Sunday, November 12, 2017

Russell and the Pleiades

Photo byDylan O'Donnell,, CC0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Many often berate Brother Russell because he made some suggestions related to Alcyone and the Pleiades as being the center of the universe. Yes, Russell believed in the possibility that Jehovah's seat of government was located in the Pleiades, especially around the star Alcyone. As far as Russell was concerned, whether he was correct or not would only have any meaning if one thought that Russell was claiming to have infallibility as a prophet, or that he was claiming to have some sole authority over what others were to believe, etc. Since Russell actually disclaimed being a prophet, or having any divine authority over others' beliefs, whether he was right or wrong in such suggestions has little bearing. As far as Russell was concerned, there was no dogmatism attached to this idea, but it was related more as a suggestion, based on what an astronomer, J. H. Maedler, had reported, and also on certain scriptures in the Bible. In Thy Kingdom Come (pages 327,328), Russell quoted Joseph Seiss, not as being dogma, but as a suggestion; note the usage of the word "suggests":

Commenting upon the scientific testimony and the location of this majestic "Witness," Rev. Joseph Seiss, D.D. suggests:
"There is a yet grander thought embodied in this wonderful structure. Of its five points there is one of special pre-eminence, in which all its sides and exterior lines terminate. It is the summit corner, which lifts its solemn index finger to the sun at midday, and by its distance from the base tells the mean distance to that sun from the earth. And if we go back to the date which the Pyramid gives itself and look for what that finger pointed to at midnight, we find a far sublimer indication. Science has at last discovered that the sun is not a dead center, with planets wheeling about it, and itself stationary. It is now ascertained that the sun also is in motion, carrying with it its splendid retinue of comets, planets, its satellites and theirs, around some other and vastly mightier center. Astronomers are not yet fully agreed as to what or where that center is. Some, however, believe that they have found the direction of it to be the Pleiades, and particularly Alcyone, the central one of the renowned Pleiadic stars. To the distinguished German astronomer, Prof. J. H. Maedler, belongs the honor of having made this discovery. Alcyone, then, as far as science has been able to perceive, would seem to be 'the midnight throne' in which the whole system of gravitation has its central seat, and from which the Almighty governs his universe. And here is the wonderful corresponding fact, that at the date of the Great Pyramid's building, at midnight of the autumnal equinox, and hence the true beginning of the year* as still preserved in the traditions of many nations, the Pleiades were distributed over the meridian of this Pyramid, with Alcyone (A Tauri) precisely on the line. Here, then, is a pointing of the highest and sublimest character that mere human science has ever been able so much as to hint, and which would seem to breathe an unsuspected and mighty meaning into that speech of God to Job, when he demanded, 'Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades?'"
*The beginning of the Jewish year, introduced by the Day of Atonement,
as shown in Scripture Studies, Vol. II.
Thy Kingdom Come, pages 327,328

Please note that the idea of the center of the universe extending from the Pleiades, and the connection with Job 38:31, did not originate from Russell, but he notes this as related by Weiss, who, in turn, relates that the idea that the center of the universe was in the Pleiades came from a German astronomer by the name of  J. H. Maedler. Earlier in Thy Kingdom Come, on page 321, Russell had stated that "Pleiades is a symbol of God and the center of the universe."

Based on the suggestions of earlier writers, in the Watch Tower of May 15, 1895, Brother Russell stated:
Our solar system of planets is also found to be revolving together around some other great center; and far beyond the farthest limits of our system, by the aid of the telescope, other suns and systems are discerned, all presumably revolving with ours around some common center, -- the group Pleiades. And the reasonable suggestion has been made that that center may be the heaven of heavens, the highest heaven, the throne of God.
Again, notice that Brother Russell was not laying out any kind of dogma, but he states this as "the reasonable suggestion".

In answer to a question regarding Job 38:31, Brother Russell was quoted as saying:
The crowning feature of all its scientific presentations is that some years ago, that the Pleiades, the most renowned of all the heavenly groups of stars, from the center of the Universe, around which revolve all the celestial bodies in space, just as the earth and planets revolve around the sun, forming our solar system. What a depth of meaning therefore is breathed into that wonderful expression of Job, "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades?"
This was evidently stated orally, however; he did not write this down, and I don't know that he knew that this statement would later be published. It was published in the book, What Pastor Russell Said, Q813.1. At any rate, it was simply his own observation and understanding at that time.

In the article "The Source of True Promotion (Watch Tower, June 15, 1915, page 185), Russell stated:
From the clearer astronomical knowledge of our day, it has been ascertained that while the planets of our solar system revolve around our sun, yet there are vast numbers of other suns each having its own retinue of planets, which with their satellites are revolving around it as a center. Furthermore, Science declares that there is a far mightier Center, around which these countless millions of suns revolve, accompanied by their planets and satellites. This great Center seems to be associated with the Pleiades, particularly with Alcyone, the central star of this renowned group. For this reason the suggestion has been made that the Pleiades may represent the Residence of Jehovah, the place from which He governs the Universe. This thought gives new force to the question which the Almighty asked the patriarch Job: "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth the constellations of the Zodiac in their season?"-- Job 38:31,32.
There seem to be fewer stars in the North than in any other part of the heavens. Thus the North seems to have been given a very prominent position, the other points of the compass giving it homage, as it were. This fact was observed by the ancients, as the Prophet Job declares -- "He stretcheth out the North over the empty space, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." (Job 26:7.) Throughout the Scriptures the North seems to be closely associated with Jehovah's government of the earth.
One, however, should not take the knowledge of astronomy available today, and look back at what Russell wrote so as to condemn Brother Russell in light of present-day astronomical studies. Many astronomers have come forth with a lot of different theories, some of which have been proven to be erroneous. Russell, of course, denied many times that what he wrote was infallible, yet many seem to seek to condemn him as though he did claim infallibility. Likewise, we do not hold that Brother Russell was any kind of infallible authority on such matters, and thus whether he was right or wrong in his conclusions are actually irrelevant.

Nevertheless, according to some astronomers today, there is no center of the universe! Does this also sound strange? Some astronomers have claimed that our own galaxy is the center of the universe. Both produce strong arguments for their viewpoints, and there are probably other viewpoints out there held by various astronomers with similar convincing arguments. While it might be nice to know where the true center of the universe actually is, such knowledge is not important as far as salvation is concerned, etc.

However, the mention of the Pleiades in the Bible by God Himself shows that he acknowledged some figurative importance to that cluster. Concerning this, The Herald of Christ's Kingdom, July/August, 1998, states:
Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?
Two distinct lines of knowledge are evident in these verses — astronomic truths and symbolic interpretations. Though Orion is literally having its "bands" (the stars which form the scabbard of the hunter) loosed as the stars separate from each other, the stars of the Pleiades are bound in a cluster and move together. Meanwhile Arcturus, the shepherd constellation at the end of the handle of the Big Dipper (known originally as the large sheepfold) is guiding his sons (the handle stars, or sheep) into the fold (or pot of the dipper). None of this is apparent to the eye, and can only be detected by modern astronomical methods. Yet God expressed these matters accurately to Job.
The introduction of the word Mazzaroth adds an additional line of thought to these verses. Literally the word refers to the constellations of the Zodiac, the twelve signs. These were important in ancient time, not for astrological purposes, but for predictably marking the months and seasons. However, since these signs are designated by animal and other figures, the word is suggestive of a symbolic interpretation to the star signs. This is further bolstered by Genesis 1:14 where one of the purposes of the formation of stars was for "signs." However, care must be exercised in using this line of interpretation to avoid anything akin to astrology, which is condemned in Scripture. -- Author not given.
The Bible does appear to indicate that God's authority and power is connected with the Pleiades, although this connection may actually be figurative. "Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south." (Job 9:9) Jehovah is shown to be the creator of these constellations, all of which are usually seen in the northern skies from Jerusalem. In Job 38:17,31,32, Jehovah replied to Job: "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" Here Jehovah associates the Pleiades with "sweet influences." The highest source of power is associated with the north: "Thou bast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God . I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north ." (Isaiah 14:13) Then in Psalms 75:6,7 we read, "For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south . But God is the judge: He putteth down one, and setteth up another ."  Thus the Scriptures seem to indicate that the Pleiades, as is either actually or figuratively the source of God's power, from whence cometh true promotion and every divine blessing.

Studies, Articles, and Sermons of Russell
that mention  either the "Pleiades" or  "Alcyone'

The Source of True Promotion

There may be more. If you know of another place, please let us know in the comments.