Re: YEC Destroying Faith

From: <>
Date: Sun Apr 25 2004 - 03:32:24 EDT

To my post

> >> 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."

Howard replied,

> 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.

I agree that the myths are more about the relationships of the gods than
about physical models of the universe, and I agree that the Babylonians probably
did not think that the earth was literally made from the body of a sea goddess.
In fact another Babylonian creation myth has the earth made of dirt piled up
on a raft. At the same time, these are creation stories, about the creation of
the physical universe, and therefore refer to that universe and in the
process reflect what they did think the physical structure of the universe was like.

In both myths mentioned above the earth is represented as sitting on a body
of water, a primeval sea. Regardless of the non-literality of the raft or the
lower half of the body of the sea goddess, the concept of an earth resting upon
a sea is set forth; and, I think it is quite reasonable to believe that this
was in fact their concept of the earth---it was flat and resting upon a sea.
Studies of other pre-scientific peoples indicate that this concept was not
uncommon; and I think there is a scholarly consensus of Assyriologists that this
was the Babylonian view of the earth.

Similarly, the Babylonians obviously understood that the Tigris and Euphrates
were literal physical rivers; and they had observed rivers coming up out of
the ground. They concluded, therefore, that the waters which come up to form
rivers are from the sea upon which the earth is resting. Regardless of the
non-literality of the eyes of Tiamat being the fountains which gave forth the
Tigris and Euphrates, the myth reflects the underlying understanding of the actual
physicals sources of these actual physical rivers.

The idea that the sky is a literal physical solid entity, usually understood
to be an "upside down bowl" over the flat circular earth is so common among
pre-scientific peoples that one scholar has called it "the usual primitive
conception." Regardless of the non-literality of the upper half of the body of
Tiamat, just as the lower half of her body became or represented the physical
earth, the upper half became or represented the physical sky. The sky is thus
represented as being just as solid as the earth; and this fits the
anthropological data we have.

Just as the sea (Tiamat means "sea") is under the lower half of the body of
Tiamat, it is above the upper half of her body, the solid sky. So, there is the
possibility that the sea above the sky will come down too fast (as it did in
the time of Noah) and flood the earth. So, in Babylon you have the same
concept you have in the OT, a solid sky with a sea above it (Gen 1:6-9). This solid
sky is represented in the OT and Enuma elish as having "sluices" or "barred
gates" built into it which allow the sea above it to come down to earth in a
controlled way or if closed prevent it from coming down.

This concept of a sea above the sky is rarely found anywhere except in the
ancient Near East, so easy parallels do not exist. But. with the two halves of
the body of Tiamat representing the literal physical earth and the literal
physical sky, and her eyes representing the literal physical sources of the
literal physical Tigris and Euphrates, and the watery part of her body, the sea,
representing the literal physical sea below (and around) the earth and the
literal physical sea above the sky, we can expect the barred gates in the sky to
also represent some literal physical entity. Given the solidity of the sky, I see
no reason why they may not have been understood as also being literally
solid, just like doors in a wall. In whatever way their structure may have been
conceived, within the context of the Babylonian universe and Enuma elish I think
it is clear that they refer to some literal entity of that universe.

I realize that at first glance (and especially just seeing a short email
posting), it looks like I am just literalizing figurative language; but, I hope
you see that I am working from a broader base and employing the myths

The advanced Babylonian astronomy, incidentally, to which you refer is from
c. the sixth century BC, whereas Enuma elish is from c. the 13th century BC; so
you cannot argue from it as a counter to what we find in Enuma elish any more
than one could argue from what is found in Plato (the sphericity of the
earth) to the understanding of Homer. Also, I don't believe there is any evidence
that they discovered the sphericity of the earth; and they may have continued
to think the sky was solid just as the Greeks did.

Received on Sun Apr 25 03:33:06 2004

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