Is a weekly day of rest a Jewish invention?

Or do we know of any culture/religion with a concept like the Sabbath predating Jewish custom?

Just musing on a lazy Saturday evening after remarking one more time what a great invention the weekend was. :slight_smile:

The ancient Romans and Etruscans had an 8-day week, including a week-end day; is that a good example? It is a good question what civilization first came up with the idea of a generic sabbath day, but the general idea of periodic festivals and observances evidently goes way, way back.

Yeah, thank you, that’s actually a very good example. Doesn’t matter if the period isn’t exactly 7 days, but in the ballpark. Couldn’t tell just by skimming the wiki article if nundinum predates the sabbath, but that doesn’t matter because if think about it, all such customs that were developed independently from Jewish customs are of interest.

The idea of a periodic market day no doubt goes back very far, to when towns got large enough to need them. That would probably be when they grew to several hundred, maybe a thousand or so people. And that happened about 9 thousand years ago for Çatalhöyük. Going from a market day to a day of rest is left as an exercise for the reader.

Having a ~7 day period where certain activities are proscribed goes back at least to the Babylonians who probably got it from the Sumerians about 3000 years ago.

Since a lot of the Jewish calendar was picked up during the Babylonian captivity, the seven-day Sabbath period might have been picked up then, but it could well have been earlier still.

There are various odd comments in the Bible suggesting a once or twice a month notion of Sabbath very early on.

E.g., there’s Amos (8th cent. BCE) 8:5 “Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?” KJV, which other versions try to arrange better. Some version seem to treat it as a single day. Is the new moon a Sabbath (much like in Assyria, etc.) or merely an oddity of both a new moon “holiday” and a Sabbath occurring together. But in context this seems like a general issue the cheating grain dealers have.

The idea that the notion of a seventh day of rest is a “gift” from ancient Hebrews to the rest of the world is malarkey.

[wild hunch]Maybe because everybody laid down their trade because they did their business for the week on that day?[/wh]

Or rather, because going to market meant you couldn’t do other things. Cows need to be milked every day, but weeds don’t need to be pulled every day, nor fields to be planted every day: so, on market day, farmers would milk the cows but not do any weeding, planting, or anything else which didn’t really need to be done, and of the things they did, many would be left for after coming back from the market and putting away any purchases.

And the psychological effect of changing which tasks you’re doing might have been noticed pretty early; a lot of the concept of the “day of rest” is that change of focus.

Yeah. I single parent. My day of rest is shifting focus from the markets to kid maintenance.

From what I’ve seen, market days and religious “off” days are generally not the same.

In particular, in The Bible, transactions are esp. forbidden on the Sabbath.

Sabbath and similar days are expressly for religious observances.

Market day is not the same.

The real answer is that we don’t know. We don’t have evidence of a weekly day of rest that predates Judaism. This does not meant that the weekly day of rest does not predate Judaism.

What we do know is that Assyrians certainly had a term which resembles ‘Sabbath,’ the Assyrians essentially controlled Babylon after about 900 BC and by the late Babylonian period, we have evidence of them using the ‘Sabbath’ word as well (by 700 BC or so we start to see evidence of them using the word.) Their word seems to be related to appeasing a deity, so calling it a holy day is probably reasonable. Whether this day was observed by not working is a matter of conjecture. We also run into the problem that the oral traditions of the Pentateuch is at least as old as the Assyrian domination of Babylon and perhaps older. So we don’t know in which direction the flow went. Certainly Hebrews were celebrating the Sabbath prior to the Babylonian Captivity and Assyrians had a word for Sabbath by the 9th century. Babylonians by the late kingdom also had ‘religious rest days,’ but they were monthly not weekly.

We know that the Babylonian Calendar itself was very old and influenced strongly the Hebrew calendar. It did have rest days. Around 1000 or so, 7 day holy periods were introduced by Assyrians who may or may not have been influenced by or influenced the Hebrew Sabbath. These religious days were seen as rest days by the Hebrews. Was it 'We are the dominant culture and like to take a break every 7 days" or was it “Holy crap, those guys over there are taking the weekend off, why aren’t we?” Currently, the question is unanswered. It’s not unreasonable to conjecture that the Hebrews invented the 7th day of rest, neither is it unreasonable to conjecture that they combined some Assyrian and Babylonian elements to create it.

BTW what term is that? E.g. my handy Assyrian dictionary has šapattu/šabattu just meaning “the fifteenth day of the month / fifteen days, half a month”. Of course, the actual name is irrelevant to our purposes, just the concept of a weekly day of rest. The week in ancient China was 10 days long and there were mandated rest days, but I will have to defer to others as to when and under what influences those were introduced.

That’s actually evidence that these days were originally related, like dtilque indicated – the transactions were explicitly forbidden because people were in the habit of doing that, and the religious leaders wanted to stop ‘market day’ from competing with their ‘holy day’.

Poking around wikipedia:

Genesis was written in the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. Deuteronomy predates Genesis; earliest versions were believed to have been written in the 7th century BCE. Deuteronomy 5:14 says: …but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Dating Deuteronomy: …a broad consensus of modern scholars see its origin in traditions from Israel (the northern kingdom) brought south to the Kingdom of Judah in the wake of the Assyrian conquest of Aram (8th century BC) and then adapted to a program of nationalist reform in the time of Josiah (late 7th century BC), with the final form of the modern book emerging in the milieu of the return from the Babylonian captivity during the late 6th century BC. So let’s talk about the Assyrians. The old Assyrian calendar is also known as the Babylonian Calendar. It is based upon another calendar (the Umma Calendar of Shulgi) dating from the 21st century BCE. Pretty old!

Babylonian Calandar: [INDENT] Counting from the new moon, the Babylonians celebrated every seventh day as a “holy-day”, also called an “evil-day” (meaning “unsuitable” for prohibited activities) .[citation needed] On these days officials were prohibited from various activities and common men were forbidden to “make a wish”,[citation needed] and at least the 28th was known as a “rest-day” .[citation needed]…

According to Marcello Craveri, Sabbath “was almost certainly derived from the Babylonian Shabattu, the festival of the full moon, but, all trace of any such origin having been lost, the Hebrews ascribed it to Biblical legend.”[7] This conclusion is a contextual restoration of the damaged Enûma Eliš creation account, which is read as: “[Sa]bbath shalt thou then encounter, mid[month]ly.”[1]
[/INDENT] I can’t tell whether the older Umma Calendar of Shulgi had a rest day or not.

Yes, sorry I was unclear. My untestable hypothesis is that market days which weren’t every day came first, and the notion of having days on which you don’t work came later but triggered in part by the observable effects of having a “day off from regular work”. To have every day be “market day” (not just “can trade with the neighbor day”) you need a population large enough to support that level of trade.

you’ve got small places which occasionally get a Big Trading Day. More than the kind of market days we get nowadays (when it’s easy for traders to set up weekly circuits in their motorized stalls), let’s say The Traders Are In Town.
The people in charge realize that on those days a lot of things change about how business is conducted and how people talk to each other. People who live on the outskirts of town come to town and talk to the townies. Youth eye each other. Lots of stuff going on along with the trading.
The people in charge decide to set up a regular “let’s all get together” day but alas! If you just call it a “let’s get together day”, half the farmers either stay in the farm or they come themselves but leave the family behind. Three quarters of the townies, same. OK. We need extra oomph. The Gods Have Decreed That You Will Rest Once A Week and everybody will get together damnit and talk to each other as Og is my witness :mad:
Since the get-together day already came with lower volumes of daily activities, banning specific daily activities on that day was just part of the ritualization. Trade got banned once it was enough of a regular activity.

There is also a ‘natural’ explanation for the 7 day week.

The lunar month was/is the basis for many calendars in many cultures. The length of a lunar month is 27.3 days. So the new moon, first quarter, full moon, and last quarter occur at approximately 7 day intervals.

It’s easy to see how a transition can happen between the cycle of the phases of the moon, 6.8 days apart, and a fixed 7 day cycle.

Wrong sort of “month”*. For regular humans the lunar month is 29 days 12 hours and 44 minutes (on average, it actually varies quite a bit).

So a bit over 7 days. That the length of the week and 1/4 of a lunar month are clearly related isn’t a big surprise. It’s the weekly holy day that is far more obscure.

  • Not enough digits to tell if you’re referring to sidereal or tropical month.

You’re quite right, I was thinking of the sidereal month. This has been significant in astrological systems from ancient times. The moon’s position among the stars is taken into account in a similar way to the sun’s position in the zodiac.

The average time for a cycle of the phases of the moon is the synodic month, which is 29.53 days. This gives 7.38 days for each phase of the moon.

Also an explanation for why the months in the Jewish calendar (and Chinese ?) pretty much alternate 29 and 30 days.

ftg, the quote from Amos is talking about the new moon and Sabbath as two distinct holy days, not conflating the two. In the time of the Holy Temple (and the pre-Solomon Tabernacle) the new moon was celebrated with family sacrifices and was kept as a much more significant holy day than it is nowadays, without the Temple. An example of this is 1 Samuel chapter 20.