Israel's "New Moons and Full Moon Observances" 
(Originally "Mesopotamian Lunar Memorials"?) 
The Shabbat (Sabbath) = Shapattu Controversy

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

04 June 2001
(Revisions through 22 July 2008)

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This article argues that Israel's New Moons as well as Passover on the eve of the Full Moon may have been derived originally from ancient Mesopotamian Lunar Festivals. 

Furthermore, the controversy which exists among some scholars seeking a relationship between the weekly Hebrew Shabbat (English Sabbath) and Mesopotamian Full Moon Shapattu on the 15th day of the lunar month is explored. 

I understand that the weekly Shabbat has NOTHING to do _directly_ with the Shapattu, it is derived from another motif, found in the Epic of Gilgamesh and Atarhasis myths. For me, the weekly Shabbat is an "inversion" of the 7th day when ALL the gods rested after destroying mankind with Utnapishtim's Flood. If this subject, the 'pre-biblical origins" of the _weekly_ Sabbath/Shabbat interests you please click here for my "in-depth" article exploring this fascinating subject.

Professor Clay, an Assyriologist,  in 1923 argued that scholars were _wrong_ in assuming the Hebrew Shabbat or Sabbath was related to and derived from the Mesopotamian shapattu (Emphasis mine in CAPITALS):

"For years it was held that the Hebrew Sabbath was borrowed from Babylonia; that it had its roots in the Babylonian shapattu or shabattu, to which we have been told we owe the blessings of that day; for "the Sabbath-rest, was essentially of Babylonian origin." It is even held that "the word Sabbath is Babylonian indeed."

This view has been accepted by many scholars...Let us here inquire upon what basis does the assertion rest that the Hebrew Sabbath is of Babylonian origin.

In the first place there was found in a Babylonian dictionary, or explanatory list of rare words, this formula: um nukh libbi= sha-pat-tum (or sha-bat-tum). This was translated "shabattu was the day of rest of the heart," literally"a day of rest." The word shabatu was also found in an explanatory list of rare words, but the meaning given for it, namely, gamaru, "to be full, complete" did not seem at the time to be suitable for the assertions that had been made.

The word shabattu, for which there is no etymology in Semitic Babylonian, was said to have been derived by the native lexicographers from the Sumerian sa "heart," and bat "to cease" or "rest"; it was literally translated "heart rest." 

(p. 117. "The Hebrew Sabbath." Albert T. Clay. The Origin of Biblical Traditions: Hebrew Legends in Babylonia and Israel. New Haven. Yale University Press. 1923)

"Somewhat  later it was shown that the expression nukh libbi, which occurs frequently in the lamentation hymns, did not mean "rest of the heart," but referred to the PACIFICATION of the gods; and the expression was then translated "day of the APPEASEMENT of the heart."

In 1904, Doctor Pinches discovered in a tablet giving the designation of the days of the month, that the 15th day was called shapatti when it became clear that the word shabatu, explained by gamaru, meaning "to be complete, full," apparently referred to the full moon in the middle of the month.

This new light upon the subject required a readjustment of the proof that has been advanced for the Babylonian origin of the Sabbath. However, this was promptly accomplished, and the same conclusion reached, even "that the word Sabbath is Babylonian indeed." 

In this contention I cannot acqiesce. THERE IS NO ROOT IN BABYLONIAN, as already intimated, equivalent to the common Hebrew shabat "to cut off, desist, put an end to." With the knowledge of its extended usage throughout the Old Testament, and knowing how thoroughly the institutions and the life of Israel were bound up with this day, TO ME IT HAS BEEN INCONCEIVABLE  how Assyriologists could make themselves believe, on the basis of the data given above, that this institution and this word were borrowed from Babylonia." (pp. 118-119. Clay)

"There have already been published hundreds of hymns from Babylonia, and hundreds of ritual texts. The mass of this kind of literature is ten times greater than that found in the Old Testament. We have also a large body of laws from the early and late periods. In these, as well as in the mass of other texts, besides what is referred to above, there is not a semblance of an idea corresponding to the Hebrew Sabbath, nor any reference to the word (i.e., shabbat, not shapattu or shabattu)."

"Whether in view of the fact that the "new moon" and the Sabbath in the Old Testament, stand in juxtaposition in so many passages the Sabbath was originally the day of the "full moon," i.e.,  the fifteenth day of the month, need not concern us here." (p. 122. Clay)

While many people are aware that ancient Israel observed a Sabbath or day of rest every 7th day, NOT so well known is that there was another rest day observed on a monthly basis IN ADDITION TO the 7th day. The Bible speaks of this day of rest as THE OBSERVANCE OF NEW  MOONS. Israel also observed annually the Exodus from Egypt, which for some scholars was about the time of the Full Moon.  

Using archaeological findings which have preserved the religious beliefs of the ancient Mesopotamians, Abraham being understood to have been from Ur in LOwer Mesopotamia and later of Haran (Harran/Charrae) in Northern Mesopotamia, both places being cult centers of Moon worship of the Moon-god Nanna(r), or Suen (Sin), this article attempts to link New Moon and the Passover Full Moon days of rest to Lunar worship. 

I understand that Israel's New Moon day of rest is derived from the REAPPEARANCE of the Moon-god AFTER its "resting" in the underworld and being invisible to the naked eye. So, the NEW MOON day of rest originally celebrated the Lunar god's REAPPEARANCE _AFTER_ its resting!

The New Moon was a period of time when the Moon _first became visible_ as a crescent, said "invisibility" occuring because of its nearness to the Sun. 

Vanderkam on the Lunar Calendar:

"The month was defined as the interval between successive first appearances of the moon in its cyclical phases. The beginning of the lunar cycle is defined when, following the period of invisibility due to nearness to the sun, the lunar crescent appears again briefly on the western horizon just after sunset...The lunar month was taken uniformly thoughout the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean (by Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hebrews, Arabs, and Greeks) to begin with the sighting of the first visible lunar crescent." 

(p. 810. Vol. 1. James C. Vanderkam."Calendars, Ancient Near East." David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992)

"The Babylonian year began in the Spring, with the month Nisannu (= March/April in the Julian calendar), and the first of the year fell approximately around the vernal equinox, but actually varied widely. During the Neo-Babylonian period (between years 626-536 BC) the first of Nisannu could fall between the 11th of March and 26th of April, according to the tables of Parker and Dubberstein (1942). Even after the institution of the 19 year cycle, the New Year could still vary within a 27-day range, but averaged about 14 days following the vernal equinox (Kugler 1924:333-34; RLA 5: 298-99)." 

(p. 811. Vol. 1. James C. Vanderkam."Calendars, Ancient Near East." David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992)

I understand that Secular Humanist scholars are correct in their proposals that ancient Israel assimilated and adapted earlier religious beliefs of the nations about her, transforming these beliefs into her own unique cosmology and religion.

Hallo makes the following observation on the weekly 7th day Sabbath:

"The Sabbath is "a memorial to the week of creation" and "a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt." It is "a sign forever that the Lord made the heavens and the earth in six days, and rested and refreshed on the seventh." 

(p. 320, William W. Hallo, "New Moons and Sabbaths," in Frederick E. Greenspahn, Editor. Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East. New York. New York University Press. 1991. ISBN 0-8147-3038-8 Hdbk. [Original article in Hebrew Union College Annual 43 (1977) 1-13] )

Scholars have noted that Akkadian (Babylonian) Shapattu looks somewhat similar in form to the Hebrew Shabbat (English: Sabbath), and have offered theories to establish a relationship between the two.

According to Akkadian texts Shapattu was the 15th day of the ancient calendarical month, and the day of the Full Moon, this has presented a dilemma to those who would argue that a relationship exists with the Shabbat, observed every 7th day throughout the year. Some have concluded that there is no relationship between the two.

Lambert sees a relation:

"The Sabbath has, of course, been the subject of much study, both in the institution and the name. My own position, briefly, is that the Hebrew term shabbat, meaning the completion of the week, and the Babylonian term shapattu, meaning the completion of the moon's waxing, that is the fifteenth day of a lunar month, are the same word..." 

(pp. 106-107, W.G. Lambert, "A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis [1965], in Richard S. Hess and David T. Tsumura, Editors. I Studied Inscriptions From Before the Flood. Winona Lake, Indiana. Eisenbrauns. 1994) 

Contra Lambert, Hallo sees _no connection_ between a Lunar Shapattu and the Shabbat:

"Finally, the importance of the Sabbath must be seen in the context of the continuing de-emphasis of the lunar festivals. Moon worship flourished wherever Mesopotamian culture spread, and even after its demise, it survived at places like Harran. But in Israel it failed to gain a foothold; the full-moon was not worshipped, the quarters were not specially observed, and even the new moon was ultimately relegated to the status of a half-holiday. We may sum up the contrast as follows: the ancient Mesopotamian year was based on the month, and the worship of the moon went hand in hand with it. The Israelite year was based on the week, and remained independent of the month even when the luni-solar claendar was adopted from Babylonia...Here, then, two of the great contrasts between biblical Israel and its Near Eastern matrix meet: Sabbatical Cycles vs. Lunar Calendars..." 

(p. 326, William W. Hallo, "New Moons and Sabbaths," in Frederick E. Greenspahn, Editor. Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East. New York. New York University Press. 1991. ISBN 0-8147-3038-8 Hdbk. [Original article in Hebrew Union College Annual 43 (1977) pp. 1-13] )

While Hallo is correct that the Moon "itself" was not to be worshipped, nevertheless, I understand that "originally" it was, and that the Hebrews adapted and transformed its Mesopotamian worship. I note that one of the greatest events for Israel was her deliverance from an Egyptian bondage by Yahweh-Elohim, and that that day was to be observed as a Holy Day "forever". The Passover Meal was consumed on the 14th of Nisan, the evening preceeding the Full Moon on the 15th. The following Psalm seems to make mention of this event:

Psalm 81:1-5, 10  RSV

"Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob ! Raise a song, sound the timbral, the sweet lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet AT THE NEW MOON, AT THE FULL MOON, on our feast day. For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob. He made it a decree in Joseph, when he went out over the land of Egypt...I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt."

Hallo noted that the Mesopotamians observed the following days in regards to the worship of the moon:

"It might be thought that we have pursued the topic into a cul-de-sac. But  as is often the case when tracking down a millennial institution, we must allow for the survival of an old institution under a new name. In the first place, the terms for the individual lunar phases were translated into Akkadian and appear together in the Old Babylonian Atrahasis epic as arhu sebutu u shapattu "first, seventh, and fifteenth day of the month." In the second place, the concept of lunar festivals in general did not simply die out when the original Sumerian term changed its name." (pp. 318-19. Hallo)


"My thesis in brief is this: the cultic calendar of ancient Mesopotamia, like its civil calendar, was largely tied to the phases of the moon, and not at all to the week (or: a week); In Israel, the cultic calendar was only minimally connected to lunar phases, whereas the sabbatical cycle was all-important." (p. 315. Hallo)

Hallo noted the festivals which were celebrated since Sumerian times, the New Moon and the Full Moon (pp.316-17, Hallo). The festivals were celebrated with numerous consumables- cakes, oil, beer, cattle were sacrificed, there were ritual ablutions and special garments including sandals which were issued for the occasion (p. 317, Hallo).

My earlier research into the origins of the Sabbath revealed that the motifs of a God needing to rest is derived from Sumerian myths. I understand that the choice of a 7th day for the Rest Day is drawn from motifs found in the Epic of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis which mentioned that the gods in order to attain rest, set out to destroy all of mankind via a flood that lasted 6 days and nights, on the 7th day, the flood ended and the gods attained their rest, because mankind's unceasing day-and-night "noise" no longer distrubed them, all having perished in the flood except Utnapishtim and his family who had been forewarned to build an ark and save themselves.  

Genesis opens with God making a world in 6 days and nights and resting on the 7th day, and suggests that on the 6th day God "caps" his creation with the making of man (Ge 1:26-31). In the Mesopotamian myths (the Epic of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis), the gods send a Flood to destroy all mankind. This is apparently achieved on the 6th day, because on the 7th day, the earth is still, peaceful and quiet, for all mankind is destroyed by the Flood with the exception of those on Utnapishtim's ark. I am arguing that the 6th day which witnessed the destruction of Mankind by murderous enraged gods was INVERTED by the Hebrews into the CREATION of mankind by a loving God.

According to the Old Babylonian Atrahasis myth, in the beginning there were two kinds of Gods, the Anunnaki and the Igigi who dwelt on the earth. The Igigi's job was to toil ceasely, day and night without respite, hoeing drainage ditches for irrigation, keeping them clear of debris, plant crops, harvest and present them to the Anunnaki gods as food. A rebellion eventually was threatened after some 40 years of non-stop night and day labor. The Anunnaki gods finally came to terms with the Igigi gods and agreed enough was enough. It was decided that a "new slave" or "servant" would be made to hoe irrigation ditches, grow and harvest food for the gods, he would be called "man". Man was to be made of earthly clay animated by the spirit of a slaughtered god (whose name was We-ila) who's blood and flesh would be mixed into the clay. The heartbeat, a type of drum, would remind man that the ghost of a slain god animated him !

Here's the kicker!  Before slaughtering one of their own it was decreed that ALL THE GODS would have to take 3 ablution baths, evidently to purify themselves and absolve them of killing one of their own to make man. The days of ablution were the 1st, 7th and 15th of the month, which also happen to be the same 3 phases of the Moon especially observed by the Mesopotamians!

Clifford on Man's creation according to the Atrahasis myth:

"The creation of man in Atrahasis...The broad context is the rebellion of the Igigu gods, which requires a new creature to labor in their stead. The gods command Mami, a birth goddess (called Nintu here), to create lullu-man to bear the yoke assigned by Enlil. She agrees on condition that Enki provide the purified clay. He draws a bath to cleanse the gods from the impurity, a result probably of the death of the god in lines 204-209. Enki speaks: 

"On the FIRST,  SEVENTH, and FIFTEENTH OF THE MONTH I shall make a purification by washing. THEN one god should be slaughtered. And the gods can be purified by immersion. Ninti shall mix clay with his flesh and his blood. Then a god and a man will be mixed together in clay. Let us hear the drumbeat forever after. Let a ghost come into existence from the god's flesh, let her proclaim it as his living sign, and let the ghost exist so as not to forget (the slain god)." They answered "Yes!" in the assembly, the great Anunnaki who assign the fates." 

(pp. 79-80, "Akkadian Texts, Atrahasis." Richard J. Clifford. Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible. Washington, D.C. The Catholic Biblical Association of America. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 26. 1994.  ISBN 0-915170-25-6  pbk. pp.220)

Hymns to Inanna/Ishtar (the "Queen of Heaven") mention that on the 1st day of the month, the Moon sleeps (evidently because it disappears from view). On the 7th day of the month, Inanna/Ishtar takes a break from decimating mankind with war and carnage, by tying "war and strife " to her side. She refreshes herself by bathing and putting on new garments. So, the 7th day, like the 1st is a TYPE of RESTING DAY if you will, of the gods (Inanna was called "the First Daughter of the Moon" being the daughter of the Moon-god, Nanna/Sin). The 15th day is the day of the Full Moon. On this day the gods took their final ablution bath, and consequently, a god was slaughtered, his flesh and blood mixed with clay and mankind was made to relieve the gods of toil for evermore.

It is my understanding that most probably, the 1st, 7th and 15th days of the lunar month were for the Mesopotamians a "Type of Memorial" to remind man of how he came to be created, and how the gods came to enjoy eternal freedom from toil, the New Moon or 1st, 7th and 15th day of the ancient month marks the various times when the gods "RESTED."

I suspect that the Hebrews transformed these ancient motifs. Both myths present man being created, after which, the gods or A God RESTS! The reasons of course are different. God doesn't make man to toil for him and to feed him, He establishes the Sabbath to provide man a day of rest, as well as to honor himself in special worship. Nevertheless, the key ideas are present in both myths.  

The prophets denounced the Queen of Heaven and worship of the Heavenly Host, the Moon, Sun and Stars. It is my understanding that the Hebrews' reformatting and transformation of the ancient Mesopotamian myths eliminated worship of the Moon and the ancient "Memorial to the creation of Man and the gods' RESTING" and substituted that "Memorial" with the "observance of New Moons."

If my hunches are correct, there is indeed a _remote and very indirect_ relationship between the Akkadian Shapattu or Full Moon memorial and Hebrew 7th day Shabbat, in that both are presented as being "Memorials to man's creation and the gods' ENTERING INTO A REST, _as well as_ having the anger in their HEARTS PACIFIED or assuaged." Shabbat means "to cease," on the 7th day of the Flood the gods CEASED in their murderous rage, they CEASED the destruction of the earth, they CEASED man's annihilation, their hearts were PACIFIED on the 7th day because man's noise was gone that ANGERED them. The sweeet savor of Utnapishtim's sacrifice also PACIFIED the gods and CEASED the ANGER in their hearts, as they once again consumed food and drink.  So, the term shabbat if derived from "to desist or cease, or cut off" is a term well suited in describing events in the Flood account on the 7th day, as well as the creation of man on the 15th day in the Atrahasis Epic. Mankind was "cut-off" in the flood by the arrival of the 7th day, the destruction of the earth itself CEASED on the 7th day; the thousands of years of ceaseless toil was "cut-off" or "brought to an end" for the Igigi gods on the 15th day and their angry hearts were PACIFIED on this day.

Morgenstern makes the following observations on Shapattu and Shabbat:

"In ancient Babylonia a particular day of distinctive character was known as shabattu (shapattu), a name plainly identical with the Hebrew Shabbat. It was designated specifically as the "day of the quieting of the heart." The precise meaning of this expression is uncertain, but at least the concept of relaxation is implicit therein." 

(p.135, Vol.4, J. Morgenstern, "Sabbath." George A. Buttrick, Editor. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville. Abingdon Press. 1962)

If my suppositions are correct, we now know why the 15th (Full Moon) was called the "day of the quieting of the heart." It was on this day that the final ablutions were done, the anger in the hearts of the Anunnaki gods who faced rebellion was quieted, the angry hearts of Igigi gods who faced ceaseless toil were quieted and pacified as well, for man had been made to toil for the gods and provide them with food and rest from toil. This day was an important day, forevermore ALL THE GODS would enjoy eternal REST from toil, no wonder then, their "angry upset hearts were quieted or calmed on this day"! Of interest here is that according to the Babylonian priest-historian Berossus, the Flood sent to destroy man by the gods was to begin on the 15th of Daisos, so man is created on a 15th and his destruction is set to begin on a 15th!

Hebrew Shabbat means to desist, or cease and only secondarily to rest. On the 15th day the Anunnaki gods ceased their oppression of the earth-bound gods, and the Igigi gods ceased their rebellion, the anger in ALL the gods' hearts ceased and was "quieted" on the 15th day.

Leick on the "resting" of the Moon god on the day of the New Moon:

"During the new moon, Nanna spends his 'days of sleep' in the Underworld, where he decides the fates of the dead. Nanna was called Su'en (later contracted to Sin). In some texts, Su'en referred to the crescent, Nanna to the full moon and Ashimbabbar to the young waxing moon, but this was not consistently adhered to. The various phases of the lunar cycle were celebrated in regular festivals. Purification rituals for the moon were also performed at the New Year." 

(p. 126.  "Nannar." Gwendolyn Leick. A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology. London. Routledge & Sons, Ltd. 1991, 1997)

Wolkstein and Kramer on the New Moon:

"...the exact FIRST DAY OF THE MONTH is closely examined, and on the day of the disappearance of the moon, on THE  DAY OF THE SLEEPING OF THE MOON, the me are perfectly carried out so that the New Year's Day, the day of rites, may be properly determined, and a SLEEPING PLACE BE SET UP FOR INANNA..."

(p.107, Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer. Inanna, Queen of Heaven, Her Stories and Hymns From Sumer. San Francisco. Harper & Row. 1983. ISBN 0-06-090854 pbk. pp. 227)

Amos criticizes Israel for its negative attitude in observing New Moons and Sabbaths:

"When will the NEW MOON be over, that we may sell grain? And the SABBATH, that we may offer wheat for sale? " (Amos 8:5, RSV)

Amos' comment suggests that the Israelites were to observe the New Moon as a DAY OF REST, a ceasing of carrying-on business, like the forbiden selling of grain on the Sabbath (cf. Nehemiah's insistence that the selling of grain is not be conducted on the Sabbath, Neh 10:31). The bible tells us that Israel worshipped the MOON, Sun, Stars and Heavenly host. Evidently, with the passage of time, Israel later came to reformat the observance of the day of the New Moon  -when the Moon god RESTS- into a "day of rest" in Yahweh-Elohim's cultic calendar!

The Chronicler, suggests for me, that New Moons were days for burnt offerings:

2 Chronicles 31:3 RSV

"...the burnt offering of morning and evening, THE BURNT OFFERINGS FOR the sabbaths, THE NEW MOONS, and the appointed feasts, as it is written in the law of the LORD."

The seventh day's importance in the cultic calendar is Moon-related as well, being the rest day of the Queen of Heaven, Inanna, "the first daughter of the Moon."

"Thus the moment each month when the CRESCENT MOON took its shape was a time of great import for Sumer, for it symbolized the time when the raging Inanna PURIFIED HERSELF..." (p. 170, "Loud Thundering Storm," Wolkstein)

"Holy Inanna...ON THE 7th DAY when the crescent moon reaches its fullness, YOU BATHE, and sprinkle your face with holy water. You cover your body with the long woolen garments of queenship. You fasten combat and battle to your side; You tie them into a girdle AND LET THEM REST." (p. 96, Wolkstein)

Just as God rests and refreshes himself on the seventh day, so Inanna also rests and refreshes herself on the seventh day of the month.

"...Hail to Inanna, First Daughter of the Moon!" (p. 97, Wolkstein)

I note that it is on the day of the Full Moon that Israel's Exodus from Egypt begins. Was this a deliberate reformatting of the resting day of the Mesopotamian gods on the 15th day of the lunar month, after having made mankind to be their slave, giving them rest from earthly toil? If my hunch is correct, then the Passover is in reality a transformation of a Lunar Holy Day, a Mesopotamian memorial originally calling to mind the creation of mankind to be a servant or slave to the gods. 

Passover is on the night of the 14th and apparently Israel leaves Egypt in the middle of the night. These events honor Yahweh-Elohim for bringing his nation out of slavery, unceasing toil and subservience to gods of wood and stone, and "giving them rest"  from toil imposed by Egypt's gods. But there is a surprise here, Israel, although liberated from slavery in serving gods of wood and stone, becomes a "servant" of Yahweh-Elohim, that is to say, she has a "new" master. Israel will till the earth and of its increase prepare Yahweh's meals, just as happened to man in the Mesopotamian Lunar myths.

Leviticus 25: 42 RSV

"For they are MY SERVANTS, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt..."

Bokser on the 14th/15th day of a Lunar Month being about the time of the Full Moon:

"The Holiday of the Passover Offering (broadly drawing on the perception of Exodus 12-13) consisted of the preparation of a one-year-old sheep or goat on the 10th day of the month of Nisan (usually April in the Julian calendar), its slaughter or sacrifice on the 14th day of the month, and its consumption in family gatherings on the night of a full moon ushering in the 15th day (the time of the vernal equinox)." 

(p. 756. Vol. 6. Baruch M. Bokser. "Unleavened Bread and Passover, Feasts of." David Noel Freedman. Editor. 
The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday & Company. 1992)

Exodus 12:17-18 RSV

"And you shall observe the feast of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt: therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as an ordinance for ever. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening you shall eat unleavened bread, and so until the twenty-first day of the month at evening."

Black and Green on the moon cult at Ur and Haran (both places being associated with Abraham):

"The most important shrine of Nanna was the temple E-kish-nu-gal at Ur, but another cult centre which became of great importance in the Neo-Babylonian period was the temple at Harran in northern Syria, where under the name Sin, the god was worshipped together with Nusku as his son."

(p. 135. "Nanna-Suen (Sin)." Jeremy Black & Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary. London. British Museum Press. 1992)

Black and Green on the gods' having made man to be their servant:

"The widespread Mesopotamian idea of man having been created to act as the servant of the gods meant that it was considered necessary to feed and clothe the gods constantly and to make them presents. Among these various sorts of offerings, the term sacrifice refers especially to the killing of an animal. Exactly the same food and drinks were offered to the gods as were consumed by humans, with perhaps more emphasis on the luxury items: frequent fresh meat, fish, cream, honey, cakes and the best sorts of beer." 

(p. 158. "Sacrifice and Offering." Jeremy Black & Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary. London. The British Museum Press. 1992)

"Unlike the Greek Olympians with their ambrosia and nectar, the Mesopotamian gods had no special foods which were the privilege of divinity. However, in the story of the sage Adapa, Anu (An) decides that Adapa shall be offered the 'bread of life' and the 'water of life' when he visits heaven, and it is clear from the context that to have consumed these would have conferred (eternal) life. In fact, believing them to be the bread and water of death, he declines and loses his chance of immortality.

The gods lived on the sacrifice of sheep, fish, cereals and oil which mankind was obliged to offer them regularly: the same foods were consumed by man himself." 

(p. 85. "Food and Drink of the Gods." Jeremy Black & Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary. London. The British Museum Press. 1992)

"In Mesopotamia, it was man's duty and the reason for his creation to take care of the material needs of the gods, which included the provision of food...Animal sacrifice, therefore, was regarded as the literal means of satisfying the gods' appetites...The sheep seems to have been the primary animal of such sacrifice, although goats and cattle were also sacrificed...The sacrifice of a goat (called 'man substitute') was used in some rituals to divert sickness or portended evil from individual persons." 

(pp. 30-32. "Animal Sacrifice." Jeremy Black & Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary. London. The British Museum Press. 1992)


I have attempted to argue that the Hebrews transformed the Mesopotamian cultic calendars honoring the Moon-god at Ur of the Chaldees and Haran and the days of rest associated with these cults into days of rest for Yahweh-Elohim and his people.  The day of the New Moon originally was the day the Moon-god reappeared after resting in the underworld, it being the first day of the ancient Lunar month and out of view due to its nearness to the Sun. 

To the degree that the Bible understands that Abraham and his kin dwelt for a time at Ur and later Haran/Harran which were centers of moon worship, perhaps Israel's New Moon days of rest and Full Moon Passover were ultimately derived from these locations? 

The seventh day of a Lunar month memorialized Inanna, "the first daughter of the moon," as the day she rested and refreshed herself, bathing and adoning new attire. 

The fifteenth day of the Lunar month, the day of the Full Moon, was associated with the day that the gods rested and achieved an appeasement of their angry, upset hearts, after taking their final ablution baths, and killing one of their own, made mankind to toil for them as their servants or slaves,  growing and harvesting food to present to them in temples, giving the lesser earth-dwelling gods eternal rest from agricultural toil on the earth. In the Hebrew account of the observance of the day of the Full Moon, "Passover," Yahweh delivers his people from toil and service to Egyptian gods of wood and stone, making Israel HIS SERVANT, to provide food and drink to him, paralleling the Mesopotamian notion of the Full Moon observance.

To the cultic calendars of the rest days of the Moon, Inanna and the gods, was combined the 7th day of the Flood or Deluge from the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Atrahasis Myth. According to these myths the gods rested on the seventh day after destroying man in the flood, his noise having prevented them from attaining rest by day or sleep by night. Fear of disturbing a God's rest, evident in the Hebrew Bible, is based -in my opinion- on this motif, that the Gods would destroy man again if he dared violate their rest!

I have attempted to show that ancient Israel's sacred New Moons rest days, were descended in part from Mesopotamian Lunar ritual exemplars which sought to explain the disappearance of the Moon as a god, who went into REST in the underworld, then reappeared as a crescent on the 1st day of the NEW MOON, noting also, other lunar beliefs of how man came to be created and the gods achieved their rest as well ending the anger in their hearts on the day of the Full Moon.

I understand that Israel's  weekly 7th day of rest and a New Moon and Full Moon day of rest were both ultimately descended from Mesopotamian notions of their gods resting on these days. 

My research suggests to me that the Hebrews may have  taken the Shapattu and made it into Passover, the 14th being the night of the Full Moon's maximum waxing according to Bokser.  Of interest here is Leick's observation that "purification" festivities were held for the Moon god at the beginning of the New Year, and God telling Israel that this month is to be the first in their calendar (Ex 12:1-2). Could the smearing of blood of the Passover lamb be recalling Mesopotamian notions about purifying a shrine at the New Year in anticipation of a god's visit ?

Leick on journeys of the gods:

"In Mesopotamia (as also in Egypt) gods could pay visits to other gods outside their domain, journeying mainly by boat along the numerous canals and river arms. This custom is not only documented by literary texts describing the mythical antecedent to these visits....hymns and liturgical songs, but also in the prosaic lists which form part of the accounts of the temples...The timing of the expeditions varied, but coincided with the major festivals (such as the Akitu or New Year festival) in half-year intervals...It is possible that various events known from mythological texts are connected with these ritual journeys, but it is impossible to decide whether the ritual inspired the journey or vice versa." 

(p. 101. "Journeys of gods." Gwendolyn Leick. A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology. London. Routledge & Sons, Ltd. 1991, 1997)

Black and Green on the purification of a shrine by wiping it with blood preparing it for a visit by a god on New Year's Day:

"On occasion animal sacrifices can have a purificatory effect, as in the New Year ceremonies: on the 5th day of the ceremonies, a magician entered and cleaned the vacant shrine of the god Nabu within the Esagil complex (the cult statue of Nabu had not yet arrived from Borsippa, the neighboring town where Nabu normally resided). The magician summoned a slaughterer to decapitate a sheep, with the corpse of which he would purify the shrine of Nabu (The word used, literally 'wipe clean,' is often used in a transferred sense.). In due course the corpse was thrown into the river which passed by the temple...details of this ritual are very similar to namburbu rituals, intended to avert the effect of future evils (see magic and sorcery)." 

(p. 153. "Purification." Jeremy Black & Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary. London. British Museum Press. 1992.

I would also like to suggest here that perhaps the requirement that Israel must for 7 days eat unleavened bread may also have been a Lunar rite originally.  The unleavened bread or matzos has the appearance of pancake, that is to say, it is circular in form. Perhaps this circular form suggested  to ancient man the "Full Moon" itself? Leavening causes bread "to rise" and "expand", the 7 days following the Full Moon are days when the moon begins its "waning," or growing smaller in size. Perhaps Israel's instruction to "eat" the unleavened bread for 7 days recalls the Moon God's being "eaten" as it wanes and disappears again?  

Leick on ancient man's fear of the Moon's "demise" or disappearance, visualizing its being attacked by demonic forces:

"The various phases of the lunar cycle were celebrated in regular festivals. Purification rituals for the moon were also performed at the New Year. Special care had to be taken during the invisibility of the planet, especially during eclipses. In a mythological introduction to a ritual (Jacobsen, 123), this event is said to have been the work of demonic forces who had attacked Nanna...Eventually he is saved and restored by the intervention of Marduk." 

(pp.126-127. "Nanna(r)." Gwendolyn Leick. A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology. London. Routledge. 1991, 1998)

07 March 2005 Update:

Today I stumbled across an article on the internet, quite by accident, in which Professor William H. Shea back in 1984 noticed that the Mesopotamian shappatu commemorated the creation of man and might have a relation to the Hebrew Shabbat and Adam's creation. Until today I had thought I was _alone_ in making this observation in my above article. 
Below is an excerpt from Shea's article (William H. Shea. "A Comparison of Narrative Elements in Ancient Mesopotamian Creation-Flood Stories with Genesis 1-9." Origins. No. 11. pp. 9-29. 1984. (emphasis mine):

"II. Creation 

The commencement of the Atra-hasis Epic is set in a time before the creation of man, a time when Enlil forced the younger gods to dig rivers and canals. After forty years the junior gods rebelled, burned their work tools, and marched on the house of Enlil: 

"Let us confront the chamberlin,
That he may relieve us of our heavy work.
The counsellor of the gods, the hero,
Come, let us unnerve him in his dwelling!" (21). 

Awakened and warned by a servant, Enlil called an assembly of the gods to deal with the situation. To satisfy the younger gods, Enki proposed that man should be created to be drudges. They agreed to this suggestion and summoned Nintu, the mother goddess, to cooperate with Enki in the project. Made from clay mixed with the blood of a sacrificed god (We-ila), man would be a mixture of the divine and human. We-ila's identity and nature remain obscure, and perhaps his name is a deliberate distortion of the word for man, awilum

Enki opened his mouth
And addressed the great gods,
"On the first, seventh, and fifteenth day of the month
I will make a purifying bath.
Let one god be slaughtered
So that all the gods may be cleansed in a dipping.
Let Nintu mix clay,
That god and man
May be thoroughly mixed in the clay" (22).

These instructions were then carried out, as is related in an almost word-for-word repetition of the instructions (23).

The date of man's creation has not previously attracted much attention. Purifying baths for the god to be sacrificed took place on the 1st, 7th, and 15th days of the lunar month. Though not exactly chronological weeks, these quarters of the moon are relatively close in length. The god's execution and the Creation of man apparently followed directly after the purifying bath on the 15th day of the month. This places man's creation at the end of one lunar quarter or ''week.'' Similarly the biblical creation of man took place on the 6th day of a 7-day week.

Although the name for the 7th day of the lunar month was derived from the number seven, the name for the 15th day of the lunar month — the day of the full moon — was derived independently from this numerical cycle: sa-pa-at-tu or sapattu (24). Since the second sign in this word can also be read as ba (25), this word can be read either as sapattu or as sabattu. The significance of this resemblance to the Hebrew word šabbat (the final case ending vowel has been lost in Hebrew) has long been debated (26). While there is no serious phonetic problem in linking these words, it has been unpopular because this word — if it is the same — has been applied to different objects in the two cultures. The Hebrews applied it to a rest day which recurred at the end of a 7-day week, while the Babylonians applied it to the day of the full moon which recurred monthly.

By linking sabattu/šabbat to the creation of man, the Atra-hasis Epic supports the idea that the names for these institutions may have been derived from the same source. Sabattu appears to have been the day in which We-ila was killed and his blood mixed with clay. This was the great initiating point in man's creation, though more steps in this process remained to be accomplished. The clay/blood mixture ensured that man would be a combination of the divine and human. IN A SENSE, THEREFORE, MAN WAS CREATED ON SABATTU. In Genesis man was created on the day before šabbat, but this difference is much less important than the over-arching connection between sabattu/šabbat and the creation of man. It is unlikely that such a specific linkage occurred in both accounts by chance. Both accounts can be traced to the same basic conception which was known to both cultures.

Therefore the idea of the link between Sabbath and the Creation of man can now be found in an extra-biblical source from the first half of the second millennium B.C., and as is commonly believed by Assyriologists, many elements in this type of story undoubtedly derived from still older written or oral traditions."

01 Dec 2005 Update:

As noted above, man was created on the 15th day of the month, the day of the fullmoon, called Shapattu.  A Chaldean priest-historian called Berossos in the 3rd century B.C. wrote a history of his peoples in Greek for his Hellenistic Greek overlords, in this history he made mention of a flood that appears to be based on much earlier Chaldean myths of the 2d millennium B.C., preserving the Shuruppak flood of ca. 2900/2800 B.C. (Ziusudra being the king of that city who built a boat rather like a great chest or box to save self, family and animals). What is most remarkable is that Berossos stated that the gods warned the flood hero, Xisuthros (a Greek rendering of Sumerian Ziusudra), that the flood would begin on the 15th day of Dasios. Is it possible that Berossos' statement is preserving an ancient Chaldean myth about the gods deciding to "terminate" mankind starting on the 15th day of the month, the day of the fullmoon, the Shapattu day? That is to say the myth "has come full-circle," man is created on the Shapattu day and his destruction will begin on that same day? In the Atrahasis myth we are informed the flood is sent by the gods to destroy man because they can get no rest by day or sleep by night due to man's noise on the earth. They will attain their "rest" by destroying him with the flood. So, on the 15th day of the month, the Shapattu day, the angry grieved hearts of the gods are to be pacified and appeased because the noise that disturbs and agitates them is to be ended with a flood. That is to say, man was created on the Shapattu day to ease the grieved hearts of the Annuaki gods who tired of the clamor of the Igigi gods on the earth who bemoaned their agricultural toil and no rest being granted them from this grievous labor, man being made to replace the Igigi. Now, the Annunaki and Igigi will have their grieved hearts appeased with the ending of man's clamor on the earth via a flood set to begin on the Shapattu day. As noted by the Atrahasis myth, _the Igigi's clamor was transferred onto man_ that is to say man's "noise" is because he has NO REST from his god-imposed agricultural labor on the earth.

Bibliography :

Jeremy Black & Anthony Green. p. 135. "Nanna-Suen (Sin)." Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary. London. British Museum Press. 1992.

Baruch M. Bokser. "Unleavened Bread and Passover, Feasts of."  p. 756. Vol. 6. David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday & Company. 1992)

Albert T. Clay. "The Hebrew Sabbath." pp. 117-123. The Origin of Biblical Traditions: Hebrew Legends in Babylonia and Israel. New Haven. Yale University Press. 1923.

Richard J. Clifford. pp.79-80, "Akkadian Texts, Atrahasis." Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible. Washington, D.C. The Catholic Biblical Association of America. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 26. 1994.

William W. Hallo, p.320, "New Moons and Sabbaths," in Frederick E. Greenspahn, Editor. Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East. New York. New York University Press. 1991.

W.G. Lambert, pp.106-107, "A New Look at the Babylonian Background of Genesis [1965], in Richard S. Hess and David T. Tsumura, Editors. I Studied Inscriptions From Before the Flood. Winona Lake, Indiana. Eisenbrauns. 1994.

Gwendolyn Leick.  "Nanna(r) Sumerian Moon-god." p.126.  A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology. New York. Routledge. 1991.

J. Morgenstern. "Sabbath."  p.135, Vol.4. George A. Buttrick, Editor. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville. Abingdon Press. 1962.

William H. Shea. A Comparison of Narrative Elements in Ancient Mesopotamian Creation-Flood Stories With Genesis 1-9. (Professor of Old Testament Studies. Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. 1984)

James C. Vanderkam."Calendars, Ancient Near East." p. 810. Vol. 1.  David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992)

Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer.p.107,  Inanna, Queen of Heaven, Her Stories and Hymns From Sumer. San Francisco. Harper & Row. 1983.

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