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Foundations of the Earth

Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job

H. H. Shugart
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Foundations of the Earth
    Book Description:

    "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" God asks Job in the "Whirlwind Speech," but Job cannot reply. This passage -- which some environmentalists and religious scholars treat as a "green" creation myth -- drives renowned ecologist H. H. Shugart's extraordinary investigation, in which he uses verses from God's speech to Job to explore the planetary system, animal domestication, sea-level rise, evolution, biodiversity, weather phenomena, and climate change.

    Shugart calls attention to the rich resonance between the Earth's natural history and the workings of religious feeling, the wisdom of biblical scripture, and the arguments of Bible ethicists. The divine questions that frame his study are quintessentially religious, and the global changes humans have wrought on the Earth operate not only in the physical, chemical, and biological spheres but also in the spiritual realm. Shugart offers a universal framework for recognizing and confronting the global challenges humans now face: the relationship between human technology and large-scale environmental degradation, the effect of invasive species on the integrity of ecosystems, the role of humans in generating wide biotic extinctions, and the future of our oceans and tides.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53769-8
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science, Geology, Religion, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    This book treats the omnipresence of global environmental change and the role of humans as agents for this change. We are significantly altering our planet in ways that are patently obvious. When one looks from an airplane window, one sees the hand of humanity upon the land: fields where there were once forests, fragmented landscapes and grasslands that were once continuous, muddy rivers that were once clear. A walk on a beach, anywhere, reveals the flotsam and jetsam of things we have thrown in the seas. More subtle but also easily demonstrated are the changes we have wrought upon the...

  5. 2 Laying the Foundation of the Earth
    (pp. 13-33)

    In the so-called priestly account of the origin of the Earth found in Genesis 1:1–10, a universe of water exists, and the formation of light initiates Earth’s creation. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” The water is partitioned into two parts on the second day. “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of...

  6. 3 Taming the Unicorn, Yoking the Aurochs: Animal and Plant Domestication and the Consequent Alteration of the Surface of the Earth
    (pp. 35-69)

    So what is it, the unicorn or the wild ox? These two translations of Job 39:9 differ as to the creature that is the topic of God’s question from the whirlwind. These two creatures, one now extinct and one that never existed, are used by translators for the Hebrew word םאר (re’em, a wild, untamable animal) in the Hebrew Job text. Unicorn is also translated fromre’emin the Greek Septuagint (asmonokeros) and in the Latin Vulgate (asunicornis).¹ The unicorn and the wild ox are part of God’s question to Job, “Do you know how to domesticate fierce,...

  7. 4 Freeing the Onager: Feral and Introduced Animals
    (pp. 71-101)

    What is the animal whose bonds have been loosed in these verses? When one initially reads these, one immediately thinks of wild donkeys in the hills that have somehow eluded domestication—more or less an equine parallel to the oxen in the field and the aurochs in the wild, which were discussed in the last chapter. however, donkeys are derived from an African animal, the African wild ass (Equus africanus),¹ which is native to Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.² While there are prehistoric records ofE. africanusfrom Arabia and elsewhere in the Fertile crescent,³ these are not the animals being...

  8. 5 Bounding the Seas, Freezing the Face of the Deep: When the Sea Is Loosed from Its Bonds
    (pp. 103-121)

    As was pointed out in chapter 2, the “whirlwind speech” creation narrative is different from other biblical creation stories (psalms 74:13–14, 89:10–14; Isaiah 51:9–10) and from other creation accounts in the region. In the BabylonianEnŭma Elish,a lightning-welding warrior god named Marduk splits the body of the primordial sea goddess, Tiamat, in half and thus forms the world. As in the Joban account, Marduk constrains the seas within an enforced boundary demarcating the sea and the land.¹ While the boundary aspects are similar, theEnŭma Elishaccount differs in others. It is violent and combative. This...

  9. 6 The Ordinances of the Heavens and Their Rule on Earth: Adaptation and the Cycles of Life
    (pp. 123-151)

    Along the shoreline in the Torres Islands,¹ Vanuatu (the archipelago nation formerly known as the New Hebrides), a medium-sized gray sandpiper appears on the beaches in October. It is thetuwiä, or, in English, the wandering tattler (Tringa incanus), a migratory bird that breeds in the summer along the alpine mountain streams of Siberia, Alaska, and northwestern Canada. In the nonbreeding season, it migrates and eventually circum-navigates the Pacific.² It pushes southward down the edge of the Pacific Rim. Then it crosses the Pacific Ocean, arriving at the Hawaiian Islands in August, Samoa in August, Fiji by late August, and...

  10. 7 The Dwelling of the Light and the Paths to Its Home: Winds, Ocean Currents, and the Global Energy Balance
    (pp. 153-181)

    God’s interrogation of Job highlighted the divine control of the weather as a direct challenge: “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings . . . ?” (Job 38:34–35) and “Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens . . . ?” (Job 38:37–38). That we now seem prepared to apply our current knowledge about these questions fuels the discussion in chapter 10. The Joban questions for this chapter also concern the weather and...

  11. 8 Making the Ground Put Forth Grass: The Relationship Between Climate and Vegetation
    (pp. 183-219)

    In the southern African nation of Botswana, the currency is thepula, a Setswana word that simultaneously means rain, blessing, and wealth. This dry nation sees little rainfall, and its Kalahari sands drink what rain there is into its sandy soil. Botswana is a “thirst-land” where water is precious—hence the association between rain and other good things, such as good fortune and money. In arid and semiarid environments, rain is everything. Biblical Uz, the setting for the story of Job, seems a thirst-land as well.

    Rain is a commodity not to be wasted in Uz or in the Bible,...

  12. 9 Feeding the Lions: The Conservation of Biological Diversity on a Changing Planet
    (pp. 221-255)

    The lion in the Book of Job would have been the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica).¹ This lion subspecies was formerly found in the coastal forests of northern Africa and from northern Greece across southwestern Asia to eastern India.² The epitome of fierceness and power, it was used then and now as an emblem of these attributes, such as the Sphinx of ancient Egypt or the incorporation of lion motifs into the regalia of pharaohs. Lion hunts appear on ancient monuments from the origins of Western civilization. One striking example, “The Dying Lioness,” from a 650 BCE alabaster panel from...

  13. 10 Making Weather and Influencing Climate: Human Engineering of the Earth
    (pp. 257-281)

    As one can see from the verses from the whirlwind speech above, God’s power over the weather and wisdom on its workings differentiates Himself from mere mortals such as Job. This association of God with weather is neither unique to the whirlwind speech nor to the Book of Job. In the Torah (or the Pentateuch), the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), one finds:

    If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the...

  14. 11 Conclusion: Comprehending the Earth
    (pp. 283-288)

    At the very start of the whirlwind speech, Job, who has been asking for an explanation for his terrible misfortunes occurring in spite of his piety, receives an abrupt comeuppance from God: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me” (Job 38:2–3). This is the introduction to a towering set of questions about planetary creation, function, and biodiversity. It is a revelation of the creation and the most elaborate of the creation accounts in the Bible.¹ At some level, the...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 289-354)
  16. Index
    (pp. 355-370)