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Genesis 1:5-8 DAY 2
Circle of the Heavens
The Hebrew word for "circle" is gwj. This root word is used six times in the OT (Isa 40:22, 44:13; Job 22:14, 26:10; Prov 8:27 also Sir 43:12, 24:5: 1QM 10:13). BDB says the meaning of gwh is, "vault, horizon; of the heavens, sea and earth" (1980, 295). First the phrase "circle of the heavens" will be studied, later the "circle of the sea" and then finally the "circle of the earth."
Job 22:14 says, ilhty <ym? gwj which I translate, "but He habitually causes himself to walk around the vault of heaven."
The LXX in Job 22:14 has, kai guron ouranou diaporeuetai which I translate, "and he passes through the vault of heaven." In the Hebrew, God is walking on the arched shaped firmament, but in the LXX God is passing through the vault of heaven. This may reflect the new thinking that there are different spheres surrounding the earth that one must pass through to get to heaven. It is also an attempt to avoid any anthropomorphic terms for God.
The Vulgate in Job 22:14 says, et circa cardines caeli perambulat, which I translate, "and He walks around the poles of heaven." The Vulgate seems to translate this verse as referring to the rotation around the poles of heaven. The Vulgate implies that heaven is a sphere that is revolving around the earth.
In Akkadian literature the sky is divided into a 360 degree circle. The stars move one degree each day, and there are 360 days in an astronomical year. The sky is also divided up into three paths; the northern path belonging to Enlil, the central path belonging to Anu, and the southern path belonging to Ea. The sun and moon are also said to have certain paths across the sky that cross these other paths or regions. The entire heavens (naphar same) seems to picture a cattle pen for the creatures of heaven (Horowitz 1998, 253-55). Horowitz states, "The image of the starry sky as a cattle-pen may provide indirect evidence that the sky was perceived as a dome" since the roofs of cattle-pens may have been dome-shaped (1998, 255-6 n.14).There seems to be a drawing of a dome vault sky at Mari (Or 54:202).
The Neo-Assyrian ziqpu-star text BM 38369+38694 states, "[A tota]l? of 12 leagues of the circle of (those that) cul[minate] amidst the stars of the Path of [Enlil]" (Ibid., 186). The text CT 46 55 (BM 123379) states "circ]le? of heaven" (Ibid., 178). The texts K.9794//AO 6478 seem to indicate the path of Enlil is a perfect circle which would make the height of heaven 109,200 leagues and the diameter of the earth's surface 218,400 leagues (Ibid., 187; league = 3 statue miles). This may also indicate a ferris-wheel like motion of the stars from east to west.
There is a royal inscription from Ashur-nasir-pali II to the goddess Sharrat-niphi which says, "shinning countenance who like the god Shamash her sibling inspects equally the circumference of heaven (and) [underworld]" (Grayson 1976, 2:169).
There are two repeated Akkadian phrases that indicate the heavens where circular; kippat burume meaning "circle of the sky," and kippat same meaning "circle of heaven." Burume comes from the root word meaning "speckled" (CAD B 103). This refers to the night sky speckled with stars. The phrase "writing of the night sky" (sitir burume) refers to the fixed arrangement of the stars.
In Assurbanipal's Acrostic Hymn to Marduk and Zarpanitu it states, "You are exalted in the heavens grasper of the discs of the celestial firmament" (kip-pat bu-ru-um-me; SAA 3, 7:7-8).
In two hymns to the Sun-god it states, "You are their (mankind's) light in the circle of the distant heavens," and "[You are the direc]tor of people in the circle of heaven" (kippat same; Horowitz 1998, 264).
There is a group of ancient astronomical texts called "astrolabes." There are circular and list forms of astrolabes. This indicates that they thought the heavens were circular. On these circular astrolabes there are three concentric rings for the paths of Anu, Enlil, and Ea which are divided into the 12 months of the year (Ibid., 154-156).
A limestone kudurru found at Susa, has a coiled serpent at the top that represents the heavenly circular ocean that mirrors the earthly circular ocean. Below the heavenly serpent are symbols of the high gods that are revealed in the constellations (Keel 1978, 46-7). The top of this stone is dome-shaped which probably indicates that they thought the sky was dome-shaped. The whole stone may be what they thought the whole universe looked like from a side view.
There is an important Babylonian world map that depicts the earth as circular surrounded by a circular sea as seen from an aerial view (Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum 1906, part xxii, pl. 48). Beyond the circular sea of the Babylonian world map lies probably eight districts that lead to the heavenly regions which surround everything. According to my translation Unger states:
The sky was the abode of the gods, it is surrounded by the heavenly ocean. The earth, like a mirror shaped image of the sky, is therefore encircled by the 'Bitter water,' namely the earthly ocean. The connection between the heaven and the earth places the seven districts or rather islands there (Unger 1931, 21).
Beyond the eight districts lies the heavenly ocean which contained animals that the god Marduk created. Many of these animals are well known constellations. The animals are summed up by the words. "the past gods." Unger says:
They are namely, the gods of primitive chaos of the first world, that after the story of world creation were conquered by the god Bel-Marduk of Babylon in violent combat, and subdued them, and now these are transferred below the stars. The seven districts are the actual objects described on the tablet. The Babylonians know how they are shaped, but except for Ut-napishtim, the Babylonian Noah, and the flood hero, and another hero of old, who was transfigured, was being raised below by the gods, nobody more is able to enter the inner districts (Unger 1931, 22).
This goes back to the old Sumerian view, that all which is seen in the Heavens will be also found again on the earth. 'What is above, is (also) below.' So are also the designs of the city, and the temple, since pre-history 'also the writing of the heavens' in the constellations were drawn. In a parallel epic to the great world creation Enuma Elish is now being described as the creation of the heavenly Babylon and the heavenly temple Esagila (Ibid).
This map seems to be more of an explanation of the heavens than of the earth. Because the earth is drawn as circular, and is a mirror image of heaven, then heaven itself is circular in shape as seen by the coiled serpent on the kudurru.
There is a badly preserved wall painting in Room 132 of the Old Babylonian palace of Mari where the sky seems to be pictured as a dome (Lambert 1985, 202; see pictures in Syria 18 pl. xxxviii 2, and page 352 fig.14; MAM II/2 pl. xx 1).
In The Legend of the Seven Evil Demons it says, "The Evil Gods are raging storms, Ruthless spirits created in the vault of heaven; When the seven evil gods Forced their way into the vault of heaven" (Thompson 1903, 89-93). Twice the phrase "vault of heaven" is mentioned in this text. In Akkadian it is su-puk same(e). Same is the common name for heaven. According to Von Soden's Akkadische Handworterbuch (1965, 1280) supku means Grundung (foundation), and su-puk same means Himmelsgrundung (heavenly foundation, firmament). So "vault" is more an interpretation than a literal translation of the word su-puk. The foundations of a circular heaven are probably set on the circular sea and circular earth which meet at the horizon.
The Egyptians like the other ancient people saw the universe as three parts; however, the Egyptians viewed the underworld as another part of the earth. Since the ancient Egyptians had a strong sense of symmetry and balance, a sky above meant that there must be a sky below. Each god had his goddess. Heaven was an ocean that paralleled the earthly ocean. The sun sailed in a ship across the heavenly ocean. They believed that there was a nocturnal ocean beneath the world on which the sun would sail at night.
There are two texts that may indicate that the heavens were circular in shape. A coffin text says, "O Re, may he who is in his evening be gracious to me, when we have made the circuit of heaven" (ANET, 12). Another text from Thutmose III says, "there shall arise none rebellious to thee as far as that which heaven encircles" (ANET, 374). From some of the drawings in tombs it seems clear that some Egyptians viewed heaven as circular in parallel with a circular earth surrounded by a circular ocean. One such example pictures a man with two circular serpents which represent the upper and lower oceans (Keel, 45).
The Canaanites saw nature alive with different gods. The gods were different parts of nature, and controlled certain phenomena. The sea was personified as the god Yam. Baal controlled the storm clouds. Lightning was his weapon. Nature was explained by the supernatural.
Familiar things and events were used to explain unfamiliar things and events in nature. Clouds were viewed as Baal's ships carrying snow (Gibson 1978, 60). Baal is called lrkb. 'rpt, "rider on the clouds" (KTU, 1.2 IV:8,29; CTA, Herdner 1963, 2:iv,8,29). Here the clouds are pictured as Baal's chariots. The OT also describes God as the "rider of the clouds" in Psalm 68:4 (cf. Psalms 18:9, 68:33, 104:3, Isa 19:1, Matt 26:24). Even though there are conflicting metaphors of the same thing or event, these differences did not upset the Canaanites. Even today modern man uses many metaphors to categorize, and to explain his world. The Canaanites basically saw the universe as three levels, heaven, earth with the sea, and the underworld.
The Ugaritic phrase dr dt smm, "the circle of the heavens," may refer to the zodiac that completes a circle each year (KTU 1.10 I:3-5; CTA, Herdner 1963, 10:I,3-5), however, the phrases bn `il (the sons of El), phr `ilm (the assembly of El), and phr kkbm (the assembly of the stars) are all used in parallel with dr dt smm (the circle of the heavens; KTU 1.10 I:5; CTA, Herdner, 10:I,3-5). So "the circle of heavens" probably refers to the stars of heaven that circle around. It may just be the circumpolar stars, but all the stars were personified as, or identified with gods. Stars (kbkbm) are also used synonymously with the word heavens, smm. The stars always stayed in the same place as if immoral. Certain stars marked the beginning of different seasons. El is said to be the father of the gods which the phrase bn `il indicates.
In Ugarit they believed rain and dew came from the heavenly ocean. In the Baal Cycle it says, rbb. Nskh. Kbkbm, meaning "showers that the stars did pour upon her" (KTU, 1.3 II:41; CTA, Herdner 1963, 3:ii,41; see also Craigie 1977, 33-49; 1978, 374-81). It seems logical that the stars were seen as gods that poured water down from the heavenly ocean to earth when it rained. Compare this to Judges 5:20 which says, "From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera" (NIV). Could the stars have poured down the water in verse 4?
The Apocryphal books also shed light on this passage in Job 22:14. In the book of I Esdras 4:34 it says, "great is the earth, high is the heaven, swift is the sun in his course, for he compasseth the heavens round about, and fetcheth his course again to his own place in one day." In the Greek it is the phrase, en tw kuklw tou ouranou, meaning "in the circle of the heaven" (Septuagint 1978, 8).
In the book of the Wisdom of Sirach, chapter 13:2 says, "but deemed either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the violent water, or the lights of heaven, to be the gods which govern the world" (Septuagint 1978, 66). Sirach stresses that the stars are not gods. Also in the Wisdom of Sirach 7:18-19 it says:
For he hath given me certain knowledge of the things that are, namely, to know how the world was made, and the operation of the elements: the beginning, ending, and midst of the times: the alterations of the sun, and change of the seasons: the circuits of years, and positions of stars (Septuagint 1978, 61).
The phrase "circuits of years" may refer to the cycle of the stars in one year through the zodiac.
The Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 24:4-5 says, "I (wisdom) dwelt in high places, and my throne is in a cloudy pillar. I alone compassed the circuit of the heaven, and walked in the bottom of the deep" (Ibid, 94). The Greek word for "circuit" is guros which is the same word used in the LXX in Isaiah 40:22. In the Latin text it says, Gyrum caeli circuivi sola which means, "I alone compassed the circle of the sky."
It also says in the Wisdom of Sirach chapter 43:11-12, "Look upon the rainbow, and praise him that made it; very beautiful it is in the brightness thereof. It compasseth the heaven about with a glorious circle, and the hands of the most High have bended it" (Ibid, 112). The Greek word for "circle" here is kuklos which is used often in classical Greek literature to describe the heavens. In the Hebrew text from the Dead Sea Scrolls it reads, hdwbkb hpyqh qwj meaning "inscribe a decree in his glory" (Vattioni 1968, 233). The Latin text says, Gyravit caelum in circuitu glorious suae, which means, "It (the rainbow) encircles the sky in its glorious circle" (Ibid, 232).
In Greek literature Herodotus in book I:131,2 writes ton kuklos panta tou ouranou Dia kaleovtes which means, "they call the whole circle of heaven Zeus" (Hude 1979, I:131,2; Herodotus 1954, 96). The heavens are described as a circle, vault, or sphere which included the sun, moon, earth, fire, water and wind. In the Homeric hymn 8:6 it says, puraugea kuklos aiqeros which means, "the fiery bright circle of ether" (L&S 1940, 1007). In Sophocles' book Philoctetes it says, 'o anw kuklos which means, "the circle above" (Ibid). Aristotle used the word kuklos to refer to: the milky way, 'o tou galaktos kuklos the zodiac, 'o kuklos 'o twn zwdiwn and the horizon, 'o 'orizwn kuklos (Ibid). Plato viewed heaven as "a single spherical (sfairoeides) universe in circular motion" (Lee 1965, 45; Archer-Hind 1973, 100). Aristotle also said, Schma d' anagkh sfairoeides ecein ton ouranon meaning "the shape of the heaven must be spherical" (Aristotle 1960, 154-55). According to Aristotle there were seven spheres. One for each of the planets, sun, moon, and stars.
After looking at the passages where guros and kuklos appear, there emerges a noticeable difference between the two words. In reference to heaven the word kuklos is used to refer to the circular movement of heavenly bodies while guros is used to refer to the circular horizon. The LXX uses both words. The word kuklos occurs many tines in the LXX meaning, "round about," but guros occurs only three times. The word sfairoeides is never used in the LXX to describe the heavens.
Plato lived from about 427 to 347 BC. His views changed the way the universe was viewed. Heaven was no longer a solid stationary vault, but one huge revolving sphere with stars attached to it and seven inner circles, one for each of the five known planets plus the sun and moon. There was also the demythologizing of nature where everything in nature is seen as gods who behave quite immorally. Plato in his book The Republic (Book X:615) summarizes his view in these words:
And from the extremities the Spindle of Necessity, by means of which all the circles revolve. The shaft of the Spindle and the hook were of adamant, and the whorl (outermost sphere) partly of adamant and partly of other substances. The whorl was of this fashion. In shape it was like an ordinary whorl; but from Er's account we must imagine it as a large whorl with the inside completely scooped out, and within it a second smaller whorl, and a third and a fourth and four more, fitting into one another like a nest of bowls. For there were in all eight whorls, set one within another, with their rims showing above as circles and making up the continuous surface of a single whorl round the shaft, which pierces right through the centre of the eighth. The Spindle revolved as a whole with one motion; but, within the whole as it turned, the seven inner circle, revolving slowly in the opposite direction.
The Spindle turned on the knees of Necessity. Upon each of its circles stood a Siren, who was carried round with its movement, uttering single sound on one note, so that all the eight made up the concords of a single scale (1941, 353-4).
According to Plato the outer heavenly sphere is made of adamant which is a very hard substance. The Greek means "unconquerable" (Wright and Chadbourne 1970, 2). It may refer to a number of hard substances like quartz, emery, hematite, and some transparent gems. Theophrastus (372-287 BC.) called it a carbuncle because it could not be injuried by fire (Ibid.).
Plato goes into great detail about the universe in Timaeus which influenced the church fathers. Some church fathers rejected the Greek philosophers while others later tried to harmonize the Bible with Greek learning.
The Revelation of Paul describes Paul's journey into the heavens. It was written around 380 AD. It says, "And he set me upon the river whose source springs up in the circle of heaven; and it is this river which encircleth the whole earth. And he says to me: This river is Ocean" (Roberts and Donaldson Vol.8, 577). Later on it says, "and set me upon the river of the ocean that supports the firmament of the heaven. And he took me to the setting sun, and where the beginning of the heaven had been founded upon the river of the ocean" (Ibid., 578).
The book of Genesis occupied much of Augustine's thoughts through the years. When he was young, he was involved in the Manichean religion that believed in the dualism of light and darkness. He constantly defended the view that God created all things good. He wanted the literal meaning of Genesis to be understood so he wrote twelve books called De Genesi as Litteram. In Book two chapter nine Augustine discusses the shape of heaven as follows:
It is also frequently asked what our belief must be about the form and shape of heaven according to Sacred scripture. Many scholars engaged in lengthy discussions on these matters, but the sacred writers with their deeper wisdom have omitted them. Such subjects are of no profit for those who seek beatitude, and, what is worse, they take up very precious time that ought to be given to what is spiritually beneficial. What concern is it of mine whether heaven is like a sphere and the earth is enclosed by it and suspended in the middle of the universe, or whether heaven like a disk above the earth covers it over on one side?
But the credibility of Scripture is at stake, and as I have indicated more than once, there is danger that a man uninstructed in divide revelation, discovering something in Scripture or hearing from it something that seems to be at variance with the knowledge he has acquired, may resolutely withhold his assent in other matters where Scripture presents useful admonitions, narratives, or declarations. Hence, I must say briefly that in the matter of the shape of heaven the sacred writers knew the truth, but that the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men these facts that would be of no avail for their salvation.
But someone may ask: "Is not Scripture opposed to those who hold that heaven is spherical, when it says, 'who stretches out heaven like a skin' (Psa 103:2)? Let it be opposed indeed if their statement is false. The truth is rather in what God reveals than in what groping men surmise. But if they are able to establish their doctrine with proofs that cannot be denied, we must show that this statement of Scripture about skin is not opposed to the truth of their conclusions. If it were, it would be opposed also to Sacred Scripture itself in another passage where it says that heaven is suspended like a vault (Isa 40:22). For what can be so different and contradictory as a skin stretched out flat and the curved shape of a vault? But if is necessary, as it surely is, to interpret these two passages so that they are shown not to be contradictory but to be reconcilable, it is also necessary that both of these passages should not contradict the theories that may be supported by true evidence, by which heaven is said to be curved on all sides in the shape of a sphere, provided only that this is proved.
Our picture of heaven as a vault, even when taken in a literal sense, does not contradict the theory that heaven is a sphere. We may well believe that in speaking of the shape of heaven scripture wished to describe that part which is over our heads. If, therefore, it is not a sphere, it is a vault on that side on which it covers the earth; but if it is a sphere, it is a vault all around. But the image of the skin presents a more serious difficulty: we must show that it is reconcilable not with the sphere (for that may be only a man-made theory) but with the vault of Holy Scripture. My allegorical interpretation of this passage can be found in the thirteenth book of my Confessions. Whether the description of heaven stretched out like a skin is to be taken as I have interpreted it there or in some other way, here I must take into account the doggedly literal-minded interpreters and say what I think is obvious to everyone from the testimony of the senses. Both the skin and the vault perhaps can be taken as figurative expressions; but how they are to be understood in a literal sense must be explained. If a vault can be not only curved but also flat, a skin surely can be stretched out not only on a flat plane but also in a spherical shape. Thus, for instance, a leather bottle and an inflated ball are both made of skin (Augustine 1982, 1:58-60).
St. Augustine in his commentary on the book of Psalms interprets creation figuratively in Psalm 104. "Stretching out the heaven like a skin;" is taken to mean the authority of scriptures is spread over all the world through mortal men. "Who covereth with waters the upper parts;" means the upper parts of Divine Scripture which is the commandment of love. "He hath founded the earth upon its firmness;" means that God founded the church upon Christ (Schaff 1979, 510). This is very different from his other books probably because they have two different purposes.
St. Ambrose in his Hexameron believes that heaven is a sphere that revolves around the earth. He tries to harmonize this with Genesis with some fancy arguments. He says:
And first of all these interpreters wish to destroy the profound impressions which frequent reading of the Scriptures have made in our mind, maintaining that waters cannot exit above the heavens. That heavenly sphere, they say, is round, with the earth in the middle of it; hence, water cannot stay on any circular surface, from which it needs must flow easily away, falling from a higher to a lower position. For how, they say, can water remain on a sphere when the sphere itself revolves?
To speak of matters within our knowledge, there are a great many building which are round in the exterior but are square-shaped within, and vice-verse. These buildings have level places on top, where water usually collects. When they state again that the glittering sphere of heaven revolves with its fiery stars, did not Divine Providence necessarily foresee that water more than sufficient to temper the heat of the burning axis should exist within the sphere of heaven and above it (Ambrose 1961, 52-56)?
St. Basil in his Hexaemeron explains about the firmament. He states:
We must examine whether this firmament, which was also called the heavens, is different from the heavens created in the beginning (Gen. 1:1). We, however, say that, since both a second name and a function peculiar to the second heaven was recorded, this is different one from that created in the beginning, one of a more solid nature and furnishing a special service for the universe. They ask us how, if the body of the firmament is spherical, as sight shows it to be, and if water flows and slips off high spots, it would be possible for the water to lie on the convex circumference of the firmament. What, then, shall we say to this? First of all, that, if some body appears circular to us because of an inner concavity, it is not necessary for the outer surface to be made completely spherical, and the whole to be perfectly rounded and smoothly finished. Let us look, indeed, at the stone vaults of the baths and the cavelike buildings which, rounded to a semicircular form according to their interior appearance, often have a flat surface on the upper sections of the roof. It is customary for the Scripture to call the strong and unyielding substance a firmament, so that if frequently uses this word in the case of air that is condensed, as when it says, 'He who strengthens the thunder' (Amos 4:13). And, surely, we need not believe, because it seems to have been its origin, according to the general understanding, from water, that its origin from the percolation of moisture, such as is the crystalline rock which men say is remade by the excessive coagulation of the water, or as is the element of mica which is formed in mines. This is a translucent stone, possessing a peculiar and most clear transparency, it is almost like the air in transparency. Now, we compare the firmament to none of these things (Homily 3; 1963, 39-43).
In Homily 4 Basil states, "The heavens standing, according to the word of prophecy (Isa. 40:22, LXX), like a vaulted chamber" (1963, 56).
Lactantius lived from about 260 to 330 AD. He turned from pagan philosophy to Christianity. In his book The Divine Institutes in chapter 24 he writes how foolish it is to believe in antipodes. This was a much debated subject. If the earth was a sphere then there must be people on the opposite side of the earth upside down hanging from their feet called antipodes. He contends they would fall down to the lower heaven. Rain, snow and hail would fall upward. He explains how this foolish belief started. People saw the sun, moon and stars traveling west then rising in the east again. They did not know how they returned back from the west to the east,
"but supposed that the heaven itself sloped downwards in every direction, which appearance it must present on account of its immense breadth, they thought that the world is round like a ball, and they fancied that the heaven revolves in accordance with the motion of the heavenly bodies; and thus that the stars and sun, when they have set, by the very rapidity of the motion of the world are born back to the east. Therefore they both constructed brazen orbs, as though after the figure of the world, and engraved upon them certain monstrous images, which they said where constellations" (ANF Vol.7, 94).
Lactantius concludes that there are many arguments to prove "that it is impossible for the heaven to be lower than the earth," but he does not have the time in this book to write about them.
Theophilus writing to Autolycus (about 181 AD) describes heaven as follows:
The heaven, therefore, being dome-shaped covering, comprehended matter which was like a clod. And so another prophet, Isaiah by name, spoke in these words: It is God who made the heavens as a vault, and stretched them as a tent to dwell in. This heaven which we see has been called firmament, and to which half the water was taken up that it might serve for rains, and showers, and dews to mankind. And half the water was left on earth for rivers, and fountains, and seas (Chp.13; Schaff and Wace 1979, 2:100; ANF Vol.2, 100).
Origen in his sermons on Genesis states the following about day three of creation:
Although God had already previously made heaven, now he makes the firmament. For he made heaven first, about which he says, 'heaven is my throne.' But after that he makes the firmament, that is, the corporeal heaven. For every corporeal object is, without doubt, firm and solid; and it is this which 'divides the water which is above heaven from the water which is below heaven' (Origen 1982, 48-49).
Origen sees the firmament as solid. In his book Against Celsus he says, "God had made the whole world, and the vault of heaven for us" (Book 4, Chp.9). Several other times in this book he mentions the "vault of the earth" (4:83; 5:2; 7:44). In his De Principlis he mentions the "spheres of the planets" (Book 2, Chp.3; ANF Vol.4, 274) which he explains, "the Greeks have termed spheres, ie., globes, but which the holy Scripture has called heavens" (Book 2, Chp.11; ANF Vol.4, 299). As to the number of spheres Origen states, "The Scriptures which are current in the Churches of God do not speak of 'seven' heavens, or of any definite number at all, but they do appear to teach the existence of 'heavens,' whether that means the 'spheres' of those bodies which the Greeks call 'planets,' or something more mysterious (Against Celsus Book 6 Chp.21; ANF Vol.4, 582-3). He saw Jacob's ladder which stretched to heaven as a way for souls to descend to earth.
Hippolytus lived from about 170 to 236 AD. In his book The Discourse on the Holy Theophany he writes:
For what richer beauty can there be than that of the circle (diskou) of heaven? And what form of more blooming fairness than that of the earth's surface? And what is swifter in the course than the chariot of the sun? And what more graceful car than the lunar orb? And what more wonderful than the compact mosaic of the stars? And what work more productive of supplies than the seasonable winds? And what more spotless mirror than the light of day? Water bears the earth. So necessary is the element of water; for the other elements took their places beneath the highest vault of the heavens, but the nature of water obtained a seat also above the heavens. And to this the prophet himself is a witness, when he exclaims, 'Praise the Lord, ye heavens of heavens, and the water that is above the heavens' (ANF Vol.5, 234-5).
Athenagoras in his book A Plea for Christians (177 AD) writes about the "Absurdities of Polytheism" in chapter 8. He states, "For if the world, being made spherical, is confined within the circles of heaven, and the creator of the world is above the things created" (ANF Vol. 2, 132). Here is sees the earth and heaven as spherical in shape. In Chapter 16 he says, "Beautiful without doubt is the world, excelling, as well in its magnitude as in the arrangement of its parts, both those in the oblique circle and those about the north, and also in its spherical form" (Ibid., 136). The Ptolemaic universe is seen here as a hollow ball or bubble in which spheres are moving around the earth. The oblique circle refers to the zodiac (Ibid., n.2).
In his book The Banquet of the Ten Virgins Methodius writes:
Resuming then, let us first lay bare, in speaking of those things according to our power, the imposture of those who boast as though they alone had comprehended from what forms the heaven is arranged, in accordance with the hypothesis of the Chaldeans and Egyptians. For they say that the circumference of the world is likened to the turning of a well-rounded globe, the earth having a central point. For its outline being spherical, it is necessary, they say, since there are the same distances of the parts, that the earth should be the center of the universe, around which, as being older, the heaven is whirling. For the whole heaven being spherical, and having the earth for its central point (Discourse 8, Chapter 14; ANF Vol.6, 340-1).
Victorinus in On the Creation of the World writes, "And in Matthew we read, that it is written Isaiah also and the rest of his colleagues broke the Sabbathóthat that true and just Sabbath, should be observed in the seventh millenary of years. Wherefore to those seven days the Lord attributed to each a thousand years. Moreover, the seven heavens agree with those days" (ANF Vol.7, 342).
Novatian in his Treatise Concerning the Trinity, "For in the solid vault of heaven He has both awakened the light-bearing Sunrisings; He has filled up the white globe of the moon in its monthly waxing as a solace for the night; He, moreover, kindles the starry rays with the varied splendors of glistening light; and He has willed all these things in their legitimate tracks to circle the entire compass of the world, so as to cause days, months, years,, signs, and seasons, and benefits of other kinds for the human race" (Chp.1; ANF Vol.5, 611). Here the heaven is a solid vault.
In book one The life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine Eusebius writes:
the most Mighty One; whose throne is the arch of heaven, and the earth the footstool of his feet. Yea every light, and specially those divine and incorporeal intelligences whose place is beyond the heavenly sphere, celebrate this august Sovereign with lofty and sacred strains of praise. The vast expanse of heaven, like an azure veil is interposed between those without, and those who inhabit his royal mansions: while round this expanse the sun and moon, with the rest of the heavenly luminaries (like torch-bearers around the entrance of the imperial palace), perform, in honor of their sovereign, their appointed courses; holding forth, at the word of his command, an ever-burning light to those whose lot is cast in the darker regions without the pale of heaven. To him this terrestrial globe itself, to him the heavens above, and the choirs beyond the vault of heaven, give honor as to their mighty Sovereign (Chp.1).
Several other places Eusebius refers to "the vault of Heaven" (Church History, book 10 chapters 4 and 5). The emperor is pictured resting "in an ethereal mansion above the celestial vault" (CH, Book 4 Chp.69; NPNF2 Vol.1).
Constitutions of the Holy Apostles
In book 8 section 2 it says, "For thou art He who didst frame the heavens as an arch, and 'stretch it out like the covering of a tent,' and didst found the earth upon nothing by Thy mere will; who didst fix the firmament, and prepare the night and the day; who didst bring light out of Thy treasurers, and on its departure didst bring darkness. Who didst encompass this world, which was made by Thee through Christ, with rivers, and water it with currents, and moisten it with springs that never fail, and didst it round with mountains for the immovable and secure consistence of the earth" (ANF Vol.7, 487). It seems that heaven is like a tent stretched over the earth and fixed or resting on the mountains which surrounds the sea which surrounds the earth.
In chapter 35 book 7 section 2 it says, "who dividedst the waters from the waters by a firmament, and didst put into them a spirit of life; who did fix the earth, and stretch out the heaven, and didst dispose every creature by an accurate constitution. For by Thy power, O Lord, the world is beautified, the heaven is fixed as an arch over us, and is rendered illustrious with stars for our comfort in the darkness. The light also and the sun were begotten for days and the production of fruit, and the moon for the change of seasons, by its increase and diminutions; and one was called Night, and the other Day. The heaven knows Him who fixed it as a cube of stone, in the form of an arch, upon nothing, who united the land and water to one another, and scattered the vital air all abroad. The choir of stars strikes us with admiration (Ibid., ). Here heaven is fastened like a cube of stone in the shape of an arch. It seems to infer that heaven is solid and fastened to nothing (ANF Vol.7, 473).
Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa in book two of Against Eunomius writes, "we simply admire as we contemplate the overarching vault. While with the Babylonians the unerring circuit of the firmament was accounted a God, to whom they also gave the name Bel. So, too, the foolishness of the heathen deifying individually the seven successive spheres (Book 5).
In his book On the Soul and the Resurrection Gregory writes:
For if it is true, what you say, and also that the vault of heaven prolongs itself so uninterruptedly that it encircles all things with itself, and that the earth and its surroundings are poised in the middle, and that the motion of all the revolving bodies is round this fixed and solid center, then, I say, there is an absolute necessity that, whatever may happen to each one of the atoms on the upper side of the earth, the same will happen on the opposite side, seeing that one single substance encompasses its entire bulk. As, when the sun shines above the earth, the shadow is spread over its lower part, because it spherical shape makes it impossible for it to be clasped all round at one and the same time by the rays, and necessarily, on whatever side the sun's rays may fall on some particular point of the globe, if we follow a straight diameter we shall find shadow upon the opposite point, and so, continuously, at the opposite end of the direct line of the rays shadow moves round that globe, keeping pace with the sun, so that equally in their turn both the upper half and the under half of the earth are in light and darkness (NPNF2 Vol.5).
Gregory of Nyssa sees the arch of heaven as extending down and all around the globe of the earth to form a sphere. He sees seven successive spheres, one for each of the planets.
In Homily 10 Concerning the Statues, Chrysostom (374-407 AD) quotes scripture writing, "Who hath placed the sky as a vault, and spread it out as a tent over the earth.' And again, 'Who holdeth the circle of heaven" (NPNF, Vol. 9, 409). He follows the LXX, but writes "circle of heaven" instead of "circle of earth." He refers several times to the "vault of heaven." Again in Homily 12 he says, "The heaven, for instance, hath remained immovable, according as the prophet says, 'He placed the heaven as a vault, and stretched it out as a tent over the earth.' But, on the other hand, the sun with the rest of the stars, runs on his course through every day. And again, the earth is fixed, but the waters are continually in motion" (Ibid., 419) In Homily 19 on Ephesians 5:15-17 he questions, "If there were no superintending Being, but all things combined together of themselves, who then was it that made this vault revolve, so beautiful, so vast, I mean the sky, and set it upon the earth, nay more, upon the waters? And could the vast extent of earth standing on the waters, tell me, ever stand so firmly, and so long a time without some power to hold it together? And if the earth supports the heaven, behold another burden; but if the heaven also is born upon waters, there rises another question. Or rather not another question, for it is the work of providence" (Ibid.,). In Homily 14 on the Epistle to Hebrews 8:1-2 he again questions, "the Lord pitched[or made firm] and not man.' Where are they who say that the heavens whirls around? where are they who declare that it is spherical? For both of these notions are overthrown here" (Ibid., 419). Here he claims that heaven is neither movable nor spherical.
John of Damascus
John of Damascus lived from about 675 to 749 AD. He was born to Christian parents and served in the court of an Islamic caliph. He left to enter a monastery where he wrote a theology for the Eastern church entitled An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. In Book 2 chapter 6 is entitled "Concerning the Heavens." He writes:
Since, therefore, the Scripture speaks of heaven, and heaven of heaven, and heavens of heavens, and the blessed Paul says that he was snatched away to the third heaven, we say that in the cosmogony of the universe we accept the creation of a heaven which the foreign philosophers, appropriating the views of Moses, call a starless sphere. But further, God called the firmament also heaven, which He commanded to be in the midst of the waters, setting it to divide the waters that are above the firmament from the waters that are below the firmament. And its nature, according to the divine Basilius, who is versed in the mysteries of divine Scripture, is delicate as smoke. Others, however, hold that it is watery in nature, since it is set in the midst of the waters: others say it is composed of the four elements: and lastly, others speak of it as a fifth body, distinct from the other four elements.
Further, some have thought that the heaven encircles the universe and has the form of a sphere, and that everywhere it is the highest point, and that the center of the space enclosed by it is the lowest part: and, further, that those bodies that are light and airy are allotted by the Creator the upper region: while those that are heavy and tend to descend occupy the lower region, which is the middle. The element, then, that is the lightest and most inclined to soar upwards is fire, and hence they hold that its position is immediately after the heaven, and they call it ether, and after it comes the lower air. But earth and water, which are heavier and have more of a downward tendency, are suspended in the center. Therefore, taking them in the reverse order, we have in the lowest situation earth and water: but water is lighter than earth, and hence is more easily set in motion: above these on all hands, like a covering; is the circle of air, and all around the air is the circle of ether, and outside air is the circle of heaven.
Further, they say that the heaven moves in a circle and so compresses all that is within it, that they remain firm and not liable to fall asunder.
They say also that there are seven zones of the heaven, one higher than the other. And its nature, they say, is of extreme fineness, like that of smoke, and each zone contains one of the planets.
All, therefore, who hold that the heaven is in the form of a sphere, say that it is equally removed and distant from the earth at all points. That the heaven encircles the earth in the manner of a sphere.
Others have pictured the heaven as a hemisphere. This idea is suggested by these words of David, the singer of God, Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain, by which word he clearly means a tent: and by these from the blessed Isaiah, Who hath established the heavens like a vault: and also because when the sun, moon, and stars set they make a circuit round the earth from west to north, and so reach once more the east.
Now for what reason was it that God placed water above the firmament? It was because of the intense burning heat of the sun and ether. For immediately under the firmament is spread out the ether, and the sun and moon and stars are in the firmament, and so if water had not been put above it the firmament would have been consumed by the heat (NPNF2 Vol.9).
Martin Luther lived from 1483 to 1546 AD. He started his lectures on Genesis in 1535. He writes:
Hilary and Augustine, almost the two greatest lights of the church, hold that the world was created instantaneously and all at the same time, not successively in the course of six days. Moreover, Augustine resorts to extraordinary trifling in his treatment of the six days, which he makes out to be mystical days of knowledge among the angels, not natural ones. Therefore so far as this opinion of Augustine is concerned, we assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively. These days are distinguished in this way: on the first day the formless mass of heaven and earth was created, to which later on light was added (Luther's Works Vol.1, 4-5).
Luther believed in ex nihilo creation. He states, "Out of nothing God created heaven and earth as an unformed mass so that the unformed earth was surrounded by the unformed heaven or mist (Ibid., 10). About the first day of creation Luther writes, "He made the unformed heaven and earth, both of which He provided with a certain crude and imperfect light. Now on the second day's work is that out of this unformed mist which He called heaven God created a beautiful and exquisite heaven. This unformed mass of mist, which was created on the first day out of nothing, God seizes with the Word and gives command that it should extend itself outward in the manner of a sphere. The heaven was made in this manner, that the unformed mass extended itself outward as the bladder of a pig extends itself outward in circular form when it is inflated (Ibid., 23-24).
About Job 37:18 Luther comments, "But as to what Job says, that the heavens were made firm with iron, this pertains not to the material but to the Word, which makes very strong even that which is very soft by nature. What is softer than water, what is thinner and finer than air? Of air earlier Luther says, "air is by nature moist. The philosophers assert that the atmosphere would be a continually moist mass if there were no sun (Ibid., 24) Water above is understood as the clouds (Ibid., 26). About the number of spheres Luther states, "The more recent theologians are in agreement with them and on top of those eight spheres add two more: the crystalline or glacial or watery heaven, and the empyrean. Ambrose and Augustine have rather childish ideas. Therefore I commend Jerome, who maintains complete silence on these ideas (Ibid., 28). Luther states, "But those among us who were experts in astronomical matters were more generous in the matter of the sphere. They teach twelve spheres and a triple motion of the eight sphere. Moreover, in the term 'heaven' is included all that the philosophers divided in to eight spheres, fire, and air. Therefore this division of the spheres is not the teaching of Moses or of Holy Scripture; but it was thought out by learned men for the purpose of teaching, something which we ought to recognize as being of great benefit (Ibid., 28-29). Luther comments, "Indeed, the ancient teachers of the church paid little attention to these matters, as we see Augustine disregarding astronomy in its entirely. Even though this science has many superstitious elements, still it should not be completely disregarded (Ibid., 31-32).
About the earth Luther comments, "The philosophers discourse also about the center of the world and the water that flows around it. Indeed, it is remarkable that they have advanced to the point that they agree that the earth is the center of the entire creation. For from this it is deduced that the earth cannot fall, because it is hemmed in on the inside from everywhere by the remaining spheres (Ibid., 35).
John Calvin lived from 1509 to 1564. Calvin states, "We indeed are not ignorant, that the circuit of the heavens is finite, and that the earth, like a little globe, is placed in the centre" (Commentaries on the First Book of Moses called Genesis 1847, 61).