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STAR-WORSHIP:

Table of Contents
Among the Israelites.

This is perhaps the oldest form of idolatry practised by the ancients. According to Wisdom xiii. 2, the observation of the stars in the East very early led the people to regard the planets and the fixed stars as gods. The religion of the ancient Egyptians is known to have consisted preeminently of sun-worship. Moses sternly warned the Israelites against worshiping the sun, moon, stars, and all the host of heaven (Deut. iv. 19, xvii. 3); it may be said that the prohibition of making and worshiping any image of that which is in heaven above (Ex. xx. 4; Deut. v. 8) implies also the stars and the other celestial bodies. The Israelites fell into this kind of idolatry, and as early as the time of Amos they had the images of Siccuth and Chiun, "the stars of their god" (Amos v. 26, R. V.); the latter name is generally supposed to denote the planet Saturn. That the kingdom of Israel fell earlier than that of Judah is stated (II Kings xvii. 16) to have been due, among other causes, to its worshiping the host of heaven. But the kingdom of Judah in its later period seems to have out-done the Northern Kingdom in star-worship. Of Manasseh it is related that he built altars to all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of Yhwh, and it seems that it was the practise of even kings before him to appoint priests who offered sacrifices to the sun, the moon, the planets, and all the host of heaven. Altars for star-worship were built on the roofs of the houses, and horses and chariots were dedicated to the worship of the sun (ib. xxi. 5; xxiii. 4-5, 11-12). Star-worship continued in Judah until the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign (621 B.C.), when the king took measures to abolish all kinds of idolatry (ib.). But although star-worship was then abolished as a public cult, it was practised privately by individuals, who worshiped the heavenly bodies, and poured out libations to them on the roofs of their houses (Zeph. i. 5; Jer. viii. 2, xix. 13). Jeremiah (vii. 18) describes the worship of the queen of heaven to have been more particularly common among the women. Ezekiel, who prophesied in the sixth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin (591 B.C.), describes the worship of the sun as practised in thecourt of the Temple (Ezek. viii. 16 et seq.), and from Jer. xliv. 17 et seq. it may be seen that even after the destruction of the Temple the women insisted on continuing to worship the queen of heaven. In Job (xxxi. 26 et seq.) there is an allusion to the kissing of the hand in the adoration of the moon (see Moon, Biblical Data). According to Robertson Smith ("The Religion of the Semites," p. 127, note 3, Edinburgh, 1889), star-worship is not of great antiquity among the Semites in general, nor among the Hebrews in particular, for the latter adopted this form of idolatry only under the influence of the Assyrians. But Fritz Hommel ("Der Gestirndienst der Alten Araber," Munich, 1901) expresses the opposite opinion. He points to the fact that the Hebrew root which denotes the verb "to swear" is the same as that which denotes "seven," and claims that this fact establishes a connection between swearing and the seven planets; and he furthermore declares that there are many Biblical evidences of star-worship among the ancient Hebrews. Thus, the fact that Terah, Abraham's father, had lived first at Ur of the Chaldees, and that later he settled at Haran (Gen. xi. 31), two cities known from Assyrian inscriptions as places of moon-worship, shows that Abraham's parents were addicted to that form of idolatry. According to legend, Abraham himself worshiped the sun, moon, and the stars before he recognized the true God in Yhwh (see Abraham in Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature). The golden calf, Hommel declares, was nothing more than an emblem of the moon-god, which, in the Assyrian inscription, is styled "the youthful and mighty bull" and the lord of the heavenly hosts (comp. "Yhwh Ẓeba'ot," which term is intentionally omitted from the Pentateuch). He assigns the same character to the two calves made by Jeroboam several centuries later (I Kings xii. 28).

The ancient Hebrews, being nomads, like the Arabs favored the moon, while the Babylonians, who were an agricultural nation, preferred the sun. But, as appears from Ezek. xx. 7-8, the moon-worship of the Israelites, even while they were still in Egypt, was combined with sun-worship. The close similarity between the ancient Hebrews and the southern Arabs has led Hommel furthermore to find allusion to moon-worship in such Hebrew names as begin with "ab" (= "father"), as in "Abimelech" and "Absalom," or with "'am" (= "uncle"), as in "Amminadab" and "Jeroboam," because these particles, when they appear in the names of southern Arabs, refer to the moon.

The term "star-worship" ("'abodat kokabim u-mazzalot") in the Talmud and in post-Talmudic literature is chiefly a censor's emendation for "'abodah zarah." In connection with star-worship, it is related in the Mishnah ('Ab. Zarah iv. 7) that the Rabbis ("zeḳenim") were asked if God dislikes idolatry why He did not destroy the idols. The Rabbis answered: "If the heathen worshiped only idols perhaps God would have destroyed the objects of their adoration, but they worship also the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the host of heaven, and God can not destroy the world on account of the heathen."

E. C. M. Sel.
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