The reader will notice that the term “biblical cosmology” is not used in the singular. The author finds that it is tenuous to assume that the biblical authors envisioned an identical model of the cosmos. Though the models of the cosmos found in the biblical texts contain commonalities, not every portrait is comprehensive. Some portraits focus on only one constituent of the cosmos while others reflect on a more complete construal. Hence, the author will focus on the explicit cosmological aspects of a given passage before addressing implicit connections.
For the reasons described above, the author has chosen to deal individually with texts that describe the cosmos. Though a systematic, biblical study could be done of “biblical cosmology” with fruitful results similar to those in this study, the author prefers to focus on each portrait individually. Patterns will emerge through systematic reflection on each portrait, and the author aspires to make connections so as to benefit the cognition of the reader.
The Genesis 1 creation narrative contains numerous convergences with pre-biblical Sumerian-Babylonian and Canaanite creation traditions. Some of these parallels are of the utmost importance as the exigency of Genesis 1 is likely found in these polytheistic creation myths. Genesis 1 is polemically directed to combat polytheistic cosmogonies through literary reworking and anesthetization of existing polytheistic creation myths.
Leeming (52) explains the Sumerian-Babylonian creation myth contained in Enuma Elish as the victory of order over chaos. In Enuma Elish, the hero-god Marduk combats the dragon goddess Tiamat who represents the chaotic waters of primordial existence. Marduk crushes Tiamat—dividing her dead body in half. Tiamat who was the dragon of primordial watery chaos becomes the vehicle to establish the separation of the chaotic waters. Part of her corpse was used to hold the chaotic waters above at bay while the other half is transformed into the terrestrial abode of humanity and the threshold against the waters below upon which the earth floats.
Contrary to popular assertions of creation ex nihilo, Genesis 1 follows the lead of the ancient cosmologies with the assumption pre-existent primordial water (Beltz, 35). Notice, at no point is there a specific creation of water in Genesis 1. Water is assumed to exist. The Hebrew T’hom (“without form”) of Genesis 1:2 linguistically and thematically correlates with the Sumerian-Babylonian Tiamat. Though sanitized of reference to gods and goddesses, Elohim in Genesis 1 combats the primordial, watery chaos to achieve victory. Creation itself is initiated through separating order out of chaos (darkness and water).
The first act of Elohim in the Genesis 1 creation myth is the separation of light from darkness. This act is followed on day two with the creation of the firmament (Hebrew rakia). The Hebrew word for “firmament” (rakia-- רָקִיעַ) is derived from the root raka. This root means to “spread out by beating” (BDB) or “to beat, stamp, beat out, spread out, stretch” (TWOT). It carries the idea of beating out a solid malleable material such as a metal.
Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) define rakia- רָקִיעַ(“firmament”) as follows:
…the firmament of heaven, spread out like a hemisphere above the earth (from the root [raka]), like a splendid and pellucid sapphire (Ex. 24:10, compare Dan. 12:3), to which the stars were supposed to be fixed, and over which the Hebrews believed there was a heavenly ocean (Gen. 1:17; 7:11; Ps. 104:3; 148:4…
When read against the backdrop of the ancient cosmologies and the literary-etymological etiology of the term rakia- רָקִיעַthe picture of the cosmos portrayed in Genesis 1 becomes a reciprocation of the pre-scientific cosmologies of the ancients—a flat earth with domed heavens.
The next post will develop build upon the Genesis 1 references to the firmament.
Beltz, Walter. God and the Gods: Myths of the Bible, trans. Peter Heinegg. Middlesex: Penguin, 1983.
Leeming, David. Jealous Gods, Chosen People: Mythology of the Middle East. New York: Oxford, 2004.