Mesopotamian Astral Science

Authored by: David Brown

The Babylonian World

Print publication date:  August  2007
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415353465
eBook ISBN: 9780203946237
Adobe ISBN: 9781134261284


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The Sun, Moon, and Venus are identified as gods in our very earliest written sources (Brown 2000: 246, §1). Various stars, or star groups, and the next two brightest planets, 1 Jupiter and Mars, are alluded to as gods in Sumerian literary sources, which broadly speaking reflect the intellectual achievements of the end of the third millennium bc at the latest, even if attested in younger copies. 2 The stars were used in a practical way by farmers, 3 and are referred to in the earliest incantations. 4 Mercury and Saturn were likely to have been discovered after the bulk of the constellations had been named (Brown 2000: 75–6). There are no celestial omens attested from the third millennium, although it is clear that a form of divination from the heavens was widely accepted in scribal circles. 5 Further study of this material is desirable. It is from the Old Babylonian period (c.1700 bc) that our earliest celestial omens appear, for example: ‘An eclipse in its middle part; it became dark all over and cleared all over: The king will die, destruction of Elam (a foreign land to the East).’ 6

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