The Cosmology of the Bible

Evangelical OT scholar John Walton's commentary on Genesis is available online.

Click on this link and go to page 13 in the book. Then zoom in on it, again and again. Look at that diagram based on the text. THAT is the world the ancient Hebrews believed existed. Notice the chaos sea monster! And I'm supposed to believe the Bible? If the authors cannot get this right I have no reason to accept anything else they said just because they said it. Q.E.D. My claim is that there isn't anything in the Bible that reveals a divine mind behind its pages.

14 comments:

Rob R said...

We modernists know in our hearts, not to use such primitive concepts to articulate ideas.

elbogz said...

Wait a minute. You are trying to tell me with all your education, you don’t believe that the air god Shu kneels on the earth god Geb while holding up the sky god Nut? If you just had faith, you would see this is the one true religion. *j/k* Great link, thanks.

Steven said...

We modernists know in our hearts, not to use such primitive concepts to articulate ideas.

Which, of course, immediately raises the question: Of what use is the Bible then in the first place? If the Bible is too primitive and must be interpreted "holistically" (whatever that means), then what is the difference between you and some new ager running around Sedona, AZ looking for harmonic convergences?

Isn't it really just the case that you are picking and choosing concepts from the Bible that you agree with and discarding the rest? You can try and justify this all want from some holistic approach, but such an approach is utterly unconvincing if the Bible is indeed supposed to be the word of God. Picking and choosing would not seem to be something that can be justified.

Brad Haggard said...

John, did I miss the caption that this is a modern illustration of Egyptian mythology? I don't think this is in the actual Hebrew text.

Jer said...

I think you mean page 17/18, not page 13. Page 13 is an image of ancient Egyptian gods in the sky. Page 18 (I think - I hate scribd) is an image of what Earth looked like to Israelites - with the Heavenly Temple sitting on the vault of the sky.

Rob R said...

Which, of course, immediately raises the question: Of what use is the Bible then in the first place?

Oh, I was raising a question alright, but not that one. Don't you know this in your HEART?

you ever just gaze into the SUNSET and just think about how we need to stop using "unscientific" ideas to express our beliefs?

Rob R said...

Brad, most of that picture comes from egyptian mythology. You have to look close to the apparent common ground which is the dome, the "firmament" that holds the water up (which on occasion leaks through for our whether).

It is very reasonable (not that we should apply some method of doubt to it or anything) that this is a mythological understanding that the Bible uses in it's explanation that God created everything we experience including our system of whether.

I find this no more scandalizing than the auca indian who claimed he saw Jim Elliot and crew "jump over the great python" (it was something like that) after his people martyred those missionaries. He was using his expression to claim that he saw them enter into the afterlife (and the implication is more than he just saw them killed). I don't know if that is a true story or if it was just part of the movie on Jim Elliot's mission that came out a few years ago.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

It's 13 on the printed page, but page 17 in the online version. The modern comic booky illustration of ancient Egyptian beliefs is on page 8 of the actual book, but 13 of the online version, hence the confusion.

mkyd1917 said...

Perhaps a look at Walton's actual text will be illustrative: "God did not reveal to them details of the cosmic geography of the Post-Enlightenment period (which is mathematically deduced and naturalistic). He rather communicated to them about his role from the context of their own perceptions of cosmic geography. Where revelation offered no revisions, the Israelites thought about the world in terms similar to those of the cultures around them."

>>"If the authors cannot get this right I have no reason to accept anything else they said just because they said it." Surely this isn't your actual argument? By analogy, that would mean all pre-Einsteinian and pre-Darwinian science would have to be rejected on principle because they failed to have the same insights into the world that later people have.

The belief that the Bible is primarily concerned with trying to teach cosmology seems highly controversial at best. It is not enough simply to point to the fact that some think that it does. Did the ancient Hebrew writers of the Pentateuch intend to teach anything about cosmology? It seems that the answer is "no" and that they were only trying to share divine revelation within their own cultural background, which included this ancient cosmology.

Your claim that there isn't anything in the Bible that reveals a divine mind is certainly an argument that can be made, but trying to do it on the basis of ancient cosmology seems like a very wrong-headed place to start.

Rob R said...

The thing is, both the similarity and lack of it is very important.

You have a story that is somewhat similar in terms of the structure of the cosmos. But something is missing in Genesis for the creation. What is it? Drama. There's no soap opera about gods chopping each other to peaces and having sex, spawining humans from the gore and blood and so on. Then we have something much more profound. We have a singular intention and a master plan. Genesis, among other things is a polemic, a document written not simply as the Hebrews favorite version of creation. It is an assault on the pagan religions of the region.

Chris said...

Steven

Isn't it really just the case that you are picking and choosing concepts from the Bible that you agree with and discarding the rest? You can try and justify this all want from some holistic approach, but such an approach is utterly unconvincing if the Bible is indeed supposed to be the word of God. Picking and choosing would not seem to be something that can be justified.

To be the word of God doesn't mean its without error. I think you are just arguing with a traditional viewpoint of innerency.

Brad Haggard said...

Rob, I really agree with you. I was just trying to attack John's implied point. The closest we come to the "superstitious" material of ANE creation stories is the "tehom" in 1:2, but there is no thought of God arising out of the "chaos" nor is there any war like the Enuma Elish. This is an argument that doesn't really hold up to a scrutiny of the text.

Steven said...

Chris,

If you admit that the bible is not without error, then picking the wheat from the chaff becomes even more problematic, at least from the perspective of determining what comes from the divine and what does not.

However, I will admit that doing so normally results in more reasonable outcomes, but not because a divine hand is guiding those that do this. It is because those that do do this are more informed about human nature, even though their conclusions about the origins of what they consider to be divine are very likely wrong.

Rob R said...

I don't think the use of the old cosmologies is an error at all. Scripture used those cosmologies for a purpose, not to promote them specifically but to show that the creation is God's and reflects his singular purpose, not the result of divine dramas. If the purpose of scripture in using these concepts is wrong, then there is an error. Whether or not the cosmic geography is scientifically accurate or not just isn't the point.