Title: Who Will Go for Us?
In this chapter I raise the issue of how astronomy and ancient astral religion/theology relates to events in the New Testament. As I said in a footnote:
“Few New Testament scholars have a command of all the necessary biblical elements for reconstructing this messaging and its tight correlation with astronomy and, most importantly for our purposes, the theological messaging that these correlations produce. Critics have also overlooked important items. Despite these data, ideas such as those put forth by Joseph A. Seiss and E. W. Bullinger, that the full gospel story can be found in the stars, is untenable. . . . The approach of Seiss and Bullinger overstates the data and relies on subjective interpretations.”
In other words, I think there is academic warrant for studying what is, for lack of a better term, “astral theology,” but that the most familiar and widely circulated works on that idea take it too far. There are more contemporary New Testament scholars who argue that the book of Revelation contains astral prophecy (and at least one who believes the entire book conforms to that ancient literary genre). I take their work seriously but, again, think that some of the conclusions over-extend the data. See my brief annotations in the additional bibliography.
Bibliography included in the book
Joseph Augustus Seiss, The Gospel in the Stars, Or Primeval Astronomy (Philadelphia: E. Claxton & Company, 1882; reprinted by Gorgias Press, 2007)
E. W. Bullinger, The Witness of the Stars (London, 1893; reprinted by Kregel, 1967)
Amy E. Richter, “The Enochic Watcher’s Template and the Gospel of Matthew,” (PhD Dissertation, Marquette University, 2010); available here from Marquette for free.
Richter’s work illustrates well the supernatural outlook of the birth and genealogy of Jesus concerned more to ancient readers than that of modern (of any period) Christians. Readers will recall that, as I noted in the book, Richter’s work deals with the way the genealogies not only identify Jesus as the promised son of David, but encrypt literary connections back to the supernatural conflict arising from Genesis 6 and the decimation of the giant clans.” The abstract of Richter’s fascinating dissertation reads as follows:
The writer of the Gospel according to Matthew was familiar with themes and traditions about the antediluvian patriarch Enoch, including the story of the fall of the watchers, and shows that Jesus brings about the eschatological repair of the consequences of the watchers’ fall. In Matthew’s Gospel, the foreshadowing of repair and then the repair itself are seen in the evangelist’s genealogy and infancy narrative, the focus of this dissertation.
According to the Enochic watchers’ template, evil came into the world when the watchers transgressed their heavenly boundary to engage in illicit sexual contact with women and teach them illicit arts. The consequences of the watchers’ transgression are violence, unrighteousness, evil, idolatry, and disease. Some of these consequences come from human use of the skills taught by the watchers, skills for seduction, war-making, sorcery, and astrology.
The women of the Hebrew Bible named by Matthew in his genealogy of Jesus foreshadow the reversal of the watchers’ transgression. All four of them are connected with the Enochic watchers’ template. They use the illicit arts, but the use of these skills leads to righteousness rather than evil. The women are also connected with other aspects of the Enochic watchers’ template, including sexual interaction which connects the earthly and heavenly realms, interaction with angels, unusual aspects of their offspring, and connections with giants.
In Matthew’s infancy narrative, he shows that the birth of Jesus repairs the effects of the watchers’ template by using the very elements of that template. Joseph’s suspicion of Mary’s pregnancy; the child as the product of a woman and the Holy Spirit, who may have been regarded as angelomorphic; dreams that direct human agents in divine plans; and the magi who are connected with, and make use of illicit arts to find the child all reflect elements of the Enochic watchers’ template. The repair begun by Jesus’ birth is completed by the adult Jesus and shows in the chapters following Matthew’s genealogy and infancy narrative.
David C. Capes, Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992)
Frank Moore Cross, “The Council of Yahweh in Second Isaiah,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 12 (1953): 274-277
Christopher R. Seitz, “The Divine Council: Temporal Transition and New Prophecy in the Book of Isaiah,” Journal of Biblical Literature 109:2 (1990): 229-247
Rikki E. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus and Mark (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997; revised and reprinted by Baker Academic, 2001)
Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, King and Messiah: The Civil and Sacral Legitimation of the Israelite Kings (Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1976)
Nicolas Wyatt, “‘Jedidiah’ and Cognate Forms as a Title of Royal Legitimization,” Biblica 66 (1985): 112-125 (republished in “There’s Such Divinity Doth Hedge a King”: Selected Essays of Nicolas Wyatt on Royal Ideology in Ugaritic and Old Testament Literature [The Society for Old Testament Study Monographs; Ashgate Publishing, 2005], 13-22
This chapter also got into the use of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34. Here once again is the link to my SBL paper on that:
Michael S. Heiser, “Jesus’ Quotation of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34: A Different View of John‘s Theological Strategy,” Paper read at the 2012 regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature
Bruce Malina, On the Genre and Message of Revelation: Star Visions and Sky Journeys (Baker 1993).
- This is the fundamental academic beginning point for studying Revelation as astral prophecy. However, I agree with Beale that Malina presses the case too far and ends up ignoring the Old Testament contexts in his interpretation (see Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation [New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998]). That said, Malina’s argument for the Revelation’s conformity in a number of respect to astral prophetic genre should not be dismissed just because of this oversight. Rather, Malina’s observations ought to be contextualized with the usage of Old Testament symbols and themes.
Bruce Malina and John Pilch, Social Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Fortress Press, 2000)
- Builds to some extent on Malina’s first book
Bruce Malina, The New Jerusalem in the Revelation of John: The City as Symbol of Life with God (Michael Glazier Books, 2000)
- Some development of a few ideas in Malina’s first book
Jacques Chevalier, A Postmodern Revelation: Signs of Astrology and the Apocalypse (University of Toronto Press, 1997)
- This is a dense scholarly read that looks at Revelation for its astral symbolism and then examining the semiotics of the symbology.
Michael Moore, “Jesus Christ, ‘Superstar’: Rev 22:16b,” Vetus Testamentum 24:1 (Jan 1982): 82-91
Ellen Robbins, “The Pleiades, the Flood, and the Jewish New Year,” in Ki Baruch Hu: Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Judaic Studies in Honor of Baruch A. Levine (ed. by Robert Chazan, William W. Hallo and Lawrence H. Schiffman; Winona Lake, IN, 1999), 329-244.
- A fascinating study that correlates Judaism’s calendar with astral phenomena and the flood of Genesis 6-8
Alan Scott, Origen and the Life of the Stars: The History of An Idea (Oxford Early Christian Studies; Oxford University Press, 1994
Tim Hegedus, Early Christianity and Ancient Astrology (Patristic Studies 6; Peter Lang, 2007)
- This book is a revision of Hegedus’ University of Toronto dissertation (2000) which is available online for free.
Tim Hegedus, “Some Astrological Motifs in the Book of Revelation,” in Religious Rivalries and the Struggle for Success in Sardis and Smyrna (Studies in Christianity and Judaism; Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005), 67-87
Tim Hegedus, “The Magi and the Star in the Gospel of Matthew and Early Christian Tradition,” Laval théologique et philosophique 59, no. 1 (2003): 81-95
Ida Zatelli, “Astrology and the Worship of the Stars in the Bible,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 103, no. 1 (1991): 86-99.
James H. Charlesworth, “Jewish Astrology in the Talmud, Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Early Palestinian Synagogues,” Harvard Theological Review 70:3/4 (July-October 1977): 183-200
Rachel Elior, The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism, transl. D. Lourish (Oxford, 2004)
Nelson Glueck, “The Zodiac at Khirbet et-Tannur,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 126 (Apr. 1952): 5-10
Rachel Hachlili, “The Zodiac in Ancient Jewish Art: Representation and Significance,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 228 (Dec. 1977): 61-77
Rachel Hachlili, “The Zodiac in Ancient Jewish Synagogal Art: A Review,” Jewish Studies Quarterly (2002): 219-258
Reimund Leicht, “The Planets, the Jews and the Beginnings of ‘Jewish Astrology’,” in Sh. Shaked, G. Bohak, andY. Harari, eds. Continuity and Innovation in the History of Magic (Leiden and Boston: E. J. Brill, 2011): 271-288
B. Kühnel, “The Synagogue Floor Mosaic in Sepphoris: Between Paganism and Christianity,” in From Dura to Sepphoris: Studies in Jewish Art and Society in Late Antiquity, ed. L. I. Levine and Z. Weiss (Portsmouth, 2000)
Jodi Magness, “Helios and the Zodiac Cycle in Ancient Palestinian Synagogues,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 59 (2005): 1-52
Lester Ness, Written in the Stars: Ancient Zodiac Mosaics (Warren Center, Penn.: 2000)
- This is an up-date and revision of Ness’ doctoral dissertation at the University of Miami-Ohio: “Astrology and Judaism in Late Antiquity”
L. A. Roussin, “The Zodiac in Synagogue Decoration,” in Archaeology and the Galilee: Texts and Contexts in the Greco-Roman Periods, ed. D. R. Edwards and C. T. McCollough (Atlanta, 1977)
Kocku von Stuckrad, “Jewish and Christian Astrology in Late Antiquity—A New Approach,” Numen 47 (2000): 1-41
James C. VanderKam, Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Measuring Time (New York, 1998)
Z. Weiss, “The Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic,” Biblical Archaeology Review 26 (2000): 48-61, 70
Z. Weiss, “The Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic and the Role of Talmudic Literature in Its Iconographical Study,” in From Dura to Sepphoris: Studies in Jewish Art and Society in Late Antiquity, ed. L. I. Levine and Z. Weiss (Portsmouth, 2000)
Jonas C. Greenfield, and Michael Sokoloff. “Astrological and Related Omen Texts in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies (1989): 201-214
Alexander Toepel, “Planetary Demons in Early Jewish Literature,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 14, no. 3 (2005): 231-238
Annette Yoshiko Reed, “Abraham as Chaldean Scientist and Father of the Jews: Josephus, Ant. 1.154-168, and the Greco-Roman Discourse about Astronomy/Astrology,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 35, no. 2 (2004): 119-158
Astral theology for serious (“orthodox”) Jews and Christians was not astrology as we have experienced it. That astrology is thoroughly pagan, as it assigns fate to nature. The presumptions in ancient Jewish and Christian astral theology were biblically sound; namely that, as creator of the celestial objects, God put them there not only to mark time, but also to assert his sovereignty over what happens in time—the course of human history. Serious Jews and Christians rejected astrological ideas such as the notion that the stars determined individual fate, primarily because the idea impinged upon or violated the sovereignty of God. But they did not reject the notion that celestial objects could be understood as messaging divine intent or the playing out of God’s sovereignty for the wise to understand. In a pre-scientific context, it was assumed that God was behind the movement (or not) of celestial objects and their formations as constellations. Celestial objects that moved were perceived as divine beings in God’s service (or in rebellion). The biblical Daniel provides a model here for how these ideas are circumscribed by biblical theology.
Unfortunately, Jewish and Christian thinking in this area became progressively detached from biblically defensible ideas and more inclined toward mystical speculation (e.g., Zohar). My view is that Daniel would have rejected this sort of mysticism. I also believe that we cannot presume that Jews who viewed astral theology positively prior to the Zohar and its mystical strands would have approved of them. That is, we ought not assume that Jewish synagogues from late antiquity with zodiac floor mosaics that have been excavated by archaeologists in Israel are evidence of aberrant theology (see the additional bibliography below).
With respect to the use of astronomy for the dating of Jesus’ birth, I believe the most coherent view is that laid out by Ernest Martin in his book, The Star that Astonished the World. Martin’s book is available in print or for free at: http://www.askelm.com/star/ (See especially from Chapter 5 onward, including the appendixes). Using the astronomical signage in Rev. 12 along with the account of the star in Matthew, Martin posits September 11, 3 B.C. as the birth of Jesus.
I know of no New Testament scholar who has bothered to take Rev. 12 as astral signage and correlate that material with Matthew like Martin has. Even Bruce Malina, who recognizes the astral significance of Rev. 12 fails to do so. The better-known attempts at astronomically interpreting what the Magi saw (without Rev. 12) also fail to factor in certain synchronisms with the Jewish calendar that would have been theologically significant (e.g., a correlation with Tishri 1). The date produced by Martin’s work is the only method I have ever discovered by which all the factors involved in the discussion work together without omissions.
(Readers should note that the above has nothing to do with the popular nonsense about blood moons and prophecy.)
There are several problems associated with a 3 B.C. date for the birth of Jesus, most obviously that it requires a date of late 2 B.C. or 1 B.C. for Herod’s death. The account of Matthew clearly has Jesus born while Herod still lived. The Magi would have visited Jesus and his family sometime up to two years after his death, judging by Herod’s subsequent order to have baby boys up to two years of age killed in an effort to eliminate the newly born king of the Jews. Herod’s death seems fixed at 4 B.C. by Roman historical records and certain statements in Josephus. The presumed certainty of his death date is why most New Testament scholars place the birth of Jesus in 6 B.C.
Martin addresses these problems at length in his book, but his work has recently been closely critiqued by physicist Aaron Adair:
Adair believes Herodian chronology is the Achilles’ Heel for Martin’s work. However, the problem is a mirage and has been resolved by more recent work in Herodian numismatics:
- Ormond Edwards, “Herodian Chronology,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 114 (January-June 1982): 29-42.
Adair does not cite this recent work and most New Testament scholars are completely unaware of it and its implications.
There are several reasons that Martin’s work is largely unknown to biblical scholars. Martin was a historian, not a biblical scholar. His doctoral degree was unaccredited. His book was self-published. Martin was also a member of the Worldwide Church of God (he eventually resigned). I don’t endorse a number of things Martin has written, but his work on the star is persuasive. It garnered praise from such New Testament scholarly luminaries as F. F. Bruce and Jack Finegan (the latter known especially for his work in ancient chronology and calendars).
I won’t elaborate on further specifics here. I plan to include material concerning how astral prophecy figures into the ancient worldview of the biblical writers in a follow-up volume to The Unseen Realm. Readers should know, however, that I use this material in the fiction that I write, and so some of the ideas can be discovered there. My fiction is modeled after that of Michael Crichton—I approach fiction writing like a thesis or dissertation. Years of research have gone into my novels. I use only peer-reviewed material or actual government / legal documents for specific plot elements. At the time of the publication of The Unseen Realm two books of my fiction series have been published: The Façade (book 1) and The Portent (book 2). The astro-theological material is part of book 2 and will continue in future installments. Note as well that book 2 is a true sequel. The plot will be incomprehensible without reading the first book.