Report on the Firmament

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The Creation Concept

Single file


The Traditional Explanation

The Rigid Sky in Greek Philosophy

Temples of Zeus

The Letter of Aristeas

Antiochus and the Jews

Ezekiel's Firmament

Varro on Pagan Religion

The Firmament in New Testament Times

A Quotation from On the Sublime

The Christian Era: Domed Cathedrals

The Demise of the Firmament

Daniel's 2,300 Days

The Search for the Firmament

Waters Above the Heavens?

Canopy Theories



A Quotation from On the Sublime

The identification of the raqia with the earth's crust in the original version of the Genesis creation account is supported by a famous quotation in a ca. first century AD literary work which paraphrases the first verses of an apparently uncorrupted version of Genesis 1. The first few statements in the first chapter of Genesis, which seem so garbled to us today, were offered as an example of the world's most eloquent prose by a writer whose real name is unknown, in a treatise on sublime expression in literature.

The treatise, On the Sublime, was ignored by scholars until it was published by Francis Robertello in Basel, in 1554. In the midst of a series of quotations from Homer, in which he pointed out with some irony how the gods were debased by that poet, by being made like men, while the men who fought at the Trojan war were exulted to the status of gods, this writer quoted from Genesis. The words of Moses, who he called "no ordinary person," were set in stark contrast to those of Homer. He quoted passages from Homer which graphically portrayed the pagan deity Poseidon, and then, referring to Moses, and the opening verses of Genesis, he wrote:

A similar effect was achieved by the lawgiver of the Jews - no mean genius, for he both understood and gave expression to the power of the divinity as it deserved - when he wrote at the very beginning of his laws - I quote his words - "God said" - what? - "'Let there be light.' And there was. 'Let there be earth.' And there was."

Certainly these words, as quoted above, from D.A. Russell, p. 93, are among the most truly sublime ever contemplated by man. They fit well in a treatise on sublime language and expression. They are concise, clear, and powerful. They are almost unique in ancient pagan literature. But this paraphrase does not correspond with what is actually found in our present Bibles, which have suffered from systematic attempts to alter the cosmology.

The name of the author of the treatise "On the Sublime" is unknown, but scholars refer to him as Pseudo Longinus, as the work was initially attributed to Cassius Longinus (213 - 273 AD) but is now thought to have been written before his time, in the early first century AD. The internal evidence in the treatise supports this view, as no writers later than the first century AD are mentioned.

There is an obvious discrepancy between the text of the first few verses of Genesis 1 in our Bibles and the quotation by Pseudo Longinus. Part of the text quoted by Pseudo Longinus cannot be found in our versions. The statement "God said, 'let there be light, and light was,' is there, but the next thing we read about in our present Bibles is that God separated light from darkness, and gave names to day and night. There is no mention of God having said, "'Let the earth be,' and it was so." In fact, some scholars have remarked about the absence of any specific reference in the Genesis creation account to God actually creating the earth, although other scriptures affirm that he did.

The discrepancy between the quotation from Genesis by Pseudo Longinus, and the text of scripture as we have received it, has given rise to a considerable amount of scholarly discussion over several centuries, which continues today. A bibliography was published by Rhys Roberts. Commenting on the early controversy, William Smith wrote:

This divine passage has furnished a handle for many of those who are willing to be thought critics, to shew their pertness and stupidity at once. Though bright as the light of which it speaks, they are blind to its lustre, and will not discern its sublimity. Some pretend that Longinus never saw this passage, though he has actually quoted it; and that he never read Moses, though he has left so candid an acknowledgement of his merit. In such company some, no doubt, will be surprised to find Huet and Le Clerc. They have examined, taken to pieces, and sifted it as long as they were able, yet still they cannot find it sublime. It is simple, say they, and therefore not grand. They have tried it by a law of Horace misunderstood, and therefore condemn it.

Boileau undertook its defence, and has gallantly defended it. He shews them, that simplicity of expression is so far from being opposed to sublimity, that it is frequently the cause and foundation of it (and indeed there is not a page in scripture, which abounds not with instances to strengthen this remark). Horace's law that a beginning should be unadorned, does not by any means forbid it to be grand, since grandeur consists not in ornament and dress. He then shews at large, that whatever noble and majestic expression, elevation of thought, and importance of event can contribute to sublimity, may be found united in this passage.

Commenting on the scholarly discussion on the legitimacy of the quote from Genesis, Rhys Roberts wrote):

Another objection raised, on internal grounds, to the quotation is that it is not only unexpected but inexact. The first portion of the divine fiat differs slightly, and the second altogether, from the original as we know it. The question, indeed, suggests itself whether the passage can - with reference to any original known to us - be properly described as 'a quotation' at all. It reproduces the substance rather than the precise form of three verses at the beginning of Genesis.... We do not know the exact nature of the source upon which the author is drawing.

The writer of 'On the Sublime' must have been acquainted with the Hellenistic cosmology, but he did not relate the first verses of Genesis to the cosmology of his age. How could a first century AD writer have found the writing of Genesis 1 to be among the world's most sublime, while today we cannot say with confidence what it was that was created on the second day, or whether the universe was made before the earth, or even on which day the earth was made? The ancient writer who has been called Pseudo Longinus must have been referring to a different version of Genesis than the one we have inherited.

In his version of Genesis 1, light was made, and then the earth, which suggests the earth's crust is the raqia that was formed "in the midst of the waters" on the second day, enclosing the interior waters, and it rose on the third day, so that oceans and continents were formed. The oceans were the waters above the raqia, and the primeval waters enclosed in the interior of the earth when the earth's crust was formed were the waters below.


Rhys Roberts, W. 1897. The quotation from Genesis in De Sublimitate. Classical Review 11, 431-436. [See p. 433.]

Rhys Roberts, W. 1935. Longinus on the Sublime. University Press, Cambridge, p. 247f.

Russell, D.A. 1964. 'Longinus' on the Sublime, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Smith, W., 1739. Longinus on the Sublime. Intro. by W.B. Johnson, 1975. p. 128-129. Scholar's Facsimiles & Reprints, NY.

Copyright © 1996 by Douglas E. Cox
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