It’s interesting to me, how many of us are worried that believing in a ‘flat earth’ may somehow go against the Torah view of the world.
In this post, I’m going to try and bring as many of the sources I can find (easily!) together, so we can see ‘what is Torah thinking’ and ‘what is Greek thinking’.
Again, our job is to really engage with these sources, and to continue to ask God to show us the truth.
While that sounds easy, it’s actually way, way harder than most of us think. Because we have certain assumptions about how the world works that were inculcated in us from childhood. And it takes a very brave person, to really be willing to follow the truth wherever it might take them.
Let’s start with the idea of the ‘spherical world’.
I found THIS article that brings together a lot of the original sources, apparently from a more ‘Torah’ perspective. (Pay attention, to how much our Torah world is being deeply colored by ‘Greek thinking’.)
It’s called: What the Sages Knew About the Shape of the World.
But they start by bringing the ‘real science’ from the Greeks:
The first to recognize the spherical nature of Earth was Pythagoras, who lived in the 6th century BCE; see Encyclopedia Hebraica, entry “Pythagoras,” p. 805….
Eratosthenes, who lived in the 3rd century BCE…even calculated the circumference of the planet Earth; see in Encyclopedia Hebraica, entry Eratosthenes, p. 801, about how brilliantly he calculated it.
Thus it is written about him: “Eratosthenes’s calculations — despite their inexactitude, inescapable in the conditions under which his measurements were made — are one of the most amazing astronomico-geographical calculations, and it gave science an (approximate) idea of the planet Earth’s size.”…
Let’s just pause a moment to point out the obvious:
There is NO WAY Eratosthenes could have taken any measurements, in the real world, or got any data, in the real world, that would have enabled him to ‘calculate the circumference of the planet Earth’, no matter how ‘brilliant’ his equations might have been.
This is pseudo-science.
In case you were wondering how Eratosthenes pulled all this off, here’s what Wikipedia has to say:
He is best known for being the first person known to calculate the circumference of the Earth, which he did by using the extensive survey results he could access in his role at the Library; his calculation was remarkably accurate.
He was also the first to calculate Earth’s axial tilt, which has also proved to have remarkable accuracy. He created the first global projection of the world, incorporating parallels and meridians based on the available geographic knowledge of his era.
In plain English: all those calculations were theoretical, made-up.
And today, there is still not a single shred of evidence in the real world that prove those calculations about the circumference of the earth, and the ‘Earth’s axial tilt’ is true.
Here’s how Eratosthenes is meant to have come to his conclusions:
Eratosthenes described his arc measurement technique, in a book entitled On the measure of the Earth, which has not been preserved. However, a simplified version of the method has been preserved, as described by Cleomedes….
The simplified method works by considering two cities along the same meridian and measuring both the distance between them and the difference in angles of the shadows cast by the sun on a vertical rod (a gnomon) in each city at noon on the summer solstice.
The two cities used were Alexandria and Syene (modern Aswan), and the distance between the cities was measured by professional bematists.
A geometric calculation reveals that the circumference of the Earth is the distance between the two cities divided by the difference in shadow angles expressed as a fraction of one turn.
There is a lot on the web debunking the empirical nature of this experiment, but this one point should suffice to demonstrate the problem:
For Eratosthenes to be able to measure the Earth’s circumference, even assuming that he knew that the Earth was a sphere, he MUST also have known the size of the Sun and the distance between the Sun and the Earth.
And he didn’t. Nobody did.
But a bunch of heretical Greek philosophers had basically decided ‘the earth is a sphere’, and they spent the next few centuries making theoretical calculations basked on pseudo-scientific ‘experiments’ to prove themselves right.
Let’s get back to the article about What the Sages Knew About the Shape of the Earth.
It continues like this:
Earth’s spherical shape was clear and known to the Greeks, as we stated above, but to our rabbis these matters were not at all clear and unambiguous, as we will show.
Bottom line: spherical earth is a GREEK idea, not a Torah one.
In the Gemara, Chagiga 12a, it is written:
“Rabbi Elazar said: Adam reached from the earth to the firmament, as it says, ‘From the day G-d created Man upon the earth’ (Deuteronomy 4:32). But since he became corrupted, the holy One, blessed be He, placed His hand upon him and made him smaller, as it says, ‘You shaped me before and behind, You laid Your hand upon me’ (Psalms 139:5).
Rav Judah said in the name of Rav: Adam reached from one end of the world to another [Rashi: When he was prone, his head was in the east and his feet in the west], as it says, ‘From the day G-d created Man upon the earth and from one edge of the heavens to the other edge of the heavens….’
The Gemara explicitly states that Earth is flat, for the first man laid prone from “the end of the world” in the east to “the end of the world” in the west.
Thus is written in the Shvut Ya’akov responsa (by R’ Jacob Reischer, born c. 1670), part 3, paragraph 20: “The words [of the Greek astronomers] are based on the notion of Earth as a sphere, in contradiction to what the discussion of this topic in our Talmud (Chagiga 12a) implies.
Here’s another source that article brings (and then basically mocks….):
R’ Zerachiah HaLevi of Gerona (12th century) wrote in his commentary HaMaor HaGadol on tractate Rosh Hashanah 20b (found in regular editions of the Talmud on the pages of the Rif’s commentary), explaining the secrets of intercalation of years:
“The first [point] is the eastern edge [of the dry land]; its inhabitants live at the ocean’s edge in the east. The second point is opposite the first, at the western edge [of the dry land]; its inhabitants also live at the ocean’s edge, but in the west. The third point is between the first two and is called the navel of the earth; its inhabitants are those who live in Jerusalem and all of the Land of Israel. And the fourth point is opposite the third, under the earth; it is also between the first two points, and is called the navel or the heart of the sea, or the point of the depths.
Between each point of these four and the one opposite it there is a distance of 12 hours…and from each point to the next one there is a distance of six hours…When it is morning for the residents of the east, it will not be morning for Jerusalem residents until six hours later.”
Let’s pause to take a look at this:
This is Gleason’s New Standard Map of the World, put together in 1892.
Yesterday, I spent an hour reading through THIS – it’s a detailed PDF looking at 16 ’emergency landings’ made by airplanes, that make no sense on the ‘spherical globe’ model of our earth, but perfect sense when you use Gleason’s ‘flat earth’ map, above.
Go take a look at it yourself, come to your own conclusions.
But in the meantime, you can find a high-res version of that map HERE, and I recommend you take a look, and compare this with R’ Zechariah HaLevi Gerondi’s account, above.
Next, we have this very interesting source, from the Jerusalem Talmud:
In the Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Avodah Zarah, chapter three, fol. 42c, it is written:
“That the earth is made as a ball. R’ Jonah said: when Alexander of Macedon wanted to rise above the earth, he went up higher and higher until he saw the world as a ball and the sea as a bowl.”
So R’ Jonah considered Earth as floating in a bowl of water, though it is not completely clear whether, in his opinion, Alexander “saw” the world as an actual ball or as round (like a ball) in circumference only, but otherwise flat like a coin.
From the words of Radak (on Isaiah 42:5) it is evident that he understood the world to be round at its circumference only, as a coin is:
“So the earth was round like a ball, but when the Lord gathered all the water which was on the face of the earth into one place for plants to grow on it — which is implied in the word vtzeetzaeyah — He made the earth, which is the dry land, as though it were flat, for people to sit upon it, like a man who spreads something and flattens it, like a silversmith who flattens metal plates.”
Now, the article What the Sages Knew About the Shape of the Earth skips around 1700 years, to bring us a ‘definitive’ answer on the shape of the earth from a Rav we’ve been discussing at length, here on the blog, for a bunch of other reasons:
And now we will bring you the words of the Chatam Sofer, who lived close to our own time (1762-1839). He is one of those who taught his students “suitable” things without checking their veracity, sitting, rather, in his study hall and discussing the Earth’s build based on the words of Chazal and their conjectures. He did this instead of opening a science book and studying it to prevent tripping his students into error.
In his Responsa (Responsa Anthology, section 26, s.v. perek sheni) he wrote: “Now, some things and data suitable for students need, with G-d’s help, be clarified; they are about the foundations of this world, its build and the processes which it undergoes.
First: on the day when the Lord created the earth, He made the world of four elements: fire, wind or air, water, and ground. They have four natures: hot, damp, cold, and dry.
The earth is made of ground, and is the coarsest and thickest of all, rounded like a true sphere, and the waters surround it on all sides — there is no part empty of them, and the earth is not seen at all from any side.
Moving on – because we still have a lot of ground to cover, and I’m deliberately keeping my ideas out of this post, as much as possible, so you can engage with our source material, and come to your own conclusions.
Next, the article brings the translation of the Zohar (part of which we also translated in detail, HERE).
But pay attention! There are two conflicting accounts about how the world is shaped and functioning here – and the Zohar says both are true!
Now we will cite the words of the Zohar, vol. 3, on the portion of Vayikra, fol. 9b-10a (according to the translation of the Sulam, sections 134-145):
“R’ Judah started: ‘And G-d said, Let there be a firmament in the water…’ — come see: when the holy One, blessed be He, created the world, He created seven firmaments above and seven lands below…and all these firmaments are one on top of the other, like the skins of onions which are one on top of the other…So, too, are the seven lands below.
All are settled, but some are above and some below, and the Land of Israel is above all of them and Jerusalem is the highest of all settlements.
The scholars who live in the south saw in the books of the early sages and of Adam that thus all those countries are divided. They are all below as the firmaments are above, that is, stacked one above the other.
Between each two countries there is a firmament which divides between the two, and so all the lands are specified by name, and amongst them are heaven and hell.
There are in these lands creatures different one from another as there are above [in the firmaments], some of which have two faces, some one, and the looks of one are not like the looks of another…Just as the worms in the earth have red skins, black, and white, and some have many colors, so too are these creatures different one from another, and they live only 10 years.
In the book of Rav Hamnuna Sava it is explained in more detail that all the world rolls in a circle like a ball, these down and these up [that is, the creatures on the sphere are in opposition to each other, and the seven parts of the ball are the seven lands (the Sulam commentary)], and all the creatures in six lands are different in their appearances in accordance with the differences of air in each place, and they stand on their feet as other humans.
Therefore there are places in the world that when it is light for those on one side of the sphere it is dark for those on the other side of the sphere, for these it is day while for those it is night; and there is a place in the world where it is always day and there is no night, except for a few moments.
And what is said in the early sages’ books and in the book of Adam [that the seven lands are one beneath the other, with firmament between them (Sulam)] — thus it is [we do not disagree with it, although it says that the whole world is a single sphere divided into seven parts (Sulam)], for it is written: ‘I praise You, for I am wondered by awesome things; Your work is wonderful,’ and it is written, ‘How numerous are Your works, O Lord.’
So both accounts are fit [for both are the words of the living G-d, and one should not ask how both can be correct if they contradict each other (Sulam)]. This secret has been handed to the masters of wisdom and not to those who travel to distant borders [naturalists (Sulam)], for it is a great secret of the Torah.
Last quote from that mocking ‘What the Sages Knew About the Shape of the Earth’ article, then we’ll sum up what we’ve learned.
[W]hat does the Ramchal say about this?
In his book Adir BaMarom, part one, BeSha’ata DeTzlota DeMinchah DeShabta, he brought the above section from the Zohar and wrote: “And about these things Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai said (on Leviticus, fol. 10a):
‘This secret has been handed…not to those who travel to distant borders,’ for they [Gentile researchers] perceive only the external features, but of the internal nature, which is the main one, they know nothing.”
In a ‘materialistic’, secular, atheist world, the true spiritual dimension, the ‘internal nature’ of the words of the RASHBI in the Zohar simply can’t be grasped.
Ok, this is a screenshot of Matan Gorodish’s chapter with more Jewish sources on the shape of the earth, from HERE (the 20 min mark):
And then, let’s end with this, which I found on Quora, which gives perhaps more of an insight into how the ‘inner dimension’ of the authentic Torah tradition can be badly misunderstood, when dragged down soley into secular, atheist, ‘scientific’ terms:
What is the shape of the Earth according to the Torah?
This is very clearly understood as a sphere.
The entire cosmology of Judaism is bases around spheres and spaces. The cosmology and physica of Jewish tehology is best presented by The Ramak. The dimentional perspective ie the psychological perspective is given by The Ari Zal. Both are explaining the same thing without debate.
The aproach of Ramak states that there is an initial state of energetic light manifestation that manifests as a sphere and then it creates a hollow center that is less bright.
This is Keter and inside Malchut.
The internal light then shines and manifests a yet darker sphere with three lights shining therein.
This is Chochma and Bina.
In Bina one side allows the light in and one side is darkened allowing lighy to leave outwards.This causes one side to be bright and the other to absorb light. The center is a balance sphere that is less bright.
The Bright side is Hesed, The Dark-Absorvant side is Gevurah and the center sphere is Tiferet.
Inside Tiferet the process repeats. One side is bright, the other causes light to be absorved and pass to Gevurah.
The central sphere is Yesod.
Yesod is the sphere that we exist in.
Yesod can grow in brightness or get dimmer. Yesod has two parts that work together to allow this. The upper part is connected to The First Heaven and the Temple Mount of Jerusalem as well as to Israel as well as the entire area above it at all times. The airspace above Israel unto the end of the physical universe is part of this upper Yesod
The lower part is the Malchut shel Yesod and is connected to the area outside of Israel. This area and its airspace above. This is the purely physical universe.
Together they are a sphere.
The earth is most certainly a sphere in Jewish cosmology.
In the next couple of days, I’m going to take more of a look at who actually introduced this idea of the ‘sphere earth’ in Judaism, as an actual, physical reality.
(Spoiler alert: It’s all the same people we’ve been talking about here on the blog for years, as trying to subvert Judaism from within…)
Watch out for that.
PS: Two more sources that came to me as I was writing this, over email:
Isaiah 40:22, Hebrew original:
הֲל֤וֹא תֵֽדְעוּ֙ הֲל֣וֹא תִשְׁמָ֔עוּ הֲל֛וֹא הֻגַּ֥ד מֵרֹ֖אשׁ לָכֶ֑ם הֲלוֹא֙ הֲבִ֣ינוֹתֶ֔ם מוֹסְד֖וֹת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
כבהַיֹּשֵׁב֙ עַל־ח֣וּג הָאָ֔רֶץ וְיֹשְׁבֶ֖יהָ כַּחֲגָבִ֑ים הַנּוֹטֶ֤ה כַדֹּק֙ שָׁמַ֔יִם וַיִּמְתָּחֵ֥ם כָּאֹ֖הֶל לָשָֽׁבֶת׃
I bolded the words ‘chug ha’aretz’, as this is the bit up for discussion.
Morfix translates ‘chug’ as:
class, group activity; group, circle (of people); (geography) tropic, sphere
In the Artscroll translation of this verse from Isaiah, we find this:
Have you not contemplated the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits on the circumference of the earth, with its inhabitants like grasshoppers.
So, not exactly conclusive.
A second source is from Job, 26:7:
נֹטֶ֣ה צָפ֣וֹן עַל־תֹּ֑הוּ תֹּ֥לֶה אֶ֝֗רֶץ עַל־בְּלִי־מָֽה׃
Artscroll translation is this:
He spreads out the North over a void; He suspends the earth upon nothingness.
The ‘void’ is actually the word ‘tohu’ – as in the tohu and vohu that existed before Hashem created our physical planet.
This verse was sent to me as proof of the spherical nature of earth.
But what’s really interesting, is if you read on a little. Like this:
He spreads out the North over a void; He suspends the earth upon nothingness…
He drew a boundary around the water’s edge, until light and darkness come to an end.
The pillars of the heavens shudder and are astounded by His rebuke….
By His breath the heavens were spread;
His hand fashioned the [earth]-girdling serpent.
Go back and look at Gleason’s map, with the sentences bolded above in mind:
And as always, draw your own conclusions.
Shimshon in the comments brought more information about the translation of the word ‘tohu’ in the quote above, that I think rounds out more of the picture, so I’m adding it here, too:
“The ‘void’ is actually the word ‘tohu’ – as in the tohu and vohu that existed before Hashem created our physical planet.”
Chagiga 12a (if you read on from the section you quoted), notes the use of “tohu” here like follows, also confirming the literal reading of Iyov (from Sefaria):
It was taught in the Tosefta: Tohu is a green line that encompasses the entire world, and from which darkness emerges, as it is stated: “He made darkness His hiding place round about Him” (Psalms 18:12), indicating that a line of darkness surrounds the world.
Vohu; these are damp stones submerged in the depths, from which water emerges, as it is stated: “And He shall stretch over it the line of tohu and stones of vohu” (Isaiah 34:11), which demonstrates that tohu is a line and that vohu is referring to stones. (Chagiga 12a)
Tohu and vohu are tangible things, not concepts (“formless and void” is the usual translation).
Tohu is a ring of darkness surrounding our world. Vohu, rocks that exude water, also exist, in the depths, exactly where the Talmud says they can be found:
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