The Hebrew calendar is very different from the Gregorian calendar we use today. This often leads to confusion when trying to reconcile biblical dates with our modern calendar system. If you’re wondering what month Nisan corresponds to on our calendar, read on for a detailed explanation.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Nisan typically falls in March or April on the Gregorian calendar.
What is Nisan?
Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew calendar, corresponding to March-April on the Gregorian calendar. Nisan holds great significance in Judaism, as it marks the beginning of the biblical Hebrew year according to Exodus 12:2.
The first month of the Hebrew calendar
The Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning it is based on both the moon cycles and the solar year. In ancient Israel, each month began with the sighting of a new moon. Nisan is the first month of the year per God’s command to Moses and Aaron in Egypt:
“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” (Exodus 12:2)
Nisan typically occurs during March-April on the Gregorian calendar. As the first month, Nisan marks the start of the Hebrew civil year for counting months, contracts, and reigns of kings. Biblical references to events happening in the “first month” refer to the month of Nisan.
Called ‘Aviv’ in the Torah
In the Torah, which consists of the first five books of the Bible, the month of Nisan is referred to as “Aviv.” Aviv is Hebrew for “spring” and refers to the season of the barley harvest:
“Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night.” (Deuteronomy 16:1)
The name Nisan comes from Babylonia during the Jewish exile in Babylon. But the biblical name of Aviv for this month connected it directly to the agricultural season in ancient Israel.
Marked the beginning of the biblical year
In the Torah, God established Nisan as the first month of the year for the Israelites. This was in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt, which occurred in Nisan:
“Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was in this month that you came out of Egypt by night.” (Exodus 13:3-4)
The Exodus was the founding event of the nation of Israel. Thus, Nisan as the anniversary month marked a new beginning. Major festivals like Passover and Unleavened Bread highlighted Israel’s redemption from slavery. The first Passover lamb was sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan before the Exodus.
Centuries later, King Solomon built the Jerusalem temple in the month of Nisan to dedicate it to God:
“In the month of Ziv, the second month of the fourth year of his reign, he laid the foundation of the Lord’s temple.” (1 Kings 6:37)
Ziv was an alternate name for what the Torah called the “first month” of Aviv or Nisan. The temple became the center of Israel’s worship of God, their deliverer. Thus, the Hebrew civil calendar established at the Exodus remained in use centuries later as a symbol of God’s powerful acts in history on behalf of Israel.
Key Events in Nisan
Passover celebrated on 15th of Nisan
The Passover is one of the most important Jewish festivals, celebrated on the 15th day of Nisan to commemorate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. As described in the Book of Exodus, God helped the Israelites escape from Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the Egyptians.
On the night of the Passover, the Israelites were instructed to mark their doorposts with the blood of a sacrificed lamb, so that the Angel of Death ‘passed over’ the homes of the Israelites and only killed the firstborn sons of the Egyptians.
This miraculous event allowed the Israelites to escape from bondage and begin their exodus from Egypt.
The Passover feast includes many symbolic foods, such as unleavened bread called matzah, which reminds them of the haste with which they left Egypt. The first and last two days of Passover (the 15th and 16th of Nisan) are major Jewish holidays, with special rituals such as holding a Passover Seder meal.
Passover celebrates the freeing of the Israelites from slavery and their transition from servitude to freedom, which is why it remains such a significant event commemorated each year on the 15th of Nisan.
Exodus from Egypt took place in Nisan
As described in the Book of Exodus, the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt took place during the month of Nisan. According to Exodus 12:2, God commanded Moses that Nisan would be the first month of the year for the Israelites, underscoring the significance of this month.
Specifically, the events unfolded as follows:
- On the 10th day of Nisan, the Israelites were instructed to select an unblemished male lamb or goat for the Passover offering.
- On the 14th day of Nisan, they were to slaughter the Passover lamb and mark their doorposts with its blood.
- On the 15th of Nisan, at midnight, God struck down the firstborn sons of Egypt but ‘passed over’ the homes marked with lamb’s blood.
- Later that same day, the 15th of Nisan, the Israelites were freed from slavery and began their exodus from Egypt.
Thus, the month of Nisan marked a pivotal moment in Israelite history. Their miraculous liberation from bondage is commemorated and celebrated each year during Passover on the 15th of Nisan.
Dedication of Solomon’s Temple in Nisan
According to 1 Kings 6, King Solomon began building the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 4th year of his reign, and the project took 7 years to complete. The Temple was dedicated during the month of Nisan, as described in 1 Kings 8.
For the ancient Israelites, Nisan was a fitting month for the Temple’s dedication, as it was the first month of their religious calendar and marked new beginnings. Just as the exodus began in Nisan, so too did this new chapter in Israelite worship with the magnificent Temple as the center of Jewish spiritual life for generations to come.
The Bible emphasizes that the dedication occurred during the festival of Passover on the 15th of Nisan. A grand ceremony was held with prayers, offerings, and music as the Ark of the Covenant was installed in the Temple’s inner sanctum.
For seven days after, Solomon held a feast for the people to celebrate the Temple’s completion and dedication to God. The chose of Nisan for this momentous occasion highlights the symbolic significance of the month for the Israelites.
When Does Nisan Fall on Our Calendar?
The timing of the biblical month of Nisan doesn’t always match up perfectly with our modern calendar. Here’s an overview of when you can expect Nisan each year.
Nisan and the vernal equinox
Nisan is the first month of the biblical calendar, which begins in the spring. The Torah specifies that Passover must occur during Nisan and instructs it to coincide with the vernal (spring) equinox. This means Nisan typically overlaps with March or April in the Gregorian calendar.
More specifically, the vernal equinox falls on March 20-21 each year. Nisan 1 must occur no earlier than March 21. So while the dates vary, you can expect Nisan to arrive in March or April.
Nisan typically in March or April
Here are the recent and upcoming dates for Nisan 1:
- 2020 – March 26
- 2021 – March 15
- 2022 – April 2
- 2023 – March 21
- 2024 – April 10
As you can see, Nisan 1 is usually in March, but moves into April in leap years. The dates change each year, but Nisan is always connected to the vernal equinox.
Dates change yearly due to leap years
Because the modern calendar doesn’t perfectly align with the solar year, the dates of Nisan shift from year to year. The insertion of a leap day every 4 years accounts for some of the changing dates.
The alignment between the lunar months and solar year also causes the dates to fluctuate. While the modern calendar is strictly solar, the biblical calendar is lunisolar. So both the solar year and lunar phases impact the dates of biblical months.
But the anchor of the vernal equinox helps ensure Nisan remains tied to the spring season each year. The shifting dates simply mean the exact timing varies year to year.
The Months of the Hebrew Calendar
Nisan is the first month
Nisan, the first month on the Hebrew calendar, is a spring month that coincides with March-April. It marks the beginning of the religious new year and has great theological significance as the month God commanded the Israelites to observe Passover and celebrate their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:2).
Biblically, Nisan is called the month of the Aviv or the month of spring (Exodus 13:4, Exodus 23:15, Exodus 34:18, Deuteronomy 16:1). It signals new beginnings.
Names and significance of other months
The names of the other months on the Hebrew calendar are:
- Iyar – Second month meaning “blossom”
- Sivan – Third month associated with giving of the Torah
- Tammuz – Fourth month named after Babylonian god
- Av – Fifth month associated with destruction of the Temples
- Elul – Sixth month of introspection before High Holy Days
- Tishrei – Seventh month containing many holidays like Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur
- Cheshvan – Eighth month with no holidays
- Kislev – Ninth month when Chanukah story took place
- Tevet – Tenth month when siege of Jerusalem occurred
- Shevat – Eleventh month considered the new year for trees
- Adar – Twelfth month when Purim story occurred
Each month carries religious, agricultural, or historical significance for the Jewish people. Nisan, as the beginning of the festival calendar, holds rich meaning.
Adar added during leap years
The Hebrew calendar is lunisolar and contains 12 lunar months of 29 or 30 days alternately. To keep pace with the solar cycle, an extra month called Second Adar is added 7 times in every 19 year cycle. This keeps the festivals aligned with their originally designated agricultural seasons.
So in leap years, there are actually 13 months! Adar Sheni (Second Adar) gets inserted before the regular Adar. This maintains the integrity of the Hebrew calendar.
Nisan in Biblical Prophecy and Tradition
Role in prophecies about the Messiah
The month of Nisan plays a significant role in several Old Testament prophecies related to the coming of the Messiah. Here are some key examples:
- The prophet Daniel predicted that the Messiah would be killed before the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus was crucified in Nisan just a few decades before the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD (Daniel 9:26).
- Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey. This occurred on Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey amidst crowds shouting “Hosanna!” (Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:1-11). Palm Sunday typically falls in Nisan.
- Moses instructed Israel to choose the Passover lamb on the 10th day of Nisan and slaughter it on the 14th day (Exodus 12:3-6). Jesus, the ultimate Passover Lamb, was selected by the crowds on Palm Sunday and crucified a few days later, fulfilling the propheticsignificance of Nisan.
So the month of Nisan took on special prophetic meaning concerning the Messiah, which was fulfilled in Jesus’ triumphal entry, death, and resurrection during the same month centuries later.
Traditional observances during Nisan
Nisan is considered the first month on the Jewish calendar and is packed with religious observances and rich traditions. Here are some of the key observances:
- Passover – The Feast of Passover is a week-long commemoration starting on the 15th of Nisan remembering God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The Passover seder meal is eaten on the first night.
- Feast of Unleavened Bread – For seven days following Passover, Jews eat unleavened bread as a reminder of the haste in which they left Egypt. According to Exodus 12:15, during Passover week yeast must be removed from houses and unleavened bread eaten.
- First Fruits – This festival occurs on the Sunday following Passover, where people would bring the first crops and grain from the spring harvest to the temple as an offering to God (Leviticus 23:9-14).
- Palm Sunday – As mentioned, Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem when crowds welcomed him as king. It marks the beginning of Holy Week leading up to Easter.
In addition to these religious festivals, Nisan is considered a time of hope and renewal when winter is ended and spring begins. The rains have passed and flowers start to bloom signaling new life. As the beginning of the spiritual year, Nisan represents an opportune time for introspection, renewal, and starting afresh in one’s relationship with God.
To summarize, Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew calendar, corresponding to March or April on our modern Gregorian calendar. It is a springtime month packed with religious and historical significance for the Jewish people.
Knowing when Nisan falls each year provides valuable context for properly understanding the timing of major biblical events.