Category Archives: History

Drifting downstream on the celestial ocean

The recurrent pattern of the slowly ongoing discussion on Hebrew cosmology at Biologos is interesting. An allusion to Seely, or to some other secondary source, is adduced to assert that such and such a nation believed without exception in a solid firmament and a celestial ocean “just like Israel”. I refute this from primary sources or specialist literature. Rather than being withdrawn, the claim then gets transferred to another nation, a bit further downstream from ancient Israel, and round we go again.

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Shaking the gates of hell

One of the common practices in building dubious Hebrew cosmologies is to take an elaborate concept from some non-Hebrew ancient source, and apply it wholesale to sparse references in the Bible. One example would be the Babylonian Apsu, the subterranean watery realm, which is pretty well described in cuneiform texts, and which is mapped uncritically to the Hebrew tehom, which usually means the seas, and sometimes the depths from which freshwater springs come, in order to construct an infinite abyssal ocean never mentioned in Scripture, as in this “Hebrew Cosmology”:

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God as sole Creator in Genesis

There is debate nowadays as to whether Genesis 1 teaches ex nihilo creation, or whether it implies that God used pre-existing materials to create. To some extant the answer hinges on whether v1 is a first act of creation, making a formless heaven and earth which he then organises; or whether v1 is a summary, like the subsequent toledot introductions to sections of the book, and that the formless earth is the material he begins to work on. The two interpretations of this verse have been contested (amiably) since at least the time of St Basil, though the question of creation from something pre-existent seems only to have arisen with … Continue reading

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Firmaments, cosmic oceans and Church Fathers #2

The main burden of today’s post has to do with the firmament and the cosmic ocean, since these are the controversial assumptions in the “normal” (goldfish-bowl) view of Hebrew cosmology, to some extent based on the evidence that the Septuagint Greek translators, who knew a thing or two, insisted that the Hebrew raqia meant something very solid, a στερεωμα (translated into Latin as “firmamentum”). But before I go there, let’s look at what St Basil says about the creation of light on Day 2 of the creation account, before the sun.

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Firmaments, cosmic oceans and Church Fathers #1

I thought I’d about wrapped up writing on ANE “cosmology” for now, with a three part series on Wayne Horowitz’s magnum opus in the can. But I got into e-mail conversation with Eddie about a remark I’d made in reply to a BioLogos comment. The comment had suggested that accommodation of the Genesis creation story to everyday knowledge only became necessary with the insights gained through modern science. I had replied that the Church Fathers, mainly raised in a Greek Ptolemaic kind of worldview with a round earth surrounded by crystal spheres, would have maybe had to do plenty of work to harmonize that and Scripture. My discussion with Eddie … Continue reading

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Ancient Cosmic Geography – the actual modern view #2

Last time I described how Wayne Horowitz’s authoritative book on Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography has no room for the infinite abyss of waters so often claimed to lie above and below the world in “the ANE cosmology”. He stresses this in another passage: In Enuma Elish, KAR 307 and AO 8196, the highest level of heaven belongs to Anu. Elsewhere, this heaven is identified as the “Heaven of Anu” (šamȗ ša danim; šamȗ danim). Additional evidence that the Heaven of Anu is the highest heaven is found in The Gilgamesh Epic and The Erra Epic, In Gilg. XI 113-14, gods ascend to the Heaven of Anu in order to escape the … Continue reading

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Ancient Cosmic Geography – the actual modern view #1

I’ve been having a long, but mainly cordial, discussion on BioLogos on the old questions about whether Genesis 1 is really, as Peter Enns and, earlier, Paul H Seely maintain, teaching “old science” that is erroneous. Regular readers will know there are too many posts about that on The Hump to list easily. Why it even matters is well-expressed in a long article by Vern Poythress, to which I would add that, simply in principle, true interpretations lead to truer applications for life and so justify themselves. Poythress also has a couple of more detailed articles on specific issues here and here. Good stuff.

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(Testable) hypotheses about a historical Eden

Carrying on the theme of biblical archaeology, Kenneth Kitchen’s book On the Reliability of the Old Testament takes a general overview of the “proto-historic” first 11 chapters of Genesis, but there have been some interesting developments since he wrote it that are worth considering, with regard both to the Flood and to the Eden narrative.

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Sodom and aetiological tales

I like to keep tabs on Biblical archaeology from time to time, not only because I wanted to be an archaeologist till my Auntie Dorothy put me off by saying they spend all day down a hole, but because it’s fun to see 19th century mythology about the Bible writers slowly being eroded by a steady trickle of confirmatory evidence (by which you can tell that I’m not sympathetic to the archaeological “minimalists” of the last couple of decades).

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Science and faith – as easy as riding an epicycle

Engaging with a Young Earth Creationist at BioLogos recently, Chris Falter raised the examples of Calvin, Luther and other Reformers opposing Copernican cosmology on the basis of biblical literalism. His aim was to show that this is a dangerous pursuit, and likely to pit theology unnecessarily against science, since nobody now thinks that modern astronomy contradicts the intent of Scripture.

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