Saturday, October 2, 2010

Biblical Cosmologies, Part 2: Pentateuchal Portraits – Genesis 1a

The reader will notice that the term “biblical cosmology” is not used in the singular in my titles. The author finds that it is tenuous to assume that the biblical authors all 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 ("God") 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.

11 comments:

Tandi said...

The responses from 2007 still stand strong in my opinion. For your new readers I will reprint this:

INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRMAMENT

by Gerardus D. Bouw, Ph.D


Introduction

For many years people have puzzled over why the excellent scholars who translated the King James Bible chose to translate the Hebrew word raqiya as "firmament" in Genesis chapter one. This bewilderment is compounded by the fact that whereas the word firmament suggests something solid, it is clearly stated in verse 8 that the firmament is synonymous with heaven; and that the sun, moon, and stars are actually located inside the firmament (verse 17), as if embedded therein. Verse 20 also states that there is an open firmament and from the context it is obvious that that is the atmosphere. This means that the firmament need not appear solid, as the word might at first sight suggest. Since the root word of the Hebrew suggests something at least as firm as metal, it is no wonder that there has been so much bewilderment.

The resulting confusion has led many to speculate that the firmament is nothing more than a solid shell about the heaven. But this ignores the very equating of the word with heaven itself. Since motion is clearly allowed on the part of the planets (which are also referred to as stars in the Bible) and comets, as well as sun moon and stars, the solid-shell model runs immediately contrary to Scripture. Likewise, the comparatively recent equating of the word firmament with canopy does not agree with the clear statement of Scripture that the celestial bodies are set "in the firmament of the heaven" (Genesis 1:17). The Bible insists that the firmament, as heaven, includes the astronomical objects. We, as Bible believers, are obligated to accept this; but is the idea scientifically feasible? It turns out that it is.

(continued below)

Tandi said...

Scientific View of the Firmament

Twentieth century science has afforded us a new perspective on the firmament. The view that develops is one of a very solid material, so solid that it is indistinguishable from an infinitely dense medium insofar as the material in the universe is concerned. The firmament is actually a created medium with a density of about 4 x 1093 (a 4 followed by 93 zeros) grams per cubic centimeter (gm/cm3). This density is known to physics as the Planck Density. It is so high that the very highest material densities in the universe (nuclear densities of 1014 gm/cm3) are as next to nothing when compared to it; just as the density of a cloud (about 10-6 gm/cm3) is negligible when compared to the density of air (about 0.001 gm/cm3).

A medium of such a high density has some interesting properties. One would think, for example, that it would be impossible to move in such a medium, just as one could not move if encased in iron -- even if one were made of iron! Normally this is true; but it was demonstrated earlier in this century that if the medium were eternal and uncreated, that motion can happen in it as long as objects moved in cyclical paths, e.g. waves. In this way the medium would fill in the space left in the wake of the moving object. Now it turns out that such a medium, called a plenum, can be simulated by a non-infinitely dense, created medium if the material inside it merely perceives itself to be in a true plenum.

In order to hide its finite properties from the material in the universe, the firmament, as this created medium is called, could not be allowed to reveal its true age, density, nor allow the determination of absolute positions within it. In this way, time and position would be kept indeterminate, where the word indeterminate is a mathematical synonym for infinite. The indeterminacy of position and time (also energy and momentum which are essentially changes in position and time) is popularly called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The truth of this principle has been demonstrated by numerous experiments. In short, this means that the firmament is an underlying medium. The atoms and galaxies of our universe are merely tiny, insignificant disturbances in the firmament. Because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle they are totally unaware of the firmament's existence. If it were not for Scripture, we would be equally unaware of it. Only on extremely small scales, distances of the order of a Planck length (about 10-33 cm and time scale of about 10-44 second) does the firmament show through the warp and woof of space. The Planck length is a much smaller than a man as man is to 100,000,000 universes laid side-by-side!

(continued below)

Tandi said...

Properties of the Firmament

The above model of the firmament makes some interesting predictions. First of all, the reaction time of the firmament to any change within it is about 10-78 second, faster by far than any chemical, atomic, or nuclear reaction. One wonders if this is how long it would take the Lord to melt all the elements with a fervent heat.

Second of the predictions is the fact that on scales where Planck's Constant is important (nuclear sizes and universal sizes), the masses of objects in that realm vary inversely with area. In other words, the bigger the object, the less its mass. On scales in between these two extremely small and extremely large ones, the equations show that the mass must vary directly with volume. That is, in the realm of the "every-day world" of people, stars, planets and galaxies, the bigger the object, the bigger its mass.

Although this may seem contradictory, it is well known in nuclear physics. For example, an electron "surrounds" a proton in an atom because it has a smaller mass and so is "bigger" than the proton. That the universe becomes less massive on its scale is a new perspective due to the firmament theory, although it is implicit in evolutionary speculations on the origin of the universe, such as the big-bang, as well as in theories which deal with the universe as a whole.


Summary

From the perspective of modern science, the firmament as put forth in Genesis chapter one is a very viable scientific option. It is a super-dense, created medium which mimics a plenum. It does so by both keeping absolute position and time indeterminate within it (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle), as well as allowing only wave motions and thus disallowing absolutely straight-line motion. It reacts instantly to any changes within it (in about 10-78 sec). Material objects can only become vaguely aware of its existence on extremely large scales (of the order of the size of the universe) and on extremely small scales (of the order of sub-nuclear particles). All such phenomena have been noted before in the scientific literature.

For more information contact:

The Biblical Astronomer

4527 Wetzel Avenue

Cleveland, Ohio 44109

Fizlowski said...

And for even more information, contact:

Dr. Bigfoot
Leprechaun University, Atlantis

Peter said...

Tandi,

Dr. Bouw's construct is irresponsible scientifically and biblically.

Scientifically this is entirely ad hoc -- it contributes nothing of practical value to science.

Biblically, it utterly ignores the ancient context of Genesis 1 and makes Bouw into God.

Dr. Bouw can believe what he wants, but he offers *nothing* of value but to those who already are dead-set against knowledge.

Peter said...

Oh, and geocentrism is itself entirely ad hoc it is defensive positions. A person can believe and defend geocentrism and egocentrism (that a given person is the center of the universe) by making innumerable "just so" (ad hoc) propositions that add nothing fruitful to science. People who choose to do this are what we call dogmatists not scientists.

Tandi said...

Science is your god. The LORD is my God. You will continue to defend your god; I will continue to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to me, and defend the truth of God's Word. You have faith in man; I have faith in God. We are poles apart.....and dialogue is not fun anymore.

Peter said...

Tandi,

You are making the worst case imaginable for your position. I do not think you realize this.

Fizlowski said...

"and dialogue is not fun anymore"

In order for there to have been dialogue, you would have been required to listen to and give consideration to other people's arguments in the same way that they had with yours. Over the years I've known you, this is something you have never been willing or capable of doing. The fact that you say science is Peter's god is a perfect example. How many times have we delineated the multifarious differences between religion and science for you? And yet you still make this claim. Why? Because a fantasy is more expedient for your half-baked notions than actually attempting to grapple with reality. Dialogue with you has never been fun for that reason; it's never even been a dialogue.

So, please, take your internet trolling, your copying and pasting, your circular arguments, your small-mindedness, your anti-intellectualism, your smoke screens, your issue-muddling, your self-righteousness, your unconvincing conversion story, and the fake and evil god that you created in your image, and go to hell.

Peter said...

Fizlowski:
Indeed Tandi has been guilty of all of the above and more (ad hominem, ad hoc, etc.). I do not think she realizes that obfuscating the issues by providing links ad nauseam is a poor platform for dialogue—she might not even realize that she is obfuscating the issues. In her mind she seems to benefit from a post-modern relativism that finds confidence in evidencing a diversity of opinions. Of course, though, she rejects post-modernism, LOL.

On this topic of link-slinging (and for Tandi’s benefit if she is reading this), it is not wrong to use links or references for further reading, but repeatedly to not incorporate the content of said references into one’s dialogue is a conversation stopper. Tandi needs to read and understand the links and articles she references and defend the positions *in her own words.* This is what she lacks, and this is one of the ways in which it is becomes impossible to dialogue with her.

I understand and relate to your frustration with Tandi; however, I am not asking her to “go to hell.” I would prefer, in my right mind at the moment, to ask her to send her tactics to hell instead. That would be a better approach.

Peter said...

Tandi,

I get the feeling that you have not read my post entitled "Hermeneutical Humility..." Bouw takes on the perspective of the modern reader and so does violence to Genesis. He is trivializing Scripture and doing it great harm. If he cared for Scripture, he would seek to understand it in the only objectively-inclined manner possible: through sound hermeneutics and thus through the perspective of the ancient reader.

Until Bouw changes his perspective, he shows himself to be a poor Bible student who does not take the Bible seriously or whose faith is too weak to do so.