Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
IT is necessary to call your attention to an idea expressed by Jonathan, the son of Uzziel. When he saw that the prophet says in reference to the Ofannim, "It was cried unto them in my hearing, O gilgal" ("sphere") (x. 13), he assumed that by Ofannim the heavens are meant, and rendered Ofan by gilgal, "sphere," and Ofannim by gilgelaya, "spheres." I have no doubt that he found a confirmation of his opinion in the words of the prophet that the Ofannim were like unto the colour of tarshish (ver. 16), a colour ascribed to the heavens, as is well known. When he, therefore, noticed the passage, "Now as I beheld the Ḥayyot, behold one Ofan upon the earth" (i. 15), which clearly shows that the Ofannim were upon the earth, he had a difficulty in explaining it in accordance with his opinion. Following, however, his interpretation, he explains the terms erez, employed here as denoting the inner surface of the heavenly sphere, which may be considered as erez ("earth" or "below"), in relation to all that is above that surface. He
therefore translates the words ofan eḥad ba-areẓ, as follows: "One ofan was below the height of the heavens." Consider what his explanation of the passage must be. I think that he gave this explanation because he thought that gilgal denotes in its original meaning "heaven." My opinion is that gilgal means originally "anything rolling"; comp. "And I will roll thee (ve-gilgaltika) down from the rocks" (Jer. li. 25); "and rolled (va-yagel) the stone" (Gen. xxix. 10); the same meaning the word has in the phrase: "Like a rolling thing (galgal) before the whirlwind" (Isa. xvii. 13). The poll of the head, being round, is therefore called gulgolet; and because everything round rolls easily, every spherical thing is called gilgal; also the heavens are called gilgallim on account of their spherical form. Thus our Sages use the phrase, "It is a wheel (gilgal) that moves round the world"; and a wooden ball, whether small or large, is called gilgal. If so, the prophet merely intended by the words, "As for the Ofannim, it is cried to them in my hearing, O sphere" (gilgal), to indicate the shape of the Ofannim, as nothing has been mentioned before respecting their form and shape; but he did not mean to say that the Ofannim are the same as the heavens. The term "like tarshish" is explained in the second account, in which it is said of the Ofannim: "And the appearance of the Ofannim was like the colour of tarshish." This latter passage is translated by Jonathan, the son of Uzziel, "like the colour of a precious stone, "exactly in the same manner as Onkelos translates the phrase ke-ma‘ase libnat ha-sappir, "like the work of the whiteness of sapphire" (Exod. xxix. 10). Note this. You will not find it strange that I mention the explanation of Jonathan, son of Uzziel, whilst I gave a different explanation myself: for you will find many of the wise men and the commentators differ sometimes from him in the interpretation of words and in many things respecting the prophets. Why should it be otherwise in these profound matters? Besides, I do not decide in favour of my interpretation. It is for you to learn both--the whole of his explanation, from what I have pointed out to you, and also my own opinion. God knoweth which of the two explanations is in accordance with that which the prophet intended to say.