A Biblical Ethic for Using Land and Water

June 14, 2017

Reviewing Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, by Ellen F. Davis; Foreword by Wendell Berry (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Throughout the Bible references to the natural world abound. Although mountains and deserts, fertile fields, wind and thunder, floods, drought, and fire are mentioned frequently, readers tend to overlook these passages while studying the Bible. We pay more attention to early religious history and teachings about doctrine and social ethics.

Ellen F. Davis’ book, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, urges readers to give more serious attention to these texts so that the allusions to the land, agriculture, and water become the primary focus for study.

Davis also recommends that readers revise their method of interpreting the texts they read, especially the prophetic and poetic portions of the Bible. Our normal approach is to figure out what a text meant in its original setting, but our presuppositions often lead us to misunderstand what those original meanings actually were. Before we can even move into exegesis, therefore, we should pay attention to how our own life experience skews our ability to read literature from another time and place.

Davis then proposes that modern agrarianism can serve as a major line of thought about what should be normative in social systems long ago and in our time. Agrarianism, she writes, “is a way of thinking and ordering life in community that is based on the health of the land and of living creatures. Often out of step with the prevailing values of wealth, technology, and political and military domination, the mind-set and practices that constitute agrarianism have been marginalized by the powerful within most “history-making” cultures across time, including those of ancient Israel” (p. 1). Read more Davis-Scripture Culture & Agriculture