Monday, July 19, 2021

The Absurdity of a Solid Dome

 According to many Bible scholars, people of the Ancient Near East (ANE) believed that the sky was a fixed solid dome - in which the Sun, moon, and stars were embedded - supported by pillars, or mountains, at the ends of a flat earth. The Israelites are said to have shared this erroneous ANE cosmology, which is allegedly the underlying idea behind the "firmament" or “expanse” (raqia) of Genesis 1. 

(From N. F. Gier, God, Reason, and the Evangelicals, University Press of America, 1987)

Not a Fixed Dome but a Rotating Sphere

Were ANE people in general, and the Israelites in particular, really so dense as to believe in a literal solid dome, as pictured above?

Ancient man may have lacked modern technology, such as telescopes and computers, and sophisticated mathematical theories. But he wasn't blind or stupid.

It was obvious to ancient man, as it is to us, that the Sun and Moon move across the sky every day, rising in the East and setting in the West. So the Sun and Moon are clearly not attached to a fixed dome. 

What about the stars? At first glance, the stars may seem to be fixed on a dome. Yet, anyone (try it yourself!) watching the stars for a few hours sees them moving through the sky, much like the Sun and Moon. So also the stars are clearly not attached to a stationary dome.

Moreover, the stellar motions clearly have a pronounced pattern. Here is a photo (a time exposure of a few hours) showing star-trails as seen in Fayyum, Egypt (latitude 29.3 degrees North). 

The stars near the star Polaris (above the Earth's North pole) travel in complete circles; stars further away rise in the East and set in the West, so that different stars are visible at different times of the night.

In short, the revolving stars seem to be fixed, not to a stationary dome (a semi-sphere), but to a rotating sphere, called the celestial sphere. The celestial sphere surrounds the earth and is not supported by it (see figure). 

Although the stars seemed to be fixed to the celestial sphere, it is easily seen that the Moon moves along this sphere roughly once a month, and the Sun once a year, marking off months, seasons, and years (Gen.1:15).

The ancients, keener observers of the night sky than modern ANE scholars, were well aware of such celestial motions. Indeed, the ancient Egyptians marked the beginning of their year by the first dawn appearance of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

In line with such simple observational considerations, ANE scholar Margaret Huxley, upon close examination of numerous cuneiform sources, concludes that ancient Mesopotamians thought the sky to be a rotating sphere with a polar axis, rather than a  stationary vault.[Huxley, Margaret. “The Shape of the Cosmos According to Cuneiform Sources.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 7, no. 2, 1997, pp. 189–198. JSTOR, Accessed 17 June 2021.] 

The Myth of the Solid Dome

If the solid dome is so contrary to common sense and has no historical basis, how did it come to dominate biblical scholarship? 

That tale is related by Randall W. Younker and Richard M. Davidson ["The Myth of The Solid Heavenly Dome: Another Look at The Hebrew." Andrews University Seminary Studies (AUSS) 49.1: 125-147 (2011)]. They find that the idea that the ancient Israelites believed in a solid vault resting on a flat earth emerged during the early 1800s, primarily through the American writer Washington Irving (1783-1859). He propagated the myth that most ancient and medieval people believed in a flat earth, until the time of Columbus. [For a detailed account of the flat earth myth, see Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and the Historians (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1991)].

Younker and Davidson conclude that, in fact, the majority of early Christian and medieval scholars

“believed in a spherical earth, surrounded by celestial spheres that conveyed the sun, moon, stars, and planets in their orbits around the earth. Moreover, the concept of a heavenly vault does not appear in any ancient Babylonian astronomical documents. Rather, this notion was erroneously introduced into the scholarly literature through a mistranslation (1890) of the Enuma Elish by Peter Jensen."


In sum, there is no basis for the notion that ANE people, including the Israelites, believed that the sky was a solid dome.

Rather than reading presumed ancient cosmology into Genesis, we should simply read it on its own terms. Doing so, we see that the raqia of Genesis 1, called heaven (Gen.1:8), is clearly not solid: birds fly in it (Gen.1:20, cf. Deut.4:17), and the sun, moon, and stars move through it (Gen.1:14-18). In fact, the raqia is simply the sky, including the atmosphere and outer space.


Monday, May 31, 2021

God and Necessary Truths

Christianity maintains that only God is self-existent. He is the sovereign Creator, who freely creates everything else. God exists necessarily, in that it is impossible for God not to exist, God's non-existence is inconceivable. The created universe, in contrast, is merely contingent, in that it could have been different, and need not have existed at all. But what about abstract objects, such as the laws of logic and math, which seem to be necessary truths? How do they relate to God? 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Canadian Reformed MP stands with LGBT

 A few days ago on May 17, the so-called "International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia", Tako van Popta, a local Canadian Reformed Member of Parliament (MP), made a public Facebook post affirming that he was "standing with" Canadian LGBTQ2 (LesbianGayBisexualTransgenderQueer...) communities.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Review: In the Beginning

An important book, In the Beginning: Listening to Genesis 1 and 2 (2021, Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 371 pages) has just been published by Dr. Cornelis van Dam, emeritus professor of Old Testament at Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Why is There Something?

Why is there something? There could have been nothing - no physical objects or laws, no conscious beings, no thoughts, no universe at all. So, why is there something, rather than nothing? 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

How big tech became big brother

 A relevant video by David Wood (found on the Triablogue site), raising concerns that big tech (Youtube, Google, Twitter, Amazon, etc.), like mainstream media, is increasingly censoring Christian views while promoting leftist ideology.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Useful Sites

Here are some sites that I find useful and check regularly. Please inform me of any dead links, or sites that should be added.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Finding Adam

The Dutch scholar Dr. Willem J. Ouweneel defends the traditional Biblical Adam, against attempts to combine Adam with human evolution, in his recent book Adam, Where Are You? And Why This Matters: A Theological Evaluation of the Evolutionist Hermeneutic (Jordan Station, Canada: Paideia Press, 2018, 480 pages).

Friday, September 18, 2020

Hijacking John Calvin – More Pro Rege Polemics

A few months ago, in my post Pro Rege Polemics, I discussed a dispute about science and the Bible in Pro Rege, a Dordt University publication. Since then two more contributions continue the debate.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Seeing Through Smoke

Here is a new book very relevant to recent events: Seeing Through Smoke: Living the Truth in an Age of Deception (2020), by Dr Jon Garvey. This book (pdf) can be downloaded free.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Some thoughts on Dr Packer

James Innell Packer recently died on July 17, 2020, at age 93. He was one of the most influential theologians of the last century, perhaps best known for his two earliest books, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958) and Knowing God (1973). He was also general editor of the English Standard Version of the Bible.

Friday, July 17, 2020

How Should Christians View Origins?

We have just revised our booklet How Should Christians View Origins? and converted it into an e-book. Available for free. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins

The Creation Without Compromise site has just published an extensive review by Dr. Wes Bredenhof of the theistic evolutionist book Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.  Hardcover, 659 pages).

Friday, June 12, 2020

Should Christians Support "Black Lives Matter"?

Recently there have been many mass demonstrations against alleged police racism and violence against blacks. Much of this is organized by the Black Lives Matter movement. Many Christians naively support BLM, being unaware of its unchristian nature, and of the pertinent facts concerning blacks and violence. Here are some useful links providing important information, and analysis of the underlying problems.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Should We Still Cast Lots?

Some Reformed churches sometimes use the lot to help in the election of office-bearers.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Did Solomon Write Ecclesiastes?

Some time ago, when our church’s Men's Society studied Ecclesiastes, there was considerable debate as to who wrote it. Traditionally, it seemed clear that the author was Solomon. Yet the study guide used [Rev. M.J.C. Blok, “
Ecclesiastes: The Advent Congregation, The Study, 2007] asserts that “all commentators agree that Solomon could not have written this book.”

Friday, April 24, 2020

Pro Rege Polemics

The last few issues of Pro Rege contain an interesting debate regarding the relative authority of Scripture versus science. Should science cause us to modify our reading of Scripture? Or should we base our science on the plain sense of Scripture?

Monday, April 20, 2020

Theological Cost of Evolution

Here is a good review in the latest issue of Themelios by Hans Madueme on a recent attempt to reconcile evolution with Christian theology.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Why Believe Christianity?

How can we convince an unbeliever that he should believe Christianity? An excellent book on that topic is "Why Should I Believe Christianity?" (2016, Christian Focus Publications; Fearn, Scotland, 230 pages) by Dr. James N. Anderson, who specializes in philosophical theology and apologetics at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Light-speed, Convention, and Creation

In recent years the Anisotropic Synchrony Convention cosmology of Dr. Jason Lisle has become more popular among creationists. At the 2018 International Conference on Creationism T.G. Tenev, J. Baumgardner, and M.F. Horstemeyer presented a model that was very similar. Dr. John Hartnett seems to have abandoned has own earlier Carmeli-based cosmology, and has posted a number of articles promoting the ASC as the current best solution to the distant-starlight problem (i.e., how we can see distant stars if they were created recently).

How feasible is the ASC model?