Origin of the Seven-Day-Week

An ongoing discussion on CALNDR-L

Original emails were slightly edited. Email addresses were removed to avoid spam by robots.

Date: Thu, 21 May 1998
To: CALNDR-L
From: Kevin Tobin
Subject: Seven Day Week Origin

Dear Temponauts

Lance Latham wrote:

>Does anyone know of a natural calendar which does not use the common
>7-day week?
>
> ... traditional Japanese and the Chinese. A 7-day week is known for the
> latter, but is a "Western import".
>

Lance you've mentioned this as a fact several times. What is your source on this importation of the seven day week to China? As time and calendars are such a conservative institution and the Chinese such a conservative people, I have my doubts that it is an import of less than 4,000 years ago. The same cycle of seven days appears in Burma and also in Vedic India. Interestingly, even the Nez Perce of the Pacific NorthWest kept a seven day week as a part of their "Seven Drum Religion". Much of their cosmology is astronomical (as is nearly everyones), but I haven't located an elder yet who could tell me if their days correspond in any way to the "visible" planets. AS to China, my knowledge is only anecdotal, gained from afriend who has studied within a very old Taoist lineage in Beijing, that the seven day cycle in the familiar order of planets corresponds to the human gestation cycle of ten 28 day months, forty weeks in the development of a child. The lunar calendar began in China approximately 2,000 BCE with an alignment of five planets not dissimilar from the alignment that will occur on May 5th 2,000 CE.

The seven day cycle may or may not have been part of that system at that time.

At any rate, the origins of the seven day cycle are mysterious indeed. If as many have theorized, it comes to us from Babyolon, then probably it was also known in Sumer before that - as most if not all of the cosmology of Babylon is a corrupted version of the higher knowledge of the much earlier Sumer. But the fact that the culture of Sumer appeared with all its institutions complete 6,000 years ago only adds to the mystery. Incidentally, Sitchen suggests in The Wars of Gods and Men that with the disaster that struck Sumer, or rather Akkadia, at the beginning of the Age of the Ram, circa 2,000 BCE, writing began in China in a form that resembled very closely the Sumerian cuneiform. Perhaps it was at that point that the cultural exchange took place resulting from diaspora.

This question of the seven day week's origin is an important one because it is our oldest unbroken and most universal institution of time. It is a template of original knowledge [emphasis not in original email]. The seven visible planets that it represents are an integral part of nearly every great religion and mystical tradition, though within Christianity they are mostly hidden. I invite all comments on this subject.

Kevin Tobin


Date: Fri, 22 May 1998
To: CALNDR-L
From: Bill Hollon
Subject: Seven Day Week Origin

Tobin wrote:
> ... What is your source on this
> importation of the seven day week to China? As time and calendars are such a
> conservative institution and the Chinese such a conservative people, I have my doubts
> that it is an import of less than 4,000 years ago...
>
> This question of the seven day week's origin is an important one because it is
> our oldest unbroken and most universal institution of time. It is a template of
> original knowledge. The seven visible planets that it represents are an integral part
> of nearly every great religion and mystical tradition, though within Christianity
> they are mostly hidden. I invite all comments on this subject.

Bill Hollon replies:

My understanding is that Chinese borrowed the 7-day week from India at the time Buddhism was introduced into China (perhaps 2,000 years ago). India, in turn, got it from Greeks, who probably borrowed the system from Babylonia.

Bill H.
-----------------------------------------------------------
Los Angeles http://www.greenheart.com/billh


Date: Wed, 3 Jun 1998
To: CALNDR-L
From: Lance Latham
Subject: Seven Day Week Origin

> ... traditional Japanese and the Chinese. A 7-day week is known for the
> latter, but is a "Western import".

> Lance you've mentioned this as a fact several times. What is your source on this
> importation of the seven day week to China? As time and calendars are such a
> conservative institution and the Chinese such a conservative people, I have my doubts
> that it is an import of less than 4,000 years ago.

The original Chinese calendar (in the sense that the Shang dynasty is our first historical, and can be counted as "original") seems to have been a cyclic affair of 60 days and, later, 60 years. This is not dissimilar to the Maya scheme of counting with the 'tzolkin' and 'haab' cycles, which produce a derivative 52-year cycle. Such cultures, as far as we can determine, seem to start with cycles which are based on rather short-term considerations tied to religion, and produce derivative cycles in years which roughly correspond to a human lifetime. At first, there is no attempt to keep records beyond such a span.

There really is no evidence for a 7-day cycle in early Chinese history. When it appears, it is only after known contact with the West, and it clearly appears as an appended system.

There is no agreement on WHEN the 7-day cycle was introduced. Some authors claim that it was introduced by commercial trade around the beginning of our era, from Rome, via India. Others claim that it was introduced from Babylonia, via Central Asia, even earlier. Others claim that it was REALLY introduced when Jesuit missionaries brought it along in the 17th century. This school of thought points out, quite rightly, that earlier allusions to a 7-day cycle can be interpreted in various ways. Still others claim that it was introduced from Europe through the Golden Horde in central Asia.

>The same cycle of seven days
> appears in Burma and also in Vedic India. Interestingly, even the Nez Perce of the
> Pacific NorthWest kept a seven day week as a part of their "Seven Drum Religion"
> Much of their cosmology is astronomical (as is nearly everyones), but I haven't
> located an elder yet who could tell me if their days correspond in any way to the
> "visible" planets.

I would tend to take Amerindian results with a large grain of salt. Our problem is that oral traditions tend to confuse fairly recent events as being "ancient of old" - anything over a hundred years or so can be told as original myth. There are just too many instances in the literature where events which can be historically placed are incorporated into tribal lore as very old. On that basis alone, I would tend to believe that any 7-day week cycle was European in origin. Second, I see no evidence in Amerindian calendric practice for such a cycle. What we do see is a strong tendency to count days within lunations, and record several lunations within a period of several years.

>AS to China, my knowledge is only anecdotal, gained from a
> friend who has studied within a very old Taoist lineage in Beijing, that the seven
> day cycle in the familiar order of planets corresponds to the human gestation cycle
> of ten 28 day months, forty weeks in the development of a child. The lunar calendar
> began in China approximately 2,000 BCE with an alignment of five planets not
> dissimilar from the alignment that will occur on May 5th 2,000 CE. The seven day
> cycle may or may not have been part of that system at that time.
> At any rate, the origins of the seven day cycle are mysterious indeed. If as
> many have theorized, it comes to us from Babyolon, then probably it was also known in
> Sumer before that as most if not all of the cosmology of Babylon is a corrupted
> version of the higher knowledge of the much earlier Sumer. But the fact that the
> culture of Sumer appeared with all its institutions complete 6,000 years ago only
> adds to the mystery. Incidentally, Sitchen suggests in The Wars of Gods and Men that
> with the disaster that struck Sumer, or rather Akkadia, at the beginning of the Age
> of the Ram, circa 2,000 BCE, writing began in China in a from that resembled very
> closely the Sumerian cuneiform. Perhaps it was at that point that the cultural
> exchange took place resulting from diaspora.

I have a copy of Churchward's "The Children of MU" which would argue for even "higher" knowledge and an even bigger "disaster". We are on pretty swampy ground here, I suspect.

Also, I see little potential in pursuing similarities between pictographic forms of writing. You can see "similarities", e.g., between the early cursive Egyptian glyphs used by priests for writng on papyrus, and Chinese characters. The resemblance is striking in a few cases. But the fact that 2 cultures settle on similar simplified forms in some cases, when both are using essentially pictographic systems, does not prove contact.

> This question of the seven day week's origin is an important one because it is
> our oldest unbroken and most universal institution of time. It is a template of
> original knowledge. The seven visible planets that it represents are an integral part
> of nearly every great religion and mystical tradition, though within Christianity
> they are mostly hidden. I invite all comments on this subject.

I would definitely agree that the 7-day week is our oldest continuous cycle.

-Lance


Date: Fri, 5 Jun 1998
To: CALNDR-L
From: Dietmar Floriani
Subject: Week Calendar

A few days ago, there was a remark to "week":
> ... but the week seems to be the only unit of time that
> nobody's confused about ...

(1) This seems a bit questionable: during the French Revolution (and, I believe, during the early stage of the 1917 Soviet Revolution) they tried to use "another week" with 10 days.

(2) And - compared with "day", "month"(at least to some degree), and "year" - isn't "week" the only really 'useless' time unit, in the sense of having no direct correspondance at heaven (except - probably! - a month's quarter) ?

Therefore,
> ... a clean, simple Week Calendar was be just perfect... may be not so sure.

With regards,
Dietmar Floriani


Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998
To: CALNDR-L
From: Amos Shapir
Subject: Synchronized weekdays

On Wed, 23 Sep 1998 "Dr. Mario Hilgemeier" wrote:


> I'd hypothesize that happened during the beginning of larger-scale
> world trade in the late Middle Ages.
> Or maybe this is another hint that there is a very ancient
> primordial calendar with a seven-day week
> that spread worldwide very early in human history (more than 2000
> years ago)

Since the names of the days in these Malayan calendars are actually Arabic, it leaves little doubt that the synchronization (or introduction of a 7-day week at all) was done during the spread of Islam, in the 7th-8th centuries AD.

(The Arab names, BTW, are almost identical to the Hebrew ones, which indicates where they got this system).

Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998
To: CALNDR-L
From: Mario Hilgemeier
Subject: Synchronized weekdays

scriptum:
" (The Arab names, BTW, are almost identical to the Hebrew ones,
" which indicates where they got this system).
now we only need to know when Genesis was written
o have an upper time limit for the seven-day week -
Amos, perhaps you know when?

Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998
To: Mario Hilgemeier
From: Amos Shapir
Subject: Synchronized weekdays

Except the tale of the creation, there's no mention of weekly count of days in Genesis. In Hebrew the days are named "first", "second", etc., and only Saturday has a proper name, "Sabbath"; in Genesis chapter 1, even it is called just "the seventh day".

The earliest mention (AFAIR) of a weekly cycle being in use, is when Moses set it as a rule after the Exodus. That happened about 1280 BC and may be based on Egyptian ideas -- you'd have to find an Egyptologist on the list for that...

I hope this helps,

Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998
To: Amos Shapir
From: Mario Hilgemeier
Subject: Synchronized weekdays

yes, thank you very much! (and I always thought the week was also Babylonian ...) Did the Sumerians have the 7d week?

Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998
To: CALNDR-L
From: Lance Latham
Subject: Synchronized weekdays

RE:
" The commonly used calendar: Julian - Gregorian and hijriyah
" (Islamic) -- Javanese calendar, Saka, and Caka Sunda calendar, have
" a similarities on day which falls. They starts together (on the "
same time (if we ignored the world time differences off course)), " on the same day: " Sunday - 1st day in Gregorian, falls on Ahad - 1st day in Hijriah " and Javanese, falls on Radite - 1st day in Saka and Caka Sunda. " " It seems those calendar had sycnchronized. I don't know when it " started. Have you an Idea why and when? Or may be you have the " other calendars which have the same case? I do not really know, but this is a very interesting question.

There probably are historical connections here, and I doubt that we have to go looking too far afield. The 7-day week cycle was introduced to Rome from 2 sources. From Persia was introduced the "astrology" which was popular by the first century A.D. The Jewish calendar used a 7-day week which the Jews originally derived from the "pentecontad" Amorite calendar and then had re-inforced by Babylonian influence. This calendar system reinforced the astrological usage in the early Roman empire, and gradually led to the replacement of the Roman 8-day week with a 7-day week.

>From that starting point, it is not too difficult to trace a 7-day week to other calendars. The foundations of the Islamic calendar were certainly constructed in an environment which was thoroughly familiar with, and borrowed from, Jewish and Roman tradition, so this is not an "independent" calendar in the sense of the week cycle.

The "Pawukon" cycle of 210 days is claimed to be Javanese in origin, and related to a rice-planting cycle. It was exported to Bali relatively late, in the 14th century if memory serves. Islamic influence had penetrated to the area (the immediate cause of the export to Bali), and brought the 7-day week with it. I have not seen any authoritative explanation of the origins of the 7-day week in Java, but synchronization with Islamic usage seems very likely. Eiseman's text "Bali:Sekala and Niskala" makes it clear that calendar construction and usage was highly variable until very late (the 1950's), so we cannot argue for any "ancient" tradition here.

The case of the 7-day "week" in China has been argued for some time, but it seems clear that it was also introduced from the West. The question is more one of timing and circumstances, which the records may be inadequate to answer definitively.

The conclusion of this off-the-cuff tour of history is that the 7-day week tradition probably has a source, which is Babylonian practice and the Amorite pentecontad calendar. Where it appears in the world today, it has usually been derived from the Roman Julian calendar, either directly or indirectly via the Gregorian, Islamic, etc.

In some cases, the borrowing from Babylonian sources comes via another route.The "Saka" era calendar in India, e.g., has roots in Persia and Hellenistic and Macedonian sources, and can be traced back to Babylonia again. If there is any 'Ur-kalendar', Babylonia is probably it.

So, there may very well be an independent 7-day cycle out there. Nothing prevents it. I just haven't seen any evidence for one yet.


The seven-day week, a short history and various connotations of the weekdays.

Calendrics at this site

Essays on mathematical themes


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