by Walter Maunder
This article is composed of quotes and my commentary from the book Astronomy of the Bible: An Elementary Commentary on the Astronomical References in the Holy Scripture, by Edward Walter Maunder, 1908. (read/download)
In this article I use the term "author" to refer to Edward Walter Maunder, not to myself.
The author's basic premises . . .
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 can learn the meaning of certain passages by interpreting the astronomical allusions in light of the knowledge of the time.
The astronomical references are not numerous, . . . they occur mostly in poetic imagery, and . . . Holy Scripture was not intended to give an account of the scientific achievements, if any, of the Hebrews of old.
In the course of the book he quotes hundreds of passages.
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 to-day has yet reached finality in all things.
Young-earth creationists often interpret the Bible as if it were a scientific exposition. Some even look to the text as containing encoded mathematical formulas or use other schemes to derive scientific knowledge from the text. These efforts are misguided.
In the sublime and ordered movements of the various heavenly bodies, the Hebrews recognized the ordinances of God. . . . 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.
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."
The Israelites saw God's creative power when they looked to the stars. This was in radical contrast to the nations around them which worshipped the stars or used them for soothsaying.
The Hebrew word [deep] would seem to mean, etymologically, "surges," "storm-tossed waters. . . . Our word "deep" is apt to give us the idea of stillness. . . . But deep waters, or waters in commotion, are in either case natural objects.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
How can the earth be formless and void but at the same time have storm-tossed, deep waters? From the perspective of the surface of the earth (where the Holy Spirit is) there is only water (a formless substance) rather than dry land (where humans will one day live).
This water is out of harmony, or, water influenced by wind — not pure water. The abyss is similar, not composed of the pure spirit of God but tainted by the powers of wickedness.
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.
He assumes it was written very early because its concept of astronomy is so primitive.
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.
The problem with the author's statement is that the earth would have to be in existence the day before the sun was created on day four since dry land and vegetation were created on day three. Also, vegetation requires the sun.
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.
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.
The author compares various creation stories and notes that the story in Genesis is unique. However, he does note that the various flood stories have some common features.
The firmament is both the sky (containing clouds) and the expanse of space (containing stars, the sun, the moon, and the planets of the solar system).Some have taught that it refers to a solid dome or vault above the sky having windows and doors; a rigid sky, which revolved around the earth once each day, carrying along all the stars.
Difficulty as to the precise meaning of the principal word, viz. that translated firmament.
The word r[=a]qi[=a]`, 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.
The firmament, then, is . . . 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.
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.
In the later books of the Bible the subject of the circulation of water through the atmosphere is referred to much more fully.
The clouds, too, were not conceived as being heavy.
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.
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.
The topic of whether there was a "cistern" containing water high up in the sky.
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.
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 dulness on the part of an objector to argue that this expression involves the idea of a literal stone built reservoir with its sluices.
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.
Comparing the flood story of the Old Testament with other accounts and remarks about the biblical narrative being composed two stories fused together.
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. . . . two fundamentally different accounts of a deluge have been worked up into a single story in the Bible.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
The author spends a lot of time on the topic of the various biblical stories represented in the constellations.
We have also the pictorial representation of the Flood given us in the constellations.
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 B.C.
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.
That the flood story of the Old Testament is composed of two stories fused together.
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. 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 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 B.C. The editor who first united the two stories into one must have done his work before that date.
That the flood story of the Old Testament is trustworthy.
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 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. . . . 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.
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
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.
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.
The "deep," teh[=o]m, 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.
The tides upon the sea-coast of Palestine are very slight, but some have seen a reference to them in Jer. v. 22. . . . More probably the idea to be conveyed is merely that of the restraint of the sea to its proper basin,
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
The host of heaven — stars vs. angels.
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.
But more frequently it is the starry, not the angelic, army to which reference is made.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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."
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 to-day 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.
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
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 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
But the "morning star" is taken as a higher type, even of our Lord Himself, and of His future coming in glory.
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."
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 worship of the sun and of other heavenly bodies is one of the sins most unsparingly denounced in Scripture. . . . Yet with all this, sun-worship prevailed in Israel again and again.
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."
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. . . . No reference to the existence of sun-spots occurs in Scripture.
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 to-day except when writing from a purely technical point of view. As said already, the Hebrews had probably not discovered this explanation
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 fierceness of the sun's heat in Palestine rendered sun-stroke a serious danger. . . . So the promise is given to God's people more than once: "The sun shall not smite thee by day."
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
A double purpose for the two great heavenly bodies is indicated here,—first, the obvious one of giving light; next, that of time measurement. . . . 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
It is hard for modern dwellers in towns to realize the immense importance of the moon to the people of old. . . . 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. . . . 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.
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, 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.
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."
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
nowhere throughout the Old Testament is the moon personified, and in only one instance is it used figuratively to represent a person.
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.
Nor are there any references to the markings on the moon.
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.
"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.
The Hebrew month was a natural one, determined by actual observation of the new moon.
the Hebrew calendar month was a lunar one. But there are, besides, too many references to the actual new moons for there to be any doubt on the question. . . . the new moons are also mentioned as holy days, and are coupled with the sabbaths.
Beside the "new moons" and the sabbaths, the ancient Hebrews had three great festivals, all defined as to the time of their celebration by the natural months. . . . We have no special religious seasons in the Christian Church to correspond with these.
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 to-day, that the stars separately visible do not by any means make up their whole number. . . . 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
Since astronomers have been able to sound the heavens more deeply, catalogues have increased in size and number. . . . 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 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. . . . 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."
CHAPTER VI THE PLEIADES
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.
What is the meaning of the inquiry addressed to Job by the Almighty? "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades?" . . . 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.
"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. . . . Streamers and fleecy masses of cosmical fog seem almost to fill the spaces between the stars, as clouds choke a mountain valley.
CHAPTER VII ORION
the word rendered by our translators "Orion," occurs in an astronomical sense four times in the Scriptures
If a comet had been observed in those ages we might not recognize the description of it. . . . So we cannot expect to find in the Scriptures definite and precise descriptions that we can recognize as those of comets.
We cannot tell whether such objects as these 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.
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."
[a meteor?] city of the Ephesians is temple-keeper of the great Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?"
[a meteor shower?] 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.
[a meteor?] there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp
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.
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. 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
[solar eclipses during biblical times]
The second is that of Aug. 15, 831 B.C. No specific record of this eclipse has been found as yet, but it took place during the lifetime of the prophets Joel and Amos, and may have been seen by them, and their recollection of it may have influenced the wording of their prophecies.
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.
The prophets Joel and Amos are clear and vivid in their descriptions; probably because the eclipse of 831 B.C. 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
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.
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 B.C. occurred about midday in Judea.
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."
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." 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.
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.
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.
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.
the sun and moon have such appreciable dimensions and are of such great brightness that they seem to be marked off . . . 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 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.
In the Old Testament Scriptures the ecclesiastical reckoning was always from one setting of the sun to the next.
CHAPTER II THE SABBATH AND THE WEEK
The week stands in a different category. It is not defined by any astronomical revolution; it is defined by the return of the sabbath, the consecrated day.
Philo, the Jew, bears equally distinct testimony to the fact that wheresoever the Jews were carried in their dispersion, their laws and religious customs, especially their observance of every seventh day, attracted attention, and even secured a certain amount of acceptance.
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 their efforts, the most majestic of all the sciences is said to have arisen. These ideas are the exact contrary of the truth. . . . Astrology does not contribute, has not contributed a single observation, a single demonstration to astronomy.
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.
The author spends many pages discussing the constellations. I offer here only a smattering of quotes.
Were these constellations known to the Hebrews of old? We can answer this question without hesitation in the case of St. Paul. [because he quotes from the poem of Aratus on the constellations]
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.
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 B.C.—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. . . . 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 forms that we connect with them to-day.
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.
When the constellations are compared with those nine chapters, several correspondences appear between the two
Look at the six southern constellations (see pp. 164, 165) 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. 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 for ever?—"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; 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. 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.
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 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.
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.
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 2,700 B.C.,—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.
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:—
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, p. 189).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (see p. 318), 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.
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.
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.
"Leviathan" 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. . . . 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 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."
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.
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.
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.
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 crocodile and other ferocious reptiles were not describing any imaginary monsters of the primeval chaos, but real oppressors.
The length of the march made between noon and sunset was equal to an ordinary march taking the whole of a day.
The only time-measurer mentioned in the Bible is the dial of Ahaz, which will form the subject of a later chapter. It need only be noted here that, as it depended upon the fall of the shadow, it was of use only whilst the sun was shining; not during cloudy weather, or at night.
We do not know how the staircase of Ahaz faced, but we can form some rough idea from the known positions of the Temple and of the city of David, and one or two little hints given us in the narrative itself. It will be noted that Hezekiah uses the movement of the shadow downward, as equivalent to its going forward. The going forward of course meant its ordinary direction of motion at that time of day; so the return of the shadow backward meant that the shadow went up ten steps
We can now conjecturally reproduce the circumstances. It was afternoon, and the palace had already cast the upper steps of the staircase into shadow. The sick king, looking longingly towards the Temple, could see the lower steps still gleaming in the bright Judean sunshine.
It would be quite obvious to him that a small cloud, suitably placed, might throw ten additional steps into shadow.
The staircase, wherever constructed, was probably not meant to act as a sundial, and was only so used because it chanced to have some rough suitability for the purpose. In this case the shadow will probably have been thrown, not by a properly constructed gnomon, but by some building in the neighbourhood.
He . . . had doubtless watched the shadow of the palace descend the staircase in the afternoon, hundreds of times; quite possibly he had actually seen a cloud make the shadow race forward. But the reverse he had never seen.
How this lighting of the ten steps was brought about we are not told, nor is any clue given us on which we can base a conjecture.
Perhaps clouds had been causing the stairs to be in shadow in the exact manner as if it were later in the day. When the clouds moved out of the way the sun shone on the stairs making it seem as if time had gone backward.
It may also be inferred from Matt. ii. 10 that in some way or other the wise men had for a time lost sight of the star, so that the two facts mentioned of it relate to two separate appearances.
The first appearance induced them to leave the East, and set out for Judea; the second pointed out to them the place at Bethlehem where the object of their search was to be found.
The fact that the "star" went before them and stood over where the young Child lay, gives the impression that it was some light, like the Shekinah glory resting on the Ark in the tabernacle, or the pillar of fire which led the children of Israel through the wilderness. But this view raises the questions as to the form in which it first appeared to the wise men when they were still in the East, and how they came to call it a star, when they must have recognized how very unstarlike it was. Whilst, if what they saw when in the East was really a star, it seems most difficult to understand how it can have appeared to go before them and to stand over the place where the young Child lay.
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