Most people who claim they read Genesis 1 “literally” don’t. They believe that what they believe about Genesis 1 is literal. But they aren’t reading Genesis 1 literally.
If we read Genesis 1 literally, we come out with a very different picture than most literalists imagine. Indeed, we find ourselves firmly planted in the Hebrew worldview—an ancient worldview. And, if we know our history, we know that the Hebrews had no concept of a round earth that coursed around the sun. They believed the earth was flat, the sky was a dome, and the sun revolved around the earth.
To try to wrestle with the ancient cosmological understandings of the day and shoehorn them into our modern, scientific understandings of the Universe, as we know them so far, is to rob such ancient texts of their beauty and poetry.
Read this wonderful article by Scriablishess in its entirety for all the details in understanding this beauty, from the cultural perspective of the ancient Hebrew writer of Genesis.
Click through the jump for some of my most favorite quotes from the article!
- “God creates a dome in the midst of the waters to separate waters from waters. The Hebrew word (raqîya’) refers to a solid dome, something hammered out. Ancient Hebrews believed the sky was a solid dome that kept the waters above from falling down upon them. They believed the sky was blue because of the waters above the dome. The Hebrews also believed the earth was flat and stationary and that the sun moved. … The Genesis writer was a person of his time. He described the world as he observed it. And, if you go out somewhere flat where you can see the earth and the sky, it looks exactly like the writer describes it: a dome that meets the flat earth with a sun moving round about.”
- “After the dry land appears, God commands the earth to bring forth vegetation. God doesn’t create the vegetation, God commands the earth to bring it forth. Creation participates in creation!”
- “God creates the lights in the dome. Notice how carefully the writer narrates these events. In other Ancient Near Eastern cultures, the stars, the moon, and the sun were deities. But in the Hebrew writer’s account, these heavenly bodies are merely signs of the seasons and the days. They “rule” over the day and the night, like dignitaries who rule in the stead of the king. But they aren’t the king (in this case God). They give off light, but they aren’t the source of light. They are not gods…”
- “What does all of this tell us if we read Genesis 1 literally? Well, first, it tells us that the writer wasn’t a 21st-century westerner who knows that the earth is round and rotates around the sun. In other words, Genesis 1 isn’t modern science and it was never intended to be. Second, it tells us that the writer of Genesis 1 described creation from the perspective of his flat earth, dome sky worldview. He depicted the world as he observed it….”
And, finally, hitting home….
…if we’re going to be realistic and consistent, we have to acknowledge that the writer’s worldview is not our worldview. … we have to acknowledge that Genesis 1 is not a scientific description of the earth. It is a theological one. We don’t have to become flat-earth creationists to accept the theology the writer is communicating—that God created the earth and everything in it… [Biblical Literalism, as our culture currently proclaims it] tries to cram modern rationalism and modern pseudo-science into an ancient text, and in so doing, it completely ignores the sacredness of the text—its poetic beauty, its structure, its focus on the sacred week, its emphasis on God as creator and on humanity as God’s representatives, and its acknowledgment of the goodness of all creation. All of these things are communicated through a flat earth, dome sky worldview, but they transcend it.