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.
Continue reading “The Rāqîaʿ is the Definition of the Sky According to Genesis 1”
In light of the consensus view on ‘the firmament’ that we just laid out, I present the following alternative view: Not only did the Hebrews not believe in any such ‘firm sky’ notion, apparently, neither did their ancient contemporaries. In short, there has never been any wide-spread ‘firmament’ notion in antiquity. What there has been is a confluence of cultural and linguistic misunderstandings and misreadings of ancient texts. In the case of the Hebrews, these misunderstandings started early in the history of biblical interpretation.
Many will read these claims with incredulity. But this is true in large part because most people have only been familiar with the evidence at a distance, being influenced mostly from popular level summary views on the purported ‘Hebrew Conception of the Universe.’ Most of these depictions, even if we were to accept the firmament notion, are highly selective with the evidence, giving the impression that the cosmic vault of the sky notion could be found on every other page of the ancient source material, when the direct opposite is the case. In the vast majority of cases, when the Bible or when other ancient peoples spoke of the sky, they spoke of it as a spacious region which could be inhabited: by birds, by the cosmic bodies, and then most importantly, by God himself (by ‘the gods’ for the non-Hebrews). The actual ratio might be closer to 1,000 to 1.
As such, these common depictions Continue reading “Neither the Hebrews nor Ancient Man Ever Believed in a ‘Firmament,’ But Both Believed in a Spacious Heavens”
The Second Day of Genesis 1 Describes … What?!?
Then God said: ‘Let there be a rāqîaʿ in the midst of the waters, and let it keep separating the waters from the waters. So God made the rāqîaʿ, and he separated the waters which were under the rāqîaʿ from the waters which were above the rāqîaʿ. And it was so. Then God named the rāqîaʿ: “Sky! (/ Heavens!)” And there was evening, and there was morning, the second day.
– Genesis 1:6-8
For thousands of years this passage has been an enigma for interpreters of the Bible. What is the meaning of this word ‘rāqîaʿ,’ and what exactly were these waters that it divided? Was this simply describing the creation of the atmosphere? Do these upper waters simply refer to the clouds? Or are there details in this passage that make those interpretations problematic? Looking at this passage within its context, we must also wonder: What is it about this event that an entire day of creation was devoted to it? And what relation does it have to the works God performed on the other five days of creation?
While it may come as a surprise to many, modern scholarship has long argued Continue reading “Introduction to the ‘Rāqîaʿ’ Problem”