[11] Transmission of Babylonian Astrology-Astronomy to other Peoples

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For some decades of the 20th century Erica Reiner was the primary editor of the multi-volume Akkadian dictionary project during its development at the University of Chicago. One of her students in the study of Akkadian is Francesca Rochberg, who is one of the world’s leading scholars of this ancient language. On page 11 of Rochberg’s book in 2004 about the ancient Akkadian authors and their writings that span the period from ancient Assyria to the first century, she wrote, “In the ancient Near East, our sources do indeed indicate an indisputable progressiveness in astronomy.

Nonetheless, the realms of ‘astronomy’ and ‘astrology’ were not separate in Mesopotamian intellectual culture, and so a self-conscious distinction between them such as we make in using these terms does not emerge in the cuneiform corpus.” On page 10 we find, “In the horoscopes in particular, an interdependent relationship between astrology and predictive astronomy is demonstrable by the identification of connections among a variety of astronomical text genres and the content of horoscopes.

Celestial divination, which carries through from the middle of the second practically to the end of the first millennium B.C., and the Babylonian astronomy of the post-500 B.C. period provide the intellectual context for the Babylonian horoscopes, which bear relation to both of these distinct traditions. Because of these relationships, the horoscopes afford a unique view into Late Babylonian astronomical science.” On page 41 we find, “… from a social point of view, Late Babylonian astronomy was supported by the institution of the temple.”

Also on page 41 we find, “It is clear that the individuals who computed astronomical phenomena were the same as those who copied omen texts and constructed horoscopes.” On page 165 we find, “The following discussion is limited to those ideas that can be extracted from and supported by the literature of the Babylonian scholar-scribe who specialized in divination and took part in its related activities, such as prayer, incantation, or, indeed, the mathematical prediction of lunar eclipses.”

David Brown wrote on page 7 of his book, “The term ‘astrology-astronomy’ will be used to refer to the particular branch of Mesopotamian scholarship herein considered. It is to be differentiated from cosmological or cosmogonical speculation – theories concerning the universe as a whole, or concerning the creation of the universe as a whole. Astrology and astronomy mean different things today, but the two words were used interchangeably at least until the 6th century AD. That is not to imply that before this time no difference was ever appreciated between what we would term astrology and what we would term astronomy.”

At the time of the captivity and exile of the House of Judah to Babylon from 604 to 586 BCE, the common language of Babylon was Aramaic, but the written language of the Babylonian priests, who produced mathematical astronomy with its base 60 positional numbering system, continued to be the Akkadian language of the previous Assyrian Empire, through there were various dialects. David Brown wrote on page 31, “When reconstructing the background to the emergence of the accurate predicting of celestial astronomy, it is important to recall that the cuneiform languages, dialects and scripts were used only by an elite. The scientific developments that form the locus of this study appear only in these scholarly languages [not Aramaic].”

Because of their positional numbering system and their motivation to use predictive astronomy for astrological purposes that gave them prestige and income, these Babylonian priests developed generalized methods for multiplication and long division of fractional numbers. Thus the scientific language of the Babylonian priests who were the mathematical astronomers was hidden from the general population that had ceased using the Akkadian language. Except for the private use by these priests, the Akkadian language ceased being a living language.

The prophet Daniel was given great authority in the secular government during the period c. 600 to c. 540 BCE, and based upon the biblical account in Daniel 2, he and his three friends were highest in the government. The Babylonian pagan temple priests were simultaneously reduced in authority. On page 209 Francesca Rochberg wrote, “One determinable change in the environment of later Babylonian scholarship was the shift of the locus of astronomical activity from the palace [i. e., support by secular government] to the temple [pagan support]. When exactly this occurred, however, is not well documented.” On this same page we find, “By the fourth century B.C., however, evidence for the intense involvement of the king with the [pagan priestly] scholars appears to diminish.” Rochberg neglected to see the excellent documentation in the Bible! When Daniel gained authority under King Nebuchadnezzar, he reduced the influence of the pagan priests who practiced their mixture of astrology with astronomy. Eventually they were ousted from the palace and took refuge in the pagan temple where they continued their practices. Both Ezra and Nehemiah, c. 450, were given favor by King Artaxerxes, and undoubtedly the pagan priests remained in disfavor with the king.

On page 235 Rochberg wrote, “Regardless of the way astronomy functioned within the temple institution, association with the temple was without doubt the key to the survival of Babylonian astronomy for so many centuries after it had become seemingly defunct in the political sphere.”

There is no historical evidence to indicate any cooperative sharing between the Levitical priesthood and the pagan Babylonian astrologers-astronomers who continued writing their documents in the Akkadian language, which the general population did not understand. The Akkadian cuneiform script was vastly different from the 22-letter alphabet of both Hebrew and Aramaic.

Akkadian script consisted of hundreds of wedge-shaped signs (see page 1 of Dalley). Since Scripture is opposed to the use of horoscopes (see Isa 47:13 for the general tone, although it does not directly refer to horoscopes), and these were intimately associated with activities of the pagan temples where astronomy was pursued and preserved, zealous Levitical priests should have
been motivated to stay away from such places and activities.
Pages 237-244 of Rochberg 2004 discuss the transmission of Babylonian astrology with astronomy to the Greeks after Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in 331 BCE, and afterward to India. Astrology and astronomy were sent together as a package.