Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Clay Under a Seal

To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

INTRODUCTION

In Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them, pop-apologist Ray Comfort quotes from Job 38:12-14 (NKJV) and writes,

Modern science has come to understand that the earth’s rotation on its axis is responsible for the sun’s rising and setting. The picture here is of a vessel of clay being turned or rotated upon the potter’s wheel – an accurate analogy of the earth’s rotation.[1]

But is this what the Joban text asserts? Has Comfort correctly understood what the ancient author is saying here?

LIGHT AND SHADOW

Let’s begin with a very simple observation about Job 38:12-14: there is no mention of a potter’s wheel. In his zeal for the Bible to be advanced scientific revelation, Comfort has added to the text an element not actually present. This is definitionally eisegesis and (as we have seen in previous posts) it is Comfort’s preferred method of interacting with biblical texts. He was tempted to do so here because the text refers to things like “morning,” “dawn,” and “clay.” Combining these words with the fact that day and night are the biproduct of the Earth’s rotation on its axis, the apologist finds a prooftext for biblical prescience. Unfortunately, this isn’t what is going on in this passage.

In v. 14, Yahweh tells Job, “It is changed like clay under the seal, and it is dyed like a garment” (NRSV).[2] To what does the pronoun “it” refer? In context, the antecedent is “the earth” found in v. 13. We must keep in mind that when Comfort reads “the earth” he is thinking of the planet, but when the Joban author speaks of “the earth” (hāʾāreṣ) he is referring simply to “the land.” It is “the land,” then, that in v. 14 is “changed like clay under the seal.” Note that the author has said nothing about a potter’s wheel. Rather, he refers to “clay under the seal [ḥôtām].” The term ḥôtām refers to a means of authenticating documents that was common in ancient times. For example, in 1 Kings 21, when the Israelite monarch Ahab fails to acquire Naboth’s vineyard for himself and is left depressed, his wife Jezebel concocts a plot to get Naboth killed. She accomplishes this by way of letters that she writes in Ahab’s name and seals them with his ḥôtām (1 Kings 21:8). The impression left by the seal was sign that the letter had come from the king. While in the case of Ahab’s seal it is likely that a signet ring is in view, some seals could be quite ornate, particularly when found on cylinders.[3]

An example of a cylinder seal. This Akkadian seal features Enkidu, a character known from ancient stories like the Epic of Gilgamesh. Photo credit: Sailko (Wikimedia Commons)

With this background in mind, what is Job 38:14 communicating? In his commentary on the book, David Clines writes,

Just as a seal stamps on a flat and featureless piece of clay a design in relief, so the light of the morning changes the featureless dark earth: what in the darkness had no shape becomes three-dimensional, contoured features appear, and the landscape takes on its varied colors.[4]

Far from describing a planet rotating on its axis, Job 38:14 refers to the way that sunlight, when it stretches across a darkened landscape, makes everything visible and tangible. And in context, it is light that illuminates the world, revealing the wicked so that they can be “shaken out like vermin.”[5]

CONCLUSION

Once again, we observe Comfort reading the biblical texts in an eisegetical manner, and once again we correct him by treating the text with respect. His failure to deal with the text as the text is symptomatic of his overall apologetic which is rooted in laziness, misunderstanding, and, at times, deceptiveness. As with so many would-be defenders of Christianity, Ray Comfort would do well to abandon the apologetic endeavor lest he continues to make the faith he so loves appear to be little more than a circus.


[1] Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible: Amazing Truths Written Thousands of Years Before Man Discovered Them (Bellflower, CA: Living Waters Publications, 2016), 11-12.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all citations of biblical texts are from the New Revised Standard Version.

[3] See the discussion of cylinder seals in Marian H. Feldman, “Mesopotamian Art,” in A Companion to the Ancient Near East, edited by Daniel Snell (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 287-289.

[4] David J. A. Clines, Job 38-42, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1105.

[5] Norman C. Habel, The Book of Job, The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985), 540.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: