or, The Constellations
by Frances Rolleston
Philologos Religious Online Books
"Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?"-Job 33:32
THE HEBREW ALPHABET,
AS CONNECTED WITH THE CONSTELLATIONS
"A few ideas differently combined form all the objects of sense, as the letters of the alphabet form words." - Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge.
"Names are pictures of things, each letter having some resemblance to the thing named." - Plato in Cratylus.
The words given as names to the Hebrew alphabet may furnish examples, each letter contributing an idea, and the name thus defining the object.
There seems no natural reason for the order in which the letters of the alphabet are placed. The order still generally prevalent appears to be derived from the Hebrew. If this order were taken from the previously existing arrangement of the prophetic types in the constellations, a reason is presented. The names of the Hebrew letters, it will be seen, agree in signification with those of the constellations, of which names or descriptive epithets they are the initials.* Most of the Oriental alphabets are similarly arranged; that the ancient Arabic was so may be seen from the numeral powers of the letters. The invention of letters is attributed to the family of Seth by ancient Jewish and Arabic writers,** as well as of the emblems of the sphere.
It is well known that the ancient Jews distinguished the Twelve Signs by the twelve first letters of their alphabet. They are said to have applied the remaining letters to other constellations, probably to those which, as is shown above, agreed with them in meanings and initials. The ancient Persians also marked the Twelve Signs with the twelve first letters: as the modern Persians are said to do. The sixteen Runic characters are said to be named after constellations, and dedicated to divinities.
* "The constellations were formerly denoted by the Hebrew letters, beyond twenty-two to forty-four with two combined, after that, with three; and the letters were instead of animals." (Gaffarelli.)
** References to these authorities may be found in Dr. Gill's Commentary on the Scriptures. These meanings of the names of the letters generally agree with those in Gaffarelli, Curios. Lit., who refers to Reuchlin and Bellarmine, also to Rab. Kapol, mentioned by Southey as having written on the "Astral Alphabet," and said by Gaffarelli to have been the greatest Jewish astronomer.
The Runic character or Runes have sufficient resemblance to the Samaritan and other ancient Oriental alphabets to indicate that they were derived from a common original. Great antiquity is attributed to them. Mallet shows that they were used by northern poets long before the Christian Era. By these ancient authorities they were said to have been invented by Odin. Odin was a title of dignity, as Don in modern times; it was applied to the Supreme Deity from the earliest ages. It was assumed by Sigge, hero, conqueror, and bard; about 70 BC he introduced and used the Runes, and to him the invention is sometimes ascribed; but Olaus Rudbeck believed them to have been communicated by Magog, son of Japheth, to Tuisco, the German chief, about AM 1800. Mallet thinks the name Runes derived from an ancient Gothic word, to cut; but from their admitted antiquity and their use as the vehicle of poetry, it is more probably from ranah or runah, Heb. and Arab, to sing, as in Job 38:7.
ON THE ANTIQUITY OF THE SQUARE CHARACTER
OF THE HEBREW
It is acknowledged that the Jews brought this beautiful character back with them from the Babylonish captivity, previous to which they seemed, during the reigns of the Kings of Judah, to have used, on their coins at least, a character more nearly resembling the Samaritan. In the remains of the Babylonish empire, in which science and art were cultivated from the earliest period of its settlement, a very different character is now found and read, without any record of its origin other than the universal tradition that Seth was the inventor of alphabetic characters. From Seth, through Noah and Abraham, it seems very easy to trace their existence with the Hebrews, and among all the other children of Noah. In their migrations some tribes perverted, and many finally lost, this most precious invention. The Hebrews even are said greatly to have deteriorated it; whether before or after the time of Moses there appears no decisive evidence. If the original character were used by Moses, if it were traced on the tables of the law, still it is possible that in the sacred books alone it remained in perfection; their ordinary character had perhaps the same resemblance to it that the writing of the illiterate in this country may have to our printing type.
Every where the first character preserves some attempt to represent the horned head of the Bull, the Leader, the Aleph, (the trace of whose name still remains to us in the name of the chief of beasts, the elephant,) though in the Samaritan and Western alphabets it is inverted. The ( of the Hebrew, the O of many other languages, is still to be traced in the name of the eyes, and in the picture which the letter presents of the organ of sight, the Hebrew representing both eyes, most other alphabets only one, either full as O in the Jewish coins, or in profile, as in the Samaritan. The Syriac and modern Arabic, being confessedly more recent inventions or adaptations, like our shorthand, cannot be appealed to as any authority, though their Aleph may represent one horn, their O or Ayin, one eye, as does our European O. In the square characters each is an abbreviated picture of the object from which it takes its name. The Rabbins have preserved the tradition that such was their intention. In the lapse of centuries, and the corruption of Hebrew learning into Talmudical fables, it is possible some slight change has taken place; they have, however, preserved the key that will unlock all; they refer to an Astral Alphabet, perverted indeed to the service of astrology, but pointing to the true origin of the Ancient Alphabet. In some cases, as in the Irish, the wandering tribe had apparently lost all but the tradition that the sounds of the human voice had once been designated by certain marks, and had, therefore, to re-invent them for themselves, and a weak invention we find they lighted on. In Irish it is said to be initial letters of the names of the trees of the country. The Ogham and the Runic, &c., are imperfect substitutes for the original arrangement of the leading ideas of the human mind under the forms of visible objects embodying them, which we find in the ancient or Hebrew character. That those visible objects had previously been selected to express ideas of the same nature in the twelve signs of the Zodiac and ten other constellations closely connected with them, will be seen in the preceding table.*
The more nearly any alphabetic character approaches to the picture of the original objects from which the letters are named, the more ancient it should seem to be. If Seth be, as tradition has called him, the father of letters, and the author of the square character, whether preserved by the Hebrews or the Chaldeans, its portraits of the things it names are easily to be accounted for. Adam had been divinely incited to name visible objects by names conveying the ideas those objects were fitted to convey, as may be seen by the ancient Hebrew names preserved in the early books of Scripture.
* The Beth of early alphabets seems to represent a booth; in later ones, as our own, a two-storied house, B; or it might be, a double-roofed one only.
If the Sinaitic inscriptions be coeval with the Exodus, they show that some letters resembling those of the square character were then used perhaps by that "mixed multitude" who went up with Israel out of Egypt. Since the Babylonish arrow-headed or cuneiform character has been read, all idea of the Jews having learnt the square character in Babylon may be given up.
Sir H. Rawlinson now says that even that character has been originally pictorial; this is not more difficult to imagine than that our modern English character was such, which nevertheless may be shown to be the case. While the Hebrew letter Aleph, ) was always held to represent the head of a Bull, in most languages the likeness is traceable; the European A is the head and horns inverted. One of the Egyptian hieroglyphics read as A is the head of Apis, the Bull, with the globe between the horns.
Somewhat of a symbolical and even a sacred character seems given to the alphabet by the use made of the allusion to Alpha and Omega in the Apocalypse. Alpha is plainly the Aleph of the original alphabet, as in the ancient Oriental alphabets, the leader, chief, first , the beginning. The Omega of the Greeks supplied the place of Thau, the last letter of the ancient series, originally figures as a cross, like our modern T, t. The word Thau means in those dialects a mark , as in Ezekiel 9:4; a boundary, as in Genesis 49:26. By dropping the prefix Th, it gives the sound of Omega. The Arabic sense of the word Thau is a mark in the form of a cross, with which the Arabs marked their animals.
* Aleph is translated "teach," as leading in the way.
The first and last letters being thus used symbolically in Scripture, it seems probable that every intermediate letter had some similar purport, agreeing with that of the constellation to which they belong.
Faber says that some of the ancient Rabbins thought the present Hebrew character was the original, called Assurith, "blessed," because God wrote in it the tables of the law. The Jews could not have adopted it from the Chaldeans; for at Babylon, as in Assyria, the arrow-headed character appears to have been exclusively used. Some Arabic writers attribute the invention of the Hebrew character to Seth, as well as many of the ancient Jews.
Plato (in Cratylus) seems to recognize the fact that each letter conveys an idea, as that L is the opposite of hardness, R a rushing on, motion, and that i attenuates, also saying that "a name as well as a painting is an imitation."
In the Hebrew the mother-vowels and other serviles give the ideas in most frequent requisition. The absence of the distinction between servile and radical confuses Plato's argument as to the Greek. In Arabic the distinction is recognized, though apparently seldom mentioned in grammars. It is traceable, with few variations, in all languages, as in English* the vowels and the letters L, M, N, S, T, Y are serviles. The ideas conveyed by the Hebrew serviles, when used as serviles, may be thus expressed. Aleph originates, Beth incloses, He is, Vau connects, Yod individualizes, Caph grasps, Lamed transfers, passes on, Mem adds, increases, Nun diminishes, Shin points out what follows, Thau bounds, confines.
It is said by Alfred Jones on proper names: "The Jews considered Enoch as the inventor of letters, and that Noah had in the ark a book of 'visions and prophecies' of Enoch."
* Athenaeum, August, 1856. Mr. Nasmyth, speaking of a connexion between the Assyrian and English alphabets, Dr. Hincks said it was established that A was the head of a bull and T a cross; Rawlinson said the cuneiform character was a series of pictures. B was a house, and in the Hamite character represented by a square. Barsip, also Hamite, probably "weedy lake." May it not rather be Bars sippa, the tower of the lip, the confusion of the lip, there taking place. Meat, what is eaten, is an instance of m being servile in English.
Names are not mere arbitrary combinations of letters. In the original language they expressed the nature of their subject, an idea by each letter. The names recorded in the earliest chapters of Genesis prove that the first given names were intended to describe that to which they were given. Cadmus is said to have brought sixteen letters from Phoenicia, probably Hebrew consonants, omitting the Shin, sh, a sound unknown to Greece. To Cadmus, whose name means the man of the East, it is confessed Europe owes the alphabet. In the ancient Cufic, as in the modern Arabic, and in the Greek and Roman characters, some resemblance may be traced to the Hebrew and Samaritan.
Silvestre de Sacy places the existence of the Arabic alphabet now in use two hundred years earlier than the usual date, about 325 of the Hegira. "The passage from the Cufic to the Neshki seems not to have been sudden, and before the Cufic was a character resembling both." Forster infers that the Neshki or modern Arabic character, like the Hamayarite, belonged to a prior and primitive alphabet, and that selection, not invention, was the office of alphabet-makers of after times. - Forster's One Primitive Language. The Hamayarites are said to have had an alphabetic character as early as the time of Job. (Univ. Hist.)
Bonomi says that Rawlinson is of opinion that "all the signs of Assyrian inscriptions had once a syllabic value, as the names of the objects they represented, but to have been subsequently used, usually in the initial articulation, to express a mere portion of a syllable; also, that the Babylonian and Assyrian languages are decidedly Semitic." (Bonomi's Nineveh.)
Col. Mure considers the Greek alphabet* of Phoenician Semitic origin, as proved by the analogy of the four first letters with Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth. (Ancient Greek Language and Literature.)
* Forster's One Prim. Lang. says, "The Celtiberian alphabet resembles the Semitic." The alphabet of man, like his language and his religion, was originally one.
THE SOUTHERN CROSS
This remarkable constellation is said to suggest to every one the idea of a cross, particularly when in attaining the meridian its upper and lower star are perpendicularly on it. Though now no longer visible in the north temperate zone, it was seen there from the time of Adam and Seth to that of the Christian era. It seems impossible that a constellation of such brilliancy and distinctness should have been omitted in the early arrangement of the emblems, though gradually declining in altitude from a considerable elevation, till the topmost star disappeared under the horizon of the latitude of Jerusalem, about the time of the awful sacrifice it prefigured. This fact, and this alone, reasonably accounts for the ancient tradition, that whenever the south polar constellation should be discovered, it would be found to be in the form of a cross (Dupuis, &c.). The ancient Persians celebrated a feast of the cross a few days before the sun entered Aries, when this constellation would be brilliant among the stars of night. Its disappearance may be thus briefly explained. Owing to the greater thickness of the earth at the equator, that part of the earth comes every year a little sooner to what are called the equinoxes, the points where the ecliptic crosses the equator; consequently the north pole moves every year a little farther on in the circle it describes in the northern sky. Thus it has gradually receded from the Southern Cross. This movement being known to be about 50" in a year, the place of the stars in ancient times can be ascertained by it (Humboldt's Cosmos, Herschel, &c.).
It is well known that the cross was a sacred emblem in the Egyptian mythology. The Arabians and Indians also, before the coming of Christ, venerated this emblem. There is in the British Museum a large silvery cross, taken from the mummy of an Egyptian priest. Sozomenes, AD 443, relates that "there was found in the temple of Serapis the sign of the cross, surrounded by hieroglyphics, which meant the life to come." The last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, thau, was originally in the form of a cross; and its name means boundary, limit, finishing (as in Genesis 49:26), as of the Messiah's work, as when He said, "It is finished."
When this constellation began to sink below the horizon in the north temperate zone, and its form was no longer apparent, its memory seems there to have been lost, and its place among the decans to have been supplied by the division of some other emblem. Ptolemy substituted the half-horse, to make up the number of the constellations to forty-eight: an injudicious contrivance still preserved on our globes. Others, by reckoning as separate constellations the Pleaides and Southern Crown, and making the number forty-nine or more, threw into confusion the original arrangement of three decans to each sign.
Dante, who was a great astronomer as well as poet, supposes himself at the antipodes of Jerusalem, and describes what he would have certainly seen there, these "four stars never beheld but by the early race of man." Humboldt conjectures he had seen them on Arabian globes: but at the time he wrote southern voyagers had brought the report of them, though as yet they had seen but four.
"In the fourth century the Christian anchorites in the Thebaid would see the Southern Cross at an altitude of 10o." "It will again appear in the northern latitudes, but after the lapse of thousands of years" (Humboldt).
In a recent letter from Australia, a working man writes home with much admiration of the Southern Cross, calling it "our constellation," "the constellation of Australia." May the omen be fulfilled!
Still, it should be borne in mind that even this emblem, so dear to the heart of the Christian, has been, like the brazen serpent of old, made an object of almost idolatrous veneration. That serpent must have been lifted up on a cross, no other form would support it, even as our Lord Himself was lifted up, that whoso looketh on Him may live: but when the people offered incense to it, it must be broken, as Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4), a mere piece of brass. To this resplendent starry symbol no desecrating honours appear to have been offered. Regarded as a memorial of our faith, it may be very precious to our expatriated brethren, and remind them that the crucified Saviour will be present, according to His promise, where "two or three" of them are gathered together in His name, in those Australian wilds, as He has been to their northern ancestors from whose sky its splendours have so long departed.
From the calculations of modern astronomy we learn that the constellations of our sky, at least the principal ones, if we were transported to the nearest fixed star, would be seen in the same grouping as from the earth. This fact is peculiarly interesting as to the Southern Cross. May not the sacrifice offered on earth upon the cross extend to the universe of starry worlds? it should seem so from what St. Paul says, "Making peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, by Him, whether things in earth or things in heaven."
"The cross was the symbol of worship of the highest antiquity in Egypt and Syria, said to signify the life to come. Champollion interprets it support, or Saviour." "It is among the ruins of Palenque with a child held up to it in adoration." (Prescott's Mexico.)
Kennicott thought that "instruments of cruelty in their habitations" (Gen 49:5) related prophetically to the cross of Christ: the nails, the scourge, and spear might be included. The cross occurs here as the third decan or accompanying constellation of Libra. On the breastplate of the high priest the name of Levi and the sign Libra appear to have been engraven on the same stone. In the third decan of Libra the Persians, according to Albumazer, had the name Arbedi, one sense of which is "to cover," as in Proverbs 30:22. This might well be derived from the traditionary revelation, that on the cross the charity, the love, the sacrifice of the Redeemer should cover a multitude of sins. The Southern Cross is immediately below the victim, the atoning sacrifice.
Should any one wish to follow, on the modern celestial globe, the position assigned to this constellation in former ages, it will be necessary to reckon back the precession of the equinoxes to the time required, as altering the boundaries of the signs, the position of the colures and of the pole of the earth. While the pole of the ecliptic, in reference to which the stars are divided, is fixed, the pole of the equator has a motion in consequence of that of the equinoxes. About 6000 years since it would point to the brightest star in the tail of the dragon, which must be considered as the pole-star, in trying to rectify the globe for that time. This must be done for N. lat. 36o or thereabouts, which the traces of ancient astronomy have been thought to indicate as that where the earliest observations were made. Such being the situation of the sources of the river Euphrates, this supposition agrees with what is said in Genesis 2 as to the original habitation of mankind, the fountains at least of great rivers apparently not having been altered by the deluge. The Southern Cross will then be found to rise about 16o above the horizon when on the meridian; this altitude gradually lessening, its highest star will be seen to have disappeared from the latitude of Jerusalem about the time of the crucifixion of our Lord.
"In consequence of the precession of the equinoxes the starry heavens are continually changing their aspect from every portion of the earth's surface. The early races of mankind beheld in the North the glorious constellation of the Southern Hemisphere rise before them, which, after remaining long invisible, will again appear in these latitudes after the lapse of thousands of years. At Berlin, and in the northern latitudes, the stars of the Southern Cross, as well as a and b Centauri, are receding more and more from view. The Southern Cross began to become invisible in 52o 30' north latitude, 2900 years before our era. According to Galle it might previously have reached an altitude of more than 10o...I am indebted to the communications of my friend Dr. Galle, by whom Le Verrier's planet was first discovered in the heavens, for all the calculations respecting the visibility of southern stars in northern latitudes." (Humboldt, Cosmos.)
"The constellation of the Southern Cross has acquired a peculiar character of importance from the beginning of the sixteenth century, owing to the religious feelings of Christian navigators and missionaries who have visited the tropical and southern seas, and both the Indies. The four principal stars are mentioned in the Almagest, and were regarded in the time of Adrian and Antoninus Pius as parts of the constellation of the Centaur. At the time of Claudius Ptolemaeus the beautiful star at the base of the Southern Cross had still an altitude of 6o 10' at its meridian passage at Alexandria, whilst in the present day it culminates there several degrees below the horizon. In order, at this time (1847), to see a Crucis at an altitude of 6o 10' it is necessary, taking the refraction into account, to be 10o south of Alexandria in the parallel of 21o 43' north latitude. In the fourth century the Christian anchorites in the Thebaid desert might have seen the Cross at an altitude of 10o. Dante says in the celebrated passage in the Purgatorio:
All' altro polo, e vidi quattro stelle,
Non viste mai fuor ch' alla prima gente.'
And Amerigo Vespucci, who at the aspect of the starry skies of the South, first called to mind this passage on his third voyage, boasted that he now looked on the four stars never seen till then by any but the first human race."
This constellation is mentioned by Christian missionaries and navigators as "a wonderful cross more glorious than all the constellations in the heavens."
Acosta mentions that in the Spanish settlements of tropical America the first settlers were accustomed, as is now done, to use the Southern Cross as a celestial clock, reckoning the hour from its vertical or inclined position.
Humboldt says, "the Persian, Kaswini, and other Mahomedan astronomers took pains to discover crosses in the Dolphin and the Dragon." This has probably been to account for the feast of the Cross observed in ancient Persia.
Humboldt says of the Divina Commedia, "The philosophical and religious mysticism which vivifies the grand composition of Dante assigns to all objects besides their real existence an ideal one, it seems almost as if we beheld two worlds reflected in one another." "The ideal world is a free creation of the soul, the product of poetic inspiration."
* Pi is the masculine article, Egyptian and Coptic, appearing in the Greek names.
** The Irish are on the authority of Thaddeus O'Connellan.
*** The Chinese character for the moon, reduplicated, forms that for companion, associate.