Here we discuss the evidence for the motif of "the Twelve" in antiquity, including as concerns the Bible as well as in other artifacts and myths in numerous other cultures. As we can see, the ancients in many places around the world have been very focused on this sacred number, which signifies the 12 hours of day and night, the 12 months of the year and the 12 signs of the zodiac. The Twelve is, in fact, a motif found ubiquitously, dating back centuries to millennia. Were the 12 Tribes of Israel Based on the Zodiac?
This is a subject about which there is much disinformation, including attempts to claim that the zodiac postdated the founding of the Israelite nation with its 12 tribes and that, hence, the numbering of the tribes could not be based on the 12 zodiacal signs, as has been suggested by many people since ancient times.Testimony of Josephus and Philo
The claim that the 12 tribes of Israel were identified with the 12 signs of the zodiac is spelled out clearly by the ancient Jewish writers Philo and Josephus, during the first century. During the first century BCE, Diodorus Siculus identified the 12 tribes with the 12 months.
As I relate in Christ in Egypt
See Exodus 39:9-14: "...they made the breastplate... And they set in it four rows of stones... And the stones were according to the names of the children of Israel, twelve...according to the twelve tribes."
As Josephus says (Antiquities
, 3.8 ): "And for the twelve stones, whether we understand by them the months or whether we understand the like number of the signs of that circle which the Greeks call the zodiac, we shall not be mistaken in their meaning." (Josephus, 75.)
Earlier than Josephus, Philo ("On the Life of Moses," 12) had made the same comments regarding Moses: "Then the twelve stones on the breast, which are not like one another in colour, and which are divided into four rows of three stones in each, what else can they be emblems of, except of the circle of the zodiac?" (Philo, 99.)
As we can see, by the first century it was well known that the theme of "the 12" was astrological in nature.Age of the Zodiac
The zodiac is mentioned in the Bible at Job 38:32, where the author refers to the "Mazzaroth." The Book of Job is traditionally placed in an early setting, as the RSV says, from the patriarchal period, preceding the founding of Israel. Job is believed to have been an adult when Moses was allegedly born, which would mean that Job's adventures and story, with its discussion of the Mazzaroth/12 signs, preceded Moses and the gathering together of 12 tribes.
Skeptical historians question whether or not the OT history of Moses and others truly occurred at any point, much less the 13th century, and much of the Bible appears to have been written only as early as after the Babylonian Captivity. If we were to subscribe to the Bible as history, however, we would have to accept that the Zodiac was known to the Hebrews before
Moses created Israel with its 12 tribes, which many - including Philo and Josephus - have identified with the 12 zodiacal signs.
There is much more to the history of the zodiac, including the Karanovo Zodiac, which dates to around 6,000 years ago. In The Astronomy of the Bible
, Christian royal astronomer Walter Maunder dates the emergence of the zodiac as we know it to some 5,000 years ago. The Indians have their own history of the zodiac, dating back thousands of years as well.
The Egyptians possessed gods numbering 12 long before the Bible was written down, reflecting, for one, the 12 hours of the day and night. We may not be surprised, then, to discover that early Church father Hippolytus associated the Christian
12 with the hours of the day, while as early as the late second century, Clement of Alexandria wrote about the Valentian Gnostic Theodotus identifying the 12 apostles with the 12 signs of the zodiac.
There is much reason to suspect that whoever wrote the various pertinent biblical scriptures was well aware of the astronomical, astrological and astrotheological symbolism of the number 12.
Zodiac on a synagogue floor at Beit Alpha, Israel (6th cent. AD/CE)
For more information on the motif of the 12, please see the massive list I compiled in my "ZEITGEIST Sourcebook"
, reproduced here for ease of reference.
The 12 Disciples of Jesus and the Signs of the Zodiac
The use of 12 in the Bible itself is so ubiquitous that it is logical to presume these groupings reflect not an actual count, but, rather, a common formulaic theme, based on the prevalence of this sacred number in the Pagan world as well.Biblical examples:
The 12 Princes of Ishmael (Gen 17:20)
The 12 Sons of Jacob (Gen 35:22)
The 12 Tribes of Israel (Gen 49:28)
The 12 Prophets and Kings of Israel
The 12 Wells of Water (Exd 15:27)
The 12 Pillars of the Lord (Exd 24:4)
The 12 Stones of the Breastplate (Exd 39:14)
The 12 Cakes of the Tabernacle (Lev 24:5)
The 12 Princes of Israel (Num 1:44)
The 12 Oxen of the Tabernacle (Num 7:3)
The 12 Chargers of Silver, Bowls of Silver and Spoons of Gold (Num 7:84)
The 12 Bullocks, Rams, Lambs and Kids of the Offering (Num 7:87)
The 12 Rods of the Princes of Israel (Num 17:6)
The 12 Stones of Joshua (Jos 4:8)
The 12 Cities (Jos 18:24, 19:25, 21:7, 21:40)
The 12 Judges of Israel (Jdg 3, 4, 6, 10, 12, 13)
The 12 Pieces of the Concubine (Jdg 19:29)
The 12 Servants of David (2 Sa 2:15)
The 12 Officers of Solomon (1 Ki 4:7)
The 12 Lions of Solomon (1 Ki 10:20)
The 12 Pieces of Jeroboam‘s Garment (1 Ki 11:30)
The 12 Stones of Elijah (1 Ki 18:31)
The 12 Bronze Bulls of Solomon (Jer 52:20)
The 12 Disciples/Apostles of Jesus (Mt 10:1-2)
The 12 Baskets of Bread (Mt 14:20)
The 12 Thrones in Heaven (Mt 19:28)
The 12 Legions of Angels (Mt 26:53)
The 12 Patriarchs of Israel (Acts 7:8)
The 12 Stars of the Woman‘s Crown (Rev 12:1)
The 12 Gates, Angels and Pearls of Holy Jerusalem (Rev 21:12, 21)
The 12 Fruits of the Tree of Life (Rev 22:2)Pagan examples:
The 12 Ahhazu or Demons of the Sumerians
The 12 Tablets/Adventures of Gilgamesh
The 12 Gods of Egypt
The 12 Divisions of the Tuat
The 12 Companions of Horus/Osiris
The 12 Olympian Gods
The 12 Tasks of Hercules
The 12 Daughters of Priam
The 12 Children of Amphion and Niobe
The 12 Daughters of Boeotia and Metope
The 12 Gods of the Romans and Etruscans
The 12 Sons of the Etruscan Mother Goddess
The 12 Shields of Mars
The 12 Altars of Janus
The 12 Aeons of the Gnostics
The 12 Devas of India
The 12 Names of the Indian Sun God Surya
The 12 Terrifying Aspects of Shiva
The 12 Adityas of the Indian Mother of Worlds
The 12 Labors of the Virgin-Born Arjuna
The 12 Generals of Ahura-Mazda
The 12 Aesir of the Norse
The 12 Berserkers of the Norse
The 12 Mountains of Ebhlenn
The 12 Horse-Children of Boreas
The 12 White Horses of the Polish Sun God
The 12 Stones of Cenn Cruiach
The 12 Rivers of the Elivagar
The 12 Horses and Hounds of Gwydion
The 12 Moons of China
The 12 Generals of the Japanese Divine Physician
The 12 Yiyantsinni of the Navaho, Pueblo, Iroquois
The 12 First People of the Navajo
(Murdock, ZEITGEIST Sourcebook"
, pp. 65-68, #33)
Moreover, the comparison of Jesus's 12 disciples with both the 12 signs of the zodiac and the 12 hours of the day began in antiquity, in the second century with the Gnostics, and continued throughout the ages. As Michael Ladwein relates:
The relationship of the apostles to the signs of the Zodiac in general was first mooted in a remark by Clement of Alexandria about the Gnostic Theodotus... An early Christian pottery lamp in Geneva has the heads of the twelve apostles arranged around the central opening for the flame (=Christ as the sun). The sides of a medieval ivory reliquary in the abbey church of Quedlinburg shows the (unspecified) apostles with the Zodiac signs above. An ivory reliquary in the Bavarian National Museum in Munich is similar. On the front we see Christ between Cancer and Leo, i.e. as the sun in its most powerful at the summer solstice. There are specific associations in medieval literature, e.g. in the Rota ecclesiastica, a manuscript dating from the first half of the twelfth century, in the writings of the Catalan scholar Arnold of Villanova in the thirteenth century, in those of Agrippa of Nettesheim around 1500, and those of the Augsburg jurist Julius Schiller in the seventeenth century. In each case the combinations were different as was also the composition of the circle of twelve... In contrast to these arbitrary medieval combinations, E. Lenz has ventured a new and considerably more convincing "attempt based on natural sensitivity to link Thomas with the constellation of Gemini (he is after all called the 'twin' in the Gospels) and Judas with Scorpio."
In the early third century, Church father Clement of Alexandria (Excerpts from Theodotus
1.25.2) reported on the doctrine of the Valentinian Gnostic Theodotus (fl. 150-180 AD/CE):
"He says the apostles were substituted for the twelve signs of the zodiac, for, as birth is directed by them, so is rebirth by the apostles." (Hegedus, 324)
As theologian Rev. Dr. Tim Hegedus remarks in Early Christianity and Ancient Astrology
"[The] twelve apostles have taken over the role of guardian...of the zodiacal signs that had traditionally been held by the twelve [Olympian] gods."
Miniature zodiac, with Helios (Sun) as Christ in his solar chariot drawn by four horses, surrounded by the apostles, corresponding to the zodiacal signs; 813-820 AD/CE; Vaticanus graecus 1291
We have several other threads throughout this forum discussing the motif of the twelve (12), such as the following:When did the twelve months 1st appear?Horus and the 12 DisciplesHorus and the Twelve (12)The 12 columns in the vestibule of Temple of Horus at EdfuThe Testaments of the Twelve PatriarchsMithra: The Pagan ChristThe Zodiac in Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper