Genesis 1:6-8 — Life Inside a Water Bubble

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When ancient man looked up at the sky, what he perceived was akin to what he observed when looking out over the seas—an expanse of crystal-clear blue water. This observation was confirmed of course by the very fact that it rained. For where else did rain come from if not from the waters above the sky?Genesis 1:7

Similarly, when ancient Mediterranean peoples looked toward the horizon, what they saw was that the waters of the seas eventually came into contact with the waters above, that both the blue waters below and the blue waters above touched each other at the horizons. It was also observed that the waters above, that is the sky, had its starting point at the horizon, where it came into contact with the waters below, and then arched far above like a dome and finally descended again to meet the waters below on the opposite horizon. Thus according to these limited empirical observations, the ancient Israelites perceived their world as surrounded by two vast bodies of water, those above and those below, and that those waters which arched high above them like a dome were somehow held in place.

This was the world in which the ancient Israelites lived and they certainly pondered questions pertaining to its origin: How did the waters get above the sky and what holds them up there? How did they obtain their current domed shape? Where did they originate from? And what about the waters below? In short, how did this world come to be?

Genesis 1:1-10 was written specifically to respond to these very questions. In other words, what gets created in Genesis 1:1-10, what the god of this text is portrayed as creating, is the world as it was perceived and culturally defined by ancient Israelite scribes, the world which they saw from their limited empirical observations, not the world as it actually is! This fact the text itself bears witness to.

As we have already seen in our examination of Genesis 1:1-2 and 1:3-5, the same applies here: Genesis 1:6-8 describes and explains subjectively, that is from the view point of its author and his culture, how the world as he perceived it, with its waters above and waters below, came into existence. It is a bottoms up approach. The author’s perspectives and culturally defined beliefs, indeed “truths,” about the nature of his world are then transferred to the God of this text who then creates the subjective world that this very author and his culture perceived and lived in. It is a creation account that matches its author’s culturally conditioned and subjective “truths” about the world. Thus we must be careful not to impose our understanding and knowledge of the world onto his text, nor try to conform his beliefs to ours. Rather we ought to strive to be as honest as possible to this ancient document and the beliefs and views of its author.

Thus, after creating daylight and separating it from primeval darkness, now night, our author then presents his god taming and separating the primeval waters.

And God said, “Let there be a domed barrier (raqî‘a) in the center of the waters and let it separate the waters from the waters.”

Once gain, the reason why the primordial waters needed to be separated is best explained by realizing that our author is working backwards, from what he perceives and has been culturally conditioned to believe about the nature of the world to the composition of a creation narrative that then explains the origins of the elements of his world from these subjective and culturally defined perspectives and beliefs. So Genesis 1:1-10 is not an account of the creation of the world in objective, scientific terms. Rather it is an account of the creation of a perception of the world as envisioned by ancient man. Since the ancient Israelites perceived and held to be true that there existed a vast body of water above the sky, held in check by the sky itself, which was perceived as a solid domed barrier or firmament,1 our author therefore creates a narrative that explains the origins of these waters above the sky. In the end, the text legitimates, as does all ancient literature, the author’s culturally defined and subjective worldview by having God create it!

FirmamentThus in accord with his perceptions and beliefs about the world, our author next presents God making (‘asah) this solid domed barrier (raqî‘a) in the middle of the primordial waters (mayim) in order to separate out the waters which are now above it from the waters now below it, effectively conforming to our Israelite scribe’s perception of his own world. Finally, the text informs us:

And God called this solid domed barrier (raqî‘a) “skies” (shamayim). And there was evening and there was morning—a second day.

Since the Hebrew word for “skies” (sha-mayim) is composed of the letter shin plus the word for water, mayim—always in the plural, “waters”—it is quite possible that what came to be called the skies was a combination of the solid domed firmament or raqî‘a and the waters above it. For we are informed in verse 14 that the raqî‘a, where the luminaries are to be set, was part of the skies or shamayim: “let there be lights in the firmament of the skies.” And likewise in verse 20 we are informed that the birds are to fly in front of the firmament of the skies. If the skies (shamayim) are both the firmament, domed barrier, and the waters above, which seems to be what is implied here, then under this conception the skies are nothing more than half of the untamed preexisting waters now held back and in check by a clear solid domed barrier, the raqî‘a—a far cry from our sky!

Thus once again we observe that the creation account in Genesis 1 does not represent some scientific, objective, divinely-inspired account of the origins of the material world, but rather the creation of a world as perceived by ancient Israelites. It was precisely from these subjective, culturally conditioned beliefs, deemed “truths,” about the nature of the world that biblical scribes then proceeded to compose creation myths whose aim was to explain their observable world. In this instance, how did the waters above come to be formed and held in check? Genesis 1:1-8 responds by claiming that they were created through an act of separating them out from the initial watery abyss (tehôm), and holding them above the sky through the creation of a solid domed barrier, the sky itself!

Finally, the argument that our ancient Israelite scribe was interested in demonstrating was not where did matter originate from. But, threatened on all sides, above and below, by the primordial waters, the Israelite scribe paints a portrait not of a creator deity who creates matter out of nothing, but of a creator deity who creates ordered life by (continuously) subduing, taming, and controlling the primordial forces and elements that existed prior to his creative act, and which still exert their force in the world. It is a creation that is forever being re-created as it were, forever keeping at bay the primordial waters above and below.2

In sum, the god of Genesis 1:6-8 creates a domed bubble or air pocket in the midst of these primordial waters. In other words, the god of this text does not, and did not, create planet Earth, boundless space, and the numerous Genesis 1 (2)galaxies that occupy it! Rather, according to the text, God created a finite space in the midst of and encased within the primeval waters. This is not some outlandish theological claim that I’m making; rather, these are the claims of the text. Again, it shouldn’t have to be argued in the 21st century that ancient texts reflect the subjective and culturally defined beliefs, attitudes, and worldviews of ancient peoples and cultures. But there you have it.

Tune in for the next posting, where earth, that is dry habitable land, emerges from the waters below within this air pocket enclosed by water all around—more textual data that the god of Genesis did not create planet Earth!

← GENESIS 1:3-5                                                                                                                                        GENESIS 1:9-10 →

Footnotes    

  1. My translation of raqi‘a as “a solid domed expanse” may seem alarming at first, but it is the clearest image available for expressing what the Hebrew invokes. The verb form of raqi‘a means “to beat out” or “to hammer out” and is attested with respect to hammering out metal plates or bowls (e.g., Exod 39:3; Jer 10:9), thus a domed or concaved shape. More specifically the verb raqa‘ is used in Job 37:18 to speak of Yahweh “hammering out thinly the firmament, hard like the reflective surface of poured metal.” And Psalm 19 further supports the idea that the raqi‘a was seen as a manifestation of Yahweh’s handiwork or craftsmanship (19:1). We should further note that both Genesis 1:6 8’s use of raqi‘a and Job 37:18’s use of raqa‘ conceptualize the sky as a hard or solid thinly hammered out metallic-like domed surface, likened to the reflective substance of poured metal. Other references to the domed shaped raqi‘a or sky occur in Isa 40:22 and Job 22:14, as well as Deut 4:32 and Prov 8:27 28 which both envision the skies touching the earth on each end. In addition to these, there are other biblical passages that also attempt to describe this raqi‘a. In Ezekiel 1:22, for example, the raqi‘a is described “like the sight of awe-inspiring crystal” or perhaps ice, and is strong enough to support Yahweh’s throne which rests upon it (Ezek 10:1; Exod 24:10). Likewise in Exodus 24:10 this raqi‘a is described “like a smooth-paved work of sapphire, and like the substance of the skies in regard to brightness.” And in Job 37:18, as we have already noted, it is spoken of as looking like a poured metallic mirror of some sort. All of these textual traditions support the view that the Israelites conceptualized the sky—that is the raqi‘a of Genesis 1—as a solid crystal or metallic-like domed expanse of a sapphire hue, no doubt reflecting the color of the waters above which this solid crystalline domed expanse supported. Additionally, the primeval waters are depicted as occupying the space above this raqi‘a or sky elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Ps 148:4), and it was because of this solid barrier’s openings that the waters above pour down and flood the earth in the Priestly writer’s flood narrative (see Gen 7:11; 8:2). Indeed, rain, snow, and hail were all believed to be kept in storehouses above the raqi‘a which had “windows” to allow them in. And the birds of Gen 1:20 are said to fly in front of the raqi‘a in the open air, not in this solid domed expanse.
  2. This subjective cosmological portrait of the world is also found in this author’s flood story. Contrary to the Yahwist version of the flood story, where it rains for forty days and forty nights (Gen 7:4, 7:12), in the Priestly version that which holds back the waters above is loosened to let those waters retake their original chaotic and untamed position (Gen 7:11, 8:2). It is a true undoing of creation from this author’s perspective.

11 thoughts on “Genesis 1:6-8 — Life Inside a Water Bubble

  1. If Adam and Eve were white then where did all the other races come from? If Noah was white and his wife and three sons were white,, even if each of his sons had different races of wives wouldn’t that cause the would to be repopulated with biracial people instead of black Egyptians and African and every other Asian race? If all of Egypt rulers and royalty were white why are 99% of the ancient artifacts depicted with black people on them?

  2. KW, Peterpi, Mark Graham, Dr. Steve: when YHVH Eloheem created the earth, there was no need for rain. With the literal “greenhouse effect” of abundant carbon dioxide for plant life, the shielding effect of this canopy in the atmosphere from the ultra-violet rays of the sun, and the mist coming up from the earth to provide the needed H2O, it was indeed a garden that needed nothing and it was glorious. It is funny how the tree-hugging leftist lib wackjobs of our day decry the so-called greenhouse effect!

    Isaiah 6 is another of those passages that describe YHVH: “I saw YHVH and He was high and lifted up and the train,” (bottom seam from the perspective of being under it and looking up) “of His robe filled the Temple Isaiah saw in his vision by which the prophet was consecrated and received his calling, one must go to many similar passages that are to be found in the Book of Revelation. No need to give the references. Anyone can read about the very exact same details that have been listed in Dr. Steve’s article and the comments heretofore. From Genesis to Revelation with hard copy from the Throne is where my source material resides and it shoots holes in the premise of this site. YHVH is the same throughout the Bible.

    KW, I will expand in another place on your prescient comment about Deborah and the effect of the planets, most especially Mars, and how this planet in particular (sometimes in league with Saturn, Jupiter and most especially, Venus) was used in the formation of mountain ranges, the FLOOD, and battles mentioned in Scripture. Just not here.

    Maybe you can help me, KW. Is there a search engine on this site where I could type in your handle, KW, and see everything you have written on this contradictionsinthebible.com blog site? If not, it is a crying shame, and something that Dr. Steve needs to rectify, IMHO. It is hard to find each other otherwise. I’m hoping that it is just my innate ignorance! Please address this if you can, bro’! (;~))

  3. Just depositing another interesting scripture here. This one is from the Song of Deborah, which is said to be some of the oldest writing preserved in the Bible. Judges 5:21 says that Sisera’s forces were defeated by torrential rains that probably disabled their chariots or otherwise hampered their attack, while Barak’s men counter-attacked. Now, verse 20 is talking about stars in their “orbits” (or “paths” or “courses”), which I presume refers to their being placed on the inside of the raqia which circles the earth. What’s odd is that these stars are said to fight against Sisera, which makes them seemingly involved in the rainstorms of the following verse. Unless there is some other intended meaning to stars ‘fighting against’ Sisera (maybe a metaphorical one?), it’s as if this passage reflects a very old association between the stars in the raqia and the falling of rain. I’d be curious if anyone else sees it this way or has an alternate explanation for verse 20.

  4. Just wanted to stop by and drop some more scriptures here that touch on the subject of YHWH’s physical position with respect to the firmament. Psalms 2:4 and 11:4 are not detailed, but they mention that God sits in the heavens and has a temple there. Isa. 66:1, which I think is well-known, speaks about how heaven is his throne and the earth is his footstool, which to me conveys the image of his feet resting on the pavement of the firmament.

    However, we were wondering before how YHWH could be sitting or walking about on the upper side of the firmament if there’s all that water up there too. That’s why I found these next two verses particularly interesting. In Ps. 29:10, God literally “sits on the flood”. How is that possible? Perhaps Ps. 104:2, 3 has the answer: ‘He stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers [or “roof chambers”] on their waters” (NIV)!

  5. Mr. DeMattei,
    I found your website after arguing with someone who occasionally uses the Bible to frame secular subjects. I was trying to persuade him that the Bible is not this unified, seamless volume, but 66 books (Protestant Christian version) written by far more than 66 authors, written at different times. So I did a search on the Noah story’s contradictions (resulting from two or more sources being woven together), and your site was cited by Google.
    What a fantastic resource you have created!
    Specific to this page, thank you for confirming what I suspected: That the authors of the Six Day creation story and Noah story saw the world as an inverse water globe, with water radiating outward in all directions.
    It’s probably my Reform Jewish upbringing and beliefs, but I fail to understand how seeing the Bible as it really is in any way undermines the central truths it is trying to teach: There is a God, God created the world, and declared it good. There are moral certainties. Humans try to live by those certainties, but we are flawed, and often fail. Nonetheless, God loves us.
    Peace be with you/Shalom Aleichem!

  6. Interesting. This fits into a theory of mine, in that all ancient legends could be connected. Allow me to explain…

    I remember seeing a documentary on the Discovery Channel about the Sphinx, and that the head was smaller in proportion to the body, but that the body was the exact proportion of a lion. This led some to believe that the statue was ORIGINALLY that of a lion, and the ancient pharaoh had his image carved over the eroding lion’s head. This is backed up by the fact that the sides of the statue show water erosion, not wind erosion. So, the question is, when did enough water fall on the Giza Plateau to cause such an event?

    Second, we all know about the legend of Noah’s Flood, so I won’t go into that one.

    Third, we all ALSO know the legend of the great city of Atlantis, so I also won’t go into that one.

    With those idea’s in mind, allow me to propose a theory…on Earth, the planet was protected by a vast water bubble. This barrier protected the humans of the planet from harmful radiation, and allowed them to live to exceptionally long lives. Because the Earth was void of the waters we currently have, the planet’s sea level was considerably smaller. Mankind prospered. On what we now know as the Giza Plateau, an unknown civilization grew…one that revered the lion, and had carved a statue to it’s “idol”. Far to the west, across the ocean, dwelled the land of Atlantis.

    Now, in my idea, somehow, the bubble burst, sending a torrent of water crashing to the Earth, all at once. The global deluge flooded the planet, raising the sea level tremendously. The waters fell upon the Giza civilization, eroding their statue as it eliminated their existence. Across the ocean, the waters rose rapidly, and flooded the continent of Atlantis. I believe Atlantis didn’t sink, but the waters rose rapidly. After all, the “sinking” continent would be a matter of interpretation. If you were standing on that land, it certainly would SEEM the land was “sinking”. Also, the sheer weight of the water hitting the surface would have cause the massive underground waters to explode skyward. Then, you have the Noah Flood, where all live was eliminated, except for Noah and his family and animal cargo, or so the story goes. Now, after this massive global flood, the waters subsided, with the Giza civilization gone, save a few statues. Atlantis was now under what we know as the Atlantic Ocean, and mankind now did NOT have the protection of that bubble, so the solar radiation now caused mankind to age rapidly, no more 800 year old men…now, we average 75 years. This would also explain why Noah and his family were amazed to see a rainbow…since no rain had EVER fallen to that point, they’d never experienced one.

    So, there you go. Just some ideas of mine. What do you think?

  7. Your footnote citations of Ex. 24:10, Job 22:14, and Ezek. 1:22, 25, 26 are most interesting to me. Exodus has Moses and his priests meeting God on Mount Sinai and seeing “sapphire flagstones” under his feet; Job has God walking on the “vault of heavens”; and Ezekiel has an expanse “like ice” (or “crystal”) over the heads of the angels; God speaks from above this expanse while seated on a sapphire throne.

    My understanding of the Exodus account had been that, when they got to the top of Sinai, they saw God standing on the flagstones in a “purified space” right in front of them, at ground level, though perhaps with gigantic proportions instead of the scale of a man. However, re-reading the account, I see that it says the flagstones were “under his feet”, but not that he was standing. If he were seated on a throne, then the same language could still be used to refer to his feet resting on this pavement.

    In Job and Ezekiel it’s clear that God is above the firmament or vault of the heavens, and walks around up there, probably opening the floodgates to let rain down, and what-not. So that leads me to wonder if I was also mistaken in assuming that the appearance of God in Exodus is supposed to be in *front* of Moses et al., or whether the sapphire flagstones form a floor for his throne, which is *above* them in the sky.

    However, you mention here that the mountains were supposed to be a support for the firmament. That would mean that, if Sinai was one of these firmament pillars, it would have allowed direct access to God’s domain by coming into contact with it. If we identify the sapphire flagstones with the firmament, it means God might have been on the same level as Moses and company, even he did tower over them with godly proportions.

    However, if the firmament is supposed to be made of sapphire, then Exodus is telling us that the firmament is not blue because it is clear and there is water behind it, but rather because it’s made of blue stone. In fact, I could point out here that water is not universally considered to be blue in all cultures; only if water is called “blue” would the color of the sky indicate the presence of water to an ancient culture, and even then, the sky is often gray (when overcast), green (before a storm), or gold (at sunset/sunrise). Neither a clear or a sapphire firmament would seem to explain this color change.

    (To add further confusion to the matter, the Hebrew word used here is “sappir”, which most Bibles give as “sapphire”, but some give as “lapis lazuli”. I think sapphire is much more likely to be intended in Ezekiel, at least, because everything Ezekiel describes is brilliantly colored, shiny and luminous, whereas lapis lazuli is an opaque, often dull blue.)

    Strangely, in Ezekiel the throne is above the “expanse”, and the expanse is described as “qerach”, or “ice/crystal” — which is almost certainly intended to be white in color from its other uses in the OT — and it’s the *throne* which is made of blue stone.

    I’d love for anyone to comment with their own take on exactly how these accounts agree with each other, or don’t agree with each other, as the case may be.

    1. KW, nice to see you take an interest in these passages. My primary purpose for footnoting them was to lend support to the idea that the firmament (raqi‘a) was envisioned as solid. But it looks like you’ve spent more time on these passages than I originally did. So you’ve forced me to look at them more closely.

      Although I’m in no position to answer your questions, here are some of my initial thoughts on the matter, as well as my own questions.

      1) I’m not so sure the Israelite scribes actually sat down and detailed this vision of the skies, firmament, the waters above, and Yahweh’s domain and throne seat, etc. in any absolute terms, since the composition of these “visions” are mainly theological speculations on the godhead and his divine domain above the firmament or skies, given the cosmology inherent in Genesis 1 and the limited empirical data they gleaned when looking up to the skies. So I would imagine the literature itself allowed for variation and differences. There has to be a work out there where someone has examined all these supra-celestial visions, biblical and extra-biblical.

      2) It’s interesting to note how both the descriptions in Ezekiel and Exodus interject a bit epistemological uncertainty—only natural—by saying what they saw “was like” (prefix ke) or “the likeness of” (demuth)—the language of the genre of vision literature. So to nail down specifics seems impossible.

      3) I’m in no position either to comment on the different colors of the firmament if indeed these two texts indicate a difference. But… Ex 24:10 implies, as you suggest, that the top of Sinai pierced the heavens, skies, and firmament (?) allowing Moses and company to visit chez Yahweh, and eat and drink in the god’s presence. The Hebrew of Ex 24:10 says that what they see below (?) is “like a paved/transparent? (libnah) structure of sapphire.” We also assume that this is a description of the firmament (raqi‘a) or skies (shamayim) of Gen 1:3-5, although it is not explicitly stated. While in Ezekiel, we’re specifically told that what he sees is the likeness of a firmament (raqi‘a), crystal in color (looking upward?). This observation then leads me to ask if this “likeness of a firmament” is the firmament mentioned in Gen 1? I assumed this in the post, but now I’m not so sure. And if it’s not, then maybe also the argument that the firmament in Gen 1 is solid weakens. But then in Ez 10:1, we now get a reference to the firmament (ha-raqi‘a)—but ‘the’ as in the firmament of Gen 1 or the firmament of Ez 1 (assuming they are different). Maybe I’m creating a textual problem where there actually is none. But then Dan 12:3 and Ps 19:1 clearly speak of the firmament of Gen 1.

      4) Where’s the water in all of these descriptions? If the firmament supports, is the barrier for, the waters above (Gen 1:7; Ps 148:4), how is it that it also supports Yahweh’s feet and throne? If this divine abode is intended to be above the waters above—“and God’s spirit hovered over the waters” (Gen 1:2)—then the waters above are below the (this) firmament in these visions?

      In Ex 24:10, that which is described to be under the god’s feet is like the substance of the skies (sha-mayim), which according to Genesis 1:5-8 would be either the firmament itself (the raqi‘a) or water.

      In Ez 1, the skies (shamayim) were opened allowing Ezekiel to have the vision. Again, where are the waters?

      Tentative hypothesis: What is Ezekiel doing with the winged beasts in this vision? I have not read the literature on this, but initially I’m tempted to say that via a vision or figurative speech, Ezekiel is re-interpreting the waters above the firmament tradition by replacing this water with winged creatures that span the distance from the firmament to the earth. Why do I think this? Because when their wings move it is “like the sound of great waters” and like “the voice of Shaddai”— typically associated with thunder (see theophany in Ex 19). Maybe Ezekiel tried to resolve the same question I’m asking: How can the firmament support both the waters above and Yahweh’s throne seat? After all Yahweh is not Poseidon. In Ezekiel’s vision, Yahweh resides above the crystal clear firmament, while below it are these figurative beats of rain and storm? So in the end there are no waters above in Ezekiel’s vision?

      Your questions have just lead to more questions….

  8. Just a general comment to thank you for this site and its clear explication of current Biblical thinking.

    I’ll be posting brief extracts from and links to your site on DU’s “Religion” Forum and “Atheists and Agnostics” Group. Yes there will be full attribution.

    1. Thanks play. Glad you appreciate the material. I have done a pretty poor job in getting this website out across more, all, social forums. Given its content, it should have many many more visitors, and across the spectrum. So promote away! I thank you for it.

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