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Divine Rest for Human Restlessness #1

Fancy ideas of Sabbath origin!



                          Samuele Bacchiocchi PhD

I am pleased to repoduce for you the first part of Dr.Sam's book,
published in 1980. It is a book that I recommend be a part of
every 7th day Sabbathkeeping person or family library. I'm sure
you can obtain it from Dr.Sam by Googling the name Samuele
Bacchiocchi. Dr.Sam is a Seventh Day Adventist, and while I fully
recommend his books on the Sabbath issue, there are other parts
of his theology on other topics where I may not fully agree, or
perhaps I will totally disagree. But the book "Divine Rest for
Human Restlessness" should be in your home library.
Dr.Sam has probably been the greatest advocate, expounder,
defender, and broadcaster of the Sabbath day commandment, than
anyone since the days of the original apostles of Jesus Christ. 

Keith Hunt (2009)


     The story behind a book may sometimes be as interesting as
the content of the book itself. My interest for a deeper
understanding of the history and theology of the Sabbath goes
back to my early youth. My parents taught me from childhood to
celebrate the Sabbath as the memorial of God's creation and
redemption. The importance my parents attached to the proper
observance of the seventh-day Sabbath was largely due to the
unique way in which my father discovered this significant
Biblical institution.
     In 1935 at the age of twenty, father, a devout Catholic at
that time, was introduced for the first time to the study of the
Bible by a fellow carpenter who belonged to the Waldensian
Church. In his earnest desire to become better acquainted with
the teachings of the Scriptures, father joined the Waldensian
Church, attending with keen interest the mid-week Bible study
conducted by the Waldensian School of Theology in Rome. Not long
afterwards, a theology student presented a study on the origin
and significance of Sunday worship.  The presentation resulted in
a lively debate between those students who defended the Biblical
genesis of Sunday observance and those who refuted such a view,
arguing instead for later ecclesiastical origin of the day. 
     Father regards that animated discussion, which left him
astonished and perplexed, as the experience that sparked his
interest for the study of the Biblical basis and historical
genesis of the Lord's day.
     Months of intense study led father to the conclusion that
the seventh-day Sabbath had not been nullified but rather
clarified and magnified by Christ's teaching and example. In
fact, he became convinced that the Sabbath is a divine
institution that enables the believer to express and experience
commitment to the Savior: Unable to find a Christian Church that
observed the seventh-day Sabbath, for several months father chose
to worship privately, thus disconnecting his affiliation with the
Waldensian Church. An invitation to attend a Bible study held in
the home of a friend first introduced father and mother to a
pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which they soon
     Resting and worshiping the Savior on His Sabbath day was not
easy during my youth. Those were the days when the shortened
workweek did not yet exist and thus Saturday was a working day
for most people, including teachers and students.
     My classmates called me a "Jew" for missing school on
Saturday. Relatives and priests frequently urged me to abandon
the beliefs and practices of my Seventh-day Adventist Church,
especially Sabbathkeeping. Such frequent confrontations instilled
within me the desire someday to investigate the history, theology
and relevancy of the Sabbath day. As a teenager, however, I could
have never imagined that one day I would be allowed to conduct
such an investigation at the prestigious Pontifical Gregorian
University. It was unthinkable in those days for a non-Catholic
to be accepted for a regular doctoral program at a Pontifical
University in Rome.
     My acceptance at the Gregoriana in the Fall of 1969 marked
the admission of the first "separated brother" into a regular
study program in over 400 years of history of the University.
I hasten to acknowledge that I was treated not as a "separated
brother" but as a genuine Christian brother. The climate of
cordiality and respect was exemplified especially in the freedom
and guidance I received while conducting my doctoral research
into the controversial question of the genesis of Sunday
observance in early Christianity.
     The publication of my abridged dissertation "From Sabbath to
Sunday," by the Pontifical Gregorian University Press in 1977,
represented for me not only a dream come true but also an
unprecedented opportunity to share my findings with scholars and
Christans of all persuasions. In fact, the scores of generally
positive reviews that have appeared in leading journals and
magazines, as well as the hundreds of favorable comments that the
book has elicited from scholars of different confessions, have
contributed to already six reprints of the book for a total of
over 70,000 copies.
     The many responses and evaluations I have received suggest
the existence of significant trends. There seems to be, for
example, a genuine interest to re-examine the historical process
that led many Christians to abandon a millenerian institution
such as the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath and to adopt
Sunday instead. Such an interest is apparently reflective of the
renewed effort being made to understand the relation between the
Old and New Testaments and the concomitant relation between
Judaism and Christianity. At a time of increasing dialogue
between the two faiths, it is especially helpful to appreciate
more fully the fact that Christianity sprang out of the
roots and trunk of Judaism.
     It has been most gratifying to note the willingness on the
part of numerous scholars to acknowledge the necessity of
reconsidering the origin and the assumptions underlying Sunday
observance, in the light of my study "From Sabbath to Sunday."
Willy Rordorf, for example, in the preface to the Italian edition
of his book "Sabato e domenica nella Chiesa antica" (May 1979),
graciously writes: "It is evident that Bacchiocchi does not share
the view of the historical evolution [of Sunday observance] which
is presented in the introduction to our collection of documents.
Yet he refers to the same texts. It will be necessary therefore
to take up the very same texts and study them more carefully, if
we are to arrive at a better ecumenical understanding among
Christians of different confessional origin" (p. viii). In
reviewing my book in The Expository Times (1978) Marcus Ward
remarks: "After reading this, any reasonable man must question
the general easy, uncritical acceptance of Sunday as the Lord's
day" (p.349). Similarly Clayton K. Harrop, New Testament
Professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, in his
appraisal of "From Sabbath to Sunday," acknowledges that the book
"should cause those of us who still believe that Sunday is the
day for Christian worship to look more carefully at our
reasons for such pracice and be less harsh toward those who
choose to differ from us." 1  In a similar vein Norman Vincent
Peale comments: "The book will, I am sure, stimulate a re-
examination pf long established attitudes." 2

     The willingness on the part of some to re-examine historical
and theological assumptions underlying the origin and nature of
Sunday observance is apparently reflective of another signi-
ficant trend, namely, the recognition that, as stated by Norman
Vincent Peale, "Christians everywhere stand in need of the spir-
itual values inherent in the Sabbath." 3  Upon his election as
Executive Director of the Lord's Day Alliance of the USA, Dr.
James P. Wesberry stated in his inaugural address: "One of our
nation's greatest needs as we come to our bicentenial is to get
back to the Fourth Commandment and once again 'Remember the
Sabbath to keep it holy.' Where will we be 200 years from now if
the present trend rearding this keeps up,? I want to promise you
today that I will give every ounce of strength and the every best
I have by way of leadership to promoting this noble an thrilling
cause for the glory of God. It challenges all that is within me."
     In keeping with such a noble commitment Dr. Wesberry, a
distinguished Southern Baptist, has graciously offered to write
the foreword for this book. Words fail to express my gratitude to
him for commending my book so generously to the public. Though we
disagree on the day on which to rest and worship, we mutually
agree on its vital function for the survival of Christianity. At
a time when secular concerns often obscure sacred commitments,
when gadgets have become for many more important than God, when
the tyranny of things enslaves many lives, the Sabbath provides a
vital divine lifeline too rescue us from the bondage of mayerial-
ism by elevating our thoughts or one day above the world of
matter, thus enabling us to rediscover the peace of Go for which
we were created.......

     I am under no illusion that this book will convince everyone
to observe the day God made for the physical and spiritual
wellbeing of mankind (Mark 2:27). The most I can hope is that
these theological reflections of the message and experience of
the Sabbath to some of the pressing contemporary human needs and
some persons to discover a largely forgotten treasure, the
Sabbath. These pages have been written with earnest desire to
share with others the blessing the Sabbath has brought to my
life. My fervent hope is now that this book will help those
persons who struggle to find meaning in their existence, who seek

or rest in their restless lives, who live among personal and
social contradictions and tentions, to find through the Sabbath
Divine Rest for Human Restlessness.

(It is interesting that Dr.Sam found some acceptance among the
Roman Catholic and Protestant world. But it also has shown over
the decades since Dr.Sam published his books, that the majority
of so-called "scholars" have not REPENTED, have not had a deep
search of heart and mind, over the Sabbath question, to the point
where they will acknowledge the truth of God's word and the truth
of historical documents. The truth of the matter is that scholars
and religious leaders like the acclaim from the masses of people.
They know very well that if they observe and teach the 4th
commandment as found in the Bible, as worded in Exodus 20, they
will have to stand apart from the masses, and will soon loose
their jobs, income, recognition, and whatever fame they may have
gathered from their books they have written, or from speaking
engagements. The truth is that as Jesus said, "Beware, when men
speak good of you, for so they did to the false prophets of old."
I do not share the same "kind of hand-shake towards the teachers
of Sunday" as it would seem Bacchiocchi does. The Sunday
teachers, or put it another way, the theology teachers who will
not teach 7th day observance, are to me part of the Babylon
Mystery religion - the false prophets Jesus warned about who
would especially come in the last days and deceive the MANY, not
the few, but the MANY - Keith Hunt)


     The recent book and film Roots by Alex Haley have captivated
millions of readers and viewers. Probably Haley never dreamed
that his novel would spur so many Americans to search for their
ancestral roots in archives and libraries throughout the United
States and across the ocean.
     The eager search for ancestral roots is perhaps symptomatic
of a deeper search, namely, the search for life's meaning. The
urge to trace back one's family tree may well reflect the desire
to discover not only one's roots, but also the very meaning of
one's life. What many thinking persons fear most today is not
total destruction, but total meaninglessness. Modern science and
technology have given us plenteous research, abundance of goods,
instant communication and a mass of facts! What gives meaning to
life, however, is not plenteous research but profound beliefs, it
is not abundance of goods but abiding goals, it is not instant
communication but individual commitment, it is not mass of facts
but a mastering faith.
     The sense of disillusionment, emptiness, alienation and
meaninglessness experienced by many modern thinking individuals
cannot be overcome by tracing ancestral roots, nor through
skillfully developed economic, scientific or political systems,
but only through a faith that reaches higher than mankind. Such
faith must have a three-dimensional scope, that is to say, it
must embrace the belief in a divine origin, a present purpose and
an ultimate destiny for human life.


1. A Basis For a Cosmic Faith

     The Sabbath is relevant for modern persons because it
nourishes such a three-dimensional faith. the themes of the
Sabbath, as we shall study them, encompass creation, redemp-
tion and final restoration; the past, the present and the future;
man, nature and God. If, as aptly expressed by Paul Tillich, a
"symbol participates in the reality for which it stands," 1  then
the cosmic symbology of the Sabbath provides modern believers
with a basis for a cosmic faith: a faith that reaches out to
past, present and future realities. 2 ........



     Before considering the far-reaching implications of the
Biblical account of the Edenic origin of the Sabbath, attention
must in all fairness be given to other explanations of its origin
which have been vigorously advocated over the last century.
Without denying the relevance of the Biblical record, in many
cases historians have preferred to trace the Sabbath back as far
as possible in the extrabiblical sources, or we might say, to
"the things the historian can see," rather than to the "things
that are not seen." The results of these endeavors are far from
being unanimous. The various hypotheses which have been proposed,
as we shall see, not only fail to convince but implicitly point
to the Biblical explanation as deserving greater recognition.
     The leading theories date the origin of the Sabbath

(1) before or at the time of Moses

(2) after the settlement in

(3) during or after the exile. 

The main reasons adduced for these origins can be labelled as:

(1) astrologicalastronomic,

(2) socio-economic, 

(3) magical-symbolic.

1. Pre-Mosaic/Mosaic Origin


     The theory of the Mosaic origin of the Sabbath rests
primarily on the supposed influence of Saturn or of lunar phases
or of a Mesopotamian seven-day period. An old and still common
theory derives the OT Sabbath from the Saturn day of the Kenites,
a tribe with whom Moses came in close contact by marriage when he
fled to Midian (Judg. 4:11,17). It is speculated that the day
of Saturn was a tabu-day on which the Kenites, who were metal
workers, would not light their smelting ovens. The Israelites
would have adopted this Kenite tabu-day and extended its
regulations to normal household chores. Support for this
hypothesis is sought in the prohibition of firemaking on the
Sabbath (Ex. 35:3; Num. 15:32-36) which is made dependent upon
the supposed ancestral worship of Sakkuth and Kaiwan (Am. 5:26),
alleged names for Saturn. 

     The primary weakness of such an hypothesis is that it rests
on the assumption that the Kenites had a seven-day week in which
its respective days were dedicated to the planetary gods. To the
best of our knowledge, however, the introduction of the
planetarian week occurred much later, approximately at the time
of the origin of Christianity. Moreover, there is no indication
in the OT or in the ancient Jewish literature that the Sabbath
was ever regarded as sacred to Saturn.  For these and other
reasons the Kenite hypothesis is now discredited by practically
all scholars.

Lunar phases. 

     The lunar theory which links the origin of the Sabbath with
the days associated with the four phases of the moon and/or with
the day of the full moon has enjoyed greater popularity. These
days apparently had some religious significance in ancient
Mesopotamia, the homeland of Abraham. The evidence for
the existence of such days is provided primarily by an Assyrian
calendar which was found among the cuneiform tablets in the
British Museum in 1869 by the Assyriologist George Smith. This
calendar, which appears to be a transcript of a much older
Babylonian original, lists the thirty days of the thirteenth
or intercalary month and marks the 7th, 14th, 19th, 16th, 21st,
and 28th days of the month as "ume lemnuti," that is, evil or
unfavorable days (dies nefasti). On these days the king, the
priest and the physician were to abstain from certain activities,
in order not to offend the gods. The origin of these evil days is
attributed by some to the four phases of the moon which recur
approximately every seven days. The Hebrews would thus have
derived their Sabbath from an ancient Mesopotamian lunarphases
cycle. The mention in the OT of the Sabbath in conjunction
with the new moon is presented as a lingering trace of this lunar
origin of the Sabbath.
     This theory, though seemingly persuasive, reveals under
close examination at least three weaknesses. 

     First, since the duration of a lunar month (lunation) is not
28 days -(4X7) but just over 29 days (a period which cannot be
subdivided into four exact weeks of seven days each),  any
association of the seventh day with the phases of the moon must
be viewed not as an original but as a secondary development.
     Second, if the Babylonians employed the evil days in a civil
"weekly" cycle (which apparently they never did), then the cycle
would be interrupted at the beginning of every month, since its
first evil day (umu lemnu - 7th day) occurred after eight or nine
days from the last evil day (28th day) of the previous month. The
difference in the number of days depended on whether the last
lunar month had 29 or 30 days.
     Such an irregular cycle tied to the beginning of the lunar
month could hardly have given origin to the Hebrew week which was
a constant seven-day week, running unfettered by lunar or solar
     Third, nothing in the cuneiform texts indicates that the
Babylonians ever employed the recurring evil days as a "weekly"
division of time for civil purposes. The rules for such days
affected the king and priests but not the people as a whole. 
Moreover, this was not the only "weekly" cycle known to the
Babylonians, since there are also frequent instances of the
"division of the month into six parts, involving a five-day
week." In contrast, the Hebrew holy (not evil) Sabbath was
employed as the only religious and civil weekly division of time
and was observed as a festival by the entire community.


     In several Akkadian documents of ancient Mesopotamia
occurs the term sabattu, which is strikingly similar to the
Hebrew word for Sabbath (sabbat). The term apparently designated
the fifteenth day of the month, that is, the day of the full
moon. An example from about the time of Abraham is found in the
famous Babylonian creation epic called Enuma elish (5:18), where
Marduk addresses the moon saying, "At the month's very start,
rising over the land, thou shalt have luminous horns to signify
six days. On the seventh day be thou a [half-] crown. At sabbatu,
stand in opposition [to the sun] in midmonth." What significance
was attached to such a day? Apparently, the day of the full
moon-sabbatu-was sacred to Sin, the moon-god who occupied a
significant place in the Babylonian pantheon. In several tablets
sabattu is defined as um nuh libbi, usually translated as "day of
rest of the heart" or "day of appeasement."
     Sabattu, then, was the day of the full moon, when presumably
the gods were propitiated or appeased. The similarity of look
and sound between the Akkadian sabattu and the Hebrew sabbat
(Sabbath), as well as the association in the OT between the
Sabbath and the new moon, has led some scholars to conclude
confidently that the Sabbath was originally not weekly but a
monthly festival connected with the day of the full moon. The
transformation of the Sabbath from a monthly to a weekly festival
would have occurred much later, under Ezekiel in response to a
demand for rest. 
     The remarkable ingenuity of such a theory has astonished
several scholars. Karl Budde, for example, registers his regret
for such an unfounded theory, by pointing out that there is not
"a single word in Ezekiel which prescribes a new mode of
celebration for the Sabbath. On the contrary Ezekiel complains
constantly (20:12ff; 22:8,26; 23:38; 44:24) that for long years 
... Israel has failed to observe the Sabbath in the old sense."
     The champions of the full moon theory ignore also
such older passages as 2 Kings 4:23 and 2 Kings 11:4-12 which
speak of the Sabbath over two centuries before Ezekiel's time.
Furthermore, these scholars fail to explain how an alleged
"monthly Sabbath" came to be observed as a weekly day of rest and
worship, irrespective of the day of the full moon. If the
Israelites had observed the day of the full moon for centuries,
why is it that no memory of it can be found in later times? For
example, the day of the full moon in Hebrew is called not
"sabbat" but kese (Ps. 81:4), a term which has no word-form
association with or derivation from the Akkadian sabattu. It
would seem therefore that the Babylonian lunar month (with its
evil days and sabattu) had no direct influence on the origin of
the Hebrew Sabbath and calendar. This is also borne out by the
fact that the Jewish month-names show no similarity to the
Babylonian ones. Any ideological or etymological, that is,
word-form similarity between the Babylonian sabattu/evil days and
the Hebrew Sabbath must then be explained on the basis of a
common Semitic heritage. The Babylonians were related to the
Hebrews both linguistically and culturally, thus both could
readily have learned about the creation Sabbath from a common
source. However, as in the case of the story of Creation (Enuma
elish) and of the story of the Flood (Gilgamesh Epic), the
Sabbath too could have been corrupted and transformed from a holy
day to evil days associated with lunar phases. Such a
development, however, suggests not derivation but deterioration
of the primeval Sabbath. In fact, no trace can be found in the
Babylonian sabattu or evil days of the lofty purposes and human
values expressed by the Biblical Sabbath.

Seven-day period. 

     Several ancient Mesopotamian documents mention celebrations
or events lasting a period of seven days. For example, two
inscriptions attributed to King Gudea of Lagash (a Mesopotamian
city state), who ruled in the twenty-first century B.C., speak of
a celebration of the dedication of a temple which lasted seven
days and of the installation of certain steles which took seven
days. In the Mesopotamian stories of the Flood, the duration of
the storm was seven days and the first bird was sent out seven
days after the ship came to rest upon a mountain. On the basis of
these and a few other similar references,  some scholars have
confidently asserted that beyond "the shadow of a doubt" the OT
Sabbath derives from an ancient Mesopotamian seven-day week. 
     Such a bold claim, however, rests more on fantasies than
facts. The evidence for an early Babylonian week, as Siegfried H.
Horn, a seasoned and knowledgeable archeologist, rightly
underscores, "is meager indeed, especially in view of the
hundreds of thousands of cuneiform records recovered in the
Mesopotamian valley. If the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, or
Assyrians possessed a week like that of the Hebrews in Biblical
times, or gave to the seventh day of such a week special
sanctity, they would certainly have left us a clearer record of
     The reference to a dedicatory celebration lasting seven days
can hardly be construed as proof for the existence of a sevenday
week, since "records exist of many temples dedicated at other
times, by other kings, in shorter or longer periods of time." 
     Similarly the seven-day periods mentioned in the
Mesopotamian Flood stories may represent a vague recollection of
the existence of a seven-day week at the time of the Biblical
Flood but not necessarily a reflection of its common usage at the
time of the composition of these stories. The Biblical account of
the Flood contains repeated references to seven-day periods (Gen.
8:8-12), thus suggesting, as commentators generally recognize,
the existence of the seven-day week. The cuneiform Flood stories,
in spite of distortions and legendary embellishments, do come
closer to the Biblical story than the Flood stories from other
parts of the world. The similarity suggests the perpetration of
the Biblical notion of a sevenday week in literary works, even
though its civil usage apparently fell into desuetude as
indicated by the existence of shorter "weeks." "The logical
conclusion is", as aptly stated by Horn, "that there had once
been a seven-day week, but that it had been lost before
historical records were kept, and that only an indistinct memory
of it remained."

2. Settlement

Social institution. 

     The failure of extra-Biblical sources to provide a
satisfactory explanation for the origin of the Sabbath
has driven scholars to search for its roots within OT texts.     
Such a study has led some to conclude that the Sabbath was first
introduced after the occupation of Canaan. The reasons given for
its introduction are based primarily on social and economic
considerations. The need to give a day of rest to laborer`s and
the necessity of a market day in which to sell and buy produce
would have induced the introduction of the Sabbath as a "day
off."  In time, it is argued, the Sabbath underwent an evolution
from a social to a religious institution, that is, from a day for
the sake of slaves and of marketing, to a day for the sake of
Yahweh. Credit for such a transformation is given to the prophets
and priests who by the time of the exile developed a theology of
the Sabbath to promote its religious observance.
     Support for such a theory is sought in those texts which
present the Sabbath primarily in social terms. Of these, Exodus
23:12 and 34:21 are viewed as particularly important. The former
enjoins to rest on the seventh day so "that your ox and your ass
may have rest, and the son of your bondmaid, and the alien, may
be refreshed." The latter text stresses the need to observe the
seventh day even in peak agricultural seasons: "in plowing time
and in harvest you shall rest." The importance of these texts is
seen in the fact that they contain no explicit theological
motivation, and thus they are regarded as the "earliest version
of the Sabbath commandment."  Moreover, since these texts speak
of agricultural activities which demanded the use of cattle,
slaves and day laborers - conditions supposedly unknown during
the wilderness wandering - the Sabbath must then have been
introduced after the settlement in Canaan to meet new social
     The logic of such arguments cannot be denied, but, in our
opinion, it rests on unwarranted presuppositions. It is assumed,
for instance, that humanitarian concerns preceded theological
reflections and formulations, and consequently those texts of the
Pentateuch which speak of the Sabbath strictly in social terms
must reflect the original form of Sabbathkeeping, while those
texts that spell out religious or theological aspects must apply
to a later period. What motivated humanitarian considerations
and regulations at a time when human life had such little value?
Superstitious and cultic understanding of land and people could
hardly have provided such motivation, since we find no traces of
them in the OT. Moreover, have mythical superstitions ever
promoted the cause of human rights? This was hardly the case
among the contemporaries of the ancient Israelites, who, for
instance, saw no evil in the institution of slavery and used
their legal systems to protect it. On the contrary, among the
Israelites the sabbatical institutions provided for a day of rest
for all, including slaves, for the cancelation of debts (a major
cause of slavery) and the emancipation of slaves.
     Does not the humanitarian function of the Sabbath presuppose
theological reasons and motivations? Theological motives,
however, need not always be explicitly expressed, especially when
the Sabbath is inserted among basic civil and cultic laws (cf.
Ex. 23:12; 34:21). Civil codes in most cases provide no rational
explanation for the laws. Nevertheless, even in Exodus 23 - a
chapter that contains a variety of civil and cultic legisla-
tion - the Sabbath is not devoid of theological justification. In
fact, the very so-called "earliest version of the sabbath
commandment" (Ex. 23:12) is placed in the context of an
admonition to be considerate toward the underprivileged: "You
shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Ex. 23:9). Is not
the appeal to the bitter Egyptian servitude from which Yahweh
delivered the Israelites a strong theological motivation to
induce them to show kindness toward others?  Were not the
weekly Sabbaths and the sabbatical year helpful vehicles to
express appreciation for divine mercy received by showing
compassion toward others? "To keep the Sabbath for men's sake,"
as Abram Herbert Lewis writes, "is to keep it for God's sake." 
     Is it not true even today that the recognition of divine
mercies received constitutes the strongest theological motivation
for humanitarian considerations?
     What about the reference to cattle, slaves and laborers that
were to be allowed to rest on the Sabbath even at the peak of
agricultural seasons? Does this imply that the Sabbath was first
introduced after the occupation of Canaan, when the Israelites
were settled in the land and employed dependent workers? Such a
conclusion fails to consider two significant factors. 
     First, recent investigations into the preconquest period
suggest that the Israelites lived not as wandering nomads but as
semisettled nomads on the fringes of the desert (possibly Negeb).
This condition could explain the introduction of agriculturally
oriented laws before the actual settlement in Canaan. 
     Second, even granting that the Israelites lived in the
desert as wandering nomads and did not own oxen, asses, or slaves
or cultivate land, could not a prophetic gifted leader such as
Moses have foreseen beyond the immediate situation of the people
and thus promulgate laws to meet future conditions? Did not the
Pilgrim Fathers, before disembarking on Cape Cod, sign the
Mayflower Compact which became for many years the principal
governmental charter of the Plymouth Colony? Why should a
similar foresight be denied to Moses?

Market days - Number seven.     

     To explain how the Israelites after the occupation came to
choose the seventh day, appeal is sometimes made to the alleged
influence of the Canaanites, market days or the number seven. Did
the Israelites adopt the Sabbath from the Canaanites, as some
suggest? The proposal may appear plausible, especially since the
Canaanites exerted an influence not indifferent upon the
Israelites. The fact remains, however, that no trace of the
Sabbath has ever been found among the Canaanites or among their
kinsmen, the Phoenicians. Did the Israelites develop the Sabbath
out of an original seven-day market week? Market days recurring
regularly every five, six, eight or ten days were common among
many peoples. What militates against this theory is the fact that
no trace has been found of regular market weeks in Palestine,
much less at seven-day intervals. Moreover the prophetic
denunciation of the trading done at times deteriorated into a
market day rather than originating from it (Neh. 13:14-22; Jer.
17:19-27; Amos 8:5).

     Didthe Israelites derive their Sabbath from the great
symbolic importance attached to the number seven by many ancient
Near Eastern people? Some have suggested that the number seven
because of its prestige was first used to fix the duration of
spring and fall festivals (the feast of Unleavened Bread and
Booths, each of which lasted seven days) and that later these
seven-day festival units were used to measure time throughout the
year. This hypothesis sounds interesting but does not explain
how the number seven became prestigious in the first place.
Moreover, it would seem more plausible that the existence of a
continuous seven-day week would influence the duration of an
annual seven-day festival rather than vice versa. Obviously, a
connection exists among the seven-day week, the seven-day annual
festivals and the number seven. But, since the number seven runs
contrary to every known astronomical measurement of time, the
best explanation for its importance and its usage still remains
the Biblical account of the divine blessing and sanctification of
the seventh day at the completion of creation.

     This sketchy survey should serve to illustrate some of the
weaknesses present in the criteria used to defend the settlement-
origin of the Sabbath as a social institution. We have shown that
this theory provides no convincing alternative explanation for
the origin of the Sabbath because it rests on an arbitrary
selection of texts, unwarranted assumptions and unfounded claims
regarding the alleged influence of market days or of the number

3. Exile

Innovation or consolidation?  

     The period of the Jewish exile in Babylon (605-539 B.C.) is
generally regarded as crucial for the history of the Sabbath. 
For some scholars, as was noted earlier, the exile represents the
very time of the origin of the Sabbath. For others, the exilic
and postexilic periods are the turning point in the theological
and cultic development of the Sabbath. We need not be detained
further by the first view, since we found it to be openly
contradicted by OT preexilic references to the Sabbath. The
second view, however, deserves some consideration.

     The exile, it is claimed, contributed in at least two ways
to transform the Sabbath from a social institution (a day for the
sake of slaves and cattle) to a religious festival (a day for
God's sake). 
     First, the loss of the homeland and of dependent workers
would have eliminated the social reasons for the Sabbath and at
the same time induced the search for theological justifications.
     Second, it is argued that the loss of a holy place
(Jerusalem temple in 586 B.C.) made holy time (the Sabbath)
of utmost importance, especially since it could be celebrated
even in exile.

     The information provided by the OT for this period lends no
support to this Sabbath transformation theory. The exilic
prophets do not present an innovative theology and practice of
the Sabbath. Ezekiel, for example, prescribes no new manner or
motivation for the celebration of the Sabbath. On the contrary,
the prophet goes as far as viewing the past profanation of the
Sabbath as a major cause for the calamities which had befallen
Israel (Ezek. 20:15-16,21, 36; 22:26,31). To promote a return
to proper Sabbathkeeping, Ezekiel appeals not to a new
theological rational but to the old historical meaning of the
Sabbath, namely, its being a "sign" or pledge of Israel's
covenantal relationship with God (Ezek. 20:12,20). This
covenantal function of the Sabbath was most relevant during the
exile experience, for the threat of national disintegration or
even disappearance was an ever-present reality. Ezekiel, however,
presents the covenantal meaning and function of the Sabbath, not
as a new concept arising out of the exilic experience, but as a
traditional belief rooted in the historical genesis of Israel,
the Exodus experience. In other words, the strength of the
prophet's argument rests on his application of a long-established
meaning of the Sabbath to the new critical exile situation.

     Did the Sabbath develop into holy time as a result of the
loss of a holy place (the Jerusalem temple)? Again, this is
hardly suggested by Ezekiel, who frequently associates the 
Sabbath with holy things (Ezek. 22:26; 23:38) and with service in
the future temple (Ezek. 45:17; 46:1-4,12). The exilic period
with its deportation and cultic deprivation seems to have
contributed not to radical ideological or practical innovations,
but rather to the consolidation of institutions such as the
Sabbath. This is suggested also by the messages given and
measures adopted by Jeremiah during the exile and by Nehemiah
after the exile, to stop trading activities in Jerusalem on the
Sabbath (Jer. 17:19-27; Neh. 10:31,33; 13:15-22). Their efforts
were aimed not at transforming the Sabbath institution, but at

     These observations are not intended to deny that later
(during the intertestamental period) the Sabbath underwent
radical transformations, infact, the Sabbath came to be regarded
as a gift give by God exclusively to Israel. Such an
exclusivistic view encouraged both rabbinical and sectarian
Judaism to develop comprehensive guidelines to insure proper
Sabbathkeeping. Unfortunately, those guidelines, as emphatically
reported in the Gospels, became a legalistic burden rather than a
spiritual guide to genuine Sabbathkeeping. This development,
however, occurred after the period of the Old Testament.

     What conclusions can be drawn from this sketch of the
leading hypotheses regarding the origin of the Sabbath? We have
found that all the conjectures regarding the time (Mosaic,
settlement, exilic) and the manner (astronomical, sociological,
magical) complicate rather than clarify the origin of the Sabbath
and of the seven-day week. No proof can be brought forward for
the hypotheses that the Sabbath derives from the planet Saturn,
from the phases of the moon, from market days, from the prestige
of the number seven or from the exile. One wonders if all these
conjectures that reduce the Sabbath to a mythical or sociological
phenomenon may not reflect a hidden or overt desire of some to
relieve themselves from the necessity of understanding and
observing it. It is hoped that the unsuccessful attempts to parse
the origin of the Sabbath in extra-Biblical sources will provoke
a fresh appreciation for the Biblical account of the Sabbath
origin and meaning.



1. Objections and Objectors to Creation Sabbath

     The theories of the origin of the Sabbath, just surveyed,
represent the conclusions drawn by critical scholars over the
past century. But, puzzling as it may seem, the creation-origin
of the Sabbath was challenged long before our time and by such
"conservative" people as the Palestinian Jews, the early Fathers,
radical groups of the Reformation, and more recently, modern


To be continued

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