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Signs in the Sky Studies
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Date: May, 1998
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Double Occultation of Venus and Jupiter

Thursday, May 14, 1998 Published at 03:23 GMT 04:23 UK
Once-in-a-millennium sky event captured

Astronomers have observed an event that has not been witnessed from earth for more than 1,000 years - the Moon simultaneously passing in front of Venus and Jupiter.

The occurrence was photographed by Erich Karkoschka, of the University of Arizona, and four Brazilian amateur astronomers on Brazil's east coast, near the most eastern point of the American continent. 

"This event was visible in the night sky of the southern Atlantic Ocean, including a few islands and a small part of Brazil," Dr Karkoschka said.

"At no other time duting this millennium was such an event visible in the night sky anywhere on Earth."

During the last millennium there was only one other so-called double occultation of Venus and Jupiter by the moon.

It is believed to have happened on August 18, 567 AD and was visible visible from the north-west corner of the Indian Ocean. Though as it occurred closer to the sun it could not be observed from Earth as well as this year's event, Dr Karkoschka said.

"It is not known if anybody observed the A.D. 567 occultation," he said.

"Given the rarity of such an event and the small zone of visibility, there may be no record that such an event has been observed before in the history of mankind."

"When prehistoric people saw such a close gathering of the three brightest objects in the night sky, they must have been taken by awe."

"Only very few people saw this year's event since most people within the zone of visibility were asleep at that time," he added.

(BBC News)

Venus - Queen of Heaven - Ishtar, Aprhodite
Jupiter - King of Heaven - Zeus, Marduk, Thor, Bel
Moon - Israel


From Palmyra, midway between Rome and Parthia, deep in the desert, we move to Heliopolis, the modern Baalbek. Baalbek is in the center of the Beqaa valley, one of the leading agricultural regions of geographical Syria. A part of the Rift Valley, between the Lebanon and Antilebanon mountain ranges, and close to the Mediterranean, it is the Biblical Aram-Zobah (Psalm 60: 1; II Samuel 10: 6-8) and the classical Coelesyria. Both the Litani and the Orontes, two of Syria's most important rivers, have their sources near Baalbek. It was a stopping point on a major north-south route between Damascus and Hama, but Baalbek was most famous and important for the temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus. This was one of the most important shrines of one of the most important gods in Syria. The temple itself is one of the largest of Classical Antiquity. As we shall see, Jupiter Heliopolitanus was portrayed as a cosmocrator in the same way as Bel of Palmyra and as the gods of Edessa and Harran.

Almost nothing is known of Baalbek's history before the Roman period. A German expedition studied the site of the temple 1900-1904, and found that the Roman period temple does stand on top of a tell. The Germans were largely interested in restoring the Roman remains, but they did find potsherds from the Early Bronze and Middle Bronze periods. Likewise, there have been a variety of unsuccessful attempts to identify Baalbek with sites mentioned in Ancient Near Eastern writings. For example, it may, or may not, be the Tunip of the Amarna Tablets, or the Biq`at Aven of Amos 1: 5. The modern name "Baalbek" is probably also the original name. Its exact etymology is uncertain, but the first syllable, "Baal," means "Lord," and probably refers to the local god later identified with Zeus and Jupiter. The Greek name of the city, Heliopolis, is first mentioned in accounts of Pompey's conquest of Syria, although it was probably bestowed earlier. The region had been quite important to the rival Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires. Heliopolis means "City of the Sun," but exactly why the name was given is quite unknown. There is no evidence that Syrians identified the chief god of Baalbek with the sun, and inscriptions usually call him Zeus, not Helios. Perhaps the usual iconography of the god, with a whip raised, reminded Greek settlers of Helios, who was often shown as a charioteer.

Pompey added Heliopolis to the Roman empire, along with the rest of Syria, in 63 BCE. It was probably during the time of Augustus that Heliopolis became one the first Roman colonies in Syria, as Iulia Augusta Felix. From that time the god was identified with Jupiter as well as with Zeus, and his priests were all Roman citizens, many of them legionary veterans. The region was already quite hellenized, with the result that all the dedications to the Heliopolitan gods are in Greek or Latin.

The temple complex was built over a long period of time, probably with Imperial funds. The podium of the main temple was begun before Pompey, and some ornamental carvings were left unfinished centuries later when Constantine stopped the work. Construction was busiest under Antoninus Pius, which may explain why John Malalas credits the whole complex to him. It was still largely finished under Caracalla.

Constantine not only stopped construction, but he also forbade cultic prostitution in honor of Venus Heliopolitanus, Jupiter's partner. Theodosius closed the temples to worshippers throughout the empire, and also built a sizeable church (dedicated to the Virgin) at Heliopolis in the main courtyard of the temple complex. Nevertheless, Heliopolis remained a stronghold of polytheism under the Christian emperors, much like Harran. Rabbula of tried to vandalize the cult statues at Heliopolis early in his career as a fanatic, but was beaten and thrown down the main staircase for his trouble. As late as 579 CE John of Ephesus says that Christians were few and poor in Heliopolis, while the local pagan aristocrats felt secure enough to mock Christianity openly. Anti-Christian rioting in that year brought about a purge of upper class pagans throughout the empire, beginning at Heliopolis. There are no references to these pagans when the Arab conquerors arrived sixty years later.

Many pilgrims visited Heliopolis, perhaps because it was famous for oracles. The emperor Trajan saw fit to consult Jupiter Heliopolitanus at the beginning of his Parthian campaign. The cult of the Heliopolitan gods was carried throughout the empire by Syrian soldiers and businessmen. Dedications to Jupiter, Venus and Mercury of Heliopolis have been found from Britain to Palmyra. They were particularly popular throughout geographical Syria. It is interesting to discover that the gods of Heliopolis were worshipped in many of the pagan cities in Judaic Palestine. One of the best known examples is a votive foot from Mt. Carmel, dedicated to Dii Heliopolitanei Karmel. This is probably the same deity whom Elijah fought in I Kg 18, and whom Vespasian consulted when considering becoming emperor. The god of Carmel was worshipped also in Akko/Ptolemais, near Mt. Carmel, and the foot itself was dedicated by someone from Caesarea. It is curious that when Tacitus discusses Vespasian and the god of Carmel, he emphasizes that the god was worshipped without a temple or cultic images. Perhaps Tacitus thought the god of Carmel was the God of the Jews.

Three gods were worshipped at Baalbek/Heliopolis, called Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury, or Zeus, Aphrodite and Hermes. It is almost certain that they were the major Syrian gods, Hadad or Baal, Atargatis, and a young god similar to Adonis, whose native name is unknown. No inscriptions label them with their native names, although Macrobius does say that "the god whom they revere as highest and greatest they have given the name of Adad . . . ." He also says Atargatis was Adad's partner. The first two had dominated Syrian religion for millennia, making the equation quite likely. Mercury's Semitic equivalent has not been identified with certainty, but such family groups of father, mother and son were common throughout geographical Syria. Jupiter was much the most important of the Heliopolitan triad. Throughout Syria, in every historical period, Baal-Hadad was the god of fresh water, especially of the winter storms, but also of fresh water springs. By extension, he was the patron of agriculture, which was impossible without fresh water, and ruler of the sky, whence the rains came. In the Hellenistic period Hadad filled many of the same roles as Baal Shamin and Bel did at Palmyra and in northern Syria. Greeks and Romans correctly saw all of them as equivalents of their own Zeus and Jupiter. Also, like all his counterparts, Jupiter Heliopolitanus was cosmocrator, or ruler of the entire universe, including the other gods. A Latin inscription from Beirut calls him: "Regi deo[r(um)] I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo) H(eliopolitano) . . . . ," "to the king of the gods, Jupiter the Best and Greatest, of Heliopolis." Another, from Heliopolis itself, says: "I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo) H(eliopolitano) Regulo," "Jupiter the Best and Greatest of Heliopolis, ruler." Regulo here is derived from the verb rego, to rule. Astrological art was especially used to emphasize his role as cosmic emperor.

There are no astrological reliefs to be seen in the temples of Heliopolis. Instead there is a large number of dedicatory reliefs and votive statuettes. These are found throughout the Roman Empire, particularly in Syria, but as widely scattered as Palmyra and Britain. Much the most common is what Hajjar calls the "Oriental" type. This resembles an atlantid, a man-shaped column, more than it does an ordinary Greek statue. It is tempting to assume that these votive statuettes copy the cult statue, the balanion, in the main temple, but there is no certain proof of this. The god is portrayed standing at attention, right hand raised and holding a whip, left hand at the waist, holding a thunderbolt or a sheaf of grain. Often a bushel basket is on his head as he stands on a socle. The socle often has an image of Tyche on it. He usually wears a gown with a variety of astral symbols on it. Sometimes these are merely disks or rosettes, but often they are busts of Helios and Selene or of all seven planet-gods, identified by their usual attributes. In two examples, twelve busts for the twelve signs of the zodiac occur. In another example, a statue of Jupiter Heliopolitanus from Sohne, near Palmyra, has the Bel triad on its chest. Many examples have an eagle with wings outspread on the back. The image of the god wearing the planets means the same thing as the cupola relief and the eagle relief at Bel's temple in Palmyra: the chief god, the god of the sky, is supreme over the universe and the other gods, ruling the world by means of the planets and astrology. The image of Tyche on a socle says the same thing. Tyche here is a personification of heimarmene, the power of the planets to compel. And, as elsewhere, the eagle was used to symbolize the sky-god, spread out over the earth. The fact that this iconography is found on dedications and ex votos implies that the ideas that it symbolized were common, well-known to worshippers.

(Astrology and Judaism in Late Antiquity, A Dissertation, Lester J. Ness)

occultation: 1. the state of being hidden from view or lost to notice; 2. the interruption of the light from a celestial body or of the signals from a spacecraft by the intervention of a celestial body; esp. an eclipse of a star or planet by the moon.

eclipse: 1a. the total or partial obscuring of one celestial body by another; 1b. the passing into the shadow of a celestial body; 2. a falling into obscurity or decline.

Ancient Mexican records [say]...The sun was attacked by Quetzal-cohuatl; after the disappearance of this serpent-shaped heavenly body, the sun refused to shine, and during four days the world was deprived of its light; a great many people died at that time. Thereafter, the snakelike body transformed itself into a great star. The star retained the name of Quetzal-cohuatl (Quetzal-coatl). This great and brilliant star appeared for the first time in the east. Quetzal-cohuatl is the well-known name of the planet Venus.

[Quetzal-cohuatl means "a feathered serpent."]

It is written in a Samaritan chronicle that during the invasion of Palestine by the Israelites under Joshua, a new star was born in the east: "A star arose out of the east against which all magic is vain." 

Chinese chronicles record that "a brilliant star appeared in the days of Yahu [Yahou]."

...the comet Venus, after two contacts with the earth, eventually became a planet...

[Ancient Hindu and Babylonian tablets only show a four planet system (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury).]

Sanchoniathon says that Astarte (Venus) had a bull's head [two long appendages--tails of a comet]. The planet was even called Ashteroth-Karnaim, or Astarte of the Horns, a name given to a city in Canaan in honor of this deity. The golden calf worshiped by Aaron and the people at the foot of Sinai was the image of the star.

Cicero wrote: "Venus, called in Greek Phosphorus and in Latin Lucifer..."

The Egyptian Venus-Isis, the Babylonian Venus-Ishtar, the Greek Venus-Athene were goddesses pictured with serpents, and sometimes represented as dragons. "Ishtar, the fearful dragon," wrote Assurbanipal.

Since the latter part of the eighth century before the present era, Venus has followed an orbit between Mercury and earth, which it has maintained ever since. It became the Morning and Evening Star...The dreaded comet became a tame planet. It has the most nearly circular orbit among the planets.

The end of the terror which Venus kept alive for eight centuries after the days of the Exodus was the inspiration for Isaiah when he said:

"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!
how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the
nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into
heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God."

Septuagint and Vulgate both translate Morning Star or Lucifer. What does it mean, that the Morning Star was assailing the heavens and rising high, and that it was cut down low to the horizon, and would weaken no more the nations?

More than a hundred generations of commentators have occupied themselves with this passage, but have met with failure.

Why, it is also asked, should the beautiful Morning Star, called Lucifer, the Light Bearer, live in the imagination of peoples as an evil power, a fallen star? What is in this lovely planet that makes her name an equivalent of Satan, or Seth of the Egyptians, the dark power? In his confusion, Origen wrote this question to the quoted verses of Isaiah: "Most evidently by these words is he shown to have fallen from heaven, who formerly was Lucifer, and who used to arise in the morning. For if, as some think, he was a nature of darkness, how is Lucifer said to have existed before? Or how could he arise in the morning, who had in himself nothing of the light?"

Lucifer was a feared prodigy in the sky, and its origin, as illuminated in this book, explains how it came to be regarded as a dark power and a fallen star.

After a great struggle, Venus achieved a circular orbit and a permanent place in the family of planets. During the perturbations which brought about this metamorphosis, Venus also lost its cometary tail.

In the valley of the Euphrates, "Venus then gives up her position as a great stellar divinity, equal with sun and moon, and joins the ranks of the other planets."

A comet became a planet.

Venus was born as a comet in the second millennium before the present era. In the middle of that millennium it twice made contact with the earth and changed its cometary orbit.

(Worlds in Collision, Immanuel Velikovsky)


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