About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Biblical Co-Creatress and (new) eco-theology

We continue our series of Lenten Lectures dedicated to eco-theology.
       This time we will examine ancient biological metaphors of creation and how they can inform and shape our own faith, world view and our living.

Many faithful Judeo-Christians would be mightily surprised by archaeological finds in Palestine (The Holy Land of our faiths). The sheer volume, and broad distribution of religious artifacts in Palestine clearly demonstrate that a strict biblical monotheism was wishful thinking and most likely a literary fiction projected back into history. Two years ago we looked into it in more detail in our Lenten Lectures on Biblical Polytheism (for instance How many Gods Made up God? or Did YHWH have a wife?).
       On this slide I want to highlight the use of the “Omega” symbol representing the womb as the beginning of life (with different fertility amulets). A similar omega symbol, probably representing an end-of-life womb (as a stone relief for a headrest) appears also in Jerusalem Tombs of Late Iron Age.
(Unfortunately I do not have time to go into a detailed discussion of the iconography of fertility goddesses - please refer to “Gods, Goddesses and Images of God in Ancient Israel” by Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger. Fortress 1998.)

These two biblical texts, one from the book of Job and one from a Psalm (Wisdom Psalm in origin) clarify similar thinking about the mythical (symbolical) womb at both extremes of life’s journey.
     Two other artifacts with fertility iconography only confirm their continuous presence in Iron Age Palestine.

A similar theme of the beginning and end of life appears in Genesis 3:19. One is almost tantalized to replace dust with their names (You are Adam (Earthling) and to Adamah (Earth) you will return.) This mytho-poetic statement is immediately followed with the naming of Eve - and her name is explained as “a mother of all living.” Shortly afterwards - after conceiving with Adam and giving birth to Cain (almost a homophone with “begetting” a few words later) Eve is making a very unclear statement about “begetting a man with the LORD”. This text is clearly broken and damaged (most likely on purpose). Yet, we can still suspect behind it some substantial mythical narrative. Adam is from Earth (Adamah), Eve is the Mother of all Living. She is begetting man(/kind) with YHWH (originally there even might be another deity and the name YHWH was inserted here later).

Bronze age cylinder seal depicts an paradisal garden scene, a goddess in the form of a tree (of life) flanked by ibexes, a naked goddess with a worshiper, a seraph guarding the scene while buffalo, lion and a deer recline together at the bottom.

Quotation from Sirach confirms that the theme of womb at the beginning and at the end persisted through the intertestamental period.

In Proverbs 8 we have another powerful allusion to a female character (personification of Wisdom) present at the time of creation. Most likely her identification as “Wisdom” is only secondary - She might originally be the goddess Asherah. It is possible that this goddess was born of the god, became the god’s partner and assisted at creation (with some obstetrical allusions) , the vocabulary of the closing paragraph especially hints that she begat with the god and gave birth to mankind. This text is probably the clearest example of the goddess co-creatress in the bible. Some other aspects and possible interpretations and translations of this text are included in several older entries on this blog: Did YHWH have a wife? and Lady Wisdom.

Here are two other allusions to creation in the context of the womb and the giving birth, from the book of Job. Both are followed in a similar fashion by astrological references.
From Ugaritic texts we know about the daughters of Baal named Pdry and Ṭly. They are named Cloudy - a daughter of Dawn, and Dewy - a daughter of Cloud (For instance in KTU 1.3.i.24f)
We can observe the close proximity of Cosmogony (creation of the world) and Theogony (procreation of gods).
In 1966 Lynn White presented a lecture and in 1967 published in the journal Science a famous article "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" (The article has somehow slow and dated opening paragraphs but second half is still worthy of reading even almost 50 years on!) In this article White blamed the early medieval Christian understanding of the Creation Story for fostering the mentality which eventually led to the modern ecological crisis.
    White writes “What we do about ecology depends on our ideas of the man-nature relationships. More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one.”
    I believe that White is correct in his analysis that the Medieval Christian reception of the Creation Story created a mentality which led us to the current ecological trouble. White believes that a return to Franciscan piety and mentality might be our best ecological crisis strategy.
    I am convinced, that we need to go even further. The best strategy might be to undo the anthropocentric theistic dogmatism and re-discover and re-integrate the aspects of  the original (unadulterated) creation stories in all their diversity.
    In our last two lectures we have been attempting to “re-think our old creation stories”, peel out the medieval and modern misconceptions of creation stories and look for inspiration at their very sources. We witnessed that the original biblical creation stories were diverse, rich and very sensitive to the outside world. The Ancient Creation stories shared a different, gentler and more eco-sensitive world-view.
    Our ecological problem came with zealous monotheistic dogmatism, when God was artificially separated from nature, nature was objectified, and humans were lifted above it. I think it is time to consider undoing this religious aberration, and rediscover or at least heighten our sensitivity to a more organic religion at the source of the biblical creation stories.

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