Re: Does the Bible teach a flat earth?

From: Robert Schneider (
Date: Sat Dec 14 2002 - 22:41:50 EST

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    Peter Ruest's critique of my statement on the meaning of Hebr. "chugh" and
    the ascription of a three-storey model to the ancient Hebrews is rather
    lengthy. I shall snip a few passages and respond:

    Peter writes:

    I am not going to defend Morris' or other YECs' point of view (see
    below). But how can you know that "chug" always means "circle", rather
    than "sphere" or any "round" shape? As far as I know, apart from the Old
    Testament we don't have any ancient Hebrew literature of a comparable
    age. But in the OT there are only three occurrences of the noun "chug":
    in Job 22:14, it is applied to the heavens, in Prov. 8:27 to the ocean,
    and in Isa. 40:22 to the earth. If you want to apply that to a
    three-storey cosmology, you may circumscribe the ocean by a circle, but
    the earth (the land as opposed to the ocean) would then be an irregular
    shore shape (part of which the ancients knew), and the heaven a
    hemisphere (certainly not a circle). If, instead, you take the Isa.
    40:22 reference phenomenologically, it might indicate the apparent
    circle of the horizon on a flat plain. But that has nothing to do with
    the earth as such. The verb "chug" is used in Job 26:10 for "marking (a
    circle?)", "He (God) marks out bounds on the face of the waters for a
    boundary between light and darkness" (and the only way a circular
    "boundary between light and darkness" "on the face of the waters" can be
    understood is to have a spherical earth, not a flat one!) In Isa. 44:13,
    "mechugah" (compass?) stands for an unknown instrument used by an artist
    for marking when carving a wooden idol; but what do you use a compass
    for when carving a human figure? Otherwise, the Hebrew concordance
    doesn't list any other occurrences of these or any related words. So how
    do you know it literally means a circle, but never a sphere?

    Bob's reply:

           Peter, read carefully my article and the notes, and you will see where
    I have taken the data on "chugh." In his article in TDOT, K. Seybold lists 6
    occurrences of "chugh" in the OT (including Sir. 43:12). He points out that
    "structurally, "chugh" belongs with the words based on the basic syllable
    "hg," "bind, gird," etc., with the basic meaning of "describe a curve."
    "Chugh choq" (Prov. 8:27; Job 26:10) is rendered "incise a circle." The
    meaning of "mechughah" is uncertain, but it has been render as "compass" or
    "calphers"; the latter instrument might be used in making an idol. I do not
    accept the translation you give for Job 26:10, which strikes me as
    attempting to avoid the meaning of "chugh" by using "bound." I think part
    of the problem here is attempting to impose our modern knowledge of a
    spherical earth on an ancient concept. I find nothing to support a
    spherical meaning to "chugh" in any of these passages


      And Job 26:7 says, "He spreads out the northern [skies] over empty space;
    suspends the earth over nothing" (NIV), or "spreading-out north over
    empty-space suspending earth over not what"


           In my article I analyze Job 26:10 at length and show that the
    translation "empty space" is a modern reading into the text of our own
    conception of space. The translation is inaccurate and misleading.

    "As part of this process of mythologizing the Bible, the myth of the
    'three-stories universe' as the worldview before the Enlightenment was
    forged, with the celestial bodies fixed to a solid firmament above a
    flat earth, and hell underneath. Yet the sphericity of the earth was
    known at least since Pythagoras in the sixth century BC, and not much
    later all educated persons in the ancient world and throughout medieval
    times accepted it. Sun, moon and planets can be seen to move with
    respect to the other stars, which circle the earth. The spherical shape
    of the earth is also indicated by the fact that with decreasing
    distance, a mountain seems to rise higher and higher above the sea or a
    plain. In the third century BC, Eratosthenes estimated the earth's
    diameter from the relationship between geographical latitude and solar
    elevation. The lie of the belief in a flat earth was perpetrated around
    1830 by Letronne and Irving as a derision of creation [Russell, J.B.
    (1997), _Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians_
    (Praeger, Westport, CT)]."


           I have to say that everything you write about Greek theory of a
    spherical earth and your reference to Jeffery Russell's book is irrelevant.
    It does not speak to the issue of what the biblical texts are describing
    phenomenally. Incidentally, Russell is a friend of mine, and I know from
    our discussions that he makes it clear in his book that Christian thinkers
    early on got their notion of a spherical earth from the Greeks and not from
    the Bible. If you read my article and particularly p. 161-162, and note 32,
    you'll see that in his commentary on Isa. 40:22, St. Jerome (4th century)
    specifically rejects the notion that this verse refers to a spherical earth,
    and that contrary to the Greek theory of the four elements, in which earth
    is a heavier element than water, he interprets this verse to say that earth
    rests upon water, by the will of God. He clearly has in mind the biblical
    model that you reject as being in the Bible. Jerome used the Latin word
    "gyrus" from the Septuagint Greek "gyros" ("circle" "ring"), not the word
    "sphera" (Gk. "sphaira") to translate "chugh." As I point out in my
    article, nowhere in the LXX is "chugh" rendered "sphaira," or is "sphaira"
    used at all, so those Hellenized Jews who translated the Hebrew Scriptures
    certainly didn't see the notion of a spherical earth implicit in their
    readings of passages with "chugh."

           I agree with Paul Seely on this topic and side with his critique of
    yours and Held's reading of the texts. I respect your convictions regarding
    a concordist reading of Scripture and science, but do not agree with this

    Grace and peace,

    Bob Schneider

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