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


I thought this text would interest you; it was shown to me by a BioLogos participant (Reggie O’Donoghue) a few years back:

Psams 19:1,4 [Revised Standard Version]

… The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
… Yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun, << A tabernacle where the sun dwells at rest.

The fact they imagine a structure bigger than the sun, that provides rest to the Sun out of view … is consistent with the idea that the Earth is NOT a sphere where the Sun is ALWAYS visible from some portion of the globe. But with a flat dish-like Earth … the scribes can easily imagine all sorts of places and things in the sky … but not visible from the inhabited portion of Earth.

This is supported by what we find in Job 38:22-23
Hast thou entered into the treasures [i.e., "warehouses’] of the snow?
Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail?
[These] I [Yahweh] have reserved against [for a] time of trouble,
against the day of battle and war?

Warehouses full of snow and hail can really only be entertained if there is a portion of the sky where no human can ever see for themselves… and this is really only workable if the Earth is a disk, not a globe.

Read the whole psalm. It’s an extended metaphor.

This whole chapter is saying we don’t have the perspective of God. Have you been in a cloud? no.

If you look at those sections in context, they don’t rule out knowing the shape of the earth at all.


The bible is full of metaphor … but it’s funny how there isn’t ANY metaphors that reflect correct cosmology.

It would be pretty easy to adjust these references in Psalms and Job that would reveal an inner awareness of the Earth being a globe.

You asked the question: “Were the ancients aware of a globe?” The answer appears to be no… just like they had no concept of what kept the waters of heaven UP IN THE AIR.

CAVEAT: At some point, the Greeks had a reasonably strong conviction that the Earth was a sphere. But I have not made a study of when that turning point in the Hellenistic mind was achieved.

But I am reasonably confident that there isn’t any part of the Old Testament that reflects this turning point.

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Have you been reading any of the posts I’ve started regarding investigating cosmology and comparing with the Bible?

Someone posted this in another thread, @thoughtful. The slide show addresses some of your questions above, its an easy to follow presentation for us non-scientists.

My point was he’s insulting God by acting as if God would inspire writers to write stupid things. He may not have been insulting me but I’ve been spending months studying physics and all kinds of passages on creation related to Genesis 1 over and over and I’ve posted about all of that a lot. For him to say God’s inspired Word doesn’t know how waters are held up in the air made me angry. Plus I’ve been posting about just that very thing for weeks. He may or may not have read my threads and realized that. So I can let that one go. I was asking if he had read them.


Just to clarify matters… I’m a Unitarian Universalist. We don’t worry too much about God “feeling insulted”. Otherwise, what would we make of this lesson Jesus taught his followers in Mark 8:23

"And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town;
and when he had spit on his eyes,
and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.

Did Jesus know germ theory? Almost certainly not. And my denomination wouldn’t expect Jesus to know such things.

This statement:

Proves that @thoughtful is correct when she says:

@gbrooks9, Jesus knew/knows everything, so does God…humans don’t. Of course Jesus knows germ theory, better than any human, he created it. The representation that Jesus was limited in His understanding of the universe (in total) is a very limited understanding of Jesus and of God. Miracles to men are common (natural) actions for God.

Interesting, I know from bible study, pretty basic stuff. Jesus knows everything because He was there at the beginning and was/is/is to come God.

That said, believe what you wish, follow who you want.

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That is a metaphysical idea. And I don’t think the facts support it. Jesus puts mud into peoples eyes… (which was a known piece of pagan-based magic).

Imagine the good that Jesus could have single-handedly accomplished if he had described “evil spirits” as microscopic, and something that could be washed off the hands?

If Jesus is God AND ALL HUMAN … I think that’s where the human issue comes to play - - Jesus doesn’t seem to know anything modern at all… but he does a good job with re-packaging ethics!

No, this is a theological idea that has lots of scriptural support.

This is pretty much the whole point to the New Testament. Read John, Hebrews, Revelation again. Jesus says quite plainly in John 10:30 - “I and my Father are One”. If you believe in Jesus but don’t understand the importance behind Him being both man and God, then it is time to study the bible. Jesus could have ended humanity with a thought, or a snap of His fingers, but He didn’t, and it’s important to understand why.

Whew, sister! Ditto to that!

I was just going to ask you regarding your thoughts here, not to make an attempt at rewriting, that would be a big job. Could you possibly just bullet-point your ideas for those of us who believe there is substance here? It would really help to copy and make notes.

Thanks so much for this thread!

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Oh, for goodness sake. The Church Fathers cut this chestnut a million different ways. And apparently YOUR favorite version is the one that makes the least in the modern world. This is why I am a Unitarian.

As for “metaphysical” vs. “theological” - - I think you will find that they are generally used synonymously. Something “metaphysical” can’t be proved or disproved… and the same can be said for things “theological”.

The Pharisees said we “slept” when we die - - awaiting a physical resurrection.
The Sicarii said our consciousness (of the Righteous ones) went to the Isle of the Blessed until God sent the angels to retrieve you for a particular purpose… also with a General Resurrection coming later.

The difference in views on the afterlife are both metaphysical differences and theological differences. Only death will allow you to report the facts … if you remember to bring your smart phone!

Honest question…who are the “Church Fathers”…I keep seeing it thrown around like it is a known fact. Do you mean apostles?

@jongarvey and @deuteroKJ might clarify, but I think the church fathers are key leaders in the early centuries of the church, not apostles.


I understand it to be the next generation of church leaders after the apostles. But it’s a good question. I’d be interested to know if someone else has a different of distinct definition. Here’s what Wikipedia says. Church Fathers - Wikipedia

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thanks for that, I’ll read up…much later than the next generation…doesn’t 700 AD correspond with the onset of Islam? Maybe organization of the Christian church was in response to a competing theology? Interesting.

@thoughtful has provided the Wiki link for the Church Fathers.

In the article, you can find a list of 90% of the Church Fathers

Earliest Church Fathers
|2.1|Clement of Rome|
|2.2|Ignatius of Antioch|
|2.3|Polycarp of Smyrna|
|2.4|Papias of Hierapolis|

|3|Greek Fathers|
|3.1|Justin Martyr|
|3.2|Irenaeus of Lyons|
|3.3|Clement of Alexandria|
|3.4|Origen of Alexandria|
|3.5|Athanasius of Alexandria|
|3.6|Cappadocian Fathers|
|3.7|John Chrysostom|
|3.8|Cyril of Alexandria|
|3.9|Maximus the Confessor|
|3.10|John of Damascus|

|4|Latin Fathers|
|4.2|Cyprian of Carthage|
|4.3|Hilary of Poitiers|
|4.4|Ambrose of Milan|
|4.5|Pope Damasus I|
|4.6|Jerome of Stridonium|
|4.7|Augustine of Hippo|
|4.8|Pope Gregory the Great|
|4.9|Isidore of Seville|

|5|Syriac Fathers|
|5.2|Ephrem the Syrian|
|5.3|Isaac of Antioch|
|5.4|Isaac of Nineveh|

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I think that’s really late. I’m guessing most definitions much sooner. The first church split was in 451, so I’m guessing then there’s more talk of denominations rather than church fathers. I didn’t know this until I learned all about the Coptic Church on the Ten Minute Bible Hour channel on YouTube. I like Matt; he’s fun to listen to. :slight_smile:

“Fathers” is a loose, but useful, term for the theologians who first hammered out the doctrines of the church in written form. The “Apostolic Fathers” includes those like Papias or Polycarp, who actually met apostles. They often have theological insights we’ve lost down the centuries, because they “breathed the air” of the early church. That alone makes them worth studying.

Then you get those in later centuries who clarified doctrine against the background of a welter of deviations as the faith became culturally mainstream, the latter primarily from the mixing in of Greek or pagan ideas. It’s crucial to realise that these guys were striving to establish biblical teaching against philosophical additions - though they themselves often had an education in philosophy that qualified them to understand the problems, as well as to express Jewish ideas in ways familiar to non-Jews. Naturally enough, their culture sometimes rubbed off, and that needs to be factored into reading them, but an old idea that they imposed Greek philosophy on the pure gospel is now effectively debunked.

I’d say there are a few important things to consider about the Fathers, especially the Apostolics.

  • The first is that they were the first generation of Christians to work through the implications of the Apostles’ teaching fully, and especially the first in a Gentile context. That makes them the foundation with which to compare anything new. They may well have things wrong, but you and I are far more likely to have things wrong.
  • The second is that they did this in the context of the church network that had been founded by the apostles or first generation evangelists. In other words, they were able to work on the basis of “the original message,” rather than the teachings of breakaway groups. That’s what is implied by “tradition” - not that they valued ancient teachings because they were ancient, but because they could be tracked since they were original and recent. An equivalent might be reading Josh’s book (or mine!!) to find out what Genealogical Adam and Eve theory is about, rather than trusting comments on blogs based on antagonistic reviews.
  • The Fathers were heavily reliant on Scriptural arguments. They quoted OT and, more significantly, NT sources extensively in the second or third centuries (and in one or two cases possibly the first), or they alluded to them without actually quoting. And they accorded them equally binding authority with the Old Testament, which is significant at such an early stage. You don’t find Christians according the writings of, say, Karl Barth or Martin Luther King equal authority with the gospels: they considered they were dealing with a binding new revelation.

Though we have a only limited part of all they wrote, this gives a very reasonable idea of what was regarded as authoritative Scripture, what was considered popular and helpful but not authoritative, and what was either rejected, or simply not used at all.

The result is that from the use made of the NT by the early Fathers (as opposed to “This is a list of the sacred books”) you could reconstruct a large part of the New Testament, with very few books (mainly the shorter letters) not cited and very minor disagreements about what was “in” or “out.”

Incidentally, I think Luther’s “epistle of straw” citation is often misunderstood to mean he did not regard James as part of the inspired canon. In my view he was, in characteristically blunt way, downplaying what he saw as its practical value: if he regards Galatians and Romans as embodying the bread of life, then in comparison James is the straw left after the threshing. I disagree with that, but few Christians would disagree that they’d rather have Romans in their prison cell than James, if they had to choose.

  • In the Sumerian King List Sumerian King List - Wikipedia, this pattern is repeated: “Then Akshak was defeated and the kingship was taken to Kish.” It puzzled me a while, until I realized the culture of the Bible at this time is caravan city-states. They had the culture of priest-kings. So I do think it is a bad translation and it means something like, the caravan was here, and then it was taken to here. So when historians look at this list of people as kings, instead it’s listing prominent names of the household in that place.

  • After clicking through so many names, I started to see patterns. For instance, you can tell which are the honorary titles - here are some examples: Puzur, Lugal-zage-si, Sargon. After you look at a lot of the names, you can see each language has a slightly different word for the same thing - some seem very related words, and some not.

  • On the list, I believe Nimrod is named multiple times. But here’s where Sargon is most prominently listed. Dynasty of Akkad There are too many similarities between Sargon and Naram-Sin to be different people. Some historians think so too. But it says “son of” - so I thought perhaps that translation is wrong and the abu/bin are interchangable, you have to know the context back then. Plus they still like lots of titles and family/tribal names in the Middle East today.

Here’s Genesis 10 again:

The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, [c]Put, and Canaan. 7 The sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtechah; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan.

8 Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, 12 and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city).

  • So I would think that it’s fairly obvious Cush = Kish. While I was clicking I also decided that his name in other languages was Accad, Sin, and Suen. Interestingly, this is the cuneiform for Kish is 𒆧𒆠 Of course, what does that look like? It’s a bull. The other symbol means “place of” He was the firstborn of Ham’s family, and later there’s a lot of places that began to worship cows…Israel and the golden calf…anyway :slight_smile: It seemed fairly obvious after looking at it, that a lot of the idolatry was from venerating family members and then people forgot they were real people and turned them into gods.

So obviously in the timeline first we have the flood, then the Tower of Babel…

  • So the text of Genesis mentions the first city of Nimrod’s kingdom as Babel, and I had found a source that said “He (Sargon) dug up the dirt of the pit of Babylon and made a counterpart of Babylon next to Agade” - I believe this sentence is actually referring to later when he had power and was trying to build a tower or temple. He had already had a place near Agade/Accad that he called Babel or Babylon. But of course I’m guessing based on the biblical text. :slight_smile: Biblical scholars never know whether to translate this Babel or Babylon. It’s really both. Again guessing - I think he liked the idea of the tower and its accomplishments and no one stopped him. (bad idea)

  • So then the legends mention Sargon getting involved with Ishtar. Not sure if she’s his mother or sister. But likely his mother. Eventually Ur-Zababa (who I think is his dad Cush) sends him away to be killed. From the Birth legend:

53-56In those days, although writing words on tablets existed, putting tablets into envelopes did not yet exist. King Ur-Zababa dispatched Sargon, the creature of the gods, to Lugal-zage-si in Unug with a message written on clay, which was about murdering Sargon.

Unug here is Uruk/Erech the second city listed in Genesis. I find it funny here the writer has to mention this is the first letter ever sent (it was after the flood, he knew no one had done this before). From looking up Lugal-zage-si, it was pretty obvious this later referred to Nimrod, so I think it’s merely a title. If I remember right - Lugal means king.

So that legend is cut off, but there’s another one that relates the event.

“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.”

This account sort of smashes everything together, but there’s a story called the Great Revolt (I only watched a YouTube video, so I don’t have the text) where a bunch of people fight Sargon. My guess is that all the extended family find out Nimrod/Sargon has conquered his brother - go out to fight him, but he defeats all of them too. Obviously he has some help.

  • From Genesis 10: “Calneh, in the land of Shinar” - I wasn’t 100% sure of where Calneh was, but Mari seems to have been a prominent city, so it’s possible. Shinar is what we’d call today Sinjar

Another legend:

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

This matches the Biblical account really well. “10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, 12 and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city).”

Cedar Forest, obviously Lebanon. I believe Calah maybe is Ebla - it’s in NW Syria. At this point again, there were mostly caravan sites, few actual cities with walls I think. The Silver Mountains are the Sinjar Mountains in Sinjar/Shinar.

That area became famous for where the Yazidis fled from ISIS and eventually Americans helped them get off the mountains.

  • Genesis 11:31 mentions Terah leaving Ur of the Chaldeans. “And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.” Genesis 11:28: And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Next in the text is Abram being called from Haran to the land of Canaan and immediately after that in the text Abram goes to Egypt because of a famine. “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.”

  • The story the “Curse of Agade” mentions Sargon and Naram-Sin: “In the dust as if it were a mighty bull, and then Enlil had given the rulership and kingship from the south as far as the highlands to Sargon, king of Agade – at that time, holy Inana established the sanctuary of Agade” and Naram-Sin “Its king, the shepherd Naram-Suen, rose as the daylight on the holy throne of Agade.” As far as I could tell, it’s the only text that seems to indicate those two names are the same person. So of course it’s considered a later fabrication. But it also covers all the gory details of a horrible famine.

  • So Genesis 11 seems to be saying Haran lived in Canaan, but died in Ur. So then Terah leaves and takes up residence where his son used to live. Some time passes and there’s a famine. It seems like it’d make sense for Terah and his family to move away if Nimrod had taken over in that area, and then for Abram to leave the land God had just called him to, it had to be a pretty horrific famine. He was so worried he let Pharaoh take his wife as his own. Not pretty.

Those are the basics of some of the facts that match Genesis and all of my guesses at putting this puzzle together. It’d be tough to prove it; I went by instinct and patterns.