The Flat-Earth Bible
by Robert J. Schadewald
(converted from print media by Cliff Walker, 1996)
When I first became interested in the flat-earthers in the early 1970s, I was surprised to learn that flat-earthism in the English-speaking world is and always has been entirely based upon the Bible. I have since assembled and read an extensive collection of flat-earth literature. The Biblical arguments for flat-earthism that follow come mainly from my reading of flat-earth literature, augmented by my own reading of the Bible.
Except among Biblical inerrantists, it is generally agreed that the Bible describes an immovable earth. At the 1984 National Bible-Science Conference in Cleveland, geocentrist James N. Hanson told me there are hundreds of scriptures that suggest the earth is immovable. I suspect some must be a bit vague, but here are a few obvious texts:
Suffice to say that the earth envisioned by flat-earthers is as immovable as any geocentrist could desire. Most (perhaps all) scriptures commonly cited by geocentrists have also been cited by flat-earthers. The flat-earth view is geocentricity with further restrictions.
Like geocentrists, flat-earth advocates often give long lists of texts. Samuel Birley Rowbotham, founder of the modern flat-earth movement, cited 76 scriptures in the last chapter of his monumental second edition of Earth not a Globe. Apostle Anton Darms, assistant to the Reverend Wilbur Glenn Voliva, America's best known flat-earther, compiled 50 questions about the creation and the shape of the earth, bolstering his answers with up to 20 scriptures each. Rather than presenting an exhaustive compendium of flat-earth scriptures, I focus on those which seem to me the strongest....
Scriptural quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New English Bible. Hebrew and Greek translations are from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. The Biblical cosmology is never explicitly stated, so it must be pieced together from scattered passages. The Bible is a composite work, so there is no a priori reason why the cosmology assumed by its various writers should be relatively consistent, but it is. The Bible is, from Genesis to Revelation, a flat-earth book.
This is hardly surprising. As neighbors, the ancient Hebrews had the Egyptians to the southwest and the Babylonians to the northeast. Both civilizations had flat-earth cosmologies. The Biblical cosmology closely parallels the Sumero-Babylonian cosmology, and it may also draw upon Egyptian cosmology.
The Babylonian universe was shaped like a modern domed stadium. The Babylonians considered the earth essentially flat, with a continental mass surrounded by ocean. The vault of the sky was a physical object resting upon the ocean's waters (and perhaps also upon pillars). Sweet (salt-free) waters below the Earth sometimes manifest themselves as springs. The Egyptian universe was also enclosed, but it was rectangular instead of round. Indeed, it was shaped much like an old-fashioned steamer trunk. (The Egyptians pictured the goddess Nut stretched across the sky as the enclosing dome.) What was the Hebrew view of the universe?
The Order of Creation
The Genesis creation story provides the first key to the Hebrew cosmology. The order of creation makes no sense from a conventional perspective but is perfectly logical from a flat-earth viewpoint. The earth was created on the first day, and it was "without form and void (Genesis 1:2)." On the second day, a vault, the "firmament" of the King James version, was created to divide the waters, some being above and some below the vault. Only on the fourth day were the sun, moon, and stars created, and they were placed "in" (not "above") the vault.
The Vault of Heaven
The vault of heaven is a crucial concept. The word "firmament" appears in the King James version of the Old Testament 17 times, and in each case it is translated from the Hebrew word raqiya, which meant the visible vault of the sky. The word raqiya comes from riqqua, meaning "beaten out." In ancient times, brass objects were either cast in the form required or beaten into shape on an anvil. A good craftsman could beat a lump of cast brass into a thin bowl. Thus, Elihu asks Job, "Can you beat out (raqa) the vault of the skies, as he does, hard as a mirror of cast metal (Job 37:18)?"
Elihu's question shows that the Hebrews considered the vault of heaven a solid, physical object. Such a large dome would be a tremendous feat of engineering. The Hebrews (and supposedly Yahweh Himself) considered it exactly that, and this point is hammered home by five scriptures:
If these verses are about a mere illusion of a vault, they are surely much ado about nothing. Shamayim comes from shameh, a root meaning to be lofty. It literally means the sky. Other passages complete the picture of the sky as a lofty, physical dome. God "sits throned on the vaulted roof of earth (chuwg), whose inhabitants are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the skies (shamayim) like a curtain, he spreads them out like a tent to live in..." (Isaiah 40:22). Chuwg literally means "circle" or "encompassed." By extension, it can mean roundness, as in a rounded dome or vault. Job 22:14 says God "walks to and fro on the vault of heaven (chuwg)." In both verses, the use of chuwg implies a physical object, on which one can sit and walk. Likewise, the context in both cases requires elevation. In Isaiah, the elevation causes the people below to look small as grasshoppers. In Job, God's eyes must penetrate the clouds to view the doings of humans below. Elevation is also implied by Job 22:12: "Surely God is at the zenith of the heavens (shamayim) and looks down on all the stars, high as they are."
This picture of the cosmos is reinforced by Ezekiel's vision. The Hebrew word raqiya appears five times in Ezekiel, four times in Ezekiel 1:22-26 and once in Ezekiel 10:1. In each case the context requires a literal vault or dome. The vault appears above the "living creatures" and glitters "like a sheet of ice." Above the vault is a throne of sapphire.... Seated on the throne is "a form in human likeness," which is radiant and "like the appearance of the glory of the Lord." In short, Ezekiel saw a vision of God sitting throned on the vault of heaven, as described in Isaiah 40:22.
The Shape of the Earth
Disregarding the dome, the essential flatness of the earth's surface is required by verses like Daniel 4:10-11. In Daniel, the king "saw a tree of great height at the centre of the earth ... reaching with its top to the sky and visible to the earth's farthest bounds." If the earth were flat, a sufficiently tall tree would be visible to "the earth's farthest bounds," but this is impossible on a spherical earth. Likewise, in describing the temptation of Jesus by Satan, Matthew 4:8 says, "Once again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world (cosmos) in their glory." Obviously, this would be possible only if the earth were flat. The same is true of Revelation 1:7: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye shall see him..."
The Celestial Bodies
The Hebrews considered the celestial bodies relatively small. The Genesis creation story indicates the size and importance of the earth relative to the celestial bodies in two ways, first by their order of creation, and second by their positional relationships. They had to be small to fit inside the vault of heaven. Small size is also implied by Joshua 10:12, which says that the sun stood still "in Gibeon" and the moon "in the Vale of Aijalon."
Further, the Bible frequently presents celestial bodies as exotic living beings. For example, "In them [the heavens], a tent is fixed for the sun, who comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, rejoicing like a strong man to run his race. His rising is at one end of the heavens, his circuit touches their farthest ends; and nothing is hidden from his heat" (Psalm 19:4-6). The stars are anthropomorphic demigods. When the earth's cornerstone was laid "the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted aloud (Job 38:7)." The morning star is censured for trying to set his throne above that of other stars:
You thought in your own mind, I will scale the heavens; I will set my throne high above the stars of God, I will sit on the mountain where the gods meet in the far recesses of the north. I will rise high above the cloud-banks and make myself like the most high (Isaiah 14:13-14).
Deuteronomy 4:15-19 recognizes the god-like status of stars, noting that they were created for other peoples to worship.
Stars can fall from the skies according to Daniel 8:10 and Matthew 24:29. The same idea is found in the following extracts from Revelation 6:13-16:
... the stars in the sky fell to the earth, like figs shaken down by a gale; the sky vanished, as a scroll is rolled up ... they called out to the mountains and the crags, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne..."
This is consistent with the Hebrew cosmology previously described, but it is ludicrous in the light of modern astronomy. If one star let alone all the stars in the sky "fell" on the earth, no one would be hollering from any mountain or crag. The writer considered the stars small objects, all of which could fall to the earth without eradicating human life. He also viewed the sky as a physical object. The stars are inside the sky, and they fall before the sky opens. When it is whisked away, it reveals the One throned above (see Isaiah 40:22).
Earth is flat,
says Lawrence, Kansas group
by Michael Dekker
March 31, 1999
Topeka, Kansas -- Lawrence residents Tuesday took aim at the Kansas State Board of Education with a tongue-in-cheek press conference outside the building where the board was meeting for the first time since its decision to de-emphasize evolution in science testing standards.
Representatives of a Lawrence organization, Families for Learning Accurate Theories, or FLAT, contend the board should eliminate any references to the "round earth theory" from its standards, as well as references to Pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.
Philip Kimball, the group's secretary, and Tim Miller, a member, both of Lawrence, had a news conference outside the board's Topeka headquarters to poke fun at the evolution decision.
They insisted they were serious.
"The Bible says the Earth has four corners," said Miller, who added that he believes the Earth is either a square or a tetrahedron, a solid figure with four triangular faces.
The board's chairwoman, Linda Holloway, said such criticism was no laughing matter.
The board's decision last month has brought it international attention, much of it negative. Kansas has been the butt of jokes on national talk shows such as "Politically Incorrect" and in editorial cartoons.
Holloway, of Shawnee, said she was concerned such mocking criticism would spill over into classrooms, leading to intolerance.
"They're now saying it's OK to make fun of anybody that has a different viewpoint," she said.
But Miller said neither he nor FLAT was trying to make fun of anyone.
"We're not trying to mock anyone," said Miller, professor and chair of religious studies at Kansas University.
"I have absolutely no problem with any sincerely held religious belief. What I do have a problem with is that if the board has decided that religion is going to be a major determinate in public education standards in Kansas, then let's go all the way."
"Philip and I have said all along ... that we're very serious," Miller said. "We're trying to raise serious issues here."
The board's new science standards will be used to develop statewide tests for students, starting in spring 2001. Critics worry that schools will omit from their lesson plans topics that aren't included, but defenders say the new standards leave such decisions to local boards of education.
The new standards do not include testing on "macroevolution," the theory that species can evolve into other species and that some species, most notably apes and man, have common ancestors. Also left out is the big-bang theory of the origin of the universe.
During the news conference, Kimball, who said he was a fiction writer, held up a cardboard sign that said, "God's world is not irrational! Pi are round!"
Miller quoted the Bible in claiming that Pi is exactly three. Mathematicians have worked out its value to thousands of decimal places, and it is about 3.1416.
Miller cited 1 Kings 7:23, about the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, which says a worker "made the Sea of cast metal; it was round in shape, the diameter from rim to rim being 10 cubits; it stood 5 cubits wide, and it took a line 30 cubits long to go round it."
Evolution an issue
in Lawrence school board race
by Kate Beem
The Kansas City Star
April 2, 1999
Lawrence, Kansas -- The debate over evolution proves that some things never change.
Since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, scientists and those who read the Bible literally have argued over how life came to be.
Now, because of a lesson in a kindergarten class, the teaching of evolution has become a front-burner topic in Lawrence, and an issue in a school board race.
It started when Ellen and Joel Barber found out that their kindergartner was learning about evolution, the theory that all life forms had a common beginning and changed over time as they adapted to their environments.
The Barbers formed a parents group called POSH, or Parents for Objective Science and History. POSH wants schools to present arguments against evolution as well. It also wants children to learn alternative theories, such as the idea that the world and its living creatures came about by "intelligent design."
This week, another group entered the fray: FLAT, or Families for Learning Accurate Theories. FLAT, heavily populated by University of Kansas faculty, facetiously says POSH is wrong to focus only on evolution and suggests that the Earth is flat because the Bible says so.
In the middle is Jack Davidson, one of seven candidates for four school board seats that will be decided at Tuesday's election.
Davidson's answer at a candidate forum on whether he supports teaching evolution as fact or theory has evolution opponents posting yard signs and his colleagues at KU scratching their heads.
During the forum, Ellen Barber asked candidates where they stood. Davidson, a professor emeritus of physics, said he would oppose teaching evolution as fact.
That's because, he said later, science holds no truths. Evolution is a theory, and a theory is a consensus of thinking on a subject. It's a structure on which to hang proven facts, he said.
"I think that is a starting point because the creationists believe the biblical ideas are just as well-proved as Darwin's evolutionary theories are," Davidson said.
Scientists say evolution is the common thread running through the life sciences. The National Academy of Sciences said last year that evolution must be taught in public schools if children are to understand biology.
And the courts have agreed, striking down laws that mandated presenting evolution on an equal footing with stories of how God created the universe.
But the debate has continued.
In a 1994 nationwide survey by the American Museum of Natural History, 46 percent of 1,255 adults did not accept the theory that humans evolved from earlier species of animals. Thirty-five percent of the respondents believed humans and dinosaurs co-existed.
Earlier this year, hundreds of people packed hearings around Kansas to protest the state's new science curriculum standards. The standards name evolution as a "unifying concept" in biology that students must understand, despite their spiritual beliefs.
The standards will be presented in May to the Kansas Board of Education, which has several members who have publicly questioned evolution's validity.
Efforts to write curriculum standards across the country have increased public awareness of the teaching of evolution, said Molleen Matsumura of the National Center for Science Education in Berkeley, Calif.
Theories of how life came to be don't have much relevance for the average person, she said. "What's settled among scientists doesn't mean it's part of public awareness."
Ellen Barber sees the debate differently. She believes people are coming to understand that evolution is a theory with many gaps that can't be explained.
Teaching evolution as fact is "not fair," she said. "That's not what we teach at home. That's not what we believe."
POSH has about 40 members, Barber said. Most are parents with children in the Lawrence schools. Although the group sent a letter to the Lawrence school board asking for equal time, POSH members quickly realized they could be most effective by supporting school board candidates sympathetic to their views, Barber said.
In addition to Davidson, POSH has identified two candidates -- Jeffrey Morrow and Carmela Sibley -- who have said they agree that evolution should be taught as a theory. They haven't said they advocate teaching alternate theories, Barber said, but it's a start.
The other candidates are Cille King, Mary Loveland, Scott Morgan and Sue Morgan.
After Barber began asking candidates their views on teaching evolution, Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Natural History Museum and the Biodiversity Research Center at KU, wrote a column in the Lawrence Journal-World describing creationism as false science. A lively debate ensued in letters to the editor.
Then FLAT was born.
If the creation story in Genesis is to be taken literally, so should other parts of the Bible, said FLAT spokesman Adrian Melott, a KU physics professor.
"We seek honesty, completeness and accuracy in the teaching of all subjects in our public schools in place of the inaccurate, faddish, non-Bible-based ideas that are currently being fed to our children," Melott said this week in a statement.
The book of Revelation, for example, describes the Earth as having four corners. Yet the fact that the Earth is round is freely taught in Lawrence public schools, Melott said.
FLAT hasn't announced which candidates it supports.
Barber said she believes FLAT's positions reveal a bias in the scientific community against Christians who believe Scripture.
Krishtalka said accepting evolution shouldn't prohibit Christians from drawing meaning from the creation story in Genesis.
"We are the stewards of life on Earth," Krishtalka said, describing his interpretation of the creation story. "It's a wonderful piece of poetry. It's a lousy piece of science."
Davidson said some of his KU colleagues were making fun of those who don't agree with their views. He said he believes school board members should be role models and shouldn't poke fun at parents.
"Ridiculing ideas you don't believe in only makes people angry," Davidson said. "People we teach must understand that our point of view is based on a certain way of looking at the world."