I promised one of my correspondents that I would pull together some definitive evidence that Christianity’s status quo was once “flat-earth” theory. I was surprised by something. Not that the status quo was something else… but that the Middle Ages was not the peak period for flat earth! In fact, the peak was in the 500’s AD/CE. And then, amazingly enough, devout Christians once again returned to Flat Earth thinking in the 1800s! As we know, Creationists ardently try to disprove that Christianity ever held such a backward view. I say, let them have the middle ages!
But it did happen that Christians zealously opposed the world’s scientists - - and it happened twice: in the 6th century and the 19th century.
Below is the full story. Great reading …
Worlds of Their Own: A Brief History of Misguided Ideas
Creationism, Flat-Earthism, Energy Scams, and the Velikovsky Affair
By Robert J. Schadewald (2008)
[MODERN FLAT EARTHERS]
“If the commonly believed history of the flat-earth concept is wrong, the true history is much more interesting. [Modern day flat-earther, ] … Charles Johnson is carrying on a tradition, which goes back to Moses, though the particular flat-earth model he defends was only developed in the mid-1800s. It was first set forth by a British fundamentalist . . . Samuel Birley Rowbotham. Think of the Earth as a phonograph record, with the North Pole at the center and the “southern limit,” an impassible region of ice, at the outer edge. Halfway between is the circle of the equator. The sun and moon circle above the Earth every day, with the sun spiraling north or south of the equator to suit the season. Sunrise and sunset are only tricks of perspective combined with atmospheric refraction. Above all is the dome of heaven, perhaps 4,000 miles up. No one knows what lies above it, nor what lies beyond the ice barrier at the southern limit. That is the essence of “Zetetic Astronomy”, the system defended by every English-speaking flat-earther from Rowbotham to Charles Johnson. . . . “
“Rowbotham based his system firmly on the Bible, and he worked it out in great detail. The second edition of his ‘Earth Not a Globe’, the foundation work of zetetic astronomy, runs 430 pages. . . . “
[ANCIENT FLAT EARTHERS]
“The Babylonians believed that the universe consists of a reasonably flat Earth surrounded by water, with the whole covered by a huge dome. According to their cosmology, there is water above the dome and also below the Earth. The celestial bodies are gods and goddesses, and their movements and positions with respect to one another have profound effects on mundane affairs. This cosmology and its associated astrology were common to much of the ancient Middle East. The essence of the Babylonian cosmology was adopted by the ancient Hebrews, and it underlies the text of the Bible.”
“Nowhere does the Bible explicitly mention the Earth’s shape, but it is a flat-earth book from beginning to end. Thus in Genesis 1:6, “God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters, to separate water from water.’
So God made the vault, and separated the water under the vault from the water above it, and so it was; and God called the vault heaven.’ Also, the order Genesis ascribes to creation - - Earth on the first day and the sun, moon, planets and stars on the fourth - - makes no sense in the light of our present cosmology. But it’s PERFECTLY REASONABLE to a flat-earther.
Elsewhere, the Bible comes closer to explicitly describing the Earth’s shape. Thus Isaiah 40:21-22 says, “Do you not know . . . that God sits throned on the vaulted roof of Earth, whose inhabitants are like grasshoppers? He stretches out the skies like a curtain, he spreads them out like a tent to live in . . . “
Numerous passages state that the Earth is immovable and others treat the sun and moon as minor bodies. In the New Testament, the presumed shape of the earth is evident in the story of the temptation of Jesus. According to Matthew 4:8, “Once again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory.” The word translated as “world” is the Greek kosmo, meaning the whole universe. From a sufficiently high mountain, one COULD see all the kingdoms of a flat world of limited extent, but the passage is nonsense when applied to a spherical Earth. The same is true of Revelation 1:6 “Behold, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye shall see him … “
But the flat-earth theory was already passé when the New Testament was written. The Greeks are usually credited with proposing that the Earth is a globe. Pythagoras and some of his followers suggested that it rotates around the sun rather than the other way round. By the fourth century BC, the globular opinion dominated Greece. Aristotle offered three proofs that the Earth is a globe: (a) ships sailing out of port seem to disappear over the horizon, (b) sailors voyaging far to the south see stars above the southern horizon that aren’t visible from more northern latitudes, and © at a lunar eclipse, the shadow of the Earth on the moon is curved.
[Cosmas’ book “CHRISTIAN TOPOGRAPHY” & Tertulian and Lactantius]
The concept of a spherical Earth found favor in the Hellenic world and even among some of the early Jews. But then, as now, many were determined to cut science to fit their Bibles. The Fathers of the church were not unanimous about the shape of the Earth. Tertullian and Lactantius roundly insisted that the Earth is flat; Clement of Alexandria and Origen said flatly [< hey, the author made a joke!] that it is round. . . For a couple of centuries, these worthies tried to stamp out the spherical heresy among the faithful, bombarding them with verses like those already quoted.
This first phase of the Christian flat-earth movement peaked early in the sixth century when the Egyptian merchant and monk Cosmas Indicopleustes wrote his CHRISTIAN TOPOGRAPHY. Cosmas argued that the Earth’s surface is a flat rectangle, surrounded by seas, and covered by a vaulted roof. Indeed, the Cosmas cosmos looked essentially like a steamer trunk. It measured four hundred days journey east and west by two hundred north and south. Far in the north lay a great conical mountain behind which the sun disappeared at sunset. Rain fell from windows in the vaulted roof, and angels propelled the heavenly bodies on their ways.
Cosmas got many of his arguments (and perhaps some of his odium theologicum) from the Fathers of the church, notably Lactantius and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Cosmas took the shew-bread table in the Jewish tabernacle as his model of the Earth, flat and twice as long as it was broad. He argued from scripture that the sun must be near and small, since it moved backward for Hezekiah. According to the Bible, everyone on Earth will see Jesus coming through the clouds when he returns in glory. Obviously that’s impossible if the Earth is a sphere.
Near the end of CHRISTIAN TOPOGRAPHY, Cosmas wrote:
“We say therefore,
‘with Isaiah’ that the heaven embracing the universe is a vault,
‘with Job’ that it is joined to the earth, and
‘with Moses’ that the length of the earth is greater than its breadth.”
But despite his powerful allies, Cosmas was fighting a losing battle. The geographical and astronomical/astrological works of the spherical Ptolemy were taking over even as he wrote. A century later, the great churchman Isidore of Seville sided with Ptolemy in his DE NATURA RERUM. In the eighth century, the Venerable Bede adopted the sphere. Later, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Roger Bacon all rejected the CHRISTIAN TOPOGRAPHY. The revolution was quiet but thorough, and within a few centuries, the flat opinion died out among the educated. By the late Middle Ages, the question was considered settled, and theologians had to content themselves with wrangling over whether the antipodes - - lands on the other side of the globe - - were inhabited.”
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