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Scripture 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. So, I'm curious about any customs or traditions they may have had. Also, what is the significance of the 7 days of mourning?

As I was trying to look this up and 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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    This seven days in V10 is in addition to the seventy days of V3. Joseph was important and Jacob was precious to Joseph.
    – Dottard
    Jan 23 at 20:37
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    None of my comments should be construed as a criticism of your good question. The main problem here is that answer concerns ancient customs which are only implicit in the Bible and not explicit. Thus, your question is not really asking about interpretation of the bible but an ancient custom. You may get further on the History Stack Exchange??
    – Dottard
    Jan 23 at 21:41
  • It is certainly about historical context and thus is not out of place here, but unless someone far more skilled than I am in ancient history (whose records are sketchy at best) the answer may be similarly vague. Indeed, one often takes these records has show the ancient historical customs, ie, as an historical source.
    – Dottard
    Jan 23 at 22:07
  • @Dottard I asked on the History site and will report back if there are any findings!
    – Jason_
    Jan 25 at 2:32

2 Answers 2

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I'm quoting this with permission from OldPadawan from the History Stack Exchange site and will add more if I find anything:

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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  • It seems to me completely obvious- but precisely that kind of obvious thing of which history will make no record - that 7 is a magic number mostly because it's the only number of similarly sized cylinders (sticks, stalks, arrows...) gatherable in a stable bundle, whether held in the hand, under an arm, or tied in a fascia. It's only that we live in the second or third century in all history when gathering the day's firewood or the harvest's stalks was not an essential part of daily life that the significance of 7 can be enigmatic in the first place.
    – g s
    Jan 29 at 3:11
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I can’t claim full understanding of the 7 days but I will offer what I believe to be a Heavily endorsement. While studying the book of Revelation, the 7th seal struck me odd. Seemed to be out of context. Silence in Heaven for about the space of half an hour. This follows the release of the Antichrist, Wars, Famine, Pestilence, Cries of Martyrs, a great Earthquake, then Christ unleashes Silence?

The parallel that came to mind was Job, mourning his loss for seven days by sitting in silence.

If you apply the same formula to this as in Ezekiel, a year for a day, and using the calendar God uses with Noah in Gen 8 showing a 360 day year, then you cross multiple and solve to see that Seven Days on Earth = 28 Minutes in Heaven (or about the space of half an hour).

I took this parallel to shine light on the 7th seal. Job mourned, then arose to curse the day he was born. God will mourn the loss and rejection of an ungrateful world (7th Seal), then He will hand out 7 Trumpet judgments.

Revelation 8:1-2 And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.

Job 2:13-3:1 So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great. After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.

Ezekiel 4:6 And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.

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