The Solid Sky

In a Facebook group I am a part of, Geoffrey Jones shared this helpful collection of excerpts from Jewish and Christian texts indicating that the ancient interpreters of the Bible understood the firmament to be solid:

“Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, the middle layer of water solidified,and the nether heavens and the uppermost heavens were formed. Rab said: [God's] handiwork [the heavens] was in fluid form, and on the second day it congealed; thus Let there be a firmament means ‘Let the firmament be made strong*. R. Judah b. R. Simon said: Let a lining be made for the firmament, as you read, And they did beat the gold into thin plates…R. Simon said: The fire came forth from above and burnished the face of the firmament.”
- Gen. Rab. 4:2

“R. Phinehas said in R. Oshaya’s name: As there is a void between the earth and the firmament, so is there a void between the firmament and the upper waters, as it is written, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, meaning, midway between them. R. Tanhuma said: I will state the proof. If it said, And God made the firmament, and He divided between the waters . . . which are upon the firmament, I would say that the water lies directly upon the firmament itself.”
- Gen. Rab. 4:3

“…when they had built the tower to the height of four hundred and sixty-three cubits. And they took a gimlet, and sought to pierce the heaven, saying, Let us see (whether) the heaven is made of clay, or of brass, or of iron.” – 3 Apoc. Bar. 7

“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. Homily on Genesis

“If the nature of the elements is taken into consideration, how it is possible for the firmament to be stable between the waters? The one is liquid, the other solid; one is active, the other, passive.” – Ambrose. Hexameron, BkII Ch 2.48

“…’And he called the firmament, heaven.’ In a general way, He would seem to have said above that heaven was made in the beginning so as to take in the entire fabric of celestial creation, and that here the specific solidity of this exterior firmament is meant.” – Ibid. 2.62

“This firmament cannot be broken, you see, without a noise. It also is called a firmament because it is not weak nor without resistance…the firmament is called because of its firmness or because it has been made firm by divine power,..”
- Ibid. 2.62

“They must certainly bear in mind that the term “firmament” does not compel us to imagine a stationary heaven: we may understand this name as given to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is solid and that it constitutes an impassable boundary between the waters above and the waters below.”
- Augustine. The Literal Meaning of Genesis, BkII Ch.10

See also Paul H. Seely, “The Firmament and the Waters Above.”

  • robert r. cargill

    Don’t forget Targum PseudoJonathan, which not only states that the firmament was solid, but gives a specific width: three fingers thick.

    TPJ Gen. 1:6 Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it be separating between the upper waters and the lower waters.”

    TPJ Gen. 1:7 Then God made the firmament (its thickness three finger breadths), between the sides of the heavens and the waters of the ocean. And He separated between the waters that were below the firmament and between the waters that were above, in the canopy of the firmament. And it was so.

  • http://www.ex-christadelphians.com/ John Bedson

    The writers of Genesis thought that the firmament was solid. Proves that Genesis was not inspired by a power that created the Universe because he would have known that there was no solid firmament. Congratulations; you have proved that God does not exist. Where do you go from here???

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      How does whether Genesis was inspired have any bearing on whether God exists? Perhaps it demonstrates that the depiction of God offered by the author of Genesis is wrong, as is the depiction of a God that allegedly made the author of Genesis write His own words inerrantly, such as Christian fundamentalists offer. But to many religious people, that is very old news indeed, while to those outside of the Christian tradition it scarcely qualifies as news at all.

      • http://www.ex-christadelphians.com/ John Bedson

        If God can’t write his book without it getting stuffed up with garbage and wrong ideas, what kind of a God is he? Incompetent that what he would be.
        You are inventing feeble excuses for a God that spends 100% of his time in hiding because he simply does not exist except in the minds of deluded humans.
        That’s how it has been for the past 100,000 years or more. Ignorance breeds belief in Gods. You are not clever; you are merely superstitious.

        • http://www.ex-christadelphians.com/ John Bedson

          And Jesus is also fake. He believed the Genesis narrative (Matthew 9:4) which we know is not true.
          You guys have nothing to prove the truth of the Bible, the existence of God or the existence of Jesus,
          You just have a fear of the finality of death, hopes based on internal emotion only, superstition and group delusion. Apart from that you have absolutely zero evidence to prove any of your supernatural, magical beliefs.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            You seem to think that I want to prove the truth of the Bible. As someone who uses the tools of historical study to study the Bible, I want to find out when it is historically accurate and when it is not. I am not trying to prove that it is true. And it certainly isn’t a divinely-authored book. I do what I can to combat superstition and gullibility. You seem to be mistaking me for someone else in your comments. Or were your comments addressed to someone other than me?

            • http://www.ex-christadelphians.com/ John Bedson

              I’m pleased to hear that James. I withdraw my criticism of you and apologise.

          • Matt Brown

            Why would you think Jesus was fake, when history says he was real?

            • http://www.ex-christadelphians.com/ John Bedson

              He might have been a real man; but the evidence for his divinity and miracles simply does not exist. It is the “Son of God” nonsense that I regard as fake.

    • http://mindsquirrel.com/ Andrew Tatusko, Ph.D.

      To say it proves God does not exist is about an unscientific stretch as one can conjure. It actually proves nothing. The text proves nothing. It is a demonstration of how a specific culture understood the relationship between a sacred reality and their experience of day to day reality.

  • John Wilkins

    Typo: Origen, not Origin.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Thanks for spotting it. Will fix!


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