ASTRONOMY. While the word astronomy is not found in the Bible, there are many passages that refer to some aspect of the subject. God is recognized as the maker of the stars (
There are hundreds of biblical references to stars, sun, moon, and planets. Evidently the early Bible writers were much better acquainted with the subject of astronomy than are many modern people. When God wished to tell Abraham how numerous his descendants would be, he took him out and showed him the stars. Then God said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them” (
The Bible refers in a most striking manner to the height of the stars—that is, to their distance from the earth: “Is not God in the heights of heaven? And see how lofty are the highest stars!” (
It appears that the biblical writers were aware that the stars differ greatly from each other. Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, says, “The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor” (
One of the many sins of the children of Israel was that of worshiping idols. They wanted to worship also the sun, the moon, and the stars. In
While there is little evidence in the Bible that the Hebrew people had indulged very much in the study of astronomy, it is very clear that they recognized a sublime order in the movements of the heavenly bodies. They observed carefully the daily rising of the sun, its majestic movement across the sky, and its final setting in the west. This is vividly portrayed in the story of the battle with the Amorites as recorded in
More remarkable than the long day of Joshua when the sun apparently stood still, is the story of the return of the shadow on the sundial of Ahaz. In this case the Lord gave King Hezekiah a sign saying, “I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz” (
There are a number of allusions in the Bible to eclipses of the sun and of the moon. In
Calculated eclipses of the sun that occurred in Palestine during OT times are as follows: July 31, 1063 b.c.; August 15, 831; June 15, 763; May 18, 603; May 28, 585. Very likely the prophets Amos and Joel witnessed the eclipse of August 15, 831. Such an eclipse is vividly described by Amos: “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight” (
The subject of astrology has been connected with astronomy since early times. The reference in
Probably the most fascinating part of biblical astronomy concerns the star of Bethlehem. This story is told in the second chapter of Matthew. When the wise men from the east came to Jerusalem they asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (
The question is: What kind of a star can continually guide travelers to a definite point on the earth? Many answers have been proposed. One is that this was an unusual conjunction of bright planets. A conjunction is the coming together on the same meridian at the same time of two or more celestial objects, so that they appear almost as one. It is known that in the year 6 b.c. there was a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. However, the conjunction would not have been visible to the wise men for it was too near the sun, and 6 b.c. is two years too early for the birth of Christ.
Another theory is that this star was a nova. A nova is a star that suddenly becomes very bright. Ordinarily such a star is too dim to be seen by the unaided eye. Very quickly such a star becomes as bright or brighter than the brightest star in the sky. Many novae have been discovered and studied. The problem in this case is to explain how such a bright star could serve as a guide to the wise men.
Still another theory proposed to explain the star of Bethlehem is that this was the planet Venus at its greatest brilliance. It is true that this planet does appear at times as a very bright object in the winter sky. However, these wise men knew the movements of the planets, and therefore, the bright appearance of Venus would hardly have served as a guide to lead them to the Christ child.
Evidently here is another of the many biblical miracles that modern science is unable to explain. This miraculous appearance, which is called a star, aroused the curiosity of the wise men to such an extent that they followed it for many miles until finally it pointed out the exact place where they wished to go.
There is much evidence in the Bible that many of the constellations were known to the writers. Kesil (Orion) is mentioned in
This cross may be said to be the evening’s call to worship. It reminds us of the passage from Luke, “Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (
In the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, the Lord Jesus is called “the bright
Bibliography: G. V. Schiaporelli, Astronomy in the, 1905; E. W. Maunder, The Astronomy of the Bible, 1935; G. Abetti, The History of Astronomy, 1952.——HHH
It certainly would have been possible for God to accomplish the creation events in six ordinary days, but perhaps here is a place where Biblical interpretation can be helped by science, which gives rather definite evidence that the whole process took a long time. The best information from the products of radioactive decay in meteorites suggests that the solar system was formed about 4,700,000,000 years ago, while calculations of the life histories of some stars as they consume their internal nuclear fuel indicate they must have two or three times this age. Measurements of the remnants from radioactive decay in the soil and dust brought back by the first astronauts to land on the moon gave ages around 4,700,000,000 years. Fossils of simple, single-celled micro-organisms have been found on the Ontario shore of Lake Superior in Precambrian rocks known through radio-active dating to be 1,900,000,000 years old. If God took only six literal days for creation, then it is difficult to understand His purpose in arranging everything to appear as if long periods of time were involved.
Earth and sky.
Job shows considerable insight into the true nature of the world by his statement, “He [God]...hangs the earth upon nothing” (
Big-bang and steady-state theories of creation.
The largest telescopes reveal that galaxies like the Milky Way, which consists of a hundred billion stars, populate the universe in all directions to at least a billion light years. Wave-length measurements of the light emitted from these galaxies show that they are all receding from the earth with speeds proportional to their distances. This pattern is exactly what would result from an explosion, even if the solar system is not at its center, and led George Gammow to describe the formation of the universe as a big bang from an initial hot and dense collection of matter and energy. An alternative picture was presented by Fred Hoyle and his colleagues in their postulate that the universe is in a steady state and, therefore, must appear the same to all observers at all times. Since the distances between the galaxies are always increasing, this theory requires the spontaneous creation of new protons and electrons throughout the expanding universe to keep the average density constant. Hoyle rejected the universe with a unique creation event and proposed a universe that has existed forever, with matter continuously being created to fill the voids caused by the expansion.
This steady-state or continuous-creation theory is now seriously questioned, primarily as a result of the discovery in 1965 of weak radio waves which cannot be identified with any particular object, but which come uniformly from all directions of space. So far the only reasonable explanation attributes this radio emission to the remains of the explosion of the primordial fireball which initially contained all the matter and energy of the universe at a temperature of a billion degrees or more. It now has cooled by expansion to only 2.7 degrees centigrade above absolute zero. If further investigations of these radio waves confirm the above interpretation, it follows that there must have been an earlier time when the universe was much hotter and denser, and, therefore, it is not in a steady state.
It is tempting to identify the fireball with the creation event of Genesis, but if there is sufficient matter in the universe to bind it by its own gravity, the expansion eventually must stop and contraction begin, returning everything to the compact high temperature state from which another explosion presumably would occur. Thus the universe could oscillate indefinitely between states of high and low density so that there may have been many cycles before the present one. In this case there are no known astronomical measurements that can distinguish between a universe that started oscillating at creation and one that has been expanding and contracting forever. On the other hand, if the average density at present is below the one hydrogen atom per hundred thousand cubic centimeters necessary to hold the universe together, it will never contract, and is now expanding from a unique dense state which must be described as the beginning. The galaxies seem to account for only four percent of the matter needed to bind everything gravitationally, so that one of the major problems of present-day astronomy is to discover whether a significant amount of material lies between the galaxies.
The solar system.
Sun and moon.
The long day of Joshua and the sun dial of Ahaz.
One of the most remarkable astronomical events of the Bible occurred when both the sun and moon appeared to stand still in the sky at Joshua’s command while the Israelites won a battle over the Amorites (
Planets and the morning star.
The only planet to be mentioned explicitly seems to be Saturn as the star-god Kaiwan (KJV Chiun) in
The morning star (
Meteors easily could fit descriptions such as “a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch” (
Stars and constellations.
The Bible rarely mentions particular stars or constellations, except for the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades (
The Heb. word kesil normally is tr. “fool” or “impious one,” but where it appears in Job and Amos a proper name is required, and all modern VSS seem to have followed the LXX rendering of
Constellations also seem to be implied by the phrases “chambers of the south” (
More likely possibilities are a comet or a new star, either a nova or supernova. A new star occasionally does appear in the sky due to an explosion in an existing star initially too faint to be seen without a telescope. The resulting tremendous increase in brightness suddenly causes the star to become visible for a period, sometimes even in daylight. A nova is the consequence of a modest perturbation which increases the star’s luminosity only some ten thousand times. Such a relatively weak explosion will produce a new star brighter than the second magnitude about on the average of every ten years, and fainter ones more frequently. They will remain visible for a month or two. In the supernova explosion, the light may increase by a hundred million times and then fade gradually for a year or longer, but a hundred years or more usually elapses between these events. In a.d. 1054 in Taurus, the Chinese observed such a supernova which initially was as bright as Venus. At this location telescopes have found the Crab nebula, which is still expanding at 600 m. per second. It is a source of X-rays and radio waves as well as light and has a pulsar at its center emitting bursts of energy every 0.03 seconds.
Whatever the Star of Bethlehem was, it ought to have been seen by others besides the wise men. Among the ancient watchers of the skies, the Chinese kept the best records. From 32 b.c. to a.d. 13, they noted comets in 12 b.c., 10 b.c., and 4 b.c., and an object which appeared in March or early April of 5 b.c. in Capricornus and remained for over seventy days. A detailed description is given of the motions of the comet of 12 b.c., which had a large tail and was visible for fifty-six days beginning August 26th; this must have been Halley’s Comet which returns every seventy-six years. Since no motion was attributed to the object of 5 b.c., it may have been a nova or supernova. Whether any of these events can be identified with the star of the wise men depends on man’s estimate of the birth date of Christ.
Worship of the sun and stars, astrology.
In contrast with the practices of most ancient cultures, the Bible strictly forbids worship of the sun, moon, and stars (
The Bible strongly condemns astrology and all other forms of divination and augury (
Life on other worlds.
The Bible gives no hint whether life exists elsewhere in the universe. As yet no astronomical observation has found any evidence for life outside our earth, either as simple forms or intelligent beings. It would be remarkable if God created so vast a universe of stars and galaxies without permitting life to develop somewhere else besides the earth.
Measurements by earth-bound telescopes, and esp. by space probes, have shown that it would be difficult for life as we know it, to exist elsewhere in the solar system. The surface temperature of Venus is 430o centigrade, hot enough to melt lead, and Mercury is even hotter. No living organisms were found in the rocks the Apollo 11 and 12 astronauts picked up on the moon. The night temperature on the surface of Mars is 100oC below freezing so that any organism would require some localized hot spot to keep alive. Deep in the atmospheres of hydrogen, helium, methane, and ammonia found in Jupiter and Saturn there should be layers warm enough for biological activity, but the absence of a solid or liquid surface prob. would permit the organisms to contact regions of temperature extremes where they would be destroyed.
A planet around another star could not be seen by present telescopes, but minute wobbles in the position of Barnard’s star, six light years away, show that it must have a companion with only a few times the mass of Jupiter. Therefore, it seems likely that some solar-type stars elsewhere in the Milky Way could have earth-like planets where life would be possible.
J. Taylor, “Orion and Pleiades,” Dictionary of the Bible (1903); H. J. Blair, “Joshua,” New Bible Commentary (1953), 231; B. Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1955); J. I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958), 97; T. R. von Oppolzor, Canon of Eclipses (1962); H. P. Yoke, “Ancient and Mediaeval Observations of Comets and Novae in Chinese Sources,” Vistas in Astronomy (1962), v. 5, 127-224; F. Hoyle, Galaxies, Nuclei, and Quasars (1963); P. J. E. Peebles and D. T. Wilkinson, “The Primeval Fireball,” Scientific American (1967), v. 216, 28-36; C. I. Scofield, The New Scofield Reference Bible (1967); R. W. Sinnott, “Thoughts on the Star of Bethlehem,” Sky and Telescope (1968), v. 36, 384-386; R. B. Partridge, “The Primeval Fireball Today,” American Scientist (1969), v. 57, 37-74.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. THE HEAVENLY BODIES 1. The
2. The Sun
(1) The Names for the Sun
(2) The "City of the Sun"
(3) The Greater Light-Giver
(4) The Purpose of the Sun
(5) The Sun as a Type
3. The Moon
(1) The Names for the Moon
(2) The Lesser Light-Giver
(3) Phases of the Moon
(1) Solar and Lunar Eclipses
(2) The Wings of the Morning
(1) The Meaning of the Word
(2) Natural Seasons for Worship
(3) The Hallowing of the Seventh
(4) The Jubilee a Luni-solar Cycle
(5) The 19-Year Luni-solar Cycle
(6) The Jewish Ritual Preexilic
(7) The Luni-solar Cycles of Daniel
6. The Stars
(1) Their Number
(2) Their Distance
(3) Their Brightness
7. Morning Stars
The Stars as a Dial
(2) The Star "Wormwood"
(1) Comets as a Spiritual Type
(2) Comets Referred to in Scripture?
II. THE CONSTELLATIONS 1. Nachash, the ""
3. The Seed of the Woman
4. The Bow Set in the Cloud
5. The Dragon of Eclipse
7. The Standards of the Tribes
8. The Cherubim
9. Balaam’s Prophecy
12. Mazzaroth, the Constellations of the Zodiac
(1) The "Scatterers," or the North
(2) The Ordinances of Heaven Established on the Earth
14. The Date of the
III. PHYSIOGRAPHY 1. The
(1) The Earth a Sphere
(2) The North Stretched out over Empty Space
3. The Firmament
(1) The Hebrew Conception
(2) The Alexandrian Conception
7. The Deep
(1) Meaning of the Word
(2) The Babylonian Dragon of Chaos
LITERATURE The keynote of the Hebrew writers respecting the heavenly bodies is sounded in
I. The Heavenly Bodies. 1. The Ordinances of Heaven:
To the sacred writers, the ordinances of heaven taught the lesson of Order--great, magnificent and immutable. Day by day, the sun rose in the east, "as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber" (
But, as the year revolved, the dial of stars in the North shifted round; whilst of the other stars, those in the West disappeared into the light of the setting sun, and new stars seemed to spring out of the dawning light. There was thus a yearly procession of the stars as well as a nightly one. And to this "ordinance of the heaven" the Hebrews noted that there was an answer from the earth, for in unfailing correspondence came the succession of seasons, the revival of vegetation, the ripening of harvest and of fruits, the return of winter’s cold. Of them God asked the question: "Knowest thou the ordinances of the heavens? Canst thou establish the dominion thereof in the earth?" (
We have no writings of the early Hebrews other than the books of the
2. The Sun:
(1) The Names for the Sun.
Four words are translated "sun" in the Old Testament:
(a) Or simply means "light" and is usually rendered thus, but in one instance (
(b) Chammah means "heat" and is used for the sun when this is in association with lebhanah or "snow-white" for the moon, as in
(c) Shemesh, the Samas of the Babylonians, is a primitive word, probably with the root meaning of "ministrant." This is the word most frequently used for the sun, and we find it used topographically as, for instance, in Beth-shemesh, "the house of the sun." Four places of this name are mentioned in the Old Testament: one in Judah, a Levitical city, to which the two milch kine bearing the ark took their straight way from the country of the Philistines; one on the border of Issachar; one in Naphtali, a fenced city; and one in Egypt, supposed to be the same as Heliopolis or On, the city of Asenath, wife of Joseph.
(2) The "City of the Sun".
But the most interesting reference is found in
(3) The Greater Light-Giver.
(e) Yet a fifth expression is used to denote the sun, and in one respect it is the most important and significant of all. In the creation narrative it is called the greater light or rather light-giver (ma’or): `And God made the two great light-givers; the greater light-giver to rule the day, and the lesser light-giver to rule the night: He made the stars also’ (
(4) The Purpose of the Sun.
Two purposes for the great heavenly bodies are indicated in
(5) The Sun as a Type.
But the apparent unchangeability of the sun makes it, as it were, a just measure of eternal duration (
But it was in its light-giving and ministering power that the Hebrew writers used the sun as a type to set forth the power and beneficence of God. Words are the symbols of ideas and it was only by this double symbolism that it was possible to express in intelligible human speech, and to make men partly apprehend some of the attributes of God. So we find in the Ps of pilgrimage (
In New Testament times, though men were no less prone to evil, the fashion of that evil was changing. "The pillars of Beth- shemesh" were broken down (
3. The Moon:
(1) The Names for the Moon.
Three words are translated "moon" in the Old Testament, not including cases where "month" has been rendered "moon" for the sake of a more flowing sentence: (a) Lebhanah, "white"; a poetic expression, used in connection with chammah, "heat," for the sun.
(b) Chodhesh, "new moon," meaning "new," "fresh." As the Hebrews reckoned their months from the actual first appearance of the young crescent, chodhesh is most frequently translated "month." Thus "In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month" (
(c) Yareach, probably "wandering," a very appropriate primitive term for the moon, since her motion among the stars from night to night is sufficiently rapid to have caught the attention of very early observers. Its use therefore as the proper name for the "lesser light" indicates that the systematic observation of the heavenly bodies had commenced, and that the motion of the moon, relative to the stars, had been recognized.
Yerach, "month," is twice translated "moon" (
(2) The Lesser Light-Giver.
The direct references in Scripture to the moon as a light-giver are not numerous, but those that occur are significant of the great importance of moonlight in ancient times, when artificial lights were few, expensive and dim, and the lighting of streets and roads was unthought of. To shepherds, the moon was of especial assistance, and many of the people of Israel maintained the habits of their forefathers and led the shepherd’s life long after the settlement of the nation in Palestine. The return of the moonlit portion of the month was therefore an occasion for rejoicing and for solemn thanks to God, and the "new moon" as well as the Sabbath was a day of special offerings. On the other hand one of the judgments threatened against the enemies of God was that the light of the moon should be withheld. The threat made against Pharaoh is "I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light" (
(3) Phases of the Moon.
There is no direct mention of the phases of the moon in Scripture; a remarkable fact, and one that illustrates the foolishness of attempting to prove the ignorance of the sacred writers by the argument from silence, since it is not conceivable that men at any time were ignorant of the fact that the moon changes her apparent shape and size. So far from the Hebrews being plunged in such a depth of more than savage ignorance, they based their whole calendar on the actual observation of the first appearance of the young crescent. In two passages in the Revised Version (British and American) we find the expression "at the full moon," keceh (
The periodical changes of the moon are its ordinances (
The "round tires like the moon" worn by the daughters of Zion (
Jericho possibly means "the city of the moon," and Jerah, "moon," was the name of one of the sons of Joktan.
(1) Solar and Lunar Eclipses .
The sun and moon were not only given "for days and years" (
The phenomena of both solar and lunar eclipses are briefly but unmistakably described by several of the prophets. Joe refers to them twice (2:10,31), the second time very definitely: "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood," and this was quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (
(2) The Wings of the Morning.
But a solar eclipse is not solely darkness and terror. Scarcely has the dark moon hidden the last thread of sunlight than a beautiful pearly halo, the corona, is seen surrounding the blackness. This corona changes its shape from one eclipse to another, but the simplest form is that of a bright ring with outstretched wings, and is characteristic of times when the sun has but few spots upon it. This form appears to have been the origin of the sacred symbol of the ring or discovered with wings, so frequently figured on Egyptian, Babylonian and Persian monuments. It is possible that these coronal "wings of the sun" may have been in the mind of the prophet Malachi when he wrote, "Unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings" (
Total eclipses of the moon must frequently have been visible in Palestine as in other countries, but only two or three total eclipses of the sun were visible there during Old Testament history; that of 831 BC, August 15, was total in Judea, and that of 824 BC, April 2, very nearly total. It has been suggested that two eclipses of the sun were predicted in the Old Testament--that of Nineveh, 763 BC, June 15, in
(1) The Meaning of the Word.
The sun and moon were appointed "to give light upon the earth," and "for signs," and "for days and years." They were also appointed "for seasons" (mo`adhim), i. e. "appointed assemblies." These seasons were not primarily such seasons as the progress of the year brings forth in the form of changes of weather or of the condition of vegetation; they were seasons for worship. The word mo`edh occurs some 219 times; in 149, it is translated "congregation," and in about 50 other instances by "solemn assembly" or some equivalent expression. Thus before ever man was created, God had provided for him times to worship and had appointed two great lights of heaven to serve as signals to call to it.
The appointed sacred seasons of the Jews form a most complete and symmetrical series, developing from times indicated by the sun alone to times indicated by the sun and moon together, and completed in times indicated by luni-solar cycles.
(2) Natural Seasons for Worship.
The sun alone indicated the hours for daily worship; at sunrise, when the day began, there was the morning sacrifice; at sunset, when the day closed, there was the evening sacrifice.
The moon indicated the time for monthly worship; when the slender crescent of the new moon was first seen in the western sky, special sacrifices were ordained with the blowing of trumpets over them.
The sun and moon together marked the times for the two great religious festivals of the year. At the beginning of the bright part of the year, when the moon was full in the first month of spring, the Passover, followed by the, was held. At the end of the bright part of the year, when the moon was full in the first month of autumn, the Feast of Tabernacles was held. These may all be termed natural seasons for worship, obviously marked out as appropriate. The beginning and close of the bright part of the day, and of the bright part of the year, and the beginning of the bright part of the month, have been observed by many nations.
(3) The Hallowing of the Seventh.
But that which was distinctive in the system of the Jewish festivals was the hallowing of the seventh: the seventh day, the seventh week, the seventh month, the seventh year were all specially marked out. The sun alone indicated the Sabbath by the application of the sacred number seven to the unit of time given by the day. For the period of seven days, the week was not dependent upon any phase of the moon’s relation to the sun; it was not a quarter month, but a free week, running on independently of the month. The Jewish Sabbath therefore differed from the Babylonian, which was tied to the lunar month. The same principle was applied also to the year; every seventh year was set apart, as a period of rest, the Sabbatic year. Every seventh day, every seventh year, was thus observed. But for the week and month, the principle of hallowing the seventh came into operation only once in each year. The Feast of Pentecost, or as it was also called, the
The weekly Sabbath, the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feasts of Trumpets and of Tabernacles, with one other day of solemnity, were in an especial sense, the mo`adhim of the Lord.
The seventh day was especially the day of worship, and to correspond, the seventh month was especially the month of worship; and this, not only because it was ushered in with peculiar solemnity, and included one of the chief great feasts of the year, but because it furnished the culminating ceremony of the entire Jewish system, the great, held on the tenth day of the month, and therefore on a day not marked directly by any phase of the moon. The Day of Atonement purged away the offenses of the past year, and restored Israel to the full enjoyment of the Divine favor.
(4) The Jubilee a Luni-solar Cycle.
The Jewish month was a natural month, based upon the actual observation of the young crescent. The Jewish year was a natural year, that is, a solar tropical year, based upon actual observation of the ripening of the grain. But there is not an exact number of days in a lunar month, nor is there an exact number of months in a solar year; twelve lunar months falling short of the year, by eleven days; so that in three years the error would amount to more than a complete month, and to restore the balance a thirteenth month would have to be intercalated. As the months were determined from actual observation, and as observation would be interrupted from time to time by unfavorable weather, it was necessary to have some means for determining when intercalation would take place, irrespective of it. And this was provided by carrying the principle of hallowing the seventh, one stage farther. Not only was the seventh of the day, week, month and year distinguished, but the seventh week of years was marked by the blowing of the trumpet of Jubilee on the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement meant the restitution of Israel to the Divine favor; the blowing of the trumpet of Jubilee every forty-ninth year meant "the restitution of all things"; every Hebrew in servitude returned to freedom, all land, mortgaged or sold, returned to its original owner.
And this period of 49 solar years was astronomically a period of restitution, for the sun and moon returned nearly to their original positions relative to each other, since 49 solar years are 606 lunar months with an error of only 32 hours. So that though the Jubilee period is not a perfect lunar cycle, it was quite exact enough to guide the Jewish priests in drawing up their calendar in cases where the failure of observation had given rise to some doubt.
The beginning of each month was marked by the blowing of the two silver trumpets (chatsotserah:
(5) The 19-Year Luni-solar Cycle.
The cycle of the Jubilee was sufficient for the purposes of the religious calendar so long as the nation inhabited its own land, since from its small extent there would be no conflict of time reckoning and it would be easy to notify the appearance of the new moon from one end of the country to the other. But after the captivities, when the people were scattered from Gozan of the Medes to Syene on the Nile, it was necessary to devise some method by which the Jews, however far they had been dispersed, would be able to reckon for themselves as to when the moon was new for Jerusalem. We have lately learned from the discovery of a number of Aramaic papyri at Syene that there was a colony of Jews there who used a calendar constructed, not from observation, but from calculation based upon a very exact luni-solar cycle (E. B. Knobel, "Ancient Jewish Calendar Dates in Aramaic Papyri," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, LXVIII, 334). This cycle, known to us by the name of its supposed discoverer, Meton, is one of 19 years, which is only two hours short of 235 complete months. As this Jewish colony appears to have been founded after Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem by some of the refugees who fled into Egypt with Johanan the son of Kareah (Jer 40-44), this acquaintance with the Metonic cycle cannot have been due to Babylonian influence. Nor can it have been due to Egyptian, since the Egyptians did not use or require any such cycle, their year being a solar one of 365 days. Indeed no other nation appears to have been aware of it until, a generation later, Meton, the Athenian, won immortal fame by announcing it. The evidence of these Syene papyri renders it probable that Meton did not himself discover the cycle but learned it from Jewish sources. Many of the Semitic nations used, like the Jews, a natural month in conjunction with the natural year, but the Jews were the most likely to have discovered this cycle, since they alone had their worship centralized at a single shrine which became, in consequence, their standard observatory for their observation of the new moon. These observations, therefore, would all be comparable, and during the 400 years that the Temple stood, it must have been quite clear to them that the 19-year cycle not only gave them seven, the sacred number, of intercalated months, but brought the setting places of the new moons to the same points of the western horizon and in the same order.
It is clear from the evidence of these Syene papyri that the Jews, there, used the 19-year cycle both for fixing the day of the new moon, and in order to determine when a thirteenth month had to be intercalated, an illustration of the futility of "the argument from silence," for so far from there being any notice in Scripture of the use of a cycle for determining intercalation, there is no mention of intercalation at all.
(6) The Jewish Ritual Preexilic.
Ever since this date of the Captivity, the 19-year cycle has been used by the Jews, and it gives to us the "" which is employed in fixing the date of Easter in our own ecclesiastical calendar. Since the 19-year cycle has been in use ever since the Captivity, the 49-year cycle, the Jubilee, cannot have been an exilic or post-exilic innovation. In this fact we find the decision of the controversy which has so long divided critics as to whether the ritual legislation of the Jews dated from before or from after their captivity. We may take Kuenen as representing the more recent school: "Even the later prophets and historians, but more especially and emphatically those that lived before the Exile, were unacquainted with any ritual legislation, and specifically with that which has come down to us" (The Hexateuch, 273-74). "In determining its antiquity we must begin by considering its relation to Deuteronomy, to which it is evidently subsequent. .... This comes out most clearly in the legislation concerning the feasts. Other indications though less unequivocal, plead for the same relationship. In the next place the legislation itself gives evidence of the date of its origin, and those data which justify a positive inference point to the Babylonian captivity. .... It would follow that the `legislation of sanctity’ arose in the second half of the Babylonian captivity, presumably shortly before its close; and there is not a single valid objection to this date" (ibid., 276). Kuenen was evidently unaware of the astronomical relations concerned in the ritual legislation, and was unable to anticipate the striking discoveries made from the Syene papyri. More recent knowledge has reversed the verdict which he pronounced so confidently. The traditional view, that the Hebrew ritual preceded the Captivity, was correct. For the Jubilee, with which the Day of Atonement was bound up, was both the culmination and the completion of the entire ritual, and, since the period of the Jubilee, as a luni- solar cycle, was preexilic, the ritual, as a system, must have been preexilic likewise.
(7) The Luni-solar Cycles of Daniel.
It is not possible at present to decide as to whether the Jews had learnt of this cycle and its significance from their astronomical observations. If so, they must have been far in advance in mathematical science of all other nations of antiquity. If not, then it must have been given to them by Divine revelation, and its astronomical significance has been left for modern science to reveal.
6. The Stars:
As with the sun and moon, the stars are regarded under the two aspects of light-givers and time-measurers; or, in other words, as marking the seasons.
(1) Their Number.
But two other ideas are also strongly dwelt upon; the stars and the heaven of which they form the "host" are used to express the superlatives of number and of height. "Look now toward heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them" (
(2) Their Distance.
As regards the height, that is to say, the distance of the stars, this is immeasurable except in a very few cases. By using as a base line the enormous diameter of the earth’s orbit--186,000,000 miles--astronomers have been able to get a hint as to the distance of some 40 or 50 stars. Of these the nearest, Alpha Centauri, is distant about twenty-five millions of millions of miles; the brighter stars are on the average quite ten times as far; whilst of the distances of the untold millions of stars beyond, we have no gauge. For us, as for King Solomon, the "heaven" of the stars is "for height" (
(3) Their Brightness.
The stars are not all of equal brightness; a fact alluded to by Paul when he wrote that "one star differeth from another star in glory" (
Just as the number of the stars and their ordered movement led them to be considered as a mighty army, "the host of heaven," and as a type of that other celestial host, the holy angels, so the individual stars are taken as fitly setting forth, by their brightness and exalted position, spiritual powers and intelligences, whether these are the angels of God, as in
7. Morning Stars:
The Stars as a Dial
In ancient times there were two methods by which the progress of the year could be learned from observation of the heavens. The sun was "for seasons," and the change in its place of rising or of setting supplied the first method. The second method was supplied by the stars. For as the Hebrew shepherds, such as Jacob, Moses, David and Amos, kept watch over their flocks by night, they saw the silent procession of the stars through the hours of darkness, and knew without clock or timepiece how they were progressing. They noticed what stars were rising in the East, what stars were culminating in the South, what were setting in the West, and how the northern stars, always visible, like a great dial, were turning. But as the eastern horizon began to brighten toward the dawn, they would specially note what stars were the last to rise before their shining was drowned in the growing light of day. These, the last stars to appear in the East before sunrise, were the "morning stars," the heralds of the sun. As morning followed morning, these morning stars would be seen earlier and earlier, and therefore for a longer time before they disappeared in the dawn, until some morning, other stars, unseen before, would shine out for a few moments, and thus supplant the stars seen earlier as the actual heralds of the sun. Such a first appearance of a star was termed by the Greek astronomers its "heliacal" rising, and the mention in Scripture of "morning stars," or "stars of the twilight" (
8. Falling Stars:
Meteors are not stars at all in the popular sense of the word, but are quite small bodies drawn into our atmosphere, and rendered luminous for a few moments by the friction of their rush through it. But as they have been shown not to be mere distempers of the air, as they were considered at one time, but bodies of a truly planetary nature, traveling round the sun in orbits as defined as that of the earth itself, the epithet is quite appropriate to them. They are astronomical and not merely terrestrial bodies. Meteors are most striking either when they are seen as solitary aerolites or when they fall in some great shower. The most celebrated shower which seemed to radiate from the constellation Leo--and hence called the Leonid--gave for centuries a magnificent spectacle every thirty-three years; the last great occasion having been on November 14, 1866. Those who saw that shower could appreciate the vivid description given by John when he wrote, "The stars of the heaven fell unto the earth, as a fig tree casteth her unripe figs when she is shaken of a great wind" (
(2) The Star "Wormwood."
Such great meteoric showers are most impressive spectacles, but solitary meteors are sometimes hardly less striking. Bolides or aerolites, as such great solitary meteors are termed, are apparently of great size, and are sometimes so brilliant as to light up the sky even in broad daylight. Such a phenomenon is referred to by John in his description of the star Wormwood: "There fell from heaven a great star, burning as a torch" (
9. Wandering Stars:
It has already been noted that the moon may perhaps have received its Hebrew name from the fact of its being a "wanderer" among the stars, but there is no direct and explicit reference in Scripture to other celestial "wanderers" except in
(1) Comets as a Spiritual Type.
But as comets and meteors are intimately connected with each other--meteors being in many cases the debris of comets--the simile applies to either. False professors of religion, unstable or apostate teachers, are utterly unlike the stars which shine forth in heaven for ever, but are fitly represented by comets, which are seen only for a few weeks or days, and then are entirely lost to sight, or by meteors, which flash out for a few moments, and are then totally extinguished.
All the great comets, all the comets that have been conspicuous to the naked eye, with the single exception of that named after Halley, have appeared but once within the period of human records and Halley’s Comet only takes 80 days to traverse that part of its orbit which lies within the orbit of the earth; the rest of its period of revolution--76 years--is passed outside that boundary, and for 38 years at a time it remains outside the orbit of Neptune, more than 2,800,000,000 miles from the sun. The other great comets have only visited our neighborhood once within our experience.
(2) Comets Referred to in Scripture?
The question has been raised whether the appearance of comets is ever referred to in Scripture. Josephus, speaking of the signs which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, says, "Thus there was a star resembling a sword which stood over the city, and a comet that continued a whole year" (BJ, VI, v, 3). The "star resembling a sword" was doubtless the return of Halley’s Comet in 66 AD, and the phrase used by Josephus has suggested that it was a stellar phenomenon that is referred to in
II. The Constellations. The principal achievement of the science of astronomy in the centuries during which the books of the Old Testament were written was the arrangement and naming of the constellations, and there can be no reasonable doubt that the same system was known to the Hebrews as that which has been handed down to us through the Greek astronomers. Paul certainly knew the Greek constellations, for in his sermon on
1. Nachash, the "Crooked Serpent":
The direct references to these old constellation-forms in Scripture are not numerous. One of the clearest is in
The term bariach, rendered "crooked" but better as in the Revised Version, margin as "fleeing," is applied by Isaiah to "Leviathan" (liwyathan:
The arrangement of the twelve signs of the zodiac to mark out the apparent yearly path of the sun, and of these three serpent- forms to hold their respective and significant positions in the heavens, shows that a real progress in astronomy had been made before the constellations were designed, and that their places were allotted to these figures on a definite astronomical plan.
3. The Seed of the Woman:
A further purpose is shown by the relation of the three serpents to the neighboring figures, and it is clear that the history preserved in
4. The Bow Set in the Cloud:
Nor is this the only narrative in Genesis which finds a parallel in the constellations. Among the southern groups we find a ship Argo that has grounded on a rock; and close to it stands a figure, Centaurus, who is apparently slaying an animal, Lupus, beside an Altar. The cloud of smoke arising from the Altar is represented by the Milky Way, and in the midst of the cloud there is set the Bow of the Archer, Sagittarius. Here there seems to be pictured the covenant made with Noah after he offered his sacrifice when he left the ark: "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth" (
There is no need to assume, as some writers have done, that all the 48 primitive constellations were of Divine origin, or even that any of them were. If some of the early astronomers possessed in one form or another the histories that we have in
It does not follow that all the old constellations have an analogous significance, or that if they have, we should now be able to detect it, and a great deal of ingenuity has been wasted in the attempt to convert the old 48 constellations into a sort of gospel in hieroglyphic. Interpretations of this order were current quite early in Christian times, for they are denounced at considerable length and in detail by Hippolytus in his Refutation of All the Heresies, circa 210 AD. Their revival in recent years is chiefly due to Mazzaroth, a series of papers by the late Miss Frances Rolleston in which fanciful etymologies were given to the Arabic names by which the principal stars are known. These names, for the most part, simply indicate the places which the stars were severally supposed to hold in the figures to which they were assigned, and Miss Rolleston’s derivations for them are quite misleading and unfounded. Nevertheless her results have been blindly accepted by a number of writers.
5. The Dragon of Eclipse:
The peculiar arrangement of the serpent forms in the constellations, and especially the position allotted to Hydra, extended along the equator with its head near the spring equinox and its tail near that of autumn, appears to have given rise to the terms "Dragon’s Head" (omega) and "Dragon’s Tail" (an upside-down omega), for the nodes or points of intersection of the ecliptic (the apparent path of the sun) with the celestial equator, and hence for nodes in general. As eclipses of the sun and moon can only occur when those bodies are near the nodes of the moon’s orbit, that is, near the Dragon’s Head or Tail, the myth seems to have arisen that such eclipses were due to one or other of the two great lights being swallowed by a dragon, and a reference to this myth is found in
6. Joseph’s Dream:
If we realize that the Hebrews were quite familiar with the same constellation figures that we have inherited through the Greeks, several indirect allusions to them gain an added meaning. Thus Joseph dreamed that "the sun and the moon and eleven stars made obeisance" to him (
7. The Standards of the Tribes:
"Neither the Mosaic law nor the Old Testament generally gives us any intimation as to the form or character of the standard (deghel). According to rabbinical tradition, the standard of Judah bore the figure of a lion, that of Reuben the likeness of a man, or of a man’s head, that of Ephraim the figure of an ox, and that of Da the figure of an eagle; so that the four living creatures united in the cherubic forms described by Ezekiel were represented upon these four standards" (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Pentateuch, III, 17). A variant of this tradition gives as the standard of Reuben, "unstable as water" (
8. The Cherubim:
This distribution of the four cherubic forms in the four quarters of heaven gives a special significance to the invocation used by Hezekiah and the Psalmist, "Thou that dwellest between the cherubims" (
9. Balaam’s Prophecy:
When Balaam saw "Israel dwelling according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him" (
In a similar way when the prophets refer to the enemies of Israel under the figure of dragons or reptiles, there seems occasionally an indirect reference to the serpents that represent the powers of evil in the pictures that have been associated with the star groups. Thus in
Besides references direct or indirect to the familiar constellation figures, four special astronomical terms occur in the Hebrew of the Old Testament which have given rise to much discussion. These are Kimah, Kecil, Mazzaroth and `Ayish. The tradition of their significance had been lost before the Septuagint translation was made, but it may be taken as practically certain that the renderings given in the Revised Version (British and American) are substantially correct.
The word Kimah occurs in three passages, in each case in conjunction with Kecil (
Six stars can now easily be seen by any good sight, but very keen-sighted persons can detect more; thus Maestlin, the tutor of Kepler, mapped 11 before the invention of the telescope, and in recent times Carrington and Denning have counted 14 with the naked eye. Still, 6 is the number visible to most persons, though there is a curiously widespread and uniform tradition that they once "were seven who now are six," and seven is the number almost always assigned to them in literature. Hesiod calls them "the seven sisters, the Virgin stars," and Milton, "the seven Atlantic sisters," as representing the daughters of Atlas. Many of the Greek poets, however, regarded them as Peleiades, "rock pigeons," doves, flying from the hunter Orion; but whether they have been considered as representing doves or maidens, seven has still been their traditional number. Possibly one of the group has declined in brightness in the course of the centuries; Alcyone would seem to have increased in brightness, for though now the brightest, it is not one of the four that figure in Ptolemy’s Catalogue, and if one has increased in brightness, others may have diminished. In the telescope many hundreds of stars are visible. The photographic plate has registered thousands and shows the principal stars as enveloped and threaded together by delicate streams of nebulous matter, the stars shining on these filamentous lines of light like pearls upon a string. This, the appearance of the Pleiades on the best modern photographs, would be strikingly appropriate to the rendering of
The designation of the group as that of the seven stars gives a special significance to one of the details of the vision of John: "I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a son of man, .... And He had in his right hand seven stars: .... The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks are seven churches" (
It may be well to correct here a certain widely diffused error. When it was discovered that the sun itself with all its attendant planets was traveling rapidly through space, the German astronomer Madler hazarded the suggestion that the center of the sun’s motion, the attracting body that governed it, might lie in the group of the Pleiades, and this suggestion has been quoted in many popular writings as if it were a demonstrated fact. It soon became evident that there was no sufficient ground for the suggestion, and the idea has been entirely abandoned by astronomers.
The word Kecil as denominating a constellation occurs in the singular number in three passages, and in each it is placed in antithesis to Kimah. In a fourth passage (
Until recently it was not found possible to identify the Nimrod of Scripture with any Babylonian monarch until Dr. T. G. Pinches suggested that "Nimrod" was a deliberate Hebrew transmutation of "Marduk," the name of the great Babylonian national hero, and chief deity of their pantheon. "The change was brought about by making the root triliteral, and the ending uk (ak) in Merodach-Baladan disappearing first, Marduk appeared as Marad. This was connected with the root maradh, `to be rebellious,’ and the word was still further mutilated, or rather deformed, by having a ni attached, assimilating it to a certain extent to the niph`al forms of the Hebrew verbs, and making a change altogether in conformity with the genius of the Hebrew language" (The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 129-30). In the very brief reference to Nimrod in
12. Mazzaroth, the Constellations of the Zodiac:
A further astronomical term which occurs in
1. He (Marduk) made the station for the great gods;
2. The stars, their images, as the stars of the zodiac he fixed.
3. He ordained the year, and into sections (mizrata) he divided it.
4. For the twelve months he fixed three stars.
Here in the third line, mizrata, cognate with the Hebrew mazzaroth, means the sections or divisions of the year, corresponding to the signs of the zodiac mentioned in the second line.
Yet again when
The word Mazzaroth therefore represents the twelve "signs" or, to speak more correctly, the twelve "constellations" of the zodiac. These two terms are often used indiscriminately, but there is a real difference between their significations. The constellations of the zodiac are the actual groupings of the stars, lying along the ecliptic, and are quite irregular in form and length. The signs have no connection with the actual stars but are imaginary divisions of the ecliptic, all exactly equal in length, and they are reckoned from that point in the heavens where the sun is at the moment that it is crossing the celestial equator in its northward motion in springtime. As this point, known to astronomers as "the first point of Aries," moves slowly amongst the stars, taking 25,800 years to complete a revolution of the heavens, the signs of the zodiac also move among the stars, and hence, though at one time each sign bore a rough and general correspondence to the constellation of the same name, the signs have gradually drawn away from them. The constellations of the zodiac were designed about 2700 BC, but the signs--the equal divisions of the zodiac named from them--cannot have been adopted earlier than 700 BC, and were probably even later. For since Aries is the first of the signs, it is clear that it was the first of the constellations at the time when the equal division of the zodiac was effected, and 700 BC is the very earliest date that the constellation Aries can have been so regarded. Incidentally it may be remarked that the mention in the Babylonian story of creation of the allotment of three stars to each of the sections (Mizrata) of the year, shows that not only had the division of the zodiac into 12 equal signs been effected, but that a further step had been taken, namely, the division of each sign into 3 equal parts, later known amongst the Greeks as its "decans," corresponding roughly to the 36 decades of the Egyptian calendar. Whatever, therefore, may have been the antiquity of the traditions embodied in it, the actual Babylonian poem quoted above, so far from being an early document, as it was at one time supposed to be, is probably almost as late as the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
There are three constellations, natural groupings of the stars, the Pleiades and Orion and "Charles’s Wain," which have always attracted men’s attention, and we accordingly find them referred to in the earliest poems extant. Thus they are the three groups of the stars most frequently mentioned by Homer and Hesiod. The two first groups, the Pleiades and Orion, are, as we have seen, indicated by Kimah and Kecil. We should therefore naturally expect that the third constellation which we find associated with these in the Book of Job should be none other than the seven bright stars in the North, the principal part of the Great Bear. The Hebrew name for this third constellation appears in two slightly different forms. It is `ash in
The antithesis which is presented in
(1) The "Scatterers," or the North.
There is some probability that in
(2) The Ordinances of Heaven Established on the Earth.
The astronomical antithesis between Mazzaroth, the constellations of the zodiac ("led forth" each "in its season"), and `Ayish’, "the Bear with her train" ("guided" in its unceasing revolution round the pole), is so complete and astronomically appropriate, that there is reason to expect an antithesis as clear and as astronomically significant between the two clauses of the preceding verse. But the rendering of the Revised Version (British and American) does not afford anything of the kind: "Canst thou bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" is simply equivalent to the question as to whether Job could fix these stars in their places in the sky; and for an inquiry so perfectly general, one constellation would be no more appropriate than another. The true rendering must certainly bring out some difference or at least distinction between the two constellations or the use that was made of them.
And in the third passage in which Kimah and Kecil are mentioned together an important distinction is hinted at. The order in
Similarly sunset makes "the day dark with night," and in the progress of the seasons the analogous change on the higher scale is effected when the long nights and short days of winter set in the evening of the year, and all nature is bound as by iron bands, in cold and frost. And at the time of the origin of the constellations, the "acronychal" rising of Orion, i. e. its rising at nightfall, was the harbinger of this change; the rigor of winter formed "the bands of Orion."
These regular changes in the appearings and positions of the constellations constitute the ordinances of the heavens, ordinances which Job could neither alter for the worse by holding back the delights of springtime, or for the better by breaking the bonds of winter cold. But these ordinances were not confined in their effects to the heavens; their dominion was established on the earth, which answered by the revival of vegetation when the Pleiades, then nearly in conjunction with the sun, appeared for a short time before sunrise; and by the return of the constraints of cold and frost when Orion, in opposition to the sun, rode the sky the whole night long.
The completeness and beauty of the imagery will now be apparent.
The Pleiades stood for the East, since by their rising just before daybreak, they heralded the morning of the year and the "delights" of springtime.
Orion stood for the West, since his appearing just after nightfall heralded the evening of the year, and the bands of winter cold.
Mazzaroth, the twelve constellations of the zodiac, the "chambers of the south," each "led forth" from the underworld in its own "season," stood for the South.
And the "Bear with her train," "guided" in their unceasing course round the pole, stood for the circumpolar constellations in the North.
And the movements of them all in a perfect obedience to the law of God were the ordinances of heaven; whilst the dominion of them was seen to be established upon the earth in the constant succession of the seasons there in unfailing answer to the changes in the stars above.
These three verses give us a vivid picture of the work of primitive astronomy. The science was then in an early stage of development, but it was a real science, a science of observation, thoroughly sound so far as it had progressed, and showing high intelligence on the part of those who pursued it. We now know that the movement of "the Bear with her train," that is, the apparent rotation of the heavens round the pole, is due to the real rotation of the earth upon its axis; that the bringing out of "the Mazzaroth in their season," apparently due to the revolution of the sun round the earth, is due to the real revolution of the earth round the sun. But this knowledge which has enabled us to see where the actual movements lie has not brought us any nearer penetrating the mystery of those movements. What is the ultimate cause of the rotation of this vast globe, we know no more than the ancients knew what caused the heavens to rotate; what causes it to fly through space 18 miles in every second of time, we know no more than the ancients knew why the sun appeared to move among the stars. To us, as to them, it is the power of God, and the will of God.
14. The Date of the Book of Job:
It has been supposed by some scholars that the Book of Job was written during the Captivity in Babylon, but this supposition is untenable in view of the statement in Job’s Apology that the worship of the heavenly bodies was "an iniquity to be punished by the judges" (
Before the Captivity, Kimah and Kecil were plainly in common use, since Amos uses them as if they were familiar to his hearers, and as he himself points out, he was not a man of learning but a simple herdsman. The obvious and sufficient explanation of the later ignorance respecting these three terms lies in the catastrophes of the Assyrian and Bah conquests. Not less significant of their complete loss of the old Hebrew astronomy is the alteration which the Septuagint made in the Hebrew text. The "delights of the Pleiades" had evidently no more meaning for them than they have had for the majority of modern Orientalists, and no doubt it seemed a plausible and legitimate emendation to write ma`anaddoth, "chains," instead of ma`adhannoth, "delights," so as to bring about a fancied parallelism with moshekhoth, the "bands" of Orion. But the alteration transforms a complete, beautiful and symmetrical figure, an epitome of the astronomical observation of the time, into a bald tautology. Those critics are therefore right who assign the Book of Job and the
III. Physiography. 1. The Circle of the Earth:
It has generally been assumed that the Hebrews considered the earth to be a vast circular plain, arched over by a solid vault-- "the firmament"--above which were stored, as if in cisterns, the "treasuries" (
But this assumption is in reality based more upon the ideas prevalent in Europe during the Dark Ages than upon any actual statements in the Old Testament. The same word (chagh) used in the Old Testament to express the roundness of the heavens (
(1) The Earth a Sphere.
Certain astronomical relations were recognized very early. The stars appear as if attached to a globe rotating round the earth once in 24 hours, and this appearance was clearly familiar to the author of the Book of Job, and indeed long before the time of Abraham, since the formation of the constellations could not have been effected without such recognition. But the spherical form of the heavens almost involves a similar form for the earth, and their apparent diurnal rotation certainly means that they are not rigidly connected with the earth, but surround it on all sides at some distance from it. The earth therefore must be freely suspended in space, and so the Book of Job describes it: "He stretcheth out the north over empty space, and hangeth the earth upon nothing" (
(2) The North Stretched Out over Empty Space.
Here the "north" signifies the northern circumpolar constellations and the writer recognized that they stretch out beyond the utmost confines of the earth; so that he was not under any impression that the heavens rested upon the earth, or were borne up by mountains. The celestial sphere surrounded the earth entirely, but at a distance from it; between the two there was "empty space." Some commentators have indeed claimed that
(3) The Corners of the Earth.
See Corners of the Earth.
2. The Pillars of the Earth:
erets, "the earth," is in general the surface of the earth, the dry land inhabited by man and beast. Hence "the pillars" of the earth (
3. The Firmament:
(1) The Hebrew Conception.
Above the, spherical earth was stretched out the "firmament" (raqia`) made on the second day of creation to "divide the waters from the waters" (
(2) The Alexandrian Conception.
In this however the Septuagint simply expressed the astronomical science of their day as accepted in Alexandria, where the doctrine of a succession of solid crystalline spheres, each carrying a planet, held currency. But in order to express the Hebrew idea, raqia` should be rendered "expanse" or "space"; it corresponds to the "empty space" of
4. The Windows of Heaven:
Thus in the account of the Flood, "the windows of heaven" are said to have been opened. But, ’arubbah, "window," means a network, or lattice, a form which can never have been ascribed to a literal floodgate; and in the other passages where "the windows of heaven" are mentioned the expression is obviously metaphorical (
Further the numerous other references to rain connect it with the clouds, as "I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain" (
Jeremiah and the Psalmist repeat the description, "He causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasuries" (
7. The Deep:
(1) Meaning of the Word.
Tehom, "the deep," means moving water, and hence the ocean, which is represented as being essentially one, exactly as we now know it to be by actual exploration--"Let the waters Under the heavens be gathered together unto one place" (
(2) The Babylonian Dragon of Chaos.
LITERATURE. Maunder, Astronomy of the Bible; Astronomy without a Telescope; Schiaparelli, Astronomy in the Old Testament; Warren, The Earliest Cosmologies, 1909.
E. W. Maunder