This will be a lengthy overview, but two things ought to be embedded in your mind as you continue to read this post:
1. The book of Revelation was written by an astral prophet: John the Apostle.
2. The birth of Jesus is conceptually and theologically linked to Genesis 6:1–4 and the sin of the “watchers”. In other words, the birth of Jesus would have alerted literate 1st century Jews that the Messiah’s arrival would reverse the sin of the “watchers”.
Our starting place is in Romans 10:5-18, where Paul is clearly describing the necessity of believing in Jesus for salvation [vv. 9–10]. But in order to believe in Jesus, people must hear about Jesus. Paul then raises the expected objection: not everyone has heard about Jesus. Paul then gives an unexpected fascinating answer to this objection. He asserts that they have heard about Jesus [v. 18]. Naturally, his readers would wonder: where? The answer is in Paul’s use of Psalm 19. Paul was not arguing that the story of the cross was in the starry heavens, but that the stars communicated the arrival of a divine king! In that sense, Paul believes it was possible for the news about Jesus’ coming to be known to everyone. His task in the gospel was to explain what that coming meant, particularly with respect to the cross. There are Christian writers who have attempted to argue that the starry sky [specifically the zodiac] lays out every detail of the work of Jesus and the gospel. These attempts go too far. It is fallacious to presume that the starry heavens could actually explain the way of salvation to someone when Jesus himself sent the apostles into the world to preach the gospel. If looking at the heavens was sufficient for evangelism, why would Jesus send out the apostles? The sky has far greater and more immediate coverage! Moreover, the message of the travelling apostles was not how to read the heavens, it was the work of Jesus on the cross. In fact, the notion that the gospel message could be understood through the stars conflicts with the fact that the disciples themselves didn’t understand the cross event until after the ascension [Luke 24:45–49]. Thus, for Paul, there were people who understood the arrival of a Jewish messianic king; as David wrote in Psalm 19:
“The heavens are declaring the glory of God, and their expanse shows the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they reveal knowledge. There is no speech nor are there words—their voice is not heard—yet their line goes out into all the world, and their words to the ends of the earth.”
The “line” here means the astronomical ecliptic. Notice that David says the heavens communicate information. Thus, this passage is one of several in the New Testament that take us into the ancient concept of astral theology, a subset of which is astral prophecy. In briefest terms, and with respect to a biblical perspective [as opposed to the pagan conception], astral theology was the idea that God made the celestial objects in the heavens [the sun, moon, and stars] to act as “signs for seasons, days, and years” [Genesis 1:14]. There is a good deal of evidence [from zodiac mosaics in ancient Jewish synagogues], that theologically conservative Jews believed that divine activity and earthly events could be discerned in the skies; activity they were careful to attribute to the true God. Here is the mosaic floor of a 4th century synagogue in Tiberius Galilee.
This mosaic embodies some of the finest Jewish art in Israel. At the bottom, near the entrance, a set of Greek inscriptions honours the donors of the mosaic. To the right and left of the donors’ names stand two lions. The large middle panel has at its corners four female figures representing the seasons of the year. In the round medallion set into the square panel is a full zodiac with all 12 signs. A fallen wall has bisected the panel. The zodiac is to be read counter-clockwise with its first panel [centre left] at the very top. In the centre of the zodiac is Jesus, with rays streaming from his head, driving his chariot directly to the observer. The top panel depicts the Torah shrine, two menorah, and other holy objects.
Thus, how did Paul think the heavens communicated the coming of Jesus? And how did gentile people [like the Magi] know when to look for the birth of Jesus [as Paul argued that they did in Romans 10:18]? The answer is in understanding the Star of Bethlehem. At that time, the Chinese were the only ones that recorded the heavens. There were no bright stars that appeared when Herod was alive. This leads us to the Magi, astrologer priests of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia. Their astronomy was in signs of the positions of the planets that would go unnoticed to the Jews. Conjunctions where two or more planets gathered together were the most powerful of these configurations. There was an extremely close conjunction between Jupiter and Venus in 3/2 b.c. But, before we get into the fascinating details of the astronomical data, let’s quickly review Herod’s date of death. Scholars argue for Herod’s date of death to be on the 13th of March in 4 b.c. But newer scholarly re-evaluations are challenging this date, re-positioning it to the 28th of January in 1 b.c. Incidentally, these re-evaluations also solve the Quirinius census problem in Luke 2 [a complex issue in biblical scholarship].
Josephus [1st century Jewish historian] is the only source we have for timing the date of Herod’s death. He writes about Herod dying after a lunar eclipse [but before a Passover feast]. Thus, the problem with the 4 b.c. lunar eclipse is that there was only one lunar month between that eclipse and the Passover feast which begins on the day of the full moon [and since it was a slight partial eclipse occurring in the morning, it would not have been very noticeable to the general population]. Josephus records many events that transpire between that eclipse and the Passover feast. According to Josephus, the eclipse is mentioned in connection with the burning of Matthias and his companions for sedition. Then Herod became ill. His doctors suggested that he go to the baths at Callirrhoe. He took their advise and crossed the Jordan river [since Herod resided in Jericho, it takes ~20 km to travel there and back]. Later on, Herod gave his kingdom to his son Archclaus and died 5 days after having Antipater executed. If the 4 b.c. date is correct, this allows room for ~29 days that we see all the events above take place. Thus, the next lunar eclipse that occurred on the 10th of January in 1 b.c. was a total lunar eclipse that was seen most of the night. There were three lunar months between that eclipse and the Passover that year, therefore plenty of time for all of Herod’s final activities, having ~90 days for all the events to take place. This is why the lunar eclipse on the 10th of January in 1 b.c is a better fit. Notice the visual differences between the two:
This fits with many early Christians placing the birth of Jesus in 3/2 b.c:
- Irenaeus [2nd century Bishop of Lyons] says 3/2 b.c.
- Clement [2nd century] says 3/2 b.c.
- Tertullian [2nd century] says 3/2 b.c.
- Julius Africanus [2nd century] says 3/2 b.c.
- Hippolytus [3rd century] says 3/2 b.c.
- Origen [3rd century] says 3/2 b.c.
- Eusebius [3rd century Bishop of Caesarea] says 3/2 b.c.
- Epiphanius of Salamis [4th century Bishop of Salamis] says 3/2 b.c.
- Orosius [5th century] says 2 b.c.
- Cassiodorus [6th century] says 3 b.c.
Thus, returning back to the Star of Bethlehem, on the 12th of August in 3 b.c., Jupiter [the king planet] and Venus briefly merged in the early morning skies against the constellation of Leo [the zodiacal sign of Judah]. From September 3 b.c. to May 2 b.c., Jupiter made three conjunctions with Regulus [the king star in Leo]. These three conjunctions would have shown Jupiter making a type of crowning effect over the star Regulus:
Then 9 months later [coincidentally the human gestation period], after sunset on the 17th of June in 2 b.c., the two planets again joined as one in Leo. Notice that Matthew records:
“After listening to the king, they set out, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.” [Matthew 2:9]
This “star” [which is Jupiter] came and “stopped” over the place where Jesus was. At first this seems impossible for an astronomical object, but not to an astronomer. Simply, this is Jupiter reaching its stationary points at the beginning and end of its retrograde motion. Here’s a diagram below:
Jupiter becomes stationary at its times for retrogression and progression. When we look at Jupiter we see the planet normally moving eastward. This apparent movement is called proper motion. However, the earth is moving in its orbit around the sun faster than that of Jupiter. When the earth reaches point A, an observer would see Jupiter nearly along the same line as the earth’s own orbital movement. When the earth is travelling more or less in a direct line toward Jupiter, the planet will continue to show proper motion. But when earth reaches point B, it is no longer heading toward Jupiter. The faster velocity of the earth as it makes its turn to B and beyond, causes the apparent motion of Jupiter to slow down. This continues until the earth reaches point C. At that point the speed of the earth in relation to Jupiter is the same as Jupiter’s. That is when Jupiter appears to become stationary within the background of the stars. As the earth progresses from points C to D, it has greater relative speed than Jupiter and this causes Jupiter to retrogress. Thus, Jupiter reverses its motion and travels westward. However, at point D, the speed of the earth and Jupiter are again matched [relative to each other] and Jupiter stops its reverse motion. When point D is passed, Jupiter returns to proper motion. Here’s the astronomical pattern that emerges:
The times are expressed in UTC [or +3 hours for local time in Babylon]. The northernmost planet is listed first. Angular separations are expressed in degrees and arc-minutes [1 arc-minute = 1/60th of a degree].
1. On the 12th of August in 3 b.c., Venus and Jupiter are in their first conjunction, visible low in the eastern twilight before sunrise. Both are moving eastward against the stars. This is what the Magi described when they met Herod [Matthew 2:1-2].
2. On the 11th of September in 3 b.c., Jupiter and Regulus are in conjunction for the first time. It is on this date that Jesus was born. Thus, as Jesus began his ministry in October / November of 28 a.d., he was ~2 months past his 30th birthday, precisely as in Luke 3:23.
3. On the 17th of February in 2 b.c., Jupiter and Regulus are in conjunction for the second time, as Jupiter is in retrograde motion.
4. On the 8th of May in 2 b.c., Jupiter and Regulus are in conjunction for the third time.
5. On the 17th of June in 2 b.c., Venus and Jupiter are in conjunction. They appear to merge into a single star low in the west at sunset. This is the Star of Bethlehem! By this time, Jesus is 9 months old.
Thus, it was on the 25th of December in 2 b.c. at 7:00 am that Jupiter was in retrograde and appeared to stop in the Virgo Constellation. This was the day when the Magi visited Jesus [Matthew 2:9-12], because when they saw Jupiter [the king planet] ahead of them to the south, sitting 65° above the horizon, it appeared to stop over the town of Bethlehem! Thus, it was the 1st conjunction on the 12th of August in 3 b.c. that set the Magi on their journey. Magi were known to have knowledge of planetary motions, and they could indeed calculate and predict the 2nd conjunction 10 months later. Thus, they timed their journey to arrive around that 2nd conjunction [Matthew 2:3-6]. It is a reading from Micah 5:2 that sends them to David's birthplace: Bethlehem. As they left Jerusalem, the Magi saw the star again [Matthew 2:7-9]. Here we see v. 9 describing Jupiter’s move and then halt in its retrograde motion on 25th of December in 2 b.c. over Bethlehem. Even more fascinating is that this date took place in the season of Hanukkah, and thus is the date later chosen to celebrate Christmas! This was an 8-day celebration feast the Jews held near the beginning of winter. Bede [7th century] writes:
“The first dedication of the temple was by Solomon in the autumn; the second was by Zerubbabel and the priest Joshua around that same time of year; a third dedication was conducted by Judas Maccabeus during the winter time when he instituted an annual commemoration of the dedication and cleansing of the temple by the priests.”
In 2 b.c., Hanukkah began on the 23rd of December. Thus, the Magi gave their gifts to baby Jesus on the 3rd day of the Jewish festival. This is a significant and symbolic time to present their gifts to the messianic king. This is because Hanukkah is a time for gift giving. From a Jewish context, there would have been no better time for the Magi to present their gifts to the Jewish messiah. Furthermore, the Jews would not have been honouring the season as devoted to the renewal of pagan gods. For the Jews, it was their time to celebrate their triumph over the idolatry of the gentiles and the renewal of their lives to the God of Israel. Thus, notice that Matthew records a specific age-range for all the male children that Herod wanted to murder, and specifically “who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had determined from the wise men” [Matthew 2:16].
Jesus was ~1.25 years old when Herod died on the 28th of January in 1 b.c. Thus, how did the Magi know to look for a star that would hail the birth of a Jewish messiah? The answer is amazing and simple: Daniel in Babylon. Daniel was always associated with Babylonian astrologers [Daniel 1:19–20; 2:12–13, 47; 4:7–9; 5:11–12], since Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel the head of all the astrologers of Babylon. A day came when Daniel was able to save the lives of all of the Babylonian astrologers. Nebuchadnezzar had an unusual dream. When the astrologers were unable to interpret his dream, he sentenced every one of them to execution [Daniel 2:12]. Among the ones arrested were Daniel and his three friends, because from the viewpoint of the Babylonians, these four Hebrews were part of the Babylonian School of Astrology, thus to be executed. But Daniel requested an audience with the king, and he received it. Then Daniel interprets the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had. After he interpreted the dream, he saved the lives of all the other astrologers. This is how he became the head of the Babylonian School of Astrology [Daniel 2:48]. Since Daniel himself mentions the law of Moses [Daniel 9:11-13], a line of Babylonian astrologers from generation to generation would know about the prophecies of Balaam, specifically the one that says:
“I can see him, but not right now. I observe him, but from a distance. A star streams forth from Jacob; a sceptre arises from Israel. He will crush Moab's forehead, along with all of Seth's descendants.” [Numbers 24:17].
The term “sceptre” is a symbol of royalty and kingship. This “star” which would rise out of Jacob, is himself a king.
It was the tribe of Judah [the Lion] that was prophesied to possess this sceptre in Israel [Genesis 49:9–10]. The only star in the heavens that fits this combination mentioned by Balaam is the star Regulus [the king star]. Furthermore, even more significant is that Balaam came from the city of Pethor, a city on the banks of the Euphrates River in Babylonia [Numbers 22:5; Deuteronomy 23:4]. Thus, we have a double Babylonian connection:
1. Daniel, which spelled out how many years would transpire before the birth of the Jewish messiah [the 70 weeks in Daniel 9].
2. The prophecy of the Babylonian astrologer Balaam about a “star.”
Thus, what would have alerted the Magi before these significant conjunctions in 3/2 b.c.? The answer lies in a very rare triple conjunction [where two planets meet each other three times in a short period] in 7 b.c., a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Ancient astronomers believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe. They thought that the sun, moon and the five visible planets [Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn] circled around the Earth at different distances and speeds. Farthest away was the great celestial sphere in which the stars, and the constellations they formed, were embedded. The constellations on the celestial sphere thus appeared as a backdrop to the sun, moon, and planets as they moved across the heavens.
Evidence for how ancient astronomers would have understood this conjunction in 7 b.c. has been revealed by excavations in Babylon uncovering clay tablets bearing astronomical computations for that year. A cuneiform celestial almanac from Sippar predicted the triple conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in 7 b.c., where at the beginning of the year, Jupiter and Saturn were continuously visible in Pisces for 11 months. The movements, stationary points, risings and settings of both planets are accurately registered month by month. They came closest together on the 29th of May, the 29th of September, and the 4th of December.
An 11 month conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces is an extremely rare event, occurring only once every 800 years. Since 7 b.c., a triple conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter has been observed only twice, in 786 a.d. and 1583 a.d. For the ancient Babylonian Magi, the conjunction was not only important astronomically, but astrologically and politically. In the Babylonian system, Jupiter, the largest and brightest planet, was known as the star of Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. Saturn, the 2nd largest planet, was the star of the king, the earthly representative of the god. The Babylonians called Saturn kaiwanu which means “the steady one.” We see evidence for this from the Old Testament:
“And you carried the tent of your king—and Saturn, your star god idols that you crafted for yourselves” [Amos 5:26].
The constellation Pisces was associated with Ea, the god of wisdom, life, and creation. Pisces was also the last sign in the zodiac, the last constellation that the sun passes through. Therefore, they believed that the conjunction of the planets in Pisces accordingly portended two things:
1. The end of the old world order.
2. The birth of a new saviour king chosen by their chief god.
The prediction of such a king would have held wide interest in 7 b.c., when a power vacuum prevailed during this time in the ancient Near East. The Seleucid empire created by the successors of Alexander the Great had collapsed in 64 b.c., and its remnants, which included Judea, had been annexed to Rome as a province named Syria. However, the power of Rome had not yet been consolidated in the area. Even after Augustus changed Rome into an autocratic monarchy in 27 b.c., his authority was questioned in the East, for the Roman emperor, unlike the Seleucid kings and their predecessors, did not derive his authority from God. For this reason, many people considered Roman rule illegitimate and hoped that a local Near Eastern king appointed by God would drive the Romans out of the country and create a better world. Thus, the triple conjunction in 7 b.c. would have been interpreted as a portent of the birth of this Near Eastern king. When the year 7 b.c. began, Jupiter was already visible in the night sky. Saturn appeared soon after on the 3rd of April. The planets met for the first time on the 29th of May. The second meeting of the planets occurred on the 29th of September. Mars was the star of Amurru [the West], hence this second meeting inspired the Magi to head West. The third conjunction occurred at the time of the full moon, on the 4th of December, about three weeks before the winter solstice, when the Babylonians held their annual celebration of the victory of their saviour god Nabu, over the forces of darkness. The Magi may well have associated the birth of the child they were looking for with this festival, for the Mesopotamian king was commonly regarded as an incarnation of Nabu.
Interestingly, the Babylonians proclaimed Nabu’s victory as bussurtu which means “good news” [the same meaning as the Hebrew word bĕśōrâ for “gospel”]. Thus, after the triple conjunction in 7 b.c., and because of the later confirmation of the Venus and Jupiter conjunction on the 12th of August in 3 b.c., the Magi understood the message of Balaam’s “star” [that a messiah-king would be born in Syria-Palestine], and they headed to a leading political centre in the region: Herod’s court. Indeed, the Magi would have rejoiced over the good news [or bussurtu], since their saviour king was born! Indeed, when “they saw the star, they were ecstatic with joy” [Matthew 2:10]. This finally leads us to Revelation 12.
Starting with Revelation 12:1-2, it is quite clear that the signs in the heavens are indisputably astronomical: sun, moon, and stars. The key figure, and logical starting point, for interpreting Revelation 12 astronomically is the woman. Since the woman gives birth to the messianic figure [Jesus] and then is persecuted and has to flee into the desert, scholars agree that this woman is a picture of the faithful community [Israel], which existed both before and after the coming of Jesus. Israel of course is described as the virgin of Zion in the Old Testament and produces the Messiah in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy [2 Kings 19:21; Isaiah 37:21; Jeremiah 14:17; 18:13; 31:4, 21; Amos 5:2; Lamentations 1:15; 2:13]. Since Mary is the Jewish girl who gives birth to Jesus, Israel as a “virgin” best fits the description of this woman in the heavens. Why? Because the connection to Israel as a “virgin” is important given that the signage would have to be decipherable to Jews at the time of Jesus’ birth. At that time, Mary’s circumstances would have been entirely unknown. The meaning of the “virgin” and the 12 stars around her head is evident in 2nd Temple literature, as well as later rabbinic thought. What is John signifying when describing this woman? The woman is featured as being in heaven and both the “sun” and the “moon” are in association with her, specifically she is “dressed” with the sun, there are 12 stars around her head, and the moon is “under her feet.”
Thus, she is an astronomical sign. Interpreting astronomical signs dominated the thinking of most people in the 1st century, whether the people were Jews or gentiles [like the Magi above]. Indeed, the Greek word for “spectacular sign” used by John to describe this celestial display was the same one used by the ancients to denote the zodiacal constellations! The idea that the woman is a constellation is made plausible when one looks more closely at the text. The description that the woman was “dressed” with the sun is stock astronomical language for the sun being in the midst of a constellation. While the sun is in the woman, the moon is at her feet. For this situation to occur, the constellation of the woman must be, in astronomical language, on the ecliptic, the imaginary line in the sky that the sun and moon follow in their journey through the zodiac constellations. Notice that this is consistent with Paul’s use of Psalm 19:4, that the stars communicating via a “line” that goes out in the heavens is the ecliptic. What John saw indicates that the position of the sun was located somewhere mid-bodied to the woman, between the neck and the knees. The only time in the year that the sun could be in a position to clothe Virgo [that is, to be mid-bodied to her, in the region where a pregnant woman carries a child] is when the sun is located between 150º and 170º along the ecliptic. This clothing by the sun occurs for a 20 day period each year. This 20º spread indicates the time when Jesus was born.
Notice that the moon is at the feet of the woman. Thus, John’s vision accurately records the astronomical alignment of all these objects. Because of the moon’s behaviour relative to the ecliptic and Virgo in any given year, the 20 day window narrows to a ~90 minute period in which to astronomically pinpoint the birth of Jesus! Since the feet of Virgo represent the last 7º of the constellation [in the time of Jesus this would have been between 180º and 187º along the ecliptic], the moon has to be positioned under that 7º arc, as observed from Palestine or Patmos, in the twilight period on the 11th of September in 3 b.c. The relationship began at 6:00 pm [sunset], and lasted until 7:30 pm [moonset]. This is the only day in the whole year that this astronomical phenomenon described by John could take place! Thus, one more important point is that the moon was in its crescent phase. It was a New Moon day, the start of a new lunar month, and the date itself landed on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year! Thus, the 11th of September in 3 b.c. was Tishri 1 on the Jewish calendar. For Jews, this is very profound. It’s the Day of Trumpets [Leviticus 23:23–26]. It was an important annual holy day for the Jews.
Tishri 1 was also the day that many of the ancient kings and rulers of Judah reckoned as their inauguration day of rule. This procedure was followed consistently in the time of Solomon, Jeremiah, and Ezra. This is a powerful piece of evidence for the celestial signs of the birth of the messianic king. Furthermore, the Jews believed that the Day of Trumpets commemorated a renewal of the world. This is when the world is reborn. Amazingly, this tradition is part of a matrix of ideas that link Tishri 1 to the sin of the “watchers” in Genesis 6:1-4. How? The most ancient Israelite calendar began with Tishri, because it fell in the fall season with a harvest [after the rains had produced the fall crop]. This month and this harvest were considered a memorial of creation. Why? Because Genesis has Adam and Eve placed in a lush garden in Eden. Because of the availability of food for Adam and Eve, the creation must have begun in the harvest season, and so the earliest Hebrew calendar began the year during this harvest season. Hence, the 1st month [Tishri] fell in this fall harvest season. This logic produces the idea that the Israelite New Year signalled a renewal of creation. Thus, how does this ancient calendar factor into Genesis 6:1-4 and the flood story? Note the descriptions of Noah here:
“Noah was 600 years old when water began to flood the earth. Noah, his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives entered the ark with him before the flood waters arrived. From both clean and unclean animals, from birds, and from everything that crawls on the ground, two by two, male and female, they entered the ark to join Noah, just as God had commanded. Seven days later, the flooding started. On the seventeenth day of the second month, when Noah was 600 years old, all the springs of the great deep burst open, the floodgates of the heavens were opened, and it rained throughout the earth for 40 days and 40 nights.” [Genesis 7:6-12]
As the waters were subsiding, just after the dove was released from the ark for the last time, Genesis 8:13-14 provides this chronological note:
“In the six hundred and first year of Noah’s life, during the first month, the flood water began to evaporate from the land. Noah then removed the ark’s cover and saw that the surface of the land was drying. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month, the ground was dry.”
The math is transparent. Barely over a year after the flood began, Noah and his family left the ark in the 2nd month of the year. Noah had turned 601 by the time he left the ark. Why is this noteworthy? Because Jewish tradition took this chronology to mean that Noah’s birthday was also on Tishri 1. Thus, this is the same day for the birth of Jesus. A messiah born on Tishri 1 would inevitably have created a mental and theological association between Noah and Jesus [1 Peter 3:18-22]. Thus, since Jesus and Noah shared the same birthday, there are other details about the chronology of the flood that would have moved ancient Jewish readers to associate the Messiah [and thus Jesus] with Genesis 6:1–4. The 2nd month of the year [the month when Noah emerged from the ark] was marked astronomically by the heliacal appearance of the Pleiades. A star’s heliacal rising is a phenomenon where a star is first visible in the morning sky. On this day, a star will only be briefly visible, since if you had looked at it a day earlier, it would be too close to the sun for visibility. Ancient astrologers gave particular emphasis to the heliacal rising and setting of stars since these could be used as reliable indicators to agricultural conditions. The cluster of stars known as the Pleiades [in Hebrew kîmâ] is mentioned three times in the Old Testament [Amos 5:8; Job 9:9; 38:31]. It is always paired with Orion [in Hebrew kĕsîl], since its position in the sky is close to the Orion constellation. And most curious is the fact that Orion was considered a giant in the ancient world! Scholars wonder if kĕsîl in Job 38:31 contains a reference to a lost legend of a giant primeval hero who [having rebelled against God] was subdued, bound, and placed in the sky. In fact, the Targum of Job [an Aramaic translation of Job discovered at Qumran] has Job 38:31 translated like this:
“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion [naphila]?”
That last Aramaic word for Orion, is the Aramaic noun from which Nephilim derives! In Mesopotamian astronomy, Orion was referred to as “the true shepherd of Anu.” Anu was the chief god of the heavenly realm, the sky. The shepherd motif was associated in the ancient Near East with kingship. Thus, Orion was Anu’s chosen king. But this naphila wasn’t the true shepherd-king for the followers of Yahweh, the true God. And sure enough, the shepherd imagery is overtly messianic. David became the model of the ideal king for Israel [2 Kings 18:3; 22:2] and the prototype of the Messiah as the ultimate shepherd-king [Jeremiah 33:15; Ezekiel 34:23–24; 37:24–25]. The theological messaging is startling. A messiah whose birth on Tishri 1 was followed in the next month by the rising of the Pleiades-Orion would have signalled the arrival of Yahweh’s shepherd-king. The following month, the 2nd month of the year when Noah and his family emerged from the ark, marked the judgment of God upon the Nephilim. But we know from Genesis 6:4 that the flood wasn’t the permanent cure for the Nephilim and the effect of the sin of the “watchers” in human history. What was needed was a new Noah. Thus, on Tishri 1 [the traditional birthday of Noah], the heavens telegraphed the identity of the better Noah: Jesus of Nazareth, born via Noah’s bloodline [Luke 3:36]. The permanent reversal of the pact sealed on Mount Hermon had begun.
Next in Revelation 12:3, the image of “a huge red dragon” has a complex background. This symbol of a dragon was well known not only in Jewish contexts but also in every ancient culture [Sumerian, Akkadian, Indian, Greek, Hittite, Egyptian, and Phoenician], usually connected with demonic powers in the ancient world. The earliest was Sumerian in the 24th century b.c. [the destruction of the seven-headed dragon], and in Canaan it symbolized all the serpent gods as the enemy of Baal. Here’s a cylinder seal that shows a dragon with seven heads, representing the chaos that threatens the divine order of the world. It is the task of the gods [and king’s as the surrogate of the gods on earth] to rein in the chaos. This cylinder seal was found in Larsa at the Euphrates, dating back to the late 3rd millennium b.c.:
In Babylon it is a red serpent that guards the god Marduk and is featured as a dragon-like creature on the Ishtar gate. To the Hebrews there was both Leviathan and the female sea monster Rahab. In Greek mythology there is a seven-headed hydra slain by Hercules. In the Old Testament, there is the serpent, Leviathan, Behemoth, Tannin, and Rahab. This sea monster symbolized the war between good and evil, between the gods and chaos. Obviously, in similar fashion to the meaning of the “bottomless pit” in Revelation 9:1–2, this builds on the fact that for the nations surrounding the Mediterranean basin, the sea meant unfathomable depths and the chaos of death. Thus, Leviathan or the “dragon” came to represent all the terrors of the sea and thus the presence of evil and death. The serpent was sacred in Egypt, a symbol of Isis. Pharaoh [Ezekiel 29:3; 32:2] and Nebuchadnezzar [Jeremiah 51:34] are each called a sea monster, both because of their tendency to devour nations and because they were the enemies of God’s people. Thus, it also signified nations that stood against God and his people. The dragon or Leviathan is defeated both at the beginning of creation [Psalm 74:13; 89:10 = Isaiah 51:9] and at the day of Yahweh [Isaiah 27:1]. From 2nd Temple literature we read 1 Enoch 60.7–10, 24 that speaks of the female sea monster Leviathan and the male Behemoth destroyed at the day of Yahweh:
“And on that day two monsters were separated—the female monster whose name is Leviathan, to dwell in the depth of the sea, above the fountains of the waters. But the name of the male is Behemoth, who occupies with his breast the trackless desert named Dundayn east of the garden where the chosen and righteous dwell, where my great-grandfather was taken up, the seventh from Adam, the first man whom the Lord of Spirits created. And I asked another angel to show me the might of those monsters, how they were separated in one day and were thrown the one into the depth of the sea, and the other into the dry land of the desert. And he said to me, “Here, son of man, you wish to know what is hidden.” And the angel of peace who was with me said, “These two monsters, prepared according to the greatness of the Lord, will provide food for the chosen and righteous, so that the punishment of the Lord of Spirits rests upon them, in order that the punishment of the Lord of Spirits does not go forth in vain.”
Thus, John writes that this dragon has “seven heads, ten horns, and seven royal crowns on its heads.” As already noted above, the image of “seven heads” stems from the plural “heads” of Psalm 74:13, paralleled by the seven heads of the serpent Lotan in Ugaritic mythology and the seven-headed monster in Jewish apocalyptic texts like 1 Enoch. The meaning of the “seven heads” is the dragon’s pretension to sovereignty over the earth. This is further exemplified in the “seven royal crowns” on the heads. The fact that it is “royal” is because of Satan’s great imitation of the true crowns of Jesus. However, Revelation makes it clear that Satan has a temporary reign, and he is sovereign only over his followers. His defeat at the cross was final, and he knows his time is short [v. 12]. His rule is temporary, finite, and ultimately illusory. The “ten horns” allude to the 4th beast in Daniel 7:7–8, 20, 24. In Daniel the horns are 10 kings coming from the 4th empire, and 3 of them are conquered by the “insignificant horn” [Daniel 8:9]. In the ancient world, “horns” symbolized strength, especially military prowess. In Revelation 5:6 we see the Lamb described as having “seven horns” as the conquering ram; thus the “ten horns” of the dragon are another great imitation, a parody of the military strength of Jesus.
Next in Revelation 12:4, the heavenly drama continues as the dragon goes to war first against the hosts of heaven [war in heaven] and then against the woman and her child [war on earth]. First, he uses his “tail” in similar fashion to the “tails” of the scorpions that tortured the earth-dwellers for 5 months [Revelation 9:10]. In antiquity the tail of a dragon was often a weapon. With his tail, the dragon “swept away one-third of the stars in the sky and knocked them down to the earth.” There are four interpretations:
1. Some believe this has no special meaning and is simply reporting a great pageant enacted in the sky. But, surely this scene has more significance than this!
2. Others believe it is an astrological drama, with the planets going to war against the stars, resulting in a shower of falling stars. As noted above, this is certainly astral imagery, where the zodiac supplies the background in this context.
3. Still others believe that the stars here are not heavenly beings but earthly, namely the people of God who are trampled by Satan and his followers. They think that the angels in Daniel often represent the saints [Daniel 10:20–21; 12:1, 3], and so Antiochus’s attack on Israel in Daniel 8:10 is represented as an attack on the heavenly army itself. Therefore, the fall of the stars here in Revelation 12:4 does not refer to fallen angels but rather to the persecution of God’s people by the dragon. However, while it is generally agreed that Daniel 8:10 pictures the attack on Israel as a war against the heavenly host, it is also generally held that the “stars” in Daniel 8:10 are primarily angels rather than the people of God.
4. The most common view among Christians today is that this is about Satan sweeping away “one-third of the stars,” referring to the original war in heaven. In that primordial event, Satan and his followers rebelled against God. In Revelation 12 this battle is viewed from two vantage points. The dragon “knocked them down to the earth.” Here the dragon is the aggressor, and this seems to signify an early victory in the war. However, in Revelation 12:7–9, which probably expands this scene, Satan and his angels were thrown out of heaven to earth by Michael and the heavenly host. Thus, they argue that Revelation 12:4 refers to the initial victory as Satan convinced 33% of the heavenly host to join him in the rebellion against God, and Revelation 12:7–9 refers to the actual battle when they are cast out of heaven. However, it is important to note that this passage is not describing any sort of primeval angelic/demonic rebellion. The “one-third of the stars” reference follows the birth of Jesus!
Thus, the best fit is a mix of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th points, echoing Daniel 8:10, where the “insignificant horn” is Antiochus IV Epiphanes waging war against the Jewish people, but also depicted as a war against the heavenly host, and this is all illustrated with an astrological detail. Thus, the dragon goes to war against the woman and her child. After the expulsion from heaven, the dragon “stood in front of the woman” in order to “devour her child” as soon as he is born. Such evil intentions toward children is sadly quite frequent within the Old Testament [Exodus 1:15–16; Leviticus 18:21; 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Ezekiel 16:20], but the primary parallel is of course Herod’s “execution of all the male children in Bethlehem” [Matthew 2:16]. While some have seen in this picture the persecution of the saints, it is certainly not that so much as Satan’s attempts to kill Jesus, not only after his birth in Bethlehem but also in the plots of the Jewish leaders [Mark 3:6] and the attempts to arrest and kill him [John 7:30, 44–48; 8:58–59]. Since John sees this as “another sign appeared in the sky” [Revelation 12:3], can an astrological identification be made here? Yes indeed!
Since the “dragon” is described as “red,” this means it is located in the southern sky. It “stood” at the feet of the woman about to give birth. This is further indication of sky location since the Greek word for “stood” was a technical term for fixing and designating the location of a star or star-set, that is, a constellation. And its present perfect grammatical form points to a condition enduring into the present. In other words, this constellation is where it has always been. The word is not used to describe behaviour, as though the dragon were elsewhere and then came and stood where we find it in this scenario. Basically, we are dealing with two fixed constellations. The fact that the dragon’s tail sweeps away “one-third of the stars” of the sky further points to a sky location generally devoid of stars, compared with other sky locations. That these stars fall to earth points to a region known for falling stars. For the unaided eye, there are segments of the sky that seem totally lacking in stars. Two notable ones lie above the constellation Leo and another, much smaller, between Virgo, Raven, Cup and Leo. These are likewise regions of falling stars [also astronomically known as leonids]. Given John’s description, his vision of the falling stars focused on the region between Virgo, Raven, Cup, and Leo. The constellation that fits the profile of this “huge red dragon” facing an equally large pregnant woman is ancient Scorpio, which once consisted of a combination of two zodiacal signs [where Libra = the claws of Scorpio]:
Thus, which constellation does John see as the “huge red dragon”? Here are the proposed options using 11th of September 3 b.c. as reference:
1. Draco. But this is problematic, since it’s found at the North Pole.
2. Hydra, which extends from Cancer to Libra [the claws of Scorpio], thus through 4 out of the 12 zodiac signs [or “one-third of the stars” of the sky]. Hydra has a tail that reaches to the claws of Scorpio while its head reaches to the claws of Cancer. Immediately above Hydra and accompanying it are the constellations of Corvus [7 stars] and Crater [10 stars]. Notice that Corvus corresponds to the “seven heads,” lying close to Virgo; while Crater corresponds to the “ten horns” since its 10 stars has the image of a projection of ten fins [or horns] placed along the back of Hydra.
3. Scorpio, originally a much larger set of stars than the present constellation. It was truly gigantic, even by celestial zodiacal standards, since it originally consisted of two signs of the zodiac [Libra and Scorpio]. But, since 237 b.c. it was divided by the Greeks, when the claws originally holding an Altar were lopped off to become Libra. For the ancient Chinese tradition, the original Scorpio ran from Virgo to Scorpio and included horns, neck, heart, and tail. Aratus [3rd century b.c. Greek didactic poet] wrote that the tail extended into Ophiuchus [holding Serpens], hence the constellation being seen as having a serpentine tail. Furthermore, the Chinese call Scorpio the Azure Dragon. The Babylonians too saw horns where later astronomy students saw Scorpio’s claws. Thus, in their tradition, Scorpio stood for darkness, death, and evil.
In summary, Hydra has the advantage of matching the description of the seven heads atop the dragon in Revelation 12:3. Hydra was also conceived as a sea serpent, imagery that matches descriptions later in Revelation 13:1, which in turn come from the Leviathan material of the Old Testament [Isaiah 27:1]. However, Hydra is not precisely on the ecliptic; it is adjacent and only slightly below the woman. In other words, Hydra is not positioned directly under the feet of the woman, waiting to devour the child as soon as it emerges from the woman. The ecliptic problem is resolved if Scorpio is John’s referent. Both the 2nd and 3rd options are equally possible.