“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars,” Jesus says in Luke 21:25. Why did Christians decide to be against astrology? I guess you could as easily ask why they believed AIDS was God’s punishment on gays. They believed in signs—but not in the sky?
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
As in Psalm 19:1–2, readers of the Bible are assumed to have astrological knowledge.
“He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south,” says Job 9:9 (cf. Amos 5:8).
In Daniel 1:20 & 2:10, astrology is among the modes of “knowledge and understanding” that God’s prophet is taught en route to learning even greater mysteries.
“Do not,” warns Jeremiah 10:2, “be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them.”
The twelve stones on the robe of the Jewish High Priest were understood “to represent the universe,” as Philo notes.
I had to realize that Jewish spirituality was astrological to its core. The Bible believes in a connected cosmos. Its writers see the heavens and earth reflecting each other, and speaking spiritual information.
What I had to realize, next, was harder to accept. Christianity had not really been able to read the Bible.
“The truth is that the Old Testament does speak against a large number of occult arts (e.g., Ex 22:18; Deut 18:10), but astrology is not among them,” notes Hard Sayings of the Bible.
Let’s go through the references? In Deuteronomy 17: 2–7, a Jewish person isn’t to worship other gods “or the moon or any of the host of heaven,” etc.
They aren’t to be worshipped. That they exist is assumed.
In Deuteronomy 18:10–14, God tells Israelites to avoid divination, sorcery, consultations with spirits and the dead. Christians are eager to find astrology on this list, and often — falsely — claim that it is.
In Isaiah 47:13, God taunts the powers of evil:
Let now the astrologers,
Those who prophesy by the stars,
Those who predict by the new moons,
Stand up and save you from what will come upon you.
What seems to be going on here is a belief that knowledge of the coming messiah is available through astrology. Since this is thought to be destructive to evil powers, they are being warned.
Astrology is deeply layered into Jewish spirituality in general. “No less than four out of nine known synagogue mosaics place the zodiac in a prominent position,” notes James H. Charlesworth.
Anthony J. Tomasino notes: “Among the great medieval rabbis astrology was considered a science quite compatible with the Jewish faith.”
Could there be an astrological design to the entire Bible? In Genesis 37:9, Joseph dreams “the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” For Philo, this meant that Joseph was “thus classing himself as the twelfth, to complete the circle of the zodiac.”
Biblical narrative might then indicate shifts in the zodiac? The number twelve is certainly key to the Bible, from twelve tribes of Israel to ‘the Twelve’ as a grouping of apostles, and that might refer to twelve constellations.
In Matthew 2:1–12, the Magi certainly follow star-signs to get to Jesus. In Christian tradition this was long understood as a special star. Ignatius wrote that “all the other stars together with the sun and the moon become a chorus for the star, and it outshone them all with its light.”
This led Christian tradition, and its enemies, to assume an unusual astral event had occurred. But scholars realize now this might have misunderstood the astrological references. The ‘star in the east’, notes Bernadene Brady, “would more correctly be translated from the Hebrew as seeing his star ‘at its rising’.”
She thinks it possible to reconstruct the astrological references that the Magi were reading. At the beginning of 7 B.C.E., Mars, Jupiter and Saturn moved into an unusual alignment. “This in itself was not visually spectacular. However, it heralded a forthcoming spectacular astrological event.”
Turning to the astrological references in Luke 2:1-20, she continues:
There were eighteen constellations that made up the Mesopotamian sky, and three of these seem to be the focus of Luke’s pericope. The constellation Orion was known as the True Shepherd of Anu . . . where Anu either referred to the stars which occupied the ecliptical belt or all the stars of the heavens, thus Orion was the shepherd of the ‘flock’ of the stars.
Doesn’t Virgo . . . mean ‘Virgin’? The lion, the bull, water-bearer, etc., are key biblical images. Animals with astrological associations float through the pages of the Bible.
I don’t need to figure out these references. What I feel a need to do is allow Christian people to contemplate that the universe is alive with messages, and is speaking to us.
Many key Christian writers have believed this. For Origen the stars are “heavenly writings, which the angels and the divine powers are able to read well . . .”
But somehow, an anti-astrological message came into dominance, noted of St. Augustine, and continues in Christian culture to this day.
A usual Christian argument against astrology is that it makes ‘free will’ impossible. This is based on the idea that horoscopes tell you what will happen. Do astrologers ever believe that?
It’s an effort at “interpreting time,” suggests Von Stuckrad. “Based on the doctrine of correspondences it developed different branches where people sought to gain insight into the meaning of past, present, and future events.”
And Christians, who often believe that prophesy is telling exactly what will happen in the future, hardly seem positioned to protest the idea that events unfold on cue. The many “interpreters” of prophetic books serve, for the faithful Christians, the basic status of soothsayers.
In the Enoch texts (in which early Christianity clearly believed) there is clearly a narrative explaining how astrology came into the world. It was taught to humans by rebel angels. But as Amy E. Richter notes, this knowledge was also taught by favored agents of God.
In the Book of the Luminaries, also called the Astronomical Book, 1 Enoch 72–82, the angel Uriel shows Enoch laws that govern the sun, moon, and stars. In 1 En. 80:1, Uriel says to Enoch, “I have revealed everything to you so that you may see this sun and this moon and those who lead the stars of the sky and all those who turn them — their work, their times, and their emergences.”
I’m seeing this difference: Knowledge taught by rebel angels is aimed at changing and controlling the physical world for personal gain.
The good angels teach the prophet to see and understand.
Abraham is sometimes discussed as an astrologer who wakes up to God’s deeper designs and power. “If he wishes he will make it rain in the morning and evening; and if he wishes he will not make it fall,” he says in Jubilees 12:17–18. “Everything is under his control.”
The idea here would be: the natural processes of the earth are to be respected. Only on very rare occasion does God, in a miracle, change the earth’s flow of events — as when parting the Red Sea.
To read the Jesus narratives you’d certainly think he’s associated with the sun. During his crucifixion a darkness “came over the whole land” (Matt 27:45, etc.), as another darkness foretells his return (Matt 24:29, etc.).
Such passages “may well reflect astrological theories,” notes Tim Hegedus in Early Christianity and Ancient Astrology.
Then Jesus is the ‘light of the world’ in John 8:12, and Christian practice has often involved facing the rising sun. “Christians prayed facing east, seeing in the rising sun a symbol of the risen Christ,” notes Anscar J. Chupungco in Liturgical Time and Space.
To pray facing the east is to face the rising sun. It’s also the direction the Temple faces in Ezekiel 47:1, and the direction many church buildings will be turned, even today.
But really, in the Jesus teachings, the human body is the Temple. We are the microcosm, the miniature of the cosmos.
The Christian effort might be to feel connected to the universe, to feel as if we are ourselves cosmic bodies.