The Mythical Tower of Babel
The tale of the tower of Babel is an explanatory myth, an early attempt to account for the diversity of language and the diffusion of humanity after the legendary flood. In this tale (Gen. 11), “God” “comes down” to “see the city and the tower reaching unto heaven” that men were building, then complains that “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” Such a complaint would have made a lot more sense today than it did back then. Today we can fly above the clouds (a domain that used to be reserved for winged messengers of God), we have laid claim to the moon, cured diseases (which were formerly viewed as “Godʼs judgments”), and now we are unlocking the secrets of DNA. And we have achieved all this despite the language barriers that “God” allegedly “set up” to thwart such developments. Surely it is absurd to think that the same God who allowed man to develop all of the above marvels, once pulled a hissy fit over a bunch of brick-layers whose tower couldnʼt possibly “reach unto heaven?”
- Stephen Van Eck, “Clearing the Confusion Over Babel,” The Skeptical Review, Nov./Dec. 1998, with additions by Skip Church
How tall was the tower that “reached unto heaven?” (Gen. 11:4) It must have been taller than the Twin Towers of Manhattan and “reached higher unto heaven” than our most distant space probes, since God let them be built.
- Skip Church
The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lordʼs: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.
- Psalm 115:16
So man was given the earth, but the heavens are the Lordʼs. And men living today have stooped so low as to leave their footprints and garbage in “the Lordʼs” backyard, and even launch spacecraft into “the Lordʼs heaven” - spacecraft named after pagan gods like “Mercury, Gemini and Apollo” when Exodus 23:13 forbids mentioning the “names” of “other gods.” Therefore, Bible believers who picket abortion clinics need to awaken to the dire need to picket NASA before something bad happens like it did at the tower of Babel. Halt the space shuttles! And letʼs burn all those telescopes! Itʼs an invasion of Godʼs privacy.
- Skip Church
The Holy Heavens Of The Hebrews
The ancient Hebrews pictured the Lord and His “holy heavens” lying somewhat nearer to the earth than we imagine today:
He bowed the heavens and came down.
- 2nd Samuel 22:10
The Lord came down [from heaven].
- Genesis 11:5
Elijah was lifted up by a whirlwind to heaven.
(2 Kings 2:11)
Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended?
- Proverbs 30:4
Angels “ascended and descended” on a “ladder” reaching to “heaven.”
Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
- John 1:51
The ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Hebrews, pictured angels (seraphim, etc.) with bird-like wings flying through the earthʼs atmosphere to a “heaven” lying directly above the earth rather than through light-years of space lacking an atmosphere and where bird-like appendages would prove useless.
“Manna,” the food supplied to the Hebrews in the wilderness, falls from heaven.
(Exodus 16, Numbers 11, Deuteronomy 8)
Angels who told of Jesusʼ birth “went away from [the shepherds] into heaven.”
A “star [of heaven]…went on before the [wise men], until it came and stood over where the child [Jesus] was.”
Such a “star” would have to be incredibly small to lead the wise men and then stand directly above the house where Jesus was born. Such a tale also helped reinforce belief in the holiness of the heavens, since those heavens were depicted as being able to direct people in a miraculous fashion.
The heavens were opened unto him [Jesus at his baptism], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven…
- Mathew 3:16-17
At “the Ascension,” “[the resurrected Jesus] was lifted up…and a cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9), whereupon Jesus took his seat “in the heavens…in the true tabernacle [tent], which the Lord pitched.”
And Jesus will return in the sky “seated at the right hand of Power” with the “clouds of heaven.”
The Lord will descend from heaven…and we shall be caught up…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17
Heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him [Peter], as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth.
- Acts 10:11
…a door standing open in heaven, and the…voice…said, Come up here.
- Revelation 4:1
And there was a great earthquake…and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. And the sky was split apart…and [men] hid themselves in caves…and said to the mountains…hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne.
- Revelation 6:12-16
I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
- Acts 7:56
The “heavenly city,” the “New Jerusalem” “comes down out of heaven” to earth.
(Revelation 3:12, 21:2)
God is in heaven, and you are on the earth.
- Ecclesiastes 5:2
The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; But the earth He has given to the sons of men.
- Psalm 115:16
Further corroboration of this ancient view of the “near proximity” of God and of His heavenly/spiritual realm, is not hard to find. The Babylonians built towers, called ziggurats, reaching toward heaven to attract the sky godsʼ attention. (Compare Gen. 11:5, the tale of the “tower of Babel.”) In similar fashion, Abraham ascended a mountain to sacrifice his son to the Lord. Moses spoke to the Lord after having ascended a mountain. (Ex. 19:20) Jerusalem was built on a holy hill nicknamed “Mt. Zion.” Jesus was transfigured on a mountain top. And the resurrected Jesus was seen on a “mountain which Jesus had designated” in Galilee (Mat. 28:16), or is said to have ascended into heaven from a mountain near Jerusalem (Acts 1).
Based on the authority of many such Bible verses, the heavenly/ spiritual realm was believed to lie “above” the earth and so near that climbing a mountain brought you relatively “nearer” to God. Of course, we know today that climbing a mountain only brings you infinitesimally “nearer” to the nearest star which still lay millions to billions of (conventional) miles away.
Moreover, the Hebrews had to be warned, many times, not to worship what lay “above” them, i.e., “the sun, moon, and stars, all the host of heaven.” (Deut. 4:19; 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16; 21:5; 23:5; Jer. 7:18; 19:13; 44:17,19,25) They never suspected that the earth was just as much an object in the heavens, or a “heavenly object,” as all the stars they “looked up to.” They never suspected that the earth was an integral part of the “holy heavens,” sailing amongst all the other “heavenly bodies.” If they had, then they would never have been as tempted to “worship” objects that lay “above” their heads - because the earth lay equally “above” all those other heavenly objects depending on oneʼs perspective. Or as Nietzsche once put it, “So long as thou feelest the stars as an ‘above thee,’ thou lackest the eye of the discerning one.“ (Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Sage as Astronomer,” Beyond Good and Evil)
For thousands of years (right up to the Reformation), pagans, Jews and Christians agreed that the stars lay “above” man and “nearer” to God, while the Christians added that the earth was a “sink of impurity” with hell lying at the earthʼs center. Such a view was inspired by Biblical passages that spoke of the heavens above the earth as the holy abode of God and angels (Ps. 115:16; Eccles. 5:2; Gen. 11:5,7; 28:12; Isa. 40:22; Heb. 8:1,2; 2 Kings 2:11; 2 Sam. 22:10; Luke 2:15; Mat. 23:22; 26:64; Acts 1:9), with Sheol, Hades, the land of the dead, hell, lying beneath the earth (Job 11:8; Ps. 71:20; 88:3,6; 1 Sam. 28:8,13,15; Amos 9:2,3; Philip. 2:10; Rev. 5:13).
Today, of course, we know that the sun, planets, and stars lying “above the earth” are no “nearer to God” nor “nearer to a heavenly/spiritual realm” than we are on the earthʼs surface. And some people even dare to believe that perhaps God has given man not just the “earth” but also the “heavens“ too, to explore.
- Skip Church
Ancient Hebrew psalmists drew a parallel between the height of the “clouds” and the wondrous height of their Lordʼs “truth”:
For Thy loving kindness is great to the heavens, And Thy truth to the clouds.
- Psalm. 57:10
Today we look down upon the clouds from aircraft.
- Skip Church
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
- Psalm 103:12
Today, the distance “from the east to the west” hardly seems like a wise analogy to use to illustrate the separation of sins from a sinner, since we know we live on a globe where traveling “east” long enough eventually brings you back to where you started, unless of course, the author of this Psalm was assuming a flat earth.
- Skip Church
[Can] the heavens above be measured?
- Jeremiah 31:37
The phrase, “cannot be measured,” refers in Hebrew to any great height, or number of finite things that no one would dream of measuring or counting one by one: “As the host of heaven cannot be counted, and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David.” (Jer. 33:22) Actually, the “descendants of David” total an incredibly smaller number than the number of known stars in the cosmos, but to the Hebrews both sets of numbers appeared equally “immeasurable.” Compare, Genesis 41:49, “Joseph stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it, for it was beyond measure.” Such things appeared “immeasurable” to the ancient Hebrews because they could not conceive of ways of measuring them. Two thousand years later we have developed ways of measuring the “height” of clouds, the moon, the sun, and distances to the most distant galaxies. So, today, “measuring the heavens“ is somebodyʼs job.
- Skip Church
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and one stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou are mindful of him?
- Psalm 8:3-4
Does this verse demonstrate that the Psalmist was inspired by God to describe how small man appears to be compared with the size of the modern cosmos? Hardly. No “inspiration” was necessary. The “heavens” refers to the clouds, and to the sun, moon and stars lying not far above those clouds, along with the angelic heavenly realm lying not far above the sun, moon and stars. Any similarities between this verse and modern day angst about the size of the modern cosmos astronomy has revealed, is merely relative. There is no doubt that the cosmos must have felt intangibly huge to the ancients, regardless of the fact that they believed the earth to be the cosmosʼ flat firm foundation. In fact it may be that their cosmos felt more intangibly huge to them than our cosmos does to us because we can fly round the world, above the clouds, gaze at photos of outer space, and open a book on astronomy and read the distances to stars and galaxies set down for us in tangible numerical form.
Of course, knowing what he know today about the heights of the heavens, we are not likely to make the same poetic analogies as the ancients, like comparing the Lordʼs “truth” to the “height of the clouds,” which sounds less grand than it did to the ancients. Neither do we believe, along with the ancients (including the ancient Hebrews), that climbing a mountain or a tower brings us literally nearer to God.
- Skip Church
The Bibleʼs Geocentrism
For most of recorded history people imagined that their feet were planted on firm ground, terra firma. The view presented in the Bible is no exception. The Bible depicts the earth as the firm, immovable, “foundation” of creation:
Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth.
- Hebrews 1:10
The sun, moon, and stars were created after the “foundation of the earth” was laid.
Who hath established all the ends of the earth?
- Proverbs 30:4
He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter, forever and ever.
- Psalm 104:5
The world is firmly established, it will not be moved.
- Psalm 93:1 & 1 Chronicles 16:30
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth??Who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof?
- Job 38:4-6
For the pillars of the earth are the Lordʼs, and he set the world on them.
- 1 Samuel 2:8
It is I who have firmly set its pillars.
- Psalm 75:3
Who stretched out the heavens…and established the world.
- Jeremiah 10:12
The only time the Bible depicts the earth as moving is during an earthquake:
The earth quaked, the foundations of heaven were trembling.
- 2 Samuel 22:8
The earth quakes, the heavens tremble.
- Joel 2:10
I shall make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place.
- Isaiah 13:13
There was a great earthquake…and the stars of the sky fell…as if shaken from a tree.
- Rev. 6:12,13
Though the Fathers of Protestantism (Luther and Calvin) agreed with the Catholic Church of their day that the earth was a sphere, neither Protestant nor Catholic theologians could see a way to avoid the Bibleʼs teaching that the earth does not move. The verses regarding that matter appeared crystal clear to every major religious leader back then. They also agreed that the Bible teaches the sun and stars move round the earth.
For instance the Bible says, “He can command the sun not to rise” (Job 9:7), rather than, “He can command the earth to stop moving.” That God would direct His command at the sun rather than the earth, implied an unmistakably geocentric perspective. Likewise, Martin Luther pointed out that when the book of Joshua discussed the miracle of “Joshuaʼs long day,” that day was lengthened because “Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth.” (Joshua 10:12) Speaking of the sunʼs movement, the Bible also states: “The sun rises and the sun sets; And hastening to its place it rises there again.” (Eccles. 1:5, NASB) Verses that spoke of the “rising” and “setting” of the sun might be disregarded as being due to oneʼs earth-bound perspective, but speaking of the sun “hastening to its place” so that it may “rise there again,” is not so easy to explain away. It means the author of Ecclesiastes believed that the sun moved daily around the earth. Compare Psalm 19:4-6, “In [the heavens] He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices like a strong man to run its course, its rising from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them.”
As for the stars, the Bible teaches that they too move across the sky: “From their courses they fought against Sisera.” (Judges 5:20, NASB) “The One who leads forth their host by number…Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one [star] is missing.” (Isaiah 40:26, NASB) Even whole constellations of stars are “led forth” in their season: “Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, And guide the Bear with her satellites? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, Or fix their rule over the earth?” (Job 38:31-33, NASB)
Compare such descriptions with modern astronomy, which teaches that the sun and stars only appear to move daily and seasonally around the earth. The appearance of movement is due to the earthʼs daily rotation and yearly revolutions round the sun. So, modern astronomy teaches that it is erroneous to speak of the sun “hastening to its place,” or, “running its course;” erroneous to speak of God “commanding” the sun “not to rise;” erroneous for Joshua to “command” the sun to “stand still;” and erroneous to speak of stars being “led forth,” or constellations being “guided” and “led forth” “in their season,” or having “ordinances” that “fix their rule over the earth.” Because it is the earth that “hastens to” spin each day and that “courses” round the sun; it is the earth that God must “command” not to move and which Joshua should have commanded to “stand still,” and, it is the earth that God would have had to “lead forth,” and “guide” in “its season;” and it is the earthʼs “ordinances” not those of the constellations above it, that must be “fixed” in order for the constellations to appear to move as they do across the earthʼs sky.
Some Christians still side with the Bible over modern astronomy, like Dr. Gerardus Bouw, who rejects that the earth goes round the sun. He believes the reverse is true, based first and foremost on what the Bible teaches. In fact, heʼs the president of the “Society of Biblical Astronomy” and he wonders how any Christian who says he believes the Bible “cover to cover” can ignore the Bibleʼs view of the earthʼs immobility and the daily (and seasonal) movement of the sun, stars and constellations, especially when the Bible adds that God is doing the moving (and able to halt the motion) of the sun and stars. Is God a liar? Does the Bible depict God “commanding” and “leading forth” things that donʼt really move? Dr. Bouw believes the Bible means what it says. Besides, when God is depicted as moving the sun and stars (daily and seasonally), or stopping the sun (miraculously), or shaking an immovable earth (creating an earthquake), such actions are demonstrations of Godʼs “might.” They are either that, or “mighty deceptive” language for God to have “inspired.” Like telling people who start their cars and step on the gas that, “God leads forth the trees which speed by on the roadside… Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power not one is missing!” (cf. Isaiah 40:26). Therefore Bouw remains a geocentrist, just as the Good Book says he should.
Neither does Dr Bouw (who holds a degree in astronomy from Case-Western) have the slightest doubt that the “scientific evidence” supports his stationary-earth view rather than modern astronomy. Though I should think that a perusal of the Bible itself should help him realize how unscientific and naïve the Bibleʼs view of the cosmos was. Certainly there is no recognition in the Bible of “nine” planets, nor that planets were anything more than “wandering stars” set above the earth with the others. Moreover, according to Genesis 1:16 only “two great lamps” were created, the “Sun” and the “moon.” (The Hebrew term translated as “great lights” in Genesis, means literally, “great lamps”). Neither is there any trace in the Bible of the idea that the stars in the sky might be a multitude of “great lamps.” Rather, the Bible depicts “stars” as relatively small objects, created after the earth and “set” in the firmament above it, which shall “fall” to earth at its end. And speaking of the moon - the latter of the “two great lamps” God made at creation - there is no trace in the Bible that other “great lamps” were created to “rule the night” of planets other than the earth, nor any Biblical reason why so many additional “moons” should have been created. Yet they exist.
Astronomers, not theologians, discovered that we live on one planet out of many, circling one star out of many, that lies on the periphery of one arm of one spiral-shaped galaxy out of many. Furthermore, a gargantuan ring of matter circles our star beyond the planets (the Kuiper belt, which was visually confirmed in the late 1990s), and it resembles gargantuan rings of matter that have been observed circling nearby stars. So it is assumed that our star looks (from a distance) pretty much like others in our vicinity. Most recently, over 20 very large planets have been detected circling nearby stars. And as astronomers continue to develop more powerful telescopes they may eventually focus on small planets orbiting nearby stars, planets the size of earth. As far as such astronomical discoveries are concerned, the Bible remains as ignorant as any “flat earth” book possibly could.
- Skip ChurchLabels:astronomy, babylon, babylonians, exodus, foundation, geocentrism bible, god, heaven, heavens, hebrew, joshua, mesopotamia, pagan, resurrection, sun standing still, tower of babel
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