Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Plowing through my Genesis commentaries this afternoon in preparation for the lectionary readings for this week, I found myself once agin' confronted with some of the more, shall we say, dated aspects of ancient Hebrew cosmology.

In particular, I found myself again pranging up against the concept of the raqi.  This word, which tends to be translated "firmament," is a solid dome into which the stars and planets were fixed.  It was also the boundary between the earth and the waters of chaos, which every once in a while would come plashing through and trash the place.  It surfaces here:

"And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.   And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so."  Genesis 1:6-7

Clearly, this doesn't come close to representing the nature of the cosmos, unless all those moon landing conspiracy folk are right and the first Apollo missions all just splatted into a cosmic wall, and Grandpa rigged up his nifty telescope with little fake Saturns and Jupiters.

There isn't an impermeable, impassable barrier between us and some primal chaos.  Of course not!

Being prone to silliness, though, for some reason during meditation over the passages this week I began visualizing the "vault of the heavens" and the "firmament" as something far removed from the retractable roof on the Great YHWH Superdome.

Instead, raqi started feeling more like the cosmological structures of our space-time itself.   Those structures certainly are both real and impassible, and all that we know and can know are fixed into them.  Even the deepest eyes of our reason and science can't see past them, any more than the eyes of an ancient priest could discern the planetary system around Epsilon Eridani.  And "beyond it," as if that spatial category has any purchase outside of our space-time, current cosmology suggests there lies such difference and chaos as to be utterly and literally inconceivable.

In that brief moment of contemplation, the firmament briefly, suddenly, felt quite real.

Of course, this is not what the Priestly storytellers had in mind.