Brief Reviews, VOLUME 4

Brief Review: SUNDAY by Craig Harline [Vol. 4, #24]

A Brief Review of

Sunday: A History of the First Day
from Babylonia to the Super Bowl
Craig Harline.
Now Available in Paperback!
Yale UP, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon ] [ Amazon – Kindle ]

Reviewed by Jasmine Wilson.

The summer after I graduated from high school, I worked at McDonald’s. I was the new person that summer, and even though I had indicated I did not want to work on Sunday, I was told by the manager that that’s the day everyone wanted off, and I pretty much would not get hired unless I agreed I could work that day. I ended up agreeing to work Sunday morning, especially since my church had services Saturday night I could attend.

This anecdote illustrates a number of fascinating things about how we treat the day Sunday in the contemporary world. First, it still has some aspects of sacredness and resting, prompting many, religious or not, to try not to work on that day. Second, there is no longer the legalism of past decades and centuries in which working on Sunday led to social ostracism, since it was one of the pastor’s favorite sermon topics. These are a few of the many points Craig Harline articulates in his book, Sunday: A history of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl.

Harline is a historian at Bringham Young, but he writes in a way that is incredibly accessible to any audience. He begins the book with discussion about the origins of Sunday and the seven day week in general; both the Babylonians and the Jews came up with the seven day system, and it’s hard to tell which came first; but there are differences between the systems, mainly that the Jews picked Sunday as a more important day than all the rest, the “first day” in fact. Harline speculates later that it’s kind of erroneous to call Saturday and Sunday the “week end” considering Sunday is considered the first day. Harline also explains the treatment of Sunday by the early Christians, and the different ways it interacted with both the Roman and the Jewish treatment of Sunday.

Throughout the rest of the book, Harline goes on a journey around the world, to England in the middle Ages, the Netherlands in the time of the Reformation, Paris in the 1890s, Belgium during WWI, back to England for the period between the wars, and then finally to the US from the 1950s to today. I especially found the beginning part and the end part the most interesting, but it was still really interesting to observe those time periods and cultures through the lens of what it was like on Sunday verses the rest of the week. The themes that occurred over and over is that Sunday has been a disputed day of work or rest throughout history, and the religious and the secular have at times been at odds, but often even religious people find rationalities for opening their stores on Sunday (the Methodist, J.C. Penny, for instance), or playing football.

“For much of the Western world there simply isn’t another day that stands out the way Sunday does,” Harline reflects, and his long treatment of the subject illustrates the truthfulness of that fact and its complexity. Cultural activities like Sunday promenades, Sunday football, Sunday naps, Sunday papers, etc. all are given cultural contexts and historicity.  At times Harline writes in a way that feels a little too accessible; one wonders, for instance, how much of his storytelling is from actual historical accounts or is he elaborating on his own, but the extensive bibliography indicates Harline did his homework. Even though there were parts that were of little interest to me, since his topic was so incredibly broad, I still found a lot of interesting gems and facts to share at dinner parties. For instance, did you know a favorite Sunday activity for many Belgians was dove racing? That is, before the Germans ordered all of them killed when they occupied the country during World War I.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

Enter your email below to sign up for our weekly newsletter & download your FREE copy of this ebook!
We respect your email privacy

In the News...
Christian Nationalism Understanding Christian Nationalism [A Reading Guide]
Most AnticipatedMost Anticipated Books of the Fall for Christian Readers!
Funny Bible ReviewsHilarious One-Star Customer Reviews of Bibles

Comments are closed.