The Bible in Pre-Scientific Context

The Bible in Pre-Scientific Context October 19, 2013

As a result of a comment on my blog, I’m wondering whether there is any book that focuses scholarly attention on those places in the Bible where authors assume the pre-scientific understanding of that time. The firmament, bees from a lion corpse and other references to spontaneous generation, taxonomies of animals, celestial movements, and so on.

Is there such a book? If not, would it be worth putting such a volume together?

I know that John Walton’s work (e.g. Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology) has done this with Genesis 1, but is there anything that does much the same thing for the rest of the Bible? Does Walton’s Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible do that, for instance?

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  • David Evans

    The picture says “Columns of the Earth” but that won’t fool anyone. It shows clearly that the Earth is carried on the backs of 4 elephants (legs slightly deformed by the weight).

  • If I wrote it, it would be a book which would have many attributable footnotes to Jeremy Naydler, J.F. McGrath and one or two to Michael Crichton.

  • Doesn’t that just look like a baby in the womb? It reminds me of ‘all who have breath’, נשׁם (nshm) used of women in childbearing, Psalm 18:16, 150:6. Here we see a hint of the birthing of the world, the whole creation groaning, a theme evident throughout the Psalter.

    It also looks a bit like Milton’s world hanging by a chain from heaven, an image I was reminded of in a recent tv program on relativity. (But I forget where I saw this).

  • Ian

    I think such a book would be interesting, definitely.

    The appropriate chapters on cosmology in Walton are available on google books. if you go to

    But don’t start to scroll through, use the page drop down to jump to page 165 ( – 203), so you don’t use your page limit scrolling through.

    The treatment is interesting, and obviously draws in a bunch more writings beyond the biblical. There’s a nice sidebar on page 174f that has a biblical index to passages in the OT demonstrating pre-scientific cosmology. It doesn’t talk in any detail about ancient views on the biota, though.

  • Michael Wilson

    I did some research on that regarding John’s conception of the demonic in revelation. one of my conclusions was that the demons had to imprisoned and not destroyed at the second coming because in John’s worldview, the material world was effectively made of demons.

    • redpill99

      so are you saying the book of revelation is gnostic?

      • Michael Wilson

        no, Gnostics think material is intrinsically evil, in Jewish thought the world god made and the spirits that empowered them were good but fell.

        • redpill99

          Marcion also held material is evil. Is Marcion a gnostic?

          • Michael Wilson

            He had some gnostic ideas. Im not sure if any one was gnostic though, I think it might be a blanket term for a set of related ideas, like our modern terms New Age or Eastern to describe religious tendancies

  • TomS

    I suggest that this would not be an easy book to do well. How does one not allow modern understandings of the natural world intrude on the ancient? So much of our hard-won modern knowledge has become common sense that it’s difficult not to assume that everyone must have always known these things. The mechanisms of reproductive biology and inheritance, for example.
    And because of that, I think that it would be worthwhile to do.