Archive for January, 2011

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How tall was Goliath?

January 30, 2011

According to the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament[1] Goliath was six cubits and a span tall, 3.2 metres (9 feet, 6 inches), if measured by the 18 inch cubit, and 3.5 metres (just over 11 feet), if the 21 inch cubit is used. This is a height which is not only highly unlikely for any Iron Age man,[2] but far beyond what would have been considered a giant at the time.

The New English Translation (2005), describes Goliath’s height as just under seven feet, significantly below the traditional height.[3] A footnote in the NET explains the textual basis on which the translation committee made its decision.[4]

The evidence of the Masoretic Text is dated very late,[5] though this reading can be found in some earlier Greek translations of the Old Testament,[6] as well as the Latin Vulgate.[7] However, the textual evidence for a shorter height is more significant, being found in the oldest Greek and Hebrew texts.[8] [9]

  • The LXX:[10] 6 feet, 9 inches
  • 4QSama: [11] 6 feet, 9 inches
  • Josephus:[12] 6 feet, 9 inches
  • Lucian recension:[13] 6 feet, 9 inches
  • Codex Vaticanus:[14] 6 feet, 9 inches
  • Codex Alexandrinus:[15] 6 feet, 9 inches

Some object that Goliath’s weapons and armour make little sense for a warrior shorter than the traditional reading.[16] However, such objections are not well founded.[17] [18]

Modern scholarship prefers the reading of the earliest texts.[19] A man of this height would still have been considered a giant in the Iron Age.[20] Some reference sources cite medical conditions such as acromegaly[21] which could have resulted in the height in the Masoretic Text,[22] a suggestion found even in some professional medical works.[23]

Although possible, it is unlikely such a man would have been an effective warrior given the disabilities typical of such conditions,[24] and since acromegaly affects humans in middle age it would have been very rarely seen given the average Iron Age life expectancy of less than 40 years.[25] [26]


[1] The medieval Hebrew text on which almost all modern English translations of the Old Testament are based.

[2] ‘Archaeology has shown that the heroes buried in the “royal tombs” at Mycenae were 1.76-1.80 mtr. tall, while the height of the average man at that period (according to the skeletons excavated) was 1.64 mtr. both in the Aegean lands and in Canaan.’, Margalith, ‘The Sea Peoples in the Bible’, p. 49 (1994).

[3] 1 Samuel 17:4 Then a champion came out from the camp of the Philistines. His name was Goliath; he was from Gath. He was close to seven feet tall.

[4]7 tc Heb “his height was six cubits and a span” (cf. KJV, NASB, NRSV). A cubit was approximately eighteen inches, a span nine inches. So, according to the Hebrew tradition, Goliath was about nine feet, nine inches tall (cf. NIV, CEV, NLT “over nine feet”; NCV “nine feet, four inches”; TEV “nearly 3 metres”). However, some Greek witnesses, Josephus, and a manuscript of 1 Samuel from Qumran read “four cubits and a span” here, that is, about six feet, nine inches (cf. NAB “six and a half feet”). This seems more reasonable; it is likely that Goliath’s height was exaggerated as the story was retold. See P. K. McCarter, I Samuel (AB), 286, 291.’, NET, footnote on 1 Samuel 17:4 (1st ed. 2005).

[5]‘What is the evidence for the variant which reads six cubits and a span (9’9″)? All of the manuscripts of the MT have this reading. However, one should keep in mind that the earliest MT manuscript evidence that we have for 1 Samuel is the Aleppo Codex, produced in AD 935. Likewise, the Leningrad Codex, the Hebrew manuscript on which BHK and BHS are based, and thus the major Hebrew text on which most of our English OT versions are based, was completed in AD 1010. Thus there is no extant Hebrew text any earlier than AD 935 that puts Goliath at six cubits and a span.’, Hays, ‘Reconsidering the Height of Goliath’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (48.5.705), (2005).

[6]However, the variant reading “six cubits and a span” is probably much older than these MT manuscripts. Symmachus, for example, reflects the six cubits and a span height in his translation. Symmachus was a Jew who around AD 200 prepared a Greek translation of the OT for the Jewish community in Caesarea of Palestine. His goal was to produce a Greek translation that was an accurate translation of the Hebrew.7 The fact that he gives Goliath’s height as six cubits and a span is strong evidence that this variant reading was already present in the proto-MT or Vorlage to the MT, that is, the Hebrew text tradition that by this time had become the standardized text of the Jews. Likewise, Origen, in his Greek translation found in the fifth column of his Hexapla, includes the longer version of 1-2 Samuel found in the MT and also lists Goliath’s height as six cubits and a span.’, ibid., p. 705.

[7]Jerome’s fourth-century AD Latin translation (the Vulgate), which appears to follow the Hebrew proto-MT faithfully, likewise puts Goliath at six cubits and a span. The Vulgate gradually grew in popularity in the Western churches and eventually became the “received text” for the Western churches, thus codifying the 9’9″ giant into Western culture.’, ibid., p. 705.

[8]‘However, the textual evidence for the variant reading of “four cubits and a span” is significantly stronger.’, ibid., p. 706; Hays (pp. 705-706), notes that Codex Venetus, an 8th century manuscript (also known as ‘Codex Venetus 5’, a Greek manuscript of the Old and New Testaments), has the reading ‘five cubits and a span’ (8 feet 3 inches), but dismisses this as a rogue reading unsupported by any other textual evidence.

[9]‘Thus the textual witnesses for the variant that cites Goliath’s height at four cubits and a span (6’9″) include: (1) 4QSama, the oldest extant Hebrew manuscript for this text; (2) Vaticanus, the oldest complete Greek codex of the Bible; (3) Josephus, a non-biblical first-century ad reference; (4) the Lucian Greek recension, a third-century ad witness; and (5) other early codices such as Alexandrinus.’, ibid., p. 705.

[10]Commonly known as the ‘Septuagint’, a Greek translation of the Old Testament, completed no later than the mid-2nd century BCE.

[11]One of the Hebrew copies of the book of Samuel found among the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’, this text contains 1-2 Samuel, and although parts of the text are damaged, 1 Samuel 17:3-6 is not; this text dates to around 50 BCE and is the oldest Hebrew copy of this part of 1 Samuel, so it is significant that it has the shorter height.

[12] Josephus, ‘Antiquities of the Jews’, 6.171 (1st century CE); Josephus was a 1st century Jewish historian, and although it is not likely that Josephus had access to historical records of Goliath other than the Biblical texts, the height he gives demonstrates that this was already recorded in the Hebrew Bible by his day, long before the taller height.

[13] This is an early 3rd century revision of the LXX text.

[14] A significant 4th century Greek manuscript containing almost all of the Old and New Testaments.

[15] A significant 5th century Greek manuscript containing almost all of the Old and New Testaments.

[16] ‘Some commentators point to the huge size of Goliath’s spear, “with a shaft like a weaver’s beam” and “a point that weighed six hundred shekels” (about 15 pounds) and conclude that this huge spear size argues for a nine and a half foot tall Goliath. Likewise, they underscore the massive weight of his armor (125-130 pounds) and conclude that the size of the armor fits better with a 9’9″ giant than with a 6’9″ warrior.’, Hays, ‘Reconsidering the Height of Goliath’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (48.5.708), (2005).

[17] ‘However, first of all, the text does not say that Goliath’s spear was as big or as long or as heavy as a weaver’s beam. It just says that the “shaft” (lit. “arrow”) of his spear was as (D) a weaver’s beam. Yagael Yadin points out that the comparison between Goliath’s spear and a weaver’s beam is not saying that the shaft of the spear was as big as a large timbered crossbeam of a loom. Rather, the narrator is describing a looped cord or rope that was attached to the spear that enabled a warrior to throw it harder and further. This looped cord looked somewhat like the cord loops of a weaver’s beam; thus the analogy.15 It has nothing to do with the size of his spear.16 Thus it also has no bearing on the size of Goliath. Likewise, the six hundred shekel (fifteen pounds) weight of the iron spearhead certainly would not require a ten foot tall giant to throw it..’, ibid., p. 708; spears were also commonly used to thrust at short range (requiring less effort), rather than thrown (note Goliath does not throw his spear).

[18]Yadin provides pictures of a real weaver’s beam as

well as ancient paintings of soldiers from the ancient Near East holding such looped weapons.8 His evidence is so convincing that, as I point out, the majority of commentators on 1 Samuel follow Yadin.9’, Hays, ‘A Response to Clyde Billington’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (50.3.515), (2007).

[19] ‘In the MT, Goliath’s height is given as “six cubits and a span” (1 Sam 17:4), which would be about nine feet and nine inches, a true giant. However, LXX Codex Vaticanus and the Lucianic recension, as well as 4QSama and Josephus (Ant 6.171) all give Goliath’s height as “four cubits and a span,” about six feet and nine inches. Since the expected tendency would be to exaggerate the height of David’s opponent, the latter reading, according to which Goliath would still be a giant (albeit among men), is to be preferred (see McCarter 1 Samuel AB, 286).’, Ehrlich, ‘Goliath’, in Freedman (ed.), ‘The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary’, volume 2, p. 1073 (1996).

[20] A 6 foot 9 inch Goliath (2.05 metres), would have been at least 20 centimetres taller than the heroes found in Iron Age Mycenaen tombs, and 30-40 centimetres taller than the average Iron Age man; this proves that even the heroes of the time were only 10-15 centimetres taller than the average, and a man 30 centimetres taller than these heroes would have been a real giant, almost 40 centimetres taller than the average man (Saul need not have been more than 6 feet tall to be head and shoulders above all in Israel, and at 6 feet 9 inches Goliath would still have been significantly taller).

[21] A pituitary gland disorder resulting in giantism.

[22] ‘However, D. Kellermann suggests that Goliath’s symptoms in 1 Samuel 17 match those of pathological gigantism (a pituitary condition known as acromegaly), including a tunnel-vision type of visual defect, which David presumably took advantage of in defeating him. If so, then the MT reading need not be considered an exaggeration.’, Li, ‘Goliath’, in Arnold & Williamson (eds.), ‘Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical books’, p. 356 (2005).

[23] ‘The biblical giant Goliath may have been afflicted with acromegaly.’, Ember & Ember, ‘Encyclopedia of Medical Anthropology’, p. 392 (2004).

[24] Aside from various deformities, digestive problems, and high blood pressure, premature death is also a danger with acromegaly.

[25] Nevertheless, evidence from an Egyptian tomb dated well over 1,000 years before Goliath does indicate that acromegaly could occur earlier in life even during the Bronze Age; ‘The remains of a large adult male, probably in his late 20s or early 30s, from a Fifth Dynasty tomb (2494–2345 BC)…This individual exhibits characteristics of pituitary gigantism’, Mulhern, ‘A probable case of gigantism in a fifth Dynasty skeleton from the Western Cemetery at Giza, Egypt’, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology (15.4.261), (2005).

[26] The Bible mentions a number of champions from Gath, some with physical abnormalities (2 Samuel 21:20, 1 Chronicles 20:6), all apparently related by descent from ‘Rapha’, possibly ‘the giant’ (2 Samuel 21:16, 18, 20, 22, 1 Chronicles 20:4, 6, 8), so it is more likely that Goliath’s height was the result of a family genetic trait than the result of a later medical condition.

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Is Christianity responsible for the ecological crisis?

January 30, 2011

The claim that Christianity was responsible for the ecological crisis [1] has been contested,[2] [3] [4] but is still asserted strongly.[5] [6]

key text has been Genesis 1:26,[7] a common interpretation of which is known as dominium terrare.[8] Such an interpretation is absent from the first 1,000 years of Christianity,[9] and many scholars reject this as the original meaning of the passage.[10] [11] [12]

In 1603 Francis Bacon proposed a dominion oriented interpretation claiming the purpose of science and technology (the ‘natural sciences’), was to recover paradise by dominating nature.[13] [14]

Early Christians expressed both eco-centric exposition and Hellenistic views unfavourable to the environment.[15] The later Christian tradition contains many advocates of ecological care.[16] [17] [18]

Against an unbalanced view resulting from looking at only a few texts,[19] the value of Biblical environmental instructions has been widely acknowledged. [20] [21] [22] [23]

Stewardship[24] is a recognized Biblical teaching[25] and Christian tradition,[26] against the claim that Christianity is inherently destructive.[27] Many environmentalists have identified the value of religion to ecological concerns. [28] [29] [30]


[1] ‘…the American historian and Presbyterian layman Lynn White argued that the Christian tradition itself bears a huge burden of guilt for the worldview of modernity and the economic system that has led to the present ecological crisis. White’s article placed the blame for the ecological crisis squarely upon Western Christianity. His thesis is a variation of Weber’s famous analysis of the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, namely that Protestantism has encouraged capitalism which, in turn, exploited nature.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 61 (2006).

[2] ‘In an influential argument, John Passmore suggests that the exploitative attitudes in the West originate from Greek dualism more than from biblical sources. Peter Harrison argues that White is correct to suggest that particular biblical texts have served as important ideological sources for Western exploitation of natural resources. However, he denies that this has played a significant role in the history of the West prior to the emergence of modern science in the seventeenth century. ‘, ibid., p. 62.

[3] ‘The Bible, apart from which Western civilization is inexplicable, has powerful ecological teachings that support an ecological worldview and oppose a utilitarian worldview. This is not to say that these teachings have been widely put into practice in our time - by and large they have not. However, continuing degradation of ecological systems by humanity requires re-examination of these teachings by ecologists and the church.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 847 (1995).

[4] ‘To be sure, certain strands of Christian thinking have indeed fostered a dualistic anti-material tendency that has provided the impetus for indifference toward nature. But the wholesale implication of Christian theology, let alone Scripture itself, in fostering such indifference is an overstatement at best.’, Moo, ‘Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.3.451), (2006).

[5]‘Many secular environmentalists insist that the Christian and Jewish religions are inimical to the environment and have been so for thousands of years.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 62 (2006).

[6] ‘As James Nash argues, the ecological complaint against Christianity is, on the one hand, essentially valid. Throughout Christian history, the dominant theological and ethical strains have been oblivious or even antagonistic to nature. On the other hand, the ecological complaint is an over-generalization since it overlooks the significance of dissenting opinions in Christian history and underestimates the tradition’s capacity for ecological reformation.’, ibid., p. 64.

[7] Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

[8] An interpretation that this verse means God intended humans to dominate, suppress, and exploit the earth.

[9]But in general it can be said that in the first ten centuries there was not really so very much interest in this question. There was rather a static view of the cultivation of nature and the earth which did not always have a connection to the dominium terrare.’, Halkes, ‘New Creation: Christian feminism and the renewal of the earth’, p. 76 (1991).

[10] ‘The dominium terrae is no carte blanche for the exploitation of the world. If one has (unfortunately) (mis)understood this in this way, this is not intended in the text itself.’, Preuss & Perdue, ‘Old Testament Theology’, p. 116  (1996).

[11] ‘Hibert (2000:150-151) concludes that, “By describing the archetypcal human task as cultivating or ‘serving,’ the soil, the Yahwist subordinates human behaviour to the larger ecosystem upon which human survival depends. According to the Yahwist, the human vocation is not to manage the ecosystems of which humans are a part, but rather to align its activity to meet the demands and observe the limits imposed by this system upon all of its members.”‘, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, pp. 76-77 (2006).

[12] ‘In response, Christian exegetes have shown that the respective imperative of Gen. 1.28 is to be understood in the sense of the commission of man to care for the earth. On several occasions Gen. 2.15 has been recognized as an adequate help towards its interpretation.’, Reventlow & Hoffman, ‘Creation in Jewish and Christian tradition’, p. 165 (2006).

[13] ‘In Bacon’s opinion, the natural sciences will return to humankind its dominance over nature.’, ibid., p. 76.

[14] The view that a fallen earth could be redeemed by science and technology ironically led directly to ecological destruction; ‘Such a way of thinking lies at the root of the aggressive trait of all further attempts at dominating the world. ‘, ibid., p. 76.

[15]Santmire, ‘The Travail of Nature: the ambiguous ecological promise of Christian theology’ (1985), Boersema, ‘The Torah and the Stoics on Humankind and Nature: A Contribution to the Debate on Sustainability and Quality’, pp. 222-227 (2001.

[16] ‘For Mennonites (one of the historic peace churches) the theme of “peace with the creation” had powerful resonance (see Redekop 2000).’, Haluza-DeLay, ‘Churches Engaging the Environment: An Autoethnography of Obstacles and Opportunities’, Human Ecology Review (15.1.75), 2008.

[17] ‘Many authors (including Lynn White) have pointed to St. Francis of Assisi as an example for ecologically sensitive practice. Dubos (1974) and others have highlighted the Benedictine monks, characterizing them as conservationists to the Franciscan preservationists (stewardship compared to partnership in Rasmussen’s (1991) terms). There are numerous additional exemplars (Attfield 1983; Oelschlaeger 1994).’, ibid., p. 78.

[18] Including Jonathan Swift, James Eliot, William Bartram, John Ruskin, and George Perkins Marsh; Marsh’s work ‘Man and nature: or, Physical geography as modified by human action’ makes specific reference to deforestation as ‘war upon the garden of God‘, p. 279 (1865).

[19]‘The selection of some favourite texts may unintentionally reinforce the perception that ecology is indeed a marginal concern in the Bible. The focus may be far too narrow. It only relates to an aspect of creation theology or, more specifically, to the relationship (of stewardship?), between human beings and nature.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 69 (2006).

[20] ‘The Bible, without which Western civilization is inexplicable, has powerful ecological teachings that support an ecological worldview.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 838 (1995).

[21] ‘The Bible’s portrayal of the dominion issue is actually more detailed and complex than most studies have indicated. The Bible indicates a variety of ways in which nature is subservient to man, but also ways in which man is subservient to nature.’, Kay, ‘Concepts of Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, in Yaffe, ‘Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader’, p. 90 (2001).

[22] ‘Boastful destruction of resources apparently was common testimonial to the might of kings in the ancient Middle East. The biblical condemnation of deforestation for self-aggrandizement may be contrasted with the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh (third millennium B.C.E.), in which the heroic king destroys a cedar forest “to establish his name”.’, Kay, ibid., p. 95.

[23]In the Bible, humans indirectly bring about environmental destruction as the outcome of sin, or do so directly through foolish arrogance. These analyses scarcely support the theory that the roots of the modern environmental crisis rest in perspectives intrinsic to the Bible.’, Kay, ibid., pp. 95-96.

[24] Of God giving humans the responsibility to care for the environment, rather than exploit it.

[25] ”We have said that our “dominion” over animals is granted to us on the condition that we exercise it responsibly. Another way of putting that may be taken from a comment on the Psalm verse, “The heavnes are the heavns of the Eternal One, but the earth God has given to humankind” (115:16). On this Abraham ibn Ezra remarks, ‘Sheha-adam k’mo p’kid elohim ba-aretze al kol mah sheyesh bah - that humanity is like God’s steward on earth in charge of all that it contains” (ad loc.).This concept of p’kidut – of stewardship – is central to our subject, and, as we have already seen, what it primarily entails is conservation. But equally obviously, it has implications for the way we treat animals, especially domestic ones, since by domesticating them we assume responsibility for them. That this requires considerate behaviour on our part is a major theme of Jewish literature, expressed in exhortations, stories and regulations.’, Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The Environment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa’, p. 60 (2003).

[26] ‘One group might be termed the despotism school because it views Gen. 1:26-28 and subsequent Christian writers as mandating tyrannical human control over nature. The competing stewardship tradition interprets the identical verses and other early Christian writings as assigning humans a caretaker role.’, Kay, ‘Concepts of Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, in Yaffe, ‘Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader’, p. 87 (2001).

[27] ‘First, the assumption that the entity to blame for the modern environmental crisis is in fact “Judeo-Christian” has been challenged. Passmore has argued that the tradition in question was not Judeo-Christian, but rather Greco-Christian. He sees little evidence that the Hebrew Bible was anti-environment, and additional evidence that the Bible constrained human use of nature. Ehrenfeld and Bentley has well as Helfand have pointed out that Judaism and Christianity are two separate religions, and have examined Jewish beliefs in support of a stewardship position.’, Kay, ibid., p. 87.

[28] ‘We have found that the academy is not the source or repository of practical environmental ethics. However, religious institutions are such, although the modern scientist and citizen may have failed to acknowledge this.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 840 (1995).

[29]The church may be, in fact, our last, best chance. My conjecture is this: There are no solutions for the systemic causes of ecocrisis, at least in democratic societies, apart from religious narrative.’, Oelschlaeger, ‘Caring for Creation’ (1994), cited in ibid., p. 841.

[30]‘A significant number of contemporary environmentalists are convinced that some form of religion is needed to provide motivational power for the transformation of human attitudes toward the natural world.’, Moo, ‘Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.3.450), 2006.

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What does the Bible say about the environment?

January 29, 2011

The early Hebrews maintained a high degree of ecological sustainability.[1] [2] This was a result of the Law of Moses[3] which regulated fruit crops, [4] and prohibited certain mixed crops,[5] as well as insisting on the non-cultivation of the land in the seventh year.[6] [7]

Dietary and ecological benefits have been identified in the prohibitions against eating rodents and various reptiles, [8] [9] almost all non-ruminant mammals, [10] scavenging birds, [11] certain water birds,[12] birds responsible for controlling local insect populations,[13] [14] and insects themselves.[15]

The Law of Moses legislates ecological care in a range of prohibitions,[16] recognized in the relevant scholarly literature as having explicit ecological motivation. [17] [18] Later Biblical books show the same concerns.[19]

The later Tannaic commentary in the Mishnah,[20] as well as the rabbinical commentary in Talmud Jerusalem and Talmud Babylon,[21] contain detailed awareness of the Law’s environmental ethic and lay down additional environmental protection laws;[22] banning exploitation of land and[23] the raising small cattle,[24] care for animals,[25] [26] [27] condemning environmental vandalism and waste. [28]

Medieval rabbinical commentary on environmental ethics is found in Rashi (1040-1105), [29] [30] Maimonides (1135-1204),[31] Ibn Ezra (1089-1164),[32] Nachmanides (1194-1270),[33] and Abravanel (1437-1508),[34] among others.


[1] ‘Archaeological records show that the Israelites were the first example in world history of a society that succeeded in managing a sustained management of their environment for about thousand and seven hundred years.’, Hütterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in  Neusner, ‘Encyclopaedia of Judaism’, volume 4, p. 1719 (2000).

[2] ‘Thus the ancient Israelites developed a level of environmental sensitivity. They were aware of the fact that they had settled in an area with a fragile ecology. They knew that their land would be fertile only if it was managed with proper care.’

[3] ‘the Yahwist subordinates human behavior to the larger ecosystem upon which human survival depends.’, Hibert (2000:150-151), cited by Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 78 (2006).

[4] ‘The prohibition of harvesting any fruits for three years means simply that the entire organic matter produced by a tree during this time returns to the carbon cycle of that very soil. Not only the leaves but also the fruits, which can amount to up to 40% of the net production of organic matter, are not removed from the plot of land where the tree grows. This is a significant contribution to the humus fraction of the soil and has a positive impact on several soil parameters, as outlined above. In view of this background, the blessing at the end of this pericope, which promises higher yields after the fifth year, is understandable. Due to an input of organic matter equivalent to three consecutive sabbatical years, the fruit trees had a much better start and were bound to grant a higher yield.’, Hütterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopaedia of Judaism’, volume 4, p. 1727 (2000).

[5] ‘The prohibition of sowing annual crops in stands with perennial crops such as wine, olives or fruit trees, is very important. It prevents the soil from being overexploited. The roots of grapevines or fruit trees are allowed to make full use of the soil in which they have been planted.’, ibid., p. 1727.

[6] ‘This concept was unique in the region. There are no records of similar laws either in Babylonia or in Egypt, the dominating civilizations east and west of Palestine. These laws are a counterbalance to humanity’s tendency to abuse its power over the rest of creation.18 The precept as outlined in Leviticus clearly shows that its main intention is to protect the soil, i.e., to give the soil a rest.’, ibid., p. 1726.

[7] ‘Thus the sabbatical year made important contributions to the fertility and water status of the soil. This was especially important in calcareous soils, which make up the majority of the Judean hillsides. Such a special care of the soils was imperative for the maintenance of soil fertility in the Judean Hills. Israelite agriculture at that time was probably among the most advanced in the ancient world.’, ibid., p. 1726.

[8] ‘Once again, we have to bear in mind that frog-legs and whole frogs and toads are part of the usual diet of many millions of humans today. But wherever they are harvested on a large scale, the ecosystem is deprived of the most important antagonist to mosquitoes, resulting in a higher rate of malaria infection. In several subtropical and tropical countries, the export of frogs is now prohibited for this reason.’, ibid., p. 1723.

[9] ‘1) Sanitary reasons, which forbade the eating of mice, rats, and similar animals that transmit diseases; and 2) Ecological considerations, which protected all raptors because of their role in maintaining the biological equilibrium. In this group we also find lizards, which are biocontrol agents of insects, and snakes, which feed on mice and rats.’, ibid., p. 1725.

[10] ‘By forbidding the consumption of these animals of prey, the authors of the Torah acknowledged the important role of these animals in ecosystems. They take care of the natural equilibrium and prevent overpopulation of herbivores, which are a store of diseases of domesticated cattle.’  ibid., p. 1725.

[11] ‘This shows that the ancient Jews were excellent observers and had a thorough knowledge of the succession of birds that feed on carcasses. They protected not only the first very spectacular consumers of carrion, vultures, but also the less showy “secondary” consumers, the Corvidae, which take care of vultures’ leftovers.’, ibid., p. 1724.

[12] ‘By protecting these birds, the Israelites established the best possible defense available at that time against an invasion of locusts. It was the most efficient protection available for their crops.’, ibid., p. 1724.

[13] ‘These birds, in addition to bats, were the best antagonists to insects up to the size of locusts.’, ibid., p. 1724.

[14] ‘Only those species that were most valuable in maintaining the ecological equilibrium and that served as the most efficient biocontrol agent of insects, especially locusts, were carefully selected and protected from human predation.’, ibid., p. 1724.

[15]This regulation is ecologically wise. It permitted the collection of invading insects (locusts) and those obviously eating leaves and grass (crickets), thereby competing with the farm animals. All other insects, including their larvae, were protected. The message thus seems to be clear: people should harvest resources that cause ecological harm but otherwise leave nature as intact as possible.’, ibid., p. 1724.

[16] Such as that young birds may be taken from their mother, but their mother must be left alone (Deuteronomy 22:6-7), an ox or sheep not to be slaughtered on the same day as their young (Leviticus 22:8), food bearing trees not to be harmed in war time, even if their destruction would be useful to the war effort (Deuteronomy 20:19), animals used commercially are not to be overburdened or exploited (Exodus 23:5, Deuteronomy 25:4), a righteous man takes care of his animals (Proverbs 12:10).

[17] ‘The Bible, without which Western civilization is inexplicable, has powerful ecological teachings that support an ecological worldview.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 838 (1995).

[18] Sarna, ‘Exodus’, p. 143 (1991), Tigay, ‘Deuteronomy’, p. 201 (1996), Isaacs, ‘Exploring Jewish Ethics and Values’ (1999), Yaff, ‘Judaism and Environmental Ethics: a reader’ (2001), Hütterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopedia of Judaism’, volume 4 (2000), Katz, ‘Judaism and Deep Ecology’, in Deep Ecology and World Religions: new essays on sacred grounds’ (2001), et al.

[19] ‘The Creation story, for instance, declares that vegetation was created to provide food not only for humans but for animals as well (Gen. 1:29f). In the Flood story, God commands Noah to go to great lengths to save every animal species (Gen. 6:19; CF. 8.1). The Book of Jonah memorably ends with God’s rebuke to the reluctant prophet: “And should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” [italics added] (4:11). Psalm 104 describes in loving detail how God provides food for all creatures (Ps. 104; cf. Ps. 36:9, 145:16, 147:9; Job 38:41).’, Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The Environment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa’, p. 58 (2003).

[20] Compiled during the third century CE.

[21] Complied between the third and fifth centuries CE.

[22] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13; Mishna Bava Bathra 2:9, 24b; Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 12:12; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 17b, et al.

[23] ‘The Mishnah states very clearly that a distance of sixteen amot (about seven meters) must be kept between the vine or olive tree and the closest field of annual plants (M. Kil 4:1).’, Hütterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopaedia of Judaism’, volume 4, p. 1727 (2000).

[24]The small cattle ban in the Mishnah is flanked by additional rules in the Talmud that have the same goal, preservation of the land’s fertility.’; ‘The move of the sages and the boldness of the Sanhedrin, which decided in favor of the most efficient way to save endangered nature, reveals the high standard of ecological knowledge and conscience in ancient Israel.’, ibid., p. 1728.

[25]Tza’ar baalei chayim is perhaps the most important principle in Judaism concerning the human relationship with animals; it requires an attitude of compassion for all human life. In particular, humans have a special obligation to care for and consider the pain of the domesticated animals that live within the larger human community. Thus, the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath requires rest for one’s livestock as well as for humanity (Exodus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 5:14). There is also the law forbidding the yoking together of animals of unequal strength (Deuteronomy 22:10), for this would cause pain to the weaker animal. And one is not permitted to muzzle an ox during the threshing of the grain (Deuteronomy 25:4). All of these commandments are based on a compassion for animal suffering’, Gottlieb, ‘Faith, God, and Nature: Judaism and Deep Ecology’ in Gottlieb (ed.), ‘Liberating Faith: Religious Voices for Justice, Peace, and Ecological Wisdom’, p. 543 (2003).

[26]it contrasts favorably with the attitude toward animals that prevailed in the Western world until the nineteenth century. Prior to that, according to the historian Cecil Roth, ‘cruelty to animals was nowhere illegal – except under Jewish law.“‘, Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The Environment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa’, p. 58 (2003); ‘”Just as God has compassion on humans, so God has compassion on animals” (Deut. Rabbah 6:1).’, ibid., p. 58.

[27] ‘it is forbidden to buy a domestic or wild animal or a bird if one does not have the means to feed it (J. Yev. 15:3; J. Kid. 4:8).’, ibid., p. 62.

[28] ‘The principle of bal tashchit concerns the prohibition against the wanton destruction of natural entities, living beings (plants and animals) and even human artifacts. Its source is a passage from Deuteronomy 20:19-20:’, ibid., p. 542.

[29] ‘For Rashi, it is self-evident that nature has its own right to develop in harmony. This is so basic for him that he states the relationship between humans and nature as a model of the partnership between man and woman in marriage.’, Hütterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopaedia of Judaism’, volume 4, p. 1722 (2000).

[30] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, p. 26 1 (2006).

[31] Katz, ‘Judaism and Deep Ecology’, in Deep ecology and world religions: new essays on sacred grounds’ (2001), Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The environment in Jewish law: essays and responsa’, pp. 62-63 (2003), Bentley, ‘Urban Planning in Jewish Environmentalism’, in ibid., pp. 45-55.

[32] Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The environment in Jewish law: essays and responsa’, pp. 60, 62 (2003), Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, p. 261 (2006).

[33] Ibid., pp. 263-264.

[34] Ibid., p. 263.

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Errors at Religious Tolerance: Christianity and the environment

January 27, 2011

The website ‘Religious Tolerance‘ makes the following claims.

No matter how you describe yourself, you should find your beliefs and practices accurately represented in this website. Almost all other religious websites explain only the beliefs of the webmaster or sponsoring faith group. We are different: we try to explain accurately the full diversity of religious beliefs, worldviews, and systems of morality, ethics, and values. We hope that you will find our essays helpful and of interest.

They explain that ‘None of us has any formal education in theology‘, and ‘We know only a tiny bit about a wide range of religions and religious topics‘. Accordingly, they provide this disclaimer.

We will attempt to overcome our biases on each topic that we describe, by explaining each point of view carefully, respectfully and objectively. To this end, we have many of our essays reviewed by persons familiar with the issues who represent all sides of each topic. We encourage readers to Email us about any errors that they find. We do not regard any essay as fixed or complete.

The following email was sent to ‘Religious Tolerance’ on 22 September, 2010, in response to their articles on Christianity and the environment, which start here. To date no reply has been received and the articles have not been corrected.

Familiar with your site as I am, I was not surprised to read the articles on religion and the environment confined almost exclusively to the late twentieth century, omitting around 3,000 years of discussion of environmental ethics among Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sources. Passing references to White and Passmore (where is the reference to the twenty years of comprehensive criticism of White in the relevant literature?), and repeated quotes from a very slender selection of sources (three main works?), constituted virtually the entire discussion of the impact of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition on the environment and the formation of environmental ethics.

In your bibliography I found none of the standard current works on environmental ethics and praxis in the Judeo-Christian tradition. This article instead opens with a completely unsubstantiated claim dismissing the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures, without a single original source quotation and without a single scholarly reference. This is unfortunate, given that the oldest stratum of the Pentateuch (the ‘Yahwist’, c. 950 BCE), is recognized as containing an explicit environmental ethic restricting anthropological interference with the ecology,[1] and later developments of the ethic in the Primary History, Wisdom Literature, and the Major and Minor Prophets sought to balance anthropocentric and ecocentric concerns.[2] The article demonstrates no knowledge of the relevant primary or secondary literature.

Not only are these passages recognized in the relevant scholarly literature as having explicit ecological motivation,[3] but they were already recognized as such in Jewish commentary of the Second Temple Era. The later Tannaic commentary in the Mishnah (compiled during the third century CE), as well as the rabbinical commentary in Talmud Jerusalem and Talmud Babylon (complied between the third and fifth centuries CE), not only contain detailed ecological exegesis of the environmental ethic in the Torah, but also proscribe additional laws aimed at environmental protection, and articulate the tension between anthropocentric and ecocentric concerns.[4]

The Early Church Fathers are not to be dismissed either, containing some clearly ecocentric Biblical exposition, though occasionally combined with classical Hellenistic views less favourable to nature.[5] Extensive medieval rabbinical commentary on environmental ethics (which is treated very sparsely in the article to which I linked), is found in Rashi (1040-1105),[6] Maimonides (1135-1204),[7] Ibn Ezra (1089-1164),[8] Nachmanides (1194-1270),[9] and Abravanel (1437-1508),[10] among others. Again we find a balance of anthropocentric and ecocentric views, with an emphasis on balancing the two principles for the optimal benefit of both humans and their environment.

Within the later Christian tradition we find such historical examples as Francis of Assisi, the historic Peace Churches advocating harmonious partnership with the environment,[11] and ecological concern models expressed through various monastic orders and individuals,[12] such as Jonathan Swift, James Eliot, William Bartram, John Ruskin, and George Perkins Marsh (whose ‘Man and nature: or, Physical geography as modified by human action’ makes specific reference to deforestation as ‘war upon the garden of God’, 1865:279). The treatment of twentieth century Christian responses to environmental concerns is of course desperately inadequate, suffering from a lack of familiarity with the relevant scholarly literature and from crude quote mining of a tiny selection of works. Entire paragraphs appear without any substantiating references to the relevant scholarly literature at all, and the article is written in a tone, style, and depth of argumentation which does not even reach undergraduate level.

Whilst I appreciate your articles were very likely limited in scope and detail by the limitations on your personal resources, I believe they would benefit from a more balanced historical perspective if they used some of the sources I have referred to here.
_________________________________

[1] ‘the Yahwist subordinates human behavior to the larger ecosystem upon which human survival depends.’, Hibert (2000:150-151), cited by Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, 2006:78.

[2] Fields to be left unfarmed one year of every seven (Exodus 23:10-11, Leviticus 25:3-7), young birds may be taken from their mother, but their mother must be left alone (Deuteronomy 22:6-7), an ox or sheep not to be slaughtered on the same day as their young (Leviticus 22:8), food bearing trees not to be harmed in war time, even if their destruction would be useful to the war effort (Deuteronomy 20:19), animals used commercially are not to be overburdened or exploited (Exodus 23:5, Deuteronomy 25:4), a righteous man takes care of his animals (Proverbs 12:10), et al.

[3] Sarna, ‘Exodus’, 1991:143; Tigay, ‘Deuteronomy’, 1996:201; Isaacs, ‘Exploring Jewish Ethics and Values’, 1999; Yaff, ‘Judaism and environmental ethics: a reader’, 2001; Hutterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopedia of Judaism’, 2000; Katz, ‘Judaism and Deep Ecology’, in Deep ecology and world religions: new essays on sacred grounds’, 2001; et al.

[4] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13; Mishna Bava Bathra 2:9, 24b; Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 12:12; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 17b, et al.

[5] Santmire, ‘The travail of nature: the ambiguous ecological promise of Christian theology’, 1985; Boersema, ‘The Torah and the stoics on humankind and nature:’, 2001:222-227.

[6] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:261.

[7] Katz, ‘Judaism and Deep Ecology’, in Deep ecology and world religions: new essays on sacred grounds’, 2001; Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The environment in Jewish law: essays and responsa’, 2003:62-63l Bentley, ‘Urban Planning in Jewish Environmentalism’, in ibid., 45-55.

[8] Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The environment in Jewish law: essays and responsa’, 2003:60, 62; Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:261.

[9] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:263-4.

[10] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:263.

[11] ‘For Mennonites (one of the historic peace churches) the theme of “peace with the creation” had powerful resonance (see Redekop 2000).’, Haluza-DeLay, ‘Churches Engaging the Environment: An Autoethnography of Obstacles and Opportunities’, Human Ecology Review (15.1.75), 2008.

[12] ‘Many authors (including Lynn White) have pointed to St. Francis of Assisi as an example for ecologically sensitive practice. Dubos (1974) and others have highlighted the Benedictine monks, characterizing them as conservationists to the Franciscan preservationists (stewardship compared to partnership in Rasmussen’s (1991) terms). There are numerous additional exemplars (Attfield 1983; Oelschlaeger 1994).’, ibid., 78.

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Errors at Religious Tolerance: Gnosticism

January 25, 2011

The website ‘Religious Tolerance‘ makes the following claims.

No matter how you describe yourself, you should find your beliefs and practices accurately represented in this website. Almost all other religious websites explain only the beliefs of the webmaster or sponsoring faith group. We are different: we try to explain accurately the full diversity of religious beliefs, worldviews, and systems of morality, ethics, and values. We hope that you will find our essays helpful and of interest.

They explain that ‘None of us has any formal education in theology‘, and ‘We know only a tiny bit about a wide range of religions and religious topics‘. Accordingly, they provide this disclaimer.

We will attempt to overcome our biases on each topic that we describe, by explaining each point of view carefully, respectfully and objectively. To this end, we have many of our essays reviewed by persons familiar with the issues who represent all sides of each topic. We encourage readers to Email us about any errors that they find. We do not regard any essay as fixed or complete.

This article examines a number of their claims concerning Gnosticism.

“Gnosticism consisted of many syncretistic belief systems which combined elements taken from Asian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Syrian pagan religions, from astrology, and from Judaism and Christianity. They constituted one of the three main branches of early Christianity:” (source)

False. Gnosticism was not ‘one of the three main branches of early Christianity’.[1] It certainly did not pre-date Christianity.[2] [3] [4] It did even not exist as a religious movement in the 1st century.[5]

Simon Magus: He was one of the earliest Gnostics He was skilled in the arts of magic. He interpreted the Garden of Eden, exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea as allegories.” (source)

False. There is no evidence at all that Simon ‘was one of the earliest Gnostics’. The earliest texts associating Simon with Gnosticism do not appear until the mid-2nd century, and are considered unreliable for the purpose of establishing what Simon really believed.[6] [7] There is certainly no evidence as to how Simon interpreted the garden of Eden, the Exodus, or the crossing of the Red Sea.[8]

“Some Gnostic beliefs and leaders may have infiltrated Pauline Christianity and influenced the authors of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)” (source)

False. Christianity in the 1st century was neither influenced nor infiltrated by Gnostic beliefs and leaders.[9] [10] [11] [12]

This article was emailed to ‘Religious Tolerance’ on 5 June, 2010. Expressing thanks for the information, they advised that technical difficulties prevented them from editing the pages promptly. To date the pages have not been corrected.


[1] ‘Egypt has yielded early written evidence of Jewish, Christian, and pagan religion. It has preserved works of Manichaean and other Gnostic sects, but these are all considerably later than the rise of Christianity.’, Unger, ‘The Role of Archaeology  in the Study Of the New Testament’, Bibliotheca Sacra (116.462.153), (1996)

[2] ‘Even if it could be proven that any of the previously discussed works or, for that matter, any of the NH tractates are non-Christian Gnostic documents, that would not in itself be evidence for pre-Christian Gnosticism.’, Combs, ‘Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism and New Testament Interpretation’, Grace Theological Journal (8.2.207-208)

[3] ‘And even if we are on solid ground in some cases in arguing the original works represented in the library are much older than extant copies, we are still unable to postulate plausibly any pre-Christian dates.’, McRae, ‘Nag Hammadi and the New Testament’, pp. 146–47, in Combs, ‘Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism and New Testament Interpretation’, Grace Theological Journal (8.2.208)

[4]‘But it is now widely agreed that the quest for a pre-Christian Gnosticism, properly so called, has proved to be a wild goose chase.’, Dunn, ‘The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul’, p. 9 (2003)

[5] ‘If in all likelihood, with the possible exception of the Simonians, there was no such thing as a rival Gnostic movement within or competing with Pauline Christianity, the question arises whether there ever was a specific Gnostic myth as an entity of its own.’, Lüdeman, ‘Primitive Christianity: A Survey of Recent Studies and Some New Proposals’, p. 151 (2003)

[6]From the 2nd–4th cent A.D. Simon came to be regarded as the father of GNOSTICISM (IrenaeusAdvhaer i.23.2, 27.1; Epiphanius Haer. xxi.7.2; xxvii.2.1). It is a matter of scholarly debate, however, whether the historical Simon was actually a Gnostic.’, Bromiley, ‘The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia’, volume 4, p. 516 (rev. ed. 2002)

[7]There is much dispute about Simon Magus’ relationship to Gnosticism and, in particular, to the 2nd-cent. sect of Simonians, to whom, rather than to Simon himself, the Apophasis is prob. to be ascribed.’, Cross & Livingstone, ‘The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church’, p. 1513 (3rd rev. ed. 2005)

[8] ‘Questions concerning the religious-historical evaluation of Simon Magus (the father of Gnosticism?) can hardly be answered with any certainty now.’, Balz & Schneider, ‘Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament’, volume 3, p. 245 (1990)

[9] ‘It is precarious, as Edwin Yamauchi and others have shown, to assume gnostic backgrounds for New Testament books. Although the phrase, “falsely called knowledge,” in 1 Timothy 6:20 contains the Greek word gnosis, this was the common word for knowledge.’, Liefeld, ’1 Timothy 2:12 – A Classicist’s View’, in Mickelsen, ‘Women, Authority & The Bible’, p. 246 (1986)

[10] ‘The full-fledged Gnosticism of later church history did not exist in the first century A.D.21 An incipient form of Gnosticism was present, but Schmithals makes the error of reading later Gnosticism into the first century documents.’, Schreiner, ‘Interpreting the Pauline Epistles’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (3.3.10), (Fall 1999)

[11] ‘Some modern researchers suggest that several NT and related texts evidence contact with “Gnosticism” in various stages of its development. Texts that especially stand out are Paul’s Corinthian correspondence, Colossians, Ephesians, the Pastoral Epistles, Jude, 2 Peter, and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (d. ca. 115) and Polycarp of Smyrna (d. ca. 165) among others. But even here the issues discussed are diverse, demonstrating a complex assortment of competing new religious movements, but no evidence of “Gnosticism.”’, Freedman (ed.), ‘Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible’, p. 509 (2000)

[12]Scholarship must in all likelihood abandon the hypothesis that a cohesive Gnostic movement204 is reflected in Paul’s letters.’, Lüdeman, ‘Primitive Christianity: A Survey of Recent Studies and Some New Proposals’, p. 150 (2003)

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