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Cosmology, the study of the origin & structure of the universe:

The revised Pagan view, as generally
accepted within early Christianity.

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Part 2

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Replacement of the ancient Pagan cosmology with the newer Pagan Greek cosmology:

The three-story universe was threatened by advances in Greek philosophy and science during the 6th century BCE.

  • Pythagoras (circa 580 - 500 BCE) "taught that the Earth was a sphere at the Center of the Universe." He also recognized that the orbit of the Moon was inclined to the equator of the Earth and he was one of the first to realize that Venus as an evening star was the same planet as Venus as a morning star." 1

  • Empedocles (circa 492 - 432 BCE) reasoned that the earth was in the center of the universe because it was composed of heavy elements. Air surrounded the earth, because (in his belief) it was the next lightest element.

  • In the 3rd century BCE, Eratosthenes calculated the earth's circumference to be about 40,000 km (25,000 miles) -- a surprisingly accurate estimate. 2 The actual diameter at the equate is 40,008 km or 24,860 miles.

These scientific discoveries had a profound effect on religious belief. The Greeks perceived the universe as consisting of:

  • The rotating, spherical earth located at its center.

  • Seven invisible, transparent concentric, crystalline spheres to which the moon, sun, and five visible planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) were embedded. The planet Uranus is also visible to the unaided eye, but it appears to have not been detected as planet by the ancients.)

  • An eighth invisible sphere to which the stars were attached.

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No longer were people able to conceive of God as a physical entity in a human-like body sitting in his throne a few thousand feet above the earth's surface, looking down on humanity like a person might view grasshoppers. Instead, he was viewed as a spiritual entity. He was believed to reside beyond "... the veil of the vastly distant eighth sphere." 3

Historian Jeffrey Russel wrote:

"...There were a few Greek dissenters -- Leukippos and Demokritos for example-[. --] By the time of Eratosthenes (3rd century BCE), followed by Crates (2nd century BCE), Strabo (3rd century BCE), and Ptolemy (1st century CE), the sphericity of the earth was accepted by all educated Greeks and Romans."4

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General acceptance by the Christian Church:

The medieval Christian Church generally accepted the Pagan Greek cosmology of a spherical earth at the center of the universe.

Historian Jeffrey Russel said that:

"...tens of thousands of Christian theologians, poets, artists, and scientists took the spherical view throughout the early, medieval, and modern church. ... no educated person believed otherwise." 4  

He wrote in his book:

"In the first fifteen centuries of the Christian era, five writers seem to have denied the globe, and a few others were ambiguous or uninterested in the question. But nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical, and by the fifteenth century all doubt had disappeared." 5,6

Thus, when Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean, very few expected his ships to sail off the edge of the Earth.

In reality, the earth is not a perfect sphere as the Greek pagans and early Church might have preferred. It is flattened at the poles and bulges at the equator. This deviation from a perfect sphere is caused by the Earth's rotation which creates a centrifugal force that partly counteracts the Earth's gravity. The result is that the Earth's radius is 6,378 km when measured at the equator and 6,357 km at the poles. The shape of the Earth approximates that of an oblate spheroid -- slightly pear shaped.

The Sun and all of the planets in the solar system also exhibit an equatorial bulge because all are sufficiently massive to form a near spherical shape, and all are rotating fast enough to form a bulge.

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Lactantius (245-325 CE) was one holdout. He was a professional rhetorician who converted to Christianity in mid-life. He rejected the Greek scientists-philosophers and reverted to the concept of a flat earth with an over-arching vault. 7

In the first half of the sixth century CE, Cosmas Indicopleustes, a Greek Christian from Alexandria, also rejected the Pagan concept of a spherical earth and reverted to the flat earth concept of the Bible.

The following image comes from his work, the "Christian Topography," circa 522 CE. 8

As shown in his drawing, he accepted the Hebrew Scriptures' belief in a heavenly vault that is rigidly attached to the earth at the far ends of the world. He believed in an additional, novel feature: an elevated firmament in the middle between the vault and earth. On its upper side, it held the waters in place. As a result, it had to be both horizontal and flat, as shown. Unlike the scriptural view, he believed that the earth (and thus the vault) was not round but square in cross section. This was probably derived from the biblical mention of the earth's "four corners."

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This topic is continued in Part 3

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Pythagoras of Samos," at: http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/
  2. G. Riley, Op. cit., Page 38-39.
  3. G. Riley, Op. cit., Page 41.
  4. Jeffry B. Russell, "The myth of the flat Earth," American Scientific Affiliation Conference, 1997-AUG-4. at: http://www.id.ucsb.edu/

  5. book cover Jeffrey Burton Russell, "Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians," Praeger Publishers, (1997).
  6. "Flat Wrong," Book review of Ref. 11, Teachers in Focus Magazine, at: http://www.arn.org/
  7. "Who invented the flat Earth?," ChristianAnswers.net, at: http://www.christiananswers.net
  8. Andrew Wiesner, translator, "The Fourth Book of the Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes," at: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/

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RELATED FEATURE ESSAYS on Cosmology, the study of the origin & structure of the universe:

  • Part 1: Overview about cosmological beliefs. The Ancient Pagan view originating in Sumer.

  • Part 3: Greek Pagan cosmology (Continued). Modern view of the solar system. Church taught an Earth-centered system. The big hoax: that the church taught a flat Earth during the Middle Ages.

  • Part 4: A modern-day return to the belief that the Earth is flat, and that there is a massive, false conspiracy teaching that the Earth is similar to a sphere

  • Part 5: Three more proofs that the Earth is more or less spherical and not flat.

  • Part 6: Five more proofs that the Earth is more or less spherical and not flat

  • Part 7: Arguments about the Earth's shape. A weak proof of a spherical Earth. More Old Testament passages about the Earth's shape.

  • Part 8: Passages from the New Testament about the Earth's shape. Additional proofs that the Earth is not flat.

  • Part 9: Proofs 15 to 21 that the Earth is not flat.

  • Part 10: Proof 22 that the Earth is not flat. Are Flat Earthers Hoaxters?

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Copyright © 2002 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JAN-28
Latest update and review: 2017-FEB-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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