raqia encore

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sun Jul 21 01:15:01 EDT 2002

Dear Ian,

If we approach the text of the Bible in a balanced way, we should not 
a priori rule out mythological material, and we should not a priori 
presume that such material be found. Why not just ask the following 
question? Does this particular   expression conform with our 
knowledge of the earth and the universe, or is it clearly 

We should not handle the texts in a forced way in either direction. 
We should not be so eager to explain away mythological language that 
we ignore lexicon, grammar or syntax. And, we should not be so eager 
to find mythological material that we do not allow the writer to use 
a simple, and not a modern scientific language. BTW, at which time 
was sunrise in Rome today?  -  But does the sun rise? Does it move? 
Is it not the earth that moves? We should not accuse people of having 
a geocentric world view even though they speak about the rising of 
the sun. Similarly, we should not press the Hebrew of the Bible.

>Some indications regarding rqy`:
>Gen 1:6  the rqy` is able to divide waters, therefore it has solidity,
>          otherwise how would it stop the waters above from falling?

It was God, according to Genesis 1:6-8, who separated water from 
water. If we take RAQYA( to refer to the atmosphere, the account 
tells that huge amounts of water was situated above it and huge 
amounts of water below it. The rings of Saturn and the atmosphere of 
Venus show that water and other matter can exist both in and above 
the atmosphere without any solid firmament to keep it up there.

If all the water in the clouds of the earth fell down at the same 
time, that would create 50 centimeters of water. The account of huge 
amounts of water above the atmosphere accounts for the water that 
fell down in the great flood. Whether  one believs such a strange 
incident or not, the account about the source of the water is at 
least consistent.

>Gen 1:17 the stars were placed on the rqy` -- solid.

Literally: "God gave them in the RAQIA(" where they could be seen.

>Gen 1:20 birds flew not in the firmament but in the face of the
>          firmament of heaven, `l pny rqy` h$mym, and things that
>          have pnym are relatively solid (see, for example,
>          Lev 14:53 `l pny h$dh, or Lev 6:7, `l pny yhwh), so there
>          is no sense of "in" in the phrase `l pny.

The sense is "above" or "across", a preposition is never "solid".

>Ps 19:1  the rqy` shows the work of God's hands, so it is solid.
>Eze 1:22 the rqy` is like crystal, ie it is solid -- though being like
>          crystal, I guess it may be transparent.
>Ps 19:1 is especially interesting, as the work of God's hands suggests
>the work of an artisan, as in the one who beats metal.
>Job 37:18 makes clear the thought of poured or cast (mwcq) metal, again
>the link with metalworking; the result is strong/hard, so the product
>is solid, like the molten (mwcq) sea in 1 Kgs 7:23 or the parts of the
>chariot which were all molten in 1 Kgs 7:33.
>Strangely though the word used in Job 37:18 for heaven is $xqym, and
>rq` is a verb describing God's act of spreading the $xqym, so the
>connection between heaven and the verb rq` is found here. Everything
>about the heaven in this verse is solid:
>1) the verb, rq`
>2) the adjective, xzq, ie $xqym xzqym (strong sky!)
>3) the comparison, kr'y mwcq
>This is all the verse.

I have commented on this material in a previous posting. Two more 
comments: In order to get some understanding of an invisible God, 
words from the realm of mankind are used. If one presses this 
language, the nature and purpose of it is overlooked. And similarly 
with poetic language, do not insist on a strictly literal 
interpretation of such things as "the hands of God", that would again 
overlook the purpose of such expressions.

That we take the nature of the language into account does not mean 
that we rule out the possibility of finding mythological expressions. 
Just look at the creation account of Enuma elish where the body of 
Tiamat is parted in two halves, and heaven is made from one part and 
the earth from another. This is mythological!

>Incidentally, in the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan we find this
>description of the creation of the rqy`:
>   And the Lord made the expanse, upbearing it with three fingers,
>   between the confines of the heavens and the waters of the ocean,
>   and separated between the waters which were below the expanse,
>   and the waters which were above, in the collection (or covering)
>   of the expanse; and it was so. And the Lord called the expanse
>   the Heavens. And it was evening, and it was morning, the Second
>   Day.

>The ancient tradition understood rqy` to be solid.
>Gen 7:11 talks of the windows of heaven being opened to let rain fall.
>Gen 1:8 tells us that God called the rqy` heaven ($mym). Heaven also
>has doors in Ps 78:23, for God opened the doors of heaven to rain
>down manna. But this idea of doors and windows is not strange. Snow
>and hail are kept in "treasuries" ('crwt) Job 38:22, ready for their
>doors to be opened as well. And the tempest has its chamber (xdr).
>Enoch's Astronomical Book has the sun and moon coming out of and
>going into gates in heaven.
>Josephus in AJ 1,30 has a solid firmament.

These late sources shows the view of their authors, but we need to 
argue on the basis of the Hebrew text of the Bible in order to show 
its view of the universe.

>We find this relentless solidity both in and out of the biblical
>tradition. This doesn't mean though that people couldn't formulate
>other ideas regarding natural phenomena, nor does it mean that there
>are no metaphors in the Hebrew text. However, I see nothing that
>goes against the constant solidity of rqy`. I don't think that a
>retrojection of modern ideas about the world will help understand
>what lies behind such terms. Just what uses of rqy` point in any
>other direction from the idea of its solidity?

I agree that we should not read modern scientific ideas into the text 
of the Bible. But neither should we read ancient mythological ideas 
into it. The text should be allowed to speak for itself.




Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo
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