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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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RAINBOW . In Genesis 9:11-17 (P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ) the rainbow appears as the token of the covenant between God and Noah. As the covenant is universal, so is its sign. The Heb. of Genesis 9:13 is ambiguous as to whether the rainbow is conceived of as created for the first time (see RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). Though from a scientific point of view this is absurd, it may well have been part of the primitive tradition. Perhaps, however, all that is meant is that the rainbow received a new significance as the symbol of mercy. Its appropriateness is obvious: the storm passes, and the sun casts its beams over the still clouded sky, marking its return by one of the most beautiful phenomena of nature. So God renews His favour after He has hidden His face for a season. But there may be a further mythological significance. The rainbow may be J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’s war-bow ( Psalms 7:12 , Habakkuk 3:9 ; Habakkuk 3:11 ) which He has laid aside; the Heb. word is the same. So ‘it is to the Hindu the bow of Rama, and to the Finn the bow of Tiermes the Thunderer, who slays with it the sorcerers who hunt after men’s lives’ (Tylor, Primitive Culture 3 , i. p. 298). It is, indeed, prominent in all mythology. To the Greek it is a portent, or Iris, the messenger of the gods; in the Icelandic Edda it is the bridge connecting heaven and earth (cf. Wagner, Rheingold ). It is uncertain whether it is alluded to in the Babylonian narrative of the Flood (see Driver, ad loc ). In Sir 43:11 the rainbow is one of the wonderful works of God; in Sir 50:7 it is a type of the glory of Simon. In Ezekiel 1:28 it surrounds the throne of God; so Revelation 4:3 . If there is a reference to the Genesis narrative, it will be the symbol of mercy, possibly typified also by the ‘emerald’ to which it is compared, assuming that a green stone is meant (see Swete, ad loc. ). But instead of the word for ‘bow’ found in the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , ‘Iris’ is substituted in Revelation 4:3 , as in Revelation 10:1 . Here evidently it is simply part of the picture, unless there is an allusion to the Greek conception of Iris as the messenger of the gods.

C. W. Emmet.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Rainbow'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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