The firmament as conceived of by many biblical flat earthers (Whom I shall from here on out call BFE's) and some OT scholars is said to be a solid crystalline or ice-like dome that encloses the sky and the luminaries. Sort of like a snow globe. If we look at the section in question it reads:
6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
(Gen 1:6-8 KJV)
The arguments used by the BFE community and the scholars they cite are the following:
BFE Arguments For a Solid Firmament
1. The Hebrew word for firmament here is 'Raqia' which is listed in the lexicons as both Solid and Expanse.
2. The Hebrew noun 'Raqia' is derived from the Hebrew root verb 'Raqa' which can mean stamp, beat, and spread out.
3. Using the law of first mention if we turn to Job 37:18 (Since Job predates Genesis) where 'raqa' is used it implies solidarity.
4. Historical appeal is made to the various ancient creation conceptions that the Hebrews would of been in contact with in their cognitive environment. The concept here is of some kind of solid barrier holding back the 'water above'.
5. It is consistently said in the Genesis one text that things are placed 'in' or 'inside' the firmament suggesting solidarity.
6. The heavens are said to be spread out like a tent/curtain/garment with windows and doors regulating rain which implies solidity.
7. The Book of Enoch describes the firmament as a solid dome.
Responses to BFE Arguments and a case for a Non-solid Firmament
1. Lexical definitions only provide us with a limited semantic range of meanings as historical records of the various ways any given word has been used. Thus appealing to a lexicon alone will not resolve this issue, which is why there must be more arguments made to precise the definition. I readily agree the BDB Hebrew lexicon for example says it can mean solid but it also says it can mean expanse. But we would already know this from the biblical material where firmament/raqia is used of where birds fly (Gen 1:20) which starts at the face of the earth (Genesis 1:7).
2. The Hebrew word 'raqia' is indeed derived from the verb 'raqa', but usually the point of cognates is to precise which meaning of the root is being emphasized. That is to say that the noun form is supposed clarify the root verb and not the reverse. In any case it is the action that carries over to the noun not the substance. The same argument could be made for expanse meaning to spread out in the root verb 'raqa'. Thus this will not settle the issue either which is why more evidence must be adduced. The real problem with this argument is that either attempt as explained above commits what has been called a 'root fallacy' or 'etymological fallacy'. To use a comparable example from Greek in the NT we have the words 'timeo' (To honor) and 'epitimao' (to rebuke) which share a common root 'Tim'. This fallacy would have Jesus honoring Demons, or change the commandment to rebuke your parents.
19 Honour (Timao) thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Mat 19:19 KJV)
25 And Jesus rebuked (epitimoa) him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. 26 And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him. (Mar 1:25-26 KJV)
3. While I believe this 'First Mention' hermeneutical principle to be problematic and probably fallacious I will simply assume this principle is correct for the sake of argument. Here I believe we have a different problem playing out. What is ignored is the fact that the argument for expanse can be made in the same way. The word-concept fallacy is employed here by the BFE proponent. The word concept fallacy occurs when you only appeal to some words connected to a concept rather than including them all in your study. An example would be ignoring that there are many Greek words used in the concept of love and only concentrating on one of them. The result would be a deficient view of the concept of biblical love. You see in the law of first mention principle we have the following:
"II. The Meaning Of The Law Of First Mention
The law of first mention may be said to be the principle that requires one to go to that portion of the Scriptures where a doctrine is mentioned for the first time and to study the first occurrence of the same in order to get the fundamental inherent meaning of that doctrine. When we thus see the first appearance, which is usually in the simplest form, we can then examine the doctrine in other portions of the Word that were given later. We shall see that the fundamental concept in the first occurrence remains dominant as a rule, and colors all later additions to that doctrine. In view of this fact, it becomes imperative that we understand the law of first mention."
What the BFE'er has done is confused the first occurrence of a word with the first occurrence of a concept. He then limits himself to only those words (Raqa/Raqia) when other words are employed of the same concept. The problem with this is that concepts are expressed using various words and to exempt other words employed in the explanations of this concept is arbitrary and in most cases special pleading or a committal of the taxicab fallacy. This also means that the BFE'er conflates the meaning of a word with the meaning of a concept connected to the word. In Genesis 1:8 for example 'Shamayim' is also used of this concept so that word needs to be included in the study to not be guilty of this word concept fallacy. Using the principle of first mention with concepts in mind we can look at what Job 9:8 (which is earlier than Job 37:18) says:
8 Which alone spreadeth (Natah) out the heavens (shamayim), and treadeth upon the waves of the sea. (Job 9:8 KJV)
So we should not be surprised that in Job 37:18 we have 'raqa' (Not 'raqia') probably meaning solid though not necessarily (Because lexical appeal can equally be made to spread for 'raqa') but in Job 9:8 'Natah' as non-solid since this spreading is applied to all the "shamayim' which is plural. Finally returning to the passage in Genesis 1:7 the eminent OT and Assyrian scholar Dr. Umberto Cassuto points out that the subject of the verse is God and not as some think the firmament. He says:
"7. And God made the firmament, etc.] Here, too, as in verse 3, the words of the Divine fiat are repeated in the announcement that it had been executed. But in the present case, since the theme is much more comprehensive than that of the two short words yehi ’or, ‘Let there be light’] in v. 3, modifications have been introduced in accordance with the principle described above in the Introduction § 6, p. 16 f., and the verbal changes serve to explain the subject more clearly. The phrase, separating the waters from the waters, of the preceding verse is here elucidated thus: separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And separated...The subject is God and not, as some interpret, the firmament; compare v. 4: and GOD separated the light from the darkness. Furthermore, in v. 6 it is not written: Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate w e yabhdel the waters from the waters; the text is wihi mabhdil … —‘and let it be a separator’, etc., that is, and let it be the means that I shall use for the purpose of separating the waters from the waters."
(Umberto Cassuto, A commentary on Genesis from Adam to Noah)
In the immediate context the nouns 'God' and 'Firmament' are both tied to the verb 'separate' (Badal). So it is not the firmament itself that does the action of separating. Rather separating is something God does and he is immaterial. Instead this firmament is what could be called an instrumental cause or a means by which there is a separation. The subject is God, the object is the firmament, and both are involved in this verb of spreading suggesting that the firmament is a means or tool used by God to separate.
In the Egyptian cosmology it is Shu the God of air and Tefnut a deity of moisture who are used as a tool by Atum/Ptah for being a separator and Nut is the separated one who resides in the primeval waters above known as the 'duat'. In other words the solid waters above are separated by the non-solid Shu/Tefnut who hold up the sky instead of Nut. Egyptologist Dr. James P. Allen says about this:
"In the Egyptian conception, the sky is not so much a solid "ceiling" as a kind of interface between the surface of the waters and the dry atmosphere. The sun sails on these waters just as people can sail on the Nile: "The bark of the Sun courses through the Waters"...Her name (nwt) may be a feminine adjective meaning 'of the Waters' though the etymology is far from certain...In keeping with the notion of sunrise as (re)birth Text 1c1-c4 locates Duat within the body of Nut--that is somehow 'inside' the sky."
(James P. Allen, Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts, pp. 5-6)
4. With the possible genetic fallacy aside it is true that most ancient historians and OT scholars believe the ancient cosmologies contemporaneous to the Hebrews all share this concept of a primordial water from which everything arose along with some sort of erected barrier for holding back and separating those waters above from earth and regulating rain. Think about a bubble of air in a mass of water to get the idea here. The best examples are found in the Babylonian Enuma Elish with Tiamat, and the various Egyptian accounts with the Gods Shu, Tefnut, Nut, and Geb.
In the Babylonian account after being defeated, the goddess of water Tiamat is divided in two by the victor God Marduk. Marduk then uses part of Tiamat's body to create the sky in some fashion by raising it. Dr. Wayne Horowitz has shown in his work that this account thinks of the sky as flat rather than a dome. In the Egyptian accounts which vary Atum/Ptah the creator God separates the land God Geb from the sky God Nut and depending on which texts you read among their records Shu the God of air and Tefnut the God of moisture are placed between Nut and Geb. Because the Genesis account contains a creation by word of mouth with a single creator deity it seems that the Egyptian account espoused in Memphis is the closest parallel we have. Although I think Genesis does take shots at other accounts along the way. Keep in mind that there were four main schools of thought regarding this in Ancient Egypt throughout time (Heliopolis, Memphis, Thebes and Hermopolis.).
In particular it is the Memphite theology with it's creation by a spoken word feature with a single creator deity that makes it distinct from the other ancient Egyptian Schools of thought as well as the Babylonian and Mesopotamian ones. Additionally this account contains the Gods Shu and Tefnut unlike others providing us with a very close parallel of a triple-decker sky concept. Also unlike the Babylonian accounts the Hebrew and Egyptian accounts are not creations by battles of many Gods. A good exemplar of this Memphite theology is found in the Shabaka stone which is dated as early as the 19th dynasty period (1292-1187 B.C.) and as late as the 25th dynasty (716-702 B.C.). The stone itself says it comes from an earlier document referring to it as "worm eaten".
Line 55 of the Shabaka stone reads “His (Ptah’s) Ennead is before him as teeth and lips. They are the semen and the hands of Atum. For the Ennead of Atum came into being through his semen and his fingers. But the Ennead is the teeth and lips in this mouth which pronounced the name of every thing, from which Shu and Tefnut came forth, and which gave birth to the Ennead.”
This line is taking one of the polytheistic aspects called the Ennead or Ogdoad from the Heliopolitan account and applying them to Ptah as his speech, essentially contrasting it with the other accounts of creation by copulation or spitting with speech for commands. Atum is then replaced in this account with Ptah as his hands. In other words the Shabaka Stone is meant to be a Polemic against the competing Egyptian Schools of thought. According to Ragnhild Bjerre Finnestad, there are three theories on the possible purpose of the Shabaka text:
a. To assert the supremacy of the Memphite theological system over the Heliopolitan
b. To claim the hegemony of the Memphis and its priesthood over Heliopolis and its priesthood
c. To present an ontology.
Because space does not permit me to go through everything on this single blog post and we are only focusing on one aspect here consider the words of OT scholar Dr. Meredith Kline who had degrees in Assyriology and Egyptology when he said:
"The pagan cosmogonic myth, a garbled, apostate version, a perversion, of pristine traditions of primordial historical realities, could not pass through the conceptual grid that forms the consistent framework of the teachings of Scripture except as already demythologized poetic idiom. Even among the ancient myth-makers themselves the practice is attested of redacting earlier cosmogonic myth with polemic intent. In order to propagandize for some new development in the cult, they would so adapt the myth that the old god who was to be eclipsed would be replaced by his rival, the current favorite, in the role of heroic conqueror of the chaos monster in the mythopoeic drama of cosmic origins. The adoption of the earlier myth was thus for the purpose of rejecting its message, if not at the conceptual level of its mythological cosmogony as such, at least at the political level of rival cultic claimants. The Bible's use of the cosmogonic conflict myth is with similar, but incomparably more radical, polemical intent. When the biblical revelation identifies Yahweh, the living and true God, as the Creator who slays the dragon, it is not a mere matter of substituting one deity for another while maintaining the essence of the myth. In its adaptation of the myth the Bible demythologizes the myth as such. It demythologizes the hero-god, it demythologizes the dragon (whether identifying him as Satan or as tempestuous nature), it rejects the mythical cosmogony and cosmology root and branch."
(Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, pg. 28)
So just as the Shabaka text polemically redacts and alters earlier Egyptian accounts in order to reject the other accounts of creation and their understanding of the Gods, so the Genesis account functions in the same way. That is to say omission of details, different word choices, and filling old concepts with radically new meaning by whom I believe to be Moses (Acts 7:22) were common Egyptian literary devices employed by him for monotheistic theological polemics. Examples include the following:
1. Using a different Hebrew word for Sun to avoid association with the solar deity Shamash.
2. Calling the luminaries 'lights' to de-personify them as deities.
3. Using a different Hebrew word for the deep to avoid association with Tannin a serpentine water deity.
4. Using the Hebrew word 'Raqia' to avoid association with the sky gods Shu, Tefnut, and Nut.
Even if I am wrong about the polemical angle and I don't believe that I am the last point here to be made is the ontology being presented. If this ontology is not a material one like our modern material one then it follows that this firmament is not solid. Egyptians and many ANE cultures have a very foreign concept of ontology or existence and being than our own materialistic one. None of them believed they could throw a rock in the sky and hit Shu or Nut's belly or shin. As American Egyptologist Dr. James P. Allen explains in his book:
"Unlike classical Newtonian physics, however-but increasingly like modern physics-the Egyptian explenations are more metaphysical than physical. They are concerned primarily with what lies beyond physical reality."
(James P. Allen, Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts, 56)
Or as Dr. John Walton who I think is one of the leading scholars on this says:
"In the ancient world, what was most crucial and significant to their understanding of existence was the way that the parts of the cosmos functioned, not their material status.How can we know this? The evidence comes both from the biblical text and from the literature of the ancient world. The former is more important because, of course, it is possible for the biblical text to take a different view of ontology than the ancient world."
(The Lost World of Genesis One, pg. 26)
5. The word 'in' by itself does not necessitate any physical boundaries or locale. If the raqia/firmament can be defined as expanse or stretched out space (Non-Solid) as I argued above there is absolutely no problem here. The Hebrew preposition 'bet' (in) does have a massive range of uses (See: An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Waltke & O'Connor-section on prepositions). For example if I say "I am in the group." it can easily mean I am among them but it does not entail that I am physically located in the middle of them. If I say "I work in medicine" it means I function in a certain field of work. So it can also operate as a domain or function indicator rather than only a location indicator. I would suggest as others have about Genesis 1:14-19 that this is a setting in place three functions.
1. To separate day and night.
2. To be for signs and seasons, days and years.
3. To be for lights in the heavens (As opposed to the various sky deities)
Besides all of this no translation reads 'inside' and if the author wanted to make this clear other Hebrew words were available (mib-ba-yiṯ -Genesis 6:14; Exodus 25:11; Exodus 37:2). Moreover in the Egyptian depictions of Nut like this one notice that the luminaries are inside her body and BEYOND it. Biblical flat earth models pretty much universally ignore this and try to place all the luminaries on or below her. It is a great example of special pleading considering the Egyptians believed these waters to be infinite.
6. The phrase 'windows of heaven' only occurs 3 times in some translations of the bible with the first occurrence being in Genesis 7. Likening to a curtain or tent occurs 2 times. Firstly let us not be guilty of employing the word concept fallacy in any of this and let's try to see if these verses can be made sense of based on the BFE's own criterion. Let's start by asking where is this concept of water being regulated in the sky by God first mentioned in scripture?
Job 26:8 He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them. (Job 26:8 KJV)
10 By the breath of God frost is given: and the breadth of the waters is straitened.
11 Also by watering he wearieth the thick cloud: he scattereth his bright cloud:
12 And it is turned round about by his counsels: that they may do whatsoever he commandeth them upon the face of the world in the earth.
13 He causeth it to come, whether for correction, or for his land, or for mercy. (Job 37:10-13 KJV)
9 When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it, (Job 38:9 KJV)
37 Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven,
38 When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?
(Job 38:37-38 KJV)
So it seems the ancient people did know water came from the clouds and they referred to them as bottles, doors (Psalm 78:23), garments, and windows. This of course makes perfect sense now when we look at Genesis chapters 7-9 where God set the bow as a covenant sign among the clouds (The instrumental objects God used for the watery judgement in the worldwide flood) to constantly remind us of that promise.
12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
(Gen 9:12-13 KJV)
7. While Enoch is not inspired scripture and therefore should be rejected let's assume for the sake of argument that it does describe a solid dome firmament. If Enoch proves the dome is solid then it also proves that it was annihilated prior or during the flood and is no longer around!
OTP 1 Enoch 83:1 And now, my son Methuselah, I will show thee all my visions which I have seen, recounting them before thee.
2 Two visions I saw before I took a wife, and the one was quite unlike the other: the first when I was learning to write: the second before I took thy mother, (when) I saw a terrible vision.
3 And regarding them I prayed to the Lord. I had laid me down in the house of my grandfather Mahalalel, (when) I saw in a vision how the heaven collapsed and was borne off and fell to the earth.
4 And when it fell to the earth I saw how the earth was swallowed up in a great abyss, and mountains were suspended on mountains, and hills sank down on hills, and high trees were rent from their stems, and hurled down and sunk in the abyss. (1EN 83:1-4 OTP)
In conclusion many of those advancing this BFE position are engaging in special pleading, abusing hermeneutical principles, misrepresenting scholars, and forcing their westernized modern presuppositions into the ancient near eastern text. Perhaps the strongest argument for my position is that since the inception of Genesis it has been used polemically whether correctly or incorrectly. Even skeptics do so to criticize the scientific accuracy of the bible. This is just to say they all already believe Genesis is a polemic and act accordingly which is exactly what the text was intended to invoke in both the modern and ancient reader alike. While much debate is made over Isaiah 40:22 it can be rendered sphere, circle, round, or even circuit as it is in Job 22:14. Those suggesting that it means disk ignore the fact that there is a different word in Hebrew for that 'Oben". Circuit makes more sense since 'erets' is used instead of 'tebel'. 'Tebel' has a broader scope comparable to world unlike 'erets'. This circuit then would be a reference to the shoreline with 'erets' being dry land. Here is a list of OT scholars saying the same things. God Bless.
"Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the biblical authors stripped the ancient pagan literatures of their mythological elements, infused them with the sublimities of their God, and refuted the pagan myths by identifying the holy Lord as the true Creator and Ruler of the cosmos and of history. Israel’s God stands apart from his creation, transcends matter, lacks sexuality, engages in no combat with other gods, for there are none, and establishes humane laws."
(Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, pg. 200.)
"For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the LORD made the heavens. (Psa 96:5 KJV)"