Reprinted from the 4th edition of 1922

With Editorial Notes by

David C. Bossard

Robert C. Newman


New Material Copyright 2016




Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute



WHY should an astronomer write a commentary on the Bible?


Because commentators as a rule are not astronomers, and therefore either pass over the astronomical allusions of Scripture in silence, or else annotate them in a way which, from a scientific point of view, leaves much to be desired.


Astronomical allusions in the Bible, direct and indirect, are not few in number, and, in order to bring out their full significance, need to be treated astronomically. Astronomy further gives us the power of placing ourselves to some degree in the position of the patriarchs and prophets of old. We know that the same sun and moon, stars and planets, shine upon us as shone upon Abraham and Moses, David and Isaiah. We can, if we will, see the unchanging heavens with their eyes, and understand their attitude towards them.


It is worthwhile for us so to do. For the immense advances in science, made since the Canon of Holy Scripture was closed, and especially during the last three hundred years, may enable us to realize the significance of a most remarkable fact. Even in those early ages, when to all the nations surrounding Israel the heavenly bodies were objects for divination or idolatry, the attitude of the sacred writers toward them was perfect in its sanity and truth.


Astronomy has a yet further part to play in Biblical study. The dating of the several books of the Bible, and the relation of certain heathen mythologies to the Scripture narratives of the world's earliest ages, have received much attention of late years. Literary analysis has thrown much light on these subjects, but hitherto any evidence that astronomy could give has been almost wholly neglected; although, from the nature of the case, such evidence, so far as it is available, must be most decisive and exact.


I have endeavoured, in the present book, to make an astronomical commentary on the Bible, in a manner that shall be both clear and interesting to the general reader, dispensing as far as possible with astronomical technicalities, since the principles concerned are, for the most part, quite simple. I trust, also, that I have taken the first step in a new inquiry which promises to give results of no small importance.

E. WALTER MAUNDER January 1908.


Three editions of this book appeared before the War, and as there has recently been a considerable demand for it, the third edition has now been reprinted. It has not been thought necessary to enlarge the book in order to give an account of the great astronomical advances which have been made since 1908, as these in no way affect its general purport and conclusions. E.W.M. Greenwich, 1922.





David C. Bossard


Prof. Maunder's book was published in 1907 with a second edition in 1922. Since then many things have happened in Astronomy, that are relevant to the book's themes.


It is hard to grasp the vast changes that have occurred since Maunder's book first came out. It is now known that the Milky Way galaxy is only one of literally billions of galaxies throughout the universe. And yet the universe itself is finite: it had an actual beginning some 13.77 Billion years ago.


In Prof. Maunder's day it was known how to crank back the sky to view it as it would have appeared many years ago; the basics of such computation were known, but the calculations were quite laborious. Today, the Cartes du Ciel program (abbreviated CdC, also known as Sky Chart) can view the sky at any (reasonable) time in the past or future, and it is open software, available on the web for the use of an interested person.


Many web links to supplementary information are also included in the footnotes, and especially to Wikipedia. The intent is not to endorse particular views but to help the interested reader to explore the many subjects discussed.


Maunder accepted the reliability of the Old Testament, but approaches it with the eyes of a scientist, recognizing that the Bible is not a book of science, but that its writings are an accurate and corrective reflection of the then-contemporary science, removing the pagan and superstitious elements that pervade the cultures of ancient Israel's neighbors.


Maunder, in his gentle way, shows (conclusively in my view) that some basic presumptions of Biblical critical scholarship formed in the early 1800s are found wanting—both in view of the vast increase of knowledge provided by archaeology since 1850, and by reading the text from the perspective of a trained scientist—the scientific eye, so to speak. Unfortunately these basic presumptions of critical scholarship are still held today, with little evident appreciation of the vast changes that have negated many of those presumptions.[1] Maunder analyses the critical claims concerning the Babylonian creation & flood narratives and shows that the "assured results" and critical conclusions of higher criticism are clearly in error. The facts plainly contradict them: the Gilgamesh flood epic could not have preceded the Biblical account of Noah; and the Babylonian "When on High" (Enuma elish) creation epic could not have preceded a Genesis narrative that was divided into sources such as the critics allege.


A main theme in the book concerns the question: when were the constellations first identified and named? And the obviously related question, When did the first humans (the Bible's Adam) appear on earth? My main criticism of Maunder (if it is a criticism) is that he was not bold enough in his estimates about the beginnings of astronomy and the naming of the constellations, and by implication, the beginnings of humans.


Actually, he thought—I suspect—that he was boldly stepping out onto uncharted territory—certainly into unrecorded pre-history—in his statement that the constellation names are very ancient and were probably well-settled by the third millennium BC (specifically 2,700 for what appeared to him sound reasoning).  But he didn't imagine beyond what he thought then was reasonable. Since his time, Lascaux cave's discovery in 1940, followed by the discovery of Chauvet Cave in 1992  extends the proved timeline of human existence by a factor of four. An added chapter (Book II, Chapter 10) and remarks scattered throughout note the implications of this discovery of Lascaux Cave with its wonderful paintings.


The evaluation of this revolutionary discovery is still ongoing, so these remarks should be taken as tentative[2]. One conclusion is that the cave painting that shows the constellation Taurus dates to around 17,800 BC[3], far earlier than Maunder's 2,700 BC as the time that at least some constellations were established and named. Nonetheless Maunder's reasoning that led him to his date is still valid, it's just a lot earlier in the evaluation of polar precession. His conclusions which he confidently applied to 2,700 BC could equally apply at 15,700 BC or even 28,700 BC. It is a forgiveable lapse of reason for him to have not gone back beyond 2,700 BC: he was already boldly pushing the record far back into pre-history. And he was, for all his daring, a creature of his times, as we are as well today.


Allan A. MacRae, in his book Old Testament History frequently emphasized that it is important to distinguish between what the Bible actually says, from what we assume the Bible means. This is particularly important when working with Genesis 1-12, the portion that concern pre-history: the time before the discovery of writing (generally dated to around 3,000 BC). In application of this principle, he made the point that there is no solid basis for a Biblical scholar to place time limits on this pre-history. The Bible, if carefully examined, does not limit the extent of time. It may appear to do so by projecting our current views and prejudices onto the written text, but in fact, to quote Dr. MacRae, on the question of when Man was created, he said,


"I am quite sure that whenever the first man was, that was Adam; but when Adam was, I don't think we know. Adam may have been a long time ago. He may have been less long ago, but any evidence you want to bring to put Adam back quite a ways, I don't think poses any serious difficulty for the believer in the statements of the Scripture."[4]


Is it legitimate to use science to understand the Bible? Well, Day Four promises that the heavens will "be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years." How does that come about? The evidence indicates that it happens as a result of serious and systematic human effort—what we call science. There is no evidence that this is built into the human mind or that it was revealed by God to our ancestors; certainly the Bible doesn't reveal it. There are some animal species that do have built-in knowledge of highly technical things: birds building their nests, the activity of bees and other social insects, and so on. But there is no evidence to my knowledge that humans have such built-in understanding of the heavens as Day Four indicates, and I don't believe that there is some hidden revelation out there —and so it must be part of the accumulated wisdom of humanity: in other words, of science. So, yes, it is legitimate to use valid, factually-based science, to understand the Bible, but avoiding "science falsely so-called" [I Tim. 6:20] which masquerades as fact but is "vain imagining". That is the attempt here in the annotations to Maunder's excellent book.















Modern Astronomy—Astronomy in the Classical Age—The Canon of Holy Scripture closed before the Classical Age—Character of the Scriptural References to the Heavenly Bodies—Tradition of Solomon's Eminence in Science—Attitude toward Nature of the Sacred Writers—Plan of the Book



Indian Eclipse of 1898—Contrast between the Heathen and Scientific Attitudes—The Law of Causality—Inconsistent with Polytheism—Faith in One God the Source to the Hebrews of Intellectual Freedom—The First Words of Genesis the Charter of the Physical Sciences—The Limitations of Science—"Explanations" of the First Chapter of Genesis—Its Real Purposes—The Sabbath



Babylonian Creation Myth—Tiamat, the Dragon of Chaos—Overcome by Merodach—Similarity to the Scandinavian Myth—No Resemblance to the Narrative in Genesis—Meanings of the Hebrew Word tehom—Date of the Babylonian Creation Story  



Twofold Application of the Hebrew Word raqia'—Its Etymological Meaning—The Idea of Solidity introduced by the "Seventy"—Not the Hebrew Idea—The "Foundations" of Heaven and Earth—The "Canopy" of Heaven—The "Stories" of Heaven—Clouds and Rain—The Atmospheric Circulation—Hebrew Appreciation even of the Terrible in Nature—The "Balancings" and "Spreadings" of the Clouds—The "Windows of Heaven"—Not Literal Sluice-gates—The Four Winds—The Four Quarters—The Circle of the Earth—The Waters under the Earth—The "Depths"



The Order of the Heavenly Movements—Daily Movement of the Sun—Nightly Movements of the Stars—The "Host of Heaven"—Symbolic of the Angelic Host—The Earth "hangeth upon nothing"—Morning Stars—The Scripture View of the Heavenly Order  


Chapter VI. THE SUN

The Double Purpose of the Two Great Heavenly Bodies—Symbolic Use of the Sun as Light—giver—No Deification of the Sun or of Light—Solar idolatry in Israel—Shemesh and Heres—Sun-spots—Light before the Sun—"Under the Sun"—The Circuit of the Sun—Sun-stroke—"Variableness"—Our present Knowledge of the Sun—Sir William Herschel's Theory—Conflict between the Old Science and the New—Galileo—A Question of Evidence—A Question of Principle



Importance of the Moon in Olden Times—Especially to the Shepherd—Jewish Feasts at the Full Moon—The Harvest Moon—The Hebrew Month a Natural one—Different Hebrew Words for Moon—Moon-worship forbidden— "Similitudes" of the Moon—Worship of Ashtoreth—No mention of Lunar Phases—The Moon "for Seasons"



Number of the Stars—"Magnitudes" of the Stars—Distances of the Stars


Chapter IX. COMETS

Great Comets unexpected Visitors—Description of Comets—Formation of the Tail—Possible References in Scripture to Comets


Chapter X. METEORS

Aerolites—Diana of the Ephesians—Star-showers—The Leonid Meteors—References in Scripture—The Aurora Borealis



Vivid Impression produced by a Total Solar Eclipse—Eclipses not Omens to the Hebrews—Eclipses visible in Ancient Palestine—Explanation of Eclipses—The Saros—Scripture References to Eclipses—The Corona—The Egyptian "Winged Disc"—The Babylonian "Ring with Wings"—The Corona at Minimum



The "Seven Planets"—Possible Scripture References to Venus and Jupiter—"Your God Remphan" probably Saturn—The Sabbath and Saturn's Day—R. A. Proctor on the Names of the Days of the Week—Order of the Planets—Alexandrian Origin of the Weekday Names—The Relation of Astrology to Astronomy—Early Babylonian Astrology—Hebrew Contempt for Divination






The "Greek Sphere"—Aratus—St. Paul's Sermon at Athens—The Constellations of Ptolemy's Catalogue—References to the Constellations in Hesiod and Homer—The Constellation Figures on Greek Coins—And on Babylonian "Boundary-stones"—The Unmapped Space in the South—Its Explanation—Precession—Date and Place of the Origin of the Constellations—Significant Positions of the Serpent Forms in the Constellations—The Four "Royal Stars"—The Constellations earlier than the Old Testament



The Bow set in the Cloud—The Conflict with the Serpent—The Seed of the Woman—The Cherubim—The "Mighty Hunter"



Resemblance between the Babylonian and Genesis Deluge Stories—The Deluge Stories in Genesis—Their Special Features—The Babylonian Deluge Story—Question as to its Date—Its Correspondence with Both the Genesis Narratives—The Constellation Deluge Picture—Its Correspondence with both the Genesis Narratives—The Genesis Deluge Story independent of Star Myth and Babylonian Legend



Joseph's Dream—Alleged association of the Zodiacal Figures with the Tribes of Israel—The Standards of the Four Camps of Israel—The Blessings of Jacob and Moses—The Prophecies of Balaam—The Golden Calf—The Lion of Judah



The Four Serpent-like Forms in the Constellations—Their Significant Positions—The Dragon's Head and Tail—The Symbols for the Nodes—The Dragon of Eclipse—Hindu Myth of Eclipses—Leviathan—References to the Stellar Serpents in Scripture—Rahab—Andromeda—"The Eyelids of the Morning"—Poetry, Science, and Myth 196



Difficulty of Identification—The most Attractive Constellations—Kimah—Not a Babylonian Star Name—A Pre-exilic Hebrew Term—The Pleiades traditionally Seven—Mdlel's Suggestion—Pleiades associated in Tradition with the Rainy Season—And with the Deluge—Their "Sweet Influences"—The Return of Spring—The Pleiades in recent Photographs—Great Size and Distance of the Cluster


Chapter VII. ORION

Kesil—Probably Orion—Appearance of the Constellation—Identified in Jewish Tradition with Nimrod, who was probably Merodach—Attitude of Orion in the Sky—Kesilim—The "Bands" of Orion—The Bow—star and Lance—star, Orion's Dogs—ldentification of Tiamat with Cetus



Probably the "Signs of the Zodiac"—Babylonian Creation Story—Significance of its Astronomical References—Difference between the "Signs" and the "Constellations" of the Zodiac—Date of the Change—And of the Babylonian Creation Epic—Stages of Astrology—Astrology Younger than Astronomy by 2000 Years—Mazzaroth and the "Chambers of the South"—Mazzaroth—The Solar and Lunar Zodiacs—Mazzaroth in his Season



'Ash and 'Ayish—Uncertainty as to their Identification—Probably the Great Bear—Mezarim—Probably another Name for the Bears—"Canst thou guide the Bear?"—Proper Motions of the Plough—stars—Estimated Distance



    Discovery in 1940 of Lascaux Cave. A sky chart at Lascaux Cave.







Rotation Period of Venus—Difficulty of the Time Problem on Venus—The Sun and Stars as Time Measurers—The apparent Solar Day the First in Use—It began at Sunset—Subdivisions of the Day Interval—Between the Two Evenings—The Watches of the Night—The 12—hour Day and the 24—hour Day



The Week not an Astronomical Period—Different Weeks employed by the Ancients—Four Origins assigned for the Week—The Quarter-month—The Babylonian System—The Babylonian Sabbath not a Rest Day—The Jewish Sabbath amongst the Romans—Alleged Astrological Origin of the Week—Origin of the Week given in the Bible



The New Moon a Holy Day with the Hebrews—The Full Moons at the Two Equinoxes also Holy Days—The Beginnings of the Months determined from actual Observation—Rule for finding Easter—Names of the Jewish Months—Phoenician and Babylonian Month Names—Number of Days in the Month—Babylonian Dead Reckoning—Present Jewish Calendar


Chapter IV. THE YEAR

The Jewish Year a Luni-solar one—Need for an Intercalary Month—The Metonic Cycle—The Sidereal and Tropical Years—The Hebrew a Tropical Year—Beginning near the Spring Equinox—Meaning of "the End of the Year"—Early Babylonian Method of determining the First Month—Capella as the Indicator Star—The Triad of Stars—The Tropical Year in the Deluge Story



Law of the Sabbatic Year—A Year of Rest and Release—The Jubilee—Difficulties connected with the Sabbatic Year and the Jubilee—The Sabbatic Year, an Agricultural one—Interval between the Jubilees, Forty-nine Years, not Fifty—Forty-nine Years an Astronomical Cycle



The Jubilee Cycle possessed only by the Hebrews—High Estimation of Daniel and his Companions entertained by Nebuchadnezzar—Due possibly to Daniel's Knowledge of Luni-solar Cycles—Cycles in Daniel's Prophecy—2300 Years and 1260 Years as Astronomical Cycles—Early Astronomical Progress of the Babylonians much overrated—Yet their Real Achievements not Small—Limitations of the Babylonian—Freedom of the Hebrew






Method of Studying the Record—To be discussed as it stands—An early Astronomical Observation—BEFORE THE BATTLE—Movements of the Israelites—Reasons for the Gibeonites' Action—Rapid Movements of all the Parties. DAY, HOUR, AND PLACE OF THE MIRACLE—Indication of the Sun's Declination—Joshua was at Gibeon—And at High Noon—On the 21st Day of the Fourth Month. JOSHUA'S STRATEGY—Key to it in the Flight of the Amorites by the Beth-horon Route—The Amorites defeated but not surrounded—King David as a Strategist. THE MIRACLE—The Noon-day Heat, the great Hindrance to the Israelites—Joshua desired the Heat to be tempered—The Sun made to "be silent"—The Hailstorm—The March to Makkedah—A Full Day's March in the Afternoon—"The Miracle" not a Poetic Hyperbole—Exact Accord of the Poem and the Prose Chronicle—The Record made at the Time—Their March, the Israelites' Measure of Time



The Narrative—Suggested Explanations—The "Dial of Ahaz" probably a Staircase—Probable History and Position of the Staircase—Significance of the Sign



The Narrative—No Astronomical Details given—Purpose of the Scripture Narrative—Kepler's suggested Identification of the Star—The New Star of 1572—Legend of the

Well of Bethlehem—True Significance of the Reticence of the Gospel Narrative


APPENDIX: "Solar Eclipses and Ancient History" by George Frederick Wright








Note: Many of these illustrations are reduced from full-sized illustrations on the web at












BLOOD MOON April 14, 2014







CORONA OF MINIMUM TYPE (Photographic negative)




HERCULES AND DRACO Pole of the Ecliptic


HYDRA AT SPRING EQUINOX, 2,700 BC (Hydra Parallel to Horizon and Milky Way)
























RAINBOW (Rubens)

Stars and Constellations mentioned in the Bible.

stars Acturus, Sirius; constellations shown through the years.




Star Ideogram "god"
















MODERN astronomy began a little more than three centuries ago with the invention of the telescope and Galileo's application of it to the study of the heavenly bodies. This new instrument at once revealed to him the mountains on the moon, the satellites of Jupiter, and the spots on the sun, and brought the celestial bodies under observation in a way that no one had dreamed of before. In our view today, the planets of the solar system are worlds; we can examine their surfaces and judge wherein they resemble or differ from our earth. To the ancients they were but points of light; to us they are vast bodies that we have been able to measure and to weigh[5]. The telescope has enabled us also to penetrate deep into outer space; we have learnt of other systems besides that of our own sun and its dependents, many of them far more complex; clusters and clouds of stars have been revealed to us, and mysterious nebulae, which suggest by their forms that they are systems of suns in the making. More lately the invention of the spectroscope has informed us of the very elements which go to the composition of these numberless stars, and we can distinguish those [stars] which are in a similar condition to our sun from those differing from him[6]. And photography has recorded for us objects too faint for mere sight to detect, even when aided by the most powerful telescope; too detailed and intricate for the most skilful hand to depict.


Galileo's friend and contemporary, Kepler, laid the foundations of another department of modern astronomy at about the same time. He studied the apparent movements of the planets until they yielded him their secret so far that he was able to express them in three simple laws; laws which, two generations later, Sir Isaac Newton demonstrated to be the outcome of one grand and simple Law of universal range, the law of gravitation. Upon this law the marvelous mathematical conquests of astronomy have been based.


All these wonderful results have been attained by the free exercise of men's mental abilities, and it cannot be imagined that God would have intervened to hamper their growth in intellectual power by revealing to men facts and methods which it was within their own ability to discover for themselves. Men's mental powers have developed by their exercise; they would have been stunted had men been led to look to revelation rather than to diligent effort for the satisfaction of their curiosity. We therefore do not find any reference in the Bible to that which modern astronomy has taught us.[7] Yet it may be noted that some expressions, appropriate at any time, have become much more appropriate, much more forcible, in the light of our present-day knowledge.


The age of astronomy which preceded the Modern, and may be called the Classical age, was almost as sharply defined in its beginning as its successor. It lasted about two thousand years, and began with the investigations into the movements of the planets made by some of the early Greek mathematicians. Classical, like Modem astronomy, had its two sides—the instrumental and the mathematical. On the instrumental side was the invention of graduated instruments for the determination of the positions of the heavenly bodies[8]; on the mathematical, the development of geometry and trigonometry for the interpretation of those positions when thus determined, Amongst the great names of this period are those of Eudoxus of Knidus (BC 408-355), and Hipparchus of Bithynia, who lived rather more than two centuries later. Under its first leaders astronomy in the Classical age began to advance rapidly, but it soon experienced a deadly blight. Men were not content to observe the heavenly bodies for what they were; they endeavoured to make them the sources of divination. The great school of Alexandria (founded about 300 BC), the headquarters of astronomy, became invaded by the spirit of astrology, the bastard science which has always tried—parasite-like—to suck its life from astronomy. Thus from the days of Claudius Ptolemy to the end of the Middle Ages the growth of astronomy was arrested, and it bore but little fruit.


It will be noticed that the Classical age did not commence until about the time of the completion of the last books of the Old Testament; so we do not find any reference in Holy Scripture to the astronomical achievements of that period, amongst which the first attempts to explain the apparent motions of sun, moon, stars, and planets were the most considerable.


We have a complete history of astronomy in the Modern and Classical periods, but there was an earlier astronomy, not inconsiderable in amount, of which no history is preserved. For when Eudoxus commenced his labours, the length of the year had already been determined, the equinoxes and solstices had been recognized, the  celestial [ecliptic] equator, and the poles of both great circles were known, and the five principal planets were familiar objects. This Early astronomy must have had its history, its stages of development, but we can only with difficulty trace them out. It cannot have sprung into existence full-grown any more than the other sciences; it must have started from zero, and men must have slowly fought their way from one observation to another, with gradually widening conceptions, before they could bring it even to that stage of development in which it was when the observers of the Museum of Alexandria began their work.


The books of the Old Testament were written at different times during the progress of this Early age of astronomy. We should therefore naturally expect to find the astronomical allusions written from the standpoint of such scientific knowledge as had then been acquired. We cannot for a moment expect that any supernatural revelation of purely material facts would be imparted to the writers of sacred books[9], two or three thousand years before the progress of science had brought those facts to light, and we ought not to be surprised if expressions are occasionally used which we should not ourselves use today, if we were writing about the phenomena of nature from a technical point of view.[10] It must further be borne in mind that the astronomical references are not numerous, that they occur mostly in poetic imagery, and that Holy Scripture was not intended to give an account of the scientific achievements, if any, of the Hebrews of old. Its purpose was wholly different: it was religious, not scientific; it was meant to give spiritual, not intellectual enlightenment.


An exceedingly valuable and interesting work has recently been brought out by the most eminent of living Italian astronomers, Prof. G. V. Schiaparelli, on this subject of "Astronomy in the Old Testament", to which work I should like here to acknowledge my indebtedness. Yet I feel that the avowed object of his book[11]—to "discover what ideas the ancient Jewish sages held regarding the structure of the universe, what observations they made of the stars, and how far they made use of them for the measurement and division of time"—is open to this criticism,—that sufficient material for carrying it out is not within our reach. If we were to accept implicitly the argument from the silence of Scripture, we should conclude that the Hebrews—though their calendar was essentially a lunar one, based upon the actual observation of the new moon—had never noticed that the moon changed its apparent form as the month wore on, for there is no mention in the Bible of the lunar phases.


The references to the heavenly bodies in Scripture are not numerous, and deal with them either as time measurers or as subjects for devout allusion, poetic simile, or symbolic use. But there is one characteristic of all these references to the phenomena of Nature that may not be ignored. None of the ancients ever approached the great Hebrew writers in spiritual elevation; none equaled them in poetic sublimity; and few, if any, surpassed them in keenness of observation, or in quick sympathy with every work of the Creator.


These characteristics imply a natural fitness of the Hebrews for successful scientific work, and we should have a right to believe that under propitious circumstances they would have shown a pre-eminence in the field of physical research as striking as is the superiority of their religious conceptions over those of the surrounding nations. We cannot, of course, conceive of the average Jew as an Isaiah, any more than we can conceive of the average Englishman as a Shakespeare, yet the one man, like the other, is an index of the advancement and capacity of his race; nor could Isaiah's writings have been preserved, more than those of Shakespeare, without a true appreciation of them on the part of many of his countrymen.


But the necessary conditions for any great scientific development were lacking to Israel. A small nation, planted between powerful and aggressive empires, their history was for the most part the record of a struggle for bare existence; and after three or four centuries of the unequal conflict, first the one and then the other of the two sister kingdoms was overwhelmed. There was but little opportunity during these years of storm and stress for men to indulge in any curious searchings into the secrets of nature.


Once only was there a long interval of prosperity and peace; viz. from the time that David had consolidated the kingdom to the time when it suffered disruption under his grandson, Rehoboam; and it is significant that tradition has ascribed to Solomon and to his times just such a scientific activity as the ability and temperament of the Hebrew race would lead us to expect it to display when the conditions should be favourable for it.[12]


Thus, in the fourth chapter of the First Book of Kings, not only are the attainments of Solomon himself described, but other men, contemporaries either of his father David or himself, are referred to, as distinguished in the same direction, though to a less degree.


"And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the seashore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom."


The tradition of his great eminence in scientific research is also preserved in the words put into his mouth in the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, now included in the Apocrypha.


"For [God] Himself gave me an unerring knowledge of the things that are, to know the constitution of the world, and the operation of the elements; the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of seasons, the circuits of years and the positions [margin, constellations] of stars; the natures of living creatures and the ragings of wild beasts, the violences of winds and the thoughts of men, the diversities of plants and the virtues of roots: all things that are either secret or manifest I learned, for she that is the artificer of all things taught me, even wisdom."


Two great names have impressed themselves upon every part of the East:—the one, that of Solomon the son of David, as the master of every secret; source of knowledge; and the other that of Alexander the Great, as the mightiest of conquerors. It is not unreasonable to believe that the traditions respecting the first have been founded upon as real a basis of actual achievement as those respecting the second.


But to such scientific achievements we have no express allusion in Scripture, other than is afforded us by the two quotations just made. Natural objects, natural phenomena are not referred to for their own sake. Every thought leads up to God, or to man's relation to Him. Nature, as a whole and in its every aspect and detail, is the handiwork of Jehovah: that is the truth which the heavens are always declaring;—and it is His power, His wisdom, and His goodness to man which it is sought to illustrate, when the beauty or wonder of natural objects is described.


"When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers,

The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained;

What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?

And the son of man, that Thou visitest him?"[13]


The first purpose, therefore, of the following study of the astronomy of the Bible is,—not to reconstruct the astronomy of the Hebrews, a task for which the material is manifestly incomplete,—but to examine such astronomical allusions as occur with respect to their appropriateness to the lesson which the writer desired to teach. Following this, it will be of interest to examine what connection can be traced between the Old Testament Scriptures and the Constellations; the arrangement of the stars into constellations having been the chief astronomical work effected during the centuries when those Scriptures were severally composed. The use made of the heavenly bodies as time-measurers amongst the Hebrews will form a third division of the subject; whilst there are two or three incidents in the history of Israel which appear to call for examination from an astronomical point of view, and may suitably be treated in a fourth and concluding section.[14]




A FEW years ago a great eclipse of the sun, seen as total along a broad belt of country right across India, drew thither astronomers from the very ends of the earth. Not only did many English observers travel thither, but the United States of America in the far west, and Japan in the far east sent their contingents, and the entire length of country covered by the path of the shadow was dotted with the temporary observatories set up by the men of science.




Photographed by Mrs. Maunder (ne Annie Scott Dill Russell)


It was a wonderful sight that was vouchsafed to these travellers in pursuit of knowledge. In a sky of unbroken purity, undimmed even for a moment by haze or cloud, there shone down the fierce Indian sun. Gradually a dark mysterious circle invaded its lower edge, and covered its brightness; coolness replaced the burning heat; slowly the dark covering crept on; slowly the sunlight diminished until at length the whole of the sun's disc was hidden. Then in a moment a wonderful starlike form flashed out, a noble form of glowing silver light on the deep purple-coloured sky.


There was, however, no time for the astronomers to devote to admiration of the beauty of the scene, or indulgence in rhapsodies. Two short minutes alone were allotted them to note all that was happening, to take all their photographs, to ask all the questions, and obtain all the answers for which this strange veiling of the sun, and still stranger unveiling of his halo-like surroundings, gave opportunity. It was two minutes of intensest strain, of hurried though orderly work; and then a sudden rush of sunlight put an end to all. The mysterious vision had withdrawn itself; the colour rushed back to the landscape, so corpse-like whilst in the shadow; the black veil slid rapidly from off the sun; the heat returned to the air; the eclipse was over.


But the astronomers from distant lands were not the only people engaged in watching the eclipse. At their work, they could hear the sound of a great multitude, a sound of weeping and wailing, a people dismayed at the distress of their god.


It was so at every point along the shadow track, but especially where that track met the course of the sacred river. Along a hundred roads the pilgrims had poured in unceasing streams towards Holy Mother Gunga; towards Benares, the sacred city; towards Buxar, where the eclipse was central at the river bank. It is always meritorious—so the Hindoo holds—to bathe in that sacred river, but such a time as this, when the sun is in eclipse, is the most propitious moment of all for such lustration.


Could there be a greater contrast than that offered between the millions trembling and dismayed at the signs of heaven, and the little companies who had come for thousands of miles over land and sea, rejoicing in the brief chance that was given them for learning a little more of the secrets of the wonders of Nature?


The contrast between the heathen and the scientists was in both their spiritual and their intellectual standpoint, and, as we shall see later, the intellectual contrast is a result of the spiritual. The heathen idea is that the orbs of heaven are divine, or at least that each expresses a divinity. This does not in itself seem an unnatural idea when we consider the great benefits that come to us through the instrumentality of the sun and moon. It is the sun that morning by morning rolls back the darkness, and brings light and warmth and returning life to men; it is the sun that rouses the earth after her winter sleep and quickens vegetation. It is the moon that has power over the great world of waters, whose pulse beats in some kind of mysterious obedience to her will.


Natural, then, has it been for men to go further, and to suppose that not only is power lodged in these, and in the other members of the heavenly host, but that it is living, intelligent, personal power; that these shining orbs are beings, or the manifestations of beings; exalted, mighty, immortal;—that they are gods.


But if these are gods, then it is sacrilegious, it is profane, to treat them as mere "things"; to observe them minutely in the microscope or telescope; to dissect them, as it were, in the spectroscope; to identify their elements in the laboratory; to be curious about their properties, influences, relations, and actions on each other.


And if these are gods, there are many gods, not One God. And if there are many gods, there are many laws, not one law. Thus scientific observations cannot be reconciled with polytheism, for scientific observations demand the assumption of one universal law. The wise king, expressed this law thus:—"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be." The actual language of science, as expressed by Professor Thiele, a leading Continental astronomer, states that


"Everything that exists, and everything that happens, exists or happens as a necessary consequence of a previous state of things. If a state of things is repeated in every detail, it must lead to exactly the same consequences. Any difference between the results of causes that are in part the same, must be explainable by some difference in the other part of the causes."[15] [16]


The law stated in the above words has been called the Law of Causality. It cannot be proved, but must be believed; in the same way as we believe the fundamental assumptions of religion, with which it is closely and intimately connected. The law of causality forces itself upon our belief. It may be denied in theory, but not in practice. Any person who denies it, will, if he is watchful enough, catch himself constantly asking himself, if no one else, why this has happened, and not that. But in that very question he bears witness to the law of causality. If we are consistently to deny the law of causality, we must repudiate all observation, and particularly all prediction based on past experience, as useless and misleading.


"If we could imagine for an instant that the same complete combination of causes could have a definite number of different consequences, however small that number might be, and that among these the occurrence of the actual consequence was, in the old sense of the word, accidental, no observation would ever be of any particular value."[17]


So long as men hold, as a practical faith, that the results which attend their efforts depend upon whether Jupiter is awake and active, or Neptune is taking an unfair advantage of his brother's sleep; upon whether Diana is bending her silver bow for the battle, or flying weeping and discomfited because Juno has boxed her ears—so long is it useless for them to make or consult observations.


But, as Professor Thiele goes on to say—


"If the law of causality is acknowledged to be an assumption which always holds good, then every observation gives us a revelation which, when correctly appraised and compared with others, teaches us the laws by which God rules the world."


By what means have the modern scientists arrived at a position so different from that of the heathen? It cannot have been by any process of natural evolution that the intellectual standpoint which has made scientific observation possible should be derived from the spiritual standpoint of polytheism which rendered all scientific observation not only profane but useless. 


In the old days the heathen in general regarded the heavenly host and the heavenly bodies as the heathen do today. But by one nation, the Hebrews, the truth that—


"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth"


was preserved in the first words of their Sacred Book. That nation declared—


"All the gods of the people are idols: but the Lord made the heavens."


For that same nation the watchword was—


"Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord."


From these words the Hebrews not only learned a great spiritual truth, but derived intellectual freedom. For by these words they were taught that all the host of heaven and of earth were created things—merely "things", not divinities—and not only that, but that the Creator was One God, not many gods; that there was but one law-giver; and that therefore there could be no conflict of laws. These first words of Genesis, then, may be called the charter of all the physical sciences, for by them is conferred freedom from all the bonds of unscientific superstition, and by them also do men know that consistent law holds throughout the whole universe. It is the intellectual freedom of the Hebrew that the scientist of today inherits. He may not indeed be able to rise to the spiritual standpoint of the Hebrew, and consciously acknowledge that—


"Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone; Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and Thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth Thee."


But he must at least unconsciously assent to it, for it is on the first great fundamental assumption of religion as stated in the first words of Genesis, that the fundamental assumption of all his scientific reasoning depends.


Scientific reasoning and scientific observation can only hold good so long and in so far as the Law of Causality holds good. We must assume a pre-existing state of affairs which has given rise to the observed effect; we must assume that this observed effect is itself antecedent to a subsequent state of affairs. Science therefore cannot go back to the absolute beginnings of things, or forward to the absolute ends of things.[18] It cannot reason about the way matter and energy came into existence, or how they might cease to exist; it cannot reason about time or space as such, but only in the relations of these to phenomena that can be observed. It does not deal with things themselves, but only with the relations between things. Science indeed can only consider the universe as a great machine which is in "going order", and it concerns itself with the relations which some parts of the machine bear to other parts, and with the laws and manner of the "going" of the machine in those parts. The relations of the various parts, one to the other, and the way in which they work together, may afford some idea of the design and purpose of the machine, but it can give no information as to how the material of which it is composed came into existence, nor as to the method by which it was originally constructed. Once started, the machine comes under the scrutiny of science, but the actual starting lies outside its scope.[19]


Men therefore cannot find out for themselves how the worlds were originally made, how the worlds were first moved, or how the spirit of man was first formed within him; and this, not merely because these beginnings of things were of necessity outside his experience, but also because beginnings, as such, must lie outside the law by which he reasons.[20]


By no process of research, therefore, could man find out for himself the facts that are stated in the first chapter of Genesis. They must have been revealed. Science cannot inquire into them for the purpose of checking their accuracy; it must accept them, as it accepts the fundamental law that governs its own working, without the possibility of proof.


And this is what has been revealed to man:—that the heaven and the earth were not self-existent from all eternity, but were in their first beginning created by God. As the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews expresses it: "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." And a further fact was revealed that man could not have found out for himself; viz. that this creation was made and finished in six Divine actings, comprised in what the narrative denominates "days". It has not been revealed whether the duration of these "days" can be expressed in any astronomical units of time.


Since under these conditions science can afford no information, it is not to be wondered at that the hypotheses that have been framed from time to time to "explain" the first chapter of Genesis, or to express it in scientific terms, are not wholly satisfactory. At one time the chapter was interpreted to mean that the entire universe was called into existence about 6,000 years ago, in six days of twenty-four hours each. Later it was recognized that both geology and astronomy seemed to indicate the existence of matter for untold millions of years instead of some six thousand. It was then pointed out that, so far as the narrative was concerned, there might have been a period of almost unlimited duration between its first verse and its fourth; and it was suggested that the six days of creation were six days of twenty-four hours each, in which, after some great cataclysm, 6,000 years ago, the face of the earth was renewed and replenished for the habitation of man, the preceding geological ages being left entirely unnoticed. Some writers have confined the cataclysm and renewal to a small portion of the earth's surface—to "Eden", and its neighbourhood. Other commentators have laid stress on the truth revealed in Scripture that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day," and have urged the argument that the six days of creation were really vast periods of time, during which the earth's geological changes and the evolution of its varied forms of life were running their course. Others, again, have urged that the six days of creation were six literal days, but instead of being consecutive were separated by long ages. And yet again, as no man was present during the creation period, it has been suggested that the Divine revelation of it was given to Moses or some other inspired prophet in six successive visions or dreams, which constituted the "six days" in which the chief facts of creation were set forth.


I would offer no opinion as to whether any of the foregoing hypotheses bears any relation to the actual physical history of our globe. I would only say that it seems to me that all alike are based on the assumption that the opening chapters of Genesis are intended to reveal to man certain physical details in the material history of this planet; to be in fact a little compendium of the geological and zoological history of the world, and so a suitable introduction to the history of the early days of mankind which followed it.


It is surely more reasonable to conclude that there was no purpose whateverof teaching us anything about the physical relationships of land and sea, of tree and plant, of bird and fish; it seems, indeed, scarcely conceivable that it should have been the Divine intention so to supply the ages with a condensed manual of the physical sciences. What useful purpose could it have served?  What man would have been the wiser or better for it?  Who could have understood it until the time when men, by their own intellectual strivings, had attained sufficient knowledge of their physical surroundings to do without such a revelation at all?[21]


But although the opening chapters of Genesis were not designed to teach the Hebrew certain physical facts of nature, they gave him the knowledge that he might lawfully study nature. For he learnt from them that nature has no power nor vitality of its own; that sun, and sea, and cloud, and wind are not separate deities, nor the expression of deities; that they are but "things", however glorious and admirable; that they are the handiwork of God; and—


"The works of the Lord are great,

Sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.

His work is honour and majesty;

And His righteousness endureth for ever.

He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered."


What, then, is the significance of the detailed account given us of the works effected on the successive days of creation? Why are we told that light was made on the first day, the firmament on the second, dry land on the third, and so on? Probably for two reasons. First, that the rehearsal, as in a catalogue, of the leading classes of natural objects, might give definiteness and precision to the teaching that each and all were creatures, things made by the word of God. The bald statement that the heaven and the earth were made by God might still have left room for the imagination that the powers of nature were co-eternal with God, or were at least subordinate divinities; or that other powers than God had worked up into the present order the materials He had created. The detailed account makes it clear that not only was the universe in general created by God, but that there was no part of it that was not fashioned by Him.


The next purpose was to set a seal of sanctity upon the Sabbath. In the second chapter of Genesis we read—


"On the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made."


In this we get the institution of the week, the first ordinance imposed by God upon man. For in the fourth of the ten commandments which God gave through Moses, it is said—


"The seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work.... For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."


And again, when the tabernacle was being builded, it was commanded—


"The children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed."


God made the sun, moon, and stars, and appointed them "for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years." The sun marks out the days; the moon by her changes makes the months; the sun and the stars mark out the seasons and the years. These were divisions of time which man would naturally adopt. But there is not an exact number of days in the month, nor an exact number of days or months in the year. Still less does the period of seven days fit precisely into month or season or year; the week is marked out by no phase of the moon, by no fixed relation between the sun, the moon, or the stars. It is not a division of time that man would naturally adopt for himself; it runs across all the natural divisions of time.


What are the six days of creative work, and the seventh day—the Sabbath—of creative rest? They are not days of man, they are days of God; and our days of work and rest, our week with its Sabbath, can only be the figure and shadow of that week of God; something by which we may gain some faint apprehension of its realities, not that by which we can comprehend and measure it.


Our week, therefore, is God's own direct appointment to us; and His revelation that He fulfilled the work of creation in six acts or stages, dignifies and exalts the toil of the labouring man, with his six days of effort and one of rest, into an emblem of the creative work of God.






THE second verse of Genesis states, "And the earth was without form and void [i.e. waste and empty] and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The word tehom, here translated deep, has been used to support the theory that the Hebrews derived their Creation story from one which, when exiles in Babylon, they heard from their conquerors. If this theory were substantiated, it would have such an important bearing upon the subject of the attitude of the inspired writers towards the objects of nature, that a little space must be spared for its examination.


The purpose of the first chapter of Genesis is to tell us that—


"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."


From it we learn that the universe and all the parts that make it up—all the different forms of energy, all the different forms of matter—are neither deities themselves, nor their embodiments and expressions, nor the work of conflicting deities. From it we learn that the universe is not self-existent, nor even (as the pantheist thinks of it) the expression of one vague, impersonal and unconscious, but all-pervading influence. It was not self-made; it did not exist from all eternity. It is not God, for God made it.


But the problem of its origin has exercised the minds of many nations beside the Hebrews, and an especial interest attaches to the solution arrived at by those nations who were near neighbours of the Hebrews and came of the same great Semitic stock.


From the nature of the case, accounts of the origin of the world cannot proceed from experience, or be the result of scientific experiment. They cannot form items of history, or arise from tradition. There are only two possible sources for them; one, Divine revelation; the other, the invention of men.


The account current amongst the Babylonians has been preserved to us by the Syrian writer Damascius[22], who gives it as follows:—


"But the Babylonians, like the rest of the Barbarians, pass over in silence the one principle of the Universe, and they constitute two, Tavth and Apasn, making Apasn, the husband of Tavth, and denominating her 'the mother of the gods.' And from these proceeds an only-begotten son, Mumis, which, I conceive, is no other than the intelligible world proceeding from the two principles. From them also another progeny is derived, Lakh and Lakhos; and again a third, Kissar and Assros, from which last three others proceed, Anos and Illinos and Aos. And of Aos and Davk is born a son called Blos, who, they say, is the fabricator of the world. "[23]


The actual story, thus summarized by Damascius, was discovered by Mr. George Smith, in the form of a long epic poem, on a series of tablets, brought from the royal library of Kouyunjik, or Nineveh, and he published them in 1875, in his book on The Chaldean Account of Genesis. None of the tablets were perfect; and of some only very small portions remain. But portions of other copies of the poem have been discovered in other localities, and it has been found possible to piece together satisfactorily a considerable section, so that a fair idea of the general scope of the poem has been given to us.


It opens with the introduction of a being, Tiamtu—the Tavth of the account of Damascius,—who is regarded as the primeval mother of all things.


"When on high the heavens were unnamed,

Beneath the earth bore not a name:

The primeval ocean was their producer;

Mummu Tiamtu was she who begot the whole of them.

Their waters in one united themselves, and

The plains were not outlined, marshes were not to be seen,

When none of the gods had come forth,

They bore no name, the fates (had not been determined)

There were produced the gods (all of them)."[24]


The genealogy of the gods follows, and after a gap in the story, Tiamat, or Tiamtu, is represented as preparing for battle, "She who created everything... produced giant serpents." She chose one of the gods, Kingu, to be her husband and the general of her forces, and delivered to him the tablets of fate.


The second tablet shows the god Ansar, angered at the threatening attitude of Tiamat, and sending his son Anu to speak soothingly to her and calm her rage. But first Anu and then another god turned back baffled, and finally Merodach, the son of Ea, was asked to become the champion of the gods. Merodach gladly consented, but made good terms for himself. The gods were to assist him in every possible way by entrusting all their powers to him, and were to acknowledge him as first and chief of all. The gods in their extremity were nothing loth. They feasted Merodach, and, when swollen with wine, endued him with all magical powers, and hailed him—


"Merodach, thou art he who is our avenger,

(Over) the whole universe have we given thee the kingdom."[25]


At first the sight of his terrible enemy caused even Merodach to falter, but plucking up courage he advanced to meet her, caught her in his net, and, forcing an evil wind into her open mouth.


"He made the evil wind enter so that she could not close her lips.

The violence of the winds tortured her stomach, and

her heart was prostrated and her mouth was twisted.

He swung the club, he shattered her stomach;

He cut out her entrails; he over-mastered (her) heart;

he bound her and ended her life.

He threw down her corpse he stood upon it."[26]


The battle over and the enemy slain, Merodach considered how to dispose of the corpse.


"He strengthens his mind, he forms a clever plan,

And he stripped her of her skin like a fish, according to his plan;

He described her likeness and (with it) overshadowed the heavens;

He stretched out the skin, he kept a watch...."[27]


Of one half of the corpse of Tiamat he formed the earth, and of the other half the heavens. He then proceeded to furnish the heavens and the earth with their respective equipments; the details of this work occupying apparently the fifth, sixth, and seventh tablets of the series.


Under ordinary circumstances such a legend as the foregoing would not have attracted much attention. It is as barbarous and unintelligent as any myth of Zulu or Fijian. Strictly speaking, it is not a Creation myth at all. Tiamat and her serpent-brood and the gods are all existent before Merodach commences his work, and all that the god effects is a reconstruction of the world. The method of this reconstruction possesses no features superior to those of the Creation myths of other barbarous nations. Our own Scandinavian ancestors had a similar one, the setting of which was certainly not inferior to the grotesque battle of Merodach with Tiamat. The prose Edda tells us that the first man, Bur, was the father of Br, who was in turn the father of Odin and his two brothers Vili and Ve. These sons of Br slew Ymir, the old frost giant.


"They dragged the body of Ymir into the middle of Ginnungagap, and of it formed the earth. From Ymir's blood they made the sea and waters; from his flesh, the land; from his bones, the mountains; and his teeth and jaws, together with some bits of broken bones, served them to make the stones and pebbles."[28]


It will be seen that there is a remarkable likeness between the Babylonian and Scandinavian myths in the central and essential feature of each, viz. the way in which the world is supposed to have been built up by the gods from the fragments of the anatomy of a huge primeval monster. Yet it is not urged that there is any direct genetic connection between the two; that the Babylonians either taught their legend to the Scandinavians or learnt it from them.


Under ordinary circumstances it would hardly have occurred to any one to try to derive the monotheistic narrative of Gen. i. from either of these pagan myths, crowded as they are with uncouth and barbarous details. But it happened that Mr. George Smith, who brought to light the Assyrian Creation tablets, brought also to light a Babylonian account of the Flood, which had a large number of features in common with the narrative of Gen. vi.-ix. The actual resemblance between the two Deluge narratives has caused a resemblance to be imagined between the two Creation narratives. It has been well brought out in some of the later comments of Assyriologists that, so far from there being any resemblance in the Babylonian legend to the narrative in Genesis, the two accounts differ in toto. Mr. T. G. Pinches, for example, points out that in the Babylonian account there is—


"No direct statement of the creation of the heavens and the earth; No systematic division of the things created into groups and classes, such as is found in Genesis; No reference to the Days of Creation; No appearance of the Deity as the first and only cause of the existence of things."[29]


Indeed, in the Babylonian account, "the heavens and the earth are represented as existing, though in a chaotic form, from the first."


Yet on this purely imaginary resemblance between the Biblical and Babylonian Creation narratives the legend has been founded "that the introductory chapters of the Book of Genesis present to us the Hebrew version of a mythology common to many of the Semitic peoples." And the legend has been yet further developed, until writers of the standing of Prof. Friedrich Delitzsch have claimed that the Genesis narrative was borrowed from the Babylonian, though "the priestly scholar who composed Genesis, chapter i. endeavoured of course to remove all possible mythological features of this Creation story."[30]


If the Hebrew priest did borrow from the Babylonian myth, what was it that he borrowed? Not the existence of sea and land, of sun and moon, of plants and animals, of birds and beasts and fishes. For surely the Hebrew may be credited with knowing this much of himself, without any need for a transportation to Babylon to learn it. "In writing an account of the Creation, statements as to what are the things created must of necessity be inserted",[31] whenever, wherever, and by whomsoever that account is written.


What else, then, is there common to the two accounts? Tiamat  is the name given to the Babylonian mother of the universe, the dragon of the deep; and in Genesis it is written that "darkness was upon the face of the deep (tehom)."


Here, and here only, is a point of possible connection; but if it be evidence of a connection, what kind of a connection does it imply? It implies that the Babylonian based his barbarous myth upon the Hebrew narrative. There is no other possible way of interpreting the connection, if connection there be.


The Hebrew word would seem to mean, etymologically, "surges", "storm-tossed waters,"— "Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts." Our word" deep" is apt to give us the idea of stillness—we have the proverb, "Still waters run deep, "—whereas in some instances tehom is used in Scripture of waters which were certainly shallow, as, for instance, those passed through by Israel at the Red Sea:—


"Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath He cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. The depths have covered them."


In other passages the words used in our Authorized Version, "deep" or "depths" give the correct signification.


But deep waters, or waters in commotion, are in either case natural objects. We get the word tehom used continually in Scripture in a perfectly matter-of-fact way, where there is no possibility of personification or myth being intended. Tiamat, on the contrary, the Babylonian dragon of the waters, is a mythological personification. Now the natural object must come first. It never yet has been the case that a nation has gained its knowledge of a perfectly common natural object by de-mythologizing one of the mythological personifications of another nation. The Israelites did not learn about tehom, the surging water of the Red Sea, that rolled over the Egyptians in their sight, from any Babylonian fable of a dragon of the waters, read by their descendants hundreds of years later.


Yet further, the Babylonian account of Creation is comparatively late; the Hebrew account, as certainly, comparatively early. It is not merely that the actual cuneiform tablets are of date about 700 BC, coming as they do from the Kouyunjik mound, the ruins of the palace of Sennacherib and Assurbanipal, built about that date. The poem itself, as Prof. Sayce has pointed out, indicates, by the peculiar pre-eminence given in it to Merodach, that it is of late composition. It was late in the history of Babylon that Merodach was adopted as the supreme deity. The astronomical references in the poem are more conclusive still, for, as will be shown later on, they point to a development of astronomy that cannot be dated earlier than 700 BC.


On the other hand, the first chapter of Genesis was composed very early. The references to the heavenly bodies in verse 16 bear the marks of the most primitive condition possible of astronomy. The heavenly bodies are simply the greater light, the lesser light, and the stars—the last being introduced quite parenthetically. It is the simplest reference to the heavenly bodies that is made in Scripture, or that, indeed, could be made.[32]


There may well have been Babylonians who held higher conceptions of God and nature than those given in the Tiamat myth. It is certain that very many Hebrews fell short of the teaching conveyed in the first chapter of Genesis. But the fact remains that the one nation preserved the Tiamat myth, the other the narrative of Genesis, and each counted its own Creation story sacred. We can only rightly judge the two nations by what they valued. Thus judged, the Hebrew nation stands as high above the Babylonian in intelligence, as well as in faith, as the first chapter of Genesis is above the Tiamat myth.





THE sixth verse of the first chapter of Genesis presents a difficulty as to the precise meaning of the principal word, viz. that translated firmament.


"And God said, Let there be a raqia in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the raqia, and divided the waters which were under the raqia, from the waters which were above the raqia: and it was so. And God called the raqia "Shamayim". And the evening and the morning were the second day."


It is, of course, perfectly clear that by the word raqia in the preceding passage it is the atmosphere that is alluded to.[33] But later on in the chapter the word is used in a slightly different connection. "God said, Let there be lights in the raqia of heaven."


As we look upward from the earth, we look through a twofold medium. Near the earth we have our atmosphere; above that there is inter-stellar space, void of anything, so far as we know, except the Ether.[34] We are not able to detect any line of demarcation where our atmosphere ends, and the outer void begins. Both therefore are equally spoken of as "the firmament"; and yet there is a difference between the two. The lower supports the clouds; in the upper are set the two great lights and the stars. The upper, therefore, is emphatically raqia hashamayim, "the firmament of heaven", of the "uplifted". It is "in the face of"—that is, "before", or "under the eyes of", "beneath",—this higher expanse that the fowls of the air fly to and fro.


The firmament, then, is that which Tennyson sings of as "the central blue", the seeming vault of the sky, which we can consider as at any height above us that we please. The clouds are above it in one sense; yet in another, sun, moon and stars, which are clearly far higher than the clouds, are set in it.


There is no question therefore as to what is referred to by the word "firmament"; but there is a question as to the etymological meaning of the word, and associated with that, a question as to how the Hebrews themselves conceived of the celestial vault.



The word raqia, translated "firmament", properly signifies "an expanse" or "extension", something stretched or beaten out. The verb from which this noun is derived is often used in Scripture, both as referring to the heavens and in other connections. Thus in Job xxxvii. 18, the question is asked, "Canst thou with Him spread out the sky, which is strong as a molten mirror?" Eleazar, the priest, after the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram took the brazen censers of the rebels, and they were "made broad plates for a covering of the altar." The goldsmith described by Isaiah as making an idol, "spreadeth it over with gold"; whilst Jeremiah says, "silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish." Again, in Psalm cxxxvi., in the account of creation we have the same word used with reference to the earth, "To Him that stretched out the earth above the waters." In this and in many other passages the idea of extension is clearly that which the word is intended to convey. But the Seventy, in making the Greek Version of the Old Testament, were naturally influenced by the views of astronomical science then held in Alexandria, the centre of Greek astronomy. Here, and at this time, the doctrine of the crystalline spheres—a misunderstanding of the mathematical researches of Eudoxus and others—held currency. These spheres were supposed to be a succession of perfectly transparent and invisible solid shells, in which the sun, moon, and planets were severally placed. The Seventy no doubt considered that, in rendering raqia by stereoma, i.e. "firmament", thus conveying the idea of a solid structure, they were speaking the last word of up-to-date science.


There should be no reluctance in ascribing to the Hebrews an erroneous scientific conception if there is any evidence that they held it. We cannot too clearly realize that the writers of the Scriptures were not supernaturally inspired to give correct technical scientific descriptions; and supposing they had been so inspired, we must bear in mind that we should often consider those descriptions wrong just in proportion to their correctness, for the very sufficient reason that not even our own science of today has yet reached finality in all things.


There should be no reluctance in ascribing to the Hebrews an erroneous scientific conception if there is any evidence that they held it. In this case, there is no such evidence; indeed, there is strong evidence to the contrary.


The Hebrew word raqia, as already shown, really signifies "extension", just as the word for heaven, shamayim means the "uplifted". In these two words, therefore, significant respectively of a surface and of height, there is a recognition of the "three dimensions",—in other words, of Space.


When we wish to refer to super-terrestrial space, we have two expressions in modern English by which to describe it: we can speak of "the vault of heaven", or of "the canopy of heaven". "The vault of heaven" is most used, it has indeed been recently adopted as the title of a scientific work by a well-known astronomer.[35] But the word vault certainly gives the suggestion of a solid structure; whilst the word canopy calls up the idea of a slighter covering, probably of some textile fabric.


The reasons for thinking that the Hebrews did not consider the "firmament" a solid structure are, first, that the word does not necessarily convey that meaning; next, that the attitude of the Hebrew mind towards nature was not such as to require this idea. The question, "What holds up the waters above the firmament?" would not have troubled them. It would have been sufficient for them, as for the writer to the Hebrews, to consider that God was "upholding all things by the word of His power", and they would not have troubled about the machinery. But besides this, there are many passages in Scripture, some occurring in the earliest books, which expressly speak of the clouds as carrying the water; so that the expressions placing waters "above the firmament ", or "above the heavens", can mean no more than "in the clouds". Indeed, as we shall see, quite a clear account is given of the atmospheric circulation, such as could hardly be mended by a modern poet.


It is true that David sang that "the foundations of heaven moved and shook, because He was wroth", and Job says, that "the pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at His reproof." But not only are the references to foundations and pillars evidently intended merely as poetic imagery, but they are also used much more frequently of the earth, and yet at the same time Job expressly points out that God "stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." The Hebrew formed no ideas like those of the Hindus, who thought the earth supported by elephants, the elephants by a tortoise, the tortoise by a snake.


In Scripture, in most cases the word "earth" (eretz) does not mean the solid mass of this our planet, but only its surface; the "dry land" as opposed to the "seas"; the countries, the dwelling place of man and beast. The "pillars" or "foundations" of the earth in this sense are the great systems of the rocks, and these were conceived of as directly supported by the power of God, without any need of intermediary structures. The Hebrew clearly recognized that it is the will of God alone that keeps the whole secure.


Thus Hannah sang—


"The pillars of the earth are the Lord's,

And He hath set the world upon them."


And Asaph represents the Lord as saying:—


"The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved:

I bear up the pillars of it."


Yet again, just as we speak of "the celestial canopy", so Psalm civ. describes the Lord as He "who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain", and Isaiah gives the image in a fuller form,—"that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." The same expression of "stretching out the heavens" is repeatedly used in Isaiah; it is indeed one of his typical phrases. Here, beyond question, extension, spreading out, is the idea sought to be conveyed, not that of solidity.


The prophet Amos uses yet another parallel. "It is He that buildeth His stories in the heaven." While Isaiah speaks of the entire stellar universe as the tent or pavilion of Jehovah, Amos likens the height of the heavens as the steps up to His throne; the "stories" are the "ascent", as Moses speaks of the "ascent of Akrabbim", and David makes "the ascent" of the Mount of Olives. The Hebrews cannot have regarded the heavens as, literally, both staircase and reservoir.


The firmament, i.e. the atmosphere, is spoken of as dividing between the waters that are under the firmament, i.e. oceans, seas, rivers, etc., from the waters that are above the firmament, i.e. the masses of water vapour carried by the atmosphere, seen in the clouds, and condensing from them as rain. We get the very same expression as this of the "waters which were above" in the Psalm of Praise;—


"Praise Him, ye heavens of heavens,

And ye waters that be above the heavens";


and again in the Song of the Three Children [Apocrypha]:—


"O all ye waters that be above the heaven, bless ye the Lord."


In the later books of the Bible the subject of the circulation of water through the atmosphere is referred to much more fully. Twice over the prophet Amos describes Jehovah as "He that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth." This is not merely a reference to the tides, for the Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes expressly points out that "all the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again"; and Isaiah seems to employ something of the same thought:


"For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater."


Schiaparelli indeed argues that this very passage from Isaiah "expressly excludes any idea of an atmospheric circulation of waters"[36] on the ground that the water so falling is thought to be transmuted into seeds and fruits. But surely the image is as true as it is beautiful! The rain is absorbed by vegetation, and is transmuted into seeds and fruit, and it would go hard to say that the same particles of rain are again evaporated and taken up afresh into the clouds. Besides, if we complete the quotation we find that what is stated is that the rain does not return until it has accomplished its purpose:—


"So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto: Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."


Elihu describes the process of evaporation precisely:—


"Behold, God is great, and we know Him not;

The number of His years is unsearchable.

For He draweth up the drops of water,

Which distil in rain from His vapour:

Which the skies pour down

And drop upon man abundantly."


Throughout the books of Holy Scripture, the connection between the clouds and the rain is clearly borne in mind. Deborah says in her song "the clouds dropped water." In the Psalms there are many references. In lxxvii. 17, "The clouds poured out water;" in cxlvii. 8, "Who covereth the heaven with clouds, Who prepareth rain for the earth." Proverbs xvi. 15, "His favour is as a cloud of the latter rain." The Preacher says that "clouds return after the rain"; and Isaiah, "I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it"; and Jude, "Clouds they are without water, carried about of winds."


The clouds, too, were not conceived as being heavy. Nahum says that "the clouds are the dust of His feet", and Isaiah speaks of "a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest". The Preacher clearly understood that "the waters above" were not pent in by solid barriers; that they were carried by the clouds; for "if the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth." And Job says of Jehovah, "He bindeth up the waters in His thick clouds, and the cloud is not rent under them;" and, later, Jehovah Himself asks:—


"Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds,

That abundance of waters may cover thee?


Who can number the clouds by wisdom,

Or who can pour out the bottles of heaven?"


The Hebrews, therefore, were quite aware that the waters of the sea were drawn up into the atmosphere by evaporation, and were carried by it in the form of clouds. No doubt their knowledge in this respect, as in others, was the growth of time. But there is no need to suppose that, even in the earlier stages of their development, the Hebrews thought of the "waters that be above the heavens" as contained in a literal cistern overhead. Still less is there reason to adopt Prof Schiaparelli's strange deduction: "Considering the spherical and convex shape of the firmament, the upper waters could not remain above without a second wall to hold them in at the sides and the top. So a second vault above the vault of the firmament closes in, together with the firmament, a space where are the storehouses of rain, hail, and snow."[37] There seems to be nowhere in Scripture the slightest hint or suggestion of any such second vault; certainly not in the beautiful passage to which Prof. Schiaparelli is here referring.


"Where is the way to the dwelling of light,

And as for darkness, where is the place thereof;

That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof,

And that thou shouldst discern the paths to the house thereof.


Hast thou entered the treasuries of the snow,

Or hast thou seen the treasuries of the hail,

Which I have reserved against the time of trouble,

Against the day of battle and war?

By what way is the light parted,

Or the east wind scattered upon the earth?

Who hath cleft a channel for the water-flood,

Or a way for the lightning of the thunder;


Hath the rain a father?

Or who hath begotten the drops of dew?

Out of whose womb came the ice?

And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?"


The Song of David, Psalm xviii., clearly shows that its writer held no fantasy of a solidly built cistern of waters in the sky, but thought of the "dark waters" in the heavens, as identical with the "thick clouds". The passage is worth quoting at some length, not merely as supplying a magnificent word picture of a storm, but as showing the free and courageous spirit of the Hebrew poet, a spirit more emancipated than can be found in any other nation of antiquity. It was not only the gentler aspect of nature that attracted him; even for its most terrible, he had a sympathy, rising, under the influence of his strong faith in God, into positive exultation in it.


 "In my distress I called upon the Lord,

And cried unto my God:

He heard my voice out of His temple,

And my cry before Him came into His ears.

Then the earth shook and trembled,

The foundations also of the mountains moved

And were shaken, because He was wroth.

There went up a smoke out of His nostrils,

And fire out of His mouth devoured:

Coals were kindled by it.

He bowed the heavens also, and came down;

And thick darkness was under His feet.

And He rode upon a cherub, and did fly:

Yea, He flew swiftly upon the wings of the wind.

He made darkness His hiding place,

His pavilion round about Him;

Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.

At the brightness before Him His thick clouds passed,

Hailstones and coals of fire.

The Lord also thundered in the heavens,

And the Most High uttered His voice;

Hailstones and coals of fire.

And He sent out His arrows, and scattered them;

Yea lightnings manifold, and discomfited them.

Then the channels of waters appeared,

And the foundations of the world were laid bare,

At Thy rebuke, O Lord,

At the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils.

He sent from on high, He took me;

He drew me out of many waters.

He delivered me from my strong enemy,

And from them that hated me, for they were too mighty for me."


Two other passages point to the circulation of water vapour upward from the earth before its descent as rain; one in the prophecy of Jeremiah, the other, almost identical with it, in Psalm cxxxv. 7: "When He uttereth His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; He maketh lightnings for the rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of His treasuries." Here we get a hint of a close observing of nature among the Hebrews. For by the foreshortening that clouds undergo in the distance, they inevitably appear to form chiefly on the horizon, "at the ends of the earth", whence they move upwards towards the zenith.


A further reference to clouds reveals not observation only but acute reflection, though it leaves the mystery without solution. "Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of Him Which is perfect in knowledge?" There is a deep mystery here, which science is far from having completely solved, how it is that the clouds float, each in its own place, at its own level; each perfectly "balanced" in the thin air.


"That mist which lies in the morning so softly in the valley, level and white, through which the tops of the trees rise as if through an inundation—why is it so heavy? and why does it lie so low, being yet so thin and frail that it will melt away utterly into splendour of morning, when the sun has shone on it but a few moments more? Those colossal pyramids, huge and firm, with outlines as of rocks, and strength to bear the beating of the high sun full on their fiery flanks—why are they so light—their bases high over our heads, high over the heads of Alps? why will these melt away, not as the sun rises, but as he descends, and leave the stars of twilight clear, while the valley vapour gains again upon the earth like a shroud? "[38]


The fact of the "balancing" has been brought home to us during the past hundred years very vividly by the progress of aerial navigation. Balloons are objects too familiar even to our children to cause them any surprise, and every one knows how instantly a balloon, when in the air, rises up higher if a few pounds of ballast are thrown out, or sinks if a little of the gas is allowed to escape. We know of no balancing more delicate than this, of a body floating in the air.


"The spreadings of the clouds" mentioned by Elihu are of the same nature as their "balancings", but the expression is less remarkable. The "spreading" is a thing manifest to all, but it required the mind both of a poet and a man of science to appreciate that such spreading involved a delicate poising of each cloud in its place.


The heavy rain which fell at the time of the Deluge is indeed spoken of as if it were water let out of a reservoir by its floodgates;—"the windows of heaven were opened"; but it seems to show some dullness on the part of an objector to argue that this expression involves the idea of a literal stone-built reservoir with its sluices. Those who have actually seen tropical rain in full violence will find the Scriptural phrase not merely appropriate but almost inevitable. The rain does indeed fall like hitherto pent-up waters rushing forth at the opening of a sluice, and it seems unreasonable to try to place too literal an interpretation upon so suitable a simile.


There is the less reason to insist upon this very matter-of-fact rendering of the "windows of heaven", that in two out of the three connections in which it occurs, the expression is certainly used metaphorically. On the occasion of the famine in the city of Samaria, Elisha prophesied that—


"Tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?"


So again Malachi exhorted the Jews after the Return from Babylon:—


"Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."


In neither case can the "windows of heaven" have been meant by the speaker to convey the idea of the sluice gates of an actual, solidly-built reservoir in the sky.


One other cloud fact—their dissipation as the sun rises high in the heavens—is noticed in one of the most tender and pathetic passages in all the prophetic Scriptures. The Lord, by the mouth of Hosea, is mourning over the instability of His people. "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away."


The winds of heaven were considered as four in number, corresponding to our own four "cardinal points". Thus the great horn of Daniel's he-goat was broken and succeeded by four notable horns toward the four winds of heaven; as the empire of Alexander the Great was divided amongst his four generals. In Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones the prophet prays, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain"; and Jeremiah foretells that "the four winds from the four quarters of heaven" shall be brought upon Elam, and scatter its outcasts into every nation.


The circulation of the winds is clearly set forth by the Preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes.


"The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits."


Of the four quarters the Hebrews reckoned the east as first. It was to the east that they supposed themselves always looking. The chief word for east, therefore, kedem, means "that which is before", "the front"; and the word next in use is, naturally, mizrach, the rising of the sun. The west is, as naturally, mebo hashemesh, the going down of the sun; but as the Mediterranean Sea lay to the westward of Palestine" the sea" (yam) is frequently put instead of that point of the compass. With the east in front, the south becomes the right, and the north the left. The south also was negeb, the desert, since the desert shut in Palestine to the south, as the sea to the west. In opposition to tsaphon, the dark or hidden north, the south is darom, the bright and sunny region.


The phrase "four corners of the earth" does not imply that the Hebrews thought of the earth as square. Several expressions on the contrary show that they thought of it as circular. The Lord "sitteth upon the circle of the earth", and in another passage the same form is applied to the ocean. "He set a compass (margin "circle") upon the face of the depth." This circle is no doubt the circle of the visible horizon, within which earth and sea are spread out apparently as a plain; above it "the vault of heaven" (Job xxii. 14; R.V. margin) is arched. There does not appear to be allusion, anywhere in Scripture, to the spherical form of the earth.


The Hebrew knowledge of the extent of the terrestrial plain was of course very limited, but it would seem that, like many other nations of antiquity, they supposed that the ocean occupied the outer part of the circle surrounding the land which was in the centre. This may be inferred from Job's statement—


"He hath described a boundary upon the face of the waters,

Unto the confines of light and darkness."


The boundary of the world is represented as being "described", or more properly "circumscribed", drawn as a circle, upon the ocean. This ocean is considered as essentially one, exactly as by actual exploration we now know it to be;—"Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place";—all the oceans and seas communicate.


Beneath the earth there are the waters. The Lord hath founded the world "upon the seas, and established it upon the floods", and (Psalm cxxxvi. 6) "stretched out the earth above the waters." This for the most part means simply that the water surface lies lower than the land surface. But there are waters,—other than those of the ocean,—which are, in a strict sense, beneath the earth; the subterranean waters, which though in the very substance of the earth, and existing there in an altogether different way from the great masses of water we see upon the surface, form a water system, which may legitimately be termed a kind of ocean underground. From these subterranean waters our springs issue forth, and it is these waters we tap in our wells. Of the cedar in Lebanon Ezekiel spoke: "The waters made him great, the deep set him up on high with her rivers running round about his plants, and sent out her little rivers (margin, conduits) unto all the trees of the field." The "deep", tehom, applies therefore, not merely to the restless waters of the ocean, but to these unseen waters as well; and means, not merely "surging waters", but depths of any kind. When in the great Deluge the floodgates of heaven were opened, these "fountains of the great deep were broken up" as well. And later both fountains and windows were "stopped". So the Lord asks Job, "Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?" and in Proverbs it is said of the Lord, "By His knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew."


The tides upon the seacoast of Palestine are very slight, but some have seen a reference to them in Jer. v. 22, where the Lord says, I "have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it." More probably the idea to be conveyed is merely that of the restraint of the sea to its proper basin, as in the passage where the Lord asks Job. "Who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth l as if it had issued out of the womb?" And the writer of Proverbs sums all up:—


"When He prepared the heavens, I [Wisdom] was there: when He set a compass upon the face of the depth: when He established the clouds above: when He strengthened the fountains of the deep: when He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment: when He appointed the foundations of the earth."




As has been already pointed out, the astronomical references in Scripture are not numerous, and probably give but an inadequate idea of the actual degree of progress attained by the Hebrews in astronomical science. Yet it is clear, even from the record which we have, that there was one great astronomical fact which they had observed, and that it had made a deep impression upon them.


That fact was the sublime Order of the heavenly movements. First amongst these was the order of the daily progress of the sun; rising in the east and moving slowly, majestically, and resistlessly upward to the meridian,—the "midst" or "bisection" of heaven, of Josh. x. 13,—and then passing downwards as smoothly and unfalteringly to his setting in the west.


This motion of the sun inspires the simile employed by the Psalmist in the astronomical psalm, the nineteenth. He sings—


"The heavens declare the glory of God.


In them hath He set a tabernacle for the sun,

Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

And rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course.

His going forth is from the end of the heaven,

And his circuit unto the ends of it:

And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof."


The night revealed another Order, in its way more majestic still. As the twilight faded away the bright and silent watchers of the heavens mustered each in his place. And each, like the sun during the day, was moving, slowly, majestically, resistlessly, "without haste, without rest." Each had its appointed place, its appointed path. Some moved in small circles in the north; some rose in the east, and swept in long curves over towards their setting in the west, some scarcely lifted themselves above the southern horizon. But each one kept its own place. None jostled another, or hurried in advance, or lagged behind. It is no wonder that as the multitude of the stars was observed, and the unbroken order of their going, that the simile suggested itself of an army on the march—"the host of heaven". And the sight of the unbroken order of these bright celestial orbs suggested a comparison with the unseen army of exalted beings, the angels; the army or host of heaven in another sense, marshalled, like the stars, in perfect obedience to the Divine will. So in the vision of Micaiah, the son of Imlah, the "host of heaven" are the thousands of attendant spirits waiting around the throne of God to fulfil His bidding.


"I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on His right hand and on His left."


But more frequently it is the starry, not the angelic, army to which reference is made.


So Jeremiah prophesies—


"As the host of heaven cannot be numbered,

Neither the sand of the sea measured:

So will I multiply the seed of David My servant,

And the Levites that minister unto Me."


The prophets of Israel recognized clearly, that the starry host of heaven and the angelic host were distinct; that the first, in their brightness, order, and obedience formed fitting comparison for the second; but that both were created beings; neither were divinities.


The heathen nations around recognized also the hosts both of the stars and of spiritual beings, but the first they took as the manifestations of the second, whom they counted as divinities. There was often a great confusion between the two, and the observance or worship of the first could not be kept distinguished from the recognition or worship of the other; the very ideogram for a god was an 8-rayed star. The Hebrews were warned again and again lest, confusing in their minds these two great hosts of stars and angels, they should deem the one the divine manifestation of the other, the divinity, not accounting them both fellow-servants, the handiwork of God.


Thus, in the wilderness, the Lord commands them through Moses—.


"Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves,... lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided [distributed] unto all nations under the whole heaven"


But the one celestial army continually suggests the other, and the two are placed in the closest parallelism when reference is made to the time when the foundations of the earth were fastened, and the corner-stone thereof was laid,


"When the morning stars sang together,

And all the sons of God shouted for joy."


So when Deborah sings of the deliverance which the Lord gave to Israel at the battle of the Kishon, she puts the stars for the angelic legions that she feels assured were engaged in warring in their support.


"They fought from heaven;

The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.


The "courses" of the stars are the paths which they appear to follow as they move round the pole of the heavens as the night proceeds, whilst the stars themselves stand for the heavenly helpers who, unseen, had mingled in the battle and discomforted the squadrons of Sisera's war-chariots.


The "courses" of the stars may well have been the means of revealing a great fact to the Hebrews, which they had certainly realized earlier than any other nation, namely, the position of the earth, unsupported in space. Night by night, as they watched the stars in their procession across the heavens, they could not fail to note that stars rose from every point of the horizon in the east; that stars set at every point of the horizon in the west. From the north right round to the south, there was no place which was not the rising point or setting point of some star. Therefore, just as there was no part of the heavens above which was not the track or "course" of some star throughout the night, it was evident that there was no part of the unseen underworld which was not the track of some star when below the horizon. There was no place anywhere below the earth where a support could hold it up, even supposing the Hebrews had not had the discrimination to inquire what the support stood upon. Nor was the mystery of the earth's suspension one that troubled them. To the Hebrews, as to Job, the explanation was sufficient,—


"He [the Lord] stretcheth out the north over empty space

And hangeth the earth upon nothing";


"the north" being the great circumpolar constellations, that never dip below the horizon, but move round the pole of the heavens in unending circles.[39]


The solemn procession of the starry host through the long night—the rising in the east, the southing, and the setting in the west—is not the only ordered movement of the stars of heaven that may be recognized. As night by night brightens to its dawn, if we watch the eastern horizon and note what stars are the last to rise above it before the growing daylight overpowers the feeble stellar rays, then we see that some bright star, invisible on the preceding mornings, shines out for a few moments low down in the glimmer of the dawn. As morning succeeds morning it rises earlier, until at last it mounts when it is yet dark, and some other star takes its place as the herald of the rising sun. We recognize today this "heliacal rising" of the stars. Though we do not make use of it in our system of time-measuring, it played an important part in the calendar-making of the ancients. Such heralds of the rising sun were called "morning stars" by the Hebrews, and they used them "for seasons" and "for years". One star or constellation of stars would herald by its "heliacal rising" the beginning of spring, another the coming of winter; the time to plough, the time to sow, the time of the rains, would all be indicated by the successive "morning stars" as they appeared. And after an interval of three hundred and sixty-five or three hundred and sixty-six days the same star would again show itself as a morning star for a second time, marking out the year, whilst the other morning stars would follow, each in its due season. So we read in Job, that God led "forth the Mazzaroth [40] in their season."


This wonderful procession of the midnight sky is not known and admired by those who live in walled cities and ceiled houses, as it is by those who live in the open, in the wilderness. It is not therefore to be wondered at, that we find praise of these "works of the Lord... sought out of all them that have pleasure therein", mostly amongst the shepherds, the herdsmen, the wanderers in the open—in the words and prophecies of Job, of Jacob, Moses, David and Amos.


The thought that each new day, beginning with a new outburst of light, was, in its degree, a kind of new creation, an emblem of the original act by which the world was brought into being, renders appropriate and beautiful the ascription of the term "morning stars" to those "sons of God", the angels. As the stars in the eastern sky are poetically thought of as "singing together" to herald the creation of each new day, so in the verses already quoted from the Book of Job, the angels of God are represented as shouting for joy when the foundations of the earth were laid.


The "morning star" again stands as the type and earnest of that new creation which God has promised to His servants. The epistle to Thyatira concludes with the promise—"He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end,... I will give him the morning star."


The brightest of these heralds of the sun is the planet Venus, and such a "morning star" for power, glory, and magnificence, the king of Babylon had once been; like one of the angels of God. But as addressed in Isaiah's prophecy, he has been brought down to Sheol:—


"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!... For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God... I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High."


But the "morning star" is taken as a higher type, even of our Lord Himself, and of His future coming in glory. St. Peter bids the disciples, to whom he writes, take heed unto the word of prophecy as unto a lamp shining in a dark place "until the day dawn, and the Day star arise in your hearts." In almost the last words of the Bible, the Lord uses the same image Himself:—


"I, Jesus, have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the Churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star."


In the sublime and ordered movements of the various heavenly bodies, the Hebrews recognized the ordinances of God. The point of view always taken in Scripture is the theo-centric one; the relation sought to be brought out is not the relation of thing to thing—which is the objective of physical science—but the relation of creature to Creator. We have no means of knowing whether they made attempt to find any mechanical explanation of the movements; such inquiry would lie entirely outside the scope of the books of Holy Scripture, and other ancient Hebrew literature has not been transmitted to us.


The lesson which the Psalmists and the Prophets desired to teach was not the daily rotation of the earth upon its axis, nor its yearly revolution round the sun, but that—


"If those ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me for ever."


In the Bible all intermediate steps are omitted, and the result is linked immediately to the first Cause. God Himself is the theme, and trust in Him the lesson.


"Lift up your eyes on high, and see Who hath created these, That bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them all by name; by the greatness of His might, and for that He is strong in power, not one is lacking.


"Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed away from my God. Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of His understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might He increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint."




"AND God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven, to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: He made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day."


A double purpose for the two great heavenly bodies is indicated here,—first, the obvious one of giving light; next, that of time-measurement. These, from the human and practical point of view, are the two main services which the sun and moon render to us, and naturally sufficed for the object that the writer had before him. There is no evidence that he had any idea that the moon simply shone by reflecting the light of the sun; still less that the sun was a light for worlds other than our own; but if he had known these facts we can hardly suppose that he would have mentioned them; there would have been no purpose to be served by so doing.


But it is remarkable that no reference is made either to the incalculable benefits conferred by the action of the sun in ripening the fruits of the earth, or to the services of the moon as a time-measurer, in dividing off the months. Both these actions are clearly indicated later on in the Scriptures, where Moses, in the blessing which he pronounced upon the tribe of Joseph, prayed that his land might be blessed "for the precious things of the fruits of the sun", so that we may take their omission here, together with the omission of all mention of the planets, and the slight parenthetical reference to the stars, as indicating that this chapter was composed at an exceedingly early date.


The chief purpose of the sun is to give light; it "rules" or regulates the day and "divides the light from the darkness". As such it is the appropriate emblem of God Himself, Who "is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all." These images are frequently repeated in the Scriptures, and it is only possible to give a few instances. David sings, "The Lord is my light and my salvation." "The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light," is the promise made to Zion. St. John expressly uses the term of the Son of God, our Lord: "That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." Whilst the more concrete emblem is used as often. In the eighty-fourth psalm, the psalm of pilgrimage, we read, "The Lord God is a sun and shield;" Malachi predicts that "the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings," and St. James, with the same thought of the sun in his mind, speaks of God as "the Father of lights".


But in none of these or the other parallel passages is there the remotest approach to any deification of the sun, or even of that most ethereal of influences, light itself. Both are creatures, both are made by God; they are things and things only, and are not even the shrines of a deity. They may be used as emblems of God in some of His attributes; they do not even furnish any indication of His special presence, for He is equally present where sun and light are not. "The darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee."


The worship of the sun and of other heavenly bodies is one of the sins most unsparingly denounced in Scripture. It was one of the first warnings of the Book of Deuteronomy that Israel as a people were to take heed "lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them and serve them", and the utter overthrow of the nation was foretold should they break this law. And as for the nation, so for the individual, any "man or woman that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord thy God, in transgressing His covenant, and hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven" was, when convicted of working "such abomination" unsparingly to be put to death.


Yet with all this, sun-worship prevailed in Israel again and again. Two of the reforming kings of Judah, Asa and Josiah, found it necessary to take away "the sun images"; indeed, the latter king found that the horses and chariots which his predecessors, Manasseh and Amon, had dedicated to sun-worship, were kept at the very entrance to the temple. In spite of his reformation, however, the evil spread until the final corruption of Jerusalem was shown in vision to Ezekiel; "Seventy men of the ancients"—that is, the complete Sanhedrim—offered incense to creeping things and abominable beasts; the women wept for Tammuz, probably the sun-god in his decline to winter death; and, deepest apostasy of all, five and twenty men, the high-priest, and the chief priests of the twenty-four courses, "with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east." The entire nation, as represented in its chief members in State, Society, and Church, was apostate, and its ruin followed. Five years more and the temple was burned and Jerusalem destroyed, and in captivity and exile the nation learned to abhor the idolatry that had brought about its overthrow.


Four words are translated "sun" in our Authorized Version. Of these one, used Job xxxi. 26, should really be "light" as in the margin,—"If I beheld the light when it shined",—though the sun is obviously meant. The second word is one used in poetry chiefly in conjunction with a poetical word for the moon, and refers to the sun's warmth, as the other does to the whiteness of the moon. Thus the Bride in the Song of Solomon is described as "fair as the moon, clear as the sun." The third word has given rise to some ambiguity. In the eighth chapter of Judges, in the Authorized Version, it is stated that "Gideon, the son of Joash, returned from the battle before the sun was up", but in the Revised Version that he "returned from the battle from the ascent of Heres." There was a mount Heres, a mount of the sun, in the portion of the Danites held by the Amorites, but that cannot have been the Heres of Gideon. Still the probability is that a mount sacred to the sun is meant here as well as in the reference to the Danites; though heres  as meaning the sun itself occurs in the story of Samson's riddle, for the men of the city gave him the answer to it which they had extorted from his wife, "before the sun (heres) went down." Shemesh, the Samas of the Babylonians, is the usual word for the sun; and we find it in Beth-shemesh, the '"house of the sun", a Levitical city within the tribe of Judah, the scene of the return of the ark after its captivity amongst the Philistines. There was another Beth-shemesh in Naphtali on the borders of Issachar, and Jeremiah prophesies that Nebuchadnezzar "shall break also the images of Beth-shemesh, that is in the land of Egypt", probably the obelisks of the sun in On, or Heliopolis. It was from this city that Joseph, when vizier of Egypt, took his wife, the daughter of the high priest there. The images of the sun, and of Baal as the sun-god, seem to have been obelisks or pillars of stone, and hence had to be "broken down"; whilst the Asherah, the "groves" of the Authorized Version, the images of Ashtoreth as the moon-goddess, were wooden pillars, to be "cut" or "hewn down".


Another "city of the sun" in the land of Egypt is also mentioned by Isaiah, in his prophecy of the conversion and restoration of the Egyptians. "Five cities in the land of Egypt shall speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts; one shall be called The city of destruction"; lit. of Heres, or of the sun. It was upon the strength of this text that Onias, the son of Onias the high priest, appealed to Ptolemy Philometer to be allowed to build a temple to Jehovah in the prefecture of Heliopolis (the city of the sun), and obtained his permission to do so, BC 149.[41]


The epithet applied to the sun in Cant. vi. already quoted, "Clear as the sun", may be taken as equivalent to "spotless". That is its ordinary appearance to the naked eye, though from time to time—far more frequently than most persons have any idea—there are spots upon the sun sufficiently large to be seen without any optical assistance. Thus in the twenty years from 1882 to 1901 inclusive, such a phenomenon occurred on the average once in each week. No reference to the existence of sun-spots occurs in Scripture. Nor is this surprising, for it would not have fallen within the purpose of Scripture to record such a fact. But it is surprising that whilst the Chinese detected their occasional appearance, there is no distinct account of such an observation given either on Babylonian tablets or by classical or medieval writers.


The achievement of the Chinese in this direction is very notable, for the difficulty of looking directly at the sun, under ordinary circumstances, is so great, and the very largest sunspots are so small as compared with the entire disc, that it argues great perseverance in watching such appearances on the part of the Chinese, for them to have assured themselves that they were not due to very small distant clouds in our own atmosphere.


It has often been the subject of comment that light is mentioned in Gen. i. as having been created on the first day, but the sun not until the fourth. The order is entirely appropriate from an astronomical point of view, for we know that our sun is not the only source of light, since it is but one out of millions of stars, many of which greatly exceed it in splendour. Further, most astronomers consider that our solar system existed as a luminous nebula long ages before the sun was formed as a central condensation.[42]


But the true explanation of the creation of light being put first is probably this—that there might be no imagining that, though gross solid bodies, like earth and sea, sun and moon might require a Creator, yet something so ethereal and all-pervading as light was self-existent, and by its own nature, eternal. This was a truth that needed to be stated first. God is light, but light is not God.


The other references to the sun in Scripture do not call for much comment. Its apparent unchangeableness qualifies it for use as an expression for eternal duration, as in the seventy-second, the Royal, Psalm, "They shall fear Thee as long as the sun and moon endure"; and again, "His name shall endure for ever: His name shall be continued as long as the sun." And again, in the eighty-ninth Psalm, it is said of David: "His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before Me:"


The daily course of the sun from beyond the eastern horizon to beyond the western gives the widest expression for the compass of the whole earth. "The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken, and called the earth, from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof." "From the rising of the sun, unto the going down of the same, the Lord's name is to be praised." The sun's rays penetrate everywhere. "His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof." Whilst in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the melancholy words of the Preacher revert over and over again to that which is done "under the sun". "What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?"


It should be noted that this same Book of Ecclesiastes shows a much clearer idea of the sun's daily apparent motion than was held by many of the writers of antiquity. There is, of course, nowhere in Scripture any mention of the rotation of the earth on its axis as the mechanical explanation of the sun's daily apparent motion; any more than we should refer to it ourselves today except when writing from a purely technical point of view. As said already the Hebrews had probably not discovered this explanation, and would certainly have not gone out of their way to mention it in any of their Scriptures if they had.


One passage of great beauty has sometimes been quoted as if it contained a reference to the earth's rotation, but when carefully examined it is seen to be dealing simply with the apparent motion of the sun in the course of the year and of the day.


"Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days;

And caused the dayspring to know his place;

That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,

That the wicked might be shaken out of it?

It is turned as clay to the seal;

And they stand as a garment."


The earth appears to be spoken of as being "turned" to the sun, the dayspring; and this, we know, takes place, morning by morning, in consequence of the diurnal rotation. But the last two lines are better rendered in the Revised Version—


"It is changed as clay under the seal;

And all things stand forth as a garment."


The ancient seals were cylinders, rolled over the clay, which, formless before, took upon it the desired relief as the seal passed over it. So a garment, laid aside and folded up during the night, is shapeless, but once again takes form when the wearer puts it on. And the earth, formless in the darkness, gains shape and colour and relief with the impress upon it of the morning light.


It is quite clear that the Hebrews did not suppose that it was a new sun that came up from the east each morning, as did Xenophanes and the Epicureans amongst the Greeks. It was the same sun throughout. Nor is there any idea of his hiding himself behind a mysterious mountain during the night. "The sun", the Preacher tells us, "ariseth and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose." The Hebrew was quite aware that the earth was unsupported in space, for he knew that the Lord "stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." There was therefore nothing to hinder the sun passing freely under the earth from west to east, and thus making his path, not a mere march onward ending in his dissolution at sunset, but a complete "circuit", as noted by the writer of the nineteenth Psalm.


The fierceness of the sun's heat in Palestine rendered sun-stroke a serious danger. The little son of the Shunammite was probably so smitten as he watched his father at work with the reapers. So the promise is given to God's people more than once: "The sun shall not smite thee by day." They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them." The martyrs who pass through the great tribulation shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat."


There are fewer references in Scripture to the vivifying effects of sunlight upon vegetation than we might have expected. The explanation is possibly to be found in the terrible perversion men had made of the benefits which came to them by means of this action of sunlight, by using them as an excuse for plunging into all kinds of nature-worship. Yet there are one or two allusions not without interest. As already mentioned, "the precious fruits brought forth by the sun" were promised to the tribe of Joseph; whilst the great modern discovery that nearly every form of terrestrial energy is derived ultimately from the energy of the sun's rays gives a most striking appropriateness to the imagery made use of by St. James.


"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."


God, that is to say, is the true Sun, the true Origin of all Lights, the true bestower of every good and perfect gift. The word rendered "variableness" is a technical word, used by ourselves in modern English as "parallax", and employed in the Septuagint Version to denote the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, described in the thirty-eighth chapter of the book of Job, as "the ordinances of the heavens". With the natural sun, therefore, there is "variableness", that is to say, real or apparent change of place; there is none with God. Neither is there with Him any darkness of eclipse; any "shadow" caused, as in the case of the material sun, by the "turning" of earth and moon in their orbits. The knowledge of "the alternations of the turning of the sun", described in the Book of Wisdom as a feature of the learning of Solomon, was a knowledge of the laws of this "variableness" and "turning "; especially of the "turning" of its rising and setting points at the two solstices; and St. James may well have had that passage in his mind when he wrote. For Science deals with the knowledge of things that change, as they change, and of their changes, but Faith with the knowledge of Him that abideth for ever, and it is to this higher knowledge that St. James wished to point his readers.


Science deals with the knowledge of things that change, as they change and of their changes. The physical facts that we have learned in the last years about that changeful body the sun are briefly these:—


Its core or inner nucleus is not accessible to observation, its nature and constitution being a mere matter of inference. The "photosphere" is a shell of incandescent cloud surrounding the nucleus, but the depth, or thickness of this shell is quite unknown. The outer surface—which we see—of the photosphere is certainly pretty sharply defined, though very irregular, rising at points into whiter aggregations, called "faculae", and perhaps depressed at other places in the dark "spots". Immediately above the photosphere lies the "reversing layer" in which are found the substances which give rise to the gaps in the sun's spectrum—the Fraunhofer lines. Above the "reversing layer" lies the scarlet "chromosphere" with "prominences" of various forms and dimensions rising high above the solar surface; and over, and embracing all, is the "corona", with its mysterious petal-like forms and rod-like rays.


The great body of the sun is gaseous, though it is impossible for us to conceive of the condition of the gaseous core, subjected, as it is, at once to temperature and pressure both enormously great. Probably it is a gas so viscous that it would resist motion as pitch or putty does. Nor do we know much of the nature of either the sun-spots or the solar corona. Both seem to be produced by causes which lie within the sun; both undergo changes that are periodical and connected with each other. They exercise some influence upon the earth's magnetism, but whether this influence extends to terrestrial weather, to rainfall and storms, is still a matter of controversy.


The sun itself is distant from the earth in the mean, about 92,885,000 miles, but this distance varies between January and June by 3,100,000 miles. The diameter of the sun is 866,400 miles, but perhaps this is variable to the extent of some hundreds of miles. It would contain 1,305,000 times the bulk of the earth, but its mean density is but one-quarter that of the earth. The force of gravity at its surface is 27.5 times that at the surface of the earth, and it rotates on its axis in about 25 days. But the sun's surface does not appear to rotate as a whole, so this time of rotating varies by as much as two days if we consider a region on the sun's equator or at a distance from it of 45. The intensity of sunlight at the surface of the sun is about 100,000 times that of a candle-flame, and the effective temperature of the solar surface is eight or ten thousand degrees centigrade.


Such are some of the facts about the sun that are received, or, as it would be technically expressed, "adopted" today. Doubtless a very few years will find them altered and rendered more accurate as observations accumulate. In a few hundred years knowledge of the constitution of the sun may have so increased that these data and suggestions may seem so erroneous as to be absurd. It is little more than a century since one of the greatest of astronomers, Sir William Herschel, contended that the central globe of the sun might be a habitable world, sheltered from the blazing photosphere by a layer of cool non-luminous clouds. Such an hypothesis was not incompatible with what was then known of the constitution of the heavenly bodies, though it is incompatible with what we know now. It was simply a matter on which more evidence was to be accumulated, and the holding of such a view does not, and did not, detract from the scientific status of Sir William Herschel.


The hypotheses of science require continual restatement in the light of new evidence, and, as to the weight and interpretation to be given to such evidence, there is continual conflict—if it may so be called—between the old and the new science, between the science that is established and the science that is being established. It is by this conflict that knowledge is rendered sure.[43]


Such a conflict took place rather more than 300 years ago at the opening of the Modern Era of astronomy. It has often been represented as a conflict between religion and science, whereas it was really a conflict between two schools of science—between the disciples of Aristotle and Claudius Ptolemy on the one hand and the disciples of Copernicus on the other—and the representatives of the older school of science were able to make use of the powers of the Church against the newer school as represented by Galileo. Their action may, or may not, have been an abuse of authority, but neither then, nor now, had either scientific theory, Ptolemaic or Copernican, a right to claim a theological standing.


So long as evidence sufficient to demonstrate the Copernican hypothesis was not forthcoming, it was possible for a man to hold the Ptolemaic, without detracting from his scientific position, just as it is thought no discredit to Sir William Herschel that he held his curious idea of a cool sun under the conditions of knowledge of a hundred years ago. Even at the present day, we habitually use the Ptolemaic phraseology. Not only do we speak of "sunrise", and "sunset", but astronomers in strictly technical papers use the expression, "acceleration of the sun's motion" when "acceleration of the earth's motion" is meant.


The question as to whether the earth goes round the sun or the sun goes round the earth has been decided by the accumulation of evidence. It was a question for evidence to decide. It was an open question so long as the evidence available was not sufficient to decide it. It was perfectly possible at one time for a scientific or a religious man to hold either view. Neither view interfered with his fundamental standing or with his mental attitude towards either sun or earth. In this respect—important as the question is in itself—it might be said to be a mere detail, almost a matter of indifference.


But it is not a mere detail, a matter of indifference to either scientist or religious man, as to what the sun and earth are—whether he can treat them as things that can be weighed, measured, compared, analyzed, as, a few pages back, we have shown has been done, or whether, as one of the chief astrologers of today puts it, he—


"Believes that the sun is the body of the Logos of this solar system, 'in Him we live and move and have our being.' The planets are his angels, being modifications in the consciousness of the Logos,"


and that the sun


"Stands as Power, having Love and Will united."


The difference between these two points of view is fundamental, and one of root principle. The foundation, the common foundation on which both the believer and the scientist build, is threatened by this false science and false religion. The calling, the very existence of both is assailed, and they must stand or fall together. The believer in one God cannot acknowledge a Sun-god, a Solar Logos, these planetary angels; the astronomer cannot admit the intrusion of planetary influences that obey no known laws, and the supposed effects of which are in no way proportional to the supposed causes. The Law of Causality does not run within the borders of astrology.


It is the old antithesis restated of the Hebrew and the heathen. The believer in one God and the scientist alike derive their heritage from the Hebrew, whilst the modern astrologer claims that the astrology of today is once more a revelation of the Chaldean and Assyrian religions. But polytheism—whether in its gross form of many gods, of planetary angels, or in the more subtle form of pantheism,—is the very negation of sane religion; and astrology is the negation of sane astronomy.


"For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things."




"The balmy moon of blessed Israel

Floods all the deep-blue gloom with beams divine:

All night the splintered crags that wall the dell

With spires of silver shine."


So, in Tennyson's words, sang Jephthah's daughter, as she recalled the days of her mourning before she accomplished her self-sacrifice.


It is hard for modern dwellers in towns to realize the immense importance of the moon to the people of old. "The night cometh when no man can work" fitly describes their condition when she was absent. In sub-tropical countries like Palestine, twilight is short, and, the sun once set, deep darkness soon covers everything. Such artificial lights as men then had would now be deemed very inefficient. There was little opportunity, when once darkness had fallen, for either work or enjoyment.


But, when the moon was up, how very different was the case. Then men might say.


"This night, methinks, is but the daylight sick;

It looks a little paler: 'tis a day,

Such as the day is when the sun is hid."


In the long moonlit nights, travelling was easy and safe; the labours of the field and house could still be carried on; the friendly feast need not be interrupted. But of all men, the shepherd would most rejoice at this season; all his toils, all his dangers were immeasurably lightened during the nights near the full. As in the beautiful rendering which Tennyson has given us of one of the finest passages in the Iliad.


"In heaven the stars about the moon

Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,

And every height comes out, and jutting peak

And valley, and the immeasurable heavens

Break open to their highest, and all the stars

Shine, and the Shepherd gladdens in his heart"


A large proportion of the people of Israel, long after their settlement in Palestine, maintained the habits of their forefathers, and led the shepherd's life. To them, therefore, the full of the moon must have been of special importance; yet there is no single reference in Scripture to this phase as such; nor indeed to any change of the moon's apparent figure. In two cases in our Revised Version we do indeed find the expression "at the full moon", but if we compare these passages with the Authorized Version, we find them there rendered "in the time appointed", or "at the day appointed". This latter appears to be the literal meaning, though there can be no question, as is seen by a comparison with the Syriac, that the period of the full moon is referred to. No doubt it was because travelling was so much more safe and easy than in the moonless nights, that the two great spring and autumn festivals of the Jews were held at the full moon. Indeed, the latter feast, when the Israelites "camped out" for a week "in booths", was held at the time of the "harvest moon". The phenomenon of the "harvest moon" may be briefly explained as follows. At the autumnal equinox, when the sun is crossing from the north side of the equator to the south, the full moon is crossing from the south side of the equator to the north. It is thus higher in the sky, when it souths [moves southward in its nightly passage from east to west], on each succeeding night, and is therefore up for a greater length of time. This counterbalances to a considerable extent its movement eastward amongst the stars, so that, for several nights in succession, it rises almost at sundown. These nights of the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel was rejoicing over the ingathered fruits, each family in its tent or arbour of green boughs, were therefore the fullest of moonlight in the year.[44]


Modern civilization has almost shut us off from the heavens, at least in our great towns and cities. These offer many conveniences, but they remove us from not a few of the beauties which nature has to offer. And so it comes that, taking the population as a whole, there is perhaps less practically known of astronomy in England today than there was under the Plantagenets. A very few are astronomers, professional and amateur, and know immeasurably more than our forefathers did of the science. Then there is a large, more or less cultured, public that know something of the science at secondhand through books. But the great majority know nothing of the heavenly bodies except of the sun; they need to "look in the almanack" to "find out moonshine". But to simpler peoples the difference between the "light half" of the month, from the first quarter to the last quarter through the full of the moon, and the "dark half", from the last quarter to the first quarter, through new, is very great. Indian astronomers so divide the month to this day.


In one passage of Holy Scripture, the description which Isaiah gives of the "City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel", there is a reference to the dark part of the month.


"Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon (literally "month") withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended."


The parallelism expressed in the verse lies between the darkness of night whilst the sun is below the horizon, and the special darkness of those nights when the moon, being near conjunction with the sun, is absent from the sky during the greater part or whole of the night hours, and has but a small portion of her disc illuminated. Just as half the day is dark because the sun has withdrawn itself, so half the nights of the month are dark because the moon has withdrawn itself.


The Hebrew month was a natural one, determined by actual observation of the new moon. They used three words in their references to the moon, the first of which, chodesh, derived from a root meaning "to be new", indicates the fact that the new moon, as actually observed, governed their calendar. The word therefore signifies the new moon—the day of the new moon; and thus a month, that is, a lunar month beginning at the new moon. This is the Hebrew word used in the Deluge story in the seventh chapter of Genesis; and in all references to feasts depending on a day in the month. As when the Lord spake to Moses, saying, "Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with your trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings." And again in the Psalm of Asaph to the chief musician upon Gittith: "Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day." This is the word also that Isaiah uses in describing the bravery of the daughters of Zion, "the tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets." "The round tires" were not discs, like the full moon, but were round like the crescent.


Generally speaking, chodesh is employed where either reference is made to the shape or newness of the crescent moon, or where "month" is used in any precise way. This is the word for "month" employed throughout by the prophet Ezekiel, who is so precise in the dating of his prophecies.


When the moon is mentioned as the lesser light of heaven, without particular reference to its form, or when a month is mentioned as a somewhat indefinite period of time, then the Hebrew word yareach, is used. Here the word has the root meaning of '"paleness"; it is the "silver moon".


Yareach is the word always used where the moon is classed among the heavenly bodies; as when Joseph dreamed of the sun, the moon, and the eleven constellations; or in Jer. viii. 2, where the Lord says that they shall bring out the bones of the kings, princes, priests, prophets, and inhabitants of Jerusalem, "and they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they have loved, and whom they have served, and after whom they have walked, and whom they have sought, and whom they have worshipped."


The same word is used for the moon in its character of "making ordinances". Thus we have it several times in the Psalms: "He (the Lord) appointed the moon for seasons." "His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven." And again: "The moon and stars rule by night"; whilst Jeremiah says, "Thus saith the Lord, Which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night."


In all passages where reference seems to be made to the darkening or withdrawing of the moon's light (Eccl. xii. 2; Isa. xiii. 10; Ezek. xxxii. 7; Joel ii. 10, 31, and iii. 15; and Hab. iii. 11) the word yareach is employed. A slight variant of the same word indicates the month when viewed as a period of time not quite defined, and not in the strict sense of a lunar month. This is the term used in Exod. ii. 2, for the three months that the mother of Moses hid him when she saw that he was a goodly child; by Moses, in his prophecy for Joseph, of "Blessed of the Lord be his land... for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the months." Such a "full month of days" did Shallum the son of Jabesh reign in Samaria in the nine and thirtieth year of Uzziah, king of Judah. Such also were the twelve months of warning given to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, before his madness fell upon him. The same word is once used for a true lunar month, viz. in Ezra vi. 15, when the building of the "house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king." In all other references to the months derived from the Babylonians, such as the "month Chisleu" in Neh. i. 1, the term chodesh is used, since these, like the Hebrew months, were defined by the observation of the new moon; but for the Tyrian months, Zif, Bul, Ethanim, we find the term yerach in three out of the four instances.


In three instances a third word is used poetically to express the moon. This is lebanah which has the meaning of whiteness.[45] In Song of Sol. vi. 10, it is asked—


"Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?"


Isaiah also says—


"Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously."


And yet again—


"Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of His people, and healeth the stroke of their wound."


It may not be without significance that each of these three passages, wherein the moon is denominated by its name of whiteness or purity, looks forward prophetically to the same great event, pictured yet more clearly in the Revelation.


"And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready.

"And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints"


Chodesh and yareach are masculine words; lebanah is feminine. But nowhere throughout the Old Testament is the moon personified, and in only one instance is it used figuratively to represent a person. This is in the case of Jacob's reading of Joseph's dream, already referred to, where he said—


"Behold I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me."


And his father quickly rebuked him, saying.


"What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?"


Here Jacob understands that the moon (yareach) stands for a woman, his wife. But in Mesopotamia, whence his grandfather Abraham had come out, Sin, the moon-god, was held to be a male god, high indeed among the deities at that time, and superior even to Samas, the sun-god. Terah, the father of Abraham, was held by Jewish tradition to have been an especial worshipper of the moon-god, whose great temple was in Haran, where he dwelt.


Wherever the land of Uz may have been, at whatever period Job may have lived, there and then it was an iniquity to worship the moon or the moon-god. In his final defence to his friends, when the "three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes", Job, justifying his life, said—


"If I beheld the sun when it shined,

Or the moon walking in brightness;

And my heart hath been secretly enticed,

And my mouth hath kissed my hand:

This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judges:

For I should have lied to God that is above."


The Hebrews, too, were forbidden to worship the sun, the moon, or the stars, the host of heaven, and disobeyed the commandment both early and late in their history. When Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness in the plain over against the Red Sea, he said to them.


"The Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice... Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female... And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldst be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven."


We know what the "similitude" of the sun and the moon were like among the surrounding nations. We see their "hieroglyphs" on numberless seals and images from the ruins of Nineveh or Babylon. That of the sun was first a rayed star or disc, later a figure, rayed and winged [see figure]. That of the moon was a crescent, one lying on its back, like a bowl or cup, the actual attitude of the new moon at the beginning of the new year. Just such moon similitudes did the soldiers of Gideon take from off the camels of Zebah and Zalmunna; just such were the "round tires like the moon" that Isaiah condemns among the bravery of the daughters of Zion.


The similitude or token of Ashtoreth, the paramount goddess of the Zidonians, was the ashera,—the "grove" of the Authorized Version, probably in most cases merely a wooden pillar. This goddess, "the abomination of the Zidonians", was a moon-goddess, concerning whom Eusebius preserves a statement by the Phoenician historian, Sanchoniathon, that her images had the head of an ox. In the wars in the days of Abraham we find Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, smiting the Rephaim in Ashtoreth Karnaim, that is, in the Ashtoreths "of the horns". It is impossible to decide at this date whether the horns which gave the distinctive title to this shrine of Ashtoreth owed their origin to the horns of the animal merged in the goddess, or to the horns of the crescent moon, with which she was to some extent identified. Possibly there was always a confusion between the two in the minds of her worshippers. The cult of Ashtoreth was spread not only among the Hebrews, but throughout the whole plain of Mesopotamia. In the times of the Judges, and in the days of Samuel, we find continually the statement that the people "served Baalim and Ashtaroth"—the plurals of Baal and Ashtoreth—these representing the sun and moon, and reigning as king and queen in heaven. When the Philistines fought with Saul at Mount Gilboa, and he was slain, they stripped off his armour and put it "in the house of Ashtaroth." Yet later we find that Solomon loved strange women of the Zidonians, who turned his heart after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, and he built a high place for her on the right hand of the Mount of Olives, which remained for some three and a half centuries, until Josiah, the king, defiled it. Nevertheless, the worship of Ashtoreth continued, and the prophet Jeremiah describes her cult:.


"The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven."


This was done in the cities of Judah and streets of Jerusalem, but the Jews carried the cult with them even when they fled into Egypt, and whilst there they answered Jeremiah—


"We will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine."


Ashtoreth, according to Pinches[46] is evidently a lengthening of the name of the Assyria-Babylonian goddess Ishtar, and the Babylonian legend of the Descent of Ishtar may well have been a myth founded on the varying phases of the moon. But it must be remembered that, though Ashtoreth or Ishtar might be the queen of heaven, the moon was not necessarily the only aspect in which her worshippers recognized her. In others, the planet Venus may have been chosen as her representative; in others the constellation Taurus, at one time the leader of the Zodiac; in others, yet again, the actual form of a material bull or cow.[47] 


The Hebrews recognized the great superiority in brightness of the sun over the moon, as testified in their names of the "greater" and "lesser" lights, and in such passages as that already quoted from Isaiah (xxx. 26). The word here used for moon is the poetic one, lebanah. Of course no argument can be founded on the parallelism employed so as to lead to the conclusion that the Hebrews considered that the solar light exceeded the lunar by only seven times, instead of the 600,000 times indicated by modern photometric measurement.


In only one instance in Scripture—that already quoted of the moon withdrawing itself—is there even an allusion to the changing phases of the moon, other than that implied in the frequent references to the new moons. The appointment of certain feasts to be held on the fifteenth day of the month is a confirmation of the supposition that their months were truly lunar, for then the moon is fully lighted, and rides the sky the whole night long from sunset to sunrise. It is clear, therefore, that the Hebrews, not only noticed the phases of the moon, but made regular use of them. Yet, if we adopted the argument from silence, we should suppose that they had never observed its changes of shape, for there is no direct allusion to them in Scripture. We cannot, therefore, argue from silence as to whether or no they had divined the cause of those changes, namely that the moon shines by reflecting the light of the sun.


Nor are there any references to the markings on the moon. It is quite obvious to the naked eye that there are grey stains upon her silver surface, that these grey stains are always there, most of them forming a chain which curves through the upper hemisphere. Of the bright parts of the moon, some shine out with greater lustre than others, particularly one spot in the lower left-hand quadrant, not far from the edge of the full disc. The edges of the moon gleam more brightly as a rule than the central parts. All this was apparent to the Hebrews of old, as it is to our unassisted sight today.


The moon's influence in raising the tides is naturally not mentioned. The Hebrews were not a seafaring race, nor are the tides on the coast of Palestine pronounced enough to draw much attention. One influence is ascribed to the moon; an influence still obscure, or even disputed. For the promise that—


"The sun shall not smite thee by day,

Nor the moon by night",


quite obvious in its application to the sun, with the moon seems to refer to its supposed influence on certain diseases and in causing "moon-blindness".


The chief function of the moon, as indicated in Scripture, is to regulate the calendar, and mark out the times for the days of solemnity. In the words of the 104th Psalm:—


"He (God) appointed the moon for seasons:

The sun knoweth his going down.

Thou makest darkness, and it is night;

Wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.

The young lions roar after their prey,

And seek their meat from God.

The sun ariseth, they get them away,

And lay them down in their dens.

Man goeth forth unto his work

And to his labour until the evening.

O Lord, how manifold are Thy works!

In wisdom hast Thou made them all:

The earth is full of Thy riches."





THE stars and the heaven, whose host they are, were used by the Hebrew writers to express the superlatives of number, of height, and of expanse. To an observer, watching the heavens at any particular time and place, not more than some two thousand stars are separately visible to the unassisted sight. But it was evident to the Hebrew, as it is to any one today, that the stars separately visible do not by any means make up their whole number. On clear nights the whole vault of heaven seems covered with a tapestry or curtain the pattern of which is formed of patches of various intensities of light, and sprinkled upon this patterned curtain are the brighter stars that may be separately seen. The most striking feature in the pattern is the Milky Wayy, and it may be easily discerned that its texture is made up of innumerable minute points of light, a granulation, of which some of the grains are set more closely together, forming the more brilliant patches, and some more loosely, giving the darker shades.[48] The mind easily conceives that the minute points of light whose aggregations make up the varying pattern of the Milky Way, though too small to be individually seen, are also stars, differing perhaps from the stars of the Pleiades or the Bears only in their greater distance or smaller size. It was of all these that the Lord said to Abram—


"Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be."[49]


The first catalogue of the stars of which we have record was that of Hipparchus in 129 BC.It contained 1,025 stars, and Ptolemy brought this catalogue up to date in the Almagest of 137 AD. Tycho Brahe in 1602 made a catalogue of 777 stars, and Kepler republished this in 1627, and increased the number to 1,005. These were before the invention of the telescope, and consequently contained only naked-eye stars. Since astronomers have been able to sound the heavens more deeply, catalogues have increased in size and number. Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, made one of 3,310 stars; from the observations of Bradley, the third, a yet more famous catalogue has been compiled. In our own day more than three hundred thousand stars have been catalogued in the Bonn Durchmusterung; and the great International Photographic Chart of the Heavens will probably show not less than fifty millions of stars, and in this it has limited itself to stars exceeding the fourteenth magnitude in brightness, thus leaving out of its pages many millions of stars that are visible through our more powerful telescopes.


So when Abraham, Moses, Job or Jeremiah speaks of the host of heaven that cannot be numbered, it does not mean simply that these men had but small powers of numeration. To us,—who can count beyond that which we can conceive,—as to the Psalmist, it is a sign of infinite power, wisdom and knowledge that "He telleth [counts] the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names."


Isaiah describes the Lord as "He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth,... that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." And many others of the prophets use the same simile of a curtain which we have seen to be so appropriate to the appearance of the starry sky. Nowhere, however, have we any indication whether or not they considered the stars were all set on this curtain, that is to say were all at the same distance from us. We now know that they are not equidistant from us, but this we largely base on the fact that the stars are of very different orders of brightness, and we judge that, on an average, the fainter a star appears, the further is it distant from us. To the Hebrews, as to us, it was evident that the stars differ in magnitude, and the writer of the Epistle to the Corinthians expressed this when he wrote—


"There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory."


The ancient Greek astronomers divided the stars according to their brightness into six classes, or six "magnitudes", to use the modern technical term. The average star of any particular magnitude gives about two and a half times as much light as the average star of the next magnitude. More exactly, the average first magnitude star gives one hundred times the light of the average star of the sixth magnitude.


In a few instances we have been able to measure, in the very roughest degree, the distances of stars; not a hundred stars have their parallaxes known, and these have all been measured in the course of the last century.[50] And so far away are these stars, even the nearest of them, that we do not express their distance from us in millions of miles; we express it in the time that their light takes in travelling from them to us. Now it takes light only one second to traverse 186,300 miles, and yet it requires four and a third years for the light from the nearest star to reach us. This is a star of the first magnitude, Alpha in the constellation of the Centaur. The next nearest star is a faint one of between the seventh and eighth magnitudes, and its light takes seven years to come. From a sixth magnitude star in the constellation of the Swan, the light requires eight years; and from Sirius; the brightest star in the heavens, light requires eight and a half years, These four stars are the nearest to us[51]; from no other star, that we know of, does light take less than ten years to travel; from the majority of those whose distance we have succeeded in measuring, the light takes at least twenty years.


To get some conception of what a "light-year" means, let us remember that light could travel right round the earth at its equator seven times in the space of a single second, and that there are 31,556,925 seconds in a year. Light then could girdle the earth a thousand million times whilst it comes from Alpha Centauri. Or we may put it another way. The distance from Alpha Centauri exceeds the equator of the earth by as much as this exceeds an inch and a half; or by as much as the distance from London to Manchester exceeds the hundredth of an inch.


Of all the rest of the innumerable stars, as far as actual measurement is concerned, for us, as for the Hebrews, they might all actually lie on the texture of a curtain, at practically the same distance from us.[52]


We have measured the distances of but a very few stars; the rest—as every one of them was for the Hebrew—are at a greater distance than any effort of ours can reach, be our telescopes ever so great and powerful, our measuring instruments ever so precise and delicate. For them, as for us, the heaven of stars is "for height", for a height which is beyond measure and therefore the only fitting image for the immensity of God.


So Zophar the Naamathite said—


"Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?

It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do?"


and Eliphaz the Temanite reiterated still more strongly—


"Is not God in the height of heaven?

And behold the height of the stars, how high they are."


God Himself is represented as using the expanse of heaven as a measure of the greatness of his fidelity and mercy. The prophet Jeremiah writes—


"Thus saith the Lord; if Heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord."


As if he were using the figure of a great cross, whose height was that of the heavens, whose arms stretched from east to west, David testifies of the same mercy and forgiveness;.


"For as the heaven is high above the earth,

So great is His mercy toward them that fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,

So far hath He removed our transgressions from us."





GREAT comets are almost always unexpected visitors. There is only one great comet that we know has been seen more than once, and expect with reasonable certainty to see again. This is Halley's comet, which has been returning to a near approach to the sun at somewhat irregular intervals of seventy-five to seventy-eight years during the last centuries: indeed, this very comet was coincident with the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, and is figured on the Bayeux tapestry.


There are other small comets that are also regular inhabitants of the solar system; but, as with Halley's comet, so with these, two circumstances are to be borne in mind. First, that each successive revolution round the sun involves an increasing degradation of their brightness, since there is a manifest waste of their material at each near approach to the sun; until at length the comet is seen no more, not because it has left the warm precincts of the sun for the outer darkness, but because it has spent its substance. Halley's comet was not as brilliant or as impressive in 1835 as it was in 1759: in 1910 it may have become degraded to an appearance of quite the second order.[53]


Next, we have no knowledge, no evidence, that any of these comets have always been members of the solar family.[54] Some of them, indeed, we know were adopted into it by the influence of one or other of the greater planets: Uranus we know is responsible for the introduction of one, Jupiter of a considerable number. The vast majority of comets, great or small, seem to blunder into the solar system anyhow, anywhere, from any direction: they come within the attractive influence of the sun; obey his laws whilst within that influence; make one close approach to him, passing rapidly across our sky; and then depart in an orbit which will never bring them to his neighbourhood again. Some chance of direction, some compelling influence of a planet that it may have approached, so modified the path of Halley's comet when it first entered the solar system, that it has remained a member ever since, and may so remain until it has ceased to be a comet at all.


It follows, therefore, that, as to the number of great comets that may be seen in any age, we can scarcely even apply the laws of probability. During the last couple of thousand years, since chronicles have been abundant, we know that many great comets have been seen. We may suppose, therefore, that during the preceding age, that in which the Scriptures were written, there were also many great comets seen, but we do not know. And most emphatically we are not able to say, from our knowledge of comets themselves and of their motions, that in the days of this or that writer a comet was flaming in the sky.


If a comet had been observed in those ages we might not recognize the description of it. Thus in the fourth year of the 101st Olympiad, the Greeks were startled by a celestial portent. They did not draw fine distinctions, and posterity might have remained ignorant that the terrifying object was possibly a comet, had not Aristotle, who saw it as a boy at Stagira, left a rather more scientifically worded description of it. It flared up from the sunset sky with a narrow definite tail running "like a road through the constellations". In recent times the great comet of 1843 may be mentioned as having exactly such an appearance.


So we cannot expect to find in the Scriptures definite and precise descriptions that we can recognize as those of comets. At the most we may find some expressions, some descriptions, that to us may seem appropriate to the forms and appearances of these objects, and we may therefore infer that the appearance of a comet may have suggested these descriptions or expressions.


The head of a great comet is brilliant, sometimes star-like. But its tail often takes on the most impressive appearance. Donati's comet, in 1858, assumed the most varied shapes—sometimes its tail was broad, with one bright and curving edge, the other fainter and finer, the whole making up a stupendous semi-circular blade-like object. Later, the tail was shaped like a scimitar and later again, it assumed a duplex form.


Though the bulk of comets is huge, they contain extraordinarily little substance. Their heads must contain some solid matter, but it is probably in the form of a loose aggregation of stones enveloped in vaporous material. There is some reason to suppose that comets are apt to shed some of these stones as they travel along their paths, for the orbits of the meteors that cause some of our greatest "star showers" are coincident with the paths of comets that have been observed.


But it is not only by shedding its loose stones that a comet diminishes its bulk; it loses also through its tail. As the comet gets close to the sun its head becomes heated, and throws off concentric envelopes, much of which consists of matter in an extremely fine state of division. Now it has been shown that the radiations of the sun have the power of repelling matter, whilst the sun itself attracts by its gravitational force. But there is a difference in the action of the two forces. The light-pressure varies with the surface of the particle upon which it is exercised; the gravitational attraction varies with the mass or volume. If we consider the behaviour of very small particles, it follows that the attraction due to gravitation (depending on the volume of the particle) will diminish more rapidly than the repulsion due to light-pressure (depending on the surface of the particle), as we decrease continually the size of the particle, since its volume diminishes more rapidly than its surface. A limit therefore will be reached below which the repulsion will become greater than the attraction. Thus for particles less than the 1/25,000 part of an inch in diameter the repulsion of the sun is greater than its attraction. Particles in the outer envelope of the comet below this size will be driven away in a continuous stream, and will form that thin, luminous fog which we see as the comet's tail.


We cannot tell whether such objects as those were present to the mind of Joel when he spoke of "blood and fire and pillars of smoke"; possibly these metaphors are better explained by a sand- or thunder-storm, especially when we consider that the Hebrew expression for the "pillars of smoke" indicates a resemblance to a palm-tree, as in the spreading out of the head of a sand- or thunder-cloud in the sky. The suggestion has been made,—following the closing lines of Paradise Lost (for Milton is responsible for many of our interpretations of Scripture)


"High in front advanced,

The brandished sword of God before them blazed,

Fierce as a comet",


—that a comet was indeed the "flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." There is scarcely less improbability in the suggestion made by several writers that, when the pestilence wasted Jerusalem, and David offered up the sacrifice of intercession in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, the king may have seen, in the scimitar-like tail of a comet such as Donati's, God's "minister",—"a flame of fire",—"the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem."


The late R. A. Proctor describes the wanderings of a comet thus:—


"A comet is seen in the far distant depths of space as a faint and scarcely discernible speck. It draws nearer and nearer with continually increasing velocity, growing continually larger and brighter. Faster and faster it rushes on until it makes its nearest approach to our sun, and then, sweeping round him, it begins its long return voyage into infinite space. As it recedes it grows fainter and fainter, until at length it passes beyond the range of the most powerful telescopes made by man, and is seen no more. It has been seen for the first and last time by the generation of men to whom it has displayed its glories. It has been seen for the first and last time by the race of man itself."[55]


"These are. .. wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever."




GREAT meteorites—"aerolites" as they are called—are like great comets, chance visitors to our world. Now and then they come, but we cannot foretell their coming. Such an aerolite exploded some fifteen miles above Madrid at about 9h 29m, on the morning of February 10, 1896:—


"A vivid glare of blinding light was followed in 1 1/2 minutes by a loud report, the concussion being such as not merely to create a panic, but to break many windows, and in some cases to shake down partitions. The sky was clear, and the sun shining brightly, when a white cloud, bordered with red, was seen rushing from south-west to north-east, leaving behind it a train of fine white dust. A red-tinted cloud was long visible in the east."


Many fragments were picked up, and analyzed, and, like other aerolites, were found to consist of materials already known on the earth. The outer crust showed the signs of fire,—the meteoric stone had been fused and ignited by its very rapid rush through the air—but the interior was entirely unaffected by the heat. The manner in which the elements were combined is somewhat peculiar to aerolites; the nearest terrestrial affinity of the minerals aggregated in them, is to be found in the volcanic products from great depths. Thus aerolites seem to be broken up fragments from the interior parts of globes like our own. They do not come from our own volcanoes, for the velocities with which they entered our atmosphere prove their cosmical origin. Had our atmosphere not entangled them, many, circuiting the sun in a parabolic or hyperbolic curve, would have escaped for ever from our system. The swift motions, which they had on entering our atmosphere, are considerably greater on the average than those of comets, and probably their true home is not in our solar system, but in interstellar space.


The aerolites that reach the surface are not always exploded into very small fragments, but every now and then quite large masses remain intact. Most of these are stony; some have bits of iron scattered through them; others are almost pure iron, or with a little nickel alloy, or have pockets in them laden with stone. There are hundreds of accounts of the falls of aerolites during the past 2,500 years. The Greeks and Romans considered them as celestial omens, and kept some of them in temples. One at Mecca is revered by the faithful Mohammedans, and Jehangir, the great Mogul, is said to have had a sword forged from an iron aerolite which fell in 1620 in the Panjab. Diana of Ephesus stood on a shapeless block which, tradition says, was a meteoric stone, and reference may perhaps be found to this in the speech of the town-clerk of the city to appease the riot stirred up against St. Paul by Demetrius the silversmith and his companions:—


"Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there who knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is temple-keeper of the great Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?"


Aerolites come singly and unexpectedly, falling actually to earth on land or sea. "Shooting stars" come usually in battalions. They travel together in swarms, and the earth may meet the same swarm again and again. They are smaller than aerolites, probably mere particles of dust, and for the most part are entirely consumed in our upper atmosphere, so that they do not actually reach the earth. The swarms travel along paths that resemble cometary orbits; they are very elongated ellipses, inclined at all angles to the plane of the ecliptic. Indeed, several of the orbits are actually those of known comets, and it is generally held that these meteorites or "shooting stars" are the debris that a comet sheds on its journey.


We can never see the same "shooting star" twice; its visibility implies its dissolution, for it is only as it is entrapped and burnt up in our atmosphere that we see it, or can see it. Its companions in a great meteoric swarm, are, however, as the sand on the sea-shore, and we recognize them as members of the same swarm by their agreement in direction and date. The swarms move in a closed orbit, and it is where this orbit intersects that of the earth that we get a great "star shower", if both earth and swarm are present together at the intersection. If the swarm is drawn out, so that many meteorites are scattered throughout the whole circuit of its orbit, then we get a "shower" every year. If the meteor swarm is more condensed, so as to form a cluster. then the "shower" only comes when the "gem of the ring", as it is termed, is at the intersection of the orbits, and the earth is there too.


Such a conjunction may present the most impressive spectacle that the heavens can afford. The Leonid meteor shower is, perhaps, the most famous. It has been seen at intervals of about thirty-three years, since early in the tenth century. When Ibrahim ben Ahmed lay dying, in the year 902 AD, it was recorded that "an infinite number of stars were seen during the night, scattering themselves like rain to the right and left, and that year was known as the year of stars." When the earth encountered the same system in 1202 AD, the Mohammedan record runs that "on the night of Saturday, on the last day of Muharram, stars shot hither and thither in the heavens, eastward and westward, and flew against one another, like a scattering swarm of locusts, to the right and left." There are not records of all the returns of this meteoric swarm between the thirteenth century and the eighteenth, but when the earth encountered it in 1799, Humboldt reported that "from the beginning of the phenomenon there was not a space in the firmament equal in extent to three diameters of the moon that was not filled every instant with bolides and falling stars"; and Mr. Andrew Ellicott, an agent of the United States, cruising off the coast of Florida, watched this same meteoric display, and made the drawing reproduced on the opposite page. In 1833 a planter in South Carolina wrote of a return of this same system, "Never did rain fall much thicker than the meteors fell towards the earth; east, west, north, south, it was the same." In 1866 the shower was again heavy and brilliant, but at the end of the nineteenth century, when the swarm should have returned, the display was meagre and ineffective.


The Leonid system of meteorites did not always move in a closed orbit round our sun. Tracing back their records and history, we find that in AD 126 the swarm passed close to Uranus, and probably at that time the planet captured them for the sun. But we cannot doubt that some such similar sight as they have afforded us suggested the imagery employed by the Apostle St. John when he wrote,


"The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heavens departed as a scroll when it is rolled together."


And the prophet Isaiah used a very similar figure.


"All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig-tree."


Whilst the simile of a great aerolite is that employed by St. John in his description of the star "Wormwood"—


"The third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters."


St. Jude's simile of the "wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever", may have been drawn from meteors rather than from comets. But, as has been seen, the two classes of objects are closely connected.


The word "meteor" is sometimes used for any unusual light seen in the sky. The Zodiacal Light, the pale conical beam seen after sunset in the west in the spring, and before sunrise in the east in the autumn, and known to the Arabs as the "False Dawn", does not appear to be mentioned in Scripture. Some commentators wrongly consider that the expression, "the eyelids of the morning", occurring twice in the Book of Job, is intended to describe it, but the metaphor does not in the least apply.


The Aurora Borealis, on the other hand, seldom though it is seen on an impressive scale in Palestine, seems clearly indicated in one passage. "Out of the north cometh golden splendour" would well fit the gleaming of the "Northern Lights", seen, as they often are, "as sheaves of golden rays".





WE do not know what great comets, or aerolites, or "star-showers" were seen in Palestine during the centuries in which the books of the Bible were composed. But we do know that eclipses, both of the sun and moon, must have been seen, for these are not the results of chance conjunctions. We know more, that not only partial eclipses of the sun, but total eclipses, fell within the period so covered.


There is no phenomenon of nature which is so truly impressive as a total eclipse of the sun. The beautiful pageants of the evening and the morning are too often witnessed to produce the same effect upon us, whilst the storm and the earthquake and the volcano in eruption, by the confusion and fear for personal safety they produce, render men unfit to watch their developments. But the eclipse awes and subdues by what might almost be called moral means alone: no noise, no danger accompanies it; the body is not tortured, nor the mind confused by the rush of the blast, the crash of the thunder-peal, the rocking of the earthquake, or the fires of the volcano. The only sense appealed to is that of sight; the movements of the orbs of heaven go on without noise or confusion, and with a majestic smoothness in which there is neither hurry nor delay.


This impression is felt by every one, no matter how perfectly acquainted, not only with the cause of the phenomenon, but also with the appearances to be expected, and scientific men have found themselves awestruck and even overwhelmed.


But if such are the feelings called forth by an eclipse now-a-days, in those who are expecting it, who are prepared for it, knowing perfectly what will happen and what brings it about, how can we gauge aright the unspeakable terror such an event must have caused in ages long ago, when it came utterly unforeseen, and it was impossible to understand what was really taking place?


And so, in olden time, an eclipse of the sun came as an omen of terrible disaster, nay as being itself one of the worst of disasters.[56] It came so to all nations but one. But to that nation the word of the prophet had come—


"Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them."


God did not reveal the physical explanation of the eclipse to the Hebrews: that, in process of time, they could learn by the exercise of their own mental powers. But He set them free from the slavish fear of the heathen; they could look at all these terror-striking signs without fear; they could look with calmness, with confidence, because they looked in faith.


It is not easy to exaggerate the advantage which this must have given the Hebrews over the neighbouring nations, from a scientific point of view. The word of God gave them intellectual freedom, and so far as they were faithful to it, there was no hindrance to their fully working out the scientific problems which came before them. They neither worshipped the heavenly bodies nor were dismayed at their signs. We have no record as to how far the Hebrews made use of this freedom, for, as already pointed out, the Holy Scriptures were not written to chronicle their scientific achievements. But there can be no doubt that, given the leisure of peace, it is a priori more likely that they should have taught astronomy to their neighbours, than have learnt it even from the most advanced.


There must have been numberless eclipses of the moon seen in the ages during which the Canon of Holy Scripture was written. Of eclipses of the sun, total or very nearly total over the regions of Palestine or Mesopotamia, in the times of the Old Testament, we know of four that were actually seen, whose record is preserved in contemporaneous history, and a fifth that was nearly total in Judaea about midday.


The first of the four is recorded on a tablet from Babylon, lately deciphered, in which it states that—


"On the 26th day of Sivan, day was turned into night, and fire appeared in the midst of heaven."


This has been identified with the eclipse of July 31, 1063 BC, and we do not find any reference to it in Scripture.


The second is that of Aug. 15, 831 BC No specific record of this eclipse has been found as yet, but it does take place a few years before the ministry of Joel and Amos, and may have been seen by them, and their recollection of it may have influenced the wording of their prophecies.


The third eclipse is recorded on a tablet from Nineveh, stating the coincidence of an eclipse in Sivan with a revolt in the city of Assur. This has been identified with the eclipse of June 15, 763 BC[57]


The fourth is that known as the eclipse of Larissa on May 18, 603 BC, which was coincident with the final overthrow of the Assyrian Empire, and the fifth is that of Thales on May 28, 585 BC[58]


The earth goes round the sun once in a year, the moon goes round the earth once in a month, and sometimes the three bodies are in one straight line. In this case the intermediate body—earth or moon—deprives the other, wholly or partially of the light from the sun, thus causing an eclipse. If the orbits of the earth and moon were in the same plane, an eclipse would happen every time the moon was new or full; that is to say, at every conjunction and every opposition, or about twenty-five times a year. But the plane of the moon's orbit is inclined to the plane of the earth's orbit at an angle of about 5, and so an eclipse only occurs when the moon is in conjunction or opposition and is at the same time at or very near one of the nodes—that is, one of the two points where the plane of the earth's orbit intersects the moon's orbit. If the moon is in opposition, or "full", then, under these conditions, an eclipse of the moon takes place, and this is visible at all places where the moon is above the horizon at the time. If, however, the moon is in conjunction, or "new", it is the sun that is eclipsed, and as the shadow cast by the moon is but small, only a portion of the earth's surface will experience the solar eclipse. The nodes of the moon's orbit are not stationary, but have a daily retrograde motion of 3' 1064". It takes the moon therefore 27d 5h 5m 36s (2721222d) to perform a journey in its orbit from one node back to that node again; this is called a Draconic period. But it takes the moon 29d 12h 44m 1 287s (2953059d) to pass from new to new, or from full to full, i.e. to complete a lunation. Now 242 Draconic periods very nearly equal 223 lunations, being about 18 years 10 1/3 days, and both are very nearly equal to 19 returns of the sun to the moon's node; so that if the moon is new or full when at a node, in 18 years and 10 or 11 days it will be at that node again, and again new or full, and the sun will be also present in very nearly its former position. If, therefore, an eclipse occurred on the former occasion, it will probably occur on the latter. This recurrence of eclipses after intervals of 1803 years is called the Saros, and was known to the Chaldeans.[59] We do not know whether it was known to the Hebrews prior to their captivity in Babylon, but possibly the statement of the wise king, already quoted from the Apocryphal "Wisdom of Solomon", may refer to some such knowledge.


Our calendar today is a purely solar one; our months are twelve in number, but of purely arbitrary length, divorced from all connection with the moon; and to us, the Saros cycle does not readily leap to the eye, for eclipses of sun or moon seem to fall haphazard on any day of the month or year.


But with the Hebrews, Assyrians, and Babylonians it was not so.[60] Their calendar was a luni-solar one—their year was on the average a solar year, their months were true lunations; the first day of their new month began on the evening when the first thin crescent of the moon appeared after its conjunction with the sun. This observation is what is meant in the Bible by the "new moon". Astronomers now by "new moon" mean the time when it is actually in conjunction with the sun, and is therefore not visible. Nations whose calendar was of this description were certain to discover the Saros much sooner than those whose months were not true lunations, like the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.


There are no direct references to eclipses in Scripture. They might have been used in the historical portions for the purpose of dating events, as was the great earthquake in the days of King Uzziah, but they were not so used. But we find not a few allusions to their characteristic appearances and phenomena in the books of the prophets. God in the beginning set the two great lights in the firmament for signs as well as for seasons; and the prophets throughout use the relations of the sun and moon as types of spiritual relations. The Messiah was the Sun of Righteousness; the chosen people, the Church, was as the moon, which derives her light from Him. The "signs of heaven" were symbols of great spiritual events, not omens of mundane disasters.


The prophets Joel and Amos are clear and vivid in their descriptions; probably because the eclipse of 831 BC was within their recollection. Joel says first, "The sun and the moon shall be dark"; and again, more plainly,—


I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come."


This prophecy was quoted by St. Peter on the day of Pentecost. And in the Apocalypse, St. John says that when the sixth seal was opened, "the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood."'[61]


In these references, the two kinds of eclipses are referred to—the sun becomes black when the moon is "new" and hides it; the moon becomes as blood when it is "full" and the earth's shadow falls upon it; its deep copper colour, like that of dried blood, being due to the fact that the light, falling upon it, has passed through a great depth of the earth's atmosphere.[62] These two eclipses cannot therefore be coincident, but they may occur only a fortnight apart—a total eclipse of the sun may be accompanied by a partial eclipse of the moon, a fortnight earlier or a fortnight later; a total eclipse of the moon may be accompanied by partial eclipses of the sun, both at the preceding and following "new moons".


Writing at about the same period, the prophet Amos says—


"Saith the Lord God, I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day."


and seems to refer to the fact that the eclipse of 831 BC occurred about midday in Judaea.


Later Micah writes—


"The sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them."


Isaiah says that the "sun shall be darkened in his going forth", and Jeremiah that "her sun is gone down while it was yet day." Whilst Ezekiel says—


"I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God."


But a total eclipse [of the sun] is not all darkness and terror; it has a beauty and a glory all its own. Scarcely has the dark moon hidden the last thread of sunlight from view, than spurs of rosy light are seen around the black disc that now fills the place so lately occupied by the glorious king of day. And these rosy spurs of light shine on a background of pearly glory, as impressive in its beauty as the swift march of the awful shadow, and the seeming descent of the darkened heavens, were in terror. There it shines, pure, lovely, serene, radiant with a light like molten silver, wreathing the darkened sun with a halo like that round a saintly head in some noble altar-piece; so that while in some cases the dreadful shadow has awed a laughing and frivolous crowd into silence, in others the radiance of that halo has brought spectators to their knees with an involuntary exclamation, "The Glory!" as if God Himself had made known His presence in the moment of the sun's eclipse.

Corona of Minimum Type

photographic negative, 1900 total eclipse. [63]


And this, indeed, seems to have been the thought of both the Babylonians and Egyptians of old. Both nations had a specially sacred symbol to set forth the Divine Presence—the Egyptians, a disc with long outstretched wings; the Babylonians, a ring with wings. The latter symbol on Assyrian monuments is always shown as floating over the head of the king, and is designed to indicate the presence and protection of the Deity [See the following figure].


We may take it for granted that the Egyptians and Chaldeans of old, as modern astronomers today, had at one time or another presented to them every type of coronal form. But there would, no doubt, be a difficulty in grasping or remembering the irregular details of the corona as seen in most eclipses. Sometimes, however, the corona shows itself in a striking and simple form when sun-spots are few in number, it spreads itself out in two great equatorial streamers. At the eclipse of Algiers in 1900, already referred to, one observer who watched the eclipse from the sea, said—


"The sky was blue all round the sun, and the effect of the silvery corona projected on it was beyond any one to describe. I can only say it seemed to me what angels' wings will be like."[64]


It seems exceedingly probable that the symbol of the ring with wings owed its origin not to any supposed analogy between the ring and the wings and the divine attributes of eternity and power, but to the revelations of a total eclipse with a corona of minimum type. Moreover the Assyrians, when they insert a figure of their deity within the ring, give him a kilt-like dress, and this kilted or feathered characteristic is often retained where the figure is omitted. This gives the symbol a yet closer likeness to the corona, whose "polar rays" are remarkably like the tail feathers of a bird.


Perhaps the prophet Malachi makes a reference to this characteristic of the eclipsed sun, with its corona like "angels' wings", when he predicts—


"But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings."


But, if this be so, it must be borne in mind that the prophet uses the corona as a simile only. No more than the sun itself, is it the Deity, or the manifestation of the Deity.


In the New Testament we may find perhaps a reference to what causes an eclipse—to the shadow cast by a heavenly body in its revolution—its "turning".


"Every good gift and every perfect boon is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning."




THE planets, as such, are nowhere mentioned in the Bible. In the one instance in which the word appears in our versions, it is given as a translation of Mazzaloth, better rendered in the margin as the "twelve signs or constellations".[65] The evidence is not fully conclusive that allusion is made to any planet, even in its capacity of a god worshipped by the surrounding nations.


Of planets, besides the earth, modern astronomy knows Mercury, Venus, Mars, many planetoids, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. And of satellites revolving round planets there are at present known, the moon which owns our earth as primary, two satellites to Mars, eight satellites to Jupiter, ten to Saturn, four to Uranus, and one to Neptune.


The ancients counted the planets as seven, numbering the moon and the sun amongst them. The rest were Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. They recognized no satellites to any planet.

We have no evidence that the ancient Semitic nations considered that the moon was more intimately connected with the earth than any of the other six.


But though the planets were sometimes regarded as "seven" in number, the ancients perfectly recognized that the sun and moon stood in a different category altogether from the other five. And though the heathen recognized them as deities, confusion resulted as to the identity of the deity of which each was a manifestation. Samas was the sun-god and Baal was the sun-god[66], but Samas and Baal or Bel, were not identical, and both were something more than merely the sun personified. Again, Merodach, or Marduk, is sometimes expressly identified with Bel as sun-god, sometimes with the divinity of the planet Jupiter. Similarly Ashtoreth, or Ishtar, is sometimes identified with the goddess of the moon, sometimes with the planet Venus. It would not be safe, therefore, to assume that reference is intended to any particular heavenly body, because a deity is mentioned that has been on occasions identified with that heavenly body. Still less safe would it be to assume astronomical allusions in the description of the qualities or characteristics of that deity. Though Ashtoreth, or Ishtar, may have been often identified with the planet Venus, it is ridiculous to argue, as some have done, from the expression "Ashteroth-Karnaim", Ashteroth of "the horns", that the ancients had sight or instruments sufficiently powerful to enable them to observe that Venus, like the moon, had her phases, her "horns". Though Nebo has been identified with the planet Mercury, we must not see any astronomical allusion to its being the nearest planet to the sun in Isaiah's coupling the two together where he says, "Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth",


Isaiah speaks of the King of Babylon—


"How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!"


The word here translated Lucifer, "light-bearer", is the word helel from the root halal, and means spreading brightness. In the Assyria-Babylonian, the planet Venus is sometimes termed Mustelel, from the root elil, and she is the most lustrous of all the "morning stars", of the stars that herald the dawn. But except that her greater brilliancy marks her as especially appropriate to the expression, Sirius or any other in its capacity of morning star would be suitable as an explanation of the term.


St. Peter uses the equivalent Greek expression Phosphorus in his second epistle: "A light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star [light-bringer] arise in your hearts."


Isaiah again says.


"Ye are they that forsake the Lord, that forget My holy mountain, that prepare a table for that Troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that Number."


"Gad" and "Meni", here literally translated as "Troop" and "Number", are in the Revised Version rendered as "Fortune" and "Destiny". A reference to this god "Meni" has been suggested in the mysterious inscription which the King of Babylon saw written by a hand upon the wall, which Daniel interpreted as "God hath numbered thy kingdom, and brought it to an end." By some commentators Meni is understood to be the planet Venus, and Gad to be Jupiter, for these are associated in Arabian astrology with Fortune or Fate in the sense of good luck. Or, from the similarity of Meni with the Greek mene, moon, "that Number" might be identified with the moon, and "that Troop", by analogy, with the sun.


It is more probable, if any astrological deities are intended, that the two little star clusters—the Pleiades and the Hyades—situated on the back and head of the Bull, may have been accounted the manifestations of the divinities which are by their names so intimately associated with the idea of multitude. The number seven has been held a sacred number, and has been traditionally associated with both the little star groups.


In one instance alone does there seem to be any strong evidence that reference is intended to one of the five planets known to the ancients, when worshipped as a god; and even that is not conclusive. The prophet Amos, charging the Israelites with idolatry even in the wilderness, asks—


"Have ye offered unto Me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves."


But the Septuagint Version makes the accusation run thus:—


"Ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them."


This was the version which St. Stephen quoted in his defence before the High Priest. It is quite clear that it was star worship to which he was referring, for he prefaces his quotation by saying, "God turned and gave them up to serve the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets."


The difference between the names "Chiun" and "Remphan" is explained by a probable misreading on the part of the Septuagint translators into the Greek, who seemed to have transcribed the initial of the word as "resh", where it should have been "caph"—"R" instead of "K",—thus the real word should be transliterated "Kaivan", which was the name of the planet Saturn both amongst the ancient Arabs and Syrians, and also amongst the Assyrians, whilst "Kevan" is the name of that planet in the sacred books of the Parsees. On the other hand, there seems to be some difficulty in supposing that a deity is intended of which there is no other mention in Scripture, seeing that the reference, both by Amos and St. Stephen, would imply that the particular object of idolatry denounced was one exceedingly familiar to them. Gesenius, therefore, after having previously accepted the view that we have here a reference to the worship of Saturn, finally adopted the rendering of the Latin Vulgate, that the word "Chiun" should be translated "statue" or "image". The passage would then become—


"Ye have borne the booth of your Moloch and the image of your idols, the star of your god which you made for yourselves."


If we accept the view that the worship of the planet Saturn is indeed referred to, it does not necessarily follow that the prophet Amos was stating that the Israelites in the wilderness actually observed and worshipped him as such. The prophet may mean no more than that the Israelites, whilst outwardly conforming to the worship of Jehovah, were in their secret desires hankering after Sabaeism—worship of the heavenly host. And it may well be that he chooses Moloch and Saturn as representing the cruelest and most debased forms of heathenism.


The planet Saturn gives its name to the seventh day of our week, "Saturn's day", the sabbath of the week of the Jews, and the coincidence of the two has called forth not a few ingenious theories. Why do the days of our week bear their present names, and what is the explanation of their order?


The late well-known astronomer, R. A. Proctor, gives the explanation as follows:—


"The twenty-four hours of each day were devoted to those planets in the order of their supposed distance from the earth, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. The outermost planet, Saturn, which also travels in the longest period, was regarded in this arrangement as of chief dignity, as encompassing in his movement all the rest, Jupiter was of higher dignity than Mars, and so forth. Moreover to the outermost planet, partly because of Saturn's gloomy aspect, partly because among half-savage races the powers of evil are always more respected than the powers that work for good, a maleficent influence was attributed. Now, if we assign to the successive hours of a day the planets as above—named, beginning with Saturn on the day assigned to that powerful deity, it will be found that the last hour of that day will be assigned to Mars—'the lesser infortune', as Saturn was 'the greater infortune' of the old system of astrology—and the first hour of the next day to the next planet, the Sun; the day following Saturday would thus be Sunday. The last hour of Sunday would fall to Mercury, and the first of the next to the Moon; so Monday, the Moon's day, follows Sunday. The next day would be the day of Mars, who, in the Scandinavian theology, is represented by Tuisco; so Tuisco's day, or Tuesday (Mardi), follows Monday. Then, by following the same system, we come to Mercury's day (Mercredi), Woden's day, or Wednesday; next to Jupiter's day, Jove's day (Jeudi), Thor's day, or Thursday; to Venus's day, Vendredi (Veneris dies), Freya's day, or Friday, and so to Saturday again. That the day devoted to the most evil and most powerful of all the deities of the Sabdans (sic) should be set apart—first as one on which it was unlucky to work, and afterwards as one on which it was held to be sinful to work—was but the natural outcome of the superstitious belief that the planets were gods ruling the fates of men and nations."[67]


This theory appears at first sight so simple, so plausible, that many are tempted to say, "It must be true", and it has accordingly gained a wide acceptance. Yet a moment's thought shows that it makes many assumptions, some of which rest without any proof, and others are known to be false.


When were the planets

 discovered? Not certainly at the dawn of astronomy. The fixed stars must have become familiar, and have been recognized in their various groupings before it could have been known that there were others that were not fixed,—were "planets", i.e. wanderers. Thus, amongst the Greeks, no planet is alluded to by Hesiod, and Homer mentions no planet other than Venus and apparently regarded her as two distinct objects, according as she was seen as a morning and as an evening star. Pythagoras is reputed to have been the first of the Greek philosophers to realize the identity of Phosphorus and Hesperus, that is Venus at her two elongations, so that the Greeks did not know this until the sixth century before our era. We are yet without certain knowledge as to when the Babylonians began to notice the different planets, but the order of discovery can hardly have been different from what it seems to have been amongst the Greeks—that is to say, first Venus as two separate objects, then Jupiter and Mars, and, probably much later, Saturn and Mercury. This last, again, would originally be considered a pair of planets, just as Venus had been. Later these planets as morning stars would be identified with their appearances as evening stars. After this obscurity had been cleared up, there was a still further advance to be made before the astrologers could have adopted their strange grouping of the sun and moon as planets equally with the other five. This certainly is no primitive conception; for the sun and moon have such appreciable dimensions and are of such great brightness that they seem to be marked off (as in the first chapter of Genesis) as of an entirely different order from all the other heavenly bodies. The point in common with the other five planets, namely their apparent periodical movements, could only have been brought out by very careful and prolonged observation. The recognition, therefore, of the planets as being "seven", two of the seven being the sun and moon, must have been quite late in the history of the world. The connection of the "seven planets" with the seven days of the week was something much later still. It implies, as we have seen, the adoption of a particular order for the planets, and this order further implies that a knowledge had been obtained of their relative distances, and involves a particular theory of the solar system, that which we now know as the Ptolemaic. It is not the order of the Babylonians, for they arranged them: Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars.


There are further considerations which show that the Babylonians could not have given these planetary names to the days of the week. The order of the names implies that a twenty-four hour day was used, but the Babylonian hours were twice the length of those which we use; hence there were only twelve of them. Further, the Babylonian week was not a true week running on continuously; it was tied to the month, and hence did not lend itself to such a notation.


But the order adopted for the planets is that current amongst the Greek astronomers of Alexandria, who did use a twenty-four hour day. Hence it was certainly later than 300 BC.But the Greeks and Egyptians alike used a week of ten days, not of seven. How then did the planetary names come to be assigned to the seven-day week?


It was a consequence of the power which the Jews possessed of impressing their religious ideas, and particularly their observance of the sabbath day, upon their conquerors. They did so with the Romans. We find such writers as Cicero, Horace, Juvenal and others remarking upon the sabbath, and, indeed, in the early days of the Empire there was a considerable observance of it. Much more, then, must the Alexandrian Greeks have been aware of the Jewish sabbath,—which involved the Jewish week,—at a time when the Jews of that city were both numerous and powerful, having equal rights with the Greek inhabitants, and when the Ptolemies were sanctioning the erection of a Jewish temple in their dominions, and the translation of the Jewish Scriptures into Greek. It was after the Alexandrian Greeks had thus learned of the Jewish week that they assigned the planets to the seven days of that week, since it suited their astrological purposes better than the Egyptian week of ten days. That allotment could not possibly have brought either week or sabbath into existence. Both had been recognized many centuries earlier. It was foisted upon that which had already a venerable antiquity. As Professor Schiaparelli well remarks, "We are indebted for these names to mathematical astrology, the false science which came to be formed after the time of Alexander the Great from the strange intermarriage between Chaldean and Egyptian superstitions and the mathematical astronomy of the Greeks."[68]


There is a widespread notion that early astronomy, whether amongst the Hebrews or elsewhere, took the form of astrology; that the fortune-telling came first, and the legitimate science grew out of it. Indeed, a claim is not infrequently made that no small honour is due to the early astrologers, since from them the most majestic of all the sciences is said to have arisen.


These ideas are the exact contrary of the truth. Mathematical, or perhaps as we might better call it, planetary astrology, as we have it today, concerns itself with the apparent movements of the planets in the sense that it uses them as its material; just as a child playing in a library might use the books as building blocks, piling, it may be, a book of sermons on a history, and a novel on a mathematical treatise. Astrology does not contribute, has not contributed a single observation, a single demonstration to astronomy. It owes to astronomy all that it knows of mathematical processes and planetary positions. In astronomical language, the calculation of a horoscope is simply the calculation of the "azimuths" of the different planets, and of certain imaginary points on the ecliptic for a given time. This is an astronomical process, carried out according to certain simple formulae. The calculation of a horoscope is therefore a straightforward business, but, as astrologers all admit, its interpretation is where the skill is required, and no real rules can be given for that.


Here is the explanation why the sun and moon are classed together with such relatively insignificant bodies as the other five planets, and are not even ranked as their chief. The ancient astrologer, like the modern, cared nothing for the actual luminary in the heavens; all he cared for was its written symbol on his tablets, and there Sun and Saturn could be looked upon as equal, or Saturn as the greater. It is a rare thing for a modem astrologer to introduce the place of an actual star into a horoscope; the calculations all refer to the positions of the Signs of the Zodiac, which are purely imaginary divisions of the heavens; not to the Constellations of the Zodiac, which are the actual star-groups.


Until astronomers had determined the apparent orbits of the planets, and drawn up tables by which their apparent places could be predicted for some time in advance, it was impossible for astrologers to cast horoscopes of the present kind. All they could do was to divide up time amongst the deities supposed to preside over the various planets. To have simply given a planet to each day would have allowed the astrologer a very small scope in which to work for his prophecies; the ingenious idea of giving a planet to each hour as well, gave a wider range of possible combinations. There seems to have been deliberate spitefulness in the assignment of the most evil of the planetary divinities to the sacred day of the Jews—their sabbath. It should be noticed at the same time that, whilst the Jewish sabbath coincides with the astrological "Saturn's Day" that particular day is the seventh day of the Jewish week, but the first of the astrological. For the very nature of the reckoning by which the astrologers allotted the planets to the days of the week implies, as shown in the extract quoted from Proctor, that they began with Saturn and worked downwards from the "highest planet"—as they called it—to the "lowest". This detail of itself should have sufficed to have demonstrated to Proctor, or any other astronomer, that the astrological week had been foisted upon the already existing week of the Jews.


Before astrology took its present mathematical form, astrologers used as their material for prediction the stars or constellations which happened to be rising or setting at the time selected, or were upon the same meridian, or had the same longitude, as such constellations. One of the earliest of these astrological writers was Zeuchros of Babylon, who lived about the time of the Christian era, some of whose writings have been preserved to us. From these it is clear that the astrologers found twelve signs of the zodiac did not give them enough play. They therefore introduced the "decans", that is to say the idea of thirty-six divinities—three to each month—borrowed from the Egyptian division of the year into thirty-six weeks (of ten days), each under the rule of a separate god. Of course this Egyptian year bore no fixed relation to the actual lunar months or solar year, nor therefore to the Jewish year, which was related to both. But even with this increase of material, the astrologers found the astronomical data insufficient for their fortune-telling purposes. Additional figures quite unrepresented in the heavens, were devised, and were drawn upon, as needed, to supplement the genuine constellations, and as it was impossible to recognize these additions in the sky, the predictions were made, not from observation of the heavens, but from observations on globes, often very inaccurate.


Earlier still we have astrological tables from Assyria and Babylon, many of which show that they had nothing to do with any actual observation, and were simply invented to give completeness to the tables of omens. Thus an Assyrian tablet has been found upon which are given the significations of eclipses falling upon each day of the month Tammuz, right up to the middle of the month. It is amusing to read the naive comment of a distinguished Assyriologist, that tablets such as these prove how careful and how long continued had been the observations upon which they were based. It was not recognized that no eclipses either of sun or moon could possibly occur on most of the dates given, and that they could never occur "in the north", which is one of the quarters indicated. They were no more founded on actual observation than the portent mentioned on another tablet, of a woman giving birth to a lion, which, after all, is not more impossible than that an eclipse should occur in the north on the second day of Tammuz. In all ages it has been the same; the astrologer has had nothing to do with science as such, even in its most primitive form; he has cared nothing for the actual appearance of the heavens upon which he pretended to base his predictions; an imaginary planet, an imaginary eclipse, an imaginary constellation were just as good for his fortune-telling as real ones. Such fortune-telling was forbidden to the Hebrews; necessarily forbidden, for astrology had no excuse unless the stars and planets were gods, or the vehicles and engines of gods. All attempts to extort from spirits or from inanimate things a glimpse into the future were likewise forbidden them.


"When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found with thee any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, one that practiseth augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearken unto them that practise augury, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do. The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me, unto Him ye shall hearken."


They were to look to God; and to His revealed will alone for all such light.


"When they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God?"


The Hebrews were few in number, their kingdoms very small compared with the great empires of Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon, but here, in this question of divination or fortune-telling, they stand on a plane far above any of the surrounding nations. There is just contempt in the picture drawn by Ezekiel of the king of Babylon, great though his military power might be.


"The king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he shook the arrows to and fro, he consulted the teraphim, he looked in the liver."


And Isaiah calls upon the city of Babylon—


"Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail. Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels: let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators stand up and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee."


Isaiah knew the Lord to be He that "frustrateth the tokens of the liars and maketh diviners mad." And the word of the Lord to Israel through Jeremiah was—


"Thus saith the Lord. Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them."


It is to our shame that even today, in spite of all our enlightenment and scientific advances, astrology still has a hold upon multitudes. Astrological almanacs and treatises are sold by the tens of thousands, and astrological superstitions are still current. "The star of the god Chiun" is not indeed openly worshipped; but Saturn is still looked upon as the planet bringing such diseases as "toothache, agues, and all that proceeds from cold, consumption, the spleen particularly, and the bones, rheumatic gouts, jaundice, dropsy, and all complaints arising from fear, apoplexies, etc."; and charms made of Saturn's metal, lead, are still worn upon Saturn's finger, in the belief that these will ward off the threatened evil; a tradition of the time when by so doing the wearers would have proclaimed themselves votaries of the god, and therefore under his protection.


If astrology was condemned by Judaism, much more by Christianity. So we read of the first converts at Ephesus that—


"Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed."


The "curious arts" were, no doubt, partly the use of magical incantations, but principally the use of astrological and similar omens.


Astrology is inevitably linked with heathenism, and both shut up spirit and mind against the knowledge of God Himself, which is religion; and against the knowledge of His works, which is science. And though a man may be religious without being scientific, or scientific without being religious, religion and science alike both rest on one and the same basis—the belief in "One God, Maker of heaven and earth."


That belief was the reason why Israel of old, so far as it was faithful to it, was free from the superstitions of astrology.


"It is no small honour for this nation to have been wise enough to see the inanity of this and all other forms of divination... Of what other ancient civilized nation could as much be said?"[69]








THE age of Classical astronomy began with the labours of Eudoxus and others, about four centuries before the Christian Era, but there was an Earlier astronomy whose chief feature was the arrangement of the stars into constellations.


The best known of all such arrangements is that sometimes called the "Greek Sphere", because those constellations have been preserved to us by Greek astronomers and poets. The earliest complete catalogue of the stars, as thus arranged, that has come down to us was the Almagest, compiled by Claudius Ptolemy, the astronomer of Alexandria, and completed 137 AD.[71] In this catalogue, each star is described by its place in the supposed figure of the constellation, whilst its celestial [ecliptic] latitude and longitude are added, so that we can see with considerable exactness how the astronomers of that time imagined the star figures. The earliest complete description of the constellations, apart from the places of the individual stars, is given in the poem of Aratus of SoliThe Phenomena, published about 270 BC.


Were these constellations known to the Hebrews of old?  We can answer this question without hesitation in the case of St. Paul. For in his sermon to the Athenians on Mars' Hill, he quotes from the opening verses of this constellation poem of Aratus:—


"God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring." [Acts 17:24-28]


The poem of Aratus begins thus:—


"To God above we dedicate our song;

To leave Him unadored, we never dare;

For He is present in each busy throng,

In every solemn gathering He is there.

The sea is His; and His each crowded port;

In every place our need of Him we feel;



Aratus, like St. Paul himself, was a native of Cilicia, and had been educated at Athens. His poem on the constellations came, in the opinion of the Greeks, next in honour to the poems of Homer, so that St. Paul's quotation from it appealed to his hearers with special force.


The constellations of Ptolemy's catalogue are forty-eight in number. Those of Aratus correspond to them in almost every particular, but one or two minor differences may be marked. According to Ptolemy, the constellations are divided into three sets:—twenty-one northern, twelve in the zodiac, and fifteen southern.


The northern constellations are—to use the names by which they are now familiar to us—1, Ursa Minor, the Little Bear; 2, Ursa Major, the Great Bear; 3, Draco, the Dragon; 4, Cepheus, the King; 5, Botes, the Herdsman; 6, Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown; 7, Hercules, the Kneeler; 8, Lyra, the Lyre or Swooping Eagle; 9, Cygnus, the Bird; 10, Cassiopeia, the Throned Queen, or the Lady in the Chair; 11, Perseus; 12, Auriga, the Holder of the Reins; 13, Ophiuchus, the Serpent-holder; 14, Serpens, the Serpent; 15, Sagitta, the Arrow; 16, Aquila, the Soaring Eagle; 17, Delphinus, the Dolphin; 18, Equuleus, the Horse's Head; 19, Pegasus, the Winged Horse; 20, Andromeda, the Chained Woman; 21, Triangulum, the Triangle.


The zodiacal constellations are: 1, Aries, the Ram; 2, Taurus, the Bull; 3, Gemini, the Twins; 4, Cancer, the Crab; 5, Leo, the Lion; 6, Virgo, the Virgin; 7, Libra, the Scales,—also called the Claws, that is of the Scorpion; 8, Scorpio, the Scorpion; 9, Sagittarius, the Archer; 10, Capricornus, the Sea-goat, i.e. Goat-fish; 11, Aquarius, the Water-pourer; 12, Pisces, the Fishes.[72]


The southern constellations are: I, Cetus, the Sea-Monster; 2, Orion, the Giant; 3, Eridanus, the River; 4, Lepus, the Hare; 5, Canis Major, the Great Dog; 6, Canis Minor, the Little Dog; 7, Argo, the Ship and Rock; 8, Hydra, the Water-snake; 9, Crater, the Cup; 10, Corvus, the Raven; 11, Centaurus, the Centaur; 12, Lupus, the Beast; 13, Ara, the Altar; 14, Corona Australis, the Southern Crown; 151 Piscis Australis, the Southern Fish.


Aratus, living four hundred years earlier than Ptolemy, differs only from him in that he reckons the cluster of the Pleiades—counted by Ptolemy in Taurus—as a separate constellation, but he has no constellation of Equuleus. The total number of constellations was thus still forty-eight. Aratus further describes the Southern Crown, but gives it no name; and in the constellation of the Little Dog he only mentions one star, Procyon, the Dog's Forerunner. He also mentions that the two Bears were also known as two Wagons or Chariots.


Were these constellations, so familiar to us today, known before the time of Aratus, and if so, by whom were they devised, and when and where?


They were certainly known before the time of Aratus, for his poem was confessedly a versification of an account of them written by Eudoxus more than a hundred years previous. At a yet earlier date, Panyasis, uncle to the great historian Herodotus, incidentally discusses the name of one of the constellations, which must therefore have been known to him. Earlier still, Hesiod [c.700 BC], in the second book of his Works and Days, refers to several:—


"Orion and the Dog[73], each other nigh,

Together mounted to the midnight sky,

When in the rosy morn Arcturus shines,

Then pluck the clusters from the parent vines.


Next in the round do not to plough forget

When the Seven Virgins and Orion set."


Much the same constellations are referred to by Homer. Thus, in the fifth book of the Odyssey,—


"And now, rejoicing in the prosperous gale,

With beating heart Ulysses spreads his sails:

Placed at the helm he sate, and marked the skies,

Nor closed in sleep his ever-watchful eyes.

There view'd the Pleiads and the Northern Team,

And great Orion's more refulgent beam,

To which around the axle of the sky

The Bear, revolving, points his golden eye."[74]


Thus it is clear that several of the constellations were perfectly familiar to the Greeks a thousand years before the Christian era; that is to say, about the time of Solomon.


We have other evidence that the constellations were known in early times. We often find on Greek coins, a bull, a ram, or a lion represented; these may well be references to some of the signs of the zodiac, but offer no conclusive evidence. But several of the constellation figures are very unusual in form; thus the Sea-goat has the head and fore-legs of a goat, but the hinder part of a fish; and the Archer has the head and shoulders of a man, but the body and legs of a horse. Pegasus, the horse with wings, not only shows this unnatural combination, but the constellation figure only gives part of the animal—the head, neck, wings, breast, and fore-legs. Now some of these characteristic figures are found on quite early Greek coins, and yet earlier on what are known as "boundary stones" from Babylonia. These are little square pillars, covered with inscriptions and sculptures, and record for the most part the gift, transfer, or sale of land. They are dated according to the year of the reigning king, so that a clear idea can be formed as to their age. A great many symbols, which appear to be astronomical, occur upon them; amongst these such very distinguishing shapes as the Archer, Sea-goat, and Scorpion (see figure). So that, just as we know from Homer and Hesiod that the principal constellations were known of old by the same names as those by which we know them today, we learn from Babylonian boundary stones that they were then known as having the same forms as we now ascribe to them. The date of the earliest boundary stones of the kind in our possession would show that the Babylonians knew of our constellations as far back as the twelfth century BC, that is to say, whilst Israel was under the Judges.


We have direct evidence thus far back as to the existence of the constellations. But they are older than this, so much older that tradition as well as direct historical evidence fails us. The only earlier evidence open to us is that of the constellations themselves.


A modern celestial globe is covered over with figures from pole to pole, but the majority of these are of quite recent origin and belong to the Modern period of astronomy. They have been framed since the invention of the telescope, and since the progress of geographical discovery brought men to know the southern skies. If these modern constellations are cleared off, and only those of Aratus and Ptolemy suffered to remain, it becomes at once evident that the ancient astronomers were not acquainted with the entire heavens. For there is a large space in the south, left free from all the old constellations, and no explanation, why it should have been so left free, is so simple and satisfactory as the obvious one, that the ancient astronomers did not map out the stars in that region because they never saw them; those stars never rose above their horizon.


Thus at the present time the heavens for an observer in England are naturally divided into three parts, as shown in the accompanying diagram. In the north, round the pole-star are a number of constellations that never set; they wheel unceasingly around the pole. On every fine night we can see the Great Bear, the Little Bear, the Dragon, Cepheus and Cassiopeia. But the stars in the larger portion of the sky have their risings and settings, and the seasons in which they are visible or are withdrawn from sight. Thus we see Orion and the Pleiades and Sirius in the winter, not in the summer, but the Scorpion and Sagittarius in the summer. Similarly there is a third portion of the heavens which never comes within our range. We never see the Southern Cross, and hardly any star in the great constellation of the Ship, though these are very familiar to New Zealanders.


The outline of this unmapped region must therefore correspond roughly to the horizon of the place where the constellations were originally designed, or at least be roughly parallel to it, since we may well suppose that stars which only rose two or three degrees above that horizon might have been neglected.


From this we learn that the constellations were designed by people living not very far from the 40th parallel of north latitude, not further south than the 37th or 36th.[75] This is important, as it shows that they did not originate in ancient Egypt or India, nor even in the city of Babylon, which is in latitude 32 1/2.[76]


But this vacant space reveals another fact of even more importance. It gives us a hint as to the date when the constellations were designed.


An observer in north latitude 40 at the present time would be very far from seeing all the stars included in the forty-eight constellations. He would see nothing at all of the constellation of the Altar, and a good deal of that of the Centaur would be hidden from him.

 On the other hand, there are some bright constellations, such as the Phoenix and the Crane, unknown to the ancients, which would come within his range of vision. This is due to what is known as "precession"; a slow movement of the axis upon which the earth rotates. In consequence of this, the pole of the heavens seems to trace out a circle amongst the stars which it takes 25,800 years to complete. It is therefore a matter of very simple calculation to find the position of the south pole of the heavens at any given date, past or future, and we find that the centre of the unmapped space was the south pole of the heavens something like 4,600 years ago, that is to say about 2,700 BC.[77]

Axial Precession of the North Pole[78] [79]

It is, of course, not possible to fix either time or latitude very closely, since the limits of the unmapped space are a little vague. But it is significant that if we take a celestial globe, arranged so as to represent the heavens for the time 2,700 BC, and for north latitude 40, we find several striking relations. First of all, the Great Dragon (Draco) then linked together the north pole of the celestial [ecliptic] equator and the north pole of the ecliptic; it was as nearly as possible symmetrical with regard to the two; it occupied the very crown of the heavens. With the single exception of the Little Bear [Ursa Minor], which it nearly surrounds, the Dragon was the only constellation that never set. Next, the Water snake (see diagram) lay at this time right along the equator, extending over 105 of Right Ascension; or, to put it less technically, it took seven hours out of the twenty-four to cross the meridian. It covered nearly one-third of the equatorial belt.


Spring Equinox, 2700 BC at 8:18 PM, at 40N, 45E

Hydra is parallel to the horizon [CdC]


Thirdly, the intersection of the equator with one of the principal meridians of the sky was marked by the Serpent, which is carried by the Serpent-holder in a very peculiar manner. The meridian at midnight at the time of the spring equinox is called a "colure",—the "autumnal colure", because the sun crosses it in autumn. Now the Serpent was so arranged as to be shown writhing itself for some distance along the equator, and then struggling upwards, along the autumnal colure, marking the zenith with its head. The lower part of the autumnal colure was marked by the Scorpion, and the foot of the Serpent-holder pressed down the creature's head, just where the colure, the equator, and the ecliptic intersected (see diagram).


It is scarcely conceivable that this fourfold arrangement, not suggested by any natural grouping of the stars, should have come about by accident; it must have been intentional. For some reason, the equator, the colure, the zenith and the poles were all marked out by these serpentine or draconic forms. The unmapped space gives us a clue only to the date and latitude of the designing of the most southerly constellations. We now see that a number of the northern [constellations] hold positions which were specially significant under the same conditions, indicating that they were designed at about the same date. There is therefore little room for doubt that some time in the earlier half of the third millennium before our era, and somewhere between the 36th and 40th parallels of north latitude, the constellations were designed, substantially as we have them now, the serpent forms being intentionally placed in these positions of great astronomical importance.


It will have been noticed that Ptolemy makes the Ram the first constellation of the zodiac. It was so in his days, but it was the Bull that was the original leader, as we know from a variety of traditions; the sun at the spring equinox being in the centre of that constellation about 3000 BC.[80] At the time when the constellations were designed, the sun at the spring equinox was near Aldebaran, the brightest star of the Bull; at the summer solstice it was near Regulus, the brightest star of the Lion; at the autumnal equinox it was near Antares, the brightest star of the Scorpion; at the winter solstice it was near Fomalhaut, the brightest star in the neighbourhood of the Waterpourer. These four stars have come down to us with the name of the "Royal Stars" (See figure below), probably because they were so near to the four most important points in the apparent path of the sun amongst the stars. There is also a celebrated passage in the first of Virgil's Georgics which speaks of the white bull with golden horns that opens the year. So when the Mithraic religion[81] adopted several of the constellation figures amongst its symbols, the Bull as standing for the spring equinox, the Lion for the summer solstice, were the two to which most prominence was given, and they are found thus used in Mithraic monuments as late as the second or third century AD, long after the Ram had been recognized as the leading sign.


It is not possible to push back the origin of the constellations to an indefinite antiquity. They cannot at the very outside be more than 5000 years old; they must be considerably more than 4000.[82] But during the whole of this millennium the sun at the spring equinox was in the constellation of the Bull. There is therefore no possible doubt that the Bull—and not the Twins nor the Ram—was the original leader of the zodiac.


The constellations, therefore, were designed long before the nation of Israel had its origin, indeed before Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees. The most probable date—2700 BC—would take us to a point a little before the Flood, if we accept the Hebrew chronology, a few centuries after the Flood, if we accept the Septuagint chronology. Just as the next great age of astronomical activity, which I have termed the Classical, began after the close of the canon of the Old Testament scriptures, so the "Constellation Age" began before the first books of those scriptures were compiled. Broadly speaking, it may be said that the knowledge of the constellation figures was the chief asset of astronomy in the centuries when the Old Testament was being written.


Seeing that the knowledge of these figures was preserved in Mesopotamia, the country from which Abraham came out, and that they were in existence long before his day, it is not unreasonable to suppose that both he and his descendants were acquainted with them, and that when he and they looked upward to the glories of the silent stars, and recalled the promise, "So shall thy seed be", they pictured round those glittering points of light much the same constellation forms that we connect with them today.




As we have just shown, the constellations evidently were designed long before the earliest books of the Old Testament received their present form. But the first nine chapters of Genesis give the history of the world before any date that we can assign to the constellations, and are clearly derived from very early documents or traditions.[83]


When the constellations are compared with those nine chapters, several correspondences appear between the two; remarkable, when it is borne in mind how few are the events that can be plainly set forth in a group of forty-eight figures on the one hand, and how condensed are the narratives of those nine chapters on the other.


Look at the six southern constellations which were seen during the nights of spring in that distant time. The largest of these six is a great Ship resting on the southern horizon. Just above, a Raven is perched on the stretched-out body of a reptile. A figure of a Centaur appears to have just left the Ship, and is represented as offering up an animal on an Altar. The animal is now shown as a Wolf, but Aratus, our earliest authority, states that he did not know what kind of animal it was that was being thus offered up. The cloud of smoke from the Altar is represented by the bright coiling wreaths of the Milky Way, and here in the midst of that cloud is set the Bow—the bow of Sagittarius, the Archer.[84] Is it possible that this can be mere coincidence, or was it indeed intended as a memorial of the covenant which God made with Noah, and with his children forever? —"I do set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth."


Close by this group was another, made up of five constellations. Towards the south, near midnight in spring, the observer in those ancient times saw the Scorpion. The figure of a man was standing upon that venomous beast, with his left foot pressed firmly down upon its head; but the scorpion's tail was curled up to sting him in the right heel. Ophiuchus, the Serpent-holder, the man treading on the Scorpion, derives his name from the Serpent which he holds in his hands and strangles;[85] the Serpent that, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, marked the autumnal colure. The head of Ophiuchus reached nearly to the zenith, and there close to it was the head of another hero, so close that to complete the form of the two heads the same stars must be used to some extent twice over. Facing north, this second hero, now known to us as Hercules, but to Aratus simply as the "Kneeler", was seen kneeling with his foot on the head of the great northern Dragon. This great conflict between the man and the serpent, therefore, was presented in a twofold form. Looking south there was the picture of Ophiuchus trampling on the scorpion and strangling the snake, yet wounded in the heel by the scorpion's sting; looking north, the corresponding picture of the kneeling figure of Hercules treading down the dragon's head (see figure of Hercules and Draco).[86] 



Here there seems an evident reference to the word spoken by God to the serpent in the garden in Eden: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel." These two groups of star-figures seem therefore to point to the two great promises made to mankind and recorded in the early chapters of Genesis; the Promise of the Deliverer, Who, "Seed of the woman", should bruise the serpent's head, and the promise of the "Bow set in the cloud", the pledge that the world should not again be destroyed by a flood.



One or two other constellations appear, less distinctly, to refer to the first of these two promises. The Virgin, the woman of the Zodiac, carries in her hand a bright star, the ear of corn, the seed; whilst, immediately under her, the great Water-snake, Hydra, is drawn out at enormous length, "going on its belly"; not writhing upwards like the Serpent, nor twined round the crown of the sky like the Dragon.


Yet again, the narrative in Genesis tells us that God "drove out the man" (i.e. Adam), "and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden the cherubim, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." No description is given of the form of the cherubim in that passage, but they are fully described by Ezekiel, who saw them in vision when he was by the river Chebar, as "the likeness of four living creatures". The same beings were also seen in vision by St. John, and are described by him in the Apocalypse as "four living creatures" (Zoa). "The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle." Ezekiel gives a fuller and more complex description, but agreeing in its essential elements with that given by the Apostle, and, at the close of one of these descriptions, he adds, "This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were cherubim"—no doubt because as a priest he had been familiar with the cherubic forms as they were embroidered upon the curtains of the Temple, and carved upon its walls and doors.


The same four forms were seen amongst the constellation figures; not placed at random amongst them, but as far as possible in the four most important positions in the sky. For the constellations were originally so designed that the sun at the time of the summer solstice was in the middle of the constellation Leo, the Lion; at the time of the spring equinox in the middle of Taurus, the Bull; and at the time of the winter solstice, in the middle of Aquarius, the Man bearing the waterpot. The fourth point, that held by the sun at the autumnal equinox, would appear to have been already assigned to the foot of the Serpent-holder as he crushes down the Scorpion's head; but a flying eagle, Aquila, is placed as near the equinoctial point as seems to have been consistent with the ample space that it was desired to give to the emblems of the great conflict between the Deliverer and the Serpent. Thus, as in the vision of Ezekiel, so in the constellation figures, the Lion, the Ox, the Man, and the Eagle, stood as the upholders of the firmament, as "the pillars of heaven". They looked down like watchers upon all creation; they seemed to guard the four quarters of the sky.[87]


If we accept an old Jewish tradition, the constellations may likewise give us some hint of an event recorded in the tenth chapter of Genesis. For it has been supposed that the great stellar giant Orion is none other than "Nimrod, the mighty hunter before the Lord", and the founder of the Babylonian kingdom; identified by some Assyriologists with Merodach, the tutelary deity of Babylon: and by others with Gilgamesh, the tyrant of Erech, whose exploits have been preserved to us in the great epic now known by his name. Possibly both identifications may prove to be correct.


More than one third of the constellation figures thus appear to have a close connection with some of the chief incidents recorded in the first ten chapters of Genesis as having taken place in the earliest ages of the world's history. If we include the Hare and the two Dogs as adjuncts of Orion, and the Cup as well as the Raven with Hydra, then no fewer than twenty-two out of the forty-eight are directly or indirectly so connected. But the constellation figures only deal with a very few isolated incidents, and these are necessarily such as lend themselves to graphic representation. The points in common with the Genesis narrative are indeed striking, but the points of independence are no less striking. The majority of the constellation figures do not appear to refer to any incidents in Genesis; the majority of the incidents in the Genesis narrative find no record in the sky. Even in the treatment of incidents common to both there are differences, which make it impossible to suppose that either was directly derived from the other.


But it is clear that when the constellations were devised,—that is to say, roughly speaking, about 2700 BC[88],—the promise of the Deliverer, the "Seed of the woman" who should bruise the serpent's head, was well known and highly valued; so highly valued that a large part of the sky was devoted to its commemoration and to that of the curse on the serpent. The story of the Flood was also known, and especially the covenant made with those who were saved in the ark, that the world should not again be destroyed by water, the token of which covenant was the "Bow set in the cloud." The fourfold cherubic forms were known, the keepers of the way of the tree of life, the symbols of the presence of God; and they were set in the four parts of the heaven, marking it out as the tabernacle which He spreadeth abroad, for He dwelleth between the cherubim.[89]



Ezekiel's Four Creatures -- CdC 2,700 BC, showing the Ecliptic at Sunset:

The Lion (Leo), The Calf (Taurus), The Man (Ophichus) and the Eagle (Aquila).

Also showing the Four Royal stars.




BESIDE the narrative of the Flood given to us in Genesis, and the pictorial representation of it preserved in the star figures, we have Deluge stories from many parts of the world. But in particular we have a very striking one from Babylonia. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, already alluded to, the eleventh tablet is devoted to an interview between the hero and Pir-napistim,[90] the Babylonian Noah, who recounts to him how he and his family were saved at the time of the great flood.


This Babylonian story of the Deluge stands in quite a different relation from the Babylonian story of Creation in its bearing on the account given in Genesis. As we have already seen, the stories of Creation have practically nothing in common; the stories of the Deluge have many most striking points of resemblance, and may reasonably be supposed to have had a common origin.


Prof. Friedrich Delitzsch,[91] in his celebrated lectures Babel and Bible, refers to this Babylonian Deluge story in the following terms:—


"The Babylonians divided their history into two great periods: the one before, the other after the Flood, Babylon was in quite a peculiar sense the land of deluges. The alluvial lowlands along the course of all great rivers discharging into the sea are, of course, exposed to terrible floods of a special kind—cyclones and tornadoes accompanied by earthquakes and tremendous downpours of rain."


After referring to the great cyclone and tidal wave which wrecked the Sunderbunds at the mouths of the Ganges in 1876, when 215,000 persons met their death by drowning, Prof. Delitzsch goes on—


"It is the merit of the celebrated Viennese geologist, Eduard Suess, to have shown that there is an accurate description of such a cyclone, line for line, in the Babylonian Deluge story... The whole story, precisely as it was written down, travelled to Canaan. But, owing to the new and entirely different local conditions, it was forgotten that the sea was the chief factor, and so we find in the Bible two accounts of the Deluge, which are not only scientifically impossible, but, furthermore, mutually contradictory—the one assigning to it a duration of 365 days, the other of [40 + (3 x 7)] = 61 days. Science is indebted to Jean Astruc, that strictly orthodox Catholic physician of Louis XIV, for recognizing that two fundamentally different accounts of a deluge have been worked up into a single story in the Bible."[92]


The importance of the Babylonian Deluge story does not rest in anything intrinsic to itself, for there are many deluge stories preserved by other nations quite as interesting and as well told. It derives its importance from its points of resemblance to the Genesis story, and from the deduction that some have drawn from these that it was the original of that story—or rather of the two stories—that we find imperfectly recombined in Genesis.


The suggestion of Jean Astruc that "two fundamentally different accounts of a deluge have been worked up into a single story in the Bible" has been generally accepted by those who have followed him in the minute analysis of the literary structure of Holy Scripture; and the names of the "Priestly Narrative" and of the "Jehovistic Narrative" have, for the sake of distinctness, been applied to them. The former is so called because the chapters in Exodus and the two following books, which treat with particular minuteness of the various ceremonial institutions of Israel, are considered to be by the same writer. The latter has received its name from the preference shown by the writer for the use, as the Divine name, of the word Jehovah,—so spelt when given in our English versions, but generally translated "the LORD".


There is a very close accord between different authorities as to the way in which Genesis, chapters vi.-ix., should be allotted to these two sources. The following is Dr. Driver's arrangement:—


Priestly Narrative

Jehovistic Narrative










































































The Priestly narrative therefore tells us the cause of the Flood—that is to say, the corruption of mankind; describes the dimensions of the ark, and instructs Noah to bring "of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female." It further supplies the dates of the chief occurrences during the Flood, states that the waters prevailed above the tops of the mountains, that when the Flood diminished the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat; and gives the account of Noah and his family going forth from the ark, and of the covenant which God made with them, of which the token was to be the bow seen in the cloud.


The most striking notes of the Jehovistic narrative are,—the incident of the sending out of the raven and the dove; the account of Noah's sacrifice; and the distinction between clean beasts and beasts that are not clean—the command to Noah being, "Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female."


The significant points of distinction between the two accounts are that the Priestly writer gives the description of the ark, the Flood prevailing above the mountains, the grounding on Mount Ararat, and the bow in the cloud; the Jehovistic gives the sending out of the raven and the dove, and the account of Noah's sacrifice, which involves the recognition of the distinction between the clean and unclean beasts and the more abundant provision of the former. He also lays emphasis on the Lord's "smelling a sweet savour" and promising never again smite everything living, "for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth."


The chief features of the Babylonian story of the Deluge are as follows:—The God Ae spoke to Pir-napistim, the Babylonian Noah—


"'Destroy the home, build a ship,

Leave what thou hast, see to thy life.

Destroy the hostile and save life.

Take up the seed of life, all of it, into the midst of the ship.

The ship which thou shalt make, even thou.

Let its size be measured;

Let it agree as to its height and its length.'"


The description of the building of the ship seems to have been very minute, but the record is mutilated, and what remains is difficult to translate. As in the Priestly narrative, it is expressly mentioned that it was "pitched within and without."


The narrative proceeds in the words of Pir-napistim:—


"All I possessed, I collected it,

All I possessed I collected it, of silver;

All I possessed I collected it, of gold;

All I possessed I collected it, the seed of life, the whole.

I caused to go up into the midst of the ship,

All my family and relatives,

The beasts of the field, the animals of the field,

The sons of the artificers-all of them I sent up.

The God Shamash appointed the time—

Muir Kukki—'In the night I will cause the heavens to rain destruction,

Enter into the midst of the ship, and shut thy door.'

That time approached—

Muir Kukki—In the night the heavens rained destruction;

I saw the appearance of the day:

I was afraid to look upon the day.

I entered into the midst of the ship, and shut my door.


At the appearance of dawn in the morning,

There arose from the foundation of heaven a dark cloud:


The first day, the storm? ...

Swiftly it swept, and....

Like a battle against the people it sought.

Brother saw not brother.

The people were not to be recognized. In heaven

The gods feared the flood, and

They fled, they ascended to the heaven of Anu.

The gods kenneled like dogs, crouched down in the enclosures.


The gods had crouched down, seated in lamentation,

Covered were their lips in the assemblies, Six days and nights

The wind blew, the deluge and flood overwhelmed the land.

The seventh day, when it came, the storm ceased, the raging flood,

Which had contended like a whirlwind,

Quieted, the sea shrank back, and the evil wind and deluge ended.

I noticed the sea making a noise,

And all mankind had turned to corruption.


I noted the regions, the shore of the sea,

For twelve measures the region arose.

The ship had stopped at the land of Nisir.

The mountain of Nisir seized the ship, and would not let it pass.

The first day and the second day the mountains of Nisir seized the

ship, and would not let it pass.


The seventh day, when it came

I sent forth a dove, and it left;

The dove went, it turned about,

But there was no resting-place, and it returned.

I sent forth a swallow, and it left,

The swallow went, it turned about,

But there was no resting-place, and it returned.

I sent forth a raven, and it left,

The raven went, the rushing of the waters it saw,

It ate, it waded, it croaked, it did not return.

I sent forth (the animals) to the four winds, I poured out a libation,

I made an offering on the peak of the mountain,

Seven and seven I set incense-vases there,

In their depths I poured cane, cedar, and rosewood (?).

The gods smelled a savour;

The gods smelled a sweet savour.

The gods gathered like flies over the sacrificer.

Then the goddess Sirtu, when she came,

Raised the great signets that Auu had made at her wish:

'These gods—by the lapis-stone of my neck—let me not forget;

These days let me remember, nor forget them forever!

Let the gods come to the sacrifice,

But let not Bl come to the sacrifice,

For he did not take counsel, and made a flood,

And consigned my people to destruction.

Then Bl, when he came,

Saw the ship. And Bl stood still,

Filled with anger on account of the gods and the spirits of heaven.

'What, has a soul escaped?

Let not a man be saved from the destruction.'

Ninip opened his mouth and spake.

He said to the warrior Bl:

'Who but Ae has done the thing?

And Ae knows every event.'

Ae opened his mouth and spake,

He said to the warrior Bl:

'Thou sage of the gods, warrior,

Verily thou hast not taken counsel, and hast made a flood.

The sinner has committed his sin,

The evil-doer has committed his misdeed,

Be merciful—let him not be cut off—yield, let not perish.

Why hast thou made a flood?

Let the lion come, and let men diminish.

Why hast thou made a flood?

Let the hyena come, and let men diminish.

Why hast thou made a flood?

Let a famine happen, and let the land be (?)

Why hast thou made a flood?

Let Ura (pestilence) come, and let the land be(?)'"[93]


Of the four records before us, we can only date one approximately. The constellations, as we have already seen, were mapped out some time in the third millennium before our era, probably not very far from 2700 BC.


When was the Babylonian story written? Does it, itself, afford any evidence of date? It occurs in the eleventh tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the theory has been started that as Aquarius, a watery constellation, is now the eleventh sign of the zodiac, therefore we have in this epic of twelve tablets a series of solar myths founded upon the twelve signs of the zodiac, the eleventh giving us a legend of a flood to correspond to the stream of water which the man in Aquarius pours from his pitcher.


If this theory be accepted we can date the Epic of Gilgamesh with much certainty: it must be later, probably much later, than 700 BC. For it cannot have been till about that time that the present arrangement of the zodiacal signs—that is to say with Aries as the first and Aquarius as the eleventh—can have been adopted.[94] We have then to allow for the growth of a mythology with the twelve signs as its motif. Had this supposed series of zodiacal myths originated before 700 BC, before Aries was adopted as the leading sign, then the Bull, Taurus, would have given rise to the myth of the first tablet and Aquarius to the tenth, not to the eleventh where we find the story of the flood.


Assyriologists do not assign so late a date to this poem, and it must be noted that the theory supposes, not merely that the tablet itself, but that the poem and the series of myths upon which it was based, were all later in conception than 700 BC. One conclusive indication of its early date is given by the position in the pantheon of Ae and Bl. Ae has not receded into comparative insignificance, nor has Bl attained to that full supremacy which, as Merodach, he possesses in the Babylonian Creation story. We may therefore put on one side as an unsupported and unfortunate guess the suggestion that the Epic of Gilgamesh is the setting forth of a series of zodiacal myths.


Any legends, any mythology, any pantheon based upon the zodiac must necessarily be more recent than the zodiac; any system involving Aries as the first sign of the zodiac must be later than the adoption of Aries as the first sign, that is to say, later than 700 BC. Systems arising before that date would inevitably be based upon Taurus as first constellation.


We cannot then, from astronomical relationships, fix the date of the Babylonian story of the Flood. Is it possible, however, to form any estimate of the comparative ages of the Babylonian legend and of the two narratives given in Genesis, or of either of these two? Does the Babylonian story connect itself with one of the Genesis narratives rather than the other?


The significant points in the Babylonian story are these:—the command to Pir-napistim to build a ship, with detailed directions; the great rise of the flood so that even the gods in the heaven of Anu feared it; the detailed dating of the duration of the flood; the stranding of the ship on the mountain of Nisir; the sending forth of the dove, the swallow, and their return; the sending forth of the raven, and its non-return; the sacrifice; the gods smelling its sweet savour; the vow of remembrance of the goddess by the lapis-stone necklace; the determination of the gods not to send a flood again upon the earth, since sin is inevitable from the sinner. To all these points we find parallels in the account as given in Genesis.


But it is in the Priestly narrative that we find the directions for the building of the ship; the great prevalence of the flood even to the height of the mountains; the stranding of the ship on a mountain; and the bow in the clouds as a covenant of remembrance—this last being perhaps paralleled in the Babylonian story by the mottled (blue-and-white) lapis necklace of the goddess which she swore by as a remembrancer. There is therefore manifest connection with the narrative told by the Priestly writer.


But it is in the Jehovistic narrative, on the other hand, that we find the sending forth of the raven, and its non-return; the sending forth of the dove, and its return; the sacrifice, and the sweet savour that was smelled of the Lord; and the determination of the Lord not to curse the earth any more for man's sake, nor smite any more every living thing, "for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." There is, therefore, no less manifest connection with the narrative told by the Jehovistic writer.


But the narrative told by the writer of the Babylonian story is one single account; even if it were a combination of two separate traditions, they have been so completely fused that they cannot now be broken up so as to form two distinct narratives, each complete in itself.


"The whole story precisely as it was written down travelled to Canaan,"—so we are told. And there,—we are asked to believe,—two Hebrew writers of very different temperaments and schools of thought, each independently worked up a complete story of the Deluge from this Gilgamesh legend. They chose out different incidents, one selecting what the other rejected, and vice versa, so that their two accounts were "mutually contradictory". They agreed, however, in cleansing it from its polytheistic setting, and giving it a strictly monotheistic tone. Later, an "editor" put the two narratives [back] together, with all their inconsistencies and contradictions, and interlocked them into one, which presents all the main features of the original Gilgamesh story except its polytheism. In other words, two Hebrew scribes each told in his own way a part of the account of the Deluge which he had derived from Babylon, and a third unwittingly so recombined them as to make them represent the Babylonian original![95]


The two accounts of the Deluge, supposed to be present in Genesis, therefore cannot be derived from the Gilgamesh epic, nor be later than it, seeing that what is still plainly separable in Genesis is inseparably fused in the epic.


On the other hand, can the Babylonian narrative be later than, and derived from, the Genesis account? Since so many of the same circumstances are represented in both, this is a more reasonable proposition, if we assume that the Babylonian narrator had the Genesis account as it now stands, and did not have to combine two separate statements. For surely if he had the separate Priestly and Jehovistic narratives, we should now be able to decompose the Babylonian narrative just as easily as we do the one in Genesis. The Babylonian adapter of the Genesis story must have either been less astute than ourselves, and did not perceive that he had really two distinct (and "contradictory") narratives to deal with, or he did not consider this circumstance of the slightest importance, and had no objection to merging them inextricably into one continuous account.


It is therefore possible that the Babylonian account was derived from that in Genesis; but it is not probable. The main circumstances are the same in both, but the details, the presentment, the attitude of mind are very different. We can better explain the agreement in the general circumstances, and even in many of the details, by presuming that both are accounts—genuine traditions—of the same actual occurrence. The differences in detail, presentment, and attitude, are fully and sufficiently explained by supposing that we have traditions from two, if not three, witnesses of the event.


We have also the pictorial representation of the Flood given us in the constellations. What evidence do they supply?


Here the significant points are: the ship grounded upon a high rock; the raven above it, eating the flesh of a stretched-out reptile; a sacrifice offered up by a person, who has issued forth from the ship, upon an altar, whose smoke goes up in a cloud, in which a bow is set.


In this grouping of pictures we have two characteristic features of the Priestly narrative, in the ship grounded on a rock, and in the bow set in the cloud; we have also two characteristic features of the Jehovistic narrative, in the smoking altar of sacrifice, and in the carrion bird. There is therefore manifest connection between the constellation grouping and both the narratives given in Genesis.


But the constellational picture story is the only one of all these narratives that we can date. It must have been designed—as we have seen—about 2700 BC.[96]


The question again comes up for answer. Were the Genesis and Babylonian narratives, any or all of them, derived from the pictured story in the constellations; or, on the other hand, was this derived from any or all of them?


The constellations were mapped out near the north latitude of 40, far to the north of Babylonia, so the pictured story cannot have come from thence. We do not know where the Genesis narratives were written, but if the Flood of the constellations was pictured from them, then they must have been already united into the account that is now presented to us in Genesis, very early in the third millennium before Christ.


Could the account in Genesis have been derived from the constellations? If it is a double account, most decidedly not; since the pictured story in the constellations is one, and presents impartially the characteristic features of both the narratives.


And (as in comparing the Genesis and the Babylonian narratives) we see that though the main circumstances are the same—in so far as they lend themselves to pictorial representations—the details, the presentment, the attitude are different. In the Genesis narrative, the bow set in the cloud is a rainbow in a cloud of rain; in the constellation picture, the bow set in the cloud is the bow of an archer, and the cloud is the pillar of smoke from off the altar of sacrifice. In the narratives of Genesis and Babylonia, Noah and Pir-napistim are men: no hint is given anywhere that by their physical form or constitution they were marked off from other men; in the starry picture, he who issues from the ship is a centaur: his upper part is the head and body of a man, his lower part is the body of a horse.


As before, there is no doubt that we can best explain the agreement in circumstance of all the narratives by presuming that they are independent accounts of the same historical occurrence[97]. We can, at the same time, explain the differences in style and detail between the narratives by presuming that the originals were by men of different qualities of mind who each wrote as the occurrence most appealed to him. The Babylonian narrator laid hold of the promise that, though beast, or famine, or pestilence might diminish men, a flood should not again sweep away every living thing, and connected the promise with the signets—the lapis necklace of the goddess Sirtu that she touched as a remembrancer. The picturer of the constellations saw the pledge in the smoke of the sacrifice, in the spirit of the words of the Lord as given by Asaph, "Gather My saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice." The writer in Genesis saw the promise in the rain-cloud, for the rainbow can only appear with the shining of the sun. The writer in Genesis saw in Noah a righteous man, worthy to escape the flood of desolation that swept away the wickedness around; there is no explanation apparent, at least on the surface, as to why the designer of the constellations made him, who issued from the ship and offered the sacrifice, a centaur—one who partook of two natures.


The comparison of the Deluge narratives from Genesis, from the constellations, and from Babylonia, presents a clear issue. If all the accounts are independent, and if there are two accounts intermingled into one in Genesis, then the chief facts presented in both parts of that dual narrative must have been so intermingled at an earlier date than 2700 BC. The editor who first united the two stories into one must have done his work before that date.


But if the accounts are not independent histories, and the narrative as we have it in Genesis is derived either in whole or in part from Babylonia or from the constellations—if, in short, the Genesis story came from a Babylonian or a stellar myth—then we cannot escape from this conclusion: that the narrative in Genesis is not, and never has been, two separable portions; that the scholars who have so divided it have been entirely in error. But we cannot so lightly put on one side the whole of the results which the learning and research of so many scholars have given us in the last century-and-a-half. We must therefore unhesitatingly reject the theory that the Genesis Deluge story owes anything either to star myth or to Babylonian mythology. And if the Genesis Deluge story is not so derived, certainly no other portion of Holy Scripture.




THE earliest reference in Scripture to the constellations of the zodiac occurs in the course of the history of Joseph. In relating his second dream to his brethren he said,


"Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon, and the eleven stars made obeisance to me."


The word Kochab in the Hebrew means both "star" and "constellation". The significance, therefore, of the reference to the "eleven stars" is clear. Just as Joseph's eleven brethren were eleven out of the twelve sons of Jacob, so Joseph saw eleven constellations out of the twelve come and bow down to him. And the twelve constellations can only mean the twelve of the zodiac.


There can be no reasonable doubt that the zodiac in question was practically the same as we have now, the one transmitted to us through Aratus and Ptolemy. It had been designed quite a thousand years earlier than the days of Joseph; it was known in Mesopotamia from whence his ancestors had come; it was known in Egypt; that is to say it was known on both sides of Canaan.


There have been other zodiacs: thus the Chinese have one of their own: but we have no evidence of any zodiac, except the one transmitted to us by the Greeks, as having been at any time adopted in Canaan or the neighbouring countries.


There is no need to suppose that each of the brethren had a zodiacal figure already assigned to him as a kind of armorial bearing or device. The dream was appropriate, and perfectly intelligible to Jacob, to Joseph, and his brethren, without supposing that any such arrangement had then been made. It is quite true that there are Jewish traditions assigning a constellation to each of the tribes of Israel, but it does not appear that any such traditions can be distinctly traced to a great antiquity, and they are mostly somewhat indefinite. Josephus, for instance, makes a vague assertion about the twelve precious stones of the High Priest's breast-plate, each of which bore the name of one of the tribes, connecting them with the signs of the zodiac:


"Now the names of all those sons of Jacob were engraven in these stones, whom we esteem the heads of our tribes, each stone having the honour of a name, in the order according to which they were born.... And for the twelve stones whether we understand by them the months, or whether we understand the like number of the signs of that circle which the Greeks call the Zodiac, we shall not be mistaken in their meaning."[98]


But whilst there is no sufficient evidence that each of the sons of Jacob had a zodiacal figure for his coat-of-arms, nor even that the tribes deriving their names from them were so furnished, there is strong and harmonious tradition as to the character of the devices borne on the standards carried by the four divisions of the host in the march through the wilderness. The four divisions, or camps, each contained three tribes, and were known by the name of the principal tribe in each. The camp of Judah was on the east, and the division of Judah led on the march. The camp of Reuben was on the south. The camp of Ephraim was on the west. The camp of Dan was on the north, and the division of Dan brought up the rear. And the traditional devices shown on the four standards were these:—For Judah, a lion; for Reuben, a man and a river; for Ephraim, a bull; for Dan, an eagle and a serpent.


In these four standards we cannot fail to see again the four cherubic forms of lion, man, ox and eagle; but in two cases an addition was made to the cherubic form, an addition recalling the constellation figure. For just as the crest of Reuben was not a man only, but a man and a river, so Aquarius is not a man only, but a man pouring out a stream of water. And as the crest of Dan was not an eagle only, but an eagle and a serpent, so the great group of constellations, clustering round the autumnal equinox, included not only the Eagle, but also the Scorpion and the Serpent (see diagram).


There appears to be an obvious connection between these devices and the blessings pronounced by Jacob upon his sons, and by Moses upon the tribes; indeed, it would seem probable that it was the former that largely determined the choice of the devices adopted by the four great divisions of the host in the wilderness.


The blessing pronounced by Jacob on Judah runs. "Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?" "The Lion of the tribe of Judah" is the title given to our Lord Himself in the Apocalypse of St. John.


[dcb] Standards of the Four Divisions









Gen. 49:9

Judah is a lion's whelp


Man and River


Num. 24:7

He shall pour the water out of his buckets




Deut. 33:17

Gen 49:22

The firstling of his bullock

daughters walk upon the Bull (alt. vowels)


Eagle and Serpent


Gen. 49:17

Dan shall judge his people... Dan shall be a serpent by the way


The blessing pronounced upon Joseph by Moses bears as emphatic a reference to the bull. "The firstling of his bullock, majesty is his; and his horns are the horns of the wild-ox."


Jacob's blessing upon Joseph does not show any reference to the ox or bull in our Authorized Version. But in our Revised Version Jacob says of Simeon and Levi—


"In their anger they slew a man,

And in their self-will they houghed an ox."


The first line appears to refer to the massacre of the Shechemites; the second is interpreted by the Jerusalem Targum, "In their wilfulness they sold Joseph their brother, who is likened to an ox." And in the blessing of Joseph it is said that his "branches (margin, daughters), run over the wall." Some translators have rendered this, "The daughters walk upon the bull", "wall" and "bull" being only distinguishable in the original by a slight difference in the pointing.[99]


Of Reuben, his father said, "Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel;" and of Dan, "Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward."


These two last prophecies supply the "water" and the "serpent", which, added to the "man" and "eagle" of the cherubic forms are needed to complete the traditional standards, and are needed also to make them conform more closely to the constellation figures.


No such correspondence can be traced between the eight remaining tribes and the eight remaining constellations. Different writers combine them in different ways, and the allusions to constellation figures in the blessings of those tribes are in most cases very doubtful and obscure, even if it can be supposed that any such allusions are present at all. The connection cannot be pushed safely beyond the four chief tribes, and the four cherubic forms as represented in the constellations of the four quarters of the sky.


These four standards, or rather, three of them, meet us again in a very interesting connection. When Israel reached the borders of Moab, Balak, the king of Moab, sent for a seer of great reputation, Balaam, the son of Beor, to "Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel." Balaam came, but instead of cursing Jacob, blessed the people in four prophecies, wherein he made, what would appear to be, distinct references to the standards of Judah, Joseph and Reuben.


"Behold the people riseth up as a lioness,

And as a lion doth he lift himself up."


Then again—


"He couched, he lay down as a lion,

And as a lioness; who shall rouse him up?"


And in two passages—


"God bringeth him forth out of Egypt;

He hath as it were the strength of the wild ox."


The wild ox and lion are obvious similes to use concerning a powerful and warlike people. These two similes are, therefore, not sufficient by themselves to prove that the tribal standards are being referred to. But the otherwise enigmatical verse—


 "Water shall flow from his buckets,"


appears more expressly as an allusion to the standard of Reuben, the "man with the river", Aquarius pouring water from his pitcher; and if one be a reference to a standard, the others may also well be.



It is surely something more than coincidence that Joseph, who by his father's favour and his own merit was made the leader of the twelve brethren, should be associated with the bull or wild ox, seeing that Taurus was the leader of the zodiac in those ages. It may also well be more than coincidence, that when Moses was in the mount and "the people gathered themselves unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him," Aaron fashioned the golden earrings given him into the form of a molten calf; into the similitude, that is to say, of Taurus, then Prince of the Zodiac. If we turn to St. Stephen's reference to this occurrence, we find that he says—


"And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven."


In other words, their worship of the golden calf was star worship.


It has been often pointed out that this sin of the Israelites, deep as it was, was not in itself a breach of the first commandment—


"Thou shalt have no other gods before me."


It was a breach of the second—


"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them."


The Israelites did not conceive that they were abandoning the worship of Jehovah; they still considered themselves as worshipping the one true God. They were monotheists still, not polytheists. But they had taken the first false step that inevitably leads to polytheism; they had forgotten that they had seen "no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto" them "in Horeb out of the midst of the fire", and they had worshipped this golden calf as the similitude of God; they had "changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass." And that was treason against Him; therefore St. Stephen said, "God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven;" the one sin inevitably led to the other, indeed, involved it. In a later day, when Jeroboam, who had been appointed by Solomon ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph, led the rebellion of the ten tribes against Rehoboam, king of Judah, he set up golden calves at Dan and Bethel, and said unto his people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." There can be little doubt that, in this case, Jeroboam was not so much recalling the transgression in the wilderness—it was not an encouraging precedent—as he was adopting the well-known cognizance of the tribe of Joseph, that is to say, of the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, which together made up the more important part of his kingdom, as the symbol of the presence of Jehovah.


The southern kingdom would naturally adopt the device of its predominant tribe, Judah, and it was as the undoubted cognizance of the kingdom of Judah that our Richard I, the Crusader, placed the Lion on his shield.


More definitely still, we find this one of the cherubic forms applied to set forth Christ Himself, as "The Root of David", Prince of the house of Judah.


"Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." [Rev. 5:5]





THERE are amongst the constellations four great draconic or serpent-like forms. Chief of these is the great dragon coiled round the pole  of the ecliptic and the pole of the equator as the latter was observed some 4600 years ago. This is the dragon with which the Kneeler, Hercules, is fighting, and whose head he presses down with his foot. The second is the great water-snake, Hydra, which 4600 years ago stretched for 105 along the celestial [ecliptic] equator of that day. Its head was directed towards the ascending node, that is to say the point where the ecliptic, the sun's apparent path, crosses the equator at the spring equinox; and its tail stretched nearly to the descending node, the point where the ecliptic again meets the equator at the autumn equinox. The third was the Serpent, the one held in the grip of the Serpent-holder. Its head erected itself just above the autumn equinox, and reached up as far as the zenith; its tail lay along the equator. The fourth of these draconic forms was the great Sea-monster[100], stretched out along the horizon, with a double river—Eridanus—proceeding from it, just below the spring equinox.


None of these four figures was suggested by the natural grouping of the stars.[101] Very few of the constellation-figures were so suggested, and these four in particular, as so high an authority as Prof. Schiaparelli expressly points out, were not amongst that few. Their positions show that they were designed some 4600 years ago, and that they have not been materially altered down to the present time. Though no forms or semblances of forms are there in the heavens, yet we still seem to see, as we look upwards, not merely the stars themselves, but the same snakes and dragons, first imagined so many ages ago as coiling amongst them.


The tradition of these serpentine forms and of their peculiar placing in the heavens was current among the Babylonians quite 1500 years after the constellations were devised. For the little "boundary stones"  often display, amongst many other astronomical symbols, the coiled dragon round the top of the stone, the extended snake at its base, and at one or other corner the serpent bent into a right angle like that borne by the Serpent-holder—that is to say, the three out of the four serpentine forms that hold astronomically important positions in the sky.


The positions held by these three serpents or dragons have given rise to a significant set of astronomical terms. The Dragon marked the poles of both ecliptic and equator; the Water-snake marked the equator almost from node to node; the Serpent marked the equator at one of the nodes. The "Dragon's Head" and the "Dragon's Tail" therefore have been taken as astronomical symbols of the ascending and descending nodes of the sun's apparent path—the points where he seems to ascend above the equator in the spring, and to descend below it again in the autumn.



The moon's orbit likewise intersects the apparent path of the sun in two points, its two nodes; and the interval of time between its passage through one of these nodes and its return to that same node again is called a Draconic month,
 a month of the Dragon. The same symbols are applied by analogy to the moon's nodes.


Indeed the" Dragon's Head",  , is the general sign for the ascending node of any orbit, whether of moon, planet or comet, and the "Dragon's Tail",  , for the descending node. We not only use these signs in astronomical works today, but the latter sign frequently occurs, figured exactly as we figure it now, on Babylonian boundary stones 3000 years old.


But an eclipse either of the sun or of the moon can only take place when the latter is near one of its two nodes—is in the "Dragon's Head" or in the "Dragon's Tail." This relation might be briefly expressed by saying that the Dragon—that is of the nodes—causes the eclipse. Hence the numerous myths, found in so many nations, which relate how "a dragon devours the sun (or moon)" at the time of an eclipse.


The dragon of eclipse finds its way into Hindu mythology in a form which shows clearly that the myth arose from a misunderstanding of the constellations. The equatorial Water-snake, stretching from one node nearly to the other, has resting upon it, Crater, the Cup. Combining this with the expression for the two nodes, the Hindu myth has taken the following form. The gods churned the surface of the sea to make the Amrita Cup, the cup of the water of life. "And while the gods were drinking that nectar after which they had so much hankered, a Danava[102], named Rahu, was drinking it in the guise of a god. And when the nectar had only reached Rahu's throat, the sun and the moon discovered him, and communicated the fact to the gods." Rahu's head (Hydra's head) was at once cut off, but, as the nectar had reached thus far, it was immortal, and rose to the sky. "From that time hath arisen a long-standing quarrel between Rahu's head and the sun and moon," and the head swallows them from time to time, causing eclipses. Rahu's head marks the ascending, Ketu, the tail, the descending node.


This myth is very instructive. Before it could have arisen, not only must the constellations have been mapped out, and the equator and ecliptic both recognized, but the inclination of the moon's orbit to that of the sun must also have been recognized, together with the fact that it was only when the moon was near its node that the eclipses, either of the sun or moon, could take place. In other words, the cause of eclipses must have been at one time understood, but that knowledge must have been afterwards lost.[103] We have seen already, in the chapter on "The Deep", that the Hebrew idea of tehom could not possibly have been derived from the Babylonian myth of Tiamat, since the knowledge of the natural object must precede the myth founded upon it. If, therefore, Gen. i. and the Babylonian story of Creation be connected, the one as original, the other as derived from that original, it is the Babylonian story that has been borrowed from the Hebrew, and it has been degraded in the borrowing.


So in this case, the myth of the Dragon, whose head and tail cause eclipses, must have been derived from a corruption and misunderstanding of a very early astronomical achievement. The myth is evidence of knowledge lost, of science on the down-grade.


Some may object that the myth may have brought about the conception of the draconic constellations. A very little reflection will show that such a thing was impossible. If the superstition that an eclipse is caused by an invisible dragon swallowing the sun or moon had really been the origin of the constellational dragons, they would certainly have all been put in the zodiac, the only region of the sky where sun or moon can be found; not outside it, where neither can ever come, and in consequence where no eclipse can take place. Nor could such a superstition have led on to the discoveries above-mentioned: that the moon caused eclipses of the sun, the earth those of the moon; that the moon's orbit was inclined to the ecliptic, and that eclipses took place only near the nodes. The idea of an unseen spiritual agent being at work would prevent any search for a physical explanation, since polytheism is necessarily opposed to science.


There is a word used in Scripture to denote a reptilian monster, which appears in one instance at least to refer to this dragon of eclipse, and so to be used in an astronomical sense. Job, in his first outburst of grief, cursed the day in which he was born, and cried [Job 3:8]—


"Let them curse it that curse the day,

Who are ready (margin, skilful) to rouse up Leviathan.

Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark;

Let it look for light, but have none;

Neither let it behold the eyelids of the morning."


"Leviathan" [Transliteration of Heb. livyathan] denotes an animal wreathed, gathering itself in coils: hence a serpent, or some great reptile. The description in Job xli. is evidently that of a mighty crocodile, though in Psalm civ. Leviathan is said to play in "the great and wide sea", which has raised a difficulty as to its identification in the minds of some commentators. In the present passage it is supposed to mean one of the stellar dragons, and hence the mythical dragon of eclipse. Job desired that the day of his birth should have been cursed by the magicians, so that it had been a day of complete and entire eclipse, not even the stars that preceded its dawn being allowed to shine.


The astronomical use of the word leviathan here renders it possible that there may be in Isa. xxvii. an allusion—quite secondary and indirect however—to the chief stellar dragons.


"In that day the Lord with His sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and He shall slay the dragon that is in the sea."


The marginal reading gives us instead of "piercing", "crossing like a bar"; a most descriptive epithet for the long-drawn-out constellation of Hydra, the Water-snake, which stretched itself for one hundred and five degrees along the primitive equator, and "crossed" the meridian "like a bar" for seven hours out of every twenty-four.


"The crooked serpent" would denote the dragon coiled around the poles, whilst "the dragon which is in the sea" would naturally refer to Cetus, the Sea-monster. The prophecy would mean then, that "in that day" the Lord will destroy all the powers of evil which have, as it were, laid hold of the chief places, even in the heavens.


In one passage "the crooked serpent", here used as a synonym of leviathan, distinctly points to the dragon of the constellations. In Job's last answer to Bildad the Shuhite, he says—


"He divideth the sea with His power,

And by His understanding He smiteth through the proud. (R.V. Rahab.)

By His spirit He hath garnished the heavens;

His hand hath formed the crooked serpent."


The passage gives a good example of the parallelism of Hebrew poetry; the repetition of the several terms of a statement, term by term, in a slightly modified sense; a rhyme, if the expression may be used, not of sound, but of signification.


Thus in the four verses just quoted, we have three terms in each—agent, action, object;—each appears in the first statement, each appears likewise in the second. The third statement, in like manner, has its three terms repeated in a varied form in the fourth.

Hydra and the Neighboring Constellations[104]




His power


His understanding



Smiteth through

The sea


Rahab (the proud).





His spirit


His hand

Hath garnished


Hath formed

The heavens


The crooked serpent.





There can be no doubt as to the significance of the two parallels. In the first, dividing the sea, i.e. the Red Sea, is the correlative of smiting through Rahab, "the proud one", the name often applied to Egypt, as in Isa. xxx. 7: "For Egypt helpeth in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I called her Rahab that sitteth still." In the second, "adorning the heavens" is the correlative of "forming the crooked serpent". The great constellation of the writhing dragon, emphatically a "crooked serpent", placed at the very crown of the heavens, is set for all the constellations of the sky.


There are several references to Rahab, as "the dragon which is in the sea," all clearly referring to the kingdom of Egypt, personified as one of her own crocodiles lying-in-wait in her own river, the Nile, or transferred, by a figure of speech, to the Red Sea, which formed her eastern border. Thus in chapter li. Isaiah apostrophizes "the arm of the Lord"—


"Art Thou not It that cut Rahab in pieces,

That pierced the dragon?

Art Thou not It that dried up the sea,

The waters of the great deep;

That made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?"


And in Psalm lxxxix. we have—


"Thou rulest the raging of the sea;

When the waves thereof arise Thou stillest them.

Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces as one that is slain,

Thou hast scattered Thine enemies with Thy strong arm."


So the prophet Ezekiel is directed—


"Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou wast likened unto a young lion of the nations: yet art thou as a dragon in the seas."


In all these passages it is only in an indirect and secondary sense that we can see any constellational references in the various descriptions of "the dragon that is in the sea". It is the crocodile of Egypt that is intended; Egypt the great oppressor of Israel, and one of the great powers of evil, standing as a representative of them all. The serpent or dragon forms in the constellations also represented the powers of evil; especially the great enemy of God and man, "the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan." So there is some amount of appropriateness to the watery dragons of the sky—Hydra and Cetus—in these descriptions of Rahab, the dragon of Egypt, without there being any direct reference. Thus it is said of the Egyptian "dragon in the seas", "I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the earth, and to the fowls of the heaven;" and again, "I will cause all the fowls of the heaven to settle upon thee," just as Corvus the Raven, is shown as having settled upon Hydra, the Water-snake, and is devouring its flesh. Again, Pharaoh, the Egyptian dragon, says, "My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself;" just as Cetus, the Sea-monster, is represented as pouring forth Eridanus, the river, from its mouth.


But a clear and direct allusion to this last grouping of the constellations occurs in the Apocalypse. In the twelfth chapter, the proud oppressor dragon from the sea is shown us again with much fulness of detail. There the Apostle describes his vision of a woman, who evidently represents the people of God, being persecuted by a dragon. There is still a reminiscence of the deliverance of Israel in the Exodus from Egypt, for "the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and threescore days." And the vision goes on:—


"And the serpent cast out of his mouth, after the woman water as a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth." [Rev. 12:15-16]


This appears to be precisely the action which is presented to us in the three constellations of Andromeda, Cetus, and Eridanus. Andromeda is always shown as a woman in distress, and the Sea-monster, though placed far from her in the sky, has always been understood to be her persecutor. Thus Aratus writes—


"Andromeda, though far away she flies,

Dreads the Sea-monster, low in southern skies."


The latter, baffled in his pursuit of his victim, has cast the river, Eridanus, out of his mouth, which, flowing down below the southern horizon, is apparently swallowed up by the earth.


It need occasion no surprise that we should find imagery used by St. John in his prophecy already set forth in the constellations nearly 3,000 years before he wrote. Just as, in this same book, St. John repeated Daniel's vision of the fourth beast, and Ezekiel's vision of the living creatures, as he used the well-known details of the Jewish Temple, the candlesticks, the laver, the altar of incense, so he used a group of stellar figures perfectly well known at the time when he wrote. In so doing the beloved disciple only followed the example which his Master had already set him. For the imagery in the parables of our Lord is always drawn from scenes and objects known and familiar to all men.


In two instances in which leviathan is mentioned, a further expression is used which has a distinct astronomical bearing. In the passage already quoted, where Job curses the day of his birth, he desires that it may not "behold the eyelids of the morning." And in the grand description of leviathan, the crocodile, in chapter xli., we have—


"His neesings flash forth light,

And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning."


Canon Driver considers this as an "allusion, probably to the reddish eyes of the crocodile, which are said to appear gleaming through the water before the head comes to the surface." This is because of the position of the eyes on the animal's head, not because they have any peculiar brilliancy.


"It is an idea exclusively Egyptian, and is another link in the chain of evidence which connects the author of the poem with Egypt. The crocodile's head is so formed that its highest points are the eyes; and when it rises obliquely to the surface the eyes are the first part of the whole animal to emerge. The Egyptians observing this, compared it to the sun rising out of the sea, and made it the hieroglyphic representative of the idea of sunrise. Thus Horus Apollo says: When the Egyptians represent the sunrise, they point the eye of the crocodile, because it is first seen as that animal emerges from the water."[105]


In this likening of the eyes of the crocodile to the eyelids of the morning, we have the comparison of one natural object with another. Such comparison, when used in one way and for one purpose, is the essence of poetry; when used in another way and for another purpose, is the essence of science. Both poetry and science are opposed to myth, which is the confusion of natural with imaginary objects, the mistaking the one for the other.


Thus it is poetry when the Psalmist speaks of the sun "as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;" for there is no confusion in his thought between the two natural objects. The sun is like the bridegroom in the glory of his appearance. The Psalmist does not ascribe to him a bride and children.


It is science when the astronomer compares the spectrum of the sun with the spectra of various metals in the laboratory. He is comparing natural object with natural object, and is enabled to draw conclusions as to the elements composing the sun, and the condition in which they there exist.


But it is myth when the Babylonian represents Bel or Merodach as the solar deity, destroying Tiamat, the dragon of darkness, for there is confusion in the thought. The imaginary god is sometimes given solar, sometimes human, sometimes superhuman characteristics. There is no actuality in much of what is asserted as to the sun or as to the wholly imaginary being associated with it. The mocking words of Elijah to the priests of Baal were justified by the intellectual confusion of their ideas, as well as by the spiritual degradation of their idolatry.


"Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awakened."


Such nature-myths are not indications of the healthy mental development of a primitive people; they are the clear signs of a pathological condition, the symptoms of intellectual disease.


It is well to bear in mind this distinction, this opposition between poetry and myth, for ignoring it has led to not a little misconception as to the occurrence of myth in Scripture, especially in connection with the names associated with the crocodile. Thus it has been broadly asserted that "the original mythical signification of the monsters tehom, livyathan, tannim, rahb, is unmistakably evident."


Of these names the first signifies the world of waters; the second and third real aquatic animals; and the last, "the proud one", is simply an epithet of Egypt, applied to the crocodile as the representation of the kingdom. There is no more myth in setting forth Egypt by the crocodile or leviathan than in setting forth Great Britain by the lion or Russia by the bear.


The Hebrews in setting forth their enemies by crocodiles and other ferocious reptiles were not describing any imaginary monsters of the primaeval chaos, but real oppressors. The Egyptian, with his "house of bondage", the Assyrian, "which smote with a rod", the Chaldean who made havoc of Israel altogether, were not dreams. And in beseeching God to deliver them from their latest oppressor the Hebrews naturally recalled, not some idle tale of the fabulous achievements of Babylonian deities, but the actual deliverance God had wrought for them at the Red Sea. There the Egyptian crocodile had been made "meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness" when the corpses of Pharaoh's bodyguard; cast up on the shore, supplied the children of Israel with the weapons and armour of which they stood in need. So in the day of their utter distress they could still cry in faith and hope—


"Yet God is my King of old,

Working salvation in the midst of the earth.

Thou didst divide the sea by Thy strength:

Thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.

Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces,

And gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.

Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood:

Thou driedst up mighty rivers.

The day is Thine, the night also is Thine:

Thou hast prepared the light and the sun.

Thou hast set all the borders of the earth;

Thou hast made summer and winter."




THE translators of the Bible, from time to time, find themselves in a difficulty as to the correct rendering of certain words in the original. This is especially the case with the names of plants and animals. Some sort of clue may be given by the context, as, for instance, if the region is mentioned in which a certain plant is found, or the use that is made of it; or, in the case of an animal, whether it is "clean" or "unclean", what are its habits, and with what other animals it is associated. But in the case of the few Scripture references to special groups of stars, we have no such help.[106] We are in the position in which Macaulay's New Zealander might be, if, long after the English nation had been dispersed, and its language had ceased to be spoken amongst men, he were to find a book in which the rivers "Thames", "Trent", "Tyne", and "Tweed" were mentioned by name, but without the slightest indication of their locality. His attempt to fit these names to particular rivers would be little more than a guess—a guess the accuracy of which he would have no means for testing.


This is somewhat our position with regard to the four Hebrew names, Kimah, Kesil, Ayish, and Mazzaroth; yet in each case there are some slight indications which have given a clue to the compilers of our Revised Version, and have, in all probability, guided them correctly.


The constellations are not all equally attractive. A few have drawn the attention of all men, however otherwise inattentive. North-American Indians and Australian savages have equally noted the flashing brilliancy of Orion, and the compact little swarm of the Pleiades. All northern nations recognize the seven bright stars of the Great Bear, and they are known by a score of familiar names. They are the "Plough", or "Charles's Wain" of Northern Europe; the "Seven Plough Oxen" of ancient Rome; the "Bier and Mourners" of the Arabs; the "Chariot", or "Waggon", of the old Chaldeans; the "Big Dipper" of the prosaic New England farmer. These three groups are just the three which we find mentioned in the earliest poetry of Greece. So Homer writes in the Fifth Book of the Odyssey, that Ulysses—


"There view'd the Pleiads, and the Northern Team,

And Great Orion's more refulgent beam,

To which, around the axle of the sky,

The Bear, revolving, points his golden eye."


It seems natural to conclude that these constellations, the most striking, or at all events the most universally recognized, would be those mentioned in the Bible.


The passages in which the Hebrew word Kimah, is used are the following—


(God) "maketh Arcturus (aish), Orion (Kesil), and Pleiades (Kimah), and the chambers of the south" (Job ix. 9).


"Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades (Kimah), or loose the bands of Orion?" (Job xxxviii. 31).[107]


"Seek Him that maketh the seven stars (Kimah) and Orion" (Amos v. 8).


In our Revised Version, Kimah is rendered "Pleiades" in all three instances, and of course the translators of the Authorized Version meant the same group by the "seven stars" in their free rendering of the passage from Amos. The word Kimah signifies "a heap", or "a cluster", and would seem to be related to the Assyrian word kimtu, "family", from a root meaning to "tie", or "bind"; a family being a number of persons bound together by the very closest tie of relationship. If this be so we can have no doubt that our translators have rightly rendered the word. There is one cluster in the sky, and one alone, which appeals to the unaided sight as being distinctly and unmistakably a family of stars—the Pleiades.


The names 'Ash, or 'Ayish, Kesil, and Kimah are peculiar to the Hebrews, and are not, so far as we have any evidence at present, allied to names in use for any constellation amongst the Babylonians and Assyrians; they have, as yet, not been found on any cuneiform inscription. Amos, the herdsman of Tekoa, living in the eighth century BC, two centuries before the Jews were carried into exile to Babylon, evidently knew well what the terms signified, and the writer of the Book of Job was no less aware of their signification. But the "Seventy", who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, were not at all clear as to the identification of these names of constellations; though they made their translation only two or three centuries after the Jews returned to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah, when oral tradition should have still supplied the meaning of such astronomical terms. Had these names been then known in Babylon they could not have been unknown to the learned men of Alexandria in the second century before our era, since at that time there was a very direct scientific influence of the one city upon the other. This Hebrew astronomy was so far from being due to Babylonian influence and teaching, that, though known centuries before the exile, after the exile we find the knowledge of its technical terms was lost. On the other hand, kima was the term used in all Syriac literature to denominate the Pleiades, and we accordingly find in the Peschitta, the ancient Syriac version of the Bible, made about the second century AD, the term kima retained throughout, but kesil and 'ayish were reduced to their supposed Syriac equivalents.


Whatever uncertainty was felt as to the meaning of kimah by the early translators, it is not now seriously disputed that the Pleiades is the group of stars in question.


The word kimah means, as we have seen, "cluster" or "heap", so also the word Pleiades, which we use today, is probably derived from the Greek Pleiones, "many". Several Greek poets—Athenaeus, Hesiod, Pindar, and Simonides—wrote the word Peleiades, i. e. "rock pigeons", considered as flying from the Hunter Orion; others made them the seven doves who carried ambrosia to the infant Zeus. D'Arcy Thompson says, "The Pleiad is in many languages associated with bird-names, ... and I am inclined to take the bird on the bull's back in coins of Eretria, Dicaea, and Thurii for the associated constellation of the Pleiad"[108]—the Pleiades being situated on the shoulder of Taurus the Bull.


The Hyades were situated on the head of the Bull, and in the Euphrates region these two little groups of stars were termed together, Mas-tab-ba-gal-gal-la, the Great Twins of the ecliptic, as Castor and Pollux were the Twins of the zodiac. In one tablet 'Imina bi, "the seven-fold one", and Gut-da, "the Bull-in-front", are mentioned side by side, thus agreeing well with their interpretation of "Pleiades and Hyades". The Semitic name for the Pleiades was also Tmennu; and these groups of stars, worshipped as gods by the Babylonians, may possibly have been the Gad and Meni, "that troop", and "that number", referred to by the prophet Isaiah (lxv. 11).


On many Babylonian cylinder seals there are engraved seven small discs, in addition to other astronomical symbols. These seven small stellar discs are almost invariably arranged in the form ::: or :::. much as we should now-a-days plot the cluster of the Pleiades when mapping on a small scale the constellations round the Bull. It is evident that these seven little stellar discs do not mean the "seven planets", for in many cases the astronomical symbols which accompany them include both those of the sun and moon. It is most probable that they signify the Pleiades, or perhaps alternatively the Hyades.


Possibly, reference is made to the worship of the Pleiades when the king of Assyria, in the seventh century BC, brought men from Babylon and other regions to inhabit the depopulated cities of Samaria, "and the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth." The Rabbis are said to have rendered this by the "booths of the Maidens", or the "tents of the Daughters",—the Pleiades being the maidens in question.


Generally they are the Seven Sisters. Hesiod calls them the Seven Virgins, and the Virgin Stars. The names given to the individual stars are those of the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione; thus Milton terms them the Seven Atlantic Sisters.


As we have seen earlier, the device associated expressly with Joseph is the Bull, and Jacob's blessing to his son has been sometimes rendered—


"Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; the daughters walk upon the bull."[109]


That is, "the Seven Sisters", the Pleiades, are on the shoulder of Taurus.


Aratus wrote of the number of the Pleiades—


"Seven paths aloft men say they take,

Yet six alone are viewed by mortal eyes.

From Zeus' abode no star unknown is lost,

Since first from birth we heard, but thus the tale is told."






Euripides speaks of these "seven paths", and Eratosthenes calls them "the seven-starred Pleiad", although he describes one as "All-Invisible". There is a surprisingly universal tradition that they "were seven who now are six". We find it not only in ancient Greece and Italy, but also among the black fellows of Australia, the Malays of Borneo, and the negroes of the Gold Coast. There must be some reason to account for this widespread tradition. Some of the stars are known to be slightly variable, and one of the fainter stars in the cluster may have shone more brightly in olden time;—the gaseous spectrum of Pleione renders it credible that this star may once have had great brilliancy. Alcyone, now the brightest star in the cluster, was not mentioned by Ptolemy among the four brightest Pleiads of his day. The six now visible to ordinary sight are Alcyone, Electra, Atlas, Maia, Merope and Taygeta. Celoeno is the next in brightness, and the present candidate for the seventh place.


By good sight, several more may be made out: thus Maestlin[110], the tutor of Kepler, mapped eleven before the invention of the telescope (see figure), and in our own day Carrington and Denning have counted fourteen with the naked eye. In clear mountain atmosphere more than seven would be seen by any keen-sighted observer. Usually six stars may be made out with the naked eye in both the Pleiades and the Hyades, or, if more than six, then several more; though with both groups the number of "seven" has always been associated.


In the New Testament we find the "Seven Stars" also mentioned. In the first chapter of the Revelation, the Apostle St. John says that he "saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man,... and He had in His right hand seven stars." Later in the same chapter it is explained that "the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches; and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches." The seven stars in a single compact cluster thus stand for the Church in its many diversities and its essential unity.


This beautiful little constellation has become associated with a foolish fable. When it was first found that not only did the planets move round the sun in orbits, but that the sun itself also was travelling rapidly through space, a German astronomer, Mdler, hazarded the suggestion that the centre of the sun's motion lay in the Pleiades. It was soon evident that there was no sufficient ground for this suggestion, and that many clearly established facts were inconsistent with it. Nevertheless the idea caught hold of the popular mind, and it has acquired an amazing vogue. Non-astronomical writers have asserted that Alcyone, the brightest Pleiad, is the centre of the entire universe; some have even been sufficiently irreverent to declare that it is the seat of heaven, the throne of God. A popular London divine, having noticed a bright ring round Alcyone on a photograph of the group, took that halo, which every photographer would at once recognize as a mere photographic defect, as a confirmation of this baseless fancy. Foolishness of this kind has nothing to support it in science or religion; it is an offence against both. We have no reason to regard the Pleiades as the centre of the universe, or as containing the attracting mass which draws our sun forward in its vast mysterious orbit.


R. H. Allen, in his survey of the literature of the Pleiades, mentions that "Drach surmised that their midnight culmination[111] in the time of Moses, ten days after the autumnal equinox, may have fixed the Day of Atonement on the 10th of Tishri."[112] This is worth quoting as a sample of the unhappy astronomical guesses of commentators. Drach overlooked that his suggestion necessitated the assumption that in the time of Moses astronomers had already learned, first, to determine the actual equinox; next, to observe the culmination of stars on the meridian rather than their risings and settings; and, third and more important, to determine midnight by some artificial measurement of time.[113] None of these can have been primitive operations; we have no knowledge that any of the three were in use in the time of Moses; certainly they were not suitable for a people on the march, like the Israelites in the wilderness. Above all, Drach ignored in this suggestion the fact that the Jewish calendar was a luni-solar one, and hence that the tenth day of the seventh month could not bear any fixed relation either to the autumnal equinox, or to the midnight culmination of the Pleiades; any more than our Easter Sunday is fixed to the spring equinox on March 22.


The Pleiades were often associated with the late autumn, as Aratus writes—


"Men mark them rising with Sol's setting light,

 Forerunners of the winter's gloomy night."


This is what is technically known as the "acronical rising" of the Pleiades, their rising at sunset; in contrast to their "heliacal rising", their rising just before daybreak, which ushered in the spring time. This acronical rising has led to the association of the group with the rainy season, and with floods. Thus Statius called the cluster "Pliadum nivosum sidus", and Valerius Flaccus distinctly used the word "Pliada" for the showers. Josephus says that during the siege of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes in 170 BC, the besieged wanted for water until relieved "by a large shower of rain which fell at the setting of the Pleiades." R. H. Allen, in his Star-Names and their Meanings (1899), states that the Pleiades "are intimately connected with traditions of the flood found among so many and widely separated nations, and especially in the Deluge myth of Chaldrea", but he does not cite authorities or instances.


The Talmud gives a curious legend connecting the Pleiades with the Flood:—


"When the Holy One, blessed be He! wished to bring the Deluge upon the world, He took two stars out of Pleiades, and thus let the Deluge loose. And when He wished to arrest it, He took two stars out of Arcturus and stopped it."[114]


It would seem from this that the Rabbis connected the number of visible stars with the number of the family in the Ark—with the "few, that is, eight souls ... saved by water", of whom St. Peter speaks. Six Pleiades only are usually seen by the naked eye; traditionally seven were seen; but the Rabbis assumed that two, not one, were lost.

Perhaps we may trace a reference to this supposed association of Kimah with the Flood in the passage from Amos already quoted:—


"Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion,... that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: the Lord is His name."


Many ancient nations have set apart days in the late autumn in honour of the dead, no doubt because the year was then considered as dead. This season being marked by the acronical rising of the Pleiades, that group has become associated with such observances. There is, however, no reference to any custom of this kind in Scripture.


 What is the meaning of the inquiry addressed to Job by the Almighty?


"Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades?"


What was the meaning which it possessed in the thought of the writer of the book? What was the meaning which we should now put on such an inquiry, looking at the constellations from the standpoint which the researches of modern astronomy have given us?


The first meaning of the text would appear to be connected with the apparent movement of the sun amongst the stars in the course of the year. We cannot see the stars by daylight, or see directly where the sun is situated with respect to them; but, in very early times, men learnt to associate the seasons of the year with the stars which were last seen in the morning, above the place where the sun was about to rise; in the technical term once in use, with the heliacal risings of stars. When the constellations were first designed, the Pleiades rose heliacally at the beginning of April, and were the sign of the return of spring.[115] [116] Thus Aratus, in his constellation poem writes—


"Men mark them (i.e. the Pleiades) rising with the solar ray,

The harbinger of summer's brighter day."


They heralded, therefore, the revival of nature from her winter sleep, the time of which the kingly poet sang so alluringly—


"For, lo, the winter is past,

The rain is over and gone;

The flowers appear on the earth;

The time of the singing of birds is come,

And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

The fig-tree ripeneth her green figs,

And the vines are in blossom,

They give forth their fragrance."


The constellation which thus heralded the return of this genial season was poetically taken as representing the power and influence of spring. Their "sweet influences" were those that had rolled away the gravestone of snow and ice which had lain upon the winter tomb of nature. Theirs was the power that brought the flowers up from under the turf; earth's constellations of a million varied stars to shine upwards in answer to the constellations of heaven above. Their influences filled copse and wood with the songs of happy birds. Theirs stirred anew the sap in the veins of the trees, and drew forth their re-awakened strength in bud and blossom. Theirs was the bleating of the new-born lambs; theirs the murmur of the reviving bees.


Upon this view, then, the question to Job was, in effect, "What control hast thou over the powers of nature? Canst thou hold back the sun from shining in springtime—from quickening flower, and herb, and tree with its gracious warmth? This is God's work, year by year over a thousand lands, on a million hills, in a million valleys. What canst thou do to hinder it?"


The question was a striking one; one which must have appealed to the patriarch, evidently a keen observer and lover of nature; and it was entirely in line with the other inquiries addressed to him in the same chapter.


 "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?"


The Revised Version renders the question—


"Canst thou bind the cluster of the Pleiades?"


reading the Hebrew word Ma'anaddoth, instead of Ma'adannoth, following in this all the most ancient versions. On this view, Job is, in effect, asked, "Canst thou gather together the stars in the family of the Pleiades and keep them in their places?"


The expression of a chain or band is one suggested by the appearance of the group to the eye, but it is no less appropriate in the knowledge which photography and great telescopes have given us. To quote from Miss Clerke's description of the nebula discovered round the brighter stars of the Pleiades—Alcyone, Asterope, Celoeno, Electra, Maia, Merope and Taygeta:—


"Besides the Maia vortex, the Paris photographs depicted a series of nebulous bars on either side of Merope, and a curious streak extending like a finger-post from Electra towards Alcyone. ... Streamers and fleecy masses of cosmical fog seem almost to fill the spaces between the stars, as clouds choke a mountain valley. The chief points of its concentration are the four stars Alcyone, Merope, Maia., and Electra; but it includes as well Celoemo and Taygeta, and is traceable southward from Asterope over an arc of 1 10'.... The greater part of the constellation is shown as veiled in nebulous matter of most unequal densities. In some places it lies in heavy folds and wreaths, in others it barely qualifies the darkness of the sky-ground. The details of its distribution come out with remarkable clearness, and are evidently to a large extent prescribed by the relative situations of the stars. Their lines of junction are frequently marked by nebulous rays, establishing between them, no doubt, relations of great physical importance and masses of nebula, in numerous instances, seem as if pulled out of shape and drawn into festoons by the attractions of neighbouring stars. But the strangest exemplification of this filamentous tendency is in a fine, thread-like process, 3" or 4" wide, but 35' to 40' long, issuing in an easterly direction from the edge of the nebula about Maia, and stringing together seven stars, met in its advance, like beads on a rosary. The largest of these is apparently the occasion of a slight deviation from its otherwise rectilinear course. A second similar but shorter streak runs, likewise east and west, through the midst of the formation."[117]


Later photographs have shown that not only are the several stars of the Pleiades linked together by nebulous filaments, but the whole cluster is embedded in a nebulous net that spreads its meshes far out into space. Not only is the group thus tied or bound together by nebulous clouds, it has other tokens of forming but a single family [see figure]. The movements of the several stars have been carefully measured, and for the most part the entire cluster is drifting in the same direction; a few stars do not share in the common motion, and are probably apparent members, seen in perspective projected on the group, but in reality much nearer to us. The members of the group also show a family likeness in constitution. "'When the spectroscope is turned upon it, the chief stars are seen to closely resemble each other; the principal lines in their spectra being those of hydrogen, and these are seen as broad and diffused bands, so that the spectrum we see resembles that of the brightest star of the heavens, Sirius.


There can be little doubt but that the leaders of the group are actually greater, brighter suns than Sirius itself. We do not know the exact distance of the Pleiades,[118] they are so far off that we can scarcely do more than make a guess at it; but it is probable that they are so far distant that our sun at like distance would prove much too faint to be seen at all by the naked eye. The Pleiades then would seem to be a most glorious star-system, not yet come to its full growth. From the standpoint of modern science we may interpret the "chain" or "the sweet influences" of the Pleiades as consisting in the enfolding wisps of nebulosity which still, as it were, knit together those vast young suns; or, and in all probability more truly, as that mysterious force of gravitation which holds the mighty system together, and in obedience to which the group has taken its present shape. The question, if asked us today, would be, in effect,


"Canst thou bind together by nebulous chains scores of suns, far more glorious than thine own, and scattered over many millions of millions of miles of space; or canst thou loosen the attraction which those suns exercise upon each other, and move them hither and thither at thy will?"






KESIL, the word rendered by our  translators "Orion", occurs in an astronomical sense four times in the Scriptures; twice in the Book of Job, once in the prophecy of Amos, and once, in the plural, in the prophecy of Isaiah. In the three first cases the word is used in conjunction with Kimah, "the Pleiades", as shown in the preceding chapter. The fourth instance is rendered in the Authorized Version—


"For the stars of heaven and the  constellations (Kesilim) thereof shall not give their light."


The Hebrew word Kesil signifies "a fool", and that in the general sense of the term as used in Scripture; not merely a silly, untaught, feckless person, but a godless and an impious one.[119] Thus, in the Book of Proverbs, Divine Wisdom is represented as appealing.


"How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?"


What constellation was known to the ancient Hebrews as "the fool"? The Seventy who rendered the Old Testament into Greek confess themselves at fault. Once, in Amos, both Kimah and Kesil are left un-translated. Instead of "Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion," we have the paraphrase, "That maketh and transformeth all things." Once, in Job, it is rendered "Hesperus," the evening star; and in the other two instances it is given as "Orion". The tradition of the real meaning of the word as an astronomical term had been lost, or at least much confused before the Septuagint Version was undertaken. The Jews had not, so far as there is any present evidence, learned the term in Babylon, for the word has not yet been found as a star-name on any cuneiform inscription. It was well known before the Exile, for Amos and Isaiah both use it, and the fact that the author of Job also uses it, indicates that he did not gain his knowledge of the constellation during the Babylonian captivity.


The majority of translators and commentators have, however, agreed in believing that the brightest and most splendid constellation in the sky is intended—the one which we know as Orion. This constellation is one of the very few in which the natural grouping of the stars seems to suggest the figure that has been connected with it. Four bright stars, in a great trapezium, are taken to mark the two shoulders and the two legs of a gigantic warrior; a row of three bright stars, midway between the four first named, suggest his gemmed belt; another row of stars straight down from the centre star of the belt, presents his sword; a compact cluster of three stars marks his head. A gigantic warrior, armed for the battle, seems thus to be outlined in the heavens. As Longfellow describes him—



"Begirt with many a blazing star,

Stood the great giant, Algebar,

Orion, hunter of the beast!

His sword hung gleaming by his side,

And, on his arm, the lion's hide

Scattered across the midnight air

The golden radiance of its hair."



In accord with the form naturally suggested by the grouping of the stars, the Syrians have called the constellation Gabbara; and the Arabs, Al Jabbar; and the Jews, Gibbor. The brightest star of the constellation, the one in the left knee, now generally known as Rigel, is still occasiona1ly called Algebar, a corruption of Al Jabbar, though one of the fainter stars near it now bears that name. The meaning in each case is "the giant", "the mighty one", "the great warrior", and no doubt from the first formation of the constellations, this, the most brilliant of all, was understood to set forth a warrior armed for the battle. There were gibborim before the Flood; we are told that after "the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men (gibborim) which were of old, men of renown."


But according to Jewish tradition, this constellation was appropriated to himself by a particular mighty man. We are told in Gen. x. that—


"Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one (gibbor) in the earth."


and it is alleged that he, or his courtiers, in order to flatter him, gave his name to this constellation, just as thousands of years later the University of Leipzig proposed to call the belt stars of Orion, Stellae Napoleonis, "the Constellation of Napoleon".[120]


There was at one time surprise felt, that, deeply as the name of Nimrod had impressed itself upon Eastern tradition, his name, as such, was "nowhere found in the extensive literature which has come down to us" from Babylon. It is now considered that the word, Nimrod, is simply a Hebrew variant of Merodach, "the well-known head of the Babylonian pantheon". He was probably "the first king of Babylonia or the first really great ruler of the country". It is significant, as Mr. T. G. Pinches points out, in his Old Testament in the Light of the Record from Assyria and Babylonia, that just as in Genesis it is stated that "the beginning of his (Nimrod's) kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh," so Merodach is stated, in the cuneiform records, to have built Babel and Erech and Niffer, which last is probably Calneh.


The Hebrew scribes would seem to have altered the name of Merodach in two particulars: they dropped the last syllable, thus suggesting that the name was derived from Marad, "the rebellious one"; and they prefixed the syllable "Ni", just as "Nisroch" was written for "Assur". "From a linguistic point of view, therefore, the identification of Nimrod as a changed form of Merodach is fully justified."



The attitude of Orion in the sky is a striking one. The warrior is represented as holding a club in the right hand, and a skin or shield in the left. His left foot is raised high as if he were climbing a steep ascent, he seems to be endeavouring to force his way up into the zodiac, and—as Longfellow expresses it—to be beating the forehead of the Bull. His right leg is not shown below the knee, for immediately beneath him is the little constellation of the Hare, by the early Arabs sometimes called, Al Kursiyy al Jabbar, "the Chair of the Giant", from its position. Behind Orion are the two Dogs, each constellation distinguished by a very brilliant star; the Greater Dog, by Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens; the Lesser Dog, by Procyon, i.e. the "Dog's Forerunner". Not far above Orion, on the shoulder of the Bull, is the little cluster of the Pleiades.


There are—as we have seen—only three passages where Kimah, literally "the cluster" or "company",—the group we know as the Pleiades,—is mentioned in Scripture; and in each case it is associated with Kesil, "the fool",—Orion. Several Greek poets give us the same association, likening the stars to "rock-pigeons, flying from the Hunter Orion." And Hesiod in his Works and Days writes—


"Do not to plough forget,

When the Seven Virgins, and Orion, set:

Thus an advantage always shall appear,

In ev'ry labour of the various year.

If o'er your mind prevails the love of gain,

And tempts you to the dangers of the main,

Yet in her harbour safe the vessel keep,

When strong Orion chases to the deep

The Virgin stars."


There is a suggestion of intense irony in this position of Orion amongst the other constellations. He is trampling on the Hare—most timid of creatures; he is climbing up into the zodiac to chase the little company of the Pleiades—be they seven doves or seven maidens—and he is thwarted even in this unheroic attempt by the determined attitude of the guardian Bull.


A similar irony is seen in the Hebrew name for the constellation. The "mighty Hunter", the great hero whom the Babylonians had deified and made their supreme god, the Hebrews regarded as the "fool", the "impious rebel". Since Orion is Nimrod, that is Merodach, there is small wonder that Kesil was not recognized as his name in Babylonia.[121]


The attitude of Orion—attempting to force his way upward into the zodiac—and the identification of Merodach with him, gives emphasis to Isaiah's reproach, many centuries later, against the king of Babylon, the successor of Merodach—


"Thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High."


In the sight of the Hebrew prophets and poets, Merodach, in taking to himself this group of stars, published his shame and folly. He had ascended into heaven, but his glittering belt was only his fetter; he was bound and gibbeted in the sky like a captive, a rebel, and who could loose his bands?


In the thirteenth chapter of Isaiah we have the plural of kesilkesilim. It is usually understood that we have here Orion, as the most splendid constellation in the sky, put for the constellations in general. But if we remember that kesil stands for "Nimrod" or "Merodach", the first proud tyrant mentioned by name in Scripture, the particular significance of the allusion becomes evident—


"Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heavens and the constellations "—(that is the kesilim, the Nimrods or Merodachs of the sky)—"thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible."


The strictly astronomical relations of Orion and the Pleiades seem to be hinted at in Amos and in Job.


"Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night."


In this passage the parallelism seems to be between the seven stars, the Pleiades, with sunrise, and Orion with sunset. Now at the time and place when the constellations were mapped out, the Pleiades were the immediate heralds of sunrise, shortly after the spring equinox, at the season which would correspond to the early part of April in our present calendar. The rising of Orion at sunset—his acronical rising—was early in December, about the time when the coldest season of the year begins, The astronomical meaning of the "bands of Orion" would therefore be the rigour in which the earth is held during the cold of winter.


It is possible that the two great stars which follow Orion, Sirius and Procyon, known to the ancients generally and to us today as "the Dogs" were by the Babylonians known as "the Bow-star" and "the Lance-star"; the weapons, that is to say, of Orion or Merodach. Jensen identifies Sirius with the Bow-star, but considers that the Lance-star was Antares; Hommel, however, identifies the Lance-star with Procyon. In the fifth tablet of the Babylonian Creation epic as translated by Dr. L. W. King, there is an interesting account of the placing of the Bow-star in the heavens. After Merodach had killed Tiamat—


75. "The gods (his fathers) beheld the net which he had made,

76. They beheld the bow and how (its work) was accomplished.

77. They praised the work which he had done [...]

78. Then Anu raised [the ...] in the assembly of the gods.

79. He kissed the bow, (saying), 'It is [...]'!

80. And thus he named the names of the bow, (saying),

81. 'Long-wood shall be one name, and the second name [shall be ...)',

82. And its third name shall be the Bow-star in heaven [shall it ...]!'

83. Then he fixed a station for it."


Dr. Cheyne even considers that he has found a reference to these two stars in Job xxxviii. 36—


"Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts (Lance-star),

Or who hath given understanding to the heart (Bow-star)."


But this interpretation does not appear to have been generally accepted. The same high authority suggests that the astronomical allusions in Amos may have been inserted by a post-exilic editor, thus accounting for the occurrence of the same astronomical terms as are found in Job, which he assigns to the exilic or post-exilic period. This seems a dangerous expedient, as it might with equal reason be used in many other directions. Further, it entirely fails to explain the real difficulty that kimah and kesil have not been found as Babylonian constellation names,[122] and that their astronomical signification had been lost by the time that the "Seventy" undertook their labours.


Quite apart from the fact that the Babylonians could not give the name of "Fool" to the representation in the sky of their supreme deity, the Hebrews and the Babylonians regarded the constellation in different ways. Several Assyriologists consider that the constellations, Orion and Cetus, represent the struggle between Merodach and Tiamat, and this conjecture is probably correct, so far as Babylonian ideas of the constellations are concerned, for Tiamat is expressly identified on a Babylonian tablet with a constellation near the ecliptic.[123] But this means that the myth originated in the star figures, and was the Babylonian interpretation of them. In this case, Cetus—that is Tiamat—must have been considered as a goddess, and as directly and immediately the ancestress of all the gods. Orion—Merodach—must have been likewise a god, the great-great-grandson of Tiamat, whom he destroys.


The Hebrew conception was altogether different. Neither Merodach, nor Tiamat, nor the constellations of Orion and Cetus, nor the actual stars of which they are composed, are anything but creatures. Jehovah has made Orion, as well as the "Seven Stars", as "His hand hath formed the crooked serpent." By the mouth of Isaiah He says, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord, do all these things." The Babylonian view was of two divinities pitted against each other, and the evil divinity was the original and the originator of the good. In the Hebrew view, even the powers of evil are created things; they are not self-existent.


And the Hebrews took a different view from the Babylonians of the story told by these constellations. The Hebrews always coupled Orion with the Pleiades; the Babylonians coupled Orion with Cetus—that is, Merodach with Tiamat.


The view that has come down to us through the Greeks agrees much better with the association of the constellations as held amongst the Hebrews, rather than amongst the Babylonians. The Hunter Orion, according to the Greeks, chased the Pleiades—the little company of Seven Virgins, or Seven Doves—and he was confronted by the Bull. In their view, too, the Sea-monster was not warring against Orion, but against the chained woman, Andromeda.




by David C. Bossard


 Orion is the brightest and most recognizable constellation. The stars that form its main features are from 250 to 2,300 light years distant, and are not physically associated in any way—except for their visual grouping in the constellation. See the following table.

Major Stars in Orion[124]






motion (mas/y)




right shoulder