or, The Constellations
by Frances Rolleston
Philologos Religious Online Books
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"Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?" Job xxxviii.
What Are The Real Meanings Of The Emblems Of The Signs?
One of the greatest of uninspired teachers, the Socrates of Plato, is said to
have always appealed to the common sense of his hearers. There is an appeal to
the common sense of mankind as to the meanings of the emblems of ancient
astronomy, which it was apparently intended they should make. The aid of
history, languages, and traditions may have been required to ascertain what
these meanings were; but when pointed out, any one acquainted with the Holy
Scriptures can judge of their suitability to express the prophecies there
recorded, as given to the first parents of mankind. The seed of the woman shall
bruise the serpent's head, the serpent shall bruise his heel. There is a
tradition that at the creation of man the sun at the summer solstice was among
the stars called the sign of the Virgin. In that place was figured, long before
the Christian era, in the Egyptian zodiac, the figure of a woman with an ear of
corn in her hand, and below another female figure holding an infant. Here, then,
is recognized the seed, the offspring of the woman. In the next sign, the scales
at once convey the idea of purchase. He comes to buy, to redeem. There is then
the figure of a man grasping a serpent as in conflict, his foot on the head of a
scorpion, whose reverted sting appears to have wounded his heel. Here the seed,
the offspring of the woman, is bruising the enemy's head, after having received
the predicted bruise in the heel. The first prophecy is thus fully figured out:
the first part of it is as fully accomplished; the heel of the virgin's Son was
bruised when nailed upon the cross.
In the next sign an arrow is coming forth from the bow. Can any one fail to
see here expressed, that He shall come, speedily, surely? Then a kid or goat,
sinking down as the sacrifice appointed to be slain for sin. Then the promised
seed, the man, is arising, and pouring out water as to purify, sustain life. Two
fishes, joined together by a band, come next: water is their element, abundantly
multiplying is their characteristic. To the Christian there is but to name the
Church of Christ, and the fitness of the emblem will at once be recognized. The
primitive institution of sacrifice was equally of a kid or a lamb. The lamb, or
young ram, is next, as it had been slain, but now living, on high. The bull,
also a sacrificial animal, but living, and in an attitude of victory. He who
died in the kid is now alive again, and to Him all power is given. The twins,
the closest visible image of two natures in one person, are next; and the
Scriptural believer will not fail to recognize their import. The crab holds fast
what it has once grasped. The lion rends apart whatever he seizes, as at the
last awful day the Judge will separate good from evil.
"Take and read," as the voice cried to the saint of old.*
"Search the Scriptures," as the Lord Himself has enjoined, even if
never searched before; and see if these simple and expressive emblems are not
faithful interpreters of the prophecies there contained. The coincidences cannot
be overlooked; they are too complete to be unintentional: the common sense of
mankind at once recognizes the marks of design. To that universal faculty the
appeal is made: are there not here those marks, and in the correspondence with
Scripture the proof of what was that design? Was it not indeed in another, yet
consistent, record to show forth the glory of God?
* Augustin, Confess.
This appeal to the ordinary faculties of the human mind, to its powers of
comparison and judgment, may well hope for the verdict that the signs* were
intended to symbolize prophecy, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures. A connecting
link is the signification of the ancient names in the original** language of
mankind, as transmitted in the Hebrew of the Holy Scriptures and the most
ancient Arabic: but to appreciate this additional evidence there must be either
a knowledge of the languages, or a due estimate of the force of testimony. Those
acquainted with the original Scriptures will testify to the occurrence of the
root*** of the name in those writings, as shown by the references given in the
* The zodiac in its present forms and order, as beginning with Aries, is
transmitted by Hipparchus and Ptolemy, who lived about the time of the Christian
era, as "of unquestioned authority, unknown origin, and unsearchable
antiquity." The explanation here given follows the course of prophecy, and
the order of the stars arising in the evening, with the sun in Aries.
** Part II. p. 76.
*** "The root" may be explained by English examples; as, "The
idea of a family of words is familiar to the reader,"
"Familiarity with the search will familiarize the result."
THE LATIN NAMES OF THE TWELVE SIGNS
Accounted For By Their Semitic Roots.
|Texts where the word or its root is used in this sense in the Hebrew Bible
|ARIES, the Ram or Lamb, coming forth
Ars, lamb, Gr. Luke 10:3
|TAURUS, the Bull (Deut 33:17), coming to rule (Chald. form), coming, Isa 57:19
|GEMINI, the Twins, united
|CANCER, the Crab, gained, encircled
|LEO, the Lion, leaping forth, as a flame of fire
|VIRGO, the Woman bearing the seed, the branch
|LIBRA, the Balance or Scales, librating, moving up and down, as the
|SCORPIO, the Scorpion, which cleaves in conflict
|SAGITTARIUS, the Archer, which sends forth the arrow
||1 Sam 20:20
|CAPRICORNUS, the Atoning Sacrifice, sinking down as slain
|AQUARIUS, the Water-bearer, water as rising in the urn
1 Sam 20:20
|PISCES, the Fish, multiplying (Arab. sense)
All names have meanings, if not in the language into which they are adopted, yet in some other from which they are derived. The names applied by the Romans to their divinities are considered to be derived from the Etruscan; it is therefore probable that the names by which they called the Twelve Signs also had the same origin. These names are here shown to contain roots having the same meanings as those of the Semitic names of the same figures. This derivation is confirmed by the recent Ninevite discoveries, from which it is inferred that Etruria "had an intimate connexion with Assyria."
Names of Ancient Italy, when referred to Semitic roots, will
also point to an Oriental origin, as, for instance,
|Etruria, abundant, very rich
|Roma, great, high
|Alba, great of heart, Job 11:12; Heb. also white
|Oscan, dwelling, dwellers
|Italia, Arab. long; the Chaldee gives the sense to cover
|Sabine is also from another root, dwell
Etruscan words, of which the meaning is known:
|Lucumo, prince, king, 2 Sam 24:23
|Aesar, God; chief, ruler, Gen 12:15
|Tinia, Supreme God, for ever continuing
|Capra, a goat, the sacrifice of atonement
THE TWELVE SIGNS OF THE ZODIAC.
As Connected With The Primitive Prophecies.
The antiquity and wide diffusion of these emblems, and the mystic veneration
in which they were ever held, are traced in the accompanying pages: it is also
shown that the notion of the signs having any reference to the seasons is of
comparatively late origin, and could not at any time have been sustained
consistently with the times and climates of their well-known previous
* Part I. ch. 1; Part II. p. 5, &c.
It was not till the diffusion of the light of Christianity had cast into
shade these dim foreshowings of its great events, that the vague awe with which
these emblems were formerly regarded gave place to indifference and neglect, or
was only preserved in the reveries of astrology. This reverence*, in some
cases leading even to idolatry, indicated a tradition that their message was
divine. They each represented an action, still to be traced in the fables
connected with them**, a type, of which the true antitype is to be found in the
great subject of the ancient prophecies contained in the Hebrew Scriptures.**
The primitive year began in the sign Virgo, the stars of which were seen most
strikingly in the evening sky when the sun was in Aries, the splendid star still
by us called Spica, the ear of corn, in the woman's hand, marking the leading
idea, the Promised Seed. Thus was represented the subject of the first promise,
the foundation of the hopes of fallen man. In the next sign, Libra, we have His
work, which was to be to buy, to redeem, figured in the balance weighing the
price against the purchase. Then in Scorpio follows the indication of what that
price was to be; the conflict, in which the seed of the woman receives the wound
in his heel, while his other foot is on the head of the enemy, here figured by
the scorpion, a venomous reptile, who can sting even while his head is bruised.
* Part II., on Egypt and Assyria.
** Part II. p. 31, &c.
*** Part II. p. 60, also the Tables from pp. 9-25.
Next we find the Archer, with his arrow in the act of going out from the bow,
expressing that the promised Deliverer should be sent forth.
Then Capricornus, the goat, the victim or sacrifice sinking down as wounded,
showing that the promised Deliverer must be slain as a sacrifice. In Aquarius we
see the rising up and pouring forth of water, as to cleanse and fertilize,
showing that the sacrifice was to bring purification and benediction by means of
the risen Messiah.
In Pisces two fishes are bound together by a band, which is continued to and
held by the fore-feet of Aries, figuring the leading idea of union. The fishes,
a well-known emblem of the Church among the early Christians, represent the
redeemed and purified multitudes of the Church before and after the first
coming, in union with each other and with their Redeemer.
The subsequent sign, the Lamb or ram of sacrifice, here not dying, but as it
had been slain, is now reigning triumphant, with one foot on the head of the
enemy, bound also by a band, which that foot holds.
We then see Taurus, the bull, showing forth the dominion of Him who had been
a sacrifice for sin, now reigning over all.
In Gemini, the twins, whether human or of the sacrificial goat or sheep, the
leading idea of combining, entwining, is equally conveyed, expressing the union
of the divine and human nature in the promised seed.
Cancer, the crab or beetle, holding fast its prey or its nest, well conveys
the image of tenacious possession by Him who has assured us, as to His purchased
flock, that no man can pluck them out of His hand.
Leo, the majestic lion, rending the prey, represents irresistible strength,
and final separation between good and evil. His foot is over the head of the
prostrate serpent, closing the series as we are told by the Apostle that the
dispensation must be closed: "For He shall reign till His has put all
things under His feet."*
* Part II. Tables, pp. 9-25.
Here, then, we have represented in action twelve leading ideas, twelve
principal truths of Divine revelation,
1. The seed of the woman shall come.
2. There shall be a price paid by Him
for a purchased possession.
3. The price shall be a conflict with the
serpent-foe, and a wound in the conqueror's heel.
4. He shall be sent forth
swiftly, surely, as an arrow from a bow.
5. He shall be slain as a sacrifice.
He shall rise again and pour out blessings on His people.
7. His people shall be
multitudes, and held in union with each other and Himself.
8. He who was slain,
whose heel was bruised, shall rule, and shall tread His enemy under foot.
shall come in power, triumphant, and have dominion.
10. He shall be the Son of
God and the son of man, the victim and the ruler.
11. He shall hold fast His
purchased possession, the reward of His work.
12. He shall finally put all
enemies under His feet, coming with ten thousand of His saints to execute
judgment upon all, separating the evil from the good.
These leading ideas are to be traced in the yet extant names of the signs as
preserved in the Hebrew and Arabic appellations. Eight of these agree: of the
other four, two are in Arabic different names of the same object, the other two
contain the leading idea here attributed to the sign.
Two of the Syriac names from Ulugh Beigh differ from the Hebrew, as being
other names of the same thing. Where the Hebrew and Arabic agree, there can be
little doubt but that they preserve the name originally given: as where the
words differ they still express the same idea, it seems that the emblems were
invented, and universally known to the children of Noah, before the dispersion
From ancient authorities we find that in the Aramaean and Coptic or early
Egyptian names the same ideas are presented. They are also found in the
* Part II. p. 26.
The ancient Rabbins said that the astronomy of the Jews was in the Babylonish
captivity corrupted by the astrology of the Chaldeans; but as the Chaldean
dialect differs so little from the Hebrew, the names would not be materially
altered. Slight Chaldee changes may be traced in one or two of the names of
stars; but in the names of the twelve signs they do not occur, even where the
interchangeable letters are found.
The existence of primitive roots in Arabic words, common to the Hebrew and
other Semitic dialects, (however the usage of these words may have been varied
and extended,) is evident to Hebraists, though sometimes disputed by the scholar
whose Oriental acquirements have not included the Hebrew. Such may be compared
to the traveller in the desert, who, delighted with the fruit and shade of the
palm-tree, thinks not of the source of strength and nourishment below, the deep
and stedfast root hidden in the sand that has gathered around it in the lapse of
ages. The root is obvious in these antique appellations of visible objects, as
in the proper names of persons and places contained in the Scriptures, and,
though less obviously, may be traced even in those of other nations. Proper
names, however corrupted in the spelling, generally retain something of the
sound of the root whence they were formed: words used in expressing the varying
actions and feelings of common life are much more subject to be perverted from
their original meanings. The appellations of visible objects, if less fixed
than proper names, are less liable to variation than those; accordingly we find
these twelve names to have corresponding Arabic ones, even if in some places
other, but synonymous, names are now used in Arabic astronomy.
The mythological fables attached to these emblems, and the titles under which
they were worshipped, contribute to throw light on these meanings.* All are
connected with an offspring of the Deity; all say with the Evangelical Prophet,
"Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall
be upon his shoulder."**
* Part II. p. 81, &c.
** Isa. ix. 6
If indeed Seth and his family were the inventors of these emblems and the
givers of these names, intending to express in them the prophecies known to the
antediluvian Church, such might well be their figures and their meaning. If the
intention was what it is here considered to be, it is consistently developed by
comparison with the written records of Hebrew prophecy, as delivered to the
patriarchal and Jewish Church, and preserved for the Christian by those faithful
witnesses for the authority and integrity of Scripture, the yet unconverted
Jews. As the Jews have kept the word of prophecy, the Arabs have preserved the
names of the stars which so remarkably correspond with it, while the Greeks and
Egyptians have transmitted the figures to which they belong.
These independent but concurring testimonies not only witness to the purpose
of the long misunderstood emblems, but to the existence of a revelation anterior
to their formation; for if their purport be prophetic, He who seeth the end from
the beginning had already given to man that knowledge of future events which He
alone can impart.
It is not doubted that about eighteen centuries ago there arose a remarkable
person claiming to have no father but Him in heaven, who was put to death at the
time of the slaying of the paschal lamb at Jerusalem. His death, the time and
manner of it, were not of his own power. If predicted by the prophets,
prefigured in these ancient emblems, and indicated in their primitive
names,that death, its manner and its time, must have been revealed by Him who
by the mouth of Isaiah appeals to prophecy as the proof of His power and His
Godhead, saying to the idols of the heathen, "Show the things that are to
come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods."* By prophecy and its
fulfilment God speaks to man, at once displaying His foreknowledge and His
sovereignty. So He spake to our first parents in Eden; and the echo of that
voice was in the ears of the fathers of mankind, when these emblems were framed
in memorial of the revelation.
* Isa. xli. 23.
In the sacred year, as ordained by Moses, beginning when the sun was in
Aries, the signs would appear in the evening sky in the progression commencing
with Virgo. In this succession coming events were to be accomplished. In the
earlier ages, when the year naturally began from the anniversary of the creation*, at the junction of Leo and Virgo, Aries, the first sign of the patriarchal
zodiac, arose in the evening twilight, beginning at once the day and the year,
the day with its evening, the year with its decline. As the night drew on, the
Lamb as it had been slain, but arising in power, was followed by the other signs
proclaiming His glory, His kingdom, and His final victory.
* Part II. p. 15.
Always and every where the series of the signs has begun with Aries, whether
in Latium, in Egypt, in Arabia, India, or China. Some ancient nations began
their year with this sign, but others, as the Chinese, from Aquarius, where the
winter solstice took place about the time of the dispersion at Babel: even
these, however, began the zodiac with Aries.
Before the time of Moses the year of the Hebrews had begun, as the civil year
of the Jews still begins, with the entrance of the sun into Virgo; it seems
probable that originally the woman, as now figured in the Egyptian zodiac of
Dendera, held the ear of corn in one hand, the palm-branch in the other; while
as Albumazer records in the ancient spheres*, a woman, as the first Decan of
Virgo, was figured nursing an infant. The Arabians figured Virgo herself holding
the infant, but these may have been the Christian Arabs, as it is said the
ancient Arabs admitted no figures, human or animal, but represented Virgo by a
* Albumazer, who lived at the court of the Caliphs of Grenada early in the
ninth century, in his description of the signs and their Decans, to which the
annexed tables refer, concludes by saying that they had come down to his time
unaltered; that they were known all over the world, and had been the objects of
long speculation, and that "many had attributed to them a divine and even a
prophetic virtue." Unfortunately he perverts this "prophetic
virtue" to the purposes of astrology. Part II. p. 16.
It is not known how the ancient Hebrews figured the signs, except by the
blessing of Jacob and that of Moses*; but from these records it is evident
that animal and even human forms were on the banners of Israel, the Man that
of Reuben, the Lion borne by Judah, the Bull by Joseph, the Eagle or the
Basilisk by Dan. Balaam also evidently had the Lion of Judah before his eyes.
Moses, speaking after the giving of the second commandment, dwells on the Lion
of Judah and the Bull of Joseph without disapprobation. It was, therefore, the
worshipping of these "likenesses" that was forbidden. The Jews in
after times, warned by the idolatry of their forefathers, are said to have
abstained from making any "likenesses" whatsoever; and the early Arabs
are said to have followed their example. In the temple of Solomon, besides the
consecrated cherubic images, there were pomegranates** and flowers of lilies
and palm-trees, but no animal likenesses, except the cherubic lions and oxen.
There is here a proof that not the making of the likeness, but the worshipping
it was the sin. Israel had been punished for desiring the golden calf to go
before them, but Solomon was unblamed for forming the twelve oxen that upheld
the molten sea.***
* Part II. pp. 38-47.
** The Hebrew name of this fruit, Rimmon, may mean exaltation; that of the
lily, joyfulness, rejoicing.
*** 1 Kings vii. 2 Chron. iii. 16; iv. 5.
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