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Noah & Biodiversity: An Excerpt from "Hospitable Planet: Faith, Action, and Climate Change" by Stephen A. Jurovics

April 22, 2016

 

Hospitable Planet

Faith, Action, and Climate Change

Stephen A. Jurovics

An Excerpt

 

Noah and Biodiversity

 

The narrative about Noah and the flood spans chapters 7-9 of Genesis and offers teachings applicable to a contemporary environmental issue.

In Genesis 7, God tells Noah that He will bring a flood to destroy all life on earth, and that Noah should build an ark to accommodate Noah's family and pairs of all animals and birds. The section reads:

Then the Lord said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground." And Noah did all thatthe Lord had commanded him. [Gen. 7:1-5]

 

Note the closing verse. Noah had no discretion about what to place in the ark. If Noah was to "fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" as "have dominion over" has been interpreted, God could have told Noah to select land animals and birds to place in the ark. The flood episode could have been written that way, and we would understand that the species that survived the flood did so because of Noah's decisions. But that is not the narrative: "And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him."

I suggest that Genesis 7 fundamentally undermines the prevailing, expansive interpretation of Genesis 1:28. In this instance and elsewhere that we shall encounter, God reveals the limits of our latitude, our mastery.

The Noah story in Genesis 7-9 gives Christians and Jews additional powerful insights into appropriate behavior with respect to animals, fish, and birds. The opening verses of Genesis 7 make clear that all animals and birds were to board the ark with Noah and his family. In one of the rare (and therefore important) instances of repetition in Torah, we find such directions given also in Genesis 6:19-20, and Genesis 7:8-9.

And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. [Gen. 6:19-20]

 

Genesis 7:8, 9 indicates the fulfillment of that precise command:

Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. [Gen. 7:8, 9]

 

The repetitions make clear that God intended to preserve all species.

Accordingly, this section has been cited by scholars as a proof text for preserving biological diversity.[1] If God required all species to survive, then humans have no license to willfully contribute to the demise of a species. We know, however, that for a variety of reasons, many species have been lost over the years.[2]

 

 . . . . . . . . . .

 

The flood episode represents a new beginning for the earth, one that will be launched by those on board the ark. If we contrast the blessing God gave to Noah and his sons with the blessing in Genesis 1 given to the first humans, we find a striking difference. Genesis 9 opens with:

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything." [Gen. 9:1-3]

 

Thus, the Genesis 1:28 instruction to "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea . . ." has changed to "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth. . . into your hand they are delivered." Humans now induce fear and dread in everything with which the earth is astir. Our relationship has been dramatically re-characterized, with the Genesis 1:28 instruction left behind. This finding at the end of the Noah story joins with our observation at the beginning of the flood episode that Noah's ability to "have dominion over" did not even extend to selecting the types or numbers of creatures of the air and land that were to board the ark: "And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him."

Thus, these bookends to the flood narrative seem to limit the prevailing interpretation of Genesis 1:28 to the Garden of Eden. This conclusion gains validity as we encounter verse after verse in Genesis-Deuteronomy that provide instructions for our interactions with the natural world, and in no instance suggest that we can simply do as we wish-no holds barred.

The opening of Genesis 9 changes our relationship with other creatures, first, it appears, by stating that "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you" (which differs from Genesis 1:29) and, implicitly, because our actions will determine their existence and impinge on their sense of safety and wellbeing. Deuteronomy, in addition, contains several verses that constrain our actions towards other forms of life.

 

 

 

 

 

Hospitable Planet

Faith, Action, and Climate Change

Stephen A. Jurovics with Foreword by Matthew Sleeth

 

Most books about climate change that include a religious argument do not address what individuals can do to help our society transform from fossil fuel use, other than changing personal behavior-and readers suspect that will likely not suffice.

Thus, some readers are left feeling disheartened. In contrast, books that primarily address the environmental issues have limited appeal to people motivated more by faith than science, thereby leaving out many who could constitute the tipping point for full American engagement on the issue.

Hospitable Planet: Faith, Action, and Climate Change, seeks to fill the gap in religious and secular texts by providing both a compelling biblical case for action on climate change and by identifying substantive measures to mitigate climate change and how to achieve their implementation.

 

Jurovics is an environmental professional with a strong grounding in the Old Testament. This volume approaches environmental issues from both scientific and faith perspectives and addresses a growing concern for earth among people of faith

The book describes quite clearly what actions to undertake, how to accomplish them, and why this course of action can attain its objectives. The book lists the major steps needed to slow climate change, drawn primarily from writings of James Hansen and Amory Lovins that, regrettably, do not reach a general audience. In addition, the book recommends an environmental rights movement, akin to the civil rights movement, as a way to implement the recommended actions. 

"Churches can massively reduce their impact on God's good earth if they understand the Bible's mandate to care for creation and develop practical skills to decrease their energy use. This book hits the target directly on both counts".

-Fletcher Harper, Executive Director, GreenFaith

"Stephen Jurovics' book is an important work of witness: faith and connection to God should lead us to save and heal our planet from a looming environmental catastrophe. Based primarily on the Five Books of Moses, sacred to both Christians and Jews, this book is written with passion, wisdom, and intelligence. The author's sensitivity enables him to speak movingly to people of faith, offering a handbook on the Bible's greatest mandate for mortal existence - to choose life for the earth (which is the Lord's) and all its inhabitants."

-Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, author, For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: the New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity  

 

Stephen A. Jurovics holds BS and MS degrees from Columbia University and a PhD in Engineering from the University of Southern California. Aspects of climate change mitigation have been the focus of his engineering work for more than two decades.

The increasing severity of environmental problems led him, out of spiritual curiosity, to research the environmental teachings in Genesis-Deuteronomy, what Jesus called "the law" in English translations, particularly exploring whether they contained instructions relevant to contemporary issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, preserving biological diversity, treatment of the land, and sustainability. The abundance of applicable teachings, and a desire to discuss ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, motivated him to write this book.

 

 

Hospitable Planet

Faith, Action, and Climate Change

Stephen A. Jurovics

Church Publishing, Inc. -  March 2016

Specs: 176 pp.; 6 x 9"; paper; perfect; 4-colour cover
Topic/Shelving: World Christianity / Theology
ISBN: 9780819232533

Price: $18.00

 

Church Publishing products can be ordered through any Episcopal, religious, or secular bookstore; through any online bookseller, or direct from Cokesbury at 800-672-1789 or www.Cokesbury.com. Visit churchpublishing.org for more information.

 

 


[1] 1. See, for example, Jeremy Benstein, The Way Into Judaism and the Environment (Woodstock,

VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2006).

[2] 2. Species that humans have hunted to extinction include: dodo bird; passenger pigeon; Carolina

parakeet; and the Tasmanian tiger. Among the currently endangered species due to climate change

are: polar bear; grizzly bear; Kauai creeper bird (a type of honeycreeper); elkhorn coral; bull trout;

and Pacific salmon. Information about endangered species was obtained from the Environmental

News Service: www.ens-newswire.com/ens/dec2009/2009-12-01-091.asp. Particularly disturbing is

the finding published in Audubon, March-April 2014, that 314 species of North American birds are

at risk of extinction from climate change.

 


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