Beautiful infographic: "The Ancient Hebrew Conception of the Universe"


Michæl.Paukner's "The ancient Hebrew Conception of the Universe to illustrate the account of creation and the flood." Flickr link, but you really have to see it at the largest possible size.


  1. Lovely, but lacking the Tetragrammaton. The photoshopped clouds are a nice touch. A little Leviathan swimming about the bottom would be fun too!

  2. It does make more sense than what the scientists tell us is out there – hexillions of miles of empty space with the occasional star every 10 trillion miles.

  3. Where is the turtle? Didn’t they know anything?

    * * *

    When I was an active RPGer I made these elaborate fantasy settings which were heavily informed by SF. So, the world had multiple moons, was a planet, and sometimes there were other planets. Based on stuff I read in APAs, and campaigns I played in, this was a common trope.

    Recently, when working on some GURPS Fantasy source material, I’ve kind of gone the other way. I’d really like to see a fantasy campaign setting where reality is more like what the Hebrews came up with up above there. Where there’s a celestial bureaucracy that runs the weather and cthonic bulls stamping about in the bowels of a flat Earth. Making fantasy fantastic.

  4. Stefan: I went through the very same cycle, from middle-school homebrew worlds that were just gussied up sci-fi (complete with “do-anything nanotech”!), to appreciating these strange early maps and supernatural structures. I’m a big fan of how this is used in White Wolf’s Exalted RPG, especially the setting bits about the Sidereal and Celestial City.

  5. There’s a similar graphic in the St. Joseph bible. I think it must have been put in by Jesuits, because the caption calls it a “prescientific view of the universe”.

  6. While nowhere near as pretty, 19th century evangelicals had all sorts of diagrams of Earth, heaven, and hell, with eschatological work^H^H^H^Hsoul-flow diagrams worked in. I think BB may have linked to them in the past.

    * * *

    #8: Figures that White Wolf was ahead of the curve.

    What the hell . . . Antinous can delete this if a plug for my work isn’t kosher:

    GURPS Alphabet Arcane.

    The above has entries on stuff like a crashed star chariot, and the magical camp gear that a hero used to reach the edge of the world so he could petition the monks who regulated the sands of time to fix a mess he’d made.

  7. If you’re doing a follow-up, please add some more details! These things are never as moronic as they seem at first sight, add some motivation for the model, show us its flaws and its weaknesses and how they were perceived at the time

  8. I’m not completely convinced this is correct. From the texts and materials I’ve seen it isn’t obvious that Sheol is above the foundations of the Earth. Also, the windows and doors of heaven should be lower down so that the stars and sun can easily go through them. As I understand it, the stars and sun go out through the Firmament and then go around the other side to finish their journeys.

    There’s actually a debate in the Talmud about whether the sun goes over the Firmament to get back to the other side or goes under the Earth. (Yes, the Talmud is written well after any educated person should have known that things didn’t work this way. The saving grace is that other sections of the Talmud seem to be have a better understanding of the shape of the Earth)

  9. What is this supposed to be based on? Even the artists site doesnt have any explanation.


    How do you figure that “any educated person should have known that things didnt work this way” when the heliocentric model was hardly widely known or accepted by the period when the Talmud (Mishna & Gemara) was compiled (2nd century CE ~ 5th century CE)? If you wouldnt mind stating which seder/folio you are referring to it might also help.

    1. JoushuaZ doesn’t mean heliocentrism, but the flat earth theory- the Earth was widely known to be spherical by that point.

      1. If so there are still issues. I recall something from the Jerusalem Talmud making reference to a globe rather than a plane, but here I’m equally guilty of Citation Needed.

        Also its hard to really “date” Mishna/Gemara since both are written records debate and commentary regarding the Oral Law which had existed long before they were ever written down. Since I’m an observant Jew who that the Documentary Hypothesis is basically from Christian propaganda against the Jews, I’ll tell you that the Oral Law was given with the Written Law (Torah) at Mt Sinai (1380BCE). I realize this opinion is probably not widely shared by commenters here but thats no matter.

  10. The Earth was not widely known to be spherical at the time Genesis was written. Some Greek thinkers were starting to come around to that idea, but even the Greeks had a conception of a disc-like Earth, bordered with ocean.

    This is basically the same illustration that appears in the preface to the “official” American Catholic Bible.

  11. “lacking the Tetragrammaton”? Uh… it’s at the top, merely spelled as “God” in this version. Tetragrammaton literally means “word having four letters” and those four letters are “YHWH” also rendered “Yahweh” and these days usually called “god”

    1. Yod, Heh, Vav and Heh correspond to the Archetypal, Creative, Formative and Manifest worlds. The letters themselves are the important part, not the word that they form. So it’s not subject to translation.

    2. just as an FYI “Yahweh” is not a “Jewish word”. We got more names for God than you can shake a stick at but that aint one of em.

      1. The Tetragrammaton is pronounced as “Yehova” in Hebrew. Perhaps when people say “Yahweh” this is what they mean.

  12. Downpressor, I believe the relevant citations to flat earthism in the Talmud are Pesachim 94a and 94b, and Baba Batra 25b. There are others as well but those are the most clear cut.

    Natan Slifkin gave a talk on this subject recently which I’ll see if I can find a recording of (I haven’t listened to it myself but I’ve been told it is interesting and Rabbi Slifkin generally has interesting points).

    As to your remark about the Documentary Hypothesis, I’ll simply note that a) the DH is pretty bad for standard Christian doctrine as well and b) the motivations behind an idea in no way influence the idea’s validity c) Ibn Ezra and other historical Jewish commentators were willing to accept the notion that the text of the Torah had multiple authors.

  13. There’s also a section in Chaggigah but I’d have to look it up. I think it is around Chaggiga 10a or slightly later.

  14. JoshuaZ

    Thanks for following up. As you know, too many people spout foolishness and just say “Its in the Talmud” knowing that few people on the net actually have the resources or will to follow up on that. Some very silly anti-semitic statements are phrased that way, since we’ve not discussed here before I just wanted to check that you werent blowing smoke up my firmament.

    So I took a shot on the iTalmud app for the iPhone/iPod Touch rather than have to haul my self down to the JCC or Chabad whenever I need a reference to something I dont have the Artscroll text for (yes I know Artscroll is problematic, but I cant afford a Steinsaltz set so waddayagonnado?). Asa note, iTalmud is using Soncino for the English. I looked up Pesachim 94a/b and Baba Batra 25b and checked the audio commentary as well. It seems that the Galgal vs mazzaloth debate as to which resolves around which is the key point here as well as the understanding of the term Galal itself. The gemarra here seems to lean toward the Sun revolving around the world, going “under the world” at night, but that still doesnt resolve if the world is really a disc or a sphere.

    Baba Batra 25b is more clear since there is no way to understand “tent” in any other context but as a surrounding to a flat surface. As for Chaggigah, I looked through about +/- 5 folios around 10a but didnt see it. Doesnt mean its not in that tractate though.

    Again about DH, I hold with Maimonides’s 8th principle. The question of whether the entire Torah was given to Moses vs multiple authors cant be patched over as easily as holding that a beraitot is valid even if it conflicts with accepted halachah. However I disagree with your point b, flawed motivation can lead to flawed logic and flawed conclusions. You can find evidence to support your point thats just not there. The problem with most DH reasoning is that the people who put forth most of these points didnt have the benefit of knowledge of the Oral Torah which would have shot down some supporting points immediately. In any case, just because the DHers claim Ibn Ezra due to his grammatical/logical approach to exegesis doesnt mean he said what they wanted him to say.

    Good on ya for your research.

  15. Downpressor,

    I don’t want to get too far afield of the topic in question but the argument about motivation only works as a heuristic if you don’t know much about the argument you are evaluating. Since one can spend time looking at the evidence one doesn’t have that sort of issue. So it becomes simply a variant of the genetic fallacy.

    The argument about the Oral Torah doesn’t work very well. Of course the midrash tries to explain the same problems; the ancient Rabbis were (generally) bright people and could see serious discrepancies, apparent contradiction, stylistic oddities and incongruities. However, the existence of midrashic explanations doesn’t make those interpretations inherently more plausible. The DH gives a wide explanation for many different issues together as opposed to a hodgepodge of different explanations for every little thing.

    The DHers don’t claim Ibn Ezra in that way in that it seems clear that his views about what may have changed is in many ways much more conservative than what the DH holds. Still, I suspect that if not for the fact that Ibn Ezra was in the modern Mikrot Gedolot, he would be branded a heretic.

    The primary point I was trying to make about Ibn Ezra is that historically major respected scholars were willing to consider (in his case strongly so) the idea that the text has been substantially modified. I’d also be inclined to argue that many variants of the DH don’t intrinsically contradict any of the Thirteen Principles. However, a more important upshot is that saying “I believe X” isn’t an argument for X. Nor is “X implies Y. I believe X. Therefore Y” a valid chain of logic in any case. It is worth asking whether the evidence for the DH is compelling. Or to put it this way, if you presented both the midrashic explanations and the DH to a third party who had never seen any of these texts before, which do you think they would favor as an explanation for apparent discrepancies in the text?

    1. JoshuaZ,

      To avoid a complete threadjack, I’ll just add by way of explanation that I’m a ger and I knew of the DH before I knew of any Midrash. For example, even years ago when I first read about DH points like multiple names (Adonai vs Elohim vs Hmakom vs the Tetragramaton) andso called repeat narratives never seemed to be strong arguments to me. By my understanding, many of the DH starting points suffer from Div/0 errors when countered with Midrash and thus become a sandy foundation for further building. I’ll admit that my knowledge of both is imperfect and that your X doesnt prove Y statement is correct. So when I was a third party, I already saw problems with DH which in my opinion were sufficiently addressed by Midrash and historical context.

      Please note that “I hold with” is by nature a qualified statement of “I believe that” and in my case its based on the evidence as I understand it. We could go further but this isnt really the place. If you hold with DH, thats no real skin off my back so lets agree to disagree here.

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