Why Do Christians Use Pagan Weekday Names?

OK, my Christian friends, dish!  How did y’all get mixed up with this crowd:

http://www.pantheon.org/miscellaneous/origin_days.html

I tried being a Quaker for five years, and was quite content that they call the days, in English, like we do in Hebrew:  First Day, Second Day, etc., except that being Christian, they celebrate the Sabbath on First Day, and call the Sabbath Saturday, which Jesus certainly never did.

In Hebrew there is only one name for the day before First Day, and that is Shabbat.  The word Shabbat is of course the root for our English word Sabbath.  In Israel, even non-religious Jews (and Hebrew-speaking Christians!) call the day English speaking Christians call Saturday, “Shabbat”–because there isn’t any other name for it. (O.K., some also say “Shabbos,” which is a mispronunciation originating from the European exile, which persists in English speaking communities and also as a kind of term of endearment in Hebrew speaking congregations.)

We Hebes call it Shabbat because the word comes from the verb form “lashevet,” which means “to sit down.”  The whole idea is to stop all weekday activities and pay attention to the stillness.  (And eat, drink, sing, dance, pray, study religious texts, walk in the park, dress up, do nothing, enjoy being alive, anything but work.)  Stop everything, just stop, because in everything we do we try to walk in the ways of God, and if He rested on Shabbat, I guess we ought to try to, anyway.  Plus which, it says so in the Torah:

“And on the seventh day He rested, from all the work He had created for Himself to do.”

Now, this is one of the most fascinating statements in the Torah, to me, but I will leave you to think about it on your own while I return to the topic at hand.

Why do Christians use Pagan names for the days of the week?

At first I thought, aha!  It had to be the Romans’ fault, because of the Herodian occupation of Jerusalem and all that.

But wait!  Sunday is named for the sun, in English, as is Mo(o)nday, Tuesday is for the Norse god Tyr, Wednesday, for Woden, again Norse.  Thursday we are still stuck in Norseland with Thor, also Friday, which this article says is for some goddess named Frigg, but I have also heard Freya, and Saturday actually gets back to Rome and Saturn and the beastly Saturnalia.

So how did Christians get mixed up with the Norse pantheon in the first place?  I don’t know.  Do you?

Another thing I’d like to know is how and why Christians ended up switching the Sabbath to First Day.  Whose idea was that?  The Romans?  The Greeks?  I guess Constantine.  He wanted to make everything all different.  Anybody know?

And how about the days themselves?  Everyone knows the day ends when the sun goes down.  In Hebrew Time, a day lasts from sunset to sunset.  Who came up with this midnight-to-midnight scheme?  Probably the same geniuses who brought us daylight savings time.  Messing with the clocks!  Heresy, I tell you!

I hope that no one thinks I am being at all facetious or disrespectful here.  I have been pondering this for years, and here I am with all you wonderful Christian Bloggie friends, so let’s have it:

Why?

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28 Comments

  1. A long time ago, I had a discussion with a lovely lady of Baha’i faith and her explanation made sense; the Christians in those days (I guess Roman Catholics) not too sure…changed the days to attract the pagans to convert. Not to cool actually.

    Reply
    • Well, considering that they did that during the days of forced conversions everywhere, that certainly makes sense. In the Andes there is a festival called “San Juan Fishta,” or Saint John’s Day Festival, in which the nominally converted Qichua Indians dress up in giant puppets that mock the Conquistadors, while singing nominally Catholic songs in Qichua that mock the Church. And at the same time, they are a very religious people. But they have, unfortunately, abandoned, under torture, their amazing wonderful culture, their celestial calendar that they engraved into the rocks of the pre-Inca, pre-conquest bones of their sky-earth…

      Reply
      • It is a shame when I think back at all the bad they did in the past.

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        • I think that’s the risk every corporate conglomerate takes: are they going to be philanthropists, or are they going to take the money and run? Alexander the Great had a brilliant strategy. Hee would offer each new conquest a choice: swear loyalty to me, and you can keep your language, culture, religion…But if I have to go to war and conquer you, then you will also be Greek, adopt Greek language and customs….And therefore, he seldom did much fighting.

          Reply
          • Interesting here in Quebec, the Brits let us keep our language and religion and it has been a struggle keeping it surounded by English Canada and America. Of course I am English mother tongue and part French, so I am stuck between a rock and a hard place living here but it’s my home.

            Reply
    • My understanding, too. Christians co-opted pagan rituals to ease conversion.

      Reply
  2. I agree with other comments. It was to convert the Pagans. This is why there is St. Nick, the easter bunny, etc. Religion is a big business. They must get the followers or the ‘business’ goes out of fashion.

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    • Yes, but why change the Sabbath from Shabbat to First Day?

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      • I can only offer a guess… that yet again, the spur religion must be close but not quite like the last. Like Yule to Saint Nick to Santa Clause. I don’t know enough about Judaism to offer a better guess.

        Reply
        • Judaism is simple on the surface…But thousands of years of oral tradition, interpretation, conflicting opinions, have made it incredibly rich, and incredibly complicated. The written commentaries, originally redacted in 200 c.e., now have so many commentaries on the commentaries that the printed editions take up whole walls. And then there are the musical traditions and commentaries, that are said to originate with Adam…But hey, I’m in Colorado camping on the Mineral Creek between Silverton and Ouray, and my new Malinois just discovered she likes to swim, and I have a headache of the 10,000 feet kind, which I am enjoying in a perverse kind of way…Now to pick up the dog food that’s spilled for the 100th time over rough roads, yay! And as soon as I can afford to I’m selling this city rig and buying one of those new high clearance four wheel drive camper vans.

          Reply
  3. So Sabbath is Sunday or Saturday? Jews celebrate Sabbath on what day and what is the importance of lighting those special candles.

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    • We light the candles 18 minutes before sundown on Yom Shishi, which is Friday evening on the civil calendar. After that, no work may be done until one hour after sundown Saturday night. That 25 hour period is Shabbat. There is a definition of “work”: the 39 types of work that were employed in the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert, by Moses. In Israel, Saturday is called Shabbat even by non-religious people, because that’s the name of the day!

      Reply
    • Oh, and the candles represent the holy vision of Adam, who was able to see from one end of the Universe to the other. Also the special light that Shabbat brings into our lives. Lighting the candles is for women and girls, and our prayers at that time are especially powerful. Single men will light them also, but that is purely ritual and has no power.

      Reply
    • If one happens to be in the desert and has lost track of time, one can designate any day as the Sabbath. Otherwise, it was set during the Days of Creation and observed ever since. Other religions observe how they observe. Do you have a Sabbath day?

      Reply
  4. I am v much getting interested in Kaballah. Can it predict our future or give answers to our questions.?

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  5. Laura, I found your site reading your comments on Zoe’s “Burn” post. I was really drawn to you because we’re about the same age, and I can relate to your pain over all the things you’ve lost. I too never pulled out of it enough to go back to university life or resume teaching, which is a great passion of mine. I’ve recovered amazingly well, but the life I’m living is not the one I “signed up for.”

    God’s faithfulness has been a major determinate of my survival and my thriving. I worship Him in the context of Christian faith, but have a great longing to fellowship with Jews who won’t immediately throw up a wall against me. We had a speaker in our home church who had a Jewish background, and his teachings really sparked something in my soul. In a Christian culture that is presently obsessed with demonic infighting over boys kissing boys, I think we’re simply ignoring the most important challenge to our faith – which is the unholy divide between Jews and Gentiles.

    I ran into a Jewish group promoting Christian faith in Israel, and in one of their very detailed posts, (they send out long meditations on the Torah being read each Shabbat) they proposed that the shift from Shabbat to Sunday worship was a deliberate act by Constantine to shun Jews. I can’t verify the scholarship, but my heart says there really is an unspoken dark side to the “embracing pagans” explanations we usually hear.

    Thank you for your work, and thank you for your willingness to persist in living despite the ordeals of bipolar.

    Bless you
    Sande

    Reply
  6. I think it’s of the evangelical nature of the early church, Each Gospel account is directed toward specific groups.

    Christianity begins as a Jewish Sect, but you are right, when Constantine converts to Christianity the break from Judaism is complete…and the Roman Empire successfully secures a form of global dominance that persists to this day.

    Reply

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