I’m still a little hazy about your distinction between “clouds” and a firm “firmament”. The Hebrew sources don’t seem to side with you as much as you imply. Let’s look at the Jewish Encyclopedia’s discussion of these various elements:
The first discussion is about the Biblical term for “Sapphire”:
“A highly prized sky-blue precious stone, frequently mentioned in the Old Testament and Apocrypha (Ex. xxiv. 10, xxviii. 18, xxxix. 11; Job xxviii. 6, 16; Cant. v. 14; Lam. iv. 7; Isa. liv. 11; Ezek. i. 26, x. 1, xxviii. 13; Tobit xiii. 20).”
“It is doubtful whether Job xxviii. 6 is correctly translated “it hath dust of gold.” The ancients, in any case, did not mean by “sapphire” the stone which is now known under that name, but the so-called lapis lazuli, in which are interspersed many pyrites that glitter like gold against the blue background.”
"… In the Old Testament the sapphire is enumerated among the stones on the breastplate of the high priest (Ex. xxviii. 18, xxxix. 11). In the prophetic description of the New Jerusalem sapphire is mentioned as forming the foundations of the city (Isa. liv. 11)… "
“…In the description of the theophany in Exodus and Ezekiel the foundation on which God’s throne rests—the dark-blue firmament with its golden stars—is compared to a floor inlaid with sapphires (Ex. xxiv. 10; Ezek. i. 26, x. 7).”
Jon, as you can see here, the firmament is indeed “firm” - - like a floor… a floor which supports a throne. I don’t think anyone would suggest a reed roof of a hut would support a throne.
In the article on Astronomy we read this about the Stars:
“The stars were supposed to be living creatures. If the difficult passage (Judges v. 20) may be regarded as other than a poetical figure, the stars “walk on the way”; they “come out” in the morning, and “go in” at night. By a miracle, sun and moon are made to stand suddenly still (Josh. x. 12). They fight from their courses like warriors on the march (Judges ib.)…” The author of the article doesn’t choose to relate how these heavenly warriors participate . . . but the Bible mentions fierce waters of a river helping in the battle. If there were no mention of the heavenly waters being released through openings, then we wouldn’t see the connection between the windows and the stars.
I hesitate to discuss the article about “clouds”, for fear that you would characterize the Jewish view of them as some kind of rube-Goldberg device, but I will soldier forward despite the risk:
“Regarding the origin and nature of the clouds. . . R. Joshua, referring to Deut. xi. 11 and Job xxxvi. 37, says that the clouds form a receptacle through which the water coming from above pours down as through a sieve; whence the name “sheḥaḳim” (grinders), as they “grind” the water into single rain-drops (Gen. R. xiii.; compare Bacher, “Die Agada der Tannaiten,” i. 136).”
The article on Rain is helpful in many ways. Jon, you once objected that the Babylonian idea of a salt water deity being cut in half and creating fresh water above was logically inconsistent. Jewish metaphysics rushes to the rescue for even this tittle of a problem:
"The source of rain is in dispute in the Talmud. R. Eliezer held the opinion that all the world drank the water of the ocean, quoting, “There went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground” (Gen. ii. 6). “The clouds,” he explained, “‘sweeten’ the salt water of the ocean.”
I don’t see much of a conflict. Clouds are cited as rising up over the oceans - - taking with them a load of salt water (the idea of distillation was not yet understood). But there was still waters already up there as well:
R. Joshua says that “. . . clouds [some if not all] are formed like bottles; they open their mouths to receive the water from the heights, and then they sprinkle the earth as through a sieve, with a hairbreadth space between the drops (Ta’an. 9b).”
But the real fun is in the article on Cosmogony (treated on the page for ‘Firmament’):
“It is plain that not only in Gen. i., but in other Biblical cosmogonic descriptions (notably in Ps. civ. 5-9; also in Job xxxviii. 10; Ps. xxxiii. 6, lxv. 8; Prov. viii: 29; Jer. v. 22, xxxi. 35; the Prayer of Manasses), traits and incidents abound that suggest . . . Babylonian myth.”
“In the main, four theories have been advanced to account for this:
(1) Both the Babylonian and the Hebrew are varied versions of an originally common Semitic tradition.
(2) The Hebrews carried an originally Babylonian tradition with them when emigrating from Ur-Kasdim.
(3) They adopted the Babylonian epos during the Babylonian captivity.
(4) This tradition, originally Babylonian, as the background shows, had long before the Hebrew conquest of Palestine been carried to Canaan through the then universal domination of Babylon; and the Hebrews gradually appropriated it in the course of their own political and religious development. This last theory (Gunkel’s) is the most plausible. Gen. i. marks the final adaptation and recasting under the influence of theological ideas (i.e., monotheism; six days for work and the seventh day for rest).”
“As now found in Gen. i., it seems to be a composite of two, if not more, ancient myths. Besides those Babylonian elements indicated above, it contains reminiscences of another Babylonian tradition of a primitive (golden) age without bloodshed (vegetarianism), and recalls notions of non-Babylonian cycles (“the egg idea” in the brooding of the V04p281001.jpg, the Phenician V04p281002.jpg).”
“On the other hand, the Bible has preserved cosmogonies, or reminiscences of them, that are not of Babylonian origin. Gen. ii. 4 et seq., belonging, according to critics, to the Jahvistic source, starts with dry earth, and makes the sprouting of vegetation depend on man’s previous creation; that is, on his labor. This exhibits Palestinian coloring…”
“Ps. xc. 2 speaks of the time before the birth of the mountains and the parturition of earth and world. In Job xxxviii. it is said that God laid the foundations of the earth “when the morning stars sang together,” and all the “sons of God” broke forth in glee. In Ps. xxiv. 2 there is a reference to the mystery involved in God’s grounding the earth on the waters so that it can not be moved. These are not mere poetic explications of Gen. i. They are derived from other cosmogonic cycles, which a tone time may even have included, as among all other ancient peoples, a theogony (notice the “sons of God”; see Gunkel, “Genesis,” p. 119).”
[Genesis vs. Geology]
"The attempt to establish a concordance between Genesis and geology seems to do an injustice to science and religion both. The ancient Hebrews had a very imperfect conception of the structure of the universe. Gen. i. was not written to be a scientific treatise. It was to impress and to express the twin-doctrine of God’s creative omnipotence and of man’s dignity as being destined on earth to be a creator himself.
With the Babylonians, the Hebrews believed that in the beginning, before earth and heaven had been separated (“created,” V04p281003.jpg), there were primeval ocean (“tehom,” always without the article) and darkness (V04p281004.jpg). From this the “word of God” (compare such passages as, God “roars” [V04p281005.jpg], Ps. xviii. 16; civ. 7) called forth light. He divided the waters: the upper waters he shut up in heaven, and on the lower He established the earth."
“In older descriptions the combat against the tehom is related with more details. Tehom (also Rahab) has helpers, the V04p281006.jpg and the Leviathan, Behemot, the “Naḥash Bariaḥ.” The following is the order of Creation as given in Gen. 1.: (1) the heaven; (2) the earth; (3) the plants; (4) the celestial bodies; (5) the animals; (6) man.”
“The Hebrews regarded the earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse.”
And yet more rivulets of detail:
"Out of the mixture of light and darkness a thick substance came forth; this was the water which was spread in both directions above the darkness below and below the light above, and thus were the seven circles of heaven created like crystal, moist and dry; that is, like glass and ice (compare "a sea of glass,“Rev. iv. 6, xv. 2; “and the pure marble stones that seem like water,” Ḥag. 14b; compare Joël, “Blicke in die Religionsgeschichte,” i. 163 et seq.).”
“Out of the waves of the water below, which were turned into stones, the earth was formed on the second day of Creation, and the myriads of angels and all the heavenly hosts were created out of the lightning which flashed forth from the flery stone as God gazed upon it (compare Pesiḳ. i. 3a: “The firmament is made of water, and the stars and angels of fire,” and Cant. R. iii. 11: “The firmament is made of hoarfrost [Ezek. i. 22, “crystal”], and the Hayot of fire”).”
“Charles (“Book of the Secrets of Enoch,” 1896, p. 32) and Bousset (“Religion des Judenthums,” 1903, p. 470) find in this cosmogony traces of Egypto-Orphic influence; but a comparison with the Babylonian—that is, the Mandæan—cosmogony, with its upper world of light and lower world of darkness (see Brand, “Mandæische Religion,” 1889, pp. 41-44), is no less in place.”
And the summary of Hebrew cosmogony is a pleasant fusion of many ideas:
“The Hebrews must have had the same impulse toward speculation on the origin of things as had other groups of men; and as this impulse manifests itself always at a very early period in the evolution of mind (the tribal or national consciousness), one is safe in the a priori ascription to the Hebrews of the production and possession of cosmogonic legends at a very remote epoch.”
“This conclusion from analogy is corroborated by the study of the literary documents bearing on this point. Gunkel (l.c.) has demonstrated that the cosmogonic accounts or allusions thereto (technical archaic terms, like “tohu wabohu”; the use of words in an unusual sense, for instance V04p280001.jpg; and mythological personifications, like Rahab) display easily discernible signs of incorporated old material (Gen. i., ii.; Job xxvi. 12, xl. 25, xli. 26; Ps. xl. 5, lxxiv. 12-19, lxxxvii. 4, lxxxix. 10; Isa. xxvii. 1, li. 9).”
“That Gen. i. belongs to the later strata of the Pentateuch § is conceded by all except those scholars that reject higher criticism altogether. Dillmann, for instance, and Delitzsch (in the last edition of his commentary) do not hesitate to assign it to the Priestly Code, though they would have it be pre-exilic. It certainly has the appearance of a systematic presentation, but nevertheless it is not a free invention.”
“It has long been recognized that Biblical cosmogony bears certain similarities to that of other peoples; e.g., the Phenicians (who speak of πνεῦμα and dark χαός originally existent; through their union, πόθος [“desire”], μότ [“primordial mud”] is generated; but of this μότ come the egg, etc. [for other versions see Damascius, “De Primis Principiis,” p. 125]; the wife of the first man is Βαθυ [=V04p280002.jpg]), or the Egyptians (who spoke of primeval water [“nun”] and the primeval egg [see Dillmann, Commentary on Genesis, p. 5, and De la Saussaye, “Religions-geschichte,” 2d ed., i. 146 et seq.]). The notion of the primeval egg seems to be a universal one (see Dillmann, l.c. p. 4; “Laws of Manu,” i. 5 et seq.).”
But in all these words, nothing resembles the actual physics of the Earth, and the stars as very distant, madly burning suns … which is, after all, the point of this whole discussion.
Whether by osmosis or by invention, the discussion by the Bible scribes of rain and sky and Earth and Heaven is a travesty of truth.