Saturday, September 03, 2016


I've going to revisit a topic I frequently discuss. Even though it's an old topic, I'm going to attack it from a fresh angle. It's commonplace in "critical" Bible scholarship to allege that Bible writers thought and taught the world was flat. The three-story universe. Most of us have seen diagrams of this claim. Nowadays, even some so-called evangelicals are pushing this claim. 

1. In Greek mythology, Helios, the sun god, pulls the sun across the sky in a chariot with fireproof horses. One consideration in evaluating this depiction is that no ancient Greek ever saw a celestial chariot pulling the sun across the sky. So we have to ask ourselves how seriously ancient Greeks took that depiction. You can't say Greeks believed it because that's what it looks like to an earthbound, naked-eye observer. 

2. According to the three-story model, which is just a scholarly construct, the sky is a solid dome supported by mountains. Prescientific people believed that because that's what the earth looks like from the standpoint of an earthbound observer. They had no other frame of reference. 

3. Apropos (2), recently I was sitting outside on a partly cloudy day, looking at a hillside. I doubt that's something scholars who impute a three-story cosmography to ancient people bother to do. 

i) According to the three-story model, the sun, moon, and clouds are inside the dome. They move across the face of the firmament. 

However, clouds appear to rise over the hill from behind the hill. But according to the three-story model, clouds would have to be in front of the hillside. 

The same holds true for setting sun (or moon). If, moreover, that was the case, then the setting sun would sometimes cover part of the hillside. But, of course, we never see that happen. Rather, we see the hillside cover the descending sun. To all appearances, when the sun dips below the horizon, it passes behind the hillside or mountain range, not in front of it. 

ii) According to the three-story model, the setting moon would be on top of the hillside (or mountain range), since it has to move on the face of the firmament. If the dome is resting on the hillside or mountain range, then the moon cannot be behind the hillside or mountain range. The moon is inside, not outside, the dome. On a treelined hillside, we should see the moon crushing the trees. As it descends, the trees will bend under the weight of the moon. But, of course, no one ever sees that happen. By the same token, the setting sun ought to set the trees on fire. But no one ever sees that happen.

iii) If, moreover, the sun and moon are in front of or on top of the hills and mountains, how do they descend below the hills and mountains? Is there supposed to be a hole in the hill or mountain? Since, in the course of a year, sunrise and sunset occur at different points along the horizon, it wouldn't just be a bottomless hole, but a bottomless trench. But in that event, what is the solid dome resting on? 

iv) Watching sunset on a hillside has the same appearance as watching sunset on a mountain range. The only difference is that a mountain range is farther away. If, however, the ancients just went by appearances, then it would be a very small world if the neighboring hillside marks the boundary of the world. Suppose you live in a valley. Do you really think the whole world is no bigger than the hills surrounding the valley? Have you never ventured outside the valley?

v) Mountain ranges are often jagged. With slopes. How is the solid dome supposed to rest on such an uneven surface? And, of course, a treelined hillside is even more indented. Trees at different heights. Spaces between branches. How does the dome rest on top of a treelined hillside? Wouldn't the weight of the dome flatten the trees?  

vi) People who live off the land pay attention to their natural surroundings. Here's an example of how Sioux Indian boys used to be raised:

My uncle, who educated me up to the age of fifteen, was a strict disciplinarian and a good teacher. When I left the teepee in the morning, he would say: "Hakadah, look closely to everything you see"; and at evening, on my return, he used often to catechize me for an hour or so.
"On which side of the trees is the lighter-colored bark? On which side do they have most regular branches?"
When I was a little older, that is, about the age of eight or nine years, he would say, for instance:
"How do you know that there are fish in yonder lake?"
"Because they jump out of the water for flies at midday."
He would smile at my prompt but superficial reply.
"What do you think of the little pebbles grouped together under the shallow water? And what made the pretty curved marks in the sandy bottom and the little sandbanks?Where do you find the fish-eating birds? Have the inlet and the outlet of a lake anything to do with the question?" 
"Remember that a moose stays in swampy or low land or between high mountains near a spring or lake, for thirty to sixty days at a time. Most large game moves about continually, except for the doe in the spring." 
M. Fitzgerald, ed. The Essential Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa): Light on the Indian World (World Wisdom, Inc. 2007), 91-92.

I daresay ancient people were far more attentive to the natural world than armchair scholars. Should we really presume they'd be oblivous to detectable incongruities in the three-story cosmography? 

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