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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(בּוֹכָב, kokab; ἀστήρ or ἄστρον; but "seven stars" in Amos 5:8 is כַּמָה, kinmah, the "Pleiades,", as rendered in Job 9:9; Job 38:31; and "day star" in 2 Peter 1:19 is φωσφόρος, Venus in the morning). The ancient Israelites knew very little of the starry heavens, if we may judge from the indications of the Bible, which contains no trace of scientific astronomy. We find there only the ordinary observations of landsmen (Amos 5:8), especially shepherds (Psalms 8:3), for instance, such as nomads would observe on open plains (see Von Hammer in the Fundgruben, 1, 1 sq.; 2, 235 sq.). The patriarchs observed the stars (Genesis 37:9); and metaphors drawn from the stellar world, either with reference to the countless number of the stars (Genesis 22:17; Exodus 32:13; Nahum 3:16, etc.), or to their brightness (Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 14:12; Revelation 22:16), were early in frequent use (see Lengerke, Daniel, p. 377 sq.). The sun and moon, of course, were readily distinguished from the other celestial luminaries (Genesis 1:16; Psalms 136:7; Jeremiah 31:35) on account of their superior size and brilliancy; and from the name as well as period of the latter (יָרֵחִ ) the earliest form of monthly designation of time was taken. (See MONTH). The Phoenicians, Babylonians (Chaldaeans), and Egyptians, whose level country as well as agricultural or naval interests, and especially the intense brilliancy of their sky by night (Hackett, Illust. of Script. p. 30), inclined them to an observation of the heavens, far surpassed the Hebrews in astronomical knowledge (see Diod. Sic. 1, 50, 69, 81; 2, 31; Strabo, 17, 8, 16; Macrob. Sat. 1, 19); and the Egyptians were the first to ascertain the true length of the solar year (Herod. 2:4). (See YEAR).

Under the name of stars the Hebrews comprehended all constellations, planets, and heavenly bodies, with the exception of the sun and moon. No part of the visible creation exhibits the glory of the Creator more illustriously than the starry heavens (Psalms 8:3; Psalms 19:1). The Psalmist, to exalt the power and omniscience of Jehovah, represents him as taking a survey of the stars as a king taking a review of his army, and knowing the name of every one of his soldiers (Psalms 147:4). Among the Hebrews stars were frequently employed as symbols of persons in eminent stations. Thus "the star out of Jacob" designates king David, the founder of the Hebrew dynasty, according to others the Messiah (Numbers 24:17; see Georgi, De Stella ex Jacob [Regiom. 1701]; Cotta, ibid. [Tü b. 1750]); the eleven patriarchs are called "stars" (Genesis 37:9); so also "stars" denote the princes, rulers, and nobles of the earth (Daniel 8:10; Revelation 6:13; Revelation 8:10-11; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 12:4). Christ is called the "Morning Star," as he introduced the light of the Gospel day, and made a fuller manifestation of the truths of God than the ancient prophets, whose predictions were now accomplished (Revelation 22:16). In allusion to the above prophecy in Numbers, the infamous Jewish impostor Bar-cocab, or, as the Romans called him, Bar-cocheba (q.v.), who appeared in the reign of Hadrian, assumed the pompous title of "Son of a star," as the name, implies, as if he were the star, out of Jacob; but this false Messiah was destroyed by the emperor's general, Julius Severus, with an almost incredible number of his deluded followers. Stars were likewise the symbols of a deity "The star of your god Chiun" (Amos 5:26). Probably the figure of a star was fixed on the head of the image of a false god. (See CHIUN).

The study of the stars very early in the East (as eventually in the West likewise, Caesar, Bell. Gall. 6, 21) led to star worship (Wisdom 13, 2); in fact, the religion of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and ancient Arabians was nothing else than astrolatry (Mishna, Aboda Sara, 4, 7), although at first this relation is not so apparent (see Wernsdorf, De Cultu Astrorum [Gedan. 1746]). Hence the Mosaic law sternly warned the Israelites against this idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3); yet they at length. (in the Assyrian period) fell into it (1 Kings 23:5, 12; Jeremiah 14:13; Ezekiel 8:16; Zephaniah 1:5). The account given of it by Maimonides is both curious and instructive. "In the days of Enos, the son of Seth, the sons of Adam erred with great error, and their error was this; and the counsel of the wise men became brutish, and Enos himself was of them that erred. They said, Forasmuch as God hath created these stars and spheres to govern the world, and hath set them on high, and imparted honor unto them, and they are ministers that minister before him, it is meet that men should laud and magnify and give them honor.... So, in process of time, the glorious and fearful Name was forgotten out of the mouth of all living, and out of their knowledge, and they acknowledged him not. And the priests and such like, thought there was no God, save the stars and spheres, for whose sake, and in whose likeness, they made their images; but as for the Rock Everlasting, there was no man that did acknowledge him or know him, save a few persons in the world, as Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, Shem, and Heber; and in this way did the world walk and converse till that pillar of the world, Abraham our father, was born." (See STAR GAZER).

A brief allusion to a few, modern discoveries respecting the astral bodies may not be uninteresting here, especially their inconceivable extent. Astronomers tell us that the nearest of the fixed stars is distant from us twenty millions of millions of miles; and to give us some idea of that mighty interval they tell us that a cannon ball flying at the rate of five hundred miles an hour would not reach that star in less than four million five hundred and ninety thousand years; and that if the earth, which moves with the velocity of more than a million and a half miles a day, were to be hurled from its orbit, and to take the same rapid flight over that immense tract, it would not have arrived at the termination of its journey after taking all the time which has elapsed since the creation of the world. The velocity of light is one hundred and ninety-two thousand miles in a second of time; so that in coming from a fixed star of the first magnitude it would take from three to twelve years, but in coming from. one of the twelfth magnitude it would be four thousand years before the light reached the earth. They tell us, further, what the reason of every man must dispose him to admit, that every star is probably a sun irradiating its own system of worlds; that the distance. between one star and another may be presumed to be as great as the distance between the nearest of them and our earth; and that their instruments enable them to compute not less than one hundred millions of those radiant orbs. But that number may form but an insignificant fraction of the whole; and thus our earth and the system to which it belongs may bear no more proportion to the universe at large than a drop of water or a particle of sand to the whole terraqueous globe. (See Nichols, Architect. of the Heavens.) (See ASTRONOMY).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Star'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Star Gazer