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Genesis 1:9-13 DAY 3
Circle of the Sea


Job 26:10 states, ivj-<u rwa tylkt-du <ym-ynp-lu gh qj, which I translate, "He has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters as the boundary between light and darkness." Here gh represents the horizon separating light from darkness. The Hebrew word gh means "circle," and it seems very remote that it means "sphere" because of the context, and there is a better Hebrew word for "sphere," rwd. In Isaiah 22:18 the word rwd is translated "ball." If the LXX translators understood gh as "sphere," they would have used the Greek word sfairoeides. Plugging the meaning of "sphere" into every passage that gh occurs will result in awkward interpretations.

The LXX in Job 26:10 says, "By decree He encompassed the surface of the waters until the end of light and darkness" (Septuagint, 1970, 684). The LXX changes the literal into a verbal response. The physical circle becomes a decree.

The Vulgate says, terminum circumdedit aquis usque dum finiamtur lux and tenebrae, which I translate, "He encompasses the end of the water all the way until light and darkness come to an end" (Biblia Sacra: Iuxta Vulgatam Versionem 1969, 752). This is a slightly different view of the verse as well.

Another occurrence of gh is in Proverbs 8:27 which says, <wht ynp-lu gwh wqjb, which I translate, "when he inscribed a circle upon the surface of the deep." The parallelism of these verses helps us to better understand the meaning. Proverbs 8:27-29 says:

When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth (NIV).

The LXX says, kai ote afwrize tov eautou qronon epí avemwn, which I translate, "and when He prepared his throne on the winds" (Septuagint 1970, 795). This wide divergence might suggest an underlying different text type.

The Vulgate says, "quando certa lege et gyro vallabat abyssos", which I translate, "when with a certain law and circle He enclosed the abyss" (Biblia Sacra: Iuxta Vulgatam Versionem 1969, 964). The words "decree" and "circle" seem to be parallel terms which maybe a result of conflation.

There is another passage that seems to indicate that the sea is circular. I Kings 7:23 says, "He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high" (NIV). This bronze basin represents the sea and is called the sea. This parallels a laver in Babylonian temples called apsu (Seely 1997, 248).

The phrase "from sea to sea" (Psalm 72:8, Zech. 9:10) seems to assume a sea surrounding the earth. The earth is in the middle with an ocean on each side. Zechariah 14:8 names them the "eastern sea" and "western sea." The Babylonians described the earth encircling sea as "from the lower sea to the upper sea" (Seely 1997, 249).

The Red Sea [ws-<y can mean "Sea of the End" referring to the sea at the end of the world (Ibid).

Heaven is opposite the deep, and they meet at the horizon which is circular. The horizon was not only the boundary between heaven and earth, light and darkness; but also a link between the dome of heaven, and the surface of the earth and sea. The phrases, "circle of the seas" and "circle of the deep" seem to be parallel in meaning. "Sea" and "Deep" are sometimes used synonymously in OT poetry. These phrases refer to the circular horizon which forms the boundary line between heaven and earth.

The sea is said to have doors and bars to keep the waters from overflowing in Job 38:8-11 which says:

Who shut the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt (NIV)?

Dead Sea Scrolls

In the Dead Sea Scrolls in The War of the Sons of Light with the Sons of Darkness it uses the word gwh for the circle (or bounds) of the sea (Sulenik 1955, 25:10,13). Gaster translates, "the bounds of the seas also and the reservoirs of the rivers; the cleavage of the deeps" (Gaster 1976, 412). If the writer clearly wanted to indicate the river encircling the earth, he would use this phrase "the circle of the seas." The context of the phrase is most important. Here the context is the sea. In Isaiah 40:22 the context is clearly the heavens.

Akkadian Literature

As seen earlier, There is an important Babylonian world map that depicts the earth as circular surrounded by a circular sea (Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum 1906, part xxii, pl. 48). This circular sea is named "Bitter River" no doubt because of its ocean salt water as opposed to the fresh water streams.

In the Gilgamesh Epic there is a river at the ends of the earth described as the "waters of death that are impassable," but Gilgamesh persuades the ferryman, Urshanabi, to take him across to Utnapishtim (Noah) who has obtained eternal life (Heidel 1946, 74). There seems to be another river in the underworld where the dead were ferried across the river called Hubur by the boatman Humuttabel who has four hands with a face like Zu, the divine storm-bird (Heidel 1946, 172). The river that surrounds the earth is said to be very deep.

In the Etana Legend Etana (a king of Kish after the flood) was carried by an eagle up to heaven. It says:

When he had borne [him] aloft one league, The eagle says to [him], to Etana: "See, my friend, how the land appears! Peer at the sea at the sides of E[kur]!" "The land has indeed become a hill; The sea has turned into the water [of a stream]!" .When he had borne him aloft a third league, The eagle [says] to him, to Etana; "See, my friend, how the land appe[ars]! "The land has turned into a gardenerís ditch!" (ANET, 118).

This passage seems to indicate that the earth is like a hill surrounded by a river. King translates, "The sea is girdled around the earth" (Seely, 1997).

There is a limestone kudurru that was found at Susa that pictures the sea as a coiled serpent (Keel 1978, 46). There are several pillars that rest on the serpent, and support the ground above. These pillars were thought to hold up the earth. The base of the pillars rested a the bottom of the sea.

It seems that the Hebrew concept of the heavens was very similar to the Babylonian concept which compared the universe to a mollusk or clam in Enuma Elish. The upper curved shell represents heaven, and the lower half represents the deep with the earth stretched out in the middle. Under the earth was the waters of the deep. Surrounding the earth were also the waters of the deep. Beyond the waters were the islands which were the remotest parts of the earth. The islands were the pillars that held up the dome of heaven, and were the foundations that supported the deep. The firmament was a solid substance that held up the waters of the heavenly ocean. When it rained, gates or windows were opened to allow water from the heavenly ocean to fall to earth. Other gates controlled the winds and snow.

Egyptian Literature

Utterance 366 of the Pyramid Texts reveals that the earthly ocean is circular in shape surrounding the earth. The text says:

You are hale and great in your name of Sea; behold, you are great and round as in the name Ocean; behold, you are circular and round as the circle which surrounds the Hzw-nbwt (swimming islands); behold, you are round and great as the Sn-Žz-sk (Faulkner 1969, 120).

In Utterance 366 the word for "Ocean" is from two Egyptian words sn and wr. Sn comes from sni meaning "to encircle," and wr is an adjective meaning "great or important" (Gardiner 1957, 561, 595). Gardiner (1957, 595) says that the meaning of sn-wr is "the ocean supposed to surround the earth." Mercer (1952, 2:307) comments:

Together with oft-recurring phrase all which the sn-wr encircles, Wb. IV 494, which phw.w tz.w the ends of the lands, and with the phrase all on which the sun shines, the phrase sn-wr, the Great Round would seem to parallel the Greek idea of Okeanos, On a stela in the temple of Karnak there is a hymn of victory commemorating Thutmose III which says:

I have come, that I may cause thee to tramble down the ends of the lands;
That which the Ocean encircles is enclosed within thy grasp.
I cause them to see thy majesty as a lord of the wing (ANET, 1969, 374).

There is another phrase concerning the word "ocean" from an inscription of Amenophis II on the pillars of the wall containing the obelisks of Hatshepsut. It says, "the eye of his uraeus encircles, all lowlands, all hill countries, all that the ocean encircles" (Cumming 1982, 39).

Ugaritic Literature

The sea, ocean, and rivers were all thought to be connected to a single body of water which completely surrounds the universe (Pope 1955, 63). In Ugaritic there are two divisions of water, the earthly and heavenly oceans (Gibson 1978, 60). The phrase mbk. Nhrm, qrb.íapq. thmtm which I translate as "the source of the two rivers, amidst the springs of the two oceans," may indicate this because the words nhrm and thmtm are dual forms (KTU 1.3 V:6, 1.4 IV:21-22; Herdner 1963, CTA 3:v,14-15; 4:iv 21-22). Notice that rivers and oceans are used in parallelism. This is also true in the OT. Notice the parallelism of "river" and "sea" in Psalm 24:2, which says, "Because He founded (the earth) upon the seas and established it upon the rivers." By observing a spring of water coming up from nowhere by a mountain, then going into the rivers, and the rivers going into the ocean, they probably concluded that all water was from the same source.

By observing the sky as blue just like the color of the ocean, and that rain came from the sky, it was very easy to surmise that there is a heavenly ocean. Since Ugarit is right by the Mediterranean Sea, they sky and ocean form a beautiful pair. This awesome duality leads naturally to an equal dichotomy of waters, below and above. There must be some source for all this water. Elís abode is said to be the source of these two oceans which maybe located at the Eastern Horizon or on a high mountain that reaches to heaven.

A Spring of water seems to magically come forth from rocks near mountains. So water must magically come from Elís mountain to feed or give birth to Yam, the sea, the son of El. This also suggests a personification of nature. They used anthropomorphic terms of birth, and father-son relationships to explain physical forces.

To explain the heavenly ocean, the Canaanites used the same terms as the earthly ocean. There must be a spring of water from a mountain to feed the heavenly ocean. Therefore, the two oceans must have sprung from Elís abode.

Aramaic Literature

The targum of Ecclesiastes gives a concise view of the world in the first chapter which says:

And the sun rises in the day from the east, and the sun goes down in the

west by night, and hastens to its place, and goes through the path under the

sea, and rises the following day from the place where it rested yesterday; it goes all the side of the south in the day, and goes round to the side of the north by night, through the path under the sea; it turns round and round to the wind of the south corner in the revolution of Nisan and Tamuz, and returns on its circuits to the wind of the north corner in the revolution of Tishri and Tebeth; it comes through the windows of the east in the morning, and goes into the windows of the west in the evening, All the rivers and streams of water go and flow into the waters of the ocean which surround the world like a ring, and the ocean in not full, and to the place where the streams go and flow there they go again through the channels of the sea (Grossfeld 1973, 503).

The sun is said to travel through a path under the sea to get back to the east. The ocean is said to surround the earth like a ring.

Jewish Literature

Josephus in Jewish Antiquities writes, "On the third day he established the earth, pouring around it the sea" (Book I:32; LCL 242, 15). Because "sea" is singular some think that Josephus is referring to the earth encircling ocean. According to Franxman, "The picture we are given, therefore, includes nothing of a separation of a previously existing admixture of earth and water. Earth is merely manipulated into the sort of raised position so that there is something to pour the sea around. The dry land alone was what lay beneath the moist vault of the heavens at the end of the Second Day" (1979, 42).

Philo in On the Creation writes:

At this stage, then, water in all its volume had been poured forth over all the earth, and had found its way through all its parts, as through sponge saturated with moisture. It had produced swamps and deep mud, earth and water being mingled together and kneaded, like a mass of dough, into a single element without shape or distinction of its parts. So God next bids all the briny water, which would have been the cause of barrenness to crops and trees, to be gathered together by flowing to the same point from the pores of the whole earth, and the dry land to appear (38; LCL 226, 29).

Derek Erez Zuta (9:13) says, "This world is likened to a personís eyeball; the white of the eye corresponds to the ocean which surrounds the whole world; the iris to the inhabited world" (Franxman, 1979, 42 n.13).

In the first book of Adam and Eve it says, "On the third day, God planted the garden in the east of the earth, on the border of the world eastward, beyond which, towards the sun-rising, one finds nothing but water, that encompasses the whole world, and reaches unto the borders of heaven" (Ibid; Platt 1927, 3).

The Apocalypse of Abraham states, "I saw there the rivers and their upper (reaches) and their circles" (Charlesworth 1983, 699).

The 4th Book of Ezra (6:42) states, "On the third day you commanded the waters to be gathered together in the seventh part of the earth; six parts you dried up" (Charlesworth 1983, 536).This was written around 100 AD. The writer believed the world was divided into six parts land and one part sea. This is opposite of what is true.

Christopher Columbus believed this verse and quoted it to the rulers of Spain which helped convince them to finance his trip (Ibid., 523). Columbus complied a book called Libro de las Profecias meaning "The Book of Prophecies" (Lollis 1894, 75-160; in Latin; Brigham 1991 in English). He complied scripture passages concerning distant lands at the end of the earth, and the commission to reach them with the gospel. He thought he was fulfilling scripture when he sailed to the islands in the West (Brigham 1990). He quotes Psalm 71:8 as supporting his view that the earth is round (Lollis,104; Brigham, 215).

There are some interesting Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers written sometime between 150 to 300 AD that tell about Godís creation. These are contained in the Apostolic Constitutions, Book 7 and 8. Prayer 12 says, "the one who framed an abyss, and surrounded it with a great hollow, seas of salt waters having been heaped up; the one who encircled with rivers the world" (Charlesworth 1985, 691).

Greek Literature

Homer believed that the earth was a flat circular disc surrounded by an Ocean. On Achilles shield was a picture of a circular earth surrounded by a circular sea (Iliad 18:483-607). Edwards comments, "The usual Homeric round shield is made of a number of layers of oxhide, presumably stretched over a light wooden frame, with a bronze facing on the outside. There are indications that the layers of hide were laid in concentric circles, diminishing in size towards the outer face of the shield" (201).

The outer rim of Achilles shield is described as "Therein he set also the great might of the river Oceanus, around the uttermost rim of the strongly-wrought shield" (Iliad 18:607-8). Oceanus is said to be located at the ends of the earth. Odyssey 11:21 says, " And now he reached earthís limits, the deep stream of the Ocean."

Similar to Ecclesiastes 1:7 is Iliad 21:195-6 which states, "the great might of deep-flowing Ocean, from whom all rivers flow and every sea, and all the springs and deep wells" (LCL, 171, 423).

All the stars are said to bathe in Oceanus except Arctus (Iliad 5:5-6, 18:489; Odyssey 5:275). The sun also rises (Odyssey 22:197-8) reaches mid-heaven (Iliad 16:777; Odyssey 4:400) and then sets in Oceanus (Iliad 8:485; 18:239-40).

In Hesiodís Theogony the Ocean with nine silver streams "coils around the earth and the seaís broad back and falls into the watery waste" (Brown 1953, 75). The Styx is "the eldest daughter of the circular Ocean-stream" (Ibid).

Far below the earth is Tartarus where the Titans are imprisoned. Hesiod describes it as follows:

They then conducted them (the Titans) under the highways of the earth as far below the ground as the ground is below the sky, and tied them with cruel chains. So far down below the ground is gloomy Tartarus: a bronze anvil falling from the sky would fall nine days and nights, and reach earth on the tenth; a bronze anvil falling from the earth would fall nine day and nights and reach Tartarus on the tenth. Tartarus is surrounded by a bronze moat; three thicknesses of night are spread round its bottleneck, above which the roots of earth and barren sea are planted. In that gloomy underground region the Titans were imprisoned by the decree of Zeus, the master of the clouds. The dismal place lies at the end of the monstrous earth. There dark earth and gloomy Tartarus, barren sea and starry sky, all have their roots and farthest edges, side by side in order. It is a dismal gloomy region which even gods abhor, a yawning gulf such that not even after the completion of a full year would a man entering the gates reach the floor (Brown 1953, 73-4).

Brown compares Hesiodís Theogony with Enuma Elish by saying that both of them begin with the powers or nature, and end in the organization of the world into a monarchical state. They show the violent conflicts between the old and new forces resulting in order. Zeus who overthrows Chronus, and battles the Titans, is like Marduk overcoming Ea, and destroying Tiamat (41). Both stories reflect the major structural principles of their society. For the Greeks power was diffused while in the east it was concentrated in one person, the king (46).

Herodotus (ca 400 BC) writes, "I cannot help laughing at the absurdity of all the map-makers—there are plenty of them—who show Ocean running like a river round a perfectly circular earth, with Asia and Europe of the same size" (Book 4:36).

Thales of Miletus (ca 640-550 BC) was the earliest Ionian philosopher. He taught the "unity of difference" that all things were from one primary element, water. The universe was not created by gods, but evolved through natural processes. For example, he observed the silting of the Nile delta naturally produced land. Thales viewed the earth as a flat disc floating in water. Water surrounds everything. The sun, moon, and stars are vapors that glow, that sail over our heads on the watery firmament above, and then sail around the sea back to the East in the morning (Farrington 1961, 37). Eusebius says that Thales and his followers believed the earth was one, spherical in shape, at rest, and at the center of the universe (Eusebius, 1981, 2:850).

Anaximander (ca 611-547 BC) rejected Thales idea that water was the primary element of the world. Anaximander said that there are four primary elements; earth at the center because it is the heaviest, next water, mist, and then fire surrounding all. The fire evaporated the water, and made dry land appear. The extra mist caused the sky to explode forming wheels of fire enclosed in tubes of mist circling around the earth. The stars are holes in these tubes through which the fire glows (Farrington 1961, 38).

In summary, most Greeks from Homer to Plato believed the earth was round and flat surrounded by the ocean. Plato seems to be the first with a clear description of the earth as a sphere.

Strabo (late 1st century BC to early 1st century AD) in his book called Geography speculated that "the earth together with the sea was sphere-shaped and that the surface of the earth was one and the same with that of the high seas" (Strabo 1924, 3:431). He also believed water surrounded the earth.

NT Apocrypha

The Revelation of Paul describes Paulís journey into the heavens. It says, "And he set me upon the river whose source springs up in the circle of heaven; and it is this river which encircleth the whole earth. And he says to me: This river is Ocean" (Roberts and Donaldson Vol.8, 577).

Hebrew Text

hvbyh hartw - Let the dry land appear

There are two possibilities here. The land could be mixed together with the water to form muddy water which might be like the dirt that is left after a flood like the Nile, or the water could be just covering the land and runs off so land appears because the land rose up like a hill. Psalm 104 seems to describe it this last way. It also implies that there is just one continent.

Next - Genesis 1:9-13 - Circle of the Earth
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