Week (שָׁבוּעִ, or שָׁבֻעִ, shabuia, from שֶׁבֵע, "seven," lit. a heptad of anything, but specifically used for a period of seven days; Sept. ἑβδομάς; Vulg. septimana), SEE SEVEN.
1. The origin of this division of time is a matter which has given birth to much speculation. Its antiquity is so great, its observance so wide-spread, and it occupies so important a place in sacred things, that it has been very generally thrown back as far as the creation of man, who, on this supposition, was told from the very first to divide his time on the model of the Creator's order of working and resting. The week and the Sabbath are, if this be so, as old as man himself, and we need not seek for reasons either in the human mind or the facts with which that mind comes in contact, for the adoption of such a division of time. since it is to be referred neither to man's thoughts nor to man's will. A purely theological ground is thus established for the week and for the sacredness of the number seven. They who embrace this view support it by reference to the six days' creation and the Divine rest on the seventh, which they consider to have been made known to man from the very first, and by an appeal to the exceeding prevalence of the hebdomadal division of time from the earliest age-an argument the force of which is considered to be enhanced by the alleged absence of any natural ground for it. SEE DAY.
To all this, however, it may be objected that we are quite in the dark as to when the record of the six days' creation was made known; that as human language is used and human apprehensions are addressed in that record, so, the week being already known, the perfection of the Divine work and Sabbath .may well have been set forth under this figure, the existing division of time moulding the document, instead of the document giving birth to the division; that, old and wide-spread as is the recognition of that division, it is not universal that the nations which knew not of it were too important to allow the argument from its prevalency to stand; and that, so far from its being without ground in nature, it is the most obvious and convenient way of dividing the month. Each of these points must now be briefly considered:
(1.) That the week rests on a theological ground may be cheerfully acknowledged by both sides; but nothing is determined by such acknowledgment as to the original cause of adopting this division of time. The records of creation and the fourth commandment give, no doubt, the ultimate and therefore the deepest ground of the weekly division, but it does not therefore follow that it was not adopted for lower reasons before either was known. Whether the week gave its sacredness to the number seven, or whether the ascendency of that number helped to determine the dimensions of the week, it is impossible to say. The latter fact, the ancient ascendency of the number seven, might rest on divers grounds. The planets, according to the astronomy of those times, were seven in number; so are the notes of the diatonic scale; so also many other things naturally attracting observation.
(2.) The prevalence of the weekly division was indeed very great, but a nearer approach to universality is required to render it an argument for the view in aid of which it is appealed to. It was adopted by all the Shemitic races, and, in the later period of their history at least, by the Egyptians. On this side of the Atlantic we find it, or a division all but identical with it, among the Peruvians. It also obtains now with the Hindus, but its antiquity among them is matter of question. It is possible that it was introduced into India by the Arabs and Mohammedans. So in China we find it, but whether universally or only among the Buddhists admits of doubt. (See, for both, Priaulx's Quaestiones Hosaiae, a work with many of the results of which we may be well expected to quarrel, but which deserves, in respect not only of curious learning, but of the vigorous and valuable thought with which it is impregnated, to be far more known than it is.) On the other hand, there is no reason for thinking the week known till a late period either to Greeks or Romans.
(3.) So far from the week being a division of time without ground in nature, there was much to recommend its adoption. Where the days were named from planetary deities, as among first the Assyrians and Chaldees, and then the Egyptians, there of course each period of seven days would constitute a whole, and that whole might come to be recognized by nations that disregarded or rejected the practice which had shaped and determined it. But, further, the week is a most natural and nearly an exact quadripartition of the month, so that the quarters of the moon may easily have suggested it.
(4.) Even if it were proved that the planetary week of the Egyptians, as sketched by Dion Cassius (Hist. Rom. 37:18), existed at or before the time of the Exode, the children of Israel did not copy that. Their week was simply determined by the Sabbath; and there is no evidence of any other day, with them, having either had a name assigned to it, or any particular associations bound up with it. The days seem to have been distinguished merely by the ordinal numerals, counted from the Sabbath.
2. History among the Hebrews. — Whatever controversies exist respecting the origin of the week, there can be none about the great antiquity, on particular occasions at least, among the Shemitic races, of measuring time by a period of seven days. This has been thought to be implied in the phrase respecting the sacrifices of Cain and Abel (Ge 4:3), in process of time," literally "at the end of days." It is to be traced in the narrative of the subsidence of the Flood (Ge 8:10), "and he stayed yet other seven days;'' and we find it recognised by the Syrian Laban (Ge 29:27), "fulfil her week." It is needless to say that this division of time is a marked feature of the Mosaic law, and one into which the whole year was parted, the Sabbath sufficiently showing that. The week of seven days was also made the key to a scale of seven, running through the sabbatical years up to that of jubilee.
We have seen in Ge 29:27 that it was known to the ancient Syrians, and the injunction to Jacob, "fulfil her week," indicates that it was in use as a fixed term for great festive celebrations. The most probable exposition of the passage is that Laban tells Jacob to fulfill Leah's week, the proper period of the nuptial festivities in connection with his marriage to her, and then he may have Rachel also (comp. Judges 14). So, too, for funeral observance, as in the case of the obsequies of Jacob, Joseph "made a mourning for his father seven days" (Ge 1:10). But neither of these instances, any more than Noah's procedure in the ark, goes further than showing the custom of observing a term of seven days for any observance of importance. Nor does it prove that the whole year, or the whole month, was thus divided at all times, and without regard to remarkable events.
In Exodus, of course, the week comes into very distinct manifestation. Two of the great feasts — the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles — are prolonged for seven days after that of their initiation (Ex 12:15,20, etc.), a custom which remains in the Christian Church, in the rituals of which the remembrances and topics of the great festivals are prolonged till what is technically called the octave. Although the Feast of Pentecost lasted but one day, yet the time for its observance was to be counted by weeks from the Passover, whence one of its titles, "the Feast of Weeks." The division by seven was, as we have seen, expanded so as to make the seventh month and the seventh year sabbatical. To whatever extent the laws enforcing this may have been neglected before the Captivity, their effect, when studied, must have been to render the words שבוע, ἑβδομάς, week, capable of meaning a seven of years almost as naturally as a seven of days. Indeed, the generality of the words would have this effect at any rate. Hence their use to denote the latter in prophecy, more especially in that of Daniel, is not mere arbitrary symbolism, but the employment of a not unfamiliar and easily understood language. This is not the place to discuss schemes of prophetic interpretation, nor do we propose giving our opinion of any such, but it is connected with our subject to remark that, whatever be the merits of that which in Daniel and the Apocalypse understands a year by a day, it cannot be set aside as forced and unnatural. Whether days were or were not intended to be thus understood in the places in question, their being so would have been a congruous, and we may say logical, attendant on the scheme which counts weeks of years, and both would have been a natural computation to minds familiar and occupied with the law of the sabbatical year. SEE DAY.
3. Christian Observances. — In the New Test., we of course find such clear recognition of and familiarity with the week as need scarcely be dwelt on. Sacred as the division was, and stamped deep on the minds and customs of God's people, it now received additional solemnity from our Lord's last earthly Passover gathering up his work of life into a week.
Hence the Christian Church, from the very first, was familiar with the week. Paul's language (1Co 16:2, κατὰ μίαν σαββάτων) shows this. We cannot conclude from it that such a division of time was: observed by the inhabitants of Corinth generally; for they to whom he was writing, though doubtless the majority of them were Gentiles. yet knew the Lord's day, and most probably the Jewish Sabbath. But though we can infer no more than this from the place in question, it is clear that if not by this time, yet very soon after, the whole Roman world had adopted the hebdomadal division. Dion Cassius, who wrote in the 2d century, speaks of it as both universal and recent in his time. He represents it as coming from Egypt, and gives two schemes, by one or other of which he considers that the planetary names of the different days were fixed (Dion Cassiuis, 27:18). Those names, or corresponding ones, have perpetuated themselves over Christendom, though no associations of any kind are now connected with them, except in so far as the whimsical conscience of some has quarrelled with their Pagan origin, and led to an attempt at their disuse. It would be interesting, though foreign to our present purpose, to inquire into the origin of this planetary week. A deeply learned paper in the Philological Museum, by the late archdeacon Hare, gives the credit of its invention to the Chaldees. Dion Cassius was, however, pretty sure to have been right in tracing its adoption by the Roman world to an Egyptian origin. It is very striking to reflect that while Christendom was in its cradle, the law by which she was to divide her time came, without -collusion with her, into universal observance, thus making things ready for her to impose on mankind that week on which all Christian life has been shaped-that week grounded on no worship of planetary deities, nor dictated by the mere wish to quadripartite the month, but based on the earliest lesson of revelation, and proposing to man his Maker's model as that whereby to regulate his working and his rest that week which once indeed in modern times it has been attempted to abolish, because it was attempted to abolish the whole Christian faith, but which has kept, as we are sure it ever will keep, its ground, being bound up with that other and sharing therefore in that other's invincibility and perpetuity. SEE TIME.