Astronomy: The Constellations

The principal achievement of the science of astronomy in the centuries during which the books of the Old Testament were written was the arrangement and naming of the constellations, and there can be no reasonable doubt that the same system was known to the Hebrews as that which has been handed down to us through the Greek astronomers. Paul certainly knew the Greek constellations, for in his sermon on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:28) he quoted from that poetical description of them which Aratus the great poet of Cilicia had written about 270 BC. But these constellations have a much greater antiquity than this, and it is probable that they were well known to Abraham before he left Ur of the Chaldees. It has been frequently shown (The Astronomy of the Bible, 158; Astronomy without a Telescope, 5) that these constellations themselves supply evidence that they were designed about 2700 BC. They thus antedated the time of Abraham by some centuries, and since some of their most characteristic forms are found upon old Babylonian “boundary stones,” it is clear that they were known in the country from whence he came out.

The direct references to these old constellation-forms in Scripture are not numerous. One of the clearest is in Job 26:13, where “formed the crooked serpent” (the King James Version) is used as the correlative of “garnished the heavens”; the great constellation of the writhing Dragon, placed at the crown of the heavens, being used, metaphorically, as an expression for all the constellations of the sky. For by its folds it encircles both the poles, that of the equator and that of the ecliptic.

The term bārīaḥ, rendered “crooked” but better as in the Revised Version, margin as “fleeing,” is applied by Isaiah to “Leviathan” (liwyāthān: Isaiah 27:1), properly a “wreathed” or writhing animal, twisted in folds, and hence also called by the prophet ‛aḳallāthōn, “crooked,” “twisted,” or “winding”; a very appropriate designation for Draco, the great polar Dragon. But the latter was not the only “crooked serpent” in the constellations; there were three others, two of which were placed with an astronomical significance not less precise than the coiling of Draco round the poles. Hydra, the Watersnake, marked out the original celestial equator for about one-third of its circumference, and Serpens, the Adder, lay partly along the celestial equator and then was twisted up the autumnal colure, and reached the zenith with its head.

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Author: International Std. Bible Encyclopedia

Keywords: Astronomy The Constellations, Cosmology, Astronomy, Constellation, Nachash, Leviathan, Orion, Mazza, Pleiades, Arcturus, Zodiac

Bible reference(s): 2 Kings 23:5, Amos 5:8, Isaiah 13:10, Isaiah 27:1, Job 26:13, Job 37:9, Job 38:31, Job 9:9

Source: James Orr (editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 5 volume set.

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