Most mathematicians have heard about the mathematical achievements of Ancient Mesopotamia, and perhaps also about their observational astronomy. They probably haven't spent as much time learning about Babylonian astrology: the casting of horoscopes, the connection between omens in the skies and events on Earth. But the latter seems to have been as much a part of the "science" of the time as the former. Francesca Rochberg's new book seeks to redress that balance by studying Ancient Mesopotamian astrology and putting it in the context of other scholarly pursuits of the time.
It is very natural for historians to want to draw a bright line between Babylonian studies of the planets and their motions (which we would call astronomy) and their equally devoted investigations into the influence of those motions on human affairs (which we would call astrology). Though some scholars have attempted to argue that such a distinction is historically valid, Rochberg argues the opposite: that treating astrology as superstition and astronomy as science is entirely an artifact of our modern minds. In order to make this argument, she takes us through a careful examination of the relevant texts.
For a detailed account of what is in the book and why it matters, see the review by Eleanor Robson in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2005/06/29).
This is a fascinating book, one that readers interested in the history (and, perhaps, philosophy) of science will want to read.
Fernando Gouvêa is Professor of Mathematics at Colby College and the editor of MAA Reviews.
1. The historiography of Mesopotamian science; 2. Celestial divination in context; 3. Mesopotamian genethlialogy: the Babylonian horoscopes; 4. Sources for horoscopes in babylonian astronomical texts; 5. Sources for horoscopes in the early astrological tradition; 6. The scribes and scholars of Mesopotamian celestial science; 7. The classification of mesopotamian celestial inquiry as science.