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The Natural History of the Bible: An Environmental Exploration of the Hebrew Scripturesby Daniel Hillel
Synopses & Reviews
Traversing river valleys, steppes, deserts, rain-fed forests, farmlands, and seacoasts, the early Israelites experienced all the contrasting ecological domains of the ancient Near East. They interacted with indigenous societies of the region, absorbed selective elements of their cultures, and integrated them into a radically new culture of their own. More than just affecting their material existence, the region's ecology influenced the Israelites' views of creation and the creator, humanity's role on Earth, and their own distinctive identity and destiny. Combining his scientific work as an ecologist with a life-long study of the Bible, Daniel Hillel shows how the environmental experiences of the ancient Israelites shaped their perception of the overarching unity governing nature and led to the evolution of ethical monotheism.
"That environmental factors affect our daily lives is disputed by no one. But can environment, climate and topology play a part in the development of a religious community? Hillel, professor emeritus of environmental studies at the University of Massachusetts and senior research scientist at Columbia University's Center for Climate Systems Research, says yes. He comes to the subject immersed in the lore of ancient Israel, from his grandfather's instruction to his own years living in modern Israel. He sees the Jewish belief system as an amalgam of ideas emerging from an interplay of human beings with both the land and its peoples, 'absorb[ing] all the cultural strands... from all the ecological domains of the ancient Near East... and assimilat[ing] them into their own culture.' He divides sacred history into seven 'domains,' dispensations based not on some theological construct but rather on the terrain in which the Israelites lived. What emerges is a largely naturalistic explanation of Israel's beliefs and laws, with a strong emphasis on the impact of culture and environment on the evolving Jewish religion. Hillel recounts, in a richly detailed and beautifully told manner, the origins of the Hebrew Bible in a new and satisfying way." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Traversing river valleys, steppes, deserts, rain-fed forests, farmlands, and seacoasts, the early Israelites experienced all the contrasting ecological domains of the ancient Near East. As they grew from a nomadic clan to become a nation-state in Canaan, they interacted with indigenous societies of the region, absorbed selective elements of their cultures, and integrated them into a radically new culture of their own. Daniel Hillel reveals the interplay between the culture of the Israelites and the environments within which it evolved. More than just affecting their material existence, the region's ecology influenced their views of creation and the creator, their conception of humanity's role on Earth, their own distinctive identity and destiny, and their ethics.
In The Natural History of the Bible, Hillel shows how the eclectic experiences of the Israelites shaped their perception of the overarching unity governing nature's varied manifestations. Where other societies idolized disparate and capricious forces of nature, the Israelites discerned essential harmony and higher moral purpose. Inspired by visionary prophets, they looked to a singular, omnipresent, omnipotent force of nature mandating justice and compassion in human affairs. Monotheism was promoted as state policy and centralized in the Temple of Jerusalem. After it was destroyed and the people were exiled, a collection of scrolls distilling the nation's memories and spiritual quest served as the focus of faith in its stead.
A prominent environmental scientist who surveyed Israel's land and water resources and has worked on agricultural development projects throughout the region, Daniel Hillel is a uniquely qualified expert on the natural history of the lands of the Bible. Combining his scientific work with a passionate, life-long study of the Bible, Hillel offers new perspectives on biblical views of the environment and the origin of ethical monotheism as an outgrowth of the Israelites' internalized experiences.
Daniel Hillel follows events in the Hebrew Bible to reveal the complex interplay between the ancient Israelites and their natural and cultural environments. More than just affecting their material existence, the diverse environmental character of the ancient Near East profoundly shaped the evolution of Jewish culture and beliefs and, ultimately, of Western civilization as a whole.
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