The Dissemination In The West

Astro Elements

The Art Of Astrology

Get Instant Access

\\TE have seen the " Pan-Baby lonist" mist, * " which obscured the historical horizon, vanish before the breath of criticism. It is not the fact that thousands of years before our era the Chaldeans constructed a learned and profound cosmology, which established its authority over all surrounding peoples. But their share in the intellectual and religious development of antiquity remains none the less most considerable. They are the creators of chronology and astronomy. They contrived to enlarge their theology progressively in order to keep it in harmony with their new conception of the world, and their astrology was regarded as the method of divination par excellence. Their conquests in the realm of science won such prestige for their beliefs that they spread from the Far East to the Far West, and even now their sway has not been wholly overthrown. In 73

mysterious ways they penetrated as far as India, China, and Indo-China, where divination by means of the stars is still practised at the present day, and reached perhaps even the primitive centres of American civilisation. In the opposite direction they spread to Syria, to Egypt, and over the whole Roman world, where their influence was to prevail up to the fall of paganism and lasted through the Middle Ages up to the dawn of modern times. It is this dissemination throughout the West that we shall rapidly describe in this lecture.

The exchange of religious ideas between the two rival empires of the valleys of the Euphrates and the Nile undoubtedly goes back, like their political relations, to a very remote antiquity. In the fifteenth century before our era, at the moment when—as the Tell-el-Amarna tablets show— " Babylonian was the diplomatic language of the whole East, and Egypt extended its empire or its suzerainty over the principalities of Canaan and

Syria, we find Amenophis IV ordaining the exclusive worship of the Sun as lord of heaven and earth, protector of his person and of his subjects of every nationality. It is possible that this theological Pharaoh was led by the influence of Semitic star-worship to impose his attempt at reform upon the Egyptian clergy. Many other proofs might be advanced to show that the beliefs and even the cults of the Syrians found their way into the state of the Pharaohs. But the religious ideas with which we are particularly concerned here were late in being introduced. Astrology was unknown in ancient Egypt: it was not until the ^ Persian period, about the sixth century, that it began to be cultivated there. The ascendancy which it then acquired, succeeded in breaking down the haughty reserve of the proudest and most exclusive people in the world, and a conservative clergy was compelled to admit to its ranks calculators of hours and makers of horoscopes (G>po\oyoi} GjpoffHOTtoi) devoted to the study of Chaldean science. The history of this dissemination confirms what we said both about the late date of this religious development in Babylonia and about the irresistible prestige which the brilliant discoveries of astronomy conferred upon it from the Assyrian period onwards. This foreign religion was gradually naturalised in Egypt: the huge zodiacs, which decorated the walls of the temples, show how sacerdotal teaching succeeded in grafting the learned doctrines of the Chaldeans on native beliefs and in giving them an original development. National pride even ended by convincing itself that all this religious erudition was purely indigenous. About the year 150 b.c. there were composed in Greek—undoubtedly at Alexandria—the mystic treatises attributed to the fabulous king Nechepso and his confidant, the priest Petosiris, which became as it were the sacred books of the growing faith in the power of the stars. These apocryphal works of a mythical antiquity were to acquire incredible authority in the Roman world.

The god Tôt (Thoth), the Hermes Trismegistus of the Greeks, became in Egypt the revealer of the wisdom of horoscopers, as of all other kinds of wisdom. But it was a difficult task to reconcile astrology with national beliefs, as Hermetism sought to do. For, astrology was not only a method of divination: it implied, as we have said, a religious conception of the world, and it was inseparably combined with Greek philosophy. Thus the Hermetic books comprise not merely treatises on learned superstition: it is a complete theology that the gods teach to the faithful in a series of what may be called apocalypses. This recondite literature, often contradictory, was apparently developed between 50 b.c. and 150 a.d. It has a considerable importance in relation to the diffusion throughout the Roman Empire of certain doctrines of sidereal religion moulded to suit Egyptian ideas. But it had only a secondary influence. It is not at Alexandria that this form of paganism was either produced or chiefly developed, but among the neighbouring Semitic peoples.

Syria, lying as it does nearer than Egypt to Babylon and Nineveh, was more vividly illumined by the radiance of those great centres of culture. The ascendancy of an erudite clergy who ruled there, was extended at an early date over all surrounding countries, eastwards over Persia, northwards over Cappadocia. But nowhere was it so readily accepted as among the Syrians, who were united with the Oriental Semites by community of language and blood.

The very names 2t)pioi, "Syrian," and 'Aaarfpioi, "Assyrian," are originally identical, and for a long time the Greeks made no distinction between them. The plains of Mesopotamia and Ccele-Syria, in habited by kindred races, extended across frontiers which are not marked out by nature, and, despite all political vicissitudes, relations between the great temples situated east and west of the Euphrates continued without interruption.

It is difficult to fix the date at which the influence of the "Chaldeans" began to be felt in Syria, but it is certainly not later than the period when the dominion of the Sargonides was extended as far as the Mediterranean, that is to say, the eighth century B.C.; and without admitting, with the Pan-Babylonists, that the stories of Genesis are merely astral myths, we may regard it as indisputable that before the Exile (597 B.C.) Israel received from Babylon, along with some astronomical knowledge, certain beliefs connected with star-worship and astrology. We know that idolatry was repeatedly introduced into Zion. Thus king Manasseh caused the chariot of Shamash, the Sun-god, to be accepted there; he dared to set the "Queen of the Heavens" by the side of Iahweh. After the Exile, spiritual relations were continuous between Judaism and the great religious metropolis which had subjugated it. As late as the first century B.C., the author of the Book of Enoch, in his pretended revelations, is obviously inspired by Babylonian cosmology and legends.

If Israel, which repulsed all forms of polytheism with such inflexible determination, nevertheless yielded temporarily to the prestige of star-worship, how much more effectively must this cult have established its sway over Semitic tribes which had remained pagan? Under its influence they are seen to adopt new divinities: Bel of Babylon was worshipped all over northern Syria. The ancient divinities also were grouped anew: At Hierapolis, as at Heliopolis and Emesa, a new member was added to the original pair, Baal and Baalat, husband and wife, in order to form one of those triads of which Chaldean theology was fond. . But this theology profoundly modified, above all, the conception of the higher powers reverenced by these pastoral or agricultural tribes. Side by side with their proper nature, it gave to these gods a second personality, which became none the less prominent because it was borrowed, and sidereal myths came to be interlined, as it were, with agrarian myths and soon obliterated them. From being lords of a clan and a narrow district, the Baals were pro moted to the dignity of universal gods. The old spirit of storm and thunder, Baal Shammin, who / dwelt in the sky, becomes the Most High tipigt05), the eternal regulator of cosmic movements.1 The naturalistic and primitive worship which these peoples paid to the Sun, the Moon, and certain stars such as Venus, was systematised by a doctrine which constituted the Sun—identified with the Baals, conceived as supreme gods—the almighty Lord of the world, thus paving the way in the East for the future transformation of Roman paganism.2

There can be no doubt that Babylonian doctrines exercised decisive influence on this gradual metamorphosis and this latest phase of Semitic religion. The Seleucid princes of Antioch showed as great deference to the science of the Babylonian clergy as the Persian Achaemenids had done before them. We find Seleucus Nicator consulting these official soothsayers about the propitious hour for founding Seleucia on the Tigris; and, if we may believe Diodorus,3 these diviners made to Alexander, Antigonus, and numerous

1 See my Oriental Religions, p. 127 ss.

other monarchs predictions which were fulfilled to the letter. Antiochus, king of Commagene, who died in 34 B.C., built on a spur of Mount Taurus, commanding a distant view of the Euphrates valley, a sepulchral monument on which, side by side with the images of his ancestral gods, he set the scheme of his nativity figured on a large bas-relief,1 because his life had realised all the promises of this horoscope. The cities of Syria often stamp on their coins certain signs of the zodiac to mark the fact that they stood under their patronage. If princes and cities thus acknowledged the authority of astrology, we may imagine what was the power of this scientific theology in the temples. We may say that in the Alexandrine age it permeated the whole of Semitic paganism.

But in the empire of the Seleucids alongside of this "Chaldaism," if I may venture to use the term, Hellenism had established itself in a commanding position. Above the old native beliefs the doctrines of Stoicism in particular exercised dominion over men's minds. It has often been observed that the masters of the Stoic school are xHumann and Puchstein, Reise in Nord Syrien und Klein Asien, Berlin, 1890, pi. XL.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Art Of Astrology

The Art Of Astrology

Get All The Support And Guidance You Need To Be A Success With Astrology. This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To A Look at Principles and Practices.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment