(Related podcast: “Shamayim” — The Most Counter-intuitive Yet Scientifically Accurate Word in Biblical Hebrew (Podcast) .)
The word Shamayim in Hebrew simply means Sky (Rakia in biblical Hebrew; Genesis 1:8):
“And God called the Rakia Shamayim, and there was evening and there was morning second day”.
Rakia in biblical Hebrew, like in modern Hebrew, simply means sky.
So why, in the first chapter of Genesis, is the sky Divinely called Shamayim?
And why, according to the rules of biblical Hebrew, is it fundamentally counter-intuitive, yet, so scientifically accurate?
The word Shamayim comprises two syllables. The first is Sham, which simply means there, namely, that which is inaccessible from here. The second syllable, ayim, is a suffix, namely, an affix added to the end of the stem of the word. Such suffix in added, in Hebrew, to words that represent a symmetric pair of objects, or, more generally, to words that represent objects that appear in symmetry. Thus, all visible organs in the human body that appear in pairs have same suffix, like legs (raglayim), hands (yadayim), eyes (einayim) and ears (oznayim). However, teeth, arranged in symmetry in the human mouth, though not in pairs, also have same suffix. Teeth in Hebrew is shinayim. Other examples may be read in my book at Chapter 5.
Let us address the two claims in the title:
- Why Shamayim is counter-intuitive?
- Why is Shamayim so scientifically accurate?
The answer to the first claim is nearly self-evident. When one observes the sky, at dark hours, the observed is far from symmetric. So much so that the twelve Zodiacal constellations had to be invented, in ancient times, to deliver some sense to the different non-symmetric configurations of stars that to this day can be observed by the naked eye in the sky.
Yet, despite the apparent non-symmetry observed in the sky, the Divine chose to grant the sky a word indicative of the most fundamental property of the sky, as we have scientifically learned it to be in recent times, namely, its symmetry (as observed from Plant Earth), or its uniformity (as preached by modern cosmology).
To learn how fundamentally uniform (or symmetric) the universe is, the reader is referred to Chapters 5 and 7 of my book, and references therein. Another good source to learn about the uniformity of the universe, as observed via telescopes and as articulated by modern science, is the excellent presentation by Don Lincoln at Wondrium channel:
Note the term Desert, addressed in the lecture. The term is used, in modern cosmology, to denote the uniformity of the universe at the Big Bang (“In the beginning”).
Surprisingly, the words, Tohu Va-Vohu, describing the universe “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:2), are also associated with desert, as they are employed elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.
Consider, for example Jeremiah (4:23, 26):
“I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was Tohu Va-Vohu…I beheld and, lo, the fruitful land has become the desert…”.
Refer also to Isaiah (34:11).
- Shamayim is counter-intuitive and at odds with the picture, revealed in ancient times to the naive observer, our pre-science ancestors;
- Shamayim yet accurately describes current scientific picture of the universe, as formed in the last hundred years or so, based on cumulative empirical data (gathered via telescopes), and based on modern theories of the evolution and structure of the universe.
Articulated more simply:
Whatever direction in the sky you point to, Shamayim states that it is all the same, contrary to what the naked eyes are telling us, in conformance with what modern science is telling.
Personal confession, mind boggling…