An Astronomical Connection

An Astronomical Connection

Connections. As humans, we crave connections and relationships. They help us become part of a community and build emotional ties, and strong bonds. They even help us find links to our past.

In the song, Somewhere Out There, Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram lift the burden of their separation, singing, “Even though I know how very far apart we are, it helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star” (lyrics by James Horner). The stars that stir our hearts and imaginations have been infatuating the minds for millennia.

The book of Job chronicles his dynamic life of riches to rags to riches. Job did not understand why terrible things were happening to him, but he trusted that God held the answer. He often pined for a meeting with God, but even in the absence of that meeting he trusted God. In one of his speeches, Job pointed to God’s power over creation and the stars, “He who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south, who does great things beyond searching out and marvelous things beyond number. (Job 9:9-10)

Job names three constellations of the night: Ursa Major, Orion, and Pleiades. Later, God answers Job, asking questions to help Job see God’s wisdom, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?…can you guide the Bear with its children?” (Job 38:31-32). God referred to the same constellations. Can we find in these constellations the comfort that Job found? Could we be wishing on the same bright stars that the ancient patriarch did?

The first constellation, The Bear (Big Dipper), was improperly translated as “Arcturus” by Jerome in the Vulgate and consequently used by the translators of the King James Version. However, most scholars agree it is properly translated as the Bear. The four main stars forming the “bowl” of the dipper were the Bear, while the three trailing stars in the “handle” represented her cubs.

The second constellation is Orion or Kesil. Orion, or the Great Hunter, is one of the most recognizable constellations in the world. It straddles the celestial equator and can be seen by both hemispheres. Some have speculated that the term “Orion” is a Greek term transliterated from an ancient Akkadian word, Uru-anna, meaning “light of heaven.” The Akkadian civilization is considered one of the earliest in the world—an ancient precursor to the Sumerians and later the Chaldeans. If this is true, the naming of the constellation would predate Abraham, and may go back as far as Noah.

The Oriental traditions call him Nimrod, the great hunter who warred against the gods. Because of his impudence, the gods bound him to the skies. This may be the “cords” God refers to by asking, “Can you loose the cords of Orion?” (Job 38:31). The Hebrew kesil means “fool” or “insolent one.” This legend may spring from Nimrod in Genesis 10:8-9.

The Greek term pleiades and the Hebrew kimah are synonymous and mean “heap” or “cluster.” This perfectly describes the star cluster Pleiades. This cluster, like Orion, moves from the northern to southern hemisphere in the course of a year. The cluster appears bound together by a chain, explaining God’s question, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?” (Job 38:31).

All three constellations have stories tying them back to a time near the flood. In fact, many cultures separated by time and distance ascribe similar characteristics to these constellations lending weight to the shared ancestry of creation.

As Job contemplated the power of God as seen in the stars, he turned his eyes to the same stars we see. He, like many today, may have sat under the stars with his father and listened to the stories of the sky. The names may be different and their myths long since faded, but their light continues to stream through history connecting us heart to heart with Job.

-Sam Dilbeck


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