Modern Commentary

Torah & Spirit
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In the early history of humanity, astrology and astronomy were closely related. The latter dealt with the movements of heavenly bodies, while the former attempted to interpret the possible effects that these might have upon earth's inhabitants. In Babylonia, where astrology had its origins, considerable importance was attached to such phenomena as eclipses and meteors, to say nothing of planetary movements. Individual stars and constellations were given names - and, when they began to be worshiped as gods - the way was opened for astrologers to make predictions as to how people on earth might be affected.

In the second millennium b.c.e., Babylonian astrologers drew up horoscopes indicating what might be expected to happen in each month. Once twelve of these month registers had been compiled, they were used year after year without change. The Babylonians also devised the zodiac, a division of the celestial sphere into twelve equal parts known as signs or houses, which were named after the sun, moon, and principal planets. By the late fourth century b.c.e., Mesopotamian astrology had spread to Greece; and about a century later, it was adopted widely by the Egyptians. When Greek culture was absorbed by the Romans, astrology assumed the form of a religion, and its practitioners began to design individual horoscopes.

Several centuries later, the influence of astrology had come to Israel, causing Amos to condemn the northern kingdom's worship of what we call Saturn (5.26). Jeremiah also referred to the pagan veneration of Ishtar or Venus (7.18, 44.17-10) as well as celestial bodies generally (8.2, 19.13) . Isaiah was the first to refer specifically to astrologers and their activities (47.13), and in his prophecy he predicted their destruction, saying that "the fire will burn them up" (47.14).

Some two centuries before the common era, astrology gained a foothold in Rabbinic Judaism, when (through Babylonian influence) identification of certain angels with stars and planets came into vogue. Although the tradition was repudiated in Wisdom 13:1-4, it had already become impossible to halt the Rabbanite fascination with astrology. The remains of a Byzantine synagogue floor, unearthed at sixth-century c.e. levels at Beth Alpha in Palestine, included a mosaic in the form of a zodiac, thus showing the extent to which astrology had infiltrated Rabbanite religious architecture.  The presence of astrology is still quite strong to this day in Rabbanism, as may be found in many modern Rabbanite works.

Note:  While some have asserted that the twelve-fold blessing pronounced by Jacob on his sons (Gen 49.1-28) had some astrological significance, there is no mention anywhere in the text of the possible influence of heavenly bodies. The Torah forbids the worship of stars (Deut 9:14) very clearly.