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Can you lead forth the constellations in their season? – Job
…if you turn the mirror of your spirits heavenwards, the heavenly constellations and the rays of the Sun of Reality will be reflected in your hearts, and the virtues of the Kingdom will be obtained. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 176.
During the years before Abraham’s birth, the local ruler (who, because of his cruel nature, is referred to as Nimrod–even though that was almost certainly not his given name) had a dream. “Thereupon,” the scripture tells us, “he summoned the soothsayers, who informed him of the rise of a star in the heaven.”
Although it seems clear that one meaning of this passage is symbolic—a brilliant Prophet will ascend and shine in the firmament of faith, swallowing up the religions of the past—there was also something very special and completely literal happening in the sky above Nimrod’s head. The soothsayers would have known and worried about this event: the Age of Taurus was giving way to the Age of Aries.
An astronomical “age” is a period of about two thousand years during which a particular constellation dominates the sky of the northern hemisphere on the night of the spring equinox. These changes in the heavens, especially in an age when men worshipped idols and the stars themselves, made rulers nervous.
These ages don’t have exact beginnings and endings because the transition between them, when two constellations share the limelight, lasts at least a century. During the age of Taurus, the constellation of the Bull reigned, but in the years prior to Abraham, Aries—the Ram—slowly moved in to displace it. The fact that this change would have been noticed and discussed by king, priest, and commoner alike can be traced to the influence of three of Abraham’s prophetic ancestors: Adam, Seth, and Enoch.
Although Enoch was born several generations after Adam and Seth, all three of them lived in preliterate societies (roughly 4000 BC) when people had only just begun to experiment with incising a few symbols on slabs of wet clay. Faced with the challenge of providing an easy-to-access source of inspiration, the three men sketched imaginary lines among groups of stars, using the resulting images as giant illustrations for a celestial storybook of moral education. Along with the educational parables, they prophesied ways in which certain astronomical events in the future would be tied to the advent of other divine Messengers.
No one has sufficient information to reconstruct all that this trio of prophets taught. No one knows the original names of the constellations, or of all the astrological ideas and virtues associated with them. Still, we can imagine how enthralling it must have been for their followers to be able to lift their eyes to the sky and find spiritual sustenance in the twinkling tableaus above. These ancient viewers might not have been ready to understand monotheism, but they certainly could grasp the importance of the struggle between good and evil as demonstrated by Leo’s efforts to subdue the untrustworthy serpent, Hydra, beneath his shaggy paw. They could also appreciate the generosity with which Aquarius poured water for the thirsty, and anticipate how it might feel to have the worth of their own deeds weighed on the spiritual scales of Libra.
When it came to using the constellations as a clock, religious scholars such as Frances Rolleston have posited that Adam, Seth, and/or Enoch left prophecies about momentous events connected to a time when Taurus the Bull would be replaced by Aries the Ram and, after that, when the Ram would give way to the fishes of Pisces. They might even have left hints about our own modern age, the Age of Aquarius, a time when the fishes yield to the water-bearer. These prophecies would have given a great boost to the early science of astronomy by inspiring sky-watchers to investigate, record, and learn how to predict the movements of both fixed and wandering stars (planets were thought to be stars that moved in unexpected directions).
Centuries of practice in watching the sky for indications of important spiritual events would have given the royal soothsayers of Mesopotamia a reason to link Nimrod’s dream to the way in which Aries was pushing Taurus out of the way. They would have been even more certain of their interpretation if, as is possible, an unusual planetary conjunction had taken place or a comet had floated through the constellation of Aries.
But few suspected that an even more earth-shattering event would occur—the rising star of Abraham, the Prophet of God who scattered the idols and changed the entire course of human history.