Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Star of David and the Zodiac

The six-pointed star is a most complicated symbol. It has many meanings in different cultures. Currently, it is known as the (political) symbol of Judaism, but in the past there were ascribed to it, among other things, significances such as: defense and intertwining (psychology); unification of the opposites; the similarity between microcosm and macrocosm (philosophy). In European languages it goes by the name of the STAR of David – which brings us to wonder about the astrological significance of this symbol in general, and about its relationship with the zodiac in particular.

The six-pointed star is known in Jewish culture as Magen David (David’s Shield), in Roman culture as hexagram, in Christian culture as the star of Mary or as the Star of David. The Muslim calls it Solomon’s seal, and the Indians – Yantra.

This Symbol was known already on the daybreak of history. In the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin are presented several cylinder seals, dated to c.2500 B.C., decorated with celestial symbols showing stars with six, seven, eight and more points. These stars appear there in an astrological context or in an astronomical context. Among them there is (on item VA/243) a circle surrounded by six triangles, which looks like the Star of David. From the same culture and from the same time frame there are archaeological artifacts of the zodiac that prove that the Sumerians recognized it or even invented it [1]. The Star of David and the zodiac signs developed since then in parallel lines, and separately, with sporadic collisions of their courses. For instance:

The six-pointed star shaped Bir Chana Mosaic Floor (now in Tunisia’s Bardo Museum) contains the zodiac signs as well as the personifications of the days of the week. It is dated to the third century C.E. Whoever created it “suggested” that the Star of David is the geometrical symbol of the map of the sky.

Jewish tradition has it that after Exodus the 12 Israelite tribes encamped in the desert in the shape of the Magen David [2]. To this equation numerous Jewish sources add the comparison of the 12 tribes with the stones of the Jewish High Priest, and with the zodiac: In Sefer Hapliah ascribed to Rabbi Nechonia Ben Hakana we find that the encampment of the Tribes was parallel to the 12 zodiacal signs and to the 12 stones of the High Priest. The same goes as to Midrash Tanchuma [3] where we read that the tribes are part of the cosmic order, like the 12 hours of the day, the 12 months of the year and the 12 zodiacal signs.

In his book De Vita Mosis (3, 209) Philo (20-50 C.E.) interpreted the names on the 12 stones of the High Priest as the signs of the zodiac. Josephus Flavius (37-100 C.E.) gave a similar explanation to the 12 stones in his book Antiquities of the Jews (Vo. 3 chapter 7). The stones were placed in FOUR rows like the zodiac signs which are arranged in FOUR groups according to the four elements: earth water fire and air. This equation seems to be based on the common numerical denominator of the zodiac and the tribes: 12. In the Star of David, there are 6 points and 6 angles. In addition, the 6 outer triangles can be folded into the hexagon and create 6 internal overlapping triangles.

The book Solomon’s seal (dated to the first century C.E.) tells about King Solomon who caught a devil by using an enchanted seal that God gave him. According to Jewish and Muslim traditions this seal was in the shape of a five or six pointed star. In the 10th paragraph of the book King Solomon asks the devil which zodiacal sign rules over him and the devil answers that he obeys Aquarius. In the 73 paragraph of the book, one of the zodiacal signs presents itself to King Solomon as the first sign, Aries.

In Opus Medico-Chymicum, an alchemy book by Johann Daniel Mylius published in 1618, one of the illustrations shows a six-pointed star representing the planets surrounded by the zodiac wheel. The general structure of this illustration is very similar to the Bir Chana mosaic mentioned above, even though 1300 years separate between them.

At the Cathedral of Cologne, Germany there is a statue called Virgo Immaculata which was created in 1749. It shows 12 hexagrams around Virgin Mary’s head, representing the 12 zodiac signs. It seems like an illustration of the verse from Revelation Chapter 12:1-2:

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

[1] Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia And Assyria, 1915, project Gutenberg, Chapter XIII- Astrology and Astronomy.
[2] In a Hebrew article by Dr. Gabriel H. Cohen from the Bible Department of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel

 [3] Buber Edition Parashat Vayechi 16

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