Torah Torah Torah 7

7 – Chaldean astrology:

It is very difficult to get a fix on these “Khashdic” people, if indeed “Khashd” was ever a name for a single ethnicity rather than a geographic term encompassing a variety of peoples. The Caucasus mountains have long been famous for a tendency for neighboring valleys to lose contact with each other and drift apart linguistically and culturally: the Greeks noted that there were “100” languages spoken there, and that dozens of interpreters were needed to do any business there. The situation is the same today, although the 100 languages that were spoken there back then have almost all disappeared, to be replaced by 100 new ones. There are Indo-Europeans including the unique Armenians as well as several varieties of Iranian, including Persian, Kurdish, and the Ossetic language which seems to be a remnant of the Scyths, a people who once controlled Ukraine before getting chased down into the Caucasus cul-de-sac. There are Turkics including Osmanli (the Turkish of Turkey), Azeri, Tatar (remnant of the Mongol hordes), Kipchak, and Chuvash (very distant from the rest of the Turkic group, a remnant of the famous Khazars whose medieval ruling family converted to Judaism, although the population now is all Muslim). There is the “North Caucasic” group containing the “Daghestani” Avar and Lezghian peoples, who moved in during early medieval times as part of the Hunnish horde migration and have diversified into a bewilderingly large linguistic family of slightly to severely varying dialects, the more distant Chechen-Ingush who came a little later (these were in west Mongolia until expelled 550 AD by the Uighur Turks, recorded as Ju-jan by the Chinese until, by a pun that became habitual, the name was turned into Juan-juan “creepy critters; noxious insects”: the Russians don’t like them much either!), and the dubiously related Circassian group in the northwest (linguists still argue over whether Circassian really has anything to do with the Daghestani and Chechen groups). And there is the Kartvelian group in the south, Georgians, Mingrelians, and kin, which is the one modern linguistic group that has certainly been present since ancient times (Colchis, from which “Caucasus” derives, was a Mingrelian kingdom).

The geographic name Kartlu or Kartvelu appears to be from the “Khard” eroded form of “Khashd”, but then, so is Kurd, and the Kurdish language is certainly not from the Khashdic (it is West Iranian), and so was Gordius, name of a legendary king (father of Midas, who was a real person, and fabulously wealthy) of the Phrygian kingdom, also called Gordyene, but the Phrygians are ancestors or kinsmen of the Armenians, another Indo-European group. But Gordius was supposed to be a stranger wandering in from elsewhere: an eagle settled on his cart and refused to be shooed away; the people were looking for a new king, the succession being in dispute, and decided that the eagle on his cart was an omen; he tried to turn down the job, but couldn’t get his cart untied from the post (the cart with its famously unsolvable “Gordian knot” remained there for centuries, until Alexander “untied” it by cutting through with his sword– or so the story goes, anyhow). This can be taken as almost an archetype of what happens with the “Khashd”: they wander into various cultures, take on important roles, and leave no particular trace of their former language or culture. Professor Mendenhall once said, “The first Abraham had to do when he moved to Canaan was learn to speak Hebrew!” (Hebrew in origin is just a dialect of Canaanite, not at first sharply distinguished from Phoenician). Although Abraham was an alien, we do not find in the Hebrew language any stratum of borrowed words from some other language.

The only time we clearly see the “Khashd” as a distinctive nation is when, in the mid-18th century BC, they master horsemanship and invade Mesopotamia, permanently taking over the old Sumerian territory and managing to replace the native dynasty in Babylon with an apparently well-regarded family of kings who ruled for 500 years (a very long lifespan as monarchical dynasties go). The records give the self-name of the invaders in the distorted forms Khaldu (which became standard) and Khashshu (also supposedly the name of their chief god), and a couple other proper names, such as Buriyash god of the north wind and Shuriyash god of the sun; and nothing else from their language, and we find no stratum of borrowed words in subsequent Babylonian. Again, they assimilated to the language of their new neighbors quite quickly. The Hurrian-Urartean group of languages from south of the Caucasus might be what they spoke, but given the linguistic diversity that has always characterized the Caucasus region, that guess is no more likely to be correct than Georgian-Mingrelian. In eastern Anatolia there was a people called the Khatti, maybe another form of “Khashd”, who gave their name to the capital of Hattushas and through that city to the “Hittites”: the Hittites spoke an early relative of Indo-European, but have preserved the alien language of the Khatti in a few religious chants, which are so far rather impervious to decipherment; some Hittite translations are offered, but they are rather odd and suggest that even the Hittites had trouble puzzling out the Khattic. A major god is called Shanta, and the Khattic language at least shows the persistent fondness for the sh sound which the “Khashd” obviously had.

The religion of both the Hittites and the Hurrians is an exuberant polytheism with hundreds upon hundreds of deities, borrowed from every ethnic group they ever came into contact with. A major deity was Teshub the storm-god, possibly a suffixed form of the Indo-European Zeus/Dyaus/Tiuz; his wife was Hebat the wind. Teshub got his position as ruler of the gods by killing his father Kuwawa, apparently a god from a totally different ethnic origin who used to be central but lost his position; this is reminiscent of the Titans in Greek lore. Hebat is often called Puduheba “the four winds”, identified with four different deities; this process of identifying, or marrying, or linking in a family tree, deities who did not originally have anything to do with each other is familiar from Egypt and India. This seems a strange religious background for someone like Abraham, depicted as an early monotheist: perhaps there is something to the medieval rabbinic legends which show him as a teenage rebel, rejecting the idols of his family. A classic version of the story has him smashing all the idols and then posing them as if they had been fighting; when he was blamed, he said “See! They did it to each other!” and when he was told “You know statues can’t do that”, he replied “Well that’s just my point.”

So: isolating the distinctive Khashdic heritage is necessarily speculative, but the best guess is that their particularly favored gods were the four winds and seven planets; they developed systems of weather forecasting and astrological divination which were admired and copied in surrounding cultures. All of western astrology traces back to the “Chaldean” system (the Chinese invented astrology independently, and their system is quite different; astrology in India mixes western and Chinese influence). Their deity-names are amazingly well-travelled, although nothing else from their language leaves any evident footprints anywhere. Buriyash is readily recognizable in Greek Boreas. Mycenean Greece had some intermittent trade with the Baltic coast (only small valuables were worth transporting overland for this distance: amber and furs southbound, rose-hips and other herbal products northbound), which they called Hyperborea “beyond the north wind” (Hyperborea became romanticized into a paradisical realm after the actual contact was lost); this is presumably how the name got all the way to Scandinavia, where Buri is the father of Odin (but he is a peripheral figure, mentioned in the creation story and then never again, as is typical of deities borrowed from remote cultures). The un-Greek names Zephyr, Nothus, Eurus for the other three winds may be Khashdic also. Shuriyash shows up in Greek as Sirius, a rare adjective for “brightly shining” now used as the name of the brightest star (though not for the Sun), and travelled in the other direction as far as India, where S’urya is a name for the Sun in Vedic Sanskrit (though soon displaced as the sun-god by the Dravidian Mitra, whose Iranian form Mithra become a cult penetrating into Rome and influencing early Christianity). The Moon was something like *Atrash (exact form uncertain): in Harran (supposedly founded by Abraham’s family, recall) called Etrach and believed to be the power which holds all the heavens up, since the Moon is obviously the lowest of the “planets”; the Greek form Atlas also holds up the heavens, although the lunar association was lost. In the Canaanite city of Ugarit, an epic was found describing an invasion by the “sons of Etrach” which excited the archaeologists as a possible account of the Israelite invasion as seen from the Canaanite side– until it came to be understood that this was at least 1000 years earlier. Abraham’s father Terach looks to be a derivative of Etrach.

The Khasdic names of the other planets are not recoverable, as it became customary to identify the planets with pre-existing gods (the names Sakkuth and Kaiwan at Amos v:26 are probably the planets Jupiter and Saturn respectively, but these words are likely to be of Semitic etymology). The Chaldeans were the first to fix the number of planets as “seven”, in order of distance Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, as judged by the speed of their motions. This was not as natural as it might appear: Mercury is rarely naked-eye visible, and early Mideasterners don’t seem to have known it was there; and Venus was mistakenly thought to be two separate planets, the Morning Star and Evening Star, which just don’t come out at the same time. In Canaanite the Morning Star was S’achar and the Evening Star Sholom: they were twin brothers, of opposite temperaments, Sholom tranquil and submissive (evidently named for the root for “peace”), S’achar proud and boastful; in Hebrew these names occur in the tribe IshS’achar (“Issachar”) and the king Sholomo (Solomon). In the Chaldean system however, Venus is feminine and symbolizes love, a characterization which has persisted through all the planet’s subsequent identifications with love-goddesses from various pantheons. The aspect of tranquillity and submission was transferred to Saturn, as the slowest planet. Mercury naturally represented subtlety and craft, because of the difficulty in discovering it, and was the especial patron deity of the astrologers themselves. Jupiter represented might and power, as the brightest “star” not confined (like Venus) to a near neighborhood of the Sun. Mars, because of its blood-red color, was associated with warfare: and in particular with the primordial struggle against the Ocean of Chaos, which is the dominant theme in non-Hebrew creation myths.

The Chaldeans introduced the seven-day week: prior to that time, a week was a quarter-phase of the moon, usually seven days but sometimes eight as required. They also introduced the 24-hour day: eight watches (of “3 hours” each) had been the more customary division (in keeping with the general base-7-or-8 system of time). Each hour was named for a planet, in the reverse order from Saturn inward: Saturn was the “zero hour” of the week; 24 hours later (three sevens and remainder three) came an hour of the Sun, to start the “first” day; similarly the second day started with the Moon hour; then Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and back to Saturn as the starting hour of the “seventh day” of the week which was also the “day zero” of the next (a “zero” was marked with a blank space, “one” to “six” on a die). Robert Graves pointed out that the sequence of weekdays, seen in light of the Chaldean symbolic aspects of the planets, gives a key to the creation narrative in Gen. i:

FIRST DAY, Sun: creation of light

SECOND DAY, Moon: holds the heavens up from the Earth

THIRD DAY, Mars: the ocean is fought back

FOURTH DAY, Mercury: the lore of “signs and seasons”

FIFTH DAY, Jupiter: all living things created

SIXTH DAY, Venus: the living things learn to couple with each other

SEVENTH DAY, Saturn: the gods rest

Is this what the story originally looked like in E? It is an interesting speculation. If so, it is evident why R didn’t want to include it in the Torah, and why P rewrote it completely rather than copying the old text: the implied theology would be polytheistic, with seven different gods adding to the creation, or else view God as a sum total of the seven powers. The plural form Elohim literally “gods” not “God” takes on a new light.

FEATURE: Hindu Texts

Explore the most ancient writings of India, with our complete collection of the most venerated of all Hindu literature, the Upanishads, Vedas, and Bhagavad Gita.