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BibArch Home Up Calendar Vocabulary Festivals & Seasons Rabbanite Calendar Essene Calendar Karaite Calendar CE 26-34 Equivalents

For the Hebrews, who were monotheistic, there was but one Goda powerful, all knowing, loving invisible spirit being who created all things. This God, who existed apart from sin and the powers of darkness, created the heavens and the earth and the first man and woman.

Genesis 1:14–19, a polemic against sun and moon worship, reflects the Hebrew teaching that YHWH is Godthe Creator of the hosts of heavenand that the celestial bodies are there to serve God’s purposes. The sun and moon, and the stars as well, are creations of the one God of the universe. The apostle Paul reflects this thinking in his reference to the gentiles worshipping the creation rather than the creator “since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:25).

In their Scriptures, the Hebrews looked at the stars from an astronomical view not an astrological one. These celestial bodies were simply physical objects in the heavens not deities. The earliest biblical accounts hold that God created the celestial bodies (Genesis 1:16, Job 9:9, Psalms 8:3), counts and names them (Psalms 147:4), and has control and power over them (Job 9:7). God is supreme in Hebrew thinking. To the devout Hebrew the worship of celestial bodies was repugnant.

Occasional reference in the Hebrew Scriptures to the stars or common names of the constellations does not impute the incorporation of pagan astrological beliefs into the religious life of devout ancient Israelites. In the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:3-31) the poet taunted the vanquished foe in a melancholy victory song (Sellin-Fohrer 1968:209) which in part reads:

The stars fought from heaven, 
   From their courses they fought against Sisera.
The torrent of Kishon swept them away, 
    he ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon.
                                        (Judges 5:20-21 NASB.)

While some stretch to make this passage, written ca. 13th–14th century BCE, serve as evidence of an early Hebrew belief in the influence of the stars in human events it does not. Written some 500 years before Homer, in elegant poetic language superior to that of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:2-31) provides a sobering view of war by a poet who thought deeply about it. In reference to the stars and the river Kishon the poet employed a literary device, poetic personification, to express the hopeless calamity faced by Sisera in fighting against the armies of YHWH.

For the Hebrews the purpose of heavenly bodies was to provide light and serve as markers, or time reckoners, for seasons, years, and days. As time reckoners, or as “signs” or “signals” as the Hebrew text states it, they facilitated the marking of time in a more or less systematic manner, e.g., sunset signaled a new day, a new moon a new month, the autumnal equinox the new year.

While scholarly uncertainty remains as to when the stars became divided into constellations, whose brighter stars appear to form patterns of imagined creatures, the Hebrew Scriptures show knowledge of the fact by their reference to the mythological figures of Arcturus [the Great Bear] (Job 9:9; 38:32); Orion [the Giant] (Job 9:9; 38:31; Amos 5:8; Isaiah 13:10), and Pleiades (Job 9:9; 38:31), and also “the chambers of the south” (Job 9:9). The constellations provided the basis for the invention of the ancient Hebrew alphabet characters. These reflect patterns in the sky as observed from the Arabian peninsula about 3,500 years ago.

As signs or signals astronomical phenomena came to serve a prophetic purpose. The prophet Joel wrote that in the last days “the sun will be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood” (Joel 2:31 NASB). Relying on Joel the apostle Matthew quotes Jesus as describing this event, probably a depiction of a total solar eclipse at Jerusalem, as the “sun will be darkened and the moon shall not give its light” [which it doesn’t during a solar eclipse] (Matthew 24:29 NASB). Revelation indicates that in this event “the sun became black...and the whole moon became like blood” and further details what may be a meteor shower as “the stars of the sky fell to the earth” (Revelation 6:12-13 NASB). The apostle Luke recorded that there “will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars” in reference to eclipses, comets, and other such celestial phenomena (Luke 21:25 NASB).

Page last edited: 02/12/06 02:42 PM

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