The term is used in two widely different senses: (1) for the material of which the earth’s surface is composed, (2) as the name of the planet on which man dwells. The Hebrew language discriminates between these two by the use of separate terms, adamah for the former, erets for the latter.
- Adamah is the earth in the sense of soil or ground, particularly as being susceptible of cultivation (Genesis 2:7)
- Erets is applied in a more or less extended sense— (1) to the whole world (Genesis 1:1), (2) to land as opposed to sea (Genesis 1:10), (3) to a country (Genesis 21:32), (4) to a plot of ground (Genesis 23:15), and (5) to the ground on which a man stands (Genesis 33:3). The two former senses alone concern us, the fairest involving an inquiry into the opinions of the Hebrews on cosmogony, the second on geography.
- Cosmogony — (1) The Hebrew cosmogony is based upon the leading principle that the universe exists, not independently of God, nor yet co-existent with God, nor yet in opposition to him as a hostile element, but dependently upon him, subsequently to him and in subjection to him. (2) Creation was regarded as a progressive work—a gradual development from the inferior to the superior orders of things.
- Geography — There seem to be traces of the same ideas as prevailed among the Greeks, that the world was a disk (Isaiah 40:22), bordered by the ocean, with Jerusalem as its centre, like Delphi as the navel, or, according to another view, the highest point of the world. As to the size of the earth, the Hebrews had but a very indefinite notion.