Thunder and Lightning

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Thunder and lightning were looked on as magnificent, awesome, and ominous and hence early man connected these phenomena with the direct activity and manifestation of God. In the Bible the term barak, "lightning," is more widespread than the term raʿam, "thunder." However, both are mentioned as impressive divine phenomena. In addition, the Bible recognizes the connection between lightning and *rain (e.g., Jer. 10:13; 51:16). The phenomena of thunder, lightning, and rain are also attributed in the Ancient Near East to a single major god: Baal in Canaanite mythology, Hadad in Assyrian and Marduk in Babylonian. Each of these is depicted holding in his hand a lightning trident, as a symbol of his power and of his bestowal of the rain on which the earth depends for fertility and life for survival. The description of the theophany at Mount Sinai is associated with thunder and lightning, cloud and smoke (Ex. 19:16). In biblical poetic literature, lightning is considered to be the arrows of God, which He hurls to the earth in His anger (e.g., ii Sam. 22:15; Ps. 144:6; Zech. 9:14). In the same way that lightning is the manifestation of God's power, so also thunder is one of His means of expression (Ps. 81:8).

There are realistic descriptions of lightning in biblical literature: "the lightning, lightening up the world" (Ps. 77:19). The lightning is associated in these descriptions with fire and great bright light (Ezek. 1:13; Dan. 10:6).

[Ze'ev Yeivin]

In the Talmud

Thunder and lightning are classed together in the Mishnah (together with shooting stars, earthquakes, and tempests) as manifestations of the might of God, on seeing or experiencing which one is obliged to recite the blessing "whose strength and might fill the world" (Ber. 9:2). The following varying explanations of the cause of thunder are given: "Clouds in a whirl, clouds pouring water into one another," or "the result of a powerful flash of lightning striking the clouds and breaking off hailstones," or "a blast of wind blowing across the mouth of the clouds." The passage, however, concludes that the third explanation is the most probable one, since "the lightning flashes, the clouds rumble, and then the rain falls." According to Rava, the lightning of which one has to be apprehensive (and therefore utter the prayer to avert danger) is "a single flash, blue lightning, clouds rising in the west and coming from the south, and two clouds facing one another." Thunder was instituted that man should fear God (Bet. 59a).