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The Twelfth Planet

Chapter 6, in it’s entirety, of The 12th Planet – [Book 1 of The Earth Chronicles Series]

(Part 3 of 5)


From The 12th Planet

by Zecharia Sitchin


     The scope of Mesopotamian astronomy on which the early Greek astronomers drew must have been vast, for even what archaeologists have found amounts to an avalanche of texts, inscriptions, seal impressions, reliefs, drawings, lists of celestial bodies, omens, calendars, tables of rising and setting times of the Sun and the planets, forecasts of eclipses.

     Many such later texts were, to be sure, more astrological than astronomical in nature. The heavens and the movements of the heavenly bodies appeared to be a prime preoccupation of mighty kings, temple priests, and the people of the land in general; the purpose of the stargazing seemed to be to find in the heavens an answer to the course of affairs on Earth: war, peace, abundance, famine.

     Compiling and analyzing hundreds of texts from the first millennium BC, R. C. Thompson (The Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon) was able to show that these stargazers were concerned with the fortunes of the land, its people, and its ruler from a national point of view, and not with individual fortunes (as present day "horoscopic" astrology is):


                When the Moon in its calculated time is not seen,
                there will be an invasion of a mighty city.

                When a comet reaches the path of the Sun, field-flow
                will be diminished an uproar will happen twice.

                When Jupiter goes with Venus, the prayers of the
                land will reach the heart of the gods.

                If the Sun stands in the station of the Moon, the King
                of the land will be secure on the throne.


     Even this astrology required comprehensive and accurate astronomical knowledge, without which no omens were possible. The Mesopotamians, possessing such knowledge, distinguished between the "fixed" stars and the planets that "wandered about" and knew that the Sun and the Moon were neither fixed stars nor ordinary planets. They were familiar with comets, meteors, and other celestial phenomena, and could calculate the relationships between the Sun, Moon, and Earth, and predict eclipses. They followed the motions of the celestial bodies and related them all to Earth’s orbit and rotation through the heliacal system – the system still in use today, which measures the rising and setting of stars and planets in Earth’s skies relative to the Sun.

     To keep track of the movements of the celestial bodies and their positions in the heavens relative to Earth and to one another, the Babylonians and Assyrians kept accurate ephemerides. These were tables that listed and predicted the future positions of the celestial bodies. Professor George Sarton (Chaldean Astronomy of the Last Three Centuries BC) found that they were computed by two methods: a later one used in Babylon, and an older one from Uruk. His unexpected finding was that the older, Uruk method was more sophisticated and more accurate than the later system. He accounted for this surprising situation by concluding that the erroneous astronomical notions of the Greeks and Romans resulted from a shift to a philosophy that explained the world in geometric terms, while the astronomer-priests of Chaldea followed prescribed formulas and traditions of Sumer.

     The unearthing of the Mesopotamian civilizations in the past one hundred years leaves no doubt that in the field of astronomy, as in so many others, the roots of our knowledge lie deep in Mesopotamia. In this field, too, we draw upon and continue the heritage of Sumer.

     Sarton’s conclusions have been reinforced by very comprehensive studies by Professor O. Neugebauer (Astronomical Cuneiform Texts), who was astonished to find that the ephemerides, precise as they were, were not based on observations by the Babylonian astronomers who prepared them. Instead, they were calculated "from some fixed arithmetical schemes…which were given and were not to be interfered with" by the astronomers who used them.

     Such automatic adherence to "arithmetical schemes" was achieved with the aid of "procedure texts" that accompanied the ephemerides, which "gave the rules for computing ephemerides step by step" according to some "strict mathematical theory." Neugebauer concluded that the Babylonian astronomers were ignorant of the theories on which the ephemerides and their mathematical calculations were based. He also admitted that "the empirical and theoretical foundation" of these accurate tables, to a large extent, escapes modern scholars as well. Yet he is convinced that ancient astronomical theories "must have existed, because it is impossible to devise computational schemes of high complication without a very elaborate plan."

     Professor Alfred Jeremias (Handbuch der Altorientalischen Geistkultur) concluded that the Mesopotamian astronomers were acquainted with the phenomenon of retrograde, the apparent erratic and snakelike course of the planets as seen from Earth, caused by the fact that Earth orbits the Sun either faster or slower than the other planets. The significance of such knowledge lies not only in the fact that retrograde is a phenomenon related to orbits around the Sun, but also in the fact that very long periods of observation were required to grasp and track it.

     Where were these complicated theories developed and who made the observations without which they could not have been developed? Neugebauer pointed out that "in the procedure texts, we meet a great number of technical term of wholly unknown reading, if not unknown meaning." Someone, much earlier than the Babylonians, possessed astronomical and mathematical knowledge far superior to that of later culture in Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

     The Babylonians and Assyrians devoted a substantial part of their astronomical efforts to keeping an accurate calendar. Like the Jewish calendar to this very day, it was a solar-lunar calendar, correlating ("intercalating") the solar year of just over 365 days with a lunar month of just under 30 days. While a calendar was important for business and other mundane needs, its accuracy was required primarily to determine the precise day and moment of the New Year, and other festivals and worship of the gods.

     To measure and correlate the intricate movements of Sun, Earth, Moon, and planets, the Mesopotamian astronomer-priests relied on a complex spherical astronomy. Earth was taken to be a sphere with an equator and poles; the heavens, too, were divided by imaginary equatorial and polar lines. The passage of celestial bodies was related to the ecliptic, the projection of the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun upon the celestial sphere; the equinoxes (the points and the times at which the Sun it its apparent annual movement north and south crosses the celestial equator); and the solstices (the time when the Sun during its apparent annual movement along the ecliptic is at its greatest declination north or south). All these are astronomical concepts used to this very day.

     But the Babylonians and Assyrians did not invent the calendar or the ingenious methods for its calculation. Their calendars – as well as our own – originated in Sumer. There the scholars have found a calendar, in use from the very earliest times, that is the basis for all later calendars. The principal calendar and model was the calendar of Nippur, the seat and center of Enlil. Our present-day one is modeled on that Nippurian calendar.

     The Sumerians considered the New Year to begin at the exact moment when the Sun crossed the Spring equinox. Professor Stephen Langdon (Tablets from the Archives of Drehem) found that records left by Dungi, a ruler of Ur circa 2400 BC, show that the Nippurian calendar selected a certain celestial body by whose setting against the sunset it was possible to determine the exact moment of the New Year’s arrival. This, he concluded, was done "perhaps 2,000 years before the era of Dungi" – that is, circa 4400 BC!

     Can it really be that the Sumerians, without actual instruments, nevertheless had the sophisticated astronomical and mathematical know-how required by a spherical astronomy and geometry? Indeed they had, as their language shows.

     They had a term – DUB – that meant (in astronomy) the 360-degree "circumference of the world," in relation to which they spoke of the curvature or arc of the heavens. For their astronomical and mathematical calculations they drew the AN.UR – and imagined "heavenly horizon" against which they could measure the rising and setting of celestial bodies. Perpendicular to this horizon they extended an imagined vertical line, the NU.BU.SAR.DA; with its aid they obtained the zenith point and called it the AN.PA. They traced the lines we call meridians, and called them "the graded yokes"; latitude lines were called "middle lines of heaven." The latitude line marking the summer solstice, for example, was called AN.BIL ("fiery point of the heavens").

     The Akkadian, Hurrian, Hittite, and other literary masterpieces of the ancient Near East, being translations or versions of Sumerian originals, were replete with Sumerian loanwords pertaining to celestial bodies and phenomena. Babylonian and Assyrian scholars who drew up star lists or wrote down calculations of planetary movements often noted the Sumerian originals on the tablets they were copying or translating. The 25,000 texts devoted to astronomy and astrology said to have been included in the Nineveh library of Ashurbanipal frequently bore acknowledgments of Sumerian origins.

     A major astronomical series that the Babylonians called "The Day of the Lord" was declared by its scribes to have been copied from a Sumerian tablet written in the time of Sargon of Akkad. – in the third millennium BC. A tablet dated to the third dynasty of Ur, also in the third millennium BC, describes and lists a series of celestial bodies so clearly that modern scholars had little difficulty in recognizing the texts as a classification of constellations, among them Ursa Major, Draco, Lyra, Cygnus and Cephus, and Triangulum in the northern skies; Orion, Canis Major, Hydra, Corvus, and Centaurus in the southern skies; and the familiar zodiacal constellations in the central celestial band.

     In ancient Mesopotamia the secrets of celestial knowledge were guarded, studied, and transmitted by astronomer-priests. It was thus perhaps fitting that three scholars who are credited with giving back to us this lost "Chaldean" science were Jesuit priests: Joseph Epping, Johann Strassman, and Franz X. Kugler. Kugler, in a masterwork (Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel), analyzed, deciphered, sorted-out, and explained a vast number of texts and lists. In one instance, by mathematically "turning the skies backwards," he was able to show that a list of thirty-three celestial bodies in the Babylonian skies of 1800 BC was neatly arranged according to present-day groupings!

     After much work deciding which are true groups and which are merely subgroups, the world’s astronomical community agreed (in 1925) to divide the heavens as seen from Earth into three regions – northern, central, and southern – and group the stars therein into eighty-eight constellations. As it turned out, there was nothing new in this arrangement, for the Sumerians were the first to divide the heavens into three bands or "ways" – the northern way was named after Enlil, the southern after Ea, and the central band was the "Way of Anu" – and to assign to them various constellations. The present-day central band, the band of the twelve constellations of the zodiac, corresponds exactly to the Way of Anu, in which the Sumerian grouped the stars into twelve houses.

     In antiquity, as today, the phenomena was related to the concept of the zodiac. The great circle of Earth around the Sun was divided into twelve equal parts, of thirty degrees each. The stars seen in each of these segments, or "houses," were grouped together into a constellation, each of which was then named according to the shape the stars of the group seemed to form.

     Because the constellations and their subdivisions, and even individual stars within the constellations, have reached Western civilization with names and descriptions borrowed heavily from Greek mythology, the Western world tended for nearly two millennia to credit the Greeks with this achievement. But it is now apparent that the early Greek astronomers merely adopted into their language and mythology a ready-made astronomy obtained from the Sumerians. We have already noted how Hipparchus, Eudoxus, and others obtained their knowledge. Even Thales, the earliest Greek astronomer of consequence, who is said to have predicted the total solar eclipse of May 28, 585 BC, which stopped the war between the Lydians and the Medians, allowed that the sources of his knowledge were of pre-Semitic Mesopotamian origins, namely – Sumerian.

     We have acquired the name "zodiac" from the Greek zodiakos kyklos ("animal circle") because the layout of the star groups was likened to the shape of a lion, fishes, and so on. But those imaginary shapes and names were actually originated by the Sumerians, who called the twelve zodiacal constellations UL.HE ("shiny-herd"):


  1. GU.AN.NA ("heavenly bull"), Taurus.

  2. MASH.TAB.BA ("twins"), our Gemini.

  3. DUB ("pincers," "tongs"), the Crab or Cancer.

  4. UR.GULA ("lion"), which we call Leo.

  5. AB.SIN ("her father was Sin"), the maiden Virgo.

  6. ZI.BA.AN.NA ("heavenly fate"), the scales of Libra.

  7. GIR.TAB ("which claws and cuts"), Scorpio.

  8. PA.BIL ("defender"), the Archer, Sagittarius.

  9. SUHUR.MASH ("goat-fish"), Capricorn.

  10. GU (" lord of the waters"), the Water Bearer, Aquarius.

  11. SIM.MAH ("fishes"), Pisces.

  12. KU.MAL ("field dweller"), the Ram, Aries.


     The pictorial representations or signs of the zodiac, like their names, have remained virtually intact since their introduction in Sumer.


Click here for original image!

(fig. 93)

     Until the introduction of the telescope, European astronomers accepted the Ptolemaic recognition of only nineteen constellations in the northern skies. By 1925, when the current classification was agreed upon twenty-eight constellations had been recognized in what the Sumerians called the Way of Enlil. We should no longer be surprised to find out that, unlike Ptolemy, the earlier Sumerians recognized, identified, grouped, named, and listed all the constellations of the northern skies!

     Of the celestial bodies in the Way of Enlil, twelve were deemed to be of Enlil – paralleling the twelve zodiacal celestial bodies in the Way of Anu. Likewise, in the southern portion of the skies – the Way of Ea – twelve constellations were listed, not merely as present in the southern skies, but as of the god Ea. In addition to these twelve principal twelve constellations of Ea, several others were listed for the southern skies – though not so many as are recognized today.

*     *     *

All images appear exactly as depicted in The 12th Planet

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