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The Bible mentions in Jonah 2:6 and Job 28:9 that mountains have roots. Why would they believe that?

Edit: I was more interested as to why, in the absence of any evidence, they would think so. What religious purpose did it solve?

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    Mountains have roots
    – Mark C. Wallace
    Oct 30, 2018 at 21:06
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    Why would they believe that? Because it's written in a text that they believed was the word of God, perhaps? Of course, "Roots" can be interpreted simply as meaning "foundations" and mountains do have those. This may just be a matter of semantics.
    – Steve Bird
    Oct 30, 2018 at 21:09
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    Both of those were very poetic passages describing things that were meant to be the most impossible things the writers could think of to show just how powerful God was. In neither case were they intended to depict literal things that happened, and their audience certainly wouldn't have taken either passage as an instruction in earth sciences.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 30, 2018 at 21:52
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    @MarkC.Wallace - This is a really good point, and one which a bronze-age society that engaged in mining may well have realized. Are there sources outside the Hebrew tradition that used this metaphor?
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 30, 2018 at 21:57
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    Concur that it is a metaphor, but when i was surprised that a Google search revealed a nonmetaphorical reference.
    – Mark C. Wallace
    Oct 30, 2018 at 22:43

1 Answer 1

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Job 28:9 is poetic and must not be understood literally; Jonah 2:6 uses a different word which is better understood as the ends of the mountains.

The core message of Job 28 is that man can search the whole earth, deep into its core (through mining), but cannot find wisdom. The word used in v. 9 for root is שׁרשׁ which indeed indicates a root like that of a plant (cf. for instance Ezekiel 17:9). It is used in Job 28:9 as that part of the mountains that is in the earth. It is poetic language and does not mean the native reader of the text would envision a mountain with a plant-like root in the earth.

In Jonah 2:6, the word used is קצב, which occurs only two other times (1 Kings 6:25; 7:37), but with another meaning there (shape, form, perhaps mold). Relating this noun קֶצֶב to the root קצב to cut off, we may give it a meaning like end, extremity (as in the Vulgate, which has extrema montium in Jonah 2:6). I don't see a reason to relate this root in this context to a plant-like root as שׁרשׁ.

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  • Why would the metaphor of roots be used for something like a mountain? Was there some kind of belief that mountains extended like roots downward?
    – Daud
    Oct 31, 2018 at 12:55
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    @Daud it seems straightforward to me. What we typically call a mountain is the thing above ground level, the passage is about mining so it talks about the part of the mountain below the ground. (Of course it would not necessarily be clear where the above-ground part ends and the root begins, but that is not something a poet needs to concern himself with.)
    – user2672
    Oct 31, 2018 at 12:57
  • Ok. Is it somewhat related to the concept of mountains being some sort of pegs that would prevent the earth from shaking (hence, the roots)? I came across this in the Quran, and was wondering if the roots idea in the Bible had something to do with this, and that this was a common concept in the Middle East (I understand your interpretation, and agree that its the more likely one)
    – Daud
    Oct 31, 2018 at 13:07
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    @Daud there definitely is that concept. The mountains are envisioned as the ends of the earth and the beginnings of heavens (they hold up the heavens). But I don't think that's the kind of mountains Job 28:9 is talking about, because the mountains that they mine are not at the ends of the earth.
    – user2672
    Oct 31, 2018 at 13:10
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    @Daud I was imprecise, sorry. The mountains that hold up the heavens are also there to keep the earth within bounds (as e.g. Job 38:5, the measures of the earth; see also Proverbs 28:5 and in the negative Psalm 18:7). There is also the image of pillars supporting the earth from below, but I'm at the moment not sure whether that is the same world-view or a slightly different one, sorry.
    – user2672
    Oct 31, 2018 at 13:22

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