Your turn – Day 30 of 30 Days [Biblically] Wild

An old stile and rolling countryside, Warwickshire. Image: Richard Goode (2008)

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.

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Adder, Viper – Day 25 of 30 Days [Biblically] Wild

Adder/Viper – שְׁפִיפֹן (shephiphon), כְשׁוּב (akhshuv), צִפְעוֹנִי (tsiphoni), פֶּ֫תֶן (peten), ἔχιδνα (echidna)

Common European Adder (Vipera berus). Image: Uncredited. Source: https://phys.org/news/2019-03-adders-extinction-britain-national-adder.html

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!

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Fly – Day 23 of 30 Days [Biblically] Wild

Fly – זְבוּב (zevuv

dogfly image
Dog or stable fly (Stomoxys calcitrans). Source: http://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/2648/stable-fly-dog-fly-control/

This post has been adapted from an earlier post:And the fly is saying…

Newman University is situated next to a reservoir and, over the last few days, the current system of very warm air over Britain has resulted in the (sort of) annual ‘infestation’ of flies on the Newman campus. I have to admit to rather enjoying the sight of them, dancing lazily in loose veils in the soft afternoon sun and their sudden appearance on a paper I am reading or scurrying across the desk. However, I am also aware that, for those living in halls, it can create feelings that are far less poetic! Nevertheless, it got me thinking about flies in the Bible and the wider Ancient Near Eastern traditions.

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Spider – Day 13 of 30 Days [Biblically] Wild

Spider – עַכָּבִישׁ (akkavish)

Giant house spider (Tegenaria duellica) Image: BioImages (c) Malcolm Storey Source: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/invertebrates/spiders/giant-house-spider

Most people tend to encounter spiders indoors rather than outside. However, sit on a piece of grass for even a short length of time and you will soon see this, tiny and often overlooked, scurrying figure. Dewy late summer mornings, when the sun is still low, or frosty autumn and winter days can provide us with a wonderful display of webs that show how abundant and prolific this creature is. Sunrise can turn some meadows into fields of shimmering silver.

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Snail – Day 3 out of 30 [Biblically] Days Wild

Snail – שַׁבְּלוּל (shabelul)

Cornu aspersum (or Helix aspersa) – common garden snail. Image: Unaccredited

Snails are fairly hard to miss at this time of the year. Following a June rain shower or on a dewy morning and they are almost everywhere. We are, probably, all familiar with that horribly uncomfortable crunch underfoot as we inadvertently tread on one. As vegetable plots and gardens begin to flourish, the gardeners amongst us will have a particular affinity (or should that be antipathy?) with this rather strange creature; a relationship that quite often can degenerate into all out warfare!

In many ways, the snail is a singular creature and so it is fitting that its appearance in the Bible is no less singular and perhaps even a little baffling. Continue reading

Frog – Day 2 out of 30 [Biblically] Days Wild

Frog – צְפַרְדֵּעַ (tsephardea); βάτραχος (batrachos)

The Common Frog (Rana temporaria) also known as the European Common Frog or European Common Brown Frog. Image: Richard Bartz, Munich aka Makro Freak Source:MFB.jpg

An ambivalence of [to] frogs

About this time of year (June), millions of tiny froglets, that have just developed from tadpoles, will be making their first forays onto land. Frogs typify our often ambivalent relationship with nature. For many, they are the epitome of ‘otherness’ (the non-human). Continue reading

Why are there no cats in the Bible?

Of the hundreds of different animals named in the Bible, the cat lovers among us might be disturbed to find that there is no mention of their beloved companion/house-guest in the Bible.

‘Helping with research’. Image: Isabella Wray

Were there no cats in biblical Israel?

Confidently identifying the presence of the domestic cat (Felis Silvestris catus), rather than its ‘wild,’ untamed cousins in any ancient setting is difficult. The process of domestication, for most animals, creates certain stresses that result in morphological changes; for example, there is often a reduction in size (see Clutton-Brock, 1981: 21-22; Borowski, 1998: 24-27). Consequently, identifying changes like these can make it possible to distinguish between domestic and wild strains. However, cats tend (at least initially*) to lack such clear markers of domestication. One reason for this might be due to their rather aloof demeanour that often characterises their relationships with humans. Borowski (1998:144) argues that this meant that humans could not so easily control their breeding as they could with other animals. The process of domestication could therefore have emerged from the development of a negotiated collaborative/symbiotic relationship between cats and humans rather than selective breeding (see Driscoll et al., 2009; Russell, 2012: 217). This general lack of evidence for a human-controlled breeding regime creates problems when trying to identify between domestic and wild cats. Current thinking suggests that feline domestication – or the forming of a relationship between human and felines – occurred roughly 5-6000 years ago. Although a recent study by Andrew Kitchener of an apparent burial of a cat with its owner in Cyprus has pushed that date back to about 9000 years (see below). Nevertheless, whether wild or domesticated, zooarcheological evidence shows that cats were living in the ancient Levant at the time of biblical Israel; for example, remains of cats were found during excavations of Neolithic Jericho, ca. 7000 BCE (Borowski, 1998:114). If cats were present in biblical Israel, why then is there this silence about them in biblical writings? Continue reading

‘And the fly is saying…’: On flies, the campus, and the Bible

Newman University is situated next to a reservoir and, over the last few days, the current system of very warm air over Britain has resulted in the (sort of) annual ‘infestation’ of flies on the Newman campus. I have to admit to rather enjoying the sight of them, dancing lazily in loose veils in the soft afternoon sun and their sudden appearance on a paper I am reading or scurrying across the desk. However, I am also aware that, for those living in halls, it can create feelings that are far less poetic! Nevertheless, it got me thinking about flies in the Bible and the wider Ancient Near Eastern traditions.

James Fly
Image by James Westwood

If I am in the minority among those living and working at Newman for rather relishing this phenomenon, I also have to concede that I appear to be a bit of an oddity where the ancients are concerned too! Flies appear to have been universally disliked, or at least, viewed as worthless pests and nuisances. Continue reading