Hour (Chald. שָׁעָה, shal, saotrh', a monent, prop. a look, 1. q. "the wink of an eye" [Germ. Augenblick]; Greek éρα), a term first found in Da 3:6; Da 4:19,33; Da 5:5; and occurring several times in the Apocrypha (Judith 19:8; 2 Esd. 9:44). It seems to be a vague expression for a short period, and the frequent phrase "in the same hour" means "immediately:" hence we find בּשָׁעָה substituted in the Targum for ִבּרֶצ, "in a moment' (Nu 16:21, etc.). The corresponding Gr. term is frequently used in the same way by the N.T. writers (Mt 8:13; Lu 12:39, etc.). The word hour is sometimes used in Scripture to denote some determinate season, as "mine hour is not yet come," "this is your hour, and the power of darkness," "the hour is coming," etc. It occurs in the Sept. as a rendering for various words meaning time, just as it does in Greek writers long before it acquired the specific meaning of our word "hour." Saah is still used in Arabic both for an hour and a moment.
The ancient Hebrews were probably unacquainted with the division of the natural day into twenty-four parts. The general distinctions of "morning, evening, and noonday" (Psalm Iv, 17; comp. Ge 15:12; Ge 18:1; Ge 19:1,15,23) were sufficient for them at first, as they were for the early Greeks (Homer, II. 21:3, 111); afterwards the Greeks adopted five marked periods of the day (Jul. Pollux, Oom? — 1, 68; Dio Chrysost. Orat. in De Glor.), and the Hebrews parceled out the period between sunrise and sunset into a series of minute divisions distinguished by the sun's course, as is still done by the Arabs, who have stated forms of prayers for each period (Lane's Mood. Eg. vol. 1, ch. 3). SEE DAY.
The early Jews appear to have divided the day into four parts (Ne 9:3), and even in the N.T. we find a trace of this division in Mt 20:1-5. There is, however, no proof of the assertion sometimes made, that éρα in the Gospels may occasionally mean a space of three hours. It h'as been thought by some interpreters (see Wolfii Curae in N.T. ad Joh 19:14) that the evangelist John always computes the hours of the day after the Roman reckoning, i.e. from midnight to midnight (see Pliny, Hist. Noct. 2, 79; Aul Gell. Noct. Att. 3, 2); but this is without support from Hebrew analogy, and obliges the gratuitous supposition of a reckoning also from midday (against Joh 11:9).
The Greeks adopted the division of the day into twelve hours from the Babylonians (Herodotus, 2:109; comp. Rawlinson, Herod. 2:334). At what period the Jews became first acquainted with this way of reckoning time is unknown, but it is generally supposed that they, too, learned it from the Babylonians during the Captivity (Wiahner, Ant. Hebr. § 5:1, 8, 9). They may have had some such division at a much earlier period, as has been inferred from the fact that Ahaz erected a sun-dial in Jerusalem, the use of which had probably been learned from Babylon. There is, however, the greatest uncertainty as to the meaning of the word מֲִלוֹת (A.V. "degrees," Isa 38; Isa 8). SEE DIAL. It is strange that the Jews were not acquainted with this method of reckoning even earlier, for, although a purely conventional one, it is naturally suggested by the months in a year. Sir G. Wilkinson thinks that it arose from. a less obvious cause (Rawlinson, Herod. 2, 334). In whatever way it originated, it was known to the Egyptians at a very early period. They had twelve hours of the day and of the night (called Nau=hour), each of which had its own genius, drawn with a star on its head. The word is said by Lepsius to be found as far back as the fifth dynasty (Rawlinson, Herod. 2, 135). The night was divided into twelve equal portions or hours, in precisely the same manner as the day. The most ancient division, however, was into three watches (Ant. 63, 6, 90, 4) the first, or beginning of the watches, as it is called (La 2:19); the middle watch (Jg 7:19); and the morning watch (Ex 14:24). SEE WATCH. When Judaea became a province of Rome, the Roman distribution of the night into four watches was introduced; to which division frequent allusions occur in the New Testament (Lu 12:38; Mt 14:25; Mt 13:35), as well as to that of hours (Mt 25:13; Mt 26:40; Mr 14:37; Lu 17:37; Ac 23:23; Re 3:3). SEE COCK-CROWING. There are two kinds of hours, viz. (1.) the astronomical or equinoctial hour, i.e. the twenty-fourth part of a civil day, which, although "known to astronomers, was not used in the affairs of common life till towards the end of the 4th century of the Christian sera" (Smith, Dict. of Classical Antiq. s.v. Hora); and
(2.) the natural hour (such the Rabbis called זמניות, καιρικαί, or temporales), i.e. the twelfth part of the natural day, or of the time between sunrise and sunset. These are the hours meant in the New Test., Josephus, and the Rabbis (Joh 11:9; Ac 5:7; Ac 19:31; Josephus, Ant.14, 4, 3), and it must be remembered that they perpetually vary in length, so as to be very different at different times of the year. Besides this, an hour of the day would always mean a different length of time from an hour of the night, except at the equinox. From the consequent uncertainty of the term there arose the proverbial expression "not all hours are equal" (R. Joshua up. Carpzov, App. Crit. p. 345). At the equinoxes the third hour would correspond to nine o'clock; the sixth would always be at noon. To find the exact time meant at other seasons of the year, we must know when the sun rises in Palestine, and reduce \the hours to our reckoning accordingly (Jahn, Biblio. Arch. § 101). In ancient times the only way of reckoning the progress of the day was by the length of the shadow-a mode of reckoning which was both contingent on the sunshine, and served only for the guidance of individuals. SEE SHADOW. By what means the Jews calculated the length of their hours-whether by dialing, by the clepsydra or water-clock, or by some horological contrivance, like what was used anciently in Persia (Josephus, Ant. 11 6), and by the Romans (Martial, 8 Epig. 67; Juv. Sat. 10, 214), and which is still used in India (A siat. Researches, 5, 88), a servant notifying the intervals-it is now impossible to discover (see Buttinghausen, Specimen horarum Ieb. et Arab. Tr. ad Rh. 1758). Mention is also made of a curious invention called צרוֹר שָׁעָה: by which a figure was constructed so as to drop a stone into a brazen basin every hour, the sound of which was heard for a great distance, and announced the time (Otho, Lex. Rab. s.v. Hora).
For the purposes of prayer, the old division of the day into four portions was continued in the Temple service, as we see from Ac 2:15; Ac 3:1; Ac 10:9. The stated periods of prayer were the third, sixth, and ninth hours of the day (Ps 45; Ps 17; Josephus, Anf. 4, 4, 3). The Jews supposed that the third hour had been consecrated by Abraham, the sixth by Isaac, and the ninth by Jacob (Kimchi; Schöttgen, Hor. Hebr. ad Ac 3:1). It is probable that the canonical hours observed by the Romanists (of which there are eight in the twenty-four) are derived from these Temple hours (Goodwill Moses and Aaron, 3, 9). SEE HOURS, CANONICAL.
The Rabbis pretend that the hours were divided into 1080 חלקים (minutes), and 56,848 רצעים (seconds), which numbers were chosen because they are so easily divisible (Gem. Hier. Berachoth, 2, 4; in Reland, Ant. Hebr. 4:1, § 19). SEE TIME.