January the first will begin the Christian calendar year 2019. The Jewish year, 5,779, already began three months previously on the evening of September 9, 2018. Christians know their calendar starts from the birth of Jesus. Muslims know the Muslim calendar begins with the escape of Muhammad from oppression and persecution by the Arabs of Makka to freedom in the town of Medina. Buddhists know that their calendar starts with the enlightenment of Siddhartha under a Bodhi tree. But most Jews would be hard pressed to explain what happened 5,779 years ago to start the Jewish calendar.
By analogy to the Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist calendars one might expect that the Jewish calendar starts with the birth of Abraham (the first Jew), or from the Exodus from Egypt (the trans-formative experience of the Jewish people), or from the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (the enlightenment of the Jewish people). But the second century Rabbis who made up the calendar Jews currently use, chose to begin with Adam and Eve i.e. the beginning of human civilization.
The word Adam in Hebrew means mankind/Homo Sapiens– the species. The exit of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden marks the transition of humanity from a largely nomadic/neolithic stone age society of hunter-gatherers, to a more advanced metal working bronze age society of farmers and village dwellers.
Or perhaps the Jewish calendar begins with the first pair of wheels. The earliest evidence for wheeled vehicles appears simultaneously in Southwest Asia and Northern Europe, about 35-3700 BCE. In Mesopotamia, that evidence is from images, pictographs representing four-wheeled wagons found inscribed on clay tablets dated to the beginning of the late Uruk period of Mesopotamia. Models of solid wheels, carved from limestone or modeled in clay, have been found in Syria and Turkey, at sites dated approximately a century or two later.
Although long-standing tradition credits the southern Mesopotamian civilization with the invention of wheeled vehicles, today scholars are less certain, as there appears to be a nearly simultaneous record of use throughout the Mediterranean basin. Scholars are divided as to whether this is the result of the rapid dissemination of a single invention or multiple independent innovations.
But more likely the Bible is just focused on the history of humanity. All historical dates that are derived from written records will fit into the Jewish calendar. The earliest writing comes from the same Mesopotamian city of Uruk (Genesis 10:10) and dates to about 55-5600 years ago i.e. the third century of the Jewish calendar. The first dynasty in Egypt arose in the 7th century of the Jewish calendar, and the first stone pyramid in the 10th century.
The famous king Sargon of Akkad (2371-2316 BCE) lived in the 14th century of the Jewish calendar. Abraham was not born until the 21th century of the Jewish calendar. It is only in the generations after Abraham that Biblical history begins to focus on the religious development of one specific group of people.
The Jewish calendar is not only the oldest of the world’s calendars, it is the only one that begins with the beginning of recorded human history. Everything prior to the Jewish calendar is prehistory. History begins with Adam and Eve. For more information see pages 269-70 in my new book “Which Religion Is Right For You? a Kuzari for the 21st century.” Hadassa Word Press ISBN (978-620-2-45517-6)