Topics Biblical Interpretation
The Flat Earth Theory: Fact or Fiction?
By Jeff A. Benner
In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who have come to the conclusion that the earth is flat and not a globe. I conducted a survey to get an idea of the percentage of people who visit my website who believe in the flat earth and the results were suprising. 76% of those surveyed believe the earth was a sphere, 23% believe the earth is flat and 1% was undecided. Almost one-quarter of the people who visit this website are convinced the earth is flat.
Part 1 - The Biblical Evidence
When I first began getting emails from people who were promoting the Flat Earth Theory, I initially ignored the subject, believing it to be another fringe theory held by a few people. But then, as I got more and more emails from people asking about the Globe Earth vs. the Flat Earth, I felt that it was time to dig into the subject and examine the Flat Earth Theory for myself.
The Circle of the Earth
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; (RSV, Isaiah 40:22)
When interpreting scripture, it is very important to interpret it from an Ancient Hebrew perspective and not from our own modern Western viewpoint. As an example, let's look at the last part of this verse which states: "and spreads [the heavens] like a tent to dwell in." The Ancient Hebrews lived a nomadic lifestyle, dwelling in goat hair tents. The fibers of the goat hair allowed pinholes of light to pass through the tent and from inside the tent the roof looked similar to the night sky. So, when the Ancient Hebrews looked at the night sky, they didn't perceive the stars as giant balls of gas billions of miles away as we do; they saw the night sky as God's tent over them.
When we read a passage like "the circle of the earth," we need to interpret this from their cultural perspective. The Hebrew word
עולם (olam, Strong's #5769) is frequently translated as forever, everlasting and world (Hebrew words related to time are also used for space). These translations imply vast spans of space and time, far beyond any perceptions the Hebrews would have of space and time. However, the literal meaning of this Hebrew word is "beyond the horizon." This could be a time in the far distant past or future or a place beyond one's perception. The Hebrews did not attempt to define or speculate on what was "beyond the horizon." It was just "hidden," another meaning of this Hebrew word from their viewpoint.
Because the Ancient Hebrews only concerned themselves with what they could perceive around them, the whole world was what was within their sight. If you stand in the middle of a plain and look all around you, you will see a 360-degree view of the horizon and this horizon will be in the shape of a circle.
The Hebrew word for "circle" in Isaiah 40:22 is the word
חוג (hhug, Strong's #2329), which means a "circle," such as is drawn with a compass, and refers to the perceivable "world" around the individual.
I should also point out that the Hebrew word ארץ (erets, Strong's #776) is frequently translated as "earth" and implies the entire planet in the English language. However, in Biblical Hebrew this word means an area of land, such as a region.
The Sun Stands Still
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. (RSV, Joshua 10:13)
According to modern science, the earth revolves around the sun, and, therefore, the sun cannot "stand still." So, this verse is used to support the Flat Earth Theory, because in this theory the earth is stationary and the sun moves around the earth.
But again, it is important to understand this passage from the perspective of the Ancient Hebrews, who simply saw the sun pass from one horizon to the other each day.
And God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, (RSV, Genesis 1:14 )
This verse, along with many other verses in the Bible, has been used to create the following Flat Earth model of the heavens and earth.
As I have demonstrated, the Ancient Hebrews do not perceive the world in the same way that we do and we can also see that their style of writing is very different from our own as well.
Our modern form of writing history uses prose and step logic, but the Ancient Hebrews used poetry and block logic. These two styles of writing are very different, and if we attempt to interpret the Bible as if it were written with prose and step logic, then misinterpretations and mistranslations will abound.
The Heavens and the Earth in Genesis 1
Our misunderstanding of the poetry of Genesis Chapter 1 can easily be demonstrated by comparing the verse above with Genesis 1:4. In Genesis 1:14 it states that God created the lights (the sun and moon) to "separate the day from the night." How is this possible if God already separated the light from the darkness in Genesis 1:4? The answer lies in the style of writing. This chapter is not written as an historical account, but rather as a poem with a chiastic structure, and days one and four are speaking about the same event, not different events on different days.
If we compare the first three days of creation with the last three days of creation, we discover that the author has divided the six days into two separate blocks. The first block of three days describes the act of separating the heavens and the earth, while the second block of three days describes the act of filling the heavens and the earth.
Day 1 - Separating light and darkness|
Day 2 - Separating water and sky
Day 3 - Separating the land from water
Day 4 - Filling the light with the sun and the darkness with the moon.
Day 5 - Filling water with fish and the skies with birds
Day 6 - Filling the land with plants and animals
Day 1 is about the separating of the light and darkness, and day 4, its parallel, is about the filling of the light and darkness with the sun, moon and stars. Day 2 is about the separating of the water and the sky, and day 5 is about the filling of the water with fish and the sky with birds. Day 3 is about the separating of the land from the water, and day 6 is about the filling of the land with plants and animals. The first chapter of Genesis, and the rest of the Bible for that matter, must be interpreted according to the Ancient Hebrews' style of writing (poetry and block logic) and not from our own modern style of writing (prose and step logic).
The Hebrew word NASA
There are some who are claiming that the Hebrew word NASA means “deception,” but this is not true. The Hebrew word נסא (N.S.A) does, ironically, mean “to lift up.” However, one must understand that dictionaries like Strong’s only provide the root word, but the verb is written different ways when it is conjugated. For instance, נסאתי (nasitiy) means “I lifted up.” If the verb is written as נסא (nasa), then it means “he lifted up.”
Flat Earth Terminology
Throughout the Bible we read descriptions of the earth that do imply a flat earth model.
- The earth has a foundation and is set on pillars
- The earth is fixed and immoveable
- The earth is His footstool
- The angels gather us from the four corners
- The firmament was spread out like a curtain
- Separates the waters from above from the waters below
Was the text of the Bible dictated by God to man? If this is the case, then the terminology used in the Bible for the earth would cause one to conclude that the Earth is indeed something other than a large ball floating in space. However, an alternate view could be that God was using terminology familiar to the Hebrew people and was not teaching them about the shape of the Earth. If this latter view is correct, then we can take a lesson from this; the shape of the Earth is not important to our walk with God. On the other hand, if we believe that the Bible was written by man about his relationship with God, then we can understand that this terminology is being used due to the Ancient Hebrews ignorance of the shape of the Earth.
The Ancient Hebrews did not believe in a Flat Earth or a Globe Earth. From their perspective, the earth was what they could see from horizon to horizon and their philosophy of the Cosmos was interpreted from this perspective. But let me also add that nothing that I have stated above either proves or disproves the Flat Earth Theory. All I have done is provide some background to these passages, but they in no way settle this debate.
Part 2 - Evidence apparently supporting a Flat Earth
In recent years the number of people holding to the Flat Earth Theory is staggering and the number grows more and more each day. To get an idea of how popular this theory is, if you put "Flat Earth" in Google you will be told that there are almost a half a billion web pages that mention "Flat Earth."
In order for this many people to accept this theory, there must be some evidence to support it. Some of the evidence presented by the Flat Earthers is, to put it bluntly, ridiculous. For example, some claim that if the earth were a spinning globe, then if you jump up you should land in another spot as the earth moves under your feet, but this is as ridiculous as thinking that if you were standing inside a moving train and jump, you would land in another spot as the train moves under your feet. But there is other evidence presented by Flat Earthers that cannot be dismissed as easily. What I will be presenting here is the observable evidence that I have found that seems to support the Flat Earth Theory.
The Bedford Level Experiment
Beginning in 1838 Samuel Birley Rowbotham performed a series of observations along a six-mile length of the Old Bedford River in the United Kingdom to measure the curvature of the earth.
"He waded into the river and used a telescope held eight inches (20 cm) above the water to watch a boat, with a flag on its mast three feet (0.91 m) above the water, row slowly away from him. He reported that the vessel remained constantly in his view for the full six miles (9.7 km) to Welney bridge, whereas, had the water surface been curved with the accepted circumference of a spherical earth, the top of the mast should have been some 11 feet (3.4 m) below his line of sight. He published this observation using the pseudonym Parallax in 1849 and subsequently expanded it into a book, Earth Not a Globe, published in 1865" (Wikipedia - Bedford Level experiment, retrieved 6/24/2018)
"In a second experiment Dr. Rowbotham placed seven flags along the edge of the water each one mile distant from the next with their tops positioned 5 feet above the surface and stood with his telescope behind the first. If the Earth was a globe 25,000 miles in circumference, each successive flag would have to decline a definite and determined amount below the last. The first and second flags establish the line of sight, then the third should fall 8 inches below the second, the fourth flag 32 inches below, the fifth 6 feet, the sixth 10 feet 8 inches, and the seventh flag should be a clear 16 feet 8 inches below the line of sight! Even if the Earth was a globe of a hundred thousand miles, an amount of easily measurable curvature should and would still be evident in this experiment. But the reality is not a single inch of curvature was detected and the flags all lined up perfectly as consistent with a flat plane." (The Flat Earth Conspiracy, By Eric Dubay, 2014)
I have to admit that these experiments are intriguing and similar experiments, performed to this day (such as can be seen in this YouTube Video as an example), show the same results. However, according to mathematicians, there is much more to this experiment than meets the eye. Their explanations (such as we see in this YouTube Video), which involve geometry, trigonometry and calculus, go far beyond my comprehension, so I am unable to refute or confirm these Flat Earth claims.
Commercial Airline Flight Paths
Another interesting piece of evidence submitted by Flat Earthers is the flight path of international flights. When we look at the flight paths of commercial airlines we see, what appears to be, some connecting flights that seem to be far out of the way, such as this one below.
However, when these flight paths are placed on a flat earth map we find something very interesting; the flight path is in an almost straight line.
I personally do not know why the flight paths are the way they are. It could be an economic issue, as connecting flights might be determined based on the number of passengers available at each airport and not the most direct route. Or the spherical geometry, an area of field that I am not very well versed in, of a globe dictates the flight path. In any case I am not qualified to answer why the flight paths are the way they are.
Also note in the image above, the circle of ice around the flat earth. Flat Earthers claim that the Antarctic is not a continent at the "bottom" of the globe, but instead a circle of ice that surrounds the earth. In 1959 the Antarctic Treaty was signed by many nations, including the US and Russia during the height of the Cold War, forbidding nations from claiming and developing the continent and restricting civilian travel to the continent. Flat Earthers claim that this is due to the nations knowing about the Flat Earth and this treaty prevents anyone from finding the truth.
The Van Allen Belt and the Moon Missions
If the earth is inside some kind of "dome," as Flat Earthers claim, then part of the Flat Earth theory is that we have never traveled into space and never landed on the moon. Astronaut Chris Hadfield, onboard the International Space Station (ISS), had this to say on the subject.
"The plan that NASA has is to build a rocket called SLS... and it will be able to launch the Orion Capsule with humans onboard... to destinations beyond Earth orbit. Right now, we only can fly in Earth orbit, that's the farthest we can go. And this new system we are building is going to allow us go beyond, and hopefully take humans into the Solar System to explore. So the Moon, Mars, asteroids, there are lot of destinations we could go."
The reason for Astronaut Hadfield's comment above is because of the Van Allen Belt, a band of dangerous radiation that surrounds the earth. NASA Engineer Kelly Smith explained the problems with passing through the Van Allen Belt and that "we must solve these challenges before we send people through this region of space."
Another NASA official has said; "We've been trying to grind out all of the lessons that will eventually let us go to the moon."
Are these NASA astronauts and engineers telling us that we have never gone to the moon, which is about 230,000 miles beyond the Earth and far beyond the Van Allen Belt?
All Images of Earth from Space are Photoshopped
Flat Earthers will frequently mention that every image of the earth from space is photoshopped and they use this evidence, not so much to prove that the earth is flat, but to prove that NASA and the government is lying and covering up the true shape of the Earth. However, what most of these people are not aware of, is that the satellites orbiting the earth do so from a very low earth orbit. Because of this they are unable to get one picture of the whole earth. Instead they take multiple pictures with the satellites and then use a program like Photoshop to put all of the pictures together to create one image of the earth. The Quartz News website has an excellent article, Behold: NASA's first image of the whole Earth in decades, which explains this process of photoshopping, but also includes the first picture of the entire earth in 43 years.
Part 3 - Evidence refuting a Flat Earth
While doing my investigation into the Flat Earth Theory, I have discovered some evidence that I cannot explain, such as I have noted in Part 2 of this article. But I am not a scientist and just because I cannot explain them, it doesn't mean they are fact. On the other hand, there is evidence that I have seen that contradicts the Flat Earth Theory, which causes me accept the globe earth model over the flat earth model.
A Lunar eclipse is when the earth is between the sun and the moon and the sun causes the shadow of the earth to pass over the moon. A Solar eclipse is when the moon is between the sun and the earth and the moon physically blocks the view of the sun. On a flat earth model, where the sun and moon are always above the surface of the earth, these eclipses are impossible.
I have thoroughly scoured the many articles and videos that support a flat earth, but most of them do not address this issue and ignore it. Those few that do address the issue, simply state that they believe there is a third "invisible" object in the sky that causes the eclipses, but they provide no evidence for this third object.
There are other "eclipses" as well that are difficult to explain with the Flat Earth Model. I remember seeing Mercury transiting in front of the sun one early morning in May 2003. In May 2004 the International Space Station eclipsed the planet Jupiter. Where I was located at the time, we just missed the eclipse and watched the International Space Station pass just to the right of Jupiter.
Twenty-Four Hour Sunlight in Antarctica
It is very common knowledge that there are days in the Arctic where the sun shines for 24 hours, hence its nickname, "The land of the midnight Sun." There are other times when the sun never appears. This is easily explainable on a Globe Earth as well as a Flat Earth. When the Arctic is in 24 hour sunlight, the Antarctic is in 24 hour darkness. And when there is 24 hour darkness in the Arctic, there is 24 hour sunlight in the Antarctic. This would be impossible on a Flat Earth model as it is impossible for the light of the sun to cover the entire "southern" hemisphere. To explain this problem, I have seen two different explanations. The first one is that there are "two" suns, not just the one. The second one is that people who claim to have seen a 24 hour sun in the Antarctic are either lying or they were not in the Antarctic as they thought. Both of these explanations are, in my opinion, an attempt to explain something that is impossible to explain with their theory.
I received the following email from one of my readers after posting Part 1 of this article. "I was in the Antarctic for 7 days from Dec 22 - 28, even walked on the continent and the sun was up for 22.5 hrs. It did not get dark. Kind of cool. I do not know how that is even possible on a flat earth." In response to the idea that he was not actually in Antarctica he states; "I am sure the person was not serious that said this to me but the fact that it even entered their mind is amazing, They said 'you only thought they took you to the Antarctic, you probably really did not go there.' LOL I lived in Chile for 2.5 yrs working in the dessert and saw all the skies of a global earth and I know I went to the Antarctic. Yes the water DOES swirl the opposite way south of the equator. Yes, the sky does spin around a southern Polaris star. If someone could just explain how that is possible on a flat earth then I might be convinced."
The Stars in the Southern Hemisphere
On the flat earth model, it is possible for everyone in the "northern" hemisphere to see the same stars, but it would be impossible for everyone in the "southern" hemisphere to see the same stars. Just as people in North America, Europe and China see the same stars, people in Australia see the same stars as those in South America and Africa, which would be impossible on the Flat Earth model.
When I was younger I used to go backpacking in the mountains at elevations around 8,000 feet. At this altitude, the air is thinner, zero light pollution, smog is non-existent and the air is dry, making star gazing an amazing sight. Under these conditions I could see man-made satellites racing through the night sky. These satellites were visible due to the light of the sun reflecting off their metal surfaces. Here is a video showing these satellites traveling through the night sky. But on a flat earth model, satellites are impossible as there is no "space" for satellites.
While on the subject of satellites, if there are no satallites, as proposed by Flat Earthers, then what are the "satallite" dishes pointing at in the sky?
The International Space Station
One of the satellites that I have seen racing from horizon to horizon in a matter of minutes, was the International Space Station (ISS). Flat Earthers claim that the ISS does not exist and what people are seeing is probably a balloon or dirigible. With the naked eye, the ISS looks like nothing more than a bright star, but with a telescope the outline of the ISS is visible, as can be seen in this video, and it is not a balloon or dirigible. The following image is from amateur astronomers who took this picture with their telescope.
This article is one of the most controversial articles I have written. This is evident from the fact that I have received a lot of emails in regards to this article and in these emails I have been condemned by some for even addressing this issue, but praised by others on both sides of the debate. As my area of research is the Ancient Hebrew language and culture, I considered only doing part 1 of this series on the Biblical evidence and not doing parts 2 and 3, as these are my personal opinions and observations on the topic. However, I decided to go ahead with parts 2 and 3 so that people can be made aware of the different issues, from both sides, that arise out of this debate.
Throughout my investigation into the Flat Earth I have kept an open mind and have objectively looked at all of the evidence and my conclusion is that the Earth is a globe. I know that most of you will agree with my conclusions, but many of you disagree with me, but I do not believe that this is an issue that should cause arguments and name calling, which I frequently see many do in this debate. So, let us agree to disagree.
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