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Author: John Steele

Abstract

Many claims that Chinese astronomy and astrology were based upon a more ancient Babylonian tradition were made during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These claims ranged from the idea that the names of the Chinese tiangan and dizhi were based upon those of the first ten Akkadian numbers and the twelve Babylonian signs of the zodiac to the supposed Babylonian origin of the twenty-eight xiu system for dividing up the sky. Although such claims were easily disproven—and often were easily disproved by others not long after they were proposed—they continued to find support among many later historians of science who often quoted them approvingly without any discussion of their problems. But how did such easily refuted ideas arise and why did they find such a resonance among other historians? In this paper, I explore the intellectual milieux in which three such claims were made in an attempt to answer these questions.

In: Overlapping Cosmologies In Asia
In: The Allure of the Ancient
In: Down to the Hour: Short Time in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near East
In: Down to the Hour: Short Time in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near East
In: Keeping Watch in Babylon
Author: John Steele

Abstract

According to Josephus in his Judean Antiquities, before the flood all that was known of astronomy was inscribed on two pillars, one made of brick and the other of stone, in order that this knowledge would survive the coming catastrophe. This tale was used by medieval and Renaissance European writers to construct a lineage for the history of astronomy back to antediluvian times. Despite a growing awareness of the fictitious nature of Josephus’ account, the story of the two pillars continued to be presented as an important episode in histories of astronomy written in the early modern period. This chapter analyzes several seventeenth- and eighteenth-century histories of astronomy to examine how and why the story of the two pillars was used by the authors of these histories.

In: Afterlives of Ancient Rock-cut Monuments in the Near East
Receptions of the Ancient Middle East, ca. 1600–1800
The Allure of the Ancient investigates how the ancient Middle East was imagined and appropriated for artistic, scholarly, and political purposes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Bringing together scholars of the ancient and early modern worlds, the volume approaches reception history from an interdisciplinary perspective, asking how early modern artists and scholars interpreted ancient Middle Eastern civilizations—such as Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia—and how their interpretations were shaped by early modern contexts and concerns.
The volume’s chapters cross disciplinary boundaries in their explorations of art, philosophy, science, and literature, as well as geographical boundaries, spanning from Europe to the Caribbean to Latin America.

Contributors are: Elisa Boeri, Mark Darlow, Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby, Florian Ebeling, Margaret Geoga, Diane Greco Josefowicz, Andrea L. Middleton, Julia Prest, Felipe Rojas Silva, Maryam Sanjabi, Michael Seymour, John Steele, and Daniel Stolzenberg.
In: "The Scaffolding of Our Thoughts"
In: The Allure of the Ancient
Volume Editor: John M. Steele
Astronomical and astrological knowledge circulated in many ways in the ancient world: in the form of written texts and through oral communication; by the conscious assimilation of sought-after knowledge and the unconscious absorption of ideas to which scholars were exposed.
The Circulation of Astronomical Knowledge in the Ancient World explores the ways in which astronomical knowledge circulated between different communities of scholars over time and space, and what was done with that knowledge when it was received. Examples are discussed from Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Greco-Roman world, India, and China.