New evidence and interpretation at the intersection of astronomy and religion can help us better understand the history of the Ancient Near East and of the origins of Islam.
In recent years, the theory (based on ancient sources) of Immanuel Velikovsky that the planet Venus first entered the inner solar system as a comet with a bifurcated tail (the similarity to horns gave it the name the Bull of Heaven) shortly before 2500 B.C. (Velikovsky said 1500 B.C., but new evidence indicates 2500 B.C.) has found plentiful substantiation. Now we have a much better explanation of the origin of Venus (it was pulled into the inner solar system by Jupiter’s gravity and, via tidal heating, became a comet with a long tail—overcoming the leading objection to Velikovsky’s theory). We can roughly track its interaction with the Earth on a 52-year cycle during the Late Bronze Age, causing catastrophes worldwide and leading Earth to turn over four times, for which there is plenty of evidence. (Velikovsky had characterized the interaction as electromagnetic, but now we can see that at least as likely it was gravitational, or both.) And we now have a framework theory of the terrestrial planets into which these phenomena neatly fit and for which there is much telling evidence. For Comet Venus, there is also newly interpreted, compelling iconographic evidence.
So we can ask, with new-found confidence that the Ancients and Velikovsky were right about Venus, how can we use this to better decipher aspects of the culture of the Ancient Near East and of the background of Islam?
Ishtar, Astarte, Ashur
To start with, we can see a simple explanation of the names Ishtar and Astarte, the great Venus goddesses of the ancient Semites who suddenly appeared around 2500 B.C. (there is no prior reference to Venus). In all likelihood Semitic speakers picked up the word “star” for the wondrous new comet from their Indo-European neighbors (Farsi—setareh; Kurdish—stêr; Hittite—shittar), transposed letters in a characteristic manner, and ended up with Ishtar, Astarte, or in Yemen ‘Attar/’Astar—a male god. (A parallel derivation is the Arabic Mushtaree for Jupiter.)
Next, it seems clear that the Egyptian goddess Isis (originally Isi, with the s pronounced as a z) had the same basic name as the Arabic Al-’Uzza, the Sublime One, the name of Venus/Ishtar. Thus the long history and wide spread of the cult of Isis in the Roman world formed part of the history of the cult of Venus.
In addition, the supreme deity of the Assyrians, Ashur (for which the Assyrian capital Ashur was also named) was at times depicted with two horns (the Bull of Heaven)—in other words, as Venus. Ashur seems to be an Akkadian (Semitic) corruption of Indo-European “star”, leaving out the t. Ashur was sometimes depicted as in a disk with two wings (the bifurcated tail of Venus), but usually the disk was left empty, giving rise to the well-known winged disk symbol, which was used extensively by the ancient Egyptians and later by Rosicrucians and others. In addition, we can see that the name Assyria actually meant the Land of Venus, as does modern-day Syria.
Meanwhile, the Sumerian name for Venus—Nibiru—has come to be associated with the supposedly mysterious planet that will allegedly collide with the Earth on December 21, 2012 at the end of a cycle of the Mayan Venus calendar. But both the fears of ignorant people and the debunking explanations given by various scientists, who are unaware of the new findings on the Venus theory, are off target. There was indeed a planet named Nibiru. It was and is Venus. And, unlike during the Late Bronze Age catastrophes, it now does not represent any threat to the Earth.
Otherwise hard-to-explain phenomena in the history of the Ancient Near East such as the collapses of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms of Egypt associated with the failure of the Nile flood can be neatly explained as the consequences of particularly close passages of Venus on a 52-year cycle, presumably among the four approaches that caused Earth to flip over. In effect, Bronze and early Iron Age civilizations worldwide attained their achievements in the teeth of repeated cosmic catastrophes. This also accounts for much confusion about chronology: the catastrophes closely resembled each other and led to similar responses–e.g., the lamentation literature of Egypt.
Venus and Islam
What effect did the Venus cult have on early Islam?
First, although much has been made of the sexual nature of Ishtar, in fact she was originally a fearsome goddess of war. Over time Ishtar came to be associated with fertility as the chief goddess of the ancient Semites—and thereby gained the sexual attributes. In other words, Ishtar was above all a planetary goddess, a giant comet initially traversing the heavens in an awesome manner. We may surmise that, as Venus slowly lost its tail and became more and more simply a bright planet, and as it circularized its orbit and ceased interacting with the Earth, it became less feared. Eventually, led by Mohammed, himself originally an Ishtar-worshipper, the Arabs proved willing to abandon their worship of Venus.
The center of the Venus cult was the black Kaaba stone at Mecca—presumably a meteorite that had fallen from the tail of Venus. Mohammed is said to have ruled that the rituals around the Kaaba were a pious practice and could continue as part of the Haj.
Another symbol of Venus also found its way into Islam: the horns of the Bull of Heaven were placed atop the mosques of the new religion—though soon the explanation that they represented the crescent of the Moon led many new mosques farther away from Mecca to adopt a configuration of a tilted crescent.
Lastly, a key component of the original Venus episode—that the Earth turned over four times—evidently entered into Arab folklore only to reemerge as the Islamic teaching that on the Judgment Day the Sun would rise in the West. Then the time of repentance was past.
In other words, a correct understanding of the approaches of Venus in the Late Bronze Age can help us better to understand both the Ancient Near East and the origins of Islam.
Note: I am indebted to my student Mariam Al-Wazir for the references to the horns of Ashur meaning that he was Venus and to Mushtaree (Jupiter) as a Semitic borrowing from the Indo-European “star”. For more evidence on Venus in the Ancient Near East, see Great Serpent Mound Was an Effigy of Venus, Why Topless? Why the Snakes?, and Babylonian Omens Reveal a World Turned Upside Down.