Sabbath Origins

Walter Mattfeld mattfeld at
Sat Dec 4 12:21:01 EST 1999

 I have been following with interest the recent discussions on the Sabbath
and how
early it was observed and its connections to a Lunar calendar. Several years
ago (1977) William W. Hallo did an article on the controversy of alleged
Lunar connections and concluded that such connections did not hold up to
investigations on his part. He posited that a seven day week and its Sabbath
observations probably arose from traditions about a creation week as noted
in Genesis, they did not arise from Babylonian Lunar cultic observations:

"My thesis is this: the cultic calendar of ancient Mesopotamia, like its
civil calendar, was largely tied to the phases of the moon, and not at all
to the week (or: a week); In Israel, the cultic calendar was minimally
connected to lunar phases..." (p.315, Hallo)

"The Sabbath is motivated by the divine work of creation..." (p.325, Hallo)

"Finally, the importance of the Sabbath must be seen in the context of the
continuing de-emphasis of the lunar festivals. Moon worship flourished
wherever Mesopotamian culture spread...But in Israel it failed to gain a
foothold; the full moon was not worshipped, the quarters were not specially
observed, and even the new moon was ultimately relegated to the status of a
half holiday. We may sum up the contrast as follows: the ancient
Mesopotamian year was based on the month, and the worship of the moon went
hand in hand with it. The Israelite year was based on the week, and remained
independent of the month even when the luni-solar calendar was adopted from
Babylonia." (Cf. pp.313-323, William W. Hallo, "New Moons and Sabbaths: A
Case-Study in the Contrastive Approach," in F.E. Greenspahn, Ed., Essential
Papers on
Israel and the Ancient Near East, New York University Press, 1991 ISBN

Hallo provides some 85 footnotes with an extensive bibliography (citing
French, German, Dutch, English, Jewish scholars) on the alleged outgrowth of
the Sabbath from Lunar associations, which my be useful to those who may
want to pursue in greater depth this controversy (cf. William W. Hallo, "New
Moons and Sabbaths: A Case-Study in the Contrastive Approach," Hebrew Union
College Annual 43, 1977, pp.1-13).

My personal research suggests the notion of a seventh day of rest, or
Sabbath, is ultimately derived from the ancient Hebrews' reworking of
certain motifs in the Epic of Gilgamesh. I understand that the Hebrews
borrowed the notion of a God needing "to rest" from the Babylonian notion
that their gods "needed to rest". They destroyed mankind with a flood
because his noise did not allow them "to rest" by day nor sleep by night. On
the seventh day, the world consuming flood died down, all mankind had turned
to clay, and, on the seventh day, the gods at long last rested, because no
noise existed to disturb that rest. So, for the Babylonians the seventh day
was probably a "dreadful fearful day", it called to mind enraged gods who
destroyed mankind because he dared to violate "their rest" with his noise.
We are reminded in scripture that he who violates God's Sabbath is to be put
to death. Could the ultimate fear of violating God's day of rest be the
scenario from the Epic of Gilgamesh ? One can only speculate.

Still available for interested viewers as an e-mail attachment  is a brief
paper "Sabbath Origins and the Epic of Gilgamesh" (request zipped or
un-zipped, RTF or ASCII). In this paper I also argue Adam and Eve are
transformations of characters in the Epic.

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mattfeld at

All the best,

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld,
Walldorf by Heidelberg,
Baden Wurttemburg,

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