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A Horoscope Written in Code 4Q186


4Q186 is perhaps the closest thing to a scientific treatise that has yet emerged from the caves of Qumran. This writing combines astrology and~the ancient “science” of physiognomy in an attempt to determine the character and destiny of given individuals. As the author of the third-century B.C.E. pseudo-Aristotelian tractate Physiognomonica describes it, “The physiognomist takes his information from movements, shapes, colors, and traits as they appear in the face, from the hair, from the smoothness of the skin, from the voice, from the appearance of the flesh, from the limbs, and from the entire character of the body” (806a).

In other words, physiognomy tried to judge a book by its cover, to discover individuals true character as opposed to how they might present themselves from a close examinatiOn of every aspect o f their outward appearance. By the time of the scrolls this was already an ancient form of divination. Examples many centuries older~than our text are known from ancient Mesopotamia. In the Greco-Roman period, physiognomy had developed well beyond those Near Eastern forebears and its practitioners memorized long catalogs of physical traits and the significance assigned to those traits.

Our text uses physiognomy as an adjunct to astrology, the “royal science” and t;true predictor of destiny. On the basis of a person's appearance, the reader of the text learns how to discover the person's birth sign. Knowing the birth sign enables the text's user to predict what sort of character the person in question posses and, in a very general way, what sort of future he or she will have. The text describes character as proportions of light and darkness, expressing the proportions as fractions of the number nine. Presumably the number derives from the period of human gestation. The theory seems to be that for each month in the womb, the embryo takes on one “part.” The fetus's crucial first month he birth sign would determine whether this allocation got off on the right foot, so to speak.

But how would the proportion of “parts” express itself in the way someone looked? That is, why was appearance related to astrology? To answer this question we have to read between the lines a bit and recall certain doctrines of GrecoRoman medicine. Our author seems to have believed that the “spirit” (which, as indicated, every human received in certain proportions) moved through the blood and thus to every extremity of the body. Once it reached a given locality in the body its nature would become manifest. For a bad birth sign, one such manifestation could be hairiness, for example. For such a theory the author could find biblical foundations such as Genesis 9:4, “The life is in the blood.”

A portion of the Damascus Document (text 1) explicitly states that spirits move through the blood and have physical outworkings; the Damascus Document is explaining skin diseases, but the principle is the same. This whole way of thinking is immediately reminiscent of Greco-Roman medical ideas that came to full expression in the writings of the famous Greek medical writer Galen (ca. 129-99 C.E.). Galen wrote of“humors” circulating in the body and used this idea to explain the observed truths of (pseudo-) Aristotelian physiognomy.

Two other particular aspects of our author's thinking deserve comment. First is his comparison of the individuals he describes to animals. Such comparisons were a commonplace of Greco-Roman physiognomy. The underlying idea was that if a person resembled a certain animal physically, he would also be sirnilar “in soul.” Thus if one knew a person's animal, it became possible to make valuable deductions about that person's character.: To choose an example that parallels our own text (the second individual below), Pseudo-Aristotle writes,“Those with a wide and thick neck are bad-tempered; compare bad-tempered bulls” (Physiognomonica.811a).

Also notable is our author's statement about the second individual, “This is the birth sign under which such a person shall be born: the haunch of Taurus.” ;The reference to the “haunch” of the sign of Taurus implies the concept of dodecatmoria. This Greek word is a name for further subdivision of the zodiac. According to astrological doctrine, each sign occupied 30 degrees of space in the heavens (12 signs, 360 degrees). But each: sign could be further subdivided into twelve parts, a sort of micro zodiac or “zodiac of the zodiac. ” To say that someone was born under the haunch of Taurus meant that he was born when the sun, as observed, had nearly completed its movement through that sign. The “haunch” was the last 2.5 degrees of the sign of Taurus. Taken together with all the other elemeets of our text, this greater specificity indicates that our author may once have described large number of individuals, for many umque combinations of these elements are possible. The larger part of this writing is quite likely lost; 4Q186 may have been an entire handbook on physiognomic astrology.

Text (with comments in italic)

A fragmentary description of the first individual. The reference in colt 2 to 'granite“ suggests that the text may have incorporated ideas about birthstones.

Frag. 1 Col. 1 7Anyone, the ha[ir of whose head] shall be [ . . . ~and vlhose head and forehead] ~are broad and curved [ . . . ~ 9intermediate, but the rest of [hisl head is not ~ . . . l~Col. 2 lf . . . unclean 2t . . . his stone is] granite.

The second individual, a person more good than bad. “Fixed eyes” are a regular ,category in Greco-Roman physiognomy and are generally a bad sign. Note the virtuous significance of long and slender limbs.

[And] anyone [whose] eyes are [ . . . and lo]ng, but th[e]y are fix[e]d, whose thighs are long and slender, whose toes 6are slender and long, and who was born during the second phase of the moon: he possesses a spirit: with six parts light, but three parts in the House of Darkness. This is the birth sign under which such a person shall be born: 9the haunch of Taurus. He will be poor. This is his animal: the bull.

The third individual. 'This person has poor potential for righteousness, being eight ninths bad. In particular, he has hairy thighs. In Greco-Roman physiognomy, hairy thighs sign fied one whose animal was the goat; like that animal, he tended to be lustful.

Col. 3 and whose head [ . . . ], :[wh`3sel ey[es] 6inspire fear [and are . . . ], whose teeth protrude (?), whose 7fingers are thick, whose thighs are~thick and extremely hairy, and whose toes are thick and short he possesses a spirit with [ei]ght parts in the House of [Darkness] and one from thr House of Light [ . . . ]

The fourth individual. This person has excellent potential pr righteousness and evidences the “Golden Mean” that was important in Greco-Roman physiognomy: his physical characteristics are extreme in neither direction. Note that he is also relatively hairless.

Frag. 2 Col. 1 regula[r], whose [eJyes are neither dark n[or] light (?), whose beard is sp[arse] and medium curly, whose voice resonates, whose teeth 3are fine and regular, who is neither tall 4nor short but is well built, whose fingers are thin Sand long, whose thighs are hairless, the soles of whose feet 6[and whose to]es are as they should be: he possesses a spirit 7[ . . . ] eight parts [from the House of Light] and o[ne] 8[in the House of Darkness. This is - the birth sign under which] such a person shall be born . . .

Literally,”and he derives from the second column/stand.') Similar phrasing in Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos, where ~e is describing phases or “stations” of the moon (i.e., the places where it “stands”), suggests the present interpretation. [in DJD 5, Allegro joined another fragment to the text at line 7. That join was a mistake, only possible becaUse Allegro used a scissors (!) to cut the larger fragment and make room. Here the mistaken join is removed.


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