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Book Review of “The Seven Day Circle” by Eviatar Zerubavel

book cover_seven day circle_zerubavel

Zerubavel presents his thorough research into the phenomenon that we call a “week.” While most understand the week as a seven-day period, Zerubavel introduces his readers to alternative day-periods. As such, he defines the week as a recurring sequence of days that is independent of the planetary measure of time that provides order for society. This book was enjoyable to read as he reviews the different “weeks” that are or have been in use throughout the world and through the centuries. Of course, he acknowledges the ubiquitous seven-day week as the contribution of the Judeo-Christian religion to the world. But French and Russian attempts to remove this particular sequence from society, with the aim to remove a theistic religion from contributing to the societal management of time, proved futile and short-lived.

Having read multiple books on this topic, the strength of this book is in the comprehensive coverage of the concepts of “weeks” as defined above and “quasi-weeks” that attempt to relate a sequence of days to lunation. He discusses the multiple issues involved in time accounting and surmises that the week is a human invention designed to give people and the societies in which they live, a shorter, recurring period of time management that purposely stands apart from natural phenomena. He suggests that the impetus for this is in the subliminal need for humans to assert their independence from the cosmos.

Since the author is obviously Jewish, I delighted to read about the incidentals of Jewish life surrounding the week; however, to him, the creation story is but a myth. This includes (obviously) the historical occurrence of Jesus’ resurrection of on the first day of the week. In his opinion, the Sabbath was not of divine origin, given to the Jews as they approached their wilderness wandering, but an artifact of Jewish minds assisted by the surrounding cultures in the 6th century BCE. He does admit that the seven-day week is specifically Jewish in origin—an incontrovertible fact of history—and that Christianity took this weekly concept across the globe. However, he omits the impact of Constantine in this regard, not even mentioning his name, and simply states that the Romans were favorable toward the seven-day week. He notes the philosophical and political regimes will often control society via the calendar, and that Christianity “deliberately modified the internal structure of the Jewish week” (p. 27). Though as I see it, Christianity lived in the Jewish week, since, as he noted, the early Christians were Jewish. The Sabbath remained the Sabbath and the first day of the week continued to be the first day of the week. Christians did abrogate the observance of Shabbat for themselves (p. 23), but they did not prohibit it or interfere with its observation by Jews (except during brief periods of persecution). Instead, Christians gave more significance to the day following the Sabbath as a weekly commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This book brings up an interesting question for Christians: In view of the previous attempts in history by totalitarian regimes hostile to Christianity to eliminate the seven-day week as we know it, would Christians resist or acquiesce to such attempts in the future? Most Christians are unaware of past trends to establish “world calendars” that ignore the seven-day week.[i] Less significantly, the concept of B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (anno domini) has already changed to BCE (before the common era) and CE (common era).[ii] So what if a new world calendar is adopted that compels us to work four days and allows us to rest on the fifth, hence, making the “week” a repetition of five days? In this scenario, the culture demands that you work on what was formerly called Sunday. You would have to decide whether to assemble every fifth day of this new week or to meet in the evenings on what was formerly called Sunday.

Day 1
(formerly Sunday)
Day 2
(formerly Monday)
Day 3
(formerly Tuesday)
Day 4
(formerly Wednesday)
Day 5
(Off Day)
(formerly Thursday)
Day 6
(Formerly Friday)
Day 7
(Formerly Saturday)
Day 8
(Formerly Sunday)
Day 9
(formerly Monday)
Day 10
(Off Day)
(formerly Tuesday)
Day 11
(formerly Wednesday)
Day 12
(formerly Thursday)
Day 13
(formerly Friday)
Day 14
(formerly Saturday)
Day 15
(Off Day)
(Formerly Sunday)
Day 16
(Formerly Monday)
Day 17
(formerly Tuesday)
Day 18
(formerly Wednesday)
Day 19
(formerly Thursday)
Day 20
(Off Day)
(Formerly Friday)

What if a calendar is introduced that maintains the seven-day week, but at the end of the year, an intercalary or “blank” day is added to the month that does not receive the weekly nomenclature of the other seven days? That is, a Monday (a workday) would last two days and Tuesday would occur 48 hours later. This calendar was proposed in order to maintain exactly 30 days in every month, but 5-6 days during the year would assigned special names.

Sunday

(22)

Monday

(23)

Tuesday

(24)

Wednesday

(25)

Thursday

(26)

Friday

(27)

Saturday

(28)

Sunday

(29)

Monday

(30)

World Day

Tuesday

(1)

Wednesday

(2)

Thursday

(3)

Friday

(4)

Saturday

(5)

Sunday

(6)

Monday

(7)

Tuesday

(8)

Wednesday

(9)

Thursday

(10)

Friday

(12)

Saturday

(13)

Sunday

(14)

Monday

(15)

Tuesday

(16)

Wednesday

(17)

Thursday

(18)

Friday

(19)

Sunday the following week would be delayed by one day; that is, the weekend would be offset by one day. Eventually, there would be a two-day Saturday and a two-day Sunday. But as a Christian, you would have to decide whether to gather together on Saturday (7 days after the previous Sunday) or on the delayed Sunday (8 days after the previous Sunday).

Zerubavel described several totalitarian attempts to disrupt the Judeo-Christian adherence to a seven-day week. These usurpations could have been successful were it not for the resistance of Jews and Christians to conform to the new calendar systems. If Christians don’t know why they observe a seven-day week and why the first day of the week in particular is significant to religious life, then the stage could be set for apostasy. If the seven-day week is merely a human invention and the events associated with the week are merely mythic and reminiscent of agrarian days, then there is no reason why Christians (or Jews) should object to a change. Would the resolve of Christians be as unshakeable if our habit of weekly worship were based on mere tradition, as opposed to biblical instruction? Since some Christians already believe that the church could meet on any day of the week, and some are now comfortable replacing Sunday worship with Saturday evening worship or staying at home altogether for individualistic worship, one would expect little resistance to such a calendar change from this crowd.

Interesting, Seventh-day Adventists believe that in some future end-world scenario, they will be compelled by the government to work on their Sabbath. One would think this situation would affect Jews as well, but they seem to limit the purported impact on their church alone. This expresses a fear among SDAs that the Christianized state would no longer tolerate them and begin to persecute them specifically for their abstinence from work on Saturday, even to the excess of threatening their lives. Writing in response to Ellen White’s prophecy, and with the background as a former minister with the SDA, Canright debunked the notion as an impossibility.[iii] The same could be said for the instauration of new world calendar—it will never happen. But this does not reduce the Christian’s obligation to understand the meaning and importance of Sunday congregational assembly for ministry and worship.


[i] This was a more popular idea in the early 20th century. 

[ii] This is not a critical remark. Calendars and time-accounting are somewhat in the control of heads of state. The BC/AD system arose during the rule of Constantine, who desired that the Eastern and Western churches celebrate Easter at the same time. The move away from using overtly Christian terminology for naming the context of events developed in the eighteenth century and is now the established norm in technical writing.

[iii] https://blog.lifeassuranceministries.org/2021/01/28/2-the-religious-liberty-scarecrow/

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