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eight

1. the cardinal number that is the sum of one and seven and the product of two and four
2. a numeral, 8, VIII, etc., representing this number
3. Music the numeral 8 used as the lower figure in a time signature to indicate that the beat is measured in quavers
4. the amount or quantity that is one greater than seven
5. Rowing
a. a racing shell propelled by eight oarsmen
b. the crew of such a shell

Eight

To the early Christians the number eight represented several important religious concepts, including resurrection, redemption, and eternity. These associations also led to its linkage with the practice of baptism. The number eight acquired these meanings because Jesus rose from death on the day after the Jewish Sabbath, that is, on the eighth day of the week (for more on the Sabbath, see Sunday). Thus, the number eight functioned as a symbol of the Easter story and message in early Christian times.

Jewish Tradition and the Seven-Day Week

In the Jewish tradition in which Jesus was raised, people celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday. The Sabbath, a day of rest and worship, fell on the last day of a seven-day cycle which we today call a week. According to the Hebrew scriptures, God himself started this sevenday cycle at the beginning of time, creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh (Genesis 2:1-3).

Easter as the Christian Eighth Day

All four Gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection from the dead agree that it occurred on the day after the Jewish Sabbath, that is, on the first day of the Jewish week. This remarkable event so astounded the first Christians, however, that it shattered their view of the endlessly repeating cycle of the seven-day week. They began to view the day of the Resurrection as the eighth day of the week, because on that day God had added something utterly new to his Creation by raising Jesus from the dead. This symbolic eighth day of the week in fact coincided with the first day of the Jewish week. The early Christians found this overlap between the Jewish first day and the Christian eighth day extremely meaningful. In their eyes the first day of the Jewish week represented the beginning of the world and the creation of light, as told in the first chapter of the book of Genesis. The eighth day of the Christian week represented the beginning of a new kind of light and a new kind of creation, namely, the new relationship between God and humanity made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The association between the Resurrection and the eighth day convinced the early Christians to schedule their weekly worship services on Sunday rather than Saturday.

Baptism and the Number Eight

Because of its association with the resurrection of Christ, the number eight came to represent the spiritual themes associated with Easter, especially resurrection. It also symbolized redemption, salvation, and eternity. These themes also played an important role in the Christian sacrament of baptism, which the early Christians practiced primarily at Easter time. Early Christian architects constructed many octagonal, or eight-sided, baptisteries. The shape of these sunken tubs or small pools used for baptisms presented worshipers with a physical symbol connecting the ritual of baptism with the resurrection of Christ. Circular and hexagonal baptisteries also found favor among the early Christians.

Early Christians in northern Italy exercised an especially strong preference for octagonal baptisteries. On the baptistery of St. John for the Church of St. Thecla, in Milan, Italy, an inscription attributed to St. Ambrose (339-397) alludes to the sacred symbolism attached to the number eight:

Eight-niched soars this church destined for sacred rites, eight corners has its font, which befits its gift. Meet it was thus to build this fair baptismal hall about this sacred eight: here is our race reborn (Ferguson, 164).

Newly baptized members of the Christian faith observed special customs for eight days following their baptism. They attended church daily for special religious instruction and wore white robes to signify their joy and their new status as Christians. At the end of this eightday period they began their life as ordinary members of the congregation. By the fourth century, the eighth day after Easter was recognized as a feast day in its own right. Known today as Low Sunday, it marked the close of Easter Week and the end of eight days of Easter celebrations. This eight-day celebration sparked the invention of other eight-day periods of religious rejoicing following major Christian festivals. These eight-day periods are known as "octaves."

The Number Eight as a Christian Symbol

Although the Resurrection may have been the scriptural event that most influenced how Christians viewed the number eight, other Bible stories also colored their thinking. For example, Noah's ark saved eight people from drowning in the great flood (Genesis 7). This story furthered the connection between the number eight and the concept of salvation. It also linked the number eight with the image of water, an affinity which may also have influenced the preference for eight-sided baptisteries. Other events from Christian scripture further tie the number eight to Jesus' life and teachings. The Bible tells us that Jesus was circumcised and named on the eighth day after his birth, according to Jewish custom (Luke 2:21). Later in life, his famous sermon on the mount described eight beatitudes, or states of blessedness (Matthew 5:3-10).

Further Reading

Cabrol, Fernand. "Octave." In Charles G. Herbermann et al., eds. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Appleton, 1913. Available online at: Ferguson, Everett. "Baptistery." In his Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. Volume 1. New York: Garland, 1997. Hatchett, Marion J. Commentary on the American Prayer Book. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995. Metford, J. C. J. The Christian Year. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1991. ---. Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1983.

eight

eight
The Cuban-8.
An aerobatic maneuver in the shape of an “8.” It may be a horizontal or a vertical eight. Other versions of the maneuver are the Cuban eight and the lazy eight.
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