Genesis 1:9-10 — God Creates Dry Land not the Planet Earth!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

When we read Genesis 1:1, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” we picture the origin of the atmosphere, space, solar systems, and galaxies. We think of the creation of the planet in our solar system named “Earth,” whose shape is an oblate spheroid or a rotationally symmetric ellipsoid. This mental picture is natural, because the English term “Earth” is the name of the planet in this solar system on which humans reside. But in Genesis 1 “earth” does not mean the planet Earth. Genesis reports the origin of the “heavens and earth” as such terms meant in the author’s time and within his worldview, which did not include a twenty-first century acquaintance with astronomy. What does “earth” mean in Genesis 1? The answer is provided in the text itself.                                                                                                            — Dr. Karen Winslow

It is rare to find such an accurately and succinctly put introduction to the textual problem at hand that I had to borrow this one to serve as my own introduction. This is even more shocking since it comes from a theologian in the Wesleyan tradition who has very different beliefs than myself. In fact it could be said we stand at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Nonetheless, this exemplifies something that I have repeatedly voiced here, that biblical scholarship proper is not about the reader’s beliefs or non-beliefs, not about finding our beliefs or scientific truths in these ancient documents, but about understanding and faithfully reproducing their beliefs. Dr. Winslow and I can agree on the point expressed above, because that the Hebrew eretz did not and does not signify the planet earth is a fact borne from reading the text on its own terms and in its own historical and literary contexts, regardless of the beliefs or non-beliefs of its readers.

What does eretz mean then according to our ancient scribe? What exactly does he portray God creating?

At the end of verses 6-8, we are left with an image of two parted bodies of water, the waters above (ha-mayim meal) and the waters below (ha-mayim mitahat), in the midst of which is open air. This open space was created by the domed barrier (raqî‘a) which God made and set in place to keep the waters above from falling and rejoining the waters below (Something that actually does happen in this writer’s flood narrative (#14-18)). This solid domed barrier is then called “the skies” (sha-mayim), so that in the end it is the skies which hold back the waters above, they themselves giving the sky its blue color.

After the waters above have been set and tamed by boundaries, the skies, the text then turns to the waters below the skies. These waters are collected together and subdued to form “seas.” It is from this body of water that we are informed dry land (yabbashah) appears.

And God said, “Let the waters under the skies be gathered to one place and let the dry land be seen.” And it was so. And God called the dry land “earth” and he called the collection of waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:9-10)

There are several things to observe in these verses. First, we are informed that from the gathered waters below the skies, which are named “the seas,” dry land appears. The Hebrew verb here is ra’ah, “to see,” and it is the same verb used in verse 10 when our author writes, “and God saw that it was good.” In verse 9, this verb appears in a passive imperative construction: “let be seen the dry land.” Thus in no manner of speaking does verse 9 speak of the creation of earth, that is of dry land (yabbashah). This is a significant detail in the text. Rather, dry land emerges from the collected waters below. It is commanded to appear, to become visible. “Let the dry land be seen.” In other words, it was already there!

This narrative detail draws us back to verse 2, where yet to be created earth/land already preexisted in a state of formlessness and desolation (tohu wabohu), itself immersed in the surging waters of the primeval deep (tehom). Again, it is best to understand “earth” in verse 2 as the material substance earth, which has as of yet not been created, that is as dry habitable life-supporting land. This is yet another example of God subduing the primeval elements rather than creating matter out of nothing. In verses 6-8, the creator god is presented creating a solid domed barrier not only to separate the primeval surging waters, but to subdue half of them by defining their limits and setting their boundaries. Likewise, the waters below are now subdued by commanding them to gather together in delimited spaces and to form seas. We should furthermore note that the order of creation is not earth then water, but in accord with ancient cosmological hierarchies, water is the more primordial element and it is from the watery abyss that earth, that is dry land, appears. In other words, the waters recede and are tamed to expose the dry ground. They are subdued to the point that the formless, desolate, and void piece of earth that it once used to cover can now emerge from its depths as dry habitable life-bearing land. We have therefore seen this creator god subdue, separate, place boundaries upon, and name the original primordial waters. And now we see him command into the light of day life-sustaining dry land from an original formless, vacuous piece of earth once immersed in the depths of these waters below.

Finally, this dry land (yabbashah) which emerges from the now tamed waters below and is called “earth” (eretz) is not to be equated with our notion of Earth, that is the planet Earth. Although the Hebrew eretz means “earth,” its translation as “earth” is misleading because the English word almost invariable means the planet Earth. Such a concept, or such knowledge, did not exist in ancient Israel. The Hebrew Bible as a whole knows of no planet earth, and no where does eretz refer to a planet! Rather, ertez most always refers to the material substance earth, and means the land or ground, as it does in Gen 1:9.

Thus far from presenting God creating Earth, a spherical planet orbiting a sun in one of many galaxies in infinite space (none of whose ideas existed to the authors of these texts and the God they portrayed in them), the text of Genesis presents its god forming the substance earth, that is dry habitable and flat land, from an initial formless, vacuous, and desolate piece of earth that now rests on the waters below and is encased within a finite area of space itself enclosed and defined by a solid domed barrier called the sky, which further functions to hold back the waters above! In short, what the god of Genesis creates is this:1

The Creation per Genesis 1

not this!

The God of Genesis did not create planet earth

In other words, our author’s presentation and imagination of how God created the stuff of his world was shaped by his own subjective and culturally defined perceptions and beliefs about his world. These beliefs, which were accorded as “truths” for these ancient cultures, were deduced from what ancient man (mis)perceived on an empirical level: rain fell from water which existed above the skies; whereas natural springs, deltas, and flooding led to the belief that the earth “floated” on and was supported by waters that existed below the earth, the dry ground beneath their feet. This belief, which for all intents and purposes functioned as a truth-bearer for our author and his culture was then legitimated by presenting the creator deity creating the world as he himself, the author, perceived it to be! In the end, what God creates in Genesis 1:1-10 miraculously conforms to ancient Near Eastern man’s perceptions and beliefs about the world, and not what we today know the world, the cosmos, to be.

Thus any modern day Creationist who professes belief in the creation account of Genesis is just being plain ignorant about what these texts actual say and do not say, as well as being disingenuous toward these texts and the beliefs of their authors. This again exemplifies the problem at hand as well as our modern educational malaise; it is one of ignorance and neglect: No so-called Creationist believes the creation account in Genesis 1, but rather feigns belief out of ignorance. Why? Because these so-called Creationists are in truth not interested in the beliefs and views of these ancient authors and the texts they wrote; if they were they would educate themselves about these texts, their authors, the historical circumstances that produced them, their historical and literary contexts, audiences, etc. Instead, they are more interested in and concerned about their own beliefs and how they can manipulate what has come to be deemed an authoritative text to fit their views and beliefs in order to confirm their own modern beliefs. Again, as a biblical scholar whose goal is to understand these texts and their authors on their terms, not ours, in their historical and literary contexts, not ours or those of later readers, and to faithfully reproduce their beliefs, not ours, I find the whole interpretive enterprise of Creationists, and fundamentalists in general, damaging, dishonest, and negligent of these ancient texts, their authors, and their beliefs.

← GENESIS 1:6-8                                                                                                                                         GENESIS 1:14-19 →

Footnotes    

  1. See my previous post on Gen 1:6-8.

12 thoughts on “Genesis 1:9-10 — God Creates Dry Land not the Planet Earth!

  1. It make perfect sense to me. The Earth is where His adopted children will live and the place where they will live again, on a new earth, forever. The rest of the cosmos is not designed for life. Any loving Father, even an ungodly one like yourself, would patiently prepare the home you built for your own child, right?

  2. Smackem, The bible also says it took God 3 days to make the earth, but only 1 day to create the rest of the universe, doesn’t that seem a little odd. I mean he takes 3 days to create one planet, than in one day he creates the 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, other star/solar systems in the universe? The problem is you are reading the scriptures with a 21st century cosmic understanding, not a 10-9th BCE understanding and knowledge of the cosmos. Ken Ham and other evangelicals read it the same way, but are not reading it with the full understanding of what Earth and heaven actually meant to the original writer.

  3. John…but this isn’t what the bible says or what the vast majority of (conservative) Christians believe. This is why Ken Ham says the earth is only 6000 years old. God formed it then created man. Not…he formed it, waited millions of years, then created man. It appears you hold the minority view.

  4. Hello. You are correct in the fact that Genesis teaches that God created the the habitable form of the earth, and does not specifically say that he made the land at that time. Yahweh fashioned or formed it (bara). The Bible says the world was without form and void and God was the sculptor. The land mass was here at creation. But that’s why many atheists like yourself, are confused when they look at the age of the earth. The rock is old, life is not so old. So what if He uses existing matter, He’s not only Sovereign but pratical. Repent!

  5. Very interesting, Thanks John, I read part of them and even found a few additional links with in the threads you posted. I did some research last night as well and came to much the same conclusion, that there was a better word in Hebrew to describe a sphere/ball shape then the one Isaiah used.

  6. Another scripture that I seem to be told making the bible ahead of it’s time is in Isaiah 40:22
    He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

    They say that Isaiah knew long before the rest of the world that the Earth was a ball shaped planet. Now I know a circle is not a sphere, but these people insist it is or that is what the meaning is in that scripture. I’m curious if the notion that verse can in anyway actually mean sphere, are there other examples of a word used in the bible that actually mean sphere?

  7. Yes, I took a look at that. While it can refer to a soft bottle made out of skin, and maybe a skin-bottle could represent a cloud, I got the sense that this verse was referring to a hard vessel, not a soft one, because it talks about these objects being tipped over, which is I think why most translations (at least on Bible Hub) use “jar” or “bottle”. I do see that one of those reference works says that it means “clouds” figuratively, but I’m not convinced.

    This touches a bit on a conversation I had with Dr. diMattei on the previous article to this one, where we wondered how the water above the firmament could just be sloshing around freely if God is also walking around up there (Job 22:14) and has his throne resting on it (Ezekiel 1). It seems that at least some ancients really had the simple conception that there were jars of water up there, and God was opening a “floodgate” and tipping the water out to make it rain. That’s why I agree with the majority of translators in saying that Job 38:37b is referring to the jars of water.

    But I still appreciate your point that at least some of the ancient thinkers seem to have believed that the clouds were like nets, meshes or sieves that the water filtered through. Perhaps this was partly because clouds frequently travel across the sky without depositing rain. These clouds are white or gray, not the color of water.

    Therefore the ancients assumed that there was no way the clouds themselves held water (what would prevent it from falling?), but rather the clouds were something more akin to giant airborne cotton tufts that could be used to *dispense* rain if their god was so merciful as to actually tip out his rain jars above them. And of course the additional suggestion by your quoted Eliezer is that the clouds filtered the salt from the ocean water. This paints a neat little coherent picture, doesn’t it!

  8. KW I am not sure about that translation of Job 38:37. Looking at the verse on Bible Hub, “waterskins” does not seem accurate, and I also think it’s misleading.

    Since you like Bible Hub, take a look at its entry for the word in question:

    http://biblehub.com/hebrew/5035.htm

    Brown-Driver-Briggs
    I. נֵ֫בֶל noun masculineJeremiah 13:12
    1 skin-bottle, skin;

    2 jar, pitcher; — נֵ֫בֶלabsolute 1 Samuel 10:5 +; construct 1 Samuel 10:3 + (on נֶכֶל see Baer1Samuel 1:24); —

    1 skin of wine, נֵ֫בֶל יַיִן 1 Samuel 1:24; 1 Samuel 10:3; 2 Samuel 16:1, compare also Jeremiah 13:12 (twice in verse); plural נִבְלֵי יַיִן 1 Samuel 25:18 : figurative נִבְלֵי שָׁמַיִם Job 38:37 i.e. clouds (“” שְׁחָקִים).

    Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance
    bottle, pitcher, psaltery, vessel, viol
    Or nebel {nay’-bel}; from nabel; a skin-bag for liquids (from collapsing when empty); hence, a vase (as similar in shape when full); also a lyre (as having a body of like form) — bottle, pitcher, psaltery, vessel, viol.

  9. Thanks John. I’m a bit perplexed by the Jewish understanding of the “mist from the ground” of Genesis, as I thought that passage was related to the statement in the Flood account that it had never rained before. I thought that the Genesis verse was intended to provide a temporary, alternate explanation for how plants were watered, until the current weather system was established after the Flood. Yet it seems that the rabbis take that scripture as being currently applicable, which is puzzling to me.

    But I do understand your overall point. It seems that the clouds were thought of as bags with holes in them, working like watering cans to disperse the streams of water falling from the firmament into a gentle rain. That explains Job 26:28. I always thought that verse was saying that clouds really are made of the water that falls from them. In fact the waters are described as being ‘bound up in’ the clouds, which is crucially different if one takes the language literally instead of poetically, as I always used to read it.

    I am not sure about that translation of Job 38:37. Looking at the verse on Bible Hub, “waterskins” does not seem accurate, and I also think it’s misleading. First, most Bibles use “jar” or “bottle” there. It looks like a word for water does not even occur in the verse; it’s apparently inserted by most translators to add clarity. But “water jar” would still be preferable to “waterskin” as far as I can tell. Secondly, I believe that’s referring to the water that is *above* the firmament. The writer of Job is saying that these jars are tipped over to make rain fall (perhaps passing through the sieve of the clouds on its way down).

    So I don’t think that verse tells us anything about the composition of the clouds. But I still agree with your statement that the clouds seemed to be thought of as sieves. Thanks for the info.

  10. @KW,
    Some ancient rabbis wondered similar things, as evidenced by this exchange in the Babylonian Talmud, which can be read at http://halakhah.com:

    Talmud – Mas. Ta’anith 9b
    It has been taught: R. Eliezer said: The whole world draws its water supply from the waters of the ocean, as it is said, But there went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole of the ground. Thereupon R. Joshua said to him: But are not the waters of the ocean salty? He replied: They are sweetened by the clouds. R. Joshua said: The whole world drinks from the upper waters, as it is said, And drinketh water as the rain of heaven cometh down. If so, what is the force of the verse, ‘But there went up a mist from the earth’? This teaches that the clouds grow in strength as they rise towards the firmament and then open their mouth as a flask and catch the rain water, as it is said, Which distil rain from His vapour, they are perforated like a sieve and they slowly distil [mehashroth] waters on the ground. as it is said, Distilling [hashroth] of waters, thick clouds of the skies; there is but one hand-breadth space between one drop and another, in order to teach you that the day on which rain falls is as great as the day whereon heaven and earth were created, as it is said, Who doeth great things past finding out; and it is written, Who giveth rain upon the earth; and it is also written, Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard that the everlasting God, the Lord . . . His discernment is past finding out?

    Job 26:8 says that God “binds up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not torn open by them,” and 38:37 asks, “Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens…” So, it seems possible that clouds were viewed by the ancients as vessels (think of a sieve, as mentioned in the Talmudic quote above) to send water to the earth in usable form after the “windows of heaven” were opened.

    Regarding Ecclesiastes 1:7, I think that it’s eisegesis to infer from the statement “all streams run to the sea, and the sea is not full…” that the ancient Israelites understood the water cycle. This is the case with many, if not all, of the passages alleged to show the Bible’s great scientific foreknowledge. Job 26:7 is another popular one, but aside from the fact that a common interpretation of it is incorrect, just four verses later the passage mentions “pillars of heaven,” while vv. 12-13 mention God’s victory over the chaos monster Rahab. Interpreting the Bible as a science book is perilous, and some believers switch from figurative to literal interpretations as needed.

  11. Incidentally, one of the proofs I was taught for the Bible being scientifically accurate and ahead of its time was the scripture in Ecclesiastes which refers to the water cycle (1:7). So I’ve been wondering what the ancients actually believed about the water cycle. It would be impressive if the Bible was accurate about this because there’s no way the ancients knew that the oceans were evaporating under sunlight and then this water in gas form was condensing as it cooled in the upper atmosphere to form new clouds. The verse in Ecclesiastes is interesting but a bit vague.

    Well, an interesting scripture I noticed today is 1 Kings 18:41-44, where it refers to a cloud coming out of the sea. Is that possibly indicative of an ancient theory about the water cycle? Did they believe that clouds directly formed out of the sea? And does the illustration you used above indicate any other view of the subject? I notice that the oceans connect to the canopy of the sky where they meet at the horizon. Did some ancients believe that the waters were whisked heavenward from that point to fall again as rain?

    Another point of confusion for me is how this could be reconciled to the couple of clear references in the Bible to the floodgates in the sky. If God was opening hatches to let rain through, then how does this jive with the fact that rain comes from clouds, as the ancients certainly knew? Maybe these were all different models for the weather cycle, from competing schools of thought? Just wondering what information we have, from any source, that describes in detail what was believed in Biblical times.

Leave a Reply