Isaiah 40:22

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Thu Jul 18 14:40:31 EDT 2002

Dear John,

I think the comments in this thread have failed to address the main 
part of your question, so I will give some comments.

The central sense the word heth waw gimel is a geometric circle, and 
this is evidently the sense in Isaiah 40:22.

As to the term aleph resh sade, it is of paramount importance to keep 
in mind that word meaning is not found in lexicons and word books, 
which just contain glosses, but word meaning is found in the minds of 
living people, those who spoke Hebrew in ancient times.

The letters of a Hebrew (or English) word have no intrinsic meaning, 
but they signal a concept (or sometimes two or more concepts) in the 
minds of native speakers. The context in which a word occurs does not 
generate new meaning, but helps the reader to understand which part 
of the concept the writer wanted to make visible. The word in 
question can refer to a particular area inhabited by a nation, a 
smaller part of this area, or to the whole earth.

So, which part of the concept signaled by aleph resh sade does the 
author of Isaiah 40:22 make visible? The setting is heaven and earth 
and their creation, and God is enthroned above the circle of the 
earth. The sense can hardly be anything  but the planet earth.

Do I hear another question behind your written question, namely, did 
the writer of the chapter imply that the earth is a sphere? The 
question is somewhat anachronistic, but it can be rephrased. If your 
physician suspects that you have experienced a small bleeding inside 
your brain and a CT or MR picture is taken, and it shows a small 
bright spot, the physician will not say: "This finding proves that 
you have had a bleeding." But the physician will say: "This finding 
conforms with our suspection that you have had a bleeding." So the 
question can be rephrased thus: "Do the words of Isaiah conform with 
the modern view of a spherical earth?" To this question the answer is 

To illustrate the case further, we can take a look at 40:26-28. These 
words conforms with the first and second laws of thermodynamics, 
which are two of the most fundamental laws of nature. The first law 
tells about the constancy of energy an mass, energy can be 
transformed into mass, vice versa, but energy/mass cannot destroyed, 
so the amount is constant. The second law tells that the total amount 
of usable energy will allways decrease until equilibrium is reached.

The words of Isaiah about the eternal God whose power/energy is the 
cause of the universe conforms well with law I (energy can be turned 
into matter - energy is eternal). The words about the creation of the 
universe (it had a beginning) conforms well with law II. If the 
universe was eternal, equilibrium had already been reached and 
radioactive material and and temperature differences would not have 
existed in the universe. While the words of Isaiah conforms with the 
two laws, he did not know about these laws or about the equation 
E=mc2, which can be an expression of law I.

My conclusion is that we should not try to read modern science into 
the Bible, but neither should we read mythology into it if that is 
not warranted. A more balanced approach is to ask whether particular 
words conform with or contradict fundamental data.



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

>How is the expression "circle of the earth" to be viewed based on the the
>original Hebrew word "chuwg" as found at Isaiah 40:22
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