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The Question

(Submitted October 27, 1997)

I am an adult Sunday School teacher and I am getting ready to do a lesson on the passage in the bible of Acts 19:35. Regarding the idol worship of Diana. The passage references the name of Jupiter. Is this the same Jupiter in the solar system? Also the book of Acts is dated between A.D. 61 and 63. Does this mean that Jupiter was known about even then? I am curious to hear your response. Please email whatever information you have regarding the planet Jupiter and the first recorded discovery of it.

The Answer

Jupiter was a Roman god, and the planet was named after him. Perhaps the verse in the Bible doesn't refer to the planet, but to the god.

The planet was named after the deity, who was the leader of the Roman pantheon, which may be more relevant. A careful reading, and perhaps comparison to the original text and other translations, may be allow you to distinguish between the god and the gas giant in this context. Jupiter the god is mentioned in 2 Macabees 6:2, and earlier in Acts (14:13). (KJV Bible searches are available at http://www.hti.umich.edu/relig/kjv/ )

The history, or the discovery, of the planet Jupiter dates so far back in antiquity that we can't trace it. All of the naked eye planets were undoubtedly familiar to the earliest civilizations. The details of the passage you refer to is well beyond our expertise. However, there can be little doubt that the planet Jupiter was known long before the time the passage was written.

I hope this helps!

Tim Kallman, Karen Smale, and David Palmer
for the Ask an Astrophysicist team

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