Biblical cosmology

The Bible contains several views on cosmology, such as the position of the earth in the universe, the nature of the fixed stars and planets.

The material for the subject is meager, dependence for the most part having to be placed on ambiguous references chiefly in the poetical sections.

The sky, the abode of the stars, is described as a "raḳia'" (a plate); that is, a rigid, broad, solid plate possessing a certain thickness. According to Genesis 1:6, this raḳia' 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 raḳia' representing the sky in Ezek. i. 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.

Table of contents
1 The Four Elements in Genesis
2 Stars as the Hosts of Heaven
3 Planets

The Four Elements in Genesis

The heavenly bodies, according to Genesis 1:16, were also made from existing material, after light had come into existence. They were made of light, just as the vault of the sky was made out of water-material, and the human soul from air (Gen. ii. 7), and all things living upon earth from earth (Gen. i. 24). All these were made of the four elements, light (or fire), water, air, and earth; only those creatures which subsist in air and water—that is, in other elements than those of which they are composed—were created; while man, the image of God, although living on earth and being of the earth, was "created and made" (Gen. i. 26, 27; but see ii. 7).

Stars as the Hosts of Heaven

The stars were supposed to be living creatures. If the difficult passage (Judges v. 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. x. 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. K. xxii. 19; II Chron. xviii. 18); they serve Him (Neh. ix. 6; Ps. ciii. 21), and praise Him (Ps. ciii. 21), cxlviii. 2). Like the kings of earth, they may be consigned by God's judgment to the nether world (Isa. xxiv. 21 et seq.); and God will in future execute judgment among them as among the nations of earth (Isa. xxxiv. 4 et seq.). Reverence is offered to the stars as living creatures (Jer. viii. 2).

At the head of this starry host stands a "captain of the army" (Josh. v. 14; Dan. viii. 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. iv. 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.

Planets

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 v. 26; and "Meleket ha-Shamayim", "the queen of heaven," Jer. vii. 18, xliv. 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).




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