Month 9:16, Week 3:1 (Rishon/Pesach), Year:Day 5940:252 AM|
2Exodus 3/40, Yovel - Year 50/50
Gregorian Calendar: Thursday 15 December 2016
I. Fact or Fiction?
Over the past two or three years I have met Christians, Messianics and 'others' who swear blind that the earth is a flat disk. Some of them even think the moon is flat too. In some respects the Christians and Messianics amongst them are the worst because they insist that the Bible teaches a flat earth and try to use 'science', so-called, to try and make the 'data' fit with their preconceived ideas.
As a Scientist and Theologian
My approach to this subject is both as a Scientist (Biochemist and Systems Analyst) and as a Theologian. As a scientist I am forced to accept that the earth, moon, planets and stars are spheres for a variety of scientific reasons. Rather than go over the already excellent work done by scientists, other than to bring up a few 'clinchers', I recommend that you study two websites (I am sure there are many more) which keep the physics and maths simple:
A CIA Psyop and the Mystery of YouTube
In view of rapidly encroaching internet censorship you may wish to download these two sites (and others) before they become banned. Flat earth-promoting websites and YouTube videos were virtually unknown a few years ago and then, suddenly, in the space of one month, thousands of YouTube videos were uploaded, carefully crafted and made professionally. They came out of nowhere. These were clearly the products of long-term planning and great sophistication, not what you would have expected of an organic movement. My own belief is that the CIA, or similar agency, started these Flat Earth websites and videos as a psyop with two aims in mind:
- 1. As a psychological/mental experiment, to see what people would believe; and
- 2. As a means to discredit Bible-believing Christians and Messianics when the 'truth' about a spherical earth, at some point down the road at a time convenient for the persecution and labeling of believers as brainwashed fools, is 'revealed' in an incontrovertible way for even the most die-hard anti-spherical sceptics.
The operation has for sure been highly successful and for a while I myself was almosty taken in by the highly sophisticated pseudo-science. I was gearing up to produce a series of articles on our main website in defence of the flat-earth position should I ever be fully convinced, even to getting a copy of Samuel Birley Rowbotham's seminal work, Zetetic Astronomy: The Earth is Not a Globe first published in 1881 and republished in 2007 by 'Forgotten Books'. Though I don't claim to be a mathematician, I do have some pre-university qualifications in Physics and Astronomy, the latter of which has been a passion of mine since I was a little boy, in addition to my main scientific subjects of Biology and Organic Chemistry.
Ad Hoc Flat Earth Science
Though occasionally the flat earth community rolls out some 'high IQ' personalities who seem to be knowledgeable , in reality they have no background in advanced mathematics and astrophysics, and many of these people seem to be deliberately perpetrating a hoax for their personal amusement in order to make fun of those they consider to be intellectual inferiors or spiritual fanatics. The one thing I have noticed about the so called 'scientists' from the Flat Earth community is that their science is ad hoc with no unified system of thought. Instead, they take particular phenomena like earth curvature and treat them as isolated studies. The result is a patchwork quilt of pseudo-science which, when brought together as a whole, consists of mismatching jigsaw puzzle pieces. They simply don't fit together.
The Australia-South America Dilemma
There were many observations that prevented me from wasting more time on this grand hoax. One of the most obvious is the enormous disparity between the actual distance between Australia and the southern tip of South America and the distance that would be required of the Flat Earth model. From Sydney to Santiago, Chile, using Quantas flight 27, is a journey of 7000 miles that takes 12 hours. They do this run four times a week and over 430,000 passengers have made the journey since the route was opened. This flight would be impossible on the Flat Earth model, requiring the plane to travel at twice the speed of sound as it's over three times the distance.
A Question of Circular Shadows on the Moon
I could give you lots of hard data like this to prove the earth is a sphere. For instance, during a total lunar eclipse there is no way on the flat earth that a circular shadow can be cast on the moon as there is nothing between sun and moon on the flat earth model to create a solar eclipse. The only way that is possible is when the globe earth is inbetween the sun and the moon.
Crescent Moon Illumination
Likewise, we've all seen crescent moons that are illuminated only on the bottom. On the flat earth model, the sun and moon are both at an altitude of 3,000 miles, which means that the sun can only illuminate the side of the moon, not the bottom. The only way that the bottom of the crescent moon can be illuminated, is by the sun being well below the moon. This is only possible on a globular earth when the distant sun is illuminating the opposite side of the moon so that we can just see part of it, making it a crescent.
Full Moon Rising Problems
90 minutes after the full moon rises in the eastern sky, the whole sky is dark. How does the sun on the flat earth model illuminate the moon at night, while not illuminating the sky that it is in? The only way that is possible is if the sun's rays are being blocked by the globular earth, preventing them from hitting the sky above you while still being able to illuminate the distant moon.
Disk Collapse in Space
Last but not least, whilst disks could theoretically exist in space, beyond a certain size they would collapse in on themselves because of the force of gravity and would spontaneously end up as spheres. The earth 'disk' in the Flat Earth model would simply be too large and would therefore collapse in on itself.
Why People Believe in a Flat Earth
I could give lots of other concrete scientific data but this is not my main reason for writing this article today. I suspect that the reason so many believe the earth is flat is because of at least two reasons:
An Alien Spaceship?
- 1. As believers in the infallibility of the Bible, they are convinced that the Scriptures teach that the earth is flat, and specifically a 'circle' or disk, and are desperate to make science agree with their interpretation at all costs (obviously); or
- 2. They believe the evidence of a number of worldwide cultures whose legends and myths posit a flat earth which they consider is evidence that the ancients 'knew' the earth was flat but that this knowledge has either become 'lost' or 'suppressed' (for a variety of fantastic reasons).
The second category of people sometimes entertain ideas that the earth is a giant spaceship built by aliens and then abandoned or who disappear for some other reason. There are many mutations of the 'story' which some flat-earthers believe. For the earth to be a machine, a fantastic technology would have to be in place for which there isn't a shred of evidence. Most of the flat-earthers believe the earth is a disk with a dome over it. However, I am not so much interested in the 'alien' theories as I am in those Christians and Messianics who are convinced the Bible teaches the earth is a flat disk and therefore it 'must be true'.
As one could potentially go off onto all sorts of tangents and end up having to defend or refute various theologies - conservative and liberal - which I absolutely don't have time to do, I am going to state my assumptions up front so that everybody knows where I am coming from. I do believe that the Bible is infallible in its original Hebrew and Aramaic autographs but I do not believe it to be a revelation on science. That said, I do not believe its science, such as is there, is wrong.
The Bible is Descriptively Geocentric
However, the Bible writers wrote out of their own culture and described the universe from a geocentric viewpoint. That is to say, they described the world and what lay beyond it from the perspective of an observer on earth. ALL OBSERVATIONS ARE THEREFORE FROM THE SURFACE OF THE PLANET AND NOT FROM OUTER SPACE. Until this is realised and accepted, the science of the Bible will end up being grossly cariacatured and misrepresented.
The Circular Horizon and Its Vault
When, in the Bible, the earth is described as hwg or a "circle" (as most translations render it into English), the earth is not being described from the perspective of outer space. Rather, what is being described is from the perspective of an observer on the earth who sees a circular horizon that appears to vault itself over the earth as a dome. Go and stand in your garden one night and scan the horizon. The appearance is that of a great circle over which there is a dome. And that's just the point - this is just appearance. No claim is being made for a scientific observation - all the observer is doing is describing what he sees. And as is common in the Bible, much poetry is utilised to paint a picture of the majesty of this observed creation.
The Key Passage in Isaiah 40:20
For flat-earth believers, Isaiah 40:22 is key to them, so for their peace of mind, we owe it to them to consider it carefully:
The Language of Appearance
"Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He (Yahweh) who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretched out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to live in" (Is.40:21-22, NRSV).
Sit outside in your garden one clear night, take a torch (flashlight) with you, look above around you a full 360° and read out aloud this passage. As one who totally and without any doubt believes in a spherical earth I have absolutely no problem putting on the shoes of Isaiah and declaring what he saw. The passage is laced with poetry. Nobody believes that the inhabitants of the earth are literal grasshoppers, very few believe that Yahweh literally "stretched" out the sky like a "curtain" because this is all familiar Middle Eastern poetic imagery. Even the tent imagery is not amiss. There is a sense that one is covered and protected. This is known as the language of appearance.
Understanding Paraphrase Versions of the Bible
As it happens, we know exactly how the Hebrews interpreted this passage. I am sure all of you know what a paraphrase translation of the Bible is. It is the ancient language restructured in modern colloquial English. Scholars call these 'dynamic-equivalence' translations as they are not word-for-word translations (as far as that is possible) such as you find in the King James Version (or KJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB) and others like it. There are lots of dynamic-equivalent Bibles around nowadays, like the New Living Translation (NLT), for instance, which I rather like, even though I don't consult it as a theology manual but prefer the more professional ones like the NRSV or ESV for that. Nevertheless, such are valuable in conveying the general sense of a passage, particular the more complex ones, and I find them useful in all sorts of ways, and very handy when it comes to getting the broad sweep of Paul's thinking.
The Aramaic Targum of Isaiah
Paraphrases are not, however, a modern invention, it may surprise some to learn. Jonathan ben Uzziel, one of Hillel's most distinguished pupils and contemporary of Yah'shua (Jesus) and the apostles, wrote an Aramaic Targum or paraphrase of the Book of Isaiah. There were many such targums or paraphases of various books of the Tanakh (Old Testament) in existence that were written to make the Scriptures more comprehensible to the ordinary folk. They were apparently very popular and produced principally for a Pharisee audience which Paul would have been a part of. Indeed he still regarded himself as a Pharisee after his conversion and defended the Pharisee doctrine of the resurrection against the Sadducees who did not believe in it or even in an afterlife. There was much in Pharisee theology that was correct. Yah'shua's (Jesus') main contention with the Pharisees was all the 'other stuff' they had added to the Torah like the so-called 'oral tradition of the elders' and the fact that they were religious hypocrites.
The Pharisees Change Doctrine
One of the most remarkable things about the Targum Isaiah was that it was in no doubt that the coming Messiah would be Divine or Elohim (God), a doctrine only later denied by the Pharisees because of their hostility to Yah'shua (Jesus) and their desperate attempts to discredit Him and His teachings. Thus the paraphrase of the Targum Isaiah was radically different from what would later become mainstream Jewish thought which has so deviated from the emet (truth) in order to justify their hostility to the Messianic King of Israel.
Understanding the Earth Circle Metaphor
I mention all of this so that you are not surprised by the way this Targum or paraphrase renders the key 'flat-earth' Scripture in Isaiah 40:22 in such a way that nobody can be in any doubt that the passage is a poetic rendition or a metaphor Yahweh's glory! The Aramaic has been rendered into King James-type English:
Yahweh's Exalted Strength
"Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath not the work in the creation been declared unto you in its order from the beginning? Have ye not understood that ye ought to fear Him, who hath created the foundations of the earth? Who maketh the Shekinah of His glory to dwell in exalted strength, and all the inhabitants of the earth are in His estimation as locusts; He that stretched out the heavens as a little thing, and spreadeth them out as the tent of the house of the Shekinah" .
So here is the big question - why does this read so differently from our English translations of the (known-to-be doctored) Masoretic Text? Why is, "It is He (Yahweh) who sits above the circle of the earth" rendered, "Who maketh the Shekinah of His glory to dwell in exalted strength" in the Targum? The answer is simple: "the circle of the earth" was a known metaphor for "in exalted strength" since the circle encompassed 'everything' that the viewer could observe from that part of the planet's surface he stood on. This is not a proof-text for Astronomy or Cosmology - it isn't describing the actual shape of the earth in its totality so it is wrong to use it as such. Nevertheless, as the description of an earth-bound observer it is perfectly accurate.
Understanding the Mosaic
Michael S. Heiser makes this important observation:
Imposing a 21st Century Worldview on Scripture
"The facts of the Bible are just pieces - bits of scattered data. Our tendency is to impose order, and to do that we apply a filter. But we gain a perspective that is both broader and deeper if we allow ourselves to see the pieces in their own wider context. We need to see the mosaic created by the pieces.
"The Bible is really a theological and literary mosaic. The pattern in a mosaic often isn't clear up close. It may appear to be a random assemblage of pieces. Only when you step back and can you see the wondrous whole. yes, the individual pieaces are essential; without them there would be no mosaic. But the meaning of all the pieces is found in the completed mosaic. And a mosaic isn't imposed on the pieces; it derives from them" .
You can't impose a 21st century scientific-materialistic worldview on the Bible, and especially not on the creation accounts nor on those which describe reality. With this realistic perspective, we can examine other passages used by critics of the Bible and by those who misuse it to defend a preconceived doctrine or (pseudo)-scientific position. Remember we are dealing first and foremost with literature - therefore we have to understand how Hebrew literature works and how it is constructed.
Let's take another couple of sometimes misread passages:
An Earth With Four Corners
"He (Yahweh) will raise a signal for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispensed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" (Is.11:12, NRSV).
"After this I saw four malakim (angels) standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree" (Rev.7:1, NRSV).
Now if you are going to take this literally and say that the earth has four corners, then it must not only be flat but square too. So which will it be? Flat and circular or flat and square? You are forced to deal with this dilemma if you try to view the passages through a modern lens. We all know this is a literary device because we still use the expression today, and it means the same today as it did then: North, South, East and West. In other words, this is a metaphor for "all over the earth". However, modern Bible paraphrases don't translate it that way, do they, because "the four corners of the earth" is still an expression that we use today even though everybody knows the earth is not square, so this is what is used in modern paraphases like the Living Bible and the J.B.Philips New Testament in Modern English.
Ends of the Earth
In the same way, we still use the expression "ends of the earth" not to represent the perimiter or sides of a flat earth but to describe the whole planet (Job 28:13; Jer.16:19; Dan.4:11). Indeed, the Hebrew word which we translate as "ends" is kanaf which is translated in a variety of ways but principally as 'extremity' or 'as far as one can go'. In the Greek translation of the New Testament the word gonia is used and can mean 'angels', 'divisions' which is why the New International Version (NIV), a dynamic equivalent version, renders Revelation 7:1 as "the four quarters of the earth", showing the problems involved in even translating from Hebrew or Aramaic to Greek. Thus the Greeks would mean the 'four points of the compass' as a picture to describe everywhere and particularly to 'extremities'. If Yahweh had wanted to describe a literal 'corner' in Hebrew, any number of other Hebrew words would have been at the disposal of Isaiah like pinoh (a 'cornerstone'), paioh (a 'geometric corner'), ziovyoh (a 'right angle' or 'corne'), kmouth (a 'projecting corner') or paamouth ('square'). Instead, the Ruach (Spirit) moved Isaiah to use kanaf, meaning 'extremity'.
A Circle Separating Light From Dark
Back to the 'circle' which even if you opt to render chuwg literally can mean 'circle, ' round' or 'sphere'. An interesting usage of the word is to be found in Job:
Between Light and Dark on a Disk
"He (Yahweh) has described a chuwg (circle) on the face of the waters, at the boundary between light and darkness" (Job 26:10, NRSV).
What is the shape of the boundary between the dark and lit side of the earth? A circle. What could the boundary possibly be between the dark and lit side of a flat disk? A circle? It would have to be a straight line, would it not?
So if you take this passage literally, you are forced to conclude that the writer is describing a sphere. However, the following verse, which speaks of "the pillars of heaven" (v.11, NRSV) is almost certainly poetic, unless it's a description of lightning.
We could take this further but I think the main points have been made. If you have been deceived into thinking the Bible teaches a flat earth and have been trying to force the scientific data into it, I would invite you to reconsider. A flat-earther once told me that this was not a matter of salvation, and she was right. It is, however, a matter of credibility and what we believe, or don't believe, will either positively or negatively impact our witness and evangelism. I do not want to be responsible for having lost a soul because I presented him with false information, bringing disrepute on the Creator. Therefore this subject is important and must be pursued to a proper resolution.
Continued in Part 2
 Such as Brett Salisbury, B.Sc, and Dr. Lawrence Cohen (assuming they are real), who wrote a slim volume, Spherical Trigonometry for Dummies: The Earth is Not Spinning and We Prove It (No publisher or year of publication given)
 Ed. Eliyahu ben David & Tsiyon Radio, Isaiah 40:21-22 in the Targum Isaiah in English With Parallel Jewish and Christian Texts (Zarach, College Station, Texas: 2012), p.148
 Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA: 2015), p.15