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

By: Daniel Hillel

432 pages, Illus

Columbia University Press

Paperback | Dec 2007 | #168981 | ISBN-13: 9780231133630
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Hardback | Dec 2006 | #154462 | ISBN: 0231133626
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About this book

Traversing river valleys, fruitful fields, forested highlands, undulating grasslands, barren desert wastelands, and seacoasts, the Israelites came into contact with the ancient Near East's many cultures and the region's dramatic environmental contrasts. In this new work, 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.

Hillel vividly describes the region's five principal ecological domains and how each gave rise to a distinctive society with a characteristic mode of subsistence and cultural outlook. He argues that as the Israelites came into contact with different Near Eastern societies, they absorbed selective elements of their cultures and infused them into their own evolving culture. Their wandering existence and experience with different environments led them to perceive the overarching unity of all nature and its multifarious manifestations. Instead of deifying the separate forces of nature, like their neighbors, the Israelites came to believe in one God's integral creation.

A prominent environmental scientist, who helped survey Israel's land and water resources, Daniel Hillel is a uniquely qualified expert on the natural history of the lands of the Bible. His work offers new perspectives on controversies concerning biblical views of nature, the origins of monotheism, and the evolution of Jewish culture in relation to the environment.

Hillel recounts, in a richly detailed and beautifully told manner, the origins of the Hebrew Bible in a new and satisfying way. -- Publishers Weekly "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 has done by providing an environmental and ecological analysis of the text." -- Library Journal "Engrossing... Hillel offers new perspectives on biblical views of the environment." -- Wispas "The results are fascinating." -- Edward Rothstein, New York Times "Hillel... offers us a quintessential resource for understanding the role of nature in Jewish cultural and religious movements." -- Daneil Orenstein, Jerusalem Report "Hillel takes a fresh and invigorating approach to biblical exegesis... A detailed ecological analysis of the Bible." -- Josie Glausiusz, Forward "[ The Natural History of the Bible] should be of equal interest to the student of ecology and the student of theology." -- Sir Ghillean Prance, The Times Higher Education Supplement "A highly stimulating new take on an old question, and deserves to be widely read." -- John Barton, Times Literary Supplement "It definitely belongs on the shelves of those interested in the development of biblical culture." -- Rabbi Rachel Essermang, The Reporter "Daniel Hillel's The Natural History of the Bible is a very good read and deserves a place on the shelf." -- Alon Tal, Environmental History "Fascinating because of its fine prose, important because of its scope." -- Kansas City Star " The Natural History of the Bible is one beautiful book." -- Jeanne Kay Guelke, Environmental Ethics "I highly recommend this book." -- Rabbi Louis A. Rieser, Church and Synagogue Libraries


Acknowledgments A Note on Translation Chronology Prologue 1. Environment and Culture 2. The Ecological Context 3. The First Riverine Domain 4. The Pastoral Domain 5. The Second Riverine Domain 6. The Desert Domain 7. The Rainfed Domain 8. The Maritime Domain 9. The Urban Domain 10. The Exile Domain 11. The Overarching Unity Epilogue Appendixes 1. On the Historical Validity of the Bible 2. Perceptions of Humanity's Role on God's Earth 3. Selected Passages Regarding the Seven Domains Notes Bibliography Index

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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.

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