Cosmology, the study of the origin &
structure of the universe:
Part 1 of five parts:
Overview about cosmological beliefs.
Ancient Pagan view originating in Sumer.
Overview of beliefs about cosmology:
Historically, there have been three main Western belief systems that describe the
shape, layout and movements of the earth, as well as the moon, sun and the rest of the universe:
- The ancient, pre-scientific Pagan view, found throughout the Mediterranean area and
the Middle East. This involved a flat earth held up by columns above an abyss. This arrangement is seen in the diagram below.
- The earth-centered view, which was developed by the ancient Greeks,
and was generally accepted among educated persons in Europe by the 3rd century CE. It
survived until after the time of Copernicus
(1473-1543 CE). This involved the earth in the shape of a sphere at the center of the universe. The sun, moon, planets and stars all revolved around the earth.
- The modern view, which is a refinement of Copernicus' beliefs of 1543
CE. The moon revolves around the Earth; the Earth and other planets follow near circular eliptical paths, with the Sun at one focus.
This series of essays describe the ancient Pagan belief system, as found in ancient
Babylonia, Egypt, Rome, Greece, Israel, etc, and how it collapsed when faced
with the considerably more accurate view of later Greeks. It briefly describes
the Copernican theory. It concludes with an anti-Christian hoax of the
1830's which partly survives today, and the resurrection of the flat earth conspiracy theory in modern times.
The Pagan, pre-scientific cosmology as developed througout the Middle East:
Sumer was one of the world's first civilizations; it may have actually been the
first. Its beginnings can be traced to a collection of farming villages
circa 5000 BCE in what is now southern Iraq. It lasted for about three
millennia, until finally collapsing after an attack by the
Amorites circa 2000 BCE.
One reader of Bible Review magazine suggested that humans in ancient
times would not be aware of either "the diffusion of blue sunlight by"
the atmosphere or of the hydrologic cycle whereby water vapor ascends from oceans
and other bodies of water, only to later fall back to earth as rain. The blueness of the
sky would have suggested to the ancient observer that the sky is composed of
water. It would be from this reservoir that water would return to the land in the
form of rain. This theory would have required some form of a rigid shell dividing the
water above from the Earth and its oceans below. 1 This was probably the
reasoning by which the Sumerians developed their concept of a multi-layered
According to the "Sumerian Mythology FAQ" web site:
"The boundary between heaven and earth was a solid (perhaps
tin) vault, and the earth was a flat disk. Within the vault lay the gas-like
'lil', or atmosphere, the brighter portions therein formed the stars,
planets, sun, and moon." 2
Variations of this
belief spread across the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. Today's liberal
Christians generally interpret the cosmology
passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) as one variation of
this belief system. Religious conservatives
disagree. According to Gregory Riley, author of "The River of God:"
"The physical universe as the ancients perceived it was small, much
like a sphere half filled with water, upon which floats the flat disk of
the earth. There was water everywhere else -- above the heavens, around the
earth, and below, flowing around the under-world...This is known as the
three-story universe: heaven above, the earth in the middle, and the
underworld below." 3
To the Babylonians, their chief
city, Babylon, was at the center of the world. The Sumerians
viewed Nippur at the earth's center. For the Greeks it was Delphi. For the ancient
Hebrews, and some later Christians, it was Jerusalem.
The Earth was believed to be circular and
more or less flat, much like a dinner plate. Columns of mountains around
the edge of the Earth held up
a rigid metal dome (a.k.a. vault or sky canopy) which formed the sky. The sky was
assumed to be relatively close
to the earth - perhaps a few thousand feet or so in the air.
The story of the Tower
of Babel (Genesis 11:2-9) relates how ancient people living in a plain
in the land of Shinar decided to build "a tower whose top may reach unto
heaven." A later text (3 Baruch 3:7) describes how the Tower was eventually built. The book was written by a Jewish author
during the second or third century CE who described Jerusalem after the attack by Nebuchadnezzar circa 587 BCE. It describes how the builders of the tower actually reached the underside of the firmament of the sky and attempted to pierce through
the metal surface with an auger. 4 This book was not included in the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament).
Above the dome were the "superior
waters," or "the waters which were above the firmament"
as mentioned in Genesis 1. Inhabitants of Heaven opened vents
or floodgates in the in the sky
canopy to allow the water to pour down to earth in the form of rain or snow. It
was through these gates that the water was poured during the flood of Noah. At that time, the
"Fountains of the Deep" mentioned in Genesis also opened to add to the flood. Later, the same openings in the firmament were also used to pour fire and brimstone down from Heaven to
exterminate all life in Sodom and Gomorrah. There were also drains in the earth that allowed
water to flow under the earth. Also in the underworld was a massive cavern which the
ancient Israelites called "Sheol." This was the home of the dead where
the ancient Hebrews believed that people went after death to live a sort of shadowy, lifeless existence,
isolated from God.
The sun, moon, planets and stars were all pushed by supernatural beings
across the underside of the dome of the sky each day. Heaven was
seen as being located above the superior waters. God was originally viewed as being in
a larger-than-human body, who resided in Heaven, seated on a gigantic throne.
This topic is continued in Part 2
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Was the biblical Earth flat?," Letter by Carl Ponder of Austin, TX, Bible Review. 2003-FEB, Pages
51 & 52.
- "Sumerian Mythology FAQ," at: http://members.bellatlantic.net/
- Gregory Riley, "The River of God," HarperSanFrancisco, (2001). Page
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- Ibid, Page 27-28.
Copyright © 2002 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-JAN-28
Latest update and review: 2016-MAY-08
Author: B.A. Robinson