Is the Raqia solid or not?

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #1

So Ben Stanhope made a new video on the Raqia in Genesis 1, where he responds to an article which I linked in a comment on his video.

I don’t exactly understand exactly what he is arguing at 6:00. But other than that, my critique is that the Raqia better fits the void space which is created between the Heaven and the earth in ANE cosmology, whch is supported by the comparison of the Raqia to the veil of the tabernacle in Psalm 104:2.

Help with an issue I'm having (on the Raqia)
(Edward T Babinski) #2

John Walton has changed his mind about the firmament being solid, and now argues the opposite. See these quotations, but also see the rebuttal that follows:

Given this fresh analysis of šĕḥāqîm, I propose that rāqī ʿa refers to the space created when the šĕḥāqîm were put in place. This would explain why the birds and sun and moon are seen to be in the rāqī ʿa.
– Genesis 1 as Ancient Codmology, 157


If šĕḥāqîm refers to the solid sky, then rāqīʿa must refer to something else. Looking carefully at the contexts in which it is used, I agree with what has been a common understanding—that it refers to the space between heaven and earth (niv “expanse”). In this connection, we should note that Genesis 1 identifies the rāqīʿa as a separator between the waters above and the waters below, not between the waters above and the air (which would have been a more accurate description of the solid barrier). If this is so, the rāqīʿa is most comparable to the role of Shu (god of the air, who is positioned between earth and heaven, holding up the latter) in the Egyptian cosmology…
P. 159


Per other commentators Walton is incorrect to claim birds fly “in” the raqia, since the Hebrew in Gen 1 says that birds fly “across its face,” and it is the same word for “face” elsewhere in Genesis 1-2, such as “the spirit moved upon the face of the waters,” and, “herbs existed on the face of the earth,” and, “streams rose from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground,” in other words, the birds are not flying “in” the raqia:
Gen 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the FACE [Strong’s H6440] of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the FACE H6440 of the waters.

Gen 1:9 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the FACE H6440 of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

Gen 2:6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole FACE H6440 of the ground.

SOURCE: H6440*+H6440&t=KJV#s=s_primary_0_1

Nor do any other uses of raqia or raqa depict them as having a meaning akin to something as insubstantial as “air” since the words depict the face of the earth, and hammered out solid and metal objects. In fact Ezekiel 1:22,26 describes a raqia with the Lord’s throne above it, and the wings of angels “stretched out straight” beneath it, a firmament of “crystal,” literally, the “eye of awesome ice.” Pretty solid usage of raqia throughout the 17 times it appears in the Bible.

Agree that the primordial waters are “separated,” but Walton now appears to be overlooking the point that the raqia is what separates, since air alone does not separate the waters even in the Egyptian cosmos. In Egyptian parlance, Shu uplifts Nut, and Nut’s body (like Tiamat’s skin in Enuma Elish) is what holds the celestial waters back. Shu is merely helping keep Nut as a whole lifted up.

To reiterate further aspects of the overwhelming case that Walton seems to have forgotten:

The Hebrew Past • Raqia’ is solid throughout the 17 times it is mentioned in the OT

Fourth or Third Century BCE • The Book of Enoch (in one of its oldest sections, “The Book of Watchers”) affirms a solid firmament.

Second Century BCE: • Hebrew scholars translate their Scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint or LXX version of the Hebrew Bible) and employ the Greek word stereoma, based on stereos, which means “firm/hard,” as the closest equivalent to the Hebrew word, raqia’. And the Song of the Three Holy Children [found in some copies of the Book of Daniel after 3:23], says that “waters be above the heavens” and are called upon to bless the Lord, but after the reader is brought closer to the things of the earth, clouds are called upon to bless the Lord, thus distinguishing between the two.

Note the flat cosmos perspective of Genesis 1. Primeval waters are divided by a firmament, creating heaven, after which God commands “waters” to be “gathered together” under the newly created heaven. God names the waters “seas” (thus setting boundaries for the sea, a common ancient Near Eastern concern) and the dry land is then named “earth.” Both halves of creation (sky and dry land) are now made, but are bare and have to be accessorized in the days that follow, adding plants to the earth, adding sun, moon, and stars above the earth, and finally adding animals and humans, a process of filling creation that resembles other creation myths.

One should also note the difference between the words heaven and firmament in the Bible. The Hebrew word for heaven (shamayin) appears more than 400 times in the Bible and applies to a wide variety of things, from “birds of heaven, angels of heaven, foundations of heaven, pillars of heaven, to the firmament of heaven” (Genesis 1:14). In contrast, firmament (raqia’) only appears 17 times in the Bible.

According to Luis I. J. Stadelmann in The Hebrew Conception of the World, “Shamayin (heaven) designates the space above the earth, including the atmosphere, the region of the clouds, the firmament and God’s abode above the firmament,” places both seen and unseen overhead. Other Hebrew words translated as “heaven” or “sky” function in a similar, broad manner. But not the Hebrew word for “firmament.” The author of Genesis 1 makes clear that it was the creation of a “firmament” in the midst of primeval waters that made heaven/sky possible, as well as earth/dry land.

As Denis Lamoureux, himself an Evangelical Christian, admits in a book review, “Scripture clearly states that the firmament was under ‘the waters above,’ not in them or part of them. Second, if the writer of Genesis 1 had intended ‘the waters above’ to mean clouds, vapor, or mist ‘from which rain comes,’ then there were three well-known Hebrew words he could have used (‘anan, ’ed, and nasiy’; Genesis 9:13, Jeremiah 10:13, and Genesis 2:6, respectively). Instead, he employed the common term for water (mayim) five times in Genesis 1:6–8. . . . Third, the sun, moon, and stars are placed in (Hebrew b) the firmament on the fourth day of creation, above which lay ‘the waters.’”

Additional references to heavenly waters include Psalm 148:3–4, “Praise him, sun, moon, and stars, Praise him, highest heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens” and Psalm 104:1–3, “O Lord . . . who stretches out the heavens like a curtain: who lays the beams of his chambers in the waters. . . .” The Hebrew word translated as “beams” is qarah, which refers to structural beams or timbers for a building. The Hebrew word translated as “chambers” is `aliyah and specifically means “roof room” or “roof chamber.” The passage therefore indicates that the God of the Bible built his heavenly chambers in the cosmic waters above the “roof” of the world (i.e., the firmament of heaven).

Just as there are vast waters above, there are also vast waters beneath the earth. A passage mentioning them is Genesis 7:11–12 concerning the biblical flood: “. . . on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened” (NRSV). Thus, the waters of the abyss, or the great deep “burst forth” from beneath the earth to inundate the land. And according to the same story, such waters remained in abundance, enough to flood the earth again should God desire, because the Flood ended only after God “closed” the floodgates of the sky and the fountains of the deep, and “promised” not to do such a thing again. So the author presumably thought that such waters—located beneath and above the earth—were without limit and that God was relied upon to set their boundaries, as stated elsewhere in the Bible. In that respect, the story of the Flood agrees with Genesis 1 and with the Psalmists who stated that such waters continued to exist “above the highest heavens,” near God’s own “chambers.”

But what is a “firmament”? What does the word mean in the original Hebrew? The Hebrew word raqia’ (translated as “firmament”) means “that which is firmly hammered, beaten out, or stamped (as of metal).”46 According to Gerhard von Rad in Genesis: A Commentary, another word of the same root in Phoenician means “tin dish,”47 and the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, used to write early Hebrew, was a regional offshoot of Phoenician.

Even the Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, authored by conservative Evangelical Christian scholars, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, and published by Moody Press, agreed that the Bible verses in which the root of raqia’ (i.e., raqa’) appeared were all related to something solid being spread out, stamped, or pounded down; the following list provides examples of this translation:

Isaiah 42:5 “‘spread out’ the earth,” Isaiah 44:24, “‘spreading out’ the earth” Psalm 136:6 “‘spread out’ the earth” Ezekiel 6:11 “‘stamp’ your foot” Ezekiel 25:6 “‘stamped’ your feet” II Samuel 22:43 “I ‘stamped’ them” Jeremiah 10:9 “‘beaten’ silver” Isaiah 40:19 “‘plates it’ with gold” Exodus 39:3 “‘hammer out’ gold leaf” Numbers 16:39 “‘hammered (bronze censers) out’ as a plating for the altar”

Note the description in Job 37:18 where we read the following in the KJV: “Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?” The Hebrew word translated as “spread out” is raqa’, as in the cases already mentioned. In addition, the Hebrew word translated as “strong” is chazaq, which means “strong,” “hard,” or “firm.” In ancient times, mirrors were made of polished metal, not glass, as they were during the time of King James. The NEB translation of the verse follows the meanings of the key Hebrews words more closely and is clearer than is the version in the KJV: “Can you beat out the vault of the skies, as he does, hard as a mirror of cast metal?” T. H. Gaster in his article on “Heaven” for The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible comments: “Job’s expression finds a parallel in the ‘brazen heaven’ of the ancient Greeks, while, somewhat similarly, heaven is described in ancient Egyptian sources and occasionally by Homer as made of iron.”48

Another example of the idea that something firm lay overhead is found in Proverbs 8:27–28 (NRSV): “When [God] established the heavens, [wisdom] was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep.” The Hebrew word translated as “firm” is ‘amats, which, according to the authoritative Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, has a specific meaning of “be stout, strong. . . .” and also “to make firm, strengthen.”49 According to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Koehler/Baumgartner), the meaning of ‘amats is “be hard” and “to make firm.”50

Therefore, three different passages in the Bible, Genesis 1:6–8, Job 37:18, and Proverbs 8:27–28, use three different words to indicate (with remarkable unanimity) that the biblical sky, or heaven, is strong, hard, or firm. (Speaking of firmness, Genesis 1 is not the only place in the Bible that mentions a firmament. Ezekiel 1:22, 26 describes one with the Lord’s throne above it, and the wings of angels “stretched out straight” beneath it, a firmament of “crystal,” literally, the “eye of awesome ice.”)

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #3

Genesis 1:20 is phenomenological, birds ‘look like’ they fly in front of the sky.

This ignores Psalm 150:1, which calls God’s sanctuary the ‘raqia’, (ie space) of his power. With regard to Ezekiel, his raqia is ‘spread out’ over the heads of the cherubim, so could be translated as expanse.

The video seems to disagree, since Nut literally means ‘watery one’, she ‘is’ the waters above. In some depictions she is coloured blue.

Could they not have been influenced by Greek ideas?

Of this I have no doubt. In fact it is the very resemblance of Genesis 1 to other creation myths which leads me to assume that the Raqia must have been the void space between heaven and earth in Genesis.

17 times is not enough to give us a (pun not intended) firm meaning of the word. Perhaps if the word appeared hundreds of times, and it was clear that it referred to a solid object this might be a point.

I have no doubt that these waters above were liquid waters.

The word can be used for ‘spreading out’ as well, as shown by Isaiah 42:5 and 44:24, and Psalm 136:6. Ezekiel 1 speaks of the raqia being ‘spread out over the heads’ of the Cherubim.

I agree that Elihu believed the sky was solid, but Elihu was not an inspired writer, according to the Bible, in fact YHWH explicitly rebukes him in Job 38. Furthermore, I am not denying that some Israelites may have believed in a solid sky, just not the ones who wrote Genesis 1, who seemed to share the Egyptian view of a liquid sky. (again, some Egyptians may have believed in a solid sky, but this was not universal, the phrase ‘sky metal’ referring to Iron may just refer to the fact that Iron fell from the sky in meteorites)

This website does a pretty good refutation of this claim:

(Edward T Babinski) #4

You seem to be admitting that Genesis assumes the existence of primeval waters which God has to separate. Do you therefore admit that Genesis is a Big Splash rather than a Big Bang? The rest of your replies are doubtful, including the Egyptian context (that I will illustrate at the end of this reply).

Yes, birds fly “across the face of the firmament,” and we agree it is a phenomenological statement. But the phrase is also found in Genesis in the sense of “face of the waters,” and “face of the ground,” so “face of the firmament” is not thereby proven to be pure emptiness.

As seen in the Bible, firmament is a rare and specific term that only appears 17 times, along with the firmament of crystal in Ezekiel. Even the verb form of raqia (raqa) is speaking of something solid being stretched, pounded out in every case it is used. So there are no “refutations” of a solid firmanent as you or the author of the website you mention claimed. (I have been in contact in the past with the author of that site.)

And, as promised, below is information concerning Egyptian Cosmology and how common the view was of the solid support of the sky:

According to John A. Wilson in Before Philosophy, Egyptian concepts of earth and sky/heaven changed slowly over a period of about three thousand years, “with vestiges of prehistoric development partially visible.”7 But their representations left no doubt as to how important the sky’s support was to them. In one image, heaven was represented as the underbelly of a star-studded celestial cow whose legs were planted firmly on the earth below. They also wrote about “four posts” (not unlike the four legs of the celestial cow) holding up heaven. Wilson adds, “The great distance of the posts was asserted by such expressions as ‘I have set . . . the terror of thee as far as the four pillars of heaven.’ That the posts were four in number suggests they were placed at the limits of the four cardinal directions . . . an arrangement that appealed to the Egyptian as being both strong and permanent: ‘(As firm) as heaven resting upon its four posts’ is a simile used more than once.”8

Heaven was also depicted as an inverted pan with stars on it—and there is an image of a divine Egyptian king holding up the inverted pan of heaven.9 Another image has the inverted pan of heaven being held up by a semicircle directly beneath it, a semicircle that stretches over a flat earth, reaching from one distant mountain at one horizon to another distant mountain at the opposite horizon, looking like a dome above the earth—such a “wall-ring” representation may have made heaven appear doubly secure and solidly upheld.10

Yet another image depicts heaven as a star-studded goddess whose body is arched in a semicircle above a prone earth-god. The goddess’s fingers and toes touch the earth’s far horizons and support her. Such an image was derived from the idea that heaven and earth arose from two deities (a goddess, named Nut, and a male god) whose bodies were locked in a passionate embrace, but one day they separated (or were separated by a third god), creating enough space between them for heaven and earth to arise. Some images depict this third god, Shu, with his arms raised beneath the goddess of heaven. In the Pyramid Texts, circa 3000 BCE, it says, “The arms of Shu are under Nut, that he may carry her” (utterance 506, 1101c). This third god, Shu, added assurance that heaven would remain securely in place.11 Some images depict Shu standing on the flat earth with the symbol for mountains on his head, and the mountains are in direct contact with the belly of the sky goddess, which illustrates the idea that “mountains of the horizon provide immediate support of the sky.”12

Egyptian tales of creation begin with divinities of water, darkness, formlessness and emptiness, as well as air and wind. Creation takes place via a regal command either of the heart or the spoken word. According to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, every act of creation represented a thought of a high creator god and its expression in “words.” A host of Egyptian creation myths agreed that the agency of creation was the god’s “word.” They also depicted primeval waters being divided and a primeval hill (the earth) emerging out of those waters. So the earth was understood to be dry land encompassed above, below, and at the furthest horizon by primeval waters.

Lastly, it is important to note that Egyptian ideas of god(s), ranged from crude polytheistic notions to ideas of a most high divinity. Egyptians employed such exalted notions as “The Ancient of Heaven . . . Supporter of the Heavens, Founder of the Earth, Lord of Days, Maker of Light . . . whose eye subdues the wicked, sending forth its darts to the roof of the firmament.”13 “Hail to Thee . . . to the height of the heavens, to the breadth of the earth, to the depths of the sea [compare Job 11:8, 9] . . . who raises the heavens and fixes the earth [compare Job 26:7] . . . causing all things which are to exist.”14 “Who suspended or raised the heaven, who laid down the ground, Father of the fathers of all the gods”15 or the high god is “one and alone, and none other exists with him—he existed when nothing else existed—he is a spirit—no man knows his form. No man has been able to seek out his likeness—He has stretched out the heavens and founded the earth . . . He fashioned men and formed the gods—he gives life to man, he breathes the breath of life into his nostrils. . . .”16

In conclusion, ancient Egyptians depicted the earth as the foundation of creation with heaven stretched out above it. Furthermore, they believed a high god or gods made everything, held it firmly in place, and kept at bay primeval waters. As we shall see, this view was common in the ancient Near East.


  1. John A.Wilson, “Egypt,” Before Philosophy, ed. H. Frankfort (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967), p. 53.

  2. Ibid., pp. 54–55.

  3. Keel, Symbolism, p. 28.

  4. Ibid., pp. 26, 37.

  5. Wilson, “Egypt,” pp. 55–56. Paul Seely adds, “A number of texts speak of the time when the sky was literally separated from the earth. Pyramid Text 1208c specifically mentions the time ‘when the sky was separated from the earth.’ Text 1156c mentions that ‘his (Shu’s) right arm supports the sky;’ and 2013a says, ‘Thou art a god who supports the sky.’ Coffin Texts (ca. 2050 to 1800 BC) reiterate these ideas of the sky needing support, for example, spells 160, 366, 378, and 664. And Text 299a implies that if the supporting arms of Shu were hacked off, the sky would fall.” [“The Firmament and the Water Above, Part I,” p. 231.]

  6. Keel, Symbolism, pp. 31, 33, 36.

  7. Raymond van Over, ed., “Egyptian Hymns to the Creator,” in Sun Songs: Creation Myths from around the World (New York: New American Library, 1980), p.286–88, 289–91.

  8. Raymond van Over, ed., “Hymn to Amen-Ra,” in Sun Songs: Creation Myths from around the World (New York: New American Library, 1980), p. 289–91.

  9. The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World, vol. 1, ed. William Hallo (Leiden: Brill, 1997), pp. 38–39; Walter Beyerlin, ed., John Bowden, trans., in collaboration with Hellmutt Brunner et al., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 365.

  10. E. A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani (New York: Dover, 1967, a reprint of the 1895 edition), p. xcii–xciii.

(Edward T Babinski) #5

You also asked whether the ancient Israelites could have been influenced by Greek ideas. But as I pointed out in a published article, the idea of a firmly held heaven (and an earth beneath it that was also held firmly place via divine power) was widespread in the ancient world, including the Egyptian and Mesopotamian worlds that preceded the Greek. So the idea has a pedigree preceding the Greeks. In the Babylonian creation epic (and keep in mind the Israelites were held captive in Babylon, where the Babylonian creation epic was recited publicly during festivals), the skin of a vanquished god is stretched out over the earth.

Also, clouds do not equal the vast primeval waters above the firmament in Genesis’s creation or flood story. Might I suggest two scholarly articles on the function of clouds in ancient Hebrew thought? The ancient view was that clouds were like cisterns that were filled primarily with water from “the waters above the firmament,” and they were necessary to avoid the havoc of having the vast primeval waters above the firmament flow out all by themselves and say, flood the world again.

The Clouds as Water-Carriers in Hebrew Thought
E. F. Sutcliffe
Vetus Testamentum
Vol. 3, Fasc. 1 (Jan., 1953), pp. 99-103

The firmament and the clouds, Rāqîa‘ and Shehāqîm
H. Torczyner
Studia Theologica - Nordic Journal of Theology
Volume 1, 1947 - Issue 1-2, Pages 188-196

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #6


I agree, I am not arguing this, I’m only saying that it does not prove birds do not fly in the Raqia.

Could it be that the ‘stretching’ is what is being emphasised though. I’m not saying an expanse cannot be solid. It just isn’t clear in Psalm 150, Psalm 19;1, Daniel 12:3 or even Genesis 1. Only in Ezekiel is it clear that the Raqia in question is solid, but there is also emphasis on it being ‘spread out’.

They did, but they also believed the sky was watery, not solid (or some did at least).

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #7

All I’m arguing is that the fact that the Septuagint includes a solid sky does not mean the original Hebrew writer had a solid sky.

I never said they were clouds, I believe they were liquid waters. Don’t think I’m out there to defend the scientific accuracy of Genesis. I’m an agnostic theist who sees the Bible primarily as a moral guide, not a science textbook. I like you a lot Ed, I even link to your website on a few of my blogposts, but I don’t appreciate this strawmanning.

(Edward T Babinski) #8

Aren’t you arguing that the raqia is empty space? Therefore you need to prove that birds DO fly in the raqia. But the passage you cited say they fly “on the face of the raqia” so it does not prove they fly in the raqia. So bringing up that passage is irrelevant.

“Some” Egyptians viewed the sky as purely watery? Are you merely implying no firmness? How can you prove no firmness as well? Egyptian imagery plainly depicts firm representations such as heavenly cow with four legs, or four pillars holding up sky, or the “wall-ring” representation I mentioned, the heavenly wall stretching from horizon to horizon firmly, or the sky goddess stretched over the prostrate earth god beneath her and with the sky goddess’s FINGERS AND TOES SUPPORTING her frame above the earth god beneath her. All such imagery depicts a heaven that is firmly supported, i.e., the fingers and toes. Some versions add Shu a third god, Shu the uplifter whose hands press up against the earth goddess’s belly to help keep her aloft and separate from the earth-god below, which was merely extra added protection to avoid sky goddess lying atop earth which would collapse the cosmos back into chaos. But the goddess above is also depicted without Shu, and she always appears solidly supported, touching the earth via fingers and toes at opposite ends of the horizon.



There is no historical or contextual evidence that the authors of the Bible were receiving divinely inspired astrophysical revelations when they wrote about the heaven being “stretched out.” Such talk had nothing to do with modern day Big Bang theory or the red shifting of star light.

The Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish says their national deity Marduk stretched out Tiamat’s skin to construct heaven similar to “stretched out” tent language used in the Bible. Were the priests of Marduk receiving divinely inspired astrophysical revelations?

And an ancient Near Eastern poem contains the phrase, “Wherever the earth is laid, and the heavens are stretched out.””&pg=PA59#v=onepage&q=“Wherever%20the%20earth%20is%20laid,%20and%20the%20heavens%20are%20stretched%20out.”&f=false

Mesopotamians believed the heavens were extremely broad and high—a number of texts make it clear that the heavens extend over the entire earth’s surface. It may run counter to today’s astronomical wisdom to marvel at the mere fact that the heavens are stretched out to cover the earth and waters beneath them, but to flat-earth-minded ancients, “stretching out” heaven so that it covered the entire earth below was a marvel of flat earth and firm heaven architecture. That’s how ancient Near Easterners thought about creation.

The Israelites merely wrote about God stretching out the heavens over the earth just as people back then stretched out a tent over the flat ground (Isa. 54:2; Jer. 10:20) – not like an expanding Einsteinian time-space continuum.

Psa. 19:4 he has set a tent for the sun,

Psa. 104:2 stretching out the heavens like a tent.

Isa. 40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth… who stretches out the heavens like a curtain.

Isa. 45:12 It was my hands that stretched out the heavens,

Keeping this tent-like vault over the earth in mind, when God prophesies about the physical destruction he will bring upon a nation, he uses the symbolism of rolling up that firmament like the tent he originally stretched out, along with the shaking of the pillars of the earth and the pillars of heaven which results in stars falling from heaven to earth as a result of shaking the heavens above the earth:

Isa. 34:4 All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine.

Rev. 6:13-14 [an earthquake occurs] and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

Matt. 24:29 “the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Job 26:11 “The pillars of heaven tremble, and are amazed at His rebuke.

2Sam. 22:8 “Then the earth shook and quaked, The foundations of heaven were trembling And were shaken, because He was angry.

Is. 13:13 Therefore I shall make the heavens tremble, And the earth will be shaken from its
place At the fury of the LORD of hosts.

Additional info:

Compare Babylonian writings and Israelite writings:

He [Marduk] established the holy heavens. . . Creator of the earth above the waters, establisher of things on high… who made the world’s regions… He created “places” and fashioned the netherworld.
—Enuma Elish Tablet VII:16, 83, 89, 135

[Yahweh] established the heavens… inscribed a circle on the face of the deep… made firm the skies above… marked out the foundations of the earth.
—Proverbs 8:27–28

[Yahweh] stretched out the earth above the waters. —Psalm 136:6

He [Marduk] patterned the days of the year. . . . established the positions of Enlil and Ea [referring to the rotation of stars in the sky]. . . . made the moon appear, entrusted (to him) the night . . . assigned to the crown jewel of nighttime to mark the day (of the month). . . . [Marduk] d[efined?] the celestial signs [for religious festivals]. . . . the doorbolt of sunrise. . . . the watches of night and day.
—Enuma Elish Tablet V:3, 5, 8, 12–13, 23, 44, 46

God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons [the literal Hebrew means religious festivals], and for days, and years. . . . And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.
—Genesis 1:14, 16–17

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #9

As shown by the etymology of ‘Nut’, which I’ve yet to hear you say anything about. David P Silverman also writes that the Egyptians believed the sky was composed of water. Perhaps it did touch the ends of the earth, I don’t see how this makes it solid, it could only be derived from the phenomenological appearance of the blue sky touching the earth at the horizon.

(Edward T Babinski) #10

The Septuagint is not of primary relevance, it is of secondary relevance to the fact that Genesis 1 and other creation passages in the Bible reflect the ancient cosmological views of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations that preceded Israelite views. The Septuagint merely provides support, along with early Rabbinic literature, that the view of a firm raqia was sustained for centuries. In other words ANE scholars are not interpreting raqia as firm based on a later Greek translation of Genesis 1. They are reading about firmly supported heavens in ancient texts that preceded Genesis 1, and Genesis 1 (like other creation passages in the Bible) resembles those earlier tales.

Neither of us is denying the plain conclusion that the heavenly waters were liquid in Genesis and derived from a splitting of primeval liquid waters. But trying to deny that the word raqia like raqa involved firmness, and that the word itself was distinct from the Hebrew words for “heaven” or “sky” (whose usages were far wider, far more numerous, and less exact), doesn’t seem to be warranted.

One need only note the difference between the words heaven and firmament in the Bible. The Hebrew word for heaven (shamayin) appears more than 400 times in the Bible and applies to a wide variety of things, from “birds of heaven"
“angels of heaven”
“foundations of heaven”
“pillars of heaven”
"the firmament of heaven” (Genesis 1:14).

According to Luis I. J. Stadelmann in The Hebrew Conception of the World, “Shamayin (heaven) designates the space above the earth, including the atmosphere, the region of the clouds, the firmament and God’s abode above the firmament,” places both seen and unseen overhead. Other Hebrew words translated as “heaven” or “sky” function in a similar, broad manner. But not the Hebrew word for “firmament” (raqia’) which only appears 17 times in the Bible and raqa its root that applies to things solidly pounded, stretched out.

Forgive me if there has been any misunderstanding, Hope these comments clear things up. Also see my paper with explanatory endnotes:

(Edward T Babinski) #11

The etymology of Nut is only important for determining the belief in vast primeval waters lying above the earth.
It does not apply to the manner in which such waters were believed to have been held in place, perhaps in Nut’s case, by her own skin. Compare the story of the ancient goddess, Tiamat, another goddess of heavenly water like Nut but found in a widely known Babylonian creation epic. Per that epic her “skin” was “stretched out” and her waters held back presumably by her skin with added guards that her waters might not escape. We only know this about Tiamat’s “skin” because the Babylonians used words, but in ancient Egypt they primarily used images rather than words to express their creation tales. Some ancient Egyptian images show a cow spread above the earth and held up by its four solid legs, other images show Nut’s body, some show a solid wall-ring spread out over the earth from horizon to horizon. Presumably something like skin or a wall was implied as solidly holding back waters, and/or solidly supporting heaven above the flat firm earth below. Why? Because it was believed that vast waters existed above the earth and hence they had to have had something solid holding them back. Could the heavenly waters have been supported by a crystaline firmament? Could the floor of the god’s heavenly dwellings simply been painted blue? There were suggestions made or implied in various tales, but such questions did not obsess the ancients like they might us science-mind moderns. The ancients were more interested in the plot and anthropological conceptions of divine characters, and also probably figured it was wise not to inquire too deeply concerning heavenly mysteries. “For the heavens are the heavens of the Lord, the earth he was given to the sons of men.”

But speaking of a few of those rare suggestions…

Mesopotamian myths describe Tiamat’s skin, while others describe the higher regions of the sky as having a stone floor. According to Horowitz, “The floors of each level of the heavens were composed of a different type of stone… These assumptions find support in a parallel from Exodus, where the floor of heaven is apparently built of blue-sapphire brick (Exodus 24:9–10; Ezekiel 1:26–28, 10:1)… The gods Anu and Igigi apparently stand on stone floors of the Upper and Middle Heavens, just as the God of Israel is apparently standing on a blue ‘sapphire’ brick heavenly floor in Exodus.”26 Horowitz adds, “The interior of Marduk’s cella in the Middle Heavens cannot be seen from earth, but its blue stone floor may be visible as the blue sky. Marduk drew stars on the Lower Heavens.”27 And this heaven was not light-years away, for in the tale of Etana, Etana and the eagle are able to fly to the Heaven of Anu.28, just as angels are able to descend from heaven, or as Elijah is able to take a whirlwind up to heaven, or even Jesus ascend to heaven.

  1. Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, p. 9.
  2. Ibid., p. 243.
  3. Ibid., p. 250.

(George Brooks) #12

I would re-stated this!

“Genesis 1:20 is phenomenological, birds ‘look like’ they fly in the sky.”

The English rendering of this Hebrew synta - - variously in, on, about, near, around, and so forth - - is purely context based.

(George Brooks) #13


I don’t even know what to say at this point. You have done more than anyone to collect the evidence supporting a FIRM firmament… and now you reject your own evidence.

And yet, at the same time, you reject whole sections of books demonstrably more reliable than the first chapters of Genesis.

This must be why humanity fights wars over religion.

(Edward T Babinski) #14

You might also add mention of the Hebrew word for “face.”

Birds fly on the “face” of the firmament, or “before” the firmament. The phrase is also found elsewhere in Gen. 1-2, viz., the spirit of God hovered over the “face of the waters,” “water spread out along the face of the ground.”

In other words you can’t get the birds literally “in” the firmament.

(Edward T Babinski) #15

“Space of his power?” Does that make sense? Would one likewise speak of God dwelling in the space of his powerful heaven? No.

Instead, one sees Psalm 150:1 speaking of the cosmos as a mighty sanctuary that the firmament undergirds using poetic parallelism. The word “in” is not found in the passage itself, just the words firmament power/might and sanctuary:

Below are selections from a graduate seminar paper submitted at the University of Washington in Seattle, ‘Raqia: Form and Function of the “Firmament” as a Celestial līmes/līmen in Israelite Cosmology’ by Gary Martin (who is now a professor ). To quote Dr. Martin:

There are two occurrences of raqia in the Psalms:

a. Psalm 19:1 (2): The heavens are declaring the glory of God
and the raqia is relating the work of his hands.

b. Psalm 150:1 (2): Praise Yah!
Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise Him in the raqia of his might [= mighty raqia]!

In Psalm 150 we learn of an important aspect of position-location of the raqia: It is identified (by the synonymous parallelism) with God’s “sanctuary.” The import of the preposition “in” is just as ambiguous in Hebrew as it is in English: it can here refer: (1) to the place in which the praise is to occur, or (2) the place in which the God who is to be praised is found. Thus, it presents two options for interpretation:

(1) Praise God when you are in his sanctuary or his mighty raqia; or:

(2) Praise the God who is in his sanctuary or his mighty raqia.

The first understanding would imply a view of the temple in Israel that mirrors the dwelling of God in the raqia above the earth. The second understanding simply states that God’s own dwelling is located in the raqia. In either case, there is some tension in Hebrew texts with regard to localizing God in a too rigid manner. At the prayer of dedication of the temple, Solomon, in a remarkable aside, says: “But will God truly dwell on the earth? See, the heavens and the heavens of the heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kgs 8:27). Most probably the answer to the question of whether view (1) or (2) is correct, is: both (1) and (2). There is a conceptual link between the heavens above and their representation below. The one who praises YHWH is thereby elevated—in some way—to the place of God’s sanctuary; the liminal boundary of the raqia is—in some way—thereby crossed, from below to above.

We can here see an additional distinction in the two realms separated from each other by the raqia. In Genesis 1 the raqia separated waters above the raqia from waters below it. In Psalm 150 we can also infer a distinction that is explicitly stated in Psalm 115:16:

The heavens are heavens belonging to YHWH,
and (but) the earth he has given to the sons of men.

The raqia thus serves the function of dividing the realms of YHWH and humans; it is a veritable
line separating “sacred” from “profane” zones.

[Dr. Martin’s paper also mentions the example of birds that we keep discussing]

Birds are to fly (1) above the earth, and (2) on the face/surface of (Heb. (al penēy yÙ"n:P-la() the raqia of the heavens. The idea is that the birds fly in the space between earth and the raqia, i.e., against the “backdrop” of the raqia, but not beyond it.

[Dr. Martin’s paper concludes concerning the raqia:]

…Its position is (1) above the range of flight of birds, out where (2) the heavenly luminaries are located…

…The likening of the heavens to a “tent” (e.g., Isa 40:22) may be the strongest evidence for the idea of vault-like form of raqia…

…Its functions are: (1) as līmes it keeps the waters above it from constantly inundating the earth…

…Access to it or its environs can be granted either in the form of (1) a vision, or (2) via a religious experience (praising God, Psalm 150)…

…The analysis of raqia in this paper shows it to be far more than a mere designation of a celestial object. It also has clear religious significance. It not only separates celestial from terrestrial waters, it separates the "sacred” domain of YHWH from the “profane” domain of humans. Yet humans, under conditions, are able to cross the liminal threshold of the raqia separating these domains. The possible connection of such a “crossing,” or “rite of passage,” with the temple and its services shows that raqia also possesses a ritual function…

[Martin’s paper also includes an ‘Appendix: Biblical Hebrew Words Based on the Root rq’ – the root of raqia-- that is well worth looking at: ]

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #16

What is this evidence I have given?

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #17

Okay my main reason for believing in a non-solid Raqia is the fact that it is compared to the veil of the tabernacle (Yeriach) in Psalm 104:2, I think this means that it best fits the void space between heaven and earth, when they are separated.

(George Brooks) #18


So … how does that make sense?

The Veil is an object … a thing solid enough to make it impossible to see into the Holy of Holies.

If there was a parallel there… the veil would be open air.

So, what are you talking about? By your reasoning, the firmament is definitely more than “the expanse” of the sky.

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #19

The veil of the tabernacle ‘represents’ the Raqia in that it separates man from God. This fits the ANE idea of heaven being separated from the earth.

(George Brooks) #20


That dog doesn’t hunt. If the raqia is EMPTINESS … it can’t be represented by an opaque cloth. That doesn’t fit any ANE concept mystic principles I have ever encountered.

You should try something else. Did you come up with that yourself… or did someone else actually propose that first? It’s a doozy…

If empty distance is what separates man from God… then the Holy of Holies would be elevated beyond the reach of an average man. That’s how VAST EMPTINESS would be represented.