The Astronomy of the Bible - An Elementary Commentary on the Astronomical References - of Holy Scripture
by E. Walter Maunder
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Transcriber's Notes: Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been left as in the original. Words italicized in the original are surrounded by underscores. Characters superscripted in the original are enclosed in {braces}. In this text, in words translated from Hebrew, ' represents an aleph, and ' represents an ayin. Some typographical and punctuation errors have been corrected. A complete list follows the text.

There are diacritic accents in the original. In this text, they are represented as follows:

ā = "a" with a macron ĕ = "e" with a breve ē = "e" with a macron š = "s" with a caron ī = "i" with a macron Š = "S" with a caron ō = "o" with a macron Ḥ = "H" with an underdot ū = "u" with a macron ḥ = "h" with an underdot











My helper in this Book and in all things.


Why should an astronomer write a commentary on the Bible?

Because commentators as a rule are not astronomers, and therefore either pass over the astronomical allusions of Scripture in silence, or else annotate them in a way which, from a scientific point of view, leaves much to be desired.

Astronomical allusions in the Bible, direct and indirect, are not few in number, and, in order to bring out their full significance, need to be treated astronomically. Astronomy further gives us the power of placing ourselves to some degree in the position of the patriarchs and prophets of old. We know that the same sun and moon, stars and planets, shine upon us as shone upon Abraham and Moses, David and Isaiah. We can, if we will, see the unchanging heavens with their eyes, and understand their attitude towards them.

It is worth while for us so to do. For the immense advances in science, made since the Canon of Holy Scripture was closed, and especially during the last three hundred years, may enable us to realize the significance of a most remarkable fact. Even in those early ages, when to all the nations surrounding Israel the heavenly bodies were objects for divination or idolatry, the attitude of the sacred writers toward them was perfect in its sanity and truth.

Astronomy has a yet further part to play in Biblical study. The dating of the several books of the Bible, and the relation of certain heathen mythologies to the Scripture narratives of the world's earliest ages, have received much attention of late years. Literary analysis has thrown much light on these subjects, but hitherto any evidence that astronomy could give has been almost wholly neglected; although, from the nature of the case, such evidence, so far as it is available, must be most decisive and exact.

I have endeavoured, in the present book, to make an astronomical commentary on the Bible, in a manner that shall be both clear and interesting to the general reader, dispensing as far as possible with astronomical technicalities, since the principles concerned are, for the most part, quite simple. I trust, also, that I have taken the first step in a new inquiry which promises to give results of no small importance.


St. John's, London, S.E. January 1908.





Modern Astronomy—Astronomy in the Classical Age—The Canon of Holy Scripture closed before the Classical Age—Character of the Scriptural References to the Heavenly Bodies—Tradition of Solomon's Eminence in Science—Attitude towards Nature of the Sacred Writers—Plan of the Book 3


Indian Eclipse of 1898—Contrast between the Heathen and Scientific Attitudes—The Law of Causality—Inconsistent with Polytheism—Faith in One God the Source to the Hebrews of Intellectual Freedom—The First Words of Genesis the Charter of the Physical Sciences—The Limitations of Science—"Explanations" of the First Chapter of Genesis—Its Real Purposes—The Sabbath 12


Babylonian Creation Myth—Tiamat, the Dragon of Chaos—Overcome by Merodach—Similarity to the Scandinavian Myth—No Resemblance to the Narrative in Genesis—Meanings of the Hebrew Word tehom—Date of the Babylonian Creation Story 25


Twofold Application of the Hebrew Word raqia'—Its Etymological Meaning—The Idea of Solidity introduced by the "Seventy"—Not the Hebrew Idea—The "Foundations" of Heaven and Earth—The "Canopy" of Heaven—The "Stories" of Heaven—Clouds and Rain—The Atmospheric Circulation—Hebrew Appreciation even of the Terrible in Nature—The "Balancings" and "Spreadings" of the Clouds—The "Windows of Heaven"—Not Literal Sluice-gates—The Four Winds—The Four Quarters—The Circle of the Earth—The Waters under the Earth—The "Depths" 35


The Order of the Heavenly Movements—Daily Movement of the Sun—Nightly Movements of the Stars—The "Host of Heaven"— Symbolic of the Angelic Host—Morning Stars—The Scripture View of the Heavenly Order 55


The Double Purpose of the Two Great Heavenly Bodies—Symbolic Use of the Sun as Light-giver—No Deification of the Sun or of Light—Solar Idolatry in Israel—Shemesh and Ḥeres— Sun-spots—Light before the Sun—"Under the Sun"—The Circuit of the Sun—Sunstroke—"Variableness"—Our present Knowledge of the Sun—Sir William Herschel's Theory—Conflict between the Old Science and the New—Galileo—A Question of Evidence—A Question of Principle 63


Importance of the Moon in Olden Times—Especially to the Shepherd—Jewish Feasts at the Full Moon—The Harvest Moon—The Hebrew Month a Natural one—Different Hebrew Words for Moon— Moon-worship forbidden—"Similitudes" of the Moon—Worship of Ashtoreth—No mention of Lunar Phases—The Moon "for Seasons" 79


Number of the Stars—"Magnitudes" of the Stars—Distances of the Stars 95


Great Comets unexpected Visitors—Description of Comets— Formation of the Tail—Possible References in Scripture to Comets 103


Aerolites—Diana of the Ephesians—Star-showers—The Leonid Meteors—References in Scripture—The Aurora Borealis 111


Vivid Impression produced by a Total Solar Eclipse—Eclipses not Omens to the Hebrews—Eclipses visible in Ancient Palestine— Explanation of Eclipses—The Saros—Scripture References to Eclipses—The Corona—The Egyptian "Winged Disc"—The Babylonian "Ring with Wings"—The Corona at Minimum 118


The "Seven Planets"—Possible Scripture References to Venus and Jupiter—"Your God Remphan" probably Saturn—The Sabbath and Saturn's Day—R. A. Proctor on the Names of the Days of the Week—Order of the Planets—Alexandrian Origin of the Weekday Names—The Relation of Astrology to Astronomy—Early Babylonian Astrology—Hebrew Contempt for Divination 130




The "Greek Sphere"—Aratus—St Paul's Sermon at Athens—The Constellations of Ptolemy's Catalogue—References to the Constellations in Hesiod and Homer—The Constellation Figures on Greek Coins—And on Babylonian "Boundary-stones"—The Unmapped Space in the South—Its Explanation—Precession—Date and Place of the Origin of the Constellations—Significant Positions of the Serpent Forms in the Constellations—The Four "Royal Stars"—The Constellations earlier than the Old Testament 149


The Bow set in the Cloud—The Conflict with the Serpent—The Seed of the Woman—The Cherubim—The "Mighty Hunter" 162


Resemblance between the Babylonian and Genesis Deluge Stories—The Deluge Stories in Genesis—Their Special Features—The Babylonian Deluge Story—Question as to its Date—Its Correspondence with both the Genesis Narratives—The Constellation Deluge Picture—Its Correspondence with both the Genesis Narratives—The Genesis Deluge Story independent of Star Myth and Babylonian Legend 170


Joseph's Dream—Alleged Association of the Zodiacal Figures with the Tribes of Israel—The Standards of the Four Camps of Israel—The Blessings of Jacob and Moses—The Prophecies of Balaam—The Golden Calf—The Lion of Judah 186


The Four Serpent-like Forms in the Constellations—Their Significant Positions—The Dragon's Head and Tail—The Symbols for the Nodes—The Dragon of Eclipse—Hindu Myth of Eclipses—Leviathan—References to the Stellar Serpents in Scripture—Rahab—Andromeda—"The Eyelids of the Morning"—Poetry, Science, and Myth 196


Difficulty of Identification—The most Attractive Constellations—Kimah—Not a Babylonian Star Name—A Pre-exilic Hebrew Term—The Pleiades traditionally Seven—Maedler's Suggestion—Pleiades associated in Tradition with the Rainy Season—And with the Deluge—Their "Sweet Influences"—The Return of Spring—The Pleiades in recent Photographs—Great Size and Distance of the Cluster 213


Kesil—Probably Orion—Appearance of the Constellation— Identified in Jewish Tradition with Nimrod, who was probably Merodach—Altitude of Orion in the Sky—Kesilim—The "Bands" of Orion—The Bow-star and Lance-star, Orion's Dogs—Identification of Tiamat with Cetus 231


Probably the "Signs of the Zodiac"—Babylonian Creation Story—Significance of its Astronomical References—Difference between the "Signs" and the "Constellations" of the Zodiac—Date of the Change—And of the Babylonian Creation Epic—Stages of Astrology—Astrology Younger than Astronomy by 2000 Years— Mazzaroth and the "Chambers of the South"—Mazzaloth—The Solar and Lunar Zodiacs—Mazzaroth in his Season 243


'Ash and 'Ayish—Uncertainty as to their Identification— Probably the Great Bear—Mezarim—Probably another Name for the Bears—"Canst thou guide the Bear?"—Proper Motions of the Plough-stars—Estimated Distance 258




Rotation Period of Venus—Difficulty of the Time Problem on Venus—The Sun and Stars as Time Measurers—The apparent Solar Day the First in Use—It began at Sunset—Subdivisions of the Day Interval—Between the Two Evenings—The Watches of the Night—The 12-hour Day and the 24-hour Day 269


The Week not an Astronomical Period—Different Weeks employed by the Ancients—Four Origins assigned for the Week—The Quarter-month—The Babylonian System—The Babylonian Sabbath not a Rest Day—The Jewish Sabbath amongst the Romans—Alleged Astrological Origin of the Week—Origin of the Week given in the Bible 283


The New Moon a Holy Day with the Hebrews—The Full Moons at the Two Equinoxes also Holy Days—The Beginnings of the Months determined from actual Observation—Rule for finding Easter—Names of the Jewish Months—Phoenician and Babylonian Month Names— Number of Days in the Month—Babylonian Dead Reckoning—Present Jewish Calendar 293


The Jewish Year a Luni-solar one—Need for an Intercalary Month—The Metonic Cycle—The Sidereal and Tropical Years—The Hebrew a Tropical Year—Beginning near the Spring Equinox—Meaning of "the End of the Year"—Early Babylonian Method of determining the First Month—Capella as the Indicator Star—The Triad of Stars—The Tropical Year in the Deluge Story 305


Law of the Sabbatic Year—A Year of Rest and Release—The Jubilee—Difficulties connected with the Sabbatic Year and the Jubilee—The Sabbatic Year, an Agricultural one—Interval between the Jubilees, Forty-nine Years, not Fifty—Forty-nine Years an Astronomical Cycle 326


The Jubilee Cycle possessed only by the Hebrews—High Estimation of Daniel and his Companions entertained by Nebuchadnezzar—Due possibly to Daniel's Knowledge of Luni-solar Cycles—Cycles in Daniel's Prophecy—2300 Years and 1260 Years as Astronomical Cycles—Early Astronomical Progress of the Babylonians much overrated—Yet their Real Achievements not Small—Limitations of the Babylonian—Freedom of the Hebrew 337




METHOD OF STUDYING THE RECORD—To be discussed as it stands—An early Astronomical Observation. BEFORE THE BATTLE—Movements of the Israelites—Reasons for the Gibeonites' Action—Rapid Movements of all the Parties. DAY, HOUR, AND PLACE OF THE MIRACLE—Indication of the Sun's Declination—Joshua was at Gibeon—And at High Noon—On the 21st Day of the Fourth Month. JOSHUA'S STRATEGY—Key to it in the Flight of the Amorites by the Beth-horon Route—The Amorites defeated but not surrounded—King David as a Strategist. THE MIRACLE—The Noon-day Heat, the great Hindrance to the Israelites—Joshua desired the Heat to be tempered—The Sun made to "be silent"—The Hailstorm—The March to Makkedah—A Full Day's March in the Afternoon—"The Miracle" not a Poetic Hyperbole—Exact Accord of the Poem and the Prose Chronicle—The Record made at the Time—Their March, the Israelites' Measure of Time 351


The Narrative—Suggested Explanations—The "Dial of Ahaz," probably a Staircase—Probable History and Position of the Staircase—Significance of the Sign 385


The Narrative—No Astronomical Details given—Purpose of the Scripture Narrative—Kepler's suggested Identification of the Star—The New Star of 1572—Legend of the Well of Bethlehem—True Significance of the Reticence of the Gospel Narrative 393




PAGE THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM (Burne-Jones) Frontispiece

THE RAINBOW (Rubens) 2






































Modern astronomy began a little more than three centuries ago with the invention of the telescope and Galileo's application of it to the study of the heavenly bodies. This new instrument at once revealed to him the mountains on the moon, the satellites of Jupiter, and the spots on the sun, and brought the celestial bodies under observation in a way that no one had dreamed of before. In our view to-day, the planets of the solar system are worlds; we can examine their surfaces and judge wherein they resemble or differ from our earth. To the ancients they were but points of light; to us they are vast bodies that we have been able to measure and to weigh. The telescope has enabled us also to penetrate deep into outer space; we have learnt of other systems besides that of our own sun and its dependents, many of them far more complex; clusters and clouds of stars have been revealed to us, and mysterious nebulae, which suggest by their forms that they are systems of suns in the making. More lately the invention of the spectroscope has informed us of the very elements which go to the composition of these numberless stars, and we can distinguish those which are in a similar condition to our sun from those differing from him. And photography has recorded for us objects too faint for mere sight to detect, even when aided by the most powerful telescope; too detailed and intricate for the most skilful hand to depict.

Galileo's friend and contemporary, Kepler, laid the foundations of another department of modern astronomy at about the same time. He studied the apparent movements of the planets until they yielded him their secret so far that he was able to express them in three simple laws, laws which, two generations later, Sir Isaac Newton demonstrated to be the outcome of one grand and simple law of universal range, the law of gravitation. Upon this law the marvellous mathematical conquests of astronomy have been based.

All these wonderful results have been attained by the free exercise of men's mental abilities, and it cannot be imagined that God would have intervened to hamper their growth in intellectual power by revealing to men facts and methods which it was within their own ability to discover for themselves. Men's mental powers have developed by their exercise; they would have been stunted had men been led to look to revelation rather than to diligent effort for the satisfaction of their curiosity. We therefore do not find any reference in the Bible to that which modern astronomy has taught us. Yet it may be noted that some expressions, appropriate at any time, have become much more appropriate, much more forcible, in the light of our present-day knowledge.

The age of astronomy which preceded the Modern, and may be called the Classical age, was almost as sharply defined in its beginning as its successor. It lasted about two thousand years, and began with the investigations into the movements of the planets made by some of the early Greek mathematicians. Classical, like Modern astronomy, had its two sides,—the instrumental and the mathematical. On the instrumental side was the invention of graduated instruments for the determination of the positions of the heavenly bodies; on the mathematical, the development of geometry and trigonometry for the interpretation of those positions when thus determined. Amongst the great names of this period are those of Eudoxus of Knidus (B.C. 408-355), and Hipparchus of Bithynia, who lived rather more than two centuries later. Under its first leaders astronomy in the Classical age began to advance rapidly, but it soon experienced a deadly blight. Men were not content to observe the heavenly bodies for what they were; they endeavoured to make them the sources of divination. The great school of Alexandria (founded about 300 B.C.), the headquarters of astronomy, became invaded by the spirit of astrology, the bastard science which has always tried—parasite-like—to suck its life from astronomy. Thus from the days of Claudius Ptolemy to the end of the Middle Ages the growth of astronomy was arrested, and it bore but little fruit.

It will be noticed that the Classical age did not commence until about the time of the completion of the last books of the Old Testament; so we do not find any reference in Holy Scripture to the astronomical achievements of that period, amongst which the first attempts to explain the apparent motions of sun, moon, stars, and planets were the most considerable.

We have a complete history of astronomy in the Modern and Classical periods, but there was an earlier astronomy, not inconsiderable in amount, of which no history is preserved. For when Eudoxus commenced his labours, the length of the year had already been determined, the equinoxes and solstices had been recognized, the ecliptic, the celestial equator, and the poles of both great circles were known, and the five principal planets were familiar objects. This Early astronomy must have had its history, its stages of development, but we can only with difficulty trace them out. It cannot have sprung into existence full-grown any more than the other sciences; it must have started from zero, and men must have slowly fought their way from one observation to another, with gradually widening conceptions, before they could bring it even to that stage of development in which it was when the observers of the Museum of Alexandria began their work.

The books of the Old Testament were written at different times during the progress of this Early age of astronomy. We should therefore naturally expect to find the astronomical allusions written from the standpoint of such scientific knowledge as had then been acquired. We cannot for a moment expect that any supernatural revelation of purely material facts would be imparted to the writers of sacred books, two or three thousand years before the progress of science had brought those facts to light, and we ought not to be surprised if expressions are occasionally used which we should not ourselves use to-day, if we were writing about the phenomena of nature from a technical point of view. It must further be borne in mind that the astronomical references are not numerous, that they occur mostly in poetic imagery, and that Holy Scripture was not intended to give an account of the scientific achievements, if any, of the Hebrews of old. Its purpose was wholly different: it was religious, not scientific; it was meant to give spiritual, not intellectual enlightenment.

An exceedingly valuable and interesting work has recently been brought out by the most eminent of living Italian astronomers, Prof. G. V. Schiaparelli, on this subject of "Astronomy in the Old Testament," to which work I should like here to acknowledge my indebtedness. Yet I feel that the avowed object of his book,[7:1]—to "discover what ideas the ancient Jewish sages held regarding the structure of the universe, what observations they made of the stars, and how far they made use of them for the measurement and division of time"—is open to this criticism,—that sufficient material for carrying it out is not within our reach. If we were to accept implicitly the argument from the silence of Scripture, we should conclude that the Hebrews—though their calendar was essentially a lunar one, based upon the actual observation of the new moon—had never noticed that the moon changed its apparent form as the month wore on, for there is no mention in the Bible of the lunar phases.

The references to the heavenly bodies in Scripture are not numerous, and deal with them either as time-measurers or as subjects for devout allusion, poetic simile, or symbolic use. But there is one characteristic of all these references to the phenomena of Nature, that may not be ignored. None of the ancients ever approached the great Hebrew writers in spiritual elevation; none equalled them in poetic sublimity; and few, if any, surpassed them in keenness of observation, or in quick sympathy with every work of the Creator.

These characteristics imply a natural fitness of the Hebrews for successful scientific work, and we should have a right to believe that under propitious circumstances they would have shown a pre-eminence in the field of physical research as striking as is the superiority of their religious conceptions over those of the surrounding nations. We cannot, of course, conceive of the average Jew as an Isaiah, any more than we can conceive of the average Englishman as a Shakespeare, yet the one man, like the other, is an index of the advancement and capacity of his race; nor could Isaiah's writings have been preserved, more than those of Shakespeare, without a true appreciation of them on the part of many of his countrymen.

But the necessary conditions for any great scientific development were lacking to Israel. A small nation, planted between powerful and aggressive empires, their history was for the most part the record of a struggle for bare existence; and after three or four centuries of the unequal conflict, first the one and then the other of the two sister kingdoms was overwhelmed. There was but little opportunity during these years of storm and stress for men to indulge in any curious searchings into the secrets of nature.

Once only was there a long interval of prosperity and peace; viz. from the time that David had consolidated the kingdom to the time when it suffered disruption under his grandson, Rehoboam; and it is significant that tradition has ascribed to Solomon and to his times just such a scientific activity as the ability and temperament of the Hebrew race would lead us to expect it to display when the conditions should be favourable for it.

Thus, in the fourth chapter of the First Book of Kings, not only are the attainments of Solomon himself described, but other men, contemporaries either of his father David or himself, are referred to, as distinguished in the same direction, though to a less degree.

"And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the seashore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom."

The tradition of his great eminence in scientific research is also preserved in the words put into his mouth in the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, now included in the Apocrypha.

"For" (God) "Himself gave me an unerring knowledge of the things that are, to know the constitution of the world, and the operation of the elements; the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of seasons, the circuits of years and the positions" (margin, constellations) "of stars; the natures of living creatures and the ragings of wild beasts, the violences of winds and the thoughts of men, the diversities of plants and the virtues of roots: all things that are either secret or manifest I learned, for she that is the artificer of all things taught me, even Wisdom."

Two great names have impressed themselves upon every part of the East:—the one, that of Solomon the son of David, as the master of every secret source of knowledge; and the other that of Alexander the Great, as the mightiest of conquerors. It is not unreasonable to believe that the traditions respecting the first have been founded upon as real a basis of actual achievement as those respecting the second.

But to such scientific achievements we have no express allusion in Scripture, other than is afforded us by the two quotations just made. Natural objects, natural phenomena are not referred to for their own sake. Every thought leads up to God or to man's relation to Him. Nature, as a whole and in its every aspect and detail, is the handiwork of Jehovah: that is the truth which the heavens are always declaring;—and it is His power, His wisdom, and His goodness to man which it is sought to illustrate, when the beauty or wonder of natural objects is described.

"When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him?"

The first purpose, therefore, of the following study of the astronomy of the Bible is,—not to reconstruct the astronomy of the Hebrews, a task for which the material is manifestly incomplete,—but to examine such astronomical allusions as occur with respect to their appropriateness to the lesson which the writer desired to teach. Following this, it will be of interest to examine what connection can be traced between the Old Testament Scriptures and the Constellations; the arrangement of the stars into constellations having been the chief astronomical work effected during the centuries when those Scriptures were severally composed. The use made of the heavenly bodies as time-measurers amongst the Hebrews will form a third division of the subject; whilst there are two or three incidents in the history of Israel which appear to call for examination from an astronomical point of view, and may suitably be treated in a fourth and concluding section.


[7:1] Astronomy in the Old Testament, p. 12.



A few years ago a great eclipse of the sun, seen as total along a broad belt of country right across India, drew thither astronomers from the very ends of the earth. Not only did many English observers travel thither, but the United States of America in the far west, and Japan in the far east sent their contingents, and the entire length of country covered by the path of the shadow was dotted with the temporary observatories set up by the men of science.

It was a wonderful sight that was vouchsafed to these travellers in pursuit of knowledge. In a sky of unbroken purity, undimmed even for a moment by haze or cloud, there shone down the fierce Indian sun. Gradually a dark mysterious circle invaded its lower edge, and covered its brightness; coolness replaced the burning heat; slowly the dark covering crept on; slowly the sunlight diminished until at length the whole of the sun's disc was hidden. Then in a moment a wonderful starlike form flashed out, a noble form of glowing silver light on the deep purple-coloured sky.

There was, however, no time for the astronomers to devote to admiration of the beauty of the scene, or indulgence in rhapsodies. Two short minutes alone were allotted them to note all that was happening, to take all their photographs, to ask all the questions, and obtain all the answers for which this strange veiling of the sun, and still stranger unveiling of his halo-like surroundings, gave opportunity. It was two minutes of intensest strain, of hurried though orderly work; and then a sudden rush of sunlight put an end to all. The mysterious vision had withdrawn itself; the colour rushed back to the landscape, so corpse-like whilst in the shadow; the black veil slid rapidly from off the sun; the heat returned to the air; the eclipse was over.

But the astronomers from distant lands were not the only people engaged in watching the eclipse. At their work, they could hear the sound of a great multitude, a sound of weeping and wailing, a people dismayed at the distress of their god.

It was so at every point along the shadow track, but especially where that track met the course of the sacred river. Along a hundred roads the pilgrims had poured in unceasing streams towards Holy Mother Gunga; towards Benares, the sacred city; towards Buxar, where the eclipse was central at the river bank. It is always meritorious—so the Hindoo holds—to bathe in that sacred river, but such a time as this, when the sun is in eclipse, is the most propitious moment of all for such lustration.

Could there be a greater contrast than that offered between the millions trembling and dismayed at the signs of heaven, and the little companies who had come for thousands of miles over land and sea, rejoicing in the brief chance that was given them for learning a little more of the secrets of the wonders of Nature?

The contrast between the heathen and the scientists was in both their spiritual and their intellectual standpoint, and, as we shall see later, the intellectual contrast is a result of the spiritual. The heathen idea is that the orbs of heaven are divine, or at least that each expresses a divinity. This does not in itself seem an unnatural idea when we consider the great benefits that come to us through the instrumentality of the sun and moon. It is the sun that morning by morning rolls back the darkness, and brings light and warmth and returning life to men; it is the sun that rouses the earth after her winter sleep and quickens vegetation. It is the moon that has power over the great world of waters, whose pulse beats in some kind of mysterious obedience to her will.

Natural, then, has it been for men to go further, and to suppose that not only is power lodged in these, and in the other members of the heavenly host, but that it is living, intelligent, personal power; that these shining orbs are beings, or the manifestations of beings; exalted, mighty, immortal;—that they are gods.

But if these are gods, then it is sacrilegious, it is profane, to treat them as mere "things"; to observe them minutely in the microscope or telescope; to dissect them, as it were, in the spectroscope; to identify their elements in the laboratory; to be curious about their properties, influences, relations, and actions on each other.

And if these are gods, there are many gods, not One God. And if there are many gods, there are many laws, not one law. Thus scientific observations cannot be reconciled with polytheism, for scientific observations demand the assumption of one universal law. The wise king expressed this law thus:—

"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be." The actual language of science, as expressed by Professor Thiele, a leading Continental astronomer, states that—

"Everything that exists, and everything that happens, exists or happens as a necessary consequence of a previous state of things. If a state of things is repeated in every detail, it must lead to exactly the same consequences. Any difference between the results of causes that are in part the same, must be explainable by some difference in the other part of the causes."[15:1]

The law stated in the above words has been called the Law of Causality. It "cannot be proved, but must be believed; in the same way as we believe the fundamental assumptions of religion, with which it is closely and intimately connected. The law of causality forces itself upon our belief. It may be denied in theory, but not in practice. Any person who denies it, will, if he is watchful enough, catch himself constantly asking himself, if no one else, why this has happened, and not that. But in that very question he bears witness to the law of causality. If we are consistently to deny the law of causality, we must repudiate all observation, and particularly all prediction based on past experience, as useless and misleading.

"If we could imagine for an instant that the same complete combination of causes could have a definite number of different consequences, however small that number might be, and that among these the occurrence of the actual consequence was, in the old sense of the word, accidental, no observation would ever be of any particular value."[16:1]

So long as men hold, as a practical faith, that the results which attend their efforts depend upon whether Jupiter is awake and active, or Neptune is taking an unfair advantage of his brother's sleep; upon whether Diana is bending her silver bow for the battle, or flying weeping and discomfited because Juno has boxed her ears—so long is it useless for them to make or consult observations.

But, as Professor Thiele goes on to say—

"If the law of causality is acknowledged to be an assumption which always holds good, then every observation gives us a revelation which, when correctly appraised and compared with others, teaches us the laws by which God rules the world."

By what means have the modern scientists arrived at a position so different from that of the heathen? It cannot have been by any process of natural evolution that the intellectual standpoint which has made scientific observation possible should be derived from the spiritual standpoint of polytheism which rendered all scientific observation not only profane but useless.

In the old days the heathen in general regarded the heavenly host and the heavenly bodies as the heathen do to-day. But by one nation, the Hebrews, the truth that—

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth"

was preserved in the first words of their Sacred Book. That nation declared—

"All the gods of the people are idols: but the Lord made the heavens."

For that same nation the watchword was—

"Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord."

From these words the Hebrews not only learned a great spiritual truth, but derived intellectual freedom. For by these words they were taught that all the host of heaven and of earth were created things—merely "things," not divinities—and not only that, but that the Creator was One God, not many gods; that there was but one law-giver; and that therefore there could be no conflict of laws. These first words of Genesis, then, may be called the charter of all the physical sciences, for by them is conferred freedom from all the bonds of unscientific superstition, and by them also do men know that consistent law holds throughout the whole universe. It is the intellectual freedom of the Hebrew that the scientist of to-day inherits. He may not indeed be able to rise to the spiritual standpoint of the Hebrew, and consciously acknowledge that—

"Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone; Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and Thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth Thee."

But he must at least unconsciously assent to it, for it is on the first great fundamental assumption of religion as stated in the first words of Genesis, that the fundamental assumption of all his scientific reasoning depends.

Scientific reasoning and scientific observation can only hold good so long and in so far as the Law of Causality holds good. We must assume a pre-existing state of affairs which has given rise to the observed effect; we must assume that this observed effect is itself antecedent to a subsequent state of affairs. Science therefore cannot go back to the absolute beginnings of things, or forward to the absolute ends of things. It cannot reason about the way matter and energy came into existence, or how they might cease to exist; it cannot reason about time or space, as such, but only in the relations of these to phenomena that can be observed. It does not deal with things themselves, but only with the relations between things. Science indeed can only consider the universe as a great machine which is in "going order," and it concerns itself with the relations which some parts of the machine bear to other parts, and with the laws and manner of the "going" of the machine in those parts. The relations of the various parts, one to the other, and the way in which they work together, may afford some idea of the design and purpose of the machine, but it can give no information as to how the material of which it is composed came into existence, nor as to the method by which it was originally constructed. Once started, the machine comes under the scrutiny of science, but the actual starting lies outside its scope.

Men therefore cannot find out for themselves how the worlds were originally made, how the worlds were first moved, or how the spirit of man was first formed within him; and this, not merely because these beginnings of things were of necessity outside his experience, but also because beginnings, as such, must lie outside the law by which he reasons.

By no process of research, therefore, could man find out for himself the facts that are stated in the first chapter of Genesis. They must have been revealed. Science cannot inquire into them for the purpose of checking their accuracy; it must accept them, as it accepts the fundamental law that governs its own working, without the possibility of proof.

And this is what has been revealed to man:—that the heaven and the earth were not self-existent from all eternity, but were in their first beginning created by God. As the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews expresses it: "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." And a further fact was revealed that man could not have found out for himself; viz. that this creation was made and finished in six Divine actings, comprised in what the narrative denominates "days." It has not been revealed whether the duration of these "days" can be expressed in any astronomical units of time.

Since under these conditions science can afford no information, it is not to be wondered at that the hypotheses that have been framed from time to time to "explain" the first chapter of Genesis, or to express it in scientific terms, are not wholly satisfactory. At one time the chapter was interpreted to mean that the entire universe was called into existence about 6,000 years ago, in six days of twenty-four hours each. Later it was recognized that both geology and astronomy seemed to indicate the existence of matter for untold millions of years instead of some six thousand. It was then pointed out that, so far as the narrative was concerned, there might have been a period of almost unlimited duration between its first verse and its fourth; and it was suggested that the six days of creation were six days of twenty-four hours each, in which, after some great cataclysm, 6,000 years ago, the face of the earth was renewed and replenished for the habitation of man, the preceding geological ages being left entirely unnoticed. Some writers have confined the cataclysm and renewal to a small portion of the earth's surface—to "Eden," and its neighbourhood. Other commentators have laid stress on the truth revealed in Scripture that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day," and have urged the argument that the six days of creation were really vast periods of time, during which the earth's geological changes and the evolution of its varied forms of life were running their course. Others, again, have urged that the six days of creation were six literal days, but instead of being consecutive were separated by long ages. And yet again, as no man was present during the creation period, it has been suggested that the Divine revelation of it was given to Moses or some other inspired prophet in six successive visions or dreams, which constituted the "six days" in which the chief facts of creation were set forth.

All such hypotheses are based on the assumption that the opening chapters of Genesis are intended to reveal to man certain physical details in the material history of this planet; to be in fact a little compendium of the geological and zoological history of the world, and so a suitable introduction to the history of the early days of mankind which followed it.

It is surely more reasonable to conclude that there was no purpose whatever of teaching us anything about the physical relationships of land and sea, of tree and plant, of bird and fish; it seems, indeed, scarcely conceivable that it should have been the Divine intention so to supply the ages with a condensed manual of the physical sciences. What useful purpose could it have served? What man would have been the wiser or better for it? Who could have understood it until the time when men, by their own intellectual strivings, had attained sufficient knowledge of their physical surroundings to do without such a revelation at all?

But although the opening chapters of Genesis were not designed to teach the Hebrew certain physical facts of nature, they gave him the knowledge that he might lawfully study nature. For he learnt from them that nature has no power nor vitality of its own; that sun, and sea, and cloud, and wind are not separate deities, nor the expression of deities that they are but "things," however glorious and admirable; that they are the handiwork of God; and—

"The works of the Lord are great, Sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. His work is honour and majesty; And His righteousness endureth for ever. He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered."

What, then, is the significance of the detailed account given us of the works effected on the successive days of creation? Why are we told that light was made on the first day, the firmament on the second, dry land on the third, and so on? Probably for two reasons. First, that the rehearsal, as in a catalogue, of the leading classes of natural objects, might give definiteness and precision to the teaching that each and all were creatures, things made by the word of God. The bald statement that the heaven and the earth were made by God might still have left room for the imagination that the powers of nature were co-eternal with God, or were at least subordinate divinities; or that other powers than God had worked up into the present order the materials He had created. The detailed account makes it clear that not only was the universe in general created by God, but that there was no part of it that was not fashioned by Him.

The next purpose was to set a seal of sanctity upon the Sabbath. In the second chapter of Genesis we read—

"On the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made."

In this we get the institution of the week, the first ordinance imposed by God upon man. For in the fourth of the ten commandments which God gave through Moses, it is said—

"The seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work. . . . For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."

And again, when the tabernacle was being builded, it was commanded—

"The children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed."

God made the sun, moon, and stars, and appointed them "for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years." The sun marks out the days; the moon by her changes makes the months; the sun and the stars mark out the seasons and the years. These were divisions of time which man would naturally adopt. But there is not an exact number of days in the month, nor an exact number of days or months in the year. Still less does the period of seven days fit precisely into month or season or year; the week is marked out by no phase of the moon, by no fixed relation between the sun, the moon, or the stars. It is not a division of time that man would naturally adopt for himself; it runs across all the natural divisions of time.

What are the six days of creative work, and the seventh day—the Sabbath—of creative rest? They are not days of man, they are days of God; and our days of work and rest, our week with its Sabbath, can only be the figure and shadow of that week of God; something by which we may gain some faint apprehension of its realities, not that by which we can comprehend and measure it.

Our week, therefore, is God's own direct appointment to us; and His revelation that He fulfilled the work of creation in six acts or stages, dignifies and exalts the toil of the labouring man, with his six days of effort and one of rest, into an emblem of the creative work of God.


[15:1] T. N. Thiele, Director of the Copenhagen Observatory, Theory of Observations, p. 1.

[16:1] T. N. Thiele, Director of the Copenhagen Observatory, Theory of Observations, p. 1.



The second verse of Genesis states, "And the earth was without form and void [i. e. waste and empty] and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The word tehōm, here translated deep, has been used to support the theory that the Hebrews derived their Creation story from one which, when exiles in Babylon, they heard from their conquerors. If this theory were substantiated, it would have such an important bearing upon the subject of the attitude of the inspired writers towards the objects of nature, that a little space must be spared for its examination.

The purpose of the first chapter of Genesis is to tell us that—

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

From it we learn that the universe and all the parts that make it up—all the different forms of energy, all the different forms of matter—are neither deities themselves, nor their embodiments and expressions, nor the work of conflicting deities. From it we learn that the universe is not self-existent, nor even (as the pantheist thinks of it) the expression of one vague, impersonal and unconscious, but all-pervading influence. It was not self-made; it did not exist from all eternity. It is not God, for God made it.

But the problem of its origin has exercised the minds of many nations beside the Hebrews, and an especial interest attaches to the solution arrived at by those nations who were near neighbours of the Hebrews and came of the same great Semitic stock.

From the nature of the case, accounts of the origin of the world cannot proceed from experience, or be the result of scientific experiment. They cannot form items of history, or arise from tradition. There are only two possible sources for them; one, Divine revelation; the other, the invention of men.

The account current amongst the Babylonians has been preserved to us by the Syrian writer Damascius, who gives it as follows:—

"But the Babylonians, like the rest of the Barbarians, pass over in silence the one principle of the Universe, and they constitute two, Tavthe and Apason, making Apason the husband of Tavthe, and denominating her "the mother of the gods." And from these proceeds an only-begotten son, Mumis, which, I conceive, is no other than the intelligible world proceeding from the two principles. From them also another progeny is derived, Lakhe and Lakhos; and again a third, Kissare and Assoros, from which last three others proceed, Anos and Illinos and Aos. And of Aos and Dakhe is born a son called Belos, who, they say, is the fabricator of the world."[26:1]

The actual story, thus summarized by Damascius, was discovered by Mr. George Smith, in the form of a long epic poem, on a series of tablets, brought from the royal library of Kouyunjik, or Nineveh, and he published them in 1875, in his book on The Chaldean Account of Genesis. None of the tablets were perfect; and of some only very small portions remain. But portions of other copies of the poem have been discovered in other localities, and it has been found possible to piece together satisfactorily a considerable section, so that a fair idea of the general scope of the poem has been given to us.

It opens with the introduction of a being, Tiamtu—the Tavthe of the account of Damascius,—who is regarded as the primeval mother of all things.

"When on high the heavens were unnamed, Beneath the earth bore not a name: The primeval ocean was their producer; Mummu Tiamtu was she who begot the whole of them. Their waters in one united themselves, and The plains were not outlined, marshes were not to be seen. When none of the gods had come forth, They bore no name, the fates (had not been determined) There were produced the gods (all of them)."[27:1]

The genealogy of the gods follows, and after a gap in the story, Tiamat, or Tiamtu, is represented as preparing for battle, "She who created everything . . . produced giant serpents." She chose one of the gods, Kingu, to be her husband and the general of her forces, and delivered to him the tablets of fate.

The second tablet shows the god Anšar, angered at the threatening attitude of Tiamat, and sending his son Anu to speak soothingly to her and calm her rage. But first Anu and then another god turned back baffled, and finally Merodach, the son of Ea, was asked to become the champion of the gods. Merodach gladly consented, but made good terms for himself. The gods were to assist him in every possible way by entrusting all their powers to him, and were to acknowledge him as first and chief of all. The gods in their extremity were nothing loth. They feasted Merodach and, when swollen with wine, endued him with all magical powers, and hailed him—

"Merodach, thou art he who is our avenger, (Over) the whole universe have we given thee the kingdom."[28:1]

At first the sight of his terrible enemy caused even Merodach to falter, but plucking up courage he advanced to meet her, caught her in his net, and, forcing an evil wind into her open mouth—

"He made the evil wind enter so that she could not close her lips. The violence of the winds tortured her stomach, and her heart was prostrated and her mouth was twisted. He swung the club, he shattered her stomach; he cut out her entrails; he over-mastered (her) heart; he bound her and ended her life. He threw down her corpse; he stood upon it."[28:2]

The battle over and the enemy slain, Merodach considered how to dispose of the corpse.

"He strengthens his mind, he forms a clever plan, And he stripped her of her skin like a fish, according to his plan."[28:3]

Of one half of the corpse of Tiamat he formed the earth, and of the other half, the heavens. He then proceded to furnish the heavens and the earth with their respective equipments; the details of this work occupying apparently the fifth, sixth, and seventh tablets of the series.

Under ordinary circumstances such a legend as the foregoing would not have attracted much attention. It is as barbarous and unintelligent as any myth of Zulu or Fijian. Strictly speaking, it is not a Creation myth at all. Tiamat and her serpent-brood and the gods are all existent before Merodach commences his work, and all that the god effects is a reconstruction of the world. The method of this reconstruction possesses no features superior to those of the Creation myths of other barbarous nations. Our own Scandinavian ancestors had a similar one, the setting of which was certainly not inferior to the grotesque battle of Merodach with Tiamat. The prose Edda tells us that the first man, Bur, was the father of Boer, who was in turn the father of Odin and his two brothers Vili and Ve. These sons of Boer slew Ymir, the old frost giant.

"They dragged the body of Ymir into the middle of Ginnungagap, and of it formed the earth. From Ymir's blood they made the sea and waters; from his flesh, the land; from his bones, the mountains; and his teeth and jaws, together with some bits of broken bones, served them to make the stones and pebbles."

It will be seen that there is a remarkable likeness between the Babylonian and Scandinavian myths in the central and essential feature of each, viz. the way in which the world is supposed to have been built up by the gods from the fragments of the anatomy of a huge primaeval monster. Yet it is not urged that there is any direct genetic connection between the two; that the Babylonians either taught their legend to the Scandinavians or learnt it from them.

Under ordinary circumstances it would hardly have occurred to any one to try to derive the monotheistic narrative of Gen. i. from either of these pagan myths, crowded as they are with uncouth and barbarous details. But it happened that Mr. George Smith, who brought to light the Assyrian Creation tablets, brought also to light a Babylonian account of the Flood, which had a large number of features in common with the narrative of Gen. vi.-ix. The actual resemblance between the two Deluge narratives has caused a resemblance to be imagined between the two Creation narratives. It has been well brought out in some of the later comments of Assyriologists that, so far from there being any resemblance in the Babylonian legend to the narrative in Genesis, the two accounts differ in toto. Mr. T. G. Pinches, for example, points out that in the Babylonian account there is—

"No direct statement of the creation of the heavens and the earth;

"No systematic division of the things created into groups and classes, such as is found in Genesis;

"No reference to the Days of Creation;

"No appearance of the Deity as the first and only cause of the existence of things."[30:1]

Indeed, in the Babylonian account, "the heavens and the earth are represented as existing, though in a chaotic form, from the first."

Yet on this purely imaginary resemblance between the Biblical and Babylonian Creation narratives the legend has been founded "that the introductory chapters of the Book of Genesis present to us the Hebrew version of a mythology common to many of the Semitic peoples." And the legend has been yet further developed, until writers of the standing of Prof. Friedrich Delitzsch have claimed that the Genesis narrative was borrowed from the Babylonian, though "the priestly scholar who composed Genesis, chapter i. endeavoured of course to remove all possible mythological features of this Creation story."[31:1]

If the Hebrew priest did borrow from the Babylonian myth, what was it that he borrowed? Not the existence of sea and land, of sun and moon, of plants and animals, of birds and beasts and fishes. For surely the Hebrew may be credited with knowing this much of himself, without any need for a transportation to Babylon to learn it. "In writing an account of the Creation, statements as to what are the things created must of necessity be inserted,"[31:2] whenever, wherever, and by whomsoever that account is written.

What else, then, is there common to the two accounts? Tiamat is the name given to the Babylonian mother of the universe, the dragon of the deep; and in Genesis it is written that "darkness was upon the face of the deep (tehōm)."

Here, and here only, is a point of possible connection; but if it be evidence of a connection, what kind of a connection does it imply? It implies that the Babylonian based his barbarous myth upon the Hebrew narrative. There is no other possible way of interpreting the connection,—if connection there be.

The Hebrew word would seem to mean, etymologically, "surges," "storm-tossed waters,"—"Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts." Our word "deep" is apt to give us the idea of stillness—we have the proverb, "Still waters run deep,"—whereas in some instances tehōm is used in Scripture of waters which were certainly shallow, as, for instance, those passed through by Israel at the Red Sea:—

"Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath He cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. The depths have covered them."

In other passages the words used in our Authorized Version, "deep" or "depths," give the correct signification.

But deep waters, or waters in commotion, are in either case natural objects. We get the word tehōm used continually in Scripture in a perfectly matter-of-fact way, where there is no possibility of personification or myth being intended. Tiamat, on the contrary, the Babylonian dragon of the waters, is a mythological personification. Now the natural object must come first. It never yet has been the case that a nation has gained its knowledge of a perfectly common natural object by de-mythologizing one of the mythological personifications of another nation. The Israelites did not learn about tehōm, the surging water of the Red Sea, that rolled over the Egyptians in their sight, from any Babylonian fable of a dragon of the waters, read by their descendants hundreds of years later.

Yet further, the Babylonian account of Creation is comparatively late; the Hebrew account, as certainly, comparatively early. It is not merely that the actual cuneiform tablets are of date about 700 B.C., coming as they do from the Kouyunjik mound, the ruins of the palace of Sennacherib and Assurbanipal, built about that date. The poem itself, as Prof. Sayce has pointed out, indicates, by the peculiar pre-eminence given in it to Merodach, that it is of late composition. It was late in the history of Babylon that Merodach was adopted as the supreme deity. The astronomical references in the poem are more conclusive still, for, as will be shown later on, they point to a development of astronomy that cannot be dated earlier than 700 B.C.

On the other hand, the first chapter of Genesis was composed very early. The references to the heavenly bodies in verse 16 bear the marks of the most primitive condition possible of astronomy. The heavenly bodies are simply the greater light, the lesser light, and the stars—the last being introduced quite parenthetically. It is the simplest reference to the heavenly bodies that is made in Scripture, or that, indeed, could be made.

There may well have been Babylonians who held higher conceptions of God and nature than those given in the Tiamat myth. It is certain that very many Hebrews fell short of the teaching conveyed in the first chapter of Genesis. But the fact remains that the one nation preserved the Tiamat myth, the other the narrative of Genesis, and each counted its own Creation story sacred. We can only rightly judge the two nations by what they valued. Thus judged, the Hebrew nation stands as high above the Babylonian in intelligence, as well as in faith, as the first chapter of Genesis is above the Tiamat myth.


[26:1] Records of the Past, vol. i. p. 124.

[27:1] The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by T. G. Pinches, p. 16.

[28:1] The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by T. G. Pinches, p. 16.

[28:2] Records of the Past, vol. i. p. 140.

[28:3] Ibid. p. 142.

[30:1] The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by T. G. Pinches, p. 49.

[31:1] Babel and Bible, Johns' translation, pp. 36 and 37.

[31:2] The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by T. G. Pinches, p. 48.



The sixth verse of the first chapter of Genesis presents a difficulty as to the precise meaning of the principal word, viz. that translated firmament.

"And God said, Let there be a rāqiā' in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the rāqiā', and divided the waters which were under the rāqiā' from the waters which were above the rāqiā': and it was so. And God called the rāqiā' Shamayim. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

It is, of course, perfectly clear that by the word rāqiā' in the preceding passage it is the atmosphere that is alluded to. But later on in the chapter the word is used in a slightly different connection. "God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven."

As we look upward from the earth, we look through a twofold medium. Near the earth we have our atmosphere; above that there is inter-stellar space, void of anything, so far as we know, except the Ether. We are not able to detect any line of demarcation where our atmosphere ends, and the outer void begins. Both therefore are equally spoken of as "the firmament"; and yet there is a difference between the two. The lower supports the clouds; in the upper are set the two great lights and the stars. The upper, therefore, is emphatically reqiā' hasshamayim, "the firmament of heaven," of the "uplifted." It is "in the face of"—that is, "before," or "under the eyes of," "beneath,"—this higher expanse that the fowls of the air fly to and fro.

The firmament, then, is that which Tennyson sings of as "the central blue," the seeming vault of the sky, which we can consider as at any height above us that we please. The clouds are above it in one sense; yet in another, sun, moon and stars, which are clearly far higher than the clouds, are set in it.

There is no question therefore as to what is referred to by the word "firmament"; but there is a question as to the etymological meaning of the word, and associated with that, a question as to how the Hebrews themselves conceived of the celestial vault.

The word rāqiā', translated "firmament," properly signifies "an expanse," or "extension," something stretched or beaten out. The verb from which this noun is derived is often used in Scripture, both as referring to the heavens and in other connections. Thus in Job xxxvii. 18, the question is asked, "Canst thou with Him spread out the sky, which is strong as a molten mirror?" Eleazar, the priest, after the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram took the brazen censers of the rebels, and they were "made broad plates for a covering of the altar." The goldsmith described by Isaiah as making an idol, "spreadeth it over with gold"; whilst Jeremiah says, "silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish." Again, in Psalm cxxxvi., in the account of creation we have the same word used with reference to the earth, "To him that stretched out the earth above the waters." In this and in many other passages the idea of extension is clearly that which the word is intended to convey. But the Seventy, in making the Greek Version of the Old Testament, were naturally influenced by the views of astronomical science then held in Alexandria, the centre of Greek astronomy. Here, and at this time, the doctrine of the crystalline spheres—a misunderstanding of the mathematical researches of Eudoxus and others—held currency. These spheres were supposed to be a succession of perfectly transparent and invisible solid shells, in which the sun, moon, and planets were severally placed. The Seventy no doubt considered that in rendering rāqiā', by stereōma, i. e. firmament, thus conveying the idea of a solid structure, they were speaking the last word of up-to-date science.

There should be no reluctance in ascribing to the Hebrews an erroneous scientific conception if there is any evidence that they held it. We cannot too clearly realize that the writers of the Scriptures were not supernaturally inspired to give correct technical scientific descriptions; and supposing they had been so inspired, we must bear in mind that we should often consider those descriptions wrong just in proportion to their correctness, for the very sufficient reason that not even our own science of to-day has yet reached finality in all things.

There should be no reluctance in ascribing to the Hebrews an erroneous scientific conception if there is any evidence that they held it. In this case, there is no such evidence; indeed, there is strong evidence to the contrary.

The Hebrew word rāqiā', as already shown, really signifies "extension," just as the word for heaven, shamayim means the "uplifted." In these two words, therefore, significant respectively of a surface and of height, there is a recognition of the "three dimensions,"—in other words, of Space.

When we wish to refer to super-terrestrial space, we have two expressions in modern English by which to describe it: we can speak of "the vault of heaven," or of "the canopy of heaven." "The vault of heaven" is most used, it has indeed been recently adopted as the title of a scientific work by a well-known astronomer. But the word vault certainly gives the suggestion of a solid structure; whilst the word canopy calls up the idea of a slighter covering, probably of some textile fabric.

The reasons for thinking that the Hebrews did not consider the "firmament" a solid structure are, first, that the word does not necessarily convey that meaning; next, that the attitude of the Hebrew mind towards nature was not such as to require this idea. The question, "What holds up the waters above the firmament?" would not have troubled them. It would have been sufficient for them, as for the writer to the Hebrews, to consider that God was "upholding all things by the word of His power," and they would not have troubled about the machinery. But besides this, there are many passages in Scripture, some occurring in the earliest books, which expressly speak of the clouds as carrying the water; so that the expressions placing waters "above the firmament," or "above the heavens," can mean no more than "in the clouds." Indeed, as we shall see, quite a clear account is given of the atmospheric circulation, such as could hardly be mended by a modern poet.

It is true that David sang that "the foundations of heaven moved and shook, because He was wroth," and Job says that "the pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at His reproof." But not only are the references to foundations and pillars evidently intended merely as poetic imagery, but they are also used much more frequently of the earth, and yet at the same time Job expressly points out that God "stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." The Hebrew formed no ideas like those of the Hindus, who thought the earth supported by elephants, the elephants by a tortoise, the tortoise by a snake.

In Scripture, in most cases the word "earth" (eretz) does not mean the solid mass of this our planet, but only its surface; the "dry land" as opposed to the "seas"; the countries, the dwelling place of man and beast. The "pillars" or "foundations" of the earth in this sense are the great systems of the rocks, and these were conceived of as directly supported by the power of God, without any need of intermediary structures. The Hebrew clearly recognized that it is the will of God alone that keeps the whole secure.

Thus Hannah sang—

"The pillars of the earth are the Lord's, And He hath set the world upon them."

And Asaph represents the Lord as saying:—

"The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved: I bear up the pillars of it."

Yet again, just as we speak of "the celestial canopy," so Psalm civ. describes the Lord as He "who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain," and Isaiah gives the image in a fuller form,—"that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." The same expression of "stretching out the heavens" is repeatedly used in Isaiah; it is indeed one of his typical phrases. Here, beyond question, extension, spreading out, is the idea sought to be conveyed, not that of solidity.

The prophet Amos uses yet another parallel. "It is He that buildeth His stories in the heaven." While Isaiah speaks of the entire stellar universe as the tent or pavilion of Jehovah, Amos likens the height of the heavens as the steps up to His throne; the "stories" are the "ascent," as Moses speaks of the "ascent of Akrabbim," and David makes "the ascent" of the Mount of Olives. The Hebrews cannot have regarded the heavens as, literally, both staircase and reservoir.

The firmament, i. e. the atmosphere, is spoken of as dividing between the waters that are under the firmament, i. e. oceans, seas, rivers, etc., from the waters that are above the firmament, i. e. the masses of water vapour carried by the atmosphere, seen in the clouds, and condensing from them as rain. We get the very same expression as this of the "waters which were above" in the Psalm of Praise:—

"Praise Him, ye heavens of heavens, And ye waters that be above the heavens;"

and again in the Song of the Three Children:—

"O all ye waters that be above the heaven, bless ye the Lord."

In the later books of the Bible the subject of the circulation of water through the atmosphere is referred to much more fully. Twice over the prophet Amos describes Jehovah as "He that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth." This is not merely a reference to the tides, for the Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes expressly points out that "all the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again"; and Isaiah seems to employ something of the same thought:

"For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater."

Schiaparelli indeed argues that this very passage from Isaiah "expressly excludes any idea of an atmospheric circulation of waters"[41:1] on the ground that the water so falling is thought to be transmuted into seeds and fruits. But surely the image is as true as it is beautiful! The rain is absorbed by vegetation, and is transmuted into seeds and fruit, and it would go hard to say that the same particles of rain are again evaporated and taken up afresh into the clouds. Besides, if we complete the quotation we find that what is stated is that the rain does not return until it has accomplished its purpose:—

"So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."

Elihu describes the process of evaporation precisely:—

"Behold, God is great, and we know Him not; The number of His years is unsearchable. For He draweth up the drops of water, Which distil in rain from His vapour: Which the skies pour down And drop upon man abundantly."

Throughout the books of Holy Scripture, the connection between the clouds and the rain is clearly borne in mind. Deborah says in her song "the clouds dropped water." In the Psalms there are many references. In lxxvii. 17, "The clouds poured out water;" in cxlvii. 8, "Who covereth the heaven with clouds, Who prepareth rain for the earth." Proverbs xvi. 15, "His favour is as a cloud of the latter rain." The Preacher says that "clouds return after the rain"; and Isaiah, "I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it"; and Jude, "Clouds they are without water, carried about of winds."

The clouds, too, were not conceived as being heavy. Nahum says that "the clouds are the dust of His feet," and Isaiah speaks of "a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest." The Preacher clearly understood that "the waters above" were not pent in by solid barriers; that they were carried by the clouds; for "if the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth." And Job says of Jehovah, "He bindeth up the waters in His thick clouds, and the cloud is not rent under them;" and, later, Jehovah Himself asks:—

"Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, That abundance of waters may cover thee?

* * * * *

Who can number the clouds by wisdom, Or who can pour out the bottles of heaven?"

The Hebrews, therefore, were quite aware that the waters of the sea were drawn up into the atmosphere by evaporation, and were carried by it in the form of clouds. No doubt their knowledge in this respect, as in others, was the growth of time. But there is no need to suppose that, even in the earlier stages of their development, the Hebrews thought of the "waters that be above the heavens" as contained in a literal cistern overhead. Still less is there reason to adopt Prof. Schiaparelli's strange deduction: "Considering the spherical and convex shape of the firmament, the upper waters could not remain above without a second wall to hold them in at the sides and the top. So a second vault above the vault of the firmament closes in, together with the firmament, a space where are the storehouses of rain, hail, and snow."[43:1] There seems to be nowhere in Scripture the slightest hint or suggestion of any such second vault; certainly not in the beautiful passage to which Prof. Schiaparelli is here referring.

"Where is the way to the dwelling of light, And as for darkness, where is the place thereof; That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, And that thou shouldst discern the paths to the house thereof.

* * * * *

Hast thou entered the treasuries of the snow, Or hast thou seen the treasuries of the hail, Which I have reserved against the time of trouble, Against the day of battle and war? By what way is the light parted, Or the east wind scattered upon the earth? Who hath cleft a channel for the water-flood, Or a way for the lightning of the thunder;

* * * * *

Hath the rain a father? Or who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice? And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?"

The Song of David, Psalm xviii., clearly shows that its writer held no fantasy of a solidly built cistern of waters in the sky, but thought of the "dark waters" in the heavens, as identical with the "thick clouds." The passage is worth quoting at some length, not merely as supplying a magnificent word picture of a storm, but as showing the free and courageous spirit of the Hebrew poet, a spirit more emancipated than can be found in any other nation of antiquity. It was not only the gentler aspect of nature that attracted him; even for its most terrible, he had a sympathy, rising, under the influence of his strong faith in God, into positive exultation in it.

"In my distress I called upon the Lord, And cried unto my God: He heard my voice out of His temple, And my cry before Him came into His ears. Then the earth shook and trembled, The foundations also of the mountains moved And were shaken, because He was wroth. There went up a smoke out of His nostrils, And fire out of His mouth devoured: Coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down; And thick darkness was under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub, and did fly: Yea, He flew swiftly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His hiding place, His pavilion round about Him; Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies. At the brightness before Him His thick clouds passed, Hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, And the Most High uttered His voice; Hailstones and coals of fire. And He sent out His arrows, and scattered them; Yea lightnings manifold, and discomfited them. Then the channels of waters appeared, And the foundations of the world were laid bare, At Thy rebuke, O Lord, At the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils. He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, And from them that hated me, for they were too mighty for me."

Two other passages point to the circulation of water vapour upward from the earth before its descent as rain; one in the prophecy of Jeremiah, the other, almost identical with it, in Psalm cxxxv. 7: "When He uttereth His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; He maketh lightnings for the rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of His treasuries." Here we get a hint of a close observing of nature among the Hebrews. For by the foreshortening that clouds undergo in the distance, they inevitably appear to form chiefly on the horizon, "at the ends of the earth," whence they move upwards towards the zenith.

A further reference to clouds reveals not observation only but acute reflection, though it leaves the mystery without solution. "Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of Him Which is perfect in knowledge?" There is a deep mystery here, which science is far from having completely solved, how it is that the clouds float, each in its own place, at its own level; each perfectly "balanced" in the thin air.

"That mist which lies in the morning so softly in the valley, level and white, through which the tops of the trees rise as if through an inundation—why is it so heavy? and why does it lie so low, being yet so thin and frail that it will melt away utterly into splendour of morning, when the sun has shone on it but a few moments more? Those colossal pyramids, huge and firm, with outlines as of rocks, and strength to bear the beating of the high sun full on their fiery flanks—why are they so light—their bases high over our heads, high over the heads of Alps? why will these melt away, not as the sun rises, but as he descends, and leave the stars of twilight clear, while the valley vapour gains again upon the earth like a shroud?"[46:1]

The fact of the "balancing" has been brought home to us during the past hundred years very vividly by the progress of aerial navigation. Balloons are objects too familiar even to our children to cause them any surprise, and every one knows how instantly a balloon, when in the air, rises up higher if a few pounds of ballast are thrown out, or sinks if a little of the gas is allowed to escape. We know of no balancing more delicate than this, of a body floating in the air.

"The spreadings of the clouds," mentioned by Elihu are of the same nature as their "balancings," but the expression is less remarkable. The "spreading" is a thing manifest to all, but it required the mind both of a poet and a man of science to appreciate that such spreading involved a delicate poising of each cloud in its place.

The heavy rain which fell at the time of the Deluge is indeed spoken of as if it were water let out of a reservoir by its floodgates,—"the windows of heaven were opened;" but it seems to show some dulness on the part of an objector to argue that this expression involves the idea of a literal stone built reservoir with its sluices. Those who have actually seen tropical rain in full violence will find the Scriptural phrase not merely appropriate but almost inevitable. The rain does indeed fall like hitherto pent-up waters rushing forth at the opening of a sluice, and it seems unreasonable to try to place too literal an interpretation upon so suitable a simile.

There is the less reason to insist upon this very matter-of-fact rendering of the "windows of heaven," that in two out of the three connections in which it occurs, the expression is certainly used metaphorically. On the occasion of the famine in the city of Samaria, Elisha prophesied that—

"To-morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?"

So again Malachi exhorted the Jews after the Return from Babylon:—

"Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."

In neither case can the "windows of heaven" have been meant by the speaker to convey the idea of the sluice-gates of an actual, solidly-built reservoir in the sky.

One other cloud fact—their dissipation as the sun rises high in the heavens—is noticed in one of the most tender and pathetic passages in all the prophetic Scriptures. The Lord, by the mouth of Hosea, is mourning over the instability of His people. "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away."

The winds of heaven were considered as four in number, corresponding to our own four "cardinal points." Thus the great horn of Daniel's he-goat was broken and succeeded by four notable horns toward the four winds of heaven; as the empire of Alexander the Great was divided amongst his four generals. In Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones the prophet prays, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain;" and Jeremiah foretells that "the four winds from the four quarters of heaven" shall be brought upon Elam, and scatter its outcasts into every nation.

The circulation of the winds is clearly set forth by the Preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes.

"The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits."

Of the four quarters, the Hebrews reckoned the east as first. It was to the east that they supposed themselves always looking. The chief word for east, therefore, kedem, means "that which is before," "the front"; and the word next in use is, naturally, mizrach, the rising of the sun. The west is, as naturally, mebō hasshemesh, the going down of the sun; but as the Mediterranean Sea lay to the westward of Palestine "the sea" (yam) is frequently put instead of that point of the compass. With the east in front, the south becomes the right, and the north the left. The south also was negeb, the desert, since the desert shut in Palestine to the south, as the sea to the west. In opposition to tsaphon, the dark or hidden north, the south is darom, the bright and sunny region.

The phrase "four corners of the earth" does not imply that the Hebrews thought of the earth as square. Several expressions on the contrary show that they thought of it as circular. The Lord "sitteth upon the circle of the earth," and in another passage the same form is applied to the ocean. "He set a compass (margin circle) upon the face of the depth." This circle is no doubt the circle of the visible horizon, within which earth and sea are spread out apparently as a plain; above it "the vault of heaven" (Job xxii. 14; R.V. margin) is arched. There does not appear to be allusion, anywhere in Scripture, to the spherical form of the earth.

The Hebrew knowledge of the extent of the terrestrial plain was of course very limited, but it would seem that, like many other nations of antiquity, they supposed that the ocean occupied the outer part of the circle surrounding the land which was in the centre. This may be inferred from Job's statement—

"He hath described a boundary upon the face of the waters, Unto the confines of light and darkness."

The boundary of the world is represented as being "described," or more properly "circumscribed," drawn as a circle, upon the ocean. This ocean is considered as essentially one, exactly as by actual exploration we now know it to be;—"Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place;"—all the oceans and seas communicate.

Beneath the earth there are the waters. The Lord hath founded the world "upon the seas, and established it upon the floods," and (Psalm cxxxvi. 6) "stretched out the earth above the waters." This for the most part means simply that the water surface lies lower than the land surface. But there are waters,—other than those of the ocean,—which are, in a strict sense, beneath the earth; the subterranean waters, which though in the very substance of the earth, and existing there in an altogether different way from the great masses of water we see upon the surface, form a water system, which may legitimately be termed a kind of ocean underground. From these subterranean waters our springs issue forth, and it is these waters we tap in our wells. Of the cedar in Lebanon Ezekiel spoke: "The waters made him great, the deep set him up on high with her rivers running round about his plants, and sent out her little rivers (margin, conduits) unto all the trees of the field." The "deep," tehōm, applies therefore, not merely to the restless waters of the ocean, but to these unseen waters as well; and means, not merely "surging waters," but depths of any kind. When in the great Deluge the floodgates of heaven were opened, these "fountains of the great deep were broken up" as well. And later both fountains and windows were "stopped." So the Lord asks Job, "Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?" and in Proverbs it is said of the Lord, "By His knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew."

The tides upon the sea-coast of Palestine are very slight, but some have seen a reference to them in Jer. v. 22 where the Lord says, I "have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it." More probably the idea to be conveyed is merely that of the restraint of the sea to its proper basin, as in the passage where the Lord asks Job, "Who shut up the sea with doors when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?" And the writer of Proverbs sums all up:—

"When He prepared the heavens I [Wisdom] was there: when He set a compass upon the face of the depth: when He established the clouds above: when He strengthened the fountains of the deep: when He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment: when He appointed the foundations of the earth."

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