The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Biblical cosmology

The Bible says very little about cosmology, such as the position of the earth in the universe, the nature of the fixed stars and planets, seeing as its main emphasis was on the history of God’s dealings with man.



Much of what the Bible says concerning cosmology is couched in terminology whose definitions are uncertain and disputed by Hebrew scholars. Another difficulty in recognizing Biblical cosmology is that at times the Bible condemns as apostasy beliefs such as the worship of the sun, moon, planets and stars, cosmology derived from other religions and not from the Bible.

Some scholars claim that what is often taught as “Biblical Cosmology” is actually medieval cosmology, which was a bastardized mixture of Hebrew terminology and Greek philosophy. An example of that is the reference to the four elements listed below, which is nowhere taught in the Bible.

The material for the subject is meager, dependence for the most part having to be placed on ambiguous references chiefly in the poetical sections. As such, these poetic references could be taken as poetic exaggerations and the ancient writers had no intention that they should be understood as literal expressions of their cosmology.

Sky, sun, moon and stars

The sky, the abode of the stars, is described as a "raqiya'" (rakia, Hebrew for a plate); that is, a rigid, broad, solid plate possessing a certain thickness. According to Genesis 1:14, this raqiya' was set in the midst of the waters, and it divided the waters above from those beneath. According to some readings, God made it of matter already existing at the time of Creation; that is, God did not "create" it at that time. The raqiya' representing the sky in Ezek. 1:22 resembled ice; therefore it is quite possible that the author of Genesis, like Ezekiel, regarded the sky as being composed of solidified water or ice. Such a sky, being transparent, would permit the stars, which are located above its vault, to be seen through it.

Other scholars believe that the sky (which is a plural noun in Hebrew) was made up of an expanse between the waters, and another above. Scholars differ on the definition of "raqiya'" (pronounced “raqiyya”): some say that it refers to a hard plate, others to an empty space or one filled with atmosphere.

Stars as the Hosts of Heaven

The stars were supposed to be living creatures. If the difficult passage (Judges 5:20) may be regarded as other than a poetical figure, the stars "walk on the way"; they "come out" in the morning, and "go in" at night. By a miracle, sun and moon are made to stand suddenly still (Josh. 10:12). They fight from their courses like warriors on the march (Judges ib.); the poet perhaps thinks of falling stars. In later times the stars are spoken of as "the hosts of heaven." This conception is paralleled among the Assyrians, kinsmen of the Hebrews, who likewise conceive of the stars as soldiers serving the god of heaven, Anu, and probably also the somewhat similar god Ninib, whose abode was the planet Saturn.

The stars stand in God's presence, to the right and the left of God's throne (I. Kings 22:19; II Chron. 18:18); they serve Him (Neh. 9:6; Ps. 103:21), and praise Him (Ps. 103:21), 148:2). Like the kings of earth, they may be consigned by God's judgment to the nether world (Isa. 24:21 et seq.); and God will in future execute judgment among them as among the nations of earth (Isa. 34:4 et seq.). Reverence is offered to the stars as living creatures (Jer. 8:2).

At the head of this starry host stands a "captain of the army" (Josh. 5:14; Dan. 8:11); according to the passage in the Book of Daniel, he was the star highest in altitude as well. By this designation the planet Saturn was probably intended, the farthest removed from earth and therefore the highest in the heavens, and which is held by the Assyrians to be the "bellwether" of the flock.

This starry army belongs to God; hence the frequent expression "God of hosts" indicates that God is the actual leader of the heavenly array. According to a later view, however (Zech. 4:2, 10), the seven planets are evidently termed the "seven eyes of God", just as the planet Saturn was the eye of Anu, lord of heaven among the Babylonians. It would appear, therefore, that they were no longer considered independent beings, and of course the other stars likewise.

Yet this whole section is based on the presupposition that when the Bible talks about the “hosts” around God and in the heights above, that it is talking about the stars. But the hosts are not specifically mentioned as stars, hence “hosts” could refer to angels or other creatures.

Showing how far interpretation is taken, the passage in Zechariah 4:1–10 recounts a vision of a menorah (ancient Hebrew lampstand) with places for seven lamps. A vision is a visual parable, not necessarily a physical object. Secondly this vision does not mention stars. Therefore the interpretation that it refers to the seven planets is not obvious from the text. (A menorah with seven lamps was a temple decoration since the time of Moses.)


Of planets, as far as ascertainable with any degree of certainty, only two are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible: Saturn, called by his Assyrian name "Kévan" in Amos 5:26; and "Meleket ha-Shamayim", "the queen of heaven," Jer. 7:18, 44:17, 25, etc. That the latter means Venus is shown by the cakes which are said to have been baked for her. Among the Assyro-Babylonians the cake-offerings were called "the bread of Ishtar" (Venus). The Hebrew name for these cakes was almost identical to the name for Saturn, so was the “queen of heaven” Saturn?

Modern day biblical cosmologies

The Catholic Church after having rejected scientific cosmological endeavors during the Copernican revolution, has in the last century been ever more increasingly involved with scientific cosmology. A Roman Catholic Priest in the employ of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences , Georges Lemaître was, in fact, instrumental in the development of the Big Bang theory of the universe. The Catholic Church and many other mainline Christian denominations accepts modern cosmology as acceptably in concord with interpretations of the Bible that are more allegorical than literal. The Conservative and Reform traditions within Judaism also accept modern cosmology as compatible with their reading of scripture.

In contrast, some modern-day Young Earth creationists have tried to create Creationist cosmologies that they claim are compatible with a plain reading of the Creation according to Genesis in order to explain observations that appear to refer to a universe that is older than they would prefer. There are also a limited number of radical creationists who believe that strict modern geocentrism or even a flat earth are the only acceptable cosmological arrangements in concord with the bible, though their numbers are vanishingly small and their arguments are rejected by the majority of creationists. Supporters of mainstream science dismiss all these cosmologies as pseudoscience.

See also

Last updated: 10-23-2005 22:02:44
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