Friday, June 8, 2007

Pictoral Model of an Ancient Hebrew Concept of the Cosmos


Andrew T. said...


The most absurd thing about this pictorial iteration is that it is a completely literal depiction of mostly figurative Biblical descriptions, by a website that hypocritically demands that the texts be interpreted figuratively!

When ha-Sheim is described in Torah with human-like features (a "face", "hands", etc.), it is purely figurative; no one has ever believed the interpretation of the scriptures that the non-dimensional Creator of the non-dimensional nephesh is in any way physical. No one has ever believed that ha-Sheim is of a male gender; ha-Sheim is described as such figuratively because it better allows us to interface.

By the way, Sheol simply describes that which is "down". The "firmament" really is, especially poetically, similar to a grand patchwork cast over the earth. There is no extant evidence that ancient Jews actually believed that the "pillars" reference in the Tana"kh are literal, or that the earth is flat from NONEXISTANT Biblical description of such (though some may have, we can't do more than speculate). Only rationalist Orthodox Jews can explain to you these things precisely; get with some talmide ha-Ramba"m or Netzarim.

On a further note, in 2002, an ATHEIST Egyptologist testified in his book "The Lost Testament" several major points demonstrating that there really was a historical Moses. Khat-Shep-Sut was the queen Paroh at that time. The paroh when Mosheh was born was Tut MOSES III – predecessor of Amen-ho-tep I. Ancient Egypt actually had various ethnic groups, over its centuries, occupied for slave labor. This is especially important to note as Benei Yisraeil (which is defined exclusively by adherence to the covenant, not ethnic descent) was a “mixed multitude” of various Semitic people and cultures (12?) ultimately united under Mosheh Rabeinu’s Instruction from Sinai, and later by the Davidic dynasty.

Also, the following is an excerpt from a Jerusalem Post article, with commentary notes by YbD.

“(Excerpts from Jerusalem Post Magazine article, 99.12.24, pp. 10-15), posted 99.12.28
The article, written to a Jewish audience, uses the term "Bible" to refer to the Jewish Bible, i.e. the Tan"kh. Since non-Jews might confuse this term otherwise, the unambiguous term, Tan"kh, will be substituted for all instances of "Bible." Similarly, Torah is substituted for the more corrupt "Pentateuch," which is from the Greek, and original Hebrew names have been restored.
"Holy writ the Tan"kh may be. But is it true?
"That cheeky question has been recently on the basis of archeological findings and a new mindset that have caused some scholars to reassess how the Tan"kh was written and when.
"To begin with the bottom line, as Prof. Israel Finkelstein reads it, the main elements of the Torah ("Instruction" – not "law"; the first five books of the Tan"kh) were written in the seventh century BCE by different hands, each giving a contemporary, political-religious spin to ancient folk memories. These strands would be woven together into a single text by a master editor two centuries later.
"With scholars like Finkelstein, head of the Archeology Institute at Tel Aviv University, the bottom line is a good place to begin, because the view from the starting line may be too awesome to contemplate. Perched at the edge of a new millennium, revisionists are boldly proposing to rewrite basic tenets of a faith that has been the spiritual underpinning of much of Western civilization for the past two millennia.
"The new bibliohistorians are challenging the historicity of central elements of the biblical story, like the epic of the Patriarchs, the sojourn in Egypt, the Exodus, the divine encounter at Mount Sinai, and the conquest of the land under [Yehoshua Ben-Nun]. In recent years, even the existence of David and [Shlomoh] has been challenged by some of the minimalists, as these 'Bible bashers' are sometimes called.
"The good news for traditionalists is that there are few challenges to the Tan"kh story from the ninth century BCE forward because from this period – from 853 BCE, to be exact [more accurately no later than BCE 855 according to archaeologist report in Biblical Archaeology Review of 91.01-02, p. 59; ybd in Chronology of the Tan"kh from the 'Big Bang') – we have corroboration of the main outlines of the biblical story from extra-biblical sources, most notably, the royal Assyrian annals. These describe contacts with the kings of Israel and [Yehudah = Judah = Judea = Jew] in the course of the frequent Assyrian military campaigns. The kings named in these annals, carved in stone in the Assyrian palaces, are ones we know from the Tan"kh.
"The bad news is that there is little corroboration for anything previous to the ninth century BCE, including the major events of the national saga from [Avraham] to [Shlomoh]... [Not only, however, do archeologists agree that one cannot validly generalize from silence and lack of evidence, scientists routinely extrapolate backwards in time from validated facts such as the course of planets and stars, etc. All known facts are compatible with Tan"kh and there is no evidence against Tan"kh. Until hard and compelling evidence to the contrary is shown, proven and scientifically validated, any rational person would extrapolate backwards that Tan"kh is just as true before BCE 853-5. ybd]
There have been many who have noted that "inconsistencies in the Tan"kh and the fact that many of its stories – including accounts of the Creation and the Flood – are told twice (doublets), and somewhat differently each time, had already suggested to some scholars centuries ago that the Tan"kh was shaped by more than one hand. It has always been difficult, even for many believers, to accept the traditional view that the Torah was written by Mosheh with divine inspiration, since much of the story takes place after his death.
"Raising further questions about the Tan"kh's origin is the claim that central features of the Tan"kh story have clear parallels in earlier Mesopotamian cultures. Even the insights of Qohelet carry an echo of Mesopotamian 'Wisdom Literature' composed a millennium earlier. [Corroboration corroborates, not conflicts with, the general account in Tan"kh; ybd]
"By the last century, scholars – including clerics – were detecting at least four distinct threads in the Torah, each of which came to be attributed to different authorship. [Different authorship isn't logically implied by different hands; there could have been different 'secretaries' paraphrasing what they had heard, different editors harmonizing slightly different traditions of oral tradition, etc.; ybd] A similarity was seen [by wishful thinking Christians, ybd] with the New Testament, which rested on four separate gospels offering parallel accounts. The strands of the Tan"kh, however, did not constitute separate books but were closely interwoven into a single text – different strands often sharing the same page – by subsequent editors who deftly cut and pasted.
"In one set of doublets, the Supreme Being is called J-e-h-o-v-a-h ([Y--H]) while in the other he is called Elohim. [Some, not all by any means; ybd] scholars came to call the author of the first "J" and the other "E". A third strand dealt mainly with priestly matters and its author was designated "P". The name "D" was given to the author of the last of the five books, Devarim, who had access to historical documents apparently not available to the other authors. "D" was also seen responsible for some of the largely historical works that followed the Torah, the early Neviim. A fifth and decisive hand in the shaping of the Tan"kh was that of the final editor, who artfully wove these separate, sometimes conflicting, texts into one document.
"Some scholars saw these separate strands reflecting the development of the religion from one that was nature/fertility oriented ("J" and "E") to a spiritual/ethical religion ("D") to one based on priests and law ("P").
"This background helps understand the readiness of scholars in recent years to look afresh at the biblical text. If it is broadly accepted that the Tan"kh was compiled by diverse individuals [religious Jews, of course; ybd] at some point or points in history – even if it is maintained that they were divinely inspired – then the text could legitimately be examined by other men at a later point in history. Particularly, if the latter had new information that was not available to the original authors. And, if it comes to it, who is to say they were not divinely inspired as well? ..."
As a result, "The conventional view of Israel's formation... saw the Israelites settling in the land in the late 13th century BCE [two centuries off, the reason why traditional biblical dating is "two centuries off" from science and archaeology; Yehoshua Ben-Nun led Israel from circa BCE 1427 to 1407 – the 15th century BCE, see Chronology of the Tan"kh from the 'Big Bang'; ybd] About two centuries later (1000 BCE [four centuries later, circa BCE 1024; see "Chronology," ybd]), King David mounts the throne of Yehudah and incorporates the 10 northern tribes, Israel, into a united monarchy. He and his son, Shlomoh, rule for about 70 years, the kingdom splitting in two with Shlomoh's death.
"The potsherds, however, told a different story [but not different from that found in "Chronology" which harmonizes Tan"kh and archaeology; ybd]. Israel was seen to have been a well-developed state by the early ninth century BCE, but Yehudah contained only half a dozen inhabited locations, all tiny, from the 10th century BCE to the eighth century BCE. Its major site, Yerushalayim, was distinctly unimpressive.
"'It was a small, poor, unassuming highland stronghold, not very different from other hill country [villages], as my colleague David Ussishkin has shown,' says Finkelstein. This was strange for the capital of a united kingdom whose northern half, Israel, boasted a palatial government center in Samaria, sizable fortified sites, and a well-developed hierarchy of small, medium, and large [communities] that indicated a politically and economically mature entity. It was stranger still considering that Yerushalayim was supposed to be the political and administrative center of what the Tan"kh describes as an empire stretching from the Euphrates in today's Iraq to the border of Egypt.
"What the potsherds say to Finkelstein is that the Tan"kh got it wrong – that Yehudah was not a kingdom or a center of empire during this period, but a modest chiefdom. This, of course, does not preclude the likelihood that the chiefs were David and Shlomoh. 'A small elite ruled from a small mountain stronghold [Yerushalayim] with a limited number of inhabitants over a population made up of a few sedentary communities in the midst of a large number of pastoral camps,' he would write.
"The potsherds showed Yehudah emerging as a vibrant state towards the end of the eighth century BCE. This, scholars believe, is due to the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BCE. Although the Assyrians deported some of Israel's population to the east – the beginning of the Ten Lost Tribes legend – much of the population fled south [to Yehudah, assimilating into the Yehudim – Jews; ybd] while others stayed in place [becoming fully assimilated into the imported Assyrians and peoples of surrounding areas, so that they were no longer identifiably Israeli, not even by DNA; ybd], dramatically increasing Yehudah's population. Yerushalayim expanded for the first time to its western hill, embracing the area of today's Jewish and Christian Quarters, to accommodate a sudden population boom.
"Dramatic evidence of this was uncovered in the dig conducted by Prof. Nakhman Avigad after the Six Day War. 'There is a time lag of about 150 years,' says Finkelstein, 'between the rise of the Israelite state in the early ninth century BCE and the emergence of Yehudah as a fully developed state in the second half of the eighth century BCE.' This picture clashes sharply with the biblical version that sees Yehudah as the dominant element from the beginning of the 10th century and Israel as the junior partner. [That's because it was the dominant element – from the perspective of the Yehudim and later editors who were Yehudim; ybd]
"This is not the first time that archeology has raised doubts about aspects of the biblical story. Excavations in the 1930s and 1950s showed that no walled cities existed at sites like Ai and Yerikho when [by traditional clerical reckoning; ybd] the Israelites under Yehoshua were supposed to have captured them. [However, when "Chronology" shows Yehoshua captured them Yerikho, and perhaps Ai also, was a walled city; ybd] Nor were relevant archeological remains found at stopping-off places during the exodus from Egypt cited in the Tan"kh, like Qadeish Barneia. [Again because traditional clerical dating has constrained archeologists to the wrong century. "Chronology" shows that the Yetziyah ("Exodus") occurred circa BCE 1467, probably simultaneous with the greatest volcanic eruption in history – Thera / Santorini, making the Hebrews the people documented in Egyptian records taken by Amen-Hotep III, BCE 1385-1349, to Tel el-Amarna as the 'Habiru'! ybd] There are, however, Israelite remains from the seventh century BCE to be found there, says Finkelstein. As for any kernel of history behind the Patriarchal story, he says 'it is beyond retrieval.' [A position which requires the irrational denying of the existence of the Tel el-Amarna records as well as the Merneptah Stele; ybd]
"Not all scholars are prepared to yield the field to the minimalist icon breakers. Prof. Avraham Biran head of the Glueck School of Archeology at Hebrew Union College, was himself able to go a long way toward restoring David to history when his team found an inscription seven years ago at Tel Dan referring to ??? ??? (Beit Dâvid, the House of David). It dated some two centuries after the united monarchy, but it was apparently an extrabiblical reference to the Davidic line, the first ever found.
"'Archeology is not here to prove or disprove the Tan"kh,' says Biran. The Tan"kh and archeology, however, shed light on each other. The wall of a sanctuary uncovered at Dan, for instance, was bowed because a layer of stone appeared unaccountably missing from its middle. Biran found an explanation in Melakhim Aleph 7.12 which described the construction method employed by Shlomoh's artisans in the courtyard of the Beit ha-Miqdash in Yerushalayim built a century before the Dan sanctuary – 'three rows of hewn stone and a row of cedar beams.' In the sanctuary restored by Biran at Dan, cedar beams have been installed in the gap between the stone courses evidently left by disintegration of the original wood.
"Biran cautions against drawing conclusions from negative evidence. [Actually, the JPM reporter, Abraham Rabinovich, has misstated, and perhaps misunderstood, Biran's, and many others', logical and scientific position. Negative evidence can disprove something. Lack of positive evidence is what Biran and other scholars caution against, as is obvious from his remarks which follow; ybd] 'Just because we have not found Shlomoh's seaport or his boats doesn't mean that he didn't exist or that he didn't build the Temple...' [Nor even that his seaport or boats didn't exist; ybd]
"Prof. Shmaryahu Talmon of the Hebrew University, a leading Tan"kh authority, believes that the use in the Tan"kh of embellishments and literary devices to describe past events does not nullify a seed of truth that may be at the heart of the stories. 'I'm inclined to accept the authenticity of the Exodus story, although not as it is related,' says Talmon, who is secular. The Tan"kh tells that 600,000 able-bodied men set out from Egypt with Mosheh accompanied by the rest of the people and their flocks. [Actually, Tan"kh says no such thing. It's neither valid nor accurate to equate the ancient Hebrew term for 'a large number' – in the eye of the beholder – or a military unit with the modern numerical precision of 'thousand.' ybd] Demographic extrapolations suggest that the total number of migrants embarking on that 40-year desert sojourn, counting women, children, and elderly, would have been several million. This plainly fantastic number, says Talmon, does not rule out the likelihood that something like the Exodus, on a much reduced scale, may have happened...
"Perhaps the most vigorous dissent from the minimalists has been voiced by one of Finkelstein's colleagues on the West Bank survey project, Dr. Adam Zertal, head of the Archeology Department at Kheipha ("Haifa") University. In the 1980s on Mount Eival ["Ebal"; ybd], overlooking [Shekhem (modern Arab "Nablus"); ybd] – biblical Shekhem – he excavated a cultic complex centered on a stone structure which he identified as the very sacrificial altar which the Tan"kh describes Yehoshua Ben-Nun raising on Mount Eival. 'One can assume that if a central event such as that of Mount Eival has been proved to have occurred,' he wrote, 'it follows that considerable sections of the biblical course [sic] [course of events; ybd] must also be based on historical events, which underwent editing.' The scholarly world, however, has been disinclined to accept Zertal's identification. Few scholars, he says, have even bothered to relate to his claim. [Indeed, minimalists select the evidence which appears to contradict Tan"kh and bury anything different – thoroughly unscholarly, unscientific and illogical; ybd]
"Archeology may have raised doubts about early parts of the Tan"kh, but it has also provided stunning proof of the historical veracity of later parts. The excavated Assyrian annals, for instance, not only confirm the outlines of two centuries of biblical history, they considerably expand them by telling us about critical doings of the Israelites not related in the Tan"kh.
"The Israelites' first mention in the Assyrian annals is one of the most dramatic images we have of them..."
Of the 12 kings of 'Hatti [Syria] and the seashore,' mentioned in the annals, King Akhav ("Ahab") of Israel was listed third...
"If Akhav's existence is confirmed the very first time history makes a biblical bedcheck, as it were, then Shlomoh's existence is less likely to be a fanciful invention, since his reign would have been only some 60 years earlier...
"There is a single extrabiblical mention of Israel from Egypt [not counting the mention of the 'Habiru,' Hebrews; ybd], one that predates the Assyrian annals by almost four centuries. But the Merneptah Stele, dating from 1207 BCE, raises more questions than answers. Describing the victories of the Pharaoh Merneptah, it includes the following lines: 'The [sic] Kenaan ["Canaan"] has been plundered into every sort of woe: Ashqelon has been captured; Gezer has been captured; Yanoam is made nonexistent. Israel is laid waste and his seed is not.' Scholars say the hieroglyphic signs for Ashqelon, Gezer, and Yanoam indicate city-states, while for Kenaan the indication is of a foreign land. For Israel, the indication is not of a land but of a foreign people. Scholars have engaged in long debates about the historical implications of that mention, but it remains a mystery. [No mystery here according to "Chronology" datings. Israel hadn't yet entered the land or the listed cities. The statement that the people of Israel were laid waste and 'his seed is not' refers to the Israelites no longer being in Egypt and should be understood as the Israelites' 'seed is no [longer among us],' the Yetziyah had occurred before the time of the Merneptah Stele. Of course, like all kings of the ancient world, the king writing the stele imposed his own spin and hyperbole: that he was all victorious and he 'laid waste' all of his enemies. That the Tan"kh contains embellishments could hardly be otherwise given the ancient setting and practice. ybd]
In a sidebar to the above article (p. 11), JPM included remarks by Orthodox rabbi and Prof. Shalom Rosenberg of the Hebrew University with which I particularly agree. According to the sidebar, R. Rosenberg "sees the biblical text delivering a message, perhaps by metaphor, that cannot be rebutted by archeological findings. [I would say "doesn't conflict with" rather than "cannot be rebutted by"; ybd] 'Let's take the story of the Creation. Geologists speak of different ages covering billions of years. I can accept that there were different ages, but to me the text is holy and it speaks a truth that is deeper than geological truth. There is a metaphoric or allegoric construct in the Tan"kh containing a theological truth. The story tells me the world was created by Elohim and not by chance, that the creation was the result of a plan and Elohim's will... This for me is theological truth. Once I've said that I can talk about geological findings objectively.'
"Describing himself as 'Orthodox, not fundamentalist,' Rosenberg does not feel constrained to defend the literal [emphasis added; ybd] truth of every passage in the Tan"kh, even as he defends their theological truth. [I would say metaphorical or allegorical truth; ybd] He is not even upset at the notion that the Tan"kh may have been written by several people. 'What difference does it make if part was written by Mosheh, part by Aharon, part by Mr. J, and part by Mr. E? I believe it was all divinely inspired. I believe the Talmud is divinely inspired as well, even though it is full of arguments among the rabbis...'
"Yes, the Gilgamesh epic describing the Flood was written in Mesopotamia long before the biblical story of Noakh and the [Teivah (box, pop. "ark"); ybd], he acknowledges, but the Noakh story is not a pirated edition of the Mesopotamian legend; rather it is a protest against it…”

Shabat Shalom,


PeterS said...

Hello Andrew,

Yes, this is a literal depiction of the cosmos as depicted by several biblical authors. Protestant readers (e.g., Calvin) began to use the phrase "language of appearance" to describe biblical depictions of the universe that were at odds with observable physical realities. You are essentiall saying he same.

However, the ancients did believe in a cosmos like that depicted in this picture. The Hebrews lived amongst peoples that thought of the cosmos similarly. The burden of proof is on those who think that the Hebrews thought differently than their neighbors on this general model. In other words, one must somehow demonsrate that the Hebrew cosmologies were different in structure (not eitology) than those of the Egyptians, Summerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, etc.

As time permits I will continue to develop biblical portraits of the cosmos. It will be overwhelmingly clear that the biblical authors believed in a literal model of what they describe in the passages to be examined. The burden of proof is on those who would think otherwise.

Regarding Moshe, etc. I am not discussing Moshe and the exodus at this time. I am also not delving into anthropomorphism. The ideas that I have will be shared later, period, as time permits.

Daniel said...

The model is not that far off of possible scientific reality at the time of creation. Walt Brown develops a good theory for the bottom of the diagram. The RAQIA as drawn could be drawn without connection to the earth, and be put at the edge of the universe. And the earth is curved on the macro scale. Sheol is really the "grave". Other than that eveything about it is metaphorical or allegorical.

Daniel said...

We should consider metaphorical language in science, black "hole" (is it really a hole in something) "Planet" (is there really "plant" life on the other plantets?). How about "seas" on the moon? When is science going to correct that metaphor?
How is it that modern science is allowed to use metaphor's but apparently God is not! Why the double standard?

PeterS said...


The Bible is permitted to use metaphor. However, the Bible's description of the cosmos was not meant to be metaphorical when it comes to its consistent view of a flat earth, vaulted heavens, etc.

Andrew T. said...

I would, conversely, say that the burden of proof is on you to prove that the members of ancient Israel had a literary interpretation of a similar cosmology to their neighbors. This is for three main reasons. The first is that ancient Israel was relatively isolated from the other semitic nations, more so than they were from each other. The second is because all of those ancient cosmological conceptions were rooted in pagan belief and myth, which Israel would have reviled. The third, and most important, is that observant members of ancient Israel, all the way up to the present day, have always had a legal and religious mandate to abstain from ANY religious and philosophical intermingling with gentiles.

I will continue to return to this blog in the future and compare your findings to my prior experience. As of yet, you certainly haven't managed to convince me.


PeterS said...


I may never convince you. That is okay. I am convinced, but I do not feel a need to convince everyone else. Frankly, it is because of the amount of study that I have done into this issue that I am convinced. I have only tipped the iceberg with my three posts and replies. More may come.

The Genesis 1 creation narrative was written while Israel was closely intermingled with gentile neighbors. Yes, it displays acceptance of the functional material of the cosmos while rejecting the idolatrous eitiology (origins) contained in the polytheistic myths. The burden is certainly on anyone who would read the texts differently. To assert otherwise is to display ignorance of the materials.