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.”
A portion of this early calendar was shortly 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 particular days of the month were considered 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.
We are told that the Assyrians had thousands of Gods. The following seven were also names of the two luminaries and the five visible planets. They happen to be the exact namesakes of the modern seven days of the week.
- Sin – The Moon – Monday
- Shamash / Uto – The Sun – Sunday
- Marduk – Jupiter – Thursday
- Ishtar / Inanna – Venus – Friday
- Ninurta / Ninĝirsu – Saturn – Saturn
- Nabu – Mercury – Wednesday
- Nergal, Nirgal or Nirgali – Mars – Tuesday
While all this information is fascinating, it does not definitely state that the Assyrian’s seven day week had (or did not have) astrological origins. It is possible that these connections existed in some manner, but they are not supported in this study.