An increased awareness of the climate and ecological emergencies that we are facing has necessitated a re-examination and evaluation of our attitudes to towards the Earth and how we locate ourselves among the diverse non-human communities with whom we share the planet. This is not a new debate. Throughout Christian, Jewish and Islamic history there have been individuals and communities that have questioned our understanding and attitudes to the created world. It is a very deep and rich tradition and many are finding these voices helpful. However, what is different today is the urgency and sheer enormity of the task, as well as a greater understanding of our impact on the climate and ecology.
In the run up to the World climate conference, COP26, there has been a renewed interest in what the Bible might say to us about about the climate, the ecological challenges we face. One biblical figure that repeatedly springs to peoples’ minds when discussing ecological disaster is Noah. Whilst this is understandable, it is all too easy to draw rather simplistic parallels between Noah (and his saving animals from extinction) and our efforts to address climate and environmental breakdowns. However, the text is notoriously problematic. This should not be surprising as it functions within the biblical history of Israel as a narrative pivot point between the world of Adam and Eve and the one that was more recognisable to the writers of the accounts. Nevertheless, it raises some very serious questions about the environment attitudes to it that don’t altogether sit easily with an environmentally conscious reading or theology.
The designation by the Roman Catholic Church for the year 2020 to be the ‘Year of the Word‘ has created the opportunity for a number of exciting initiatives that explore different aspects of the Bible, its use and meaning. There is special focus this year on on the plants and the Bible.
This is part of a wider project that involves communities and schools developing their ownPsalm 23 gardens. Alongside this, the Bible Society are producing a wide range of (practical and spiritual) resources.
Additionally, for the annual 3 day Flower Festival to be held at St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, on 12th to 14th June the theme will be ‘The God who Speaks’.
How you can get involved
In support of this, we are producing a set of resources for children and adults to encourage you to grow your own ‘Bible garden’. These might be of particular use for teachers, (grand)parents and guardians. All the plants which we will be featuring are mentioned in the Bible and have been specifically chosen because they are simple to grow and require low maintenance. Seeds can also be purchased cheaply and easily, which makes it an ideal activity for primary and junior schools as well as at home.
I am delighted that Alexandra Leighton, a second year Theology undergraduate from the University of Birmingham who has been working with us as part of her placement, has provided a number of resources for this project. The resources will be paired, with one set being directed to adults and the other to children (see below). They can be accessed through the ‘Plant a Bible Garden‘ tab on the menu bar.
Today is the last day of our 30 Days [Biblically] Wild challenge that has been inspired by the Wild Life Trust‘s ‘30 Days Wild.’ Over the past four weeks we have looked at a range of plants, animals and birds. The idea has been to look at species with which we could reasonably expect to encounter in the UK and perhaps would necessarily expect to find mentioned in the Bible. What I hope to have in some way achieved is to raise an awareness of the extent to which non-human life and the environment saturates this collection of texts that is so often assumed to be simply about God and humans. In the same way, just as non-human life suffuses our landscapes (if we just spend a little time to look for it), so too it permeates and influences the biblical writings.
We can see that the biblical writers were profoundly aware of their deep interconnections with the land. The preservation of the land (materially as well as spiritually) was intricately tied to their preservation as a people. Hareuveni (1991) and then Benstein (2006) are right in emphasizing the way in which the land formed their theology and provided a rich vocabulary through which to express it.
Fish – דָּגָה (dagah); דָּג (dag); ἰχθύς (ichthus); ὀψάριον (opsarion)
Another image that can capture the delights being outside on a slow summer’s day is sitting beside a flowing stream and catching the flash of light and plop of water as the surface is disturbed by flick of a fish’s tail. It is a great reminder of those completely different, almost alien, and often hidden, habitats populated by life and character that can lie just feet away from us.
I find the word ‘adder’ extremely evocative for a specific time and place. As soon as I hear or read it, I am immediately transported into the warmth of sunshine, the gritty, dusty feel of a sandy heath-land with gorse-scrub abd a hint of pine, and, above all, the rich, fresh tang of new-growth bracken.
As we are drawing into the final week of this 30 Days Wild challenge, if you have spotted – or if you do happen to spot – an adder you can count yourself very fortunate and lucky. Triply lucky really. Firstly, adders are becoming increasingly rare. Secondly, they are extremely shy creatures who excel at keeping out of sight. Thirdly, you really need warm dry day, as the times that you are most likely to spot one in the open is when it is drowsily sunning itself. In the rather damp and cool June of 2019, these types of days have been a rarity!
There are a couple of reasons why I have included Wild (or common) Madder (Rubia peregrina) for this wildlife challenge. The first is very personal. I have mentioned in earlier posts that my mother was an avid botanist and, for some reason, I associate the plant with holiday forays into the country. Distribution of this plant is restricted predominantly to the south west regions in the UK – see the helpful interactive distribution map produced by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) and so was not common to where we lived. Consequently, if we happened to by holidaying or visiting the south west or Wales, spotting ‘Madder’ was very much on her ‘botanising list.’ There we would follow Keble Martin’s (a battered copy of his book was Mum’s botanical bible) cryptic clues:
We are now half way through the Wildlife Trusts ‘30 Days Wild‘ challenge and so, to keep things fresh, today we will be exploring something different.
Three or four years ago I would have been tempted to start this post with something like a wry reference to the typical rain-swept summer we’ve been enjoying, which would have made the subject of rain very apt. However, changes in climate and weather systems has meant that the last couple of summers have been uncharacteristically dry and this one seems to follow that new pattern – even in March (2019), in central England,, the water butt we use for the hens’ water, was running perilously close to empty! Since then, the first half of June has proved to extremely wet with some areas receiving more than a month’s worth of rain in a single day!
Nevertheless, rain is a really important part of not just our ecology but our experiences of living in it. As the writer Cynthia Barnett (2015) suggests:
[Rain] is one of the last untamed encounters with nature that we experience routinely, able to turn the suburbs and even the city wild.”
Whether you are attempting to avoid it or are scanning the sky for the promise of an overdue shower, rain is as much a part of the modern world as it was in the ancient one. The following post comprises a few short sections from some research that I am currently writing on rain as theology within biblical and post-biblical antiquity.
On Day 2 we saw that, within the biblical world, frogs shared a rather ambivalent relationship with humans. Today, we see that this ambivalence continues among our feathered friends, and none more so than with the raven.
John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate. Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015, pp. 256. £12.99. Pbk. ISBN: 978-0-8308-2461-8
A slightly shorter form of this book review first appeared in Reviews in Science and Religion 66 (Nov 2015) 37-44.
First of all, it is important to recognise that this book has been written for a very specific target audience; conservative evangelicals who are troubled by claims that science contradicts Genesis 2-3. The context is firmly that of the science-creationist debate in the US. For readers outside the States, I would recommend that they read Walton’s impassioned and, at times, touching appeals towards the end (pp.207-208 and 209-210) as this will help to make sense of his rather eccentric emphases and omissions – as well as the idiosyncratic methodology and conclusions. Continue reading →