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This page was last updated on 17 July,2018

The duration of an hour

Gen 1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Almost at the very beginning of the Bible God defines day as the period of  a calendar day that has light. That obviously means dark in no way is part of that definition.

John 11:9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbles not, because he sees the light of this world.

Jesus said that every day has 12 hours. But we know from experience that the duration between sunrise and sunset can vary several hours a day.

We all know the expression “the days get longer”. That never refers to the 24-hour calendar days, but the daylight portion of the day. Still Jesus said each day has 12 hours. Still Gen 1:5 states as long as we see light it’s day.

The answer to this riddle is very simple. Hours varied in duration. They seldom were exactly 60 minutes. There are, as far as I know, two main views on how that’s done.

The second view has little support, and some math quickly show why.

Jerusalem sunrise and sunset on 21 June: 05:34-19:47. That’s over 14 hours and 14 minutes.

Jerusalem sunrise and sunset on 21 December: 06:34-16:39. That’s over 10 hours and 4 minutes.

A 4 hour difference can’t be spread over 2 hours. An hour can’t be made shorter than 0 minutes.

That leaves the first option.

The longest day is 854 minutes. That’s 71.2 minutes per hour.

The shortest day is 604 minutes. That’s 50.3 minutes per hour.

The number of hours was very important to the ancient Jews, because many law related things were done at set times of the day. For example, each and every day 2 lambs were sacrificed to God.

All things relating to that were spaced out in parts of 3 hours over the day. When we look at crucifixion day we see that things all happened on the border of 3 hour blocks. Obviously no coincidence because because those rituals always pointed to crucifixion day.

While the hours kept changing in duration the lamb was always killed at the exactly the ninth hour. That ninth hour was always the at the same percentage of daylight.

The Temple was closed during the dark hours so sacrifices had to be done in the daylight hours. Below a simple table showing the Temple rituals at set hours and how they point to Christ.

Relative hour (Hebrew singular: sha’ah zemanit; plural: sha’ot - zemaniyot), sometimes called halachic hour, seasonal hour and variable hour, is a term used in rabbinic Jewish law that assigns 12 hours to each day and 12 hours to each night, all throughout the year. A relative hour has no fixed radical, but changes with the length of each day - depending on summer (when the days are long and the nights are short), and on winter (when the days are short and the nights are long). Even so, in all seasons a day is always divided into 12 hours, and a night is always divided into 12 hours, which inevitably makes for a longer hour or a shorter hour. All of the hours mentioned by the Sages in either the Mishnah or Talmud, or in other rabbinic writings, refer strictly to relative hours.

Another feature of this ancient practice is that, unlike the standard modern 12-hour clock that assigns 12 o'clock pm for noon time, in the ancient Jewish tradition noon time was always the sixth hour of the day, whereas the first hour began with the break of dawn, by most exponents of Jewish law,[4] and with sunrise by the Vilna Gaon[5] and Rabbi Hai Gaon. 12:o'clock am (midnight) was also the sixth hour of the night, whereas the first hour of the night began when the first three stars appeared in the night sky.