Friday, March 27, 2015

Shooting stars

In Apocalyptic Writings. The conception of fallen angels—angels who, for wilful, rebellious conduct against God, or through weakness under temptation.thereby forfeiting their angelic dignity, were degraded and condemned to a life of mischief or shame on earth or in a place of punishment—is wide-spread. Indications of this belief, behind which probably lies the symbolizing of an astronomical phenomenon, the shooting stars, are met with in Isa. xiv. 12 (comp. Job xxxviii. 31, 32; see Constellations).

The writer seems to be saying that the tradition of fallen angels has its origin in the personification of meteors. Ancient observers saw shooting stars. By process of legendary embellishment, they interpreted that phenomenon as gods or angels who, having lost the war in heaven, were cast down to earth. 

Now, it's true that Scripture uses meteoric imagery to depict or illustrate the fall of angels. But that can be used to explain how belief in fallen angels developed in the first place?

Let's begin by citing some other material:

Primitive man everywhere used meteoric iron in the earliest stage of his mental culture…The Sumerian name for iron was an-bar, meaning "fire from heaven." The Hittite ku-an has the same meaning. The Egyptian name, bia-en-pet, has been variously translated; probably the first meaning of bia was "thunderbolt," and pet stands for "heaven," so there was have plain intimation that the earliest iron was of celestial origin. A Hittite text says that whereas gold came from Birununda and copper from  Taggasta, iron came from heaven. Likewise the Hebrew word for iron, parzil, and the equivalent in Assyrian, barzillu, are derived from barzu-ili, meaning "metal of god" or "of heaven." Even today the Georgian name for a meteorite is tsis-natckhi, meaning "fragment of heaven." T. A. Rickard, "The Use of Meteoric Iron," The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 71, no. 1/2 (1941), 55.

The most ancient name for iron was 'Metal of Heaven.' In the hieroglyphic language of the ancient Egyptians it was pronounced ba-en-pet, meaning either stone or metal of Heaven. 
This ancient history of iron is also found in the cuneiform language of Assyria and Babylonia, pronounced par-zillu. It is the same in the language of Sumeria and Chaldea; barsa, barsal and barzel, and again in the Hebrew language where the name is the same as it is in the Assyrian. All of these translate to mean 'Metal of Heaven.' We can say the first iron was undoubtedly meteoric, as is shown by these ancient names. 
Even across the globe, evidence of iron in prehistory was found when Spanish explorers discovered the Aztecs in the 1500s. They found objects made with this iron-nickel alloy as well. When asked, the Aztec claimed the metal fell from the sky. For centuries afterward, farmers and rural folk had claimed to have occasionally come across metallic rocks made mostly of iron that fell from the sky, and for centuries 'rational' scientist dismissed these claims as superstitious. We now know these objects as meteorites. G. F. Zimmer, The Antiquity of Iron (1915).

When Cortez enquired of the Aztec chiefs whence they obtain their knives they simply pointed to the sky.  
The peoples of the ancient Orient in all probability shared similar ideas. The Sumerian word, the oldest word designating iron, is made up of the pictograms "sky" and "fire." It is usually translated "celestial metal" or "star-metal." Campbell Thompson renders it "celestial lightening (of meteorite)."  
The term, "iron from heaven," or more exactly, "metal from heaven," clearly points to their meteorite origin…We find the same situation with the Hittites: a fourteenth-century text declares that the Hittite kings used "black iron from the sky." 
The "celestial" origin of iron is perhaps attested by the Greek sideros, which has been related to sidus,-eris, meaning "star." M. Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible (U of Chicago 1978), 21-23.

There's the danger of the etymological fallacy. But in this case, since the designations are factually accurate, it seems reliable. Meteoric iron was given these names because it did, in fact, fall from the sky. 

Considered in isolation, one might speculate that ancient people identified shooting stars with gods or angels who lost the war in heaven. Since, however, we have diverse lines of evidence that ancient people associated iron with shooting stars, the angelic interpretation is untenable. Iron meteorites aren't godlike or angelic. Rather, these are inanimate objects, which were hammered into weapons. 

What they thought fell from the sky wasn't gods or angels, but metal chunks. Same thing with stony meteorites. Even if an aeroite became a cult object (e.g. Acts 19:35), at best it represented celestial beings. It was not, itself, divinity. 

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