Numerology and The Number Seven (7)

According to “The Signature of God”, a book by Grant Jeffrey, the first Genesis creation story is written such that it expresses a numerology based on the number seven (7). In his book, Jeffrey cites eleven ways in which different combinations of letters and words reveal a pattern of sevens. Of the eleven he cites, only five (5) are taken from the Hebrew text. The other six are specific to a particular English translation1)And do not necessarily hold across other English translations. not the Hebrew and so are not applicable here. But, the five cited by Jeffery are numerologically interesting. He notes that…

  1. The first verse contains seven [Hebrew] words
  2. The first verse contains twenty-eight (= 4 x 7) total Hebrew letters
  3. The first verse contains three nouns, אֱלֹהִ֑ים (God), הַשָּׁמַיִם (heavens or skies), and הָאָֽרֶץ (earth or land) which contain a total of fourteen (= 2 x 7) Hebrew letters.
  4. The Hebrew numeric values of the first, middle, and last Hebrew letters in the first verse are one hundred thirty three (= 7 x 19)
  5. In the first verse the Hebrew numeric value of the first and last letters of all seven words is 1393 (= 7 x 199).

The numerology of biblical Hebrew must be taken seriously for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that most ANE authors2)And not just the number seven. The numbers 3, 6, and 40 are also thought to have significance beyond their numerical meaning but are not applicable in this narrative. deliberately incorporated numerology into their stories. Authors who wrote in biblical Hebrew were able to do this with ease because their language, unlike English, represents numbers using the letters of its alphabet. For example, where English has a separate word for the number 1 (“one”), the Hebrew number one (1) is simply the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, א (aleph), the number two (2) is its second letter, בּ (beyt), and so on.

Of these numbers, the number seven was very significant because it was believed by people of the ANE cultures to connote completeness. We ought not be surprised, therefore, to learn that the authors of other creation stories contemporary with Genesis 13)Referring explicitly to the legends from Akkadian and Ugaritic literature., also constructed their stories according to a numerology of sevens. For example, most of their creation stories, like Genesis, occur over a period of seven days – of which the first six are described as work days and the seventh as a day of transition from the work of creation to a day of completion and  living in the [newly] created world.

The takeaway lesson is that these numerical phenomena did not occur by chance, nor do they constitute empirical evidence for divine or mystic involvement. Rather, the existence of numerology throughout the Hebrew Bible suggests that the ancient authors used numerology as a literary device. If their story needed to express the idea of completion, they would carefully choose words and phrases that adhered to the desired pattern of sevens. This would have been obvious to the ancient audiences while not so obvious to us, readers of contemporary English Bibles.

In Genesis 1, Cassuto uses the phrase numerical harmony to describe the divine author’s use of the number seven. In addition to the five observations by Jeffry (see above), Cassuto adds these4)(Cassuto 2012) Kindle Locations 468 – 505:

  • The narrative is divided into seven sections (paragraphs).
  • The Hebrew name of God occurs thirty-five (= 7 x 5) times
  • The Hebrew words meaning earth and heavens each occur twenty-one (= 7 x 3) times.
  • The words for light and day occur seven times (in total) in the first paragraph.
  • The word for light occurs seven times in the fourth paragraph.
  • In paragraphs two and three, the word for water occurs seven times.
  • The word meaning “living” (i.e., forms of the Hebrew word חַיָּ֑ה) occur seven times in the fifth and sixth paragraphs.
  • The divine epithet, “it was [very] good”, occurs seven times.
  • The second verse contains fourteen (= 7 x 2) words.
  • In the seventh paragraph, describing the seventh day, uses three consecutive sentences each of which have seven words.

To suppose that these occurrences are coincidental is simply unwarranted. In addition, to suppose that the numerology indicates some mystical force at work behind the text is similarly foolish. There is nothing mystical about the numerology of Genesis 1 (nor the Hebrew Bible for that matter). Rather, we ought to regard the numerology as an ancient literary device widely used in ANE literature to express higher meaning. Think of the use of numerology in ancient writings as akin to an English poet’s use of rhyme. Where a poet might agonize over syllables, rhythm, and words in order to create the proper meter and rhyme, so the divine author might have wrestled with his language in order to represent the meaning God intended for him to express. In the case of Genesis 1 the seven-based numerology emphasizes the sense of completion.

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