Deep Space and the Dome of Heaven

(system) #1
In the Bible, there is no equivalent concept for outer space. Instead, there's a cosmic ocean.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Brad Kramer) #2

I welcome discussion about this topic. What do you think about the concept of the “cosmic ocean”?

(Phil) #3

I am not a geologist either, but the articles sited give the impression of large pools of liquid water deep in the crust, but on examination the “water” is really chemically bound hydroxides and is no more liquid water than rust is. This is then interpreted by some to be the source of water in YEC writings, when it is not even close.

(Henry Stoddard) #4

@BradKramer, @jpm
I will have to agree that Genesis speaks of a flat earth with a water dome over it. As you know, we need to remember that the ancient Hebrews and others looked up and saw that as a dome. I must admit that it does appear to be similar to a planter. To match this with theology, it is not important that old understandings of science are used. It only matters what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us, i.e., that a wise Creator God who cares for his creation made us in some way. Was the Holy Spirit giving us a falsehood? No, he was attempting to explain for us the truth that the Father through the Son is creator. Ancient science does not hurt my faith in any way, nor do I have doubts.

(Larry Bunce) #5

Here is a link to the Northwestern U article on the discovery. The use of the word "water’ to refer to the components of a water molecule bound up with the mineral is very misleading. I suppose we could call it “instant water”-- just add hydrogen to the hydroxyl group and you get all the water you want.

(Brad Kramer) #6

@jpm that’s a great point. I think it shows a significant lack of discernment to print this as a “proof” of the Bible. Just rushing to the press to win apologetics points. That’s why it’s so important to have a better-informed laity that can sniff these things out.

(Jim Lock) #7

@Larry_Bunce and @jpm Thank you for your explaining the discovery in easy to understand terms. Us Liberal Arts folks can get a little lost on here from time to time. :smile:

(Jon Garvey) #8

I’m a bit late to this as ever, but I suggest that most of us have a deeply entrenched “modernist” idea of what both the Hebrews and other ancient civilisations conceived by the idea of “the waters”. We just can’t shake our own wordview that easily. To us, “the waters” tend to replace “outer space” as something spreading out infinitely in all directions, only wet and dark rather than a vacuum. The earth is a lump (whether round or flat doesn’t matter) floating within a boundless deep. Hence the “theory” is laughably wrong.

But the ancient view didn’t replace “outer space” with “infinite primaeval ocean” at all. Read either Genesis, or accounts like Enuma Elish carefully (and I mean carefully, trying to shed modern assumptions of gravity, gaseous atmosphere, infinity and so on) and you realise the primaeval ocean in them has a surface, and lies on top of the unformed earth. Immediately above, it would seem, is an assumed dry space, which is heaven.

So in Enuma Elish:

When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both
Their waters were mingled together,
And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
When of the gods none had been called into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven…

Then these gods, formed not in water but in heaven, gather and lie down “before Tiamat” (the waters), rather than swimming with aqualungs. The idea is clearly taken from the experience of seeing the sea from the land, not imagining being a fish in a bowl. It’s deeply phenomenological, in the very way it constructs the mythological elements.

In the Bible, likewise, “the spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the deep.” The water has a surface! And underneath is the unformed earth (already created, in v1), acting as the seabed. It all makes far more sense understood that way than the Victorian reconstructions of “ancient cosmography”. Above is heaven, also created in v1.

The earth is formless and useless just because it’s covered in the sea (as it was again later when decreated - as it were - in the Flood). In other words, if there had been boats at creation, you could have happily sailed on the primaeval ocean - supplies would have been the problem, not air.

The firmament splits the ocean in two, so you have heaven still at the very top, wet clouds below, the sky and then the ocean, which then gathers together to leave the dry land. All very phenomenological, and based on real observations of oceans. And God doesn’t have to wear a diver’s suit as he creates (nobody ever seems to consider, on the usual Victorian model with its pillars and all, why heaven isn’t waterlogged).

Even the creation of light (before sun) makes more phenomenological sense in the text as the newly bright heavens light up the surface of the sea, rather than… what? A waterproof lightbulb somewhere in watery infinity? luminous water? Remember, they knew nothing of the scattering of white light, so there was no reason for them to assume the sun lit up the blue sky: it was day that did that.

This says nothing about literalism v non-literalism (I’m on record as believing the Genesis 1 account to have little in the way of cosmological theory ancient or modern), but means that insofar as it corresponds to the physical world, it (like the other ANE stories) it is explaining waters that are there to behold, not theorising about waters everywhere else.

A more detailed blog here.

(George Brooks) #9


I believe you are projecting all the modern assumptions of what a sentence like this is supposed to mean.

When the Enuma Elish says:

“Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven …” it means the Gods were created IN the sky … the sky immediately underneath the firmament.

The Biblical verse “the spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the deep” is a reference to the surface of the LOWER waters … not ABOVE the waters ABOVE the firmament.


(Jon Garvey) #10

Not wishing to be pedantic, George, the firmament wasn’t created in Genesis until the second day, and the Spirit (and the darkness) were upon the face of the deep before creation begins.

And in Enuma Elish, the firmament (and the earth) was created much later, after much warfare, from the dead body of Tiamat, by Marduk.

But hey, what do I know? You no doubt are more familiar with the texts.


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

(George Brooks) #12

Yes, I can see where I can’t just rely on memories of Genesis… I have to read it afresh each time.

I wrote: “The Biblical verse “the spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the deep” is a reference to the surface of the LOWER waters … not ABOVE the waters ABOVE the firmament.”

So, let’s look at the specific words of Genesis (like I should have done to begin with) …

Gen 1:1-2 “In the beginning God created the heaven (“shamayim” / “sky”) and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

[Then, after creating light during the remainder of the first day …]

Gen 1:6-7 “And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.”

Gen 1:9 “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven (“shamayim” / “sky”) be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.”

We can see here that when God created “heaven and earth”, what this amounted to was God creating a massive ocean - - either totally covering the land, or an ocean of mud, where the earth had not yet solidified. (There are some ancient ANE texts that refer to the “mud” of creation.) Above this water or mud, there was only sky.

Then after the first day, God “divided the waters from the waters” . . . . and he did so by installing a rigid “firmament”.

It isn’t until Gen 1:9 that waters BELOW the firmament are gathered enough to reveal dry land.

@Jon_Garvey, I was attempting (inadequately) to reply against was your sentence:

“. . . the primaeval ocean in them has a surface, and lies on top of the unformed earth. Immediately above, it would seem, is an assumed dry space, which is heaven.”

“primeval ocean” ? Yep. Check.
“lying on top of unformed earth” ? Yep. Check.
“above the primeval ocean is dry space” ? Yep. Check.

This dry space is heaven? Well, that was the part that I was concerned about. Heaven is the rather “enthusiastic” translation for “shamayim” - - which can also be translated as “SKY”.

“Shaw-mah’-yim” the dual of an unused singular שָׁמֶה shâmeh; from an unused root meaning to be lofty."

In Genesis 1:14 we read: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament (“raqiya”) of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:”

So here we see that God installed celestial objects INTO the firmament … not ABOVE the firmament, as per verse 16, “he made the stars also”.

Genesis 26:4 describes these stars as “the stars of heaven” (again, the word for sky) - - where what is “LOFTY” is the realm of the Sun, Moon and Stars.

The Universe, which includes the Stars … is BELOW the firmament.

I’ll look into the Enuma Elish and assess your comments about that story …



This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

(George Brooks) #14

Do you actually BELIEVE this makes a difference? Or are you just being contrarian?

Per verse 8, the “SKY” (or “heaven” as you write) is newly established as the firmament … for this is where the stars and sun and moon are affixed. Before the firmament was created … the sky was the emptiness above the waters.

What is above the firmament? Another ocean.


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

(Jon Garvey) #16

I get the impression that George is more interested in being contentious in support of the original idea that the Hebrews falsely theorised an infinite depth before creation, whereas I’m interested in showing that that concept made little sense in the ANE when you examine the sources (rather than remember them vaguely).

Part of the issue in both Genesis and Enuma Elish is that they are both describing creation before creation. That may or may not indicate they’re more interested in ordering of function than in ex nihilo creation, but in both there are what (materially) would constitute anomalies.

In Enuma elish, at the time when everything that exists (apparently) is the primordial mingled fresh and salt water (Apsu and Tiamat) the first generation of gods is created “in heaven”, though the introduction says heaven in the height and earth below were “not named”. After much hoo-hah Marduk kills Tiamat splits Tiamat’s body “like a flat fish into two halves”: “One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven”, and with the other he forms the earth. In some versions “From her water came forth the clouds and her tears became the source of the Tigris and the Euphrates”.

Enuma elish is a late and compound text, so may be garbled - but more likely they had some consistent mental concept of what things “looked like” as these mythological events unfolded. And neither before or after it is Tiamat a boundless mass of water: when she gives birth to the first gods they are outsider her “in heaven” and come to her presence. After her death her body is used to make both earth and heaven, though all the action must have occurred somewhere, as they weren’t thinking of some extra-dimensional multiverse.

Turning to Genesis, let’s say (as I believe) that verse 1 is the equivalent of a toledot summarising the whole story, rather than an initial act. The earth (“eretz”) is actually only named when the “dry (land”) appears on Day 3 - as if the sea beds are not part of “the earth”. And yet, in v2 the earth is not non-existent, but “tohu wabohu”, formless and useless. Where is it? Clearly under the water already, for it appears when the water retreats to one place.

So there’s a sense in which the earth already exists from the beginning, forming the basal layer of the chaos.

Similarly, “the heavens” are formally named “shemayim” only when the raqia is formed on Day 2, and yet from the beginning the deep has a surface with darkness over it, and the spirit of God hovering over it. Remember that heaven is to become God’s own realm (within the imagery being presented in the Bible), and nowhere in Genesis or elsewhere is God pictured as dwelling on, in or under the sky, but above all things - he does not look up at the ocean, but down on all his works: the biblical phrase is “everything under heaven”, not “everything under the uppermost waters”.

My own conclusion about the “anachronistic” use (anachronstic within the accounts, that is) of terms like earth and heaven in both biblical and Babylonian contexts is that it’s further confirmation of the accounts’ “functional” nature - the earth or the heavens are named (properly) when their functions are assigned, but they’re used as topological descriptors before that stage.

Be that as it may, my main point here is still that the mental picture the story teller wants to convey in his initial description is not the oft-assumed one of “water, water everywhere”, but the one that would be more obvious to an ancient: you start with an empty space at the top, water under that, and a solid sea-bed at the bottom, and then your deity or deities start organising it all into the properly ordered world around.

Nobody’s very interested in the lateral extent of things in these accounts: the gods in Enuma elish are pictured as lying down on Tiamat’s shore, the biblical oceans are gathered in “1 place” so that the earth beneath is revealed, but there’s no interest in what happens at the edges, or under the bottom of the earth, or even above the sky, except that it’s God’s glorious domain.

The concept of the earth (eretz) moves between the formless solid stuff under the original waters, the dry land, and simply the counterpart to heaven. To take it as meaning simply “the globe” is anachronistic (in the sesne of a modern projection) - especially when the earliest Bablyonian world map makes “the earth” coterminous with “Babylon and locality”.

And equally anachronistic, to my mind, is the idea that “the Israelites thought the earth was a lump of rock swimming in an infinite ocean with a shell keeping the atmosphere in and the infinite ocean out,” That’s not what’s described at all.

(George Brooks) #17

STOPPPP… Are you sure you are really a theologian? It seems you run wild with whatever I say.

First we have:

Gen 1:1-2 “In the beginning God created the heaven (“shamayim” / “sky”) and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

Later, as you have said, we have:

Genesis 1:8: Wayyiqra ‘elohim laraqiya’ shamayim… – “And God called the firmament heaven(s)…”

I think you are in peril whenever you use the “loaded” word Heaven. The word is best translated as SKY, yes?

And what we have is a “transference” of the term SKY from "all the space above the “formless earth” … to

“all the space that begins at the bottom of the firmament, and proceeding to the newly appearing land, and the waters around the land”

So what IS the realm ABOVE the sky ocean, kept separate from the lower waters by the firmament?

Apparently, NOTHING. At first that space is called SKY. And then when the firmament divides the waters, the SKY becomes much less infinite, and defined in a quite limited way: between earth and the firmament.



Apparently the ocean has a FACE!!! The Bible says so – TWICE!

Gen 1:1-2 ". . . . and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

(George Brooks) #19

@Eddie, before we proceed with the discussion, I understand why you think using the word “Heaven” in an English translation poses no real problem as long as we both share the definition that Heaven doesn’t mean “where God resides, and where faithful Christians go either at death or at the End of Days”.

But the word Heaven almost ALWAYS means some or all of this when discussing something with normal every day people. So … we really need to avoid the term.

If it is so easy to use the term “Heaven” … it is JUST as easy (if not easier) to use the term “Sky”, or “Space” , or almost any other related term OTHER than the term Heaven. What term, other than Heaven, is your second most preferred term? I’ll let you pick it. But I’m not going to work with the word “Heaven”.

Now… to your ideas:

  1. I like the idea of reading Genesis 1:1 as a summary statement. But the reason we are here on this thread, I believe, is because Jon Garvey doesn’t WANT to read it that way. So my comments are meant to deal with his particular biases… rather than to prove YOUR way of reading is the right way. Good luck to you on convincing him.

@Jon_Garvey, Are you willing to see Genesis 1:1 as a summary statement? If, for some reason, you are unwilling to do so, then you are compelled to agree that God has “transferred” the meaning of “Sky” (from the first verse to just a few verses later)
FROM: all the empty space above the “earth” (in its state of unformed land (?mud?) and the waters that cover it) …

TO: all the empty space from the Firmament DOWN to the land and the gathered waters.

Thoughts, Jon?



This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.