Episode 310 features an interview with Dr. Justin Sledge about ancient Jewish views on astrology, and the complicated relationship between astrology and early Judaism.
Our starting point is the geographical location of the Jewish people being situated between Mesopotamia and Egypt, which were two cultures that had very old traditions of astrology dating back to 2000 BCE.
We then talk about the role that monotheism played in creating some tensions with early forms of astrology, which were often practiced in a polytheistic context.
Later we get into some positive views on astrology held by Jews during the time of the Roman Empire, including the Essenes at Qumran, and a text on Lots and zodiacal releasing attributed to Abraham that was drawn on by Vettius Valens and Firmicus Maternus.
We also discuss some of the early zodiac mosaics that feature prominently in synagogues in the first seven centuries CE.
Eventually we touch on some of the earliest Jewish astrologers who are known by name and who made major contributions to astrology, such as Masha’allah and Abraham ibn Ezra.
Justin is a professor of philosophy and religion who focuses on the western esoteric tradition, and the host of the Esoterica Youtube channel:
This episode is available in both audio and video versions below.
Here are some timestamps for topics covered at different points in the episode:
00:00:20 Justin’s background
00:01:48 Origins of the Jewish people
00:03:05 Where ancient Israelites enter history
00:05:10 Judaism’s relationship to astrology
00:06:10 Development of monotheism
00:13:26 Time period for composition of Old Testament
00:14:14 The Babylonian Exile
00:17:17 Astrology in Babylon
00:19:40 Israelite anxiety about divination
00:21:05 Prohibitions are evidence of practice
00:22:14 Diversity of views in ancient Judaism
00:24:40 Move towards focus on monotheism
00:27:15 Stars mentioned in Hebrew Bible
00:28:31 Polytheistic gods demoted into angels
00:31:20 Jewish calendar based on astrological alignments
00:34:51 The Book of Enoch
00:38:07 Josephus claims Abraham invented astrology
00:39:36 Astrological text attributed to Abraham by Valens
00:43:40 Hellenistic Judaism
00:45:00 Alexandrian Judaism
00:46:56 Dead Sea Scroll astrological references
00:49:10 Qumran Caves astrological text discoveries
00:58:10 Gospel of Matthew and Star of Bethlehem
01:00:10 Background of the Messiah
01:04:20 Roman emperors and astrology
01:07:30 Astrology and Fate become entwined
01:08:17 Apocalyptic Judaism
01:10:58 Debates in Christianity about astrology and fate
01:12:00 The Talmud
01:15:53 Talmudic Astrology Source Sheet
01:20:50 Mazel Tov phrase astrological meaning
01:23:29 Debates in Talmud about Mazel
01:29:30 Changing your fate in Judaism
01:34:09 Ptolemy on fate
01:36:09 Christian defense of astrology in middle ages
01:37:09 Aristotelian view vs Neo-Platonic
01:40:24 Zodiac mosaics in synagogues in first seven centuries CE
01:51:09 Jewish astrologers in 8th century and beyond
01:53:10 Jewish astrologer Masha’allah
01:55:02 Is there such thing as a Jewish astrology?
01:56:30 More about Masha’allah
02:01:00 Chart of the founding of Baghdad
02:02:50 Sefer Yetzirah and Tree of Life
02:12:11 Planetary assignments in Tree of Life
02:14:05 Saturn as a feminine planet
02:21:14 Jewish astrologer Abraham ibn Ezra
02:31:30 Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions and messiah predictions
02:35:36 More about Abraham ibn Ezra
02:38:06 Jewish legal code and astrology
02:40:48 Justin’s YouTube and website
02:42:40 Closing remarks
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A full transcript of this episode is available: Episode 310 transcript
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