Heaven in Judaism

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Shamayim (שמים), the Hebrew word for "heaven", denotes a component of the cosmos, the other elements being the earth (erets) and the underworld (sheol). Shamayim is the dwelling place of God and other heavenly beings and, in post-Hebrew Bible literature (including the Christian New Testament), the abode of the righteous dead.[1]

The Biblical authors pictured the earth as a flat disk floating in water, with the heavens above and the underworld below.[2] The raqiya (firmament), a solid inverted bowl above the earth, coloured blue by the cosmic ocean, kept the waters above the earth from flooding the world.[3] From about 300 BCE the three-tiered cosmos was largely replaced by a newer Greek model which saw the earth as a sphere at the centre of a set of seven concentric heavens, one for each visible planet plus the sun and moon, with the realm of God in an eighth and highest heaven, but although several Jewish works from this period have multiple heavens, as do some New Testament works, none has exactly the formal Greek system.[4]

In the course of the 1st millennium CE Jewish scholars developed an elaborate system of Seven Heavens, their names being Vilon (וילון) or Araphel (ערפל), Raqia (רקיע), Shehaqim (שחקים), Zebul (זבול), Maon (מעון), Makon (מכון), and Araboth (ערבות), where ophanim, the seraphim, and the hayyoth and the throne of the Lord are located.[5] Medieval Jewish Merkavah and Heichalot literature was devoted to discussing the details of these heavens, sometimes in connection with traditions relating to Enoch, such as the Third Book of Enoch.[6]

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  1. ^ Fretheim 2003, p. 201
  2. ^ Aune 2003, p. 119
  3. ^ Pennington 2007, p. 42
  4. ^ Aune 2003, p. 119
  5. ^ http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=1521&letter=A#4364
  6. ^ Scholem, Gershom. Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and the Talmudic Tradition, 1965.


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