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The Natural History of the Bible: An Environmental Exploration of the Hebrew Scriptures / Edition 1

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Overview

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.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times - Edward Rothstein

The results are fascinating.

Jerusalem Report - Daneil Orenstein

Hillel... offers us a quintessential resource for understanding the role of nature in Jewish cultural and religious movements.

Forward - Josie Glausiusz

Hillel takes a fresh and invigorating approach to biblical exegesis... A detailed ecological analysis of the Bible.

The Jewish Week - Sandee Brawarsky

Hillel's contribution is truly distinctive, insightful and provocative.

Sir; The Times Higher Education Supplement - Ghillean Prance
[ The Natural History of the Bible] should be of equal interest to the student of ecology and the student of theology.
Times Literary Supplement - John Barton

A highly stimulating new take on an old question, and deserves to be widely read.

Rabbi; The Reporter - Rachel Essermang
It definitely belongs on the shelves of those interested in the development of biblical culture.
Environmental History - Alon Tal

Daniel Hillel's The Natural History of the Bible is a very good read and deserves a place on the shelf.

The European Legacy - Harvey E. Goldberg

An informed and readable entrance into a profound world.

Environmental Ethics - Jeanne Kay Guelke

The Natural History of the Bible is one beautiful book.

Rabbi; Church and Synagogue Libraries - Louis A. Rieser
I highly recommend this book.
Peter H. Raven

Daniel Hillel has done a magnificent job and contributed substantially both to Biblical scholarship and to the understanding of the ecology of the area. But he goes much deeper than simply interpreting the Bible's ecological setting. Hillel allows us to understand better the minds of those who were recording the events in Egypt, the return to Canaan, David and Solomon, and the various interpretations of Jerusalem, as well as the meaning of these events. So well presented and so informative.

Journal of Jewish Studies - Hilary Marlow

A refreshing, detailed and stimulating account of an important aspect of ancient Israelite development.

The American Catholic - Antoinette Bosco

For anyone concerned about the origins of the Hebrew Bible... this is a fascinating book that can be highly recommended.

Friends Journal - James W. Hood

Hillel's rational accounts of natural phenomena in the Hebrew scriptures and his thesis about the formation of montheism will assist anyone who wishes to extend understanding of the Bible as a foundational text for Western civilization and to comprehend the relationship between faith formation and place.

The Times Higher Education Supplement - Sir Ghillean Prance

[ The Natural History of the Bible] should be of equal interest to the student of ecology and the student of theology.

The Reporter - Rabbi Rachel Essermang

It definitely belongs on the shelves of those interested in the development of biblical culture.

Church and Synagogue Libraries - Rabbi Louis A. Rieser

I highly recommend this book.

Forward
Hillel takes a fresh and invigorating approach to biblical exegesis... A detailed ecological analysis of the Bible.

— Josie Glausiusz

New York Times
The results are fascinating.

— Edward Rothstein

Kansas City Star

Fascinating because of its fine prose, important because of its scope.

Times Literary Supplement
A highly stimulating new take on an old question, and deserves to be widely read.

— John Barton

Jerusalem Report
Hillel... offers us a quintessential resource for understanding the role of nature in Jewish cultural and religious movements.

— Daneil Orenstein

Environmental History
Daniel Hillel's The Natural History of the Bible is a very good read and deserves a place on the shelf.

— Alon Tal

The Reporter
It definitely belongs on the shelves of those interested in the development of biblical culture.

— Rabbi Rachel Essermang

The Jewish Week
Hillel's contribution is truly distinctive, insightful and provocative.

— Sandee Brawarsky

Friends Journal
Hillel's rational accounts of natural phenomena in the Hebrew scriptures and his thesis about the formation of montheism will assist anyone who wishes to extend understanding of the Bible as a foundational text for Western civilization and to comprehend the relationship between faith formation and place.

— James W. Hood

The Times Higher Education Supplement
[ The Natural History of the Bible] should be of equal interest to the student of ecology and the student of theology.

— Sir Ghillean Prance

Journal of Jewish Studies
A refreshing, detailed and stimulating account of an important aspect of ancient Israelite development.

— Hilary Marlow

The European Legacy
An informed and readable entrance into a profound world.

— Harvey E. Goldberg

Environmental Ethics
The Natural History of the Bible is one beautiful book.

— Jeanne Kay Guelke

Church and Synagogue Libraries
I highly recommend this book.

— Rabbi Louis A. Rieser

The Master's Seminary Journal

This is a book to supplement and fill in details of natural history that are generally absent or neglected in standard hisotrical studies. It is well illustrated and the bibliography is extensive.

Wispas

Engrossing... Hillel offers new perspectives on biblical views of the environment.

The American Catholic
For anyone concerned about the origins of the Hebrew Bible... this is a fascinating book that can be highly recommended.

— Antoinette Bosco

Friends Journal

Hillel's rational accounts of natural phenomena in the Hebrew scriptures and his thesis about the formation of montheism will assist anyone who wishes to extend understanding of the Bible as a foundational text for Western civilization and to comprehend the relationship between faith formation and place.

— James W. Hood

Publishers Weekly
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. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
With all the commentaries and books on the Hebrew Scriptures that have appeared over the years, it would seem nearly impossible to write something unique and illuminating. Yet this is precisely what Hillel (environmental studies, emeritus, Univ. of Massachusetts; Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil) has done by providing an environmental and ecological analysis of the text. As he shows through this study, the historical experiences of the Hebrew people are intimately connected with their environmental situation. Following their experiences as recorded in the Scriptures, the text examines the influence of several principal ecological domains: the first riverine domain (Mesopotamia), the pastoral domain (Patriarchs), the second riverine domain (Egypt), the desert domain (wilderness wanderings), the rain-fed domain (Canaan), the maritime domain (interaction with Philistines and Phoenicians), the urban domain (monarchy), and the exile domain. While Hillel is a scientist and not a biblical specialist, he shows familiarity with scholarly criticism of all aspects of the Hebrew Scriptures. Recommended for all academic libraries.-John Jaeger, Dallas Baptist Univ. Lib. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231133630
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 11/22/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Hillel is professor emeritus of environmental studies, University of Massachusetts, and senior research scientist, Center for Climate Systems Research, Columbia University. He is the author or editor of more than twenty books, including Negev: Land, Water, and Life in a Desert Enviornment; Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil; and Rivers of Eden: The Struggle for Water and the Quest for Peace in the Middle East. He is the 2012 World Food Prize Laureate.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsA Note on TranslationChronologyPrologue1. Environment and Culture2. The Ecological Context3. The First Riverine Domain4. The Pastoral Domain5. The Second Riverine Domain6. The Desert Domain7. The Rainfed Domain8. The Maritime Domain9. The Urban Domain10. The Exile Domain11. The Overarching UnityEpilogueAppendixes1. On the Historical Validity of the Bible2. Perceptions of Humanity's Role on God's Earth3. Selected Passages Regarding the Seven DomainsNotesBibliographyIndex

Columbia University Press

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