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Iyov 38:31-32 reads:

הַתְקַשֵּׁר מַעֲדַנּוֹת כִּימָה אוֹ מוֹשְׁכוֹת כְּסִיל תְּפַתֵּחַ:
. הֲתֹצִיא מַזָּרוֹת בְּעִתּוֹ וְעַיִשׁ עַל בָּנֶיהָ תַנְחֵם:

Can you tie the chains of the Pleiades or loose the straps of Orion?
Can you take out the constellations each in its time, and can you console Ayish for her children?

That's the translation from the Chabad site with Rashi. NJPS instead renders the latter:

Canst thou lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season? Or canst thou guide the Bear with her sons?

"Mazzarot" and "Ayish" are transliterations from the Hebrew; the rest of this is translation or interpretation.

Rashi doesn't seem concerned with references to Greek constellations in Tanakh, saying only:

the chains of the Pleiades: [Tie] the chains of the Pleiades so that all its cold should not go forth and destroy the world with cold.
or loose the straps of Orion: to bring out its heat, to mitigate the cold of the Pleiades.
and… Ayish: The largest star in the Pleiades, to which many stars are attached. He took two stars from it to open the windows of the Deluge, and they were placed in the constellation of Aries and the Holy One, blessed be He, is destined to restore them to her. Tanchuma.

A not-very-reliable Wikipedia article (see the note at the top) suggests that the association of Ayish with these constellations is disputed.

So, my questions:

  1. Does any of the Hebrew text here reliably translate as Orion and Pleiades? How do we know that?

  2. If not, how did we end up, nearly universally so far as I know, understanding the text this way? Why those particular constellations? Is there something special about them, either in general or specifically in this particular passage?

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Those constalations are very noticeable in the sky. – Double AA Feb 28 '13 at 2:33
    
True. (Or so I'm told; it's all fuzzy to my eyes. :-) ) So's the big dipper. Do you think the text (or the translators) picked the two most noticeable and just went with that? – Monica Cellio Feb 28 '13 at 2:42
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I don't know. I'm just commenting on the astronomy part. I'd venture to say that Orion (particularly his belt) and the Pleiades are more noticeable than the big dipper. – Double AA Feb 28 '13 at 2:53
    
See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…: "The Bible mentions Orion three times, naming it "Kesil" (כסיל, literally - fool)." There are many names for this same (or approximate) constellation. Presumably, the Pleiades were similarly located once and named many times. – Charles Koppelman Feb 28 '13 at 4:06
    
Also, this claims the Babylonians invented the system led to the Neo-Babylonian system, which was known to the authors of Navi. This same system was then adopted by the Greeks who added their own mythology to already-mapped constellations. – Charles Koppelman Feb 28 '13 at 4:24

The translation of Pleiades and Orion is an ancient tradition. The Septuagint, a Jewish translation from the third century BCE, translates Job 38:31 as:

Συνῆκας δὲ δεσμὸν Πλειάδος
καὶ φραγμὸν ᾿Ωρίωνος ἤνοιξας;

Their significance, beyond their astronomical prominence, is unknown to me.

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1  
For the Greek-illeterate, the two bolded words are transliterated to English characters as roughly "Pleiados" and "Orionos" respectively. – Double AA May 29 at 19:42
1  
@DoubleAA Did you mean to misspell "illiterate"? :P – Argon May 29 at 21:00

Orion

Since Kesil means foolish or stupid, the astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910) in the book Astronomy In The Old Testament, Kessinger Publishing, 2007, p. 60-1 suggest that

"...the Jews saw in the constellation Kesil the form of a man chained for his folly or his impiety. Out of the most brilliant constellations in the sky there is one, and one only, the form of which agrees with such a picture: the suggestion is exactly adapted to the case of Orion (as the Greeks call it; al-gebbar or 'the giant' of the Arabs; the Sahu of the Egyptians; the Trisanku of the old Indian myths), which presents to our view, in seven stars of the first and second degrees of magnitude, a coarse figure, evidently that of a man of colossal size. The identity of the constellation Kesil with our Orion is further attested by the tradition of the ancient versions: of the LXX in Job xxxviii. 31, and of the Vulgate in Job ix. 9 and Amos v. 8. Similarly the Peshitta in Job ix. 9 and xxxviii. 31 gives gabbara ('a strong man'), which is the Syriac name for Orion, closely related to the Arabic gebbar.

And also the Jewish Encyclopaedia:

"ORION (...): The Aramaic and Syriac names of Orion have been connected with the ancient Oriental tradition that Nimrod, who is called in the Bible a hero and mighty hunter, was fettered by God for his obstinacy in building the tower of Babel, and was set in the sky (Winer, "B. R." ii. 157). It is possible that the ancient Hebrews saw in this constellation the figure of a man who was naturally regarded as extraordinarily tall and strong, exactly as the Greeks named it "Orion," the Egyptians "Sahu," and the ancient Hindus "Triçanka" (Schiaparelli, l.c.). The Targum to Job xxxviii. 31 speaks of the "bands which lead Orion." The Babylonian scribe and physician Samuel (d. 257), who was celebrated also as an astronomer, said: "If a comet should pass over Orion the world would perish" (Bab. Ber. 58b; Yer. Ber. 13c), and in the same passage of the Babylonian Talmud further declares that "if it were not for the heat of Orion, the world could not exist on account of the cold of the Pleiades, and if it were not for the cold of the Pleiades, the world could not exist on account of the heat of Orion."

For a depiction of Orion as stated above, you may check this link and this one .

Pleiades

Referring to "Can you tie the chains of the Pleiades" Schiaparelli notes that the LXX, Aquila and the Vulgate render it this way from maanadot for chains, though the Masoretic text has מַעֲדַנּוֹת which means softening and gladdening influences (of spring-time) or simply delicate/beautiful.

Here "the chains of Kimah" (Job xxxviii. 31) must be understood in a metaphorical sense. And if that is so, it can refer to no other cluster than that of the Pleiades, which is the best known of these clusters and also the only one which has in consequence of its conspicuous light awakened universal attention at every time and among all peoples. This inference, which would not perhaps have much force in itself, is fortunately confirmed by the tradition of the LXX, where kimah, keeping the singular number, is always the Pleiad. In this case there is further to be added the authority, by no means a despicable one, of Aquila of Pontus, who in Job xxxviii. 31 also translates by the Pleiad (Schiaparelli, ibid, p. 62).

Hope that helps.

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