Over the past few weeks I’ve talked quite a bit about the Alexandrian chronographers Panodorus and Annianus, and I have discussed some of the sources they used in compiling their influential discussion of world history, one that included the Fallen Angels as a key pivot point in antediluvian events. To that end, it’s interesting to note that the two authors seem to differ from their source material a bit. It is widely assumed, for example, that Panodorus relied on the so-called Book of Sothis, a forgery wrongly assigned to the Egyptian priest Manetho, for his Egyptian chronology, not least because this forgery has distinctly Judeo-Christian elements, identifying various pharaohs with their Biblical counterparts and identifying the first king of Egypt as Mizraim, the son of Ham, son of Noah. This is noteworthy primarily because Eusebius, in his Chronicle, makes that same identification, but does not attribute it to Manetho.
Eusebius wrote that all of the Egyptian claims for earlier kings before Mizraim were lies, and the surviving summary of the Book of Sothis seems to suggest that Egyptian history begins with Mizraim but that there had been a time before the Flood when Hermes studied the stars in Egypt. Too bad that too little survives to know what the book said about history before the Flood. We know from George Syncellus, though, that Panodorus “endeavours to demonstrate that the Egyptian books, which are quite at issue with our inspired and sacred books, may be reconciled with them, passing censure upon Eusebius” (Chronicle 42, anonymous 1855 trans.). In other words, he accepted the gods and demigods, who don’t appear in the Book of Sothis, and identified them with the Watchers of Enoch. In fact, Syncellus chides Panodorus for accepting such fictions as antediluvian kings of Egypt. “For neither had Babylon and Chaldea any kings before the Deluge, nor Egypt before Mizraim, nor, as I think, was it inhabited at all before that time.” In this, he echoes Augustine, who in his City of God (12.10) railed against the “highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed” (trans. Marcus Dods).
While Christians were divided on this issue, I thought it interesting to look into what the pagan Greeks and Romans had to say about the chronology of the world just before the time that our authors wrote. There is surprisingly little information about their efforts at chronology outside of what the Christian Fathers wrote of them, but one relevant piece of information comes from the Roman grammarian Censorinus, who composed a book called On Birthdays in 238 CE, just before Eusebius and Panodorus wrote. In chapter 18, he offers a very familiar discussion that echoes much of what we know from Christian and Islamic views of history:
There is also a year which Aristotle calls Perfect, rather than Great, which is formed by the revolution of the sun, of the moon and of the five planets, when they all come at the same time to the celestial point from which they started together. This year has a great winter called by the Greeks the Inundation and by the Latins The Deluge; it has also a summer which the Greeks call the Conflagration of the world. The world is supposed to have been by turns deluged or on fire at each of these epochs. According to the opinion of Aristarchus this year was composed of 2484 solar years; according to Arestes of Dyrrachium, it was 5552 years; according to Heraclitus and Linus it was 10,800; according to Dion it was 10,884; according to Orpheus it was 10,020 years; and according to Cassandrus it was 3,600,000 years. Others have thought it infinite; and that it would never recur. (trans. William Maude)
Many Classical authors believed that there had been fires and floods and would be again. Most of the authors that Censorinus references and the other Classical writers who wrote of this issue did not specifically attribute the fire and flood to a specific star cycle, though Plato implied as much in his Timaeus. The Babylonian priest Berossus had said much the same, and did attribute the claim to the stars:
Berosus, who thus interprets the Babylonian tradition, says that these events take place according to the course of the stars; and he affirms it so positively as to fix the time for the (general) conflagration of the world, and the Deluge. He maintains that all terrestrial things will be consumed when the planets, which now are traversing their different courses, shall all coincide in the sign of Cancer, and be so placed, that a straight line could pass directly through all their orbs. But the Flood will take place (he says) when the same conjunction of the planets shall take place in the constellation Capricorn. The summer is in the former constellation, the winter in the latter. (Seneca, Natural Questions 3.29, trans. I. P. Cory)
Thus, it seems that the claim moved from Babylon to Egypt via the Greeks and through astrology, and the Greek version found fertile fields in Late Antiquity among Christians like Panodorus who already believed in the Enochian Pillars of Wisdom and the prophecy, born of the Watchers or Adam or the angels, that fire would follow flood. This prophecy was probably a reflection of the Babylonian, like the Greek. However, Censorinus’ testimony shows us that by the period when our Christian authors wrote, the astrological interpretation of history had come to dominate, and as he indicates, the periods of that great year were likened to the seasons of the Mediterranean basin. There, winter is the wet season and summer the dry, and so this translated into flood and fire.
The growing tendency to see the stars as the arbiters of history seems to help connect the Book of Enoch to chronography, for Enoch’s corpus of literature has a lengthy astrological treatise. It seems that astrology helped to tie together formerly disparate traditions.
But what is perhaps of interest, albeit minor, is that Syncellus made use of a pagan chronicle, attributed to Eratosthenes, and recorded by Pseudo-Apollodorus, but which originated with Egyptian priests at Thebes. While its historiography agrees in no way with standard records, it is interesting to see that at least one Greek source listed a pharaoh (the eleventh Theban pharaoh) as Sirius, like the star, which was also know by the Hellenized Egyptian name Sothis. This is only important to me because the fragments of Abenephius, allegedly a medieval Jewish treatise on Egypt, refer to Khufu as “Sothis” and also identify Menes with Mizraim as the Book of Sothis and Eusebius had done. What connection there is, I can’t say, but it does show that there was at least the groundwork for identifying pharaohs with astrological events as far back as the Hellenistic period.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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