Ellen Davis: Bible Scholars Have Ignored the Bible’s Agrarian Concerns

Perhaps care of the land doesn’t strike you as one of the major themes of the Bible. There’s a new article by Yonat Shimron on ReligionNews.com which describes one scholar’s effort to change that:

agricultureYet despite the traditional cast, Davis is leading a quiet revolution. For the past 20 years, she has been at the vanguard of theologians studying the biblical understanding of care for the land.

Her groundbreaking book, “Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible,” is considered a classic, and she travels widely to speak at churches and conferences about the role of agriculture and the ethics of land use in the Bible.

Her work makes the case that Christian theologians have for too long focused narrowly on the spiritual component of Scripture and in the process have overlooked the Bible’s material concerns.

Speaking to some 30 church members as part of a Sunday morning Creation Care series at the Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church in nearby Chapel Hill, she focused on Genesis 1. She read aloud from the Bible and pointed out that God blesses nonhuman creatures first.

“It is not all about us,” said Davis, 63. “God is establishing a genuine relationship with creatures of sea and sky.”

Read the whole article.

In the Integral theological understanding of religious evolution, spiritualities basically evolved from magical to mythical to rational to pluralistic and integrative forms; these forms were embodied basically in foraging, agrarian, industrial, informational, and interactional forms. The labels and details are open for debate, but the front line of theology today is in understanding how to locate these forms when we see them and learn how their concerns can be addressed in a holistic fashion.

In all of these varieties, it is possible to describe the relationship between the divine, the human, and nature. The Bible is concerned — and deeply — with agrarian concerns because it arose at a time when humankind evolved to agriculture and required new forms of religion capable of supporting the modes of production. Davis’s theology is therefore an act of claiming the agrarian source code underlying the overt theology, reminding us where we came from. Brilliant and needed as it is, it does not seem to speak to the evolution of religion which occur as humankind develops new forms of social organization.

Therefore I would not say as she does that God is establishing a new relationship not only with humankind but creatures of sea and sky; the relationship was already in existence in indigenous spirituality and deepened and evolve into a new form of religion intended to co-exist alongside the earlier and more fundamental form of relationship with Nature.


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