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.