or, The Constellations
by Frances Rolleston
Philologos Religious Online Books
"Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?" Job xxxviii. 32.
In whatever obscurity the origin of the emblems of astronomy may appear to be enveloped, in the traditions of the nations where they are preserved, no such doubts hang over that of the science itself. It has always and every where been traced back to the earliest race of man. The Hebrews, Chaldeans, Persians, and Arabs imputed its invention to Adam, Seth, and Enoch; the earlier Greeks to their mythical and mysterious personage Prometheus. Soon after the usual date assigned to Noah's flood, astronomy is found in high cultivation in the commencing empire of China; and equally early records of observed eclipses were preserved at Babylon, proving considerable attainments in that science. Those modern writers who acknowledge the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures, if only as historical, generally refer its origination to the antediluvian patriarchs; and to Noah, its transmission to the ancient nations. Those who do not admit that authority, claim for astronomy, from its internal evidence, the antiquity of between five and six thousand years. There is no appearance of the science ever having existed separate from the emblems; and as they are in no way essential to it, their constant connexion with it can only be explained by their having been invented at the same time and by the same persons. Why did those inventors adopt these particular emblems, when others might equally have marked out the division of the sun's path by that of the moon?* It has been pointed out that with the phenomena of the circling year they cannot be consistently made to agree, nor with those of the climate of Egypt.** The mythology of the nations, though reflecting their shadow, will be found insufficient to account for their imagery. If these traditional names and figures can be shown to symbolize prophecy, as imparted in the earliest ages, sufficient reason appears for the selection of such images, at such a time, and by such persons as those primeval fathers of mankind, with whom the science has always been supposed to originate.
Sublime as is the study of those supremest visible works of the Divine Creator, the host of heaven, far more sublime is the contemplation of the unspeakably greater work of Redemption. That stupendous mystery, then first presented to the mind of man, might well predominate in the meditations of the newly fallen, the redeemed race. To the memorial of that invisible but transcending miracle they appear to have consecrated the splendours of the starry heavens. To the glory of Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, of those multitudes of multitudes, the countless myriads of far-spreading orbs of light, have they dedicated the magnificent system of sacred hieroglyphics, arranged to His praise in connexion with "the stars of light."
A remarkable testimony that then and with these inventors astronomy originated is extant and accessible. It is that of the learned Jew Josephus, who, living at the time of the destruction of the Temple by Titus, refers for his authorities to ancient writers whose names alone remain to us. He attributes the invention of the science to "the family of Seth the son of Adam," when, the life of man then extending to near a thousand years, they were enabled to ascertain from actual observation the return of the heavenly bodies to the same positions in cycles and periods, which in after ages it has required the labour of successive generations to verify.
Adam, divinely led to give names to what he saw, must have had such for the sun and moon, and probably for the planets* whose movements would attract his notice. Those celestial splendours shone in the far-off and inaccessible heaven, the abode or the path to the abode of his Creator and Redeemer, whence Divine instruction and yet more Divine mercy had descended upon him. Thither his eyes would reverently and most habitually turn: the starry world on high would be, if not the first, the most absorbing object of his contemplation; and astronomy would naturally be, as tradition declares, the earliest study, the first science of mankind. Seth, the son of his consolation and heir of his promises, the traditional father of astronomy, is said to have commenced its arrangement with that of the twelve signs. To Seth is also attributed the great period of the relative positions of sun and moon, the cycle of six hundred years, by modern computation found so wonderfully exact. In this no use is made of the fixed stars beyond the zodiac.
Enoch, his descendant, with whom he was long cotemporary, is said by tradition to have given names to the stars: the further development of prophecy that appears among the constellations annexed to the signs, above and below them, may then be referred to him. * "The family of Seth" thus devised, carried on, and completed this great work, which remains to us an unchanged memorial of their piety, their intellect, and the revelation which they were endeavouring to perpetuate.
To the conclusion that at such a time, and under such circumstances, astronomy must have been invented, many learned men, after long investigation, have come at last. This result of their researches will be found to be confirmed by the book of Genesis and the other records of the Mosaic dispensation; the high antiquity of which is acknowledged to be far anterior to that of any other writings, by all persons competent to the investigation, or capable of appreciating the proofs by which it is established.
These books, so confessedly ancient, and so abounding with internal marks of proceeding from the same Divine Power which formed the host of heaven, contain many astronomical allusions. Some of these are evident even in translations*; but many more are recognized by the ancient Jewish commentators, and are manifest to the careful student of the Hebrew Scriptures.
* Job ix. 9; and xxxviii. 31, 32.
These allusions not only tend to corroborate the account of the antediluvian origin of astronomy, but appear to imply the co-existence of emblems and names with which those at present in use retain a remarkable agreement, and not only so, but indicate their meaning and design.
In the beginning of Genesis it is declared that "God made lights in the firmament of heaven, to divide between the day and the night, and to be for signs*, and for seasons**, and for days, and for years." It is not said that on the fourth day God created them, but that He made them appear as lights in the firmament, where previously vapours might have obscured their orbs. The word "signs" should lead us to ask, what do they signify? The primitive word Othath***, rendered signs in Gen. i. 14, and mark in Gen. iv. 15, is something that testifies, foreshows. Their prophetic import may thus be seen, as implied in their name from the beginning. These signs in the firmament of heaven may then be expected to teach, to instruct, to foreshow. If these emblems, the signs of the zodiac and other constellations, are calculated to set forth important truths fitted to rule the hopes of man as well as the commutation of his earthly time, this declaration seems to authorize the conclusion, that the patriarchs, desiring to act according to the mind and will of God, so devoted them to show forth His glory. If the inventors of astronomy were indeed acquainted with truths of the utmost importance to the whole human race, might they not wisely desire to connect the remembrance of them with those memorials, those signs, by which they measured the path of the sun in the heavens, thus with the observations of earthly time associating the revealed glories of eternity beyond? They, whose accurate knowledge of the movements of the celestial orbs still astonishes posterity, might well desire to annex the message of everlasting mercy with which they had been entrusted, to the only visible works of creation that at all times and in all places present the same aspect of unalterable splendour. Adam, to whom the first revelation was made; Seth, in whose time it was begun to proclaim|* the name of the Lord; and Enoch, walking with God, who prophesied of His final victory, might well be led to express the promises and predictions they had received in the very figures, and even words, constantly recurring in the written records of the subsequent revelations to patriarch and prophet, from the dying Jacob, who spake of the Lion of Judah, to him who saw the Lamb, the light thereof, in the holy city of the Apocalypse.
* Jer. x. 2: "Be ye not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the heathen are dismayed at them," unduly venerating, being influenced by them. There appears here an allusion to the idolatrous use of them. The same word is rendered token, as applied to the rainbow (Gen. ix. 12); and by it Korah and his company are said to be a sign unto the children of Israel. Again, it is said of the lights of heaven, that they were to rule the day and the night.
** The original word means "periods," having no reference to summer, winter, &c.
*** Like our word "oath," evidently derived from it.
|* The word is so rendered in Exod. xxxiv. 5, 6.
From the beginning of Genesis to the end of the Revelation, as through the whole sphere of the starry heavens, the enemy is represented in the serpent, the Messiah in the seed, the lion, and the lamb. Every where He goes forth triumphant; yet every where He is seen, the Bruised, the Pierced, the Lamb as it had been slain.*
* Gen. iii. 15; xlix. 10. Isa. xxxii. 1; liii. 4. Rev. v. 6; xix. 16.
If the words of that first revelation, as recorded in Scripture, do not convey the full disclosure of the work of redemption as indicated in these emblems, yet it is not said that such further light was withheld. The rite of sacrifice, showing forth the Lord's death till His first coming, was with them, and the faith of Abel, which applied it. To Enoch had been foreshown the coming of the Lord to judgment. If they were uncertain of the time of "the sufferings of Christ," as we are of "the glory that should follow," still they knew, for they have prefigured, that He should come, should suffer, and should reign.
It might be expected from such an origin, from inventors so circumstanced, that the promised Redeemer, His actions, His enemy, and His people, would be the subject of every emblem annexed to the constellations visible in the north temperate zone, the primitive habitation of mankind. It would seem improbable that any reference less high, less holy, should be mingled with those of such surpassing interest.
Should the tradition of the Divine yet woman-born Conqueror of the serpent, crushing His foe, but suffering from its venom, be met with among all nations, it is only what might have been anticipated among the descendants of one common father. From the Grecian Hercules, half human and half divine, subduing the hydra and dying from its poison; from the Indian incarnation of the Divinity, the virgin-born Krishna, slaying a serpent and wounded by it in the heel, to the serpent-worship of Mexico, and that of the woman-born and unfathered deity Mexitli, this image is every where present, pointing to one origin of the tradition and of the race.
Though by some it has been suggested* that these mythological tales were derived from the constellations, yet it has not by them been even conjectured why the constellations should have been so designated as to give rise to these stories. If, however, they were so named to record the revelation made to the first fathers of mankind, their connexion with the mythologies of the nations is explained.
* Dupuis and the writers of his school have done much to establish the facts that confute their inferences. Dupuis himself has collected ancient authorities abundantly proving that in all nations the tradition had always prevailed, of a Divine person, born of a woman, suffering in the conflict with a serpent, but triumphing over him at last. This tradition he finds reflected in the emblems of the ancient constellations. He seems to take it for granted, that because the stars themselves existed before the tradition, that therefore the emblems annexed to them also preceded it. Who, then, annexed those ideas to the stars, which certainly do not suggest them? When and why did such an annexation occur to the mind of man? These questions he does not anticipate, and assuredly he does not answer. He calls his attack on revelation "L'Origine des Cultes," "The Origin of Religions," which he would find in the constellations. The defence shows that the first religion was the origin of the emblems of the constellations.
It should be borne in mind that these constellations are not natural groups of stars, but arbitrary connexions of various stars by means of imaginary figures, sometimes so interwoven with each other as to be inseparable by the unaccustomed eye. This is particularly observable in the figures of the serpent, of which Sir J. Herschell complains, that "the heavens are scribbled over with interminable snakes." Even so are intertwined the wiles of the enemy with the course and history of redemption.
The only evidence as to their origin, as found in the still existing records of ancient tradition, attributes it to "the family of Seth." As no conflicting evidence exists, may it not be received as conclusive? May we not confidently speak of Adam, to whom the promise of the Redeemer was made, Seth, who calculated so precisely the movements of the great luminaries of day and night in the zodiac, and Enoch*, said to have named the stars after "the Righteous upon the earth," the incarnate Saviour, as the authors and originators of the emblems of astronomy?