Table of Contents

The period between sunset and sunrise (see Calendar; Day). The older Biblical term for the whole day was "yom wa-lailah" or "yomam wa-layelah." Later "'ereb wa-boḳer" was used (Dan. viii. 14). Corresponding with it is νυχθήμερον (II Cor. xi. 25). "Boḳer" is literally the break of day, "'ereb" the decline of day.

Among the ancient Israelites, as among the Greeks, the day was reckoned from sunset to sunset. This was the custom also of the Gauls and ancient Germans, and was probably connected originally with the cult of the moon. There is, however, evidence that this was not the custom at all times; e.g., the expression "day and night" in Lev. viii. 35; Num. ix. 21; Jer. viii. 23, xvi. 13, xxxiii. 25; Isa. Ix. 11; Ps. i. 2; xxxii. 4; xlii. 4, 9; lv. 11; Lam. ii. 18; I Sam. xxv. 16; I Kings viii. 59. So too some claim that in Gen. i. 5 et seq. the day is reckoned according to the Babylonian manner, from morning till morning (see Delitzsch in Dillmann's commentary on Gen. i. 5).

Further evidence that the reckoning of the day from the evening is of later date is found in connection with the sacrificial service, in which the oldest customs were undoubtedly most rigidly preserved. While in the Talmud the day is always counted with the preceding night, as, for instance, in regard to the prohibition of killing the young with its mother on the same day (Lev. xxii. 28), with reference to sacrifices which had to be eaten on the day on which they were offered the night is counted with the day preceding it (Ḥul. 83a).

The division into day and night was originally very indefinite, and there was no accurate measurement of time. The distinctions were made according to the successive natural stages or the occupations in daily life. The early morning is "'alat hashaḥar," literally "rising of the morning [star]."

The morning is "boḳer," or "the sun rose" (Gen. xix. 23, xxxii. 31).

Midday is "ẓaharayim," literally "the double light," that is, the time when the sunlight is brightest; or "the heat of the day" (Gen. xviii. 1; I Sam. xi. 11); or "the perfect day" (Prov. iv. 18).

Afternoon and evening are "'ereb," the time of the day's decline (Judges xix. 8); or "the wind of the day" (Gen. iii. 8), that is, the evening breeze; or "neshef," darkness (Hi. xxiv. 15, 5; v. 11, etc.). A late designation is "the appearance of the stars" (Neh. iv. 15 [21]).

Between the Lights.

One other time of the day must be mentioned, namely, "ben ha-'arbayim," which occurs in Ex. xii. 6; xvi. 12; xxix. 39, 41; xxx. 8; Lev. xxiii. 5; Num. ix. 3, 5, 11; xxviii. 4, 8. Its meaning must have been originally "toward evening"; for it indicates the same time that in Deut. xvi. 6 is called "the time of the going down of the sun." This "ben ha-'arbayim" is the time prescribed for the offering of the Passover lamb and the daily evening sacrifice. In the first century the evening "Tamid" was offered in the afternoon between 2.30 and 3.30 (Josephus, "Ant." xiv. 4, § 3; Mishnah Pes. v. 1; comp. also Acts iii. 1 and x. 3, 30), while the Karaites and Samaritans continued their practise according to the old interpretation.

The twilight before nightfall is in the Mishnah and Talmud called "ben ha-shemashot" (between the suns), of which Yer. Ber. i. gives this explanation: "When the eastern sky becomes pale, that is 'ben ha-shemashot'; but when it becomes so black [or dark] that the upper and lower parts of the sky are of the same color, it is night."


The subdivision of night and day into twelve equal divisions of variable duration is of late introduction, probably adopted in the Exile from the Babylonians. Older is the division of the night into three night-watches, "ashmurah" or "ashmoret" (mishnaic, "mishmarah"). The first is mentioned in Lam. ii. 19, the middle one in Judges vii. 19, the last in Ex. xiv. 24 and I Sam. xi. 11. From the New Testament it appears that the division of the night into four night-watches was adopted from the Romans (Matt. xiv. 25; comp. Mark xiii. 35). Acts xii. 4 speaks of four Roman soldiers, each of whom had to keep guard during one watch of the night. The Mishnah retains the old division into three in accordance with the practise in the Temple. In Ber. 3b R. Nathan (second century) knows of only three night-watches; but the patriarch R. Judah I. knows four. Greeks and Romans likewise divided the night into four watches ("vigiliæ").

Of legal questions referring to night the following should be mentioned:

Court sessions could not begin at night; examination of witnesses and the signing of papers were legal only in the daytime. In civil cases begun in the daytime judgment could be pronounced after night-fall; not, however, in capital cases, in which judgment could be pronounced only in the daytime.

  • Ideler, Handbuch der Chronologie, i. 482 et seq.;
  • Saalschütz, Mosaisches Recht, pp. 399 et seq.;
  • idem, Archœologie, ii. 72 et seq.;
  • Herzfeld, Geschichte, ii. 184.
W. B. M. Lan.
Images of pages