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  • Writer's pictureJon Peters

Biblical Cosmology Is Wrong: but they were not alone.

Updated: Jan 14



"To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin". ~ Cardinal Bellarmine, 1633



Introduction


The Bible's erroneous cosmology matches that of other civilizations around the world at the time. It is not their fault; it is what most people in many parts of the world thought of cosmology at that time (see below). For the conservative Christian, often evangelicals and literalists, it may come as a shock that Genesis had the earth, universe and the solar system so incorrect because in their view the Bible can't be wrong. Modern scholarship has known for many decades how to interpret Genesis correctly - what the writers actually meant. Much hinges on what the Hebrew word translated as “firmament” in the KJV means. Because conservative biblicists cannot accept that the Bible has any major errors but is the literal "Word of God", they are left with the impossible task of explaining away what is clearly a geocentric universe let alone an erroneous expanded cosmology, a flat and immobile earth, and a tsunami of Biblical verses that attest to the errors.


Used under guidelines of Faith/Life and Logos/Bible Media. Logos Free. Fair Use Attribution https://www.logos.com/copyright-permissions



Some Bible verses that apply:

Heaven, Realm of God - Ps 104:2-3. Deut 26:15, Neh 9:6

Waters Above and Below: Gen 1:6-8, Ps 104:3, Ps 148:4

Firmament (Dome): Gen 1:6-8, 14-19, Job 37:18, Ps 19:1

Sun, Moon, Stars Move: Eccl 1:5, Ps 19:6, Josh 10:13, Enoch 75:3-4

Stars Fall to Earth: Is 34:4, Matt 24:29, Rev 6:13

Circle of the Earth: Is 40:22

Center of the Earth: Dan 4:10

Waters Below: Gen 1:7, Gen 1:9

Earth Immovable: 1Chron 16:30, Ps 93:1, Ps 104:5

Underworld: Phil 2:10-11, Rev 5:3,13

Foundations of the Earth, Pillars: 1Sam 2:9, Job 38:4, Ps 75:3, Ps 104:5

[More verses are found in a graphic in the Appendix of this blog. See below]


“While it may come as a surprise to many, modern scholarship has long argued that the Hebrews, along with most other ancient peoples, believed that the heavens (as in‘the sky’) were made of some kind of solid substance, whether it be of bronze, iron, or precious stone. This heavenly vault or dome had hatches in it, so it is argued, that released the waters that were contained above it. According to this view, this was the ancient explanation for where rain comes from. While this modern scholastic view goes well beyond what pious ancient interpreters thought, we can conveniently group together all views that thought of the rāqîaʿ as a solid object the firmament concept. ‘Firmament’ being the well-known King James Version translation of the Hebrew word rāqîaʿ. One may question if such a view is nothing more than a modern scholarly invention. As understandable as that would be, the very etymology and long-term usage of the (English) word firmament testifies that the notion of a cosmic ‘vault,’ or conversely of some kind of crystalline celestial sphere (which concepts, however, are far from identical),3 has long been believed in. Firmament is a transliteration of the Latin Vulgate’s firmamentum, the Vulgate being a 1,600 year old translation. The Vulgate itself was influenced by the Septuagint’s στερέωμα (stereōma), the Septuagint itself being a 2,300 year old translation. Stereōma comes from the word στερεόω (stereoō) – ‘to make or be firm or solid.’ While secular scholarship and conservative belief alike distinguish between the original intent of the Bible and later interpretations of it (no matter how old those interpretations may be), it is nonetheless a remarkable fact that the earliest ever translation of the Hebrew Bible, from circa 250 B.C., interpreted the rāqîaʿ as referring to some kind of hard heavenly object. In summary, this ‘dome theory’ or ‘firmament notion’ represents the almost unquestioned consensus view of modern scholarship, while ancient Jewish and Christian interpretation has itself long supported important aspects of this model. Furthermore, while a segment of scholars, almost entirely from the evangelical community, previously opposed this view, particularly in light of the scientific problems it introduces, an increasing number of professing evangelical scholars have now openly embraced the firmament interpretation. The earlier evangelical view is represented by the translation of rāqîaʿ as an expanse, rather than as a firmament or dome:…”


I think it best to see what modern Hebrew scholars show what Genesis is describing. It’s no wonder that the Catholic Church put Galileo on trial for suggesting a heliocentric solar system and an earth that moved. The Bible told them so, and often Christians will believe the Bible’s errors over sound evidence.


Below are a few sources that go into slightly more depth with a discussion of bible verses that detail, like other ANE civilizations at that time, a flat earth, immobile, and with the sky and heavens as depicted in the above graphic.



The Three story universe of the Bible -


“The most striking feature of the Old Testament world is the "firmament," a solid dome which separates "the waters from the waters" (Gen. 1:6). The Hebrew word translated in the Latin Vulgate as firmamentum is raqia' whose verb form means "to spread, stamp or beat out." The material beaten out is not directly specified, but both biblical and extrabiblical evidence suggests that it is metal. A verb form of raqia' is used in both of these passages: "And gold leaf was hammered out..." (Ex. 39:3); and "beaten silver is brought from Tarshish" (Jer. l0:9). There are indeed figurative uses of this term. A firmament is part of the first vision of Ezekiel (1:22,26), and the editors of the evangelical Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament cite this as evidence that the Hebrews did not believe in a literal sky-dome. It is clear, however, that Ezekiel's throne chariot is the cosmos in miniature, and the use of raqia' most likely refers to a solid canopy (it shines "like crystal") than to a limited space.(6)


The idea of the dome or vault of heaven is found in many Old Testament books, e.g., "God founds his vault upon the earth..." (Amos 9:6). The Hebrew word translated as "vault" is 'aguddah whose verb form means to "bind, fit, or construct." Commenting on this verse, Richard S. Cripps states that "here it seems that the 'heavens' are 'bound' or fitted into a solid vault, the ends of which are upon the earth." We have seen that raqia' and 'aguddah, whose referent is obviously the same, mean something very different from the empty spatial expanse that some evangelicals suggest.


In the Anchor Bible translation of Psalm 77:18, Mitchell Dahood has found yet another reference to the dome of heaven, which has been obscured by previous translators. The RSV translates galgal as "whirlwind," but Dahood argues that galgal is closely related to the Hebrew gullath (bowl) and gulgolet (skull), which definitely gives the idea of "something domed or vaulted." In addition, Dahood points out that "the parallelism with tebel, 'earth,' and 'eres, 'netherworld,' suggests that the psalmist is portraying the tripartite division of the universe--heaven, earth, and underworld.”(8)"


A good discussion by David Bailey is available. His site actually has a wealth of information on several similar topics. See citation below.

“In fact, numerous biblical passages state or affirm the geocentric cosmology that prevailed in much of the ancient world until Greek and Roman times, and, of course, which was not fully modernized until Copernicus and Galileo


1. The Earth itself is flat and immovable, encompassed by a circle (like a coin), and set on a foundation of pillars.

2. Above the Earth stands a "firmament" (later thought to be a system of crystalline spheres), a few hundred (or at most a few thousand) feet above the Earth, on which the stars, planets, sun and moon revolve.

3. Heaven or the realm of God is a set of chambers just above the firmament.

4. Above the firmament and the heavenly chambers lies the upper seas or the "waters above the firmament"; below the Earth and the underworld lie the lower seas or the Great Deep.

According to Kaufmann Kohler and Emil G. Hirsch, in a Jewish Encyclopedia article [Kohler2018],


The Hebrews regarded the Earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse.




Cultures around the world: In addition to the Ancient Near East, most world cultures also had the same erroneous cosmology.

Ben Stanhope in his book Misinterpreting Genesis points out that many cultures of the time had the same cosmology ideas as the Biblical writers.

Dr. Stanhope's web site: https://www.bstanhope.com/


1. Qur’an - “…The evidence indicates that Muhammad assumed some cosmological notions shared by the Syriac Christian writings we have. Probably the most explicit example of this is contained in a fascinating story the Qur’an relates about Alexander the Great (called here “The Two-Horned One”) in surah 18:86… until, when he reached the place of the sun’s setting, he found it setting in a putrid spring and he found by it a people… A Hadith reports… Abu Dharr had a conversation with the prophet about the setting of the sun, and Muhammad purportedly told him that it sets in a spring of water… The Qur’an also uses the term “heavenly course” (sabab) to describe the heavenly conduit that Alexander follows.


2. Native American Legends - “Levy-Bruhl writes, “In North America, in Indian belief, the earth is a circular disc usually surrounded on all sides by water and the sky is a solid concave hemisphere coming down at the horizon to the level of the earth… indigenous North Americans believed the earth is “flat and round below and surmounted by a solid firmament in the shape of an inverted bowl… The Navaho story of creation better describes the solid dome (apparently made of stone) and claims that a race of blue-headed people lives above it in a second blue world.”


The Shishoni imagined a sky made of a great dome of ice, the Cherokee had a belief that the sky was a vault of solid rock, constantly rising and falling and will crush those who try to go beyond. This concept was also expressed in the Iroquois, the Omaha, Sioux and the Tillamook of Oregon. Some mention piercing the heavenly vault.


3. Australia - “Most Australian Aboriginal people held a common view of the earth as a flat disc surrounded by the boundless water of an ocean. Above this earth-disc was as solid vault or canopy. Beyond this vault was the sky-world, a vast, plentiful and beautiful place.”


4. Oceanic People Groups - “… the Dyak of Borneo consider the earth to be a flat surface, whilst the heavens are a dome, a kind of glass shade which covers the earth, and comes into contact with it at the horizon… Among the Melanesians we are told, “Many of the natives thought if they could only reach the [horizon] they would be able to climb up to the sky”… In Fiji, we find represented the motif of the warrior who climbs a tree to reach the vault in a previous age when it was much lower.”


“… the great Italian religious historian Raffaele Pettazzoni wrote the following: The notion of a firmament as a solid vault made of a hard, blue, transparent substance is quite wide-spread in Polynesia, from the Tonga Islands to Mangaia, from Tahiti to the Marquesas.”


5. China and Japan - “A Chinese text… that may date as early as 1,000 BC… talks about the gai tian or Celestial Lid - a dome with attached celestial bodies. The ancient Chinese thought of the earth as surrounded by an ocean like the Hebrews, but unlike them believed the earth was a square instead of a disc, a view partly motivated by Taoist geometrical harmony… we should not minimize the tenacity of the solid dome in China. In addition to the Chinese examples, Japan also had mythologies about the sun concealing itself in a rock-grotto in the sky, and we find that the stone firmament is represented in Shinto temples.”


6. India - “The earliest source, Rig Veda, dated around 1500 BC, clearly articulates a solid firmament… One creation hymn speaks of the god “by whom the dome of the sky was propped up (10.121.5).”


7. Africa - “… the Tswana of South Africa mentions the cosmology of the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Hebrews and tells us that the Tswana vision of the universe “departs little from this picture”… We find that “the Tswana universe is geocentric; the stars, sun and moon revolve round the earth which is flat. At the edge of the earth is water. The sky is made of stone, the stone of God, beyond which God lives. Water is beneath the earth and above the sky… The same idea [of a solid vault] is found in Africa not only in Madagascar but also in southern Nigeria… Cameroons, among the Pangwe,… among the Djagga.”


8. Scandinavia and Russia - “The Kalevala, the national epic of Finland, speaks of smith god Ilmarinen who, along with forging the sun and moon from gold and steel, “shaped the sky, hammered out the lid of heaven”. Fortson points out that the Proto-Indo-European “word for ‘stone’ secondarily refers to ‘heaven’ in Indo-European and Germanic”.


9. Central and South America - “In Central and Yucatec Maya thought, the earth was sometimes conceived as the back of a colossal caiman floating among these cosmic waters. One also observes the Aztecs referring to it as a disk surrounded by a ring of water, as well as square with four cardinal posts upholding the sky like a construction of a house… The solid firmament is well attested in the Amazon… the remote Yanomami… consider it a primary job of their shamans to uphold the heavenly vault with rituals, envisioning that one day it will collapse and destroy the world.”


10. Greece - “The Illiad (XVII:425) and the Odyssey (XV:329) tell us the sky is made of iron, an idea that Pontani quotes throughout other Greek texts. The Greeks conceived it, “as a bowl-like hemisphere…covering a flat earth. Seely likewise cites five other Classical scholars who agree among Homer and Hesiod, “The sky is a solid hemisphere like a bowl… cover [ing] the flat round earth”.


Stanhope, Ben. (Mis)interpreting Genesis: How the Creation Museum Misunderstands the Ancient Near Eastern Context of the Bible. Louisville, KY. Scarab Press, 2020.



Biblical Scientific errors. They are numerous.



Summary


It is the consensus of religious specialists around the world at top universities that the cosmology of the Biblical writers was similar to the ANE cultures around them at the time. That included a geocentric flat immovable earth that was at the center of the cosmos and the pinnacle of God's creation. Although some natural philosophers such as the Greeks had determined to great accuracy using trigonometry that the earth was not flat but a sphere, this was not common knowledge. It certainly was not known to Christian theologians who had an avalanche of Biblical verses that asserted a flat immobile geocentric earth in our solar system that they thought was the universe. Only in some conservative Abrahamic religious do apologists desperately continue to force the Bible to say what it does not about cosmology due to their obvious presuppositions and allegiances to a literal interpretation of most or all of Genesis. Applying copious amounts of hyperbole, metaphor, analogy, claiming that these verses are taken out of context, that this word in [Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, Greek] has multiple meanings and people are applying the wrong interpretation, etc. do they hope to salvage their claim of Biblical inerrancy. This really is not honest scholarly work, especially if one must sign a statement of faith to remain on the faculty at a conservative school.

The scientific errors in the Bible are indeed of Biblical proportions.

Appendix -

a compilation of Bible verses pointing to a flat, non moving earth with our sun orbiting around a geocentric planet.



Note: this section has been reproduced and given a separate treatment from a longer look at some of the many Biblical Errors discussed in Section 2/4 this web site.









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