Skyward, July 2023
A little religion, but not too much.
David H. Levy
As an undergraduate student at Acadia University, in the Canadian maritime province of Nova Scotia, my geology professor was trying to teach us about the water cycle. Despite reams of published evidence, the best document he could come up with was this beautiful line from Ecclesiastes:
“All the rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full,
Unto the place whither the rivers go,
Thither they go again.” –Ecclesisastes 1.7.
Dr. George Stevens’s comment had a profound impact on me. First, as a budding young scientist, it opened my mind to the relationship between the night sky and Scripture, and second, later as my passion for the arts grew, it reminded me of how ancient peoples viewed the night sky. From the “11 stars” symbolizing Jacob’s brothers, to the line in Amos about “the seven stars” of the Pleiades, to his aggressive tone with Job (9:5-8): “Who removeth the mountains, and they know it not, (possibly referring to the evolution of the Earth); Who maketh the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades? Who shaketh the Earth out of her place (a big earthquake or a major comet impact), Who commandeth the Sun, and it riseth not (if it rises during an eclipse like the event I saw in 1999 when only a thin crescent of sunlight rose). This is not to mention Joseph’s dream “the Sun and the Moon and eleven stars bowed down” (Genesis 37:9-10.) It must have been a very cloudy or hazy night if all he saw was 11 stars instead of the 2500 to four thousand stars he should have seen from his obviously dark location.)
After a lecture I gave in 1994 at my childhood synagogue,, The Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, the associate Rabbi pointed out how the ancient Israelites followed astrology, right from the line “And let there be lights in the heaven, to divide the day the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and for years.” (Genesis 1.14) He went on to emphasize that these people never worshipped the stars, but they followed astrology out of interest and fun. (Full disclosure: like most people who observe the night sky, I do not follow astrology, but perhaps unlike most of them, I do appreciate that were it not for the thousands of years of meticulous records kept by ancient astrologers, we would probably have no real astronomy, nor a Webb telescope, this evening in 2023.
I did promise not too much, so I shall end here with a quotation from Psalm 19: with a new line added for fun, courtesy Peter Collins:)
The Heavens declare the glory of God,
And the firmament showeth his handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech,
And night unto night revealeth knowledge
(So long as the sky is clear.”)