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I asked this question on the Biblical Hermeneutics site and they recommended I ask it here:

The Bible says in Genesis 50:10-11

10 Then they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and they mourned there with a great and very solemn lamentation. He observed seven days of mourning for his father. 11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a deep mourning of the Egyptians.” Therefore its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.

After Jacob died, they left Egypt and mourned for 7 days. It seems clear to the Canaanites that it was a deep mourning. 7 seems to have a rather large significance in the Bible. So, I'm curious about any customs or traditions they may have had. Also, what is the historical significance of the 7 days of mourning?

As I was trying to look this up I found something about Shiva.

The Rabbis of the Talmud cite Genesis 7:10 as the earliest instance of shiva: “And it came to pass, after the seven days, that the waters of the Flood were upon the earth.” The seven days, say the Rabbis, were a period of mourning for Methuselah, the oldest man who ever lived. In Genesis 50:10, the reference is made even more explicit. The text states: “And he [Joseph] mourned for his father [Jacob] for seven days.”

Also, a brief summary:

The funeral party spends seven days there joining together in the custom of loud and vigorous mourning. As is still practiced in many cultures today, this could include shouting, crying, and tearing of clothing. Joseph himself participated in this week-long mourning event.

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    Please let us know where you have looked already. Questions with prior research tend to be better received on Hist SE. Thank you. Jan 25 at 2:02
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    7 is of course a favorite number in The Bible, but I would imagine the Biblical Hermeneutics peeps could have told you that.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 25 at 2:03
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    @LarsBosteen Thank you! I should have known that. I added two of my findings!
    – Jason_
    Jan 25 at 2:30

1 Answer 1

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There are many reasons making "7" a reference and historical significance for different events. I'll enumerate them, and, hopefully, put all the pieces together at the end.

1. In Ancient Egypt, Marie Parsons, in "Childbirth and Children in Ancient Egypt", says that:

many children died to infection and disease. There was a high rate of infant mortality, one death out of two or three births.

The Egyptians were always anxious to now the future, and in order to ascertain the destiny of new-born children they relied upon the seven Hathors1, who hovered over a childs cradle and announced his destiny. Representations of these seven forms of the goddess appear in the tomb of Queen Nefertari and in various versions of the Book of Coming Forth by Day.

2. At 7 Days, Egyptian babies mark first rite of passage:

In Egypt, survival and the number 7 are inextricably linked. It's on the seventh day that a child's existence is first formally acknowledged to the world in a ritual that dates back to Pharaonic times. That ancient tradition is called the Sebou. El Soboo means, literally, the seventh day in Arabic2.

At this stage, it's important to note that Jews were living in Egypt, following/respecting the egyptian laws, rules and traditions. There are also Babylonian, Egyptian, Roman and Jewish influences that intertwin.

3. A interesting workshop has been held at UCL: the origins of the seven-day week:

The seven-day week stems from two distinct traditions: the Biblical week of the Sabbath, and the astrological, planetary week.

4. Discover Magazine wants to thank the Babylonians for our seven-day week:

Some of the earliest civilizations observed the cosmos and recorded the movements of planets, the Sun and Moon. The Babylonians, who lived in modern-day Iraq, were astute observers and interpreters of the heavens, and it is largely thanks to them that our weeks are seven days long.

The reason they adopted the number seven was that they observed seven celestial bodies — the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. So, that number held particular significance to them.

5. Shiva, the First Seven Days of Mourning explains that:

after the burial, mourners return home (or, ideally, to the home of the deceased) to sit for seven days. Shiva is simply the Hebrew word for seven. During the shiva week, mourners are expected to remain at home and sit on low stools. This last requirement is intended to reinforce the mourners' inner emotions.

There are seven relatives for whom a Jew is required to observe shiva: father or mother, sister or brother, son or daughter, and spouse.

And there are also interesting facts/theories in The Enigmatic Seven that explain why 7 is of such great importance. In The Origin of the Jewish Week, Nature has an interesting point of view and discusses facts and theories.

Now, glued together, we have 7-days weeks, 7-days celebrations, 7 planets, 7 deities, 7-days multi-cultural events, it seems logical to say that a 7-days mourning is an event that started because it's a geographical and historical probability, because traditions and customs from different people were mixed.


1. "Egyptian texts often speak of the manifestations of the goddess as "Seven Hathors" Hathor

2. the exact wording اليوم السابع should be confirmed by Arabic speaking people.

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    +1. This is a really informative answer! I appreciate it. Do you mind if I quote you on the Hermeneutics site?
    – Jason_
    Jan 25 at 21:46
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    Thanks. You can use anything you want :)
    – OldPadawan
    Jan 25 at 21:49

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