Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Cosmology, Ancient

A remarkable paper on this subject has been published by president Warren (in the Boston University Year-book, 1882, page 17 sq.), in which he maintains a new theory of the Homeric cosmology, and he further asserts that "the Egyptians, Accadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Greeks, Iranians, Indo-Aryans, Chinese, Japanese in fine, all the most ancient historic peoples possessed in their earliest traceable periods a cosmology essentially identical, and one of a far more advanced type than has been attributed to them." We cite the most essential paragraphs of his paper:

"In ancient thought the grand divisions of the world are four, to wit: The abode of the gods, the abode of living men, the abode of the dead, and, finally, the abode of daemons. To locate these in correct mutual relations, one must begin by representing to himself the earth as a sphere or spheroid, and as situated within, and concentric with, the starry sphere, each having its axis perpendicular, and its north pole at the top. The pole-star is thus in the true zenith, and the heavenly heights centring about it are the abode of the supreme god or gods. According to the same conception, the upper or northern hemisphere of the earth is the proper home of living men; the under or southern hemisphere of the earth, the abode of disembodied spirits and rulers of the dead; and, finally, the undermost region of all, that centring around the southern pole of the heavens, the lowest hell. The two hemispheres of the earth were furthermore conceived of as separated from each other by an equatorial ocean or oceanic current.

"To illustrate this conception of the world, let the two circles of the diagram represent respectively the earth sphere and the outermost of the revolving starry spheres. A is the north pole of the heavens, so placed as to be in the zenith. B is the south pole of the heavens, in the nandir. The line A B is the axis of the apparent revolution of the starry heavens in a perpendicular position. C is the north pole of the earth; D, its south pole; the line C D, the axis of the earth in perpendicular position, and coincident with the corresponding portion of the axis of the starry heavens. The space 1111 is the abode of the supreme god or gods; 2, Europe; 3, Asia; 4, Libya, or the known portion of Africa; 5 5 5, the ocean, or 'ocean stream;' 6 6 6, the abode of disembodied spirits and rulers of the dead; 7 7 7, the lowest hell.

"The difficulties hitherto experienced in representing in a satisfactory manner the Ygdrasil of Norse mythology, the cosmical 'fig-tree' of the Vedas, the 'winged oak' of Pherecydes, etc., quite disappear when once, with understanding of the supposed true position of the universe in space, the centre line of the trunk of the tree is made coincident with the axis of the starry heavens.

"In any chart or picture of the ancient Iranian cosmology, constructed according to this key, the Iranian Olympus, Harb berezaiti, will join the solid earth to heaven, while underneath, the mount of daemons, dread Arezura, will penetrate the nether darkness of the lowest hell. In Egyptian and Hindf cosmoloy the same opposed circumpolar projections of the earth are clearly traceable. To Harb berezaiti (Alborz) corresponds Mount Sar of ancient Egyptian mythology, the Kharsak Kurra of the Accadians, the Har Moed of Babylonia (Isaiah 14:13-14), the Sumeru of the Hindus and Buddhists, the Asgard of the Northmen, the Pearl Mountain of the Chinese.

"In like manner, the comparative study of the myths of the ocean and of the under-worlds of ancient peoples leaves no room for doubt that these, too, were originally adjusted to a geocentric conception of the universe, and to an earth which was figured as a globe. With such a key the most perplexing cosmological problems, such as the origin of the strange concentric dwipas of the Puranas, the origin and significance of the Sabean myth of Ur, the son of Rouhaia, and many others, receive at once a plain and satisfactory solution.

"Even the Kojiki, the most ancient of the sacred books of Japan, should have taught us to credit the early nations of the world with better knowledge of the earth than we have done; for in its beautiful cosmogony the earth revolves, and Izanagi's spear is only its upright axis." "These views Dr. Warren applies, by way of illustration and confirmation, to the famous problem of the pillars of Atlas, which classic mythology represents as supporting the universe.

"They are simply the upright axes of earth and heaven. Viewed in their relation to earth and heaven respectively, they are two; best viewed in reference to the universe as an undivided whole, they are one and the same. Being coincident, they are truly one, and yet they are ideally separable. Hence singular or plural designations are equally correct and equally fitting. Transpiercing the globe at the very 'navel or centre of the sea,' Atlas's pillar penetrates far deeper than any recess of the waters' bed, and he may well be said to 'know the depths of the whole sea.' Or this statement may have reference to that primordial sea in which his pillar was standing when the geogonic and cosmogonic process began. In this sense how appropriate and significant would it have been if applied to Izanagi!

"Atlas's pillar, then, is the axis of the world. It is the same pillar apostrophized in the Egyptian document known as the great Harris Magic Papyruts, in these unmistakable words: 'O long column, which commences in the upper and in the lower heavens!' It is, with scarce a doubt, what the same ancient people in their Book of the Dead so happily styled 'the spine of the earth.' It is the Riga-Veda's vieltragende Achse des unaufhaltsam sich drehenden, nie alternden, nie morschwerdenden, durch den Lauf der Zeiten nicht abgenutzten Weltrads, auf welchem ALLE, WESEN STEHEN. It is the umbrella-staff of Blurmese cosmology, the chiurning-stick of India's gods and daemons. It is the trunk of every cosmical tree. It is the Tai Kih of the Chinese universe; the tortoise-piercing (earth- piercing) arrow of the Monugolian heaven-god; the spear of Izanagi. It is the cord which the ancient Vedic bard saw stretched from one side of the universe to the other. Is it not the Psalmist's 'line' of the heavens which 'is gone out through' the very 'earth' and on 'to the end of the world'? It is the Irminsul of the Germans, as expressly recognized by Grimm. It is the tower of Kronos. It is the Talmintudic pillar which connects the Paradise celestial and the Paradise terrestrial.

"The studies already completed render it certain that every existing systematic exposition of classic mythology is to be supplanted. Equally interesting is the question of the adaptation of this reconstruction of ancient cosmology to throw light on early Hebrew conceptions of the world and of Sheol."

Such a radical reconstruction of ancient cosmology, however, requires further exposition and corroboration in detail before the learned world can be expected to adopt it generally. The Hebrew notions especially, which are developed to a considerable degree in the Bible, should be subjected to a rigid and critical comparison. This task we may hope that the author of the scheme will perform in due time. (See PARADISE).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Cosmology, Ancient'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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