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Human Dominion over Nature in the Hebrew Bible

Jeanne Kay
Annals of the Association of American Geographers
Vol. 79, No. 2 (Jun., 1989), pp. 214-232
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2563253
Page Count: 19
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Human Dominion over Nature in the Hebrew Bible
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Abstract

What should be our society's relationship with nature? What are the intellectual causes of the current environmental crisis? These "great questions" of environmental studies are essentially humanistic inquiries into ethics and values. Humanists have often debated these questions in terms of Christian and Jewish traditions. One school of thought in particular holds the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) responsible for fostering despotic ideas towards nature. This paper demonstrates that the Bible's most persistent environmental message is that God confers human dominion over nature to righteous or faithful people, whereas God punishes transgressors with natural disasters. Recent advances in studies of the Bible as literature reveal ways to interpret the theme of human dominion over nature, with the resulting evolution of that concept throughout the books of the Bible. The biblical notions of natural justice and righteous individuals in harmony with animals find current expression in the modern environmentalist movement. A comparison of contemporary American personal beliefs with modern geography suggests further research on the disparity of a secular discipline addressing a largely religious American public.

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