Isaiah 40:22

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Thu Jul 18 16:48:09 EDT 2002

Well, certainly some of the (relatively) ancients knew that the earth
was round, i.e. spherical. One of the Greek philosophers calculated its
size quite accurately by noting the difference in the height of the sun
between Alexandria and Aswan. Augustine of Hippo and Dante both clearly
taught that the earth was spherical. If Columbus' contemporaries really
believed that the earth was flat, they were almost as out of touch as
today's flat-earthers.


Peter Kirk


-----Original Message-----
From: Lawrence May [mailto:lgmay at] 
Sent: 18 July 2002 22:12
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: Re: Isaiah 40:22


Does this mean that the bible teaches that the ancients knew the Earth
was round contrary to those contemporary with Christopher Columbus who
believed in a flat earth 

Rolf Furuli wrote: 

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 yes.
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.  Regards Rolf  Rolf
Furuli University of Oslo      

How is the expression "circle of the earth" to be viewed based on the

original Hebrew word "chuwg" as found at Isaiah 40:22


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