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"Firmament" is the most common English translation of the Hebrew word raqiaà, as used in the Bible. The Firmament is a vast, solid plate/dome/sphere upon which God affixed the stars. It separates the Earth from the waters of Heaven, but has floodgates for when God feels like letting it rain, or simply killing people.
The early model of the universe had a flat Earth with a flat sky held up with pillars, much like post and lintel construction. After dome construction was invented, it became obvious that God had used the best construction method and earth was flat with a domed sky. Plato showed that earth was a sphere and proposed seven crystal spheres holding the heavenly bodies giving us seven heavens. The Bible uses all models without noting their incompatibilities.
This shows that the writers of the Bible believed that the sky was a literal solid; thus, creationists have tried to come up with various excuses. Kent Hovind claims that the firmament was a shell of solid ice which completely covered the Earth before the Great Flood.
Of course, rational people know that this is bullshit. The simple theory of gravity would send any such canopy crashing to the ground but of course, gravity is just a theory. Reasonable Jews, Christians, and Muslims assume it is one of the allegorical parts of the Bible, or recognize it for what it is, a prescientific attempt to explain part of the world (much like earthquakes or lightning).
- In the Bible, raqiaà is used to mean "that which is hammered, beaten out." In, for example, Exodus 39:3 "its verbal cognate raqa' ("stamp, beat, spread out") is used of hammering metal into thin plates." The idea that the sky was hammered out is "consonant with both Egyptian and Sumerian views of the sky."
- The Firmament and the Water Above Part I: The Meaning of raqiaà in Gen 1:6-8
- Genesis 1:16-17
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
- Genesis 1:6-7
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
- Genesis 7:11-12
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
- Isaiah 40:22
It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:
- Job 37:18
Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?
- Ezekiel 1:22
And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.
- See the Wikipedia article on Celestial spheres.