Created: September 9, 2015
Revised:Synopsis Sept 2017  

The Creation Narrative of Science and the Bible

Dr. David C. Bossard

Dr. David C. Bossard
Biographical Information

IX. The First Science: Astronomy
Timepieces in the Heavens
Creation Day Four

14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:IX.06

The first three days in the Genesis account prepared a physical habitat for life, and filled the land with food. Every step in this process was essential preparation for the animals that will be created in Days Five and Six.

Day Four is different. It is the first day that gives reasons for what has been created. On earlier days, God said what He did was good, but no reason for its being good is mentioned. Things were just done, that's all, without a rationale for doing them.

Day Four concerns the breath-taking display of the clear night sky. Its glorious majesty is dimmed in most populated areas today by light pollution and so its reminder of the immediacy and looming presence of God's glory is under-appreciated.

The lights divide day from night and give light on the earth. They also are "for signs" and tick off the passage of time: the seasons, days and years. These activities imply rational analysis as well as systematic record-keeping.



There are few specific names used in Genesis 1. In Day Four, the Sun and Moon are not named, but rather called the "greater" and "lesser" lights.  It seems clear that this is no accident, but why?

In the Genesis account the act of naming things has special significance and implies authority of the name-giver. So God named Day and Night, the Heavens and the Firmament; later in the account Adam named Eve and the animals.

But in the case of the Sun and Moon, the normal names are not used. My guess is that the then-contemporary names for the Sun, the Moon, the stars, and the various "signs" were either themselves the names of gods, or closely tied to pagan deities
IX.01, and the Genesis account pointedly did not want to grant implied naming authority to these so-called "gods".IX.02

In the Bible as a whole—but not in the Creation account—names that come from the names of pagan gods are often used, such as the names of the months in the Hebrew calendar. Indeed even today, the names of the weekdays and some months derive directly from the names of pagan gods. The connection with pagan deities is ignored. But in the creation account, the writer avoided any such wording.


Was the Sun Created in Day Four?

The statement "God made..." in these verses does not say anything about when they were made; in particular it doesn't imply that they were not already in existence—as of course we know they must have been in order for the earth, plants, and other things mentioned in the previous days.

The Hebrew language does not have verb tenses: present, past, future, etc. as most modern languages have. Hebrew verbs designate continuing action or completed action, and leave the context to indicate the time of the action. In particular, the Hebrew language does not have a pluperfect tense.

Thus we can assume—because its the only thing that makes sense in the context—that "God made" means "God had made", meaning that the heavenly bodies were already made prior to the tasks of Day Four (indeed before Day Two). And the ancient Hebrew audience would have taken that for granted, without requiring any remark to that effect. The context makes that clear: the Sun, etc. did not show up for the first time on Day Four.


Signs in the Heavens: Writing in the Sky?
When were the Constellations named?

Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven ... and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

What is meant by the heavenly "signs"? Walter Maunder's book The Astronomy of the Bible
IX.07  is a comprehensive discussion of the Biblical references to the constellations and argues that the constellation "signs" record events in pre-history, before the invention of writing (see Chapter II "Genesis and the Constellations"). Even recognition of constellations in the sky implies systematic study (and recording?) over many years.IX.08

The constellations of the Zodiac trace out the Sun's path in the night sky. Over the course of a year the Sun travels through the 12 signs of the Zodiac (See Astrological Age), remaining in the "house" of each Zodiac sign for about a month. The "head" of the Zodiac is the sign that pertains to the Spring Equinox (nominally March 21)
IX.09. Over thousands of years this "head" slowly changes, taking about 26,000 years to pass in turn through all of the Zodiacal signs. This is called the precession of the equinoxes. We are presently in the Age of Pisces and will transition to the Age of Aquarius in the next century or so.

The Constellations, Ecliptic and Zodiac Signs

When were these zodiac signs first recognized and named? Of course the time was long before the invention of writing, so there is no written record. Here we enter into a fascinating and rich subject that we don't fully know, because "sky writing" began long before writing was invented. But much has been learned within the past century, and even as recently as the last decadeIX.04.

The paintings in Lascaux Cave clearly show the constellations including Orion's Belt
IX.10, Taurus (the Hyades in the bull's head) and the Pleiades (See Figure 2). These paintings form a sky chart that can be dated to the Fall equinox about 17,700 BC based on comparision with the actual night sky projected using modern sky mapping software.IX.05

The Lascaux cave was discovered by accident, in 1940 in Southern France during World War II. This shows just one section from the Hall of Bulls. The preservation of these paintings for the tens of thousand years and their first discovery in modern times is absolutely amazing and a definite mark of God's providence. The first of these were found in the late 1800s, and showed evidence of such advanced artistic skill that many of the scientists of the day thought that they were fakes. That phase is fortunately over and they are known to be genuine. But herein lies what I claim is a providential act, and this applies to all of the cave art discovered since that time. The art paintings are very fragile and decompose when exposed to air, human breath, sweat, humidity and the bugs that come along with the discovery. As a result, unless extraordinary efforts are made to protect the paintings, they flake off, fade away and basically vanish over time, measured in just decades, even though the paintings were preserved for many thousands of years prior to their discovery. 

Thus if these paintings had been discovered, say, 500 years ago instead of in modern times, they would be reduced to memories or folklore long before they could survive to modern times. They would be filed with the tales of Atlantis and other fantasy accounts. Who would believe the remarkable tales that they tell of long-ago human skill and achievement? This is an unavoidable bias—and weakness—of a skeptical scientific approach: yet who would countenance any other  approach?

Note: the bull's back at the extreme left appears vertical because of camera distortion. It is actually horizontal. Around 17,700 BC the star Sirius—the brightest star in the sky—is located near the antelope's nose (in the chest of the bull on the left). Between 10, 000 BC and 17,700 BC the star has moved about 1° further north, and so its association with the antelope is lost (for comparison, the belt spans about 2° at the horizon).


IX.01 The Hebrew name for Sun is shemesh from an unused root meaning "brilliant". A Canaanite city west of Jerusalem (then "Jebus") at the time of Joshua's invasion of Palestine was named "Beth Shemesh", "the house of the Sun" and named for the sun-goddess Shemesh. Was the Sun named after the goddess or was the goddess named after the Sun? The name for the Moon is yareach or yerach, "wandering" or "paleness", from an unused root of unknown meaning. Some say it is the name of the moon god Yarikh and that "Jericho" is derived from this. The word for "star" (the only object mentioned by name) is kowkab "blazing", again from an unused root.   The word for Month is chodesh meaning "renewed". Did the names derive from these meanings, or from the names of gods?  The plain fact is the origins are unknown and of unknown significance.

On the other hand, outside of the creation account, the Bible generally used the contemporary Hebrew names for the months, which come from Abraham's homeland, Ur, a Sumerian city-state: Egypt and Sumer were the first civilizations in the region, possibly in the world. The names all appear to be names for gods—just as today the names for the weekdays and months derive from names of gods (Janus =  January, etc.) or Roman Caesars (who were officially declared to be gods after they died). So naming is complex, problematic and mixed with possible pagan associations—perhaps good reason for the Genesis creation account to steer clear of using specific names.

IX.02  Certainly it is unlikely that God would have named the Sun and Moon after pagan gods, and so perhaps it would be unseemly to say "God called the greater light Sun" etc. Many ancient cities were named after their patron gods which they apparently worshipped with fervor. So much so that the Assyrian empire collapsed suddenly when a total solar eclipse on May 18, 603 BC caused panic among the Assyrian defenders who apparently thought their Sun god had been destroyed. This is recorded in Xenophon's book Anabasis—the Greek Classic of Alexander's conquest of the Near East. See Maunder's description in Chapter 11 and the Appendix of E. Walter Maunder, The Astronomy of the Bible (Annotated) (1922). As a result of Xenophon's mention of this eclipse, many events in the Old Testament history that involve Assyria can be determined quite accurately because the timing of total solar eclipses can be computed quite accurately. See, for example, NASA's List of total solar eclipses which extends back to 2,000 BC.  It seems ironic that many Biblical critical "scholars" of the early 1800s viewed the Biblical accounts of Assyria as mythological fiction until the capital of Ninevah was discovered by archaeologists in the mid-1800s after having been lost to history for some 2,500 years.

IX.03  Some commentators go to a great length to "explain" this late appearance of the Sun and Moon in Day Four—such as that there was a cloud cover that obscured the Sun. This is un-necessary to make sense out of the narrative—and shows a lack of understanding of the use of language and the common sense of the ancient audience of the Genesis account. Now indeed there may have been cloud cover that obscured the Sun (that is an interesting question that science may be able to settle!), but such a consideration is not needed to make sense out of Day Four.

IX.04  I have in mind the Antikythera Mechanism, discovered in 1901. For many years this complex clock-like device (an analog computer—see its listing in the Timeline of (analog) Computing Hardware) puzzled the museum experts as to its meaning and significance. Clearly it was an elaborate mechanism of a complexity that was totally unknown to exist before the astronomical clockworks of 1500 AD or so. This mechanism was dated, based on the visible writing and circumstances of its discovery to around 150 BC. But still its use was a total mystery until it was examined with delicate x-ray tomography in 2006, when it was discovered that its main mechanism is for the purpose of predicting lunar and solar eclipses using mathematical formulations that had been developed by the Babylonians and were well-known to them as early as 800 BC. The amazing discovery not only confirmed those ancient formulations but also showed the amazing skill of these ancient scientists at designing the clockworks using a multitude of delicate toothed gears—including elliptical orbits for the Moon and the Sun (as viewed from Earth). See Jo Marchant, In Search of Lost Time, Nature (30 November 2006). She later expanded this into the fascinating book Decoding the Heavens (2009). "More than 100 years after Captain Kontos and his crew raised the Antikythera mechanism from its resting place at the bottom of the sea, the mysterious device had finally been decoded. Whoever turned the handle on the side of the wooden case became master of the cosmos, winding forwards or backwards to see everything about the sky at a chosen moment. Pointers on the front showed the changing positions of the Sun, Moon and planets in the zodiac, the date as well as the phase of the Moon, while spiral dials on the back showed the month and year according to a combined lunar-solar calendar, and the timing of eclipses. Inscribed text around the front dial revealed which star constellations were rising and setting at each moment, while the writing on the back gave details of the characteristics and location of the predicted eclipses. The mechanism's owner could zoom in on any nearby day—today, tomorrow, last Tuesday—or he could travel far across distant centuries." [Decoding the Heavens, p. 260.]

IX.05 See for further details. Around 17,000 BC the Sun would be in the house of Taurus during the Fall equinox (September 21).  The Lascaux painting corresponds to the time that Taurus falls below the horizon on its daily transit around the Fall Equinox.

IX.06  The use of the word raquia = Firmament here has been often interpreted to mean that the author of Genesis assumed that the "lights" were embedded in a solid firmament. This view leads to the so-called Hebrew cosmology, which is an artificial construction probably dating back to the Septuagint (LXX) translation. This is, in my view, an incorrect interpretation.

IX.07 E. Walter Maunder, The Astronomy of the Bible (Annotated) (1922)

IX.08 I say this and yet certain constellations viewable in the Northern hemisphere (at Lascaux cave, for example)—such as Orion (especially its belt and sword), the Pleiades, the bright star Sirius, Taurus (which includes the Hyades), Gemini, Ursa Major (big dipper) and Ursa Minor (little dipper)—stand out so dramatically that they would probably be recognized almost immediately, although their annual movements would take many years of observation to recognize that they can be used to mark the seasonsm and years. An abiding mystery is how these ancients could record the recurring movements over long periods of time. My guess is that they had an unusual ability to retain a visual account of the movements over time. Maunder argues that the names and identity of the many constellations (many more than these few) became a corporate record written, as it were, in the sky itself.

IX.09 At times the "head" of the zodiac may have been at another time. But the assignment to the spring equinox appears to have been the convention since Akkadian times (shortly after 3,000 BC). The Lascaux cave paintings appear to imply that the "head" was at the fall equinox. The "heads" of religious and secular calendars also vary. For example the Hebrew religious year begins in the month of the Passover—related to the Spring Equinox—celebrating the exodus from Egypt. At that time the Hebrew civil calendar began in the Fall.

IX.10 Some question the identity of Orion's belt because it contains four stars (rather than three). See my remarks about this in It appears that lascaux cave was used between at least 20,000 BC to the collapse of the entry around 8,000 BC.  During this long time some of the constellations changed relative position. For example the star Sirius changed quite dramatically, and even the eye of Taurus moved slightly. I conjecture that these movements caused the "fit" of the belt to shift as well, and a 4th star may have been added to re-allign the painting. It is very likely that the identification of Sirius with the antelope in the painting would have been lost over this time because of that star's relatively large proper motion over the intervening millennia.

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