Friday 22 April 2016

Date Line Lunacy (updated)

Pre-2011 Date Line
Well, dusk has turned to dark and the Passover has now "passed over" New Zealand, the first major country in the world to meet each new day as it emerges out of thin air over the International Date Line. Welcome to the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Of course, our Aussie brethren might want to challenge the assertion about "major country," but we'll bide our time: if the cane toads don't get them first then global warming will eventually.

But seriously, how do people outside "the Holy Land" know that they're observing their sacred days on the right days? Why not have the date line in the middle of the Atlantic instead of the Pacific?

Regrettably, there's no proof text at hand. The problem of where to plonk the changeover line never occurred to the biblical writers. As far as they were concerned the earth was flat: heaven above (with Yahweh somewhere beyond the starry canopy), hades below. When the sun went down it passed over bare rocky nether regions that opened out onto nothingness before ascending once more into the bright domains of humankind.

Apparently Yahweh, despite being omniscient, was unaware of the problems that migration to the "Down Under" zone would create. Or the New World for that matter. The International Date Line was eventually set by mere mortals over a few gin and tonics.

Then there's the issue of the kink in the dateline over Tonga. Being sensible, intelligent and perceptive people the Tongans naturally wanted to be on the Kiwi side of the line, but the cartographers wanted to put them in company with the Americas. No wonder they objected! Thus, the dateline was amended - and a bump was created to put Tonga on its preferred side of the temporal chasm.

As I understand it, Seventh-day Adventists in Tonga keep two sabbaths each week as a result: both Saturday and Sunday. Why? Well, the LORD seems not to have spoken specifically on the dented dateline, so they play safe... just in case!

I'm not sure whether there are any Adventists on Kiribati, but there the problem is even more glaring. Until January 1st, 1995 Kiribati was on the Western side of the date line, but the micro-nation decided - again, who can blame them - to grab a day's march on the rest of the world, and thereby become the first place on the planet to welcome in the new millennium (and grab a lot of free publicity.) Boy, I bet the heavenly Department of Holy Days was cheesed off about that one!

Among the calendar fanatics who want to argue about solar/lunar/360 and suchlike, I've yet to come across a single one of these geniuses who can give a poor Tongan, Kiwi or Aussie a bit of biblical assurance that they're not a day out.

In the absence of a solution to this enigma, the whole concept of "Holy Time" outside the Middle East becomes meaningless.

SDA's are given to statements like: "Some people believe the placement of the International Date Line was achieved under divine guidance." Yes, doubtless, but it also logically follows that other people - outside the Saturday/Sunday Sabbatarian gulags - don't. What's needed is proof - or failing that, at least a nice proof text. Vic? Rod? Gerry? Bob? ... Anybody?

None of this has much to do with the spiritual significance of a eucharistic celebration. The Lord's Supper would be the Lord's Supper for observant Christians anywhere. But let's be clear, there is a real problem if you shackle it to a legalistic calculation of "holy time."

Herbert Armstrong always postured about sending a certified bank cheque to anyone who could mail in a Bible verse that commanded Sunday observance. I'm tempted to repeat the offer on the dateline issue. Clearly I won't need to go running to the bank anytime soon.

But if you do come up with a proof text, please be sure to mail it with a Kiribati stamp.


A version of the above post first appeared here in 2009. Since then things have continued to get, in the words of Lewis Carroll,  "curiouser and curiouser". The graphic at the top of this piece from 2009 is now inaccurate. In 2011 Samoa flipped over, skipping a Friday and moving straight from Thursday to Saturday, reversing an earlier change made in the 1890s. This latest flip-flop created an anomaly with neighbouring American Samoa, which is now once again a full day behind. In Pago Pago it may be Friday, but just a few kilometers to the west in Apia it's now Saturday.

Ever been told that the seven-day cycle has never been broken? Bullgeschichte.

Little surprise then that it engendered a crisis for the nation's Seventh-day Adventists, many of who have believing relatives in the adjoining jurisdiction, historically just a canoe journey away. Which day is true Sabbath now? If you parked your canoe for a spot of fishing on the invisible line that separates the waters of American Samoa from Samoa, what would you do? When exactly should the Holy Days fall? Can't you just hear one of the COG preachers screeching "brethren, your eternal future is at stake!" But they don't. I wonder why?

If you're awaiting an article in Tomorrow's World or Beyond Today to settle such deep matters, probably best not to hold your breath.


Byker Bob said...

I doubt whether most of the COGgers have considered the full implications of this, or sabbath observance in the polar regions, or the "upside downness" of the holy days with regard to the seasons of the southern hemisphere. When these issues have been raised in the past, people have become cavalier, and even flippant, saying such things as "Why would this concern you? it doesn't affect you where you live."

I've felt for some time now that God deliberately made it very confusing, if not impossible, to keep the fulfilled elements of the Old Covenant. It is by no means a clear, or black and white issue, as we had previously been taught and thought.


Byker Bob said...

You also have to wonder what the modern Pharisees are thinking on this issue. They make the new moons "Jerusalem-centric" in determining the "sacred" calendar. Why wouldn't they insist on the days of the week first dawning in Jerusalem as well?


Anonymous said...

Oh, c'm'on. It's easy.

The Sabbath begins on the New Moon in your area. For four weeks or so, it's going to be on say, Tuesday. Next month? Well, it will be on what ever day begins the New Moon.

And no cheating!

Obviously, it's the New Moon as observed in Jerusalem -- but not by conjunction! How in hell did the Israelite priests know that the sun, moon and earth were in alignment??!!! They couldn't. It couldn't be observed because it would be around midnight when no one could see the sun or moon.

As for the seventh day continuing unbroken from the Genesis creation? Well, first of all the Genesis account of creation never happened, but that's not the only problem: Think of this -- how did Noah know what day it was in the Ark? Just tell us that!!!?? He didn't. Couldn't see sunrise and sunset and JavaScript for his mobile hotspot didn't work back then!!! The seventh day Sabbath had to begin again when Noah left the ark. Tell us that it wasn't arbitrary! "I guess it's been 7 days since I left the Ark, so today's the Sabbath!!!" Nonsense.

As for the Passover -- you're all a month late this year, so it really doesn't matter. The Spring Equinox is not on April 6th or 7th. It's just not. The Jews know their calendar is wrong! It makes the whole discussion moot. Or if you're a moron, mute. It should be clear that the Spring holydays are in the spring, so you folks in New Zealand should be starting the Feast of Tabernacles pretty soon, if you aren't already late.

Anyway, will someone come up with all the Scriptures in the New Testament about how all Christians -- including the American and Kiwi Gentiles -- are supposed to keep the Feasts? Book, chapter and verse. After all, the Apostle Paul is said to have given the Gentiles all they needed and since he started Christianity long before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there's no need to look there. And anyway, the gospels are forged (as were about 6 of Paul's epistles). People just made this stuff up -- commissioned by rich folks to write about Jesus. It's amazing what money could buy for Theophilus. At best, support for keeping the Feasts is very weak in the New Testament. And no cheating! Revelation shouldn't even be in the Bible. It barely squeaked by to get in and anyone who reads it should be able to see why. Anyway, Revelation is all about the First Century and Roman emperors and stuff.

Glad I could clear that up.

No need to thank me.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry.

The day begins at Jerusalem. Period. This will be fixed in the non coming millennium when Jesus doesn't return.

That way, the Arabs will be the last to keep the Sabbath.

Kiwis will be in the middle.

And each the Sabbath will begin with the new moon.

Prove it wrong. Using Scriptures.

Anonymous said...

"Apparently Yahweh, despite being omniscient, was unaware of the problems that migration to the "Down Under" zone would create.

Not quite. The Bible is ethnocentric and Palestine-centric in the setting for its legislation. And, of course, for a Jew not to live in Palestine was a great sorrow and tragedy. But if someone just had to live in New Zealand among the unclean Goyim, there was the rabbinical synedrion that one could consult about various issues as these. Maybe nobody ever did but the bases were covered.

Byker Bob said...

Meanwhile, back on the ark, we find poor Noah desperately hoping that Chupacabra is an unclean animal, because it will be difficult enough to find two of them!


Anonymous said...

Do you suppose that Noah floated over New Zealand?

Not that there was necessarily a World wide flood mind you.

Unknown said...

So when do you keep the Sabbath if you are living on the space station or if you were on a trip to Mars?

Retired Prof said...

All these difficulties make me glad to be a secular christian (lower case because generic.) We've got only two commandments to obsess about:

1) Never take up more than one parking space.
2) Always be kind to drunks.

Most of us take these metaphorically as reminders that we should not commandeer more than our share of the earth's resources, and that we should go easy on people who mess up, because we mess up a lot ourselves.

I have memorized only one of our beatitudes: "Blessed is the driver which findeth two spaces together and maketh a clear choice between them, for his tires will remain unslashed."

There may be pharisaical secular christians who carry a yardstick in their car to make sure they are perfectly centered in their chosen parking space, and who quiz unfortunates to make sure they have a drinking problem before they will do anything nice for them, but I never heard of such.

So that they have to remember fewer commandments, some secular christians follow the lead of Robert Heinlein, though their single commandment is not phrased in the imperative voice: "Sin lies only in hurting others unnecessarily. All other 'sins' are invented nonsense."

TM said...

Herman L Hoeh gave the answer on the Day of Atonement, October 6 1984, in Shanghai China, to a group that was on its way to the Feast of Tabernacles in Nanjing. It went something like this: On the Molad of Tishri, which was the moment the Hebrew ("Sacred") calendar began, the sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean.

Why did HLH give it there? The day before, the group had flown into Shanghai from San Francisco. October 5 suddenly became October 6. I was amazed at the number of people in the group that didn't know what the Date Line was. And there was a crisis on the flight. Because of expected headwinds, the pilots calculated that they couldn't load the airplane with enough fuel to get all the way. So they stopped in Seattle to top up with fuel. The delay meant that when the dinner was scheduled to be served on the airplane, it was already past sunset in Shanghai, and the DoA would have begun. So the tour leaders prevailed on the (Chinese) flight attendants to serve dinner early. This baffled them completely, but they did it.

See the Wikipedia article on the International Date Line, especially the section on Historical Alterations. Alaska and the Philippines were once on the other side of the Line.

Anonymous said...

"So when do you keep the Sabbath if you are living on the space station or if you were on a trip to Mars?"

If I were a Rabbi with the appropriate authority, I would just say "Jerusalem Time" for all near_earth_objects. But what if you approach the event horizon of a black hole and time nearly stops for you while Sabbaths come and go back on spinining earth? Or what if nobody had ever asked that question - maybe life would have just gone along fine.

The Noachian Flood was a local event. The King James translators morphed it into a global event. This combined with the same ethno-centricity and geo-centricity we have been talking about.

Stephen said...

Let's say, oh, just for argument's sake, that a mortal wound up getting confused and *accidentally* keeping a sabbath or a "holy" day at the wrong time.

What bad thing will happen? Can anyone say? If so, how sure can they be that whatever it is will happen? Have they ever seen a bad thing happen before that could be objectively causally-linked to keeping a sabbath or "holy" day at the wrong time? If so, what are the calculated odds of one or more bad things happening?

If we aren't sure that any bad thing will happen from not keeping sabbaths and "holy" days, should everyone keep on keeping them, just to be "on the safe side"? Why or why not?

There exists an infinite number of other things that could also be done in order to avoid unlikely, but arguably possible, negative outcomes, just to be "on the safe side" as well. Should we also be doing all of them? Why or why not?

How can we rationalize doing one thing to avoid one unlikely negative outcome, while not doing another thing to avoid an equally unlikley negative outcome?

What if the cost/benefit ratio of playing it "safe" has more costs than benefits associated with it? Is playing it "safe" inherently virtuous? Would it make me a "bad person" if I decided not to play it "safe"? In all cases, or just in one case? Why or why not?

Anonymous said...

Trust us, there's no way to win at this, except reject the whole thing as nonsense.

Anonymous said...

We all kept Pentecost on the wrong day for years (except Herman Hoeh who, I understand, kept both Saturday and Sunday) and look how bad things turned out for us.

The Skeptic said...

Buffalo chips is all it means to me.

Anonymous said...

The Noachian Flood was a local event. The King James translators morphed it into a global event

Quasi fundamentalist apologetics

Byker Bob said...

Why would Herman Hoeh be considered as an authority? He was the author of much of the out of context proof-texting which was used to substantiate HWA's Biblical theories, yet ultimately remained with the mother-ship following the Tkach corrections. To be fair, he was an enigma, a shape-shifting chameleon, whose true nature and core values may have been carefully protected and concealed. That is a not too secure rock, unless one is into proof-texting oneself.


Anonymous said...


The solution to your riddle is in Game Theory I suspect.
I hear Varoufakis (professor Game Theory) is back to lecturing again. So who knows the solution is out there.


Anonymous said...


I'm pretty sure game theory is not necessary to answer the questions I pose. All that is necessary is a little common sense and consistency.

I'm sure that rock climbing, skydiving, ascending K2 or Everest, or any other extreme sports activity is not "playing it safe." Yet, I have never heard anyone in Armstrongism ever condemn these activities. In my experience, Armstrongism has always been very pro-sports oriented, especially highly competitive sports (even though a vague "competition" was regularly condemned by ol' Herb—go figure). But if you decided not to "play it safe" when it comes to "making it" into the "first resurrection" you'll be roundly condemned. Why is one sort of competition promoted, while another is condemned? Why is not "playing it safe" when it comes to religion anathema, while not "playing it safe" in other areas of life considered a feather in one's cap?

If someone expects me to believe them, they had better make up a more consistent mythology than this...

Stephen said...

Oops. Signed, Stephen.

Anonymous said...

Still it seems your arguments seem to center around risk taking. (Game Theory)

I was thinking of the "Fall of Man."
All men (even little babies) are condemned and die for something Adam and Eve did. The baby born yesterday did nothing but poo and crie.
Is that fair? No it is in the nature of sin.
Like all kinds of diseases one might have because great grand dad was an alcoholic. Not fair.

So it seems with keeping a holy day at the right moment. It works or it doesn't work out. You do it right or you don't. Any small mistake at K2 gets you killed. I was there (wcg (close) and k2 (distance), there is no compromise, people step over other wounded or freezing people or one dies oneself.) That is the nature of LAW. Intent, mercy, love is quite another subject.


Stephen said...

That's what I thought. You don't know what game theory is. Game theory is not an umbrella term interchangeable with all generic risk taking.

According to Roger B. Myerson's Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict:

"Game theory can be defined as the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers."

You have to distort what I'm talking about quite a bit to force it have much to do with game theory.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry.

Nearly every sentence in the 13:43 posting is a question that needs no force to have game theory applicable.

It is possible I am reading to fast though.

Some are willing to take the risk (David), others are not (Brother of the Prodigal son).


Questeruk said...

Regardless of if you consider days to be ‘holy’ or not, there has to be a date line!

On a round earth there is no getting away from it. All the while civilisation from the Middle East/Europe only travelled west to the America’s or east as far as Japan/Australia/New Zealand there was no problem.

It was only when Magellan’s crew sailed round the world (Magellan himself never made it) in 1519-1522 that the problem became apparent.

The ship called in at the Cape Verde Islands as they were nearing home, only to find that the people on the islands considered it Thursday, while they were sure it was Wednesday.

This incident of apparently ‘losing’ a day was considered, and the correct answer worked out by the experts of the time, realising that they were living on a round earth, and in due course it was brought before the pope, Adrian VI, who rightly accepted it as being correct.

On a round earth there has to be the equivalent of a date line somewhere – the day has to start at some point. It doesn't have to be where it is, but it does have to be somewhere!