Isaiah 40:22

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Thu Jul 18 16:58:19 EDT 2002

Dear Lawrence,

I have just completed a book entitled (in English translation) 
"Science and Bible Translation A study of "christianization" and 
"mythologization" in the translation of the Hebrew text of the 
Bible". It is based on a study of three Danish and two Norwegian 
Bible translations and will soon be published in those two languages.

My vantage point has been the paradigms on which the translators have 
built their work. Three such paradigms are evident, 1) The Bible is 
inspired by God and true in every resepct, 2) Jesus Christ is the 
center of the Bible and the value of the words depends on their 
relation to him, and 3) the Bible is a human document with all the 
same errors as are found in all other human documents (	the 
historical-critical model). The coloring of the translated text of 
the OT in a Christian or mythological way is very much related to the 
paradigm of the translators.

Interestingly, paradigm 1 and 2 have often been criticized by 
critical scholars. Differences of opinion regarding details of 3) are 
often voiced, but the paradigm as such are seldom questioned by 
critical scholars. This means that a host of things which are pure 
speculation are taken for granted, and is conveyed from teacher to 
student and from teacher to student generation after generation, from 
the days of Eichorn, Graf, Wellhausen, Döderlein and Rosenmuller and 
up to the present. My point is that we should be more critical 
towards the critical paradigm itself and stop taking so much for 

As to your question, I suggest that you read about Middle Babylonian 
astronomy from the 7th century BCE onward and see how much the 
astronomers of that time knew about the universe. Please also 
consider Eratostenes of Cyrene 276-194 BCE. On the basis of the 7 
degree difference of the angle of the rays of the sun in Alexandria 
compared to Syene (Aswan) he was able to calculate the circumference 
of the Earth with an error of between 1/2 to 17 percent. That was 
long before Columbus! Why should not the writers of the Bible have an 
accurate knowledge of particular things?

I have not claimed that the Bible is a textbook of the natural 
sciences, but I suggest that we take its words at face value instead 
of reading them through the glasses of a certain paradigm, or, 
perhaps more realistic, that we are constant aware of the paradigm to 
which we subscribe, and take that into consideration when we work 
with the Biblical text.



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

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