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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(ἀστρονομία, the laws of the stars), a science which appears to have grown out of astrology (q.v.). The cradle of astronomy is to be found in Asia. Pliny, in his celebrated enumeration (Hist. Nat. 7, 57) of the inventors of the arts, sciences, and conveniences of life, ascribes the discovery of astronomy to Phoenician mariners, and in the same chapter he speaks of astronomical observations found on burnt bricks (coctilibus laterculis) among the Babylonians, which ascend to above 2200 years before his time. Alexander sent to Aristotle from Babylon a series of astronomical observations, extending through 1900 years. The astronomical knowledge of the Chinese and Indians goes up to a still earlier period (Plin. Hist. Nat. 6, 17-21). From the remote East astronomy traveled in a westerly direction. The Egyptians at a very early period had some acquaintance with it. To them is to be ascribed a pretty near determination of the length of the year, as consisting of 365 days (Herodotus, 2:4). The Egyptians were the teachers of the Greeks. Some portion of the knowledge which prevailed on the subject would no doubt penetrate to and become the inheritance of the Hebrews, who do not, however, appear to have possessed any views of astronomy which raised their knowledge to the rank of a science, or made it approach to a more correct theory of the mechanism of the heavens than that which was generally held. A peculiarity of the greatest importance belongs to the knowledge which the Israelites display of the heavens, namely, that it is thoroughly imbued with a religious character; nor is it possible to find in any other writings, even at this day, so much pure and elevated piety, in connection with observations on the starry firmament, as may be gathered even in single books of the Bible (Amos 5:8; Psalms 19). This was no doubt owing in part to the fact that the practice of astrology was interdicted to the Hebrews (Deuteronomy 18:10). As early as the time of the composition of perhaps the oldest book in the Bible, namely, that of Job, the constellations were distinguished one from another, and designated by peculiar and appropriate names (Job 9:9; Job 38:31). In the Bible are found,
(1) Heylel (הֵילֵל ), "the morning star," the planet Venus (Isaiah 14:12; Revelation 2:28);
(2) Kimah' (כַּימָה ), " Lucifer," "Pleiades," "the seven stars" (Job 9:9; Job 38:31; Amos 5:8), the Pleiades;
(3) Kesil' (כְּסַיל ), "Orion," a large and brilliant constellation, which stands in a line with the Pleiades. The Orientals seem to have conceived of Orion as a huge giant who had warred against God, and as bound in chains to the firmament of heaven (Job 38:31); and it has been conjectured that this notion is the foundation of the history of Nimrod (Gesen. Comment. zu Jesaia, 1, 457).
(4) Ash (עִשׁ ), (Job 9:9), "Arcturus," the Great Bear, which has still the same name among the Arabians (Niebuhr, p. 113). See Job 38:32, where the sons of Arcturus are the three stars in the tail of the Bear, which stand in a curved line to the left.
(5) Nachash' (נָחָשׁ ), (Job 26:13, the "crooked serpent"), Draco, between the Great and the Little Bear; a constellation which spreads itself in windings across the heavens.
(6) Dioscziri, Διόσκουροι (Acts 28:11, "Castor and Pollux"), Gemini, or the Twins, on the belt of the Zodiac, which is mentioned in 2 Kings 23:5, under the general name of "the planets" (מִזָּלוֹת, Mazz-loth'), a word which signifies dwellings, stations in which the sun tarries in his apparent course through the heavens; and also by the kindred term ‘"MAZZAROTH" (מִזָּרוֹת, Job 38:32). (Compare Genesis 37:9.) The entire body of the stars was called "the host of heaven" (Isaiah 40:26; Jeremiah 33:22). (See each of the words here enumerated in its alphabetical order.) No trace is found in the Old Testament of a division of the heavenly bodies into planets, fixed stars, and comets; but inJude 1:13, the phrase "wandering stars" (ἀστέρες πλανῆται ) is employed figuratively. After the Babylonish exile, the Jews were compelled, even for the sake of their calendar, to attend at least to the course of the moon, which became an object of study, and delineations were made of the shapes that she assumes (Mishna, Rosh Hassh. 2, 8; Mitchell, Astron. of Bible, N.Y. 1863). (See YEAR).
At an early period of the world the worship of the stars arose from that contemplation of them which in every part of the globe, and particularly in the East, has been found a source of deep and tranquil pleasure, (See ADORATION). "Men by nature" "deemed either fire or wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars. or the violent water, or the lights of heaven to be the gods which govern the world;" "with whose beauty being delighted, they took them to be gods" (Wisdom of Solomon 13:2). Accordingly, the religion of the Egyptians, of the Chaldees, Assyrians, and the ancient Arabians, was nothing else than star-worship, although in the case of the first its origin is more thickly veiled. The sun, moon, and seven planets (those, that is, of the fixed stars which shine with especial brightness) excited most attention, and won the greatest observance. We thus find, among the Babylonians, Jupiter (Belus, Gad, גִּד , Isaiah 65:11), Venus (מְנַי, Meni', Isaiah 65:11, where the first is rendered in the common version "that troop," the second, "that number"). Both these were considered good principles, the Hebrews words both signifying fortune, i.e. good luck. Mercury, honored as the secretary of heaven, is also found in Isaiah 46:1, "NEBO (נְבוֹ ) stoopeth;" Saturn (כַּיּוּן, Kiyun', " Chiun," Amos 5:26); Mars (נֵרְגִל, "NERGAL," 2 Kings 17:30); the last two were worshipped as principles of evil. The character of this worship was formed from the notions which were entertained of the good or ill which certain stars occasioned. Astrology found its sphere principally in stars connected with the birth of individuals. Thus Herodotus (2, 82) states that among the Egyptians every day was under the influence of some god (some star), and that according to the day on which each person was born, so would be the events he would meet with, the character he would bear, and the period of his death. Astrology concerned itself also with the determination of lucky and unlucky days; so in Job 3:3, "Let the day perish wherein I was born;" and Galatians 4:10, "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years." The Chaldaeans, who studied the stars at a very early period, were much given to astrology, and were celebrated for their skill in that pretended science (Isaiah 47:13). (See further on this general subject, Hammer, Ueber die Sternbilder der Araber; Ideler, Untersuchungen ub. d. Sternnamen, Berl. 1809; also Ueb. die Astron. der Alten, Berl. 1806; Weidler, Hist. Astronom. Viteb. 1714; Neumann, Astrognostische Benennungen im A. T. Bresl. 1819.) (See STAR).