Torah for the Nations: Judaism 101
4. Torah Timeline
The Torah Dating System
Torah-observant Jews count the years from the "Creation of the World", the climax of which was the creation of Adam as told in the Book of Genesis chapters 1-2. The current Hebrew year is 5777, which began on October 3, 2016 and ends on September 20, 2017.
Counting the years from the creation of Adam is not inconsistent with the idea that the physical Universe may be billions of years old (see The Age of the Universe: A Torah True Perspective by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan). The account of creation in Genesis need not be taken to mean that the entire Universe literally came into being in six days each consisting of exactly 24 clock hours as humans understand the term "days". For the Torah is not offering an explanation of how the material world developed. Rather, in its "historical" sections the Torah is concerned with the spiritual development of Mankind. It is possible that "human beings" had been developing over millions of years before ADAM was created, but the historical timeframe that concerns us began only with the appearance of the first human being who attained the spiritual level of ADAM, and it is from this event that we count the years.
"For the essence of ADAM is his Da'at, knowledge and awareness of G-d, and one who does not have Da'at is not a part of civilization and cannot be called by the name ADAM at all; he is nothing but an animal that outwardly resembles ADAM." (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan Part 2, Teaching 7:2)
The dates given here follow the system of Seder Olam, "Order of the World", a 2nd-century C.E. Hebrew language chronology compiled by the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Yossé ben Halafta, a student of Rabbi Akiva, detailing the dates of biblical events from the Creation to Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia. Although the dating system of Seder Olam diverges considerably from that of many contemporary secular academic historians, it considered authoritative by the Talmud and later Torah sages until today.
Seder Olam counts the years from the creation of Adam basing its calculations on the figures for the lifespans of leading individuals and indications about dates of events found in the Five Books of Moses and the biblical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles.
When Torah-observant Jews refer to the secular year corresponding to any given year in the Torah calendar, they avoid the expressions A.D. and B.C. on account of their non-Jewish overtones. Instead they would refer to the current year as 2017 C.E. where C.E. stands for the "Common Era". Years before the year 0 of the Common Era, which historians call "B.C.", are termed by the Torah-observant as B.C.E. 'Before the Common Era". Thus the Hebrew year 2448, when the Torah, was given, corresponds to the secular year -1312 B.C.E. To establish the secular equivalent of any Hebrew year, simply subtract 3760 from the Hebrew year in question. Conversely, to establish the Hebrew equivalent of any secular year, add 3760. (The calculation is only approximate since the Hebrew year begins in September-October while the secular year begins in January.)
"The world will last for six thousand years: two thousand years of desolation, two thousand years of Torah, and two thousand years of the days of Mashiach" (Sanhedrin 97a)
TWO THOUSAND YEARS OF DESOLATION
Years 0 to 2000 (-3760 to -1760 B.C.E.)
Ten generations from Adam to Noah culminate in the Flood, followed by God's Covenant with Noah. Ten generations from Noah to Abraham culminate in the fall of the Tower of Babel and the dispersal of the nations, but the prophets Shem and Eiver maintained the monotheistic tradition despite prevalent idolatry.
1948 (-1812 B.C.E.)
Birth of Abraham
TWO THOUSAND YEARS OF TORAH
2000-4000 (-1760 B.C.E.-240 C.E.)
The Patriarchs. Exodus from Egypt & Giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel's Entry into the Land of Israel, building of the First and Second Temples and Redaction of the Oral Law.
2000 (-1760 B.C.E.)
Abraham, aged 52, recognizes the One G-d.
2238 (-1522 B.C.E.)
Jacob and his sons go down to Egypt beginning 210 years of exile there.
2448 (-1312 B.C.E.)
Redemption and Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Giving of the Torah at Sinai. Two million Israelites experience collective prophecy at Sinai.
2488 (-1272 B.C.E.)
After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Children of Israel enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses's disciple Joshua and begin its conquest.
2884-2924 (-876-836 B.C.E. )
Following the death of King Saul, King David rules over Israel for 40 years, after which his son Solomon becomes King of Israel.
2928 (-832 B.C.E.)
Building of First Temple by King Solomon, inaugurating a glorious period of Israelite sovereignty and the flowering of spirituality.
2964 (-796 B.C.E.)
Ten of the 12 Tribes of Israel (excepting Judah and Benjamin) rebelled against the rule of the House of David under Solomon's son King Rehaboam and established the "Northern Kingdom" under the leadership of Jeraboam son of Nevat.
3205 (-555 B.C.E.)
Exile of the Ten Tribes by Assyrian King Sennacherib, after which except for the few remnants that were absorbed into Judah, they disappeared and were considered "lost".
3338 (-422 B.C.E.)
Destruction of the First Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the Priests and Levites and surviving remnants of the other tribes who were merged with Judah went into exile in Babylon.
3390 (-370 B.C.E.)
The first Judean exiles to Babylon return to Jerusalem under Zerubavel and Yehoshua the High Priest.
3408 (-352 B.C.E.)
Building of the Second Temple. Leadership of the people passed to the Men of the Great Assemly and the Sages, who developed and transmitted the Oral Torah.
3828 (68 C.E.)
The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, whose persecution led to the decimation and exile of much of the Jewish population of the Land of Israel, though some communities remained in continuous residence in the Land.
3949 (189 C.E.)
Compilation of the Mishnah by Rabbi Judah the Prince codifying the entire Oral Torah law in writing, bringing "2000 years of Torah" to their conclusion. In the same period the mystical Torah teachings of the Kabbalah were also written down though still kept secret for another 1000 years.
TWO THOUSAND YEARS OF THE DAYS OF MASHIACH
4000-6000 (240-2240 C.E.)
Dispersal of Israel throughout the world accompanied by the trials and tribulations of the long exile and unremitting persecutions. Revelation of the Kabbalah and Chassidut arousing widespread repentance and ingathering of the exiles to the Land of Israel.
4000-4300 (240-540 C.E.)
Editing of the Talmud consisting of rabbinical discussions and explanations of the Mishnah together with other teachings. The "Jerusalem Talmud" was written in Israel while the "Babylonian Talmud", whose rulings are considered binding on all Jews, was written in Babylon.
5030 (1270 C.E.)
Kabbalistic teachings began to become known among wider circles of scholars as manuscripts of the Zohar and writings on the prophetic Kabbalah were circulated.
5252 (1492 C.E.)
The continent of America was discovered by Christopher Columbus providing new havens for exiled Jews in precisely the same year that all the Jews of Spain who refused to convert to Christianity were forcibly expelled from there, as were the Jews of Portugal a few years later. Some migrated to America while others moved to other countries, including the Land of Israel.
5320 (c. 1560 C.E. )
Outstanding rabbis and kabbalists gather in the N. Israel city of Safed under the leadership of Rabbi Joseph Caro, author of the authoritative Shulchan Arukh Torah law code, and the outstanding Kabbalistic Master, Rabbi Isaac Luria (the "Ari"), initiating the restoration of the crown of the Torah in the Land of Israel.
5494 (1734 C.E.)
First revelation of Rabbi Israel the "Baal Shem Tov", founder of the Chassidic movement, whose teachings enabled mystical devotions to spread among the entire people.
5507 (1746 C.E.)
Baal Shem ascends to the palace of Mashiach, who informs him that he will come "when your fountains flow out to the whole world".
5642 (1882 C.E.) to the present
Successive waves of Aliyah, mass migration of Jews to Israel from the countries of their dispersal across the world, restore Israel as the world's most important Jewish population center.
5708 (1948 C.E.)
Establishment of the State of Israel as the first independent, sovereign Jewish state in the Promised Land since the destruction of the Second Temple and the Roman occupation of Judea.