ANCIENT JEWISH SCIENCE -------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc firstname.lastname@example.org www.nyskies.org 2011 April 10
Introduction ---------- On 2011 April 4 the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World staged a half-day conference reviewing the state of science in ancient Jewish culture. This period was the TransNativity years from 200BC thru 300AD. At that time Christianity was not well differentiated from Judaism. The Jews still were gathered almost entirely within the biblical territory, not yet dispersed to far parts of the world. Most of the talks related to the prime text exhibiting science, the Book of Enoch. Other talks spoke of the general climate in the biblical lands during the Greek and Roman era. The Institute, ISAW for short, in in downtown Yorkville, Manhattan, a half block from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is near the 86th Street station, IRT Lexington Ave line. Several buses work the north- south avenues and 84th-86th St. Yorkville offers a healthy diversity of eating and shopping. Lodging for the delegates was provided at newly built hotels near Yorkville or at hotels in midtown Manhattan.
Conference -------- The meeting was in ISAW's second floor lecture room with windows facing the interior of the block of 84-85 St. The breaks and concluding reception were in the library facing 84th St. On this day of April 4th it was sunny. Sun reflected off of buildings outside the lecture room's windows. This caused annoying backlight that hindered view of the speakers. Apparently there is no shade to block the windows. When the projection screen in front of the window is lowered, outdoor light spilled thru exposed parts of the windows around it. . The conference was in three sittings from 13:30 thru 18:00 with two 20-minute breaks. All the speakers, but one, merely spoke at the podium with no visuals. One had slides with text highlighting his presentation. For this the projection screen was lowered against th windows, then raised away for the remaining speakers. The breaks featured coffee, tea, water and, get this!, about twenty cookies. Just twenty. Of course I get one but they were all scooped up within seconds after the audience entered the library. The reception was more substantial with wine & cheese, plus cut vegetables and breads. The audience was mixed age from college or graduates thru senior with canes. All seemed versed in Jewish and early history to sustain good dialog thruout the conference. Balanced against their overall erudite nature, the delegates knew little astronomy as such. I was busy answering assorted astronomy questions. One curious topic that came up in the general banter, elaborated later, is the recent observance of Birkat Hachamah, the celebration of the Sun as a work of the Creator. This occurred in April of 2009 on Passover eve. This event is a mix of cultural tradition and science, or science as understanded in biblical times.
Science ----- It is tempting to evaluate the state of science in an other culture or time according to our present notions of that discipline. This can not be done because our ideas of science are recent, dating from the Renaissance. They are evolving thru today to keep pace with our own technical and social systems If science is taken as the Latin word 'scientia', knowledge or knowing, things are a lot easier to understand. The concept that knowledge is separate from unstructured beliefs is an early one. In fact, knowledge is often given or shown to people by a superior being or wise and talented remote ancestor. In the Jewish faith, science can be knowings given by the Creator or His agents. It is not only that acquired thru watching and recording nature. We know much about the knowledge of the Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, but not much about that among the Jews. They obviously had knowings about the world around them but how did they obtain them? The Jews in the TransNativity period usually engaged in dialog thru oral tradition, with little written records. They preserved their spiritual writings from the Bible and other sacred sources. There seem to be few secular works on the world and cosmos separate from what the spiritual texts contain. Did the Jews take their science from religion? This is a tough one because the idea of 'religion' came centuries later when the Christians developed it. To the Jews it was simply the way of life, like the Kosher and Talmud rules. They were prescriptions for carrying on life, which include due respect and regard for the Creator. We find in some Jewish writings the admonition to observe nature and learn its was and rules. This is a surprisingly modern meaning of 'science'. Yet other writings note that the ways and rules of nature are revealed to humankind by the Creator. The division can blur if we think of a human as an instrument of the Creator by which nature is revealed. There is the careful distinction between what the Jews treated as science and raw unsubstantiated beliefs. However, when the Jews learned a particular facet of nature, it was on the whole valid. Applying that learning on the whole was beneficial to humans, if not the best or easiest way. There is no superstition or mythology or fairy-tales in Jewish science. An example of a Jew's duty for their Creator. based on science, is Birkat Hachamah. Jews on the appointed day watched the rising Sun, celebrate its existence, and thank the Creator for it and its benefit to humankind. In New York it was cloudy at sunrise, but the procedure allows some leeway in the proper hour of the observance. The date is figured out by math and science, counting from the biblical formation of the Sun. This special date occurs, if I recall rightly, every 37 years. The event is a generational event, one witnessed twice in a lifetime. The elders explain the activity to the youngers and remind them to keep the tradition into the future. While technicly the premises of Birkat Hachamah are off of the mark, it is never the less an exercise based on the workings of nature as told by the Bible. And it appeals to the Creator, so it is, in the rough sense, a religious activity. Does a Jew ever consider the two facets, science and religion, separately for Birkat Hachamah? In most dialog I had at the last round the question never was seriously brought up. The Jews did the ceremony simply because by the rules of nature it was time to do so. And the rules are those built by the Creator.
Enoch --- Enoch is one of the early biblical persons, placed in the Antedeluvian time, before Noah and Methuselah. In the Bible he is said to be the shortest lived of the ancient Patriarchs with a life of only 365 years. The others lived for many centuries. Enoch is also noted to leave this world by being taken into Heaven by the Creator, not by an earthly death. In Heaven Enoch is shown many wonderful and frightful things not visible from the ground. He is told that he was chosen, along with Noah, to be saved form the coming destruction of the world due to the evil life carried out by angels who left Heaven and corrupted the people. He is instructed to tell the earthly people about what he saw in Heaven and to make sure this new knowledge is carried into the future. I should remind that in the Bible the early sections, in the Old Testament, the Creator or His delegates freely and openly interacted directly with humans. He came to earth from time to time or spoke from above to people on the ground. The idea that Enoch was taken by the Creator was not out of line compared to other instances of His interventions among humans. The wasting of the world included the Deluge. Noah was instructed to build the ark with certain dimensions and fill it with pairs of every living creature. The ark was the only survivor of the Deluge. Some archaeologists suggest that certain wood relics on Mount Ararat are from the ark, where it beached when the Flood ebbed.
Book of Enoch ----------- There is in many fragments a 'book' as a compilation was called in antiquity, attributed to Enoch or at least written in Enoch's time. Assembled together with much suggested filling of gaps, the book is a lengthy tome of about 108 chapters. Some chapters are many pages; others, only a few sentences. Texts found so far are in Aramaic or Greek. Only a few are in Hebrew. Aramaic was the main tongue of the Jews during the TransNativity period and it produced few surviving texts. This is because they were written on perishable materials and the lifestyle of the Jews favored oral dialog more than written. Archaeological evidence suggests the Book of Enoch was composed in series from about 200BC thru 300AD or 400AD. It does not come directly from the Antedeluvian era. We don't know who the real authors were and the book is written in the first person of Enoch with no internal clues for any other wise. Modern renderings of the Book are available from Internet, whence I fetched my copy for the conference. The format varies widely from a page for each chapter to bundlings of many chapters per webpage. It probably doesn't matter. Altho the Book in time setting precedes the biblical account of Methuselah, who is made as Enoch's son, its acceptance as part of the Bible varies among denominations. Some take it as part of the Bible, an accessory, or addendum. Others call it an extraneous work. Others handle it as a separate but equal spiritual work.
General overview -------------- On the whole the Book of Enoch tells of the marvels revealed to Enoch while in Heaven and is like a 'book of knowledge' he must bring back to earth for humankind to live by. In this regard Enoch is at times equated with the bringer of knowledge -- science -- and other human faculties like writing and thinking. This idea is similar to that in many other cultures with limited ability to maintain a consistent permanent history. In American Indian lore a great ancestor somehow was given the powers of human and taught the other humans how to use them to survive and thrive. When asked where they learned, as example, to use fish heads as crop fertilizer, they reply that the Great So-&-So delivered this skill to them. Enoch is escorted thru Heaven by Uriel, one of the archangels in the highest level of the messengers between the Creator and earth. 'Angel' is nothing more than the Greek word 'angelos', messenger or bringer of a message. The Latin form is 'angelus'. The strict Latin equivalent is 'nuncius' like in Galileo's book 'Sidereus nuncius'. The original sound had a hard 'g', a gamma in Greek. With the evolution of Latin the 'g' became soft. The sense of angel as a kind-hearted person who does good deeds probably comes from the idea that angels bring good word and fortune. Yet in biblical times angels could come with warnings and threats. I here explain only the section of the Book relating to astronomy, carried in chapters 72 thru 82. The Book reads continuously from chapter 1 thru 108 or so. The division for modern editions is somewhat arbitrary. The conference noted that the astronomy section is on the whole correct but it has utterly nothing beyond what any learned person of the Greco-Roman time would know. And it all presumes a flat finite- size earth centered in an enclosing cosmos. At the same time because the Book is a spiritual document, supposedly telling what the Creator's agents showed to Enoch, it is a reference book for the rules of nature.
Doors and windows --------------- In a manner I find almost comical, Enoch has a thing for doors and windows. His descriptions of the world and heavens is filled with portals, doors, gates that open and close to let out or take in the celestial bodes, winds, seasons. I can imagine a gigantic carnival game where targets pop out and retreat behind shutters! This analog carries over to concepts that clearly can not be so casually explained. The winds do not begin at a specific place, to be released onto earth thru a door or window. The zodiac is a continuous path, not a quantized set of doors or windows. I don't know how seriously this writing was taken in the TransNativity period among the Jews but it is in a thoroly biblical style, an attempt of an earthly person to articulate the sights and scenes shown to him by the angels. On the other hand, the idea of windows and doors all over the cosmos makes me giggle. he also says the stars, Sun, Moon are under charge of leaders who move them according to prescribed schedule. This is surely a takeoff on the prevailing Greco-Roman notion of a god for virtually every thing in the universe. Recall that the planets were named for gods who have certain functions and lifes. To ask favor of the god, you appealed to his planet.
Stars --- The stars are luminaries of permanence, never changing. They move by their prescribed times and places, never deviating from them. He doesn't mention any groupings, constellations, altho these were very much a part of the local culture. In fact, in the Bible a few specific stars are named, like Arcturus and the Pleiades. He stresses that the leaders of the stars make sure they stay on track, like sheep or cattle. There is nothing about precession or other longterm migration of the stars. The idea is that what Enoch was shown during his visit will prevail for all future time. A star announcing a season announces it for ever. The nature of a star is thoroly vague. Except for brilliance, Enoch offers no clue to what makes them shine, or to their size or shape. This is in spite of being privileged to view them close up as their rulers move them along. His viewpoint is apparently way above earth, among the heavens, yet he shows no perception of depth or other 3D construct. The stars run in a firmament, the celestial sphere treated as a material vault covering earth. Nor does he see the Sun and Moon from behind, far enough to see the Moon orbiting earth and the Sun still far away. He shows no inkling of spatial dimension, distances, orbits or paths in space. It's as if the fellow was locked inside a planetarium dome!
Planets ----= Te Book mentions nothing about planets as such, even tho they were well known and were part of the ceremonies among the peoples in the biblical lands. He speaks of the Sun, Moon, and thousands of stars. He totally misses the notion of nested ot layered spheres, one for each planet. Variations of this model were for the cosmos in the years flanking the Nativity.. In one passage he MAY refer to Venus, but only obliquely as the brightest of all the stars and who circles the entire world. Possibly this means she traces the same path as the Sun. Venus in an inferior orbit has a maximum elongation from the Sun of 47 degrees and pursues the path over the whole world with the Sun. This is pura mente a forced reading into the plain text.
Sun and year ---------- The east and west horizon are fitted at the ends of the world with six portals each, one for each pair of months of the year. The year starts on the spring equinox with the Sun busting out of door #4 at sunrise and receding into door #4 at sunset. the doors are numbered #1 thru #6 from left to right as you look toward each horizon. The month begins with the Sun shifting from the previous door into the adjacent one, where it drifts thru for the number of days of that month. These are 30 or 31 days in an ordered sequence. The six doors are used twice in the year, once in the span from winter solstice thru summer solstice and again from summer thru the next winter solstice. In modern terms, the boundary, frame, of the doors stand at the azimuth of the sunrise and sunset on the first day of each month and correspond to the ascendent and descendent of the zodiac at these moments. The Sun as it shifts from door to door affects the portion of day to night. The maximum ratio is 2:1 of day against night at the summer solstice. The minimum is 1:2 at the winter solstice. He expresses the ratio in 18th, not 24th, parts of the day, a division I can't recall from any other early astronomy. Enoch is entirely ignorant that this ratio depends on latitude, which may be a loose concept on a flat earth. The extreme ratios explicitly stated in the Book correspond to a terrestrial latitude of 49 degrees. This is in northern Europe, well away from the Biblical lands where Enoch supposedly flourished. Northern Europe was part of the Roman empire but it is entirely wanting to know if Enoch had any knowledge of it. He says that after sunset the Sun runs around the north side of earth to reach the east for the next sunrise. This is not a continuation of the diurnal arc under the earth but a new horizontal path skirting the horizon from the sunset to sunrise points. The Sun shines by day thru windows, twelve for each month along his path thru the heavens. Yet there is no correlation between these and the portals of the horizon that also match up with the months. Certain doors let thru warmth, dew, rain, and others let thru only dryness and heat. He repeatedly asserts the year has 364 days, when in time of the texts is was well established that there are 365 or 365-1/4 days in the year. He emphasizes this length many times, including the implication that it is 360 days plus 4 intercalated days. This year length Enoch says was enforced by the Creator and His agents by their running of the Sun. The 364-day count is an integer with no fraction left over. The days and year line up again each year with no error. Depending on when this astronomy section was composed, the leapday system was in effect in the Roman world. A striking point is that the 30-31 day count is a fixture of the Roman calendar. Before the Romans, specificly Julius Caesar, the month was usually the lunar phase cycle or set at 30 days with leftovers at the end of the year.
Moon -- The fellow went ga-ga over the machinery of the Moon! He gives amazingly detailed description of the Moon's rising and setting, motion relative to the Sun, by which the months are marked off in the year. The month ends with the last thin crescent visible before sunrise, then there is a one or two day hiatus with no Moon in the sky. The new month begins with the first sighting of the thin crescent after sunset. The Moon's visible period has 28 days, 4 weeks. The period of no Moon fills out the 29 or 30 day cycle of the Moon's appearance. The Moon rises and sets thru portals on the horizon, but not the same ones as the Sun. He discusses the sliding of the Moon's rise/moonset against those for the Sun. The Moon in each cycle enters and leaves thru all six doors of the east and west horizon. He shows that the Moon lags the Sun by one month on each round. That is, during a monthly cycle of the Moon the Sun advanced in the zodiac (moving to the next window) into the next month. The lunar month of 29 or 30 days is not the 30 or 31 days of the solar month. Enoch seems to miss understanding of this discrepancy and gives a numerological account of it. There are two fascination features of the Moon Enoch is crazy about. One is the changing lighted portion of the Moon's disc. Altho this is a commonly known phaenomenon in ancient times, I rarely read about it in the usual early astronomy texts. Only the new and full phase are stressed, as the Jews themselfs do for fixing the date of passover and other holy days. He marvels at how the Moon fills up with light transferred from the Sun, in an undisclosed manner, part by part until the 14th day. On that day the Moon is completely filled with light as the full Moon. The waning Moon somehow loses her light bit by bit until only a thin slice is left at the end of the instant phase cycle. He gives fractions and ratios for the amount of lighted area, which are rather much wrong. It is really tough to inspect the tiny disc of the Moon by eye and assess the percent of lighted disc. His simple arithmetic is probably good enough for cultural purposes and there probably was none that much better among astronomers. The other amazing feature is that he specificly notes the Sun and Moon appear the same size in the sky! While a an astronomer knew this the layman likely never gave the matter any thought. But he misses completely that the coincidence of size comes from the geometry of the lunar and solar linear size and distance from earth. His ratio of Sun-to-Moon brightness at full phase is insanely low, 7:1. It's more like 100,000:1. Enoch could have expressed this as 'ten times ten thousand' if Uriel told him the correct value. Once and again, there is utterly no inkling of the real nature of the Moon as a world, a globe, that presents more or less of her own day side toward us. His viewpoint above the earth gives no clearer picture of the Moon other than a flat plate sliding on the celestial sphere. He also offers nothing of the world in the Moon as a horrible place where no water runs; no wind flows; no animal, bird, fish live; silence is over all the land; the land burns by day and freezes by night. This would have been an incredible advance of knowledge beyond what any person sitting in a field could learn from the local philosopher.
Winds --- Enoch describes the winds, as they blow thru 12 portals around the edge of the world. The use of 12 winds, thru three doors toward each cardinal direction, differs from the 8 recognized by most navigators in the TransNativity era. The Romans tried a 12-point wind rose but it didn't catch on. Ancient sailors depended on the winds more than celestial targets to tell compass direction. The stars need clear sky but the wind can blow under clouds. More over, the combination of wind and cloud clues the sailor for the direction. Only, for the Mediterranean Sea, two of the winds were really reliable. The north wind was a cold one and the south wind was a warm one. The former comes from the mountains of central Europe to bring cool air while the latter brings hot air from the African deserts. East and west winds were not as specific in character. One feature of early navigation and weather is that the cardinal points were often the very names of the winds. To head toward auster was the same as to head toward the south, auster being the Latin name for the south wind. Recall that winds are named for the direction they blow FROM. You face INTO the wind of a given direction. Giving proper names to winds persists today. The Rocky Mountain states have the Maria and Santa Ana winds. The Pacific coast has El Nin~o and La Nin~a winds. The US Northeast has its Nor'easter wind. Hurricanes are named for boys and girls. Andrew and Katrina are recent very destructive hurricanes. The 12-point wind rose could be a clue to just when the Book of Enoch was written. This rose was in use, tho not widely, in the height of Roman seafaring power but only the 4- or 8-point rose prevailed in the Greek and earlier periods.
Weather ----- For each of the 12 winds Enoch attributes a definite weather like rain, heat, dew. Because, as the Book asserts, these were shown to Enoch by Uriel, the weathers would be the laws of the world. This is patently false. It could be that the weather carried by the winds are those in the biblical region but they are not valid any where else. The weather regime is specific to each part of the world and the behavior in one part can not be casually applied to an other. Nothing in the Book indicates that Enoch is presented with a particular set of weather behaviors, like those for his own land. It seems that the weather behavior is the same thruout the entire world.
One god or lots of gods? ---------------------- The early peoples of western culture maintained a polytheist society. Every thing in nature that influenced humankind, plus a lot of human-made aspects, was governed by its own spirit. Not just, say, a god for clouds, but a god for each kind of cloud and each kind of precipitation. There were gods for human features like the fireplace, wine, phlegma, swords, door hinges and other bizarre things. The Jews made the sea change to honor just one omnipotent god that governed everything. However, they confined his regime to just natural features of the world, The door hinges and phlegma were on their own. This is monotheism, a one-god for all society. Yet, in the Jewish Bible, it seems that this one god, the Creator and Lord and Judge of the world, had a zillion agents working for Him. Each seems to have his specific function and jurisdiction. Under the Greeks there was a god-in-chief, Zeus. The Romans called this god Jupiter. This god lorded over all of the others and often intervened for or against them. Isn't this like the role of the Creator with his armies of agents? Is there that much difference between a myriad of separate gods, sometimes in contention and fights, and a single god with a myriad of subordinates? And, in the early chapters in the Bible they got into battles among themselfs. Other parts of the Book of Enoch, not reviewed here, flat out describe wars, arguments, conflicts among these agents. SOme came to earth to mingle with people and modulate their morals. This feature of the Book plus many other anthropomorphic stories in it, were adopted by later faiths. Christianity saw these features as the story of Heaven and Hell, a day of Judgement, and the eventual arrival of a Savior to rescue humanknd into Heaven.
Sweatshop of the gods? -------------------- In Enoch's tour of heaven and earth he meets many of these agents, each doing his own chore to keep the machinery of the world in good running order. In fact, his account of heaven is thoroly anthropic with the agents acting like people. They apparently have a body structure like humans to operate the machinery. As I listened to the speakers at the meeting, I conjure a scene of Enoch escorted thru the interlocking hall at Penn Station. Uriel shows the equipment and workers tending to it. Enoch sees and hears: 'Aldebaran, 18:42, setting, track 8 west' Kchong!, psssh, clack. 'Track 8 west, Aldebaran, 18:42, A-OK' 'Jupiter, 18:57, rising, track 17 east' Kchong!, psssh, clack. 'Track 17 east, Jupiter, 18:57, A-OK' 'Moon, 3/7 lighted, platform G' Kchong!, psssh, clack. "Platform G, Moon, 3/7 lighted, A-OK' This seems to be a perpetual labor. Emoch states it lasts for all future time in immutable pattern. He stresses the permanence of the world and endurance of the rules of nature. A curious question. These agents are in Heaven, rewarded for the good life on earth. Is their life in the hereafter nothing but work labor without rest or leave in a celestial sweatshop? I can picture a new resident at the Pearly Gates. 'Welcome to Heaven, you earned your stay from your good record. OK, this is your console. You work Deneb for now on. Here's the schedule it has to follow. Get going.' This imagery ignores completely the geologic, climatic, tectonic, evolutional, celestial, changes that take thousands ro millennia of years to accumulate to major discrepancies. In just the Roman era the Mediterranean Sea rose about a full meter to flood low lands. The Deluge itself may have been the filling of the Black Sea as the Mediterranean Sea rose over the shoals of the Dardanelles. Santorini volcano destroyed the eastern islands in the Mediterranean. Vesuvius volcano leveled Pompeii. Repeated earthquakes ravaged Greece, The Richat dome exploded. The Nile river dried up from time to time. The Great Rift splitted open. Precession affected the alignments of existing structures. Various animal and plant species vanished. The Ice Age in Europe reached to the Mediterranean. The nearest stars displaced by proper motion.
Utility ----- In its raw form the Book of Enoch is useless for governing calendar or watching the Sun and Moon. There are too many wrong facts that are handily corrected by the extant knowledge in the Greco-Roman world. Even if the Book was in fact written in the Antedevulian time, knowledge of the solar and lunar cycles was already advanced to know the year length, phase cycles, annular motion of the Sun, and so on, better than the descriptions in the Book. The Book banks off of a flat earth with boundaries around it and apparently mounted on fiery pillars, not well detailed. The heavens are a solid structure surrounding the earth, at least in the upper visible hemisphere. It may not be a complete sphere around the earth. It is a bit vague but it seems that the orbs move against a fixed celestial sphere. They each ave their own leader to look after its motion. The sphere is smooth and flat with nothing outside of it. In just about any astronomy of the ancient world the mechanicly vastly simpler model was a solid rigid celestial sphere with stars embedded in it. Only one god would be needed to move this one structure and keep all of the stars in step. The location of heaven is not ever hinted at. Apparently it's still inside the celestial sphere because every thing shown to Enoch by Uriel is within this sphere. No thing is ever mentioned of the space beyond it. Even the views of other worlds seem to be merely locations on earth beyond the biblical lands. A sailor who steers his vessel from this Book's rules of winds and weather will soon sleep with the fishes. Already in very early times, at least from 3,000BC, sailors took account of the various wind and weather patterns in each region of the world. I can't imagine any person, after acquiring terrestrial education, keeping to the teachings in the Book of Enoch. A calendar he keeps by it will go out of synch so quickly that he'll be the town dunce. The idea that the Sun jumps from door to door, window to window, would be a silly one for the contemporary learned person. If the Book was written in the AD years, it totally ignores the work of Ptolemaeus.
Conclusion -------- This conference was a peek thru the keyhole at a thriving Jewish culture within the more luminous classical world. It maintained its identity in spite of efforts to assimilate or annihilate the Jews. It grew a strain of science under principles quite different from the Greeks and Romans, yet in some ways quite similar to them. A mix of revelations and observations built up a body of knowings that to this day govern major aspects of Jewish life. The science in this early culture of the Jews was largely neglected for the paucity of written materials compared to the other classical peoples. It was also passed over for being too religious, based on the Bible and other sacred writings. By discussing the Book of Enoch, even tho we do not know for sure who composed it or when it was composed, we have at least one foundation to construct a future documentation of Jewish science in the TransNativity period.