Is the Earth really flat? Let’s see what religious history says.
Ancient Pagan religions in the Mediterranean region taught that the Earth was shaped like a flat disk, and was located at the center of the universe. Above the Earth was a dome, which was referred to as the “Firmament.” It was supported by mountains at the edge of the Earth.
Authors of the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) taught the same beliefs.
Ancient Greeks and Romans both believed that the firmament was made of glass.
The Bible describes the Firmament as metallic.
The sun, moon, planets and stars were were believed to be located just under the Firmament, and circled around the Earth once a day. Above the dome were the “upper seas.”
Also above the Firmament was Heaven, where God was believed to dwell. It had numerous windows that could be opened from time to time to allow some of the upper waters to fall onto the the Earth in the form of rain or snow. The Earth itself was supported on multiple columns or pillars.
Unfortunately, there is no clear indication in the Bible how the pillars were supported.
It is often believed that the Hindu religion has taught that the world lies on top of a gigantic turtle, which is lying on top of a pile of progressively larger turtles. Legends say that when someone asked a religious authority what the lowest and largest turtle stood on, the reply was that “it is turtles all the way down.”
Perhaps the pillars holding up the Earth also were believed to go “all the way down.”
The Earth’s oceans and seas were referred to as the “lower waters.” Under the Earth there was believed to be a massive cave called Sheol where everyone went after they died and were buried. This belief is similar to Hades, in the ancient Greek religion.
The first chapter in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) clearly explains this arrangment. The King James Version of Genesis translates the original Hebrew as::
Chapter 6 & 7:
“And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the [upper] waters from the [lower] waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. ..”
Chapter 16 & 17:.
“And God made two great lights; the [Sun, the] greater light to rule the day, and the [Moon. the] lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.”
Plato (circa 428 to 348 BCE) was a philosopher in Classical Greece. Deviating from the Flat Earth concept, he taught that the Earth was spherical in shape. He believed, incorrectly, in the geocentric concept: that the sun, moon, planets and stars rotated in perfect circles around the Earth.
Many centuries after Genesis was written, Eratosthenes of Cyrene in Greece (276 to 194 BCE) proved that the Earth was approximately spherical in shape by measuring its approximate diameter. He had the length measured of the shadows produced by two sticks stuck vetically into the Earth. at different locations, at noon time. His estimate was based on the distance between the locations, which were due North of each other. His estimate was within 15% of the actual value.
The earth-centered universe concept was adopted by the early Catholic Church which fiercely defended the belief. This was in the days before religious tolerance became widespread, when people in many countries were only free to believe in the teachings of the established state religion.
The Church had the Italian philosopher, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600 CE), burned at the stake, at least in part because of his astronomical beliefs.
The Italian polymath, Galileo Galilei, (1564 – 1642 CE) was luckier. Because of his advanced age, he was only placed under house arrest.
Today, essentially all scientists have rejected the flat earth belief. They have agreed for over two millennia that the earth is roughly spherical in shape — a slightly pear shaped, oblate spheroid to be more accurate.
Belief in the flat Earth returns:
During the 19th century, Samuel Rowbotham (1816 to 1884 CE), who adopted the pseudonym “Parallax,” promoted the Biblical view of the Earth. He wrote the book “Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe” which taught that the Earth is flat. Since 2004, the Flat Earth Society has promoted Parallax’s beliefs. Its members and other believers, who are often referred to as flatists, have become very active on You Tube and the rest of the Internet, attempting to prove their beliefs. Some are undoubtedly sincere. Others may join the Society to obtain a signed membership certificate and a hand-cast pewter medallion to display on the wall for people’s amusement.
Many flatists believe that the earth is flat and round, with the North Pole at its center. Most do not believe that Antarctica is a continent, Rather, they view it it is a ring of ice that circles all the continents at the edge of the earth. Its purpose is to prevent the oceans from draining off of the side of the Earth. If their belief were proven to be valid, then everyone will have an additional concern about Climate Change: the higher temperatures might melt a portion of the ice wall and our oceans might disappear into oblivion.
Flatists often believe that the Sun is a tiny sphere only about 32 miles in diameter located about 3,000 miles above the Earth. The moon is viewed as similar in its diameter and distance. Most believe that all of the photographs of the Earth taken from outer space are simply forgeries, mainly created by NASA. Most are confident that humans have never walked on the surface of the Moon. They believe that if a rocket tried to travel to the moon it would crash into the firmament only a relatively short distance from the Earth’s surface.
There are many proofs that the Earth is not flat and it doesn’t require a deep scientific knowledge to understand this.
Esparza D. 2016. Aleteia. When the Earth was flat: a map of the universe, according to the Old Testament.
Rigney J. 2015. Desiring God. He Descended into Hell?
Wikipedia. 2018. Geocentric model.
Cowell A. 1992. New York Times. After 350 Years, Vatican Says Galileo Was Right: It Moves.
NASA Space Place. 2018. What is a barycenter?
Web site of The Flat Earth Society.
The views presented on this blog are an extension of those presented on the Religious Tolerance website. The purpose of all articles is to compare the full range of beliefs and actions by people who are members of various faith groups within Christianity and other world religions, individuals who are NOT Affiliated with a faith group (NOTAs), and secularists.