In a previous post, I noted that, according to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, both the Talmud and the Zohar interpret Meroz (a place mentioned in Judges 5:23) as a star — and, more than that, a star with inhabitants (presumably on a orbiting planet). As Kaplan puts it, “the fact that Scripture states, “Cursed is Meroz… cursed are its inhabitants” is clear proof from the words of our Sages for extraterrestrial life.”
That possible connection fascinated me, so I did a little research. So far I can’t find any support from mainstream scholarly sources for any connection between Meroz and the heavens. They all put it as a town in northern Palestine, though they are uncertain exactly where it was or much else about it.
Here’s the passage, Judges 5:19-23 (NRSV).
19 “The kings came, they fought;
then fought the kings of Canaan,
at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
they got no spoils of silver.
20 The stars fought from heaven,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21 The torrent Kishon swept them away,
the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon.
March on, my soul, with might!
22 “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs
with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.
23 “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord,
curse bitterly its inhabitants,
because they did not come to the help of the Lord,
to the help of the Lord against the mighty.
For example, Avraham Negev says of Meroz: “Eusebius (Onom. 128:4–6, 12–13) states that in his time there was a village by the name of Marous, Merrous, 12 miles from Beth-Shean, near Dothan, and mistakenly identifies it with Meiron.” [Avraham Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, 3rd ed. (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990).]
There’s not much help either in Hebrew lexicons. Here’s the entry in Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon: “מֵרוֹז (prob. for מֶאֱרוֹז, مَأْرَزُ refuge, from the root אָרַז, ارز to draw in, to betake oneself), [Meroz]” [Gesenius, Wilhelm and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles. Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003.]
The author of the Wikipedia entry on Meroz points again to the Talmudic view: “According to the Talmud (Moed Katan 16a), Meroz is a certain planet in the stellar sphere, and because the mention of it in Judges 5:23 is preceded by the phrase, “the stars in their course fought against Sisera” (v.20), it thus follows that Meroz must be defined as a celestial body. This mysterious ‘Meroz’ may not only be the name of a star, but also may allude to an unidentified group of outworld inhabitants somewhere in the second heaven (outer space) to which failed in their willingness to assist the righteous in a war against the wicked, and hence cursed by the angel of God.”
Ah! At least here there’s some possible reason [in the Biblical text itself] for the idea that Meroz is a star – i.e., the reference in verse 20 to how “The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (NRSV).
But most commentators seem to be taking verse 20 as poetic, as a poetic way of saying that the Israelites got help from the weather (which in turn they interpreted as God or heaven helping them). The Open Bible (1998) says, “A poetic description of a miracle of weather on Israel’s behalf. Out of the heavens came torrential rains causing flash floods.” And the KJV Bible Commentary (1997) says, “The intervention of heaven is poetically phrased as the stars in their courses which fought against Sisera. Jehovah is viewed here as controlling the process of nature itself, a common Israelite belief throughout the Old Testament era.”
Good ol’ J. Vernon McGee disagrees and takes it all a bit more literally: “I don’t believe this is merely a poetic expression. My feeling is that it could truly be said that heaven, that God was against this enemy. [Thru the Bible Commentary, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Jdg 5:20.]
So, in the end, I still can’t find any connection between “Meroz” and “star.” Probably, if I knew more about the Talmud and the Zohar, I might understand why those sages might make that connection. I’ll keep looking.