Propaganda for Astrology in Aramaic Literature

in Aramaic Studies
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


Astrology is often depicted as antagonistic towards official religion. However, we find indications hidden in the technical texts themselves that seem to reveal the contrary. This article will concentrate on Aramaic astrology and divination and try to unfold formulas and practices that are typical for this and neighboring genres. These stylistic devices will moreover be identified as rhetorical strategies employed as a type of propaganda.




I.A. Barsoum, The Scattered Pearls: A History of Syriac Literature and Sciences (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2nd ed., 2003) p. 194.


A. Mengozzi, Trattato di Sem e altri testi astrologici (Brescia: Peideia, 1997).


Cf. G. Furlani, ‘Astrologisches aus syrischen Handschriften’, ZDMG 75 (1921), pp. 122–128. He suspects most of the Syriac texts on astral divination to be translations from Arabic. Even if non-technical texts are excluded from this enumeration, one has to mention at least the broad spectrum of allusions to astrology in historiography (of Bar Hebraeus e.g.) and the refutations of astrology by authorities like Ephrem, Jacob of Edessa, George, bishop of the Arabs.


Cf. von Stuckrad, Jewish and Christian Astrology, pp. 1–4.


Cf. G. Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) p. 282.


Cairo Genizah Amulet Or. 1080.5.4, cf. Schäfer and Shaked, Magische Texte, pp. 152–154.


W. Gundel and H.G. Gundel, Astrologumena: Die astrologische Literatur in der Antike und ihre Geschichte (Sudhoffs Archiv, 6, Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1966) p. 53. In the Syriac and Jewish-Palestinian literature we find such attributions in the Treatise of Shem, not to mention the numerous books of Daniel or Ezra as mentioned above. ‘Hellenistic pseudepigraphy was not then something radically new. What distinguishes it seems to be, first, an increase in scope and volume. Secondly, one observes a certain loss of subtlety, irony, and sense of function in its use. Thirdly, the authorities on whom the material imparted is foisted become progressivley more elevated and superhuman. As the quality of the data falls, so the stature of the sanctioning authority rises: only a god or divinely inspired sage could confer credibility on such matter.’ Boyce and Grenet, Zoroastrianism, p. 502; ‘Wie in der heidnischen Umwelt haben jüdische Zauberer, Astrologen und Geheimwissenschaftler ihre Schriften unter den Namen alttestamentlicher Patriarchen, Propheten und Könige verbreitet. Besonders beliebt waren die Namen des Abraham, Moses, Daniel und Salomon’. W. Speyer, Die literarische Fälschung im heidnischen und christlichen Altertum (Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft I,2, München: Beck, 1971) p. 166. Moses was also considered to be an authoritative alchemist, c.f. Speyer, literarische Fälschung, p. 166.


Cf. Dieleman, Priests, Tongues, and Rites, p. 260. ‘The sole reference to a famous magician, a hidden Egyptian text or a divinity was apparently deemed sufficient to impart to the reader a feeling of confidence in the efficacy of the spell’, id. p. 261. Religious pseudepigraphy was spread in Egypt, already, in early pharaonic times, cf. Dieleman, Priests, Tongues, and Rites, p. 262, who refers to Speyer, ‘Religiöse Pseudepigraphie und literarische Fälschung im Altertum’, JAC 8/9 (1965/66), pp. 88–125. Propaganda acts in a similiar way: ‘A propagandist is wise if, in addition to reiterating his support of ideas and policies that he knows the reactors already believe in, he includes among his images a variety of symbols associated with parents and parent surrogates. The child lives on in every adult, eternally seeking a loving father and mother.’ Therefore the idea of a fatherland—neutrally spoken—seems quite striking. The counterpart are ‘maternal figures like Queen Victoria of England, the Virgin Mary, and the Japanese Sun Goddess’. The same principle works with parental substitutes, who can be scholars, physicians, military heros or saints. ‘A talented and well-symbolized leader or role model may achieve a parental or even godlike ascendancy (charisma) and magnify the impact of a message many times’, Smith, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, p. 176.


Drower, The Book of the Zodiac, p. 259. Own transcription.


Drower, The Book of the Zodiac, p. 161. Judging from the title of the passage as well as the appearance of Arabic loans like talap, pl. talpia ‘ruin’, from Arabic talaf ‘ruin’ (cf. E.S. Drower and R. Macuch, Mandean Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963) p. 478), it seems quite obvious that the text is a translation of an Arabic source.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 10 10 1
Full Text Views 4 4 4
PDF Downloads 1 1 1
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0