Bechorot 16

Bechorot 16a ~ A Flat Earth, The Eye, and the Sky

“Map of the Square and Stationary Earth. By Prof. Orlando Ferguson, Hot Springs, South Dakota. Four Hundred Passages in the Bible that Condemns the Globe Theory, or the Flying Earth, and None Sustain It.  This Map is the Bible Map of the World. Copyright by Orlando Ferguson, 1893.”

“Map of the Square and Stationary Earth. By Prof. Orlando Ferguson, Hot Springs, South Dakota.
Four Hundred Passages in the Bible that Condemns the Globe Theory, or the Flying Earth, and None Sustain It.
This Map is the Bible Map of the World. Copyright by Orlando Ferguson, 1893.”

בכורות טז, א

A film over the eye - בדוקין שבעין

An animal brought to the Temple in Jerusalem as a sacrifice must be free of physical deformities or blemishes. One of these is a film over the cornea or, according to some, over the eyelid. The word duk (דק), which in modern Hebrew means thin, is translated as either a cataract (Soncino and Schottenstein) or “a veiled or withered spot” (Jastrow).

Rashi and the Meaning of דֹּק

To better understand the etymology of the word, Rashi draws our attention to the verse in Isaiah (40:22 ) הַנּוֹטֶה כַדֹּק שָׁמַיִם וַיִּמְתָּחֵם כָּאֹהֶל לָשָׁבֶת “Who spread out the skies like a film [כַדֹּק], stretched them out like a tent to dwell in.” He notes that in the French of his day the the word for דֹּק is “teile” or toile, (טייל׳א or טולא) meaning a canvas or fabric. So the Talmud is describing a film over the eye, and this is certainly a reasonable way to describe a cataract, which is a cloudiness of the lens in the eye. In a cow it would look like this:

 
A cow with a cataract.

A cow with a cataract.

 

Rashi’s second explanation and a map of the world

Rashi then gives an alternative meaning for the word: a blemish on the eyelids. He continues

ל"א דוקין שיש לו מום בעפעפים ולהכי קרי לעפעפים דוק על העין כרקיע דהכי אמרינן בספרי אגודות העין דומה לעולם קטן העפעפים כנגד הרקיע והתחתון כנגד הארץ והלבן שמקיף את העין כנגד ים אוקיינוס שסובב את העולם והשחור שבו שהוא עגול דומה לגלגל חמה

We read about this in homiletic stories: The eye is a mini representation of the world. The upper eyelid represent the rakia (the vault over the sky that contains the stars) and the lower lid represents the earth. The white of the eye [the conjunctiva] represents the ocean that encircles the world, and the dark part which is circular [the pupil] represents the orbit of the sun.

Rashi seems to suggest that since the upper eyelid is described as representing the skies, which are stretched out like a canvas, working backwards the word דֹּק could mean the eyelid. The aggadic (homiletic) parable to which Rashi is referring is from Derech Eretz Zuta, a minor tractate of the Talmud (and not part of the daily one-page a day cycle). Here it is, from the end of the ninth chapter:


אבא איסי בן יוחנן משום שמואל הקטן אומר: העולם הזה דומה לגלגל עינו של אדם. לבן שבו זה אוקיינוס שמקיף את כל העולם שחור שבו זה העולם קומט שבשחור זה ירושלים פרצוף שבקומט זה בית המקדש, שיבנה במהרה בימינו ובימי כל ישראל אמן

The world can be compared to the eyes of a person. The whites of the eyes are the ocean that encircles the entire world. The dark part (? the ring around the iris) is the world, the iris [lit. the folded part of the pupil] is Jerusalem, and the pupil [lit image in the iris] is the Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily and in our days and the days of all of Israel, Amen.

Two maps of the world

So we have two ways in which eye might echo a map of the world. And although it is not entirely clear what the terms קומט שבשחור and פרצוף שבקומט mean, the maps look something like this:

Rashi’s description of the Aggada

Rashi’s description of the Aggada

Description by Shmuel Hakatan as found in Derech Eretz Zuta

Description by Shmuel Hakatan as found in Derech Eretz Zuta

Both of these “eye maps” capture elements of talmudic geography. In the talmudic mind, the Earth was a flat disc covered by an opaque sky known as the rakia. Exactly how the sun moved was the topic of a famous dispute between the “wise men of Israel” and the “wise Gentiles.” Here it is:

פסחים צד,ב

חכמי ישראל אומרים ביום חמה מהלכת למטה מן הרקיע ובלילה למעלה מן הרקיע וחכמי אומות העולם אומרים ביום חמה מהלכת למטה מן הרקיע ובלילה למטה מן הקרקע אמר רבי ונראין דבריהן מדברינו שביום מעינות צוננין ובלילה רותחין

The wise men of Israel say that during the day the Sun travels under the rakia, and at night it travels above the rakia. And Gentile wise men say: during the day the Sun travels under the rakia and at night under the Earth. Rabbi [Yehudah Hanasi] said: their view is more logical than ours for during the day springs are cold and at night they are warm.

The two options are shown below. In both, the earth is a flat disc surrounded by water. They really do match nicely with the eyeballs image.

From Judah Landa.  Torah and Science . Ktav. Hoboken NJ. 1991.p66

From Judah Landa. Torah and Science. Ktav. Hoboken NJ. 1991.p66

Earliest map of the world, from 6th century BCE. It shows the world as a disc, surrounded by a ring of water called the "Bitter River.”. From the Collection of the British Museum  #92687 .

Earliest map of the world, from 6th century BCE. It shows the world as a disc, surrounded by a ring of water called the "Bitter River.”. From the Collection of the British Museum #92687.

We have discussed the sun’s orbit around the earth back in February 2017. There is no doubt that the rabbis of the Talmud actually believed the world was actually a disk surrounded by an ocean. It was not a metaphor, even though describing the world as being reflected in the anatomy of the eye certainly is. (To read more about talmudic astronomy and the path of the sun around the flat earth, see here.) The rabbis of the Talmud were following a long held belief that the world is flat, which we can trace all the way back to the earliest known map, found in Babylon and made in the 6th century BCE. It shows a flat, disk like earth surrounded by waters. And that is the picture most people had, because, well, that’s what it looks like to us. But that changed when the great Greek mathematician and astronomer Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth, a figure that was within about 10% of its true value.

Jerusalem-Centric Maps

Bunting-Map-of-the-World-around-Jerusalem-site-Keilo-Jack.jpg

Before Copernicus, the earth was thought to be the physical center of the universe. All the planets in our solar system and all the stars beyond it were thought to orbit in perfect circles around us. And at the very center of the geocentric universe, was Jerusalem. You can see this beautifully demonstrated in the famous clover leaf map of the world by Heinrich Bunting (1545-1606). The original map now happily rests in Bunting’s bull’s-eye; it is part of the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem.

Writing in the 16th century, the Maharsha, R. Shmuel Eidels (1555 – 1631) suggested that since the Earth is a sphere, Israel and Jerusalem can be seen as if they were its center.

מהרש"א חידושי אגדות מסכת קידושין דף סט עמוד א

 שהעולם הוא כתפוח ומקום בהמ"ק הוא מרכז עולם וכן א"י ולכך אמרו בא"י כיון דהוא מקום הממוצע אוירו מזוג

The world is round like an apple, and the Temple is at its center. So too is the Land of Israel, which is why it has a moderate climate

In fact Bunting’s clover leaf map and the Maharsha’s suggestion can now be combined with Google-era technology. It’s just one more way to help keep Jerusalem in our hearts and prayers.

Orthographic T&O  map with Jerusalem at the center of the Earth.

Orthographic T&O map with Jerusalem at the center of the Earth.


Print Friendly and PDF