The Hebrew “Mazzaroth” has nothing to do with astrology. Rather, it is a tool that uses the stars to tell a story.
In this article, we’re going to look at the Mazzaroth, the Hebrew name for the zodiac. Many scholars believe the word zodiac comes from the Greek zidiakòs kýklos meaning “a circle of little animals.” The Sanskrit root word sodi, though, means “the way” and reflects the Middle East understanding of the zodiac.
The Hebrews knew their constellations. They were not to worship the stars, but the first chapter of Genesis states that when God created the heavenly bodies, He did so for several reasons. He said, “…Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.”
Stories in the Sky
It is amusing to see planetarium shows still spreading the notion that the various pictures associated with the constellations were ancient imaginings taken from the arrangement of the stars. If you have carefully explored that conjecture, it is easily discarded as fanciful and absurd.
Have you ever tried to visualize a “lady chained to a chair” in the bent-W known as Cassiopeia? One can see Draco as a serpent-dragon winding and bending between the Big and Little Dippers, but Sagittarius looks more like a teapot than an archer. And yet, the names of the constellations tend to be consistent, with small variations, throughout different cultures around the world.
We also discover something else as we delve into these ancient records. We discover ancient Persian and Arabian traditions that ascribe the invention of astronomy to Adam, Seth and Enoch. Josephus credits the children of Seth with working to preserve the ancient knowledge in pillars of stone.
Those traditions do have roots back that far, and I suggest that the names of the stars and the constellations originally had meaning to Adam, Seth, and Enoch—that they were created to serve as a mnemonic, a memory tool, to tell a very important story. The story they tell has significance to all of us, so much so that it was corrupted in a temple at Babel and became the distorted soothsayer’s tool we see today in astrology.
Associated with each sign’s constellation are three other smaller constellations called “decans” for a total of 36, each rising in the same area of the sky as their associated major constellation. Every ten days, a different decan is visible on the eastern horizon just before sunrise, and 2100 years before Christ, symbols on Egyptian coffins show they were used to keep track of sidereal time.
The pictures in the sky are not as important as their names, and the corrupted Babylonian star names aren’t extremely helpful, although we can see a hint of the original names in a few places. The clue to unraveling the original story is to understand the Hebrew names. We owe a debt to E.W. Bullinger for his 1893 book The Witness of the Stars and his careful exposition of the Hebrew constellation and star names.
The Seed of the Virgin
The first sign of the Mazzaroth is known best by her Latin name Virgo—the Virgin. In the Mazzaroth, the Hebrew name of this constellation is Bethulah, which also means Virgin, and she holds a branch in her hand (see graphic, left).
That’s interesting. Why is the Virgin holding a branch in her hand? The brightest star in the constellation is Spica, Latin for “ear of grain.” The Hebrew name for the star, Tsemech, means “branch” as does the Arabic name, Al Zimach. In Egyptian, the star is Aspolia—“the seed.”
There are 20 Hebrew words that can mean “branch.” Tsemach is consistently associated with the Messiah—the Branch who will sprout up out of the root of David (Isaiah 4:2, Jeremiah 23:5, Zechariah 3:8). The reference to the grain is interesting. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
If we can’t track the Hebrew names, the Arabic is usually very close, because the languages are similar. In Arabic, the whole constellation is called The Branch, and the other bright stars in the constellation are Zavijaveh, “gloriously beautiful” and Al Mureddin, “who shall have dominion” (Psalm 72:8). In Chaldean, this last star is Vindemiatrix, “son who cometh.”
The three decan constellations associated with Virgo are Coma, Centaurus, and Bootes. In Hebrew, the root word Camah means “to long with desire” as when David says, “…my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is” (Psalm 63:1), and the derivative Comah means “the desired one.”
In the Egyptian Temple of Denderah, Coma is portrayed as a woman holding a child. Bullinger quotes the Arabian astronomer Albumazar saying of Coma, “There arises in the first Decan, as the Persians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians and the two Hermes and Ascalius teach, a young woman, whose Persian name denotes a pure virgin, sitting on a throne, nourishing an infant boy (the boy, I say), having a Hebrew name, by some nations called IHESU…”
That’s an odd visual, because virgins do not suckle babies. The ancient Egyptian name for the constellation is Shes-nu, which means the “desired son.”
Another decan constellation associated with Virgo is Centaurus, and the centaur we know from pagan mythology. Half-man, half-horse, a centaur is a being with two natures. The name of the constellation in Hebrew is Bezah, which means “the despised”—as in Isaiah 53:3: “He is despised and rejected of men…” Asmeath, “sin offering,” was another name for this constellation in Hebrew, as in Isaiah 53:10: “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin…” Our Savior was a despised sin offering with two natures—God and man.
The third decan associated with Virgo is Bootes, a man walking rapidly with a spear in his right hand and a sickle in his left. His name is a Greek variation on the Hebrew word Bo, which means “to come.” Arcturus, the brightest star in this constellation and the brightest north of the celestial equator, is mentioned in Job 9:9 and 38:32. Its Hebrew name is `Ayish, from a root word that means, “to come quickly” or “to hasten.” He is the Coming One. It is likely that the entire constellation’s original name was Arcturus.
By the time of the Greeks, Bootes is portrayed as a Plowman, holding his sickle. He is also shown driving the bears of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, or in recent centuries leading the nearby greyhound constellation.
As a guardian, though, why does he carry a sickle? That’s the tool and weapon of the farmer, not the hunter. Yet, according to Revelation 14, Jesus Christ does carry a sickle in his right hand for the time of harvest (Revelation 14:14–15). After Arcturus, the next brightest star in Bootes is called Necar – “the pierced one” or Merga, “who bruises.”
The Gospel in the Stars
Thus, we see in the constellation Virgo and her decans the framework for the story to follow. We see the Virgin suckling the greatly desired son, also called “the seed of the woman” and “the branch.” We then see the two-natured teacher and prophet who was pierced and sacrificed, and finally the Coming One, who will hurry with a sickle in his hand as ready for a harvest.
“It is only one chapter out of twelve,” Bullinger writes, “but it distinctly foreshadows the end—even ‘the sufferings of Christ and the glory which should follow.’”
This month our featured eBook is Signs in the Heavens.
Genesis 1:14. ↩
Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, Book I:1–3. ↩
Cockcroft, Robert & Sarah Symons (2013). “Diagonal Star Tables on Coffins A1C and S2Hil: A New Triangle Decan and a Reversed Table.” Palarch’s Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology 10(3), p. 1. ↩
Bullinger, p. 34–35. Italics added by Bullinger. ↩
Ibid, p. 44. ↩