Post-Flood Archaeological Evidence of the Seven-Day Week
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In the very beginning of Genesis, God established the seven-day weekly cycle. He worked the first six days, fashioning and forming the face of the earth. On the seventh day He rested and thus established the Sabbath as a memorial of Creation. This continuous seven-day cycle was understood in the early days of mankind. Archaeological evidence supports that humanity was aware of it even after the flood!
In Genesis chapters 6 through 8, we learn about the world-wide flood that happened in the days of Noah. He was instructed to take his family along with some of all animals, including seven pairs of clean animals and two pairs of unclean animals, onto an Ark or large boat. God gave him the instructions to construct this boat so that it would house them all. Noah also understood the concept of the original seven-day week. This is evident in the flood story.
We have some examples below: “For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights…And it came to pass after the seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth” (Genesis 7:4, 10, KJV).
“6 and it came to pass at the end of the forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: and he sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. 8 and he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; 9 but the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark; for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; and brought her in unto him in the ark 10 And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; 11 and the dove came in to him at eventide; and, lo, in her mouth an olive-leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. 12 And he stayed yet other seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more” (Gen 8:6-12, KJV).
After the flood, there were only three families that started the process of repopulating the earth: the three sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) and their wives. The first immediate generations of these three families would have also been familiar with the seven-day cycle.
The Biblical account informs us that people were scattered from a central location in the Middle East (Genesis chapter 11; other cultures have similar stories about this event as well). This means that they started traveling in other directions and developed their own language. Moreover, they developed stories about Creation and the flood. Many ancient cultures had some form of a flood story. These were deviations from the original one that occurred in the days of Noah.
There is archaeological evidence that the immediate post-world flood knew something of the seven-day cycle. We will look at two findings that discuss the seven-day weekly cycle in a manner similar to the account of Noah and the flood. They both date to a time not long after the flood (between 2100-1900 BC).
The first account comes from Sumer, which was an ancient civilization between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in Iraq. In their account, the flood lasted seven days and nights.
“All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, attacked as one, At the same time, the flood sweeps over the cult-centers. After, for seven days (and) seven nights, The flood had swept over the land…” (Pritchard, p 44).
The next ancient reference comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the oldest recorded epic in history. It tells the story of a man named Gilgamesh. He was on a quest to find Utnapishtim, who survived the great flood by boarding a ship. Gilgamesh wanted to learn the key to eternal life.
In the story, there are three references to the seven-day cycle. In the first reference, the flood subsided on the seventh day. In the second reference, Utnapishtim released a dove on the seventh day (just like in the story of Noah). In the third reference, Utnapishtim asked Gilgamesh to stay awake for seven days. On Tablet 11, we read the following:
“Six days and [six] nights Blows the flood wind, as the south-storm sweeps the land. When the seventh day arrived, The flood (-carrying) south-storm subsided in the battle… On Mount Nisir the ship came to a halt. Mount Nisir held the ship fast, Allowing no motion. One day, a second day, Mount Nisir held the ship fast, Allowing no motion. A third day, a fourth day, Mount Nisir held the ship fast, Allowing no motion. A fifth, and a sixth (day), Mount Nisir held the ship fast, Allowing no motion. When the seventh day arrived, I sent forth and set free a dove…The dove went forth, but came back; Since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round. Then I sent forth and set free a swallow. The swallow went forth, but came back; Since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round. Then I sent forth and set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, He eats, circles, caws, and turns not round. Then I let out (all) to the four winds And offered a sacrifice….That the life which thou sleekest thou mayest find? Up, lie not down to sleep For six days and seven nights.”…Up, bake for him wafers, put (them) at his head, And mark on the wall the days he sleeps.” She baked for him wafers, put (them) at his head, and marked on the wall the days he slept. His first wafer is dried out, the second is gone bad, the third is soggy; the crust of the fourth has turned while the fifth has a moldy cast, the sixth (still) is fresh-colored; the seventh—just as he touched him the man awoke” (ibid, pp 94-95).
These two ancient findings illustrate how the seven-day week at one time had universal exposure after the global flood. They are located in a region many historians call “the cradle of civilization.” It was among the first places that the descendants of Ham, Shem, and Japheth settled. Indeed, all humans would have been near each other for a time immediately after the flood. They were all closely related! The uses of the seven-day cycle in these flood stories mirrors the Genesis account (Gen. 7:4,10; 8:10-12).
One major difference is that the Sumerian and Babylonian accounts never connected the seventh day to the deities of their culture. But remember that they also did not worship the God of the Bible. They were polytheists who worshipped multiple gods.
But even in their amended stories about the flood, they bear witness to Biblical truth and the God-established weekly cycle.
At some point after the flood, ancient cultures tried to establish their own weekly cycles. Some of them were tied to the heavenly bodies. However, they failed to supplant the seven-day weekly cycle. In past articles, we reviewed failed attempts to change the seven-day cycle (click here to read more about this subject).
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org