Ancient Zodiacs, Star Names, and Constellations: Essays and Critiques

Critique of John McHugh's Astronomical Interpretation of Noah's Flood by Gary D. Thompson

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Critique of John McHugh's Astronomical Interpretation of Noah's Flood


During 2000 there was world-wide interest in the ideas of John J. McHugh that the Biblical flood story is traceable to the astronomical mythology of the ancient Sumerians i.e., to the story of the "Sumerian Noah" Ut-napishtim. Mainstream media carried news items concerning such and the idea was also discussed on various internet discussion groups. There were too many problems with the thesis for it to be taken seriously.

(1) Background - The Source:

The source of the "Noah's Flood" hype was the Master of Science dissertation completed by McHugh in 1999, for the Department of Anthropology, Brigham Young University. The dissertation title is The Deluge: A Mythical Story that was Projected onto the Constellations, and the dissertation is some 180 pages long. The Harold B. Library catalogue at Brigham Young University can be accessed at and the Call Number for the dissertation is XX(2675993.2). As far as I am aware the actual dissertation has never been made readily available via the internet. Also, as far as I am aware a projected future publication by John McHugh never appeared. Circa 2000, McHugh took part in a NPR radio Program in which he was guested opposite Ed. Krupp (Griffith Observatory).

(2) Background - John McHugh:

At the time he completed the dissertation McHugh, who is not a Mormon (he is a Catholic), resided in Utah and was employed as an archaeologist. He first presented his ideas at an SBL conference (SBL = Society of Biblical Literature) held at Creighton University. His particular theory is based on his own translation of cuneiform texts and the principal cuneiform sources used (i.e., seen as providing support for the theory) are the Mul.Apin star catalogue, and the Enuma Elish creation story, and the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh epic. McHugh alone is responsible for his theory and supporting evidence - there was no team of researchers as stated in an ABC news story. The ABC producer of the news story - in some context - apparently misleadingly described John McHugh as an archaeoastronomer. Whilst archaeastronomer is a popular term; there is no such professional category. However, according to a viewer of the news story McHugh was introduced as being about a "young archaeologist from Utah" with a new theory on the Noah tradition. A notice of the program was posted on the internet.

(3) Background - The Argument:

Unfortunately the local library service in Melton has proved unwilling to obtain a loan copy of McHugh's dissertation for me. It would also appear that only a few people have actually read the dissertation. The reproduction of his dissertation "Abstract" should suffice as basic information but so far is nowhere produced. Using second-hand sources (including media interviews or some persons quoting conversations or correspondence with McHugh) it is possible to construct a reasonable outline of his theory (but this method does not provide clarification of all key points of evidence).

McHugh claims that the events of the Noah's flood story were originally depicted amongst a set of Sumerian constellation figures. The Noah's flood story in Genesis was preceded by a Sumerian constellation tradition depicting Ut-napishtim's flood. (The Book of Genesis is believed to have received its main redaction circa 6th-century BCE. Redaction is a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined and altered slightly to make a single coherent document.) McHugh holds that before the invention of writing the Sumerians were using a number of constellations as a picture-book to relate the basic themes later contained in the Noah's flood story. In the absence of writing the sky became a picture book (i.e., visual mnemonic) for the depiction of the Sumerian flood story. McHugh also believes the Sumerian story of Ut-napishtim's flood to be based on an actual Mesopotamian flood which occurred circa 6,000 BCE. As McHugh believes that all of the major themes in the Mesopotamian/Biblical flood story correspond to constellations computer software was used to simulate what the sky would have looked like to the early Sumerians circa 6,000 BCE. (The problems with Delta-T do not make aspects of planetarium software reliable when used to go back earlier than circa 2000 BCE.)

A brief statement by McHugh (ANE Digest, V2000, #36) about his theory: "My hypothesis is fairly simple. I believe that archaic cultures, that is, cultures that do not use science or religion to explain their origins, explained and verified [?] primordial events through pictographic stories depicted in the constellations. The constellations in these picture stories function as "astral artifacts" for the stories they depict. Nowhere is this more evident than in the modern night sky, where we can witness 46 of the 1st century Roman constellations (and planets) engaged in primordial acts depicted in picture stories. It is my belief that the flood was merely one of these pictographic stories that confirmed a cosmological [?] event."

A more detailed statement by McHugh (ANE Digest, V2000, #38) with spelling and punctuation as it appeared: "I can show that 4 deluge elements appear in every flood story; these elements correspond to constellations, asterisms, or astral religions: flood waters = the "flood wave" of the Apsu ("Enki and the World Order") flood boat = each second millennium BC flood ship is a MAGUR, a crescent shaped cargo vessel positioned in the Apsu that has it bow "cut down" in the Sumerian Gilgamesh and Agga epic (lines 80, 98). This southern, prowless, crescent-shaped boat was adopted by the Classical world and renamed Argo (I was vehemently attacked in the journal "Archaeoastronomy" for suggesting this and my article was not published) flood hero = Orion; the Assyrian flood text states that the flood hero is granted everlasting life "at the mouth of the rivers", which is where the Mesopotamian equivalent to Orion, SIPA.ZI.AN.NA is positioned, standing at the origin of Eridanus, which was probably the constellations Tigris-Euphrates in ancient Sumeria (recall the Eridanus has two distinct streams). benevolent deity = every flood text involves a benevolent deity who warns the flood hero of an impending deluge and implores him to build a boat. In the ealriest flood stories this god is GU.LA = Ea, the constellation Aquarius. When the original flood ship, the constellation MAGUR, descends below the southern horizon in ca. 700 BC due to precession of the equinoxes, Assyrian cosmologists were forced to replace it with another constellation that was positioned within the flood waters of the Apsu. The choices therefore are: Goatfish, Water-god, fish, Field, Rivers, Ibex. Everybody knows that the Assyrian flood ship with the dimensions of an "IKU", "field", which means it was a cube 60 meters on a side. This vfield was definitely known to the Greco-Roman world because it was straddled by Pisces on the Calendar of Denderah. This was the first ark."

McHugh believes that ancient people basically named 3 constellations in remembrance of a "great flood" prior to the invention of writing. The "great flood" event was connected with a supposed Black Sea "Noah-like flood" identified by Robert Ballard. He first publicised his idea in December 1996 in The New York Times, shortly before it was published in an academic journal in 1997. However, aspects of Ballard's methodology were flawed. While it is agreed that the sequence of events described occurred, there is debate over the suddenness, dating and magnitude of the events. A 5-year cross-disciplinary research project under the sponsorship of UNESCO and the International Union of Geological Sciences was conducted 2005–2009. Its conclusion was that the flooding might have been "quite mild." It also occurred earlier than initially surmised, circa 7400 BCE.

The core of McHugh's theory seems to rely on several key positions:

(1) McHugh interprets a particular Sumerian cylinder seal depicting a crescent shaped ship and some human figures as a "flood scene" Specifically the cylinder seal depicts a scene involving a Ship (= Argo) and coming out of the ship is a man-animal (= Centaur) sacrificing a Beast upon an Altar. Smoke (= the Milky Way) is depicted rising from the Altar. Also depicted in the scene is a Raven (= Corvus) eating the flesh of a Water-snake (= Hydra). McHugh believes that this scene parallels the Biblical story of Noah and the Flood. He then tries to marshal evidence to demonstrate that this believed iconographic depiction of the story of the flood on the cylinder seal was also depicted in early Sumerian constellations.

(2) The human figures depicted on the cylinder seal supposedly represent constellations (both aquatic and other constellations). McHugh argues that we have a ship-constellation, a sea-monster constellation, a river constellation, a "water-god" constellation, and a flood-hero constellation related to illustrating a deluge-myth. He holds that some of the key constellations for the depiction of the flood story in the sky are Aquarius, Argo, Capricornus, Orion, and Pisces. The main "characters" of the story were illustrated by the constellations Aquarius, Argo and Orion. Aquarius ( depicts the benevolent god Ea (lord of the Apsu) who warns Ut-napishtim (= the flood hero) of the impending flood waters (= Apsu). (However, in another description of McHugh's beliefs Aquarius is held to represent the flood waters.) The constellation Orion (or mulSIPA.ZI.AN.NA "The True Shepherd of Anu" in Mesopotamia) depicts the flood hero Ut-napishtim. (The river constellation Eridanus leads from the foot of the constellation Orion into the stellar waters of the Apsu. Such was used by McHugh to identify Orion as depicting Ut-napishtim who was described as "dwelling far off at the mouth of the rivers.") McHugh also holds that the original flood-ship was the constellation Magur (= Argo). It appears that McHugh relies on Argo as the Sumerian ship-constellation. It seems that McHugh believes that Argo was the first Ark (= Magur ship). McHugh further holds that the Magur ship was later adopted by the ancient Greeks as the ship-constellation Argo. (How McHugh establishes Argo in the Sumerian sky is not clear from the second-hand sources I am reliant upon. Some past Assyriologists, such as Carl Bezold, have made the simplified association of the Babylonian star name mulNUNki, the star of the city of Eridu (= Canopus (alpha Carinae)), with the modern constellation Argo. However, Bezold is not implying that Argo (or a ship) was constellated in this region in the Babylonian sky.)

(3) Using the Mul.Apin star-list (which comprised material from circa 1,000 BCE) McHugh apparently connects the star name mulMA.GUR8 ("the star of the MAGUR-ship") in the Path of Ea, as being connected to the ark of the flood. He would identify the Magur "flood boat" with the position of the Greek constellation Argo (or in the region of Argo). He believes the original Magur ship-constellation was adopted in Greek constellation iconography as the (enormous) ship-constellation (that was renamed) Argo (and located by the Greeks in the same region of the sky). According to McHugh by 700 BCE (i.e., during the Assyrian period) precessional changes had noticeably affected the visibility of the southern stars and so to keep all the flood myth characters depicted in the visible sky the constellation depicting the Ark was changed from Magur (or Argo) to the Pegasus-square (i.e., Iku). (Thus the reason why only a partial ship has been constellated by the later Greeks.) According to McHugh the original Magur ship constellation (Argo) was replaced in the Assyrian version of the Gilgamesh text (and other Epic texts of the Assyrian period). The reason for choosing Iku was to have a ship that was located in the Apsu region. This change in constellations also led to the change in depiction of the Ark from a crescent shape to a square. With the change in constellations from Magur (Argo) to Iku (Pegasus-square) the iconography of the Ark changed from crescent shaped Magur ships to coffin or box shaped depictions.

(4) McHugh's theory involves the concept of the "flood waters of the Apsu" being represented in the sky. The constellations in this region are: Goat-fish, Water-god, Fish[es], Field, Rivers (Eridanus has two distinct streams), and Ibex.

To pour water on John McHugh's thesis:

(1) There is no evidence that the Sumerians (or later Babylonians or Assyrians) depicted the stars that the ancient Greeks constellated as Argo, as a ship. The Greek constellation Argo is unknown in Mesopotamian tradition. No multiple star ship-constellation appears in any known Mesopotamian star-list. Also, no known Mesopotamian star-list is older than the second millennium. Samuel Kramer's assertion in his "The Sumerians" (1963) that we have a list of about 25 stars from Sumer is probably based on Ernst Weidner's article "Fixsterne" in Reallexikon der Assyriologie. However, Weidner was wrong and the earliest star-lists mentioned by him date from the Old Babylonian period. The English solicitor Robert Brown Junior made several mistaken identifications of Mesopotamian ship constellations in his Primitive Constellations (2 vols., 1898-99). Though full of errors, and long outdated, the book is still popularly used. As example: Theony Condos' book Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans (1997) used Brown to connect the origin of the Greek Argo with the Mesopotamian "Ship of the Canal of Heaven". Brown's attempts to reconstruct the "Euphratean Planisphere" pivoted on the circular "astrolabes" and are full of errors. One of his identified constellations in the outer ring (southern division of Ea) - for the fifth month Dumuzi - is the "Ship-of-the-Canal-of-Heaven". The identification of such a constellation is fallacious. (For reliable discussions of "astrolabes" (more properly "star calendars") see: Albert Schott, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 88 (1934) 302-337; and Christopher Walker & Herman Hunger, Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft zu Berlin, 109 (1977) 27-34.)

It would appear the only Mesopotamian star-list to make a reference to a ship is Mul.Apin which lists mulMA.GUR8 (and identified as epsilon Sagittauri denoted as "bark[-star]" in Mul.Apin by Hermann Hunger and David Pingree (1989).) (The term mulMA3.GUR8 meaning "the star of the Magur ship" is given in Planetarium Babylonicum by Felix Gössmann (1950.) who makes the different identification of alpha + beta Capricorni. The latter constellation studies of Erica Reiner and David Pingree (Babylonian Planetary Omens 2, 1981), and Hermann Hunger and David Pingree (Mul.Apin, 1989) often have different conclusions to it.) There is no indication that McHugh identifies the original Magur boat with mulMA[3].GUR8 listed in the Mul.Apin series. It has been suggested that Nabu (the Babylonian god of wisdom) corresponded with the stars mulMA2.GUR8 ("The Bark"), which may be the bark of Ziusudra (in Mesopotamian religion, a rough counterpart to the biblical Noah as survivor of a god-sent flood). Note: Oddly for McHugh's claims, a constellation/asterism called Ma.Gur is not referred to in the "astrolabe" genre. See: Horowitz, Wayne. (2014 (but actually 2015?)). The Three Stars Each: The Astrolabes and Related Texts.

A reference to a single star as identified by Hunger and Pingree does not infer a constellation. As two astral names appear in the one statement the single[two] star designation for Ma.Gur does not seem to make it a significant star name/asterism. That Ma.Gur is absent in all star lists earlier to Mul.Apin (i.e., the "astrolabes") does not seem to trouble McHugh. He still uses very late texts to consolidate "the original flood ship, the constellation Ma.Gur." Neither does the contradictory star identifications for Ma.Gur apparently trouble McHugh. Also, in early Sumerian myth Ut-napishtim's ark was a perfect cube.

Circa 2000, Alastair McBeath erroneously promoted the idea of a Sumerian boat constellation in Argo.

Precesion also plays a part in McHugh's speculations. According to McHugh, after circa 700 BCE when precession moved the (supposedly Sumerian) Ma.Gur constellation (originally representing the "Ark") permanently out of sight below the horizon in the northern hemisphere the Assyrians replaced it with the "Pegasus square" which was still visible and was positioned in the flood waters of the Apsu. It became the constellation that represented the "Ark." As a consequence of the replacement the crescent-shaped Magur boat became the box(cube)-shape of the Pegasus-square. According to McHugh it was the original prowless, crescent-shaped Magur boat that was adopted by the classical world as the constellations Argo.

(2) There is no evidence that the Mesopotamian sky was widely constellated until the late 2nd millennium BCE (i.e., the Cassite Period) - when the omina series Enuma Anu Enlil was being completed circa 1,300 BCE. The purpose of comprehensively constellating the night sky was to use the constellations as reference points in the description of celestial omens. (As example: Enuma Anu Enlil, Tablets 50-51.) Earlier, the stars and constellations were primarily used as calendrical aids for marking the months of the Babylonian lunar calendar - at least from the Old Babylonian Period (circa 1,800 to 1,500 BCE). The systematization of important constellations (and some planets) which rose heliacally in the twelve months of the Babylonian year were listed in circular then tabular texts called the "Twelve Times Three". The use of planets indicates that these texts were perhaps used to predict heliacal risings for a single year only. (See: Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography by Wayne Horowitz (1998).)

(3) The iconography of cylinder seals is not a simple subject for interpretation. To argue a case on the basis of a sole cylinder seal is questionable to say the least. The appearance of "Aquarius", "Pisces", and "Capricornus" on Cylinder Seals of the Sumerian and Akkadian period (circa 3,200-2,000 BCE) does not equal the identification of these symbols as being necessarily astral in character and denoting constellations. This tends to be popularly done though. The written evidence provides no justification for invoking descriptive astronomy (i.e., constellation figures) as an aid to the explanation of seal designs of the Sumerian and Akkadian period. However, such an approach may be legitimate for seal designs of the Old Babylonian period. The reason for the difference is we have evidence of (much) later Babylonian usage of such e.g., great gods representing the planets and figures symbolizing the signs of the zodiac. (See: Cylinder Seals by Henri Frankfort (1939). Also, the undisciplined speculations comprising the book Hamlet's Mill (1969) should not mislead us into believing there is evidence that Neolithic societies world-wide were aware of a 12-constellation equal-division zodiac (and also precession). There is no evidence for a 12-constellation zodiac of equal divisions in Mesopotamia until circa 500 BCE. (A lot of these ideas are inherited from the now discredited Panbabylonism movement of Hugo Winckler and Alfred Jeremias circa 1900-1914. From the bibliography in Hamlet's Mill it is clear that Hertha von Dechend was influenced by the ideas of Panbabylonism.)

(4) There is no evidence that the Greek ship-constellation Argo was borrowed from Mesopotamia. Where Argo is the Mesopotamians had a number of constellations including BAN (the Bow) and KAK.SI.KI (the Arrow), NUN.KI (Canopus), NIN.MAH (Goddess of Motherhood), and GAN.UR (the Harrow). If any borrowing of the constellation Argo by the Greeks took place then Egypt seems the more likely origin. Plutarch identified Argo as the Egyptian constellation "Boat of Osiris". The stars that the Greeks used to form the constellation Argo didn't all disappear from Mesopotamian skies by circa 700 BCE. As McHugh dates the flood to circa 6,000 BCE we are talking in terms of water craft as boats. Boats did not become ships (i.e., employing use of sails, and oars instead of paddles) until circa 3,000 BCE (The Sea Craft of Prehistory by Paul Johnstone (1980). A clay model of the oldest known sailing vessel (a sailing skiff) was found in a grave at Eridu, in southern Mesopotamia and dates circa 3,500 BCE (A History of Seafaring by George Bass (1972)).

(5) The celestial boats in Mesopotamian mythology are not connected with a deluge legend. They serve the mundane purpose of providing a means of transportation for the gods/goddesses. Also, more than one celestial ship exists in Mesopotamian mythology - the gods/goddesses didn't have to borrow. As example: The god Enki (the planet Saturn) rides the cosmic waters in the "Great Boat of Heaven" (the Magur-boat).

(6) The Mesopotamian texts preserve a number of different views of the Apsu. Usually it indicated the waters of the underworld beneath the earth that contained a freshwater ocean (the sweet water sea). According to Hamlet's Mill by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend (1969) the Babylonians named the Pisces-Canopus region of the sky "the sea". The Pegasus-square (Babylonian iku "the field") joined Pisces which was connected to the depth of the salt sea and Canopus which was connected to the depth of the sweet water sea. (The authors do not identify which cuneiform text(s) make these identifications. However, see "Some lights on Babylonian Astronomy" by Franz Kugler, (ZfA, Band 25, Issue 3-4, 1911). He discusses the southern region of the zodiac being styled the heavenly absu, "ocean.") Where McHugh has ""the flood wave" of the Apsu" (Enki and the World Order) Samuel Kramer has "great flood-wave of the sea" (Myths of Enki, the Crafty God edited by Samuel Kramer and John Maier (1989).

(7) McHugh, however, has not proposed a new theory of Noah's flood. Some 100 years ago the identical ideas were vigorously promoted by both PanEgyptian and PanBabylonism enthusiasts (e.g., Gerald Massey and Heinrich Zimmern). Nearly 120 years ago the English poet, spiritist, and amateur Egyptologist Gerald Massey in his book The Natural Genesis (2 vols., 1883) believed he had demonstrated that the Noah's Ark story was written in the stars by the ancient Egyptians. Like McHugh, Massey makes use of the three water "signs" Aquarius, Capricornus, and Pisces. The twist is that Massey used Egyptian mythology to "prove" his case. At the start of the 19th century the Panbabylonists (who formed a special part of the Star Myth school) also got into the act but of course used Mesopotamian mythology. The German Assyriologist and Panbabylonist Heinrich Zimmern in his book The Babylonian and the Hebrew Genesis (1901) argued the place of the Babylonian flood was in the sky and was transferred to an earthly scenario.

(8) Ballard is an oceanographer, not an archaeologist or geologist. For a brief skeptical view of Ballard's archaeological evidence, by a professional archaeologist, see:

The test for McHugh's theory will be the use of rigorous evidence and the absence of excessive speculation. The problem with previous approaches - such as Panbabylonism - is that it had to argue that its tenets were implied in widely divergent material (as there were never any direct supporting statements contained in texts). The Noah's Ark in the stars idea may need baling out.

Background - Possible Influences

A "Bible/Gospel in the Stars" background/precedent is indicated.

It appears that McHugh's ideas regarding the constellations mirror those of Frances Rolleston's 'Bible in the stars' book Mazzaroth (1862). (I do not know if McHugh references Mazzaroth; or The constellations by Frances Rolleston.) Rolleston believed that the people who originated the constellations did so with the intention of preserving some early parts of Genesis. It is indicated as later being an influence on the constellations ideas of the English sunspot specialist Edward Maunder. From the late 1870s Maunder's approach to the history of the constellations was shaped by Frances Rolleston's 'Bible in the stars' book Mazzaroth (1862). Though he later criticised its ideas his articles later in life still showed a 'Bible in the stars' belief, though somewhat more restrained. Maunder also believed that the people who originated the constellations did so with the intention of preserving some early parts of Genesis. This religious belief dictated the further belief that the constellations were a set that originated early. Frances Rolleston (1781-1864) was a pious unmarried woman of some wealth. However, she mostly lived with relatives and friends, occasionally renting a cottage. The genesis of the book dates to the 1820s, and it was substantially written in the early 1840s, with the help and encouragement of one of her sisters. There was a lapse of 15 or more years between the completion of Mazzaroth and its publication. Although it was published by Rivington (Rivington's, London), its publication was subsidized by Rolleston herself. The final version of Mazzaroth is the work of a woman in her 70s, who had had very poor eyesight since the age of 30. Rolleston believed that through the ancient names for the stars (constellations), it was possible to discover the oldest knowledge transmitted from the Judaic-Christian god of the Bible to humankind: the method of peoples redemption and the coming of the Jewish messiah. Rolleston is usually described as a linguist and she claimed to know Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldee and Syriac. She did know Greek and Latin. She wrote to one regular correspondent that wherever the root (of a word) exists in Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldee and Syriac, there we have a relique of the Noachic tongue. She spent her life as a mythographer, poet (she was considered a competent poet), and letter writer. She had a passion for painting and music

See also Maunder, Edward. (1885). "An Old Monument: or the Story of the Constellations." (Sunday Magazine, April, Pages 158-162). (One of his earliest article on the origin of the constellations and unreliable. Obviously influenced by the ideas of the classicist and linguist Frances Rolleston (1781-1864) in her "gospel in the stars" book Mazzaroth, or The Constellations (4 Volumes, 1862-1865), which has belief in Biblical literalism. The constellations are viewed as descending from Noah and illustrating episodes in Genesis..

Another possible influence on McHugh is ultimately: The Chaldean Account of Genesis by George Smith (1876) which expanded on "The Chaldean Account of the Deluge." by George Smith (Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, Volume 2, 1873, Pages 213-234). In 1880 an edition of The Chaldean Account of Genesis edited by Archibald Sayce was published. I think an edition of this book is referenced by McHugh. As far as I am aware similar types of evidence are used (i.e., iconography).

Appendix 1: Some Comments/Summaries made by Supporters of McHugh's Ideas

From ABC NEWS by Michael Guillen, (

"The story of Noah's Ark has timeless attraction. In a recent Gallup poll, it came in third in the all-time list of things people want to know more about. John McHugh, a young archaeologist from Utah, and his colleagues have found evidence that long before the invention of writing, the original version of the basic Noah's Ark story was written in the stars by the Sumerians, a culture that existed before modern civilization, as early as 6,000 to 7,000 ago. The story was told by using the constellations. To figure out the tale, researchers first took into account that Earth wobbles as it spins, which means that constellations back then appeared elsewhere in the sky. Then they used computer simulation to figure out what the sky looked like to early Sumerians. According to the researchers, the Sumerians imposed on these stars figures that corresponded to the three main characters in their flood story. Those constellations are what we call Aquarius, Orion and Argo. The shape of the ark back then was crescent, keeping with the real ships of the time. That began to change around 700 B.C., because as Earth wobbled, Argo began to dip below the horizon. The ancients needed to pick a substitute in order to keep the picture story intact. So they picked Pegasus, which is square-shaped. As a result, we see in depictions of the ark after that time that they are mostly square-shaped. This latest discovery doesn’t settle the mystery of the Great Flood, but it certainly assures us that the story is ancient history."

Posted to Hastro-L, circa early 2000, by an astronomer (who had a copy of McHugh's dissertation):

I would like to spend a short while on a matter marginal to my theme, but of some general interest. If you refer to Figure 6, you will see the large constellation of Argo the Ship, often shown in early representations as though atop a mountain. Coming from the ship is the Centaur, a man-animal, sacrificing a Beast upon the Altar. We see, too, the Water-snake (Hydra) with a Raven (Corvus) eating its flesh. There can be no doubt that here we have, in imagination pictured in the sky, a version of the story of Noah and the Flood.* The picture is complete with the Milky Way seeming to rise as smoke from the Altar. Consider the following quotation, with which we are all familiar?: 'And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord, and took of every clean beast and of every clean fowl and offered burnt offerings at the altar .... And God said "This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you for perpetual generations. I do set my bow in a cloud, and it shall be a token of a covenant between me and the Earth."' The Bow of Sagittarius is fixed pointing to one of the most obvious rifts, or clouds, in the Milky Way. Of course, this association of the Southern constellations with the flood story that occurs in Genesis, and in the Babylonian Book of Gilgamesh, is no new insight, for when the stars left vacant by changing the course of Eridanus were later given a name, Columba the Dove was chosen. * Umapishtim, the Babylonian Noah, 'lived at the mouth of the River'; c.f. the discussion concerning the course of the constellation Eridanus."

Critique posted to Hastro-L early 2000, by an astronomer:

"John McHugh's interpretation of at least a subset of the constellations as remnants of Sumerian star lore that incorporated the traditional Flood myth relies on the identification of the archaic Greek constellation Argo as a much earlier Sumerian ship constellation. To the best of my knowledge textual evidence does not confirm such an identity and in fact contradicts it. Although well-known errors in Mesopotamian star lore have continued to perpetuate the notion of a Sumerian star ship for more than a hundred years, reliable explicit evidence for this phantom vessel is not available. Raiders seeking a lost Ark constellation from Sumer have, I think, missed the boat. Also, in the context of constellation function, it is difficult to explain why, in this particular reconstruction, the figures involved perform as a reservoir of Deluge lore. More than parallels, resemblances, etymological linkages are required to demonstrate an idea like this holds water. On the other hand, the identification of Argo as the Boat of Osiris, an Egyptian constellation and part [of] (sic) an altogether different tradition, is, provided by Plutarch. The absence, at this time, of confirmation from Egyptian texts leaves the issue unresolved, but Plutarch's record on other aspects of Egyptian star lore is not bad. He was probably onto something with the Egyptian Argo, but it wasn't catastrophic flood."

Appendix 2: 'Heard It All Before'

"But there is another constellation which shows in a more marked way than either the Centaur or the Altar that the date when the constellations were invented must have been near that which I have named. Both Ara and Centaurus look now in suitable latitudes (about twenty degrees north) as they looked in higher latitudes (about forty degrees north) 4000 years ago. For, the reeling motion of our earth has changed the place of the celestial pole in such a way as only to depress these constellations southwards without much changing their position; they are nearly upright when due south now as they were 4000 years ago, only lower down. But the great ship Argo has suffered a much more serious displacement. One cannot now see this ship like a ship at any time or from any place on the earth's surface. If we travel south till the whole constellation comes into visibility above the southern horizon at the proper season (January and February for the midnight hours) the keel of the ship is aslant, the stern being high above the waist (the fore part is wanting). If we travel still further south, we can indeed reach places where the course of the ship is so widened, and the changes of position so increased, that she appears along part of her journey on an even keel, but then she is high above the horizon. Now 4000 years ago she stood on the horizon itself at her southern culmination, with level keel and upright mast.

In passing I may note that for my own part I imagine that this great ship represented the Ark, its fore part being originally the portion of the Centaur now forming the horse, so that the Centaur was represented as a man (not as a man-horse) offering a gift on the Altar. Thus in this group of constellations I recognise the Ark, and Noah going up from the Ark towards the altar 'which he builded unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.' I consider further that the constellation-figures of the Ship, the Man with an offering, and the Altar, painted or sculptured in some ancient astrological temple, came at a later time to be understood as picturing a certain series of events, interpreted and expanded by a poetical writer into a complete narrative. Without venturing to insist on so heterodox a notion, I may remark as an odd coincidence that probably such a picture or sculpture would have shown the smoke ascending from the Altar which I have already described, and in this smoke there would be shown the bow of Sagittarius; which, interpreted and expanded in the way I have mentioned, might have accounted for the 'bow set in the clouds, for a token of a covenant.' It is noteworthy that all the remaining constellations forming the southern limit of the old star-domes or charts, were watery ones—the Southern Fish, over which Aquarius is pouring a quite unnecessary stream of water, the Great Sea Monster towards which in turn flow the streams of the River Eridanus. The equator, too, was then occupied along a great part of its length by the great sea serpent Hydra, which reared its head above the equator, very probably indicated then by a water horizon, for nearly all the signs below it were then watery. At any rate, as the length of Hydra then lay horizontally above the Ship, whose masts reached it, we may well believe that this part of the picture of the heavens showed a sea-horizon and a ship, the great sea serpent lying along the horizon. On the back of Hydra is the Raven, which again may be supposed by those who accept the theory mentioned above to have suggested the raven which went forth to and fro from the ark. He is close enough to the rigging of Argo to make an easy journey of it. The dove, however, must not be confounded with the modern constellation Columba, though this is placed (suitably enough) near the Ark. We must suppose the idea of the dove was suggested by a bird pictured in the rigging of the celestial ship. The sequence in which the constellations came above the horizon as the year went round corresponded very satisfactorily with the theory, fanciful though this seem to some. First Aquarius pouring streams of water, the three fishes (Pisces and Piscis australis), and the great sea monster Cetus, showing how the waters prevailed over the highest hills, then the Ark sailing on the waters, a little later the Raven (Corvus), the man descending from the ark and offering a gift on the Altar, and last the Bow set amid the clouds." ("Origin of the Constellation-Figures." in Myths and Marvels of Astronomy by Richard Proctor (New Edition, 1896, Pages 332-365, Passages from Pages 344-346). Note: The essay was originally published in Belgravia: A London Journal (1877).)

There is also: Anonymous. (1888). "The Star Story of the Flood." (Knowledge, May, Pages 145-147, 173-176.). The essay was likely by the British popular astronomy writer Richard Proctor.

Appendix 3: The Basis for the Mistakes of Robert Brown Junior

Robert Brown Junior mistook the early circular "three stars each" texts (commonly called "astrolabes" or "planispheres" but actually functioning as star calendars (within an astral omen framework)) as representing the standard Mesopotamian scheme of constellations. On the basis of three small fragments of these circular "star calendars" (Sm. 162, Sm. 608, and Sm. 94) he attempted to re-establish what he believed was a complete standard Babylonian "planisphere." His speculative and erroneous reconstruction of such was based on his belief that the "planispheres" set out an ecliptic based scheme with the 12 stars in the Path of Ea (outer ring) marking southern constellations, the 12 stars in the Path of Enlil (inner ring) marking northern constellations, and the 12 stars in the Path of Anu (middle ring) marking the 12 zodiacal constellations along the ecliptic. On the basis of his mistaken "planisphere" reconstruction Brown believed the constellations, including a 12-constellation zodiac scheme, in something like their present form, originated in Mesopotamia in the late 3rd millennium BCE. He denied (quite incorrectly) that anyone in Mesopotamia was inventing the 12-constellation zodiac as late as circa 500 BCE. Brown was unaware of the star lists of the Mul.Apin series. Mul.Apin tablet 1 (BM 86378) was not published until 1912 by Leonard King (CT 33, Plates 1-8) and it was perhaps first discussed by Franz Kugler in his Supplement 1 (1913) to his Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel. The first section of Mul.Apin tablet 1 lists considerably more stars in the Paths of Enlil, Anu, and Ea than are found in the "planispheres." (He was also misled by the limited listing of stars/constellations in the Paths of Enlil, Anu, and Ea through Tablet 82-5-22 512.)

Appendix 4: The Origin of the Ship Constellation Argo

The constellation Argo was well attested in the Hellenistic period. The suggestion that the Argo was made a constellation in conformity with Egyptian astronomical lore (i.e., the supposition that the ship of Osiris was set in the night sky) can be rejected. (Franz Boll in his masterwork Sphaera (1903) rejected the suggestion.) The ship of Osiris traversed the underworld, not the night sky. This fact ensures the ship of Osiris could not have been an Egyptian constellation. It is likely that the identification of the ship of Osiris with the Argo is a Greek idea.

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