Did anyone really think the earth was flat?

I would argue, no, though they certainly didn’t consider it to be spherical either, at least before the Greeks. Rather, they simply didn’t think about it. Most likely, the inhabitants of the ANE were indifferent to the shape of the planetary earth, for such a concept did not exist to them. There is no Hebrew word for Earth in the Planetary sense, the closest thing being the word ‘Tebhel’ (world), which even is usually used in a political sense. The word ‘Eretz’ (earth) actually refers to land, and is actually distinguished from the sea in Genesis 1. It is only in our modern day worldview that we think of the word ‘earth’ as referring to the whole world.

So whilst the Biblical writers (at least those of the OT) had no knowledge that the earth was round or orbiting the sun. It is problematic for us as ECs to assert that the Bible claims that the earth is flat and unmoving. For in all truth, they didn’t, and they had no means of saying so. The phrase ‘Circle of the Earth’ refers to the single circular continent, not to the planet.

What do you think?

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I’m personally sceptical of the idea that people in Bible times thought of the earth as being flat and covered by a solid dome. I’ve always thought that they intended the descriptions of it as such in the Bible (e.g. the raqia in Genesis 1) to be figurative rather than literal, in much the same way as Isaiah 55:12 talks about the trees of the fields clapping their hands.

Or are we supposed to also believe that people in Bible times thought that the Ents from Lord of the Rings were real?

I’m not knowledgeable about ANE culture, but I think sometimes when ECs bring up the idea of the earth being flat it’s less about what ANE cultures actually thought and more about biblical interpretation – whether or not anyone thought the earth was flat, there are many verses that could be interpreted that way (at least if interpreted literally like the days in Genesis 1).

When I first saw the title, I thought it said “Does anyone” rather than “Did anyone” which is a good question also. If you look at AIG, they seem to take seriously the flat earthers, who seem to maintain that strict biblical reading requires it. Personally, I do not know if they are serious, and suspect most of the flat earth movement are just funning, and not unlike the folks who go to Star Trek conventions.

As to whether they used to think it was flat, I think probably so, but if we try to compare it to something we now consider, look at how we consider the shape of the universe. Many people have the concept that it is round or globular, and sort of like an expanding bubble, probably in a similar way to how ancient people used to think of the earth, something pretty vague and undefined, but best described as flat.

I think we know the universe is not a bubble, but still it is very difficult to get your head around its shape as we tend to think in concrete ways that are familiar in our everyday life.

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Having a geocentric view of the heavens and no understanding of gravity, it’s pretty easy to assume the Earth was largely flat. After all, down is always down in the same direction. If the Earth was round, you’d fall off. One might expect to reach an edge of the Earth and fall off as well.


The Book of Enoch ‘does’ seem to describe a flat earth from what I’ve seen. For it appears to describe the ends of the earth as a literal place where one can visit. There the heavens and the earth simply drop off into the abyss. Of course by now, the Greeks ‘did’ have a concept of the ‘kosmos’, the world as a whole. First millennium Arab and Syriac texts describe Alexander the Great travelling to the rising and setting places of the sun (Islamic texts even say it sets into a pool of mud), which would imply a flat earth. So whilst the notion of a flat earth did exist in the Ancient world, it was probably never widely held, since it only came into existence once the Greek notion of the whole world came, around the same time, Pythagoras, Aristotle and others began to suspect the earth may be spherical. In short, only the very naive people’s actually believed the earth was flat.

I agree that we need to move away from a hyper-literalist view of Ancient cosmology. I am skeptical if, for example, the Greeks really believed the sun travelled across the sky in a chariot, or if the Norsemen really believed that a giant tree held the universe together.

In the words of Wayne Horowitz (considered an authoritative scholar on Ancient Mesopotamian cosmology):

The current evidence simply does not allow us to know, for instance, if ancient readers of Gilgamesh really believed that they too could have visited Utnapishtim by sailing across the cosmic sea and “the waters of death”; or if a few, many, most, or all ancient readers understood the topographical material in Gilg. IX-X in metaphysical or mystical terms.

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That would make me wonder how much sway famous Greek scholars had over the average Greek person. Even now, reading the views of the great modern scientific minds does not necessarily give an accurate picture of what the average American believes about science.

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I would tend to think that the Hebrews believed in a flat earth inside a dome. We should stand in our yards and look up at the sky. If we did not travel very far, we would think that the earth was flat with a dome over it. When I see a plant dome made out of glass in a person’s home, it reminds me of that concept. However, our Lord and Savior did not see it that way, because he knows all things.


Yes, but don’t forget that the Hebrews lived in a mountainous part of the world, with peaks in some places over 2,000 metres above sea level. You only need to go up a few hundred metres to be able to look down on the clouds and see them from above, to see them approach you and envelop you with fog, to see them dropping rain on the land below, and even to see eagles soaring in the valleys below you.

Even if they did believe that the sky was a solid dome, at the very least they would have realised that it wasn’t where the rain came from. Yet the Bible still talks in places about the “floodgates of the heavens” (e.g. Isaiah 24:18, Malachi 3:10).

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But people in the ANE did not believe there was a dome, the Babylonians believed the heavens were a series of flat circles. Domes hadn’t even been invented in the Bronze Age.

Domes may not have been built in the Bronze Age, but natural domes, think caves, certainly did exist.

Edit to add the most obvious example of a dome. Think tent, skins or woven fabric attached to the earth at the edges and stretched out over your head.


My Friend,

I was using it as an example. God bless.

Yours is a good example. God bless.

It doesn’t change the fact that at least some ANE did not believe the sky was a dome.

There were ancient Greek philosophers who did not believe in a flat earth. There may have been others who did not accept that concept; however, the Hebrews did since God did not reveal all the truth to them. Perhaps they were not ready for the knowledge. Also, let’s mention the Tower of Babel. Ancient people around the world believed in tales similar to the Tower of Babel, and perhaps they are really the same history. However, we know today that human languages continue to develop, e.g., English and German, Latin and French, Hebrew and Arabic.


Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t the reason for the idea of series of flat circles based on drawings? A flat circle makes sense for the earth because that is what you see when you look around, the circle of the horizon which marks the edge of the land. However, if you now look up at the sky/heaven/whatever what circle are you seeing? I am wondering if the drawing is not correct, just as the Egyptians didn’t draw using perspective. Hard to believe since we can draw in perspective and draw spheres or domes with no problem.

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You are wrong, the Akkadians referred to the sky as ‘Kippat Shamu’, ‘Circle of the Sky’. Their rationale was based on the fact that they were the floors to the dwellings of the gods.

Thanks for the correction. But I still have to why they would refer to the Circle of the Sky when there was nothing in the sky resembling a circle. I wonder if they took the circle of the earth which they could see and applied that to the floor for the dwellings of the gods which they couldn’t.

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