Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Flat Earth, A Mormon View Of God, And Other Skeptical Readings Of Scripture

In recent days, John Loftus of Debunking Christianity has been arguing that we should interpret passages like 2 Samuel 22 and Job 26 much more literally than Christians usually do. He's argued that the ancient Jews probably believed in a flat earth, a God who has a physical body, etc. I had a discussion, last year, with another critic of Christianity who raised similar objections, though he was more reasonable than John Loftus. He acknowledged that some ancient people did believe in a spherical earth, but he argued that the Biblical authors probably didn't. He cited Matthew 4:8 as evidence that the author of that gospel believed in a flat earth. Other passages in the New Testament are sometimes cited as well, such as the references to the four corners of the earth in Revelation.

There are a few things we should keep in mind as we consider this issue:

1. Just as we today surely have some misconceptions about the universe, ancient people surely did as well. In a discussion about Biblical inerrancy or a related subject, the issue of primary importance is what the Bible teaches, not what some people or most people at that time believed. If the apostle Paul was ignorant or incorrect about some elements of how the brain functions, he could discuss subjects like Christ as the head of the church or how a Christian should think without thereby teaching a false view of the brain. You don't have to understand every element of how the brain functions in order to make some references to the head or the process of thinking.

2. There's much we don't know about what ancient people believed on these subjects.

3. Agnosticism was always an option. Earlier, I cited Theophilus of Antioch as an example. He suggested that people who argue that the earth is spherical or a cube have no way of knowing. We shouldn't assume that every ancient person took a confident position on every conceivable issue. Demanding that a Christian document the cosmology of the author of Job, for example, doesn't make sense. It's a highly poetic book that sometimes uses different images to refer to the same object. There's no way for us to know the author's cosmology in detail. He may have been agnostic on some of the relevant issues. We don't know.

4. The fact that other ancient cultures held a particular view doesn't prove that the ancient Jews held that view. As we'll see below in my citations of Basil of Caesarea, ancient cultures held a wide variety of views and were sometimes inconsistent with themselves and with each other. People would have known that human fallibility and a lot of speculation were involved, and they would have been able to notice inconsistencies from one culture to another.

Commenting on the references to the corners of the earth in the book of Revelation, Grant Osborne writes:

"The angels [in Revelation 7:1] stand 'at the four corners of the earth,' another ancient idiom for every part of the world (Ezek. 7:2). Some have thought this meant the ancients viewed the world as a square surface, but there are just as many passages in the Bible using a circle as a model (Ps. 19:6; Isa. 40:22). This is simply an idiom and no more." (Revelation [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2002], p. 305)

Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century A.D., comments that belief in a spherical earth was the common view of his day (The Natural History, 2:2). He explains why anybody should be able to discern the spherical shape of the earth without difficulty. Old Testament passages like Job 26:10 and Proverbs 8:27 may refer to the circular shape of the horizon, and Christian authors living just after the time of the apostles either refer to the earth as spherical or suggest agnosticism on the shape of the earth. Some church fathers did refer to the earth as flat, but the spherical view and agnosticism on the subject seem to predate the flat earth position among extant Christian sources.

Given how widely a spherical earth was accepted in ancient times, and given the willingness of the earliest New Testament interpreters to accept a spherical earth or take no position on the issue, it seems unlikely that passages like Matthew 4:8 and Revelation 7:1 were intended to refer to a flat earth. Matthew would have known that there was no mountain from which a person could physically see every kingdom of the earth, including whatever details of those kingdoms would be involved in showing their "glory". The parallel passage in Luke 4:5 refers to how Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms "in a moment of time". Jesus is shown the kingdoms. He doesn't move around to look at them. And it happens in an instant. Apparently, Satan is supernaturally bringing images before Jesus. The mountain backdrop isn't meant to convey the concept that there was some mountain high enough to allow people to see everything on a flat earth. Rather, the mountain backdrop is being used to convey the concept of elevation, without regard to whether that elevation allows a person to physically see the entire earth. This incident has nothing to do with normal eyesight or a flat earth.

The phrase "corners of the earth", which is used in the book of Revelation, is a common figure of speech that we still use today. Tertullian, who lived from the middle of the second century into the third century, can refer to a "corner of the world" in one place, yet refer elsewhere to the earth as spherical:

"For if such multitudes of men were to break away from you, and betake themselves to some remote corner of the world, why, the very loss of so many citizens, whatever sort they were, would cover the empire with shame; nay, in the very forsaking, vengeance would be inflicted." (Apology, 37)

"There was a time when her whole orb, withal, underwent mutation, overrun by all waters." (On The Pallium, 2)

Victorinus, who wrote the earliest extant commentary on the book of Revelation, didn't think that a flat earth was in view:

"By the corners of the earth, or the four winds across the river Euphrates, are meant four nations, because to every nation is sent an angel" (Commentary On The Apocalypse Of The Blessed John, 9)

Victorinus, like many other ante-Nicene fathers, was a premillennialist who interpreted Biblical prophecy in a highly literal manner. Yet, he interpreted the "four corners of the earth" as a figure of speech.

Similarly, Commodianus, another early premillennialist, refers to the earth as a globe:

"He [the Antichrist] himself shall divide the globe into three ruling powers" (The Instructions Of Commodianus In Favor Of Christian Discipline, Against The Gods Of The Heathens, 41)

In the fourth century, Basil of Caesarea criticized those who are too allegorical in their scripture interpretation:

"I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others. There are those truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own ends. For me grass is grass; plant, fish, wild beast, domestic animal, I take all in the literal sense. 'For I am not ashamed of the gospel.'" (The Hexaemeron, 9:1)

Yet, just after the comments above, he goes on to comment on the shape of the earth:

"Those who have written about the nature of the universe have discussed at length the shape of the earth. If it be spherical or cylindrical, if it resemble a disc and is equally rounded in all parts, or if it has the forth of a winnowing basket and is hollow in the middle; all these conjectures have been suggested by cosmographers, each one upsetting that of his predecessor. It will not lead me to give less importance to the creation of the universe, that the servant of God, Moses, is silent as to shapes; he has not said that the earth is a hundred and eighty thousand furlongs in circumference; he has not measured into what extent of air its shadow projects itself whilst the sun revolves around it, nor stated how this shadow, casting itself upon the moon, produces eclipses. He has passed over in silence, as useless, all that is unimportant for us." (The Hexaemeron, 9:1)

Notice a few things here. Basil refers to how ancient people had a wide variety of views of the shape of the earth, not just one or two views. He also refers to how these theories are "conjectures", he notes that some issues are more important than others, and he doesn't think that anything in the writings of Moses compels us to one conclusion over another. Basil did hold some incorrect views of the physical universe, as people do today, but he acknowledged that his own views and those of other people were largely speculative, and he allowed for a hierarchy of importance in the issues of life. An issue such as the shape of the earth isn't as significant as an issue like the salvation of the soul. In another passage, he writes:

"We are asked how, if the firmament is a spherical body, as it appears to the eye, its convex circumference can contain the water which flows and circulates in higher regions?" (The Hexaemeron, 3:4)

Notice, again, that questions were being asked and that qualifying phrases are used ("if", "as it appears to the eye"). Whatever errors men like Basil promoted in their writings, we ought to acknowledge that they did recognize their own fallibility, they did often qualify their comments, and they did recognize a hierarchy of importance in the issues they discussed.

There isn't anything in scripture like the sort of detailed cosmology we find in other places. To construct a Biblical cosmology out of passages of scripture as highly poetic as 2 Samuel 22 and Job 26, and to ignore the many qualifying factors that men like John Loftus repeatedly ignore, is unreasonable.

Similarly, it's unreasonable to take Biblical references to an arm of God or an eye of God as references to a physical body that God possesses. I addressed this subject in a post yesterday, mostly discussing the Old Testament, and here I'll mention some New Testament examples.

The apostle Paul repeatedly refers to the right hand of God the Father (Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:20). Yet, within the same book, he can both refer to the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1) and refer to God as invisible (Colossians 1:15). Similarly, John refers to the Father as having a hand (John 10:29), yet he also refers to God as a spirit in a context that emphasizes non-physicality (John 4:24).

As I documented in the post linked above, we find widespread references to the fact that God the Father doesn't have a body in the earliest church fathers. If they were misunderstanding scripture, then the misunderstanding must have begun early and on a large scale. But we don't have to rely on post-Biblical interpreters to tell us what the Bible teaches on this subject. Passages like 2 Samuel 22 and Job 26 are far too poetic to lead us to the conclusion that God the Father has a body, and there are widespread Biblical references to the invisibility of God, the change brought about by the incarnation, etc. Critics like John Loftus aren't attempting to arrive at a reasonable understanding of the text. They're looking for something to criticize.

26 comments:

  1. You met someone "more reasonable than John Loftus"? That's as hard as finding hay in a haystack.

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  2. This was a very reasonable post.

    Just as we today surely have some misconceptions about the universe, ancient people surely did as well.

    So whenever the Bible speaks to science, even with the authority of it being God's word, it doesn't mean it's true unless we can confirm it? If we need a post-scientific reading of the Bible, then we also need a post-feminist reading of the Bible,and so on.

    There have been in every age people who disagreed with mainline thinking. The Bible indicates that what I said was mainline thinking, even if you can find some latter interpreters who say otherwise. I find it odd that you will all too readily quote from the intelligent commentators who agree with you, and then somehow claim that's what the Biblical writers must've thought. It's the same as quoting from intelligent writers who wrote during the 1st century AD to show that believers themselves were not superstitious, even though it's obvious they were. See here, and here.

    The fact that other ancient cultures held a particular view doesn't prove that the ancient Jews held that view.

    Of course not, but in light of the fact that we are all children of our times the burden of proof is on you to show otherwise.

    That the Bible says the world is circular doesn't say anything about whether it's rounded, with China on the other side.

    It took a very long time before people like Columbus and Magellan would actually lay their very lives on the line by sailing to "the edges of the sea," to see.

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  3. John Loftus said:

    "So whenever the Bible speaks to science, even with the authority of it being God's word, it doesn't mean it's true unless we can confirm it?"

    No, that's not what I said. See the example I cited in my post regarding the apostle Paul. The apostle can accurately use the head/body imagery when discussing Christ and the church, or he can discuss the thought life of the Christian, even if he has some misconceptions about how the brain functions or about other aspects of how the human body works. If Paul had taught a false view of the body in his canonical writings, then Biblical inerrancy would be falsified. But he doesn't do that. My point is that a Biblical author doesn't have to be correct in his views on every subject related to what he writes about. All that's necessary is that his assertions in writing scripture are correct.

    You said:

    "I find it odd that you will all too readily quote from the intelligent commentators who agree with you, and then somehow claim that's what the Biblical writers must've thought."

    When have I done that? I've never suggested that the Biblical writers must have agreed with what a modern commentator has written. I quoted Grant Osborne, but Osborne gives evidence supporting his position in that quote, and I followed my quotation of Osborne with evidence of my own.

    You wrote:

    "It's the same as quoting from intelligent writers who wrote during the 1st century AD to show that believers themselves were not superstitious, even though it's obvious they were. See here, and here."

    You keep burning straw men and keep repeating arguments that have already been answered. The issue isn't whether first century Christians were superstitious. A few, many, most, or all early Christians could have been superstitious on some matters without any Christian doctrine being thereby refuted. If most first century Christians believed something superstitious about subject X, but that superstitious belief was never asserted in any of the New Testament documents, then what's the relevance?

    The two posts you link to above were answered by me at this blog, and you're the one who left the discussion without answering the evidence I provided. In addition to my own evidence, I repeatedly mentioned Glenn Miller's article that addresses this subject in depth:

    http://www.christian-thinktank.com/mqfx.html

    I suggest that people compare the quality of Miller's work to the quality of your articles cited above.

    You wrote:

    "Of course not, but in light of the fact that we are all children of our times the burden of proof is on you to show otherwise."

    Again, you need to interact with what I've documented. As Basil of Caesarea mentions in one of my citations, ancient people held a wide variety of views on issues like the shape of the earth. In a span of several decades, you can see a man like Theophilus of Antioch suggest agnosticism on the shape of the earth, Athenagoras refer to the earth as spherical, and Lactantius refer to the earth as flat. Which one of them represents "their times"? As Pliny the Elder explains in the passage I cited, some indications of the spherical nature of the earth are easy to discern. People can see that the horizon seems to be rounded, and they can see that other bodies in the sky are round, for example. There's nothing implausible about people in ancient times, including the Old Testament era, either concluding that the earth is spherical or remaining agnostic on the subject. Even if they believed in a flat earth (or some other erroneous view), they could write a book of scripture without advocating that view within that work. If all of the relevant passages can reasonably be read as utilizing poetic language (they can), and if we have good reason to believe in the Divine inspiration of scripture (we do), then your objection is insufficient.

    You wrote:

    "It took a very long time before people like Columbus and Magellan would actually lay their very lives on the line by sailing to 'the edges of the sea,' to see."

    You keep accusing the Bible of error, but we keep seeing your errors instead. The concept that the earth is spherical was widely accepted long before the time of Columbus. And if you want to claim that you didn't intend to deny that fact, then why did you make the comment above just after discussing the shape of the earth?

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  4. I think plausible arguments could be made on behalf of early Christians, particularly the fathers of the 2nd century and forward, that they may have affirmed a spherical earth. But these authors were most likely benefitting from knowledge imported from Greek and other neighboring cultures whose learning on these matters exceeded the knowledge of the Jews at the time. But in the Old Testament days, we have statements likening the earth to a circle... a disc, which is flat, not spherical. Efforts to discount such statements as mere poetry or customary idioms seem somewhat of a stretch, especially given other details that can be gleaned from the OT as to the way they conceived of the earth. For that matter, does the OT ever come out and state that the earth is spherical or orb-shaped? Not that I'm aware of.

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  5. A "disk" with four corners?

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  6. A disk that is round?

    It's more likely than not that ancient people had different conceptions, but the evidence is that they did not conceive of a round earth.

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  7. Thomas J. said:

    "But in the Old Testament days, we have statements likening the earth to a circle... a disc, which is flat, not spherical."

    How do you know that a disc is in view? And if a disc was in view, then why do other passages refer to corners of the earth? I see no way to avoid the conclusion that at least some passages are using non-literal language, unless you want to argue that the authors held a variety of views. But if Isaiah 40:22 refers to a circle, and if Isaiah 11:12 refers to four corners, will you argue that Isaiah changed his view while writing the same book? Or will you take up the speculative argument for more than one author of the book and claim that some later followers of Isaiah contradicted Isaiah's view? I don't see how such a position would be preferable to mine. Given the non-literal nature (and sometimes unclear terminology) of so many of the passages that address issues like these, and given the fact that the New Testament and other later sources continue using such language when belief in a spherical earth was common, I don't think there's sufficient reason to conclude that any of the relevant passages in the Old Testament are teaching an erroneous view.

    You wrote:

    "Efforts to discount such statements as mere poetry or customary idioms seem somewhat of a stretch, especially given other details that can be gleaned from the OT as to the way they conceived of the earth."

    I don't know what you have in mind.

    You wrote:

    "For that matter, does the OT ever come out and state that the earth is spherical or orb-shaped? Not that I'm aware of."

    Why would it have to? The New Testament doesn't explicitly address the issue anywhere, and it sometimes refers to the corners of the earth, for example, yet we know that belief in a spherical earth was common at the time.

    What Hebrew term do you have in mind? What term do you think the Old Testament writers should have used, and where?

    As I said before, there are a lot of positions that ancient sources took on this issue. One of those positions was agnosticism. And a person who believed in a flat earth, a disc earth, or some other erroneous view would be able to write a book of scripture, even a book that addresses the attributes of the universe in some way, without advocating his false view in that book of scripture.

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  8. But if Isaiah 40:22 refers to a circle, and if Isaiah 11:12 refers to four corners, will you argue that Isaiah changed his view while writing the same book?

    As you said, this can be seen as even more evidence that there were more thanone author of what we now know as the book Isaiah. Thanks!

    There are at least two authors, and probably three. Have you looked into the way ancients wrote and rewrote books under the name of someone famous?

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  9. ”How do you know that a disc is in view?”

    The word used in Isaiah is “circle.” Circles are flat, like discs."

    “And if a disc was in view, then why do other passages refer to corners of the earth?

    As you yourself have affirmed, some expressions could be idiomatic. Those who think the earth was a flat disc would probably not wince at idiomatic expressions which weren't meant to be taken literally anyway.

    “I see no way to avoid the conclusion that at least some passages are using non-literal language,”

    Yes, it could be that “circle of the earth” was non-literal language while “four corners” was literal, or vice versa. But I’m not sure what that gets you. Take your pick? At any rate, you’ve already quoted Osborne’s view that these are all idioms anyway. But idioms do not find their way into languages without cause.

    “unless you want to argue that the authors held a variety of views.”

    It seems pretty obvious that the writers were not monolithic.

    “But if Isaiah 40:22 refers to a circle, and if Isaiah 11:12 refers to four corners, will you argue that Isaiah changed his view while writing the same book?”

    See above. I don’t think I could conclude beyond doubt one way or the other going by what is in the text.

    ”Or will you take up the speculative argument for more than one author of the book and claim that some later followers of Isaiah contradicted Isaiah's view?”

    We have little more than speculation at our disposal in such cases. And many have suspected that our present book of Isaiah had more than one author, or that it was written by one author over a long period of time. I don’t know how one would prove it had only one author (though we could speculate), and it is quite possible for an author to contradict himself (as you have charged against Mr. Loftus).

    ”I don't see how such a position would be preferable to mine.”

    Your inability to see something is not a very persuasive argument either way.

    “Given the non-literal nature (and sometimes unclear terminology) of so many of the passages that address issues like these, and given the fact that the New Testament and other later sources continue using such language when belief in a spherical earth was common, I don't think there's sufficient reason to conclude that any of the relevant passages in the Old Testament are teaching an erroneous view.”

    I had asked above if the OT comes out and declares that the earth is spherical. If you had known of any passage in the OT which definitively did this, I’d expect by now you’d have trotted it out to settle the matter. If we go by what the text does say, we’ve seen what it says. Now when that is examined, you want to say it’s all non-literal. That’s fine if you want to believe that.

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  10. ”How do you know that a disc is in view?”

    The word used in Isaiah is “circle.” Circles are flat, like discs."

    “And if a disc was in view, then why do other passages refer to corners of the earth?

    As you yourself have affirmed, some expressions could be idiomatic. Those who think the earth was a flat disc would probably not wince at idiomatic expressions which weren't meant to be taken literally anyway.

    “I see no way to avoid the conclusion that at least some passages are using non-literal language,”

    Yes, it could be that “circle of the earth” was non-literal language while “four corners” was literal, or vice versa. But I’m not sure what that gets you. Take your pick? At any rate, you’ve already quoted Osborne’s view that these are all idioms anyway. But idioms do not find their way into languages without cause.

    “unless you want to argue that the authors held a variety of views.”

    It seems pretty obvious that the writers were not monolithic.

    “But if Isaiah 40:22 refers to a circle, and if Isaiah 11:12 refers to four corners, will you argue that Isaiah changed his view while writing the same book?”

    See above. I don’t think I could conclude beyond doubt one way or the other going by what is in the text.

    ”Or will you take up the speculative argument for more than one author of the book and claim that some later followers of Isaiah contradicted Isaiah's view?”

    We have little more than speculation at our disposal in such cases. And many have suspected that our present book of Isaiah had more than one author, or that it was written by one author over a long period of time. I don’t know how one would prove it had only one author (though we could speculate), and it is quite possible for an author to contradict himself (as you have charged against Mr. Loftus).

    ”I don't see how such a position would be preferable to mine.”

    Your inability to see something is not a very persuasive argument either way.

    “Given the non-literal nature (and sometimes unclear terminology) of so many of the passages that address issues like these, and given the fact that the New Testament and other later sources continue using such language when belief in a spherical earth was common, I don't think there's sufficient reason to conclude that any of the relevant passages in the Old Testament are teaching an erroneous view.”

    I had asked above if the OT comes out and declares that the earth is spherical. If you had known of any passage in the OT which definitively did this, I’d expect by now you’d have trotted it out to settle the matter. If we go by what the text does say, we’ve seen what it says. Now when that is examined, you want to say it’s all non-literal. That’s fine if you want to believe that.

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  11. John Loftus said:

    "As you said, this can be seen as even more evidence that there were more thanone author of what we now know as the book Isaiah. Thanks!"

    Since a single person will commonly use different types of imagery to refer to the same object, it would be absurd to divide up a document among multiple authors as a result of the use of a variety of images. Isaiah is a book that uses a lot of poetic language. If you want to argue for more than one author, you would need far more than differing images for the earth in a book that uses a significant amount of non-literal language.

    And if you want to argue that the Hebrews were changing their view of the shape of the earth from one generation to another, then you need to retract your original article on this subject, the article with the diagram of how the ancient Hebrews allegedly viewed the earth. If you now want to argue that they changed their views from Isaiah 11 to Isaiah 40, then how can you pull together so many verses from so many books of the Old Testament, put them all together, then claim that the resulting diagram represents how the ancient Hebrews viewed the earth? You're not being consistent.

    You wrote:

    "There are at least two authors, and probably three."

    Actually, critical scholars have become so speculative in their theories that they now commonly suggest more than three authors. One of the problems with modern critical theories about Isaiah is that the scholars disagree with each other so much in how they divide up the book. They do the dividing on such slender threads of alleged evidence, and one speculative theory will be inconsistent with another.

    In contrast, the conservative position that Isaiah wrote the whole book has the advantage of:

    1. The manuscript evidence.

    2. The earliest external testimony.

    3. More consistency with what we know of the beliefs of the ancient Israelites.

    4. More consistency with pre-exilic themes found in later parts of the book.

    5. More consistency with the use of unusual language in both the earlier and the later parts of the book. J.P. Holding comments:

    "Even critics who favor Isaianic disunity long ago acknowledged that arguments based on these premises are not decisive [McKn.2I, xv]. The more recent view, at any rate, has recognized that there is actually a great deal of continuity between the variously assigned sections of Isaiah, and is now, rather ironically, explaining this continuity in terms of a final redactor who smoothed things over and made Isaiah look more like a single-authored work, in some places using earlier material from the time of the original Isaiah (See for example OCon.CCLSI, Melv.NVI.) - thus offering an explanation for signs of early composition such as the antiquity of the Hebrew and the references to idolatry which would be anachronistic if the book were a later composition. If that's not an example of molding the theory to preserve the paradigm, I don't know what else might be." (http://www.tektonics.org/gk/isaiahdefense.html )

    6. More consistency with the demonstrable ability of the book to accurately predict the future in detail (see, for example, Jesus' fulfillment of the Suffering Servant prophecy).

    The critical theories require large amounts of speculation, have no manuscript evidence, have no early external testimony, require large amounts of forgetfulness on the part of the Israelites, are difficult to reconcile with the book's ability to predict the future in detail, etc. If the book was written over a period of a few generations or more by three, eight, a dozen, or more authors, how did the ancient Israelites collectively forget about the book's history, then collectively agree on a false account of how it arose? How was the finished product still able to accurately predict the future in detail, despite its origins?

    You tell us:

    "Have you looked into the way ancients wrote and rewrote books under the name of someone famous?"

    The issue isn't "ancients". The issue is the Jewish context of the book in question. And there's a difference between a book that was meant for common use and a book that was considered Divine scripture. If you want to argue that books A and B in the ancient world were written under a name other than the name of the real author, it doesn't logically follow that you can therefore conclude that books X and Y were composed in such a manner as well. Case-by-case judgments have to be made.

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  12. Thomas J. said:

    "The word used in Isaiah is 'circle.' Circles are flat, like discs."

    How do you know that? How do you derive, from the Hebrew term used, that flatness is being conveyed? What word should have been used instead, if a sphere was in view?

    You wrote:

    "Yes, it could be that 'circle of the earth' was non-literal language while 'four corners' was literal, or vice versa. But I’m not sure what that gets you. Take your pick?"

    If the circle reference is a reference to the earth looking like a circle, as other objects in the sky do, then I wouldn't have to take it as non-literal. Or both passages could be non-literal. Or, as some commentators suggest, Isaiah 11 may be referring to something other than corners. There isn't much to go by.

    You wrote:

    "But idioms do not find their way into languages without cause."

    Yes, and various reasons have been suggested for different images, including reasons that wouldn't require a flat earth or a disc. Compass directions, the circular shape of objects in the sky, the circle suggested by the earth's horizon, or something else might have been in view. I see no reason to draw the conclusion that a false view of the earth's shape is in mind.

    You wrote:

    "it is quite possible for an author to contradict himself (as you have charged against Mr. Loftus)"

    Do you think that Isaiah might have changed his view of the shape of the earth while writing the book? I think that the use of non-literal language is more likely. Isaiah uses a lot of non-literal language in the book, and I don't know of any event during that era of history that would have been likely to have caused a Jew like Isaiah to change his view of the shape of the earth.

    You wrote:

    "Your inability to see something is not a very persuasive argument either way."

    I didn't say that it was. What you're supposed to do is explain to me why you think that your view is preferable.

    You wrote:

    "I had asked above if the OT comes out and declares that the earth is spherical. If you had known of any passage in the OT which definitively did this, I’d expect by now you’d have trotted it out to settle the matter. If we go by what the text does say, we’ve seen what it says. Now when that is examined, you want to say it’s all non-literal. That’s fine if you want to believe that."

    All that you're doing is restating your belief that the Old Testament doesn't explicitly refer to a spherical earth anywhere. I responded by explaining why there would be no need for a reference to a spherical earth. You haven't interacted with what I said. Instead, you've just repeated your original comment.

    And I didn't argue that "it's all non-literal". What I said is that some passages may refer to a spherical earth indirectly by referring to the earth looking like a circle or in some other manner. I've acknowledged that the evidence isn't explicit, but the passages allegedly referring to some other shape aren't doing so explicitly either.

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  13. If Thomas J. is going to contend that the "circle" in Isa 40:22 is a (flat) disc, then this runs contrary to the triple-decker universe, according to which the sky is a solid dome or semicircle (cf. Job 22:14).

    So Thomas J's contention, if true, would undercut Lotus' argument, and vice versa.

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  14. I'm still very confused at this idea that any ancients believed in a flat earth. As an undergraduate, I studied at Aberystwyth on Cardigan Bay. From the Promenade, it was possible to see the whole sweep of Cardigan Bay from Strumble Head in Pembrokeshire to Bardsey Island. You could see the mountains of Snowdonia, appearing as a chain of islands, their peaks poking up above the horizon.

    Only the tops could be seen.

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  15. Hiraeth,

    We know that some ancient people believed in a flat earth, or held some other false view of the earth's shape, because we have the writings of such people and ancient testimony about the existence of such people. But we also know that many ancient people believed in a spherical earth or were agnostic on the subject.

    Pliny the Elder, in the first century A.D., makes some comments along the lines of what you've observed. He thought that people could arrive at the conclusion that the earth is spherical from common observation. Any ancient people who were speculating on the subject, without much evidence to go by, probably would have at least considered the spherical shape as a possibility. They could have made observations like you describe, and they would have seen circular objects in the heavens. I don't know of any comparable reasons for people to have arrived at belief in the shape of a flat disc.

    I imagine that the ancient Jews held a variety of views on this subject, as the early Christians did. A spherical earth and agnosticism probably were among those views, and even those who held some false view on the subject could write a book of scripture without advocating that false view in the process. If people are going to object to the possibility of a reference to a spherical earth in passages like Isaiah 40:22, based on the existence of other possible readings, then they should be open to the same approach toward other passages, such as ones that refer to four corners or four quarters of the earth. I'm not aware of any passage of scripture that's explicit on this subject. But we know that both the spherical earth position and agnosticism would have been available to the ancient Jews and the New Testament authors, we know that a person who held a false view wouldn't have to express that view while writing scripture, and we know that no passage of scripture addresses the issue explicitly.

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  16. “What word should have been used instead, if a sphere was in view?”

    How about a word which translates to “sphere” or “orb” instead of “circle”? Circles are two-dimensional. Spheres and orbs are three-dimensional.

    “If the circle reference is a reference to the earth looking like a circle, as other objects in the sky do, then I wouldn't have to take it as non-literal.”

    I think you're close here - the usage of circle in Isaiah need not be taken non-literally. Many ancients thought the moon was a disc. The passage in question is wholly compatible with the view that the earth is disc-shaped. And as you seem to admit, no statement in the OT tells us otherwise.

    “Yes, and various reasons have been suggested for different images, including reasons that wouldn't require a flat earth or a disc.”

    But what is our guide at this point? The knowledge we have as a benefit of modern science, or the text itself? We know today for a fact that the earth is not flat, but we should be careful not to allow this knowledge to taint our analysis of the text. Many Christians make it a habit of trying to make the bible seem compatible with modern scientific discoveries, but in many cases these attempts ring quite hollow.

    “Do you think that Isaiah might have changed his view of the shape of the earth while writing the book?”

    I don’t know. People learn a lot of things throughout their lifetime. A person who once thought the world was flat could have later learned that it is in fact not flat, but I don’t think this is what we have in Isaiah. Being religious the authors might have resisted any new data which compromised initial teachings on something so basic. However, I have found nothing in Isaiah that suggests its authors thought the earth is spherical.

    “What you're supposed to do is explain to me why you think that your view is preferable.”

    My view is that the OT nowhere states that the earth is spherical. We seem to be in agreement here. I also think that the few positive indicators in the OT suggest a flat earth cosmology without coming out and explicitly declaring it.

    “All that you're doing is restating your belief that the Old Testament doesn't explicitly refer to a spherical earth anywhere. I responded by explaining why there would be no need for a reference to a spherical earth.”

    I believe that the OT doesn't explicitly refer to a spherical earth anywhere because I've not found any passages in the OT which explicitly affirm a spherical earth. I've asked if you know of any, and I don't see that you have proposed any. I don't think my position is unreasonable since I'm just going by what we can both agree is in the text. Even if we agree that there was no need for a reference to a spherical earth, this does not imply that they thought it was spherical. If I wrote a book on the social interactions of members of my community I certainly would have no need for a comment to the effect that the earth is flat; this would not imply that I think that the earth is flat. In fact, your point is at least compatible with mine. This brings you mediocre gains at most.

    "I've acknowledged that the evidence isn't explicit, but the passages allegedly referring to some other shape aren't doing so explicitly either."

    That's fine. I am not claiming that the author (or authors as the case may be) positively believed that the earth was flat. Others have made the case that they did, some more plausibly than others. From what we do read, they may have figured it was common knowledge that the earth was flat, or that it was spherical. As you seem to agree, the textual evidence is probably too thin to conclusively suppose either way. But certain statements imply a flat earth, some expressions would, on a more or less literal understanding, be intelligible only on the supposition that the earth is flat, and positive statements to the effect that the earth is spherical or orb-like are altogether absent from what I can find. So I'd say there's a stronger leaning here in the direction of a flat earth cosmology.

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  17. "If Thomas J. is going to contend that the "circle" in Isa 40:22 is a (flat) disc, then this runs contrary to the triple-decker universe, according to which the sky is a solid dome or semicircle (cf. Job 22:14)."

    You're taking this too far. Isaiah's use of "circle" is in reference only to the earth. This does not make any statement against the universe above the earth consisting of different layers. The base of a circular dome is typically a flat plain.

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  18. In the town where I live there is a mound in the middle with a statue. Sometimes we call it the "town square," because around this mound the buildings form a square, and soemtimes we refer to it as the "town circle" since vehicles drive around it in a circle. It's both/and.

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  19. Thomas J said:

    "How about a word which translates to 'sphere' or 'orb' instead of 'circle'? Circles are two-dimensional. Spheres and orbs are three-dimensional."

    Again, you need to cite a Hebrew word. You're the one claiming that a different term should have been used. I'm not aware of any other term that should have been used for a sphere. As Steve Hays has mentioned, the term used in Isaiah 40 is also used in Job 22:14, where it would be unnatural to read it as a reference to a flat disc, as you want to read it. In your response to Steve, you said:

    "The base of a circular dome is typically a flat plain."

    The imagery of Job 22:14 involves God in the clouds, in the heavens. Why should we think that a flat disc that serves as a "base of a circular dome" is involved? There's no suggestion of such a base in the heavens. And if you want to argue that the base was outside the heavens, then why does the first part of the passage focus on God's presence in the heavens? You're assuming something that isn't implied, in order to maintain your argument.

    Similarly, Job 26:10 and Proverbs 8:27 wouldn't be referring to a flat disc. Scholars suggest that passages like these may be referring to the horizon, the circular appearance of the earth, or something else. Nothing in the text compels us to your conclusion that a flat disc is in view. You aren't giving us sufficient reason to accept your interpretation of the term, and you aren't giving us any Hebrew term that supposedly should have been used instead, if something other than a flat disc was in view.

    You wrote:

    "Many ancients thought the moon was a disc."

    I don't know which "many ancients" you have in mind, but, as I explained earlier, ancient people held a variety of views on subjects like these. Saying that some people viewed the moon as a disc isn't of much significance.

    People would have been able to have seen the moon or other objects in the heavens from different angles. They would have seen shadows on the moon, such as the earth's rounded shadow during an eclipse. They would have been able to distinguish between a flat disc and a sphere. The earth's horizon would also have suggested a sphere more than a flat disc. Common observations like these were cited by ancient proponents of a spherical earth. As I said before, ancient people wouldn't have had the sort of evidence we have today, but they would have had more reason for believing in a spherical shape than a flat disc. If you want us to think that they held a flat disc view, you would need something to overcome the observational advantages of the spherical view. You've tried to make your case by appealing to the Hebrew of Isaiah 40, but you haven't shown that it has the meaning you need it to have, and you haven't given us any alternative word that Isaiah supposedly should have used instead if he had a sphere in mind.

    You wrote:

    "The passage in question is wholly compatible with the view that the earth is disc-shaped."

    It's also compatible with other views. That's why commentators will mention other views as possibilities, and they don't derive all of the conclusions you're drawing from the Hebrew terminology that's used.

    You wrote:

    "And as you seem to admit, no statement in the OT tells us otherwise."

    I've given you examples of other passages referring to corners of the earth, as some translations render it. You argued that those passages may not be giving us literal descriptions of the earth's shape. I agree. And the Hebrew term in Isaiah 40 doesn't require a flat disc, doesn't specify whether it's referring to the earth itself or something associated with the earth, and could be interpreted in the sort of non-literal way you've suggested for other passages.

    You wrote:

    "But what is our guide at this point? The knowledge we have as a benefit of modern science, or the text itself? We know today for a fact that the earth is not flat, but we should be careful not to allow this knowledge to taint our analysis of the text."

    I and others here have already addressed the factors involved in interpreting these passages. We look at the genre of the passage in question, how other passages refer to the same object, what information the authors had or could have had, etc. A passage like Isaiah 40 is known to be using poetic language in the terms surrounding the phrase under dispute, and the phrase itself is too vague to compel us to your conclusion.

    You wrote:

    "However, I have found nothing in Isaiah that suggests its authors thought the earth is spherical."

    I've found nothing in Isaiah that suggests that the author thought the earth is a flat disc.

    You wrote:

    "Even if we agree that there was no need for a reference to a spherical earth, this does not imply that they thought it was spherical."

    As I explained earlier, there would be no need for any of the Biblical authors to have believed in a spherical earth in order for the passages in question to be correct in what they assert. But belief in a spherical earth is a reasonable possibility. We know that some people believed in the concept during the Old Testament era, and it was widespread in the early centuries of Christianity.

    You wrote:

    "But certain statements imply a flat earth, some expressions would, on a more or less literal understanding, be intelligible only on the supposition that the earth is flat, and positive statements to the effect that the earth is spherical or orb-like are altogether absent from what I can find."

    Would you tell us which passages you have in mind that aren't in a poetic context or some other less literal setting? What we have is some passages that could be interpreted as referring to a flat earth, but also could reasonably be interpreted otherwise, as well as some passages that could be interpreted as referring to a spherical earth, but also could reasonably be interpreted otherwise. I've given examples of passages that could be read as suggesting a spherical earth, and you seem to think that some kind of circularity is in view, which motivates you to suggest a flat disc. There's something more than flatness involved that's motivating you to add the "disc" qualifier. And I've explained why there's no need to limit a passage like Isaiah 40 to something flat. Isaiah 40 isn't explicit, but a spherical earth does make more sense of it than a flat disc, for reasons I explained above. Job 26:10 refers to a round boundary on the surface of the waters, as if it's rounded everywhere, which suggests a spherical earth more than a flat earth. Luke 17:31-35 suggests that people will be doing both day and night activities when Jesus returns, as if it's both night and day, which apparently wouldn't occur with a flat earth. A spherical earth is "altogether absent" in terms of explicit references, but it would be wrong to claim that nothing suggests it. If we limit ourselves to explicit references, then a flat earth is "altogether absent" as well.

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  20. “you need to cite a Hebrew word.”

    I don’t. You’re simply trying to ratchet up my burden without doing likewise yourself.

    “You're the one claiming that a different term should have been used.”

    Actually, that’s not true at all. Go back and look. You asked ““What word should have been used instead, if a sphere was in view?” But since I see no evidence to support the supposition that you seem bent on defending (however gingerly) that a sphere was in mind. I was asked what word would better imply a sphere, but you’re interpreting my proposal in a manner that was not intended.

    “As Steve Hays has mentioned, the term used in Isaiah 40 is also used in Job 22:14, where it would be unnatural to read it as a reference to a flat disc, as you want to read it.”

    I’ve not even been discussing Job. And I’m not convinced that it would be unnatural to read Job’s use as a reference to a flat disc. I don’t think it would be natural to interpret “circle” to imply sphericity is all.

    “The imagery of Job 22:14 involves God in the clouds, in the heavens. Why should we think that a flat disc that serves as a "base of a circular dome" is involved? There's no suggestion of such a base in the heavens.”

    You’re confusing yourself. The circular base would not be “in the heavens.” How did you get that?

    “Nothing in the text compels us to your conclusion that a flat disc is in view. “

    And nowhere did I say anything in the text “compels” us to my conclusion. I think I’ve been pretty clear on this. You seem to be reading more into what I have stated while accusing me of doing the same with respect to the text in question.

    “You aren't giving us sufficient reason to accept your interpretation of the term”

    What would you consider a “sufficient reason” at this point? An explicit rejection of a spherical cosmology? Again, your defensive mode seems to have you taking this all a bit over the top.

    “as I explained earlier, ancient people held a variety of views on subjects like these. Saying that some people viewed the moon as a disc isn't of much significance.”

    Likewise, when you point to neighboring and later cultures where belief in a spherical earth was common isn’t of much significance either. As you say, “ancient people held a variety of views on subjects like these.” You seem to want to use that point against me, when in fact it is completely neutral.

    “People would have been able to have seen the moon or other objects in the heavens from different angles. They would have seen shadows on the moon, such as the earth's rounded shadow during an eclipse. They would have been able to distinguish between a flat disc and a sphere. The earth's horizon would also have suggested a sphere more than a flat disc. Common observations like these were cited by ancient proponents of a spherical earth. “

    And I’ve asked for somebody, anybody, you or Hays or anyone else, to present evidence to suggest that any biblical author was a proponent of such a view. Pardon me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I’ve seen any compelling evidence for this view presented.

    “You've tried to make your case by appealing to the Hebrew of Isaiah 40, but you haven't shown that it has the meaning you need it to have,”

    I don’t “need” Isaiah 40 to do anything. Again, you seem to have misread me. Go back and review.

    “and you haven't given us any alternative word that Isaiah supposedly should have used instead if he had a sphere in mind.”

    Again, I don’t think that’s my burden. If you find an expression in the OT for instance which suggests a spherical earth, I’m sure by now you’d have unearthed it. I haven’t seen it. I certainly don’t see how “circle” can imply a spherical earth. If your view is that there’s conclusive evidence that the authors of the OT rejected the flat earth view, it is up to you to present that evidence accordingly. But it appears that you’ve already admitted that you do not have such evidence. So, what’s the problem?

    “I agree. And the Hebrew term in Isaiah 40 doesn't require a flat disc,”

    And I never said it “requires” a flat disc. Rather, it SUGGESTS one. Circles are not the same thing as spheres.

    ”doesn't specify whether it's referring to the earth itself or something associated with the earth,”

    Such as?

    “and could be interpreted in the sort of non-literal way you've suggested for other passages.”

    How exactly do you interpret the expression “circle of the earth”? And why?

    “A passage like Isaiah 40 is known to be using poetic language in the terms surrounding the phrase under dispute, and the phrase itself is too vague to compel us to your conclusion.”

    Again, you seem to think I’ve intended to present some “compelling” case. I’ve been careful to avoid language implying this. Why aren’t you considerate of this?

    “I've found nothing in Isaiah that suggests that the author thought the earth is a flat disc.”

    Then let it rest. It’s settled in your mind: no matter what is presented, you’re not going to allow any statement in the OT suggest something other than what you want it to mean. That’s fine. Again, mediocre gains at best.

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  21. Thomas J. said:

    "I don’t. You’re simply trying to ratchet up my burden without doing likewise yourself."

    I'm not "ratcheting up your burden". I'm asking you to support what you asserted. If you want us to believe that the Hebrew of Isaiah 40 has a particular meaning, and that some other Hebrew term should have been used instead if a sphere was in view, then you need to support your assertions. You haven't done so. So far, your posts suggest that you're making judgments based on an English translation you've read, without knowing of any Hebrew word that should have been used for "sphere". You're just assuming that some such word exists.

    You wrote:

    "But since I see no evidence to support the supposition that you seem bent on defending (however gingerly) that a sphere was in mind. I was asked what word would better imply a sphere, but you’re interpreting my proposal in a manner that was not intended."

    You said that the author should have used a word for "sphere" rather than "circle" if a sphere was in view. You were suggesting that the distinctions you're making in English also existed in the Hebrew terminology of the time. I'm asking you to support that assertion. So far, you haven't.

    You wrote:

    "I’ve not even been discussing Job."

    You responded to Steve Hays, who used Job 22:14 to make a point about the Hebrew term in question. Your response to Steve doesn't make sense if it doesn't address the passage in Job that he cited.

    You wrote:

    "And I’m not convinced that it would be unnatural to read Job’s use as a reference to a flat disc."

    Then interact with what I said about the context of Job 22:14.

    You wrote:

    "I don’t think it would be natural to interpret 'circle' to imply sphericity is all."

    Different translators render the term with different words. You're making assumptions about what the English word "circle" means to you. Isaiah and the other books that use the Hebrew term in question weren't written in English.

    You wrote:

    "You’re confusing yourself. The circular base would not be 'in the heavens.' How did you get that?"

    I know that there would be no circular base in the heavens. I said as much. My point is that the context refers to God in the heavens, so interpreting the "circle" (or "vault" or whatever English word your translation uses) as a reference to a circular base is unnatural.

    You wrote:

    "And nowhere did I say anything in the text 'compels' us to my conclusion."

    I'm saying that nothing in the text or context even makes your interpretation probable. If you don't want to use the term "compel", you've at least suggested that your interpretation is likely. I see no reason to think that it is.

    You wrote:

    "What would you consider a 'sufficient reason' at this point? An explicit rejection of a spherical cosmology?"

    A sufficient reason would be linguistic evidence, such as how the term is used in other passages and what other terms were available to the author. The fact that some translators use the term "circle" in one of the passages that uses the Hebrew phrase in question isn't sufficient to lead us to your interpretation. Some English translators will use "vault" for that term in Job 22. The term isn't limited to flat discs.

    You wrote:

    "Again, your defensive mode seems to have you taking this all a bit over the top."

    I've been defending my view, and you've been defending yours. If I'm "defensive", so are you. And it's not "over the top" for me to ask you to go beyond citing an English term used in a translation of Isaiah 40.

    You wrote:

    "Likewise, when you point to neighboring and later cultures where belief in a spherical earth was common isn’t of much significance either. As you say, 'ancient people held a variety of views on subjects like these.' You seem to want to use that point against me, when in fact it is completely neutral."

    As I explained before, my position is that the ancient Jews probably held a variety of views on the shape of the earth, and I don't think that there's explicit evidence for any one view in scripture. You, on the other hand, have argued that a flat earth, particularly a flat disc, is suggested. My comments you're responding to above were written in response to your comments about people seeing the moon as a flat disc. I then commented on why the spherical view would have been more consistent with common observations that could have been made. Belief in a spherical earth can't be proven, but seems more likely than belief in a flat disc.

    You wrote:

    "And I’ve asked for somebody, anybody, you or Hays or anyone else, to present evidence to suggest that any biblical author was a proponent of such a view."

    I wasn't addressing what the Biblical text says. I was addressing the physical evidence the Biblical authors would have had access to. If we're discussing whether a phrase in scripture refers to a flat disc or a sphere, then discussing the physical information available to the Jewish authors is relevant.

    You wrote:

    "How exactly do you interpret the expression 'circle of the earth'? And why?"

    Again, you're quoting an English rendering of the Hebrew, and the Hebrew is rendered differently elsewhere in English translations. John Oswalt, J.A. Motyer, and other commentators will suggest that the horizon is being referred to or something else other than the flat disc you're assuming. Have you read any commentaries on Isaiah?

    You wrote:

    "Then let it rest. It’s settled in your mind: no matter what is presented, you’re not going to allow any statement in the OT suggest something other than what you want it to mean."

    That's not what I said or suggested. While you keep suggesting that I'm approaching this subject unreasonably, you've been unreasonable from the start. Your first comment in this thread was about how early Christians "may have affirmed a spherical earth", even though I had already presented examples of early Christians explicitly referring to a spherical earth. You've also referred to the book of Isaiah having more than one author, and you've made assertions about the Hebrew of Isaiah 40 that you haven't supported. I do have Christian beliefs that I want to defend, but, likewise, you have other beliefs that you want to defend.

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  22. "So far, your posts suggest that you're making judgments based on an English translation you've read, without knowing of any Hebrew word that should have been used for "sphere". You're just assuming that some such word exists."

    Even this is rather misleading. My position in no way requires that there be any Hebrew word to mean 'sphere'. My position is not incompatible with the possibility that they had not formed such a concept and thus did not have a corresponding word in their language. I was asked what word would I suggest if they meant 'sphere', but it's not on me to make such a suggestion. If the English word 'circle' accurately translates the Hebrew (and you may think it does not), then that is all I am going by. I'm happy to go by what the text actually states.

    "You were suggesting that the distinctions you're making in English also existed in the Hebrew terminology of the time."

    I think there is a major distinction between a two-dimensional shape and a three-dimensional shape. I do not believe that is unreasonable. Did the Hebrew writers have awareness of such a distinction? Maybe they did, maybe they did not. I'd be pretty surprised if they didn't, though.

    "You responded to Steve Hays, who used Job 22:14 to make a point about the Hebrew term in question. Your response to Steve doesn't make sense if it doesn't address the passage in Job that he cited."

    Pardon me?

    "Then interact with what I said about the context of Job 22:14."

    Is this an order? As I mentioned before, I was only concerned with Isaiah. Isaiah is not Job, and the writer(s) of the one are not the the writer(s) of the other. Why is it unreasonable for me to stick to my original subject?

    "Different translators render the term with different words. You're making assumptions about what the English word "circle" means to you. Isaiah and the other books that use the Hebrew term in question weren't written in English."

    Of course I realize this. But unless you can make a good case against the Hebrew word used being accurately translated as 'circle' in English, this is trivial at best. If 'circle' is the best translation of the Hebrew, then we have to live with it.

    "My point is that the context refers to God in the heavens, so interpreting the "circle" (or "vault" or whatever English word your translation uses) as a reference to a circular base is unnatural."

    The passage I spoke on attributes the shape 'circle' to the earth. The issue regarding the dome involved an early conception among some ancients that saw the earth as a base or floor of a dome-like structure suspended over it. This is the idea of the "firmament" in Genesis, a solid sky.

    "I'm saying that nothing in the text or context even makes your interpretation probable."

    Which simply amazes me. Circle is not a circle? Amazing!

    "If you don't want to use the term "compel", you've at least suggested that your interpretation is likely. I see no reason to think that it is."

    I do not believe I ever used the word "compel." You introduced this term, perhaps to exaggerate the matter. I really do not know why, but I invite you to explain. I gave a summary of my reasons why I think the expression "circle of the earth" implies a flat earth concept. I know you want to resist this. That's fine. But I do not at all find your responses sufficient to convince otherwise. At one point you had suggested that the authors could have been agnostic about the matter. But you seem even to be backing from this.

    "I've been defending my view, and you've been defending yours. If I'm "defensive", so are you."

    Excuse me, but I'm not the one who replaced my "suggests" with "compels." Relax. Believe what you want. I don't expect to persuade you. But it's amazing that you want to turn this around and call me unreasonable. Go ahead and believe your bible, Jason. I'll leave the last words to you since it's obviously important to you to defend this stuff.

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  23. Thomas J. said...

    “You're taking this too far. Isaiah's use of ‘circle’ is in reference only to the earth. This does not make any statement against the universe above the earth consisting of different layers. The base of a circular dome is typically a flat plain.”

    1.A “circle” can either refer to the base of a dome or to the semispherical shell of the dome.

    In fact, the image you have just presented us arbitrarily separates the flatness of a disk in relation to the earth from the roundness of a disk in relation to the vault of heaven.

    I’d add that scholars like Leslie Allen (NIDOTTE 2:40) as well as commentators like Motyer (305-06) and Oswalt (2:66-67) disagree with your interpretation of Isa 40:22.

    2.Assuming, for the sake of argument, that a triple-decker universe is in view here, the image of God enthroned above the dome of heaven, looking down or peering inside, is highly anthropomorphic. Hence, the connected image should be taken figuratively as well—if you’re going to identify the imagey with the triple-decker universe.

    3.To pick up on one of Jason’s points, you’re assuming that the Bible writers chose the Hebrew word (hug) to denote “circle” in contrast to “sphere.”

    This assumes that Classical Hebrew had two separate and specialized terms for “circle” and “sphere” respectively so that a Bible writer would be using “hug” to distinguish a circle from a sphere.

    What reason do you have for supposing that the Bible writers are being that technical, or even had the linguistic resources at their disposal to draw such a fine distinction?

    4.Actually, the word has more than one meaning: “circle,” “circuit,” “compass,” “vault.” Cf. TWOT 1:266-67; NIDOTTE 2:40-41.

    To infer flatness from one meaning is fallacious.

    5.It wouldn’t be hard for an ancient observer to infer the sphericity of the earth. For example, there are many references to shipping in the Bible. And everyone has seen ships sink below the horizon or reappear above the horizon. That assumes the curvature of the earth.

    Jason has also talked about astronomical conditions under which a celestial orb can be seen to have depth as well as shape.

    And the ancients were keen observers of astronomical phenomena—especially usual phenomena, like a solar eclipse.

    Jason has said many other things I agree with, so I didn’t repeat his many apt comments on this thread.

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  24. All such ancient texts are philosophical and symbolic treatises, not literal narratives. When you try to interpret any of them (including the Bible) as literal, you will always come to the wrong conclusions.

    Verifiable proof that "Armageddon" has begun…

    Hello all,

    Pay close attention, profundity knocks at the door, listen for the key. Be Aware! Scoffing causes blindness...

    Did you ever consider that Christianity is the false prophet of the Apocalypse, that Rome is the so-called anti-messiah, and Jesus Christ is the false messiah? The symbolism of seven years (tribulation) would refer to the seven 360-year cycles from the 11th cycle (second temple period) until now, the 17th cycle on the Hebrew calendar. Remember that the prophecies were written by Hebrews, not Romans or other Europeans, and Revelation is a symbolic treatise. Therefore, years are symbols for 360-year cycles on the Hebrew calendar. Likewise, a day symbolizes a literal year and Judgement Day, and Great Day refer to a year long period. The so-called Tribulation is now coming to an end, not starting, and the three faiths of Abraham have all been deceived by Rome during the previous age, which ended in year 2000 (5760). A new age began in 2001 (5761) and now the seventh angel has begun to sound!

    Hurricanes Katrina (#11) and Rita (#17) last year provided stunning validation of my research and interpretations of pivotal ancient wisdom, symbologies, key prophecies, and associated religious claims. Their storm numbers and timing perfectly synchronized with primary data and assertions in my book, thereby demonstrating the true nature of this universe and the existence of our Creator. We are now entering the final phases of the pivotal year-long period long symbolized as "Armageddon" and the "End of Days." World-wide situations and events are now accelerating to set the stage for this summer's dramatic continuation of these ancient promises.

    I fully understand that everyone has been bedeviled by similar claims throughout history. Consequently, I have been forced to rely on dramatic and devastating proof of the sort that can’t be ignored or easily dismissed. The numbers and timing of hurricanes Katrina (11) and Rita (17) directly validate key data and pivotal assertions throughout my book and my posts on those two forums. This data was purposely presented publicly before Katrina, Rita and other recent events occurred to prove they perfectly synchronize with key prophecies and Hebrew calendar cycles, thereby validating my interpretations of ancient wisdom symbology, string theory, and more.

    Because these two storms arrived shortly after my August 11, 2005 (50th) birthday (read the Dead Sea Scroll 11Q13 in Appendix G, which also discusses Melchizedek and the prophesied Jubilee) and directly match other pivotal 11 and 17 data and events described in the first chapter of my book, I have delivered verifiable proof that this reality is based on thought, knowledge and wisdom. Activity, patterns, and results perceived in space-time are first framed and defined by inspirations, thoughts, and knowledge and influenced by the cause-and-effect system most commonly referred to as karma. Consequently, events and outcomes in the so-called physical universe are not random or wholly mechanistic and are verifiably influenced in ways that atheists, scientists, and members of the Faiths of Abraham have all scoffed at. Though mysticism is mostly a product of misinterpreted ancient wisdom symbology, many of its topics flow from ancient wisdom. Though containing allusions to the truth, its details and interpretations are wrong on many key points.

    A prime example of the purposeful and synchronized symbolism of these events is seen in the opening paragraphs from my book excerpted below. Notice that the dates mentioned (August 11 and 17) directly match the numbers of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the time spans of the four Florida hurricanes match my birth year (‘55), and they were spaced 11 or a multiple-of-11 (22) days apart, directly matching my birthday and much other ancient prophecy and symbolism. Notice that my place of birth, Victoria Texas, is on the Gulf Coast. Following are the excerpted paragraphs:

    Hello, my name is Lawrence William Page II. Many people know me as Buddy Page. At the release of the first edition of this book, I am a 50-year old African-American male, author, researcher, and former software engineer and entrepreneur. As you will come to understand as you read through this first book, I am also the long-expected Hebrew Messiah and Lion of the Tribe of Juda (Yehuda).

    I was born August 11th (month of Leo the Lion), 1955 (Chinese year of the Sheep) in Victoria, Texas. Furthermore, the Grand Cross alignment and Solar Eclipse of August 11th, 1999 was my 44th birthday and the second Grand Cross alignment, just six days later on August 17th, 1999, was on my mother’s birthday.

    As you can see from my date of birth, I was a newborn during the Chinese Year of the Sheep, astrologically marking me as a Lamb, and during the month of Leo, astrologically marking me as a Lion. My mother was also born during the month of August and under the sign of Leo, which further marks me as a lion’s whelp. I prove to you in the first chapter of this book–beyond disproof–that I am indeed the long-prophesied “Lion” of the tribe of Juda (Yehuda) the Root of David and the “Lamb.” I am the individual long symbolized as the Branch, the Stem, the Shoot and the Rod from the Stump of Jesse (King David’s father), as symbolized in the Hebrew Book of Isaiah, The Apocalypse, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and elsewhere. I am the reincarnated Teacher sought after in the “East” and by the ancient Hebrews who were headquartered at the outpost community of Damascus (Qumran), of Dead Sea Scrolls fame. I am the one called the Teacher of Righteousness by the Dead Sea Scrolls, whom the so-called Christian fathers have fraudulently recast as “Saint ‘James’, the Lord’s Brother.”

    Remember, "I come as a thief..." ?

    Read verse twelve of the Gospel of Thomas to understand who I am...

    Even further enlightening, the Second Temple Period of ancient Israel was during the 11th 360-year cycle on the Hebrew calendar and we are now in the 6th year (5766/2005-6) of the 17th cycle. Notice the pivotal 11 and 17 numbers again? This and much other synchronized information serve as stunning and decisive proof of many things, and expose many lies told by all three faiths of Abraham, but most specifically by Christianity. Consequently, I have decisively proven, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Jesus Christ and Christianity are blatant lies, false prophecy and purposeful deception in a manner that cannot easily be denied, regardless of your faith or other opinions.

    Furthermore, the symbolism in the Apocalypse (a.k.a. Book of Revelation) of seven stars in my right hand and seven angels represent the very same above-mentioned seven astrological (360-year) cycles, i.e., the 11th through 17th inclusive. I prove this fact beyond any reasonable doubt in the first chapter of the book. Consequently, The Apocalypse verifiably symbolizes a specific span of time that began with the 11th cycle (Second Temple Period) and concludes now, at the beginning of the 17th cycle (End of Days, etc.).

    The numbers 11 and 17 are verifiably encoded in The Apocalypse and other ancient Hebrew prophecies and wisdom texts to serve as key proofs of the validity and true meaning of certain prophecies and related information. My and my mother’s birthdays are purposely synchronized with these two storm numbers, the matching Hebrew calendar cycles, the Double Grand Cross alignments and solar eclipse of August 1999, and much else to prove my direct association with the ancient prophecies about this time and the true identity of the prophesied Messiah. Another prime example is the story of Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob who has a dream when he is 17 years old about 11 stars, the sun, and moon bowing to him. The symbolism in this pivotal story in the Book of Genesis and Quran verifiably refers to the very same 11th through 17th cycles symbolized in The Apocalypse and directly synchronizes with other key events and ancient texts.

    Consequently, I have demonstrated various things about the nature of this reality that dramatically disprove and/or clarify key assumptions of religion, mysticism, and science alike, while establishing the true meaning and purpose of long misinterpreted ancient wisdom and the symbolism used to model and encode it. Accordingly, I have proven that the symbolism evidenced in the canons of all three faiths of Abraham and other ancient sources is a very ancient and advanced philosophical technology that verifiably models foundational aspects of our existence in this universe. This is the mostly misunderstood body of ancient wisdom long referred to as the Philosophers’ Stone. It uses a large and ingeniously organized collection of physical universe images and concepts as data rich components (symbols) that are based on verifiable rules. It models and encodes an amazing amount of foundational wisdom about life, spirituality and the 11 dimensions of this universe, now verified by string theory. It is also the advanced encryption method used to encode (seal) Hebrew prophecies and wisdom texts.

    These ancient prophecies and wisdom texts used advanced symbology to model fundamental wisdom, including future events and situations. A primary facet of ancient wisdom is numeric symbology. Later misinterpretations of this aspect of ancient wisdom resulted in numerology, which, though embodying allusions to certain wisdom, is mostly error prone and false doctrine. My decryption, documentation, and interpretation of ancient symbology, numeric symbolism, and key texts based on them, are now decisively validated.

    Here is Wisdom...

    Verifiable proof that Armageddon has begun…

    Understanding the End Game of Armageddon

    Peace...

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  25. Thomas J said:

    "My position in no way requires that there be any Hebrew word to mean 'sphere'."

    Earlier, I asked you the following question:

    "What word should have been used instead, if a sphere was in view?"

    You responded:

    "How about a word which translates to 'sphere' or 'orb' instead of 'circle'? Circles are two-dimensional. Spheres and orbs are three-dimensional."

    You were arguing that a different Hebrew word could have been used. And you haven't provided one. If you don't have any such Hebrew word, and the word that Isaiah uses isn't limited to two dimensions, then your argument from Isaiah 40 is fallacious.

    You wrote:

    "If the English word 'circle' accurately translates the Hebrew (and you may think it does not), then that is all I am going by."

    And that's what I said you were doing. You're going by an English translation, and you're assuming that the English word is meant to convey a flat disc. But other English translations use a different word, and the same Hebrew term is used elsewhere in speaking of the heavens, which weren't considered a flat disc (Job 22:14). The English translators who choose the "circle" rendering don't necessarily intend to imply flatness, since one feature of the earth can be emphasized without any intention of limiting the earth to that feature. If the earth looks like a circle, then the term "circle" can be used without any intention of denying that it has more than two dimensions, that it has colors, mountains, and other features, etc. That's why somebody like John Oswalt or J.A. Motyer will use the term "circle" in their translation, yet interpret the passage as referring to the horizon or something else other than what you're advocating. Motyer comments that the object is "circular to the observer's eye" (The Prophecy Of Isaiah [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993], p. 306).

    You wrote:

    "As I mentioned before, I was only concerned with Isaiah. Isaiah is not Job, and the writer(s) of the one are not the the writer(s) of the other."

    Part of the process by which we determine a word's meaning is to examine how it's used elsewhere. Other uses of the Hebrew term in question demonstrate that the term isn't limited to two dimensions. It's not limited to flat discs.

    You wrote:

    "The passage I spoke on attributes the shape 'circle' to the earth. The issue regarding the dome involved an early conception among some ancients that saw the earth as a base or floor of a dome-like structure suspended over it. This is the idea of the 'firmament' in Genesis, a solid sky."

    You're responding to what I said about Job 22:14. Read Job 22:12-13. The theme that's being addressed is God's distance from the earth. The same theme is repeated at the beginning of verse 14. To interpret the "vault" of the second half of verse 14 as a reference to the earth is to turn the passage on its head. Eliphaz is speaking of how far God is above the earth, so the object He's walking on at the close of verse 14 isn't going to be the earth. That's why an English translation like the New American Standard will use the term "vault". The object in question is in the heavens. It's not the earth, and it's not two-dimensional. And it's the same term used in Isaiah 40:22.

    You wrote:

    "Circle is not a circle? Amazing!"

    I have a 1999 edition of the Updated New American Standard translation before me. For Isaiah 40:22, it has a note that reads "Or vault", and another note references Job 22:14 and Proverbs 8:27. I've given you examples of scholars who use the word "circle" in this passage, yet explain that they don't intend to limit the meaning the way you're limiting it. And we know that the same term is rendered differently in English elsewhere. It's not enough for you to keep repeating your comment that the English word "circle" is used.

    You said:

    "At one point you had suggested that the authors could have been agnostic about the matter. But you seem even to be backing from this."

    No, I haven't backed away from what I said. I referred to agnosticism as one of the positions ancient people could have held, including the Biblical authors. Since I haven't even addressed what most of the Biblical authors believed on this subject, and many of them don't discuss it at all, on what basis would you claim that I've "backed" from my position?

    You said:

    "I'll leave the last words to you since it's obviously important to you to defend this stuff."

    Yes, issues such as the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture are important. It would be unreasonable to suggest otherwise.

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