Sunday, March 09, 2014

The myth of the solid heavenly dome


  1. Consider the Scriptural evidence for a distinctively-ancient-near-Eastern Hebrew cosmography that is collected in Brian Godawa's "Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography in the Bible," available at The Scriptural evidence is overwhelming.

    1. I like Godawa, but he's not a Bible scholar, and in any case, I myself have debunked this chestnut many times.

    2. If you have good reasons to believe that the scriptures that Godawa cites are, contrary to appearances, not supportive of a cosmology that would be most at home in the ancient Near East, then I would be very, very appreciative if you could enlighten me. Godawa does not purport to be a biblical scholar, but he has learned much from John Walton and many others, and he has done a fine job of helping to bring the discoveries of how to read scriptures in its ancient Near Eastern context to lay readers. That said, again, if you have good reasons for dismissing the argument that Godawa presents, I would be very glad to hear it.

    3. Melancholy,

      Some of that reason would be addressed in Younker and Davidson's article linked to above. For instance, they argue that Babylon didn't hold to a vaulted or domed earth cosmology. They argue that there is no exegetical reason to see "raqia" as "firmament" with it's connotations of a vault.

    4. Also, it's interesting to do some comparison with Godawa's article and Younker/Davidson. Notice that at one point Godawa gives us the typical picture of a vaulted dome with the cosmic waters above and above that the heaven of the heavens. Immediately below that Godawa says "Wayne Horowitz has chronicled Mesopotamian texts that illustrate this multi-leveled universe among the successive civilizations of Sumer, Akkad, Babylonia, and Assyria."

      This gives the impression that all these civilizations had the same three-teired picture of the cosmos. But as Younker and Davidson say: "Wayne Horowitz, attempted to piece together a Mesopotamian cosmology from a number of ancient documents, but it is quite different from anything found in the Hebrew Bible. Horowitz’s study suggests that the Mesopotamians believed in six flat heavens, suspended one above the other by cables.11 When it came to interpreting the stars and the heavens, the Mesopotamians were more interested in astrology (i.e., what the gods were doing and what it meant for humanity) than they were in cosmology.12 There is no evidence that the Mesopotamians ever believed in a solid heavenly vault."

      Footnote 11 is relevant too. You can read it for yourself.

    5. It is not my intent to be contrary here, but I do not think that we can so easily dismiss the scriptural evidence of an ancient Near Eastern cosmography in the Old and New Testaments. It makes good sense that the Hebrews and early Christians would have conceived the universe in a way that was consonant with the general cognitive environment with the cultures around them. The "solid dome" is only one part of this cosmography, and there is good prima facie evidence that the Hebrews did, in fact, conceive the world as including such a thing. That said, I will reiterate what I said above: if there are reasons for dismissing the argument that Godawa presents, I would be very glad to hear it.