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astronomy. The advantageous situation of Babylon,* which was built upon a wide extensive plain, where no mountains bounded the prospect; the constant clearness and serenity of the air in that country, so favourable to the free contemplation of the heavens; perhaps also the extraordinary height of the tower of Babel, which seemed to be intended for an observatory; all these circumstances were strong motives to engage this people to more nice observation of
he various motions of the heavenly bodies, and the regular course of the stars. The Abbé Renaudot,t in his dissertation upon the sphere, observes, that the plain which in Scripture is called Shinar, and in which Babylon stood, is the same as is called by the Arabians Sinjar, where the caliph Almamon, the seventh of the Habbassides in whose reign the sciences began to flourish among the Arabians, caused the astronomical observations to be made, which for severa. ages directed all the astronomers of Europe, and that the sultan Gelaleddin Melikschah, the third of the Seljukides, caused similar observations to be made near 300 years afterwards in the same place: from whence it appears, that this place was always reckoned one of the properest in the world for astronomical observations.
The ancient Babylonians could not have carried theirs to any great perfection for want of the help of telescopes, which are of modern invention, and have greatly contributed of late years to render our astronomical researches more perfect and exact. Whatever they were, they have not come down to us. Epigenes, a grave and credible author, according to Pliny, speaks of observations made for the space of 720 years, and imprinted upon squares of brick; which, if it be true, must reach back to a very early antiquity: Those of which Callisthenes, a philosopher in Alexander's train, makes mention, and of which he gave Aristotle an account, include 1903 years, and consequently must commence very near the deluge, and the time of Nimrod's building the city of Babylon.
We are certainly under great obligations, which we ought to acknowledge, to the labours and curious inquiries of those who have contributed to the discovery or improvement of so useful a science; a science not only of great service to agriculture and navigation, by the knowledge it gives us of the regular course of the stars, and of the wonderful, constant, and uniform proportion of days, months, seasons, and years, but even to religion itself; with which, as Plato shows,|| the study of that science has a very close and necessary connexion; as it directly tends to inspire us with great reverence for the Deity, who, with infinite wisdom, presides over the government of the universe, and is present and attentive to all our actions. But at the same time we cannot sufficiently deplore the misfortune of those
* Principio Assyrii propter planitiem magnitudine mque regionum quas incolebant, cùm cælum ex omni parte patens et apertum intuerentur, trajectiones motusque stellarum ob
† Memoirs of the Academy dos Belles Lettres, vol. 1. part ii. page 3. | Plin. hist. nat. I. vii.c. 56.
Porphyr. apud Simplic. in l. ii. de cælo. Ni fu Epinoin. p. 989-992.
Cic. lib. i. de Divin. 1. 2.
very philosophers, who, although by their successful application and astronomical inquiries,* they came very near the Creator, were yet so unhappy as not to find him, because they did not serve and adore him as they ought to do, nor govern their actions by the rules and directions of that divine model.
SECTION V. Judicial Astrology. As to the Babylonian and other Eastern philosophers, the study of the heavenly bodies was so far from leading them, as it ought to have done, to the knowledge of Him who is both their Creator and Ruler, that for the most part it carried them into impiety, and the extravagances of judicial astrology. So we term that deceitful and presumptuous science, which teaches to judge of things to come by the knowledge of the stars, and to foretell events by the situation of the planets, and by their different aspects; a science justly looked upon as madness and folly by all the most sensible writers among the pagans themselves. O delirationem incredibilem ! cries Cicero, in refuting the extravagant opinions of those astrologers, frequently called Chaldeans, from the country that first gave rise to this science; who, in consequence of the observations made, as they affirmed, by their predecessors upon all past events, for the space only of 470,000 years, pretended to know assuredly, by the aspect and combinanation of the stars and planets at the instant of a child's birth, what would be his genius, temper, manners, the constitution of his body, his actions, and, in a word, all the events and the duration of his life. He exposes a thousand absurdities of this opinion, the very ridiculousness of which should excite contempt; and asks, why of all that vast number of children that are born in the same moment, and without doubt exactly under the aspect of the same stars, there are not two whose lives and fortunes resemble each other? He puts this farther question, whether that great number of men that perished at the battle of Cannæ, and died of one and the same death, were all born under the same constellations?
It is hardly credible, that so absurd an art, founded entirely upon fraud and imposture, fraudulentissima artium, as Pliny calls it,1 should ever acquire so much credit as this has done, throughout the whole world, and in all ages. What has supported and brought it into so great vogue, continues that author, is the natural curiosity men have to penetrate into futurity, and to know beforehand the things that are to befall them: Nullo non avido futura de se sciendi ; attended with a superstitious credulity, which finds itself agreeably flattered by the pleasing and magnificent promises of which thos fortune-tellers are never sparing. Ita blandissimis desideratissimisque promissis addidit vires religionis, ad quas maximè etiamnum caligat humanuin genus.
* Magna industria, magna solertia : sed ibi Creatorem scrutati sunt positum non longe à se, et non invenerunt-quia quærere neglexerunt. August. de verb. Evcn. Match. Berm. lxviii. c. 1. † Lib. ü de Div. n. 87. 99.
Plin. Proom. lib. xxx
Modern writers,* and among others two of our greatest philosophers, Gassendi and Rohault, have inveighed against the folly of that pretended science with the same energy, and have demonstrated it to be equally void of principles and experience.
As for its principles. The heaven, according to the system of astrologers, is divided into twelve equal parts; which parts are taken not according
to the poles of the world, but according to those of the zodiac. These twelve parts or portions of heaven, have each of them its attribute, as riches, knowledge, parentage, and so of the rest: the most important and decisive portion is that which is next under the horizon, and which is called the ascendant, because it is ready to ascend and appear above the horizon, when a man comes into the world. The planets are divided into the propitious, the malignant, and the mixed : the aspects of these planets, which are only certain distances from one another, are likewise either happy or unhappy. I say nothing of several other hypotheses, which are all equally fanciful ; and I ask, whether any man of common sense can accede to them upon the bare word of these impostors, without any proofs, or even without the least shadow of probability? The critical moment, and that on which all their predictions depend, is that of the birth. And why not as well the moment of conception? Why have the stars no influence during the nine months of pregnancy? Or is it possible, considering the incredible rapidity of the heavenly bodies, always to be sure of hitting the precise, determinate moment, without the least variation of more or less, which is sufficient to overthrow all ? A thousand other objections of the same kind might be made, which are altogether unanswerable.
As for experience, they have still less reason to flatter themselves with having that on their side. This can only consist in observations founded upon events that have always come to pass in the same manner, whenever the planets were found in the same situation. Now it is unanimously agreed by all astronomers, that several thousands of years must pass, before any such situation of the stars as they would imagine, can twice happen: and it is very certain, that the state in which the heavens will be to-morrow, has never yet been since the creation of the world. The reader may consult the two philosophers above-mentioned, particularly Gassendi, who has more copiously treated this subject. But such, and no better, are the foundations upon which the whole structure of judicial astrology is built.
But what is astonishing, and argues an absolute subv of all reason is, that certain freethinkers, who obstinately harden themselves against the most convincing proofs of religion, and who refuse to believe even the clearest and most certain prophecies upon the
* Gassendi Phys sect. Ï 1.6. Rohault Phys. part. ii. ch 27
word of God, do sometimes give entire credit to the vain predictions of tnese astrologers and impostors.
St. Austin, in several passages of his writings, informs us, that this stupid and sacrilegious credulity is a just chastisement from God,* who frequently punisheth the voluntary blindness of men, by inflicting a still greater blindness; and who suffers evil spirits, that they may keep their servants still faster in their nets, sometimes te foretell things which do really come to pass, but of which the expectation very often serves only to torment them.
God, who alone foresees future contingencies and events, because he alone is the sovereign disposer and director of them, does often in Scripturet laugh to scorn the ignorance of the so-muchboasted Babylonish astrologers, calling them forgers of lies and falsehoods. He moreover defies all their false gods to foretell any thing whatsoever, and consents if they do, that they should be worshipped as gods. Then addressing himself to the city of Babylon, he particularly declares all the circumstances of the miseries with which she shall be overwhelmed above 200 years after that prediction; while none of her prognosticators, who had flattered her with the assurances of her perpetual grandeur, which they pretended to have read in the stars, should be
able to avert the judgment, or even to foresee the time of its accomplishment. Indeed, how should they? since at the very time of its execution, when Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, saw a hand come out of the wall, and write unknown characters thereon, the Magi, the Chaldeans, the soothsayers, and, in a word, all the pretended sages of the country, were not able so much as to read the writing. Here then we see astrology and magic convicted of ignorance and impotence, in the very place where they were most vogue, and on an occasion when it was certainly their interest to display all their science and power
Religion The most ancient and general idolatry in the world, was that wherein the sun and moon were the objects of divine worship. This idolatry was founded upon a mistaken gratitude; which, instead of
* His omnibus consideratis, non immeritò creditur, cùm astrologi mirabiliter multa vera respondent, occulto instinctu fieri spirituum non bonorum, quorum cura est has falsas et noxias opiniones de astralibus fatis inserrere humanis mentibus atque firmare, non horoscopi notati et inspecti aliquâ arte, quæ nulla est. De Civ. Dei. I. v. c. 7.
Therefore shall evil come upon thee, thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee, thou shalt not be able to put it off; and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know. Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou Bhalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail. Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as stubble: the fire shall burn them : they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame. Isan xlvii 11--14.
ascending up to the Deity stopped short at the veil which concealed hin, while it indicated his existence. With the least reflection or penetration they might have discerned the Sovereign who commanded, from the minister* who did but obey.
In all ages mankind have been sensibly convinced of the necessity of an intercourse between God and man: and adoration supposes God to be both attentive to man's desires and capable of fulfilling them. But the distance of the sun and of the moon is an obstacle to this intercourse. Therefore foolish men endeavoured to remedy this inconvenience, by laying their hands upon their mouths,f and then lifting them up to those false gods, in order to testify that they would be glad to unite themselves to them, but that they could not. This was that impious custom so prevalent throughout all the east, from which Job esteemed himself happy to have been preserved : When I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; my heart hath not been secretly 'enticed, nor my mouth kissed my hand. I
The Persians adored the sun, and particularly the rising sun, with the profoundest veneration. To him they dedicated a magnificent chariot, with horses of the greatest beauty and value, as we have seen in Cyrus's stately cavalcade. (This same ceremony was practised by the Babylonians; from whom some impious kings of Judab borrowed it.|| and brought it into Palestine.) Sometimes they likewise sacrificed oxen to this god, who was very much known umongst them by the name of Mithra.
By a natural consequence of the worship they paid to the sun, they likewise paid a particular veneration to fire, always invoked it first in their sacrifices,**carried it with great respect before the king in all his marches; intrusted the keeping of their sacred fire, which came down from heaven, as they pretended, to none but the Magi; und would have looked upon it as the greatest of misfortunes, if it had been suffered to go out. History informs us,tt that the emperor Heraclius, when he was at war with the Persians, demolished several of their temples, and particularly the chapel in which the sacred fire had been preserved until that time, which occasioned great mourning and lamentation throughout the whole country. The Persians likewise honoured the water,ff the earth, and the winds, as so
The cruel ceremony of making children pass through the fire, was undoubtedly a consequence of the worship paid to that element; for this fire-worship was common to the Babylonians and Persians. The Scripture positively says of the people of Mesopotamia, who were sent as a colony into the country of the Samaritans, that they
* Among the Hebrews, the ordinary name for the sun signifies minister.
† Superstitiosus vulgus manum ori admovens, osculum labiis pressit. Minuc. From thence is come the word adorare ; that is to say, ad os manum admovere.
The text is in the form of an oath, if I beheld, &c. Job xxxir 26, 27.
** Xenoph. Cyrup. I. viü. p. 215. An. Mar. 1 xxiii. tt Zonar: Annal. vol. ii. #Herod. I. i. c. 131.