosh Hashannah or some other anniversary date. Do Americans make some reckoning of the number of days, weeks, or months to figure out how old they are, for example, or how long since they graduated from high school? Living with the Hebrew leap-month system, would people even remember off-hand how many months had passed during a period of several decades?

For various halachic purposes (dating documents by the rule of kings, determining the age of a tree) we look to the passing of the relevant new-year's-day, not to the number of days/weeks/months. I would think that all people at all times, living with a socially shared calendar that numbers the years, would reckon the same way.

Incidentally, what would move someone to do what you suggest? I could imagine someone reckoning time (probably only a short period of time) in months (cycles of the moon) or years (cycles of the sun); but why would someone reckon in groups of 12 months, a period around the length of one year?

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