Is the Astronomy in the Book of Job Scientifically Consistent?

Is the Astronomy in the Book of Job Scientifically Consistent?Yesterday I posted a number of scientific consistencies found in the Old Testament. While I think there are good reasons why God might not reveal advanced scientific details in Scripture, I do expect God’s Word to be scientifically consistent with the world we experience. One interesting scientific consistency seems to exist in the ancient book of Job. I am obviously not a scientist or astronomer, so I’ll try to provide links to the references you might use to further investigate these claims. As you may remember, Job was extremely wealthy and had a large family. Tragedy struck and Job lost his wealth, his children and his wife. Job eventually began to accuse God of being unjust and unkind. In response to Job’s complaining, God challenged Job’s authority and power relative to His own. God asked the following series of questions to demonstrate Job’s comparative weakness:

Job 38:31-32
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?

The text refers to three constellations, Pleiades, Orion and Arcturus (the fourth, Mazzaroth, is still unknown to us). In the first part of the verse, God challenged Job’s ability to “bind the sweet influences of Pleiades.” It’s as if He was saying, “Hey Job, you think you can keep Pleiades together? Well, I can!” As it turns out, the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters) is an open star cluster in the constellation of Taurus. It is classified as an open cluster because it is a group of hundreds of stars formed from the same cosmic cloud. They are approximately the same age and have roughly the same chemical composition. Most importantly, they are bound to one another by mutual gravitational attraction. Isabel Lewis of the United States Naval Observatory (quoted by Phillip L. Knox in Wonder Worlds) said, “Astronomers have identified 250 stars as actual members of this group, all sharing in a common motion and drifting through space in the same direction.” Lewis said they are “journeying onward together through the immensity of space.” Dr. Robert J. Trumpler (quoted in the same book) said, “Over 25,000 individual measures of the Pleiades stars are now available, and their study led to the important discovery that the whole cluster is moving in a southeasterly direction. The Pleiades stars may thus be compared to a swarm of birds, flying together to a distant goal. This leaves no doubt that the Pleiades are not a temporary or accidental agglomeration of stars, but a system in which the stars are bound together by a close kinship.” From our perspective on Earth, the Pleiades will not change in appearance; these stars are marching together in formation toward the same destination, bound in unison, just as God described them.

The next section of the verse describes the Orion constellation. God once again challenged Job, this time to “loose the bands of Orion.” God was referencing the “belt” of Orion; the three stars forming the linear “band” at Orion’s waist. God appeared to be challenging Job in just the opposite way he had in the first portion of the verse. Rather than bind the Pleiades, God challenged Job to loosen Orion. It’s as if He was saying, “Hey Job, you think you can loosen Orion’s belt? Well, I can!” Orion’s belt is formed by two stars (Alnilam, and Mintaka) and one star cluster (Alnitak). Alnitak is actually a triple star system at the eastern edge of Orion’s belt. These stars (along with all the other stars forming Orion) are not gravitationally bound like those in Pleiades. Instead, the stars of Orion’s belt are heading in different directions. Garrett P. Serviss, a noted astronomer, wrote about the bands of Orion in his book, Curiosities of the Sky: “The great figure of Orion appears to be more lasting, not because its stars are physically connected, but because of their great distance, which renders their movements too deliberate to be exactly ascertained. Two of the greatest of its stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, possess, as far as has been ascertained, no perceptible motion across the line of sight, but there is a little movement perceptible in the ‘Belt.’ At the present time this consists of an almost perfect straight line, a row of second-magnitude stars about equally spaced and of the most striking beauty. In the course of time, however, the two right-hand stars, Mintaka and Alnilam (how fine are these Arabic star names!) will approach each other and form a naked-eye double, but the third, Alnita, will drift away eastward, so that the ‘Belt’ will no longer exist.” Unlike the Pleaides clusters, the stars in the band of Orion do not share a common trajectory. In the course of time, Orion’s belt will be loosened just as God told Job.

In the last section of the verse, God described Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in the night sky. God challenged Job to “guide Arcturus with his sons.” With this challenge, God appeared to be saying, “Hey Job, you think you can direct Arcturus anywhere you want? Well, I can!” While Arcturus certainly appeared in antiquity to be a single star, in 1971 astronomers discovered there were 52 additional stars connected directionally with Arcturus (known now as the Arcturus stream). Interestingly, God described Arcturus as having “sons” and Charles Burckhalter, of the Chabot Observatory, (again quoted in Wonder Worlds) said “these stars are a law unto themselves.” Serviss added, “Arcturus is one of the greatest suns in the universe, is a runaway whose speed of flight is 257 miles per second. Arcturus, we have every reason to believe, possesses thousands of times the mass of our sun… Our sun is traveling only 12 ½ miles a second, but Arcturus is traveling 257 miles a second…” Burckhalter affirmed this description of Arcturus, saying, “This high velocity places Arcturus in that very small class of stars that apparently are a law unto themselves. He is an outsider, a visitor, a stranger within the gates; to speak plainly, Arcturus is a runaway. Newton gives the velocity of a star under control as not more than 25 miles a second, and Arcturus is going 257 miles a second. Therefore, combined attraction of all the stars we know cannot stop him or even turn him in his path.” Arcturus and “his sons” are on a course all their own. Only God has the power to guide them, just as described in the ancient book of Job.

I doubt it was God’s intention to teach Job astronomy in this passage. Instead, God wanted to challenge Job and remind him who had the power, authority and wisdom to control the fate of the universe. In a similar way, God wanted to remind Job who had the power to control Job’s fate and the wisdom to care for him, even when Job felt unloved. While it wasn’t God’s purpose to reveal hidden scientific truths to Job in an effort to demonstrate His Deity, the ancient text accurately describes the nature of these constellations and stars. Like other Old and New Testament passages, it is scientifically consistent, even if not scientifically exhaustive.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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