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Today it's Sunday. 7 days ago it was Sunday. 7000 days ago it was Sunday. But what about 70,000 days ago, 700,000 days ago, and 7 million days ago? Our current 7-day week cycle has not continued unbroken forever. So my question is, when did our current 7-day week cycle begin? Note that I'm not asking when any 7-day week cycle was invented, but rather the specific cycle we're still on.

Here is what Wikipedia says:

The continuous seven-day cycle of the days of the week can be traced back to the reign of Augustus; the first identifiable date cited complete with day of the week is 6 February AD 60, identified as a "Sunday" (as viii idus Februarius dies solis "eighth day before the ides of February, day of the Sun") in a Pompeiian graffito. According to the currently-used Julian calendar, 6 February 60 was, however, a Wednesday. This is explained by the existence of two conventions of naming days of the weeks based on the planetary hours system: 6 February was a "Sunday" based on the sunset naming convention, and a "Wednesday" based on the sunrise naming convention.

So February 6, 60 AD is the earliest identifiable date with a day of the week cited with it, but this was based on sunset naming convention, rather than the sunrise naming convention we use today. So what is the earliest identifiable date with a day of the week cited with it that is based on the sunrise naming convention?

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    The question isn't clear: Are you asking about the origin of the 7-day week, as in Babylon in all likelihood? About when people began to name days after the 7 planets visible to the naked eye? About when the current day cycle we're in began? (... which would vary based on the location, depending on when the Julian/Gregorian calendar got adopted.) – Denis de Bernardy Oct 30 '17 at 6:29
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    "7000 days ago it was Sunday" This is possible, but if you have a source for it it would already be part of the answer I suppose. – Evargalo Oct 30 '17 at 8:54
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    @Evargalo It's obvious. 7000 days ago is just 19 years ago. I don't know when our current 7-day week cycle began, but I'm sure it began earlier than 1998 :-) And any multiple of 7 days ago, as long it's after the current 7-day week cycle began, would be the same day of the week as it is today. So it should be clear that 7000 days ago it was the same day of the week as it is today. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 30 '17 at 12:45
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    The basque language (whose origin is still unknown) originally comprised only three week days: Astelehena, Asteartea, Asteazkena. We still preserve these days' names, to which at some moment in history the rest 4 days were added. So, I am looking forward to an answer. Just as curiosity, the meaning of the days are: - beginning of the week - middle of the week - end of the week – Mikel Urkia Oct 30 '17 at 14:09
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    Years ago I asked on a different forum whether we could be sure the Sabbath of Jesus of Nazareth's time was a multiple of 7 days from the Sabbath observed by Judaism today. Everyone seemed to feel it was but no hard evidence was forthcoming. – TheMathemagician Oct 30 '17 at 15:38
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Those who believe in the strict truth of the book of the Bible (I do not myself) would of course say it goes back to God's creation of the world, see Genesis Chapters 1 and 2

Most others say the week comes from Ancient Babylon, known directly from at least 500 BC but presumably older, if the Jewish religion absorbed it during the Captivity in Babylon which is thought to have ended 538 BC see:

https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/days/7-days-week.html

More information in Gerard Clarke's book 'Heirs to Lost Kingdoms'

The 7 day week's origins appear to be based on Babylonian Astrology, which knew 7 'planets' (i.e. wanderers in the sky, as opposed to the fixed constellations): Sun, Moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. Each was thought to 'rule' the first hour of hour of a day of the week. This made each day propitious for some activities but not for others, although there was not originally a Sabbath or a Weekend.

Hence why several religions that later developed in the Middle East have one day of a 7 day week as their Holy Day, but possibly also why there is no consensus as to which day it is: Wednesday for Yazidis, Thursday for Druze, Friday for Muslims, Saturday for Jews, Sunday for Christians. [For some reason no religion seems to like Mondays!?]

This took longer to spread to Europe. The 1st Century BC Roman writer and politician Cicero complained that the Jews were 'lazy' because they refused to work 1 day in 7.

His contemporary the Roman general Pompey had an advantage attacking Jerusalem in 63 BC because the Roman besiegers worked 7 days a week to build up ramps from which to attack the city walls while the pious Jewish defenders would only work to knock them down 6 days a week and stopped for the Sabbath.

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    This doesn't seem to answer the question (which was clarified in comments). – Ben Crowell Oct 31 '17 at 3:58
  • Babylon perpetuated the 7 days, but were not the originators of it. – Twelfth Nov 14 '17 at 19:47
  • I'd suggest a lunar origin for the 7-day week. The moon's cycle - month - is pretty close to 28 days, which is too long for practical use. But you can easily fit 2 (fortnight) or 4 (week) periods in the month. – jamesqf Nov 25 '17 at 18:21
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Timothy is somewhat correct with identifying Babylon, however the Babylonians only borrowed the system. Most of our time keeping dates all the way back to ancient Sumeria (2600BC-ish?) and is mentioned in the epic of Gilgamesh.

Earliest we can trace it is between 2600BC and 3000BC.

  • What's mentioned in the linked text are "seven day periods". It's not clear to me whether these were strung together to cover all of time. – Aaron Brick Apr 5 at 4:15

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