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Secret knowledge of Dead Sea Zodiacs

    Zodiac Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Their Reception by Helen Jacobus.

    Brill, $234

    The Hebrew calendar which governs our religious year, based on a lunar cycle, might have been fixed by the rabbis long ago.

    But its adoption was by no means a foregone conclusion. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, contain evidence that there were alternative calendar systems in use in ancient days.

    One is a solar calendar of 364 days. The other, which is the subject of a new book by former JC women's editor Helen Jacobus, is a zodiac lunar calendar, which also demonstrates that astrology was taken seriously at the time.

    In Zodiac Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Dr Jacobus argues on the basis of two manuscripts found at Qumran that some of our ancestors worked by a calendar which had a zodiac sign for each day of the month.

    The calendar is linked to the apocryphal book of Enoch, an early Jewish text, Aramaic fragments of which were discovered at Qumran. The mystical work was also preserved in classical Ethiopic, Ge'ez, and forms part of the liturgy of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

    It also belongs to the canon of Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jews, who regard other early texts among the Dead Sea collection as divinely inspired.

    Enoch is the character who is mysteriously spirited away to heaven by God in the early chapters of Genesis, without explanation in the Bible.

    "The Book of Enoch contains stories of angels, called the Watchers, who taught secret knowledge to human women, including astronomy, astrology and the calendars before Noah's Flood," says Dr Jacobus. "In parallel stories, Enoch is taught the secrets of the calendar by the archangel Uriel during a heavenly journey through the cosmos."

    Who knows, if history had turned out differently, our synagogues, as they once did, might still be displaying zodiacs.

    Simon ROCKER

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