Breath of Life or Winds of Destruction

Despite the societal developments we have made in the modern age the, one key aspect of our world has received little more than destruction.  The topic that I will be writing about is the ethics of the human abuse of our natural environment and examples from the Old Testament which reinforce an idea of pro environmentalism.

The discussion of our attempt to articulate our inherent role with the non-human aspects of his world commonly begin with the first chapter of Genesis.

God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” (Gen. 1.28)

With this verse the analysis of biblical foundations of environmentalism begins.  Too often, however, the analysis does not stray far from the opening of Genesis.  The Tanakh is filled with innumerable excerpts promoting stewardship of nature.  In my essay I will be pointing out some of the more exemplary passages related to this idea, along with other examples that have a more underlying environmental theme.

I will also be discussing the analysis of the Old Testament that has created the connection of “man’s dominion over nature” and its correlation with environmental exploitation.  A study published in the Review of Religious Research journal, examined 2 distinct forces; sanctification of nature and theological conservatism, with environmental beliefs within the Presbyterian Church.  Some of their finding have been of interest to my research on this topic.  For example, they found that there was in inversely correlated relationship between theologically conservative views within the religious institution and pro environmental beliefs and behaviors.

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2 Responses to Breath of Life or Winds of Destruction

  1. Matt, This is a good start and a good sequence of ideas. You have identified a pattern in scholarship on the Torah from an environmentalist bent: that discussions tend to focus on the creation accounts in Genesis. You may want to explore the fields of ecotheology or ecocriticism, which read literature in terms of its engagement with the non-human natural world.

    How can you begin to sharpen this thesis? That should be your next move.

    There’s also a great article by an ecocritic on Deuteronomy: Beyond ‘Thou Shalt Not.’

    Hope this helps!

  2. Chris Taylor says:

    I had noticed this topic on our list of options from the beginning of the semester, and I’m glad someone decided to tackle it. It seems like a subject with a lot of potential for in-depth analysis. I’m only cursorily familiar with ecocriticism and other theoretical environmentalist literature–and I confess that I’ve never even heard of ecotheology–but the OT seems to be full of passages and injunctions which deserve attention due to the ways in which they represent the interaction of humans and their environment.

    Although I’m hard-pressed to name any scholarly or otherwise readily-citable sources, I’m pretty sure there has been anthropological and philosophical investigation of (or, at least, speculation on) so-called “desert religions”, and how the ecological lifestyles of ancient peoples may have conditioned the origins of certain belief systems. An internet search along those lines might dredge up something useful.

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