🔼The name Sabbath: Summary
- Rest, Cessation
- From the verb שבת (shabat), to cease or to rest.
🔼The name Sabbath in the Bible
Sabbath is the name of the last day of the week (Exodus 20:8). The Oxford Companion to the Bible notes that only this day is named while the rest of the days of the week are only numbered. In the Greek New Testament, the name Sabbath is spelled σαββατον, sabbaton. In Greek this word may also mean "week" (Matthew 28:1, Luke 18:2), and although this double function may seem a touch odd to native speakers of English, it also happens in other languages (for instance the modern Serbian word nedelja means both Sunday and week).
The Sabbath probably had several separate functions. The Sabbath is generally considered to have as primary function to provide people with some respite, but that's obviously too simple an explanation. Nature doesn't have Sabbaths and only lifestyles that allows planning and storing allows interruption of one's daily routine (it would exclude hunter-gatherers and herd-following nomads). A Sabbath is not for rest in general, it is rest from the commercial cycle, and although there is nothing wrong with commerce per se, commerce might prove to be quite intoxicating if one doesn't distantiate from it every seventh day (or every seventh year in case of a Sabbath Year; also see our article on Jubilee).
On the Sabbath, people had the opportunity to converse with others and take strolls or observe creation. It's not explicitly stated, but it would come as no surprise if most collective ideas, joys and offspring were conceived of on Sabbaths.
🔼Etymology of the name Sabbath
The name Sabbath has to do with the verb שבת (shabat), meaning to cease or to rest:
The verb שוב (shub) tells of a reversal in motion; the point where an upward motion becomes a downward one, or vice versa, or a westward motion an eastward one, and so on. This very frequently occurring verb is mostly translated with to turn or return, and is often used to mean to convert or return to a more fruitful way of life, and hence to restore, to retrieve or even to abstain, to reply and to repeat. Noun שובה (shuba) means withdrawal; noun שיבה (shiba) means restoration, and noun תשובה (teshuba) means answer. Adjectives שובב (shobab), שובב (shobeb) and משובה (meshuba) mean backsliding, or transitioning from a positive to a negative way of life.
Verb ישב (yashab) means to sit (the act which occurs precisely in between a person's descent and ascent) or to remain or dwell (in between traveling to and from some place). Nouns שבת (shebet) and מושב (moshab) mean both seat or dwelling place. Noun תושב (toshab) means sojourner.
The verb שבת (shabbat) means to rest or cease activity, and the familiar noun שבת (shabbat) means a rest or stoppage. Noun שבת (shebbet) means cessation and is closely similar to the noun שבת (shebet), meaning seat, mentioned above. Noun משבת (mishbat) also means cessation. Denominative verb שבת (shabat) means to keep the Sabbath and the noun שבתון (shabbaton) denotes a sabbatical observance.
Verb שבה (shaba) means to take captive, or to put a halt to someone's preferred trajectory and coerce them to go somewhere else. Nouns שבי (shebi) and שביה (shibya) mean captivity or captives collectively, but with the emphasis on being moved somewhere rather than the static condition of being imprisoned. Likewise, the noun שביה (shebiya) means captive. Noun שבית (shebit) or שבות (shebut) means captivity but since the parent verb speaks of a sudden change of destiny rather than a particular destination, this noun may also be used to mean restoration. The noun שבו (shebo) describes some sort of gem, apparently a real "head-turner."
The invention of the Sabbath, which marks the week, is a bit of a mystery. All other units of time, from year to month to day, even hours, have their roots in the celestial cycles but the week doesn't. Some scholars have tried to tie the Hebrew Sabbath to significant days in other cultures but no theory entirely satisfies. The week seems to be a Hebrew invention, and we have no idea why they did it or why it became such a hit all over the world.
It should also be noted that although the Sabbath (the Rest) is celebrated on one specific day of the week, it really says something about the week as a whole. The word shabbat indicates where one week turns into the next and the Oxford Companion's note that the Sabbath is the only day that is named may be explained by the idea that any collection is defined by its borders. After all, we comfortably speak of "the end of the road," but never about "one step before the end of the road". The "end of the road" says something about the whole road, and very little about the actual location where the road stops.
The name Sabbath means Rest, Severance or Cessation.