Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun αστηρ (aster) means star. It's cognate with the Latin stella, Persian setare and Sanskrit tara and ultimately derives from the ancient Proto-Indo-European root "hehs-", meaning to burn, plus the particle of agency "-ter". That means that to the ancients, a star was literally a burner, or one that burns. This is surprising because the heat that stars give off can't be discerned from earth, and since starlight casts no observable shadow, it's not at all clear that stars have anything in common with the sun (or with any earthly fire, for that matter). But as it turns out, the fact that the night sky's tiny stars are in fact enormous fire balls is not the only thing the ancients realized about stars:
The light that comes from stars doesn't do so as the result on a chemical reaction (what we moderns call burning) but as the result of nuclear fusion. A star is essentially a contracted hydrogen cloud, and if the hydrogen cloud has contracted sufficiently, the pressure in its common center of gravity overwhelms the forces that hold individual hydrogen atoms together. Every four such hydrogen atoms combine into one helium atom, and since it takes less energy to hold one helium atom together than four hydrogen atoms, the difference is radiated out in the form of light. Stars burn through their hydrogen, and then start compacting helium into even heavier elements, until the star's core is solid iron (with an atomic number of 26). When that happens, the star goes Super Nova: it explodes violently. In an instant, its outer corona forms all elements heavier than iron (including copper, atom number 29, silver, 47, and gold, 79), which blow out into space. If the star was massive enough, its inner mass collapse into a black hole (and if not, it becomes a very dense and very dead ball of neutrons).
Within a black hole, the realities of spacetime terminate: time slows down to a standstill and distance becomes infinite. That means that a black hole becomes a kind of duplicate of the entire universe, an equal in a way, a curious local infinity upon whose singularity the entire eternity of its surrounding spacetime is instantaneously projected. It takes some getting used to, but if we were to rigorously apply certain specific definitions, black holes should be considered living, mental and intelligent. Hence, the ancients spoke of a living and intelligent "host of heaven" (Deuteronomy 4:19, 1 Kings 22:19, Nehemiah 9:6, Isaiah 24:21, Daniel 8:10).
Very early humans had been anatomically capable of speaking long before the first words were uttered. And that's because uttering doesn't make a word a word. A word is only a word when everybody agrees on it, and that means that in order to exist, words don't only require anatomical capabilities, but rather social capabilities. A word is what very large groups of interacting humans agree on how to call a thing. It takes a large multitude of freely interacting humans a very long time of imitating each other to finally settle upon a consensus on what to call a thing. And when within that consensus, within that common center of gravity, two or more agree on how to call that thing, there a mental equivalent of that thing begins to exist in a very real way, existing as a singular entity simultaneously within the conscious minds of those two or three agreeing early humans.
We hip moderns like to think that the progress of a society can be measured by the level of its technological sophistication, but if the laws of nature are anything to go on, societal progress can be measured by the level of unification of its individuals. Language is in fact a stellar phenomenon, and the verbal reality that allows us humans our celebrated consciousness works operates very much like the universe that allows a star to start shining.
- Dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16);
- Stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5);
- Sand on the sea shore (Genesis 22:17).
That means that by combining (2) and (3), the ancients realized that beside the few thousand visible stars in the night sky, there was a vast multitude of invisible ones, as numerous as the layers upon layers of billions and billions of grains of sand on the beach — actually, the University of Hawaii calculated the latter to about 7.5 x 1018, whereas David Konreich of Cornwell estimated the former to about 10 x 1023, and that's a pretty big difference. But both calculations depend heavily on very rough guestimates, and the point that the Torah makes is not about the absolute number of either but rather that besides the comprehensible amount of visible stars there is an incomprehensibly vast amount of invisible ones.
To the ancients, the "dust of the earth" or "dust of the ground" did not simply refer to small bits of dirt but was instead a generic term that referred to the material from which the Creator had made living humanity (Genesis 2:7, 3:14, 3:19; the word is עפר, 'apar, dust). By combining (1) and (2), the ancients were also able to comprehend that lighter elements were forged within stars, heavier elements in their super novae and organic molecules, including DNA, were braided together by standing Chladni patterns of gravitational waves in the space between stars (Psalm 29:3-9, Jeremiah 10:13, Matthew 3:17, Revelation 1:15). In precisely the same way, the letters of the alphabet were forged within the speaking of humans, and scrolls of text appeared in the space between humans.
The Standard Model of Elementary Particles consists of three groups of twelve particles (counting anti-particles as legitimate entities, which is only fair): twelve leptons (including the electron), twelve quarks (that form atomic nuclei, in which is stored most of the mass of the universe) and twelve bosons that convey all forces (8 strong, 4 electroweak). The extended family of Abraham, likewise, consists of three groups of twelve: twelve tribes of Israel (including Judah), twelve archer-tribes of Ishmael (Genesis 21:20, 25:12-16), and twelve wife-supplying sons of Nahor (8 with Milcah and 4 with Reumah). When matter and radiation decoupled, the universe became transparent, spacetime came to be and eternity began (Isaiah 9:2-7; also see our article on χρονος, chronos, time).
We moderns call this phenomenon a fractal, which is a shape that repeats certain patterns at different levels of complexity but is nevertheless governed by a single and relatively simple process. The separate instances or manifestations of this single process are called self-similar: the emergence of language from synchronous grunting to contraptions like "antidisestablishmentarianism", the emergence of elements and molecules from helium to DNA, and the emergence of writing from the first scratched symbols to Sonnet XIV, are all self-similar. All these processes (and many more) are governed by the same general principles, which in turn add up to a single process with six distinct stages. Every closed, or semi-closed, system that evolves naturally must always evolve by this general pattern, which the Torah lays out in the creation week (and no, the creation week is not about the first 144 hours of existence but about the basic pattern in which anything that evolves must evolve).
The Hebrew verb נהר (nahar) means both to shine (what a star does) and to flow (what a river does), which means that the ancients had a pretty good grasp of what later would be called Relativity Theory. They also understood that light and water behave rather similarly, and that the hydrological cycle that sustains life on earth is not unlike the cycles of quantum electro-dynamics and thermodynamics. The Hebrew word for star, namely מאור (ma'or), consists, like the PIE equivalent, of a particle of agency (namely מ, ma), and the word for light, namely אור ('or). From this latter word also stem the names Ur (where Abraham was from), and Ye'or (the Hebrew word for Nile). Light and wisdom are obviously self-similar, which means that whatever the Bible says about stars also goes for very wise people (Judges 5:20, Philippians 2:15).
The first words formed like mist in the natural interactions of vast populations of very early humans (Genesis 2:6). When these first words had achieved a critical mass, language was "discovered" and the defining conscious mind of homo sapiens emerged (2:7), words began to be systematically manufactured (2:19-20) and formed clouds in the sky — and see for a lengthier look at this our article on the noun νεφελη (nephele), cloud. When the clouds had become massive enough, and a linguistic dew point was achieved, rain began to pour down and the earth was inundated (6:17), and mankind began to create its own human world, peopled by domesticated species and safely separated from the wilderness (8:17). Rain formed rivers and rivers sustained entire civilizations (and see our article on the name Tigris for more on this).
The reality which the Bible describes is based on a vast fractal pattern, and the Bible is able to describe this fractal by being a fractal itself. The narrative of the Bible is carried by so-called meta-narratives, which are basic stories that are repeated on different levels of the main story's development (see for a lengthy look at this our article on the name Hellas). The ancients realized that not mathematics (or any other formal system) is the language of nature but rather the repetition of patterns — also known as "parables" (Psalm 78:2, Matthew 13:3) — and all progression or evolution is a matter of broken symmetries within those repetitions.
When the Bible speaks of "stars" it does not merely refer to relatively inconsequential and vastly remote accumulations of hydrogen gas, or to the few thousand visible pin-pricks in the curtain of night, but rather to the visible and invisible structures of entire realms, whether this realm is spacetime, the biosphere, or mankind's exclusive mental sphere (Hebrews 11:1). The word star refers to any kind of large accumulation of loose elements, within whose common center certain combinations of those elements are forged.
According to the basic pattern of the creation week, stars begin to form on the fourth day (or the fourth day commences when stars begin to form), right after the emergence of "dry land" on the third (polarized matter upon the matter-antimatter breach of the second day, or consciousness following self-and-other awareness). Stars are very wise men within a population, or wisdom centers within society. It's where words are forged into greater words (that's what philosophers and lawyers do all day: come up with words for things that hadn't been named yet because nobody had thought of them), and where specific minds are forged into companies (because that's what so-called connectors do; Nehemiah 4:21).
Stars form to mark times and seasons and to shed light upon the rest of their realms and govern them (Genesis 1:14-18). And when Daniel writes that "those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:3), he does not deploy a metaphor but speaks literally of stars in the broader meaning of the word. When the wise men from the east set out to find Christ, they followed a star (Matthew 2:2), which may indeed have been a physical stellar phenomenon (as many believe), but may just as well have been a wisdom tradition (which seems more likely to us here at Abarim Publications).
For a very typical Biblical kind of fractal called the meta-narrative, see our article on γαμος (gamos), marriage. For more examples of regular fractals, or for structures that occur in nature as well as in the Bible, see our articles on αγαπη (agape), love, αμπελος (ampelos), vine, κονια (konia), dust, κτιζω (ktizo), to create, περαω (perao), to trade.
Our noun αστηρ (aster), star, is used 24 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
Our word's familiar diminutive, namely αστερισκος (asteriskos) doesn't occur in the New Testament, but was used to describe the distinctive mark (the asterisk) with which Aristarchus of Samothrace (2nd century BC) marked duplicated lines in Homer. Origin, quite reversely, used the asterisk to mark missing lines from his Hexapla.
The curiously but accidentally similar adjective αστηρικτος (asteriktos), meaning unstable, has nothing to do with the former, but instead comes from the common prefix of negation α (a), meaning not or without, and the verb στηριζω (sterizo), to cause to stand, to fix, to set fast, which in turn comes from the verb ιστημι (histemi), to stand or set.