Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Daniel's cosmic tree

“The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth” (Dan 4:10-11).

This reminds me of some descriptions I’ve read about Olympus Mons. For example:

“Both the size of Olympus Mons (roughly the size of the American state of Arizona) and its shallow slope (2.5 degrees central dome surrounded by 5 degree outer region) mean that a person standing on the surface of Mars would be unable to view the upper profile of the volcano even from a distance as the curvature of the planet and the volcano itself would obscure it. The only way to view the mountain properly is from orbit. However, one could view parts of Mons: standing on the highest point of its summit, the slope of the volcano would extend beyond the horizon, a mere 3 kilometres away; from the three kilometre elevated caldera rim one could see 80 kilometres to the caldera's other side; from the southeast scarp highpoint (about 5 km elevation) one could look about 180 km southeast; from the northwest scarp highpoint (about 8 km elevation) one could look upslope possibly 240 km and look northeast possibly 230 km.”


In his inspired dream or vision, Nebuchadnezzar sees a tree so big that its height and breadth fills the horizon. This is, of course, an imaginary tree. Still, he “sees” it in his mind’s eye. So it forms a coherent vision.

As such, the vision simulates the perspective of a ground-based observer. And that, in turn, raises an interesting logistical question: what shape would the earth have to be for a ground-based observer to perceive a tree so big that it appeared to fill the horizon?

Question: do the sightlines in Dan 4:11 implicitly assume the curvature of the earth?

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