Was the Raqia solid, or just the sky as a whole?'

(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

I see evidence that the Hebrews clearly perceived the sky as being solid (2 Samuel 22:8) but I see issues with the idea that the Raqia was the solid part of the sky. For example the Raqia is called ‘Shamayim’ and birds fly in the Shamayim. How can this be so the Shamayim is solid? Maybe it would make sense if birds fly upon the face of the Raqia, but see no indication that this is a better translation than ‘in the open’, and I’ve heard people argue that it is phenomonological

(James McKay) #2

I’m personally sceptical of the idea that the ancient Hebrews thought of the raqia as an actual, physical, solid dome. I’d always thought that they’d intended expressions such as that and the “floodgates of the heavens” to be figurative and poetic or possibly even colloquial rather than literal right from the outset. Israel is a pretty mountainous place and I’m pretty sure many of them would have been familiar with going up the mountains and looking down on rain clouds from above. They would have been well aware that the source of the rain for starters was not a solid dome.

(George Brooks) #3


If you read my Ten Talking Points, it appears that the Hebrew saw clouds as “water skins” (in some translations, the awkward translation is “water bottles”).

The water skins are sometimes presented as being filled up somehow with the same force as the rising mist described for Eden… and sometimes presented as filled up from the windows or doorways of the firmament.

There was a lot of moving parts to the Hebrew understanding of the source of rain. But the idea that stars didn’t need to be attached to anything does not appear to be one of their ideas. Setting aside the “wanderers” (the 5 planets visible to the naked eye), the stars rotated around the Pole Star in perfect circles, which contributed to the idea that whatever was up there was pretty strong and solid.


As for the verses that say birds flew “in” the Shamayim, I think you are placing a lot of faith in the English meanings ascribed to the Hebrew.

There is a notorious verse in the Old Testament that described men who wanted to demonstrate their contrition by placing rope “on” their heads. What was actually meant was rope placed “around” their heads, or even less obscurely , around their necks (historians can refer to this rope as a noose, or a halter).

So birds may have also flown “by”, “near”, or “along” the firmament, which can sometimes be considered a component of the Shamayim. Are the stars in the sky? Yes, of course. But if the sky is air, how do they stay up? The vagaries of colloquial speech existed anciently just as much as they do now.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #4

But I do admittedly find that the similarities between the language used in Genesis 1:6 and Genesis 7:22 are two close to be coincidental.

(George Brooks) #5

Gen 1:6
And God said, Let there be a firmament (raqiya) in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.


Gen 1:16 - 17
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 (raqiya] of the heaven (shamayim) to give light upon the earth, [when firmament and heaven are paired, it usually takes this form, avoiding the equation that “firmament” and “sky” are identical terms]



I can see Genesis 1:6 being relevant, but I couldn’t figure out what you meant by Genesis 7:22. Is that a typo?

Above I have listed the verses for Gen 1:6 and for Genesis 1:16-17.

Both of them use the Hebrew word for “firmament”. And the latter refers to the “firmament” as being “of the shamayim”, rather than the shamayim itself.

I believe it is King James Gen 1:20 that usually triggers the objections:

Gen 1:20
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

But if we look at some fairly reliable alternatives to King James, you can see that context often determines how the translation for English is constructed:

New King James Version
Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.

New International Version
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” [in this case, the word “vault” is a reference to a ceiling].

English Standard Version
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds[fn] fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” [In this case, instead of a reference to a ceiling, the word “expanse” is used to refer to open air, but instead of “in” we have “across”, which is an odd pairing. Where there is open air, the English “in” presents no conflict.

Revised Standard Version:
And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens." [In this case, the “ceiling” of the firmament is used, and then paired with “across” instead of “in” - - to avoid the English conundrum of "birds fly above the earth in the ceiling of the heavens]

New English Translation
God said, “Let the water swarm with swarms of living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” [Here again, we see “across” matched with “expanse” [i.e., air] rather than “firmament” [i.e. ceiling].

Reggie, could you produce the actual text of the verses that give you the most trouble?

I looked up more verses texts where the term for firmament and the term for heaven are in the same sentence:

Maybe this is the one you mean:

Gen 1:8
And God called the firmament [raqia] Heaven [shamayim]. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

I repeat the same exercise from other translations:

God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening…
[“vault” = “sky” is not as troubling I suppose, but it does leave us with “ceiling” = “sky”.]

And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening
[Here we have “expanse” paired with Heaven, which makes more sense in English - - where colloquial English equates “openness” with a “ceiling” that extends across the entire Earth.

And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening
[Revised Standard goes back to King James]

God called the expanse “sky.” There was evening,
[New English Translation also converts “firmament/celing” to the colloquial “firmament/expanse” as a reference to the open air.

vocavitque Deus firmamentum caelum et factum est vespere et mane dies secundus
[Here is where the word “firmamentum” literally comes from. It is the Latin form of “firmus”, meaning “of a strengthening”, “a support”, “a prop” (as in propping something up).
This is along the same line as how Rabbinical ideas of the raqiya are intended. The Rabbi’s sometimes discuss more than one level of Heaven, with more than one raqiya . . . where the raqiya are described like “floors” or “flooring” which supports the realm immediately above.]


The most challenging to work with is the LXX (Septuagint) in Greek:

“καὶ ἐκάλεσεν ὁ θεὸς τὸ στερέωμα οὐρανόν καὶ εἶδεν ὁ θεὸς ὅτι καλόν καὶ ἐγένετο ἑσπέρα καὶ ἐγένετο πρωί ἡμέρα δευτέρα”

I can’t swear by this transliteration of the Greek letters into English-style syllables, but this is what Google Translate offers:

“kaí ekálesen o theós tó steréoma ouranón kaí eíden o theós óti kalón kaí egéneto espéra kaí egéneto proí iméra deftéra”

Translators believe the Latin writers of the Vulgate chose the Latin equivalent (firmamentum) for the Greek word “stereoma” - the Greek term said to have been chosen by Jewish scholars who knew their Hebrew and the Greek of ancient period.

From the Wiki article on the Firmament, we are referred to a Greek lexicon:

[Raw Link]

[Link embedding tool]
LINK: Perseus.tufts.edu 's link to the Greek lexicons for Stereoma

a…solid body, [as found in Hp.Flat.8, Anaxag. ap. Placit.2.25.9 ].
b. ἄϋλα ς. immaterial solids, [as found in Dam.Pr.425, cf. 205.]

  1. foundation or framework, e.g. the skeleton, on which the body is, as it were, built, [as found in Arist.PA655a22; στερεώματος ἕνεκα τοῦ περιτρήτου to strengthen it, Hero Bel.95.8: metaph]
    , solid part, strength of an army, [as found in LXX 1 Ma.9.14];
    also, ratification, [as found in ἐπιστολῆς ib.Es.9.29; steadfastness, “τῆς πίστεως” Ep.Col.2.5.]

  2. = στεῖρα (of a ship), [as found in Thphr. HP5.7.3.]

  3. firmament, i.e. the sky, the heaven above, [as found in LXX Ge. 1.6, Ez.1.22, al.; “τὸν τῶν οὐρανίων ς. δεσπότην” Tab.Defix.Aud.242.8 (Carthage, iii A.D.).]

The Wiki article expands on the meaning of “stereoma”:

"The word “firmament” is used to translate rāqîa‘ (רָקִ֫יעַ‎), a word used in Biblical Hebrew. It is derived from the root raqqə‘ (רָקַע), meaning “to beat or spread out”, e.g., the process of making a dish by hammering thin a lump of metal.
[FN 5 = http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=firmament ]
[FN 6 = http://cf.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=07549 ]

"Like most ancient peoples, the Hebrews believed the sky was a solid [something/likened to a dome] with the Sun, Moon, planets and stars embedded in it.
[FN 7 = Seely’s article as a pdf:
http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/OTeSources/01-Genesis/Text/Articles-Books/Seely-Firmament-WTJ.pdf ]

"According to The Jewish Encyclopedia:… ‘The Hebrews regarded the earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse.
[FN 8= from the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Cosmogony
http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4684-cosmogony#2736 ]

For those who have been reading the other thread on the Firmament, there was considerable discussion as to whether “dome” was a legitimate interpretation. Apparently the rabbis think it is. In either case, the interpretation of the firmament doesn’t seem to depend on whether the “ceiling” above the Earth is dome-shaped or some other shape.


(George Brooks) #6

Note about the Wiki article on the Firmament in the posting above:

You can see from the language of the first paragraph of the Wiki article that the author is focusing his attention on the supposed dome shape of the firmament, rather than any dome above the firmament and the waters.

I think more writers should pay attention to the difference between the “firmament” (the layer that separates the two waters) and the presumed ceiling even higher up, above the waters. The firmament could be literally flat, while the dome is above it.

However, from a physics point of view, a partition that takes the form of a slight bowl, inverted so that the curve rises up (rather than down) would be physically more capable of sustaining a weight above, since the compression force of gravity would create pressure all along the convex curvature, and making it more solid in the process.

Even the Rabbi’s in the Jewish Encyclopedia article make a reference to the convex nature of the firmament … referencing how it would facilitate a bird flying underneath along it’s “expanse”.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #7

*I meant 7:11.

(George Brooks) #8


Okay, good… I thought you must have meant a different one.

But let’s look at Gen 7:11

"In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened."

In keeping with the drama of the flood, the first part of this line from chapter 7 is referring to the two sources of water that the Ancient cultures typically considered:

The water from heaven is of course, rain. I know you didn’t have any strong interest in the waters from the deep, but I do want to detour there for just a few moments.

The water from the “fountains of the great deep” comes from these 3 Hebrew terms:

[the] fountains = ma`yan
[of the] great = rab
Deep = tehowm (Strongs H8415).

Strong’s provides these optional translations:
I. Deep, depths, deep places, abyss, the deep, sea
A. deep (of subterranean waters)
B. deep, sea, abysses (of sea)
C. primeval ocean, deep
D. deep, depth (of river)
E. abyss, the grave

Moderns know the Earth’s core is full of hot molten metal … not water. But I suppose many just let this slide since the Abyss (i.e. Apsu or Abzu) could have been imagined just under the sea bottom, without thinking all the way down to the Earth’s core.

“Tehom is a cognate of the Akkadian word tamtu and Ugaritic t-h-m which have similar meaning. As such it was equated with the earlier Sumerian Tiamat.” In these pagan cultures, “the Deep” was a primordial deity… usually slain by a good god, in order to create the water-filled and water-surrounded Underworld. The Hebrew use of the term does not imply or acknowledge any deity.

Now, let’s turn to Heaven!

Gen 7:11
". . . . the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened."

[and the] windows = 'arubbah
[of] heaven = shamayim
were opened = pathach

If I am following your drift, you are pointing out that the windows being opened are located “in the sky” (shamayim), not “in the firmament”.

I don’t see how you are going to get much traction from this particular verse - - there are others that actually take more explanation (which have been touched on in other postings).

One: If the firmament is a component of shamayim, then describing the windows of “shamayim” is neither technically or erroneous, or particularly revealing.

Two: Traditionally, it is the fact the term for “windows” being anywhere in the sky is rather a problem for those who would dismiss the physical implications of a firmament. Can you really have “windows” in open air? Whereas, having windows in a physical barrier is rather a logical deduction, yes?

Three: Genesis also has three verses where the firmament is specified, and that the firmament is the one “of Heaven”!

Gen 1:14
And 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, and for days, and years:

Gen 1:15
And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

Gen 1:17
And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

Four: Ezekiel describes yet another item “installed” in the firmament, as opposed to being installed in the empty air:
Eze 10:1
Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament - - that was above the head of the cherubims - - there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne.

The reference to “sapphire stone” suggests that the throne is blue like the color of the firmament. I don’t believe the Hebrew would have been convinced that open sky - - filled with nothing – would have a color as well.

Bottom Line?: I would say that Gen 7:11 overall speaks more loudly to a firm firmament, than to the firmament being open air.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #9

Not what I was saying, I was actually saying the exact opposite to what you thought I was saying. I was saying that the phrase ‘floodgates of heaven’ (I find floodgate to be a better translation of Arubbah in this verse) has connotations with a hard barrier holding back liquid water.

(George Brooks) #10


I stand corrected.

I like the term “floodgates” as well. But there would be those who are not sure how much water there was supposed to be up there, and so are not tranquil about assuming it is a virtual flood suspended just above the heads of the cherubim (per Ezekiel).

(RiderOnTheClouds) #11

I get the indication that part of the space above the firmament is not liquid, specifically the part where God is enthroned. (Psalm 104:3, Amos 9:6)

(George Brooks) #12


Yes, I get that too. As a “structure”, I could see being imagined intersections of walls and/or other high areas that would give the inhabitant of the throne an especially good view, or enable a good view of the throne by those below.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #13

According to bible hub, ‘in the open’ is the best translation

(system) #14

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