In the first chapter of the bible we read: “And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years,and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.” (Genesis 1:14-15).
I was thinking about the ‘lights in the heavens’ recently after chatting with two of my boys about the Percy Jackson series. Yes, you might not be familiar with the book series – I haven’t read them myself – but they have been wonderful for getting 12 year old boys into reading! And I was surprised to learn things about the names of the planets which I simply had not realised – and I really ought to have known by now. The books build on the Greek and Roman mythology and so there were words and verbal links that I was aware about. I wasn’t in complete ignorance, that is. Gaia being ‘Mother Earth’ (she is the mother of all the Titans, I was told) and Chronos as the father of Zeus (and so we have ‘Father Time’ – always interesting in light of Mark 13:32).
But the real surprise for me was to learn that the names of the planets were linked to these ancient gods and titans. I knew some…but not all of them. Here’s the list:
Mercury is Hermes; Venus is Aphrodite (Latin: Cytherea); Mars is Ares the God of war; Jupiter is Zeus; Saturn is Chronus; Uranus – Ouranos (heaven, sky); Neptune – Poseidon; and Pluto is Hades. And then you have the Sun – Apollo, and the moon, Artemis (Diana).
I am not into astrology of any sort, which is partly why the whole interest in the stars and the old pagan myths had bypassed me. But there are aspects of this which I find intriguing when one examines the Scriptures. So for instance, the book of Acts touches upon some of these names which clearly resonate within their culture with a lot more significance. The reference to Zeus and Hermes in Acts 14:12 (‘Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.’) Then there is the Artemis-Diana matter which comes up in the riot in Ephesus in Acts 19. And then there is Acts 28:11 – the ship they sail in ‘has the twin gods (ie Castor and Pollux) as a figurehead. It’s just a passing detail about the ship but Luke likes to do things with names and it draws one to reflection!
This naming of the planets raises other issues and ways of thinking about what is going on, and ancient worldviews, but for me, the reason for reflecting upon it is to get insight into the Scriptures. In that light, I am very aware that the myths can be misleading, so care does need to be taken.
I browsed and came across some details by one Nellie English. It’s not only the planets but also the months. Here’s some of her comments:
Many of the months, take their name from Roman gods and leaders. ‘July’, for example, is a shortening of ‘Julius’, as in Julius Caesar. Similarly, ‘August’ is named in honor of Augustus Caesar (also known as Octavian) who became emperor of ancient Rome, after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. We’ve also been landed with the Roman names for the majority of the planets in our solar system too.
Nellie goes on to list the details about the planets and there are plenty of interesting notes. Almost makes one want to pick up a Percy Jackson novel.
But I do want to stress that as a Christian believer, while I find some of the connections intriguing and interesting to explore in order to better understand what might be associated with a word like ‘Pollux or Hermes’, I am also wary of distorting the bible’s message. The planets are fascinating. But, in all such exploration, let me also underline the bible’s teaching. We read in Psalm 19: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.’
The bible is very clear that there is only one God – the God of Genesis 1 who created the Sun and moon, the planets and stars. But the bible too will reflect upon the heavenly bodies and they feature in different ways from Joseph’s dreams in Genesis 37 to the prophet Amos who in wrote:
“He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name.” (Amos 5:8).
There is plenty of discussion about the translation of the Hebrew to Pleiades and Orion – were these the constellations being referred to? But there is no question about who is really in charge? As the LORD declares in book of Job: ‘Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?’ (Job 38:31).
So whether we are gazing at the heavens or engrossed in a Percy Jackson book, let us heed the Word of God and let our worship be of the LORD alone – the Creator of heaven and earth. (Psalm 8).