(first published by the Astrological Journal/The Astrological Association of Great Britain/02.11.2015)
Much research has explored the astrology of Christian texts. But the author has developed a fresh perspective: the biblical gospels should be read together as a “four-fold set”, each book representing a star sign as part of an astrologically designed, inter-dependent whole. He reveals a “grand astro-theological programme behind the gospel narrations”
All Scriptures speak in a mysterious language of symbols.
Astrology and the gospels
Comprehending the New Testament’s content and meaning requires effective use of allegorical modes of interpretation.(1) One of the most useful hermeneutic (or interpretive) tools is astrological symbolism, a conclusion based on socio-historical grounds. Astrology was dominant in Hellenistic theology and culture; and Christianity’s documents were formed within the Hellenistic context.
A significant amount of research has explored the astro-theological background of Christian texts. However the astrological essence of the gospels as a four-fold set remains largely unknown.(2)
In-depth study of the gospels necessarily begins with Irenaeus’ (2nd c. A.D.) famous identification of the four evangelists with the four symbolic animals – the ‘Living Creatures’ – of the Apocalypse.(3) That is everywhere found in late antiquity, medieval, Renaissance and early modern iconography, representing the four facets of Christ. It was inspired by the lion, bull, human and eagle faces of the cherubs in Ezekiel’s vision. Eminent scholar Franz Boll and Benedictine Landersdorfer have convincingly shown that beneath these are concealed the zodiacal signs of Leo, Aquarius, Taurus and Scorpio, as well as the four elements of nature.(4)
Various accounts of the life of Jesus circulated during early Christianity, as noted in evangelist Luke’s introduction. Irenaeus urged for a ‘Canon of Four’ which gradually prevailed as the exclusive source. He analysed the mystical significance of number four, stressing that those books were designed as a four-fold set (whose authors agreed to write in a specific order) and according to a different theological perspective: “God has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit…for the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform”.(5)
Scholars unanimously agree that each gospel portrays different aspects of Jesus; also that Matthew’s, Mark’s and Luke’s biographical content is inter-dependent, with John’s adding the mystical essence of transcendence and esoteric theology. Ecclesiastical interpretations of the gospels fit their astrological symbolism surprisingly well: according to Irenaeus and Augustine, the Lion (Leo) symbolises the leadership and kingly character of Christ, the Man (Aquarius) stands for his identification with humanity, the Ox (Taurus) relates to his sacrifice, and the Eagle (the higher aspect of ‘reborn’ Scorpio) to his transcendence and eternity.(6)
The right correspondence of each gospel, though, had been widely discussed among church fathers. Augustine suggested that Matthew’s book should be identified with the Lion, Mark’s with the Man, Luke’s with the Ox and John’s with the Eagle. Eventually Jerome’s proposed combination (Mark-Lion, Matthew-Man, Luke-Ox, John-Eagle) was rightly accepted as the correct one, influencing all later tradition. The variety of suggested correspondences was based not on speculative abstractions but rather on the evangelists’ purposeful and detailed design. That was especially stressed by Augustine’s comment that the interpreter should take notice of “not simply the beginnings of the books but the full design of the Evangelists in its completeness”.(7)
However, ecclesiastical interpretations lacked the astrological knowledge required to comprehend “each book’s design in its completeness”. The following analysis intends to fill that research gap by revealing a grand astro-theological programme behind the gospel narrations. The above statement is inadvertently verified by modern scholarship through a series of hermeneutic insights.
Mark’s Jesus (Leo)
Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:13-15)
Mark’s account (the ‘Lion’s’ Gospel) is acknowledged by modern scholars as the earliest of the canonical gospels and the primary source for information about Jesus; the other three are largely dependent on it (especially Matthew and Luke). It is the briefest among the four; it includes no stories about Jesus’ birth, none of his famous prayers and none of his resurrection appearances. Its form is a fast-paced, present-tense narration written in simple language.
The most commonly observed characteristic of Mark’s Gospel is the portrayal of Jesus as an action hero. Contrary to the other three, “it pictures Christ in action…with a minimum of discourse and a maximum of deed”.(8) Miracle stories and dynamic encounters occupy the greatest part, whereas teaching and use of parable is very limited. Special stress is laid “on the attractive power of Christ, how the multitudes thronged to hear him, how they hung upon every word that fell from his lips, and how deeply they were impressed by him”. He dominates over evil spirits in a flamboyant manner, “Satan and his hosts acknowledge his true greatness…while Nature herself gives instant obedience to his commands. Thus St. Mark portrays Christ as one who in every action of his life manifests his power and might”.(9)
Mark does not depict Jesus as morally perfect, neither as humble and mild. He provides the most spectacular portrayal of him but also the most passionate and human. He is “a Man among men”,(10) a straightforward leader who drafts his team of Twelve, inspires it and delegates mission tasks; his reactions are spontaneous and often arrogant; he always acts in a heroic manner, bravely walking his way to Jerusalem (his place of martyrdom) ahead of all others. His attitude is intense, often rebuking his disciples harshly; at the same time he is the most affectionate towards little children who receive his blessings and outcasts who look upon him. That is the most evident identification of Markan Jesus with fiery Leo: “The strong and the tender-hearted are never so completely and so naturally blended as they are in the Christ of Mark’s gospel. The Mighty One in the height of his power is ‘moved with compassion’ when the leper lies pleading for pity at his feet, his heart is full of tenderness towards the outcasts of humanity, the publicans and the sinners, who crowd around him, and he has all the love and gentleness of a mother when he so carefully provides for the physical needs of the little daughter of Jairus. Christ in the fullness of his power and yet revealing such tenderness and affection as were never seen among the children of men, this is the Christ of St. Mark’s gospel”.(11)
Matthew’s Jesus (Aquarius)
Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…and judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-12)
Matthew’s gospel may be dependent on Mark’s content; however it is a substantially different account. Its author improves the story by using a richer language. More importantly, he omits or modifies all of Mark’s expressions which emphasise the passionate, human elements in Christ.(12) Divine signs of anger, sorrow, compassion, indignation and ignorance are not welcome by Matthew who portrays Jesus as morally perfect, all-knowing and emotionally more detached.
The flamboyant Jesus of Mark who performs the most incredible deeds without talking much is substituted by a spiritual man teaching in parables. The esoteric meaning of that deviation is specially stressed by Irenaeus: “The Lion’s gospel is full of all confidence, for such is His person…while Matthew relates His generation as a man…it is the gospel of His humanity; for which reason it is, too, that (the character of) a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole gospel”.(13)
Matthew’s central theme is the forthcoming of a new spiritual age for humanity. The book is dedicated to the future and an ideal race of new people. Maurice Jones rightly describes it as “the gospel of the kingdom of heaven”, a phrase that occurs thirty-three times in it (the other gospels have far fewer references on it). It also served as the link between the Old and the New Testament. It was mainly addressed to the Jews by repeatedly quoting the Old Testament and trying to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah who fulfilled the biblical signs and prophecies.
The book’s most important scenes take place on mountains: the Sermon of the Mount, the Mount of multiplication of loaves and fish, the Mount of Olives, the Mount of Transfiguration and the Mount of the Ascension. ‘Jesus on the mountain’ is the prevailing image in Matthew, a unique literary motif and theological symbol nowhere found in other gospels, an eschatological mountain that unites heaven and earth.(14) It should be noted that Saturn, the ancient ruler of Aquarius, is the planet which traditionally rules mountains, rocks, woods and other cold and dry places – in both the natural and allegorical sense – denoting isolated and contemplative natures.(15)
More importantly, Matthew’s Aquarian essence lies within the radical teachings of Jesus. “Although St. Matthew was a Jew, writing for Jewish readers…there is hardly a trace of…narrowness and exclusiveness…”.(16) More to this, Matthew’s Jesus marked the most radical reaction against Orthodox Judaism and social norms in general. While Mark and Luke include only a few condemnations against Pharisees, Matthew proceeds into an extensive polemic against the lifestyle and attitude of the privileged class of priests, scribes and teachers of the law, culminating in Jesus’ famous seven woes of hypocrisy and false religion.(17)
If Moses on the biblical mountain was the archetypal Jewish Capricorn (Israel’s ‘mountain-goat’ and divine lawmaker), Jesus on the allegorical mountain is the Aquarian visionary who liberates humanity from soulless commandments, inflexible typolatry and unquestioned obedience to strict doctrine. Especially, the long speech of the Mount Sermon(18) reveals the Aquarian essence of humility and the perfect standard of Christian life: surpassing the letter of Mosaic Law and revealing its spirit, teaching righteousness without boasting, benefitting the weak and helpless not in public display but in private, always assisting fellow humans in need and offering without expecting recognition and payback.
Luke’s Jesus (Taurus)
No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Luke 16:13).
Luke’s account is written in an elegant style, acknowledged by scholars as the most beautiful among the gospels. It has been associated with Taurus, the earthly and feminine sign of Venus. The correlation is explained by the book’s emphasis on the role of women and Jesus’ teachings on the relationships between rich and poor as well as wise use of wealth.
Jones rightly describes it as “the woman’s gospel”. It includes much more women than any other gospel, a deviation not restricted to number of references. Luke provides a unique, somewhat early-feminist, appraisal of women; his female figures (mothers, wives, widows, prostitutes, donators, disciples) play a prominent role right from the beginning of the narration: in Matthew’s nativity chronicle the protagonist is Joseph, but in Luke’s extensive introduction, Mary comes to the foreground shadowing her husband. Elizabeth, the Baptist’s mother who became fertile at an elderly age, is the second protagonist of Luke’s beginning, a figure who does not appear in any other gospel. Within this motherhood context Luke provides exceptional descriptions of how a woman anticipates and experiences pregnancy.
It is also Luke who informs us about the female followers of Jesus who provided financial support for his group.(19) Among the several wealthy patronesses three are named: Mary Magdalen, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s household manager, and Suzanna. Many of these women were presumed widowed since the notion of Jewish married women (in 1st c. AD) holding independent financial assets is somewhat strange.
Another unique characteristic of the book is the repetition of ‘Taurean’ themes of property, wealth, stewardship and poverty. Our knowledge of what Jesus taught on the subject of wealth is entirely confined to this gospel.(20) All of its parables are written in a symbolic ‘Taurean’ language of spiritualised materialism concerning misuse and wise use of wealth and relationships between rich and poor. Jesus condemns obsession with material goods and stresses the value of spiritual riches. He emphasises social justice, calls for economic redistribution on behalf of the poor, prompts rich people to charity and praises intelligent and prudent stewardship. He even allegorises God as an “austere nobleman (and landlord) who reaps where he does not sow…one who expects us to capitalise on our opportunities and take the assets”.(21)
Through this new perspective of the gospels as a four-fold astrological programme it can now be explained as no coincidence that Luke repeatedly stresses the notion of possessions and assets, in a somewhat ambivalent manner.(22) People who followed Jesus were either expected to leave everything of their possessions aside, or give it all to the poor or give it to the common pool of Jesus’ group. And through the rich man’s famous refusal to give away his belongings – despite his willingness to follow Jesus – Luke highlights his esoteric message: nothing is more difficult – but also more vital for the spiritual journey – than one letting go of personal belongings.
John’s Jesus (Scorpio)
Truly, I say, if a grain of wheat does not fall into earth and die, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. (John 12:24-25).
John’s book is a completely different story from the synoptic gospels. It is less of another biography of Jesus and more of an esoteric treatise with gnostic elements understood within a Hellenistic philosophical context. The book’s symbol is the Eagle which stands for the higher aspect of mystical Scorpio: a Scorpio reborn in transcendence and returning to the realm of eternity. Studying the traditional iconography of the evangelists one can easily observe that whereas the other three authors concentrate on their texts, John, the ‘beloved disciple’, is separated from them looking up to the heavens.
St. Augustine comments that “John soars like an eagle above the clouds of human infirmity, and gazes upon the light of the unchangeable truth with those keenest and steadiest eyes of the heart”.(23) Maurice Jones also stresses that “instead of the plain, simple narrative of the earlier Evangelists, with its scarcity of comment we are lifted on to a plane of eternal thoughts and ideas”.(24) John’s Jesus is something more of a divine missionary for humanity; his is the Christ, the incarnated, pre-existing Logos of Creation.
John’s central theme is the profound meaning of sacrifice, the esoteric notion of death and rebirth, and the ‘persecuted, hatred’ nature of the Son of God. Nowhere else do we get more information about the Passion Week and its symbolic implications. Nowhere else does Jesus speak so extensively on the essential necessity of his sacrifice and the (essentially Scorpian) esoteric process of death and resurrection. No resurrection comes without dying, that is the book’s main concept; and whoever chooses the path of salvation must first choose the path of hatred, martyrdom and death.
Robin Griffith Jones has also grasped the gospel’s quintessence by stressing that it purposefully puts emphasis – more than any other gospel – on the spiritual rebirth and transformation of all individuals who met Jesus, adding that the reader him(her)self is also being initiated into a transformative experience through the encountering with Christ.(25) After all, the book’s anonymous author was supposedly John, the beloved disciple, whose life and self was catalytically shaped by his teacher.
The gospel’s author also sheds light into unknown incidents within the inner circle of Jesus, into the enigmatic background of Judas and other disciples, into the several violent mob and priestly attempts against Jesus (escaping them at the last moment) and into the Council’s secret plan to arrest and execute him. The death and raising of Lazarus is also mentioned only by John, as an anticipation of the resurrection of Jesus. That incident is among the many problematic parts for scholarship. After that miracle, Jesus’ reputation and influence spread all over the area, inclining priests to execute him. They also decided to kill the resurrected Lazarus in order to ‘disappear’ the greatest evidence of Jesus’ divinity.
So why are the three previous biographers ignorant of the legendary story (including Matthew, supposedly an eye-witness of the events)? And why does only John – the non-biographer – refer to it? Once again this type of question can be convincingly answered only if the gospels are read not just as mere historical accounts but mostly as allegorical teachings of esoteric significance.
The Planetary Returns of Jesus
In addition to their different styles of writing and target-groups, the evangelists seem to have devised and followed a ‘universal’ programme for a four-fold interdependent gospel, as shown above. Not only the adjustable character of Jesus, but events, parables and characters in each book serve also programmatic purposes.
The New Testament’s astrology, though, is by no means restricted to the four facets of Christ. The Book of Revelation is an eschatological text full of astrological symbolism: (26) Jesus has often been identified as the Piscean God of love, sorrow and sacrifice, whose incarnation and teaching synchronised with the dawn of antiquity’s New Age.(27)
Bill Darlison examined the gnostic teachings of Valentine and has convincingly shown that Mark’s gospel was initially written as an esoteric text which was not meant to be interpreted in a literal sense; it was actually composed as an astrological allegory of the solar hero’s passage through the zodiac. Astronomical images can also be found in text as in the famous description of the three Magi, read by Simone Weil as an allegorical depiction of the three stars of Orion’s belt;(28) or of the Nativity manger episode which may be related with the constellation of Cancer.(29)
Another secret allegory lies in Luke’s book. It is nowhere attested in the gospels that Jesus died at age thirty-three. The only passages referring to his age are given by Luke (2.41-3.21) – a) the first voyage of boy Jesus to Jerusalem at the age of twelve marked by his teaching at the Temple; and b) his baptism followed by self-restraint in the desert at age thirty.
So why are only those two specific ages mentioned in Luke? These are actually astrological ages, or more precisely, these are symbolically mentioned as Jesus’ major planetary returns. The cycles of Jupiter and Saturn were regarded as the most eminent in the Hellenistic era; and it was a known fact that “planet Jupiter completes its orbit in about 12 years and Saturn in about 30 years”.(30)
A close analysis of the incidents reveals the hidden meaning. Jesus visited the holy city for the first time at the age of twelve for the festival of Passover. His parents returned home but Jesus remained in Jerusalem without letting his parents know. They came back and “after three days they found him, sitting in the temple, in the midst of teachers, both listening to them and questioning them. And all those who heard him were amazed at the understanding of his responses”. When his mother asked him, “why have you treated us that way? Look at how distressed your father and I are, searching for you”, the boy replied, “Shouldn’t you have known that I would have to be among my Father’s things?” After this marvellous incident the boy obediently followed his parents home and “kept growing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and with people”.(31)
The story’s core is astrological. Jupiter had always been regarded as the planet of distant voyages, religious festivals and spiritual broadenings. Jesus’ profound experience in the holy city marked his spiritual awakening and growth (first Jupiter return). That was his first calling by the inner Father (Teacher), receiving and transmitting a higher knowledge. The priests marvelled at the boy’s enlightenment who for the first time acknowledged his divine origin.
In the following chapter Luke takes a leap in time: he presents a thirty-year old Jesus visiting John the Baptist. At the moment of his baptism the Holy Spirit descends as a dove and his Father’s voice acknowledges him as his beloved Son. Jesus is filled with divine spirit and straight away leaves for the (allegorical) desert of temptations. He stays there for forty days without food. Then he encounters Satan who unsuccessfully tempts him in three different ways: with a physical temptation of hunger, a temptation of proving his divine descent, and an offer of world domination.(32)
Jesus’s baptism and tests in the desert coincide with his first Saturn-return, marking the mature point of completing his preparation and beginning of his ministry. He requests baptism for redemption for his previous earthly life, having evolved into a higher level of consciousness. His forty days and nights of ‘Temptation’ and fasting in the hellish desert reflect the Jews’ forty years of painful wanderings in the wilderness. There he forces himself into a severe hardship within Saturn’s realm of wilderness; he defeats Satan’s – lower Saturn’s – earthly rule and achieves a higher Saturnine mastership of all physical and spiritual forces.
1) Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian and other apologists had accused gnostics of systematically allegorising the New Testament; ironically, they preferred allegorical readings too whenever they felt it appropriate. Clement was the most notable allegorist of the Bible, while Jerome frequently expressed his certainty that scripture contained hidden allegorical meanings.
2) Relevant bibliography is too extensive to list. Some of the most important sources, according to this author, are: Charles Dupuis’ groundbreaking astro-theological study ‘The Origin of All Religious Worship’ (1798, Ch. IX, ‘An Explanation of the Fable, in which the Sun is Worshipped Under the name of Christ’, pp. 214-99 (1872)), Franz Boll’s ‘Aus der Offenbarung Johannis’ (1914), Carl Jung’s ‘Aion’ (1955) and Bill Darlison’s ‘The Gospel and the Zodiac’ (2008).
3) Irenaeus, ‘Adversus Haereses’ (Against Heresies): 3.11.8.
4) Ameisenowa (1949): pp. 34-41.
5) See n. 3.
6) Irenaeus: 3.11.8, Augustine, ‘De Consensu evangelistarum’ (The Harmony of the Gospels): 1.6.9.
7) Augustine: 1.6.9.
8) Robinson (1997).
9) Jones, M. (1930): p. 32.
10) Ibid.: p. 34.
11) Ibid.: p. 32.
12) Ibid.: p. 49.
13) Irenaeus: 3.11.8.
14) Donaldson (1985).
15) The myth of Saturn’s golden age – early mankind’s era of peace and eternal youth – seems to be esoterically related with the sign of Aquarius.
16) Jones, M.: p. 55.
17) Gospel of Matthew: 23:1-39.
18) Ibid.: 5:1-7:29.
19) Luke’s Gospel: 8:1-3.
20) Jones, M.: p. 79.
21) Vincent (2007): p. 284, on Luke’s Gospel, 19:12-27.
22) Johnson, L.T.: 13.
23) Augustine: 1.6.9.
24) Jones, M.: p. 105.
25) Jones, R. G. (2001).
26) Revelation’s astrological content exceeds the current essay’s limits. Indicatively see 22:6 for the Tree of Life bearing 12 crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month as an allusion to the eternal Zodiac. See also 21:12-21 for the significance of number 12 in the Kingdom of God (12 Apostles, 12 angels, 12 gates, 12 precious stones). Christ as the Sun and the zodiac around him was a common iconographical theme in medieval churches.
27) Roman and Asian catacomb findings have shown that early Christians pronounced Jesus as I.X.Θ.Υ.Σ., an acronym for Ιησούς Χριστός Θεού Υιός Σωτήρ (Jesus Christ Son of God and Saviour). ‘Ιχθύς’ was the Greek name for Pisces (the Fish). They have also revealed that a fish was depicted to indicate Christ.
28) Weil (2004): p. 474.
29) Eratosthenes (3th c. BC) had extended the name of the constellation of Cancer to ‘Καρκίνος, Φάτνη και Όνοι’, Greek names for Cancer, Manger and Donkeys. Luke’s description and later iconography of pregnant Mary riding a donkey on her way to Nazareth, and the new-born Jesus lying in a manger and surrounded by shepherds and animals, may have well been inspired by the archetypal significance of Cancer as the “cradle of life”. See Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs for the Neoplatonic (astro-theological) interpretation of Cancer as the incarnated soul’s gate of entrance.
30) Cicero (c. 45 BC): II. xx.
31) Gospel of Luke: 2:41-52.
32) Ibid.: 3:21-4:13.
Book of Ezekiel
Cicero: On Nature of Gods
Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Luke
Gospel of John
Book of Revelation
Irenaeus: Adversus Haereses
Augustine of Hippo: De Consensu Evangelistarum
Jerome: Commentary on Matthew
Ameisenowa, Zofia (1949), Animal-Headed Gods, Evangelists, Saints and Righteous Men, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 12, pp. 21-45.
Benson, Mary (August/September 2007): The Women of Luke’s Gospel, The Testimony.
Boll, Franz (1914): Aus der Offenbarung Johannis, B.G. Teubner.
Darlison, Bill (2008): The Gospel and the Zodiac, Duckworth Overlook, London.
Donaldson, T.L. (1985): Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology, JSOT Press, Sheffield.
Johnson, L.T. (1981): Sharing Possessions: Mandate and Symbol of Faith. Fortress Press.
Jones, Maurice (1930): The Four Gospels: Their Literary History and their Special Characteristics, MacMillan, London.
Jones, Robin Griffith (2001): The Four Witnesses: The Rebel, the Rabbi, the Chronicler, the Mystic”, HarperCollins.
Robinson, Thomas Archibald (1997): Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol 1: Matthew and Mark, Broadman Press, 1933 (Parsons CD-ROM Version 2.0, 1997).
Vincent, Mark (August/September 2007): Poverty and Wealth in Luke’s Gospel, The Testimony.
Weil, Simone (2004): The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans. Arthur Wills, Routledge, London.
Raphael: povided by AA Journal
Jesus cleansing a leper: See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sermon on the Mount: Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Maria Magdalen washing Jesus’ feet: Frans Francken the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The transfiguration of Jesus: Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Majesty: provided by AA Journal
Konstantinos Gravanis lives in Athens. He is the winner of the AA Young Astrologers Essay Contest 2013 (see Journal Nov-Dec 2013 issue, his essay: ‘Astrological concepts in Disney’s artwork’). His main research interests are astrological representations in ancient myths and religious texts, Renaissance iconography and iconology, archetypal literary and film criticism. His first published book in Greek, Astrology & Esoteric Philosophy in Homer (2011), offers genuine insights into allegorical interpretations of the Homeric Epics. He is a founding member of the non-profit organisation ‘Friends of Astrology in Greece’. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.