05/24/16

Why is the Sky Blue?

© Pakhnyuschchyy | stockfresh.com

© Pakhnyuschchyy | stockfresh.com

Some biblical scholars hold that Genesis 1 either used the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma elish, or was generally dependent upon it and other Mesopotamian traditions. Drawing on the work of Alexander Heidel in Babylonian Genesis, we find both parallels and differences between the Enuma elish and Genesis 1. Ultimately Heidel felt that the differences were far too great and the similarities far too insignificant. “In my estimation, no incontrovertible evidence can for the present be produced for either side.” Poetically, he said: “the resemblances fade away almost like the stars before the sun.” However, some of the similarities are striking.

In the Enuma elish, we find a story of how the earth came to be. In the beginning there was only the divine parents—Apsu and Tiamat—and their son, Mummu (Remember, this was ancient Babylon. Maybe Mummu was a popular name back then). Apsu was the primeval sweet-water ocean and Tiamat was the primeval salt-water ocean. Mummu was the mist rising from the two bodies of water and hovering over them. When Apsu and Tiamat comingled their waters, they gave birth to Lahmu and Lahamu, two silt deposits who eventually formed land. The three types of water were mingled together, forming an undefined mass in which were all the elements from which the universe was later made. But as yet, there was no heaven or earth.

In time, Apsu and Tiamat had more children, Anshar and Kishar. Together they had a son named Anu, who was the sky-god. Anu’s son was Ea, who became the god of the subterranean sweet-waters, the god of magic and eventually the mastermind of all the divinities. “He had no rival among his fellow-gods.” The younger gods were noisy and loud, disturbing the older gods, Apsu and Tiamat. When peaceful attempts to quiet them failed, Apsu determined to destroy them. But Ea through the power of the spoken word of a magic spell put Apsu to sleep. He then took Apsu’s royal tiara and supernatural radiance for himself and killed Apsu, the father of all the gods. Ea then established a spacious place for himself and all the remaining gods to live, calling that place “Apsu.”

So far, there is no real parallel between the two accounts, but we now come to the time of Marduk the son of Ea and “the wisest of the gods.” Tiamat resented the death of her consort, and sought revenge against the other gods for killing Apsu. So she decided to revolt against the other gods, but was defeated in battle by Marduk. He divided her body in two forming the universe, “with one half he formed the sky, with the other he fashioned the earth.”

 Next, he created stations in the sky for the great gods; he organized the calendar, by setting up stellar constellations to determine by their rising and setting the year, the months, and the days; he built gates in the east and in the west for the sun to enter and depart; in the very center of the sky he fixed the zenith; he caused the moon to shine and entrusted the night to her.

The story continues with a discussion of the further creation acts of Marduk. They have some similarity to the biblical account in Genesis as seen in this chart reproduced from the Babylonian Genesis. Note that in both accounts, light is created before the luminaries. But even in what follows, there is not complete correspondence. In fact, “the differences far outweigh the similarities.”

Enuma elish

Genesis

Divine spirit and cosmic matter are coexistent and coeternal

The divine spirit creates cosmic matter and exists independently of it

There is primeval chaos; Tiamat is enveloped in darkness

The earth is a desolate waste, with darkness covering the deep.

Light emanated from the gods

 

Light is created

The creation of the firmament

The firmament is created

The creation of dry land

 

Dry land is created

The creation of the luminaries

The luminaries are created

The creation of humanity

Humanity is created

The gods rest and celebrate

God rests and sanctifies the seventh day

If Genesis 1:1-2:3 really was influenced by Enuma elish, then it is reasonably certain that at least the following elements go back to the Babylonian epic: (1) part of the outline; (2) the conceptions of an immense primeval body of water containing the component parts of the earth; (3) the idea of the primeval waters; and (4) the existence of light before the luminaries.

There were also parallels with other Near Eastern cultures and their own creation stories as well. The Egyptians and the Phoenicians referred to a watery chaos in their cosmologies. There was primeval darkness within the cosmologies of the Greeks and the Phoenicians. However, in his commentary on Genesis 1-15, Gordon Wenham seems to capture the right view. He said the known links of the Hebrew patriarchs with Mesopotamia and the other areas of the Near East make it improbable that the writers of Genesis were completely ignorant of Babylonian and other similar creation stories.

Most likely they were conscious of a number of accounts of creation current in the Near East of their day, and Gen 1 is a deliberate statement of the Hebrew view of creation over against rival views. It is not merely a demythologization of oriental creation myths, whether Babylonian or Egyptian; rather it is a polemical repudiation of such myths.

Drawing on Scripture and Cosmology by Kyle Greenwood, Brad Kramer elaborated on the similarities between Hebrew and other Near Eastern cosmologies. The people of the biblical world assumed that rather than what we think of as “outer space”, there was a universally-wide cosmic ocean. For them this was an entirely rational belief based upon everyday observation and intuition. Why was the sky blue? Where did rain come from? “Ancient people figured that the sky was blue because there was a giant cosmic ocean high above the earth.” And rain came in through the windows and doors of a heavenly dome.

It was a nearly universal belief in biblical times that the sky was a solid structure, serving as a barrier for the upper waters. Aligned with the common experience of finding water deep in the ground, “The ancients conceived of the earth arising out of primordial waters, called the cosmic ocean…the earth was thought to be surrounded by these cosmic waters.” So the ancient Hebrew understanding of the universe looked something like the following:

Hebrew conception of the universe

Biblical evidence for this ancient cosmology exists within Genesis 1 itself. Genesis 1:6 through 9, covering the second day and part of the third day of creation, described how God created an expanse or firmament (rāqîaʿ) in the midst of the waters. This firmament separated the waters above and below. This firmament was thought to be a beaten metal plate or bow; a gigantic heavenly dome. Kramer concluded:

These verses only make sense if the whole universe is filled with water. The picture here is God blowing a bubble of habitable space in the middle of the cosmic sea and placing a barrier to keep the waters from crashing down onto earth. Interestingly, the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars) are “set…in the dome” (1:17), under the “waters above”, rather than above them. So again, the picture is of cosmic waters encircling the entire universe, including stars and planets (which ancients assumed were attached to the solid dome). Greenwood concludes: “As was the case with ancient Israel’s neighbors, the land mass they called earth was thought to be surrounded by water—east and west, above and below.”

Further Biblical evidence that the Hebrews seemed to have a three-tiered cosmology of the universe, with the earth situated in the middle between the heaven above and the deep beneath can be found in passages such as: Genesis 49:25, Deuteronomy 33:13, and Psalm 135:6. This three-tiered cosmology continued even into the early days of the church. To give but one example, in The Literal Meaning of Genesis, which Augustine wrote in 416 AD, he discussed why he thought the “star” Saturn was actually cold and not hot, as others speculated.

Indubitably, therefore, what makes it cold is the nearness of those waters set in places above the heavens, which these people refuse to believe who argue in the way I have summarized about the movement of the sky and the constellations. It is by drawing such inferences that some of our people meet those who refuse to believe there are any waters above the heavens and still insist on the coldness of that star whose circuit is nearest to the highest heaven.

For Christians with a modern scientific worldview such a cosmology is nonsensical. So they tend to import (sometimes unconsciously) the criteria of modern scientific accuracy into their reading of Genesis 1. This adds an “artificial middleman” to its interpretation. Attempting to combine an ancient cosmology with a modern scientific one will ultimately render both incoherent or out of focus at some point. And if we are attempting to convince a modern, science-minded person of the truth and authority of the Bible, “Do we really want an apologetic in which the truth of the Bible depends on the accuracy of scientific beliefs of ancient cultures?”

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

05/3/16

“The Deep” in Scripture

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© aliencat | stockfresh.com

In the Mach 2014 issue of the science journal Nature Pearson et al. presented evidence from which they concluded that the origin of the Earth’s water was deep in the mantle of the Earth. The excitement was over the accidental discovery by Pearson and his co-authors of the presence of a mineral called ringwoodite within a diamond that been expelled from deep within the Earth’s mantle by a violent volcanic eruption. The researchers were looking for a way to date the diamond when they discovered a small piece of ringwoodite enclosed in the diamond. In a Live Science article, Pearson said: “It’s actually the confirmation that there is a very, very large amount of water that’s trapped in a really distinct layer in the deep Earth.” He indicated the volume of water deep within the Earth’s mantle approaches that of the mass of water currently present in all the oceans on the surface of the Earth.

Read the Live Science article if you are interested in more information on how the researchers got from the presence of ringwoodite in a diamond to the conclusion of all that water deep beneath the Earth’s surface. It was the first time that the mineral has been discovered on the Earth’s surface in “anything other than meteorites,” because it only forms under extreme pressure, like what exists at about 320 miles deep below the Earth’s surface. Then Christian media outlets like Christianity Today reported that the discovery confirmed the Bible’s explanation of where water on the Earth came from. “The Holy Bible is clear about water on Earth coming from below the ground.” But where did the waters below the ground come from?

The answer offered by Andre Mitchell for Christianity Today went on the say the book of Genesis tells us how God created the earth as a water-covered sphere and then separated the waters to create the Sky. He then gathered together the waters under the Sky to let dry land appear, which he called Earth (Genesis 1:2, 6-11). Further biblical support for this was noted by Mitchell to be found in the Flood account, where “the fountains of the great deep” broke open and covered the entire Earth with water (Genesis 7:11).

Writing for BioLogos, Brad Kramer commented that explanations like that given in Mitchell’s Christianity Today article stem from well-meaning but misguided efforts to show that the Bible is divine revelation, since it contains scientific information that the authors could not possibly have known without divine revelation—such as the presence of water with the equivalent mass of all the oceans 320 miles below the surface of the Earth. The issue Kramer points to is one where Christians, raised within a culture rich in the knowledge and evidence of modern science, will sometimes unconsciously impose their scientific worldview onto the Bible and its interpretation.

For Christians, the purpose of the entire Bible is first and foremost to reveal Christ. Therefore, it ultimately draws its authority from the fact that it truly speaks of God and his Son. Suggesting that the Bible’s authority rests on its scientific accuracy adds an artificial middleman to this chain of authority, wherein the Bible first speaks truly of science, and therefore is trusted to speak truly of Christ.

We can wander far into the weeds of disagreement over how to interpret Genesis one, but here I want to limit our discussion to idea of the deep. Kramer observed that young earth creationists and old earth creationists seem to share a similar approach to biblical authority and interpretation. While they disagree on exactly what the Bible reveals scientifically, “they agree that the Bible is full of science prophecies that can be used to convince skeptics of the Bible’s authority.” So by this interpretive and apologetic method, a person with a modern scientific worldview can be shown where the Bible contains references to scientific knowledge that could only be from a divine source.

Referencing a quote by Richard Bube, a theistic evolutionist, Kramer referred to the idea of “arbitrary inerrancy,” within this shared method of interpretation. In his essay, “A Perspective on Scriptural Inerrancy,” Bube said the term “arbitrary” meant that inerrancy had to be maintained and defended against arbitrary criteria. In other words, biblical inerrancy itself had an all-or-nothing sense:

Oftentimes conservative theologians have spoken out in defense of Scriptural inerrancy as if there were only one kind of inerrancy imaginable-a kind of all or nothing inerrancy. They argue that the Scriptures are either completely inerrant in every way and with respect to every criterion for inerrancy which may be applied, or they are not inerrant at all.

This then leads to the Christianity Today discussion that Pearson et al. confirmed the Biblical explanation of where water on the Earth came from—the Deep. But a truly modern individual with a scientific worldview would ask, “So then were did the waters below the ground come from?” And he or she would likely dismiss the answer of Genesis one described above by Andre Mitchell, that God created the earth as a water-covered sphere. This would be an example of what Bube meant by arbitrary inerrancy. Pearson et al. confirms the Biblical declaration that surface water on the earth came from beneath the earth. But the answer to the next logical question, where did that water come from, switches to the unscientifically unsatisfactory response that “God did it.”

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery indicated that the imagery surrounding the word deep in the Bible had five distinct categories, one of which meant “the literal, physical quality of being far below the surface of the ground.” So this sense would fit within the understanding of Genesis 1:2 given by Andre Mitchell. Scriptures where the Hebrew word for deep, tĕhôm, has that meaning are: Psalm 69:2 or Proverbs 20:5. But that is not how the word is used in Genesis 1:2.  Here is the ESV translation of Genesis 1:2: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The more common sense for tĕhôm (around 30 or 40 references) is how it is used in Genesis 1:2, indicating the ocean or the sea. For the Hebrew people, the sea was a fearsome and alien place of monsters and storms. See Isaiah 51:10 and Psalm 104, especially verses 5-6, and 25-26. Some references to the sea as “the deep” appear to imply an ancient cosmology or ancient explanation for the origin and development of the universe. Some notable examples of where this ancient cosmology seems to be the subtext of a Biblical passage are Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 7:11 and 8:2, in the Genesis account of Noah and the Flood.

The authors of the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery acknowledge the difficulty in untangling the cosmological from the merely metaphoric statements on Scripture. Nevertheless, it does seem that ancient Hebrews saw the ocean as being fed by fountains or springs (Genesis 7:11, 8:2; Job 38:16; Proverbs 8:28). They also seemed to accept a three-tiered cosmology of the universe, with the earth situated in the middle between the heaven above and the deep beneath (Genesis 49:25; Deuteronomy 33:13; Psalm 135:6). And the “deeps” were believed to be the abode of sea monsters and forces of chaos (Psalm 74:13-14).

These and other oblique references suggest that there was one or more ancient worldviews or cosmologies behind these and other Biblical passages. This would reject a hermeneutical assumption that when discussing creation and the cosmology of the “heavens and earth,” the biblical writers were alluding to scientific information that the authors could not possibly have known without divine revelation. If you read Genesis 1 through an “ancient scientific mindset” for “an ancient audience” you avoid what Brad Kramer referred to as a false dichotomy between Biblical truth and its humanity. “If God chose to communicate through and to ordinary people in real human cultures, then we should expect the Bible be written in such a way that reflects the cultural mindset of its original context.”

So a Christian who is trying to be faithful to the authority of Scripture is not required to celebrate the news from Pearson et al.’s research as a confirmation that in the Bible, water on the surface of the Earth came from below ground. Brad Kramer said that biblical references to an underground ocean reflect “an ancient cosmology that is completely, categorically, and irreconcilably different than our own.”

Equating the “great deep” in Scripture with any scientifically detectable underground body of water is to fundamentally misunderstand the ancient world in which it was written.

There is a sense in Scripture when “the deep” references a literal, physical presence of water or some other quality existing far below the surface of the ground. But there is so much more to be found in its Biblical use. It can represent chaos, danger, and evil. Within apocalyptic visions, we see the deep as a combination of sea and earth. The beasts and the antichrist emerge from the deep in the end time (Daniel 7:3; Revelation 11:7).  After the ultimate defeat of Satan and the beast, there is no longer any sea (Revelation 21:1).

From the beginning of Scripture to the end, references to “the deep” and “the depths” are images of terror with associations of danger, chaos, malevolent evil and death. “The deep” is a major negative archetype in the biblical imagination-a place or state of mind or soul that one would wish to avoid but that no one can completely avoid.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”