Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Are the "About A Hundred" Stars of Kima Close Together or Scattered?

On Berachot 58b:
Samuel contrasted two texts. It is written, Who maketh the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades. And it is written elsewhere, That maketh Pleiades and Orion. How do we reconcile these? Were it not for the heat of Orion the world could not endure the cold of Pleiades; and were it not for the cold of Pleiades the world could not endure the heat of Orion. There is a tradition that were it not that the tail of the Scorpion has been placed in the Stream of Fire, no one who has ever been stung by a scorpion could live. This is what is referred to in the words of the All-Merciful to Job: Canst thou bind the chains of Pleiades or loose the bands of Orion?

What is meant by Kimah [Pleiades]? Samuel said: About a hundred [ke'me-ah] stars. Some say they are close together; others say that they are scattered.
Consistently in the above, Pleiades is given as the translation of Kimah. But how do we know what this constellation, mentioned in Iyyov 9:9, Iyyov 38:31, and Amos 5:8, means? Perhaps if there were some contemporary extrabiblical text using the term Kimah, we could resolve it. But I am unaware what modern scholarship has to say, or if modern scholarship has anything to say about it.

When Shmuel connects kimah to ke-meah, I don't think that this is intended etymologically, but rather as an asmachta.

Here, by the way, are some sources that discuss Kimah.

In terms of pesukim, we have Amos 5:8:
ח עֹשֵׂה כִימָה וּכְסִיל, וְהֹפֵךְ לַבֹּקֶר צַלְמָוֶת, וְיוֹם, לַיְלָה הֶחְשִׁיךְ; הַקּוֹרֵא לְמֵי-הַיָּם, וַיִּשְׁפְּכֵם עַל-פְּנֵי הָאָרֶץ--ה שְׁמוֹ. 8 Him that maketh the Pleiades and Orion, and bringeth on the shadow of death in the morning, and darkeneth the day into night; that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth; the LORD is His name;
Iyov 9:9:
ט עֹשֶׂה-עָשׁ, כְּסִיל וְכִימָה; וְחַדְרֵי תֵמָן. 9 Who maketh the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south.
and Iyov 38:31:
לא הַתְקַשֵּׁר, מַעֲדַנּוֹת כִּימָה; אוֹ-מֹשְׁכוֹת כְּסִיל תְּפַתֵּחַ. 31 Canst thou bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?
Perhaps "chains" and "bands" in this last one is some discernible feature we can use to identify the constellation in question.

At any rate, Shmuel talks about the heat of kesil vs. the cold of kima, so ancient beliefs about these could help identify what Shmuel is talking about. And as such, Pleiades is a good identification.

To cite that schmo Calvin:
Some translate כימה, kime, Arcturus. There is no need of laboring much about such names; for the Jews, ignorant of the liberal sciences, cannot at this day certainly determine what stars are meant; and they show also their complete ignorance as to herbs. They are indeed bold enough; they define what every word means; but yet they betray, as I have said, their own want of knowledge. And our Prophet was a shepherd, and had never learnt astronomy in his youth, or in his manhood. He therefore speaks of the stars according to the common notions of his age: but he, no doubt, selected two stars of an opposite influence. The Pleiades (which are also called the seven Stars) are, we know, mild; for when they rise, they moderate the rigor of the cold, and also bring with them the vernal rain. But Orion is a fiercer star, and ever excites grievous and turbulent commotions both at its rising and setting. This being the case, the Prophet names here those stars most commonly known. He says “Since the Lord changes the seasons, so that the mildness of the spring follows the rigor of winter, and since days succeed nights, and darkness comes after the light, and since it is God who renders a serene heaven suddenly cloudy by raising vapors from the veins of the earth, or from the sea, since all these changes manifest to us the wonderful power of God, how is it that men so presumptuously trifle with him? Whence is this so great a stupidity, unless they wholly overlook the works of God, and leave him a name only, and see not what is before their eyes?” We hence see how beautifully and how strikingly the Prophet does here set forth the power of God, and how opportunely he speaks of it. He then maketh the Pleiades and Orion.
Thanks for the dis, Calvin! Even if particular Jews he observed did not know constellations, this does not mean that they did not in general. Indeed, we rely on tradition from the gemara, and within the gemara on Shmuel. And Shmuel was an astronomer, and discusses the same contrast that Calvin does, in terms of stars of opposite influence, hot and cold.

(I also don't know whether we should assume Amos, the shepherd, but also a figger of sycamores, as well as a prophet who moved about, was unfamiliar with astronomy. Or whether he was trying to convey this particular poetic message.)

I don't know the common notions of the age of Amos, and specifically whether there are other candidates besides the Pleiades.

But the other suggestion mentioned by Calvin -- I am not sure if from Jews or not -- was Arcturus. As a single star, this should not be what Shmuel was talking about, at least. But on the other hand, Arcturus is the brightest star of the constellation Boötes.

And perhaps we can then cast this dispute between the Pleiades and Bootes as the two different suggestions as to Shmuel's intent in the gemara. To refresh the memory, that gemara stated:
What is meant by Kimah [Pleiades]? Samuel said: About a hundred [ke'me-ah] stars. Some say they are close together; others say that they are scattered.
So we are dealing with a constellation of many stars. But what is "close together" and what is "scattered?" I would suggest that scattered means that the stars are in an "open cluster." To cite Wikipedia:
An open cluster is a group of up to a few thousand stars that were formed from the same giant molecular cloud, and are still loosely gravitationally bound to each other. In contrast, globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity.
The caption of the picture accompanying the article notes that the Pleiades is one of the most famous open clusters.

The contrast was to a globular cluster. To cite Wikipedia again:
Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers.
Boötes, of which Arcturus is part, is a globular cluster.

Thus, the two setamaic suggestions in the gemara were whether the stars were in a globular cluster -- close together; or in an open cluster -- scattered.

Furthermore, if we could somehow confirm astronomical / astrological beliefs at the time of the gemara (and we probably can), we can narrow down the field of candidates.

It seems that Pleiades is a good candidate for Shmuel's intent, based on his discussion / mention of the hot and cold properties. And as such, we should side with the suggestion that they were scattered.


Anonymous said...

I am neither an astronomer nor the son of an astronomer, but I do know that the major significance of the Pleiades lies in the close conjunction of bright and less-bright stars. Although the myths center around the seven brighter ones, in fact someone with good eyesight away from a city can discern perhaps half a dozen more as individuals and recognise that there are many others that are too hard to individually resolve. If Shmuel meant the Pleiades, as I believe, his folk-etymology was well chosen.

joshwaxman said...

very interesting.


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