Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
ON examining these old and foolish doctrines we find that it was most generally believed by the people that by the worship of stars the earth will become inhabited, and the ground fertilized. The wise, pious, and sin-fearing men among them reproved the people and taught them that agriculture, on which the preservation of mankind depended, would become perfect and satisfy man's wishes, when he worshipped the sun and the stars. If man provoked these beings by his rebelliousness, the towns would become empty and waste. In the above-named books it is stated that Mars was angry with [lands, that form now] deserts and wastes, and in consequence of that anger they were deprived of water and trees, and have become the habitation of demons. Tillers of the ground and husbandmen are praised in those books, because they are engaged with the cultivation of the land in accordance with the will and desire of the stars. The idolaters also held cattle in esteem on account of their use in agriculture, and went even so far as to say, that it is not allowed to slay them, because they combine in themselves strength and willingness to do the work of man in tilling the ground. The oxen, notwithstanding their great strength, do this, and submit to man, because it is the will of God that they should be employed in agriculture. When these views became generally known, idolatry was connected with agriculture, because the latter is indispensable for the maintenance of man, and of most animals. The idolatrous priests then preached to the people who met in the temples, and taught them that by certain religious acts, rain would come down, the trees of the field would yield their fruit, and the land would be fertile and inhabited. See what is said in the
[paragraph continues] Nabatean Agriculture in the chapter on vineyards. The following words of the Sabeans are quoted there: "All ancient wise men advised, and prophets likewise commanded and enjoined to play before the images on certain instruments during the festivals. They also said--and what they said is true--that the deities are pleased with it, and reward those who do it. They promise, indeed, very great reward for these things; e.g., length of life, protection from illness, exemption from great bodily deformities, plenty of the produce of the earth, and of the fruits of the trees." These are the words of the Sabeans. When these ideas spread, and were considered as true, God, in His great mercy for us, intended to remove this error from our minds, and to protect our bodies from trouble; and therefore desired us to discontinue the practice of these useless actions. He gave us His Law through Moses, our teacher, who told us in the name of God, that the worship of stars and other corporeal beings would effect that rain would cease, the land be waste, and would not produce anything, and the fruit of the trees would wither; calamities would befall the people, their bodies would be deformed, and life would be shortened. These are the contents of "the words of the covenant which God made" (Deut. xxviii. 6-9). It is frequently expressed in all parts of Scripture, that the worship of the stars would be followed by absence of rain, devastation of the land, bad times, diseases, and shortness of life. But abandonment of that worship, and the return to the service of God, would be the cause of the presence of rain, fertility of the ground, good times, health and length of life. Thus Scripture teaches, in order that man should abandon idolatry, the reverse of that which idolatrous priests preached to the people, for, as has been shown by us, the principal object of the Law is to remove this doctrine, and to destroy its traces.