Re: YEC Destroying Faith

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Sat Apr 24 2004 - 09:39:04 EDT

On 4/24/04 3:50 AM, "" <> wrote:
> There is virtually no Hebrew literature from OT times except the OT itself,
> and as you note it does not describe the sluice gates very well. We can gather
> from Gen 7:11 and 8:2, however, that however their structure may have been
> understood, they were literally a means of allowing the water above the
> firmament to flow down to earth by opening them and a means of stopping the
> water from coming down by closing them.
> In the so-called Babylonian Creation account, Enuma elish, after the god
> Marduk splits Tiamat the Sea goddess in half (like God splitting the tehom in
> half on the second day of creation), he uses half of her body to make the sky
> (the firmament) and since she is the sea, there is water above the firmament
> just as in Genesis 1. Then to prevent her waters (above the firmament) from
> coming down, he "pulled down the bar" (as in locking a door or gate, cf Amos
> 1:5) and "posted guards." with orders not to allow her waters to escape. (end
> of tablet 4). The bar along with its implied door or gate corresponds to the
> sluice gates in Gen 7:11; 8:2.
> These were apparently considered actual physical parts of the universe since
> Marduk uses the other half of her body to make the earth with the waters of
> the sea under the earth, and these waters come up through her eyes to supply
> the Tigris and the Euphrates. Her eyes correspond to (but not exhaustively)
> the biblical "fountains of the great deep." The Hebrew word, "fountain" could
> also be translated "place of the eye."
Is it possible that treating this language ‹ ³sluice gates to control the
flow of water, ³ or ³splitting the body of Tiamat the sea goddess in half,²
or ³making the sky out of one half, and the earth out of the other half,² --
as descriptive of physical models is imposing a modern concept of physical
models (focused on physical structures and physical cause/effect
relationships) on highly figurative Ancient Near Eastern literature?
Personally, I suspect the Babylonians knew perfectly well that the earth and
sky were not made from the two halves of the body of a goddess. This kind
of talk was more about the relationships among the gods (of earth, sky,
storms, wind, etc) and humans than about physical structures and physical
cause/effect relationships.

Why do I suspect this? 1) These Babylonians were very clever folks; why
would they slip so easily into literalizing the metaphorical and religious
language of the day? 2) This idea of turning what looks like highly
figurative and metaphorical language into literal descriptions of physical
models seems very much at odds with what the Babylonians did in the arena of

In astronomy, the Babylonians somehow managed to get the values for the
synodic periods of the five visible planets correct to five significant
figures. Amazing! How did they do it? We donıt really now. On the basis of
very imprecise observational records (example: ³Mars is in Aries tonight²)
the Babylonians constructed elaborate computational algorithms for
calculating sequences of angular displacements and temporal intervals from
one special planet position (opposition, conjunction, greatest elongation,
etc.) to the next. The angular displacement algorithms involved degrees
(division of the circle by 6 x 60), minutes of arc (divisions of the degree
by 60), seconds (divisions of the minute by 60), thirds (divisions of the
second by 60), and sometimes even fourths (divisions of the third by 60).
They knew full well that their observational uncertainty far exceeded these
angular increments, but their apparent goal was to craft computational
algorithms that matched observation in the long term averages, not
individual values. And this they did extremely well.

Another important aspect of Babylonian astronomy, however, is what they did
NOT do. They did NOT construct geometrical models of planetary motion ‹ not
heliocentric models, not geocentric models, not orbital motion models of
any kind. That was a later Greek contribution.

Howard Van Till
Received on Sat Apr 24 09:40:41 2004

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