Is Heaven The Sky?
"One day, I was contemplating what the ancients thought when they looked up at the sky. I pondered, 'What did the early Hebrew people actually think about the sky?' My journey lead me to a most obvious realization, and it was that, Heaven IS the Sky! It seemed SO obvious. How was this overlooked? -- Reginald Finley Sr
Dr. Bob Price and I team up to look deeply into what the ancients thought about the sky above our heads.
Heaven and Its Wonders, and Earth:
The World the Biblical Writers Thought They Lived In
Dr. Robert M. Price and Reginald Finley Sr.
So-called biblical literalists find themselves in a strange double bind when it comes to the numerous Old Testament references to the common world-picture of the ancients. Such readers seek with all their hearts to believe whatever the Bible may say on any subject. But the challenge of believing Scripture where it speaks of unseen and unverifiable realities is one thing. The challenge of believing it when it says things contrary to massive amounts of irrefutable evidence is another. And in the case of biblical cosmological references, it is the second challenge they seem to be facing. Put briefly, the Bible seems to any casual reader to describe the earth as a flat disk afloat upon a vast cosmic ocean. The sky it represents as a solid dome with windows and gates, and as resting upon great pillars thrust up from below. The sun, moon, and stars appear to be set into the heavenly vault, to be smallish, and at no great distance from the earth. Very much ancient evidence both textual and archaeological, makes it clear that this is simply the common world-picture yielded by ancient natural philosophy, i.e., scientific speculation as yet unaided by observational technology such as we possess. Indeed, we should think the same thing were we in their place, for the world surely appears to be flat, albeit of variable altitude. The sky appears to enclose the flat vista on all sides and to descend to meet its edges in whatever direction one looks. Rain falls from the sky and water wells up from beneath. Such a view of the world is not the product of stupidity but rather of shrewd and careful observation. The unaided eye and mind could not be blamed for thinking this is what the world was like. And of course it was the very same human ingenuity that worked on the challenge of observational technology until such wonders were created, and our views of cosmology were revolutionized.
So where does the literalist stand? He is in the impossible position of trying to make the Bible the norm and source of his beliefs, on the one hand, and yet to keep the Bible seeming believable by the standards of modern knowledge on the other. He cannot bring himself to deny what modern instruments have shown to be the truth of cosmology, so he cannot believe the world looks as described in scripture, but neither can he bring himself to admit that the Bible is mistaken. So, in order to defend the literal truth of the Bible (the proposition that it describes things the way they are, whether things on earth or things in heaven), he must resort to non-literal reinterpretation of the cosmic-descriptive passages of the Bible. It is an odd form of “literalism”! What a choice! To take the Bible literally in all its statements? Or to read it literally where its authors seem to have expected to be taken literally? All biblical scholars face the same dilemma, though our choice is different: we are willing to read it literally but not to oblige ourselves to believe whatever it says. That way we feel we can afford to be honest in our discernment of what the text is saying. Fundamentalists may think we are risking terrible danger that way. But we would have to return the question to them: are you any better off twisting the text in the name of literalism? Because if you can do it here, on this subject, you can probably do it anywhere else you may sense you have to. Indeed, you probably already are.
Literalists remain in this conceptual Slough of Despond because they feel trapped in it, mired in it. If they admit the Bible writers pictured the world the wrong way, despite their ostensible divine inspiration, they suspect they will not be facing Saruman (Darwin) only, as menacing as that might seem. No, soon they will be facing down the mighty Sauron (Bultmann) himself. They know there will be no way to defend against his claim that Christianity cannot stop at shedding the ancient three-story world picture but must strip away the encumbrances of mythology, too. And that would be the end of supernaturalism and miracles. And yet, it is too late for anything else. Once you are even aware of the danger, the horse has escaped the barn. To insist on a set of beliefs that would be more comforting just because you dread the result of facing the truth is fatal to the conscience. “Faith” from that point on rests on the rotten foundation of self-deception, “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.” Indeed, it is to that fatal misstep that we owe the pervasive dishonesty of apologetics: anything to defend the party line.
In what follows, we want to summarize the work of J.Edward Wright, Edward T. Babinski, and Stephen Meyers, demonstrating the identity of the biblical and other ancient cosmologies. In a sense, it is all wasted effort, because there is virtually nothing new to add, and everything we say has long been common knowledge to anyone familiar with the study of the ancient Near East. This essay is basically a remedial course for those who have thought it best to shield themselves from common, mainstream scholarly knowledge. And yet it is always best for the student not to take for granted what “most scholars say.” It is better to know why they say so. It is best to base one’s opinions on a consideration of the evidence, and this essay is a brief survey of sufficient of it.
One word of caution. Some readers will be tempted to evade the obvious implications of this survey by supposing that, while the Bible does indeed describe the world in the same terms as the ancient cultures surrounding them, in the case of the biblical writers, all is but metaphor and conventional speech, as when we casually remark, “Did you happen to see the sun rise this morning?” But that is gross special pleading. That is to make a gratuitous, though convenient, assumption for “your side” that cannot be afforded to the “other side.” If, instead, we want to be consistent, we should have to suppose the same is true of all the ancient writers and sculptors who portray the world in the ancient way. We would then be assuming that references to “ancient” cosmology were extravagant metaphor and that all the ancients really understood the world to be arranged as modern astronomy and geology tell us. But, save for the need to extricate oneself from a tight spot, why suppose such a thing? And then what to make of the history of astronomical discovery? They must already have known everything. You see just how massive and indeed surreal it becomes. That way, as the saying goes, lies madness.
In Heaven’s Name
All the ancients, like many alive today, spoke of “heaven” and meant “the sky.” The Bible even uses the same words for both, interchangeably. “The kingdom of heaven” is [literally] the same as “the kingdom of the sky.” The Greek Titan Ouranos (Uranus) is simply the Sky, the Heaven, personified. You will say I have a sure grasp of the obvious. Why is it necessary to point out such a truism? Simply because modern thinking on heaven as the abode of God and the location of the blessed afterlife has undergone a hasty retooling in light of modern knowledge, namely that there is no absolute up or down, that the sky and outer space are not up there butout there. Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was not being frivolous when he announced there was no God to be seen there. Most people in past ages would have expected to see him there. Is that not where Jesus ascended? Jack Chick and other contemporary sectarians are still quite happy to pinpoint which nebula holds the gate of the divine realm! But most Christians have reacted to this secularization of the sky and of space by redefining the religious heaven, the theological heaven. And they have done so in a vague manner drawn more or less from science fiction. Nowpeople speak increasingly of heaven as “another dimension,” whatever that means. It is surprising how little comment this great shift has occasioned. No one who says it appears to have much in mind. It is simply a way of trying to fend off the facts of science. “God turned out to be absent from the heaven of the sky? Okay, then, there must be some other heaven for him to be in!” In what follows, my goal is only to show that the Bible writers certainly drew no such distinction. They would have bet Yuri Gagarin that he would have seen God.
For the World Is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky
“Let there be a firmament to separate the waters from the waters” (Genesis 1:6). Exactly what did the biblical writers picture when they had God create “the firmament”? They must have been thinking of something like a giant version of the Astrodome. The “firmament,” as the very word, containing the element “firm,” implies, the underlying Hebrew denotes a solid dome of metal or crystal. The Latin noun firmamentum comes from the verb firmare , “to make firm.” It is a good word to choose to translate the Hebrew raqiya , which denotes “a dome beaten out of metal sheets.”
“Firmament” appears 17 times in the KJV in each case it is translated from the Hebrew word raqiya, which meant the visible vault of the sky. The word raqiya comes fromraqa , meaning “to expand by beating out," such as beating out a metal to give it shape. Thus, Elihu asks Job, “Hast thou with him spread out [ raqa ] the sky, [which is] strong, [and] as a molten [cast] looking glass [mirror]? ( Job 37:18)” "And gold leaf was hammered out (raqa )..." (Exodus 39:3); and "Silver spread into plates (raqa) " ( Jeremiah l0:9). Ezekiel 1:22 describes the “likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature… as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.”
The biblical authors were men of their time, and they lived, quite literally, in the world of their time. And it had a solid ceiling. (Did you notice that even the English word “ceiling” is based on the root word for heaven, as in “cel estial”?)
“For the Sumerians the universe was a tripartite structure – heaven (the place of the high gods), earth (the realm of humans), and the netherworld (the realm of deceased humans and the mortuary gods). According to S.N. Kramer, since the Sumerian word for tin is ‘metal of heaven,’ it may be that the Sumerians thought that the floor of heaven was made of tin or some comparable metal. It also appears that the Sumerians considered the sky to be a vault or dome because we read of heaven having a zenith.” (J. Edward Wright, The Early History of Heaven. NY: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 29.)
Speaking of the most ancient representations of a firm firmament, the ancient Egyptians depicted the firmament in the form of a god's arched body with toes and fingers on the horizons of the flat earth below that was represented by a prone goddess. The Egyptians also employed the less mythologized form of a "wall-ring" to represent the firmament above the earth. The Babylonians in their creation epic, Enuma Elish, depicted the firmament being constructed out of the body of a dead goddess named "Tiamat," who was cut in half to form the firmament and heavens above, and the earth below. One Babylonian tablet fragment even mentions a "Tiamat eliti" and a "Tiamat sapliti," that is an Upper Tiamat (or Ocean) and a Lower Tiamat (or Ocean) that corresponds apparently to the Hebrew belief in "waters above and below the firmament" in Genesis 1:7.” (Ed Babinski)
Tiamat or Tiamu is the sky in ancient Babylon, the goddess of watery chaos. Marduk splits "her like a shellfish into two parts: half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky, pulled down the bar and posted guards. He bade them to allow not her waters to escape."
Many scholars agree that Tehom (used in the Hebrew Creation account) and Tiamat share a common ancient root that references deep and chaotic waters.
Though the very word underlying “firmament,” as we have seen, implies composition out of hammered metal plates, sometimes the solid matter out of which the heavenly dome is constructed is pictured as crystalline. “According to the Akkadian text Keilschrifttexte aus Assur religiösen Inhalts 307, the cosmos is composed of six levels: three celestial and three terrestrial.
The upper heavens are luludanitu stone…
The middle heavens are saggilmut stone…
Bel sat there in a chamber of on a lapis-lazuli throne…
They belong to the stars.
The lower heavens are jasper.
He drew the constellations of the gods on it. ” (Wright, p. 34.)
This multi-story heaven appears to anticipate the later Ptolemaic cosmology with its numerous crystalline spheres, but that is not our concern here. We do not claim that all the ancients, even within a single culture, had exactly matching conceptions of the universe, only that the general trend certainly looked nothing like the universe as portrayed by modern scientific calculation.
Exodus 24:9-10 assumes precisely the same sort of a sapphire (or lapis-lazuli, same word in Hebrew) heaven pavement. “Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under his feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself” (NASB). Not surprisingly, Ezekiel 10:1 takes for granted the same idea: “…in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubim there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne .”
Sitting Upon the Firmament
As “God Most High,” the deity is naturally to be depicted as sitting on a throne at the tip-top of the heavenly dome: where else? Thus it is common to find both literary and pictorial representations of God enthroned atop the firmament, both in the Bible and in adjacent cultures. “One such depiction is the ninth-century tablet of king Nabuapaliddina (885-882 BCE) from the temple of the sun god Shamash in the city of Sippar…The wavy lines at the bottom of this scene indicate water, and beneath the waters is a solid base in which four stars are inscribed. These waters, then, are the celestial waters above the sky. This tablet depicts the god Shamash enthroned as king in the heavenly realm above the stars and the celestial ocean.” (Wright, pp. 36-37.) In just the same manner, Yahweh “sits enthroned over the flood” ( Psalm 29:10a, RSV).
Isa 40:22 "[It is] he that sitteth [which can also mean rests] upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof [are] as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." This verse has occasioned considerable debate, as fundamentalist apologists have seized upon it as a foothold for their attempts to read modern cosmology anachronistically back into the text. “According to [Henry] Morris this verse describes a spherical earth. The Hebrew word is hwg. I believe that this refers to the circular horizon that vaults itself over the earth to form a dome.” (Stephen Meyers, "A Biblical Cosmology." Th.M. Thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary. 1989, pp. 63-69) Similar opportunistic use is made of Job 22:14, “Thick clouds [are] a covering to him, that he seeth not; and he walketh in the circuit ( hwg ) of heaven.” But it is vain. H wg is “a primitive root to describe a circle:--compass,” as per Strong’s Concordance. Notice that hwgis most definitely not a sphere. There are perfectly adequate Hebrew words for sphere or spheroid if that is what one wanted to mention. First, there is the word meaning “ball,”rwd duwr . Second, the word for “pot,” dwd , duwd , a pot for boiling,or, by resemblance of shape, a basket. Third, the word meaning “round,” tlglg gulgoleth, a skull (as round) or a head. Fourth, there is the Babylonia loan word llg galal, the verb “to roll,” based on the description of a type of water pot shaped like a human skull. And the Bible never once uses any of these fine words to describe the earth. Again, we find the natural denotation of the word in cognate cultures of the day.
Stephen Meyers makes this point well:
The Babylonian Map of the world clearly shows a circular earth surrounded by a circular sea (Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum1960, part xxii, pl.48; for a translation see Wayne Horowitz , "The Babylonian Map of the World." Iraq 50: 1988, pp. 147-165). The äamaö Hymn which is written to the Sun-god says, "You climb to the mountains surveying the earth, you suspend from the heavens the circle of the lands." The phrase "the four corners of the earth" which in Akkadian iskip-pát tu-bu-qa-at eerbitti, can be literally translated "the circle of the four corners" (Grayson, Albert, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions. Vol. 1. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1972, p. 105).
Upper & Lower oceans with circular earth from Tutankhamun (King Tut) 14th Century BC.
In Egyptian literature the Hymn to Ramses II found on various stela inside the temple of Abu Simbel says, "like Re when he shineth over the circle of the world" (Adolf Erman, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians. Trans. Aylward Blackman. London: Methuen & Co., 1927, pp. 258-259). There is another similar phrase in “The War Against the Peoples of the Sea" which comes from Ramses III’s temple of Medinet Habu which says, They laid their hands upon the lands as far as the circuit of the earth" (James Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Princ eton: Princeton University Press, 1969, p. 262). Keel in his book The Symbolism of the Biblical World (pp. 37-40). Has many Egyptian drawings showing a circular earth surrounded by a circular sea. (http://www.bibleandscience.com/science/bibleandscience.htm)
Round-earth creationists at this point usually change the subject by concentrating their "scientific" attentions on another verse in the book of Isaiah, "He who sits above the circle of the earth" (Isaiah 40:22), that they say implies a spherical earth. It doesn't. Just read the verse in context: "Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in" (Isaiah 40:21-22).
Isaiah's "circle" thus reflects ancient notions of a flat earth. Isaiah 40:22 describes God as seated on the zenith, the highest point directly overhead. Thus the verse implies that "earth's dwellers," "all mankind" according to Psalms 33:13, 14, are clearly visible from a very high point directly overhead. Such imagery fits most naturally the conception of the earth below as a flat disc, not a globe. Moreover, there is an obvious link between Isaiah's "circle of the earth" and the "circle" inscribed at creation on the flat surface of the waters in Job 26:10 and Proverbs 8:27.
Enthroned Upon the Cherubim
Wright tells us,
As a king, Yahweh has a throne in heaven, and the image of this heavenly throne was certainly patterned after the cherubim throne Solomon had his Phoenician craftspeople fashion for the temple (1 Kings 6:23-28). The immense throne was placed in the Holy of Holies inside the temple. The winged creatures (cherubim and seraphim) described as part of the throne or as the means of transport in Isaiah 6, and Ezekiel 1 and 10 are common features in the iconography associated with ancient Near Eastern thrones… Like any earthly king, Yahweh, too, sits on a winged cherubim throne… The throne the prophet Ezekiel saw in his vision was made of lapis-lazuli, a bluish stone that was widely used on the thrones of ancient near eastern kings.” (pp. 76, 78)
Such cherubim-flanked thrones are depicted on the sarcophagus of King Hiram of Byblos and on a carved ivory panel from Megiddo.
Yahweh’s flying throne chariot is described with precision in Ezekiel 1:22-26: “And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. And under the firmament were their wings straight... And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads... And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne ( kicce ') , as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.”
In Ezekiel 10:19-21 the Cherubim are at least partially described. They are certainly not the angels of Christian folklore. In fact, the word “angel” (Hebrew: malachi ) simply means “messenger” and is never used of either seraphim or cherubim. “And the cherubim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight: when they went out, the wheels also [were] beside them, and [every one] stood at the door of the east gate of the LORD'S house; and the glory of the God of Israel [was] over them above. This [is] the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they [were] the cherubim. Every one had four faces apiece, and every one four wings; and the likeness of the hands of a man [was] under their wings.”
Cherubs occur frequently throughout Near Eastern iconography. They usually appear as wing lions with human faces, winged humans, or, in Assyria, winged bulls with human faces. They are like the Greek chimaera, composed of parts of disparate animals. They serve two purposes in the Bible. They are God’s treasure guardians, which is why he posts one at the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24), two (symbolically) atop the lid of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18-20), and one to guard Adam in Eden before the Fall (Ezekiel 28:12-14, reading “With an anointed guardian cherub I placed you.”). Second, they were personifications of the storm clouds which transported the flying throne of the storm God Yahweh (precisely as they carried the chariot of his Syrian counterpart Baal Hadad). This is what we see them doing in Ezekiel 1, but they are also mentioned carrying the divine throne chariot in Psalm 18:9-14: “He parted the heavens and came down, a dark cloud beneath His feet. He rode on a cherub and flew, soaring on the wings of the wind. He made darkness His hiding place, dark storm clouds His canopy around Him. From the radiance of His presence, His clouds swept onward with hail and blazing coals. The Lord thundered from heaven; the Most High projected His voice. He shot His arrows and scattered them; He hurled lightning bolts and routed them” (Christian Standard Bible). Yes, one might, if one felt the need, dismiss all this as metaphor, but then one must ask if that’s all the Syrians next door meant when they said the same things of Baal? Why should we think so?
In ancient Egyptian cosmology, J. Edward Wright says,
The celestial plane itself is either supported by pillars, staves, or scepters, or is set on top of the mountains At the ends of the earth…Although these supports appear typically in pairs in Egyptian iconography, the pair in fact represent four supports, thus ‘the four corners of the earth.’ The tombs of pharaohs Tutankamon, Seti I, and Ramses II in addition to the figures of the celestial cow or woman have alternative depictions of the sky being supported by pillars or by people holding staves of some kind. These images also appear in many texts.
I see the glory of thee and the fear of thee in all lands, the terror thee as far as the four supports of heaven. [Victory Hymn of Thutmose III]
O thou… who shinest from thy Disk and risest in thy horizon, and dost shine like gold above the sky, like unto whom there is none among the gods, who sailest over the pillars of Shu… [the air god who supports the heavens] [Book of the Dead 2:102]
Great Circle, the sea, the southern countries of the land of the Negro as far as the marsh lands, as far as the limits of darkness, even to the four pillars of heaven. [Luxor inscriptions of Ramses II]
The idea that these pillars kept the earth in place inspired the scribe of Thutmose III to state in his inscription describing Thutmose’s renovations of the Karnak Temple in Luxor were done ‘in order that this temple be established like the heavens, abiding upon their four pillars’… Amenhotep III, regarding the many pillars in the Karnak Temple , states” ‘Its pylons reach heaven like the four pillars of heaven.’ Otherwise, the sky rests on the tops of the mountains: “I know thatmountain of Bakhu upon which the sky rests…” [Coffin Text 160]. Depictions of the sky resting on the mountains appear in two forms: flat… or vaulted.” “These images, and the hieroglyphic term for sky or heaven, … (pet ) indicate that the ancient Egyptians thought the celestial realm was a vast expanse that was either flat or slightly convex.” [Wright, pp. 13-16] “The celestial realm is often thought to have a river or other vast body of water running across it.” [p. 10] For thou hast set a Nile in heaven, That it may descend for them and make waves upon the mountains, Like the great green sea… [Hymn to Aton, period of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten, 1380-1362) (Wright, p. 11)
Ed Babinski notes:
The Bible also talks about the pillars of the earth. In Job 9:6 it says, "Who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars (ydwmu ) tremble." The LXX says, "Who shakes the earth under heaven from its foundations and its pillars (stuloi ) totter." In Psalm 75:3 it says, "The earth and all its inhabitants are melting away; I set firm its pillars (ydwmu )." The LXX says, "I have strengthened its pillars (stuloi )." In I Samuel 2:8 it says, "For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and he had set the world upon them." The Hebrew word for pillar is yqxm . The root is qx meaning "to melt" (Brown, Driver, Briggs, 1980, 848). Therefore,yqxm means, "a molten like pillar." The only other place it occurs is in I Samuel 14:5 referring to a mountain. Probably the pillars of the earth are the same thing as the foundations of the earth which were mountains.
Stephen Meyers adds:
In Ugaritic we have seen that there are two mountains, trgzz and trmg that bind the earth. Gibson says that these twin mountains were founded in the earth-encircling ocean, and held up the firmament, and also marked the entrance to the underworld (1978, 66). The mountains are said to bind the earth. This may indicate that the mountains surrounded, and supported the earth as well as confine the netherworld. The mountains were seen as the foundations of the earth, and the support pillars for the heavens. The Hebrews probably held a very similar view as the verses above indicate, as well as later Hebrew writings. So the phrase "pillars of heaven" and "pillars of earth" are referring to the same mountains. One emphasizes the height of the mountains holding up heaven, the other emphasizes the depth of the mountains that hold the earth firm. http://www.bibleandscience.com/...genesis1_pillarsearth.htm
Stairway to Heaven
It seems logical that, as Wright explains, “Those who ascend to the celestial realm may also arrive there by ascending a celestial ladder fashioned by the gods.”
Now let the ladder of the god be given to me, let the ladder of Seth be given to me, that I may ascend on it to the sky and escort Re as a divine guardian of those who have gone to their doubles. [Pyramid Texts 1:166]
Hail to you, daughter of Anubis, who is at the windows of the sky, the companion of Thoth, who is at the uprights of the ladder! Open my way that I may pass. [Pyramid Texts 1:93] (Wright, p. 22)
Of course, this is precisely what Jacob sees in Genesis 28:12, “He had a dream, and, behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and, behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (NASB) This certainly seems to presuppose no great distance between the ground and the dwelling place of God. Nor is it only angels (“messengers”) who take the trip. The Bible is full of tales of Yahweh coming down to see how man is doing and what man is up to. This makes perfect sense if Yahweh was thought of as a man in the sky. In many visions of Yahweh, he actually resembles man in some fashion.
How was God depicted?
Image the Royal Museum
This Phoenician silver drachma has the image of Yahweh on it. It was made around 350 BC. It's now in the British Museum. It depicts a bearded divinity enthroned over a winged chariot wheel. Admittedly, this is a non-Jewish representation of Yahweh. But, it is the first recorded effort of an ancient people to depict Yahweh as Zeus. Notice the solar wheel, symbolic of the sun, and wings which represent being aloft and in motion. Once again a man in the sky! Notice the eagle in his hand. The inscription to the left of the eagle's head says, Yahweh. Yahweh appears again looking like his Greek cousin Zeus in a third-century CE/AD wall mosaic in a Jewish synagogue in Palestine. It becomes more and more evident that the notion of a strictly formless “aniconic” deity was exclusively the product of abstract philosophizing on the part of the Deuteronomic priests during the Babylonian Exile and did not represent any more ancient Israelite belief. Not only so, but it did not even manage to drive the older conceptions from the field, as we would tend to suppose from our Sunday School assumption that biblical teaching simply equals ancient Israelite belief, an illusion the Bible itself partly fosters but also belies, in that it is clear the priests and prophets have their wok cut out for them getting the people as a whole to shun polytheism and to drop idolatry.
Ever since Erich von Däniken popularized the notion in the early 1970s (in his silly book Chariots of the Gods?), many have adopted the idea that the gods of ancient myths were astronauts, voyagers to earth from distant planets. It is worth noting that, if you were to hop into your time machine and go back to some ancient Greek, Mesopotamian, Viking, Vedic Hindu (or biblical Hebrew!) and tell him, “Look, I hate to break the news to you, pal, but what you took for gods were really just aliens from space! They were people like us, but with powerful weapons, flying machines, and maybe longer life-spans! They just came from up there, not down here!” The recipient of your “news” would probably say, “Yeah? So what else is new? That’s exactly what we thought!” You see, that’s all the ancients meant by “gods.” They weren’t Thomas Aquinas or Paul Tillich! And it is of such a god that the Bible speaks. A deity with a posterior who uses it to sit upon a throne, up there. Deuteronomy 26:15 beseeches God, “Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey.” And the Bible tells us that, sometimes when he looked down, he did not like what he saw. And then, we must assume, he took a climb down that ladder. The Tower of Babel is a good illustration.
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)
Babel is composed of two words, "baa" meaning "gate" and "el," "god" in Hebew. Hence, "the gate of god". “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top [may reach] unto heaven... ” (Genesis 11:4).
“And the LORD [=Yahweh] came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built” (Genesis 11:5). Just before Yahweh destroys the Tower, he says: “…now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Genesis 11:6). In other words, whatever humans put to mind, they can accomplish. At this time, humans were building a tower to heaven… it must have been a plausible task. The idea that God had to come down from heaven to see what was going on… and had to stop them for fear that they would reach heaven, lends credence to the idea that heaven is really a physical place in the sky and not too far away, at that.
Now if Yahweh is troubled by man's accomplishments, why are the Egyptian pyramids still standing? The largest pyramid (449.5 feet) is much taller than any recorded ziggurat and still standing! Let us not forget our modern day architectural buildings. A new building just built in Taipei, Taiwan is 1,676 feet. We are already in God's Heaven.
We have already observed that Genesis 1 has the flat earth resting upon a cosmic ocean, with another whose waves pound downward against the submarine hull of the firmament. Shamash’s throne is shown resting atop the waters above the stars. The second commandment makes reference to the subterranean ocean when it urges us: "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth ” ( Deuteronomy 5:8; Exodus 20:4 . Under the earth? Good luck making sense of this passage in light of modern science! We only have microscopic and small organisms in water found under the earth’s crust. Odd that God would be concerned with graven images of protozoans! But the text makes perfect sense once we recall that the ancients believed that the earth was flat and supported by pillars over the dark waters underneath. They believed that huge, massive creatures like whales came from beneath the Earth.
The first two lines in Genesis point the way to the truth of what they believed. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Nothing is said of creating water, at least not so far. Then Genesis 1:2, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep . And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Here are the waters, but their presence seems taken for granted. Nothing is said even here about their creation.
Young Earth Creationists attempt to explain that the "waters above the earth" reference an immense vapor canopy or pre-flood reservoir that later drained during the Great Flood. Genesis 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." Now of course here, one could resort to metaphor, but this makes perfect sense using the ancient model above. The firmament kept the waters back. God opened the windows of the firmament and water began to fall and flood the Earth. Young Earth Creationists state that these waters were drained completely. Which is why we obviously don't see a vapor canopy above us. But if true, after the flood, the waters shouldn't be mentioned again in the Bible, but they are.
Psalm 148:4 “Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that [be] above the heavens.” Once again shamayim is used here in all instances of “heaven.” It is interesting to note that water is mayim in Hebrew. In Aramaic: Heaven is dabashmaya , Water ismaya . As you can see the ya (Aramaic) and im (Hebrew) allude to the plurality of what is being mentioned. As mentioned earlier,shamayim literally means "from the waters."
For the next three sections, one can do no better than to condense and reproduce some material from Ed Babinski’s fine website,http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/geocentrism/cosmology.html Here he deals with the Bible’s depiction of a flat earth. (But don’t blame him for our hilariously witty section headings!)
Welcome to the Flat Earth Society!
First, Daniel 4:10, 11 says, "There was a tree in the midst [or center] of the earth, and its height was great. It reached to the sky, and was visible to the end of the whole earth." Such visibility (i.e., "a tree of great height at the center of the earth and seen to the end of the whole earth") implies a flat earth. However, this verse may be explained away as depicting a "mere dream" of Daniel's, viz., a "metaphorical image" of the extent of Nebuchadnezzer's kingdom. However, the fact that flat earth imagery surprised no one in the story of Daniel also implies that it was taken for granted. And a similar verse that mentioned being taken to a great "height" and being "shown" "all the kingdoms of the world [lit. Greek, cosmos ]," occurs in the New Testament as well, where again it is taken from granted.
Second, Isaiah 42:5 and 44:24 state that at creation God "spread out the earth"--the Hebrew verb for "spread" being used elsewhere in Scripture to depict a "flattening" or "pounding." Also, if the earth was not "spread out," but "rolled up tightly like a ball" at creation, the writer could have said so. We find the requisite Hebrew construction in Isaiah 22:18, where a man is "rolled up tightly like a ball." Hence the earth at creation was spoken of as being "flattened or pounded flat" at creation.
Third, Isaiah 11:12 declares, "Gather (them) from the four corners of the earth," and Revelation 7:1 adds, "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth." Young earth creationist Henry Morris suggests that rather than "corners," a more precise translation of the Hebrew is “four quarters of the earth,” which simply means the four directions. This, of course, begs the question of why four (presumably flat) directions (North, South, East, and West) remained the norm for the ancient Hebrews, even to the extent of a psalmist rejoicing, "He removes our transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12), which, on the globe, is not infinitely far away.
Fourth, Matthew 4:8 states that "The devil took him [Jesus] to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world [Greek, cosmos ], and their glory." One could see "all" the kingdoms of the world from a very high mountain if the world were flat. This verse has been explained away as a "vision" of all the world's kingdoms, a vision received on a very high mountain. However, such a "vision" could have been granted Jesus in his sleep, so why did the devil "take Jesus" to a "very high mountain" to show him such things? Furthermore, Jewish writings composed between the Old and New Testaments, like, the Book of Enoch, share an unquestionably flat earth perspective: http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/febible.htm
Fifth, Throughout Scripture the shape and construction of the earth is assumed to resemble that of a building having a firm immovable foundation, and a roof (or canopy). "He established the earth upon its foundations, that it will not totter, forever and ever" (Psalm 104:5). "The world is firmly established, it will not be moved" (Psalm 93:1). "For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he set the world on them." (1 Samuel 2:8) "It is I who have firmly set its pillars" (Psalm 75:3). "Who stretched out the heavens... and established the world" (Jeremiah 10:12). "Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in" (Isaiah 40:22). "Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain" (Psalm 104:1-2). "In the heavens... in the true tabernacle (tent), which the Lord pitched, not man" (Hebrews 8:2-3). "The One who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and has founded his vaulted dome over the earth" (Amos 9:6). "Praise God in his sanctuary, praise him in his mighty firmament" (Psalm 150:1).
As readers may have noticed by now, it is impossible to demonstrate the superiority of a spherical interpretation in any of the above cases. Indeed, those who reject flat earth representations focus their Biblical attention elsewhere, a favorite verse being Job 26:7 "He stretches out the north over empty space, and hangs the earth on nothing." The Hebrew for "on nothing" in this verse means literally, "without anything," and thus it may be paraphrased, ".without support other than God Himself." Foes of the flat earth interpretation of the Bible emphasize the difference between this verse and ancient Hindu cosmology wherein a flat earth was supported on a turtle's back, which swam on the back of an elephant, which stood on the back of something else, ad infinitum, proving that a flat earth requires supports ad infinitum.
However, leaving Hindu mythology aside, the ancient Egyptians, who were also flat earthers, did not feel the need for supports ad infinitum. An ancient Egyptian ideogram actually portrays a single eye, connected with two hands and feet -- representing ka, a personal power -- directly supporting a flat earth disc, i.e., without further assistance. Other Egyptian texts speak of divine power as "The Support of all things," and an Egyptian god claims, "I laid the foundations of all things by my will." Khepra, another Egyptian god, "conceived a place to stand. He uttered its name, the standing place at once came into being." Thus, Egyptian flat earth notions only differed from Job's verse in answering the question of "Who" "...hangs the earth on nothing, or without anything."
Also compare Proverbs as raising a question that perhaps the author of Job wished to answer in terms of "Who." -- "Who has established all the ends of the earth?" (Proverbs 30:4) "He [Yahweh] hangs the earth, without anything, on nothing." (Job 26:7). "He established the world by his wisdom: and by his understanding he has stretched out Heaven." (Jeremiah 10:12).
Most importantly, notice that Job 26:7 neglects to mention the earth's shape at all, so it is even less effective than Isaiah 40:22 when trying to find a verse in the Bible that speaks of a spherically shaped earth. While other verses from Job declare, "(God's) measure is longer than the earth" (Job 11:7, 9). "Who stretched the line on (the earth)?" (38:5). And, "He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens" (28:24). All of these are found in the Book of Job and all imply a flat earth. Job also says, in one of his tirades (26:5-7): “The departed spirits tremble under the waters and their inhabitants. Naked is Sheol (the land of the dead) before him and Abaddon [the place of destruction] has no covering. He stretches out the north [the sky] over empty space, and hangs the earth without anything, on nothing.”
[God’s rebuke is equally interesting for our purpose] (Job 38:16-18): “Have you entered into the depths of the sea? Or have you walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the gates of darkness? Have you understood (or examined) the expanse of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this!”
Moreover, in the Book of Job, God also harassed Job with questions not only about how the earth was "supported," but concerning how it was shaped, and those questions likewise implied a flat earth: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (Job 38:4). "On what were its bases sunk?" (Job 38:6). (One could also compare Jeremiah 31:37: "If the foundations of the earth (can be) searched out below, then I will cast off Israel.")
What about the earth's movement? Are there any verses in the Bible that imply the earth rotates daily on its axis? Young-earth creationist, Henry Morris, asserts that he has found one, a single verse in Job that implies the rotation of the earth: "It [the earth] is turned as clay to the seal." (Job 38:l4, King James Version). Morris claims, "The figure, in context, is of a clay vessel being turned on a wheel to receive the design imprinted upon it by a seal or signet, like the earth as it turns into the dawning sun, gradually revealing the intricate features on its surface." Of course this "rotating earth" interpretation of Job 38:14 is very modern (neither Luther nor Calvin, nor Medieval scholars knew of it). Moreover, Morris relies on the King James Version of the Bible without acknowledging that other translations do not fit his interpretation:
"It is turned as clay to the seal."
--Job 38:14, King James Version (Morris' preferred translation)
"It is changed like clay under the seal." (Job 38:14, RSV & NASB)
"The earth takes shape like clay under a seal." (Job 38:14, NIV)
What Morris has failed to realize is that the King James Bible was written during the time of King James, during which they spoke Elizabethan English and the word "turned" was still used as a synonym for "changed" or "takes shape." We even use it that way occasionally today, as in "the milk turned sour." But that doesn't mean the milk was literally "turning or spinning" in its carton. In fact, Morris not only does not recognize the differences between Elizabethan English and modern English usage, but he ignores the meaning of the original Hebrew word being translated. The original Hebrew word in Job 38:14 does not mean literally "spinning or turning," it just means "changes or takes shape."
Secondarily, Morris imagines that the clay being "turned" is a "pot or vessel" on a spinner's wheel. But there is nothing in the verse to suggest that a "pot or vessel" or a "wheel" of any sort is being spoken of. So Morris has not only ignored the meaning of the original Hebrew, and invented his own private interpretation of the meaning of the Elizabethan word "turned" in this particular context, but also invented a host of other false things to go along with it! Archeological evidence suggests exactly the opposite, namely, that a flat clay tablet is being spoken of, whose surface is "changed" or "takes shape" by the pressing of a magistrate's (or businessman's) seal upon the flat clay as was common practice back then. The seals themselves could be flat or even cylinders rolled on the flat clay. Today there are thousands of such ancient clay tablets known to archeologists. And if the flat clay tablet is "changed" by the impression of a seal pressed upon it, and the clay tablet is a metaphor for "the earth" being changed by the light of dawn upon its surface, then you can easily see that the Book of Job is speaking of a flat earth after all. Consider the entire context of the verse in question:
"Have you ever in your life commanded the morning,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?
It [the earth] is changed like clay under the seal:
And they stand forth like a garment
And from the wicked their light is withheld,
And the uplifted arm is broken." (Job 38:12-15, NASB)
"Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him stars of light! Praise Him highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens! (Psalm 148:3-4)
Furthermore, when the book of Genesis described a "flood" that covered the whole world, and reduced the world to its pre-creation watery beginning, the story states that the "flood gates of the sky" were "opened." Neither did the author of that fable suppose that all the water above the firmament fell to earth, but instead he assumed that the "flood gates" had to be "shut" to stop more water from falling, and the creator had to promise not to flood the earth again with such waters. So, the Bible agrees with Luther that "the waters above the firmament" remained "up there," held firmly in place by a firmament--and this agrees completely with ancient tales of creation in which the world arose from a division of waters that encompass creation still, and which the creator keeps at bay via a firmament above the earth.
Geocentrism Is Egocentism Writ Large
For most of recorded history people imagined that their feet were planted on firm ground, terra firma. The view presented in the Bible is no exception. The Bible depicts the earth as the firm, immovable, "foundation" of all creation:
“Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth.” (Hebrews 1:10)
“The sun, moon, and stars were created only after "the earth" below was created.” (Genesis 1:9-18)
“Who hath established all the ends of the earth?” (Proverbs 30:4)
“He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter, forever and ever.”
“The world is firmly established, it will not be moved.” (Psalm 93:1 & 1 Chronicles 16:30)
“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof?” (Job 38:4-6)
“For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he set the world on them.” (1 Samuel 2:8)
“It is I who have firmly set its pillars.” (Psalm 75:3)
“Who stretched out the heavens...and established the world.” (Jeremiah 10:12)
The only time the Bible depicts the earth as moving is during an earthquake: “The earth quaked, the foundations of heaven were trembling.” (2 Samuel 22:8)
“The earth quakes, the heavens tremble.” (Joel 2:10)
“I shall make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place.” (Isaiah 13:13)
“There was a great earthquake...and the stars of the sky fell...as if shaken from a tree.” (Revelation 6:12-13)
The Bible says, "He [God] can command the sun not to rise" (Job 9:7), rather than, "He can command the earth to stop moving." That God would direct His command at the sun rather than the earth, is what one should note in this case, just as Luther and Calvin did. Likewise, Martin Luther pointed out that when the book of Joshua spoke of the miracle of "Joshua's long day," that day was lengthened because, "Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth." (Joshua 10:12) A modern reader must keep his eye on what object God's own command was directed at in order to understand the nature of the controversy. Did God "do" what the Bible depicts Him as "doing," or not?
The Bible also states: "The sun rises and the sun sets, and hastening to its place it rises there again." (Ecclesiastes 1:5, NASB) The mere mention of seeing something "rise" or "set" could be disregarded depending on one's perspective, but speaking of the sun "hastening to its place" so that it may "rise there again," is not so easily explained away. It means the author of Ecclesiastes believed that the sun moved daily around the earth. Compare Psalm 19:4-6, "In [the heavens] He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices like a strong man to run its course, its [daily] rising from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them."
As for the stars, the Bible teaches that they too move: "From their courses they [the stars] fought against Sisera." (Judges 5:20, NASB). "The One who leads forth their [starry] host by number... Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one [star] is missing." (Isaiah 40:26, NASB) Keep in mind that the stars in question are the ones the ancients saw circling nightly round the pole star each night. And according to the book of Job, whole constellations of stars are "led forth" by God, i.e., "Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, And guide the Bear with her satellites? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, Or fix their rule over the earth?" (Job 38:31-33, NASB)
Modern astronomy teaches the reverse of the verses above:
The earth spins each day (rather than the sun "hastening to its place to rise again").
The earth spins each night (rather than the stars "coursing" around the heavens).
The earth is what God would have had to "command" not to move, and what Joshua would have needed to command to "stand still" (rather than God commanding the sun not to move).
The earth is what God would have had to "lead forth" and "guide" in "its season[al]" movement around the sun (rather than God "leading forth," "guiding," and "fixing" non-existent "ordinances of the constellations").
Here Comes the Sun
The Bible does not list the number of planets in our solar system. Back then, planets were called "wandering stars" because they appeared to be tiny lights in the sky like all other "stars," but the ancients noted that some "stars" did not rotate in the same enormous circle each night round the pole star as did all the rest. In fact, the word "planet" is derived from the Greek word for "wanderer." The "wandering stars" known by the ancients included Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Add the above five "wanderers" to the sun and moon which also traced their own unique paths across the sky, and you get a total of seven major heavenly objects that stood out from the stars. The ancients imagined that these seven were special gods overseeing the earth below. For instance, the Babylonians referred to the "watchful eye" of Shamash, the sun, who notes all things; and a prayer to Nergal (Mars) states, "With Sin [the Moon] in Heaven thou perceivest all things." Compare the Hebrew notion that "these seven [lights] are the eyes of the Lord which range [wander] to and fro throughout the earth" (Zechariah 4:10). Nor does the Bible reveal that its authors were aware of the earth being one more "wandering star" like the rest. Instead, "the heavens and the earth" are spoken of as the two halves of creation with the earth forming a firm foundation and the heavens "spread out" above it in an equally "firm" fashion.
Also, according to Genesis 1:16 only "two" great lamps were created (the Hebrew term translated as "great lights" in Genesis, means literally, "great lamps"--the two great lamps being the "Sun" and the "moon"--with no recognition of the fact that every twinkle in the sky might be another great lamp like the sun, or perhaps be a planetary body larger than the earth with many moons (great lamps) of its own. Rather, the Bible depicts stars as relatively small objects, created after the earth and "set" in the firmament above it, which may even "fall" to earth at its end when the "earth is shaken" and they "fall like ripe figs" from the sky, and the "heavens are rolled up like a scroll" to be "created" anew: "There was a great earthquake... and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casts her figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places." Revelation 6:12-14; and, "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth" Revelation 7:1 "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." Revelation 21:1
Shamash , was the common name of the sun-god in Babylonia and Assyria. Might it be purely coincidental that shamash, and shamayim are both related to something aloft or a celestial body? Maybe not! Shemesh is actually Hebrew for Sun. Why is this important? Shamash is often depicted as a winged God rising from between twin mountain peaks with rays emanating. Malachi 4:2 says, "the Sun ( shemesh ) of righteousness arise[s] with healing in his wings"
From a Babylonian seal cylinder in the British Museum. [No. 89,110.]
Wright says, “The divine celestial bodies (sun, moon, and stars) pass through doors or gates as they become visible in the sky. Descriptions of the celestial bodies entering the visible sky via gates are augmented by cylinder seals depicting the sun god rising between mountains that are oftentimes surmounted by open gates. This image is verbalized in prayers to the sun god Utu:
Utu [= Shamash], when you emerge from the great mountain, the mountain of springs, when you emerge from the Holy Hill, the place where destinies are decided, when you emerge from where heaven and earth embrace, from heaven’s base.
O Shamash on the foundation of heaven thou hast flamed forth, Thou hast unbarred the bright heavens, Thou hast opened the portals of the sky.
(Wright, pp. 33-34)
The Man in the Sun Came Down too Soon
The solar deity Shamash not only appears in liturgical vestiges of the Old Testament, old sun hymns and the like. He also appears as a heroic character. The Anglicized form of the name Shamash may be more familiar: Samson. Anyone can see that, though numbered among the Judges in the Book of Judges, he is very different from all the other Judges and does not really fit in their ranks. He is no prophet, no seer, no military commander, just a rogue with superhuman strength. Samson is the Hebrew Hercules, perhaps literally. Both were originally sun gods, as is clear from Samson’s name (“the Sun”!), his long hair (= the sun’s rays), etc. As with Joshua and others, Samson retained his place in scripture only by getting demoted to a legendary hero. What Jaan Puhvel says of Indo-European myth applies equally to the myths of ancient Israel:
Myth can be transmitted either in its immediate shape, as sacred narrative anchored in theology and interlaced with liturgy and ritual, or in transmuted form, as past narrative that has severed its ties to sacred time and instead functions as an account of the purportedly secular, albeit extraordinary happening… This transposition of myth to heroic saga is a notable mechanism in ancient Indo-European traditions, wherever a certain cultic system has been supplanted in living religion and the superannuated former apparatus falls prey to literary manipulation. (Comparative Mythology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, p. 39)
There are two separate and partially parallel collections of Samson tales, and they are full of evidence that Samson was the sun god.
1. Miraculous Nativity (Judges 13:2-5) Manoah of Zorah has no children; his unnamed wife is barren (like Sarah, the Shunammite, Hannah, and Elizabeth). A man appears, promising that she will after all conceive and commanding that the boy be raised with the strictest discipline of the Nazirite vow for his whole life! The Nazirite vow was for a period of weeks, not a whole life. The point here is to try to explain Samson’s long hair, unusual for Hebrew men, but characteristic of him as a sun god.
2. The Lion and the Riddle (Judges 14:1-19) The story’s “local color” attests the Israelite-Philistine intermarriage legitimated about this time by the Curse of Noah story (Genesis 9:27) We have two sun symbols here: first, Samson kills a lion, just as Hercules does. The mane represents the rays of the sun. Second, the wedding reception recalls Psalm 19:4b-5, “In [the skies] he has set a tent for the sun, which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber and like a strong man runs its course with joy.”
3. Foxes in the Field (Judges 14:20-15:8a) Samson gains vengeance on the tricky Philistines by catching 300 foxes (how long would this have taken, even for a man with superhuman strength? Tell me this is not folklore!), tying their tails together, and setting them on fire. Then he releases them into the Philistines’ grainfields. The whole thing is symbolic of the sun withering the grain.
4. The Jawbone of an Ass (Judges 15:8b-17) Pretending to come along quietly, Samson lays into his captors with the nearest weapon to hand, a sun-bleached donkey jawbone. With it he kills 1, 000 men! Did they line up to get brained one by one? Didn’t the bone break? It is an etymological story told to supply a noble explanation for the originally topographically named Ramath-lehi, “Hill of the Jawbone,” i.e., a declining rocky ridge. The story is based on a misunderstanding of the poem quoted, which originally meant, “At Ramath-lehi, heaps upon heaps! At Ramath-lehi I have slain a thousand men!”
5. The Miraculous Spring (Judges 15:18-19) Feeling thirsty after killing a thousand foes, Samson petulantly calls out for God to provide a drink, lest thirst finish him off where the Philistines couldn’t! God obligingly causes a spring to gush forth. It is an etymological story in that it explains the old name, “En-hak-kore,” the Spring of Him Who Calls. Also a geological story: explaining the origin of the spring itself. Also, as in the hymn to Utu, we have here the sun god associated with a mountain of springs. (Verse 20 concludes the first cycle.)
1. The Ambush at the Gate (Judges 16:1-3) Samson outwits a party of ambushers who wait for him at the city gates as he spends the night at a Philistine prostitute’s apartment. He lifts the gates and carries them to a hilltop, where they are discovered at dawn. Here is the traditional image of the sunrise as the sun god entering the horizon through mountain gates. Cf. the Pillars of Hercules.
2. Samson & Delilah (Judges 16:4-31) Yet another instance of the theme of Samson and Philistine women. This is another version of the Lion and the Riddle. As there, we see Samson marrying a Philistine who betrays him to her countrymen by wheedling a secret out of him. As before, Samson is temporarily outwitted but gains revenge, this time at the cost of his life. Note the threefold structure common to fairytales and jokes.
His identity as the sun is absolutely clear from this story: he loses his strength when his hair is cut, i.e., when the rays of the sun are obscured, the sun is no longer shining in its strength. And he is blind ! And his positioning himself between the pillars (of the earth--Boaz and Jachin) harks back to the hilltop (heavenly) gates of the previous tale.
Heaven, according to ancient Judaism and Christianity, is merely the sky. At the highest portion of the sky possible, God sits upon the solid firmament, which keeps the higher and lower waters apart and the firmament (sky) also houses the stars, sun and moon. Since the Bible also states unequivocally that birds fly in heaven, a tornado can take a person to heaven, clouds are in heaven, God lets waters collect under heaven, and dozens of other examples, it's reasonable to conclude that heaven is the sky. Almost anywhere in the Bible if you replace “heaven” with “sky,” it fits perfectly. The earth beneath the firmament is a flat disk, supported by foundations as the firmament is by pillars. One heaven weighs down upon the dome from above, another buoys the earth up from below. This earth is anchored immovably and forms the center of solar and planetary motion. It is a very different world than the one we live on. But if we, like our ancestors, lacked modern observational technology, we might still share these beliefs, and we would be fools no more than they. In fact, ancient Jews did readily accept major or minor elements of Greek cosmology, notably the Ptolemaic schema whereby a still and spheric earth rests at the center of a great number of crystalline spheres in which the sun, moon, planets and stars were set, orbiting us in complex dances. They were mistaken in those theories, too, but they were in all cases quite correct to accept, however provisionally, the latest results of careful thinkers on the subject. It is, then, doubly tragic that today’s biblicists, so eager to think the thoughts of the Bible’s writers after them, refuse to budge from the same obsolete world pictures those scribes and prophets would have discarded in a moment had better knowledge become available.
FIG. 13 - The Ancient Hebrew Conception of the Universe (from Robinson 1913, p.13)
Waters above and below the firmament.
Answering the critics:
*If what you say is true why does Paul mention a 3rd heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2? - Pete M.
The mention of a third heaven by Paul is in reference to a period of time, not an actual place. Most scholars agree with this view. Douglas Ward of the The Christian Resource Institute states, "Paul described his experiences in the only way that he had at hand. His point was not to tell us how many levels of heaven there might really be." This also make sense when one takes into account 2Peter 3:13: "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth." Nothing about levels here. Both the Heavens and the Earth will be eradicated and begun anew. - R. Finley