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Can someone explain to me about the firmament. I know it is the heavens above but, that would mean no one could go beyond that. No outer space as we were taught in school. Correct!

Gen 1:6-8 - Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.

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  • Welcome to BH. There is in this site a question which asks "What is the likely way in which ancient Hebrews would have understood 'raqiya' in Gen 1:6?". I suggest you look at it and if you still have a question then edit what you have put here to show us what puzzles you.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Mar 18 at 10:46
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    Also note that in Hebrew and Aramaic, the word for "heaven" is always in the plural form according to Jonathan Pennington, author of Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew. He notes that while this concept was contentious for over 100 years, the plurality of heavens in Hebrew and Aramaic is now accepted by most scholars. However, this is not true for Greek, where, heaven was traditionally written in the singular.
    – Dieter
    Commented Mar 18 at 18:00
  • Does this answer your question? What is the likely way in which ancient Hebrews would have understood "raqiya" in Gen 1:6?
    – bach
    Commented Mar 22 at 12:28

2 Answers 2

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It says in Genesis that the firmament “separated the water under the expanse from the water above it” (Genesis 1:7).

The firmament is a ceiling or dome-like vault stretching out to form a solid canopy over the earth, separating the heavens above from the earth below. [1]

The firmament in the Bible is the tremendous dome-shaped expanse of sky separating the upper atmosphere or “waters” from the lower waters of the earth. On the second day of the creation account, God created
the firmament:

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day. (Genesis 1:6–8, NLT) [1]

In ancient cosmology, the firmament was often depicted as a solid, domed structure that stretched across the sky. It was believed to be a physical barrier that held back the waters above, creating a space for the celestial bodies to move. Here is one depiction:

enter image description here

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  • It's my belief that this popular depiction came from medieval Europe. Seafarers in the ANE knew that the earth was round. In fact, over 200 years before Christ, Eratosthenes, calculated the equatorial circumference of the spherical earth to within a few percent! His method of calculation is also documented and amazing!
    – Dieter
    Commented Mar 18 at 18:14
  • @Dieter That is interesting. I guess at least some scholars in the ancient world had a good understanding that the Earth was round. I'd be curious how prevalent that belief was.
    – Jason_
    Commented Mar 18 at 18:24
  • Surviving ancient Greek writings expressed the idea somewhere around the 5th or 6th century BCE. The Phoenicians, perhaps starting around the 12th century BCE, expanded their sea voyages and trade routes throughout the eastern and western Mediterranean, the Black Sea, through the pillars of Hercules to Britain and tropical West Africa. Their ships included "crow's nests" for seeing at greater distances to overcome the curvature of the earth at sea. They navigated by the sun, stars, and landmarks, which would appear and disappear at the horizon. Sources say they also spread their technologies.
    – Dieter
    Commented Mar 18 at 22:40
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    Medievals also knew that the earth is round. Thomas Aquinas, discussing how different ways are used to establish different truths, casually cites that the earth is round as one truth that is established.
    – Mary
    Commented Mar 19 at 2:47
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The operative word translated "firmament" is רָקִיעַ (raqia) which is variously translated, "expanse", "space", "vault", "dome", etc.

BDB defines the word as "extended surface, (solid) expanse (as if beaten out; compare Job 37:18)".

In any case, this "firmamemnt" is that which exists between the waters below (livers, lakes, seas, etc) and the waters above (the source of the waters below, rain clouds, etc). In modern parlance, we might call this either "atmosphere" or "sky". (Clearly, it is not outer space!)

The OP quoted text then defines this "firmament" as "heaven" or "sky" (in some versions) and this same word is used to describe the place where birds fly, Gen 1:26, 28, 30, 2:19, 20, 7:3, 23, etc.

Thus, there is no doubt that "firmament" is the place where birds fly and the space between the waters above and below, ie, what we now call sky/atmosphere.

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  • Curiously you quote BDB where it defines רקיע as a solid object, then immediately switch to calling it a non-solid object (atmosphere). You're also curiously ignoring Gen 1:7 where it states the רקיע divides waters above the רקיע and below it. If the רקיע is a solid object, this makes perfect sense in the ancient conception that the sky is blue because of waters being held back by an enormous dome (aka 'firmament'). (Paul H. Seely: “The Firmament and the Water above Part I: The Meaning of Raqiaʿ in Gen 1:6-8”). The picture of the cosmos described in Genesis in @Jason_'s answer helps Commented Mar 18 at 20:42
  • @AviAvraham - the word can mean a solid object but it can also mean an expanse as BDB shows. That is, the sky appears to be something stretched out as is a vaulted domed ceiling.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 18 at 20:46
  • yes it can mean 'expanse', and if we read the word immediately to the left of expanse we see "solid" and directly to the right is "as if beaten out" and a reference to Job 37:18 where the author compares the dome to cast metal: "Can you help him stretch out the heavens, Firm as a mirror of cast metal?". Really unsure about sourcing BDB to claim רקיע isn't a solid object because literally every part of the definition and gloss reference solid objects Commented Mar 18 at 20:58
  • @AviAvraham - interestingly, there are several references to the heavens/sky/raquia being very hard such as Lev 26:19, Deut 28:23, Job 37:18,
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 18 at 21:17
  • I think that would make it highly unlikely that רקיע is the atmosphere like you said Commented Mar 22 at 13:04

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