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Some interpretations of the bible follow a method of scientific concordism, which attempts to reconcile alleged discrepancies between the bible and modern science. One such issue is the common assertion that the bible teaches a flat earth.

One such verse that comes up is Job 26.7, which says:

He stretches out the north over the void
and hangs the earth on nothing. (ESV)

A scientific concordist reading interprets this verse as evidence that the bible taught a cosmological model that is equivalent to modern science, such that Job 26.7 essentially confirms that the earth is floating in outer space. (Two examples.) Is this an accurate understanding of the text?

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In Job 26.7, we find the statement:

He stretches out the north over desolation;
he suspends the earth over nothing.

We have a few things to take note of:

  1. The 'north' is sometimes used in biblical texts as something analogous to heaven, God's domain (e.g. Isaiah 14.13; Psalm 48.2; Job 37.22; cf. Ezekiel 1.4).

  2. The action of the north being 'stretched out' is a common figure of speech used for heaven covering over the earth (Isaiah 40.22; 42.5; 44.24; 45.12; 51.13; Jeremiah 10.12; 51.15; Zechariah 12.1; Psalm 104.2; Job 9.8), similar to an open tent (Genesis 12.8; 26.25; 33.19; 35.21; Judges 4.11; Isaiah 54.2; Jeremiah 10.20).

  3. The 'void' is the Hebrew word tohu. The word tohu is most often used to describe uninhabitable deserts, ruined cities, worthless words, or inanimate idols, among other things (e.g. Deuteronomy 32.10; First Samuel 12.21; Isaiah 24.10; 34.11; 41.29; Psalm 107.40; Job 6.18; 12.24). It describes things that are non-existent in the sense that they are chaotic and functionless. The word tohu is used in Genesis 1.2 to describe the uncreated/functionless earth, in the form of 'the deep', which is tohu va-bohu, 'desolate and waste'.

  4. Job 26.7 is an example of synonymous parallelism; the two lines of the verse convey the same thought. The action of 'stretching out the north' is parallel in thought to the action of 'hanging the earth'. Hence, 'over the void' is parallel in thought to the action of 'on nothing'. The Hebrew phrase translated 'nothing', beliy-mah, is a hapax legomenon: its appearance in Job 26.7 is the only time the phrase is used in the Hebrew scriptures. Understanding it in parallel to tohu is preferential, so beliy-mah likely does not connote the earth floating in 'outer space' as we conceive it, but on the surface of the functionally tohu 'deep'.

The language and thought found in Job 26.7 is quite consistent with other biblical texts, which do not describe a modern scientific cosmology, as ancient Israelites had no concept of the earth floating in outer space.

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