The Hebrew Universe

The above diagram of the Hebrew Universe is from James L. Christian, Philosophy: An Introduction to the Art of Wondering, 6th ed.,(Harcourt, 1994), p. 512. It is not to be used without giving him proper credit. This is the first time it's been placed on the web. Click on it to enlarge it.

The ancient Hebrews viewed the universe much like their contemporaries. There is some disagreement with the sketchy details we have in the Bible itself. But they had contact with Babylonia (Abraham came from there); Egypt, the Canaanites (whom they fought with), and other nations around them. It’s not likely they would have described the universe totally different from them, except that God created it all. (See Genesis 1:6; 7:11; Job 37:18; Isaiah 40:22; Psalms 19:4-6; 78:23-24; 104:2-4; II Kings 7:2; Amos. 9:6).

According to the Harper's Bible Dictionary, “The ancient Hebrews imagined the world as flat and round, covered by the great solid dome of the firmament which was held up by mountain pillars, (Job 26:11; 37:18). The blue color of the sky was attributed to the chaotic waters that the firmament separated from the earth (Gen. 1:7). The earth was thus surrounded by waters above and below (Gen. 1:6,7; cf. Psalms 24:2; 148:4, Deut. 5:8). The firmament was thought to be substantial; it had pillars (Job 26:11) and foundations (2 Sam. 22:8). When the windows of it were opened, rain fell (Gen. 7:11-12; 8:2). The sun, moon, and stars moved across or were fixed in the firmament (Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 19:4,6). It was also the abode of the birds (Gen. 1:20; Deut. 4:17). Within the earth lay Sheol, the realm of the dead (Num. 16:30-33; Isa. 14:9,15).”

See also Edward T. Babinski: “Evolving Interpretations Of the Bible’s ‘Cosmological Teachings”, and Conrad Hyers Genesis Knows Nothing of Scientific Creationism: Interpreting and Misinterpreting The Biblical Texts, and Frederick E. Greenspahn Biblical Views of Creation.

For an Evangelical scholar who agrees that what the ancients believed about the days of creation and the shape of the cosmos was indeed based on pre-scientific modes of thought, see Genesis by Dr. John H. Walton (NIV Application Commentary, 2002). [See also the Anchor Bible Dictionary entry “Cosmogony, Cosmology”].