November 12, 2011

Hard Sayings XXV: Stargazers, Prognosticators & Celestial Omens

Isaiah 47:13 (NKJV) “You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels; let now the astrologers, the stargazers, and the monthly prognosticators. Stand up and save you from what shall come upon you."

The Hebrew translation reads something like this:

נִלְאֵ֖ית בְּרֹ֣ב עֲצָתָ֑יִךְ יַעַמְדוּ־נָ֨א וְיֹושִׁיעֻ֜ךְ שָׁמַ֗יִם הַֽחֹזִים֙ בַּכֹּ֣וכָבִ֔ים מֹֽודִיעִם֙ לֶחֳדָשִׁ֔ים מֵאֲשֶׁ֥ר יָבֹ֖אוּ עָלָֽיִךְ׃

“…you are tired - in many of - counsels of you - they will stand please - and they will save you - they soothsay - one’s soothsaying of heavens - the one’s perceiving - in the stars - one’s informing - to the new moons - from-they are coming - on you.

The question for this distinct position of prognosticate is this: Can this distinct class be identified; and can their precise work be explained?

Of course they can...

Examination of commentaries tell us that Assyrian and Babylonian libraries contained hundreds of tablets, copied with the exacting precision, on which were recorded the exorcisms, the charms, the talismans, and the astronomical prognostics, which had come down from a remote antiquity, and which were implicitly believed in. Heavenly phenomena were constantly observed and reports sent to the courts of kings. In Assyria and Babylon these pieces of data and information formed what these people believed were self-assured predictions. Eclipses were of particular note and were precisely calculated according to the month and day of their occurrence. As can be expect of all superstitious societies and cultures, eclipses and other celestial occurrences were regarded as foretelling major events, political, social, or weather-related.

In these societies there were divisions into three distinct bodies, devoted to different branches of the sorcerous tradition into which each participated. From ancient archeological remains we find the following: (1) Written charms or talisman, which were to be placed on the bodies of sick persons or on the doorposts of afflicted houses (2) Formulas of incantation which had to be recited by the learned men in order to produce their proper effect and (3) records of observations, intended to serve as the basis for the prediction of particular events, together with collections of prognostication from eclipses or other celestial phenomena which were also regarded as being applicable.

The preparations of the written charms were probably the special task of the magicians. The composition and recitation of the formulae of incantation belonged to the “ash shaphim” which means to mutter or “mecashaphim” which are the "astrologers" and "sorcerers". The taking of observations and framing of tables of prognostics is probably to be assigned to the “gazerim or "dividers," in our Bible they are called "soothsayers," who divided the heavens into constellations or "houses" for orientation, astronomical and astrological purposes. It is believed by many learned people that the astronomers of Babylon published a monthly table of the leading events that might be expected to happen. We have a similar corollary in today’s world…the zodiac and our horoscopes. As a matter of fact the term zodiac derives from Latin word zōdiacus, which in turn comes from the Greek phrase ζῳδιακὸς κύκλος or zōdiakos kuklos, meaning "circle of animals", derived from the stem ζῶον / zōon "animal". The name is driven by the fact that half of the original signs of the classical Greek zodiac were divided into zodiacal ecliptics and were placed into groupings of stars (constellations/celestial sphere/eliptic) and were represented as animals.

As we can imagine, superstitious practices were not free from superstition (duh). The “science” of astronomy was mixed with astrology, and their observation of terrestrial phenomena led only to an elaborate system of divination, prediction and prognostication. False assumptions and fallacies of thought were made that one event was caused by another which had immediately preceded it and whenever two events had been observed to follow one upon the other, the recurrence of the first would cause the other to follow again. This is a textbook case of “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" fallacy or “after this, therefore because of this". This assumed conclusion then produced the pseudo-science of astrology and prognostication.

In libraries of compiled data and charts additions were made to it from time to time, the object of the work being to notice the events which happened after each celestial phenomenon and to refine the data to produce what was believed to be more accurate results which was basically a form of ancient quality control.

In the end what we see is the worship of things of the Creation or the Creation idol (a rather large idol but an idol none the less). Something that has replaced God in terms of knowledge, faith and trust. We rely on faulty logic based in a cause and effect pattern to foretell and warn us of the future...when the Bible has already done this. The Bible that has a 100% accuracy rate fulfilling what it foretells and prophesies of. Why trust dead insentient matter that floats mindlessly and inadvertantly through the vacuum of space eon upon eon when we can trust a Living God that indwells us as believers?

D. Guthrie, J.A. Moyer (ed.), The New Bible Commentary Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., third ed., 1970


Jenny said...

I wonder how the success rate of those ancient astrologers compares to that of modern-day Christian prophets.

Andy Pierson said...

Hmmm. I must admit that I believe the prophet as an office as outlined in the Old Testament are gone. As such the, "Thus sayeth the Lord" days ended with Christ.

Hebrews 1:1-2 "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe."

The New Testament gift of prophecy is different to the Old Testament idea of a prophet. The new prophets can be active within church congregations but not necessarily in any way famous beyond that. One difficulty for us in understanding the conception of prophet today is partly due to the fact that the Greek word translated prophet is really much broader than the English word prophet.

Truth be told, the Greek word can - just as easily - mean "inspired speaker", or "encouraging speaker". That being said, they may still be around but not in a way that is pervasive and public. They are more congregational.

Long story short...these modern Christian prophets we see advertised should be scrutinized closely and I would be rather skeptical of their motives and especially of their accuracy. As for the Old Testament prophets, their records or accuracy stand on their own merit.

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