Genesis 2:4 (Sabbath Origins)

Henry Churchyard churchh at
Sun Dec 12 10:43:59 EST 1999

> Subject: Re: Genesis 2:4  (Sabbath Origins)
> From: Ian Hutchesson <mc2499 at>

> I seem to be inexorably coming to the conclusion that the seventh
> day sabbath was instituted in the second century BCE.  [...] Why
> should the fifteenth day of the seventh month be called a sabbath
> (Lev23:39)?  Remember the Akkadian shapattu, the fifteenth day.  In
> the Enuma Elish V, providing lunar movements, "Go forth every month
> without fail in a corona, At the beginning of the month, to glow
> over the land.  You shine with horns to mark out six days; On the
> seventh day the crown is half.  The fifteenth day shall always be
> the mid-point, the half of each month..." (S.Dalley, "Myths of
> Mesopotamia" Oxford) Naturally "fifteenth day" is the shapattu, the
> word normally recognised as cognate with sabbath.

I don't think it would be wise to dogmatize about _the_ origin of the
seven-day week cycle, when those who concentrate on studying
calendrical/astronomical historical matters seem to be far from
confident on this point.  Of course, it is perfectly true that one
possible origin of the 7-day week arises from the practice of
observing the lunar quarters: the so-called "new moon" (actually
generally the first sunset visibility of the lunar crescent, instead
of true astronomical conjunction), the first quarter, the full moon,
and the third quarter.  A lunar month quarter averages about 7 days
and 9 hours long, so that if such month quarters are regularized and
dissociated from lunar months, they would naturally give rise to
either 7-day or 8-day cycles.  It is known that lunar month quarters
gave rise to an 8-day market cycle (the "nundinum") in Roman
republican times in just this way, and it's not hard to imagine that
this process could result in a 7-day cycle elsewhere.  However, the
7-day cycle that spread through the Roman empire (somewhat
independently of Jewish and Christian influence) was reported at the
time to have an entirely different origin (and it's far from clear
whether this 7-day cycle has any original connection to the Hebrew
week) -- this is a seven-day cycle that seems to be based on the
planetary scheme of Hellenistic/Babylonian astrology to (though it's
reported to have originated in Egypt).  Most of the days of the week
in most modern European languages ultimately owe their names to this
astrological seven-day cycle, but as was mentioned, it's not clear
whether this astrological week is historically originally connected
with the Jewish week (there are no distinctive day of the week names
in Hebrew other than "Shabbat", and no real evidence in the Bible for
astrological associations of the seven "planets" with days of the
week).  Supposing that the two 7-day cycles are connected, I don't
know of any evidence that you personally would accept which would show
which is older.

> As the shapattu was the fifteenth day, when the Mesopotamian gods
> needed to rest, note not the fourteenth day, and the full moon was
> on the fifteenth day, its not difficult to make the connection with
> the first day of unleavened bread (Lev23:6) and of tabernacles --
> remember fifteenth day, not fourteenth.  You can't fudge it.  It is
> the fifteenth day that shall be a sabbath, not the fourteenth.  (But
> then what sort of lunar calendar were you thinking of, a 28 day
> month job? The ones we know of are the 29/30 day alternating
> calendars.  With these obviously the seventh day sabbath changes
> position with these.)

I'm not sure exactly what you're getting at here, but supposing that
quarters within a lunar month were approximated within a lunar month
by periods of seven days, then the lunar quarters would be celebrated
on the first, eighth, fifteenth, and twenty-second day of a lunar
month.  (The Roman calendar has a similar system, but it's based on
counting backwards by eight day intervals from the start of the next
month, and of course Roman months were by then no longer lunar.)  I
don't think that taking the fifteenth day of a lunar month as an
approximation to the full moon necessarily proves anything about the
chronology of the origins of the seven-day Jewish week or of the
Jewish lunar calendar.

> I have also attempted to show that the solar calendar was in use for
> a particular period down to 63 BCE and overlapping the use of the
> lunar calendar imported by the Seleucids, which you don't deal
> with. If the importance of the Seleucid calendar brought to
> Jerusalem as the civil and administrative calendar, it was already
> in use before the time of Onias III.  It was imposed for cultic
> purposes during the hellenistic crisis (Dan7:25, 2Macc6:7).  Where
> are the lunar month names before the extremely late books? (Adar was
> considered a non-Hebrew (Syrian) word by the writer -- or epitomizer
> -- of 2Maccabees, 15:36.)

Actually, many (most?) of the month names in the Jewish lunar calendar
are Akkadian.  It's certainly true that the few month names that are
attested in the Bible are different from the month names of the later
familiar Jewish calendar, and that the latter is influenced by
Mesopotamian practices, but the Persian period seems just as likely as
the Seluecid (and in fact is rather more likely than that
self-conscious Jewish nationalists such as the early Maccabees would
overtly adopt foreign practices to regulate internal Jewish ritual).
The solar calendar is interesting, but the fact that it shows up in
apocryphal and Qumran material doesn't go far to show that it was ever
the predominant or Temple calendar (and in fact I've seen it argued
that the Qumranites used both solar and lunar calendars).

> At the same time the Noah account doesn't use a lunar calendar: five
> months is 150 days, not 147 or 148.

I think it's called "round numbers" -- ever notice that the Bible
seems to be fonder of the number forty than the numbers 39 or 41?  ;-)

Henry Churchyard   churchh at

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