Biblical astronomy

The various authors of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh, or Old Testament) have provided various names to stars and planets.

This article incorporates unedited text from the public-domainCatholic Encyclopedia. It may be out of date, or may reflect the point of view of the Catholic Church as of 1913. (January 2019)

. . . Biblical astronomy . . .

Except for Earth, Venus and Saturn are the only planets expressly mentioned in the Old Testament.

Isaiah 14:12 is about one Helel ben Shahar, called the King of Babylon in the text. Helel (“morning star, son of the dawn”) is translated as Lucifer in the Vulgate Bible but its meaning is uncertain.[1]

Saturn is no less certainly represented by the star Kaiwan (or Chiun),[2] worshipped by the Israelites in the desert (Amos 5:26). The same word (interpreted to mean “steadfast”) frequently designates, in the Babylonian inscriptions, the slowest-moving planet; while Sakkuth, the divinity associated with the star by the prophet, is an alternative appellation for Ninurta, who, as a Babylonian planet-god, was merged with Saturn. The ancient Syrians and Arabs, too, called Saturn Kaiwan, the corresponding terms in the Zoroastrian Bundahish being Kevan. The other planets are individualized in the Bible only by implication. The worship of gods connected with them is denounced, but without any manifest intention of referring to the heavenly bodies. Thus, Gad and Meni (Isaiah 65:11) are, no doubt, the “greater and the lesser Fortune” typified throughout the East by Jupiter and Venus; Neba, the tutelary deity of Borsippa (Isaiah 46:1), shone in the sky as Mercury, and Nergal, transplanted from Assyria to Kutha (2 Kings 17:30), as Mars.

The subjoined list gives (largely on Schiaparelli’s authority) the best-warranted interpretations of biblical star names:

The Bible names some half-dozen star groups, but authorities differ widely as to their identity. In a striking passage, the Prophet Amos glorifies the Creator as “Him that made Kimah and Kesil”,[3] rendered in the Vulgate as Arcturus and Orion. Now Kimah certainly does not mean Arcturus. The word, which occurs twice in the Book of Job (9:9; 38:31), is treated in the Septuagint version as equivalent to the Pleiades. This, also, is the meaning given to it in the Talmud (TB Brachot 58b) and throughout Syrian literature; it is supported by etymological evidences, the Hebrew term being obviously related to the Arabic root kum (accumulate), and the Assyrian kamu (to bind); while the “chains of Kimah”, referred to in the sacred text, not inaptly figure the coercive power imparting unity to a multiple object. The associated constellation Kesil is doubtless no other than Orion. Yet, in the first of the passages in Job where it figures, the Septuagint gives Herper; in the second, the Vulgate quite irrelevantly inserts Arcturus; Carsten Niebuhr (1733–1815) understood Kesil to mean Sirius; Thomas Hyde (1636–1703) held that it indicated Canopus. Now kesil signifies in Hebrew “impious”, adjectives expressive of the stupid criminality which belongs to the legendary character of giants; and the stars of Orion irresistibly suggest a huge figure striding across the sky. The Arabs accordingly named the constellation Al-gebbar, “the giant”, the Syriac equivalent being Gabbara in old Syriac version of the Bible known as Peshitta. We may then safely admit that Kimah and Kesil did actually designate the Pleiades and Orion. But further interpretations are considerably more obscure. The Jewish Biblical Commentator Rashi says that Kimah emits cold, and that is what makes winter so cold. However, Kesil emits heat preventing the winter from getting too cold.

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. . . Biblical astronomy . . .