Biblical verses which support responsible stewardship of the earth

Genesis 9:8-11:

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Here God shows his compassion to mankind by preserving them from destruction in the future, never again will he flood the earth, but most interesting is that this covenant includes all creatures. Though the author of Genesis 9 explicitly allowed for eating meat, he also believed that animals should be preserved, and not pushed into extinction. I doubt that this is for purely utilitarian means, since God does not mention inanimate objects alongside humans and animals.

Psalm 145:9:

The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.

Here the psalmist states that God has compassion not just for all mankind, but for all that he has made, and the Psalmist appears to celebrate it. This clearly shows that compassion towards animals was seen as a virtue by the Psalmist.

Proverbs 21:20:

Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise,
but the fool devours it.

This verse, whilst not speaking to compassion towards nature per say, nevertheless supports sustainable use of resources, and can therefore be applied towards modern day issues such as deforestation and over-fishing.

Deuteronomy 20:19:

If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you?

This verse speaks of the importance of preserving natural habitats, either for human sustainability or for the good of nature.

Jonah 4:10:

Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

A clear statement that the life of animals hold value, not just for human use, because God does not mention inanimate objects which humans use here. No God is saying that animals lives should be preserved, we may eat meat (Genesis 9:3), and sacrifice animals (Genesis 4:4) but we must respect the lives of animals, and cannot kill them without good reason.

Psalm 104:24:

Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

By haplessly destroying the earth, and all it contains, we are missing out on a chance to glorify God through his creation, which the psalmist claims shows his wisdom.

To be clear…

Humans do have dominion over the earth, I am not going to soften the meaning of the words kbs and rdh in Genesis 1:28, meaning that humans are commanded to militarily conquer the earth, and use animals for are purposes, I am only arguing here that there are good biblical reasons to preserve the earth, as well as to rule over it, both mandates can exist at the same time, whilst conquering the earth may seem harsh, I argue that the mandate has already been fulfilled, based on the parallels to Genesis 1:28 in Genesis 9. I may elaborate on this further in a future post.

rkb ‘rpt, out!

The Bronze Age Collapse – A cautionary tale…

“as such systems become more complex, and the degree of interdependence between their constituent parts grows, keeping the overall system stable becomes more difficult.” – Ken Dark, University of Reading

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana

3000 years ago, civilisation collapsed, Ugarit was destroyed. Mycenae, destroyed. The Hittites, scattered to the four winds. Egypt, Alashiya and Assyria, brought to their knees. Climate change, war, and natural disasters played a role, but never before had they caused as much chaos as they had now, this time there was no coming back.

No, this time what destroyed civilisation was it’s interconnection, the civilisations were so interconnected that even the smallest change could spell disaster. What happens then when multiple rapid changes occur? Entire civilisations collapse, which leads to the surrounding civilisations collapsing, those whom they were dependent on, for trade. As Eric h. Cline says:

It is true that sometimes a civilisation cannot recover from invaders or an earth- quake, or survive a drought or a rebellion, but at the moment, for lack of a better explanation, it looks as though the best solution is to suggest that all of these factors together contributed to the collapse of what had been the dominant Late Bronze Age kingdoms and societies in these regions. Based on the evidence presently available, therefore, we may be seeing the result of a systems collapse that was caused by a series of events linked together via a “multiplier effect,” in which one factor affected the others, thereby magnifying the effects of each. Perhaps the inhabitants could have survived one disaster, such as an earthquake or a drought, but they could not survive the combined effects of earthquake, drought, and invaders all occurring in rapid succession. A “domino effect” then ensued, in which the disintegration of one civilisation led to the fall of the others. Given the globalised nature of their world, the effect upon the international trade routes and economies of even one society’s collapse would have been sufficiently devastating that it could have led to the demise of the others. If such were the case, they were not too big to fail. 

if the Late Bronze Age civilisations were truly globalised and dependent upon each other for goods and services, even just to a certain extent, then change to any one of the relevant kingdoms, such as the Mycenaeans or the Hittites, would potentially affect and destabilise them all. 

Globalisation played a huge role for the Late Bronze Age civilisations, like it plays today, and that proved to be their downfall. This is a cautionary tale, for if we maintain our globalised world in the face of war and climate change (problems for them, as they are for us), then 1177 may commence again…

rkb ‘rpt, out!

Mike Warren’s ‘response’ to Thom Stark

I have been reading The Human Faces of God, by author Thom Stark, and alongside this, also a review of the book by Mike Warren, writing for Associates for Biblical Research. I am going to be focusing on the part of his review were he contests Stark’s claim that there are areas of Polytheism in the Bible. What does he have to say:

“Elyon” is a description, not a name, but Stark sees it as possibly having once been the name of a god that was seen as ruler over all the earth and superior to Yahweh. Why couldn’t Elyon be Yahweh? Stark reasons Elyon must be a supreme god over Yahweh because “a father doesn’t give an inheritance to himself.” Unfortunately for Mr. Stark, the Bible often uses that language where there is no other god or other grantor of any nature in view. First, the word translated “inheritance” can be translated as “possession,” so there being two parties – a giver and a receiver – is not a necessary implication of the word. Then we read verses like Exodus 34:9 where Moses pleads with Yahweh to “take us for your inheritance” rather than destroy Israel for its sins. There is no father/son relationship between Yahweh and another god here, even though the word “inheritance” (or “possession”) is used. Like in Deuteronomy 32:8-9, the “inheritance” is Yahweh preserving the nation of Israel uniquely for Himself. Exodus 19:5 speaks of Israel being Yahweh’s unique possession while he simultaneously owns all the earth: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Deuteronomy 4:19-20 parallels Deuteronomy 32:8-9 except that Yahweh is apportioning the heavenly bodies rather than earthly land to all the nations, while taking Israel as His unique possession: “And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that Yahweh your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. But Yahweh has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.” This passage shows Yahweh taking (active verb, not receiving) one nation as his own unique inheritance; there is no higher god giving Israel to Him. Yahweh owns everyone and everything in the universe, yet Israel is Yahweh’s inheritance in the sense that he commits Himself to uniquely preserve this particular nation for ages to come for the purpose of worshipping Him alone.

I will concede that Stark is wrong, (and others such as Michael S. Heiser are correct), in stating that Elyon and YHWH are two different deities in Deut 32:8-9, however, how Deuteronomy 4:19-20 supports Warren’s claim, I don’t know, rather it is a smoking gun for Stark’s, Heiser’s, Friedman’s and others view. For in biblical language, heavenly bodies are often  euphemism for divine beings (see Judges 5:20, and Job 38:7), moreover, these are clearly beings that people ‘worship’. Therefore it is very likely that Deut 32:8 speaks of divine beings as well.

Another feature of Deuteronomy 32 that Stark ignores is that verses 17 and 21 say that the gods of the other nations are “no gods” but really demons or just statues. This is important in understanding the use of the word “gods” in the Bible. The “gods” of other nations are demons, mere statues, or rulers that are supposed to represent God in matters of justice. They are not really gods in the sense of Creator of heaven and earth, yet this passage still makes use of the popular linguistic convention of referring to them as “gods.” Therefore just because the Bible talks about “gods,” this is no proof that beings anywhere close to the same ontological status as Yahweh, Creator of heaven and earth, are being acknowledged to exist. Assuming the contrary will lead to the fallacy of equivocation. “For their rock is not as our Rock” (Deut. 32:31).

Actually, the Hebrew word used here, Shedim, means neither demons nor statues, but rather it refers to Lesser Guardian Spirits, as shown by the Akkadian cognate, Shedu. This language still implies that the other gods are very real entities. Furthermore, the context of Deut 32:8-9 clearly refers to divine ownership of the nations, “The Lord’s portion”.

While immaterial creatures being the sons of God in Psalm 82 would not be inconsistent with monotheism, the last line of the psalm says that these sons of God will die like any human prince, and the text between these quotes indicates that that is just what they are. Verses 2-4 say, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy;  deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”  Condemning these “gods” for judging unjustly by showing partiality to the wicked and failing to provide justice to the afflicted and orphans makes a lot more sense in terms of human judges than immaterial gods. God’s condemnation of unjust judges for this sort of thing is a common theme throughout the Bible (cf. Isa. 1:23, Amos 5:12, Dan. 4:27). This is the traditional Jewish interpretation of this psalm, and the one that Jesus assumes (John 10:34), as Stark himself acknowledges.[8] If Psalm 82 clearly teaches polytheism as Stark claims, it’s amazing that Jesus, all the other ancient Jewish scholars of Scripture, and Christian theologians had never seen it, but modern Enlightenment scholars found just what served their ideology.

Why would YHWH be in the midst of judges in the council of El (the correct translation, instead of ‘divine council’)? Warren’s notion here is clearly incoherent. Why couldn’t God have given the gods such responsibilities when he gave them the nations?

Warren has nothing to say regarding 2 Kings 3:27, and for good reason.

rkb, ‘rpt, out!

The Exodus 2: Egyptian origins of the Levites

Last time we noted that historians only dispute the ‘numbers’ of the Exodus, not the event itself. Likely it was only a small group who left Egypt during the Exodus, but who was this group?

The earliest text which mentions the Exodus is the Song of Miriam, one of the oldest parts of the Bible. What is interesting about this song is that it never mentions Israel as a whole, As Richard E Friedman and David Noel Freedman have pointed out. Rather it mentions a group of people who will be lead to YHWH’s temple:

You will bring them in and plant them

on the mountain of your inheritance—

the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,

the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established. (Exodus 15:17)

This suggests that it is very likely the Levites, the Priestly tribe, who were led out of Egypt according to the earliest accounts of the Exodus. But is there any evidence for such a journey truly taking place.

Friedman gives numerous examples which show that the Levites had an Egyptian influenced culture which was unique amongst Israel. The following are the most convincing:

  1. Every single Israelite with an Egyptian name was a Levite, including Hophni, Hur, Phinehas, Merari. Mushi, Pashshur, and Moses. Some may argue that this is simply the result of the authors making up names to give the story more legitimacy, however such an explanation does not explain why only Levites have such names. Furthermore, in the case of Moses, the Biblical Authors assumed his name was of Hebrew origin. (Exodus 2:3-10)
  2. The Tabernacle resembles the Battle Tent of Ramesses II. Interestingly, the Jahwist source, the only JEDP source not of Levite origin, has nothing to say regarding the Tabernacle. The Levite Priests description of the Ark of the Covenant also resembles Egyptian barks.
  3. The Levite sources place a heavy emphasis on circumcision, a ritual with it’s origins in Egypt.
  4. The Levite sources place restrictions on slavery which the J source lacks.

All of this points to the Levites as having heavy connections to Egypt, which the other tribes lacked. In light of the last point, it is likely that this cultural influence came from a history as slaves in Egypt. Likely (given as DNA tests do not give a common ancestry for Levites), the Levites were an amalgam of multiple Asiatic slaves of Egypt, who decided to revolt and flee Egypt.

rkb ‘rpt, out!

The Exodus 1: The ‘Actual’ historical consensus regarding the Exodus

Constantly we are told by atheists (and even some Jews, Christians and Muslims) that the Exodus is pure fiction. However this view ignores the actual historical consensus, given by archaeologists and Biblical scbolars,

Archaeologist Avi Faust, citing twenty scholars, states that:

While there is a consensus among scholars that the Exodus did not take place in the manner described in the Bible, surprisingly most scholars agree that the narrative has a historical core, and that some of the highland settlers came, one way or another, from Egypt.

Furthermore, Richard Elliot Friedman states:

we nearly all recognize that there were Western Asiatic people in Egypt.1 Call them Asiatics, Semites, Canaanites, Levantine peoples. But whatever we call them, these aliens were there, for hundreds of years. The literature on this is voluminous. They were everything from lower class and slaves (called variously Shasu, ‘Apiru, Habiru) to a dynasty of Pharaohs (the Hyksos, the Fifteenth Dynasty). And they were coming and going all along, just not in millions at a time.2 We could say: there were many “exoditos.” The idea that our exodus was one of these is well within reason.

Now yes, two million Israelites couldn’t have left Egypt during the late Bronze Age without causing major economic disturbance. Yet this only goes a long way to telling us about ‘the size’ of the Exodus, not whether or not it really happened. Only the most conservative scholars argue that it really happened the way the Bible says so.

rkb ‘rpt, out!

Further reading

Friedman, Richard Elliott. The Exodus. HarperCollins.

YEC fail at Biblical exegesis, 1

As bad as they are at science, Young Earth Creationists are even more ignorant in the subject of biblical studies. four writers for Creation Ministries International write:

Genesis is, without any doubt whatsoever, most definitely written as historical narrative. Hebrew uses special grammatical forms for recording history, and Genesis 1–11 uses those. It has the same structure as Genesis 12 onwards and most of Exodus, Joshua, Judges, etc., which no one claims is ‘poetry’ or not meant to be taken as history. Genesis is not poetry or allegory.

I will agree with them that Genesis is not poetry, it was intended to be read as history, however, historiography in the Ancient World was very different from historiography today. For the ancients the importance of history was not what really happened, but rather what the history ‘meant’. As John H. Walton says:

The historiography of the ancient Near East, whether represented in royal inscriptions or chronicles, king lists or annals, has by all accounts a polemical agenda that is intended to reinforce the royal political ideology. As in the campaignspeeches of our day, facts can be useful, but they are not central or essential. Theintention of the preserved records is to serve not the reader but the king. Therecorder is trying to provide answers to the question: “Why should you considerthis king to be a good and successful king?” In most cases it cannot be determinedwhether concealment and/or disinformation are part of the strategy, but negativeinformation is uniformly lacking. We do receive negative assessments of somekings, but, as we might expect, they come from later dynasties seeking to enhancetheir own reputations.

We see then that just because Genesis was intended to be read as history, it isn’t necessarily to be read literally. I propose that Genesis 1-11 may very well act like Sumerian Royal Propaganda, but the king it makes the case for is YHWH, god of Israel.

Thus CMI has done nothing to defend the literalist position on Genesis.

rkb ‘rpt, out!

The Rape of Ugarit

It seems the New Atheists cannot touch Ancient Near Eastern history without making an ass of themselves. Debunking Christianity is sometimes a good source of scholarship, but every once in a while their quest to debunk Christianity leads to it’s authors putting on tinfoil hats. Such as with this article:

http://www.debunking-christianity.com/2009/07/influence-of-canaanite-religion-on.html

It seems the New Atheists have finally discovered Ugarit, and are no longer stuck in 1927. The discovery of Ugarit proved to be a deathknell to the old ideas of Panbabylonism, which many atheists still hold to as fact. But apparently New Atheists still find ways to abuse Ugarit for their own means, such as this article written by Biblical ignoramus Henry McCall, who somehow believes that Ugaritic mythology directly influenced New Testament theology. How (actual) Bronze Age myths influenced people living 1200 years later, I don’t know, but let’s see what he has to say:

A. Jesus never calls the deity of his Jewish nation by his personal proper name Yahweh, but simply Theos = El (“El” is Hebrew for god) . El is the same name of the supreme god of the Canaanites at Ugarit.

Perhaps this is because Jesus was a devout Jew, who would not mention the name of YHWH out of respect. Seems much more likely than a long dead religion directly influencing Christianity. If McCall was in any way literate in Ugaritic mythology, he would know that El was depicted as impotent, unlike the God of the New Testament who is very much enthroned over his creation.

B. Jesus calls El “Abba” or father: (“And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14: 36). Jesus tells his disciples to call El also “father” in the Lord’s Prayer. Baal calls his god “ab” or father too. Both divine fathers of Jesus and Baal (El, the supreme god of the Jews and the Canaanites) are fatherly figure gods who live in Heaven.

The concept of a god having human sons is not exactly unique to Ugarit or the New Testament, Mars had the sons Romulus and Remus, Zeus had Heracles, for example. I’m not suggesting that the concept of Jesus as son of God was directly taken from anyone, only that it was a product of a common Eastern Mediterranean worldview. Why is it odd for a son to mention their father?

McCall debunks his second point already, by pointing out that the God of the Jews was also portrayed as a fatherly God, who lived in heaven. Also, there is no indication from Canaanite texts that El lived in heaven, all the texts we have only state that he lived ‘underground’ (anywhere but heaven), in the midst of the springs of the two deeps (Likely the mountains of Armenia, between the Tigris and Euphrates). (1)

C. Jesus is called “Lord” many times by his followers in the Gospels and Jesus is identified with God in the Gospels. Likewise, God is Jesus’ heavenly father.

In the Ugaritic texts, the term b’l=baal can simply mean “Lord” or elsewhere it can be used as a proper name “Baal” where he is the title of the chief god of the Canaanites who is the son of the supreme god El.

YHWH is called ‘lord’ (Adonai) many times as well, perhaps this can be best understood when read in the context of the Christian Trinity, again, much more simple than suggesting plagiarism from a long dead religion.

D. Jesus descends and returns from the neither world (Hell) (For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Matt. 12:40 and “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; I Peter 3:19) so too does Baal descend and return from the underworld.

This verse clearly states the Book of Jonah as it’s source, which again, seems much more believable than a long dead religion. There is plenty of evidence that Jonah’s punishment was in many ways representative of a journey to the underworld, as I have stated before.

E. Jesus stills a storm on the Sea of Galilee, so too does Baal control the wind and weather.

YHWH is also mentioned as having control of the weather, consider Psalm 29 for example:

The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.

Or Jeremiah 10:13:

When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, And He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain, And brings out the wind from His storehouses.

Next:

F. Jesus intervenes between his followers and God his father. So too does Baal intervene between the people of Ugarit and El his father.

So does the Son of Man in Daniel 7, whom Jesus is clearly identified with.

G. Jesus is depicted as King seated on a throne ruling his kingdom and giving righteous judgments. So too is Baal seated on his throne ruling a kingdom with righteous judgments.

Again so is YHWH, and again, in Daniel 7, for example, where the Ancient of days sits on his throne, presiding over the heavenly court.

H. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus fights and kills the evil serpent / dragon. So too does Baal fight and kill the twisted serpent Ugaritic “ltn btn brh” (Litanu, the serpent or Leviathan).

Interesting how he uses the word ‘Leviathan’, because this shows that he is aware that the Chaoskampf motif is found in the Old Testament as well, he just chooses not to mention it, in order to deceive his audience.

I. Biblical numbers such as 3, 6, 7 and 40 are used many times in the New Testament are used equally in the Ugaritic text to give divine meaning to these Canaanite texts.
Many of these numbers are used in the Tanakh as well, especially the number seven, which is used in the Genesis creation account, and the lamps on the Menorah. It is also said that God hates seven things (Proverbs 6:16-19), that Joshua marched around Jericho seven times, that seven clean animals were needed for Noah’s Ark (Genesis 7:2) and that lepers should be bathed seven times over to be cleansed (2 Kings 5:10). McCall is either highly ignorant, or deliberately misleading.
In short, none of McCall’s “evidence” is valid, it is usually derived from either poor knowledge of the Tanakh, or poor knowledge of Ugarit, sometimes both.
rkb ‘rpt (who is not Jesus), out!

Footnotes:

  1. Edward Lipinski’s “El’s Abode: Mythological Traditions Related to Mount Hermon and to the Mountains of Armenia,” Orientalia Lovaniensa Periodica II, (Leuvan, 1971), pp. 13-69.