Were the Ancients Aware of a Globe? (plus a little child psychology thrown in for fun)

OK. Here you go @AllenWitmerMiller and @swamidass as promised. See what you think of my arguments, and I’d welcome conversation from anyone.

It’s long, but I hope an enjoyable read. Forgive my style; I was having fun giving it gravitas. :blush:

Argument #1:

Please consider the following child psychology research of mine: the hypothesis is that every child’s first verbalized scientific observation is that of geometry, namely observation of 3-dimensional circles (hereafter referred to as 3D-circles). This writer will define more clearly what 3D-circles are when concluding the description of the research. This research consisted of two 1-year-old child participants. Alas, this writer has not had access to more child participants on a daily basis to further inform this research. However, this writer will provide other anecdotes so that the reader may judge more clearly whether this hypothesis has any merit. Hopefully scientists may also consider whether it has merit and pursue the hypothesis with more research.

The reader may rightly be asking at this juncture: what does this research have to do with the point at hand, namely that the ancients were aware of a global world? Thus: that God instilled such natural affection between parent and child, that the child would be in awe of any 3D-circles in his or her world and continue to uncover them in his or her world as a lifelong pursuit. This awe would continue unless or until the devil instilled gross idolatry of the heavens or idle culture would dull the natural curiosity of humans to understand their world.

The reader may here be rightly confused, but allow this writer some time to illuminate her point by describing the research.

Child Participant #1 was an extremely verbal one-year-old. He could repeat any word I or others gave him, almost as if he were a trained monkey, or rather, a trained parrot. However, he was particularly fond of one word “buck-a-ba” or what we would know as “basketball.” He was so fond of this word at first, his mother (this writer) thought it was merely gibberish he loved to repeat. Over time, he began to prove that this “buck-a-bu” was not gibberish, as he would point to a ball or a clock or any other round object and say “buck-a-ba.” His mother even vaguely recalls him needing to look behind a clock to see what was there. Of course, only a wall, but how was he to know? This writer determined that for research participant #1 any circular or spherical object, would be called “buck-a-ba.” Thus, the idea of 3D-circles was born.

This research was almost forgotten until child research participant #2 came along. This child was no trained monkey and not a very verbal one-year-old until very recently. He preferred figuring out what made things work, rather than how to make them work, which is still the preference of participant #1. Although not very verbal, this child also had a favorite word: “dada.” Because his “dada’ drives a truck, he also called trucks “dada,” and as he had few words I thought little of this naming of things. However, one day about a month ago when he was around 18 months, he clearly pointed at a bicycle, and said “dada” and later that day had climbed a ladder, pointed to the circular divot at the top for a small paint can and said “dada.” With amazement, I realized this child also was observing 3D-circles but seeing the whole for its circular part. To celebrate my joy in my children’s intelligence and affection for geometry and circles and in the God who made them, I made a post on Facebook about my research with a NASA video, realizing this 3D-circle recognition was instilled by God, but not really understanding how. It was not until the next morning when I put in my contact lenses, that I realized idle culture and/or idolatry had robbed me of my own sense! For in my eyes were circles. Child participants #1 and #2 had looked at those circles and saw that there was dimension behind them, namely me, since the day of their birth. Natural affection for their parents had instilled this interest in geometry. Even my own first word was also recorded as “ball.”

To illustrate that my children are not unique, here are a few anecdotes. In this first article, the child described is much like my research participant #2. The child sees 3D-circles as parts of the whole and names all the objects that have circles with the same word. The parents have also lost their sense about the world. It isn’t until the child utters a more 2-dimensionally acceptable, 3D-circle word “wheel” do his parents understand his meaning. And yet they still don’t understand his earlier utterances! And the author wrote a book about language learning!

“About eight years ago, I eagerly tracked my infant son through his structured babbling, naively expecting a crisp adult-like English word to one day flutter forth. What emerged, at about 11 months, was “ka,” which came along with a pointing gesture. This was not the arrival of his personhood that I’d anticipated, but what ka lacked in profundity it made up in perplexity. Maybe it’s car , my wife surmised, because he said it while pointing at trucks in a book. But then he aimed ka at a bicycle. Backtracking, we wondered whether it might be a label, not for a specific thing, but for a category of vehicles. After all, he used ka with a wheelchair, a barbecue grill, and a shopping cart. That hypothesis died when a Ganesha statue on a shelf prompted a ka as well …. The truth is that by the time he said his first adult-sounding word, “wheel” (pronounced “whee-oh”), we had already communicated so much with each other via smiles, eye gaze, waving, and pointing that words felt superfluous.

A few more anecdotes:

“Ball” and “Car” feature prominently in first words Babies Learning Language: Exploring first words across children

In the United States, “ball” is a top 20 word. In Hong Kong, “ball” and “car” are top 20 words, and in Beijing, “egg” is a top 20 word. https://web.stanford.edu/group/langlearninglab/cgi-bin/publications/Tardifetal2008.pdf

So hopefully dear reader, I have begun to convince you that the human race has a natural affection for 3D-circles. Then, we should expect that those with a large amount of curiosity, or little idolatry, could overcome their culture’s indifference about geometry, and correctly discern the nature of the planet or world they inhabit.

Here are two examples:

Esatosthenes of Cyrene determined the nature of the globe in the 3rd century B.C. Ask Ethan: How Do We Know The Earth Isn't Flat?

He could have easily only been the first recorded in world history, but there were others earlier as all it takes is simple experiments, or observing ships approaching from a distance in two directions: https://www.popsci.com/10-waysmund-you-can-prove-earth-is-round/

Perhaps “Ancients” to the reader, means well before the 3rd century B.C? Consider then what Solomon writes in Proverbs 8:27: “When he established the heavens I was there: when he drew a circle on the face of the deep.”

Before I continue, I must pause. Dear Christian reader, if now your fingertips are hovering over your keyboard, ready with a retort such as that Solomon meant the horizon as one see it in all directions from a high hill, please consider the weight of such an argument: that this man Solomon given wisdom and discernment by God such that distinguished him above anyone before him or after him (1 Kings 3:12) and referring to the Wisdom of God in His creative work was inspired to write such a mundane observation. Would not such an argument more properly come from the devil’s keyboard than yours? If you have considered such a weight, and have judged it not to be so, then by all means, set fingers to keyboard.

Argument #2

Besides calculating the shape of the world, there is also the more obvious way to determine the nature of the globe, and that is to circumnavigate it. So this writer will move next to this argument. Especially if one were to circumnavigate the globe between the time of Noah and Moses, that would lend weight to the argument that the flood story passed down to Moses was obviously that of a worldwide, global flood.

Circumnavigation may take some means to undertake that would require wealth and political stability (or perhaps not, but let’s consider it to be difficult). History records the first known empire in the world as the Akkadian empire. Bible believers may also be interested in the identification of a first world empire. Genesis 10: 9-14 describes a man Nimrod as the first on earth to be a mighty man. He began a kingdom and built cities. If Sargon of Akkad and Nimrod are the same person, perhaps this empire would give men the means to circumnavigate the globe and it would place such travel in between Noah and Moses. So let’s consider that briefly first.

Genesis 10:10 lists Babel/Babylon, Erech/Uruk, and Accad prominently. Any reader could look up Sargon of Akkad and see that Erech/Uruk and Accad/Akkad/Agade feature prominently in accounts of him as well. So what about that of Babel/Babylon? Consider this account from the Chronicle of Early Kings: “He (Sargon) dug up the dirt of the pit of Babylon and made a counterpart of Babylon next to Agade”

Having briefly considered that 3 of the cities in the Genesis account feature in Sargon accounts, let me move on to consider whether any Sargon accounts describe circumnavigation. Indeed Sargon’s birth legend does:

“15.With copper pickaxes, I did cut my way through the (most) difficult mountains 16.I did ascend all the high mountains 17.I did traverse all the foothills 18.The sealands, I did sail around three times 19.Dilmun did submit to me (?) . . . 20.The Great Wall of Heaven and Earth(?), I did ascend. 21.[(Its very s]tones(?) , I did remove [ . . .]” … 22. Whatever king will arise after me, 23. [Let him exercise kingship for x years]! 24. Let him rule the black-headed people! 25. Let him cut his way through the (most) difficult mountains with copper pickaxes! 26. Let him ascend all the high mountains! 27. [Let him traverse all the foothills]! 28. Let him circumnavigate the sealands three times! 29. [Let Dilmun submit to him (?)]! 30. [Let him ascend to the Great Wall of Heaven and Earth (?)]! 31. [Let him remove (its) stones . . .]!

So we can see Sargon claimed to be a mountain climber and to circumnavigate the sealands.

Perhaps you think this is merely a reference to him sailing around his known world. I haven’t done very extensive research into Sargon, but it’s easily evident that his empire extended from Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, and that it also traded with India. His known world, even at a glance of the historical record, encompassed a large part of the globe.

But if he had circumnavigated the globe, wouldn’t he have left a map? That’s where I think the Babylonian World Map comes in handy. Thanks to @swamidass for mentioning it in an interview. I had been researching Sargon but I wasn’t aware of its existence until after I’d finished researching Sargon to my own curiousity. The world map is described also in the link above. It’s dated to the 6th century B.C. However, it is in Akkadian, which at that point was a dead language, so it’s not unreasonable to think it could have been a copy of the original.

Some notes regarding the Babylonian World Map from the link above:

  • “A ring formed by two concentric circles marked Ocean.”
  • “Triangular projections extending outwards from the outer circle of Ocean labelled ‘region,’ for Akkadian nagû, which has the more specific meaning in Babylonian tradition of a region associated with the sea such as islands, peninsulas, or other land areas reached by crossing the sea as is the case with the nagû on our map.”
  • “On the obverse we find 11 lines of text that preserve references to distant places and early times. For example, exotic animals from outside the Mesopotamian homeland including the monkey; …. and the ancient heroes Utnapištim, the hero of the Babylonian flood story, who Gilgamesh visits at the ends of the earth in The Gilgamesh Epic, and Sargon (of Akkade), whose empire, tradition taught, reached from his capital city Akkade to the ends of the world”
  • “On the reverse we find descriptions of 8 regions, nagû, the same term used for the triangular projections beyond the Ocean on the map on the obverse. These are described as regions of wonder, filled with great trees measuring hundreds of cubits, a place of fast running horned animals, and a region of sunrise where, ‘. . . dawns at its entrance.’


  • "In all eight “regions” of the four shores (kibrati) of the ea[rth …], their interior no-one knows “. The “four shores” (corresponding to the four quarters of the compass) is a regular Mesopotamian expression for the entire inhabited world.” https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/W_1882-0714-509

I also find that the correlation between the “Great Wall of Heaven and Earth” in the Sargon legend and in the Babylonian Map of the World give the map some weight to be considered as Sargon’s legacy. Also I find it interesting the Great Wall seems to extend into the ocean, and Sargon somehow ascended it. My husband has summited a few mountains. It’s a bit of hiking, rock climbing, and ice climbing at various points. Perhaps he used some of those skills to ascend this wall in the northern hemisphere that extended from land to ocean.

All babies (regardless of culture/language) favor bilabials (m/b/p) as their first consonantal sounds. [I should make a possible exception here for babies born with hearing disabilities, among whom the bilabials are less common.] Of course, the first such bilabial favorite is usually mama. (Papa may not be far behind if the parents favor papa over the alternative dada.] Considering the popularity of toy balls of various sizes and colors in most cultures today, ball is an early favorite word. However, this is not the case in every culture and certainly not in the past. Indeed, if you check the vocabulary lists compiled by Bible translators in remote fields of operation, a native word for ball (and circle) is often absent entirely.

Have you investigated cultures where the wheel was not yet present? (e.g., aboriginal peoples of the Americas, where topography, among other things, made wheels less useful than other solutions to various daily problems.)

That’s a significant leap. Huge.

I’m sure everyone here would agree that some ancient thinkers, like Erastotheneses, realized that they lived on a spheroid. Nevertheless, we can not automatically assume that that awareness of living on a globe was ubiquitous for average people in average circumstances—not even that most people of the ancient world would be all that concerned with that aspect of cosmology. Plus, to use the 3rd century B.C. as some kind of evidence of “global earth” understanding millennia prior is like suggesting that moon landings in the 1960’s suggests that space travel was common many centuries prior.

By the way, ancient Hebrew did have a word for the 3D sphere that could have been used instead of the 2D word for “circle” in some of the key passages which concordists like Ken Ham like to cite.

Also, I don’t want to start multiple new sub-threads but when a baby uses the same word for ball and circle (as in wheel), we can’t automatically assume that 2D/3D concepts are grasped. The baby’s actually semantic concept may be closer to “turning” or “roll.” Linguists and behavioral scientists have overturned various easy assumptions for this sort about what many observers assume about infant cognitive skills and use of language. For example, parents tend to assume that baby’s first use of the word mama recognizes the identity of the primary cargiver-parent. Instead, the word usage is more akin in most cases to “Feed me!”, which is why in some homes the word mama may at first be deployed in the direction of both father and mother. (The introduction of infant formula and plastic baby bottles helped scientists make this discovery.)

Would these seafaring ideas be likely to be widely transmitted throughout the population? If yes, why does not ancient art reflect this “global” concept?

By the way, here’s a convenient summary of Ancient Hebrew cosmology (which fit in quite well with the rest of the Ancient Near East cultures):

“Drew a circle on the face of the deep” is a description of God the Creator using a compass, much like an architect or engineer would do.

It is not a “mundane observation” at all. It is actually beautiful imagery. Some would call it poetic. Many would call it profound.

No. This sentence is known as the Poisoning the Well fallacy, one of the weakest of rhetorical tactics. It is not a good strategy for convincing people of your hypothesis. (Indeed, some will be insulted by it. Suggesting that people who disagree with you are either knowingly or unknowingly in league with the Devil is rarely a wise strategy in such things.)

I read your entire post and what you present as evidence is quite a stretch.

I assume you are reasoning that if such circumnavigation of the planet occurred [a huge “if”], then the entire planet would have become populated—thereby requiring a flood which reached and judged all Imago Dei Adam-descendants to be global in distribution of their settlements. That’s another huge stretch.

Have you any hypothesis for why circumnavigation skills were lost until many centuries later (and Magellan’s famous navigation?)

Keep in mind that the Akkadian wording for circumnavigate did NOT require any such “global” connotations. Consider what the Latin morphemes suggest: circumnavigate (to travel around something) describes visiting the ports around a common seaway, a “round trip.” Thus, making the “rounds” of those port cities would constitute a circumnavigation. Indeed, had the Akkadian Empire circumnavigated the Mediterranean Sea, they would have made stops in what we would now call Italy, Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, and Tunisia. A round trip of that body of water conducting routine commerce in a repetitive manner.


A quibble: Infants do not have depth-perception when they are born (IIRC), so the first relevant perception would be “depth” and the difference between 2D and 3D.
Educated guess: this likely follows the development of “object permanence” at 4-7 months of age.

That said, I don’t think your argument depends on what that first perception is, so saying it’s “3D-circles” is OK. :slight_smile:

OTOH, maybe it does matter a bit, I need to read thru …

OK, another quibble: The baby’s first word probably depends on the parents. The baby is making sounds which the attentive parent is trying to interpret as words. The parent infers meaning and suggests the association by giving the child a toy corresponding to their interpretation. The child learn this sound/object association from the parent. @AllenWitmerMiller might shoot me down on this - he is our linguini expert. :spaghetti: :wink:


Yes, at minimum, I’m suggesting God’s people knew it. And most as there was significant migration a few centuries after the flood

Yes. Is a negative proved because a positive is absent? Don’t most people think locally, including artists?

How does this negate my point?

I only addressed it to the Christian. I assume all Christians believe we can be seduced by the devil’s lies. It’s a spiritual consideration, not an intellectual one. I do believe it’s fair to ask Christians what they believe to do true about Solomon, the Wisdom of God and creation.

I believe the world before flood was one supercontinent. I believe the rest of the world began to be populated just before or after Nimrod, when they fled his violence. As people always flee dictators.

I actually don’t think circumnavigation skills were lost but only waned from time to time, and we have plenty of evidence they weren’t: The settling of the Pacific, the Americas, various resettlements in Asia, etc., then the Vikings… European culture has prided itself in its superiority and we’ve bought into it as a white-dominated culture.

My point is to get to the Persian Gulf from the Mediterranean, or from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean one must cross around Africa. If one can do so, it’s not a stretch to visit South America, Antarctica, etc. And if you can get that far, why not keep going?

Alexander the Great’s naval expedition (returning from the Indus River) sailed the Persian Gulf without going around Africa. In doing so Nearchus discovered a water route from India to Arabia.

Of course, years before that, Alexander started his travels from the Mediterranean. Combining land and sea routes was not all that unusual in the ancient world.

Among other things, a minor technicality known as provisions.

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Here is the Christian non-scientist bible study response…

In proverbs 8, Solomon is addressing the concept of wisdom. Solomon (and his father David) often wrote what they received from God, not necessarily what they believed or observed (though usually the same). The entire chapter is about wisdom, but has striking commonalities with other stories of Jesus, which could be interpreted as likening “truth” with “wisdom” (John 14:6). So, drawing circles on the sea is a reference to designing/creation in the beginning, (John 1:1) that Jesus (wisdom/truth) was with God. The other passages in proverbs 8 all speak to the creation story of Genesis with “Wisdom” present. Most likely, Solomon did not know that he was giving a description of the coming messiah (maybe he did) as Isaiah/David knew when they prophesied.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes of the vanity and futility of life. His conclusion is that we can only have joy, drink and be merry, and fear God. The rest is just useless, because God comes along at some point and resets everything where all is new. Speaking of child psychology, I like to envision a God sized Etch-A-Sketch or snow globe that God wipes out and starts over whenever He wants.

(I was not offended by the Devil remark, he is at work all the time, but I can see how it would offend others, so I agree with both sides on that one.)

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One of the many problems with the Poisoning the Well fallacy as a tactic is that it can just as easily be applied in the opposite direction. For example, why shouldn’t one assume that the Devil is tempting modern day readers of the Bible to anachronistically imposing today’s worldviews and fads (and even important concepts like modern science) upon the ancient text and thereby distorting and ignoring the meaning God had originally intended? Is scientific concordism sound hermeneutics? Do modern readers need to be “helping out” the Biblical text by imposing modern day perspectives into the ancient text, as if the Bible needs a more scientific bent in order to speak with God’s authority? Does the Devil like it when we get distracted from what the Biblical text actually states? (Do you see how this tactic doesn’t necessarily take us in a productive direction?)

@Mark10.45 and @thoughtful, the themes on Peaceful Science tend to sway back in forth between heavy-on-science threads and the more theological—and in recent months there’s been a swing to the more-of-the-science side. So it is nice that in recent days you are bringing us back to some ANE history, cosmology, and hermeneutics topics on the theological side again.


I may be a little dense here, but I’m not seeing a problem. It might help me if you provide me of an example of how poisoning the well would work in the other direction.

Provide a link please. I’m not sure of what you’re saying. Are you saying there was a water route back then and the geography has changed? Or that “sailing around” could mean also using land to do so?

I love this, I saw a documentary recently on how someone scientifically explained all of the plagues in Egypt (Exodus) with a massive volcanic eruption far away…almost like we can say, “Oh, since that’s scientifically true, now I can believe in God.” Also, that the parting of the Red Sea could have been a tsunami from a distant earthquake. Then I just think, “Ahhh…so that’s how God did it…”


Glossolalia involves speaking in tongues.

Linguini requires the eating of them. (Italian linguine, “little tongues”, is a diminuitive derived from the Latin lingua, “tongue.” Yes, linguine looks like a bunch of tongues, especially when hanging to dry after their creation.)

Yes, linguistics is the study of tongues, i.e., languages, a word which itself is a Middle English derivative of the same Latin lingua.

Thanks to a lot of Romans and a lot of monks, Latin worked its way into English over the centuries. Indeed, if English lacked a handy word for something, there was always a monk willing and able to adapt a Latin word for the job.

(Yes. That was a mouthful.)


For this reason, among others, don’t neglect this series which is coming out right now: Sapientia Symposium on The Genealogical Adam and Eve


I just had a conversation with my almost four-year-old that is relevant to my earlier hypothesis and it’s fun so I’m sharing. :blush:

I was trying to explain to him last night and that the moon was a semi-circle. He didn’t get it so we were still talking about it this morning. I told him a semi-circle is a half circle. His reply

“A semi-circle cannot be half or it would scrape on the ground.”

Clever boy. My theory is that he sees any round shape as a circle. Really besides the moon when does a child see a semi-circle? So he just thought it was a fancy name for a circle. But his reasoning shows he understands quite well why wheels are round and why that’s useful.

I tried to engage him on why the moon changes shape. But he was mostly interested in a ladybug. I finally got “because it wants to.” So he doesn’t quite get the concept that of something covering up something else. To him the moon is a circle because it always has a round shape.

Kids are great…this answer would tell me that he equates circle with wheel or ball, and that if it has a flat side it won’t roll…brilliant, but not as interesting as ladybugs for sure.


Thanks for being entertained with my story :slight_smile:

I’m also thinking that semi-circles or crescents may be sort of an optical illusion for kids. That when they see the round shape, their brain fills in a circle. Just like when shadows in a picture let us know that something is 3D, we fill in things in the picture that aren’t there. Those optical illusions drive me nuts. :joy:

Yes, I think the Vikings may have circumnavigated the globe.

But for Sargon to travel around the Mediterranean only doesn’t make sense. I checked back and I did not included some relevant information in the original post. The legends directly mention the upper and lower sea. Sargon’s claim had to include the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf and IS a claim about going between them at least, and at minimum require sailing around Africa.

Here are various legends:

He conquered the city of Uruk, destroyed its walls, defeated the people of Uruk (in battle), he smashed with the tun.kara-weapon. He defeated Lugalzagesi, the king of Uruk, and captured him and led him off to the gate of Enlil in a neck stock. Sargon, the king of Agade, defeated the people of Ur, smashed with the tun.kar-weapon, conquered his city, and destroyed its walls. He conquered E-Ninmarki, and destroyed its walls. He conquered the territory from the neck of the land, (that is) city of Lagash, to the (lower) sea and washed his weapon in the sea. He defeated the people of Umma, smashed with the tun.karaweapon, and he conquered his city, destroyed its walls."

Ebla is in Syria

Sargon the King bowed down to Dagan in Tuttul. He (Dagan) gave to him (Sargon) the Upper Land: Mari, Iarmuti, and Ebla, as far as the Cedar Forest and the Silver Mountains

"For Sargon, king of the land, the god Enlil never gave the rival, and he gave him (Sargon) the region from the upper sea to the lower sea

We also know around this time people were migrating all over the globe as we have evidence of human civilization in the Americas. So, again, how could he NOT be saying he’s sailing around the world as a globe 3 times? (My memory was bad, and I said 4)

Considering that the cuneiform does NOT contain any statement claiming a circumnavigation of the globe by Sargon or anybody else, the question is a strange one.

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I’m still working on the Vikings circumnavigating the world. Where did that come from?

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I can confirm that Norseman circumnavigated Iceland. As to “circumnavigating the world”, not so much.

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You need to think of this from a mathematician’s point of view.

If I sail around Iceland, I have sailed around iceland. But I have also sailed around the rest of the world outside of Iceland. I took a circular path. On one side of that path is Iceland; on the other side of that path is the rest of the world. So I have circumnavigated both.


@thoughtful, I apologize I am just now reading this post of yours for the first time. This is by far the best post you have submitted on this forum. I am appreciative of your analysis thus far and intrigued by your proposal. I am going to make some notes and commit this to some further study.

Let me ask so that I can be perfectly clear on your position: Are you proposing that since the ancients (including Hebrews, Moses, even Babylonian, etc) knew the earth to be a globe, that when the great Flood was mentioned in those cultures, there was immediate understanding that the event was on a global scale? I think (I would like to hope) that is what you are claiming, but just double-checking.

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