Firmament (Hebrew worldview)
mc2499 at mclink.it
Sat Jan 13 23:35:12 EST 2001
>> Consider the merkabah material in Ezekiel 1. V26 has the throne of God on
>> the top of the firmament. Nice physical notion for a sky, is it not?
>No, in fact the text says nothing of the kind. It says the throne was
>"above," not "upon," the firmament. The throne's relationship is expressed
>by _MA(AL_ with L-preposition on the object _RAQIA(_ meaning simply higher
>elevation (cf. Isa. 6:2; 14:13; Jer. 52:32; Dan. 12:6-7), and with the
>implication that it was not even touching or resting on it. In any case,
>Ezekiel's point is theological, not cosmological: God's throne is surpreme
But looking at how mm`l was used (non-adverbially):
Gn 22:9, He laid him on the altar on top of (mm`l) the wood
Ex 20:4 talks of not making idols in the form of creatures in heaven, on
(mm`l) the earth, in the water... (Similar to Deut 4:39 & 5:8, Josh 2:11,
1Kgs 7:3 talks of rafters on (mm`l) pillars
In none of these cases can mm`l mean the preposition "above". It is this
word which is found in Ezek 1:26, so I still have to conclude that the
throne was clearly *on* the rqy`.
>Also, the use of _RAQIA(_ here may be quite different from that in Genesis.
What makes you think that?
>Whatever is going on here none of us can know in detail, and that (the
>literal phenomenon in his vision) is certainly not the point. But in any
>case, if something "physical" (as you say) is implied for the sky, it is
>also a sky that can be "stretched out" _NTH_ like a tent (v. 23), not solid
>(if you want to press the imagery).
>> >> The Job reference, 37:18, says that God "spread out [rq`] the
>> >> skies, hard as a molten mirror." This "spread out"
>> >> obviously entails beating it out.
>> >Sorry, it's not obvious to me.
>> The verb I thought actually entails the spreading out by
>> beating if the object is metallic. That's where the simile comes in.
>The metaphor concerns the action of God in making the heavens, the simile
>compares the stability of the finished product with the firmness of a cast
What evidence is there that there is any metaphor in the particular
sentence? (I see none.)
>Also, the verb _RQ(_ is used not only of making the heavens, but also of
>earth (Isa. 44:24). Do you think that the Hebrews thought the earth was
>of metal too?
I said "The verb I thought actually entails the spreading out by beating *if
the object is metallic*."
>Genesis says God created by speaking only (except for man), so
>the variety of images used to describe it are just that, images, and no
This is assumption, nothing more, tied to modern necessities of making sense
of a text which was written by people whose world views and approaches are
so different from yours.
>Such descriptive analogies to the Hebrew's life experience tell us
>nothing about their cosmology (except that God made it--with ease, with
>design, with beauty).
>> >It's only one of many very diverse metaphors used in BH
>> Hmmm, a metaphor built on a simile?
>Both are in the text. But my real point (the one you are still missing) is
>that it's one of many analogies, whatever their technical classification
I have no problem with there being metaphors in the OT/HB. I have problems
with people seeing metaphors when there is no evidence for them.
>> >and by no means establishes the worldview of ancient "physical
>> >science" (see below for a couple more).
>> >> The
>> >> skies here are perceived as physically solid. Windows opened
>> >> in the heavens (eg Gen 7:11) letting the waters above, which the
>> >> firmanent held up, Gen 1:7 (again the physical notion -- so I can't
>> >> see Genesis helping your interpretation, Dan), come upon the earth.
>> >Genesis does help. Yes, rain comes from "the windows of heaven" (Gen.
>> >8:2), but so does barley and other blessings (2Kg. 7:2, 19; Mal. 3:10)!
>> >Doesn't that qualify as a metaphor? :)
>> I don't think you have done justice to your citations. Mal.
>> 3:10 implies rain. And 2Kgs 7:2 is a phrase of the "not in a month of
>> Sundays" category.
>Well, i disagree. The expression only occurs in 3 contexts, Gen. 7-8, 2Kg.
>7, and Mal. 3. Of these, 1 is in judgment and 2 are in blessing, but all 3
>of them imply nothing about cosmology--only that something from the
>of heaven" is something from the "hand of God" (if you will allow another
>imagery without concluding that i view God as corporeal).
I don't think we are going to get beyond this. I see no reason not to read
the text for what it says and you see no reason to read the text for what it
>> >> In 1 Enoch the sun and moon
>> >> entered the sky through doors.
>> >Enoch is much later, whether you accept it so or not, and thus has no
>> >bearing on the subject.
>> How on earth do you know??
>Good point. I suppose that i don't really know--it's theoretically possible
>that Enoch was written the 2nd millennium BC just like Genesis was (and
>good authority (but not from "on earth") combined with good evidence for
>date of Genesis).
I don't believe you. When did the "Canaanite" dialects including Hebrew
separate from Phoenician? If Hebrew did not exist in the second millenium
then you'll have to at least consider that the text was translated from
something else, or, more likely, written later. This latter explains the
anachronisms in Genesis.
>But i think that evidence wouldn't allow--and there is
>certainly no solid authority--to establish Enoch's date as that early, is
>> >But regardless, it also is most likely metaphorical
>> >language, just like Psalm 19:5-7 (4-6). Yes, the sun here has a tent to
>> >in and races across the sky, but the language here is explicitly
>> >as indicated by the similes describing the sun "like a bridegroom" and
>> >"like a strong man."
>> You should happily be able to separate the similes from the main text,
>> you seem to confuse the main discourse from the figurative dressing as
>> seem to prefer to read things that don't fit a modern world view as being
>I would most certainly prefer to read anything that doesn't fit a
>worldview as metaphorical based on my presuppositions (see below) if in
>i needed to. But i don't need to since the analogies are intended by the
>text itself and say nothing about the ancient worldview. You have not
Well, given that a priori approach of yours of turning every example of
ancient cosmology which does not fit your conceptions of modern cosmology
into "metaphor", I can understand how you can turn the sun coming out of its
tent (radiantly, as a bridegroom...) into a metaphor and can assume, because
the text uses analogies to render the main progression of thought more
vivid, that the rest of the text must be figurative as well.
>> >As the modern scientist is permitted to speak of the sunrise
>> or sunset, so
>> >the Hebrew language speaks of the sun "exiting [the horizon]" in the
>> >(Gen. 19:23) or "entering" in the evening (Gen. 28:11).
>> Modern scientists are not particularly relevant to ancient thought. To
>> with ancient thought you need to work with other examples of it.
>Correct, but modern language has analogy with ancient language. That was
>only point i made here. We use phenomenological language just as they did,
>but it says nothing about one's understanding of cosmology.
How does one discern this "phenomenological" language from "normal" language
used for cosmological descriptions?
>> >The idea that the OT
>> >presents a solid firmament is inconsistent with descriptions
>> of the sky being rolled up as a scroll (Isa. 34:4; cf. 40:22) or
>> compared to cloth (Psm. 102:26).
>> You ignore the notion of substance in both examples. The difference is
>> the rolling up of the sky is at the will of God.
>Obviously there is a notion of substance (which i do not ignore; i note
>it is diverse). Of course there is "substance" to the sky and space, from a
>scientific standpoint, called gas.
Is this a gratuitous statement?
>But it's pretty difficult to come up with
>a non-substantive analogy when talking about such things. How do you expect
>them to describe these?
This assumes analogy.
>Again, it says nothing about their understanding of
>However, you should note that Isa. 34:4 uses the verb "rot/decay/fester" in
>parallel with the others here. So did they think the sky was made out of
>flesh or fruit or something?? Again, my metaphorical view stands.
The subject of the verb is not the sky, but the host of heaven (a plural
entity known to have been worshipped by sections of the Hebrew culture).
>There is plenty of evidence, but you seem to prefer not to see it.
>> >So it is inconsistent to press some metaphors as intended
>> >literally and then throw out the others at our own whim.
>> (Especially when you select to press only those which disagree
>> with science. One can only ask "why?")
>> >Job said that God "hangs the earth upon nothing" (26:7). That's a pretty
>> >impressive concept--nothing we relate to on earth is like that--unless
>> >had some source of information outside of the limits of his observation
>> There are a number of diverse notions about cosmology in the
>> OT/HB. Let's stick to the one at hand?
>I don't agree that there are diverse notions,
When you turn all cosmological statements into metaphors, it doesn't matter
if those "metaphors" are not consistent, but then you don't therefore know
anything about the cosmology.
I guess we can get no further in this discussion. I tend to see Hebrew
cosmology in the context of the various ane cultures, who, I guess according
to you, either must all be being metaphorical or are irrelevant to the
>so why should i omit those
>that don't work well with your presuppositions? All of them work nicely
>mine, and i don't have to try to hide my presuppositions. [Jesus taught
>an argument made from (OT) Scriptures cannot be refuted (John 10:34-36).
>Thus, if He was right, there can be no errors in the text. Since i'm a
>Christian, i have no choice but to accept all of Christ's
>doctrine--something which i've very happy to do.]
>>Furthermore, if you are correct in your oft-repeated thesis that to
>understand the Hebrew text correctly, one must understand the date,
>background, etc. for those documents (and i fully agree), then it is also
>necessary to a proper understanding of the text to know if those texts are
>human products and fallible, or if they are rather the products of divine
>revelation and thus infallible. This would get into the off-list area, but
>i'll just ask you to consider the possibility that the best scholar might
>the one who has precisely the same presuppositions about the text as the
>Biblical writers themselves *clearly* had--namely, that the origin of their
>message is from God and thus it is infallible.
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