The Sky, Earth, And Seas Simply Defined
Then God said: Let there be a rāqîaʿ … so God made the rāqîaʿ … and God called the rāqîaʿ: ‘Sky!’ (šāmayim)…. Then God said: Let the waters … be gathered… and let the dry land (yabbašâ) appear.… Then God called the dry-land (yabbašâ): ‘Earth!’ (ʾereṣ), and the gatherings-of-water (mikwê hammayim) he called: ‘Seas!’ (yammim).
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי רָקִיעַ … וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ … וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ שָׁמָיִם … וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם … וְתֵרָאֶה הַיַּבָּשָׁה … וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לַיַּבָּשָׁה אֶרֶץ וּלְמִקְוֵה הַמַּיִם קָרָא יַמִּים
– Genesis 1:6 – 10
According to Genesis 1, the rāqîaʿ is not some entity situated above the (spacious) skies, as it is often portrayed, rather it is the basic definition of the sky according to a straightforward reading of the text. The purpose of this article is to take a close look at the nature of this definition, and then to see how the information gleaned might inform this debate. We will do this first and foremost by comparing the creation of the sky in Genesis 1 with the creation of the other two ‘cosmic regions,’ namely the creation of the earth and the seas which occurred on day 3. What we find is an identical pattern in how each ‘cosmic region’ is created: First God calls one of the cosmic regions into being, but at this initial point he only refers to it by what we might call a simple but technical term, rather than by the commonly used name for that region (e.g. ‘sky,’ ‘earth,’ or ‘seas’). This ‘technical term’ provides a simple description of but a single physical characteristic of that region. Only after that region is ‘finished off’ does God give it its commonly used name, which in all three cases happens to be the most frequently used term in the Hebrew Bible for that ‘cosmic region.’ In contrast, the three ‘technical terms’ are only infrequently used in the bible.