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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 46/January 1895/On the Origin of Weeks and Sabbaths

By the late Colonel A. B. ELLIS.

ALL over the world we find that peoples who are low in the scale of civilization reckon time by moons. In some cases a moon is the sole measure of time; in others a lunar year, composed of a certain number of moons, has been evolved; but the solar year only appears to come into use when some progress in civilization has been made. The most primitive method of measuring time, that which is found among all savages at the present day, is to count by moons, the recurrence of the moon at regular and short intervals of time affording a natural and easy mode of reckoning its lapse. A moon, or month, is reckoned from the first appearance of a new moon, and as the moon is chiefly visible by night, so it is by nights rather than by days that a moon is computed. In other words, time is measured by moons and nights.

The next step is to divide the moon into periods corresponding with its principal changes, which generally results in its being divided into halves and quarters, the fourteenth to the fifteenth night, which is the night of the full moon, dividing the twenty-nine and a half days which elapse between the advent of two new moons into two. In this connection it is curious to note that we still speak of the "quarters" of the moon. The month is thus divided into four equal periods; but as twenty-nine and a half days will not divide exactly by two or by four, each period consists of seven complete days and some nine hours extra. This is the plan which has been adopted by the Tshi tribes of the Gold Coast of West Africa. They have what may be called a seven-day week, but which is really a week of seven days and some nine hours, and in consequence each week commences at a different hour of the day. The first day of the first week commences when the new moon is first seen, usually about sunset, and each moon contains exactly four of these periods, or weeks. Say the new moon is visible at 5 p. m. on a Monday, then the first week will terminate about 2 a. m. on the next Tuesday but one, and will contain seven days and eight nights nearly. The second week, commencing at 2 a. m. on Tuesday, will terminate at 11 a. m. on the Tuesday following, and will contain seven and a half days and seven nights, approximately. The third week will terminate at 8 p. m. on the next Tuesday, and the fourth when the next new moon appears. Each of the seven days has a name: 1. Dyo-da, or Adjivo-da. 2. Bna-da. 3. Uku-da, or Wuku-da. 4. Yaw-da. 5. Fi-da. 6. Memin-da, or Memere-da. 7. Kwasi-da. It is sometimes said that these days correspond to ours, but that is not quite correct. The only correspondence is one of order—i. e., Dyo-da answers to Monday because it is the first of the series, and Fi-da to Friday because it is the fifth; but as the Tshi week is nine hours longer than ours, the days do not correspond in time.

The suffix da, which we see attached to these names, is derived from the verb da, "to sleep," and shows that, as we should expect, the period is a seven-night period rather than a seven-day period. From its connection with these words, da, or eda, has now acquired the meaning of "day." A week is da-pen, "a set of days," or nuaotyo, "eight days," because the week contains seven days and a part of an eighth. Nua is the plural of da. The word for "day," in contradistinction to "night," is awia, which properly means "sun." Month, or moon, is sram, a word which is derived from sra, "to watch for," and has reference to the custom of watching for the new moon. Sram-fia, "moon-appearing," is the beginning of the month, and sram-wua, "moon-dying," the end.

The Gã tribes of the Gold Coast likewise have a week of seven days and some nine hours, so that a lunar month consists of four of these periods. Their names for the days are: 1. Dsu. 2. Dsu-fo. 3. Fso. 4. So. 5. So-ha. 6. Ho. 7. Ho-gba. These seem to consist of three pairs and a single one, viz., the third day. Day and night, as contrasted one with the other, are fane and nyon, the formor of which probably means "the redness," and no doubt refers to the sun, while the latter means "moon." Nyon-dse, "moon-appearing," means the beginning or early part of the month, and nyon-gbo, "moon-dying," the end. These two nations afford examples of a seven-day week being formed directly from the lunar month.

Now, as nations progress in knowledge and gain a more or less accurate notion of the solar year, they begin to compute time by years, rather than by moons. All uncivilized men being exceedingly averse to any change, they first endeavor to combine the old system with the new, and make the year contain twelve or thirteen moons; but experience soon shows them that a solar year does not contain an exact number of moons, and, in the end, they either abandon computation by moons altogether, or else arbitrarily fix the month as being of a certain duration, so as to make twelve or thirteen of them fit into the solar year. Of course, when this is done, the month is no longer coincident with a moon, but is simply what we may call a civil measure of time, quite independent of the moon and its phases. Thus we have made the solar year of three hundred and sixty-five days contain exactly twelve civil months, and to effect this we have distributed between the original twelve lunar months the number of days by which twelve lunar months fell short of a solar year—that is, eleven.[1]

Next, the same process is applied to the weeks, or subdivisions of a lunar month, and, just as the month is made a civil period having no relation to the moon, so is the week made a civil period having no relation to the lunar month. The month having severed all connection with the moon, the week ceases to mark the phases of the moon; the odd hours, which were required to make the week a true subdivision of a lunar month, are dropped, being no longer of use, and the week remains seven days exactly. The etymology of our own words shows that this was what we did ourselves. The word "month" is derived from "moon," and undoubtedly originally meant a lunar month, while the Anglo-Saxon mona (moon) means "measurer," of time understood. The word "fortnight" (fourteen nights), and the old name for week, "sen'night" (seven nights), show that these periods were reckoned by nights, and so had reference to the moon. They were, in fact, half moons and quarter moons, and the latter must have consisted of seven nights and nine hours. The word "week" itself is probably connected with the Anglo-Saxon weaxan, "to increase, wax," and had reference to the moon's phases. Sharon Turner says: "In their computation of time, our ancestors reckoned by nights instead of days, and by winters instead of years. Their months were governed by the revolution of the moon."[2]

The Aztecs afford another example of a people who, having adopted the solar year as a measure of time, made the month a civil period, quite independent of the moon and its, phases. Their solar year consisted of eighteen months of twenty days each, with five supplementary days; and they divided each month into four weeks of five days each, on the last of which was the public fair, or market day. This plan had the advantage of making both the month and the year contain an exact number of weeks. The lunar year, though discarded for ordinary computations, was retained for religious purposes, and was divided into periods of thirteen days, corresponding with the phases of the moon.[3]

Before the Aztecs adopted the civil month of twenty days, they had, if they had subdivided the lunar month at all, probably divided it into six periods, five of five days and one of the remainder of the month, or four days and a half approximately. We say, if they had subdivided the lunar month at all, because the difficulty of dividing twenty-nine days and a half appears to have been too great for many races. In the Society Islands time was reckoned by nights and moons, but any intermediate division was unknown. There were distinct names for each night of the moon. The fifteenth night was called "The moon with a round, full face," and the last night, "This is the night the moon dies." People always asked, "How many nights since?" instead of "How many days since?" These islanders had progressed sufficiently far to have some notion of the solar year. The Maoris of New Zealand reckoned by nights and moons, but had no weeks. Each night possessed a name, regulated by the moon's shape and age. They had a lunar year of thirteen moons.[4] The inhabitants of Madagascar had advanced beyond the stage of reckoning by moons, and had a solar year with civil months, but no weeks. Their months contained twenty-eight nights, and twelve months, with eighteen intercalary days, made a year. Their year was thus eleven days shorter than the true solar year, so that their New-Year's day fell eleven days earlier each year, till the cycle of thirty-three years was completed, when the festival was again held at the same season.[5]

The Society Islanders and the Maoris had thus not subdivided the lunar month, and the Malagasy had not subdivided their civil month, but examples of nations who have done each are fairly numerous. In Ibo (lower Niger) a civil month of twenty-eight days has been adopted, and has been divided into seven weeks of four days each.[6] The Congoese also have a civil week of four days.[7] In Sofala (East Africa), according to De Faria, a civil month of thirty days was adopted, and divided into three weeks of ten days each. As, however, he says that the first day of the first week was the festival of the new moon, there must be some mistake. It looks more as if time were reckoned by lunar months, and consequently, while the first and second week might each be of ten days' duration, the third would be some hours short of that.[8] The ancient Greeks had a civil month of thirty days, divided into three weeks each of ten days. The Ahantas of the western districts of the Gold Coast divide the lunar month into three periods or weeks, the first and second of which are of ten days' duration, while the third consists of the remainder of the month. The first period, called Adae, is considered lucky; the second, called Ajain-fo, unlucky; and the third, called Adim, neither lucky nor unlucky. The Yorubas of the Slave Coast of West Africa reckon by nights and moons, and have subdivided the lunar month into six weeks of five days each, or rather, five of them actually contain five days, and the remaining one, which completes the month, about four days and a half. The Javanese week, before the week of seven days was adopted from the Mohammedans, consisted of five days.[9]

The Siamese seem, like the Tshi and Gã tribes of West Africa, to have divided the lunar months into four periods of seven days and some odd hours, but, for convenience' sake, they have now made the odd months contain twenty-nine nights and the even months thirty. Their week is commonly said to consist of seven days, but as it is contrived that their sabbath, called Vampra, should always fall on the fourth day, and, in the first week of the month, should always be coincident with the fourth night of the moon, it is evident that each week must be of seven days and some hours' duration, or, if three of them are exactly seven days long, then the fourth must complete the lunar month and be eight days and a half long. In dates, the age of the moon, either waxing or waning, is reckoned by evenings, and hence the day of twenty-four hours is considered to begin at sunset.[10] This, of course, must be the case with all peoples who reckon by moons and nights; and so enduring is custom that the Italians and Bohemians still reckon the day of twenty-four hours from sunset to sunset.

When we tabulate our results, we get the following subdivisions of months, lunar or civil:

The Tshis, Gãs, and probably the Siamese, have four weeks of seven days and three eighths 29½ days.
The Ahantas, and probably the Sofalese, have two weeks of ten days, and one week of nine days and a half 29½ "
The modern European method is to count four weeks of seven days 28 "
The Ibos and Congoese have seven weeks of four days 28 "
The ancient Greeks had three weeks of ten days. 30 "
The Yorubas have five weeks of five days, and one week of four days and a half 29½ "
The Javanese, and probably the Aztecs, had six weeks of five days 30 "

When we remember that the lunar month is of about twenty-nine days and a half duration, and that twenty-eight and thirty are the nearest numbers to twenty-nine and a half that will divide into an exact number of days, the conclusion is irresistibly forced upon us that with all the above peoples the week was designed to be a subdivision of the lunar month.

The subdivisions of the lunar month would appear generally to mark the phases of the moon. Naturally, the full moon would mark the termination of one subdivision and the commencement of another. Thus, with the Tshis and Gãs, the full moon marks the commencement of the third week of seven days and three eighths, and with the Yorubas the commencement of the fourth week of five days, in each case making the lapse of half a month. Where there is a ten-day week, the full moon is not coincident with the commencement of a week; but the week of ten days, and also that of five, is, like the practice of counting by scores, due to the fact that man has five fingers on each hand, all primitive peoples counting by fingers and toes, or hands and feet.

The Israelites had a week of seven days, and measured time by moons and nights: therefore, from the analogy of other peoples, we conclude that their week was originally a subdivision of a lunar month. When a new moon became visible a new month began, and like the rest of the world they reckoned their day of twenty-four hours from sunset to sunset. They had a lunar year of twelve months, and every two or three years an intercalary month was added to make it agree with solar time. The luni-solar year now used by the Jews was not introduced till 360 a. d.

It is commonly supposed that the week of seven days was invented by the Chaldean astronomers from the seven planets, but though it is beyond question that the days of the week derive their names from the planets, yet it by no means follows that the seven-day period owes its existence to the fact that the astronomers of Chaldea were acquainted with seven celestial bodies which moved. There is, indeed, no connection between alleged cause and effect—no reason why, simply because they knew of seven planets, they should invent a seven-day measurement of time. In the Chaldean astronomy the planets were arranged in order of magnitude of orbit—that is to say, as follows: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun (i. e., the Earth), Venus, Mercury, and the Moon; and if the fact of the planets being seven in number led to the invention of a seven-day period, it is reasonable to suppose that each day would have been named in succession after a planet, and that the order of days would have been as above instead of what it is—viz., Saturn, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus. This order was altogether unintelligible until some clay tablets of the period of Sargon I, about 3800 b. c., which explained it, were exhumed in Chaldea. From these it was learned that each hour of the day of twenty-four hours was consecrated to a planet in the order of magnitude of orbit—viz., Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, etc.—and the day itself received the name of the planet to which the first hour was sacred. Thus, if the first hour of a day were dedicated to Saturn, the eighth, fifteenth, and twenty-second hours would also fall to that planet, the twenty-third to Jupiter, the twenty-fourth to Mars, and the twenty-fifth—that is, the first hour of the next day—to the Sun. In like manner the first hour of the third day would fall to the Moon, that of the fourth to Mars, that of the fifth to Mercury, that of the sixth to Jupiter, and that of the seventh to Venus. This is the explanation of the order of the days of the week, and it appears to be the result of a new idea being grafted on to an old institution—viz., the seven-day week. Before the Chaldeans could consecrate hours to planets, they must have divided their day into hours, and, if they could do this, why could not they perform the much simpler operation of subdividing the lunar month and inventing the week?[11]

The names, in the Chaldean order, appear to have been introduced into Egypt with the Ptolemaic hypothesis (a. d. 150), and the Romans borrowed them from the Egyptians. Before, however, the Chaldean order was introduced into Egypt, the Egyptians had a seven-day period, and the sixth-seventh day was then sacred to the moon, instead of the third, as under the Chaldean system. In a hymn to Amen-Ra, found in a hieratic papyrus of the fourteenth century b. c., and purporting to be a copy of an earlier document, occurs the following:

"O Ra! adored iu Aptu (Thebes):
High-crowned in the house of the obelisk (Heliopolis):
King (Ani), Lord of the New-Moon festival:
To whom the sixth and seventh days are sacred."[12]

Thus, in Egypt, in the fourteenth, century b. c., the festival of the new moon was from sunset on the sixth to sunset on the seventh; and since the sixth-seventh of a month was always coincident with a new moon, the Egyptian months must have been lunar months, and their seven-day periods, if true quarters of a lunar month, must have been similar to those of the Tshi and Gã tribes. When, fifteen hundred and fifty years later, the planetary names arranged on the Chaldean system came into use for the days of the week, the Egyptians had adopted a civil month of thirty days, twelve of which, with five supplementary days, completed the solar year; and, as the month had become a civil period no longer connected with the moon, so the week became also a civil period, and was made seven days long exactly.

Among the Romans the first mention of a day named after a planet occurs in the third elegy of the first book of Tibullus, written about b. c. 24, where we find the words "Saturn's unlucky day"; and from Ovid, A. A. i, 415, it is clear that this notion was derived from Palestine. Every seventh day was considered unlucky, but whether the Romans had a civil week, and names for the other days, is uncertain, though the general belief is that they did not adopt the Chaldean seven-day period from Egypt till after the reign of Theodosius, a. d. 395. It is, however, fairly clear that in the early days of their history they reckoned time by half-moons and quarter-moons or lunar weeks. When they had invented civil months, the calends were invariably on the first day of the month, and were so named because the priests had been accustomed to call the people together on that day and announce what days were to be kept sacred during the month. The ides—so called, according to Macrobius (a. d. 400), from the Etruscan verb iduare, to divide—were at the middle of the month, either on the thirteenth or fifteenth, and the nones were at the ninth day before the ides, counting inclusively. If the ides fell on the fifteenth, the nones were on the seventh. The days between the calends and nones were called "the days before the nones"; those between the nones and ides,"the days before the ides"; and those from the ides till the end of the month, "the days before the calends." In March, May, July, and October the ides fell on the fifteenth and the nones on the seventh; in the remaining months the ides fell on the thirteenth and the nones on the fifth. Thus the only number that was constant was the number of days named from the ides, which, were always eight—i. e., from the seventh to the fourteenth or from the fifth to the twelfth, while the number of days named from the calends and from the nones varied.

Now, this scheme as a mode of measuring time is so clumsy that we can not suppose it to have come into existence in this shape; it is more probable that it was an old plan which had been adapted to new conditions—viz., the invention of civil months. In 452 b. c. the year consisted of twelve civil months of twentynine and thirty days alternately, so as to correspond with the synodic revolution of the moon; and from this it is certain that at some earlier period time was reckoned by lunar months, and civil months had not been thought of. The Roman day, as with all other peoples who reckon by moons, commenced at sunset, for we find that religious festivals always commenced at that hour; the festival of Venus,[13] for instance, was celebrated on the first three days of April, and began at sunset on the last day of March. When the Romans reckoned by lunar months, the calends would be the day of the new moon, the ides would always correspond with the full moon, and the nones would mark the second quarter. This is simple and intelligible, and the ides would always "divide" the month, for from the day following the moon would begin to wane.[14] We think, then, that the system of calends, nones, and ides dated from a period when time was reckoned by lunar months, and was really a system of half-moons and quartermoons, the nones falling on the night of the seventh-eighth, and the ides on that of the fourteenth-fifteenth, which brings us very near to the system of the Tshi and Gã tribes. The introduction of civil months destroyed the connection between the calends, nones, and ides and the phases of the moon; and the lunar week became a civil week of seven days, and finally the names for the days of the week were adopted from Egypt.

From all the foregoing it will now be seen that there is nothing mysterious about the origin of the week, and no need to have recourse to the supernatural to explain it. It is simply a subdivision of a lunar month, and is of four days' duration with some tribes, and five, seven, or ten days' duration among others.

We now come to the question of the origin of sabbaths. We may define a sabbath to be a day sacred to a god, on which it is unlawful for any worshiper of that god to labor. Sabbaths are found everywhere, for it appears to be a general rule throughout the world that gods should have days consecrated to them, and that on those days the followers of those gods may do no work, no matter whether the holy day recurs weekly, monthly, or yearly. The notion appears to be that to refrain from work on a day dedicated to a god is a mode of showing respect. As soon as this view becomes generally accepted, then to work on a holy day is to show want of respect; and as the gods of uncultured peoples are, like uncultured peoples themselves, very sensitive to slights of this nature, the god whose dignity or vanity has been hurt revenges himself by punishing the sabbath-breaker or by punishing his followers at large, because they have not vindicated his honor by punishing the culprit themselves. Then, since to work on the holy day is likely to call down punishment on the individual or on the community, the axiom that it is unlucky to work on that day becomes accepted, and people will not labor or transact business or journey on it.

Bna-da, the second day of the seven-day period of the Tshi tribes, is sacred to the gods of the sea, and is, in consequence, the sabbath of all those who are worshipers of the sea-gods—that is to say, fishermen and those whose vocations take them on the sea. On Bna-da propitiatory offerings are made to the sea-gods, and no one may catch fish. It is the fishermen's day of rest, and, before the colonial government interfered with native customs, any native who violated it by going fishing was put to death, just as was the custom among the Israelites with their own sabbath-breakers (Exodus, xxxi, 14, 15; Numbers, xv, 32). Similarly, the fifth day, Fi-da, is sacred to the gods who preside over agriculture, and is the holy day or sabbath of all persons who cultivate the soil. Here, then, are two cases of sabbaths recurring every seventh day, just as with the Israelites.

The Babylonian Assyrians had the seven-day week and a weekly sabbath. Mr. George Smith says: "In the year 1869 I discovered among other things a curious religious calendar of the Assyrians, in which every month is divided into four weeks, and the seventh days or 'sabbaths' are marked out as days on which no work should be undertaken."[15] Whether the Assyrian month here referred to was lunar or civil we are not told, but the Rev. A. H. Sayce tells us that, according to the lunar division of the year, "the seventh, fourteenth, nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth were days of 'rest,' on which certain works were forbidden,"[16] so that it seems that the Assyrians had subdivided the lunar month in much the same way as the Tshi tribes have.

As a rule the institution of the sabbath appears to be primarily due to moon-worship, a form of worship which seems to have been almost universal. With all deference to the opinion of that school which fancies it can trace a solar myth in almost every tradition and folklore tale, we think that moon-worship was and is much more general than sun-worship, and for the simple reason that the regular daily recurrence of the sun is far less likely to excite speculation and wonder in uncivilized man than the varying phases and periodical disappearance and reappearance of the moon.

We imagine that the earliest moon sabbath was a monthly festival, held on the day when the new moon was first seen. The Mendis of Sierra Leone abstain from all work on the day of the new moon, alleging that if they infringed this rule the corn and rice would grow red, the day of the new moon being a "day of blood," from which we may perhaps infer that human sacrifices were once offered to the new moon. The Bechuanas of South Africa also observe the day of twenty-four hours, from the appearance of the new moon at sunset till next evening, as a day of rest, and the people refrain from going to their gardens. Neither the Mendis nor the Bechuanas have subdivided the lunar month into weeks, so here we have examples of peoples who reckon time by lunar months and observe a monthly moon sabbath.

If we suppose this to be the first stage, and the lunar month to be subsequently divided into weeks, then it follows that the first day of the first week will be the festival or sabbath of the new moon, as was the case in Sofala. Then, because the first day of the first week is a moon sabbath, it will naturally happen in some cases, through a connection of ideas, that the first day of each week will be dedicated to the moon, and the moon sabbath will recur as often in the month as the latter contains weeks. We have evidence of this among the Tshi and Gã tribes, among whom moon-worship is no longer found, except in so far that the new moon is always saluted with reverence, but that it used to prevail is shown by the moon's epithet Bohsŭm, holy, sacred, or deity. Dyo-da, the name of the first day of the Tshi week, means "day of rest," in the sense of a general day of rest for all people, for the moon was worshiped by all classes, and not, like the gods of the sea and agriculture, by special sections of the community only. Dyo-da was a day of rest for everybody, while Bna-da was only a day of rest for seafaring folk and Fi-da for husbandmen. Dsu, the name of the first day of the Ga week, means "purification," and because it was sacred to the moon Dsu seems to have become a title of the moon, for in the cognate Yoruba and Ewe languages we find the moon called Osu and Dsunu respectively, and in Ga itself the word silver is rendered by dsu-etei, moon-substance, or moon-stone. Here, then, are cases of a moon sabbath recurring every seventh day, or four times in a lunar month. Similarly, the first day of the Ibo week of four days is a day of rest, on which no regular work may be done. The first day of the Yoruba five-day week is called Ako-ojo, "first day." It is considered unlucky, and no business of importance is ever undertaken on it. On Ako-ojo all the temples are swept out, and it is, properly speaking, a general day of abstention from work, while the other days of the week are only sabbaths for the followers of the gods to which they are dedicated.

When a sabbath recurs every fourth, fifth, or seventh day, the day on which it falls naturally comes in course of time to be called the fourth, fifth, or seventh day, though really properly the first day of the week. Thus Ako-ojo is always called the fifth day, though the words themselves mean "first day." The same change seems to have taken place among the Israelites. On the twenty-ninth day of the moon 'they began to watch for the new moon, and the day after its appearance was the first day of the new moon or month. Supposing them to have had a seven-day week and a moon sabbath on the day of the new moon, the sabbath would have fallen on the first day of the week, but as people would naturally count from one sabbath to the next, the day after the sabbath would be termed the first day the next, the second, and so on, so that the sabbath itself would come to be called the seventh day. This is, no doubt, the explanation of the sixth-seventh day being sacred to the new-moon festival, as stated in the hymn to Amen-Ra, for the day of the new moon must have been the first day of the lunar month, and also the first day of the week, or subdivision of the lunar month.

Though it is quite possible that the Israelites may have invented a seven-day week and a weekly sabbath spontaneously, like the Tshi and Gã tribes, yet the evidence of the books of the Old Testament goes to show that they borrowed both these institutions from the Babylonian Assyrians during the captivity, and that prior to that epoch they had, like the Mendis, Bechuanas, and Sofalese, only a monthly sabbath, which was the festival of the new moon. No mention of a weekly sabbath is to be found in Joshua, Judges, the books of Samuel, or the first book of Kings. After Deuteronomy, v, 15, no mention of a weekly sabbath is found till we reach II Kings, iv, 23,[17] and the word sabbath does not appear either in Psalms or Proverbs. But there is more than a mere omission to mention a weekly sabbath in the old historical books; there is evidence that the institution was unknown, for many occurrences are described by which the weekly sabbath, had it existed, must have been violated. Jericho was encompassed for seven days in succession, which must, therefore, have included one weekly sabbath (Joshua, vi, 13–16). During the events narrated in I Samuel, xxix and xxx, David was on the march for twelve days in succession, without any day of rest being observed; and, since Solomon gave a feast to the people of Israel which lasted fourteen days (I Kings, viii, 65, and II Chronicles, vii, 9), and so must have included two sabbaths, he could have known nothing of the injunction that on the sabbath every man was to abide in his own place (Exodus, xvi, 29). Elijah must likewise have broken the rest of several weekly sabbaths (I Kings, xix, 7, 8). In the article on Marriage and Kinship among the Ancient Israelites[18] we gave several valid reasons for supposing that the Levitical law was not compiled till about the period of the Babylonian captivity, and this ignorance of the institution of the weekly sabbath on the part of those who must have known about it, had it existed, is an additional reason. We can not suppose that the sabbath rest was willfully broken, for its violation was considered so grave a crime as to be punished with death.

But, while there is a complete silence on the subject of the weekly sabbath in the books we have mentioned, we find moon-worship and the festival of the new moon referred to in more than one place. The passages in I Samuel, xx, 5, 18, 24, and 26 clearly refer to a new-moon festival. Psalm Ixxxi, 3, is explicit; it runs: "Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day." Proverbs, vii, 19, 20, implies that the day of the new moon was a day of rest: "For the good man is not at home, he is gone a long journey: he hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the new moon." The passage in Job, xxxi, 26, 27—"If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness, and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand"—shows that moon-worship was known, and, according to II Kings, xxi, 3, 5, and xxiii, 5, it was practiced by some of the kings of Judah. Indeed, a new-moon festival could only originate with moon-worship.

From all this we infer that before coming in contact with, the Babylonian Assyrians the Israelites had no weekly sabbath or day of rest recurring every seventh day, but had a festival of the new moon on the first day of the lunar month (I Samuel, xx, 27), which, as we shall show, was observed by them as a day of rest, as it is by other peoples at the present day. After they had adopted the weekly sabbath from the Babylonians, they endeavored, through national vanity, to show that they had always observed it, and to account for it they inserted in their books two traditions of its origin which are fatally at variance. Exodus, xx, 10, 11, says: "For in six days Jahveh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore Jahveh blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it"; while in Deuteronomy, V, 15, we read: "And remember thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that Jahveh, thy God, brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm: therefore Jahveh, thy God, commanded thee to keep the sabbath day."

In the later books, written after contact with the Babylonians, we find sabbaths frequently mentioned and strongly insisted upon, but nearly always in connection with new moons. Thus, in Nehemiah,x, 33, we read, "For the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons"; in Isaiah, i, 13, "The new moons and sabbaths"; in Isaiah, Ixvi, 23, "And it shall come to pass that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith Jahveh"; in Ezekiel, xlv, 17, "In the feasts, and in the new moons and in the sabbaths"; and in Hosea, ii, 11, "Her feasts, her new moons, and her sabbaths." New moons and sabbaths are also mentioned together in I Maccabees, x, 24; I Esdras, v, 32, and in Judith, viii, 6. In Ezekiel, xlvi, i, we read that the gate of the inner court of the temple was to "be shut the six working days," and opened on the sabbath and the day of the new moon, which shows that the latter was a day of rest. The offering to be made on the day of the new moon was superior to that to be made on the sabbath (v, 4, 5). In Amos, viii, 5, we read: "When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn, and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat?" which again shows that the day of the new moon was a day of rest.[19]

In no one of these passages is the new-moon festival spoken of as inferior in importance to the sabbath. On the contrary, since the offering was superior, it is to be presumed that the festival was also superior. Each was a day of rest. The explanation doubtless is that, while adopting a seventh-day sabbath from the Babylonians, the Israelites retained their old monthly sabbath, or festival of the new moon, and considered it to be the more important because the more ancient and national. Whether the monthly sabbath was coincident with the first weekly sabbath would depend upon whether the seven-day week, as borrowed from the Babylonians, was a civil period or a true subdivision of a lunar month. That the Israelites did borrow the weekly sabbath from the Babylonians there can scarcely be any doubt. We know that the Babylonians observed the seventh day as a day of rest, and the historical books of the Old Testament show that the Israelites had no knowledge of any such observance till after contact with Babylon.[20]


  1. January, March, May, July, August, October, and December have each thirty-one days, or a day and a half more than a lunar month. Total, ten days and half. April, June, September, and November have each thirty days, or half a day more than a lunar month. Total, two days. February, on the other hand, has only twenty-eight days, or a day and a half less than a lunar month. 101/2+2−11/2=11, the number of days required.
  2. Anglo-Saxons, vol. i, p. 201.
  3. Nadaillac, Prehistoric America, p. 306.
  4. Thompson, The Story of New Zealand, vol. i, p. 198.
  5. Sibree, Madagascar and its People, p. 206.
  6. Baikie, Narrative of an Exploring Voyage, p. 316.
  7. Johnston, The River Congo, p. 455.
  8. Astley's Collection, vol. iii, p. 397.
  9. Raffles, History of Java, vol. i, p. 475.
  10. Bock, Temples and Elephants, appendix iii.
  11. The Javanese system presents some curious points of resemblance to that of the Chaldeans. When they had a week of five days, each day of twenty-four hours was divided into five periods viz., from sunset to 8 a. m.; from 8 a. m. to noon; from noon to 3 p. m.; from 3 p. m. to 4 p. m.; and from 4 p. m. to sunset. Each of these divisions was sacred to one of the five gods, Sri, Kala, Wisnu, Maheswara, and Brama, but the order of dedication changed every day. Thus, if the first period of one day were dedicated to Sri, that of the next day was dedicated to Kala, that of the third to Wisnu, and so on. (Raffles, loc. cit.)
  12. Records of the Past, vol. ii.
  13. Ashtoreth, or Astarte, whence the Anglo-Saxon Eostre and Easter.
  14. The verb iduare is probably from the Sanskrit root indh, idh, to kindle, lighten; whence indu, moon; properly, the days of light of the moon (Lewis and Short: art. Idus). If so, the word ides would properly be applied to the night of fullest light, that of the full moon; and the meaning "to divide" would be secondary, and would be formed because the ides divided the lunar month.
  15. Assyrian Discoveries, p. 12.
  16. Records of the Past, vol. i, p. 164.
  17. In only two other places in the second book of Kings is it mentioned, viz., xi, 5, and xvi, 18; and, since the older books show that Saul, David, and Solomon knew nothing of a weekly sabbath, we must regard these as interpolations. In II Kings, iv, the Shunamite woman asks her husband to get ready one of the young men and one of the asses, so that she may go to ihe man of God; and her husband replies (v, 23): "Wherefore wilt thou go to him to-day? It is neither new moon nor sabbath." This implies that it was only customary to visit "men of God" on such days; but in Exodus, xvi, 29, we find the injunction, "Let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." The word sabbath in this case must, therefore, either be a later addition to the text, or refer to a holy day different from the sabbath ultimately adopted.
  18. Popular Science Monthly, January, 1893.
  19. New moons are mentioned alone—that is, without sabbaths—in Ezra, iii, 5. Ezra does not anywhere mention the sabbath.
  20. The sabbath is not, as has been said, anywhere mentioned between Deuteronomy, v, 15, and II Kings, iv, 23, but it is mentioned in Chronicles, which refers to some of the same periods. Chronicles is, however, clearly a compilation from the other books, for it contains genealogies from Genesis, and some of the same occurrences as are narrated in Samuel and Kings. The word sabbath occurs in the following passages: I Chronicles, ix, 32, where certain Levites are appointed to prepare the shew-bread every sabbath. This chapter describes the Israelites as dwelling in Jerusalem in the days of Saul, which we know, from II Samuel, v, 5–9, was not the case. In I Chronicles, xxiii, 31, David appoints Levites to offer sacrifices on sabbaths and new moons; in II Chronicles, ii, 4, Solomon says he built the temple for the burnt offerings on the sabbaths and new moons; and in II Chronicles, xxxi, 3, Hezekiah appoints his portion for burnt offerings for the sabbaths and new moons. These are the only cases in which the sabbath is mentioned, and the combinations of sabbaths with new moons, only found in the later books, is additional proof, if further proof be required, that the two books of Chronicles date from post-captivity times.