Samizdat

"Samizdat: Publishing the Forbidden."

Tag: P. Schnabel

Tracing the Doctrine of Cataclysms of Berossus

“The context in Censorinus shows that the interval of 2434 years was in Aristarchus’s opinion the interval between alternate conflagrations and inundations of the world when the sun, moon, and stars all return to the same zodiacal sign.

It is very difficult to trace exactly the adoption of Babylonian ideas by the Greek astronomers. An active part in the diffusion of Babylonian astronomy is often ascribed to Berosus the Chaldaean, who was a contemporary of Aristarchus, and had a doctrine of cataclysms similar to his; for Berosus claimed that when all the planets were in Cancer the earth would be burned, and when they were in Capricorn there would be a flood.

But an examination of the astronomical fragments of Berosus suggests that he had a very inadequate knowledge of the subject. His views on the moon’s phases are reported by Vitruvius, who contrasts them with the explanation given by Aristarchus.

It looks indeed as though Aristarchus set out deliberately to refute the views of his Babylonian contemporary, who settled in Cos, not far from Samos, the home of Aristarchus. Berosus supposed that the moon had light of her own, one half of her orb being luminous and the rest of a blue colour. The moon’s phases thus in his view were caused by her luminous half being turned towards or away from the earth.

Aristarchus, however, maintained that the moon receives her light from the sun, so that on the fourteenth day of the month when she is in opposition to the sun, she is full and rises when the sun is setting.

Vitruvius shows that Aristarchus explained the first and last quarters and the new moons as well; and it is obvious from Aristarchus’s book on the sizes and distances of the sun and moon that Berosus had nothing to teach the Samian about the phases of the moon.

No doubt Aristarchus applied what he had learned from Strato and his own theory about light and shadow to the moon’s phases and to eclipses also. The most obvious objection to Berosus’s doctrine was that it failed to explain lunar eclipses, as Cleomedes [2.4] pointed out.

It is most unlikely that Berosus had anything worth while to teach the Greeks about theoretical astronomy, though he did have a cursory interest in the subject, having treated it in the first book of the Babyloniaca (P. Schnabel, Berossos und die babylonisch-hellenistische LiteraturLeipzig 1923, p. 19.)

We are told also that he maintained that Babylonian astronomical records did not go back before the time of Nabonasar, that king having destroyed the earlier ones. In view of this clear statement it is surprising to find that according to our texts of Pliny, Berosus held that observations of the stars had been inscribed on baked tablets for 480,000 (!) years (490,000 in some copies).

If we read CCCCLXXX for CCCCLXXX we can reduce the period to 480 years. Now Berosus dedicated his Babyloniaca to Antiochus I Soter, who reigned from 281/0 to 262/1 B.C., and if we add 480 to a year in the reign of that king we are brought close to the epoch of Nabonasar.

I think it likely therefore that Berosus stated that accurate observations had been made in Babylonia for 480 years from the time of Nabonasar, and that earlier observations were not available to him. This suggestion is supported by the failure of Ptolemy in the Almagest to cite any Chaldaean observations earlier than the time of Nabonasar.

If Ptolemy’s dating of the first year of Nabonasar to 747 B.C. was the same as Berosus’s, then we have a date for the publication of the Babyloniaca, 480 years after 747 B.C. or 267 B.C., a year well within the reign of Antiochus I to whom the work was dedicated.”

George Huxley, “Aristarchus of Samos and Graeco-Babylonian Astronomy,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, Duke University, Vol 5, No 2 (1964), pp. 125-7.

Digression on Berossus and the Babyloniaca, Continued

“Finally, there was no justification for Schwartz’ assumption that Berossus borrowed the doctrine of the Great Year from Greek philosophy. As P. Schnabel protested in 1923, Berossus‘ belief in a coming conflagration corresponded exactly to his lengthy account of a past Deluge, the two catastrophes marking the Great Year’s solstices in Cancer and Capricorn. There is to-date no evidence that the Great Year originated in Greek philosophy, and so no reason why it should be denied to the scholars of Babylon.

I do not know where Berossus published his statements about the Great Year and other astrological and astronomical matters. Since, however, no work other than his Babyloniaca is attested, it was most likely in one of the three books of that work that these subjects were discussed.

Berossus could have touched on these matters in Book Two. He did say that “in the tenth generation after the Deluge there was among the Chaldaeans a great and just man, skilled in celestial matters”, and the likely provenance of that Fragmentum is Book Two.

I have been unable to source the origin of this illustration, which resembles the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk, British Museum No. 90,858, in so many details. It is possible that the illustration is a modern artifice, integrating components from the Boundary Stone, which is dated to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, circa 1120 BCE. The subject matter is obviously of the Babylonian zodiac. If you locate the source of this illustration, please advise me so that I may update this page.  Along the top is stretched a serpent, signifying a particular constellation. Beneath its tail is the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin, the Four-Pointed Star or rosette of Shamash, the Sun God, and the Eight-Pointed Star of Ishtar. Celestial figures, seven in number, perhaps illustrating the cosmos as understood by the Babylonians of that era, are followed by the Scorpion, which is opposite the Zodiacal Bull in Taurus, not depicted.  The remaining features in the lower register exceed my scholarship, which is meager. If you can interpret them, I would be grateful for assistance. I observe that the composite creatures in the lower register are seven in number, perhaps corresponding to the chthonic creatures associated with Tiamat. It also occurs to me that they may portray the great temples of the gods in their various cities and cult centers.  I found this illustration on this page:  http://www.google.co.th/imgres?imgurl=http://www.redicecreations.com/specialreports/2006/01jan/annunaki10.jpg&imgrefurl=http://pixshark.com/babylonian-zodiac.htm&h=206&w=480&tbnid=UtiwYm8SfNjwcM:&zoom=1&docid=BJ1iXAxTrNnHSM&ei=mTA9VbaUIILJuATc7YBA&tbm=isch&ved=0CCgQMygJMAk The link below is to the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk.  http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=135127&objectid=369364

I have been unable to source the origin of this illustration, which resembles the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk, British Museum No. 90,858, in so many details. It is possible that the illustration is a modern artifice, integrating components from the Boundary Stone, which is dated to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, circa 1120 BCE. The subject matter is obviously the Babylonian zodiac.
If you locate the source of this illustration, please advise me so that I may update this page.
Along the top is stretched a serpent, signifying the constellation Hydra. Beneath its tail is the inverted crescent of the Moon God Sin, the Four-Pointed Star or rosette of Shamash, the Sun God, and the Eight-Pointed Star of Ishtar. Celestial figures, seven in number, perhaps illustrating the cosmos as understood by the Babylonians of that era, are followed by the Scorpion, which is opposite the Zodiacal Bull in Taurus, not depicted.
The remaining features in the lower register exceed my scholarship, which is meager. If you can interpret them, I would be grateful for assistance. I observe that the composite creatures in the lower register are seven in number, perhaps corresponding to the chthonic creatures associated with Tiamat. It also occurs to me that they may portray the great temples of the gods in their various cities and cult centers.
I found this illustration on this page:
http://www.google.co.th/imgres?imgurl=http://www.redicecreations.com/specialreports/2006/01jan/annunaki10.jpg&imgrefurl=http://pixshark.com/babylonian-zodiac.htm&h=206&w=480&tbnid=UtiwYm8SfNjwcM:&zoom=1&docid=BJ1iXAxTrNnHSM&ei=mTA9VbaUIILJuATc7YBA&tbm=isch&ved=0CCgQMygJMAk
The link below is to the Boundary Stone of Ritti-Marduk.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=135127&objectid=369364

But I think it even more likely that the astrological doctrines came at the end of the third book. Berossus disposed of the last four kings of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty in a few paragraphs, and did not allot much more than that to Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar. One wonders what filled the rest of Book Three.

Semiramis‘ importance was denied. We shall presently see what Berossus had to say about Sennacherib and his successors, and here note only that it was not much; and Frag. 10 suggests that he did little more than list the regnal periods of the Persian rulers of Babylon.

If, like most, a book of the Babyloniaca ran to c. 2000 lines, almost two thirds of the book remains unaccounted for. I suggest that here, constituting about a quarter of the whole work, was to be found the “astronomy and philosophical doctrines of the Chaldaeans”, the presentation of which secured for Berossus whatever reputation he did enjoy in the classical world.

Such, I would argue, was the nature of the Babyloniaca. It has been customarily considered a work of history, and I do not doubt that it was presented as such: if they do not refer to it as the Babyloniaca, ancient authors call it the Chaldiaca, the Chaldaean History, or the History of the Chaldaeans.

The only thing in it which was of value to Josephus and Eusebius was what Berossus had to say about the history and chronology of Babylon in post-diluvian times, and it is as an historian that Berossus has been classified for the last 1500 years.

But in Hellenistic and Roman times, when his work was still known, the subjects with which Berossus was identified were “astronomy and the philosophical doctrines of the Chaldaeans”.

No matter how his work is reconstructed, what is conventionally called history can be made to fill little more than a third of it. It is no wonder that Pliny the Elder reports that the Athenians set up a statue of Berossusob divinas praedicationes“; and that in Judaea there grew a legend that the name of the Sibyl’s father was Berossus, a legend no more improbable than its modern equivalent, that of “Pseudo-Berossus of Cos”.”

Robert Drews, “The Babylonian Chronicles and Berossus,” Iraq, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 52-4.

%d bloggers like this: