Published in 1926, this little volume purports to be among the first to study the origin of the week, preceded by only one book nearly a century before. Indeed, the topic is rarely presented because of the dearth of material, and what historical evidence exists, allows some conjecture. This is not to say that nothing conclusive can be stated, but there are questions that remain.
- Why did the Roman Empire change from an eight-day week to a seven-day week?
- What is the origin of the Planetary week? Did it arise independently of the Jewish week?
- What was the thinking process or the decisive event that led to the naming of the days of the week?
- Why does the number seven resonate with peoples of differing cultures?
My previous reading on this general topic includes Duncan’s Calendar, Webster’s Rest Days, Jordan’s Christianity and the Calendar, and Doig’s New Testament Chronology. Duncan does not give much attention to the week, however, he concurs with Colson that the “planetary” names for the days of the week are in the order that they are because of a technique that assigns a planet to each of the twenty-four hours of a day. The planet that begins the first hour of the day assumes the title of that day. Colson was familiar with Webster’s 1916 book, which assumes that all religious and civil observations have their origin in rudimentary beliefs and customs, and often in the superstitions of barbaric societies. Similarly, Colson does not give credence to the biblical account of the origin of the week or the Sabbath. But at the same time, none of the naturalistic theories seem to resonate with him, and he asserts instead that the origin of the Jewish week is lost to antiquity. But it is interesting that no archaeological and anthropological studies have uncovered any alternative theory than what is already presented in the biblical narratives.
What we do know is that Rome had an eight-day week. Egypt had a ten-day week and classical Greeks had none. Various other societies had “weeks” of 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 days, but not necessarily as cycles of weeks. The oldest evidence of a seven-day week is with Judaism, and it appears that Rome adopted its seven-day week in the first century AD. But Colson curiously thinks this originated independently of Jewish influence. Etymological studies demonstrate that host nations subject to Roman rule adopted the Roman nomenclature for the most part, since commerce, military operations, and political events required it. In a few instances, as a result of the spread of Christianity, Saturday and Sunday gave way to Sabbata and Domingo. But this still doesn’t explain why an unchanging seven-day cycle should become the status quo within a luni-solar calendar, and especially with peoples who are not necessarily accustomed to Judaism.
This book is interesting to read as the author considers and interprets his findings in Greek and Roman literature. He is familiar with Scripture, but is selective in what he considers as evidence. Does he make the same conclusions I would with the same evidence? Often yes, but not always. Regarding the naming of the Lord’s Day for Sunday, he favorably states, “I see no reason to go outside Christian thought to account for the name Lord’s-day.” He muses that a celebration of the resurrection would naturally be an annual event, but because Christianity was initially a Jewish movement that grew to encompass Gentiles, and that both cultures operated in seven-day cycles, it was natural that Christianity maintained the weekly cycle. However, he specifically discounts apostolic authority for its continuation. I agree with his assertion that when early Christians assembled on the 7th +1 day instead of on the 7th, it was not keeping the Sabbath. However, I disagree with his conclusion that the abrogation of the Sabbath destroyed the reason for the week. In my opinion, the week, or seven-period, is divine in origin. The weekly Sabbath unified Israel under the Mosaic covenant and the weekly Lord’s Day unifies the church under the New Covenant. Shifting the day of assembly maintained the weekly cycle and caused no calendar upset, yet conclusively broke the grip of the Sabbath on New Covenant believers.