Thursday, 30 December 2010

Fuss about Firmaments - Cherrypicking the Bible

In my many and varied disputations on the Web regarding Transsex and Intersex issues, I've often come across those who flatly disbelieve the science, as it "contradicts the Bible". In particular, Genesis 1:27.
27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:27, King James Version)

But that got me thinking - always a very dangerous thing to do when looking at scripture. About some lines immediately before that. Genesis 1:6-10 and Genesis 1:14-18
6And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

 7And 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.

 8And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

 9And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

 10And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:6-10, King James Version)

14And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

 15And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

 16And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

 17And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

 18And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:14-18, King James Version)
So what exactly is a Firmament anyway?

From Wiki :
The firmament or expanse was a great tent-like (Isaiah 40:22) ceiling made of solid crystalline material (Job 37:18 and Ezekiel 1:22), which might be pierced by skyscraper and gimlet (3 Baruch 3:7–8). It had many windows, some of which opened and closed for the sun and moon to travel through (1 Enoch 72:2–5) or to let water, which was held above, fall through as rain (Genesis 7:11). On top there were also warehouses of snow and hail (Job 38:22). Stars were small objects that were attached tenuously to its surface (Genesis 1:14–17, Daniel 8:10, Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:25, Revelation 6:13, 8:10, 9:1 and 12:4).
OK, it's Wiki, so let's ignore what it says and look at the original sources. Those (literally) Apocryphal are in Italics.

(Isaiah 40:22, King James Version)
22It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

(Job 37:18, King James Version)
18Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?

(Ezekiel 1:22, King James Version)
22And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.

(Baruch 3:7-8)
7 And the Lord appeared to them and confused their speech, when they had built the tower to the height of four hundred and sixty-three cubits. And they took a gimlet, and sought to pierce the heaven, saying,
8Let us see (whether) the heaven is made of clay, or of brass, or of iron. When God saw this He did not permit them, but smote them with blindness and confusion of speech, and rendered them as thou seest.

(1 Enoch 72:2-5)
2. And this is the first law of the luminaries: the luminary the Sun has its rising in the eastern portals of the heaven, and its setting in the western portals of the heaven.
3. And I saw six portals in which the sun rises, and six portals in which the sun sets and the moon rises and sets in these portals, and the leaders of the stars and those whom they lead: six in the east and six in the west, and all following each other in accurately corresponding order: also many windows to the right and left of these portals.
4. And first there goes forth the great luminary, named the Sun, and his circumference is like the circumference of the heaven, and he is quite filled with illuminating and heating fire.
5. The chariot on which he ascends, the wind drives, and the sun goes down from the heaven and returns through the north in order to reach the east, and is so guided that he comes to the appropriate portal and shines in the face of the heaven.

(Genesis 7:11, King James Version)
11In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

(Job 38:22, King James Version)
22Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,

Genesis 1:14-17 I've already mentioned.

(Daniel 8:10, King James Version)
10And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.

(Matthew 24:29, King James Version)
29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

(Mark 13:25, King James Version)
25And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.

(Revelation 6:13, King James Version)
13And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

(Revelation 8:10, King James Version)
10And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;

(Revelation 9:1, King James Version)
1And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.

(Revelation 12:4, King James Version)
4And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.

Oh Crikey.

Well, it's interesting, in a surreal kind of way. Never mind, let's look at something else, my brain needs a clean-out after that stuff.


There's some argument as to how long a cubit actually was. It depends on who you ask, and when. But there's no argument that it meant about half a meter, perhaps a smidgin more. That leads me to a quick digression: one programme I was working on involved all sorts of measurements of length. Degrees of latitude. Thousands of feet. Flight levels. Cables. Metres. Nautical miles (admiralty). Fathoms. Nautical miles (US). Radar miles. Statute miles. Thousands of yards. It was all too easy to acquire some data in metres, possibly entered manually, possibly from a radar, and display it in miles (statute) instead of miles(radar).

So we converted on entry everything to cubits internally for all calculations, and explicitly de-converted it purely for display on screens, with appropriate units. We defined a cubit as 50cm exactly. Try to display a quantity of CUBITS_TYPE, and the system would barf - there was no such facility. It had to be the result of a CUBITS_TO_KILOFEET function (in KILOFEET_TYPE), or a CUBITS_TO_RADAR_MILES (in RADAR_MILES_TYPE) or whatever. All I can say is that it worked, and we never had any problems with feeding out a quantity in miles instead of kilometers, and causing Bad Stuff(tm) to happen. As happened with the Mars Climate Orbiter.

OK, end of digression, back to Holy Scripture.

I can understand, in an intellectual way, how someone might decide that a book is God's Holy Word, literally true in every respect. What I can't understand though is someone claiming that that's what they believe... yet not campaigning against the obvious frauds and giant conspiracies by Scientists and Evil-utionists: "Meteorology" and "Space Travel". Think of the money that could be saved if to get to the moon, all one would have to do is find spot where the tower of Babel was built, and erect a structure 463 cubits, no more, no less, high. Call it 250 metres or so.

Rather shorter than the Empire State Building, at 383 metres.

For a well-researched theological analysis of the Firmament, see THE FIRMAMENT AND THE WATER ABOVE by P.H.Seeley, Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991) 227-40 . This covers Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian and other cosmologies (as well as Hebrew/Biblical), and is a fascinating and well-written read.

So if anyone objects to Transsexuality or Intersex conditions actually existing, rejecting the UnGodly works of Scientific Secular Humanism... ask them why they're not campaigning about the fraudulent wastes of money on spaceflight and weather forecasting, the whole rain-falling-from clouds bit, instead of the Waters Above being let in as the Good Book says.

Or maybe not. I'm afraid of what they might answer. 40% of those surveyed in the USA believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, after all. They may just decide to stop cherrypicking, and get rid of this whole "round Earth" theory.


Nicole H said...

Fabulous. I live in the Bible Belt in Southern U.S. and constantly have to debate these evangelical.fundamentalist Christians calling GLBT an abomination. Maybe I'll forward this article to a few of them to piss them


Zoe Brain said...

Nicole - to piss them off, or to try to educate them?

Please read 1 Corinthians 13.

That, BTW, is another one to quote to them. That they can have faith enough to move mountains, they can know every verse of the Bible forwards and backwards... but if they don't act put of Kindness, THEY'VE MISSED THE POINT!!

I'm no Christian - but yes, this principle applies to everyone, no matter what religion or lack thereof they adhere to. It's obligatory for everyone.

So by all means, forward away. But only if you can honestly say you're doing it to inform, not just to discomfit them. That they may deserve scorn and even fury is immaterial. This isn't about them, it's about you.

MgS said...

I took a slightly different approach to Genesis 1:27 a few weeks ago on my blog:

It still comes down to pointing out that the religious bigots are likely as not grossly misinterpreting the words they are trying to be so literal about.

trickster108 said...

Bravo Zoe...

Very well researched!! Of course, you answered your own question in the last paragraph. Anyone who can seriously maintain that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, that man walked with the dinosaurs during that era, and that carbon 14 dating techniques are fabrications of secular science are obviously living in a parallel universe...bizarro world, if we recall our superman legend.

I recently wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper suggesting that if the rapture is imminent...then let all those who dispute science get swept up and leave the business of making this a better world to those who actually care.

thanks again!!

Anonymous said...

Well, I suppose you could interpret the "stars falling to Earth" nonsense in Revelations as fusion bombs.

The rest of it is pure nonsense.

Someone once told me, "I sure wish I had some of what that guy (who wrote Revelations) was smoking!"


Natasha said...

Well done, Zoe.

I was taking classes at a Jesuit university some time ago and one was an Old Testament class taught by a Quaker. The first day of class, he told us that most of the devout Catholics in the room were going to be pissed off at him because he was about to deconstruct the bible. And many were angry, but it was an expert deconstruction and at the end of the class, anyone who had an open mind had to admit that the idea of cherrypicking bible verses was inherently ridiculous given the nature of the book. It's contradictory from the opening and most of the so-called prophets were actually just the pundits of their time. Oh, and there were at least 3 Isiahs...Fun!


Rob said...

Very nice blog!

However, I'm afraid that trying to educate religious fundamentlists is generally a futile exercise. I live in Australia so, thankfully, I don't personally know any Christian fundamentalists. However, I do have a number of friends who are Hare Krishna devotees, and I'd like to share a recent experience:

I was having a discussion with one devotee, and the subject turned to space exploration. He happened to mention (as a matter of fact) that the moon landing was a hoax and that it never actually happened. The reason he thinks this is because the Vedic scripts assert that the Moon is much farther away from the Earth than the Sun - making it impossible for us to travel there. Now, this guy is highly educated, with a PhD in telecommunications. But he refused to even look at the crushing proof I provided him. He is a kind, intelligent gentle person, but no amount of logic and empirical evidence could overcome his beliefs.
I only shudder to think how it would be with an aggressive Christian fundamentalist ...

Zoe Brain said...

When I went to school, I met A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, so have some Street Cred with the Hare Kishnas.

Going to a school where you'd get lectures and talks from a variety of people, from unreconstructed Stalinists (we gave him a rather hard time I'm afraid) through to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada etc was a wonderful thing for me. I think he found us a tough audience.

It's also allowed me to spread a little joy - passing on blessings to any Hare Krishna who engages me in conversation. Sort of like a Christian getting a passed-on blessing from someone who'd actually shaken hands with Christ, even if the passer-on remains staunchly unbelieving.

"He is a kind, intelligent gentle person"
That's what matters. Even if he does collect Wheaties in a stamp album and believes in the mystical powers of coffee grinds.

RadarGrrl said...


What's a cubit?

Rob said...

@Zoe, I wish I had had the privilege of meeting A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. That might sound strange coming from an atheist like me, however, I am a spiritual person; it's just that I happen to not believe in any deity ... at least none of the deities in any of the religions. I do occasionally attend the Hare Krishna temple in Melbourne to listen to talks, and I am a big fan of some of the Swamis, like Devamrita Swami. Their philosophy of life is like a welcome breath of fresh air in a world dominated by greed and conflict and I frequently find myself reading the Bhagavad Gita. But I could never become a devotee because, like any religion, it has a lot of dogma and superstition - and that has never sat well with me - even when I was forced to attend religious instruction classes as a 6-year-old.

Zoe Brain said...

FWIW I found the Dalai Lama far more impressive. Didn't get to shake hands with him though, just listened to a talk he gave at the National Press Club.

Hmmm... looking back on it.. my life's been a bit unusual, hasn't it? It doesn't seem so to me, but when I see it written down, all the things I've seen and done, not quite the norm. Apart from the whole "natural sex change" thing I mean.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Great stuff. And I in my ignorance thought that firmament is what meets the seat first when I am sitting down... ehehe.

Happy New Year!

Zoe Brain said...

Snoopy - No, that's a Fundamentalist.

Cameron said...

Would be interested in your thoughts on this...

Rob said...

You wrote: "Hmmm... looking back on it.. my life's been a bit unusual, hasn't it?"

Yes it has been. And so has mine and so has everybody else's - to some extent. Each of us is destined to travel his/her unique path through life. One of my all-time favourite books is "An Anthropologist on Mars" by Oliver Sacks. The case-studies are really interesting ... and I also like the book's introduction.

Oh, and Happy New Year :)

Joseph said...

Religious traditions are the accumulated experience of a community. Sometimes part of an early version of that experience didn't work out and a tradition is abandoned but still remains in the holy books. In that case, it makes sense for the community to ignore the tradition (e.g., the way the current Christians ignore the tradition of not eating shrimp or the way current Jews ignore the requirement of centralized worship). It still makes sense for the community to adhere to a "fundamentalist" attitude towards those traditions that did turn out to be important. (A century or two ago, part of the Jewish community decided to try ignoring the requirement to not eat shrimp etc. It looks like that isn't working very well. As far as Jews are concerned, God really does hate shrimp.)

In other words, it makes sense for a fundamentalist Christian to disapprove of homosexuality because it says so in the Bible but not to disapprove of shrimp and it makes sense for an Orthodox Jew to disapprove of shrimp because it says so in the Bible but not to insist on Temple worship.

On the other hand, community experience is not a very good guide to something that has been possible for only a few decades...

Anonymous said...

We can know why the church age is over. We can know the exact year of creation. We can know how the Bible is true. We can also know that the rapture will occur on May 21, 2011.



From a civil engineer who knows about carbon dating and who disproves Bishop Usher's date


Anonymous said...


Zoe Brain said...

Cameron - which KJV - the one of 1611, the 1629 or 1638 editions, or the corrected versions of 1762 (Cambridge) or 1769 (Oxford)?

Arguably the 1638 is definitive, as that was the last one where the original contributors had a hand in it.

I like the KJV for the language.

If I want to know what the Bible "really" says, I go to the original Koin and other manuscripts, some not available in 1611. We also know from other evidence that much of the Apocrypha is at least as, if not more, historically accurate than the books selected at Nicea.

Zoe Brain said...

Anonymous - hey, I wonder of they'd be interested in a little proposition:

$1000 payable immediately to do good works now, in exchange for all their worldly possessions from midnight May 13th, 2011 at GMT+12 Timezone.

One problem with dates such as this: Timezones. Is it May 11th in New York? Sydney? Hawaii? GMT? Local time in Jerusalem? What about at the South Pole - where part of someone's body is in May 11th, other parts have to be at May 10th or 12th? Do they get raptured in segments?

Midnight May 13th at GMT+12 means every part of the Earth must have passed May 11th.

Zimbel said...


I briefly read through the "External evidence" portion of know/know_contents.html From this page, I assume that this is a joke site, correct?

Someone trying to make a serious argument for their religion wouldn't make such basic errors as confusing dates by over a millenia (which, by the way, they get right elsewhere on their site), ignoring evidence that some statements in the Bible were widely known at the time of their writing, or claim that their holy book "should be trusted at least as much as the Greek literature", I'd assume. The last bit sounds like an insult.

Nor, presumably, would they reverse references.

Also, there appear to be easily disprovable claims - for example, I'm curious what in Jonah satisfies "Every Old Testament book of the Bible refers clearly to Jesus." I wrote a paper on it, and I recall nothing about Jesus. The closest I can find is Gospel of Matthew, chapter 12 verses 39-41 - written centuries later, after both purported events.

In the unlikely event that you and/or the site are serious, good luck on your date; thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of dates have previously been proposed, and all have passed.

Cameron said...

Oh, I wasn't looking for a which text comparison, I was looking for your thoughts on the over all KJV only movement. I figure they are just ripe for a nice scorching blog post by you! :)

Zoe Brain said...

Would that be kind? Would it be educational for anyone, them or readers? Or would it be just to poke fun at them?

Yes, I could point out the sometimes hilarious mistranslations, the differences between the various KJV versions, the fact that the scholars who prepared it claimed no Divine Authority for their translation.

I could also point out the poetry of it, that many men tried with honest and contrite hearts to do their best, and produced a work which, at the time, was deemed the best translation in the world.

If Islam claims that the Qu'ran, in the original Arabic, is the direct word of God as He spoke it, I see the KJV only movement as being no more silly.

Anonymous said...

The using of the orginal text WITH the comparing of Scripture WITH Scripture is definitive and is unfortunatley not common to do.