All the arguments you ever wanted to read about ANE raquia, firmament, sky, cosmology

(Richard Wright) #1

Hi John,

I wanted to read the your articles and the two by Perry before I responded. I certainly respect the amount research and writing you’ve done on this topic, it seems like the whole of The Hump, in fact, is for people like myself, lol. For honesty’s sake, I read/skimmed Perry’s stuff.

I do agree pretty much exactly with your assessment of Molinism, but you give me way to much credit to think that I went through so much thought to come to my conclusion of the, “gets in done on its own” view of nature. I simply see the indeterminate parts of nature as indeterminate only in evolved man’s eyes in 2017, not in God’s eyes. In short, God can pull it off because He’s God. (I don’t have to prove God isn’t working, as you earlier stated, any more that you have to prove that He is). Since it can’t be shown that God is or isn’t working in nature, and nature seems to hum along by its own, then I’m, through faith in a providential God, assuming that God initiated the physical creation to evolve us without any ongoing, “participation” on His part. Of course things are different with humans on earth making decisions, and this is where I see God working in the world, including in nature, to promote His kingdom and individual’s salvations, often, but not always, in the form of answering prayers. I don’t, though, see this as such a stark duality as you (and others) do.

I’m afraid you won’t find this satisfying, but, though it was well thought out, I didn’t find the material all that convincing. It seemed like most stuff I’ve read on, “raqia” from all sides, and i would summarize that as, “I’ll interpret the data according to my preferences and quote mostly from scholars who agree with my notion of what is correct” For right now I’m going with the, “vault” in Genesis 1 as being solid, based only on how I currently see the balance of the evidence, though whether it is or not doesn’t affect my overall view of the text. A good case for that view can be found here or in Peter Enn’s piece here, both of which I find representative. I am surprised you don’t see a framework structure in G1, which seems obvious to me.

Without getting into all the details of the yours and Perry’s articles, I’ll mention 3 things that stuck with me. One, in Perry’s comment on Job 37:18, “Can you, with him, spread out the skies (shachaq ), strong as a molten mirror?” (NASB), he said that the sky is only, 'like a molten mirror", not, “a molten mirror”, when it actually says, “strong as a molten mirror”. Here is the KJV, “Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?” Every English interpretation I looked at, 4 or 5, has, “strong” or, “hard as” in the passage. It seems pretty clear what the Job writer was trying to get across. On in interesting side note, Perry uses the KJV in part 2 of his article, presumably since it fit more his purposes for that piece.

Two, I simply don’t accept your assertion that waters above the earth in Genesis 1 are referring to clouds. The vault is called the sky, which is typically blue, and looks like the changing blue water in sea or lake - so the vault comes from a phenomenological view of something (whatever it’s made of) holding the water above the earth (land), (and making it reasonable that the ancients would see this thing as solid). This water is clearly the cosmic waters - we don’t even need other ANE skies to make this point, since other passages talk about the waters above the skies with never a mention of clouds. So I’m afraid that you are guilty here of a specific case of biblical eisegesis, and even maybe an attempt at concordance. As such, this kind of throws a big monkey wrench in your phenomenological interpretation of Genesis 1.

Three, I don’t think that the assumption that the OT biblical authors were not influenced by their neighbors’ views is warranted, at least it wasn’t demonstrated. Occam’s Razor may be instrumental here - if those authors describe a physical worldview that seems suspiciously like a 3-tiered universe, that agrees, in an overall sense, to the worldview of its time, then they probably were influence by it. I concede that this isn’t a well developed conclusion based on a thorough investigation of the subject, but more, “what I’m going with at this time since proponents of each side of the argument make credible cases but the balance of the argument as I see it now is on the side of influence.” Back to point, this and the above points seem to rest on conjecture more than anything else.

The reason for our differing views may stem from our views on the bible itself. I’f I’m not mistaken, you hold to biblical inerrancy of the Chicago statement variety (which is the default definition in today’s evangelical world) and the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, neither of which I hold to.

But I’d like to be gracious and state that you really do have some good stuff on this, that I’m sure will vibe with a lot of believers, but maybe built on one or two assertions that we disagree on, perhaps due to our views on the bible. As such I’m allowing you to get the last word in. Plus, this exchange is getting a bit drawn out. (I will respond if you have questions).

One last thing, and I see this with all Christian love, I’ve noticed when perusing articles on your site that there is often a reference to, “Biologos types”. I’m sure you (or whoever wrote it) don’t mean them to be, but it can come across as a little bit divisive. FWIW :slight_smile:

The Language of God gives evidence for an intelligent designer, so why is BL anti-ID?
"I'm not interpreting it, I'm just reading it!"
The Language of God gives evidence for an intelligent designer, so why is BL anti-ID?
(Jon Garvey) #2


Once again I’ll be selective only to limit verbiage - I’ll certainly refrain from repeating arguments that don’t convince you in their full form! The Hump is indeed for people like you. “BioLogos types” is a generalization, whoever uses it, but “divisiveness” is in the eye of the beholder - I see much contemptuous dismissal of Creationism and Intelligent Design (“pseudoscience”) here, dismissal of Reformed views of providence as despotic, and so on. But as far as possible, The Hump (at least) critiques the arguments themselves. Remember, I’ve been posting here regularly since 2010 and was even once asked to write an irenic article (just the once - and it got some very snarky comments along the lines of sympathising with the enemies of science!).

Overall I’d suggest the devil of ideas is in the details: Molinism, for example, becomes something of a necessity, whether or not one is aware of it, if one wants to believe in a determined universe and free processes, whether they be choices or chances. Even God cannot determine what is undetermined by God, and I find a good number of “BioLogos types” :slight_smile: hide logically inconsistent ideas behind an unconsidered view of God’s omnipotence.

I should have added to my view of Genesis that its literary structure does provide a “framework” of domains followed by rulers/occupants of those domains - I subsume that in the temple imagery, though, so I didn’t mention it. But that tells one only about literary intent, not about Hebrew cosmology.

One clear instance of the devil in the detail is in Job - you’d be surprised how linguistic choices of commentators and Bible translators can depend on assumed worldviews, in this case the assumption that “the ancients” believed in a cosmic ocean held back by a solid vault and that Job must be talking about it. In my treatment of that passage, I think I take the local context, the exact vocabulary and the phenomenology of the region more seriously than many, and the modern theories about ANE “science” less seriously, and come to a different conclusion. You may disagree with the result, but I think I’m fairer on the text.

Your explanation of the blue sky is (as my liberal RE teacher used to say) “one theory” - but a bit of research shows that even centuries after Genesis was written, the Greeks regarded the upper “aer” as made of a self-luminous medium, its luminosity absolutely independent of the sun, It’s name was “aether” (this is the early time before the geocentric spheres model was invented):

Greek aither “upper air; bright, purer air; the sky” (opposed to aer “the lower air”), from aithein “to burn, shine,” from PIE *aidh- “to burn”

Greece was, of course, a different culture (though culturally dependant on Mesopotamia for much of its thought), but I discovered this idea of its phenomenology after I suggested the Israelites would have seen things the same way. It is firmly attested from the ancient world, unlike the solid vault.

As for the Babylonians themselves, after reading Enuma elish itself and the various scholarly interpretations since its discovery, I have to say that the “boundless cosmic ocean” isn’t found there either, in the sense that it’s used by lovers of the “vault” idea. Both in Mesoopotamia and Egypt the primaeval ocean has a surface, like any other ocean.

So if Israel borrowed it, they got it from somewhere else now lost - take away that assumption, and the mention of the upper waters without reference to clouds (if you can cite me any such passage) is simply a way of referring to clouds. Again, I try to look at the devil in the detail of that here, on the so-called “floodgates” in the sollid raqia here, on the nuances of the non-Genesis descriptions of the creation here and in the following 3 posts.

Finally, I’m a Lausanne Covenant person, not a Chicago Statement one. In writing about the Pentateuch, I believe it has a Mosaic core, but in writing I use “Moses” as a convenient handle, largely to place the writings in a context uncontaminated by later Greek thought, for example. My modus operandi is that an ancient text is likely to know more about its own worldview than a modern commentator - especially one who starts with a hermeneutic of suspicion.

(Marty) #3

@Jon_Garvey and @Richard_Wright1

One passage I have never seen discussed regarding the “vault” is Duet 28:23, in the curses for disobedience, where it states, “the sky over your head will be bronze…” Why would that be a curse, if they thought it was true anyway?

The only way I can see a “vault” supporter handle that verse is to insist it is a metaphor. But wouldn’t that saw off the branch they sit on?


(Jon Garvey) #4

Hi Marty - I missed that one (though I’ve written on the chapter as an indicator of God’s use of nature as the normal mediator of Israel’s covenant blessings and curses for obedience and disobedience respectively - autonomous nature NOT!).

In my view the only reason to invoke metaphor in a passage like this, warning of actual punishments, is if the language doesn’t map to real events. In this case it maps well to one of the more destructive weather patterns seen in Israel, the south wind or khamsin, just as I suggest it applies to the Job passage in my linked article. The dry, hot wind dries the ground hard and withers growing crops, and the sky itself resembles polished bronze in colour because of the sand it bears, and then dumps on the earth in sandstorms.

So it seems there are just two passages about bronze skies in Scripture, both associated with conditions of heat, dryness and dust.

The NIV of v24 somewhat disguises the fact that rain becomes dust from the heavens, ie shemayim, which is of course the specific name given to the firmament in Genesis 1. Now, if rain “normally” appears by God’s opening the trapdoors of heaven to allow in the cosmic ocean, where does the dust come from? Perhaps it flakes off the hard vault of the raqia when the paint gets old, or perhaps there’s a special trapdoor with a reservoir of dust sealed off from the cosmic ocean.

On the other hand, in Lev 26 the description is reversed, and the sky becomes like iron and the earth like bronze. But in this case, too, the hardness (as you point out) isn’t the normal state of things, so why should it be so in Job?

(Richard Wright) #5


Hi Marty,

Deuteronomy 28:23, “The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron.”, I don’t think is difficult to explain. It’s obviously a curse metaphor amidst curses from nature, with a meaning of something like, “life will become difficult, if not impossible, for you”. What the ancient Hebrews thought of the sky is neither here nor there.

Contrast that to Job 37:18, “can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?”, where the context is God’s sovereign control over nature - the writer describing aspects of nature as they understood it, clearly indicating that they viewed the sky as hard.

(Jay Johnson) #6

What are you guys talking about? How can anyone read “the sky over your head will be bronze…” and not see that it is a metaphor? Was Jesus not speaking metaphorically in Luke 4:25 when he said “heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land”? Since when are metaphors some sort of “last resort,” appealed to only in dire need, rather than a normal feature of human discourse and literature?

Honestly, I don’t get the whole discussion. Maybe someone can explain why I should care whether the author of Job believed in a three-tiered universe or not? Are we worried that somehow the ancient author wasn’t divinely inspired if God did not correct his incorrect cosmogony? Is that it?

To me, the whole thing feels like straining at gnats. Over and over in the Gospels, Jesus upbraids his disciples for latching upon his literal meaning and failing to understand his more important metaphorical meaning. It is a constant theme. Don’t get yourselves so worked up about this three-tiered universe thing that you start to disparage the very thing that almost all of the Lord’s teaching hangs upon – metaphor.

(George Brooks) #7


Excellently delivered! This is the most important text on the issue of the firmament … and it makes its point without even using the word firmament … which is why so many people miss it in their search through electronic bibles.

Enjoy the image below … (< yeah … I know … pretty funny, aye? )

Click on the pic … it’s a gorgeous reflection (considering the technology)…

(Jon Garvey) #8


I’ll stop being interested in the detailed exegesis of these passages when articles stop being published here and elsewhere, squeezing them all into a mythical version of “old science” from which theological implications are then drawn.

(Marty) #9

You’re right, that’s what it means to us, and that’s what Moses intended. But I think maybe you’re reading the Deut passage only as a 21st century reader. Put yourself in their sandals for a moment with me.

In the context of the “vault” perspective, it seems to me that if the sky is solid, it’s a goofy curse. It makes as much sense (in the “vault” perspective) as us using a curse “the air you breathe will have nitrogen.” Since that’s what it is, how can that be a curse? Why not, “the bronze sky will collapse on you…”? Now that would be a curse (in the “vault” perspective)! This one phrase makes it clear that they did not already think of the sky as bronze, because if they did, turning it to bronze would not be a metaphor.

I’ve always felt scholars are proof-texting with the Job passage. They have this idea of what the Hebrews thought and have found a phrase that, purely in isolation, says it. But if you look at the whole chapter, it’s so full of beautiful metaphor and imagery, then somehow in that context supposedly contains this one factual statement. If that’s literal, why then is the thunder not actually God’s voice, the tempest living in a chamber? And the immediate context in vs 17 + 18 is the south wind, hot and dry, not creation. But it’s the only place in the Bible that, pulled completely out of context, appears to say what they are looking for! Too convenient for me.

There are many other passages to consider of course, but I’m just focusing on Job and Deut. In any case, in a “vault” world view, that Deut phrase would be a silly curse metaphor.

(George Brooks) #10


I don’t know a single professional archaeologist who questions the idea that the Semites, when they had an opinion at all, didn’t think the rain came down from a blue sky - - made blue by the ocean above a solid barrier keeping the waters safely above.

This is not some wild invention of a few loose cannon writers. Why do you think the Egyptians kept burying boats with their royal dead? It wasn’t so the ghost could ply the waters of the Nile.
This was the normative view of the ancient world.

The Persians introduced something radical when they put forth a different view … that the afterlife would not be spent underground… but in the heavens. Of course, they also thought that God made humans from rhubarb (because of the red veins in the leaves).

The persistence of ANE views can be seen in the Old Testament … which is why the ghost of Samuel comes UP from the ground. And so forth …

(Marty) #11

Hi George! In what you quoted, I’m making a very fine point, not a general one. I’m just saying that I think the Job passage is misused. Verses 17 + 18 are together, so in context, it looks like Elihu is referring to heat and drought and using a hardened sky as a metaphor. Whether he actually thought of the sky that way cannot be determined from this passage, yet people argue all the time that this is what he meant. I think it’s sloppy hermeneutics, but it’s the only passage available that says it the way they want it said. Read the chapter through a few times, ask if that phrase is a slam dunk statement on creation or a metaphor for hot, dry weather. Hard to say!

In the Deut passage, on the other hand, I think there is clearer point. If they really thought that way, that’s a really goofy curse!

Then add them together. If Deut is clearly a metaphor for hot and dry, and the same language is used by Elihu, why insist Elihu is making a factual statement?

Making sense? It’s mainly point on how these two passages are handled.

(Jay Johnson) #12

I apologize for coming off like the irritable geezer that I am. I was dealing with a repairman all day yesterday. Can I blame it on that? There was an honest inquiry buried in there somewhere, but the upshot is that I just don’t understand either side of this “controversy.”

(Lynn Munter) #13

Couldn’t it easily refer to color and opacity? If they did believe the sky was clear like crystal so people could see the blue of the waters above, ‘turning it bronze’ would be dramatic and ominous.

(Jon Garvey) #14

Good idea, Lynn. like this maybe? A khamsin over Gaza city: it occurs when the wind turns south in the spring, and it’s destructive as well as ominous. But then it’s reasonable to ask if “colour and opacity” might be what is meant in both Job and Deuteronomy: more a simile than a metaphor.

(Marty) #15

Hi Jay. We’ve all come across harsh at times. Thanks for that comment.

Yeah, the issue comes up cuz lots of scholars make points around the Job passage, and what the ancient Hebrews believed. The problem I have is that to me they misuse various texts, like this Job one. I just don’t appreciate that.

This issue won’t be particularly interesting to everyone, for sure. It’s a bit of a technical detail, a single point in a larger discussion.

Hope that helps!

(Jon Garvey) #16

You should get out more, George. Ten minutes research showed:

Archaeologists and Assyriologists (the latter are the people to study the texts)
Wayne Horowitz
Wilfred Lambert
Francesca Rochberg
Randall Younker

And among Biblical scholars and Linguists
Gleason L Archer
F Delitzsch
R Laird Harris
C F Keil
W E Vine
Bruce K Waltke

(Lynn Munter) #17

I should have said I liked your earlier response describing the khamsin. Beautiful pic; it’s always awesome to learn additional context!

@Marty seemed, if I recall correctly, to be saying cursing the sky to be bronze wouldn’t make sense if the sky was already thought to be hard. I suggested a way it could, too, make sense. I’m not trying to say it constitutes proof either way!

(Jay Johnson) #18

A picnic area in White Sands, New Mexico. It’s a bit south of here, but I’ve seen my share of brown days and hard spring winds. But during a drought, the sky can be brilliantly blue like this for days on end. You could describe it as hard as bronze, or as shut tight, or any number of other metaphors, and you would not be wrong.

My point here is that we should not place too-strict limits on the author’s imagination or choice of expression.

(Richard Wright) #19

Hi Marty,

Thanks for the response. For starters, we all support the idea of a vault, since that’s from the bible (NIV translation of, “raqia” in Genesis 1, which clearly is the sky, not clouds). What we’re debating is whether this entity is a solid structure or an expanse or structure-less separator, as Jon and others believe.

Neither one affects the way I see God and/or the bible. I only hold that the raqia is solid based on the preponderance of the evidence. I challenge you to read the 2 articles I referenced to Jon above, one of which is on this site. They both create strong arguments, but I’ll mention something that neither one did that I think makes clear what the Hebrews thought of the sky.

When the OT Hebrews translated the OT into Greek and Latin, creating the Septuagint and Vulgate versions, respectively, “raqia” was translated into the Greek stereoma and the Latin firmamentum, both of which connote a solid structure. The word raqia itself comes from the verb raqa, which means, “to hammer or spread out”, as in a metal. So, contradicting what Jon says, it’s the non-solid sky that is a modern invention, the ancient near-eastern peoples held that it was solid of some sort.

The ancients didn’t think that the sky was bronze, only that it was hard, like bronze is hard. They seem to have thought it was a clear structure. But the curse you quote from Deuteronomy 28:23 is not a referring to the material of the sky (or ground), but rather it’s a metaphorical curse, which to them, not us, means approximately, “life will be difficult for you”. Moses was just using the phraseology of the day to promote that thought. So we are not to gather what the Hebrews thought of the sky at all according to that passage.

Referring to Job 37, the author probably did think that God’s breath produced ice, or that thunder was the roar of God’s voice. Another example from that chapter is, “He loads the clouds with moisture”. Getting back to verse 18, it seems to me that Elihu is telling Job that He’s not God, that he can spread out a bronze-like sky, as God did. It’s not really a metaphor, it just shows how they viewed the sky. That leads us to consider Isaiah 34.4, “And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll” (NASB, NIV has, “heavens will be…”). Even if that passage is completely poetic, it shows that the ancient Hebrews thought that the sky made of a solid material.

But as you said there’s a lot more that could be said on this, and I’ll let you investigate on your own and come to your own conclusions.

(Jon Garvey) #20

The problem that I, and I think Marty, see with the approach to Scripture we’re questioning is well-expressed in this article by Vern Poythress, yet another “dome skeptic”.