Thursday, July 08, 2010
[the expanse of the heavens - or is it firmament?]
In Genesis 1, there are a number of references to the "firmament". Some people assume that this means a "solid dome" and indicates that the author of Genesis understood that the earth was a flat disk and sky was a solid dome sitting on it. This would of course imply that the author of Genesis was ignorant of basic science and therefore obviously not divine. Some Orthodox Jewish converts to atheism have even cited this as being the primary proof of atheism.
Frankly, I don't think this argument is very convincing. Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible is the earth ever explicitly described as a flat disk with a solid dome covering it, even though this was apparently the belief of the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians. The word "firmament" is a translation of the Hebrew word רָקִיעַ which simply means "something spread out". The best English translation may be "expanse", which is used for example by the New American Standard Bible.
In essence, there would appear to be Jews apostatizing because of a poor translation of one word in Genesis 1.
As an aside, it's interesting to note that in the Hebrew Bible, רָקִיעַ is almost never used except in two places: Genesis 1 and Ezekiel 1. The Talmudic sages singled out these two chapters of the Hebrew Bible, known as Ma'aseh Bereshit and Ma'aseh Merkabah, as being filled with mystical meanings and therefore their study was strictly limited. In light of this, I don't believe that we may jump to any conclusions about the exact meaning of one ambiguous word. The full meanings of these extremely profound passages has been lost to us today. I think we simply don't know precisely what the רָקִיעַ is.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 5:29 AM