Archaeology and the Sabbath -- By: Siegfried H. Horn

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 09:4 (Autumn 1980)
Article: Archaeology and the Sabbath
Author: Siegfried H. Horn


Archaeology and the Sabbath

Siegfried H. Horn

[Siegfried H. Horn, Ph.D., is dean and professor of archeology and history of antiquity, emeritus, Andrews University Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan.]

In making unwarranted claims about the existence of the Sabbath and the week in ancient times, some scholars have asserted that the Hebrews and the Bible writers borrowed the Sabbath from the ancient Babylonians. This view was probably expressed for the first time by Friedrich Delitzsch, the famous German Assyriologist, in a lecture presented January 13, 1902, in the presence of the German emperor Wilhelm II. Delitzsch said, “There can therefore be scarcely the shadow of a doubt that in the last resort we are indebted to this ancient nation [Babylon] on the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris for the plentitude of blessings that flows from our day of Sabbath or Sunday rest.”1

In this article we will examine the evidence for this and similar claims. It will be seen that no ancient nation except the Hebrews observed a weekly day of rest, and that, at best, only a vague memory of an earlier, prehistoric existence of such a practice occurs in their records. It seems that the Sabbath had already been discarded by the ancient nations before they invented the art of

writing and began to produce historical records Except for the Hebrews, the peoples of antiquity were all idolaters and polytheists and could hardly have been Sabbath observers at the same time in view of the fact that the Sabbath is a memorial to the true God.

Let us examine the evidence on which the claim that the ancients knew about the seven-day week and the Sabbath is based.

1. King Gudea of Lagash, a city state in Lower Mesopotamia, who ruled in the twenty-first century B.C., says in two inscriptions that the dedication of a temple was celebrated for seven days during which certain steles were set up in this temple.2

2. In Mesopotamian stories of the Flood — in the Akkadian versions — the actual Flood-producing storm lasted for seven days.3 In the Akkadian Flood story the first bird was sent forth from the ark seven days after the ship had settled down on Mount Nisir.4

3. The Assyrian hemerologies list regulations of what should be done or avoided on certain days supposed to be either lucky or unlucky. In some of these hemerologies the seventh, fourteenth, nin...

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