Heroically Battling Water-Chaos in the Bible and Beyond

Steve Wiggins wrote another great post about water as a force of chaos in the Bible and its world. Here is an excerpt:

More than a theological statement, the story of creation was actually a singular episode in Yahweh’s ongoing struggle against chaos.  Step outside and look at the sky.  If it’s blue it’s because there’s unruly water being held back by a great dome over our heads.  If it’s gray, it may be raining, or it probably will be soon.  Stroll to where the land ends.  What do you see?  Water.  That water is lapping at land, trying to take it over.  Although the ancients didn’t have geologic ages (the Mesopotamians came close, with ancient kings living thousands of years) rivers eroded land and they had tendencies to flood.  The thing about chaos is that it makes you start again, from the beginning.

You should definitely click through to his blog and read the whole thing. The element about heroes doing battle with powerful supernatural forces definitely resonated with me differently than it might have if I had not been attending Gen Con during the time period when I read the post! (I also find myself thinking of a game about worldbuilding, Creation at the meta-level.)

The ancient Israelite view of the world, like that of any ancient people, is hard for us to truly imagine. I tried once when driving and getting a nice wide view of the sky while passing into, out of, and near stormy weather. I found it hard to think of those billowing clouds as anything other than water vapor. But perhaps they imagined a stormy sky as having waves like a turbulent sea, generating froth? Do any ancient authors actually elaborate on what they thought those things were up in the sky in detail?

For more on that, see Ben Stanhope’s video (and accompanying blog post) about the ancient Israelites’ assumption (shared with other ancient peoples) that there was a solid dome over the earth:

Of tangential relevance to this topic, but nonetheless interesting, see the post by Joel Duff on the ostrich in the Book of Job and from the perspective of biology.

 

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  • John MacDonald

    “The clouds, according to the testimony of those who have walked through them in the mountains, have this vaporous appearance, formed, as they are, of the most minute drops which are gathered and rolled together. And if further condensation takes place, so that one large drop is formed out of many small ones, the air, unable to support it, yields to its weight as it travels, down, and this is the explanation of rain.” (Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Volume 1, Book Two, Chapter 4)

  • Nick G

    I heartily recommend Peter Moore’s The Weather Experiment for a fascinating account of how modern meteorology came into existence in the 19th century. The roles of the painter John Constable, Robert Fitzroy, the captain of the Beagle and later opponent of Darwin (whose pioneering efforts at weather forecasting were considered blasphemous by some!), and early balloonists, were all a revelation to me.