This Day in Jewish History

3761 BCE: The World Is Created, According to the Hebrew Calendar and an Obscure Sage

Basing himself on no source but the bible, Rabbi Yose ben Halafta, who lived in the 2nd century CE, sat down and did the math.

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October 7, 3761 B.C.E., is the date on which the world was created – according to the Hebrew calendar that governs the passage of time among the Jewish people.

The calculation of the year is fairly simple to understand; how the precise day and month were arrived at is a little more complicated.

According to the Hebrew calendar, the year just begun is 5776. If we subtract 2015 – the current year in the secular, or Gregorian, calendar – from that, we arrive at Year One being 3761 B.C.E. (before the Common Era).

That date, of course, is not based on fossil dating. It was, rather, calculated from the references to time, including the life-spans of individuals, that are given in the Hebrew Bible.

The chronology of scripture

It is generally accepted that the sage Rabbi Yose ben Halafta is one who made the calculation. He was a tanna, a sage of the Mishnaic period, who lived in Sepphoris, a town in the Galilee, in the 2nd century C.E.

Yose ben Halafta was one of the principal students of Rabbi Akiva, the most revered rabbinical figure of his time. Rabbi Yose was in turn the teacher of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, who would become the chief editor of the Mishnah, one of whose most frequently cited rabbis is Ben Halafta. He is commonly accepted as the author of the book Seder Olam (“Order of the World,” sometimes called Seder Olam Rabba, the “Great Order of the World,” to distinguish it from a later work with the same name), a history that attempts to give dates to all of the people and events mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, and up to Rabbi Yose’s time, which coincided with the Bar-Kochba Revolt of 132 C.E.

For Rabbi Yose, the only relevant source is the Bible. He does not attempt to reconcile it with any other chronology, but rather, to make sense of and quantify the chronology as it presented in Scripture.

The process begins

According to Rabbi Yose’s understanding of the Book of Genesis, the process of Creation began on Elul 25 of Year 1. The sixth day, when Adam and Eve were created, was on the first day of Tishrei - which is when the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, is celebrated – of  Year 2.

The first line of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible
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Since the Hebrew system of dating purports to begin at the Beginning, this system follows the number of a Hebrew year with Hebrew phrase “lebri’at ha’olam” – Hebrew for, “since the world’s creation.” By R. Yose’s method, the creation of man took place in 3760 B.C.E.

Maimonides makes order

Yet Rabbi Yose’s system did not gain common usage among Jews until the medieval period.

At the time the Talmud and Seder Olam were being compiled, when Jews wanted to refer to the year, they used the secular dating of the Seleucid, or Greek, era, also referred to as the Era of Contracts.

Only after the center of Jewish life had moved to Europe did Jews began enumerating years going back to the presumed date of creation, as determined by Yose ben Halafata.

It was left to Maimonides, the 12th-century Jewish philosopher and scientist, to set the precise parameters of this system.

In his Mishneh Torah, Maimonides wrote that all calculations of dates should be based on "the third day of Nisan in this present year ... which is the year 4938 of the creation of the world" – which correlated to March 22, 1178, C.E.  It is his system that continues to be in use today, not only for calculating the Hebrew year, but also for coordinating it with the lunar cycle that determines the months.

According to Maimonides’ calculations, the beginning of creation was in Hebrew Year 0 (referred to as “Anno Mundi 0” in Latin), and the creation of humans was in Anno Mundi Hebrew Year, or Anno Mundi 1, which corresponds to 3761 B.C.E.

A previous version of this article erroneously ascribed compilation of the Talmud to Hanasi, rather than the Mishnah.