Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Torah of the Heavens [A Book Report]

This week I've been reading The Torah of the Heavens by Steven E. Behrmann, or as I've always known him - Uncle Steve. Despite the family connection and common religious background, this book has exposed me to something I'd never been aware of before. Apparently the constellations in the night sky tell the story of God's plan of redemption and Jesus' death on the cross to save us from our sins. Also, this is scientifically proven fact. The starting point for this line of thought is Psalms 19.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

From here the reader is told that each constellation of the zodiac together with its individual stars and sub-constellations is a visual summary of the great controversy. This is not to be confused with astrology which is " evil …" Maybe that is why this was all new information to me. Adventism shies away from divination in any form. This 'gospel in the stars' is probably not mainstream because of the apparent similarity to astrology.

I did a little outside reading and this is what I came up with on Biblical Astronomy

"The mission of Biblical Astronomy is to study and research signs in the heavens that are relevant to Biblical prophecy and make the research available for others to study and consider. In the next few years, there are many rare celestial events which clearly portray the "Great Tribulation" written of in the Holy Scriptures. If the events written of in the prophecies concerning the end times from the Holy Scriptures, particularly "Jacob's Trouble", unfold at this time, remains to be seen. Though earthly events seem to be heading rapidly in that direction."

It seems to me to be a bizarre mixture of Judeo-Christian prophecy myths and astrology. The names of the starts and the constellations are considered to have actual meaning in and of themselves. For example Virgo is literally the virgin that will bring forth a child. Or if a star has a name that can be translated as 'branch' that is actually a astral representation of Jesus himself, by reference to biblical imagery. I'm not real sharp on astrology but this seems like a simple remapping of symbols to have an apocalyptic Christian meaning rather than the standard astrological meanings.

Then there are all of the post hoc explanations rationalizations. Remember, biblical astronomy asserts that a star's or constellation's name has important meaning. If that stars modern name fits the preconceived notion (such as branch = Jesus) the ancient truth has been preserved. However, if the modern name makes an analogy difficult, that means that "they have been blurred and greatly adulterated by the heathen of every culture over the centuries." There is conveniently no way to lose if people agree to play that game. Never mind that the constellations are completely arbitrary patterns and differ from culture to culture. There is no truth about the future of humanity that can be discerned by all this flailing to interpret the archaic pictures in the stars.

One closing point from a paragraph of the book:

In many cases the formations of the stars do not in any way look like the person, animal or object they represent. But the symbol was intended to relay a message, and this message should not be lost or compromised. Unfortunately, these pictures are usually very poorly expressed, and it greatly damages the glorious figuratism intended. The artwork available is either crude, or even immoral, and is drawn largely fro the fanciful realm of astrology. This, unfortunately, is all we have. Therefore we are doing the best we can in what is included in this book, but recognize that the illustartions are significantly inaccurate to the task. The best illustrations should be formed in one's own mind, and this is exactly how God probably intended it in the first place.


That's right. The arrangement stars themselves don't actually look like the symbols historically assigned to them. You have to use the traditional drawings to know what they are supposed to look like. And some of those might have boobies (oh noes !!11!!!1) in them so they won't be shown in this good Christian book. (remember Christians are scared of boobies, vaginae, and women in general) It is much better if you just imagine you can see what you are supposed to see.

From what I've learned about this 'Biblical Astronomy' I'm wishing I had Christopher Hitchens' gift of blistering insult. The whole affair is completely blind and brain-dead.

6 comments:

Tim said...

Are you sure your uncle's book is an example of "Biblical Astrology" as defined by that website? From the description you provided about the former and quote you pulled regarding the latter, they seem to be fairly dissimilar: One focused on the encoding of ancient myths in the names of constellations and stars, and the other on predicting imminent eschatological events via rare, current celestial events.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if "the plan of salvation" was illustrated in ancient constellation and star names. For one thing, elements of that story/myth are shared between many different cultures (compare, for example, Baldur and Quetzalcoatl). Additionally, we know that the Israelites borrowed a lot from surrounding cultures, especially during the exilic period. From prior exposure to this sort of stuff, I know that a premium is placed on finding the oldest names possible, and it would makes sense that as you push beyond Greek and Roman names, you get to cultures that influenced the Israelites at the time of or prior to the writing of the Torah so that the myths recorded there might have correspondences in the naming of stars and constellations.

You must not have been there, but I can remember at least one presentation of this sort of stuff in the Brewster church, and I know there have been others.

Herb said...

Am I safe in assuming this book deals with the constellations of the northern hemisphere only, or at least extremely heavily? Are the ancient myths of the Australian Aborigines, Maori, Native Americans of southern South America, the people of southern Africa and Madagascar, and a host of smaller island cultures throughout the seas who would be looking at the constellations of the southern hemisphere addressed at all? Many of these areas were populated by humans long before the writing of the Torah and emergence of the stories we recognize as coming from the Judeo-Christian Old Testament. It would be fascinating to look at what myths they had about the southern constellations people in the northern latitudes never saw.

Herb said...

Am I safe in assuming this book deals with the constellations of the northern hemisphere only, or at least extremely heavily? Are the ancient myths of the Australian Aborigines, Maori, Native Americans of southern South America, the people of southern Africa and Madagascar, and a host of smaller island cultures throughout the seas who would be looking at the constellations of the southern hemisphere addressed at all? Many of these areas were populated by humans long before the writing of the Torah and emergence of the stories we recognize as coming from the Judeo-Christian Old Testament. It would be fascinating to look at what myths they had about the southern constellations people in the northern latitudes never saw.

Iron Soul said...

Herb: Yes, the book deals with the standard 12 constellations. It is rigorous enough to note that due to precession some constellations that are not currently visible from the middle east would have been seen there two to five thousand years ago.

Tim: I see your point. The book does use the term 'Biblical Astronomy' to describe itself, though you are right the website I linked to has a different spin. I saw that as an extension of the same ideas. I may be misreading. I'm sure that the myths from surrounding cultures - and that were symbolized by sky observers in their star names - did influence the story in the Torah. The part that smelled off to me was when he says if the symbols fit conveniently the 'truth' is preserved, but when they don't it is a perversion and the true meaning has been lost.

Tim said...

You're right, that does smell like question begging.

Did your uncle assume that God named the stars and arranged them just so, or are those names and constellations cultural products?

The idea of a "true meaning" has me puzzled regarding implications for the philosophy of language. I don't know quite enough to know whether that notion commits someone to any one particular theory of meaning or not. On the other hand, I am reminded of a humorous suggestion made at UBC while I was there that we call our departmental newsletter "The Rigid Designator." (A rigid designator is a name that always has the same referant, like those stars) I don't think the faculty were comfortable with the word "rigid" and so the name was not adopted despite the delight it gave to the graduate students.

Iron Soul said...

Yes, the book said that many of the star names were probably assigned by God himself and handed down through Adam and the patriarchs.