Sabbaths, Resting Gods, & Lunar Observances

Walter Mattfeld mattfeld at
Sun Sep 17 10:08:21 EDT 2000

George F. Somsel in a reply to Badenhorst (29 Aug. 2000) made the following
"fascinating" observations about the Sabbath and mankind :

"You rightly point out the "counting" motif.  This is clearly a device by
P narrator to found the 7 day week in creation. In this context he portrays
God himself as observing the Sabbath. It is because of this that the Jews
were to observe it as well.  Likewise the "evening" and "morning" sequence
were the order in which the day was calculated.  The whole is a contrast
the viewpoint of Enuma Elish where the creation of man is a consequence of
the warfare between the gods (with Marduk being the victor).  Man was
from the blood of Kingu in order to be A SERVANT OF THE GODS as expiation of
Kingu's action.  In contrast to this the six days of creative activity in
1 are a listing of the preparation of the world as a fit habitation for
mankind.  Man is the final and crowning action of God's creation.  His first
day on earth is then not one of SERVICE to his creator.  It is rather a day
of rest and enjoyment.  You might say it was "a stroll in the park."

I find myself in agreement with George on the below point :

"The whole is a contrast with the Enuma Elish..."

George then notes man was created from a slain god called Kingu, after
Marduk destroys Kingu's wife, Tiamat.

What George does not cover though, is the reason for the warfare between
Tiamat and Marduk. According to the Mesopotamian myths, in the beginning was
the primeval sea, made up of sweet waters called Apsu (a male god) and salt
waters called Tiamat (a female goddess). They joined together and formed the
gods, Marduk (the supreme god of Babylon) being a later descendent of older
gods created from this mating.

The gods of the earth and heavens are portrayed as being noisey and
rambunctious, their ceaseless activities disturb Apsu's rest. He resolves to
kill them in order to obtain "his Rest." The alarmed Tiamat attempts
unsuccessfully to intercede, she doesn't want her children, the gods, to be
destroyed, but to no avail. The gods, aware of what is about to happen,
cause a deep sleep to occur on Apsu and they kill him. Later, Marduk sends a
wind to roil up the waters within Tiamat, causing the gods within her to
complain that they cannot obtain Rest nor Sleep. They prevail upon her to
declare war on Marduk and the gods of earth and heaven. She is defeated and
killed by Marduk, her husband, Kingu, is singled out as an instigator of the
attempt to do away with the gods. He is slain, man is formed from him to
bear the service of the gods.

There are certain key themes throughout these Mesopotamian myths that are
reflected in Genesis' imagery of God. 1) That a God needs Rest ! This is a
strange concept by modern standards, as most would argue God knows all, and
at all times is aware of what is going on in his universe, He shouldn't need
"to Rest." The Hebrews were not making up the notion, out of whole cloth, of
a God needing rest, it is an old Mesopotamian concept. Please note Somsel's
observation, the Sabbath was observed because God rested on that day, it was
not created for man to rest on by a God that didn't need to take a rest ! 2)
The notion that certain days are set aside for gods to refresh (Rest)
themselves on is preserved in Mesopotamian myths. For instance, Inanna, "the
Virgin-Queen of Heaven" (Semitic Ishtar, Hebrew: Astarte/Ahstoreth, Yahweh's
wife/consort ? ), Warrior-goddess par-excellence, "rests" from waging war on
mankind on the seventh day of the month, in association with the fullness of
the crescent moon, she is at times, called "first daughter of the Moon"
(Nanna being the moon and her father; the recumbent crescent moon being his
symbol) :

"Proud Queen of the earth gods, supreme among the heaven gods, loud
thundering storm, you pour your rain over all the lands and all people, You
make the heavens tremble and the earth quake. Great Priestess, who can
soothe your troubled heart ? You flash like lightning over the highlands;
you throw your firebrands across the earth. Your deafening command,
whistling like the South wind, splits apart great mountains. You trample the
disobedient like a wild bull; heaven and earth tremble. Your frightful cry
descending from the heavens devours its victims. Your quivering hand causes
the midday heat to hover over the sea. Your nighttime stalking of the
heavens chill the land with its dark breeze. Holy Inanna, the riverbanks
overflow with the FLOOD-waves of your heart...ON THE SEVENTH DAY WHEN THE
CRESCENT MOON REACHES ITS FULLNESS, you bathe and sprinkle your face with
holy water. You cover your body with the long woolen garments of queenship.
YOU FASTEN COMBAT AND BATTLE to your side; you tie them into a girdle AND
LET THEM REST." (pp.95-6, "Loud Thundering Storm," Diane Wolkstein and
Samuel Noah Kramer, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth. N.Y., Harper & Row,
1983, ISBN 0-06-090854-8 pbk)

Inanna was "a daughter" of the moon:

"I say, "Hail !" to Inanna, first daughter of the moon !" (p.97,

Lunar observances take place in honoring Inanna:

"In order to care for the life of all the lands, the exact first day of the
month is closely examined, and on the day of the disappearance of the moon,
on the day of the sleeping moon, the me are perfectly carried out so that
the New Year's Day, the day of rites, may be properly determined, and a
sleeping place be set for Inanna." (p.107, "The Joy of Sumer, The Sacred
Marriage Rite," Wolkstein)

The sacredness of the seventh day from a Mesopotamian perspective then, is
that it is when the crescent moon it at its fullest, being associated with
Inanna's activity,
a "type of Rest," in that she causes to Rest, "combat and battle," (which, I
would expect would be viewed as "a rest for
mankind," from war). So, I guess that the poet is saying that ON THE SEVENTH
DAY, Inanna, A GODDESS, TAKES A REST FROM WAR on mankind. She "refreshes" by
bathing herself on this day, and putting on new or clean/fresh clothes.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Inanna is portrayed bewailing her decision to cast
an affirmative vote in the council of the gods to destroy mankind with THE
FLOOD. The above poem reveals she was associated with thunderstorms and
rains that cause flooding, and she RESTS from war (the flood being likened
to "an army at war" in the Gilgamesh scenario) on the SEVENTH DAY, the Flood
ended on the SEVENTH DAY in the Gilgamesh Epic.

Exodus 31: 14-15 tells us that whoever violates the Sabbath day is to be put
to death. I suspect this fear of violating God's Sabbath, is an echo of the
ancient Mesopotamian myths, that portray the gods destroying mankind for
violating "their Rest." It is a day Holy to the Lord ("His Rest Day,"
violate "His Rest" and you die).

In conclusion, the ancient Hebrews' portrayal in Genesis of a God "needing
to rest", and His being portrayed as "resting on a given day" (be it the 1st
day of the month of a "sleeping" Moon or Inanna's "resting from war" on the
7th day), are reflected in ancient Mesopotamian myths.

All the Best,


Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld
Walldorf by Heidelberg

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