JOB 37:18—The Constitution
of the Firmament
Robert Sungenis, Ph.D.
In 1615, a Carmelite friar by the name of Paulo Antonio Foscarini was censored by the Congregation of the Holy Office not only for his publishing a book advocating heliocentrism, but also because he maintained in it that the heavens were “very thin and tenuous” as opposed to “solid.” The censor cites Job 37:18 as his proof against Foscarini. Cardinal Bellarmine later used the censor’s information of his condemnation of Foscarini’s book. This was a whole year before Galileo was brought before the Congregation of the Holy Office.
Foscarini’s Copernican Theory
During the 17th century investigations of the Congregation of the Holy Office into the Copernican theory, a Carmelite friar by the name of Fr. Paulo Foscarini was censored in 1615 (prior to the Galileo case) for his heliocentric cosmology. Little known is the fact that he was also censored for his belief that the heavens were “very thin and tenuous.” Among other things, the censor stated:
On page 45 he says that the heavens are very thin and tenuous, not solid and dense. This is clearly contrary to Job 37, “Together with this you have created the heavens which are most solid and spread out like the air.” This cannot be explained as an appearance (as the author indicates) because the solidity of the heavens is not apparent to us.
Obviously, the Catholic censor was treating Job 37:18 the same way the Catholic Church was treating the geocentric verses – they were all taken at face value and considered factual truth, regardless of what subject matter they addressed. Here we see that even the particulate constitution of the space constituting all of the heavens is not considered a trivial and obscure point that can be ignored. It is regarded with the utmost divine authority and the basis for rejecting Foscarini’s whole approach to Scripture. The battle ground here, as we will see in Chapter 4, is: can Scripture be trusted to give us factual information about the cosmos in addition to its already accepted infallible authority on faith and morals? The answer of the Catholic Church of the 17th century was an unequivocal and unqualified “affirmative,” as it was for the sixteen centuries prior.
Accordingly, Job 37:18 has some very interesting features that support the censor’s contention against Foscarini. The Hebrew sentence reads as follows: eyqrt (“can you beat out or spread out”) wme (“with him”) .yqhvl (“the sky, the heavens”) .yqzj (“hard”) yark (“like a mirror”) qxym (“cast”). The first word, yqrt, is a verb appearing 12 times in the Hebrew Bible, which normally means “to spread or stretch out” (Exodus 39:3; Nunbers 16:39; 17:4; II Samuel 22:43; Job 37:18; Psalm 136:6; Isaiah 40:19; 42:5; 44:24; Jeremiah 10:9; Ezekiel 6:11; 25:6). It is very similar to the noun, eyqr, which is translated as “firmament” in Genesis and the Psalms (Genesis 1:6-8, 14-17, 20; Psalm 19:1).
The word, yqhvl is from the root qhv and appears 21 times as either “sky” (Deuteronomy 33:26; II Samuel 22:12; Job 37:18; Psalm 18:11; 77:17; 108:4; Isaiah 45:8; Jeremiah 51:9); “clouds” (Job 35:5; 36:28; 37:21; 38:37; Psalm 36:5; 57:10; 78:23; Proverbs 3:20; 8:28); “heavens” (Psalm 68:34; 89:6, 37) or even “dust” (Isaiah 40:15), with a notable difference between “sky” and “clouds” (II Samuel 22:12; Psalm 18:11). All in all, it carries the idea of a finely-grained substance that fills the sky, and by extension, the rest of the space of the firmament.
The word, .yqzj appears over 40 times and is translated as “strong” (Exodus 13:9); “mighty” (Exodus 32:11); “hard” (Ezekiel 3:9). The word qxym is from the root qxy and is translated variously as “cast” (Exodus 25:12); “pour” (Leviticus 2:1); “forms” (Job 38:38); “firm” (Job 41:23-24); “attached to” (Psalm 41:8); “molten” (I Kings 7:16). The literal meaning is that the sky, the heavens or firmament, is not a tenuous, vaporous entity. Although ostensibly it is transparent and pliable, on another level (implied is the subatomic level), Job 37:18 indicates the heavens are composed of a super dense material substance. At the beginning of creation it was expanded to fill the firmament, or perhaps became the firmament once it was expanded. As we noted in Volume I of Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right, modern science has corroborated these biblical truths with a plethora of scientific data showing that space is not a vacuum but is filled with an extremely fine but extremely dense particulate matter.
The firmament, eyqr, comprises the entire space between the Earth’s surface and the edge of the universe, and into which the stars and other heavenly bodies are placed. This is in distinction to other Hebrew words, such as jwr (reyach), which refers to “space” (e.g., Genesis 32:17, not to be confused with jwr (ruach = spirit, e.g., Genesis 1:2; Exodus 13:10)) or qwjr (rachoq), which refers to spatial distance (e.g., James 3:4; Psalm 22:2), words that the Hebrew writer did not choose to describe the substance of the heavens. Accordingly, many biblical translators have utilized the English word “firmament” (or its foreign equivalent) for the Hebrew eyqr in order to denote a firm but pervasive substance to represent the constitution of the heavens (Genesis 1:14, 15, 17, 20; Ps 19:2; 150:1; Ezekiel 1:22-26; 10:1; Daniel 12:3). In Exodus 39:3; Numbers 17:3; Jeremiah 10:9 raqia appears as “hammered”; while in Ezekiel 6:11; 25:6 it is “stamped”; as compared to “beaten,” “crushed” in II Sam 22:43.
Essentially, Scripture tells us that the heavens are both flexible and rigid. Apparently, Foscarini’s censor, by nothing more than a simple declaration from Holy Writ, accepted the dual nature of the firmament, one observable, and the other unobservable, with the latter state being one in which “the solidity of the heavens is not apparent to us.” Conversely, a solid-shell model of the firmament, which is popular among more traditional Protestant Biblicists, ignores these atmospheric and celestial dimensions, and consequently, does not do proper justice to the Scriptural language.
 Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?
 The censor’s document is titled: Judicium de spistola F. Pauli Foscarini de mobilitate terrae (Lerner in The Church and Galileo, p. 24) and the text is provided by Richard J. Blackwell in Galileo, Bellarmine and the Bible, pp. 253-254. We have changed “Tobit 37” to Job 37 since Blackwell apparently misread the original Latin.
 See “Is the raqiya’ (firmament) a solid dome?” at answersingenesis.org/docs/4169.asp, James Holding versus Paul Seely, first published in Technical Journal 13(2):44-51, 1999.