Ancient skies : early Babylonian astronomy, with specific reference to MUL.APIN

Harris, Brian (2011-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Ancient Studies))--University of Stellenbosch, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis is an attempt to investigate whether the Babylonians of the periods prior to the 6th Century BCE possessed an interest in the workings of celestial bodies reaching beyond the scope of what would today be regarded as astrology – the idea that the movements of the stars were signs from the gods, foretelling the future. The objective is thus to see whether it is possible that at least some of the texts recording the phenomena present in the night sky could have been compiled for what could be termed a more “scientific” purpose: recording the stars out of an interest in how the universe works. It will be acknowledged that to the people of the time, the formal study of the movements of astral bodies, as well as any supernatural implications they might hold, were not separate fields. This, of course, stands in contrast to the differentiated modern schools of astronomy and astrology. In order to investigate the possibility that to some individuals the former took precedence (and by implication that they possessed what could be termed a more “scientific” frame of mind), selected sources, particularly the different sections of the text known as MUL.APIN, will be analysed for signs of content and approaches more befitting to the field of generalised study than that of divination. It will be found, however, that although some texts do show signs of study isolated from divination (through, for example, the inclusion of detail which would have no relevance to the aforementioned), others, which at first glance appear purely astronomical, contain information contrary to what would be expected of a thorough investigation of visible reality. This includes idealised dates and intentionally falsified information, inserted to have the recorded universe appear to conform to conservative ideology. In order to make this point clearer, cosmological aspects of this ideology will be introduced even before the astronomical texts are analysed. Finally, it will be concluded that while scientific inclinations amongst the individuals recording the stars during this era was by no means the norm, there are indications that they were emerging in some. Though the field of Babylonian astral observations during this period cannot, as a whole, be classified as a science, does not mean that all its practitioners should be disqualified as scientific thinkers.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis is 'n poging om te ondersoek of die Babiloniërs van die periode voor die 6de eeu v.C. 'n belangstelling in die werking van die hemelliggame gehad het anders as wat vandag as astrologie beskou sou word – die idee dat die bewegings van die sterre tekens van die gode was wat die toekoms voorspel. Die doel is om te kyk of dit moontlik is dat ten minste sommige van die tekste wat die verskynsels van die naghemel aanteken vir 'n meer “wetenskaplike” doeleinde geskryf is: die dokumenteer van die sterre uit ‟n belangstelling in hoe die heelal werk. Daar word erken dat vir die mense van destyds die formele studie van die bewegings van hemelliggame, asook enige bonatuurlike implikasies wat hulle mag inhou, nie afsonderlike velde was nie. Dit is in teenstelling met die onderskeie moderne skole van astronomie en astrologie. Ten einde die moontlikheid te ondersoek dat vir sommige individue eersgenoemde voorrang geniet het (en by implikasie dat hulle 'n meer “wetenskaplike” denkwyse besit het), word geselekteerde bronne, veral die verskillende afdelings van die teks bekend as MUL.APIN, geanaliseer vir aanduidings van inhoud en benaderings wat meer van toepassing op die wetenskaplike veld as dié van divinasie is. Daar is egter bevind dat alhoewel sommige tekste aanduidings toon van studie wat onderskeibaar is van divinasie (byvoorbeeld, deur die insluiting van besonderhede wat van geen toepassing op die voorgemelde is nie), bevat ander, wat aanvanklik suiwer astronomies voorkom, inligting in teenstelling met wat van 'n deeglike ondersoek van die sigbare werklikheid verwag sou word. Dit sluit geïdealiseerde datums en opsetlik vervalste inligting in wat ingevoeg is om die aangetekende heelal skynbaar aan konserwatiewe ideologie te laat voldoen. Om hierdie punt duideliker te maak, word die kosmologiese aspekte van hierdie ideologie bekendgestel voor die astronomiese tekste geanaliseer word. Ten slotte, word die gevolgtrekking gemaak dat ofskoon wetenskaplike neigings onder individue wat die sterre gedurende hierdie tydperk gedokumenteer het geensins die norm was nie, daar wel aanduidings is dat dit in sommige te voorskyn kom. Hoewel die veld van Babiloniese sterrewaarneming gedurende hierdie periode nie in sy geheel as 'n wetenskap geklassifiseer kan word nie, beteken dit nie dat al sy beoefenaars as wetenskaplike denkers gediskwalifiseer moet word nie.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/6704
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