Why the Sun, Moon, Stars Were Created So Late in the Week

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by Neil Godfrey

One of the oddities for us moderns of the Genesis creation account is that the sun, moon and stars are not created until the fourth day of the week even though light was created on the first day and vegetation on the third.

How can light exist without the sun? That’s our first thought. (If you are like me you long ago trained yourself to read that God did not actually create the sun and moon and stars on the fourth day but only moved the clouds and mist aside so that they appeared to a non-existent observer on earth for the first time. But that’s not what the story says.)

So what was going through the mind of the author of Genesis 1 when he set out the following detailed sequence:

. . . Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. . . .

Then . . . there was light. . . . and God divided the light from the darkness.

Then . . . God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament . . . And God called the firmament Heaven. . . .

Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear” . . . . And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. . . .

And the earth brought forth grass, the herb, and the tree  . . .

Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. . . .

  • Darkness, then light,
  • then the vault or sky to separate the waters above from those below,
  • then the separation of the land and seas, with the land being covered with greenery,
  • then the sun, moon and stars to separate the seasons and years, periods of time generally, and mark significant events.

Our first instinct is to compare the Babylonian creation epic, the Enuma elish, in which the solar deity, Marduk, cuts in two the sea monster, Tiamat, so he can put one half of her body above to become the heaven and the other half below, the earth. But despite similarities it’s not quite the fit for Genesis. In the Babylonian myth the sun, moon and stars are created before there is any sign of the earth and its vegetation.

But if we move west to the Greeks we do find creation accounts that more closely match Genesis 1.

For example, Hesiod’s Theogony, lines 116-132

At the first Chaos came to be, but next wide bosomed Earth. . . . From Chaos came forth . . . black Night; but of Night were born . . . Day . . . . And Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. And she brought forth long Hills, graceful haunts of the goddess-Nymphs who dwell amongst the glens of the hills. She bare also the fruitless deep with his raging swell . . . .

Out of chaos we have night followed by day, and the earth appears to simultaneously give birth to the starry heaven and the wooded hills and valleys separated from the sea.

Relief representing Anaximander (Roma, Museo Nazionale Romano). Probably Roman copy of an earlier Greek original. (Wikimedia)

But then we come to the philosophers attempting to arrive at a more “scientific” or “natural” explanation. Here what we know of the cosmogony of Anaximander of Miletus is of particular interest.

We begin with all the elements — fire (hot), air (cold), earth (dry), water (wet) — in chaotic confusion. An infinite power that encompassed all set in motion the chaos and began the process of separating each of the elements, the hot from the cold, the earth from the water, followed by a more orderly combination and arrangement of these elements.

As the chaos turned the lighter elements increasingly flew to the outer limits while the heavier ones move to the centre. Hence the fiery elements were on the circumference with the earth in the centre.

Picture a sphere or shell of a fiery element surrounding the air around the earth, “like bark on a tree”.

So hot is separated from the cold. And heavier still, towards the centre of this great turning mass of elements coming to find their “natural places” we have the earth and oceans.

The Hot moves out to the circumference and becomes incandescent, forming a spherical sheath of visible fire, enclosing the cold moist core of the nucleus. In place of ‘the Cold’ we now hear of ‘the air (mist) encompassing the earth’. Presumably the core is still humid throughout — a dark cold mist enveloping a somewhat denser watery mass at the centre.

The process then goes on as follows: as the cold core differentiates further, the second pair of primary opposites, Wet and Dry, become distinct. The watery mass of earth is partly dried by the heavenly fire. Dry land becomes distinct from water, and the seas shrink into their beds. At this point the Hot, already differentiated into fire, acts as cause, evaporating some of the moisture and drying the earth. So, finally, the four popular elements have come to fill their appointed regions. The next stage is the formation of the heavenly bodies. (Cornford, pp. 163f)

That “spherical sheath of fire” replaces the firmament in Anaximander’s system. The fiery shell around the air and earth itself began to break up into separated hoops.

When this (sphere of flame) was tom off and enclosed in certain rings, the sun, moon, and stars came into existence.

The heavenly bodies came into being as (each) a ring of fire, separated off from the fire in the world and enclosed by mist (‘air’). There are breathing-holes, like the holes in a flute, at which the heavenly bodies are seen. Hence eclipses occur when these breathing-holes are blocked; and the moon appears now to wax and now to wane according as the passages are open or blocked.

The separation of Dry Land from Ocean is followed by the formation of the sun, moon and stars — just like the Bible says!

What we are seeing in Genesis (as in Greek ideas) is the increasing separation of the elements followed by their more orderly relationship with one another as they find their natural places and settle into the proper mixes or blending of their respective forms.

Subsequent Greek philosophers restored the firmament that Anaximander had displaced. Is one meant to imagine, biblically, the firmament providing holes to let the waters above fall down as rain from time to time and also peak holes to see portions of the fiery hoops in the form of the sun, moon and stars?

Scholars back in the 1950s who published the above view that the author of Genesis 1 was influenced by Greek views of origins justified their proposal by pointing out that the “priestly account” of the Genesis creation was composed after the Babylonian captivity and more likely in the Persian era. This chronology removed any difficulty in Genesis being influenced by Greek ideas.


I am wondering if I first read of the above explanation in more recently published either by Russell Gmirkin or Philippe Wajdenbaum or another and have momentarily forgotten the references. If so I do apologize for not acknowledging them in this post. As far as I am presently aware I learned of the above explanations by reading an article and related references by C. F. Whitley (see below).

(There are a number of other interesting connections between the Greek ideas and details in Genesis 1 but they will have to wait till I find more time to get on top of some of the slightly difficult readings first.)


Burnet, J. (1920). Early Greek philosophy (3rd ed.). London, A. and C. Black. Retrieved from http://archive.org/details/burnetgreek00burnrich

Cornford, F. M. (1952). Principium Sapientiae. The origins of Greek philosophical thought. Cambridge University Press.

Whitley, C. F. (1958). “The Pattern of Creation in Genesis, Chapter 1.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 17(1), 32–40. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/542501

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Neil Godfrey

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15 thoughts on “Why the Sun, Moon, Stars Were Created So Late in the Week”

  1. I always appreciate the lively way your blog drills down to original sources, including here. In an almost-finished forthcoming book on Greek scientific and literary sources in the Primordial History (Gen. 1-11), I cover a lot of this same material, and arrive at similar conclusions about the Biblical authors’ use of Greek sources in Genesis 1 and 2 (as well as the Pandora story and others later in Genesis 1-11). The most important such source was the Timaeus by Plato, which also had the creation of light by the Demiurge prior to his fashioning the celestial bodies and placing them in the sky. Whitley missed the extensive parallels in Timaeus due to his adoption of then-prevailing theories regarding the early, pre-Platonic dating of the Pentateuchal sources. The use of Timaeus in the cosmogony of Genesis 1 and the zoogony of Genesis 2 were also noted in Nieselowski-Spano 2007 and Wajdenbaum 2011: 92-97, which I believe you have covered in your blog.

    1. I did once touch upon comparisons with Egyptian mythology: see

      In The Beginning God (Just Like Another Egyptian Deity) Created Everything With A Word
      Explaining (?) the Contradictory Genesis Accounts of the Creation of Adam and Eve

      But I backed off after having difficulties establishing clarity about the primary sources. When were certain myths and their variants prevalent? With what sectors of Egyptian society? I wanted to see the original data to check the way the secondary sources were portraying them. Greenberg, I later found out, was advancing the “out of Africa” theory and that made me more wary, too.

      It is easy to see some general patterns, but I like to ask what accounts for those patterns? Was there direct borrowing or was it indirect, say, via Greece?

      The various myths may well be related, like cousins, second cousins, etc.

      I’m thinking of Claude Levi-Strauss and his work on Structural Anthropology and comparing the various bird myths in the Americas. The similarities are there, like DNA patterns — we see the family similarities and variations.

        1. As my recent posts on the Exodus point out there is no evidence to support the notion that “Jews came from Egypt”, but of course there are close historical ties, political, cultural, economic, between Judeans of various periods and Egypt. And one does see common DNA between the various myths, including the Christian one and those of Egypt. Explaining that common DNA is another question, though. Here is where I think Levi-Strauss can offer more insight when we lack clear direct “intertextuality” or “mimesis”.

  2. Wow, it blows my mind how close this description is to conventional Big Bang cosmology. Obviously you replace the Four Elements with the actual stuff the Universe is made of, and the consequence that Earth gets formed in the “starry bodies form” phase and not in the primordial phase, but otherwise, just throw a few “breaking symmetries” in there and it could be A Brief History of Time.

    1. There is a closer analog between Greek cosmogonies and modern theories of the origin of the solar system. Anaxagoras and others proposed that the universe was a swirling vortex (as evidenced by the rotation of the heavens), and that rotational forces played a role in hurling the hot rocks into the sky (sun and planet and meteors), as well as the segregation of hot light elements from cold heavy elements (by the principle of like attracting like). The arguments among the Greeks over whether there were multiple universes was essentially, in modern terms, over whether there might be multiple solar systems with suns and planets, which we now know to be the case. The significant thing is, the Greek natural philosophers were attempting to explain the present observed universe by natural observable physical scientific processes.

      1. On the relationship of Greek natural philosophers to what we call an interest in scientific understandings, a thought-provoking discussion that has pulled me up from this direction at least to pause and have a rethink / modification of views before further follow up is French, R., & Cunningham, A. (1996). Before Science: The Invention of the Friars’ Natural Philosophy. It’s primarily about medieval “science” but also addresses the ancient philosophers. (French and Cunningham have been involved in a lively debate with more well known science historian Edward Grant.)

        You may be well aware of these different interpretations of ancient “science”. For others, some quotations that raise questions or at least some refinement of this view:

        Thus Greek philosophy definitely did not arise as a rejection of religion, as our conventional story about it claims that it did (and as our modern version of philosophy actually did originate, many centuries later), but as a continuation of religion by other means, as it were.15


        The Stoics sought ataraxia, peace of mind, through their acceptance of what was natural as a result of the logos. The same is true also of the philosophers who held that the world was made up of atoms. Their views were rejected by Aristotle on the grounds that the atoms moved randomly and hence without purpose: for him this was unphilosophical. But the atomists were not pursuing a ‘scientific’ view of the world, for their purpose was to persuade man that the action of the atoms was, above all, not guided by the gods. The gods existed, but had no power, arbitrary or just, over man. The aim of the atomistic philosopher Epicurus was to relieve man of the fear of the gods and enable him to achieve ataraxia, as a basis for living the good life, the life of the true philosopher.

        The association of Greek philosophy with ‘religious’ goals was so intimate that it is hardly surprising to find that it was apparently none other than the philosopher Plato who coined the term ‘theology’, when discussing the ways in which the poets refer to the gods.17 Aristotle too uses the term ‘theology’, when discussing the types of philosophy: ‘There must be three theoretical philosophies – mathematics, physics, and what we may call theology – since it is obvious that if the divine is present anywhere, it is present in beings of this sort.’


        Edgar Wind, in Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance, Oxford University Press, 1980 (first published 1958), p. 3, writes of Plato’s seventh Letter, that ‘instead of disclaiming for his philosophy any kinship with [common mystical initiation] rites, Plato declared on the contrary that philosophy itself was a mystical initiation of another kind, which achieved for a chosen few by conscious inquiry what the mysteries supplied to the vulgar by stirring up their emotions. The cleansing of the soul, the welcoming of death, the power to enter into communion with the Beyond, the ability to “rage correctly”, these benefits which Plato recognised were commonly provided by mystical initiations were to be obtained through his philosophy by rational exercise, by a training in the art of dialectic, whose aim it was to purge the soul of error’. Such Platonic religio-philosophic attitudes and practices were put back into direct practice in the Renaissance.


        15. The view that the Greeks were the first rationalists who separated religion from science/philosophy, underlies most modern work in history of science and in history of philosophy; for instance it is basic to W.K.C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 6 vols, 1962-81. Compare Jaeger, …..

  3. One more detail. Empedocles was another who had the flora appear prior to the sun:

    (In Hesiod, Earth generates the hills and Pontos (the sea). Note that Empedocles made the trees, the first living creatures, spring up from the earth ‘like embryos in the mother’s womb’, before the sun existed, Vors.5 vol. 1, p. 296.)

    That’s also from Cornford’s Origins of Greek Philosophical Thought

    Unfortunately I do not see a glossary of abbreviations in Cornford’s book. Does anyone know what “Vors” refers to, please?

    1. Ah, I see in another work by Cornfield (From Religion to Philosophy) this answer to my question about Vors tucked away at the end of his Preface:

      For the convenience of the English reader, I have frequently referred to the second edition of Professor Burnet’s Early Greek Philosophy (E.G.P.2); and I have freely borrowed from the excellent translation of the fragments which it contains. For the fragments themselves references are given to Diels’ Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, ed. 2, Berlin, 1906 (D.F.V.2).

  4. Given that we only know Anaximander through one fragment and quotations by later Greek writers, how sure can we be that the precise order of the account of formation of the cosmos etc that you quote above is really Anaximander’s? You quote:

    “Dry land becomes distinct from water, and the seas shrink into their beds. At this point the Hot, already differentiated into fire, acts as cause, evaporating some of the moisture and drying the earth. So, finally, the four popular elements have come to fill their appointed regions. The next stage is the formation of the heavenly bodies.”

    Are the words “At this point”, “So, finally”, “The next stage” precisely what Anaximander wrote, or are they part of Cornford’s shaping of the fragments of Anaximander into a coherent narrative?

    “When this (sphere of flame) was tom off and enclosed in certain rings, the sun, moon, and stars came into existence.”

    This observation (Anaximander’s own? A later paraphrase?) suggests that the heavenly bodies came into existence as an immediate sequel to the development of the sphere(s) of flame. Therefore it’s crucial to know that in Anaximander’s original text the account of the separation of sea and land really did precede the account of the heavenly bodies, if one wants to explore the possibility that Genesis is be derived from it.

    1. Several fragments of Anaximander deal with the separation of hot and cold in the early universe. Notable is the following from Aristotle:

      Alex. in Meteor. 91 r (vol. i. 268 Id.), Dox. 494. Some of the physicists say that the sea is what is left of the first moisture;2for when the region about the earth was moist, the upper part of the moisture was evaporated by the sun, and from it came the winds and the revolutions of the sun and moon, since these made their revolutions by reason of the vapours and exhalations, and revolved in those regions where they found an abundance of them. What is left of this moisture in the hollow places is the sea; so it diminishes in quantity, being evaporated gradually by the sun, and finally it will be completely dried up. Theophrastos says that Anaximandros and Diogenes were of this opinion.

      Cornfield’s summary derives from Pseudo-Plutarch:

      He says that something capable of begetting hot and cold out of the eternal was separated off at the origin of this world. From this arose a sphere of flame which fitted close round the air surrounding the earth as the bark round a tree. When this had been torn off and shut up in certain rings, the sun, moon and stars came into existence.—Ps.-Plut. Strom. fr. 2 (R. P. 19).85

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