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In religious or mythological cosmology, the seven heavens refer to the seven divisions of the Heaven, the abode of immortal beings, or the visible sky, the expanse containing the Sun, Moon and the stars. This concept dates back to ancient Mesopotamian religions and can be found in the Abrahamic religions such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity, a similar concept is also found in some Indian religions such as Hinduism. Some of these traditions, including Jainism, also have a concept of seven earths or seven underworlds.
The cross-cultural focus on the number seven may correspond to the seven classical planets: the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. These were the only objects in the sky visible to ancient astronomers (who had no telescopes) that move in predictable, repeated patterns (in contrast to comets) against the daily rotation of the fixed stars.
The idea of seven heavens was originated in ancient Mesopotamia. It was probably a symbolic concept. In Sumerian language, the words for heaven (or sky) and earth are An and Ki. Sumerian incantations of the late second millennium BCE make references to seven heavens and seven earths. One such incantation is: "an-imin-bi ki-imin-bi" (the heavens are seven, the earths are seven.)
The notion of seven heavens may have been derived from the "magical" properties of the number seven, like the seven demons or the seven thrones. The number seven appears frequently in Babylonian magical rituals. The seven Jewish and the seven Islamic heavens may have had their origin in Babylonian astronomy.
In general, heaven is not a place for humans in Mesopotamian religion. As Gilgamesh says to his friend Enkidu, in the Epic of Gilgamesh: "Who can go up to heaven, my friend? Only the gods dwell with Shamash forever". Along with the idea of seven heavens, the idea of three heavens was also common in ancient Mesopotamia.
The Qur'an frequently mentions the existence of seven samaawat (سماوات), plural of samaa'a (سماء), which is customarily translated as 'heaven'. The word is cognate to Hebrew shamayim (שמים). Some of the verses in which Qur'an mentions seven samaawat, are [Quran 41:12 (Yusuf Ali)], [Quran 65:12 (Yusuf Ali)], [Quran 71:15 (Yusuf Ali)].
There are two interpretations of using the number "seven". One viewpoint is that the number "seven" here simply means "many" and is not to be taken literally (the number 7 is often used to imply that in the Arabic language). But many other commentators use the number 7 literally.
One interpretation of "heavens" is that all the stars and galaxies (including the Milky Way) are all part of the "first heaven", and "beyond that six still bigger worlds are there," which have yet to be discovered by scientists.
In other sources, the concept is presented in metaphorical terms. Each of the seven heavens is depicted as being composed of a different material, and Islamic prophets are resident in each. The first heaven is depicted as being made of silver and is the home of Adam and Eve, as well as the angels of each star. The second heaven is depicted as being made of gold and is the home of John the Baptist and Jesus. The third heaven is depicted as being made of pearls or other dazzling stones; Joseph and Azrael are resident there. The fourth heaven is depicted as being made of white gold; Enoch and the Angel of Tears resides there. The fifth heaven is depicted as being made of silver; Aaron and the Avenging Angel hold court over this heaven. The sixth heaven is composed of garnets and rubies; Moses can be found here. The seventh heaven, which borrows some concepts from its Jewish counterpart, is depicted as being composed of divine light incomprehensible to the mortal man. Abraham is a resident of the seventh heaven. According to some hadiths, the highest level of Jannah is firdaws, and Sidrat al-Muntaha, a Lote tree, marks the end of the seventh heaven.
The Seven Heavens according to Shi'ite sources:
- Rafi' (رفیع)
- Qaydum (قیدوم)
- Marum (ماروم)
- Arfalun (أرفلون)
- Hay'oun (هيعون)
- Arous (عروس)
- Ajma' (عجماء)
An epistle of the Apostle Paul, included in the New Testament, contains an explicit reference to the Third Heaven. In a letter to the Corinthian church he writes, "I know a man in Christ" (usually interpreted as: himself) "who fourteen years ago was caught up to the Third Heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell." (2 Corinthians 12:2–4) The Greek says "caught away", not "caught up" possibly reflecting Jewish beliefs that Paradise was somewhere other than the uppermost heaven.
In the Second Book of Enoch, Enoch travels through the seven heavens and gives geographical and visual documentation of them, describing houses, olive oil and flowers. He passes through the Garden of Eden in the Third Heaven on his way to meet the Lord in the 7th Heaven.
According to some Puranas, the Brahmanda is divided into fourteen worlds. Among these worlds, seven are upper worlds which constitute of Bhuloka (the Earth), Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Maharloka, Janarloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka, and seven are lower worlds which constitute of Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala and Patala.
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