The Zodiacs: Maps of Heaven and History*
By Richard D. Flavin
*This article is dedicated to the memory of the late Prof. Harald A. T. Reiche.
archaeologist Georges Daressy, in his
insightful "L'Egypte Céleste," drew attention to a curious
between the zodiacal constellations and various townships along the
Daressy showed how certain Egyptian townships used emblems, carved into
the architraves of temples, which depicted a sequence of the zodiac. 
This relationship suggests a celestial-terrestrial mapping by the
and reflects a one-to-one alignment between the zodiacal constellations
and Egyptian townships.
Fig.1) Georges Daressy's Egyptian celestial-terrestrial map of the zodiac and the Upper Nile
from the architraves of several temples--drawn with modern sigils by Harald A. T. Reiche.
Working with coins and various artworks, Jean Richer has argued for a similar alignment between zodiacal constellations and ancient Greek temple and oracle sites.  Richer hypothesizes the introduction of zodiacal symbolism from the Near East at the same time as the alphabet, c.1400 BC, and suggests the Hittites as intermediaries. While problems exist for portions of his work, it is challenging to encounter such a vast amount of evidence indicating an early competence in celestial-terrestrial mapping in ancient Greece. If these were isolated examples of the zodiac being used symbolically, they would be considered fascinating anomalies. From divers sources we can detect other applications of the "symbolic" sequence of the zodiac, and some of these are noteworthy.
"The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," as a popular saying, may help dialectics, but offers little to science. The zodiac and the associated problem of the precession of the equinox begin their history in a relatively late period of antiquity. For the zodiac, we now understand its invention occurred sometime shortly before c.480 BC, and with the precession, that it was Hipparchus of Bithynia c.150 BC, who first noticed the slow "drifting" of the constellations away from fixed calendar indicators. Persuasive arguments hold the zodiac is much older and the ancients were aware of the precession long before Hipparchus, but those arguments are too involved to treat here. The dates of c.480 BC and c.150 BC are important, however, in understanding the far-reaching social impact of these mathematical concepts. After their introduction, others appropriated the "idea" of the zodiac and precession, and began to apply them beyond science.
Atlantis : A Map of Heaven
The problem of Atlantis has troubled investigators since Plato's writing of his Timaeus and Critias c.360 BC. A typically safe approach would be Christopher Gill's "The Genre of The Atlantis Story."  Gill wrote of Atlantis that it "...was intended to be a politico-philosophical myth constructed out of historical ingredients, and specifically designed as a cautionary tale - and possibly a protreptic - for an Athenian audience." Gill is correct in describing the literary problem of Atlantis, but fails to adequately address the "historical." Many fantastic claims have been offered during the past two thousand years to explain Atlantis, usually involving a "lost continent," Crete, or most recently, Troy.  These guesses overlook Plato's own explicit statement in Timaeus 22D: " . . . the truth of it lies in the occurrence of a shifting of the bodies in the heavens which move round the earth . . . " It would not be unreasonable to assume Plato is here suggesting, though not "defining," the phenomena known as the precession of the equinox.
Heeding Plato's admission, the late Prof. Harald A. T. Reiche showed in his "The Language of Archaic Astronomy: A Clue to the Atlantis Myth?" that Plato's intent with his account of Atlantis was to suggest several celestial occurrences and phenomena.  Prof. Reiche's erudite paper argues that in Plato's Atlantis " . . . we have here an etiological myth concerning the succession of astronomical "world ages." The doctrine of the world ages occurs as early as the Babylonian Enuma Elish ("When above . . . "), dated to the middle of the second millennium BC. It has analogues in Iran, Greece, Rome, the Norse Edda, and elsewhere. . . . it represents the slow eastward drift of equinoctial constellations in the sky." Some months before his 1994 passing, Prof. Reiche revised and privately issued a second "corrected" edition of his paper, which reflected his continued dedication to the problem of Atlantis. His general approach, while stressing a euhemeristic "key," also recognized that historical factors served to provide an understandable basis, e.g., natural catastrophes such as floods, earthquakes, or, perhaps, volcanoes, and allusions to past civilizations such as the Minoan and Mycenaean.
This method of combining "myth" with a specific or series of celestial phenomena seems corroborated and widespread in many cultures around the globe and throughout various historical periods. Prof. Reiche's contribution to the problem of Atlantis follows the previous work of two of his close colleagues, Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, whose Hamlet's Mill (Boston: Gambit Inc., 1969) is a challenging, well-researched "essay" which examines the many ways the ancients expressed knowledge of celestial matters. A dust-jacket description from Hamlet's Mill sums up the matter neatly, "The authors say, along with the now forgotten Dupuis at the close of the eighteenth century: ‘Mythology is the work of science; science alone will explain it.’"
The Argosy: A Map of History
The development of 'The Argosy' is complex and, as was quite common for many Greek myths, layered with additions, interpretations, and much else from later Greek and Roman authors. One such interpretation merits our attention -- the Katasterismoi by the unknown author known as Psuedo-Eratosthenes, who aligned the major characters and events of 'The Argosy' with the twelve zodiacal constellations. The Katasterismoi is a generally overlooked work, though studied at length in Theony Condos' Ph.D. thesis, from 1970, at the University of Southern California. 
The esoteric nature of many myths has challenged both ancient and modern students. During the latter portion of the nineteenth century, groundbreaking scholarship explained how the Book of Genesis is an edited combination of several different sources and traditions, now believed to have been compiled in its present form no earlier than 500-300 BC. Unfortunately, no such "higher criticism" is possible with the extant Greek myths, because at no time did the Greeks pause to agree on which traditions they should collectively follow. Even with the works of Homer, surely the most respected and often quoted of the Greek authors, we are confused.
Martin Nilsson, with his classic Sather Lectures from 1930 and 1931, put forth the model that Helen of Troy was originally a vegetation-goddess "akin to Kore-Persephone [whose] . . . cult legend replaced Kore, who always retained her dignified position, not being drawn, as was Helen, into the heroic mythology."  If Helen is removed from the realm of Homeric "history," we are left with the wonderful account of the siege of Troy as little more than an early Greek "docu-drama." But, that is incomplete and unfair--many myths and histories require understanding from various perspectives and should be accorded the deepest respect and consideration. Easy answers to the hard questions are rare. I would venture to suggest they simply do not exist for many, if any.
The historian H. D. F. Kitto distinguished two main types of Greek religions: " . ..a religion that had to do with the social group, and a religion that had to do with nature-worship."  Clearly, as shown above, there was no consensus among the Greeks concerning their traditions. It is extremely unfortunate no one has compiled the various Greek myths, legends, and stories, and attached dates of composition to them. I believe this would help the student separate true "myth" from later allegory and sociopolitical commentary, which seems the impetus of so many Greek writers after Hesiod.
Yet, the Greeks themselves were acutely aware of this plastic approach to their "mythological" heritage. Indeed, the healthy skepticism of the Greeks greatly contributed to the scientific method of theory and proof. Xenophanes, c.570-475 BC, is justly famous for commenting, "But if oxen (and horses) and lions had hands or could draw with hands and create works of art like those made by men, horses would draw pictures of gods like horses, and oxen of gods like oxen, and they would make the bodies (of the gods) in accordance with the form that each species itself possesses." 
A remarkable, explicit breakthrough occurred with the Metamorphoses, later known as "The Golden Ass," written by the Latin novelist Lucius Apuleius, fl. 2nd cent. CE.  This oldest, extant novel reveals esoteric secrets concerning certain Greco-Egyptian rites involving the use of drugs, probably a solanaceae-paste. The flagrant description of a "mystery" by Apuleius seems to reflect a general decline toward certain time-honored rites and perhaps first "revealed" during the scandal of Alcibiades in 415 BC, when the Athenian noble was fined for celebrating the Eleusinian mysteries in his home to entertain friends.
Due to the symbolic and, therefore, easily misunderstood nature of 'The Argosy' some have suggested Jason sailed in ancient times to the New World. It is interesting that Eratosthenes postulated a major land-mass somewhere in the Atlantic after he very near correctly calculated the circumference of the Earth and later, either in a condensed version of a lost work by Eratosthenes, or as most hold, in his name, Psuedo-Eratosthenes made the alignment between 'The Argosy' and the zodiac. The vague geographical references contained in later versions of 'The Argosy' have invited many guesses, some suggesting the New World as the source of desired gold or the 'golden fleece', perhaps because of the basic east to west "path" of the sun, which the zodiacal constellations "follow." However, it is doubtful the historical Jason ever left the confines of the Mediterranean and Black seas; it must be stressed the alignment between the zodiac and 'The Argosy' occurred over a thousand years after the accepted date for the voyage of the Argo. The period between initial event and its first extant description was overlooked by Sir Isaac Newton, who also aligned "The Argosy' and the zodiac (apparently without reading Psuedo-Eratosthenes), and with an unfortunate dilettantism, used the voyage of the Argo as a fixed date in various versions of his "Chronology." This fascinating revisionist approach of Newton's is detailed in Frank Manuel's Isaac Newton Historian. 
commentators, such as Dr. Edwin
C. Krupp of Los Angeles' Griffith Observatory, acknowledge motifs which
incorporate the sun, moon, planets, and the
zodiacal constellations in such
as Heracles, Gilgimish, Tammuz, Mithra, and many others. 
It would be folly to claim these myths were conceived solely to
celestial phenomena, but they did, at one time or another, become
and restructured to reflect such phenomena. This process is
with 'The Argosy' and its subsequent alignment with the zodiacal
The technology of the zodiac must have been very much revered by the
to have so shaped their folk-stories, legends, and in the case of the
Narrative, perhaps even a religion.
Jesus: Another Map of History
1991's The Historical Jesus: The Life of A Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, by J. Dominic Crossan, as well as more recent works, has greatly contributed to what is possible, in light of current scholarship, to safely advance concerning the historical Jesus.  In a startling antithesis to the “failure” of Schweitzer’s 1906 The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Prof. Crossan was able to demonstrate Jesus as a Cynic philosopher and political agitator who preached a message of egalitarianism. With an exacting methodology, Crossan sets a humble limit on what may be assumed to be the certain “words of Jesus.” This is reflected severely in the publication of the “red-letter” edition of the Gospels, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, by Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar.  The Jesus Seminar, of which Prof. Crossan is Co-chair, is a group of international scholars who have labored for years on nearly every word of the New Testament, discussing, testing, and voting on textual veracity and historical integrity. Sponsored by the Westar Institute, the collected scholars and Fellows of the Jesus Seminar have shown that much of what Christians have believed to be the "words of Jesus" are products of later authors and editors.
Among the many interesting elements Crossan has exposed as coming into existence after the life of the historical Jesus is the tradition of the Twelve Apostles. In the second volume of his "historical Jesus trilogy," Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Prof. Crossan examines the lack of attestation for this tradition and concludes it "was created after [Jesus'] death among certain early Christian groups."  I do not propose "The Twelve" were conceived solely to reflect the twelve zodiacal constellations, though others have made this claim. Attention should be shown to such traditions though, because they combined with allusions of an astronomical and astrological nature to suggest a symbolic relationship to those esoterically minded.
Most are familiar with references to the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem, Virgil’s "virgin," the early Christian equation of Jesus with the sigil of Pisces the Fish, and the tradition of "The Twelve." I believe these elements, and others too numerous to include at this time ("numerous," as in I believe all usage of 'number' in scripture is symbolic), were associated with the Jesus Narrative to help suggest such a "progressive narrative" alignment as I propose between Jesus and the zodiac. [See Fig. 2 below.]
In this respect, it seems fitting, to certain Hellenistic Jews, the very name 'Jesus' was equated with the name 'Jason'. It has even been argued that the cult of Jason was in origin one of healing, therefore the name of the hero.  An explicit connection was made by John M. Allegro in his The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross: "Hellenized Jews used for 'Joshua' [that is to say, 'Jesus'] the Greek name Iason, Jason, very properly since iason, 'healer', and the deponent verb iaomi, 'heal', come from the same Sumerian source [*IA-U-ShU-A (ShUSh)]."  I do not personally support Allegro's interpretation of the Jesus Narrative, but I remain astounded at his insights and scholarship.
This suggested alignment differs from other attempts to match Jesus and the zodiac, such as possibly depicted at the church of San Minatio and described by Fred Gettings in his The Secret Zodiac: The Hidden Art in Mediaeval Astrology, because it follows a "progressive narrative" approach, rather than allow one or more possible alignments in a non-linear fashion.  Several previous suggestions are described in Richard Allen's classic Star Names and Their Meanings: "In England the Venerable Bede, 673-735, substituted the eleven apostles for eleven of the early signs, as the Corona seu Circulus sanctorum Apostolorum, John the Baptist fitly taking the place of Aquarius to complete the circle. Sir William Drummond in the 17th century, turned its constellations into a dozen Bible patriarchs; the Reverend G. Townsend made of them the twelve Caesars; and there have been other fanciful changes of this same character. Indeed, the Tree of Life in the Apocalypse has been thought a type of zodiac, as 'bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month.'" 
Though Allen later cites him extensively, Charles François Dupuis was somehow left out of the above-mentioned account of previous alignments. Dupuis's highly original work, published in 1795, on the relationships between the solar zodiac, the lunar zodiacs, and various myths and religions, Origine de tous les Cultus, was held by many at the time, to be a major contribution to scholarship.  Dupuis did receive some criticism, notably by one Joseph Priestly. From the introduction of a book by Priestly, "This work of Mr. Dupuis's is certainly the most extraordinary production of the present, or of any proceeding age, and theme plus ultra of infidelity. For after giving his opinion that the five books of Moses are a mere Arabian tale, by which he must mean a fictitious story, that the whole of the evangelical history is another fiction, that no such persons as Jacob and his twelve sons, or Christ and his twelve apostles, ever existed, but were intended to denote the sun, and the twelve signs of the Zodiac, nothing more contrary to the opinion of all mankind hitherto can be asserted." 
Dupuis's contributions were a milestone, of sorts, in the investigation between the zodiac and how various peoples "expressed" their wonder for its technology. In this century, archaeology has contributed to the investigation with the discoveries of the zodiac at the Hammath Tiberias synagogue c.325 CE, and also at the synagogue at Bet Alfa c.550 CE, attesting to an early association between the zodiac and Galilean peoples. 
It remains to be argued when the alignment arose between the zodiacal constellations and the Jesus Narrative. The principles were fixed by the time Mark wrote his Gospel c.70 CE, and the narrative-structure may be assumed to predate this time, or else originated with Mark, which is unlikely. The recent argument by Evan Powell to prioritize The Gospel of John is intriguing in its case, yet only reshuffles questions of dating.  The scholarly constructs of "Sayings Gospel Q," "Cross Gospel,” and "Gospel of Signs," if they existed at all, would seem not to further a study of narrative progression, though they date from a time when such a progression may have developed.  By the time Paul salutes his kinsman, “Jason,” ROM 16:21, we have a developed Cosmic Christ which appealed to a common eastern Mediterranean acceptance of calendars and myth, perhaps to "equal" the then-standard religions, or even rival such cults as Mithraism, all of which contained calendar mysteries. 
The assimilation of Sumero-Assyrian culture by the Chaldean and Persian reigns of 612-331 BC, along with the introduction of dualism (a dynamic concept of Zorastorianism), combined to radically effect Western science and religion. The mathematical zodiac, or celestial mapping grid, as invented under Nebuchadnezzar (or shortly before his reign), quickly diffused to nearby cultures, and in the process inspired many to amend certain traditions, i.e., the Greeks reworked the myths of Heracles and Jason, and the Hebrews infused their sacred writings with numerical suggestions they too knew the newly-created twelve ‘signs’ of the zodiac. As the zodiacal cult of Mithras grew and spread in Roman times, the zodiacal narrative was combined with the life and teachings of Jesus, empowering the new religion of Christianity to take its place alongside of its competitors, as it too reflected the knowledge (read: mastery) of the Heavens through the understanding of its workings.
The zodiac was designed to function as a "grid-map" to establish a means to position the sun, moon, and planets with mathematical precision. This invention was possible because of millennia of constellation traditions and observations. Clear correspondence must be allowed between many ancient myth-cycles and the wondrous movements of the stars--such has always been known, but sometimes overlooked. Later, the zodiac influenced much, and apparently without any supporting belief in the supernatural claims of astrology, the zodiac became more than a "grid-map."
Our fascination with the heavens stretches back into pre-history, and has continued to inspire many on any given cloudless night. The known regularity of the zodiac served as a "leit motif" to enrich or encode other important systems. The zodiac became a guide, a model, a "map" by which some could understand heaven and "history." I suspect, as we move closer to the stars, others may continue to use the zodiac in ways we cannot yet imagine.
Fig.2) The Argosy, The Zodiac, and The Jesus Narrative.
Jason - Fish - Jesus
They say the Harmonizer was disjointed, like the ritually lamed Jacob, but cruxifigere, the death on the cross, can also mean separated or dislocated, severed, disjoined or alienated. The Old Heavens passed unhinged when the final nail, the World Nail, gave out and the son of a carpenter, in three days, remade the Earth and the Heavens by naming them and their new ways. Like Adam, who named the plants and animals, Jesus and his Envoys named the Heavens left and right. As Jason, Jesus steered his new Argo through the night, remaking history with his Good Word.
G. de Santillana and H. von Dechend suggest when Moses (representing Aries, the Ram), came down from Sinai with the Commands, finding everyone worshipping the Golden Calf, that this was resistance to the Procession of the Equinox and the (then) coming new order; Aries following Taurus as the helically ascending constellation on mid-summer's day. In the Age of Pisces, it is Iesus Kybernautus Ikhthus, the Fish who rules for 2,300 years.
The thesis advanced by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, in their Hamlet's Mill, that most myths are extant, pre-literate and literate forms of the "Royal Science," or astronomy, and reflecting specifically the epochal phenomenon known as the "procession of the equinox," remains as valid and difficult as when first put forward. Much work needs to be done.
Copyright 1999, 2006 by
Richard D. Flavin.