John Walton’s “Greatest Hits” — Part 2

Part 1 of my John Walton’s “Greatest Hits” series can be read here.

Day 1 — Creation of Light

Contrary to a superficial reading of Genesis 1:3-5, Walton argues that this passage does not describe the creation of physical light per se. Rather, God created the basis of time—the first step to bringing order to the cosmos. After speaking light into existence, God “called” light by its name, which was a common method in the ancient Near East (ANE) of assigning function or purpose. Also of note is the author’s use of metonymy, a figure of speech in which a particular word or phrase is substituted for another because of their intimate association (e.g., Washington = US Government). Thus, the first mention of “light” in v. 3 should be equated with the “period of light” God called “day” in v. 5.

Walton then contrasts the modern worldview, in which “Function is a consequence of Structure,” and the ANE wordview, in which “Function is a consequence of Purpose.” Thus, viewing Genesis 1 in this manner makes it unnecessary to “ask whether or not God also created physicist’s light on Day one. Certainly light as a physical entity must exist for time to function in the way that Genesis 1 describes it. But Genesis is not interested in the material structures that allow the functions to operate.”

Creation of the “Firmament” or “Expanse”

The Hebrew word for “firmament,” or “expanse,” (רקיע, raqi’a) is used 17 times in the Old Testament. Each and every time, in concurrence with the ANE worldview, it refers to something solid! Oddly enough, birds fly and the heavenly bodies find their dwelling in the firmament. (Walton also makes the interesting connection with Akkadian texts in which the stars are actually engraved on the undersurface of the firmament.) Because it is impossible for birds to fly, or the stars to be set, in the firmament, it stands to reason that the firmament possesses no scientfically-defined, structural equal. Thus, any attempts by condordists to harmonize all of the biblical mentions of the firmament and equate the firmament with something physical will always fail. In short, “there is a raqi’a … and it’s blue. Don’t try to get a piece.”

Just as the creation of light served the function of time, the creation of the firmament served the function of weather regulation—God’s second step in bringing order to chaos.

19 Comments

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19 Responses to John Walton’s “Greatest Hits” — Part 2

  1. “Thus, any attempts by condordists to harmonize all of the biblical mentions of the firmament and equate the firmament with something physical will always fail.”

    Mike,

    This is an essential point of Covenant Creation. I sense that we are pretty close to ANE on a fundamental level, because we ask different questions of the text that are more in line with Hebrew priorities, means of communication and covenant life symbolism. Isn’t this a lot like what ANE is presenting?

    I am very much looking forward to your feedback on the the updated and greatly expanded portion of the new book regarding Covenant Creation.

    My thinking on the matter is that covenant creation goes a step further than ANE by offering content on what is going on in the creation account that is rooted in the content of the rest of the Scriptures.

    Though this is a slightly different approach than ANE (which predominantly looks outward to contemporary cultural concepts and meanings)it is, on a fundamental level, in agreement with ANE about the purpose of the creation account. I just happen to believe that the focus could get much sharper if we pay attention to the internal biblical connections at least as much as the external culture.

    Let me try to draw an analogy that illustrates my concern with the unmodified ANE view. Are we ready and willing define Christianity today primarily by a close examination of pagan cultural concerns, priorities, and values that happen to be contemporary with us?

    Thanks for your post,

    Tim Martin
    http://www.beyondcreationscience.com

  2. Dan Werner

    Mike,
    I was a bit confused about the discussion about birds. My understanding is that birds flew beneath or on the edge of the solid firmament. Is that Walton’s view?
    Thanks,
    Dan

  3. Just received your book today. I’m quite impressed with how good the books looks (printing, typesetting, formatting). I can’t wait to discover which chapters you added to address the concerns that Mike has expressed (and which I share).

    My thinking on the matter is that covenant creation goes a step further than ANE by offering content on what is going on in the creation account that is rooted in the content of the rest of the Scriptures.
    Completely understandable view. But I think the issue is one of bibliology. If I shared your view that the canon of Scripture is a unified work overtly sculpted by God from start to finish rather than a more laissez-faire authorization (remarkably analogous to spontaneous/ex nihilo vs. evolutionary creation!), I would be more receptive to this.

    What your book will have to demonstrate to me is that the themes and imagery recurring throughout the Scripture was cut from the same sovereignly ordained cloth rather than successive, independent allusions to earlier stories and actual physical phenomena (sometimes a star is just a star, with apologies to Freud).

    I’ll let you know what I think!

  4. Tim,

    This is an essential point of Covenant Creation. I sense that we are pretty close to ANE on a fundamental level, because we ask different questions of the text that are more in line with Hebrew priorities, means of communication and covenant life symbolism. Isn’t this a lot like what ANE is presenting?

    CC and ANE both ask different questions, as you note. However, as I point out elsewhere on this blog, our hermeneutics in regard to interpreting Genesis are fundamentally different, and I fear that they may be incompatible. (Our hermeneutic in regard to eschatology, of course, remains in sync. 😉

    I just happen to believe that the focus could get much sharper if we pay attention to the internal biblical connections at least as much as the external culture.

    Again, as I mentioned in JWGH Part 1, I don’t recall the use of the ANE perspective in your book. Of course, I have yet to read the finished product! Can’t wait! 🙂

    Are we ready and willing [to] define Christianity today primarily by a close examination of pagan cultural concerns, priorities, and values that happen to be contemporary with us?

    I’m not sure what you’re asking. Are you asking if it’s “allowable” to redefine Christianity in terms that other cultures can understand?

  5. Mike,

    Let’s put the whole discussion of Covenant Creation and ANE on hold till after you’ve read what we ended up with.

    As far as your question, I believe there is a clear distinction between showing how Christianity relates to contemporary unbelieving culture and defining Christianity by contemporary culture. Does that make my concern any clearer?

    Look at Paul at Athens. He clearly understood the essence of Christianity and the essence of Hellenic thought. And he was a genius at pointing out the relevancy of Christianity in that context.

    Now, let me re-ask the question from the previous post in a different way. Would we best understand what Christianity *is* by studying Paul’s background rooted in covenant history or studying the contemporary culture and modes of thought in Athens at the time of Paul?

    You see, I’m all for considering cultural context when we go to interpret Scripture. You’ll see that we did this explicitly in a key spot in (the new) chapter 16. But watch how we argue the case in that chapter. We do not argue the case from the external contemporary culture that parallels Genesis, but from the internal elements that are so clearly linked to other key portions of Scripture. The external context gives us an introduction, but the case is made internally.

    My concern is that any approach that relies on the external, contemporary context to define the meaning of the text is in great danger of introducing distortions into the text. It is an “outside in” approach whereas I think the better approach is “inside out” — or at least equal-to-greater weight to the “inside out” details.

    I do understand that ANE focuses on the anti-polytheistic polemic that, I will grant, is clearly in the text. What I am not so sure about is if there is, at root, common ground about the essential categories and definitions of the elements in the creation account between the biblical audience and contemporary pagan culture.

    Here is the example: “Heaven and earth.” Isn’t Walton still thinking in terms of the physical universe? It really doesn’t matter if he has redirected the discussion to terms of form and function, he is still working upon the same presupposition as YEC and OEC thought. He is thinking “physical universe.”

    What if the biblical, contextual meaning of “heaven and earth” has **nothing** to do with the physical universe… enter preterism…

    Does this help on clearing up my concerns?

    Blessings,

    Tim Martin
    http://www.beyondcreationscience.com

  6. Hi Mike – I aplogise but I havnt read all your blog in detail so I hope I am pickingteh thrust of it up correctly. If I understand right you have moved from essentailly a biblical literalist creationist position to a position which accepts evolutionary evidence but seeks to reconcile this with biblical tradition, and understand Biblical writings in part through their cultural context.

    I am an Atheist and have spent a lot of tme arguing with creationists on the internet. I must say that my arguments are usually about evolution. When it comes to peoples beliefs in God I am generally happy that each man believes what he wishes to believe.

    Its only really been the attempt by creationists to attack evolutionary science that has got many people like me up in arms.

    Many religious people have no difficulty reconciling their religious beliefs with the scientific evidence of evolution and if so I say good luck to them.

    It’s not my belief but as long as we are clear where science ends and religion begins then there is much less problem for everyone.

  7. Bunc,

    If I understand right you have moved from essentailly a biblical literalist creationist position to a position which accepts evolutionary evidence but seeks to reconcile this with biblical tradition, and understand Biblical writings in part through their cultural context.

    You have the gist of my blog, Bunc. However, I might take exception to your assumption that I am trying to “reconcile” evolutionary evidence with biblical tradition. Biblical literature and/or tradition, properly understood, does not require reconciliation with scientific evidence. FWIW, I don’t think the Bible—Genesis 1 in particular—speaks to matters of science. If science isn’t the subject upon which the Bible speaks, then there is no contradiction to resolve.

    I am an Atheist … When it comes to peoples beliefs in God I am generally happy that each man believes what he wishes to believe.

    I respect your position more than you know. Keep reading as I continue blogging my “Steps of the Journey” series.

    Its only really been the attempt by creationists to attack evolutionary science that has got many people like me up in arms.

    By all means, Bunc, continue the good fight. But keep in mind that a militaristic approach can actually further entrench someone in their beliefs. If I were you, I would recommend to the Christians with whom you are debating some works on theistic evolution. They may not, of course, align themselves with your point of view, but you will find their views no longer a point of contention. Feel free to point me in the direction of some of your debates, and I just might come to your aid. =)

    as long as we are clear where science ends and religion begins then there is much less problem for everyone.

    And that’s something to which I can give a hearty “Amen!”

    Thanks so much for your post, Bunc! Hope to see you around here some more.

  8. Mike,

    In the same way many condemn reading Gen 1 though a modern science cosmology I believe it is an error to read into Gen. 1 a ANE cosmology. As one trained in ANE at a “Christian College and Seminary” I can assure you that there is a better paradigm than either of the above. For instance, did you know the english word firmament comes from the latin vulgate based on a false translation found in the Septuagint by Jews improperly influenced by ANE? If this is the first time you have heard this criticism of ANE then you should not be so presumptuous in “NEW” understanding.

    Casey Freswick

  9. For instance, did you know the english word firmament comes from the latin vulgate based on a false translation found in the Septuagint by Jews improperly influenced by ANE?

    In actuality, Casey, the English word “firmament” is entirely irrelevant to the question.

    There is no direct translation for Heb. raqiya. It is a nominal form of a root meaning “to beat out”, which in its verbal form was used of the process of beating out malleable metal (as into sheets in Ex 30.3). The sky was, in fact, widely conceptualized as metal in Sumerian, Egyptian, and even the more closely related Phoenician cultures, “beat out” into a domed shape. So when we see this word in the Bible, we can’t ignore it.

    Your version: everybody believed in a dome. Then after divine revelation, the Hebrews stopped believing in a dome. Then the Hebrews themselves lost this knowledge and mistranslated the word raqiya into Greek.

    My version: everybody believed in a dome.

    Your view requires special revelation, first on the part of the Hebrews’ cosmology (ineffective revelation that was lost for centuries), and then also on your part, since you seem to have miraculously recovered the long lost knowledge that the Hebrews received special revelation that they lost by 200 B.C.

    Hmmm…I think I’ll go with Walton here. 😉 (He doesn’t accept evolution, by the way.)

  10. Mike, Steve and ?,

    The following if a fuller explanation of my former comments that are a summary of the issue found at:
    Earth.http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/164.

    The Hebrew raqia (the “firmament” of the KJV, ASV, RSV, et al.) means an “expanse” (Davidson, 1963, p. DCXCII; Wilson, n.d., p. 166), or “something stretched, spread or beaten out” (Maunder, 1939, p. 315; Speiser, 1964, p. 6). Keil and Delitzsch offered this definition in their monumental commentary on the Pentateuch: “to stretch, to spread out, then beat or tread out…the spreading out of air, which surrounds the earth as an atmosphere” (1980, 1:52).

    In an article discussing the “firmament” of Genesis 1:6-8, Gary Workman observed that this word is an “unfortunate translation” because it “not only is inaccurate but also has fostered unjust criticism that the Bible erroneously and naively pictures the sky above the earth as a solid dome” (1991, 11[4]:14). Strictly speaking, of course, “firmament” is not actually a translation of raqia at all, but rather, more accurately, a transliteration (i.e., the substitution of a letter in one language for the equivalent letter in another language) of an “unfortunate translation.” Allow me to explain.

    The Septuagint (a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek produced by Jewish scholars in the third century B.C. at the behest of the powerful Egyptian pharaoh, Ptolemy Philadelphus, for inclusion in his world-famous library in Alexandria) translated raqia into the Greek as stereoma, which connotes a “solid structure” (Arndt and Gingrich, 1967, p. 774). Apparently, the translators of the Septuagint were influenced by the then-popular Egyptian view of cosmology and astronomy [they were, after all, doing their translating in Egypt for an Egyptian pharaoh] that embraced the notion of the heavens being a stone vault. Unfortunately, those Hebrew scholars therefore chose to render raqia via the Greek word stereoma—in order to suggest a firm, solid structure. The Greek connotation thus influenced Jerome to the extent that, when he produced his Latin Vulgate, he used the word firmamentum (meaning a strong or steadfast support—from which the word “firmament” is transliterated) to reflect this pagan concept (McKechinie, 1978, p. 691).

    In his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words , Old Testament language scholar W.E. Vine stressed:

    While this English word is derived from the Latin firmamentum which signifies firmness or strengthening,…the Hebrew word, raqia, has no such meaning, but denoted the “expanse,” that which was stretched out. Certainly the sky was not regarded as a hard vault in which the heavenly orbs were fixed…. There is therefore nothing in the language of the original to suggest that the writers [of the Old Testament—BT] were influenced by the imaginative ideas of heathen nations (1981, p. 67).
    Raqia denotes simply an expanse, not a solid structure (see Harris, et al., 1980, 2:2218). Furthermore, the actual substance of the expanse is not inherent in the word. For example, Numbers 16:38 juxtaposes raqia and pahim (plates), suggesting literally an “expanse of plates.” Here, “plates” specifies the actual material involved in the expansion. In Genesis, “heavens,” not solid matter, is given as the nature of the expanse (Genesis 1:8,14,15,17,20). The original context in which raqia is used does not imply any kind of solid dome above the Earth.

    Casey

  11. Steve wrote:

    Your view requires special revelation, first on the part of the Hebrews’ cosmology (ineffective revelation that was lost for centuries), and then also on your part, since you seem to have miraculously recovered the long lost knowledge that the Hebrews received special revelation that they lost by 200 B.C.

    Steve:

    My view does require special revelation. It does assume that knowledge is lost and rejected because of the the world views including cosmology soteriology and other “ologies” that make up a world view. This happens all the time, so why would it not happen to Jews translating the OT. But more important, if you reject special revelation you have already rejected the world view of the Bible. I contend that your rejection of the concept of God given special revelation is the basis of your rejection of a unique Biblical cosmology. Do you reject other truths revealed like the divinity of Christ or his resurrection or his saving work or His return? Is my interpretation influenced by other Biblical revelation, like special revelation. No doubt. Is your interpretation influenced by your rejection of the same?

    Casey

  12. Casey,

    All you have demonstrated is something we all knew already: that those bound to allow modernity to trump the context and culture God saw it fit to entrust Scripture to, who feel they must force the ancient text of Scripture into the mold of modern literature and rule out the obvious fact that, as Israel was ANE, so was their literature — these misguided Christians will do their level best to concoct an alternative scenario and pretend that it’s the most obvious.

    Once again, all your talk of “firmament” has nothing to do with it. The fundamentalists have their “scholars” intent on ignoring original cultural context where it results in an undesirable reading, and the rest of us have Walton.

    This happens all the time, so why would it not happen to Jews translating the OT.

    It could well happen, Casey. That’s not my point. I’m simply pointing out the contrivances you’re forced to create in order to uphold your predetermined view rather than looking at all the facts on the ground. Have you even tried to understand the view held by most ANE scholars, including conservative Christian ones like Walton, or did you, as I suspect, not lay aside your presupposition for even a second? Recognizing that the Old Testament contains ANE elements should be no more surprising than that it was written in Hebrew and Aramaic.

    I contend that your rejection of the concept of God given special revelation is the basis of your rejection of a unique Biblical cosmology.

    I don’t reject that special revelation is recorded in the pages of Scripture, still less the concept of God — I am a Christian. I simply don’t see the need for positing special revelation in places where we don’t have reason to expect it; it has not been demonstrated that there is any necessity in positing it in this case aside from affirming a faulty hermeneutic (that Scripture must match our current scientific views) and rejecting a good one (reading Scripture as the literature of the people to whom it was written).

    Do you reject other truths revealed like the divinity of Christ or his resurrection or his saving work or His return?

    And why would I do this? Do you know of a reason I should do so that I am unaware of?

  13. Steve,

    The virgin birth is just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers accommodated themselves to in order to contextualize their message to the mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births. So why is this context of virgin births not a basis for denying the Bible’s declaration of the historicity of the virgin birth of Jesus.

  14. Steve,

    One other point. Is the following quote an example of ” those bound to allow modernity to trump the context and culture God saw it fit to entrust Scripture to, who feel they must force the ancient text of Scripture into the mold of modern literature and rule out the obvious fact that, as Israel was ANE, so was their literature — these misguided Christians will do their level best to concoct an alternative scenario and pretend that it’s the most obvious”.

    “Moreover, the word rakia, comprehends not only the whole region of the air, but whatever is open above us: as the word heaven is sometimes understood by the Latins”.

    Is this a modern accomadation or a reading into the text a ancient Roman view of “heaven”. It seems that God calls firmament heaven in Gen. 1:8.

    By the way the above quote comes from John Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 1554.

    Casey

  15. Casey:

    In the same way many condemn reading Gen 1 though a modern science cosmology I believe it is an error to read into Gen. 1 a ANE cosmology.

    Seeing as an ANE culture (the Hebrews) produced Genesis, I fail to see any logic in your approach.

    As one trained in ANE at a “Christian College and Seminary”

    To which school did you go? Who was/were your professor(s), if I may ask?

    I can assure you that there is a better paradigm than either of the above.

    So far, throughout your exchanges here, you haven’t provided us with your “better paradigm.” Would you be so kind as to explain your paradigm?

    For instance, did you know the english word firmament comes from the latin vulgate based on a false translation found in the Septuagint by Jews improperly influenced by ANE?

    As Steve mentioned above — having an expert in historical linguistics on retainer is quite nice — your “argument” is completely irrelevant to the conversation. For starters, it wouldn’t matter if Jerome translated raqiya as “snarfulblatz.” The reality would still be that the ANE cultures believed that the snarfulblatz was a solid dome over the earth, with “doors” or “windows” through which God (or the gods) sent rain, hail, and snow, and through which God sent lightning and fire.

    If this is the first time you have heard this criticism of ANE then you should not be so presumptuous in “NEW” understanding.

    I think it’s more likely that the reason I haven’t heard your criticism before is because it holds less water than the snarfulblatz.

  16. Casey wrote:

    The virgin birth is just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers accommodated themselves to in order to contextualize their message to the mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births.

    Actually, Rob Bell wrote this (verbatim) in his book Velvet Elvis.

    Regardless, it’s interesting that you bring this up. It’s entirely possible (and I believe this to be the case) that God accommodated His message to the Gentile world by appealing to these common myths. However, if this is true, it doesn’t negate a literal virgin birth. If you’re not familiar with Frank Herbert’s Dune, you really should give it a read, as it provides an outstanding example of rigged “fulfillment” of ancient “prophecies” and myths. Of course, in the case of Christianity and Jesus, God can rig whatever He pleases in whatever manner He desires. Is this not the nature of future prediction?

  17. Mike,

    First, my first exposure to ANE was at Calvin College and Seminary. Not ALL professors taught this. But I was certainly exposed to this at that time. Our intro religion course textbook was entitled, THE MIGHTY ACTS OF GOD, and taught that Genesis 1 taught an ANE cosmology. I was a philosophy major and had these views taught by men like Nicholas Walterstorf and Alvin Plantinga, although from these men it was the Biblical hermeneutic rather than the specific ANE cosmology that was taught elsewhere. But my Classical Greek professor definitely taught this perspective about all of Scripture and his view about the influence of Greek philosophy on the NT paralleled those claiming the influence of ANE on the OT and Genesis 1.

    I have not doubt that the Word of God specifically speaks to ANE culture. For instance, the Jews could not face the east when worshipping because that is where the sun came up and it would mimic the worship of the sun by ANE cultures. I do not believe the Israelites produced this command. God produced this command. So I understand when you write, “Seeing as an ANE culture (the Hebrews) produced Genesis, I fail to see any logic in your approach” that you think I am illogical. But I do not believe an ANE culture produced Genesis 1. God produced Genesis 1 as a counter-culture to the ANE culture of the day. Does God communicate to his people with terms existing in the sinful culture of the day of revelation? Of course. Did he use cultural terms at times to communicate his truth? Without doubt. I am well aware of the difference between a suzerain vassal treaty and a royal grant treaty (covenant) and the covenant structure of the whole book of Genesis.

    But why would God destroy the ANE concept of many gods and leave his people thinking that stars were literal creatures? Unless you believe the theory that the plural “gods” in the Hebrew is proof that early fragments of Genesis is really polytheistic because ANE produced Genesis. Or why would he declare that stars and the sun were not gods but continue to declare that they were in the heavens and not existing on a dome?

    I do not trust your linguistic expert because it is abundantly clear to anyone working with the original languages that your own theology CAN (not always) distorts your view of the language itself. This is true for me as well. No one should even begin reading the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament who takes everything these linguists says as true.

    The word firmament is an example. But lets say I accept the definition of firmament as a physical dome. Then I would think it would be clear that Genesis 1 does not teach that firmament is a physical dome because in Genesis 1 vs. 8 God called the firmament heaven (literally heavens). Heavens is NOT a word etymologically connected to a dome at all. If firmament had some ANE connotation of a physical dome I would believe this text would teach that such a view was wrong and that Genesis 1 changes the wrong cosmology of ANE culture, just like he would change the ANE religious beliefs about how and who was involved in the beginning of the world.

    I am very uncomfortable with Morris on Genesis 1. My sermons on Genesis 1 look nothing like his book, I am hesitant to call it a commentary.

    I did quote Rob Bell and was planning on making that clear in a future blog. However, Rob Bell rooted this and other concepts in Rudolph Bultmann so you may want to go back to the liberal German theologians of the late 19th century to get the original source material for this discussion. I believe this is where the ANE perspective on Genesis 1 has its modern birth. Or does anyone have evidence of this debate on Genesis 1 happening for the last 2000 years?

    It is interesting that Jerome (apx 100 AD) condemned Homor (1000 BC apx) for reading into Genesis 1 a Greek cosmology of the ideal and real, the spirit and flesh dualism prevalent in his day. It is difficult to not read into scripture your own cosmology or doctrine of salvation.

    My whole discussion on the etymology of firmament was meant to illustrate a far more simple point than what I think you think I was trying to make. People see the term firm and believe it supports an ANE reading of Genesis 1. It does seem clear to me that the Biblical use of firmament as an expression consistent with the creation of the heavens as rolled out without demanding that Genesis teaches the ANE concept of a domed earth. Thus, to translate the Hebrew as expanse is consistent with its etymology and the Genesis declaration that the expanse is the heavens. As the quote from Calvin shows this is not a modern fundamentalist knee jerk reaction against the clear reading of firmament as a solid dome. Still, I think it is possible that the Jewish translators of the Septuagint could have been influenced by a false cosmology in translating this term which lead to common modern translation of the Hebrew as firmament.

    Casey

  18. Getting a Reformed person to reconsider a position he’s outspoken about is like trying to shoot a flying dove at 200 yards with a 22. Possible, but not likely.

    I had a substantial reply ready, but I have not the interest in casting pearls before philosophers who have presupposed the proof of their own argument. You know where to go to seriously address this question. But for the others who happen to read these comments, I’d like to quote Walton again — not because he’s more authoritative than all the other scholars who agree with him, but because he’s so darned conservative. This time from Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament:

    “The Hebrew term used for ‘sky’ (raqi’a), is of unspecified material, but in at least one text the reference is to something solid (Ezek. 1:25-26). We have no reason to suppose that the Israelites thought about the composition of the sky differently than those around them. We know from Exodus 24:10 that they shared the idea of a pavement in God’s abode — and it is even of sapphire, as in the Mesopotamian texts.

    “P. Seely has traced the developments of beliefs abou the sky [in WTJ 53 (1991), ‘The Firmament and the Water Above, Part I: The Meaning of raqi’a in Gen 1:6-8′]. He demonstrates that intertestamental and rabbinic speculation sometimes focused on the material that the raqi’a was made of and how thick it was.”

    Without special revelation that is demonstrably not in Scripture, the Hebrews could not have known differently than their peers. Then you must ask, why did God reveal this to them and not include it in Scripture as an ongoing witness on how to interpret it? Did God not foresee that they would lose this special revelation within a few hundred years? Your ad hoc supposition is that God did reveal an accurate cosmology to the Israelites in preparation for giving them Scripture that had an accurate cosmology; this certainly suggests that God wanted only the original audience to get it, knowing full well that other later generations had no Scriptural basis for believing anything but what their contemporaries did, and even some evidence in favor of ANE cosmology.

  19. Casey,

    Apologies for the late response. My language studies tend to make time pass much more quickly (and painfully) than usual.

    If firmament had some ANE connotation of a physical dome I would believe this text would teach that such a view was wrong and that Genesis 1 changes the wrong cosmology of ANE culture, just like he would change the ANE religious beliefs about how and who was involved in the beginning of the world.

    In my opinion, this is the crux of your argument, yet you present absolutely no evidence to prove that this is true, i.e., if God would correct the Hebrews’ theology that he would also feel obligated to correct their view of the physical world. The idea of the so-called “firmament” being a solid dome is not restricted to biblical testimony (nor is it restricted to what you claim to be various translators’ misguided beliefs). As Stephen suggested, I highly recommend you check out Walton’s work and use it as a starting point to see how the rest of the ANE world viewed the nature and composition of the “expanse.” The testimony of the “firmament” being “firm” is voluminous. You need only seek it out.

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