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Cosmology, Biblical

The views of the Hebrews on this subject are, in a scientific point of view, confessedly imperfect and obscure. This arises partly from the ulterior objects which led them to the study of natural science, and still more from the poetical coloring with which they expressed their opinions. The books of Genesis, Job, and Psalms supply the most numerous notices: of these, the two latter are strictly poetical works, and their language must be measured by the laws of poetical expression; in the first alone have we anything approaching toa historical and systemitic statement, and even this is but a sketch an outline which ought to be regarded at the same distance, from the same point of view, and through the same religious medium as its author regarded it. The act of creation itself, as recorded in the first chapter of Genesis, is a subject. beyond and above the experience of man; human language, derived, as it originally was, from the sensible and material world, fails to find an adequate term to describe the act; for our word "create" and the Hebrew bara, though most appropriate to express the idea of an original creation, are yet applicable and must necessarily be applicable to other modes of creation; nor does the addition of such expressions as "out of things that were not" (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, 2 Maccabees 7:28), or "not from things which appear" (μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων, Hebrews 11:3) contribute much to the force of the declaration.

The absence of a term which shall describe exclusively an original creation is a necessary infirmity of language: as the event occurred but once, the corresponding term must, in order to be adequate, have been coined for the occasion and reserved for it alone, which would have been impossible. The same observation applies, though in a modified degree, to the description of the various processes subsequent to the existence of original matter. Moses viewed matter and all the forms of matter in their relations primarily to God, and secondarily to man as manifesting the glory of God, and as designed for the use of man. In relation to the former, he describes creation with the special view of illustrating the divine attributes of power, goodness, wisdom, and accordingly he throws this narrative into a form which impresses the reader with the sense of these attributes. In relation to the latter, he selects his materials with the special view of illustrating the subordination of all the orders of material things to the necessities and comforts of man. With these objects in view, it ought not to be a matter of surprise if the simple narrative of creation omits much that scientific research has since supplied, and appears in a guise adapted to those objects. The subject itself is throughout one of a transcendental character; it should consequently be subjected to the same standard of interpretation as other passages of the Bible, descriptive of objects which are entirely beyond the experience of man, such as the day of judgment, the states of heaven and hell, and the representations of the divine majesty. The style of criticism applied to Genesis by the opponents, and not unfrequently by the supporters of revelation, is such as would be subversive of many of the most noble and valuable portions of the Bible. See below.

1. In common with all ancient notions, the earth was regarded by the Hebrews not only as the central point of the universe, but as the universe itself, every other body the heavens, sun, moon, and stars being subsidiary to, and, as it were, the complement of the earth. The Hebrew language has no expression equivalent to our universe: the phrase "the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1; Genesis 14:19; Exodus 31:17) has been regarded as such; but it is clear that the heavens were looked upon as a necessary adjunct of the earth the curtain of the tent in which man dwells (Isaiah 40:22), the sphere above which fitted the sphere below (comp. Job 22:14, and Isaiah 40:22) designed solely for purposes of beneficence in the economy of the earth. This appears from the account of its creation and offices: the existence of the heaven was not prior to or contemporaneous with that of the earth, but subsequent to it; it was created on the second day (Genesis 1:6). The term under which it is described, rakia (רָקַיעִ ), is significant of its extension, that it was stretched out as a curtain (Psalms 104:2) over the surface of the earth. Moreover, it depended upon the earth; it had its "foundations" (2 Samuel 22:8) on the edges of the earth's circle, where it was supported by the mountains as by massive pillars (Job 26:13).

Its offices were (1) to support the waters which were above it (Genesis 1:7; Psalms 148:4), and thus to form a mighty reservoir of rain and snow, which were to pour forth through its windows (Genesis 7:11; Isaiah 24:18) and doors (Psalms 78:23), as through opened sluice-gates, for the fructification of the earth; (2) to serve as the substratum (στερέωμα or "firmament") in which the celestial bodies were to be fixed. As with the heaven itself, so also with the heavenly bodies; they were regarded solely as the ministers of the earth. Their offices were (1) to give light; (2) to separate between day and night; (3) to be for signs, as in the case of eclipses or other extraordinary phenomena; for seasons, as regulating seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, as well as religious festivals; and for days and years, the length of the former being dependent on the sun, the latter being estimated by the motions both of sun and moon (Genesis 1:14-18); so that while it might truly be said that they held "dominion" over the earth, (Job 38:33), that dominion was exercised solely for the convenience of the tenants of earth (Psalms 104:19-23). So entirely, indeed, was the existence of heaven and the heavenly bodies designed for the earth, that with the earth they shall simultaneously perish (2 Peter 3:10): the curtain of the tent shall be rolled up, and the stars shall of necessity drop off (Isaiah 34:4; Matthew 24:29) their sympathy with earth's destruction being the counterpart of their joyous song when its foundations were laid (Job 38:7).

2. The earth was regarded in a twofold aspect: in relation to God, as the manifestation of his infinite attributes; in relation to man, as the scene of his abode.

(1.) The Hebrew cosmology is based upon the leading principle that the universe exists, not independently of God, by any necessity or any inherent power, nor yet contemporaneously with God, as being coexistent with him, nor yet in opposition to God, as a hostile element, but dependently upon him, subsequently to him, and in subjection to him. The opening words of Genesis express in broad terms this leading principle; however difficult it may be, as we have already observed, to express this truth adequately in human language, yet there can be no doubt that the subordination of matter to God in every respect is implied in that passage, as well as in other passages, too numerous to quote, which comment upon it. The same great principle runs through the whole history of creation: matter owed all its forms and modifications to the will of God; in itself dull and inert, it received its first vivifying capacities from the influence of the Spirit of God brooding over the deep (Genesis 1:2); the progressive improvements in its condition were the direct and miraculous effects of God's will; no interposition of secondary causes is recognized "He spake, and it was" (Psalm 23:9); and the pointed terseness and sharpness with which the writer sums up the whole transaction in the three expressions "God said," "it was so," "God saw that it was good" the first declaring the divine volition, the second the immediate result, the third the perfectness of the work harmonizes aptly with the view which he intended to express. Thus the earth became in the eves of the pious Hebrew the scene on which the divine perfections were displayed: the heavens (Psalms 19:1), the earth (Psalms 24:1; Psalms 104:24), the sea (Job 26:10; Psalms 139:9; Jeremiah 5:22), "mountains and hills, fruitful trees and all cedars, beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying fowl" (Psalms 148:9-10), all displayed one or other of the leading attributes of his character. So also with the ordinary operations of nature the thunder was his voice (Job 37:5), the lightnings his arrows (Psalms 78:17), the wind and storm his messengers (Psalms 148:8), the earthquake, the eclipse, and the comet the signs of his presence (Joel 2:10; Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:25). (See ANTHROPOMORPHISM).

(2.) The earth was regarded in relation to man, and accordingly each act of creation is a preparation of the earth for his abode light, as the primary condition of all life; the heavens, for purposes already detailed; the dry land, for his home; "grass for the cattle and herb for the service of man" (Psalms 104:14); the alternations of day and night, the one for his work and the other for his rest (Psalms 104:23); fish, fowl, and flesh for his food; the beasts of burden, to lighten his toil. The work of each day of creation has its specific application to the requirements and the comforts of man, and is recorded with that special view. 3. Creation was regarded as a progressive work-a gradual development from the inferior to the superior orders of things. Thus it was with the earth's surface, at first a chaotic mass, waste and empty, well described in the paronomastic terms tohu va-bohu, overspread with waters and enveloped in darkness (Genesis 1:2), and thence gradually brought into a state of order and beauty so conspicuous as to lead the Latins to describe it by the name Mundus. Thus also with the different portions of the universe, the earth before the light, the light before the firmament, the firmament before the dry land. Thus also with light itself, at first the elementary principle, separated from the darkness, but without defined boundaries; afterwards the illuminating bodies with their distinct powers and offices a progression that is well expressed in the Hebrew language by the terms or and maor (אוֹר, מָאוֹר ). Thus also with the orders of living beings; firstly, plants; secondly, fish and birds; thirdly, cattle; and, lastly, man. From "good" in the several parts to "very good" as a whole (Genesis 1:31), such was its progress in the judgment of the Omnipotent workman.

4. Order involves time; a succession of events implies a succession of periods; and, accordingly, Moses assigns the work of creation to six days, each having its specific portion light to the first, the firmament to the second, the dry land and plants to the third, the heavenly bodies to the fourth, fish and fowl to the fifth, beasts and man to the sixth. The manner in which these acts are described as having been done precludes all idea of time in relation to their performance; it was miraculous and instantaneous: "God said," and then "it was." But the progressiveness, and consequently the individuality of the acts, does involve an idea of time as elapsing between the completion of one and the commencement of another; otherwise the work of creation would have resolved itself into a single continuous act. The period assigned to each individual act is a day the only period which represents the entire cessation of a work through the interposition of night. That a natural day is represented under the expression "evening was and morning was," admits, we think, of no doubt; the term "day" alone may sometimes refer to an indefinite period contemporaneous with a single event; but when the individual parts of a day, "evening and morning," are specified, and when a series of such days are noticed in their numerical order, no analogy of our language admits of our understanding the term in anything else than its literal sense.

The Hebrews had no other means of expressing the civil day of twenty-four hours than as "evening, morning" (עֶרֶב בֹּקֶר, Daniel 8:14), similar to the Greek νυχθήμερον; and, although the alternation of light and darkness lay at the root of the expression, yet the Hebrews in their use of it no more thought of these elements than do we when we use the terms fortnight or se'nnight; in each case the lapse of a certain time, and not the elements by which that time is calculated, is intended; so that, without the least inconsistency either of language or of reality, the expression may be applied to the days previous to the creation of the sun. The application of the same expressions to the events subsequent to the creation of the sun, as well as the use of the word "day" in the fourth commandment without any indication that it is used in a different sense, or in any other than the literal acceptation of Genesis 1:5 sq., confirm the view above stated. The interpretation that "evening and morning" = beginning and end, is opposed not only to the order in which the words stand, but to the sense of the words elsewhere.

5. The Hebrews, though regarding creation as the immediate act of God, did not ignore the evident fact that existing materials and intermediate agencies were employed both then and in: the subsequent operations of nature. Thus the simple fact, "God created man" (Genesis 1:27), is amplified by the subsequent notice of the material substance of which his body was made (Genesis 2:7); and so also of the animals (Genesis 1:24; Genesis 2:19). The separation of sea and land, attributed in Genesis 1:6, to the divine fiat, was seen to involve the process of partial elevations of the earth's surface (Psalms 104:8, "the mountains ascend, the valleys descend;" comp. Proverbs 8:25-28). The formation of clouds and the supply of moisture to the earth, which in Genesis 1:7, was provided by the creation of the firmament, was afterwards attributed to its true cause in the continual return of the waters from the earth's surface (Ecclesiastes 1:7). The existence of the element of light, as distinct from the sun (Genesis 1:3; Genesis 1:14; Job 38:19), has likewise been explained as the result of a philosophically correct view as to the nature of light; more probably, however, it was founded upon the incorrect view that the light of the moon was independent of the sun.

6. With regard to the earth's body, the Hebrews conceived its surface to be an immense disc, supported like the flat roof of an Eastern house by pillars (Job 9:6; Psalms 75:3), which rested on solid foundations (Job 38:4; Job 38:6; Psalms 104:5; Proverbs 8:29); but where those foundations were on which the "sockets" of the pillars rested, none could tell (Job 38:6). The more philosophical view of the earth being suspended in free space seems to be implied in Job 26:7; nor is there any absolute contradiction between this and the former view, as the pillars of the earth's surface may be conceived to have been founded on the deep bases of the mountains, which bases themselves were unsupported. Other passages (Psalms 24:2; Psalms 136:6) seem to imply the existence of a vast subterraneous ocean; the words, however, are susceptible of the sense that the earth was elevated above the level of the sea (Hengstenberg, Comm. in loc.), and that this is the sense in which they are to be accepted appears from the converse expression "water under the earth" (Exodus 20:4), which, as contrasted with "heaven above" and "earth beneath," evidently implies the comparative elevation of the three bodies. Beneath the earth's surface was sheol (שְׁאוֹל ), the hollow place, "hell" (Numbers 16:30; Deuteronomy 32:22; Job 11:8), the "house appointed for the living" Job 30:23), a "land of darkness" (Job 10:21), to which were ascribed in poetical language gates (Isaiah 38:10) and bars (Job 17:16), and which had its valleys or deep places (Proverbs 9:18). It extended beneath the sea (Job 26:5-6), and was thus supposed to be conterminous with the upper world.

7. The Mosaic statement of the world's formation (Genesis 1) has been variously treated by different writers on the connection between science and the Bible. Skeptics have designated the Mosaic heptaemeron as a "myth," or, more mildly, the speculation of an ancient sage. Most Christians speak of it as a "history" or "narrative," or, more vaguely, a "record." Huxtable calls it a "parable" (Sacred Record of Creation, Lond. 1861). Others (e.g. Kurtz, Hugh Miller) suggest that it is a "vision;" one styles it a "plan" (Challier, Creation, Lond. 1861). But these are evidently mere glosses. The choice still lies between the Chalmerian interpolation of the geological ages before the first creative day begins (so Buckland, Pye Smith, Hitchcock, Crofton, Archd. Pratt, Gloag, and others), and the Cuvierian expansion of the six days into geological ages (with Miller, Macdonald, Silliman, Gaussen, Sime, M'Causland, M'Caul, Dana, and others). (See DAY).

Mr. Rorison (The Creation Week, in Replies to "Essays and Reviews," Lond. and N. Y. 1862, p. 285) thinks he has discovered a new solution of the difficulty by terming the first chapter of Genesis "the inspired Psalm of creation," and he accordingly sets his ingenuity to work to draw out the demiurgic passage in a parallelized or hemistich form like Hebrew poetry. Yet this is but a modification of the "mythical theory" applied in a less bold form to the sacred text, but as really destructive of the historical verity of the document as the more palpable rationalistic views. There is no middle ground here between fact and fancy. The language is too detailed to admit the general dismissal of it as a cosmogonical poem. The same writer's comparison of the 104th Psalm, as being "section by section the daughter, the antiphone, the echo" of the Mosaic proem, is utterly preposterous, as the most casual collation of the two will show. But a fatal circumstance to this hypothesis is that the first chapter of Genesis lacks nearly every element of acknowledged Hebrew poetry. In FORM it has neither the lyrical prosody of the Psalms, nor the epic structure of Job; neither the dithyrambic march of the Prophets, nor the idyllic colloquies of the Canticles, nor even the didactic collocations of the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. There is no paronomasia (except the accidental one in the stereotyped phrase תּהֹוּ יָבהֹוּ = pell- mell), no ellipsis, no introversion, no pleonasm, no climactic character; in short, no figurative element whatever to distinguish its phraseology from the veriest prose. There is no proper PARALLELISM (See PARALLELISM) (q.v.), based upon intrinsic antithesis and synonyms; no rhythmic measure. (Compare the perfection in all these respects of the earliest real ode on record, Genesis 4:23-24.) Again, as to SENTIMENT, it lacks that lofty moral tone, that fine play of the imagination, that abrupt change of subject and field, which even when other criteria fail serve to indicate the rhapsodies of the Hebrew bards. The only thing at all resembling poetry in its dress is the strophic return of the clause "evening and morning," which is simply due to the necessary regularity of the hebdomadal periods; and the only feature in its substance allying it to poetry is a certain dignity and advance of thought, which is inherent in the incidents themselves: all that can properly be said of the diction is that it is rhetorical and suited to the subject. Even Mr. Rorison fails to point out in its body the requisite artistic constructiveness, or in its spirit the fire of genius essential to all poetic effusions. Almost any descriptive portion of the Old Testament would be found to exceed it in these respects, if carefully analyzed. The very next chapter of Genesis is fully as poetical, whether in regard to its topics, its style, or its composition; and thus, by the same loose, unscientific process, we might (as many would fain do) reduce the accounts of Adam's specific formation, of a local Eden, and of the origin of human depravity, to poetic legends. Just criticism forbids such a distortion of prose to accommodate speculative preconception. SEE POETRY(See SEE POETRY) . For an able treatise on the bearings of the Hebrew cosmology upon modern astronomy and geology, see Kurtz, Hist. of the Old Covenant (Edinb. 1856, vol. 1, ch. 1; also separately, Phila. 1857); comp. Johannsen, Die kosmogonischen Ansichten der Hebraer (Alt. 1833); Browne, Mosaic Cosmogony (Lond. 1864). (See COSMOGONY); (See CREATION).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Cosmology, Biblical'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/c/cosmology-biblical.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Cosmos