Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Raqia and Ancient Cosmology

ancientcosmosTheistic evolutionists, and other accommodationist views on the book of Genesis, make the claim that the Bible presents a primitive, three-tiered cosmology that depicts a flat earth sitting on pillars that floats upon the sea with a round, metal dome as a sky.

It is argued that the biblical writers, men like Moses and David, were unsophisticated with their knowledge of the cosmos and God never really intended to explain the function of the solar system with the planets orbiting the sun or the spherical nature of the earth or the vastness of the universe. Rather, God merely explained the cosmos in terms that the writers of Scripture, a bronze aged culture, could truly understand. Besides, the purpose of Genesis 1-11 was not to present history or any scientific data at all, but is theological in nature and God accommodated His revelation to the scientifically limited people of Israel. This is the view taught for example by Peter Enns, and John Walton in his book, The Lost World of Genesis: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.

Supporters of this view of Genesis believe they are drawing the correct interpretation from the biblical text. Obviously, with what we know of the cosmos in today’s modern, scientific world, a literal reading of Genesis contradicts the reality of things. Or at least that is what they claim. If Christians attempt to teach the book of Genesis as being literal history, they risk embarrassing God for denying reality. Any literal reading of Genesis puts a massive stumbling block in front of people when we preach the Gospel. We are essentially telling people that when they trust Christ for salvation they must also embrace pseudo-scientific ideas of a young earth and a 6 day creationist model which contradict known fact. The only option for true, Bible believing Christians is to lend God a hand against misguided young earth creationists and their “literalist” interpretations that rape the text of Genesis with foreign meaning.

However, the position presented by Peter Enns and John Walton and utilized by theistic evolutionists that God used accommodating language to reveal His purposes to primitive minded men create some significant theological difficulties. The most egregious is how God’s character is impugned. This position basically says God had to hide the truth from the biblical writers because their small minds would be unable to grasp it. In other words, God was either purposely vague to help stupid people or He outright lied. I believe such a view of God is deplorable and likens Him to pagan deities. (More about the theological difficulties of theistic evolution in forth coming posts).

The concept of a three tiered cosmos with a solid, metallic dome covering a flat earth is something of a urban legend that seems to be promoted by accommodationist believers attempting to snatch the Genesis record out of the hands of young earth creationists. John Byl notes in a blog article on the subject of Genesis and ancient cosmology that such diagrams of an ancient earth covered by a solid dome owes more to “the ignorance of modern scholars than of ancient civilization.” In fact, Noel Weeks points out in a journal article that a three-tiered cosmology isn’t even really identifiable with in ancient near eastern creation myths, those “myths” accommodatists claim are reflected in the opening chapters of Genesis [Cosmology in Historical Context, WTJ 68 (2006): 283-93].

When one honestly considers the text of Genesis 1, God is in no way presenting such a picture for the ancient earth. Genesis 1 is a day by day outline that progressively reveals God creating miraculously over a course of 6 days. It is not attempting to formulate a physical model of the cosmos. Theistic evolutonists like Peter Enns, however, seize upon the Hebrew word raqia or what is translated as “firmament” or “expanse” in Genesis 1:7, 8. The related verb raqa means to “stamp” or “beat out,” and in the piel stem of Hebrew is used to describe a metal smith “beating out” gold metal to cover an idol. Because of that language usage, accommodationist commentators like Enns and Walton connect the use of raqa as “hammering out” metal to the idea that raqia in Genesis 1:7, 8 was believed by the OT Israelites as saying the sky is a solid, metal dome.

But Old Testament scholar, Gleason Archer, argues quite convincingly that the classic Hebrew dictionary by Brown-Driver-Briggs is the culprit with defining raqia as a solid surface. There is no warrant for such a definition in the context of Genesis 1, and in other OT context where reference is made to God creating, like Isaiah 42:5, the raqia is described as a tent or a cloud that God spreads (roqa) out. There is no solidity at all with raqia.

The best understanding of raqia is that of an “expanse,” or simply put, the sky and space as opposed to the earth. That is all God was telling Moses when He revealed His creation week to him. So, when we read how God set the sun and the moon (and the stars) in the “firmament” or better, the “expanse,” the Bible is not saying God is poking big holes in a metal dome or hanging enormous light bulbs from its ceiling. It is the realm of the sky (which by extension would include outer space) as opposed to the earth. Additional study can be found in J.P. Holding’s article, Is the Raqiya a Solid Dome?

Hence, anyone who attempts to argue that Genesis teaches a primitive mythological cosmology is practicing bad exegesis and bad historical research. I would argue they have an agenda to set forth.

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Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Any literal reading of Genesis puts a massive stumbling block in front of people when we preach the Gospel. We are essentially telling people that when they trust Christ for salvation they must also embrace pseudo-scientific ideas of a young earth and a 6 day creationist model which contradict known fact. The only option for true, Bible believing Christians is to lend God a hand against misguided young earth creationists and their “literalist” interpretations that rape the text of Genesis with foreign meaning."

Fred, you crack me up. I'm laughing and chuckling.

Yes, I think you do capture an accurate picture of how YEC's are thought of by theistic evolutionists.

Word Verification: sagball

referring to the dome?

9:32 AM, May 27, 2010  
Blogger Lynda O said...

Great post. I've heard that same view about the unsophisticated early humans, from so-called "progressive creationists" who outwardly deny any form of evolution, who do affirm special creation and really promote ID -- only long time periods where God gradually added different parts of creation. But the very assumption they use, about humans being too primitive and too stupid, in ancient times, appeals to non-theistic evolution that says man started primitive (ascending from lower life forms) and is improving in intelligence, etc. This to completely contradict history (which reveals that ancient man was in fact extremely intelligent, likely more so than modern man), observed science (2nd law of thermodynamics), and God's word regarding the matter.

10:08 AM, May 27, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them." (1 Samuel 2:8, KJV)

"Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble." (Job: 9:6 KJV)

Cratons are the "pillars of the earth."

From Berry Setterfield's book The Bible and Geology:

"Many times people have scorned the words in the Bible which mention the pillars on which the earth rests. As the magma plumes which formed the cratons stopped moving, they started solidifying. While the lower parts of the plumes under the cratons remain molten, the upper parts, have formed large, solid pillars. The plumes themselves extend through the crust and the asthenosphere and into the mantle."

"Take a look...at the mantle plume below Iceland (although this mantle plume didn’t form during the Archaean, but some time later). This plume is shown to a depth of 400 kilometers, or about 250 miles. The earth’s crust is around ten miles, or so, thick."

"[This map] shows the large cratons, pushed up by the mantle plumes during the Archaean. These cratons would later form the ‘backbones’ or ‘pillars’ of the continents."

"Again, this illustration is of California, but it shows what happened. Large molten magma plumes rose upwards, exerting pressure under the crust. Down-warping would occur around the sides as the crust rose in response to the pressure. Under the basement rock the magma cooled and hardened, forming the ‘pillars,’ the Bible mentions.
The dikes/dykes shown in both illustrations show weak areas in the earth’s crust where separation would begin. They may well have been where the initial waters of the Flood exploded upward.

11:14 AM, May 27, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

That was good stuff. I wonder how theistic evolutionists and other accommodationists explain such facts?

11:36 AM, May 27, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never heard of TEs addressing the seriously issue. They are too busy allegorizing and mythologizing the Bible's cosmology to check if God was telling them the truth in the first place.

Later, I'll post some more interesting stuff regarding the "firmament" and the "waters" as described in Genesis. I just need to find the information I have in mind.

12:00 PM, May 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter said...

Christianity & Biology

Beyond the "Creation" vs. "Evolution" Debate

Coming to Terms with Evolution: A Personal Story

2:25 PM, May 27, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Peter, whose profile is conveniently unavailable, I have seen some of the Gordon Glover videos and if his overall argumentation against the text of Genesis is like the things I witnessed, he's a joke. He needs to interact with serious creationist scholarship, not Jack Chick/Kent Hovind trained apologists.

Dennis Venema works at the same university as the John Byl fellow I linked in my main article. Knowing what I read of him, I wonder if he really understood what he allegedly abandoned.

Now go back and deal with the exegesis of the text and the actual history of what I am laying out.

3:06 PM, May 27, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have yet another anonymous commenter with a generic name. Could "Peter" = "David"?

I critiqued one of Gordon Glover's YouTube videos over at the Grace to You blog. I proved that the man has no qualms about misrepresenting his sources. The rest of Glover's material is just as lame. Glancing through Dennis R. Venema's Powerpoint presentations, it looks as though he covers the same ground.

I'm in no mood for another extended creation evolution debate. Please post stuff that sticks to the subject.

3:44 PM, May 27, 2010  
Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi guys.

I disagree.

Young-earth creationism is accommodationism. YECs attempt to accommodate whatever modern scientific titbits they can dig up with whatever verses in the Bible sound vaguely like they could match up with them. They are being creative and not giving themselves the credit for being so creative.

For instance, YEC Russell Humphries imaginatively tries to make Genesis 1 scientifically accurate by positing the following:

"The 'waters above' [the firmament] are beyond the most distant galaxy our telescopes have detected, at least 12 billion light years away (1 light year = 6 trillion miles). . . From my interpretation of the Pioneer data, at that distance the waters would have a total mass of about twenty times the mass of all the stars."

See Humphries' ICR article:


On the "pillars of the earth" question, I suspect something similar is going on, i.e., an imaginative attempt to try and match up the ancient "pillers of the earth" notion with the modern notion of "cratons." But is that what the ancients themselves had in mind? They undoubtedly suspected SOMETHING held the earth above the waters, and being flat earthers there's NOTHING SUPERNATURALLY SURPRISING that flat earthers would consider the idea of "pillars" supporting the earth. Other ancient views included an earth that was established/set above the waters and above the land of sheol directly by divine power. Both of those ideas appear in both the Bible and pre-biblical writings.

(Also take at look at the modern idea of "cratons." They extend to a depth of approximately 200 kilometers. But modern science also reveals that the mantle that supports the cratons extends to a depth of 2,890 kilometers, and there's still 3,470 more kilometers beneath the mantle till you reach the earth's center. So cratons only make up about 3% of what supports the earth.

Also, notice that the Bible never speaks about what supports the oceans or what supports the earth's crust as a whole. The existence of a primordial ocean at the very beginning of creation was simply assumed.

Furthermore, in the Bible and other ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts the earth does not move except during an earthquake. Divine power in both cases has both established/set the earth that it may not move, and also is able to move the earth via earthquakes. So, both the immobility of the earth and the occasional earthquake were viewed as signs of direct divine intervention and exhibitions of power.

You also had something to say about raqia, namely, "in other OT context where reference is made to God creating, like Isaiah 40:22, the raqia is described as a tent or a cloud that God spreads out. There is no solidity at all with raqia." Actually, Isaiah 40:22 does not employ the word raqia, nor even the root of raqia (raqa). Raqia in fact appears only 17 times, unlike the word "heaven" that appears 400 times. And note that in Genesis 1 before the creation of heaven is announced, a raqia has to be created so that heaven might appear at all.

3:47 PM, May 28, 2010  
Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...


In summation, the imaginative interpreting is being done by YEC's who are the true accommodationists. They attempt to interpret some isolated verses by playing imaginative match up games with only some things that modern scientists have discovered. And they ignore the ancient milieu in which Genesis 1 was originally composed and the primary concerns and worldviews of the ancients who first wrote and read Genesis 1.

YECs also assume that Gen. 1 was the earliest truest story when there is no evidence it was either.

Enns, Walton and other Evangelical OT scholars view Genesis in its milieu, instead of imagining that God spinkled hidden nuggests of modern scientific knowledge here and there throughout the Bible, and that "our job" is to find titbits from modern science that we can use to try and "match up" to such isolated verses.

Noel Weeks isn't an expert in ancient cosmologies. Experts agree the 3-tier view was held for thousands of years in both ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. See, Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1998), and John A.Wilson, “Egypt,” Before Philosophy, ed. H. Frankfort (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967).

Experts also agree that animism was probably the earliest religion. The earliest human artworks feature animal images and carvings, and sometimes humans with animal heads (and Rubenesque female figurines).

For more information please see my article, "The Cosmology of the Bible" in The Christian Delusion. Some of it may be available for viewing online via amazon.com's "look inside feature." One may also order the book via interlibrary loan.

I also heartily suggest Mark S. Smith's new book, The Priestly Origin of Genesis 1.

And, Othmar Keel's works:

Creation: Biblical Theology in the Context of Ancient Near Eastern Religion (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, Forthcoming Spring 2010).

The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1997).

3:48 PM, May 28, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Ed! I'm truly honored!
What brings such a big shot, fancy pants embittered atheist like yourself around to my humble little blog down off the main road of the superhighway?

I mean, golly. I feel like I need to tidy up or something.

3:56 PM, May 28, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Eddie writes,
You also had something to say about raqia, namely, "in other OT context where reference is made to God creating, like Isaiah 40:22, the raqia is described as a tent or a cloud that God spreads out. There is no solidity at all with raqia." Actually, Isaiah 40:22 does not employ the word raqia, nor even the root of raqia (raqa).

Ah Eddie, thanks for pointing out my mistake. I glanced at the wrong reference when I was pulling together my research. I meant Isaiah 42:5 where roqa is used to speak of spreading out the sky. Here in 40:22, the word motah is a synonym of roqa which means to spread out. Not to stamp out a metal dome.

4:25 PM, May 28, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It never ceases to amaze me how atheists, when opening up a Bible to dig up any verse they can find that sounds vaguely like it might contradict some tidbit of empirical science, lose all knowledge of rhetorical devices, metaphors and the phenomenological language used in everyday life.

The Bible does not teach a flat-earth cosmology. As a matter of fact, many of the things the Bible says and implies when referring the geography of the earth only make sense within spherical-earth geometry. We have already been through the whole flat-earth and the Bible routine here before more than once. Use Google.

Hey Fred, maybe you should consider putting up a flat-earth FAQ so you won't have to keep answering the same atheopathic nonsense over and over again.

The “pillars of the earth” may still be simple poetic language. On the other hand, like Matthew Maury’s paths of the seas, I think it's a perfectly valid assumption that the Holy Spirit just might be referring to cratons in regards to this phrase. They don’t have to sink all the way into the core of the earth to form the basement rocks of the continents.

6:08 PM, May 28, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Read Steve Hays's excellent response to Ed

4:40 PM, May 30, 2010  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Fred and Escovado (and others),

Here's a blog post about "Christian" theistic evolution that you might enjoy that's titled "Spirituality and Faith in the 21st Century."

Excerpt(But do read the rest):

"The vision of the congregation that I am currently serving is to “teach and practice evolutionary Christian spirituality”. Following in the footsteps of Jesuit priest and paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, we are carrying out a grand spiritual experiment that is an inquiry into what Christian community, mission, and spiritual practice looks like when it emerges out of an explicit belief in evolution as a sacred or divine impulse. As a scientist, Teilhard de Chardin accepted the evolution of matter and of life on earth as fact. As a theologian and mystic, his strong intuition and personal experience was that the push and pull of the evolutionary impulse was infused with the presence of Christ, at both the exterior level of forms and the interior level of consciousness.

He celebrated the human being as an occasion of evolution awakening to itself – the subjectivity or interiority of the cosmos – and that this awakening represented a momentous leap forward for the human species. Yet, the liberal church, let alone fundamentalist Christianity, is either slow to integrate the sacred dimension of evolution or actively hostile to this notion.

Evolution is perhaps the fundamental characteristic or dynamic of reality. Either “God” or “Spirit” is involved with reality as we now know it to be, or It/She/He is largely irrelevant. Somewhere between the ideology of scientific materialists, such as Richard Dawkins, and the proponents of young earth science, lies rich theological soil to be tilled. We can, without too much metaphysical baggage, posit that God is present in the evolutionary processes of nature, consciousness, and human society as a non-coercive or persuasive bias for increased unity, differentiation, and subjectivity – (an evolution towards increasing compassion). This kind of conversation between science and spirituality represents just one facet of what you refer to as the transdisciplinary environment of the 21st century. If spirituality is to play a role in the transformation of the human species, its leaders must allow its theology and spiritual practice to influence and be influenced by the entire range of social systems – an orientation that theologian, H. Richard Niebuhr, called “Christ in culture” (as distinct from the traditional stance of Christ against culture).


9:58 PM, June 05, 2010  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

But beyond whatever theology of evolution we employ, for me there is a direct mystical dimension to evolutionary spirituality. When I center myself deeply and regularly in a practice of identifying with the sacred evolutionary impulse, I gain an expanded sense of myself that is cosmic in scope, at one with all of creation, and with Spirit. This practice gives rise to a Christ that is cosmic in scope and yet intimately related to all of life. As well, I experience an undeniable mandate to realize my full potential for freedom and fullness of life – a sense that there is a unique future that cannot be born without me. Barbara Marx Hubbard calls this “vocational arousal”, and when an entire community collaborates to act from this energy, tremendous creativity to shape the future is released. From this Big Self, (the heart and mind of Christ), personal agendas give way to a cosmic agenda of being the new thing Spirit is doing, individually and collectively, as an act of service. Or, to evoke the 2nd person face of God, to being vessels of emergence for the new thing Spirit is doing.

I imagine an evolutionary Pentecost, not unlike the first Pentecost that gave birth to the church. This outpouring of Spirit that comes with adopting an evolutionary spirituality, will not only breathe new life into the church, but will also activate the world’s two billion Christians to join forces across denominations, with other faith groups and with non-faith communities, in a transcendent project to consciously collude in birthing a new species of human, fit for the complexities of 21st life on our beloved planet."

9:59 PM, June 05, 2010  

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