Understanding The Ecology Of The Bible: An Introductory Atlas, by Paul H. Wright
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Hendrickson Publishers. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
In reading this book, I had a guarded sense of optimism. The issue of ecology can be viewed in many ways, and all too often it becomes a club by which leftists attack others on political grounds, claiming that anything short of a reverence for nature is environmentally unsustainable and illegitimate. This book toes a very narrow line, and I have to respect the author for doing so. I was not aware beforehand that this book is part of a series of introductory atlases dealing with various aspects of the Bible, but after reading this, I am definitely interested in reading more where this comes from. The author has a lot to offer in terms of framing the geography of the Bible in order to help readers better understand the biblical importance of place. He even shows an interest, and a proper degree of skepticism, for the talmudic view of shepherds as the lowest class of society given the high degree of worth the Bible views that profession, and that suggests a profound reading of scripture as it is understood as well as it was written.
This book is a short one at 48 pages, although the pages are large in typical atlas form. The book itself is divided into six sections, each of them framed by a verse from the Bible that deals with the concerns of the particular chapter. There are fifteen maps and plenty of pictures and associated text that place the maps in a proper context. The author begins with a discussion of the importance of the land to the Bible and the fact that if we want to know what the Bible is saying properly we need to have some understanding of matters of geography and ecology. After that the author turns his attention to the travels of the spies and the physical geography of the land of Israel. An understanding of this leads naturally to a look at the geology, soils, and climactic regions of Israel as well as how it relates to the climate and trade routes of the Near East as a whole. An entire chapter looks at the plants and animals found in the Bible and areas where the translation is less than useful, and also a look at the present distribution (or absence) of biblical plants and animals from the contemporary Holy Land. A look at the connection between the tribes and their neighbors and the land follows before the author concludes with a discussion of God’s care for the land that should be our own.
Over the course of this short book, the author demonstrates his awareness of the language of the Bible and of the issue of better understanding how it was viewed by the people of the Bible as well as their contemporaries. He strives to find a middle ground between a respect for the role that mankind has in ruling over creation as well as the need to preserve and take care of that creation that we are stewards of. He points out, sensibly, that we cannot view land merely as something that we own and control but must also view it as something whose state we are accountable to God for, and something that we pass on as a legacy for future generations. About the only quibble I would have with this book is the way that he uses nature rather than creation in order to describe the land. Perhaps the author does not wish to espouse a support of various views of Young Earth creationism, but his reluctance to use creation as a way of honoring God is somewhat at odds with his general high degree of attention for putting the language of the Bible in the minds of the reader. These are small quibbles, though, for what is a very excellent book about a complex and sensitive subject.