Monday, April 07, 2014

It just isn't there

It is clear that Iron Age Israel had a tradition of astral religion that was part of its ancient roots in the Levant, as is amply attested in both Iron Age material remains as well as biblical testimony. Astral religion, in this sense, was just like other ancient Canaanite traditions that the biblical authors dismissed and derided as foreign. In spite of the antiquity of astral religion in ancient Israel, celestial divination apparently was not part of Israel’s religious tradition. Material from Ugarit shows that any celestial divination in Syria–Palestine in the Bronze Age was nothing more than immature speculation, and the biblical text testifies only to foreign practice. Furthermore, when after the Iron Age Jews did engage in forms of astrology, those forms were basically Jewish adaptations of Late Babylonian or Hellenistic practice and show no Israelite or Neo-Babylonian/ Neo-Assyrian legacy. The paradigm in which astral religion and celestial divination are necessarily linked by us moderns in ancient Israel is ultimately and understandably based on the Mesopotamian model. But perhaps we should cite another parallel. We know, for example, that in Egypt, though astronomical calendars were used in support of astral cults from the Predynastic period on, there was no native tradition of celestial divination. Indeed, the first indication of any form of celestial divination in Egypt does not appear until the Hellenistic period, when Late Babylonian and Greek astrology were introduced. In the southern Levant, this seems to have been the case as well; the first indisputable evidence of Jewish astrology appears only at Qumran.—Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East, pages 260-261

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