Visiting an Ancient Cosmology

I used to travel to an ancient world for short visits. It took some effort, but it was worth it.

For the Ancient Near Eastern world, cosmology was closely related to common human perception, as reflected for instance in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Above us, but not so far above us, was the sky, a layer of material that enclosed the world. Below us is the earth, which has beneath it the underworld, a shadowy, damp place, like the caves we sometimes find. Around the edges of the earth there is water, and this water wraps around all the way beneath the earth, holding it up.

Above the sky, not so far from here, is the realm of heaven, with God enthroned in the celestial court, surrounded by the armies of worshipping angels.

When we today tell ourselves what the world is like, we contradict our senses, saying that the world is huge and basically spherical, that compared to us the sun is what’s stationary, that the sky shows us outer space that’s extended out to mind-boggling distances, filled with countless stars of which most are invisible to us.

It’s a strange world we live in today. We take it to be superior to the world imagined by our ancestors, and from the perspective of science it certainly is.

But when I was younger, I used to walk by myself to the edge of the town where I lived, and I looked out over the fields, at the clouds bunched on the horizon and the streaks of light overhead, and I let go of what science told me, only for a minute.

Standing there, I let the world around me infuse itself with the mind of the ancient world, so that I might see what they saw, and remember with them what it meant to be them.

I stood on an expanse of ground that was held up by the waters deep below, and which hid a place of shadow and shades not far beneath me. I looked up at a sky that I could almost reach, if I could find a high enough mountain to scale. I looked around at a world that was laid bare, completely known and completely vulnerable to us and to the heavenly hosts above.

I’d guess that most could not imagine wanting to visit such a world, let alone making an attempt, due to our bias toward science. If, however, we cultivate an affection and respect for the ancestral, it is not such an unthinkable thing to attempt.

And I always found it refreshing, restful. To treat our senses as liars whom we must distrust and contradict is subtly tiresome. To call our senses faithful friends, in whose communications we can take a simple delight, is a real joy, even if it can only be savoured for brief moments.

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