The Ten Commandments
A book by Joseph Lewis
The Fourth Commandment
The Fourth Commandment
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it
Six days shalt thou labor, and do all
But in the seventh day is the sabbath of
the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do
any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy
daughter, thy manservant, nor thy
maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy
stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the Lord made heaven
and earth, the sea, and all that in them is,
and rested on the seventh day: wherefore the
Lord blessed the sabbath day, and
Is There a Sabbath Day?
The establishment of a "Sabbath" day, a day superior to, and more "sacred" than, any other day of the week, a day to be observed simultaneously by all the peoples of the earth, is a physical and astronomical impossibility. It is therefore not surprising that one professed Christian authority confesses that the explanation of this Commandment is "full of difficulty." [*1]
For one day in seven to be set aside for all eternity for the complete cessation of labor because "God rested" on the seventh day, with death as a penalty for the violation of this order, is obviously too puerile for intelligent consideration. If the Bible God had put a time limit upon his period of rest, especially when there is so much still to be done to make the earth a truly habitable place, we could possibly pardon his rigorous demands and excuse his passion for adoration; but to rest for all eternity is laziness without an excuse.
Yet, of all the Commandments which God is supposed to have given to Moses, on Mount Sinai for the guidance of the Children of Israel, the observance of the Sabbath day was considered the most important. What made the Sabbath day the holy bond between the Children of Israel and their God? Was the Sabbath but another superstition founded upon a primitive taboo based upon sympathetic magic? In addition to the fact that the Sabbath is mentioned in each and every one of the different sets of the Commandments, the necessity for its strict observance is repeated innumerable times throughout the Bible. The Bible Deity insisted that the Children of Israel observe it as a sign between him and them, as visible evidence that they would keep his commandments. There can be no mistake about this; the provisions are clear and definite. The Sabbath was the Day of Days -- the most sacred tie between the Israelites and their God.
This Commandment also contains an additional injunction not present in the others -- the admonition to "remember" the Sabbath. Forgetfulness was not a valid excuse, and woe unto those who failed to observe it.
How could one remember the Sabbath day? By what means and by what method could it be identified? How had the Lord "blessed" the seventh day? How was it hallowed? Has it some particular mark of identification to distinguish it from the other days of the week? Does the sun rise and set at a different time, or is the temperature on that day even and unvarying, or must we depend on the man-made calendar to tell it from the other days of the week? Since man began to measure the movements of the heavenly bodies, the arrangement, number and names of the days of the week have been changed innumerable times in the calendar. How, then, is it possible to designate the authentic seventh day?
Does not the sun shine on the seventh day as well as on any other day? Does it not sometimes rain, and do we not have storms and cyclones and earthquakes on the Sabbath as well as on any other day of the week? According to religionists, the Lord sends all these phenomena. Does God, then, not violate his Sabbath by "working"? Are the heavens any different on the Sabbath? Is the sky any bluer or the sun any brighter? Do we not have to eat and drink and sleep on the Sabbath as on any other day?
Why is there sickness and death during the Sabbath just as on any other day of the week? What about war -- the cruelest and most stupid undertaking of man, the wholesale murder of human beings by each other in a blind fury of hate -- does that not continue on the holy Sabbath? If there were no sickness, no death, no mean and despicable act, no vicious thoughts on this "holy" day, then indeed it would possess some distinguishing merit.
The story of the six days of creation is not only unscientific, it is not even good fiction. In the cycle around the sun there are no favorite days of the earth; no one day is more blessed or hallowed than another; there are no "stepchildren" in the family of months.
In the Deuteronomy version of the Decalogue, [*2] the reason given for the observance of the Sabbath is the deliverance of the Children of Israel from bondage in Egypt. In the Exodus version, however, the Sabbath is to be observed because God created "heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."
This glaring contradiction exposes something more than merely textual errors. It proves the falsity of the Exodus explanation and places the other in the category of fiction. It also proves that the Sabbath was unknown to the Hebrews until the time of Moses and was merely one of the many superstitions he imposed upon the credulous Israelites. Even the Jewish Encyclopedia makes this important admission: "...the Sabbath was either improperly observed or sometimes, perhaps, altogether ignored in the time of the prophets." [*3]
When geologists determined the age of the earth to be hundreds of thousands of years, the believers in the Mosaic account of creation tried to defend the Biblical narrative by stating that the "six days" of creation as mentioned in Genesis indicated "long periods of time." This explanation would certainly negate a "seventh" or "Sabbath" day in the scheme of creation. It belongs in the same category with the stupidities of the early Church Fathers, who laid down infallible propositions, such as this "profound" utterance of St. Augustine: "Although the world has been made of some material, that very same material must have been made out of nothing." Upon the vital question of the six days required by God to accomplish his task, he further enlightens us: "There are three classes of numbers, the more than perfect, the perfect, and the less than perfect, according as the sum of them is greater than, equal to, or less than the original number. Six is the perfect number, wherefore we must not say that six is a perfect number because God finished all his work in six days, but God finished all his work in six days because six is the perfect number." [*4] Peter Martyr was so certain of the truth of this that he stated that were "this article taken away, there would be no original sin, the promise of Christ would become void, and all the vital forces of our religion would be destroyed." [*5]
Is it any wonder, in view of these infallible declarations, that the Westminster divines, in drawing up their Confession of Faith, especially laid down that it was necessary to believe that all things visible and invisible were created not only out of nothing, but in exactly six days? [*6]
Martin Luther brought his great intellect to tackle this problem, and with his "usual boldness" declared that Moses "spoke properly and plainly, and neither allegorically nor figuratively," and that therefore "the world with all creatures was created in six days." He then goes on to show how, by a great miracle, the whole creation was instantaneous! [*7]
John Calvin, taking an opposite view of the instantaneous six-day creation, said that "creation was extended through six days that it might not be tedious for us to occupy the whole of life in the consideration of it!"
We must not fail to add to this weighty testimony that of St. Hilary of Poictiers, whose accomplishment lies in the reconciliation of these two apparently irreconcilable conceptions. These are inspired conclusions: "For, although according to Moses, there is an appearance of regular order in fixing the firmament, the laying bare of the dry land, the gathering together of the waters, the formation of the heavenly bodies, and the arising of living things from land and water, yet the creation of the heavens, earth and other elements is seen to be the work of a single moment."
It was, however, left to St. Thomas Aquinas, that mighty Church intellect, to bring about some agreement on this subject by declaring that God created the substance of the things in a single moment, but required six days for the separating, shaping and adorning of creation!
To cap the climax of this bitter controversy that threatened the Church for over a thousand years, Dr. John Lightfoot, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and one of the most eminent Hebrew scholars of his time, declared in his great work -- the result of a most profound and exhaustive study of the Scriptures that "heaven and earth, center and circumference, were created all together, in the same instant," and that "this work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 B.C., at nine o'clock in the morning." [*8] Later theologians, however, have supplied a serious omission of Dr. Lightfoot's findings by adding: "Eastern Standard Time."
Again, R. H. Charles is forced to conclude that "no educated man now accepts the literal account of creation in six days. This supernatural conception of the Sabbath is without any basis in actuality." [*9]
The explanation that the "six days" of creation indicated "long periods of time" has now been completely abandoned by religious apologists as not having the slightest shred of evidence. They are even ashamed of it.
That the sun was created after there was vegetation was of little concern to the theologians, and, according to St. Isadore of Seville in his great encyclopedic work which was the intellectual authority for the human race for a century under the domain of Catholic Christianity, "bees are generated from decomposed veal, beetles from horseflesh, grasshoppers from mules, and scorpions from crabs." [*10]
The discussion of the Sabbath has not ended, however, and that this momentous question is still agitating the minds of the clergy is evidenced by the following:
LONDON. -- An unexpected discussion today concerning the creation of the world enlivened the hitherto quiet sessions of the Church Assembly. It began when the Rev. C. E. Douglas referred to the biblical account of the creation in six days. The Bishop of Birmingham intervened to say that those who read the popular newspapers would believe Mr. Douglas took the story of the creation literally.
Amid cries of dissent the Bishop continued:
"For the sake of our people I think it ought to be stated here that such a statement is not accepted seriously by this house without protest. It is to be desired that our people should know that we as a Church feel we can accept the conclusions of modern science without feeling thereby in any way disparaging the value of the spiritual witness of the Bible.
"We believe the first chapter of Genesis still demands our regard because of the emphasis thrown on the creative activity of God. The world, we affirm, as disclosed to us by modern science, has not come into existence as a result of some fortuitous concourse of atoms."
"On a point of honor, I did not make that statement," Mr. Douglas interjected. "The Bishop of Birmingham doesn't seem to have a sense of humor."
"I am glad to have elicited from Mr. Douglas the fact that he does not wish to insist on the literal truth of the creation of the world in six or seven days," the Bishop returned. "Recent scientific discoveries have enabled men of science to state the age of the earth with very considerable accuracy."
The Bishop was interrupted by cries of "Oh, oh," and laughter when he added, "The approximate age of the earth is between two and four billion years." The Bishop of London, presiding, ruled out any further discussion of the creation.
"I have allowed the Bishop of Birmingham to correct what he thought a misstatement, but we cannot now discuss the creation of the world," he said.
Loud laughter ended the debate. [*11]
In no other category than that of a ridiculous yarn, were the consequences not so tragic, could the question of a Sabbath day be placed.
Which Day Is the Seventh?
We live on an earth whose geographical proportions can be mathematically computed in latitude and longitude. This fact was unknown to the "inspired" writers of the Bible. It was their belief that the earth was a flat parallelogram having "corners" and "ends," the length being east and west, the breadth north and south ("going around the earth" was therefore inconceivable), and that it was the center of the universe around which the sun and all heavenly bodies revolved. We now know that the earth is globular and revolves around the sun; that when the sun rises in the east, it sets in the west -- "and never the twain shall meet."
Those who have traveled to Europe know that during the six-day voyage they lose an hour each night in order that the time they left New York may not conflict with the time they arrive in Europe. Why must they adjust their timepieces to correspond with the time of the place they are visiting? The answer is simple. The sun cannot rise and set over the whole face of the earth at the same time! For instance, if we should take as an example the beginning of the day at Honolulu, only 20 degrees from the International Date Line, at 6:30 A.M. on Saturday, it would simultaneously be
9 a.m. Saturday in San Francisco
-- which makes time, like morality, a geographical problem.
The following article presents the astronomical and scientific reasons for the impossibility of a Sabbath day for all the peoples of the earth at exactly the same time. [*12]
"Ten years ago, while I was still a girl in my early teens, I was one of a New Year's Eve party of twenty in London. At about eleven o'clock an all-knowing gentleman present remarked that it was already New Year's Day in Vienna; a little later he said, 'It is now New Year's Day in Berlin'; at fourteen minutes to twelve he said, 'The New Year has arrived at Paris and will be in London in fourteen minutes; in five hours the New Year will have reached New York, and about three hours later the people of San Francisco will commence to celebrate the New Year.' All this seemed very curious to me -- so I ventured to ask where the New Year commenced. They all answered, 'Of course, it commences at twelve o'clock midnight.' 'But,' I said, 'I did not ask when it commenced, I asked where it commenced; it must have been New Year's somewhere else before it was New Year's in Vienna.' There was not one present that could enlighten me on the subject.
"Shortly after this I went to Vuna-Taviuni, one of the Fiji group of Cannibal Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. This island was exactly on the one hundred and eightieth meridian, that is, it was one hundred and eighty degrees west of Greenwich and one hundred and eighty degrees east of Greenwich. A British man-o'-war equipped with scientific apparatus and instruments, had visited the island some years before, made observations, and set up a row of stone posts having the figures '180' sculptured in each. This was said to be for the guidance of mariners in those distant seas.
"Both the Catholics and the Presbyterians (natives) were strong Sabbatarians; among other restrictions a law was passed making it a criminal offense to sell alcoholic drinks on the Sabbath day. I noticed a row of shanties erected exactly on the line of the one hundred and eightieth meridian. Suppose, for example, that it was Sunday morning on the west side of the meridian line, Sunday would commence to travel westward, and would take twenty-four hours to get completely around the earth and arrive at the east side of the same meridian; then again, the very instant that Sunday arrived, Monday morning would start on the west side. Therefore, while it was Monday on the west side of the meridian it was Sunday on the east side. When a barroom was exactly on the line, it was only necessary to move the bottles from one side to the other to enable the dealers to sell rum every day in the year without infringing the Sunday law.
"I was much amused at the ingenuity displayed in the arrangement of one restaurant with a barroom attached. It was a light wooden structure about twenty feet wide and sixty feet long, mounted on wheels in such a manner that the whole building could be moved from one side of the line to the other. By this ingenious arrangement, not only could the bar be opened every day in the year, but the restaurant was very convenient for the Catholics, as it enabled them to eat meat every day in the week without ever eating it on Friday.
"One could catch fish every day in the year without fishing on Sunday, for while it was Sunday on one side of the island, it was either Monday or Saturday on the other side. It was absolutely impossible for it to be Sunday on both sides at the same time. This was much appreciated by the beachcombers and natives who depended very largely upon fish for their food. Moreover, men with large families were able to work every day in the year without working on Sundays.
"It was thus that I learned definitely where the New Year commences and, for that matter, where every day in the week commences; but, curiously enough, this small island, with its few thousand inhabitants, is the only land, except in the frozen arctic regions, where such a state of affairs prevails."
If we do not know when the year begins, how can we tell when the week starts? A mathematically minded person has shown how, by traveling back and forth across the international date line, one can have ten Sundays in a single month! And, by reversing his course, he could avoid having any Sundays at all! Would such a person, if he followed the first course, be obligated to observe the ten Sundays in the month? Or, if he followed the second course, would he be entirely free from the obligations of the Sabbath? -- because, if he did this, his seventh day would be in the middle of the week.
The primitive Biblical Hebrews had no calendars, such as we have today, and it was difficult to keep an accurate record of the days of the week. They determined the days of the week by counting the threads on their prayer shawls. The later Biblical Hebrews relied upon the crude calendars of other nations.
The first calendars showed the measurements of the year by the seasons. [*13] It is stated on good authority that the Greeks of the Classical period had no week of any kind, nor can any trace of the week, as we now know it, be found in ancient Egypt. The lunar months, determining the days of the week by the phases of the moon, were the only guide of primitive man from remote antiquity until the invention of the modern calendar. The arrangement of the years into months, weeks and days is not only of recent origin, but was the result of the development of astronomical science in determining the actual time it took the earth to revolve around the sun.
It was not until the third century that the practice of measuring time in cycles of seven days, each of them dedicated to the seven planets, was to any degree universally used. [*14] The division of time into seven days to the week as the basis of our present calendar belongs to the Greeks. (If the Greeks had known that there were ten planets instead of only the seven with which they were acquainted, it is quite probable that they would have provided for a ten-day week instead of the seven-day week, for in China the ten-day week prevailed until almost the present era.) The very names of the days, called after the planets, were made up by the Greeks. Surely if God had "hallowed" the seventh day, he should have given it a name, instead of leaving this important function to the despised Greeks. No mention of so fundamental a thing as the names of the days of the week is to be found in the Bible. However, if the Greeks had not divided the revolution of the earth around the sun into years, months, weeks and days, it would have been impossible to determine the day when the Bible God is supposed to have completed his task of creation!
The lunar month was determined by the four quarters of the moon of approximately seven days each. Long before the introduction of the months -- which were also named by the Greeks -- the year was determined by periods of 52 weeks, the length of time it took for the earth to revolve around the sun. [*15]
The first and seventh days of the week, and particularly the number seven, were regarded by the Greeks as sacred to the god Apollo, probably because of their supposed relation to the seven planets. References of the seventh day implying some special, though vague, significance of a sacred character are frequently mentioned in Homeric poems and other early Greek records. [*16] One writer quotes the Greek historian Strabo, who wrote before the Christian era: "The Greeks and barbarians have this in common, that they accompany their sacred rites by a festal remission of labor." [*17]
The reformed Egyptian calendar was dated from what is called the first year of Augustus -- the year in which he entered Alexandria after his victory over Anthony and Cleopatra. This actually took place on August 1, 30 B.C., but as the Egyptian year begins with the month of Thoth, which almost coincides with our month of September, the Augustan era of Egypt was calculated from the first of Thoth. [*18]
In shifting the calendar, making January instead of September the first month of the year, what happened to that sacred "seventh" day? It was irretrievably lost, because when these changes were made, Rome was living under a calendar of an eight-day week! [*19]
To complicate matters and make even more impossible the designation of the seventh day, it must further be remembered that while the Egyptian calendar was based on the solar year, the Hebrew calendar was based on lunar reckonings. The lunar year is shorter than the solar year by about ten days, twenty-one hours and twelve seconds. With such a great difference, it is utterly impossible for the Hebrew calendar to run parallel with the months as divided under the solar year. The lunar month contains 29½ days; consequently, every five months a new day is added to the month. This would make the original seventh day, according to the lunar calendar of 28 days to the month, or seven days to the week, the eighth day, five months later it would make it the ninth day, and thus the original seventh day of creation would be totally lost down the corridors of time. This accounts for the yearly change of the time for the observance of the so-called holy days in the Hebrew calendar. In making these changes and in fixing the day for the observance of the Day of Atonement, it is so arranged that it never falls (according to Hebrew law, it must not) on a Sunday. Likewise, the day of the New Year, Rosh Hashana, must never fall on a Saturday. [*20]
With such a jumbling of days and dates, how is it possible to designate the seventh day? [*21]
What happened when the new Gregorian calendar, the one now used, came into existence? While the number of days in the week remained the same, the number of the day the Bible God designated as the seventh was lost forever in the rearrangement of the months. While Saturday remained the seventh day of the week, the seventh day in the old Hebrew calendar was not the seventh day in the Gregorian.
What better proof is there of this confusion concerning the seventh day than the indisputable fact that the "Sabbath" is observed on different days of the week in different countries among different peoples? For instance, the Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday, the first day of the week; the (old) Greeks observe Monday; the Persians observe Tuesday; the Syrians observe Wednesday; the (old) Egyptians, Thursday; the Mohammedans, Friday; the Hebrews, Saturday -- and each claims that the day he observes is the "real" Sabbath!
Walter Scott Haskell has carried the question of the Sabbath to its logical conclusion in a humorous poem:
His Religious Scruples
"The woodpile, sir," the lady said
As a result of this confusion there were three official Sabbaths each week in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople): Friday for the Mohammedans, Saturday for the Hebrews, Sunday for the Christians -- and the entire city observed all three! [*22]
Because of the mixed population of Hebrews, Moslems and Christians, so much confusion exists in Jerusalem at the present time regarding the Sabbath that the High Commissioner of Palestine empowered each municipality to determine for itself by local option which day was to be designated as the Sabbath. [*23]
Even in our own country we are faced with this dilemma. A mother was brought to court for failing to send her children to public school on Fridays. She defended her action by stating that she was of the Mohammedan faith and since Friday was their Sabbath, children were forbidden to attend school on that day. Since Hebrew and Christian children in this country enjoy the privilege of celebrating their Sabbath according to their faith, the judge felt that he had no alternative but to grant a similar privilege to the Mohammedans. [*24]
As a result, the question as to which is the seventh day of the week is confusion worse confounded.
The Sabbath as a Taboo
The "sabbaths and the full moon" are mentioned together in numerous passages of the Old Testament. The derivation of the word "sabbath" is from the Babylonian "Shabattum," meaning the day of the full moon, and the designation of the seventh day by the Hebrews is attributed to the Babylonian "U-hul-gallum," which means the "evil day" and "a day of rest for the heart." That the Hebrews copied or borrowed their Sabbath day from others cannot be disputed. That it was a taboo day, a day portentous of evil and associated with the full moon, seems also undisputed.
However, instead of making their Sabbath in accordance with the moon's changes, the Hebrews decided upon the seventh day regardless of its coincidence with the moon's variations. As the Children of Israel were a nomadic people, they could not depend upon the phases of the moon to determine their day of rest. In order to have their Sabbath come at regular intervals, they abandoned the lunar religion of the Babylonians and Assyrians, and adopted the seventh day of the week. [*25]
In 1869, George Smith, well known as a pioneer student of Assyriology, discovered among the cuneiform tablets in the British Museum "curious religious calendars of the Assyrians, in which every month is divided into four weeks, and the seventh days, or 'Sabbaths,' are marked out as days on which no work should be undertaken." Authorities contend that this reckoning of the days of the week and the taboo prescribed for the seventh day probably belonged to the age of Hammurabi. [*26]
Even the name Sinai means "moon-mountain," a synonym for "sin." One of the Hebrew names for "month" is yerah, from yareah, "moon"; it is also called hodesh, which means "new moon." Orthodox Jewish mothers still teach their children to take off their hats to the new moon, [*27] and the custom of offering a prayer to the new moon still prevails.
A passage in one of the Psalms is significant: "Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day." [*28]
The late Professor Morris Jastrow, in commenting on the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, where it is prescribed that "on the morrow about the sabbath" fifty days are to elapse before the commencement of the Feasts of Weeks, dearly shows that the word "Sabbath" is here used, not in its later sense of a seventh day of rest, but as a survival of the old designation of the Sabbath as the full-moon day. [*29]
Even modern Jewish ritual prescribes a special service for the new-moon day, including the recital of psalms of joy. The new or full moon was the only means of lighting the evening, and we can readily understand its influence upon primitive man. He became awed by its appearance to the extent that he would do nothing to frighten it away before its regular time of disappearance.
The Babylonians regarded the disappearance of the moon at the end of the month with great anxiety. [*30] Modern Arabs consider the last day of the month unfavorable for any sort of undertaking. The Lolo Pula and other aboriginal tribes of southwestern China keep a "sabbath" as a rule every sixth day. No plowing may take place at this time, and among some tribes the women are not allowed even to sew or wash clothes. [*31]
Evil days, unlucky days, taboo days go back to primitive times. Traces of this superstitious awe are to be found in the remote periods of Egyptian history. Today among the peasants of Thebes and the Said, there are many who on certain days of the year refuse to kindle a fire, to approach a flame, or even light a candle or lamp, while the more timid or the more superstitious do not smoke. [*32]
In Slavic antiquity, Friday appears to have been consecrated. On this day certain kinds of work were suspended. Spinning, sewing or weaving was considered a sin and especially obnoxious to "Mother Friday" because the dust and refuse thus produced injured her eyes. Men did not twine cords. Any work begun on a Friday was believed sure to go wrong. [*33] Some people even today avoid Friday when beginning an undertaking.
On the Babylonian Sabbath, the King was not to show himself in his chariot, not to hold court, not to bring sacrifices, not to change his clothes, not to eat a good dinner, and not even to curse his enemies. [*34]
A taboo or evil day is to be found among almost all tribes. "The idea is carried to such an extent that most of the natives of the Basutos believe that if they obstinately persist in their labor at such a moment, the clouds are irritated and retire, or send hail instead of rain. Days of sacrifice, or great purification, are also holidays. Hence it is that the law for resting on the seventh day, far from being objectionable to natives, appears perhaps even more fundamental than to certain Christians." [*35]
In some tribes the unlucky or taboo days are those of the new and full moon, and its first and third quarters. [*36] It is fairly well authenticated that even the Buddhist Sabbath dates back to ancient taboos observed at changes of the moon. The Ga of the Gold Coast, who also have a seven-day week, observe the first day as a communal Sabbath. Its name, dsu, means "purification," a term which seems also to have been used as a title of the moon.
The Siamese Sabbath (Wan phra) is always the fourth day of the moon; in each month they have two great ones, at the new and the full moon, and two less solemn, on the seventh and twenty-first. Fishing and hunting are forbidden on these days. Those who are caught violating these prohibitions are thrown into prison for having profaned the sanctity of the day. The Mandingo pay careful attention to the changes of the moon because they think it very unlucky to begin a journey until they feel the moon's influence is favorable. Among the Scottish Highlanders a similar superstition prevails.
There still survives a Jewish superstition, reaching back to the Talmud, that it is lucky to begin an undertaking on a Tuesday, because in describing the third day of creation it is said, "God saw that it was good." Contrawise, it is unlucky to commence anything on a Monday, about which nothing at all was said. [*37]
From primitive times it has been believed that the moon has exerted an influence upon mankind. Even today, the Brazilian Indians believe that the rays of the moon are deleterious to children. Newborn infants are taken by their mothers into the thickest parts of the forests in order to prevent the moonlight from falling upon them. Greek nurses were careful never to show their charges to the moon. French peasants consider it dangerous to sleep in the moonlight, and even among sophisticated moderns there is a remnant of that belief. Fishermen, when lucky enough to catch fish on a moonlight night, hide them from the moon's rays for fear that they would spoil. [*38]
German peasants subject themselves to a long list of restrictions at the new moon. No spinning must be done in the moonlight, for the yarn will not hold; wagons or tools must not be left exposed to the moonlight, or they will soon be broken; water from a spring or well in which the moon shines should not be drunk, since this would be to absorb the evil influence of the moon; the lunar rays should never be allowed to penetrate into the kitchen or the maid would break many dishes. The superstition still prevails that any work begun when the moon is on the increase is sure to succeed, and that the full moon brings everything to perfection, whereas business undertaken during the waning moon is doomed to failure.
So numerous are these superstitions relative to the moon that throughout Germany Monday is generally considered an unlucky day because it is thought to partake of the qualities of the moon from which it is named. Even in certain parts of the United States, Monday is thought to be unlucky; "Blue Monday" is still feared by a great many people.
In various parts of Europe it is believed that plants and other growing things which are cut while the moon is on the increase will grow again fast, but that, if cut while the moon is on the wane, they will grow slowly or waste away. [*39]
Particularly in France, the belief prevailed that timber should be cut only after the moon had passed the full. The moon's effect on the wood was regarded with such apprehension that bills for the sale of lumber contained a special notice that the wood had been cut in the waning of the moon.
Mexicans as a rule will not cut timber while the moon is increasing. The Wabondei of Eastern before building a house, cut the posts when the moon is on the increase, for they believe that if the posts were to be cut while the moon was wasting away, they would soon rot. [*40]
The Spartans as a rule never marched to war except when the moon was full.
The early Greeks and the Negroes of Dudan had this in common: they never marched to war during the last quarter of the moon; they always waited until the first day of the full moon. Tacitus is the authority for the statement that the Germans considered the new or full moon the most auspicious time for business.
The Armenians think that the moon exercises a baneful influence upon little children, and have developed numerous ceremonies to counteract the evil. Both Christians and Moslems in Syria turn their silver money in their pockets at the new moon for luck. [*41]
The Bushmen throw sand in the air and shout loudly when they see the new moon, which is their usual procedure when they want to drive away evil spirits. The Masai throw stones at the new moon with their left hand. The Zulus beat drums, a proceeding which is thought to frighten the luminary or any evil spirit which it may have let loose upon mankind.
One of the most familiar lunar superstitions still current is that one must not see the new moon through glass. This superstition, says Robert Briffault, certainly could not have originated since the invention of glass, but is a survival from the time when it was considered unlucky to see the moon from within the house. Savages come out of their huts to see the new moon. And the Bushmen are careful to build their huts in such a way that the new moon does not shine through the door. In Nigeria, among the Hukon, should the light of the moon happen to shine into the house, a sacrifice is at once offered. Briffault mentions a present survival of this superstition now prevalent in the state of Louisiana. When the new moon appears, the window shutters are closed and securely bolted by some people so as to exclude the entrance of the new moon's rays. Certain superstitions die hard. Look at the new moon over your left shoulder and make a wish, and it will come true -- who has not heard and perhaps practiced that "moon superstition" today?
The aborigines of Australia regard the moon as wicked and accuse it of going up and down the world doing all the harm it can. The Eskimo regards the moon as the cause of all plagues and epidemics. The Dene live in constant dread of the moon. "The man in the moon," according to the Tartars of Asia, is a giant who eats men.
Among the Bechuanas, when the new moon appears, all must cease work. The Thermia, in the Cyclades, maintain that all work, as far as possible, should be suspended on the days immediately preceding the full moon. In the Vishnu Purana, it is said that one who attends to secular affairs on the days of the full moon goes to the Rudhirandha hell, whose wells are filled with blood.
Even the Buddhists have their Sabbath, or Uposatha, which occurs four times in the month, namely, on the day of the full moon and on the two days which are eighth from the new moon. On these days all normal activity ceases.
In Ashanti and the neighboring districts, where people reckon time by the moon, there is a weekly "fetish day" or Sabbath, which seems to be of native origin. On this fetish or taboo day, the people generally dress themselves in white garments, mark their faces with white clay, and rest from labor. They believe that if they fish on that day, the anger of their god will be visited upon their heads. [*42] In Ashanti, the day of the new moon is called "The Day of Blood," and the Yoruba believe that if they work the fields that day, the corn and rice will turn blood-red. [*43]
In Hawaii, the taboo days were reckoned by the changing of the moon, and were observed by strict silence broken only by the prayers of the natives. Not a fire or light was to be seen, none bathed, the mouths of dogs were tied up, the heads of fowl were enveloped in cloth, and only those who officiated at the temple were permitted to be about. [*44] Women at such times were forbidden to enter canoes; sexual intercourse was also forbidden. [*45] In Central Africa the natives hide from the sight of the moon.
It is known that moon worship long preceded any form of sun worship and is the lowest stage in the worship of the heavenly bodies. [*46]
That the Hebrew Sabbath was also a taboo day seems self-evident from its very nature, and is substantiated by the following Biblical text.
Book of Amos, Chapter 8, verse 5:
5. Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?
It was through fear that business transactions on the Sabbath would displease the Deity and prove unprofitable that the idea of a taboo became so strongly associated with the day. The same thought seems to be behind these words from Isaiah, Chapter 1, verse 13:
A similar idea is also expressed by Hosea, Chapter 2, verse 11:
11. I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.
Such fear was manifested by the early Hebrews regarding the evil results of working on the Sabbath that even objects were taboo. This Jeremiah emphasizes in Chapter 17, verses 21 and 22:
21. Thus saith the Lord; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem;
22. Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.
The above strongly emphasizes the belief in sympathetic magic prevailing among the Biblical Hebrews. This is further substantiated by Frazer, who said: "Observers, ignorant of savage superstitions, have commonly misinterpreted such customs as worship or adoration paid to the moon. In point of fact, the ceremonies of the new moon are probably in many cases rather magical than religious." [*47]
That the full moon has a physiological effect upon women, and that many feel the symptoms of menstruation at the time of its appearance, undoubtedly did much to associate with its cycle the element of a taboo. It seems firmly established that the influence of the moon upon menstruating women has much to do with its worship and fear by primitive man, as well as for the taboos placed upon the female of the species.
It is firmly believed, even in some parts of Europe, that the moon regularly menstruates. When the moon is on the wane, for instance, the peasants of Bavaria say that "she is sickening," using the same expression as they employ in reference to a menstruating woman. [*48] To this day, among orthodox Hebrews it is customary for women to abstain from work at the time of the new moon.
Among the Murry Islanders however, the moon is supposed to be a young man, who at certain periods defiles young girls, causing a bloody discharge. Among the Papuans, the moon is considered responsible for the menses. They look upon the moon as a diminutive youth who follows young girls and women and has sexual relations with them, thereby causing menstruation. The Vaupe Indians of the Upper Amazon have the same notion; they call the first menstruation "defloration by the moon."
The Papuans believe that the moon's amours with women aroused the jealousy of the husbands, and in punishment "all girls and young women should bleed when he appeared, but the older and pregnant women should be excepted, since in the latter case he was responsible for their condition." [*49]
In Greenland, the Eskimos believe that the moon comes down at night and cohabits with their women; and young girls are afraid to stare at the moon, imagining they may get a child as a result. Among the Nutka Indians of Vancouver, a chief can cohabit with his wife only by the light of the full moon. [*50]
The Ja-Lou of Eastern Uganda believe that a woman can only become pregnant at the time of the new moon, and it is generally believed that the moon has a great deal to do with the occurrence. No doubt, behind the belief in praying for a child is the thought that real fecundation can come only from a divine source.
In Central Europe it is believed that if a girl or woman drinks from a well or spring in which the moon is reflected, thus "swallowing the moon," she will certainly become pregnant in consequence.
In Brittany the women are extremely careful not to expose the lower part of their bodies to the rays of the moon, especially in the first and last quarter, when the moon is horned. [*51]
Among the primitive tribes of East Africa, the phases of the moon are said to have an important influence on the child's sex and virility. The waxing moon is supposed to produce male children, and the waning moon females. In Cornwell the belief is current that when a child is born in the interval between the old moon and the first appearance of the new one, it will only live to reach puberty. Hence the saying, "No moon, no man.' It is believed that children born when there is no moon, if they live at all, are weak, delicate, sickly and feeble-minded. [*52]
In the Highlands of Scotland, girls would generally not marry until there was a full moon.
The sacred bull Apis was held to be the outcome of the impregnation of a cow by the moon. In Babylon, human fertility depended upon the moon, and offspring were called "children of the moon."
"Mooncalf" is our expression for an incomplete pregnancy, [*53] and is sometimes used to refer to adolescent lovers. Women in all parts of the world have addressed prayers to the moon for children, and many modern songs continually refer to the moon as the presiding factor in romantic love.
All phases of the moon are supposed to have a certain significance. Among the Wasania, a tribe of British East Africa, no cohabitation takes place during an eclipse. The natives of northern India are said to consider it a great crime to partake of food, drink water, or answer the call of nature during an eclipse. A pregnant woman will do no work then for fear that her child would be born deformed. [*54]
In ancient Mexico, pregnant women were greatly perturbed when there was an eclipse of the moon, for they feared that their children would be born incomplete, lacking a nose, a lip or finger. Similar beliefs are held by Hindu and Malay women. [*55] Among the high-caste Hindus, no food that has been in the house during an eclipse of the sun or moon must be eaten. Earthen vessels must be broken. [*56] The Chinese formerly observed lunar eclipses by a general suspension of business. Many orthodox Hebrews abstain from food on the day of an eclipse of the moon, considering it a portent which they regard as evil. [*57]
A dispatch from Istanbul, Turkey, states that superstitious Turks fired thousands of shots during a total eclipse of the moon, as, in accordance with Oriental legend, they believed that Satan was devouring the moon and they wished to frighten or kill him. The same terror gripped the Italian soldiers in Eritrea who feared their God was frowning in wrath upon them. [*58]
In some German country communities a pregnant woman must on no account linger in the moonlight lest she should bear a lunatic child; and it is the belief in Iceland that if a pregnant woman should sit with her face toward the moon, her child would be a lunatic. [*59] No wonder, then, that lunacy has been associated with certain phases of the moon. The Sabbath might well be called the lunatic day of religion.
The Sabbath, then, is a survival from the days when primitive man, awed by the appearance of the new moon, and fearing the celestial visitor, made the time of its arrival a taboo day. Under the belief in sympathetic magic, they thought evil results would follow acts committed that might displease this visitor of the sky, who shone with such awe-inspiring brightness approximately once in every twenty-eight days. Therefore any four phases of the moon's appearance became a taboo day -- a day on which all activities of every kind were prohibited.
The conclusion of Hutton Webster, after an exhaustive study of Sabbath days, was that "the observance of tabooed and unlucky days must be included among the many superstitions which have retarded the progress of mankind." [*60]
... chapter continued on next file ...
The e-text conversion and critical editing of this book is copyright ©1998 by Cliff Walker. The text is watermarked. If you intend to commercialize on this book in any way, please do your own e-text conversion work. This is a labor of love, honoring the role that the works of Joseph Lewis have played in my life and in the hope that the unique presentation of Joseph Lewis's works, available only on Positive Atheism, will bring the dignity to the Positive Atheism project that only this unique presentation of the writings of Joseph Lewis can bring. We hope that our readers, supporters, friends, and others can understand and appreciate the role that this -- privilege -- of being able to present the Joseph Lewis material brings to the people who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make Positive Atheism's online presentation possible.