7 in Jewish Lore

The Hebrew bible (Old Testament) is filled with all kinds of special numbers: 500, 40, 70, 3, 12, etc. These numbers are used whenever a number is needed to fill in a hole in the story, especially in places of great significance, like the number of the days of creation or the age of David when he took the throne*. Where do these numbers originate? Some of them may be just large round numbers. Others are a bit of a mystery. But, here is a passage from Jewish historian Flavius Josephus’s (37-100 CE) Antiquities of the Jews that might shed some light on the significance of the number 7:

Over against this table, near the southern wall, was set a
candlestick of cast gold, hollow within, being of the weight of
one hundred pounds, which the Hebrews call Chinchares, if it be
turned into the Greek language, it denotes a talent. It was made
with its knops, and lilies, and pomegranates, and bowls (which
ornaments amounted to seventy in all); by which means the shaft
elevated itself on high from a single base, and spread itself
into as many branches as there are planets, including the sun
among them. It terminated in seven heads, in one row, all
standing parallel to one another; and these branches carried
seven lamps, one by one, in imitation of the number of the
planets. These lamps looked to the east and to the south, the
candlestick being situate obliquely.
-Flavuis Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3, chapter 6, section 7

Don’t think it can get much plainer than that. Numbered after the 7 planets. What were considered the 7 planets at the time and wy were they significant? The seven planets were:

  1. Sun
  2. Moon
  3. Mercury
  4. Venus
  5. Mars
  6. Jupiter
  7. Saturn

These were the objects the ancients knew about that moved independently of the rest of the night sky. And, they didn’t move in a simple fixed pattern. Anyone that has had basic earth science in grade school knows that early attempts to model the movement of the planets took some complicated models until Kepler came along with the solution in the 16th century CE.

From what I’ve gleemed over the years this ancient mystery concerning the movement of the planets is the basis of the meme “Seventh Heaven”. Since all of these planets moved independently from the sky and also independently of each other, they were thought to exist on different planes from each other, like a series of concentric domes.

The top most level would be the holiest level, the level God Almighty resides in. The lower levels would be inhabited by supernatural, but less holy, creatures. These realms are the inhabitants of the subjects of myths and there are stories, such as Plutarch’s recording of Isis and Osiris, that speak of their ascension and descension between realms. It appears that in the myths, when supernatural creatures descended levels, they took on the inferior qualities of that lower realm (at least as I understand it).

When applied to mythology, this multi-layered heaven theory makes a few of the appearances of Yahweh in the Bible make a bit more sense (internally to the myth, of course).

Yahweh, when visiting down on earth, took human form and could be seen (in the tent of meeting with Moses, eating dinner with Abraham, or walking through the garden of Eden in the “cool of the day”). However, when humans went up into the heavens to see him, like when Moses climbed the mountain, he was still in his godlike form and could not show himself. Angels, as well, are usually seen as being insubstantial beings, yet, once angels descended down to earth, they took a form that allowed them able to mate with human females, as in Genesis 6. Fun stuff, the Bible. Wild and wacky.

*In David’s case we get a trifecta of special numbers: He took the throne at 30, reigned for 40 years, which gives us a total of 70. As a bonus, he took control over all Judah and Israel after 7 years of rule.

Explore posts in the same categories: Beliefs and Superstitions, religion, The Bible

3 Comments on “7 in Jewish Lore”

  1. Ellie Says:

    Truly interesting. I never knew that about the Seventh Heaven.

    Looks like an interesting blog. I just discovered it doing a search on Odin and Santa. But, by the way, saying that reading the blog is a denial of the Holy Spirit is nonsense. I’m a faithful Episcopalian and I’m quite certain that censoring one’s reading is not necessary to avoid denying the Holy Spirit. Sheesh!

    But, I know. You’re being ironic and pulling people’s (read: fundamentalists) chain.

    • Well, denying the holy spirit would have to be a conscious action, of course. Most comments on it seem to think it’s a reference to Jesus which the verse from Mark makes pretty clear it’s not. It’s more of a comment on Fundies tendency to claim people can sin without knowing it (watching Star Wars or Harry Potter or being Catholic, etc, being tantamount to Satan worship.)

  2. […] News” Bible), that the Earth was flat, the universe revolved around it, and there were multiple layers of the heavens, each inhabited by different celestial beings. It does come to a point where you either have to […]

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