Re: YEC Destroying Faith

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>
Date: Sat Apr 24 2004 - 14:15:12 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 — “sluice gates to control the
flow of water, “ or “splitting the body of Tiamat the sea goddess in
half,” or “making the sky out of one half, and the earth out of the other
half,” -- 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 astronomy.

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 don’t really now. On the basis
of very imprecise observational records (example: “Mars is in Aries
tonight”) 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

First, thanks, Paul.

Howard, you're looking at things from a modern Western viewpoint. Thr
outlook is different in pre-scientific cultures. I encountered reports of
_curanderos_ who combined effective herbal therapies with other practices
based on "theories" that seem ridiculous to us, but are firmly believed.
This is even more obvious with witch doctors among tribal peoples.
Needham's massive _History of Science and Technology in China_ will give
you many similar examples. It's been many years since I perused those
volumes, well before the series was completed. But I recall that Chinese
alchemists had extracted estrogens from the urine of mares and used them
in rational therapy for women's ills. But also, on the basis of their
theories, they were used in ways that would not be beneficial. I don't
know about Babylonian astrologers/astronomers, but I note that Ptolemy's
work was based on a central sun surrounded by concentric crystalline
spheres. Motion was initiated by the Prime Mover. Stupid theories and
remarkable accomplishments are not incompatible.
Received on Sat Apr 24 15:18:26 2004

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