John Wright on Bible cosmology
In Musings on the ‘Flat Earth and Firmament’, John Wright says, “The more one reads the bible, the more one should notice the primitive cosmological understanding of its authors.” Wright depicts his views on ancient Hebrew cosmology in a colorful graphic, claiming that their conception, which they shared with other peoples of the ancient world, was that the heaven was a solid dome, that supported water above. He quoted the opinion of P. H. Seely, and Jewish writings from the hellenistic era, to support his view. Wright stated:
And so the Hebrews shared the same cosmological ideas as the rest of the Ancient Near East, including Egypt, Babylonia, Canaan, etc. whose writings also reflect the fact.
The firmament as a solid object is confirmed in Job: ‘Can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?’ (Job 37:18), and in Ezekial: ‘Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a firmament, sparkling like crystal, and awesome.’ (Ezekial 1:22). It was regarded as a beautiful feat of engineering (as in fact it is, in a way), and they told God they appreciated it: ‘The heavens are thy handiwork.’ (Psalms 102).
In support for his conclusions Wright cited the book of Enoch, and the Apocalypse of Baruch, where in 3 Apoc. Bar. 3.7, the author speculates on whether the rigid heaven consists of clay, copper or iron.
The possibility that the quotation from Job 37:18 is a corruption, introduced in the hellenistic age, would tend to undermine the opinions expressed by Wright. In the 2nd century BCE, the Jews were strongly influenced by Greek philosophy. Geocentrism was a fundamental premise in the Greek philosophy and religion, and in the Homeric epics. The idea of a solid sky holding the stars fixed in position as the heaven revolved around the earth was an essential element in geocentrism. When in the 3rd century BCE the geocentric theory was challenged by Aristarchus, who proposed a heliocentric theory, he was accused of sacrilege, as the rigid heaven was identified with Zeus.
In the second century BCE the Seleucid king Antiochus IV initiated reforms that sought to stamp out all forms of worship but that of the Greeks. He issued a decree saying that the people of his dominion, including the Jews, were to become “one people.”
Antiochus was noted for promoting the worship of Zeus. He financed the construction of a great temple of Zeus in Athens, the ruins of which are still there. It was completed three centuries later by Hadrian. Antiochus had a statue of Zeus, a copy of the famous one in the temple of Zeus at Elis, installed in the temple of Apollo at Daphne, near Antioch. Antiochus is featured with Zeus upon many of the Syrian coins of that period. The temple of God at Jerusalem was dedicated to Zeus during the reign of Antiochus. Also during his reign, there was a systematic attempt to portray pagan deities in the Bible, along with a revision of its cosmology. Changes were introduced, to support geocentrism. The ‘raqia’ of Genesis 1 was identified with heaven, whereas in the original account of the creation, the earth was made ‘in the midst of the waters’ on the second day. But Scripture already contained numerous references to the earlier, original cosmology of Genesis 1. Exodus 20:4 refers to “heaven above,” “the earth beneath,” and “the water under the earth,” which alludes to the cosmology of Genesis 1, in its original form.
Psalm 136 contains a paraphrase of the part of Genesis 1. Notice the order of the items created:
3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.
4 To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.
5 To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.
6 To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.
7 To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:
8 The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:
9 The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.
In verse 6, the earth is stretched out above the waters, not heaven. The psalm does not mention the waters above the heavens, as that concept was introduced in a later period. And there is no mention of any names being assigned to heaven, earth, sea, day and night, as we see in our present versions of Genesis 1. In fact, there is no mention in the entire Bible, of these alleged ‘divinely assigned’ names. Each of the things named happens to be a prominent deity worshiped by the Greeks during the hellenistic age. There seems to be no good reason why God would have named those particular things; but in hellenistic times, the idea that God assigned names to those items was probably taken as evidence that they were animate. Paul said that they “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” [Romans 1:25]
Josephus says Evening and Dawn were given names too. I suggest the statements that God named the things that he created are corruptions introduced in the hellenistic age. They represent attempts to revise the cosmology of Scripture, probably initiated in the time of Antiochus IV, that were intended to identify the earth’s rocky crust with the rigid heaven of the Greek cosmology.
In an essay on Reading Biblical Poetry in the Jewish Study Bible, Adele Berlin commented on the Hebrew used in Psalm 136:6, and noted that the psalmist’s interpretation of how the world was created does not match the one presented in Genesis. Berlin wrote: 
No discussion of poetry can omit imagery, or metaphor, often thought to be the essence of poetry. It is not merely a question of inserting metaphors here and there for decoration; imagery, like parallelism, is pervasive in poetry. Poetry envisions the world metaphorically; it offers an alternative way of seeing reality. As medieval Jewish scholars put it, “the best part of poetry is its falseness” (that is, its figurativeness). They got this idea from Arabic sources, who in turn got it from Aristotle. Poetry, in this view, is not only elevated language, it is elevated vision.
A small example is in Ps. 136.6. We looked at this psalm earlier, noting how it poeticizes the creation story in Gen. ch. 1. But the poetry in Ps. 136 is not merely a matter of breaking up prose sentences into terse, parallelistic poetic lines; it is a matter of re-envisioning the account of creation. Ps. 136.6 says that God “spread (Heb roka’) the earth over the water.” Genesis does not say this; in fact, according to Gen. 1.9, the water was gathered to one place so dry land could appear–the land was actually under the water, visible when the water was removed. Moreover, the word that the psalm uses for “spread” is the same word that Genesis uses for “firmament.” The psalmist has a different conception, or a different interpretation of how the world was created. He sees the earth being spread, like a firmament, upon the water. The earth is a firm expanse set permanently in place over the waters (the forces of chaos, which cannot now escape); the earth is made analogous to the firmament in Genesis that separates the upper and lower waters. The psalm’s conception of the creation of the earth is more mythological than that of Genesis, more like, for instance, Ps. 24.2: “He founded it [the world] upon the ocean, set it on the nether-streams.” Poetry can retain more mythological concepts than prose, not because it is more primitive (Ps. 136 is probably exilic, after 586 BCE), but because it is free to call upon more imaginative views of the universe than can be tolerated in the “logical” or “theological” discourse of prose.
The psalmist was clearly paraphrasing Genesis 1, but he was writing long before the hellenistic age, when that portion of the Scripture was changed, and so he depicts the original creation account. Later, the earth, or ‘raqia‘ was identified with the rigid heaven of the Greek cosmology. It was a fraud that has fooled the Bible scholars, along with people like John Wright. Psalm 136:6 preserves the original information contained in Genesis 1, which described the earth’s rocky crust being made on the second day. The original scriptures provided no support for geocentrism and a rigid heaven revolving around the earth.
Isaiah said, “Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” [Isaiah 66:1] What king, unless he was insane, would rotate his throne around his footstool every day?
1. Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler. The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press, 2004. pp. 2101-2012.