by John P. Pratt
Ancient Egyptians and Persians provide enough clues to restore a lost constellation, testifying of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us that God named and numbered the stars (Psalms 147:4, Isaiah 40:26), and the Book of Enoch testifies that an angel revealed the figures of the constellations in the stars to the ancient prophet Enoch. Even though those constellations were later worshipped by many pagans, there is much evidence that such was a perversion of what was originally a revelation about the gospel.
Because of certain weaknesses in Rolleston’s methods and the subjectivity of the entire concept, I have been hesitant to refer to her work much my articles. The part of her work which seems to me clearly to be true is where famous scenes from the gospel are illustrated, such as the Ram breaking the Bands of Death, and the many heroes who are crushing the heads of serpentine monsters (Gen. 3:15). She bases many of her conclusions on the Persian version of the constellations preserved by Albumazar, an Arab astronomer of about AD 850. He described the 48 original constellations, listed in twelve groups of four, in order progressing around the zodiac. The zodiac is the set of 12 constellations through which the sun, moon and planets all appear to move. Each of those twelve is associated with three other nearby constellations. Thus, the 12 zodiac constellations and their 36 associates make up a numbered and well-ordered set of 48 constellations. But just how sure are we that we know exactly what those constellations are?
Lost ConstellationRolleston relied heavily on Albumazar’s list of constellations, but that list doesn’t exactly match our modern list. In about AD 150, the Greek astronomer Ptolemy not only listed 48 constellations, he also measured the exact positions in the sky of every star in each constellation, noting just where it fit into the figure. Our modern constellations are virtually identical to Ptolemy’s, with another 40 added to cover the entire sky, bringing the modern total to 88. Figure 1 shows a celestial map made from Ptolemy’s precise star map, including several unfigured stars which he listed.
How does our set of Greek constellations from Ptolemy compare to the Persian list from Albumazar? It turns out they mostly agree on 45 of the constellations, but disagree on three. One mentioned by Albumazar is entirely missing, and had apparently been lost since before the time of the ancient Greeks. Keep in mind that Enoch lived about 3,000 years before the Greeks, so it is amazing that so many of the constellations have remained intact. It is mostly to the Egyptians to whom we owe the debt of thanks for preserving the treasured pictures for us today. Tradition states that Abraham delivered them to Egypt about 2000 BC and it is said that the Greek scholar Eudoxus brought an Egyptian celestial globe (a globe with a map of the stars on it) to Greece about 300 BC. The work of Eudoxus has been partially preserved in verse by the Greek poet Aratus, who describes each constellation in some detail. That poem is now our primary source of information on the actual Greek figures.
So to me it is amazing that most of the constellations have come down to us intact from about 2700 BC, the time at which science has determined that they were first drawn. If they truly do come from Enoch, who lived about that very time, then to me it is evidence that they were preserved for us by the hand of God. What else do we have today that dates back to before the Great Flood?
Now let us see how enough clues have been preserved by the ancient Persians and Egyptians for us to be able to restore this lost constellation.
Persian DescriptionFortunately, Albumazar gives us a lot of detail about the constellation, including its location and what the figure looked like, and even what it represented.
Location. First, we know the location because it was the first constellation associated with the Virgin (Virgo). That means that it would have been above the head of Virgo, the first part of that zodiac constellation. What constellation was at that position on the Greek map? Look at Figure 1, in the area near the top in front of the face of the winged virgin, near where she seems to be pointing. Notice the large area with no constellation, even though five stars are bright enough for Ptolemy to have measured there. That is the very area of the missing constellation.
Description. Fortunately, the Persians also describe the constellation and even give its interpretation. Rolleston translates Albumazar’s description of the constellation:
“Virgo is a sign of two parts and three forms. There arises in the first decan, as the Persians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians, the two Hermes and Ascalius teach, a young woman, whose Persian name translated into Arabic is Adrenedefa, a pure and immaculate virgin, holding in the hand two ears of corn, sitting on a throne, nourishing an infant, in the act of feeding him, who has a Hebrew name (the boy, I say), by some nations named Ihesu, with the signification Ieza, which we in the Greek call Christ.” — Albumazar (non-Christian Arab astronomer, c. AD 850)
That quote sounded too good to be true to me, so I decided to check it out. I found a Latin translation of Albumazar’s work, of which I reproduce the paragraph in question in Figure 2. Roger Macfarlane, a professor of classical languages at Brigham Young University, kindly verified for me that her translation is adequate.
Thus, Albumazar tells both where the constellation was located in the sky, a description of what it looked like, and even the interpretation that the infant represents Jesus Christ, as the infant son of the virgin. Moreover, he adds that there are many testimonies that this is correct: the Persians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians, as well as the Thrice Great Hermes (who was probably Enoch), and the Second Hermes (most likely Abraham). But do we have any hope of actually identifying exactly what stars formed the constellation? Or which star represented what part of the picture? Let us turn to the ancient Egyptians for the answers to these questions.
Egyptian FigureWhen Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Egypt, he sent his savants to do a thorough study of the Great Pyramid and several of the temples. One extremely interesting item was a detailed map of the heavens from the temple of Hathor at Dendera, showing the constellations as they were anciently. Napoleon had his artists carefully copy all of the figures in detail, resulting in a set of huge volumes of the drawings.
The constellation of the Virgin (Virgo) is easily found in the map, as the woman holding the branch in the circle of the zodiac constellations. Near her is found a woman seated on a throne holding up a young infant. Rolleston identified this constellation to be the missing one Albumazar had described. She pointed out, “Eratosthenes call Virgo Isis. Isis, with other Egyptian goddesses differently named, is often figured holding the infant deity Horus, he who cometh.”
Notice that it is very similar to what the Persians described: a woman on a throne holding an infant. It is lacking two details mentioned by Albumazar: she is not holding a branch nor nursing the infant. To me it appears that the Egyptian is closer to the original constellation because the Persians often apparently made slight modifications to the constellations to render them more understandable. In this case, the branch would clearly identify the woman as Virgo, and nursing would clearly identify the queen as the infant’s mother.
Restored ConstellationSo now we are armed with both the location and what might be an actual picture of the constellation. Is there any chance we can identify the original stars it comprised?
First Attempt: Coma Berenices
Rolleston identified the area of sky where the constellation should be found as the area where the modern constellation Coma Berenices (Bernice’s Hair) is found, but she made no attempt to identify specific stars. Half a century later, Joseph Seiss superimposed the outline from Dendera over the general star field of Coma Berenices, but also did not attempt to identify individual stars. To my knowledge, no one in the twentieth century made any attempt at all to improve on Seiss’s suggestion.
Personally, I did not accept the Coma Berenices identification for one principal reason. In all of the other constellations, the star which represents Christ is always a bright star, or at least the brightest of the constellation. In Virgo, which is a huge constellation of dim or average stars there is exactly one very bright star (Spica), and it represents the grain she holds, the “seed of woman,” which in turn represents the Savior. But in Coma Berenices, there is not even one star of average brightness. Even though the Savior was to be born in the obscure circumstances of a stable, I could not see how the stars representing him could be so dim.
Combine Two Modern Constellations
Last week I had occasion to review all of the constellations and it finally occurred to me to look above the area of Coma Berenices. There I was stunned to find the two stars of the modern constellation of Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs. One of those two is one of the brightest stars which was listed in the ancient Greek catalog as not belonging to any constellation. In 1687 the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius created the Hunting Dogs just to fill up the gap. The brightest star had already been named by the English as Cor Caroli, the “Heart of Charles,” after King Charles I of England.
Of the five stars shown in the otherwise blank area in front of the Virgin in Figure 1, the three nearest her are in Coma Berenices, and the other two are the Hunting Dogs. If one adds the next two brightest stars in the region, to get the apparent minimum of seven stars required for ancient constellations, then the stellar configuration is as in Figure 4. They are shown there drawn as they appear in the sky (scanned from a star atlas), with the size of the dot representing their relative brightness. The four lower stars form a nearly perfect square, and the reasonably bright star is shown in the upper group.
The Infant Prince
ConclusionThe Book of Enoch claims that the constellations were revealed by an angel to the ancient prophet Enoch. At least one of those constellations had disappeared from star maps before the time of the ancient Greeks, but fortunately the even more ancient Persians and Egyptians preserved enough information on its location, shape and even interpretation to restore it to its proper place. The Persian interpretation was that it was an infant being held by its queenly virgin mother, and that it represented Jesus Christ, leading to the proposed name “The Infant Prince.” Truly, the heavens do testify of the glory of God (Psalms 19:1).
Notes 2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.