7 Illustrations of How People in the Old Testament Viewed the Universe

Listers, the concept of ancient Hebrew cosmology is fascinating. In general, the world was a flat disc covered by a firm dome. Beneath the disc was Sheol – the place of the dead – and the deep waters. Above the dome, there was more water and finally the high heavens where God dwells. “The notion that the sky was a vast solid dome seems to have been common among the ancient peoples… According to the notion prevalent among the Greeks and Romans, the sky was a great vault of crystal to which the fixed stars were attached, though by some it was held to be of iron or brass. That the Hebrews entertained similar ideas appears from numerous biblical passages.” For example, Job 37:18 reads, “And was it with help of thine God fashioned the heavens, firm as cast bronze?.”1 The firmament acted as the separation between the higher waters of the heavens and the lower waters of the deep.2 The dome of the earth sat upon pillars and upon the foundations of the world.3 In the dome there are windows or doors from which the rain falls – the most famous example being Noah’s flood in Genesis.4 Finally, deep within the earth was Sheol. Sheol “is generally supposed to come from the Hebrew root meaning, ‘to be sunk in, to be hollow:’ accordingly it denotes a cave or a place under the earth. In the Old Testament (Septuagint hades; Vulgate infernus) sheol is used quite in general to designate the kingdom of the dead, of the good (Genesis 37:35) as well as of the bad (Numbers 16:30); it means hell in the strict sense of the term, as well as the limbo of the Fathers. But, as the limbo of the Fathers ended at the time of Christ’s Ascension, hades (Vulgate infernus) in the New Testament always designates the hell of the damned. Since Christ’s Ascension the just no longer go down to the lower world, but they dwell in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1).”5 As with most concepts, there are debates on how literal to take certain passages.

 

Ancient Hebrew Cosmology

 

 

Hebrew Cosmology 1

Hebrew Cosmology 2

Ancient Hebrew Cosmology

Hebrew Cosmology 4

Hebrew Cosmology 5

Hebrew Cosmology 6

Hebrew Cosmology 7

  1. Quote from Catholic Encyclopedia, Firmament. []
  2. See Job 26:11; 37:18; the dome is blue due to separation of the waters, Gen. 1:7; the earth is surrounded by water, Gen. 1:6,7; cf. Psalms 24:2; 148:4, Deut. 5:8. []
  3. Job 26:11; II Sam. 22:8. []
  4. Gen. 7:11-12; 8:2; for verses on the lumenaries of heaven, see Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 19:4,6; for verses on the dome and birds, see Gen. 1:20; Deut. 4:17. []
  5. Catholic Encyclopedia, Hell. []