Glossary

A valuable lesson in life from a heavy set Afro-American or when a weekend isn’t a weekend.

Of course back in 1972, Afro-American wasn’t a common word. Her name was Ruby and she hated to be called black or a Negro. She wanted us to know she was a ‘Negress.’ She weighed at least 350 lbs an she was always going to go on a diet after the next holiday- whatever it was. She was the lady in charge of J-10 at the Arizona State Hospital. The Juniper building had 5 wings on both the east and west side with the cafeteria in the middle. The west side was for the geriatric patients and the east wing – the farthest to the edge of the hospital grounds was for the “mentally retarded.” J-10 was for the worst of the worst patients (and staff) who did not quite fit in with everyone else on the grounds. I had not had a shave or a haircut since June of 1968 and was assigned to J-10 where Ruby was my shift supervisor. Nine years later I was promoted to being in charge of the entire unit and fired her fat b***k arse.

That is not what we are here to talk about. A different way of thinking about the calendar is what we need to discuss. I had worked there for about three years and had gotten married and my wife and I wanted to go to California for a pop festival so I wanted a weekend off and applied for it. At that time, I asked Ruby when I would be eligible to have weekends off on a regular basis since all I had known since I started working there was Wednesday and Thursday as days off.   She got very snide with me and told me I was “damn lucky” (I wasn’t her favorite staff member) to have my days off together. Somewhat confused I asked her what she meant. She waddled over to the calendar on the wall and pointed out and said “See, Wednesday and Thursday are your days off- together.” I protested and said, but you have the weekends off and she again gesticulated at the calendar and said, “Ain’t so bright for a white boy are you. Lookie here, I have Sunday – the first day of the week off and Saturday the last day of the week off. Now get your ass out of the office and go take care of your patients.”

 

And that was when I realized, that most things in life are a function of how you decide to look at it and I became a contrarian determined from then on to question everything.

So back to our point, what is the basis for the calendar that we have. Is it Biblical and are there other calendars that more accurately reflect the time that we pass on this earth? The Chinese calendar and the Islamic calendar seem strange to those of us who have been brought up in the West. To most of us, there is something strange with New Year coming at the end of January (or a few days before, or a couple of weeks after); or the month of Ramadan falling earlier and earlier each year.

The moon proceeds through its phases in a cycle of about 29.5 days (called the ‘synodic’ month), so having months alternating between 29 and 30 days keeps closely in step with the moon. A new moon signals a new month and a full moon the middle of the month. This idea is not foreign to our western culture. The Shorter Oxford dictionary notes that the word ‘month’ is derived from the word ‘moon’. The primary definition of month is “a measure of time corresponding to the period of revolution of the moon”. Therefore, the idea of a lunar month is logical. On the Islamic calendar a sequence of 12 of these lunar months, make up a year.

The Chinese calendar is more complicated. It is often referred to as a lunar calendar, but is actually a luni-solar calendar. It has months which are tied in with the phases of the moon as does the Islamic calendar, but additionally it keeps the year in step with the seasons in the long term by having some years with 13 months. That seems strange to us because we have grown up with 12 months in a year?

Is there no certain rule by which calendars ought to be formulated? Some absolute standard that will enable us to say that some calendar features are unacceptable? In fact, we do. The Bible sets out God’s provisions:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Genesis 1:14-19).

So God’s word tells us that He provided the astronomical cycles for us to determine time periods (seasons). The day-night cycle, caused by the earth’s rotation defines the day for us; the phases of the moon give us the month; and the motion of the stars, moving full circle over about 365 days sets the year for us. There is no requirement here for there to be 12 months in a year.

That calendar we are all familiar with was adopted by the early church and has become the standard world-wide buy it is deficient. In fact, just as the Islamic calendar is defective because it has a year arbitrarily made up of 12 lunar months, so the Roman calendar is defective because it has a month, which is just an arbitrary division of the year into 12 segments.

The Hebrew calendar used by the Jewish people for many centuries is still in use today. Like the Chinese calendar, it has months generally alternating between 29 and 30 days, to keep in step with the lunar month, and also keeps in step with the solar year in the long term. It has a fixed cycle containing seven 13-month years in every 19 years.

It is tempting to wonder if originally there were exactly 12 lunar months in a solar year. Perhaps, in the way God set things up in His perfect creation, there were exactly 30 days in a lunar month and exactly 360 days in a solar year. Various people groups could then have a valid cultural memory, handed down from the time before different languages arose at the tower of Babel and people were dispersed.

There are some indications of this mathematically perfect scheme:

  • The symbol we use for a degree (an elevated circle) apparently came from the Babylonian mathematicians and is intended to represent the sun. With 360 days in a year, the sun would move exactly one degree per day (Observed by a motion of the stars in one night).
  • In Hebrew terminology, a month with only 29 days is called ‘defective’. Normally a month has 30 days.
  • The chronology of the global flood in Genesis chapters 6 to 9 seems to allow for 370 days, but the starting and ending dates indicate clearly it was a year plus 10 days (Genesis 7:11-13 says the “fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened” on 17th day of the second month when Noah was 600 years old, while Genesis 8:13-16 says Noah and his family came out of the ark on the 27th day of the second month in Noah’s 601st year).

However, the idea is hard to substantiate when the physics are considered. The earth could have increased its speed of rotation to get an extra five-and-a-bit days in a year (for example, through catastrophic plate tectonic movements[1] (A detailed discussion is in a future article) decreasing the moment of inertia of the earth at the time of the Flood), and the moon could have moved closer to the earth to get an increased number of lunar months in a year, although no particular mechanism has been identified as of yet.

We have seen that the day, the month and the year had their origins in astronomical periods, which God instituted for that purpose. But the week is different. It is not based on any observable astronomical period. The origin of the seven-day week is set out in Genesis when God completed His creation, setting a pattern for His creatures (Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:11).

It is fair to ask what is the origin of the names we use for the days of the week? It does not take long to make an internet search to discover the days of the week are identified with seven pagan gods associated with the five major planets plus the sun and moon. This planetary week was popularized by the Romans, and spread at the same time as did the rapid growth of Christianity.[2]  ‘Planet’ in the original sense meant ‘wanderer’, as opposed to fixed star, and these ‘wanderers’ across the sky were seen to be different from the stars. Names of Germanic gods eventually replaced the names of Roman gods as the basis for our English week day names (see Table 1).

The early Christian church numbered the days of the week, following Jewish practice, to avoid using the names of heathen deities. (I’ll meet you at the restaurant at 3:00 pm on day 3 of next week.) Interestingly, the Greek Orthodox Church still follows this practice, except that the first day of the week is called the ‘Lord’s day’.

TABLE 1
Weekday Teutonic God Roman God/Planet Latin name 
Sunday Sun Dies Solis
Monday Moon Dies Lunae
Tuesday Tiw Mars Dies Martis
Wednesday Woden Mercury Dies Mercurii
Thursday Thor Jupiter (Jove) Dies Iouis
Friday Frigg Venus Dies Veneris
Saturday Saturn Dies Saturni

But why are the days in the given order? Is the order arbitrary, or is there some rational explanation for it? The oldest answer appears to be in the writings of Dio Cassius.[3]  He gives two alternatives of how the established arrangement of the weekdays may be obtained from the ‘correct’ order of the planets, which he gives as starting with Saturn and ending with the moon.

His first (and rather unconvincing) explanation involves the musical principle of the tetrachord—a series of four musical notes—to skip to the fourth deity each time. His second explanation runs as follows: In astrology, every hour has its presiding deity who exerts his influence in that hour. Each hour of the week is assigned to one of the seven deities, and the deity who controls the first hour of each day is the regent of that day and gives his name to it.

In Table 2 I have set down Dio Cassius’ complete scheme, based on the assumption of a 10-hour day. It will be clear from this how the accepted order of the day’s results from the ‘correct’ order of the deities associated with the planets.

TABLE 2
HR. Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
1 Saturn Sun Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus
2 Jupiter Venus Saturn Sun Moon Mars Mercury
3 Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn Sun Moon
4 Sun Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn
5 Venus Saturn Sun Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter
6 Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn Sun Moon Mars
7 Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn Sun
8 Saturn Sun Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus
9 Jupiter Venus Saturn Sun Moon Mars Mercury
10 Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn Sun Moon

Dio Cassius actually explains the scheme in terms of a 24-hour division of the day (it will be found that 24 hours give the same result, but not, say, 12 hours). If the Egyptians were using a 10-hour day in the first century BC, as some historians suggest, they could still have devised the scheme, as Dio Cassius claims. Where or when the 24-hour day originated is not known.[4]

The above explanation seems to put Saturday as the first day of the week. However, there is evidence that the Jewish Sabbath was identified with Saturn’s day in the first century BC. Dio Cassius tells of the Roman attack on the temple in Jerusalem, a success on Saturn’s day because the defenders would not fight on that day.[5] There is a suggestion in the writings of the Roman poet Tibullus (who died in 18 BC) that the Jewish people were thought to be Saturn worshippers.[6]

It seems, then, that the Jewish week and the planetary week have separate origins. We assume the planetary week began about the first century BC. It is clear from Dio Cassius’ writing that there is a vast difference between the two. In the planetary week, every day was dedicated to a god, and they were all much the same. But with the Jewish week, one day was singled out and dedicated specially to the living God (something which Dio Cassius could not comprehend).

We can say that from the time the planetary week came in contact with the Jewish week, Saturday has been identified with the Sabbath, and Sunday is therefore the first day of the week. In this connection, it is somewhat disconcerting to see calendars these days with Monday as the first day of the week.

calendar

Business people set up Microsoft© OutLook ™ with Monday the first day of the week, which would be Biblically accurate if Sunday was to be the last day of the week. In some business that I have worked at, this is the way that the Outlook calendar was delivered to the desktop, because we did all of our work from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday.

The early Christian church saw great importance in the first day of the week; the day on which Jesus Christ rose from the dead, the day on which He ascended to heaven, and the day on which the Holy Spirit was poured out and the Church born. That would have been on Sunday, with Saturday being the day of rest, which gives us the group known as Seventh Day Adventists.

The planetary weekday names were later accepted by the Roman branch of the church, and hence ‘Christianized’. Jerome[7] says of Psalm 118:24, ‘Why is it called the Lord’s day? Because on it He ascended victoriously to His Father. But if the Gentiles called it the Sun’s day, we gladly admit it. For in this day the light of the world rose, on this day the sun of righteousness rose.’[8]

Note also the historical evidence for different types of weeks before the development of the planetary week:

  • Sabbatical week. Kept by the people of Israel.
  • Roman week. Consisted of seven or eight days. Approximately 1/4 of the month. It provided convenient spacing for market days, called ‘nundinae’.[9]
  • Babylonian-Assyrian week. Rest days fell on fixed days of the month: seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first and twenty-eighth. This week operated in the seventh century BC.[10]
  • Egyptian week. Consisted of 10 days, that is 1/3 of the month.[11] This week is said to date from very early in Egyptian history. It is doubtful though whether we should call a 10-day period a week.

Some historians suggest a development of the Jewish week from the Babylonian week in about 600 BC,[12] but without clear historical evidence. Other historians, who would seem to be more thorough, conclude differently: “The week of seven days was thus completely independent of the month [in contrast to the Babylonian and Assyrian week].”[13]

Having exhausted the extra-biblical historical evidence of a week, we can turn to the most reliable source of history we have—history concerning God’s dealing with man, and His chosen people.

If we accept the biblical account, we find the Jewish people keeping the Sabbath well before historical references to the Roman or Babylonian weeks. At the very commencement of Israel as a nation, we find God revealing the sabbatical week to His people. Even before the giving of the Law, when God provided the manna miraculously, He gave it in such a way as to teach His people about the sabbatical week. On the sixth day, there would be sufficient manna for two days, so the people did not need to gather any on the Sabbath—when none would be provided. If they gathered more than they needed on other days, it would spoil. But not on the sixth day (Exodus 16). A miraculous provision indeed! This, like the Sabbath day itself, was to emphasize man’s utter dependence on his Creator.

When Moses received the Law at Mount Sinai, the first thing God revealed to him was the Ten Commandments, which of course included the command about the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11). And the last thing God said to him before he came down the mountain with the tablets, was to keep the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-17). Keeping the Sabbath was a sign of the covenant between God and the nation of Israel—a testimony to an unbelieving world that this people was sanctified by God (Exodus 31:13).

But the week had its origin well before this—more than 2500 years before Moses’ day, at the very beginning of time. When God created the heavens and the earth, He created it all in six days, and then rested on the seventh. In both Exodus chapters 20 and 31, we find God giving the reason for the week as the pattern He set in creation (Exodus 20:11 and Exodus 31:17). He took seven days in creation specifically to set a precedent for man, who is the pinnacle of His creation and indeed the very reason for the whole creation. (Something that atheists have not the ability to imagine or understand, but they claim to understand multiple thousands of parallel universes).

Genesis chapter 1 could not be much more specific about the fact that God took six actual days to complete the Creation. The writer of Genesis did not say they were 24-hour days and this provides Atheists and others to say these could have been thousands to millions of years long. However, for day and night to fall, you would have to have a rotation of the earth which, of course, is 24 hours long. This construct and absurdity of discussion will be in another article.

Where else could the week come from? It is not related to any astronomical observations, as are the day, the month and the year. It exists because God specified it. He clearly tells us it reflects what He did in the Creation week. Who is able to contradict Him? We were not there. No historian was there. Nor was Adam, the first man, until the sixth day of the Creation week. This makes it impossible to argue with the historical facts that God Himself gives us.

All the pointers are there in Genesis—in God’s perfect creation—for humans to order their lives starting with a 24-hour day. God gave us a pattern for working six days and resting on the seventh.

He gave us the stars by which we can even navigate our way around the earth. And He made an orderly universe so that by using the intelligence that comes from the Creator, we can observe, for example, that the earth revolves around the sun once a year. And that the earth also rotates on its axis every 24 hours.[14] And, using that knowledge of astronomy, the ancients were able to work out the earth’s position in the universe.

Days, months, years and seasons have always been central to our existence and a calendar a vital tool to keep track of events in our lives. So when you next flick through a calendar—even our flawed one—it should remind you of God’s creative genius and that it was He who set time and our world in motion in six, literal, 24-hour days, about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.


[1] Baumgardner, J., Catastrophic plate tectonics: the geophysical context of the Genesis Flood, creation.com/cpt-flood.

[2] Colson, F.H., The Week, Greenwood Press, Westport, p. 92, 1974.

[3] Cassius, D., Roman History, (Book 37), translated by E. Cary, (Vol. 3), Heinemann, London, Chapters 18 and 19, 1974.

[4] It might be pointed out in passing also that a 24-hour day is dependent on the spin of the earth on its own axis independent of the sun, and even at the poles today we may note that a 24-hour day does not require the sun to set.

[5] Ref. 2, (Book 37), chap. 16.

[6] Ref. 1, pp. 16, 17 (“I often alleged auguries and evil omens, or that I held the day of Saturn sacred.”—Tibullus).

[7] Jerome’s translation of Scripture took over 40 years. He translated the Gospels and the Old Testament, but not Acts, the New Testament epistles, or Revelation. His translations of the Gospels were revisions of the old Latin versions. He began revising the old Latin of the Old Testament in a similar fashion, but eventually decided to start over and make fresh translations straight from the Hebrew.

[8] Ref. 1, p. 94. Note that this may not have been written by Jerome.

[9] Ref. 1, pp. 2,3

[10] Richmond, B., Time Measurement and Calendar Construction, E.J. Brill, Leiden, pp. 39, 40, 42, 1956.

[11] O’Neill, W.M., Time and the Calendars, Sydney University Press, Sdyney, p. 66, 1975.

[12] Ref. 7, p. 74

[13] Negev, A., Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, Weidenfeld Nicolson, London, p. 316, 1972 (Under the entry ‘Time’)

[14] DeYoung, D. B., Astronomy and the bible.

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