My personal view of Hebrew cosmology


(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

Those who know me on this forum know my two obsessions are Biblical Cosmology and New Atheist pseudohistory.

My views on the former have changed over the last through months. Whilst accepting that the Hebrew Cosmology was no more advanced than that of other nations, something the Holy Spirit had no intention to change, I also hold that it was very different to traditional depiction often shown by biologos.

Let’s start with the heavens. I have previously brought up how the writer of Genesis called the firmament ‘heaven’, and nowhere does the bible give us any reason to differentiate between the two, which for followers of the solid firmament interpretation creates issues when it is stated that birds fly in the heavens (Jeremiah 4:25). Even more damning to the dome theory is the parallelism between the first three days and the next three days. Day 4 has parallelism with day 1, sun inhabits day, stars and moon inhabit night. Day 6 has parallelism with day 3, animals and man inhabit earth. Day 5 therefore has parallelism with day 2; fish inhabit the waters below… so birds must inhabit the waters above. This to me seems to be a heavy suggestion that the waters above were clouds. Note too Proverbs 8:28, which refers back to creation:

“when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,”.

Some may point out that the Hebrew word can also be translated as ‘skies’, but the context indicates that it refers to clouds, due to the Common Biblical practise of pairing heavenly waters with earthly waters. Where else in a Biblical creation narrative does this occur? Oh wait!

Before anyone strawmans me, I am in no way implying that the Israelites had any advanced scientific knowledge from God here. I actually hold that ANE (particularly Babylonians) references to a solid sky are more ambiguous than we commonly think, and it is debatetable whether or not all (not denying some did) ‘literally’ believed it. The rationale behind the Babylonians believing the heavens were solid was based on the fact that they were held to be floors for the chambers of the gods. Since we are speaking of spiritual beings here, the stone heavens themselves may have also been spiritual/metaphysical. Note too that Babylonian texts also spoke of birds flying in the heavens, as do Ugaritic texts. Like the Hebrew texts they didn’t distinguish. Of course it is ‘possible’ that the Babylonians all literally believed the heavens were made of stone. Likewise it is ‘possible’ that the Hebrews believed the floor of heaven was made of blue stone, a view supported by evidence from the Book of Exodus. But this has nothing to do with the firmament or the heavenly bodies said to be embedded in it.

I will now mention an ‘actual’ incorrect aspect of Hebrew/Near Eastern cosmology, often ignored due to the predominance of Solid Dome readings. Namely this is the assertion that the heavenly bodies are located either ‘in’ the sphere of the clouds, just above it, or potentially in some cases, below it. There is a heavy lexical correspondence between the Semitic (including Hebrew) words for heaven (where the stars are located, according to passages such as Judges 5:20 and Isaiah 34:4) and water. The word ‘Shamayim’, literally means ‘High Waters’. For reasons I have already outlined, presumably the waters in question were clouds. If I am correct, then this is a wildly incorrect scientific assertion, but it too is inconsistent with traditional Hebrew/ANE cosmologies showing the stars attached to the sky dome.

Moving down. I ‘do’ see evidence that the Biblical authors (at least those of the Old Testament) assumed a Flat Earth. For me the most obvious passage is Job 26:10:

“He has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters At the boundary of light and darkness.”

The boundary of light and darkness is the horizon, the sun and moon (light producing bodies) rise and set at different points on the horizon, so beyond that there is only darkness. In Ancient cosmology, the horizon was believed to be the edge of the world. Also at the world’s end was a circular body of water, as shown in the Babylonian world map. Job 26:10, mentioning the horizon on the face of the waters, is consistent with this idea. So for me, the most natural reading of Job 26:10 is that it refers to a small flat earth surrounded by (though as I will mention, not exactly floating on) water, where the horizon is on a fixed place.

Moving onto the third tier of the universe. I see no evidence of any infinite watery abyss below the earth, The Babylonians included the underworld as a tier beneath the Apsu (underground freshwater sea), indicating they believed the latter was finite. The Babylonians and Hebrews (Genesis 49:25) believed there was a large freshwater body beneath the earth, yet they did not believe it ‘floated on it’. The Enuma Elish differentiates between the Saltwater sea (Tiamat) and Freshwater sea (Apsu). I see it as a ‘possibility’, given how the Mesopotamians believed they tapped into the Apsu whenever they used a well, that the ANE subterranean freshwater sea was merely a symbolic concept representing all the waters beneath the earth.

There you have it, my view on Hebrew cosmology. Feel free to disagree.


(George Brooks) #2

@Reggie_O_Donoghue,

I don’t see the usual thoroughness that has been your trademark in prior posts.

There is one reference to the firmament as called heaven or sky.

And then we have several verses (which I have already mentioned to you), which uses the phrase “firmament of heaven” - - which according to you should be translated: “heaven of heaven” or “sky of sky” (see linked text below):

Secondly, you don’t have a Hebrew article for “in” the heavens (Jeremiah 4:25). You have a syntax where the bird is flying somewhere in connection with the Heavens. I thought this was pretty obvious as well.

Birds do travel the sky… as does the firmament. The word Heaven is a reference to loftiness… heights…

And all you seem to be doing here is turn something the Hebrew calls “firm” … and turn it into anything you can think of that isn’t firm…


(RiderOnTheClouds) #3

Perhaps, but what of the other evidence I pointed out?


(George Brooks) #4

@Reggie_O_Donoghue:

I find it very difficult to take the rest of your material seriously when your foundation seems to be peculiarly slender.

Why don’t you just tell me what you think you have the most evidence for … and I’ll proceed directly to that robustly defended position?


(George Brooks) #5

@Reggie_O_Donoghue,

For example… “What !!!”

I don’t even know what this is supposed to mean. The subterranean freshwater sea did represent all the waters beneath the Earth … the Fresh Waters. So, how does this become symbolic? What’s the difference between a symbolic water that’s massive in all its symbolic-ness and a real water that’s massive?


(RiderOnTheClouds) #6

The parallelism between day 2 and day 5.

Proverbs 8:28.


(George Brooks) #7

@Reggie_O_Donoghue

Okay… and what is the parallelism proving?

I may just love the idea… I’ve written a clever poem or two in my life …


(RiderOnTheClouds) #8

Birds dwelled in the waters above.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #9

What I mean is that there may not literally have been an actual ocean below the earth, and the Apsu just referred to the waters that were below in underground springs. Of course, this is just a possibility, and most likely wrong, it’s not even the position I take, just something we can’t rule out.


(George Brooks) #10

@Reggie_O_Donoghue

Anyone with eyes in the ancient world could tell that birds “travelled” in the sky above.
“Dwelled”? Is that an exaggeration? Or is it poetic license?

Ancient eyes would also reveal that any bird they followed, eventually settled onto land.
So… what is a poet to do with that? I suppose he could just ignore those nests.

The other thing we see in Genesis is that birds are created along with fish, right?
And that is a mighty strange idea. It’s certainly not consistent with Evolutionary theory,
which requires dinosaurs before birds… then birds.

So, if maybe the idea was that birds originated in the heavenly waters… maybe it was a special
kind of bird that was intended? The ancients thought vultures were created out of nothing except
Wind. Obviously they didn’t think all birds were so created.

I certainly agree that there is something strange going on. And if you can turn the strange into
a useful point, that would be great.

Birds flew by, under and near the firmament… in the skies. But if there was water up there, which
Genesis appears to insist upon, the firmament had to be relatively stout and firm … or that water
wasn’t going to stay up there for long.

So what would you Like the interpretation of the birds in the waters of the sky to mean?


(RiderOnTheClouds) #11

Poetic license. Remember Genesis is not a scientific account. It is merely speaking of the functions of creation. Birds have the function of flying in the sky, which is mentioned in conjunction with their creation in Genesis 1:20. In a Non-Scientific account, the author does not need to be precise in every detail.

I believe this implies the waters were clouds.


(George Brooks) #12

@Reggie_O_Donoghue,

Are you trying to decide whether the Hebrew thought land floated on top of an ocean vs. there was a giant pocket of water down deep within the earth?

Is that what you are hemming about ?

Look at the synatx of the creation story:

There was water. … and down below the water was land.

Genesis 1:
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.
10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

We can see that the text is silent on the issue of Fresh water. Was Fresh water the source of all waters? The Enki mythology would support that idea. The waters he watched over stayed fresh. And everything else became salty.
In the Hebrew Genesis, land appeared from nowhere … from below under the water’s surface. And within that land there was a giant reservoir of fresh water, right?

There’s certainly nothing that says Freshwater comes from Salt water. The reason Bahrain was conceived of as Dilman was because it was an island in the middle of a salty sea, but if you sunk a hole deep enough, there was freshwater. Since they had no notion of aquifers … obviously this fresh water was the Apsu’s fresh water their parents and grand parents kept talking about.

In Egpyt, the original water is the water of the nile … and the first land that appears is the land that appears as the Nile recedes.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #13

Yes, that’s what I mean, I’m pretty much in agreement with you here.


(George Brooks) #14

@Reggie_O_Donoghue

So is this the newest branch of hermeneutics?

What the Bible doesn’t actually say… you use “Supposed Poetic Dynamics” to make a case?

There were two ancient schools of thought regarding the blueness of the sky:

it was from the blue colored stone of the firmament … or

it was from the blue waters above a clear firmament.

Clouds were white. And the bible refers to them as “bottles” (or, more appropriately, Water Skins), filled up at appropriate locations in the firmament.

How would you fill a water skin with water if the firmament itself was clouds? How would that work?


(RiderOnTheClouds) #15

They were apparently aware of some form of the water cycle. Old Testament wisdom literature (Including Job 26:8) is poetic in nature, so need not always be taken literally.

The Babylonians were also possibly aware that clouds were formed from water vapour. Babylonian texts mention rain clouds being made from the saliva of Tiamat.


(George Brooks) #16

Yep… I would agree, they had the sense of one … but they didn’t have it all figured out. They could see that some clouds were created from rising mists. But it was still miraculous… that’s why rain figures so heavily in Job, right?

And whether the sky was blue because of tons of water, or blue because of tons of gem stone … the sky was a heavy son of a gun!

If the firmament was clouds… what were the windows of the sky built into?

These windows were used to fill the water skins …


(RiderOnTheClouds) #17

Psalm 78:23:

“Yet He commanded the clouds above And opened the doors of heaven;”

Here, a passage which clearly mentions the apparatuses of heaven in conjunction with clouds.


(George Brooks) #18

@Reggie_O_Donoghue

Yes… because the clouds are water skins to be filled…

Are you going to insist that the clouds are the water skins and they are the window holes from which the water fills the clouds?

Okay… so… we still have water in the sky… filling the clouds (bottles aka water skins).


(George Brooks) #19

@Reggie_O_Donoghue:

There is nothing about this text from Job that suggests the firmament is some loosey-goosey layer of foam in the sky:

Job 37:14
"Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God.

Job 37:15-16
Do you know how God lays his command upon the clouds, and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine? Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge?

Job 37:17-18
You whose garments get very hot when the earth is still because of the South Wind? Can you, like him, spread out the skies, firm as a molten mirror?

Here Job is reminded of feeling the heat badly just from the South Wind, while God himself poured the entire sky like it was a giant mirror made of molten metal. If the firmament was just a layer of clouds, this would be completely unintelligible. - George

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Here we go around again … this is the 3rd time I have had to paste a new copy of this list … because you continue to move your objections to a new thread:

To Summarize Once again … in our new Thread Location:

The Ten Talking Points Regarding the Biblical Firmament

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^


(RiderOnTheClouds) #20

Regarding Job 37:18. Like I said before, it is possible, perhaps even probable that the Hebrews believed the floor of heaven was made of solid blue stone (perhaps colouring the sky blue), BUT, this needn’t have anything to do with the firmament of genesis 1 or the apparent location of heavenly bodies, rather the rationale was likely the fact that it was a floor for the heaven of heavens, and all floors were solid.

It is however, worth noting that the word ‘Shachaq’ literally means clouds,

A big problem I see with the idea of the heavenly ocean, aside from it’s absence from any near eastern text I’ve seen, and the evidence that at least some ANE people them knew full well that rain clouds were formed from water vapour, is the fact that the heavens in ANE cosmologies were seen of as flimsy objects which had to be supported, not exactly well suited for holding back water!

Regarding it’s virtual absence from ANE cosmology. Until I see an unambiguous reference to windows in the heavens which allow rain through in extra-biblical ANE texts, I see no reason why the ‘windows of heaven’ cannot be figurative.