We take “the week” so much for granted that we rarely stop to think about it’s origin. Stop for a moment and recollect. As far back as human history goes, there has never been a break in the continuity of the week. All nations have used it. There is no record, anywhere, of any nation using a week of other than seven days. To my knowledge, the only departure from this rule was brought about by the Emperor Napoleon, who tried to institute a decimal week – that of ten days duration. After a brief trial run he had to abandon it. He found that his soldiers were getting ill. Even the horses were affected badly. He had to learn that the seven day cycle was a biological necessity in creation. Let me produce a piece of personal testimony here. In my youth I did a three-month stint in an automobile factory, working on the shop floor on a capstan lathe. The hours were long, and the pay rather poor. I then noticed that they paid double on Sundays, and decided to dispense with the day off. At the end of 13 days without a break I was bushed. It taught me a lesson, and I have never again attempted such folly.
What therefore is the origin of the week of seven days? The only historical record is found in the first and second chapters of Genesis. Men today scorn the early chapters of Genesis, treating them as folklore, or something worse. But they cannot deny the existence of the week. In Hebrew the word translated “week” is SHEVUA, the normal word for “seven”. It was used of the week of seven days in such contexts as Genesis 29:27-28, where Jacob entered into a contract with his uncle Laban. He had already served seven years, believing that he would then have Rachel as his wife. But Laban said, “It is not done in our country to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfil her [Leah’s bridal]week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you shall give me for another seven years.” Then in Exodus 34:22 we find mention of the “feast of weeks”, literally the “feast of sevens.” And in Daniel, we find the prophecy of “the seventy weeks determined upon your people.” It does not signify literal weeks of seven days. It is “seventy sevens”, and of exactly what, we are left to interpret to the best of our ability.
The ancient Hebrews referred to the days of the week by numbers. They spoke of “the third day”, or “the fifth day”, but when it came to the seventh day, they always spoke of “the Sabbath”. Here again, there is ample evidence from ancient records to show that the seventh day was a Sabbath in other nations. And if this be the case, then it strongly authenticates the beginning of chapter two in Genesis. Let’s have a look at just one example. In a lexicographical tablet inscribed with cuneiform characters (II Rawlinson 32, 1.16) there occurs the equation ûm nûh libbi = sabattum, or ‘day of rest of the heart’. Parallel occurrences of the words show that the ancient Babylonians believed their gods to rest from anger on that day. They were pacified towards mankind. A certain Babylonian religious calendar of festivals and fast days tells us that on the 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st, and 28th days of the month the Sabbath rest had to be observed. (At first sight the presence of the 19th day seems strange, but when it is realised that their months were of 30 days duration, 49 days (7 × 7) from the first of the previous month brings us to the 19th of the stated month. This was to be the case with the 6th and 8th months respectively.)
Professor Schrader has pointed out (in “The Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament”, Vol.1, page 21) that the sacredness of the seventh day was paramount amongst the Babylonians. In fact the number seven held superstitious powers in many areas of their lives, as the tablets show. But equally, the Bible is full of the significance of the number seven. Not only do we find the basic week of seven days, there is also the sabbatic year (fallow ground every seventh year,) and after seven times seven years, the Jubilee. Students of Scriptural numerology have called seven “the number of spiritual perfection.” Nothing superstitious in that!
In the ancient Middle East the days of the week were named after the seven “planets”, which were Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. (Notice the strange order.) However, there is no evidence that the Hebrews followed this trend. Even today we of the Western World refer to the first day of the week as SUNday, the second as MOoNday, etc., on to the seventh as SATURn’sday, showing how strong is the power of tradition. In fuller measure, here are the days of the week in four different nations.
|Sun||Dies Solis||Sun’s Day||Dimanche||Sonntag|
|Moon||Dies Lunæ||Moon’s Day||Lundi||Montag|
|Mars||Dies Martis||Tiw’s Day||Mardi||Dienstag|
|Mercury||Dies Mercurii||Woden’s Day||Mercredi||Mittwoche|
|Jupiter||Dies Jovis||Thor’s Day||Jeudi||Donnerstag|
|Venus||Dies Veneris||Friga’s Day||Vendredi||Freitag|
|Saturn||Dies Saturni||Saterne’s Day||Samedi||Samstag, or Sonabend|
Returning to the Babylonian system, on the specified days (7th, 14th etc.) we are told that even the king “must not eat flesh that has been cooked over the coals or in the smoke, he must not change the garments of his body, he must not wear white robes, he may not offer sacrifices, or ride in a chariot.” Such restrictions remind us of the over zealous Jews after their return from the Babylonian captivity, and the crazy Sabbath bondages the Pharisees imposed during our Lord’s ministry.
It’s amazing how scholars have always tried to make ancient Scriptures dependent on writings, thought, and practices of other nations. Take for example the statement made by Driver, that “it is difficult not to agree with Schrader, Sayce, and other Assyriologists in regarding the week of seven days, ended by a Sabbath, as an institution of Babylonian origin. . . . In other words, the week determined the “days” of creation, not the days of creation the week.” However, Jastrow (Jewish Quarterly Review, xiii. page 620ff.) has shown that the Hebrew Creation narrative is more independent of Babylonian parallels than has been usually supposed. Merrill Unger (Archaeology of the Old Testament, page 39) has rightly pointed out that “radical critics have laboured in vain to prove the Biblical seventh day of rest and sanctity was derived from the Babylonians.”
Besides the Babylonian evidence, Jastrow (“American Journal of Theology” ii. page 350) mentions the fact that the Egyptians had a list of days on which certain acts were prohibited. In Rome business was suspended during the feriæ and on all dies nefasti courts of law were closed. In the Hawaian Islands it was unlawful, on certain days, to bathe or light fires. In Borneo work was forbidden on certain days in connection with the harvest. Fausset (Bible Cyclopædia, page 717) adduces further evidence, saying that the Sabbath “prevailed in many ancient nations; all the Semitic races, the Peruvians, Hindoos, and the Chinese.” These and other slight reflections of Sabbath restraint lead us to conclude that the Sabbath mentioned in Genesis 2 was known to all mankind, but that like other original things, corruptions entered as time progressed. But as with the numerous flood stories, the evidence is overwhelming, and well-nigh impossible to contemplate without reaching a verdict in favour of Holy Writ.
And so we conclude this study. To sum up – the “week” is a sure testimony to the authority of the first two chapters of Genesis. The all-pervading cycle of seven days, throughout the nations of the world, and throughout all recorded time, independent on agriculture or astronomy, and the special mention of a “SABBATH” in which work must cease, can only be attributed to divine revelation afforded us by the sublime account of the creation week. We have every reason to find, in Genesis, fact rather than fancy, truth rather than fable, and revelation rather than synthesis from other nations.