Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them

Matthew 7

15. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in
sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather
grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17. Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit;
but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither
can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn
down, and cast into the fire.
20. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord,
shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord,
have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy
name have cast out devils? and in thy name done
many wonderful works?
23. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you:
depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Assyro-Babylonian Mythology:
The Astronomy of Babylon

The astronomy of Babylon as it relates to the Babylonian Gods of worship.

With the exception of the Venus tables of Ammiza-duga,
which probably originated in the seventeenth century BC,
most of the surviving Mesopotamian astronomical texts
were written between 650 and 50 BC. These clay tablets
with cuneiform writing are called astronomical diaries, and they are the unmistakable observations of specialists: professional astronomer-scribes.

A typical diary entry begins with a statement on the length

of the previous month. It might have been 29 or 30 days. Then, the present month's first observation - the time between sunset and moon set on the

day of the first waxing crescent - is given, followed by similar

information on the times between moon sets and sunrises

and between moon rises and sunsets, at full moon. At the

end of the month, the interval between the rising of the

last waning crescent moon and sunrise is recorded.

When a lunar or solar eclipse took place, its date, time,

and durationwere noted along with the planets visible,

the star that was culminating,and the prevailing wind a

t the time of the eclipse. Significant points in the various

planetary cycles were all tabulated, and the dates of

thesolstices, equinoxes, and significant appearances of Sirius were provided.

The Babylonian astronomers used a set of 30 stars as

references forcelestial position, and their astronomical

diaries detailed the locations of the moon and planets

with respect to the stars. Reports of bad weather or unusual

atmospheric phenomena - like rainbows and halos - found

their way into the diaries, too. Finally, various events of local

importance(fires, thefts, and conquests), the amount of

rise or fall in the river at Babylon, and the quantity of various

commodities that could be purchased for one silver shekel filled

out the diligent astronomer's report.

By the sixth century BC, Neo-Babylonian astronomers

were computing in advance the expected time intervals

between moon rise or moon set and sunrise or sunset for various days in the months ahead. These calculations were based on systematic observations.

Later, when combined with numerical tabulations of the

monthly movement of the sun, the position of sun and

moon at new moon, the length of daylight, half the length of night,

an eclipse warning index, the rate of the moon's daily motion through the stars, and other related information, these computations enabled reasonably detailed and accurate predictions of what the moon would do and when it would do it.

Planets received similar attention, but because their

movements were not uniform, the Mesopotamian astronomers

had to devise mathematical techniques that would take variations

in motion into account. As Jupiter, for example,makes its way

through the zodiac in almost exactly 12 years, each year it more or

less moves into a different zone, or constellation. Each year it also

is seen in opposition to the sun - rising at sunset,

setting atsunrise - but because Jupiter's motion is not

uniform, it won't reach opposition on the same date each year.

The Babylonians expressed this a little differently than we do and preferred to specify the position of Jupiter at each opposition rather than the date.

The effect is the same, however, and their tables show that they compensated for Jupiter's nonuniform motion by increasing its shift in position by

the same amount for each opposition in one half of the 12-year

cycle and by decreasing the shift by the same amount each time during the other half. When the shift in position is plotted through the successive oppositions of the planet, a zigzag line results.

Of course, the Babylonians never developed completely

accurate representations of nonuniform motion, but

in the later dynasties of Mesopotamia, and especially in

the Seleucid period (301-164 BC) following the death of

Alexander the Great, Babylonian (during this period called Chaldean)

astronomers approximated the cyclical accelerations

and decelerations of the moon and planets with the "zigzag functions." They did this numerically, not graphically, but the technique worked well enough for their purposes.

Despite the extensive written record of Babylonian

astronomy, we have very little knowledge of the instruments

used in ancient Mesopotamia, and we know even less about the

observatories which must have existed. A clay"astrolabe" from

Assyria is on display in the British Museum in London.Actually,

a true astrolabe is used to measure the angular height of a celestialobject,

and the Assyrian devices look more like diagrams of the zones ofthe sky.

They seem to be tables of handy astronomical information, designedto

guide the astronomer in keeping time. Apart from a few limited

referencesto an instrument used for measuring transits, the gnomon

(or shadow stick),and the water clock, this is the complete

inventory of our knowledge of Babylonian astronomical instruments.

It should not surprise us, however, that the astronomical

instruments and observatories of ancient civilizations

are hard to find. It is unlikely there were many of them,

and the observatories that still exist may be hard to recognize

for what they are. The actual equipment probably disappeared long ago,

and the walls that housed the ancient astronomers may be allthat

remains today. If such o
observatories were incorporated into temples or palaces, they might be even harder to recognize. When we find a structure with astronomical alignments,

it is not always easy to tell if the structure was used ritually or for

actual observation or both.
The Gods We Worship
A perusal of nearly any ancient pantheon reveals the obvious:
At least some of the gods, often the most important ones, are
objects in the sky.The metaphoric reasons are not
difficult to understand. The regular motions of celestial
objects made them agents of order that helped give
meaning to the world below; endless repetition of their
appearances and disappearances suggested immortality;
their light commanded attention and connoted power.
And being in the sky, with such a perspective on earth below,
t was only natural to assume that the gods must know all
because they could see all:To see the world, one's eyes must be in heaven.

Although particular gods may differ in terms of the resources

they are believed to control, control is the attribute they share. What they control,and how they do it, determines exactly what sorts of gods they are.

Celestial gods control the passage of time by marking it and

measuring it. They control direction and space through the

locations of their comings and goings.As masters of time and

space, they move the world. They make it change.Day changes

into night. Winter melts into spring. Rivers flood and fall.

Grain sprouts, grows, and ripens. In these cycles of the

world and in our daily lives we see patterned change, and

it is driven by the sky.
Immortality and Divinity
If we are seeking immortality, the sky is a good
place to start. We see endless repetition there.
Although we know that we ourselves will die,we see the
sun, moon, and stars survive night after night, month
after month, year after year.

They may disappear, but their absences are only temporary.

The sky is one of the few things that provides concrete

images upon which our conception of immortality

might condense. The sky is itself eternal,and its occupants

are continuously resurrected. There, in the celestial passages

and returns, is the contrast between what is mortal and what is divine.

The power of the celestial gods was revealed by their light.

Anyone standing in sunlight senses its energy. Its warmth

is unmistakable. Though obviously weaker, the moon and

planets also command respect. They shinenot only in the

blackened vault of night but, on occasion, in the brighter twilight sky,

and some can even be seen in broad daylight. Again and again,gods

were associated with light.

For example, Any, or An, was the greatest of the Sumerian gods.
His name was the word for "sky" and "high," and the written
symbol for his name was shared with the word diugir: "shining".

Equal reverence for the softer, indirect light of the moon is
evident from a text from Ur, in the Mesopotamia of the third millennium BC:

Nanna, great lord
light shining in the clear skies,
wearing on his head a prince's headdress
right god for bringing forth day and night,
establishing the month
bringing the year to completion.

Another Sumerian prayer invokes the brilliance of
Inanna, the goddess Venus, in the evening twilight:

The pure torch that flares in the sky,
the heavenly light shining bright like the day,
the great queen of heaven, Inanna, I will hail ...
Of her majesty, of her greatness, of her exceeding dignity
of her brilliant coming forth in the evening sky
of her flaring in the sky - a pure torch -
of her standing in the sky like the sun and the moon,
known by all lands from south to north
of the greatness of the holy one of heaven
to the lady I will sing.
The Gods in Heaven: Sun and Moon
The particular appearance and behavior of certain celestial objects
have often led different peoples in different places at different times to
assign the same symbolic values to them.
The sun, for example, is both powerful and dependable,
as it pursues its orderly course through the seasons,

and these characteristics have inspired many peoples to see in
it the source of all authority, law, and social order.

In ancient Babylon, the sun was Shamash. His watchful eye noted

all things and judged everyone. Justice resided in him. Hammurabi,

the great codifier of Babylonian law, is shown standing before

Shamash on the stone column, or stela, inscribed with this

king's famous Code. Through law the sun's order was transferred to earth.

Compared to the sun, the moon's rapid changes make it seem

practically vagrant, but it is useful as a timekeeper, and many

people have accorded it divine status as such.

Babylonia's moon god was Sin, the "lord of knowledge."

He presided over the calendar and astrological

divination. In accord with the approximate number

of days in a month, 30 was his sacred number.
The Wandering Gods
In very earliest time the Greeks and the Romans do not
seem to have differentiated the planets. Writing in the
fourth century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato described
the five "wanderers" as gods and mentioned that the
practice of associating them with specific Olympian
gods was introduced by foreigners.The foreigners
probably came from either Egypt or Mesopotamia.
The latter is the more likely source since the attributes
and characteristics of Babylonian planetary gods
parallel those of the Greek gods, while the early Egyptian representations
of planets do not.

In ancient Babylon, Marduk was honored as king of the

gods and quite specifically associated with the planet Jupiter.

In Greece, Zeus was chief of the Olympians, with dominion

over the planet Jupiter. In that sense he was the counterpart

of Marduk. By contrast, the Egyptians portrayed Jupiter - and Mars

and Saturn as well - with the falcon head of the sky god Horus.

The role of Jupiter-Marduk was preeminent in Babylon,

for he was credited with the world's creation, bringing

order out of chaos. Texts of the Babylonian creation

myth are preserved on cuneiform tablets, some from

the library of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria in the

seventh century BC, but the tale itself is much older,

apparently deriving from the Old Babylonian empire,

about 1800 BC. In the myth, Marduk establishes order

by killing Tiamat,the dragon of primordial chaos.

From the monster's body he fashions the sky and the sea.

Then he prepares to take advantage of his victory.

His price for his service is the right to fashion an ordered cosmos.

First,he organizes the sky, apportioning it among the

other gods, symbolized in the constellations overhead.

The year is next. Marduk decides how long it will be and

subdivides it into months, their passage regulated by

the stars he chooses. More celestial references, contrived

by Marduk, put the world in order. He also marks the horizon,

the zenith, and the points where the sun might emerge and

depart. He puts up the moon and assigns it to light the night

and count the days of the month. Clearly Marduk was the ruler of the sky.

Jupiter's course through the sky, Marduk decides, will guide

the stars and planets. This may seem like an odd choice to make.

The constant sun,perhaps, would define things better.

But Jupiter's path through the sky follows the ecliptic, the annual

path of the sun, more closely than the other planets known to the ancients. Also,

Jupiter's configurations in the stars repeat themselves

almost exactly every 12 years. For example,Jupiter will come

into opposition (that is, be opposite the sun in the sky)

12 times in a span of time just five days longer than 12 years,

and the last opposition will occur among the same stars as the first.

These aspects of Jupiter's movement, combined with

its brilliance among the stars of the nighttime sky,

probably influenced early astronomers touse the

planet as a reference, a function reflected, it seems,

in the myth.There are uncertainties, however.

The actual name for the planet used in the text is Nebiru.

Although this did mean Jupiter, it meant other things as well,

and sometimes it meant pole,

or pivot. The north celestial pole is a key reference for

the sky's rotation, so either or both meanings may have

been intended in the creation epic.

The other planets also played important, often similar,

roles in the pantheons of ancient cultures. And so, the

Babylonians associated Ishtar,their goddess of love and

fertility, with the planet Venus, another parallel-

and perhaps direct antecedent - to Greek and, ultimately, Roman tradition.

Apart from its brightness, the most distinctive feature

of Venus is its cycle as a morning star and evening star.

Accordingly, the Egyptian symbolized Venus as the Ben nu,

a heron-like bird commonly equated with the phoenix.
The Bennu belonged
to Osiris, probably because the Egyptians
death and resurrection with the planet's evening and

morning appearances, or perhaps with its conjunctions

behind the sun and its periods of visibility. Something

similar may be behind the Mesopotamian myth of Ishtar's

descent into the Underworld.

Among the Babylonians, Mercury was Nebo, the record keeper

and messenger of the gods. Its status as messenger may be

related to the quickness of the planet in its circuit from west

of the sun to east of the sun and back to the west again. Mercury's

swiftness also made him the gods' messenger in Greece and Rome,

as well as the escort of the souls to the realm of the dead.

It is easy to pick out Mars in the nighttime sky. Its red color

setsit apart from the other planets and from most of the stars.

The color -the same as blood - also explains its association

with gods of war: Nergal in Babylonia, Ares in Greece, and,

of course, the Roman Mars.

Finally, Saturn, the last of ancient "wandering stars,

" was known as Ninib to the Babylonians. After an initial

career as a sun god and patron of the ancient city of Nippur, Ninib

became affiliated with springtime and planting.
Time and Divination

By observing what transpired overhead, shamans and
astronomer-priests fashion ed calendars and scheduled
ceremonies. They had access to the domain of the gods and the source
of cosmic order; this allowed them access to "knowledge"of the
state of the cosmos. They could, then, communicate the
celestial signs of the gods' intent to earth. Calendric
divination made soothsayers,for example, out of the
ancient Mesopotamian moon watchers. In 1900,
Assyriology's R. Campbell Thompson compiled
hundreds of astronomical omens into a book with
the engaging title "The Reports of The Magicians
and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon." Many
of the reports involve the moon: "When the
Moon at its appearance stands in a fixed position,
the gods intend the counsel of the land for happiness."

This text refers to the first crescent ("appearance")

occurring on the expected date ("stands in a fixed position").

"When the Moon out of its calculated time tarries and is not seen,

there will be an invasion of almighty city ..." Unusual

or unexpected behavior was regarded as a message.

The views might be bad, but a proper word or spell

recited by a knowledge able priest could avert the threat.

"When at the Moon's appearance in the inter calary month

Adar its horns are pointed and dark, the prince will grow

strong and the land will have abundance."

These texts tell us that the Babylonian prognosticators

evaluated the match between what the calendar predicted and what the sky actually did.Departures from the expected order were viewed with concern.
Calendars, Corrections, and Kings
In Mesopotamia it was probably the Sumerian's,
the people who built the formative civilization of
the region, who put the first formal calendar into use.
The Sumerian calendar was lunar, but its months began
when the first crescent was sighted in the west. A passage i
n the Babylonian creation myth echoes, in Marduk's instructions
to the moon, a concern for the lunar cycle:

He bade the moon come forth; entrusted night (to him)
assigned to him adornment of the night to measure time;
and every month, unfailingly, he marked off by a crown.
"When the new moon is rising over the land
shine you with horns, six days to measure;
the seventh day, as half (your) crown (appear).
and (then) let periods of fifteen days be counterparts
two halves each month.
As, afterward, the sun gains on you on heaven's foundations,
wane step by step, reverse your growth!"

The "crown" is the moon's fully lit disk, and the horns refer,

of course,to the waxing crescent. On the seventh day a

"half crown" describes the half-lit first quarter moon,

and the rest of the text narrates the way in which the

moon should continue to measure out the months.

Some of the Sumerian month names have survived in

cuneiform texts and,like the Egyptian names, refer to

the months' principal feasts: "the Month

of the Feast of Shulgi" and "the Month of the Eating of

Barley of Ningursu."Feasts were scheduled by the moon's

phases, with regular celebrations at the first crescent,

first quarter (seventh day), full moon (fifteenth day),and last day.

The Sumerian's divided the year into summer, or emesh,

and winter, orenten. We know the New Year holiday was

consecrated by a symbolic "wedding"of the king with a high priestess.

This ritual reenacted the marriage of Dumuzi, a god associated

with the growth of grain and dates, and Inanna,a goddess

identified with fecundity and sex, and was scheduled, most likely,

in spring, when life seems to be rekindled in every blossom, seed, and fruit.

Of course, intercalation was the only way to keep the

Mesopotamian lunar calendar in step with the seasons,

and some inscriptions imply an extra month was added

before the month of autumnal equinox. Other texts refer to a

thirteenth month slipped in just prior to the vernal equinox. What ever

rule was followed in the early period, by 1000 BC or so Babylonian calendar

priests were intercalating months according to an eight-year cycle. During

this period three extra months were added. In Chaldean times,

a "me tonic",or 19-year cycle with 7 extra months, was probably in use.

This interval,which equates 19 tropical years with 235 lunar

months, is named after the Greek astronomer Meton, who

introduced its use in the Mediterranean world in the last

decades of the fifth century BC. Although it looks as though

a numerical rule, and no observed celestial event, determined

the years in which extra months were added, A. Sachs, a specialist

in cuneiform and Mesopotamian astronomy, believes intercalation

were designed to keep the annual helical rising of Sirius in a particular

month. If this be so,it again stresses the important role of the sky's

brightest star as a signal of the seasons and calibrator of the calendar

for ancient societies. Its astronomical attributes - its brightness

and the timing of its appearances- made it valuable wherever it could be seen.

No matter what method was used to keep the
Mesopotamian lunar calendar

coordinated with the seasons, only the king could
declare when an extra
month was to be inserted.
Starting the Year
Time, measured out in celestial tallies by sky
watching shamans and calendar
priests, eventually rounds the last turn in the cycle of cosmic order and
begins the cycle anew. These technicians of the sacred punctuated that
joint in time with ceremonies that consecrated the moment and mirrored
the pattern of the sky. Such moments can occur, however, at various
times of the year. They are not necessarily restricted to the passage of
the year. Just when these moments are celebrated by any particular group
of people depends upon where they live, their way of life, and their particular
perception of cosmic order.

Babylonian priests performed a kind of ritual drama at the New Year

ceremony in ancient Mesopotamia. It, too, initiated the cycle of ceremonial

renewal and involved a recitation of the Enuma elish, the Babylonian creation

myth. The priests also reenacted some of the key events in the story

of Marduk's victory over chaos and Marduk's assembly of an

ordered cosmos.Unlike the other rituals of renewal we have

considered, however, the Babylonian New Year did not take place

in winter. It was called the akitu, and it was held at the

equinox, either in spring or in fall. Records of intercalated

months suggest that in Old Babylonian times the autumnal equinox

started the year. Later, the New Year was celebrated in spring.

Which date does not really matter. What counts is the choice of a

turning point in time that was significant to the Babylonians.

More than one reason must have suggested an equinox,

and only hints of those original reasons remained in the

ceremonies that continued to commemorate them.

In the first few days of the ceremony, Marduk was symbolically

confined in what texts called "the Mountain." For three days

Marduk remains in this under world, a realm of chaos and the dead.

The term "mountain" also refers to the tall, multilevel temple-towers (or ziggurats) the

Mesopotamians built of clay bricks on the flat flood plain of the

Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is possible that this part of the

ceremony was connected in some way with the ziggurat.

On the fourth day of the akitu, the Enuma elish was repeated,

and this activity, accompanied perhaps by others, brought

Marduk back to life and allowed him to "emerge" from the

Mountain, or the under world. We have already seen how such metaphors

equate with sunrise and with the start of the New Year.

Marduk was not Shamash, the sun, but he assumed many

attributes of the sun as part of the elevation of his status in

Neo-Babylonian times. Marduk's emergence from the Mountain

at the equinox and New Year, in any case, represents the

creation of world order. We already know that is Marduk's

role in the creation epic. By staging this myth in ritual terms

at a turning point of the seasons and the year, the Babylonians

recognized the cyclic nature of the world. The end of each year

is a reentry into the time before creation of the world.

The previous world must break down before it is re fabricated,

and that is why Marduk is imprisoned and slain in the Mountain.

Some of the mythological scenes portrayed on cylinder seals may relate

to these ideas. When the Mesopotamians wanted to put an official

stamp on a clay document or protect the integrity of the

contents of a container,they impressed a design in the soft

clay by rolling a small stone cylinder in it. The cylinder was intricately

carved, and one of these seals, from the Akkadian period (2360-2180 BC)

and now in the British Museum, portrays the sun god, Shamash,

brandishing a saw and emitting undulating rays of light

as he emerges in a gap between two mountain peaks. The god at the right,

with streams of water and fish flowing about his shoulders, is Ea.

The goddess on the left, perhaps heralding the appearance

of the sun, is the goddess Ishtar, who was sometimes identified

as the planet Venus oras the morning star.

Ea's waters here may represent the spring floods.

We can't be certain, for no text accompanies the picture.

But if the spring time is meant, the scene may symbolize the

vernal equinox sunrise, and possibly the New Year.

More prayers and rituals continued the New Year ceremony,

which lasted for 11 days. A ritual called "fixing of the destinies"

and clearly involved with omen readings for the coming

year took place. Also, the Babylonian perpetuated the

"Sacred Marriage" ceremony of the Sumerian's. This time the king

represented Tammuz and a high priestess was Ishtar. But the message

was the same: fertility. The passage of cyclical time meant in

Babylon what it meant elsewhere: renewal - in the gods, in the

king, in the fertility of the land, in the calendar, and in the sky.
The Star of Ishtar

Because some astronomical objects move through the sky in
repeated and known intervals of time, the behavior of the
celestial gods associated with them can be symbolized
numerically. Ishtar, as the planet Venus, perhaps was handled t
his way in the eight-pointed star that usually stands for her on
Babylonian boundary stones.

References to Venus as early as 3000 BC are known from

evidence at Uruk,an important early Sumerian city in

southern Iraq. One clay tablet found at the site says

"star Inanna," and another contains symbols for the words

"star, setting sun, Inanna." Inanna is Venus, known later as

Ishtar, and the Uruk tablets specify her celestial identity with

the symbol for "star":an eight-pointed star. At this early stage

the symbol seems to carry no more meaning than that, though

it eventually evolves, in cuneiform writing,into a sign that means

"god" and is placed before the actual names of deities.

If the relationship between gods and the sky were not already explicit enough, this development in Mesopotamian writing would confirm it.

By the Kassite Dynasty, roughly 1600-1150 BC, the eight-pointed star

had acquired a more specific meaning. It belonged to Ishtar, as

Venus,and shows up on numerous kudurru, or boundary stones,

which were an innovation of the Kassite kings. Such stones were

set up to mark field boundaries.The earliest of them record and

confirm royal grants of land and therefore establish title to the

territory they represent. Most of them are 2 to3 feet high.

Elaborately carved with the emblems of sky gods and a

detailed text, they verify celestial approval of the transaction

and warn others to watch their step.

After an appropriate description of the land in question

and a list of those involved in effecting the transaction, the boundary stone of KingMarduk-ahe-erba forcefully counsels,

Whenever ... any one
shall arise and against
that field shall raise a claim
or cause a claim to be raised,
shall say the field
is not the gift of the king
and shall order
a thoughtless man, a fool, a deaf man
to approach that inscribed stone
and shall throw it into the water,
burn it with fire,
hide it in a field where it cannot be seen
May the great gods, as many as on this stone
by their names are mentioned
with an evil curse, that is without escape,
curse him.
May Anu, Enlil, and Ea
in anger look upon him and destroy
his life, [and] the children, his seed.
May Marduk, the lord of constructions (?),
stop up his rivers, and
Zarpanitum, the great mistress,
spoil his plans.
May Ninib and Gula, the lords of the boundary
and of this boundary stone,
cause a destructive sickness to be
in his body, so that, as long as he lives,
he may pass dark and bright red blood as water.
May Sin, the eye of heaven and earth, cause
leprosy to be in his body, so that
in the enclosure of his city he may not lie.
May the gods, all of them, as many as are mentioned
by their names, not grant him life for a single day.

It was not a good idea to overrule the gods of the sky.

Not all of the identities of the gods named and

symbolized on kudurruare known, but most

(and perhaps all) of them are celestial.

Three prominent symbols included on most

stones refer unambiguously to Shamash,

the sun;Sin, the moon; and Ishtar, the planet Venus.

The emblem of Shamash is a four-pointed disk with

undulating lines radiating inter cardinally, and this

is a standard Mesopotamian symbol for the sun.

The wavy lines could be radiating sunlight,

the "net" of Shamash. For Sin, the stones have

an obvious crescent moon, and the other large star

P almost always with eight points P is Venus.

Very direct symbolism in the signs for the sun and the

moon and in several other symbols whose meaning is

understood tempt a guess that the symbolism in the

Star of Ishtar is in some way equally direct.

Perhaps the number eight is itself symbolic, for Venus

experiences an eight-year cycle. During that time it

passes through its complete evening star/morning star/evening star

pattern five times. This means that a configuration of

Venus recursion the same calendar date after eight

years, which is how long five complete back-and-forth

passes to either side of the sun take.

To establish the importance of this cycle we must

verify that the Mesopotamians were familiar with

it and made something special of it. In fact, we

know they were well aware of it. Omen texts from

the First Babylonian Dynasty(ca. 1900-1660 BC)

confirm that the old Mesopotamian sky watchers

understood that Venus as the morning star and as

the evening star were the same thing.By the Seleucid

period (ca 301-164 BC), we have a number of late goal-year texts

in which the eight-year period was used to predict the

appearances of Venus. These goal-year texts are clay tablets

that list astronomical data for a given year and also for years

specified by adding an appropriate number to the starting year.

For Venus, the number to be added is eight.Accordingly, the

pattern in the table for Venus will work for every eighth year

from the year for which the table is prepared. For example,

Professor Otto Neugebauer, one of the foremost historians

of ancient science, described one of the Venus goal-year texts

and showed that it provides dates and positions for Venus

at last visibility as a morning star in steps of eight years.

Another lists the planet's reappearance as an evening

star over three eight-year intervals.

Although the eight-year, five-cycle Venus period

is close, it is not exact. After eight years, Venus is actually

a little ahead of schedule,about 2.4 days. One text from the

Neo-Babylonian period (626-539 BC), referring to Venus as

Dilbat, records "Dilbat 8 years behind thee come back ... 4days

thou shalt subtract." Here, the Mesopotamian planet watcher

is instructed to subtract four days to get the right date for Venus.

This may appear to be in error, but it isn't. The 2.4-day correction

applies to a solar calendar and the Mesopotamians kept their

calendar by the moon. Because the moon arrived 1.6 days

late, Venus configurations recurred four days early, and

the Neo-Babylonian astronomers adjusted their predictions.

Unfortunately, the goal-year texts are rather late and do not

confirm that the eight-year cycle of Venus was known in Kassite times.

We have,however, copies of a much earlier set of

astronomical texts, the so-called tablets of Ammizaduga.

Ammizaduga (or Ammi-saduqa) was the next to thelast

king of the First Babylonian Dynasty and probably ruled

between 1650and 1550 BC. The exact dates are somewhat uncertain.

Three decades after the end of his reign the Hittites deposed

his successor, and somewhere in that period the Kassite Dynasty began.

The original tablets of Ammizaduga probably were inscribed

around 1700-1600BC, but they are long gone. Copies survived,

however, in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (668-626 BC)

at Nineveh and are in the British Museum today. In them, 21 years of

Venus data are given - dates of the first and last appearances as a

morning star and as an evening star and durations of invisibility

- along with appropriate omens.

If on the 25th of Tammuz Venus disappeared in the west,

for 7 days remaining absent in the sky, and on the 2nd of

Ab Venus was seen in the east, there will be rains in the

land; desolation will be wrought. (year8)

Despite scribal errors, the texts clearly exhibit the

eight-year cycle and indicate Mesopotamians in the

middle of the second millennium BC were aware of it.

Apart from a few exceptions, an eight-pointed star is

used exclusively for Venus on the Kassite boundary stones.

Other stars are usually represented by dots, and Sebitti, a

group of stars, is illustrated as a cluster of seven dots and

appears on many of the kudurru with the Star of Ishtar.

In later times the Ishtar symbol may have fallen into more

general use,but during the time of

the celestial boundary stones, the eight-pointed star meant Venus.
The Sun Takes Wing
During the Assyrian period many of the same Old Babylonian
symbols for celestial objects persist on commemorative stelae,
on temple walls, in cylinder seal impressions, and in other formal contexts.
A tablet that marks the restoration and re foundation of the temple of Shamash
at Sippar displays the three main symbols - sun, moon,
and Venus - as a celestial stamp of approval upon the
enterprise. Shamash is seated inside on a throne,and a
large version of his wavy-lined, four-pointed sun disk rests
upon a table. In this period, however, the sun's emblem sometimes
took a different shape. A winged disk replaced the Shamash emblem,
and often the primary god of the Assyrians, Assur, was ensconced
in the flaming disk. When the Assyrians ruled Mesopotamia, their
national deity assumed most of the characteristics of Marduk and
occupied the same role as creator and sustainer of order.Similarly,
Assur was associated with the sun, and so his
appearance inthe flying disk of the sun was altogether natural.

The winged sun symbol was common in late Mesopotamian art.

After theAssyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, the Achaemenians, a Persian

dynasty(558-330 BC), ruled Babylonia and Assyria.

Identical winged disks "fly"upon the walls of the great

Achaemenid ceremonial center at Persepolis.Of course,

the winged sun disk also appears on temples throughout upper Egypt.

The form is slightly different, for the Mesopotamian

version often sports a feathered tail in addition to the outspread wings.

It looks like a bird - as was intended - to suggest the idea of flight through the sky.


  • E. C. Krupp, Echoes of the Ancient Skies:
  • The Astronomy of Lost Civilizations

Revelation 17

3. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness:
and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured
beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
4. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:

Jeremiah 10

1. Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:
2. Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
3. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
5. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.

Observatory of the Roman College In its historical roots and traditions the Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical institutes in the world. For the first foreshadowing of the Observatory can be traced to the constitution by Pope Gregory XIII of a committee to study the scientific data and implications involved in the reform of the calendar which occurred in 1582. The committee included Father Christoph Clavius, a Jesuit mathematician from the Roman College, who expounded and explained the reform. From that time and with some degree of continuity the Papacy has manifested an interest in and support for astronomical research. In fact, three early observatories were founded by the Papacy:
the Observatory of the Roman College (1774-1878) (illustrated), the Observatory of the Capitol (1827-1870), and the Specula Vaticana (1789-1821) in the Tower of the Winds within the Vatican. These early traditions of the Observatory reached their climax in the mid-nineteenth century with the researches at the Roman College of the famous Jesuit, Father Angelo Secchi, the first to classify stars according to their spectra. With these rich traditions as a basis and in order to counteract the longstanding accusations of a hostility of the Church towards science, Pope Leo XIII in 1891 formally refounded the Specola Vaticana (Vatican Observatory) and located it on a hillside behind the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

Several religious orders contributed personnel and directors to the Observatory. These included Barnabites, Oratorians, Augustinians, and Jesuits.

Principal players in the Observatory's History - byFantini
(Father Angelo Secchi in the foreground is surrounded by (from leftbackground to right foreground) Pope Gregory XIII, Pope Leo XIII, and Pope Pius XI. Painting by Fantini.)

For a little more than four decades astronomical research, which included a prominent international program to map the whole sky, was carried out in the shadow of St. Peter's, but it eventually became obvious that the urban growth of the Eternal City was brightening the sky to such an extent that the fainter stars could no longer be studied.

Thus it was that Pope Pius XI provided a new location for the Observatory at the Papal Summer Residence at Castel Gandolfo [ illustrated ] in the Alban Hills some 25 kilometers southeast of Rome.

It is here that the modern observatory, entrusted to the Jesuits, was refounded in the 1930s with the construction of two new telescopes, the installation of an astrophysical laboratory for spectrochemical analysis, and the expansion of several important research programs on variable stars. With the installation of a Schmidt wide-angle telescope in 1957 research was extended to other topics such as new techniques for the classification of stars according to their spectra. This is still an active program at the observatory and recalls the pioneering work of Angelo Secchi.

Details of these historical telescopes can be found on the Instrumentation page of this web site.

With the continuously increasing population of Rome the skies above the Observatory again became too bright. For this reason in 1981, for the first time in its history, the Observatory founded a second research center, the Vatican Observatory Research Group (VORG), in Tucson, Arizona in the United States, one of the world's largest and most modern centers for observational astronomy. The Observatory staff have offices at Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona (picture shows S.O. on the right and its Mirror Laboratory under the football stadium at the end of the road). From here they have access to all of the modern telescopes located in the Tucson area. Steward Observatory and Mirror Lab In 1993 the Observatory, in collaboration with Steward Observatory, completed the construction of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope ( VATT ) on Mt. Graham, Arizona, probably the best astronomical site in the Continental United States. This is the first optical-infrared telescope of the Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO), a project which in the coming years will see the construction of some of the world's most sophisticated and largest telescopes.

The VATT has pioneered the new technology of creating large, lightweight, stable mirrors in a rotating furnace (see picture to right). With the VATT we are pursuing long-term research programs which, although they were the hallmark of research at Castel Gandolfo, we have never been able to carry out before in Tucson. Thus from its two centers, located at Castel Gandolfo and at Tucson, the Observatory is continuing various current studies and international collaborations.

VATT As translated by Dr. Martin McCarthy, S.J., the dedication plaque of the VATT reads:
VATT Plaque This new tower for studying the stars has been erected during the XV year of the reign of John Paul II on this peaceful site so fit for such studies, and it has been equipped with a new large mirror for detecting the faintest glimmers of light from distant objects. May whoever searches here night and day the far reaches of space use it joyfully with the help of God.

The library at Castel Gandolfo contains more than 22,000 volumes and possesses a valuable collection of rare antique books including works of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Brahe, Clavius, and Secchi. In addition there is a unique meteorite collection from which a knowledge of the early history of the solar system is being derived. Research results are published in international journals. The Annual Report is distributed to more than 400 institutes around the world.

The observatory also publishes the Studi Galileiani, a series
of current research on Galileo and the Copernican controversies.

At intervals of about every two years we host either at Castel Gandolfo or at Tucson a scientific meeting with some twenty invited scholars on one of the current studies of the Observatory, and a book is

published based on the results of the conference.

Summer Schools in Astronomy and Astrophysics are

now a biannual event in the Vatican Observatory's programs.