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.
In this article, Sue explores the importance of letter writing in both Christian and Jewish traditions and identifies precedents for the New Testament letter writers within the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
The main focus of her exploration is theLetter of Jeremiah (sometimes titled ‘Letter of Jeremy’) which can be found at the end of Baruch (chapter 6) in the Deuterocanon/Apocrypha.
The Letter of Jeremiah offers a particularly close parallel to the New Testament epistles… It has been somewhat neglected within the churches and by scholars, yet it speaks to issues which continue to exercise believers today. It also illustrates the creativity with which ancient Jewish interpreters re-used and adapted their sacred scriptures.
You can read Sue’s article in full by clicking the links below.
Regular visitors to this site will know that the staff at Newman have been supporting the initiative run by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) and the Bible Society, The God Who Speaks for the Year of the Word 2020 campaign. One element of this has been the creation of resources for schools and parents to plant their own ‘biblical gardens‘. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that some of the planned events were curtailed or had to be cancelled. It has therefore been decided to extend the yearlong campaign into this year (2021), which has meant we are able to continue our support.
Recently, Prof Susan Docherty, has add some written contributions on the relationship of Jewish and Christian biblical interpretation. The first article examines the figure of Abraham in biblical and post-biblical Jewish tradition. ‘Before Abraham was… Abraham in early Jewish tradition‘ provides new perspective on the early life of Abraham, and asks the questions, where did he come from and how was his faith formed as one of the greatest Old Testament Patriarchs?
Sue develops on her work with the motif of the Exodus within Jewish tradition by showing how later biblical and intertestamental authors sought to understand and fill in the gaps left within the original writings. She concludes by reflecting on what this tells us about early Jewish interpretations and attitudes to these texts.
Sue’s article can be read in full by clicking the link below.
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.
Susan Docherty (Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism and head of subject for Theology at Newman University) took part in a discussion of how Hadhrat Ibrahim (Abraham) is understood within Islam, Christianity and Judaism on the Breakfast Show on the Voice of Islam radio station today (10/07/2009).
Professor Docherty said,
I was delighted to have this opportunity to engage with the listeners about the ongoing relevance of the figure of Abraham/Ibrahim for Muslims, Jews and Christians, who all honour him for his righteousness and faith in one God.
This topic was very much in the forefront of my mind because I have recently contributed to a new edited book on the interpretation of Abraham in early Jewish and early Christian Literature. It also connects with the wider work of Newman University, as we are involved in various inter-religious partnerships and projects researching faith schools. Within our undergraduate degree programme in Theology and Philosophy here at Newman we also offer modules like ‘The Abrahamic Inheritance: Dialogue and Difference between Christianity, Islam and Judaism’ and ‘Politics and Religion in Britain’, which encourage students to explore the connections between the major world faiths and their place in modern society.
To view more about Professor Sue Docherty view her staff profile page. To view more about the Theology courses at Newman University view the course search.
If you have been inspired by either this series of blogs or the #30DaysWild challenge to do some of your own exploration of the fauna and flora of the Bible but you are not sure of where to start, I have listed here some useful resources that can act as your field-guides.
Finding resources on this topic is becoming much easier as the portrayal of non-human life within biblical literature is a lot of renewed attention. The confluence of environmental crises (climate, pollution, population, land use, habitat exploitation and depletion, etc.) has provided an opportunity for those with faith communities to reexamine these issues in the light of their sacred texts.
Which resources you will find helpful will depend upon your interests. Some might be interested in just knowing a little more about the context to, for example, the teachings of Jesus or the prophets. Others might be more interested in the intersection between the biblical writings and the ecology. Is the influence of the biblical tradition as bad as some of its critics argue? Are there modes of understanding within these texts that might help us address the crises we now face. What does the Bible say about animal welfare and exploitation? There is some very interesting work being done from Christian, Jewish and Islamic perspectives re-looking at vegetarianism and veganism. Other people might be more interested in the texts as historical documents and want to gain a clearer historical, anthropological understanding: What do they tell us about how the ancients viewed their world and their place within it?
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.
We are now coming to the end of our 30 Days Biblically Wild challenge that has been inspired by the Wildlife Trust‘s 30 Days Wild campaign and I thought we could look at something that just about anyone, who can get out of doors, regardless of where they live, can appreciate; the bramble (Rubus fruticosus) otherwise known as the blackberry or brier. For anyone who is wanting to get get started with, what used to be referred to as ‘nature spotting’, the bramble is an ideal place to begin. It is EVERYWHERE! You don’t have to travel long distances into the countryside to find them. Any piece of waste ground or plot of land that has been left untended will do.
There is something very inclusive about the blackberry. It can be enjoyed by all. Richard Mabey (1998:74) notes that “[b]lackberrying is the one almost universal act of foraging to survive in our industrialised island and that it has a special role in the relationship between townspeople and the countryside.”
You might be able to tell by the subtitle that I am having to take a bit of poetic license on today’s topic. Many of you will have probably guessed that our (European) ‘Mr Brock’ type badger (Meles meles) does not appear in the Bible. While it can be found in Israel, as we shall see, it is unlikely to be the animal to which the texts in question refer. Nevertheless, I felt that it was fitting as the badger is the symbol of the Wildlife Trust who are running the 30 Days Wildchallenge which this series of posts is supporting.
Badgers have been in the news quite a lot – generally for all the wrong reasons (as far as they are concerned!). Nevertheless, there is something really special about encountering a badger. There is something reassuringly familiar about them. Just think about the number of children’s stories in which they appear – this is something critics of the badger tend to point out! But there is also something strangely different about them. They are sinewy and much faster than you might expect. I can remember one of the first badgers I ever saw. It was at night from a bedroom window. We had been awoken by a noise in the garden. In the gleam of the torchlight we caught the glint of a long, silvery, supple, body wrapped round a bird table – for all the world looking like a podgy, but lithe, snake – before it shot away. After the initial shock we realised that it was a badger who was trying to knock over (once more) our bird table. The ‘biblical’ badger might be different, but it is no less interesting!
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.