ASTRONOMY. In considering the pne.sag in the Bible relating to astronomy, it is important to discriminate between the statements made and the terms employed. The former, in the opinion of many scholars, with whom we fully agree, are consistent with the truths of science, whereas the latter are merely part of the common language of the Hebrews, and, therefore, in accordance with their common opinions. The meanings of these terms thus shew us the degree of scientific know ledge to which the Hebrews attained, but do not, we hold, enable us to form any judgment respect ing the relation of revelation and science.
Hebrew astronomy appears to consist of two elements, the earlier of which would be the popular knowledge of the science unconnected with chrono logy, the later, the special knowledge of the priests necessitated by the ordinances of the Law. The latter may be of Egyptian origin, since Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.' WE must therefore speak of Shemite astronomy gene rally, and of Egyptian astronomy, before examining the statements in the Bible bearing upon the main subject. The Shemites rarely have made any ad vance in mathematical science, not so much from an inaptitude for its pursuit as on account of their na tional love of an unsettled life. The dwellers in cities among the Shemites are seldom of pure race : on the coasts of Arabia and Africa the great Shemite cities have, from remote ages, held a mixed population. The Arab, like his camel, is miserable, excepting he enjoy the free life of the desert or the plain. So the Israelites, though in times of insecurity they dwelt in the fenced cities of Canaan that they did not build, in their prosperity returned to the tent-life of their forefathers (t Kings viii. 66). Among them, therefore, we may suppose that no astronomical knowledge would have flourished but that simplest kind which the clear skies of their land would have taught the shepherds who watched their flocks by night. This was the case with the Arabs, who attained a high degree of excellence in this primitive astronomy, without ever making great progress in the theoretical part of the science. The learned men of the court of Baghdad were often strangers, and the Moorish doctors were not in general pure Arabs. This simplest astronomy served with the Arabs, as with the earlier Greeks, to aid in regulating the calendar, the risings or settings of important stars marking the divisions of the year, and the due times for the operations of husbandry. The astronomy of Egypt, though
doubtless in its origin the same as that of the Shemites, acquired the wonderful exactness that marked all the sciences of that ancient home of knowledge. The cloudless sky of Egypt, and its warm climate, not only maintained the system of observation, but carried it to the highest point attainable without the aid of modern instruments. The settled life of the inhabitants, and their love of mathematical science, enabled them to found upon these observations a theoretical astronomy, which some hold even to have contained certain of the great truths of Greek and modern science which were lost in the middle ages. By the observation of the solstices and equinoxes, they were enabled to de termine the seasons of a solar year, if, as we believe, they used such a period ; and to form a cycle of great exactness, adjusting their common or vague' year to this tropical one, or at least to the seasons. By the observation of the rising of the dog-star, they similarly adjusted the sidereal phenomena with the vague year, and formed another great cycle, that of Sothis, containing 1461 vague years and 146o corn mencing with the so-called heliacal rising of that star. A series of star-risings marked the decads into which the Sothis-year was divided. These principles are at least as old as the age of the Pyramids of El Geezeh, which we assign to the twenty-third and twenty-fourth centuries B. C. Moses must have been well versed in this knowledge, and we may therefore suppose that he used it, perhaps by Divine command, in the Law, to such an extent as would be of service for the Hebrew calendar, and yet not too scientific for the priesthood in later ages. At the same time, from its connection with idolatry and astrology, it is 'probable that the Egyptian astronomy would have been followed rather in principles than in details. We may here allude to the Babylonian astronomy, as to which the inter pretation of the inscriptions has not yet so fully enlightened us as in the previous case. Judging from the statements of ancient writers, it must have greatly resembled that of Egypt ; but it is not of special importance to our present inquiry, since there is not much reason to suppose that it exer cised great influence upon the Hebrews before the age of the rabbinical literature.