The attitude of Judaism toward astrology was more liberal than that of Christianity. The Church never officially sanctioned astrology despite some of its leading members including Popes embracing it. While in Judaism the attitude varied according to the opinions of various Rabbis. Even when it was condemned, that condemnation was never absolute.
Judaism allowed debate. Debate carried on over centuries and across political boundaries. Ideas considered Satanic in a Christian land might well be recognised as valuable knowledge in an Islamic land. Jews lived in both lands and their mercantile network aided the cross-pollination of ideas. Thus, such things as advanced Islamic science could become known to Jews in Christian Spain. So, while Christians there may have viewed astrology as witchcraft, Jews living alongside of them may have recognised it as a secular science.
If modern astrologers are to understand the state of astrology today then they must understand its historical development. Not simply because it allows modern day perceptions to be placed in their correct context but more importantly because it allows an understanding of why certain astrological methods take the form they do.
This Study investigates Judaism’s position on astrology. Rabbi Johanan famous statement "No stars for Israel" is examined, Maimonides’s opinion is briefly touched on and Levi ben Gershom is heard.
Biblical texts concerned with astral influence are analysed. References are compared with the report in Josephus’s Bellicum Judaicum that the twelve loaves of shewbread in the Temple referred to the twelve signs of the zodiac; that the Holy Living Creatures were constellations; that the seven eyes of the Lord, referred to in the book of the prophet Zechariah are the seven planets and that the twelve jewels in the High Priest’s ephod stood for the twelve tribes of Israel.
Artapanus’s opinion that the Patriarch Abraham taught the Egyptians astrology is examined. As is the contention that Moses and Hermes Trismegistus were one and the same , along with citations from the Talmud to the effect that astrology was used as a tool of governance by both Moses and Solomon.
The works of leading Jewish astrologers are examined. Messahallah, with an eye for ascertaining the general features of his astrological practice. Especial attention is given to his use of the Saturn Jupiter conjunctions, the Almutem, and Dorotheus’s Triplicity rulers.
Abraham Ibn Ezra is next studied. His The Beginning of Wisdom is closely analysed. Ibn Ezra’s debt to Arabic astrological practices is discussed as well as his Kabbalistic Letter Mysticism.
Ibn Ezra’s and Messahallah’s astrology is shown to be overwhelmingly practical, non-Aristotelian, and more in the Dorothean tradition than the Ptolemaic. The study ends with a comparison of Jewish and Christian attitudes toward astrology.
TEXTS CITED IN THE MAIN BODY OF THE STUDY:
(This only lists the principle texts referred to and is not exhaustive)
Bellum Judaicum, Josephus,
The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, translated by William Whiston.
Liber Messahallae de revolutione annorum mundi, edited by J. Heller Noribergae 1549
Iulii Firmici Materni Astronomicon, Basel 1557
The Judgements of Nativities, Abu 'Ali al-Khayyat, translated by James H. Holden, 1988
Liber Astronomiae, Guido Bonatti, Basel, 1550
The Astrological History of Masha'allah, translated and edited with commentary by Kennedy and Pingree, 1971
John Dee on Astronomy, edited and translated by Wayne Shumaker with an introductory essay by J. L. Heilbron, 1978