Last January, Peter Enns posted a diagram of the triple-decker universe:
Many of us have seen diagrams like this. And according to Enns, that’s how Bible writers viewed the world. But let’s consider this diagram for a few minutes:
1. We’re told that Bible writers thought that heaven was literally up. However, if the firmament were truly a dome, then heaven would surround all sides of the hemispheric firmament, from the zenith to the horizon. In that case, heaven wouldn’t just be up. Heaven would be all around us. Sideways. Ahead and behind.
2. That being the case, it should also be possible to walk to heaven or sail to heaven if you went far enough. Did any ancient Near Easterners have that experience?
3. This diagram also presents the earth as a single landmass or supercontinent (like “Pangaea”), surrounded by the primeval sea. However, some ANE peoples were seafaring peoples. Surely there were some adventurous sailors who either accidentally or intentionally found out that the “known world” of the ANE was not the only land mass.
4. Likewise, if ancient Near Easterners really thought the Netherworld was under the earth, would they not have attempted to contact their departed loved ones by exploring caves?
5. In addition, notice that the primeval sea is cropped and squared off, like a picture frame. But that raises another question: if the primeval sea surrounded the earth, then what surrounded the primeval sea? What lay beyond the picture frame? Did the primeval sea float in empty space–like the final scene in Dark City?
Surely there were savvy ancient Near Easterners who would ask these questions.