Fjordman files the following essay with Vlad Tepes blog.
The Chinese and the Irrational
James Evans in The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy has written an extremely thorough account of astronomy during historical times in the Middle East and Europe, up to and including Kepler just prior to the telescope. In his view, “The remarkable accuracy of the Babylonian observers is a silly fiction that one still frequently encounters in popular writing about early astronomy.” The important thing is that there was a tradition of making observations, recording them carefully and a social mechanism for preserving the records.
The gods were believed to speak through objects and events in the natural world, including animal entrails, dreams and celestial phenomena. Omens were important for every level of Mesopotamian society, yet astronomical observations did not become the major focus of divination until after 1500 BC. Mesopotamian bureaucrats and astronomers/astrologers gradually amassed detailed information about the movement of the planets after 800 BC.
By the fifth century BC, Babylonian celestial divination had expanded to embrace horoscopic astrology, which used planetary positions at the moment of the date of birth to predict individual fortunes. As explained by science historian James Evans, “While horoscopic astrology was certainly of Babylonian origin (as, indeed, the Greek and Roman writers always claimed), it was elaborated into a complex system by the Greeks. Thus, the familiar and fantastically complicated system of horoscopic astrology with dozens of conflicting rules does not descend from remote antiquity. Rather it is a product of Hellenistic and Roman times.”
An Egyptian astronomical interest can be detected in the alignment of their temples and pyramids, but rarely on the level of sophistication seen in Mesopotamia. The ceilings of royal tombs from the Middle Kingdom on, for instance in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, contain drawings that could be described as simple celestial maps, yet with the partial exception of their solar calendar it does not seem to have occurred to them to seek for any deeper explanation of what they observed. The Egyptians “seem to have produced no systematic records of planetary movements, eclipses, or other phenomena of a plainly irregular sort.”
To the ancient Greeks, the planets were “wandering stars.” Our word planet comes from a Greek verb meaning to wander. The modern names for the five naked-eye planets are the names of Roman divinities which were more or less equivalent to a number of Greek gods. Most people today probably know this. What many of them don’t know is that some of the Greek names themselves may have been derived from Babylonian divinities in Mesopotamia.
Mars was often associated with war because of its reddish color, which can be spotted through naked-eye observations; the ancient Egyptians called it the Red One. However, there are other parallels that are unlikely to be accidental. In ancient Mesopotamia, Ishtar was the Babylonian and Assyrian counterpart of Inanna, the moody Sumerian goddess of love and fertility, identified with the planet Venus. To the Romans, Venus was the goddess of love and fertility, their equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who was also a symbol of love and fertility.