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Heaven (Judaism)

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Shamayim (ם‎שמי‎ literally "sky" in Hebrew), "the heights", was an important concept in the religions and cosmology of the ancient Levant.

Canaanite views of Shamayim

Shamayim (the heights) was the husband of Eretz (the Earth) and was the father of El, was a Canaanite divinity, equivalent to the Mesopotamian Anu, pre-existing the creation by El, the Father of the Gods or the Elohim. Called the Epigeius or Autochthon by Sanchuniathon,[1] meaning the "self-creating", in Greek myth he equated with Uranus husband of Gaia. In later Phoenician and to a certain extent Hebrew mythology he was believed to have originally existed as an androgynous being and the first part of the creation was the separation of him from the Earth as the "upper firmament", in which the space between the two was that which was filled (i.e. the later Gnostic "Pleroma") by Elohim. As the pre-existing androgynous being he was considered to have been "the God most High" (El Elyon). In Hittite belief El Elyon was known as Alalu. This divinity is believed to have taken as spouse Beruth (Bereshit, = "the Beginning"), and through entering time in this way his nature split. In some ways he is considered to have housed "the Hosts of sky", the divine family of El, known as the Elohim. In other texts he was seen as descending from time to time to the divine mountain which supported the firmament, which is how the Elohim or Gods came to descend to mortal realms. In this way, the creation by the Elohim was seen as filling the heights. Thus in this way Shamayim comprised the "God Beyond God".

Not much is known of his character or personality, as he was superseded and displaced from his authority by his son, El, whose personality fused with El Elyon, and in the Phoenician area Ba'al Hadad syncretised with Shamayim to become known as Ba'al Shamayim ("Lord of heights"),[2] chief God of 10th century Byblos,[3] and in this form is widely known in the Phoenician world. Nevertheless, the opening verse of Genesis 1:1 suggests that he pre-existed the Elohim, and that creation by the Elohim consisted in filling, or of fattening him and his wife.

Shamayim in the Bible

Shamayim comes from shameh, a root meaning to be lofty. It literally means the sky.

"Shamayim" is a crucial concept in the Bible. There are at least three different shamayim or "heavens" in the bible: 1) The atmosphere where birds fly and clouds wander above the earth; 2) The heaven where the celestial bodies wander (wandering stars = planets) and stars reside; 3) The heaven where God and "the hosts of heaven" reside - a spiritual dimension outside earth's spacetime (Psalm 90:4; 2Peter 3:8; Isaiah 57:15) also called "paradise," the "heaven of heavens," or in Hebrew shamayi h'shamayim (ם‎שמי‎ה‎ שמי) in scripture (cf. Deut 10:14; 1Ki 8:27; 2Ch 2:6, 6:18; Neh 9:6).

In the New Testament the apostle Paul speaks of his experience of the third heaven: "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven (Gk. "ουρανός") - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me." (2 Corinthians 12:2-6, ESV)


The related 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 or expanse of the sky. The verse in Genesis 1:20 shows the raqiya was widely understood to be an expanse (like the atmosphere) when it speaks of the fowl "that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." This fact is further clarified when the same word for heaven (shamayim) in the exact same context is rendered as "the air" in Deut 4:17 when again speaking of birds flying in it: "the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air." Context determines the usage and in this case raqiya would mean "expanse." Newer bible version more accurately render "raqiya" as an expanse, as found in the ESV, NET, NAU, NIV, YLT, etc.

The word raqiya comes from riqqua, meaning “expansion,” “broad,” and “beaten out.”[4] 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 it was widely considered that the vault of heaven was a solid, physical object. Such a large dome would be a tremendous feat of engineering.

However, this verse from Elihu is usually taken out of context to "prove" that the bible promotes such a view of the sky, when in fact it is quickly refuted in the bible. After Elihu is finished speaking, YHWH enters the picture and speaks to Job thusly: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" (Job 38:2, ESV). This shows an advanced understanding of cosmology that was at odds with the conventional wisdom of the day around the world in what is widely considered to be the oldest book of the bible.

Raqiya also appears five times in Ezekiel, four times in Ezekiel 1:22-26 and once in Ezekiel 10:1. Here, Ezekiel is given visions of the third heaven and in each case the context does require a literal vault or dome. The vault appears above the “living creatures” (i.e., cherubim) and glitters “like a sheet of ice.” Above the vault is a throne of sapphire (or lapis lazuli). 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 enthroned above the vault of the third heaven.


Another descriptive term used in association with shamayim is "chuwg," which literally means “circle” or “encompassed.” By extension, it can mean roundness, as with a ball, globe, vault, circuit and sphere, depending on context. For instance, in Isaiah 40:22 it is rendered "globe" (DRA version), "vault" (NAB, NAS, TNK). Others interpret it to mean "arch" (BBE), "cumpas" (WYC), "round [earth]" (WES), "round ball [of earth]" (MSG), and "[earth's] horizon" (NET), but overwhelmingly it is left as "circle" (ABC, ACV, AKJ, AMP, ASV, BIB, CJB, CSB, CVB, DBY, EMP, ESV, GNV, HBR, HNV, J2K, JPS, K21, KJG, KJV, KJR, LEE, LIT, MKJ, NAU, NCB, NIB, NIV, NJB, NKJ, NLT, NRS, NWT, RSV, RWB, TMB, TNV, TRC, UPD, WEB, WEV, YLT, LXE, ZIK, etc.).

When "chuwg" is left as "circle" in Isaiah 40:22 it reads:

"It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in" (ESV)[5]

The context in this verse describes in poetic language the view of earth and its inhabitants from high above the planet where God dwells in his "tent" looking down which reflects how God sits on his earthly throne in his earthly "tent" or tabernacle in the first heaven which further reflects how he sits on his throne in the temple of the third heaven (Psalm 11:4 "The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man." (ESV)[6] See also: Psalm 103:19; Isaiah 66:1). In Isaiah 40:22, the tent dwelling of the stretched out heavens where inhabitants are seen from far above earth puts the perspective in the second heaven—the habitation of celestial bodies (stars and planets). In the second heaven, symbolically speaking, God's throne of glory is likened to the sun in its comparison with its earthly counterpart, said to be inherited by David's seed herein: "His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me." (ESV)[7] The sun is also likened to God himself: "For the LORD God is a sun and shield"[8] (cf. Psalm 84:11; Luke 1:78; John 1:4; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46) and has a tabernacle or tent, as in the first heaven: Psalm 19:4 "In them [the heavens] he has set a tent for the sun" [9]

With the context in Isaiah 40:22 understood as being from the perspective of God's seat of glory symbolized as the sun in the second heaven (our solar system) the "circle" ("chuwg") of earth above which he sits is the "circle" that the earth makes in its circuit or orbit around the sun. This is in contrast to when passages written from the perspective on earth describe the apparent movement of the sun likewise as a circle or "circuit," as in David's famous psalm:

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above (this sets the context of looking up from earth, not down on earth as in Isa.40:22) proclaims his handiwork...he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit [Heb. "tequphah" a coming round, circuit, from "naqaph" meaning revolution, course (of the sun), etc.;[10] hence, like a strong man running a circuit] to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat." (ESV)[11]

Modern astronomers and meteorologists speak of a "sunrise" and "sunset"[12][13][14][15] speaking from the earth's perspective as David was doing in his psalm.

In the psalm, David likened the sun to a "bridegroom," and later Isaiah likens God to a "bridegroom," "as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." (Isaiah 62:5, ESV)[16] The bridegroom is later likened unto Jesus Christ when he himself tells a parable to John the Baptist's disciples: Mat.9:14-15 "Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." (See also John 3:24-36 where John the Baptist also witnesses who the bridegroom is and St. John's vision of the heavenly marriage of the Lamb (Christ) to his bride in Revelation 21:9, and how ultimately the "Lamb of God" (depicted in the sign Aries) fulfills in substance the symbol of the sun in the heavenly parable of the 12 signs (constellations of the zodiac or "Mazzaroth,"[17][18][19][20][21] cf. Job 38:31-33, 9:9; Gen.1:14; Psalm 147:4; Amos 5:8) and it's glory, Psalm 19-ff, 27:1, 50:1-6, 97:6-9, 98:2-4; Isaiah 60:19-20; 2 Peter 1:19; Rev. 1:16, 7:16, 21:23, 22:5, 22:16). Following this parable from Jesus, just 5 verses later we read that "a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, "If I only touch his garment, I will be made well" and she was healed that hour.[22] The "fringe" of garments were known as "wings" and draws another parallel to an Old Testament verse describing the heavenly bridegroom typified by the sun as being associated with righteousness and healing in Malachi 4:2, "for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its "wings" [Heb. "kanaph" - wing, extremity, edge of a garment, hem, i.e., a Jewish tzitzit]."[23][24] Jesus' parable of the 10 virgins again reveals himself as the bridegroom.[25]

In the book of Job, one of Job's companions, Eliphas, speaks in chapter 22 verse 14 saying that God “walks on the "chuwg" of heaven.” However, Job's friends who take turns speaking to Job assume to give advice and council him using the conventional wisdom of the day (see above) but are later rebuked by God for speaking "words without knowledge" (Job 38:2). These verses where Job's companions are speaking about heavenly and earthly phenomena should not be taken out of context or mistaken as a biblically-promoted view of cosmology, a popular habit among critics (to be sure, this wiki entry had to be cleaned up and expanded for this very reason).

Modern assessment

Conservative creationists are keen to view the notion of "heavens" into a viewport which tries to update it to modern scientific discoveries. They say that, with modern astronomical theories, this ancient portrayal of Shamayim, or the Heavens, is drawn out from the earth as layered expanses. The only remaining scientific and theoretical approach to these passages is simple and straightforward: the whole of the universe stretches out as a finite (spherical) object according to the Bible, showing that the universe had a beginning — a belief widely dismissed by ancient philosophers and modern scientists until ultimately proven accurate with the observation of the cosmic microwave background radiation by Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson in 1964 showing that the universe had a beginning as stated in the first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1.

The alleged case is that the outermost sky ends beneath a literal "sheet" of what appears to be crystallized (frozen) water (cf. Ezekiel 1:22), (mayim: Hebrew for water) above which is the throne of God and a literal place known in the Bible as the third heaven.

Another creationist allegation claims the symbolic pre-dating of a big-bang-like scenario. The Book of Genesis records that immediately when creation commenced, light and dark were separated. On the second day, the waters were divided by an expanse. These two concepts are important in considerations of the many passages that refer to waters beneath Heaven and the many other division between good and evil, light and dark, and life and death. This of course, is all based upon the words written in the Bible in line with a modern Biblical literary perspective, as opposed to the idea of a flat earth where objects such as the sun, moon, and stars were thought to make their orbit around the earth. The notion of Heaven encompassing the universe all around is a very solid Biblical matter. However, a flat earth was postulated by philosophers, including Jewish scholars, who speculated from their limited knowledge of what was beyond the first heaven, or the sky.

The last classic creationist allegation invoked to prove the biblical scenario, is the occurrence of the "flood". They say that, additionally, the Old Testament speaks of a global flood covering the mountains (their height is not mentioned), as described in Psalm 104:6 (ESV): "the waters stood above the mountains" but after the flood verse 8 mentions the massive geological changes that took place: "The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them." The plain statement of the flood waters standing above the mountains overthrows the notion that the biblical authors believed the earth was a flat disc, like a table top, seeing that the flood waters would flow over the sides of the earth once reaching the mountain peaks and could never "stand above the mountains," as Isaiah records. Only on a globe is a world wide flood that covered the mountains feasible and is taken for granted in its description in Genesis 7:20 (ESV): "The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep."


  1. Attridge, Harold. W., and R. A. Oden, Jr. (1981), Philo of Byblos: The Phoenician History: Introduction, Critical Text, Translation, Notes, CBQMS 9 (Washington: D. C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America).
  2. Moscatti, Sabatino (1968), "The World of the Phoenicians" (Phoenix Giant)
  3. Ribichini, Sergio "Beliefs and Religious Life" in Maoscati Sabatino (1997), "The Phoenicians" (Rissoli)
  4. "Strong's Hebrew Dictionary". 
  5. "Isaiah 40:22 (English Standard Version)". 
  6. "Psalm 11:4 (English Standard Version)". 
  7. "Psalm 89:36 (English Standard Version)". 
  8. "Psalm 84:11 (English Standard Version)". 
  9. "Psalm 19 (English Standard Version)". 
  10. "Strong's and NAS Exhaustive Concordance". 
  11. "Psalm 19 (English Standard Version)". 
  12. "NASA - Sunset Planet Alert". 
  13. "Sunrise at Launch Pad 39A". 
  14. "Sunset Calculator". 
  15. "The Moon: It's Just a Phase It's Going Through...". 
  16. "Isaiah 62:5 (English Standard Version)". 
  17. Fausset’s Bible Dictionary: 2361 Mazzaroth
  18. ISBE Bible Dictionary: 5835 Mazzaroth
  19. Easton’s Bible Dictionary: 2448 Mazzaroth
  20. "Strong's Hebrew Dictionary: 4216. mazzaroth". 
  21. Job 38:32 KJV footnote: Mazzaroth: or, the twelve signs
  22. "Matthew 9:20-22 (English Standard Version)". 
  23. "NAS and Strong's Exhaustive Concordance". 
  24. "The Hem of His Garment". 
  25. "Matthew 25 (English Standard Version)". 

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