Ancient Hebrew Cosmology

The preceding description of the world doesn't share the same scientific view that we have, in which the Earth is one planet around one sun in a universe full of suns and planets. The ancient picture of the universe portrays a world in which the Earth is a disc surrounded by water not only on the sides, but underneath and above as well. A firm bowl (the firmament) keeps the upper waters back but has gates to let the rain and snow through. The Sun, Moon, and stars move in fixed tracks along the underside of this bowl. From below the disc, the waters break through as wells, rivers and the ocean, but the Earth stands firm on pillars sunk into the waters like the pillings of a pier. Deep below the Earth is Sheol, the abode of the dead, which can be entered only through the grave.


As portrayed in the illustration, the biblical cosmos consisted of three basic regions: the heavens, the land, and the underworld. In conclusion, by understanding how biblical writers viewed the cosmos, readers are in a better position to properly interpret the Creation, the Flood, and other biblical stories, and to place them in their proper context. The Bible is not a book of science. It was written in a pre-scientific era and its main purpose was to communicate moral and spiritual lessons. The Children of Israel had no advantage over their neighbors when it came to matters of science. In fact, this erroneous concept of the cosmos was quite common for that era. The Hebrews were inspired by nothing more than their political and religious motivations. Thus, being ignorant of scientific facts, they thought the earth was flat, that sick people were possessed by demons, and that essentially everything was caused by either gods or demons. Unfortunately, many people are still just as ignorant today.


All Christian sects recognize the Bible as the primary source of revelation. This compiled material was allegedly inspired by God and written by chosen authors to reveal him and his will to man. The Bible, then, is the foundation of the Christian religion. To Christian fundamentalists who believe in verbal inspiration, the Bible is an infallible foundation. They claim that "the Holy Spirit so dominated and guided the minds and pens of those who wrote (the Bible) as to make their writings free from mistakes of any and all kinds, whether it be mistakes of history or chronology or botany or biology or astronomy, or mistakes as to moral and spiritual truth pertaining to God or man, in time or eternity," (Wilbur F. Tillett, "The Divine Elements in the Bible," The Abingdon Bible Commentary).


© Copyright 2009 Michael Paukner. All Rights Reserved.

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Taken on November 11, 2009