It can be assumed with a fair amount of probability
that the planet that caused the disturbances described above was the planet
Mercury, the Greek Hermes, the Babylonian Nebo.
To each of the planets is ascribed a world age, and
the ages of the other planetsMoon, Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, and Marsare
well discernible; the dominion of Mercury must be looked for in one of
the world ages, and one of the world cataclysms was apparently ascribed
to this lesser planet.(1)
Mercury was a feared god long before Mars (Nergal) became one. As the
name of Mount Sinai refers to Sin, the Moon, so the name of Mount Nebo
in Moab where Moses died(2)
was called already in that early time by the name of the planet Mercury.
Later in the seventh and sixth centuries before the present era, this
god was much venerated, especially by the Chaldeans and other peoples
of Mesopotamia, as the names of Nabopolassar and his son Nebuchadnezzar
prove.(3) In earlier times
Mercury was known to the Sumerians as Enki.(4)
Equally pronounced was the position of Thoth, the planet
Mercury of the Egyptian pantheon, the theophoric part of the name Thutmose.(5)
For the northern peoples, Mercury was Odin.(6)
It is characteristic that in many astronomical texts
Mercury, the Greek Hermes, the Babylonian Nebo, the Egyptian Thoth, is
portrayed as the planet-god which had in his dominion the physiological
capacity of memory in man,(7)
as well as that of speech. According to Augustine, speech is Mercury.
Direct information that confirms our assumption is provided
by Hyginus. Hyginus wrote that for many centuries men lived without
town or laws, speaking one tongue under the rule of Jove. But after Mercury
explained the languages of men (whence he is called hermeneutes,
interpreter, for Mercury in Greek is called Hermes; he, too,
divided the nations) then discord arose among mortals. . . . (9)
The Romans as well as the Greeks pictured Mercury with
wings, either on his headgear or at his ankles,(10)
and with an emblem, the caduceus, a staff with two snakes winding. The
double serpent (caduceus), the emblem of Mercury, is found in ornaments
of all peoples of antiquity; a special treatise could be written about
this subject; I found the caduceus all around the world.(11)
Mercury, or Hermes of the Greeks, was a messenger of the gods that speeded
on his errand, sent by Jupiter.(12)
Among the satellites that presently orbit each of the
giant planets are bodies comparable in size to Mercury, or even larger.(13)
Abraham Rockenbach, whose De Cometis Tractatus Novus Methodicus
we had occasion to quote when investigating the causes of the Deluge,
included in his treatise also the following entry:
In the year of the world one thousand nine hundred
and forty-four, two hundred and eighty-eight years after the Deluge,
a comet was seen in Egypt of the nature of Saturn, in the vicinity of
Cairo, in the constellation of Capricorn, and within the space of sixty-five
days it traversed three signs in the sky. Confusions of languages and
dispersals of peoples followed. On this the text of the eleventh chapter
of Genesis speaks in more detail.(14)
From the annals of modern astronomy we know of cases
when a comet traveling on an elongated orbit was caught by
the planet Jupiter, by which is meant the change of the cometary orbit
to one of a short period, with the sun in the focus of its orbit.
It is possible to reconstruct the planetary disturbances
of that age with some approximation. In my understanding Mercury was once
a satellite of Jupiter, or possibly of Saturn. In the course of the events
which followed Saturns interaction with Jupiter and its subsequent
disruption, Mercury was pushed from its orbit and was directed to the
sun by Jupiter. It could, however, have been a comet and the entwined
snakes of the caduceus may memorialize the appearance it had when seen
by the inhabitants of the Earth. At some point a contact occurred between
the magnetospheres of Mercury and the Earth, described in the traditions
of various nations.(15)
That the Earth was once a satellite of a giant planet
is nothing more than a surmise; we dealt with it only as with a hypothetical
construction, requiring further elucidation. But with a greater show of
support derived from the mythological and folkloristic sources we have
tried to demonstrate on the case of Mercury that once it had been a satellite
of one of the giant planets and was directed by Jupiter closer
to the sun.(16)
The claim therefore is that Mercury has traveled on
its present orbit for only some five or six thousand years. This view
conflicts with both the nebular and the tidal theories of the origin of
the planetary family, and with the assumption that the planets have occupied
the same orbits for billions of years.
[Among the reasons which
suggest that Mercury was the planet which caused the catastrophe of
the confusion of languages is the fact that the age of Mercury follows
that of Saturn. In the Hindu conception of the world ages, Satya yuga,
the Saturnian age, was brought to a close by a general flood. Cf. Sir
William Jones, On the Gods of Greece, Italy and India, Asiatick
Researches I (1799), p. 234: . . . The Satya, or (if we may
venture to call it) the Saturnian age was, in truth, the age of the
general flood (emphasis in text). Mercury appeared soon
after the beginning of the next age, the Treta yuga; and for at least
a part of this age men lived under the aegis of Mercury. In Hindu astronomy
the usual name for the planet Mercury was Budha. In the Bhagavatamrita
it is said that Budha [Mercury] became visible the 1002nd
year of the Cali yug. According to John Bentley, the 1002nd
year of the Cali yug [astronomical era] corresponds . . . with the
179th year of the Treta yug of the poets. Remarks on the
Principal Aeras and Dates of the Ancient Hindus, Asiatick Researches
V (1799), pp. 320f. The Bhagavatamrita describes in mythical
language the first appearance of Mercury. See W. Jones, On the
Chronology of the Hindus, Asiatick Researches II (1799),
p. 122. Jones also placed the ancient Budha, or Mercury . . .
about the beginning of the Treta yug. In Hindu lore Budha, or
Mercury, is said to have married Ila, the daughter of Satyavrata, the
Manu of the Satya yuga, in whose days the Deluge occurred. This is but
a way of saying that the time of Mercurys prominence was shortly
after the Deluge, the age of Saturn, the Satya yuga. The Matsya Puranam
ed. and transl. by Jamna das Akhtar (Delhi, 1972), ch. xi.
Among the descriptive epithets
applied to Mercury in India, were budha"mind, spirit,
intelligence, sarvagna"all-knowing, shadhabhigna"possessor
of the six sciences, advayavadi"eloquent, unequalled
in speech. See Fr. Paulinus, Systema Brahmanicum (Rome,
1791), pp. 156f. The presence of the god could induce forgetfulness.
(The Matsyapuranam XI. 61).].
34: 1-5; cf. Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens, p.
124, n. 3.
[Nebo was regarded as the
son of Marduk, or Jupiter. His chief cult center in Babylonia was Borsippa,
whose ziggurat, or stepped pyramid, was consecrated to Nebo. In the
Talmud (Sanhedrin XI. 109a) the ruins of this structure were considered
to be the remains of the Tower of Babel. (Cf. Obermeyer, pp. 314, 327,
346). It was of these ruins that R. Yochanan is reported to have said
a third of the tower was burnt, a third sunk [into the earth],
and a third is still standing. The Talmud next quotes Rab as having
said The atmosphere of the tower causes forgetfulness.
Nebo was also thought of as
the herald of the gods, and as presiding over all matters pertaining
to the intellect. Cf. Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens,
Vol. I, pp. 121, 123, 238; Cf. the prayer of Assurbanipal: For
Nebo the perfect son, regulator of all things in heaven and earth,
him that holds the tablet of wisdom, carrier of the stylus of fate.
. . . S. Langdon, Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms (Paris,
1909), p. 129.].
Sumerians believed that there was a time when all mankind spoke one
and the same language, and that it was Enki, the Sumerian god of wisdom,
who confounded their speech"so concluded S. N. Kramer after
publishing his translation of a Sumerian epic fragment. See S. N.
Kramer, The Bable of Tongues : A Sumerian Version,
The Journal of the American Oriental Society 88, pp. 108-111.
The text of the tablet is translated by Kramer as follows:
The whole universe, the
people in unison To Enlil in one tongue_ _ _ Enki _ _ _ the leader
of the gods, Endowed with wisdom _ _ _ Changed the speech in their
mouths (brought) contention into it, Into the speech of man that
(until then) had been one.
Cf. K. Seybold, Der
Turmbau zu Babel, Vetus Testamentum 26 (197x), pp. 453-479;
J. van Dijk, La Confusion des langues . Note sur
le lexique et sur la morphologie dEnmerkar, 147-155, Orientalia
39 (1970), pp. 302-310; B. Alster, An Aspect of Enmerkar
and the Lord of Aratta , Revue dAssyriologie
67 (1973), pp. 101-109.
The Sumerian Enki was the
same as the Babylonian Ea; See for instance M. Jastrow, Die Religion
Babyloniens und Assyriens (Giessen, 1905), Vol. I, p. 62. The
name Ea was written with the ideogram EN.KI. Students of Babylonian
astronomy are well aware that by Star of the god Ea
Mercury is meant. Ibid., Vol. II, p. 667, note 2.].
Cf. P. Boylan,
Thoth the Hermes of Egypt (Oxford, 1922). [Diodorus
wrote (I. 17. 3) that when Isis took over the kingdom from Osiris,
Hermes (i.e., Thoth) became her chief cousellor. This means that the
planet Mercury was prominent in the period after Jupiter replaced
Saturn as the dominant planet. Diodorus also wrote that it was by
the Egyptian Hermes that the common language of mankind was
first further articulated (I. 16. 1).
An Egyptian hymn calls Thoth
the deity that made different the tongue of one country from
another. (J. Cerny, Thoth as Creator of Languages,
The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 34 (1, pp. 121-122.)
Another text tells that this god distinguished (or separated)
the tongue of country from country. (Ibid., p. 121).
Yet another recounts that he distinguished the tongue of every
foreign land. (Ibid., loc. cit). Cerny comments that
the words made different or distinguished
or separated are past participles alluding probably
to some lost myth or legend according to which Thoth differentiated
the languages of the various countries. These epithets might even
be cited as evidence of an Egyptian parallel to the Hebrew fable of
Yahwe and the Tower of Babel. Cf. J. G. Griffith, Plutarchs
De Iside et Osiride, pp. 263f. In Egyptian texts Thoth was called
lord of divine words and mighty in speech
; according to E. A. W. Budge, from one aspect he is speech
itself . . . Thoth could teach a man not only words of power, but
also the manner in which to utter them. . . . The words, however .
. . must be learned from Thoth. Thoth was also known as scribe
of the gods and lord of books. (The Gods of the
Egyptians [London, 1904], vol. I, p. 401; cf. P. Boylan, Thoth
the Hermes of Egypt [Oxford, 1922] and B. von Turayeff, Zwei
Hymnen an Thoth, Zeitschrift fuer Aegyptische Sprache 33
, pp. 120-125).
In the dialogue Phaedrus
(sect. 274-275), Plato presents a story about the invention of
letters by Thoth, and explores some of the implications of this new
skill. It will create forgetfulness in the learners souls,
because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external
written characters and not remember of themselves. (transl.
by B. Jowett)].
Tacitus, Germania IX, transl. by H. Mattingly (1948): Above
all they worship Mercury, and count it no sin to win his favor on
certain days by human sacrifices. Odin was the head of the Nordic
pantheon. Matthew of Westminster (Flores ed., 1601, p. 82) transmits
a speech by Saxon envoys to Britain ca. 450 A.D.: Deos patrios,
scilicet Saturnum, Jovem atque ceteros, qui mundum gubernant,
colimus, maxime autem Mercurium, quem lingua nostra Voden apellamus.""We
worship the gods of our fathers, that is, Jupiter, Saturn, and the
rest of those that rule the world, but most of all [we worship] Mercury,
whom in our language we call Voden.
Of Odin it was said: He
spoke so well and so smoothly that all who heard him believed all
he said was true."Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway,
transl. by Lee M. Hollander (Austin, 1964), pp. 10-11. He was
associated with Hugin or thought and Munin or memory.
One of the myths about Odin
connects him with the multiplicity of languages. In the Gylfaginning,
ch. XIX, it is said that the reason why Odin is known by many
different names is the fact that there are in the world so many
different languages. ].
planet Mercury [is] the deity which presides over the rational energy,
wrote the neo-Platonist philosopher Porphyry (On the Wanderings of
Ulysses, transl. by Th. Taylor [London. 1823], p. 259) and Proclus,
the last great representive of that school, elaborated in his description
of Mercurys powers: (Mercury) unfolds into light intellectual
gifts, fills all things with divine reasons, elevates souls to intellect,
wakens them as from a profound sleep. . . . (In Euclidi Elementa
lib. I, par. 14; cf. idem, In Platonis Rem Publicam, ed. Nauck,
I. 255, II. 221). Proclus also described Hermes as responsible
for distinguishing and interpreting things, recalling to memory the
sources of the intellect . . . . (In Platonis Rem Publicam
Nebo. See above, n.
Thoth. An Egyptian
hymn assigns to Thoth control over mans mnemonic powers, invoking
him as the deity that recalls all what had been forgotten.
(R. Hari, Horemheb et le Reine Moutnedjemet [Geneva, 1965]).].
of God VII. 14. 1. [Servius called Mercury
et orationis deus et interpres deorum (In Vergili Aeneidem
IV. 239). Arnobius (Adversus Gentes III. 32) argued that
Mercury is simply speech and words exchanged in conversation. Cf.
Hippolytus, Refutatio V. 2; Clement of Alexandria, Homilia
VI. xv; Macrobius wrote in his Saturnalia: scimus autem Mercurium
vocis et sermonis potentem. Proclus, (Commentaire sur
le Timee, transl. by Festugiere, Vol. V, p. 237) asserted that
la faculte de langage [correspond a] Hermes. . . . Cf.
F. Buffiere, Les Mythes dHomere et la Pensée grecque
(Paris, 1956), pp. 289ff. A scholium to Aristophanes Plutus,
Act. IV, scene I, and a scholium to Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica
1. 517 provide further details about Mercurys association
no. 143: Phoroneus, transl. by M. Grant in The
Myths of Hyginus (University of Kansas Publications: Lawrence,
1960). Here Mercury is made directly responsible for the confusion
of languages. The meaning is clearly that Hermes invented one
language for one people, another for another. The whole account reminds
one of the Biblical Tower of Babel. ibid., p. 118.
to Servius (In Vergili Aeneidem Commentarii IV. 239) Mercurius
ideo dicitur habere pennas, quia citius ab omnibus planetis
in ortum suum recurrit unde et velox et errans inducitur, ut (Georgica
I. 337) quos ignis caeli Cyllenius erret in orbes.
was an emblem of the Babylonian deity Ningishzida, and an astronomical
tablet from Boghazkoi identifies Ningishzida with Nebo-Mercury (Weidner,
Handbuch der babylonischen Astronomie, p. 61). Cf. H. Th. Bossert,
Altsyrien (Tuebingen, 1951), p. 139, figs. 442 & 445. H. Schliemann
found the caduceus at Mycenae. Ancient Mexican codices portray the
worship of entwined snakes. See Lord Kingsborough, The Antiquities
of Mexico (London, 1830), Vol. II, p. 4. Cf. H. B. Alexander,
Latin American Mythology (Mythology of All Races, Vol. XI (1920),
p. 72; cf. also Franz Boas, Kwakiutl Culture as Reflected in Mythology,
(New York, 1935), p. 137.
Odyssey VI; Vergil, The Aeneid IV. 239.
satellite Ganymede is larger than Mercury, and Saturns biggest
moon, Titan, is almost as large.
Tractatus Novus Methodicus (Wittenbergae, 1602), pp. 113f.: Anno
mundi millesimo, nongentesimo, quadragesimo quarto. Anno post diluvium,
ducentesimo octuagesimo octavo, Cometa in Aegypto naturam Saturni
referens, circa Alcairum, in dodecatemorio Capricorni visus est, hicque
spatio sexaginta quinque dierum, tria signa in coelo percurrit. Hunc
confusiones linguarum, dissipationes gentium in toto terrarum orbe,
sunt secutae. De quibus Genes. undecimo capite, prolixius textus dicunt.
Cf. J. Hevelius, Cometographia (1668).
Babylonian sources the destructive acts of Nebo are recorded: The
lofty one, furious . . . the word of him . . . causes the earth beneath
to shudder, the word which in his glory he spoke. . . Waters have
flooded the wide land. S. Langdon, Babylonian Liturgies (Paris,
1913), p. 65.]
Cf. R. S. Harrington and T. C. van Flandern, A
Dynamical Investigation of the Conjecture that Mercury is an Escaped
Satellite of Venus, Icarus 28, (1976), pp. 435-440.