Home > Book of Genesis, Book of Psalms, The firmament > John Wright on Bible cosmology

John Wright on Bible cosmology

July 16, 2012

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.”

Temple of Zeus in Athens

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:

Psalm 136:3-9
O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:
The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:
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: [1]

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?

References

1. Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler. The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press, 2004. pp. 2101-2012.

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  1. Joel G.
    August 4, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    There is only one problem with your theory, that in the second century B.C. the Seleucid king Antiochus IV along with the Greeks and Egyptians brought corruption to the creation narrative and/or its understanding.

    In the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. and even before then, the firmament was still thought of as a physical structure in the “sky” holding back the waters which you failed to address, yet is mentioned within the quote you tried to refute by John Wright (Job 37:18; Ezekiel 1:22).
    Other pre-second century verses that need examining would include Daniel 4:20; 12:3, Ezekiel 10:1, Exodus 24:10.

    Second, there is no physical proof of any sort, that Genesis was written without God naming the things in which He created. As far as this notion is concerned, it is an unfounded theory, because there is absolutely no proof to back it up, only suggestion. Not only, but most of the Essene Biblical literature predates their own mid-second century communities and some of their texts may even predate the 3rd or 4th century B.C. because we know that those scrolls can last up to 500 years in itself before needing to be retired: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3946054,00.html .

    Third, despite king Antiochus IV efforts in the second century, he failed due to the rise of opposition concerning everything he stood for as ruler of Judea, thus the Hasmonean revolt. Not only, but there were pockets of Jews during that time who rejected and abhorred any form a Greek or Hellenistic thought, meaning that there were some Jewish sects untouched by the invasive culture of Hellenism. One such sect was the Essenes which flourished in the Second century, who rejected any form Greek though. However, they too, along with the literature affirmed their belief about the strength and solid structure of the physical sky.

    Forth, to assume that the Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews were isolated from their pagan neighbors, especially concerning the knowledge of the cosmos is not only unlikely but biblically unfounded. The fact is, Abraham’s relatives (and fathers) were Mesopotamian pagans (Joshua 24:2); everyone mentioned in the Bible from Abraham to Jacob’s 11 sons and their wives were BORN and spent a great deal of their lives in Mesopotamia, excluding Joseph who married the daughter of an Egyptian (pagan) high priest. The Hebrews then spent 400 years in the land of Egypt, and spent more than half of that time in GOOD standing with the Egyptians and most likely intermarried with them as Joseph did; this is most likely true since there were only 70 Hebrew people who entered Egypt (Genesis 46:26-27). Judah or the promised land was in the middle of the MesoBabylonian-Egyptian trade route, and surrounded by Canaanite, Philistine, and a good number of other tribes with whom the Israelites not only faught with, but also built alliances with and had casual relationships with. NOT ONLY, but the Israelites fell to paganism MUCH more than they were ever faithful to the LORD God, see Judges – II Kings for proof, in fact, the Israelites fell into paganism during the wilderness wondering, even in the face of God’s glory and miraculous wonders! Moses, the traditional pen of the Torah, was educated in all the ways of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22). The Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews were NOT isolated from their pagan neighbors in many ways.

    fifth, this is a philosophical/theological sort of question, if everything you thought about Genesis was wrong (meaning your interpretation), would you have a faith in Jesus? If your answer is no, then is your faith just a head knowledge? Because if it is just that, than your faith is no faith at all and you’ll miss heaven by 12 inches, from the head to the heart. God bless.

  2. August 5, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Five things are said to have received divine names in Genesis 1: Day, Night, Heaven, Earth and Sea. There are no further references to the naming of these items, in the rest of the OT. If the statements about God naming things that he created is genuine, that is somewhat anomalous. Why is there no mention of the divine names in the Psalms? Why no mention of them in other Scriptures? Perhaps it was because those statements that God named certain things were added during the hellenistic era, in order to provide support in Scripture for certain elements of the geocentric cosmology of the Greeks. The main objective of the changes introduced to the Scripture was to identify the ‘raqia’ made on day 2 with Heaven. Originally ‘raqia’ meant the earth’s rocky crust, that was formed in the midst of the primeval waters. This is evident from Ex. 20:4, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” The “waters under the earth” are the primeval waters; the earth or ‘raqia’ was made “in the midst” of the waters on day 2.

    In the time of Antiochus IV in the second century BC a plan was introduced to convert the Hebrew and Greek versions of the creation account, and make it conform to Greek beliefs.

    Notice in 1 Maccabees 1, King James Version:

    11. In those days went there out of Israel wicked men, who persuaded many, saying, Let us go and make a covenant with the heathen that are round about us: for since we departed from them we have had much sorrow. 12. So this device pleased them well. 13. Then certain of the people were so forward herein, that they went to the king, who gave them licence to do after the ordinances of the heathen: 14. Whereupon they built a place of exercise at Jerusalem according to the customs of the heathen: 15. And made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and were sold to do mischief.

    Jews who admired Greek customs and beliefs initiated the hellenization of their nation, and their culture, including the Scriptures. Leading Jews went to Antioch with presents, requesting that the king transform Jerusalem to an “Antioch,” or a Greek “polis.”

    While the hellenists were in power, the holy Scriptures were altered, and Greek deities were cleverly inserted, as the author of 1 Maccabees states:

    1 Maccabees 3
    45. Now Jerusalem lay void as a wilderness, there was none of her children that went in or out: the sanctuary also was trodden down, and aliens kept the strong hold; the heathen had their habitation in that place; and joy was taken from Jacob, and the pipe with the harp ceased.
    46. Wherefore the Israelites assembled themselves together, and came to Maspha, over against Jerusalem; for in Maspha was the place where they prayed aforetime in Israel.
    47. Then they fasted that day, and put on sackcloth, and cast ashes upon their heads, and rent their clothes,
    48. And laid open the book of the law, wherein the heathen had sought to paint the likeness of their images.

    The “likeness of their images” alludes to the Greek deities, many of which correspond to part of the natural universe. The twelve Olympian gods were Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Hestia, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Hermes. Zeus, the sky, was chief of the Olympian gods. The ‘raqia’ was identified with ‘Heaven’ in Genesis 1:8 by adding the words “And God called the firmament Heaven” to the text (in their Greek or Hebrew equivalent.) This device was introduced to support the idea of the rigid heaven, [Zeus] that revolved around the earth once a day, a concept fundamental to the Greek cosmology. “Painting the likeness of their images” in the book of the law included adding the statements that Day, Night, Earth and Sea were each given a divine name, in the early verses of Genesis 1.

  3. Joel G.
    August 17, 2013 at 1:28 am

    [quote] The main objective of the changes introduced to the Scripture was to identify the ‘raqia’ made on day 2 with Heaven. Originally ‘raqia’ meant the earth’s rocky crust, that was formed in the midst of the primeval waters. This is evident from Ex. 20:4, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” The “waters under the earth” are the primeval waters; the earth or ‘raqia’ was made “in the midst” of the waters on day 2.[/quote]

    Excuse me. Have you read Genesis lately?
    Why state something twice as a creation event?

    Okay, God creates the “rocky crust” [raqia’] on day two (Gen. 1:6). This “land” is then described to already be separating the waters on day two, already functioning as design by verse 9, meaning it must have been above the waters so that it divides the waters below from the waters above. If all this is true, then why, in Gen. 1:10, is God making the “land” [yabbashah] appear? It should already have appeared, as it is already functioning to separate the waters below from that which is above.

    The only way that “land” [raqia] could have been submerged yet totally functioned as a divider for the waters above from below is if there were NO oceans, seas, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, or and kind of water sources where the water under the crust could escape and happen to touch the water above. The submerged crust had to be 100% a super continent which wrapped around the earth.

    Oh, Gen 1:14-18 said that God placed the sun, moon, and the stars into the earth’s crust [raqia]. Please gave me driving directions to the moon, I’ve been planning a vacation and the moon seems to be good. The moon is not in the earth’s crust [raqia], because raqia means sky, where the moon is!

    Also, we have not found any evidence from any other source text that these alterations on Genesis happened, it is purely speculative and very lose.

  4. August 18, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    One way to approach the question is to compare other Scriptures that describe the events of creation with the account in Genesis 1. For example in Psalm 136, there is a partial paraphrase of the creation account.

    [Psa. 136:1 & 4-9]
    O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
    To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.
    To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.
    To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.
    To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:
    The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:
    The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.

    The events listed above agree with the events described in Genesis 1, if the ‘raqia’ (‘firmament’ in the KJV) corresponds to the earth that was stretched out above the waters.

    Nothing is said about God naming Day, Night, Heaven, Earth, and Sea.

    The hellenists in the 2nd century BC changed the creation account in Genesis. They identified the ‘raqia’ or earth’s crust with Heaven. They were in league with Antiochus IV, whose obsession was promoting the worship of Zeus, identified with the rigid heaven, that they thought revolved around the earth every day. In Daniel 8:10-12, the stars and host of heaven were cast down to the earth by the horn of the goat, that grew up to the stars. The changes to Scripture implemented by Antiochus IV meant that the stars, planets, and the sun and moon were all put on the underside of the earth’s crust. Daniel wrote that the little horn “cast down the truth to the ground.” [Dan. 8:12]

    Another parallel account is in Psalm 24, which also confirms that the earth’s crust was the ‘raqia’ made on day 2, in the midst of the primeval waters.

    [Psa. 24:1-2]
    The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
    For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.

  1. July 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm
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