January 2nd, 1964
While perusing some of E. Goodenoughs 8 volumes of Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period I was rather surprised to encounter the following sentence: When Ishtar or Venus became a planet with a predictable course, and even the vagaries of Mercury or Mars had been stabilized (Vol. 8, p. 179), cf. The dreaded comet became a tame planet, W. i. C., p. 199). Without going into details or giving any explanation for my interest, I wrote to the author as quoted below and got an answer also rendered literally beneath, which shows that the writer does neither recognize the importance of the sources of his motivation nor really intended to contribute manifestly to their discovery.
Is there any historical or prehistorical motivation for the following assertion in Chapter Astronomical Symbols : When Ishtar or Venus became a planet with predictable course, and even the vagaries of Mercury or Mars had been stabilized,... (Vol. 8, p. 179), was there ever any time in antiquity, when the course of Venus was not predictable?
Why do you think it dangerous to say, what the central star between sun and moon on the gravestone from Numidia, fig. 166, Vol. 8, could be? According to C. Bezold in F. Bolls Sternglaube und Sterndeutung, 1926, p. 12 (this reference is from Worlds in Collision) Venus, Moon and Sun became the holy trinity in the fourteenth century before the present era. I think that an answer to the problem of the gorgoneum has been found already which puts it above the declaration that a majority of the representations of a theme are a bit of meaningless decorations (Frothingham, Medusa, Apollo, and the Great Mother , Am. J. Archeol., Ser. II, Vol. XV, 1911, 349).
The answer: ... I am glad you find my work interesting. You ask 3 questions: 1. I have not time to look the matter up again, and here I have not the books, but I should certainly be surprised to find that even a thousand years before the Christian Era Babylonians had not become perfectly familiar with the procession of all the planets. The predictability of the stars was one of the chief foundations for belief in astral fatalism.
2. As to the star between the sun and moon on the Numidian tombstone, it could of course represent what you call the holy trinity . But does it? I have no way of telling what was in the mind of this person. We can establish with considerable probability the meaning of a symbol in general, but not its meaning in an unusual context with other symbols.
3. I still feel that the gorgoneum was often used with only decorative intent, though I cannot even say this of a particular instance.
In some other places I have tried already to show that works as A. B. Cookes Zeus, A Study in Ancient Religion, or the a/m Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period permit a better knowledge of the mythological ages than any written tradition. The gorgoneum is one of the most characteristic symbols of the time of the upheaval. Space and time are interchanged. Three objects appearing actually simultaneously but in different space localities, are (in disregard of the time factor) projected into one place of the space.
I am sure that you have a very wide experience about the different attitudes of all kinds of people, but I felt I should better let you know about this special case of Goodenough, who came very near to a full understanding but withdrew at the last instance.
P. S. Aus einer Fussnote zu Fichtes Versuch einer Offenbarung:
Ich sehe nicht ab, wie die Bewohner von Hispaniola, wenn Christoph Colon, statt durch seine vorgebliche Verfinsterung des Mondes nur Lebensmittel von ihnen zu erzwingen, dieselbe als göttliche Beglaubigung einer Gesandtschaft von ihm an sie in moralischen Absichten gebraucht hätte, ihm von der Hand vernünftigerweise ihre Aufmerksamkeit hätten versagen können, da der Erfolg dieser Naturbegebenheit nach seiner bestimmten Vorherkündigung ihnen nach Naturgesetzen schlechterdings unerklärbar seyn musste. Und wenn er denn auf diese Beglaubigung eine den Principien der Vernunft völlig angemessene Religion mit völliger Überzeugung so lange für göttlichen Ursprungs halten können, bis sie durch eigene Einsicht in die Naturgesetze, und durch die historische Belehrung, dass Colon sie ebenso gut gekannt, und dass er allerdings ehrlich mit ihnen umgegangen, diese Religion zwar nicht mehr für göttliche Offenbarung hätten halten können, aber doch verbunden geblieben wären, sie wegen ihrer gänzlichen Übereinstimmung mit den Moralgesetzen für göttliche Religion anzuerkennen.