How far back in antiquity has the seven-day week existed? To tell the truth, we don’t really know. But here’s the account of how a true ancient seven-day ritual was discovered.
In 1869 Assyriologist, George Smith was sorting through some unidentified cuneiform artifacts in the British Museum, when he found a ancient tablet that totally took him by surprise. He writes “I discovered among other things a curious religious calendar of the Assyrian, in which every month is divided into four weeks, and the seventh day or “Sabbaths’ are marked out as days on which no work should be undertaken.”
This early calendar was published by Sir Henry Rawlinson. The retired army officer and politician had access to this artifact as a trustee of the British Museum. He wrote “All the days are styled “favorable,” an expression which must indicate a pious hope, not a fact, since the words u-hulgala or umu limnu (evil day) are particularly applied to the seventh, fourteenth, nineteenth, twenty-first and twenty-eighth days. Such days would seem therefore to have possessed an indeterminate character; though naturally evil or unlucky, they could be made favorable or at least innocuous, provided the rules for their observed were faithfully followed.”
These two strange reports are from The Babylonian Evil Days in the University of Nebraska Studies Volume 11, Issues 1-2. pages 103-5; Rest Days; A Sociological Study by Hutton Webster. The implications are that existing artifacts can document an ancient Mesopotamian year of twelve months each divided into four weeks of seven days. In addition certain days of the month were considered Evil Days and unfortunate for advancing certain interests and most definitely required precautions in order to be safe.
The seventh day of the week plays a significant place in these Babylonian religious observances. The Wikipedia article on the Babylonia Calendar states that that Marduk and Ishtar were worshipped on the 7th, Ninlil and Nergal on the 14th, Sin and Shamash on the 21st, and Enki and Mah on the 28th. In addition the nineteenth day of every month was considered “the day of anger” and was dedicated to Gula,. Sacrifices were offered to Ninurta on the 49th day or seven cycles of seven days. Most importantly the Full Moon was celebrated each month.
Babylonians recognized the heavenly bodies that rule the modern seven day week, however there is nothing found (as of yet) regarding the observances of any particular day of the week other than the seventh and multiples there of. It is of interest here to note that the Babylonian exile is the period in Jewish history (597 BC -538 BC) during which a large number of people from the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylon. While the Jews held closely to their faith, they were most certainly influenced to some extent by the Babylonia culture.
Rulers of the Seven Day Planetary Week
- SUNDAY – The Sun – Shamash / Uto
- MONDAY – The Moon – Sin
- TUESDAY – Mars – Nergal, Nirgal or Nirgali
- WEDNESDAY – Mercury – Nabu
- THURSDAY – Jupiter – Marduk
- FRIDAY – Venus – Ishtar / Inanna
- SATRUDAY – Saturn – Sin
Even to this date, the Hebrew days of the week are given numerals except the seventh which is called the Sabbath. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia states that early on every seventh day (Shabbatum) was regarded as an unlucky day. In Saturn and the Jews the words for Saturday (Shabbat in Hebrew) and Saturn (Shabbetai in Hebrew) points to Saturn as the planet ruling or “in charge” of the Jews. Abraham Ibn Ezra (ca.1089–ca.1161) felt that by not occupying themselves with everyday matters but devoting themselves solely to the fear of God on this day, the Jews protected themselves from Saturn’s baneful influence.
The material in The Wisdom Library portrays the magic of Babylonia and Assyria which was primarily used to offset evil. Demon worship was rampant in those days. As it is stated “The literature of Chaldea—especially its religious literature—teems with references to magic, and in its spells and incantations we see the prototypes of those employed by the magicians of medieval Europe. Indeed so closely do some of the Assyrian incantations and magical practices resemble those of the European sorcerers of the Middle Ages and of primitive peoples of the present day that it is difficult to convince oneself that they are of independent origin.”
The use of the seven day planetary week in medieval Europe is well documented. While this information is fascinating, it does not prove that the Assyria’s seven day week had (or did not have) astrological connections beyond Saturn and the phases of the Moon. It is possible that other links to the seven planets exist in some manner, but they are not dealt with in this study.