The stabilizing role of the Sabbath in pre-monarchic Israel:a mathematical model

Joseph Livni*, Lewi Stone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The three monotheistic cultures have many common institutions and some of them germinated in pre-monarchic Israel. Reasonably, the essential institutions were in place at that starting point; this work explores the possibility that the Sabbath is one of these institutions. Our mathematical examination points to the potential cultural, civic, and social role of the weekly Sabbath, that is, the Sabbath institution, in controlling deviation from social norms. It begins with an analogy between spread of transgression (defined as lack of conformity with social norms) and of biological infection. Borrowing well-known mathematical methods, we derive solution sets of social equilibrium and study their social stability. The work shows how a weekly Sabbath could in theory enhance social resilience in comparison with a similar assembly with a more natural and longer period, say between New Moon and Full Moon. The examination reveals that an efficient Sabbath institution has the potential to ensure a stable organization and suppress occasional appearances of transgression from cultural norms and boundaries. The work suggests the existence of a sharp threshold governed by the “Basic Sabbath Number ש0”—a critical observance of the Sabbath, or large enough ש0, is required to ensure suppression of transgression. Subsequently, the model is used to explore an interesting question: how old is the Sabbath? The work is interdisciplinary, combining anthropological concepts with mathematical analysis and with archaeological parallels in regards to the findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-221
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Biological Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2015


  • Cultural anthropology
  • Nonlinear dynamics
  • Periodic forcing
  • SIRS epidemic model
  • Sabbath
  • Social dynamics


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