Heaven in Judaism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Shamayim (שָׁמַיִם), the Hebrew word for "heaven" (literally heavens, plural), denotes one component of the three-part biblical cosmology, the other elements being erets (the earth) and sheol (the underworld). Shamayim is the dwelling place of God and other heavenly beings, erets is the home of the living, and sheol is the realm of the dead, including, in post-Hebrew Bible literature (including the New Testament), the abode of the righteous dead.[1]


The Hebrew word shamayim is constructed of two parts: sham (שָׁמַ) derived from Akkadian samu meaning "sky" or "lofty", and Hebrew mayim (מַיִם) meaning "water". In Genesis 1:6 Elohim separated the "water from the water". The area above the earth was filled by sky-water (sham-mayim) and the earth below was covered by sea-water (yam-mayim). The Hebrew word for the sun is shemesh. It follows the same construction, where "shem" or "sham" (Akkadian: samu) means "sky" and esh (Akkadian: ish) means "fire", i.e., "sky-fire".


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 a newer Greek model largely replaced the idea of a three-tiered cosmos; the newer view 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, named:[5]

  • Vilon (וִילוֹן) or Araphel (עֲרָפֶל)
  • Raqia (רָקִיעַ)
  • Shehaqim (שְׁחָקִים)
  • Zebul (זִבּוּל)
  • Maon (מִעוּן)
  • Makon (מִכּוּן)
  • Araboth (עֲרֵבוּת), the location of the ophanim, the seraphim, the hayyoth and the throne of the Lord

Medieval Jewish Merkavah and Heichalot literature focussed on discussing the details of these heavens, sometimes in connection with traditions relating to Enoch, such as the Third Book of Enoch.[6]

See also[edit]


  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.


  • Aune, David E. (2003). "Cosmology". Westminster Dictionary of the New Testament and Early Christian Literature. Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Fretheim, Terence E. (2003). "Heaven(s)". In Gowan, Donald E. The Westminster theological wordbook of the Bible. Westminster University Press.
  • Pennington, Jonathan T. (2007). Heaven and earth in the Gospel of Matthew. Brill.

External links[edit]