Today I Learned

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When Sunday is not the Sabbath – What You Don’t Know will Surprise You

Growing up as a Catholic, I was always told that the Sabbath was on Sunday. And, as far as I can tell, this is what most people in the Philippines think (and possibly most Christians for that matter).

This thinking is wrong.

So Wrong.

I often wondered why Sabbath sounds like Sabado, which is Saturday in Tagalog. This word, of course was a borrowed word from Spanish when the Spaniards colonized the Philippines. So I researched into it, and it turns out that the Sabado really is derived from Sabbath.

 

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Let’s look at the etymology of days.

The naming for the days of the week were originally derived from the Babylonian practice of naming the days from the Sun and the Moon, and five planets that they could see in the sky – Mercury,Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. This practice was later adopted by the Greeks, which in turn perpetuates it to the Romans.

The Greeks were the ones who assigned the names based on their gods. Hellenistic culture being the root of Western culture, was the most advanced and widespread culture of the era, and this had a huge impact on the Roman Empire, then the greatest civilization at the time. Now, Rome had a peculiar religious habit — any time they would conquer a people or annex them to the empire, they would worship the same Gods that their conquered people did. They would then syncretize these traditions, and viola! Zeus is Jupter, Aphrodite is Venus, Cronus is Saturn.

Later on, as Rome started to encompass Germanic tribes, these men with Nordic traditions would bring their Gods into the equation. The result is the gradual transformation of the Hellenistic day names to modern English day names. The Germanic peoples then localized Tuesday until Friday with their local equivalent Gods, but kept the Sun and Moon days as is, and also the Saturn. There’s just one God that is a bit puzzling — Odin is the one replacing Mercurius, but Odin is the All-Father, not the God of Speed. I wrote a lengthy piece to explain that one here.

DaysTable

On the other hand, romance languages like Spanish were derived directly from Latin, so they kept the Latin names instead of going Norse (English is a Germanic language). That’s why Luna, the Moon Goddess in Latin, became Lunes in Spanish. Domingo is Spanish for “The Lord’s Day” which was the other name for Sunday (more on that later). And most tellingly, the Latin name for Saturday is Sabbatum, which was derived directly from the Hebrew Sabat, which means “to rest.”

So now that we’ve established that the Sabbath really is Saturday, the next question on your mind should be:

 

Why do we go to Church on Sundays, and not Saturdays?

This one is a little tougher, and much longer, and there’s a lot of missing information I couldn’t find.  But here’s what I did find out.

In the Old Testament, book of Exodus we have the Ten Commandments. The 4th Commandment tells us to worship on the Sabbath.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” – Exodus 20:8

This has its roots in Genesis, the Creation Myth, where God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day, he rested.
“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” – Genesis 2:2-3

The Sabbath day is the 7th day, the day of rest and holiness.

The Jewish calendar originally did not have days named in the Hellenestic progression I detailed above, but they did number the days – the 1st day, 2nd, day, and so on until the 7th day. The 7th day is clearly the Sabbath day, or Saturday.

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Now, keeping the Sabbath is a distinctly Jewish tradition. But when Christianity was born around 00 AD, they branched off from the Jewish tradition and became their own religion. The key of Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ — this occurred on Sunday, the 8th day, or the 1st day of the new week. Easter occurs on a Sunday, right? That is why Sunday came to be known as The Lord’s Day.

In addition, the Church fathers then decided to celebrate worship on The Lord’s Day, the joyous day of celebration when Jesus came back from the dead. It is said that the early Church fathers Ignatius, Barnabas and Justin Martyr where the ones who moved the celebration date. Whether this is true or not is unclear, but what is clear are the writings they left behind which specify this change in the date of worship.

Ignatius in 110 AD wrote in his epistle to the Magnesians Chapter 9 Verse 1:

“If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny.”  Source

Justin Martyr on the other hand wrote in 140 AD in Chapter 67 of his First Apology:

“But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples.” Source

As you can see, the they specifically mention not to observe the old Sabbath, and instead have their assemblies on the day of the Sun, the Lord’s Day, Sunday.

The Sabbath Day is actually still Saturday, always has, always will be. Christians however decided to change it to Sunday, since this was the day when Jesus came back from the dead, and it also coincides with the 1st day when God created the world in Genesis.

Sundays

However, this poses some problems. The first one is that early Christianity was mostly Jews. They were people who were used to worshiping on the Sabbath. They had a Commandment from YHWH back in the days of Moses to keep the Sabbath. Would it be so easy for them to change days just like that?

So we look for another piece of the puzzle. At the time of the early Catholic Church around 00AD-400AD, the most popular religion of the time was the Cult of Mithraism. Mithraism is a pagan mystery religion from Persia which venerates Mythras, the Sun God. In Rome, he was equated to Sol Invictus, the Sun God, and his day of worship was on Sunday.

The funny thing about Mithras is that he shares many, many similarities with Jesus, including the virgin birth, his birthday on December 25, and his dying on a cross to save mankind, and his triumphant resurrection.  Does that sound crazy? Don’t take my word for it. The theory goes that Mithras is just one of many pagan gods who share similar traits to a whole pantheon of God Men collectively, they are referred to by writers Timoty Freke and Peter Gandy as Osiris-Dionysus. There are various sources you can read further like this and this, so you can do your own reading. Freke and Gandy wrote this in their book “The Jesus Mysteries.”

There were so many similarities that the early Church fathers came up with the explanation that the Devil (Mithras or whoever) time-travelled to the future and back to plagiarize Christianity and pre-empt Jesus. It was called Diabolic Mimicry. Justin Martyr for instances illustrates this diabolical mimicry response to explain away the pre-emptive God Men (Sons of Jupiter) in Chapter 54 of his First Apology (source)

“But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvellous tales, like the things which were said by the poets.” – Justin Martyr

So Diabolic!
So Diabolic!

Anyhow, to bolster the ranks of Christianity, the early Church fathers in Rome would have had to convert people from the dominant Pagan religion — Mithraism or any of the various pagan mystery cults around at the time, to Christianity. This wasn’t that hard — Mithraism as with most mystery religions was a bit of a secretive religion, and a hard one, with only men allowed, and years of study required in order to be ordained into the deeper mysteries. This form of Gnosticism was popular at the time, but it’s popularity waned in comparison to Christians, who were eagerly trying to get new recruits as their tenet was to “Spread the Good Word” and “Go Forth and Multiply.”

Surely the people were hurrying to flock to a much more friendly religion offering salvation! But why not sweeten the deal? Yes, let’s make the our traditions just like those of the Pagan cults! Let’s make Jesus’ birthday on December 25, just like Mithras. Let’s make him born of a virgin, just like Mithras. Let’s make him die on a cross, and resurrect. And what day was Mithraism’s holy day? Why the day of the Sun God of course, Sunday!

There are stories that say that it was Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of the Roman Empire, who changed the date of worship. This would be fine and dandy, but Constatine only became emperor in 306AD. We already have documents from St. Ignatius and company predating this by 200 years, stating that they had already made the change.

While it is more than likely true that it was Constantine and his declaration of making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire was the reason Christianity became the most dominant religion in the world today, prior to that changes had already taken place. Freke and Gandy had outlined this version of events in their book, where the pagan mysteries already had traditions and teachings that were adapted to Christianity in order to make it easier for the numerous Pagan Romans in the empire to relate to the new religion.

So the early Christians who were converted Jews had their ranks bolstered by pagan Romans who also converted to the faith. Once again, we see the hand of syncretism, just as the names of the days had been absorbed into the culture, so were the names of the gods and even the details of the story.

Whew

If this is all a little much to take in, I don’t recommend taking my word for it. A lot of this I just researched myself. If you are skeptical, but want to get closer to the truth (whether your own personal truth or mine), I suggest doing the research as well. The book that started me on this was The Jesus Mysteries by Freke and Gandy. It is available on Amazon, along with its two other volumes here and here. They are very interesting books, and whether you agree or disagree in the end, they are fascinating reads.

If you enjoyed what you have read or found it at all informative, I would like to ask you to support the site by using the affiliate links to buy the books. It would really help me a lot. It will go to paying for the upkeep of this website. Thanks

Affiliate Links:

The Jesus Mysteries

Jesus and the Lost Goddess

The Laughing Jesus

 

Odin

How did Mercury become Odin?

We all know who Mercury — the fast, sneaky and cunning God of Speed in Roman mythology for whom the planet Mercury was named. He is depicted wearing a winged helmet, wings on his ankles and carrying a caduceus. Mercury, however, is low on the god tier, he’s certainly no boss god like Jupiter, god of the sky and king of the gods. Indeed, Mercury is often seen as the errand boy, sent off on a menial task by his boss Jupiter.

Mercury as depicted in classical Roman art.
Mercury as depicted in classical Roman art.

We also know Odin — the king of the Aesir, father of Thor and Loki, the All-Father and the biggest boss in the Norse pantheon. He is so awesome that a whole bucketload of things were attributed to him: healing, death, royalty, knowledge, war, magic, poetry, runes, and even death itself.

Odin, the All Father
Odin, the All Father

So we’ve seen how far Odin, the All Father and the Big Boss, is different from Mercury, the errand boy of the gods. But somehow, somewhere, Odin became associated with Mercury to the point that the two were interchangeable! What sorcery is this? It is true, however. Wednesday, as in the day Wednesday, is named after Odin (or Woden in ancient English), but Wednesday during the days of the Roman Empire was named after Mercury (Dies Mercurii).

The thing is, the Roman Empire has this bad habit of interpreting every other culture they came in contact with using their own cultural understanding. This process is known as interpretatio romana. It’s the reason Greek mythology was incorporated into Roman mythology, but with the names of Roman gods. We all know how Jupiter is actually Zeus, and Mars is actually Ares, but I only learned today that Mercury is actually Odin!

We’ll even see that Roman historian Tacitus referred to Odin as Mercury. In his 1st Century work Germania, Tactitus writes about the religion of the Suebi, a tribe of Germanic people who follow the Norse pantheon. Here, he writes:

“Among the gods Mercury is the one they principally worship. They regard it as a religious duty to offer to him, on fixed days, human as well as other sacrificial victims. Hercules and Mars they appease by animal offerings of the permitted kind.” 

Here of course, Tacitus is using the Roman pantheon names in his text, but he clearly identifies Odin with Mercury, for Odin was the chief god that was primarily worshipped by the Germanic people. It’s unusual that Odin was not identified with Jupiter/Zeus, who is the equivalent supreme God in Roman mythology.

There are three possible reasons why Odin was associated with Mercury. From the research I’ve done, this is my best guess as to why Odin is the most associated with Mercury:

They were both Psychocomps – Psycho-what you say? Pyschocomp comes from the Greek word “Psuchopompos” which means “Guide of Souls.” A Psychopomp is a being that guides souls from the lands of life to the land of the dead. Examples of psychocomps are Charon of boatman fame, valkyries, the Grim Reaper, and various shinigami as you see in Japanese anime.  Shinigami, or Gods of Death, in other words, are very popular psychocomps.

Of all the psychocomps in the world, I had to choose the really ugly one.

Wait, did you say God of Death? Didn’t we say earlier that Odin was the God of Death? That’s right. Odin was a psychocomp. Half of all those who die gloriously in battle end up at Odin’s table in Valhalla where they become Einherjar and drink fine mead for all eternity until Ragnarok. Odin was also a potent necromancer, and and his ravens are traditionally seen as the birds of the dead.

Mercury as well was a psycocomp. He is the God of Boundaries, and led newly-deceased souls to the afterlife. When Pluto, god of the underworld took Proserpina, Jupiter and Ceres’ daughter, as his bride, Ceres the goddess of the harvest became so distraught that all the crops in the world began to wither. Jupiter, dismayed that humanity would starve to death, ordered Mercury to fetch Proserpina back from the underworld so that Ceres could concentrate on making farms work again. So Mercury did, being the awesome psychocomp that he is, and saved humankind from starvation.

They were both Tricksters – Mercury, the trickster God, has a well-known reputation for being sneaky and cunning. With his speed and devious intelligence, he runs circles around people with deception, stealthy fingers pilfering things and left and right, and gets the job done without nary any violence. But Odin is the Supreme God, why does he need to resort to trickery? And isn’t Loki, his son, the Trickster God?

While we may commonly give this role to Loki, as we’ve mentioned before Odin is so bad-ass that he does everything. That includes being tricky. Odin was a master of disguises, a shapeshifter, and aside from being the All-Father he was also known as the Changing One, the Two-Fold One and the Hidden One. Odin was said to often don disguises and lurk among mortals

They were both the most Popular Gods – as we’ve established, Odin was the most popular god in the Norse pantheon, worshipped above all others. What may come as a surprise is that Mercury apparently was also the most popular of Roman Gods, and not Jupiter. Archeological evidence in Pompeii suggests that Mercury was the most-worshipped god among the Roman pantheon, with Mercury appearing most often in household shrines. Mary Beard, in her book “Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town” details in her book: “Mercury is the most popular divine subject, closely followed by Egyptian Gods, with Venus, Minerva, Jupiter and Hercules, in that order.”

Here is the remnant of a house shrine from Pompeii with Mercury smack dab in the middle.
Here is the remnant of a house shrine from Pompeii with two images of Mercury and Bacchus on the right. In the middle is the Lares, or the hosuehold deity of the house.

While we can only attempt fathom why Mercury was the most popular, I get the feeling it has something to do with him being the God of Money.Yes, apparently back in the day, Romans were as materialistic as we are today.

 

So there you have it. While I still have trouble equating Mercury with Odin, there is no doubt that the early Romans associated Odin as Mercury in the same way that they made the association of Mercury with Hermes from the Olympian pantheon.