In her introduction to Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, Ellen Davis quotes Norman Gottwald as declaring that “…we are left with the logically perplexing but morally empowering paradox that the Bible is both grossly irrelevant in direct application to current economic problems and incredibly relevant in vision and principle for grasping opportunities and obligations to make the whole earth and its bounty serve the welfare of the whole human family.” Davis quotes Gottwald to support her claim that the Scriptures, specifically the Creation Narrative and the Minor Prophets, are best understood when read in the light of their agrarian contexts and concerns.
Reading Davis’ book has been deeply exciting and formative for me, as my two biggest passions and thus my callings (in addition to being a husband and father) are studying Theology/Biblical Studies and practicing agrarianism/homesteading. So, for me to find a scholarly work that combines the two is amazingly exciting. Besides just making me fall more in love with the Hebrew Scriptures, this book has inspired me to seek further ways to engage my two passions in dialogue, especially when it comes to the Gospels and the agrarian elements that may (or may not) be prominent there, specifically in the parables of Jesus.
Beyond the obvious academic inspiration I garnered from the book, engaging Davis’ work on agrarianism and Biblical Studies helped me to provide truly credible reasons as to why I believe the Scriptures call us, in vision and principle, to practice the “land ethic” for which Aldo Leopold pleads in A Sand County Almanac (You should read this book!). For, “The earth is God’s creation, so we should care for it,” is just not enough for some who do not understand the necessity for a thriving, sustainable relationship between humanity and the land. Davis’ work, however, has awakened me to an entirely new world of Biblical scholarship.
Far from mysterious Hebraisms or furtive metaphors, Davis shows that Biblical land-motifs “become intelligible when the Bible is read from an agrarian perspective.” On the pages of Davis’ masterful work, recurring Biblical themes such as the interconnection between Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant and the willingness of the land to support the people become clear and prophetic for our time and its destructive agricultural and environmental practices.
This discovery gives me hope, not only for the future of the Church but for the future of humanity. In a world increasingly disturbed by industrial agriculture (especially this year as we suffer a dust-bowl like drought and are watching the industrial corn and soy bean crop wither away to nothing) and its disregard for creation, the Church must continue to become a relevant participant in the emerging conversation concerning real alternatives. Not only that, we must be willing to take the lead in the conversation and in the formation of such alternatives. We must remember that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was exceedingly good” (Gen. 1.31a).
 Davis, Ellen. Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
 Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There. Special Commemorative Edition. First Edition, 1949 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989) 201-226. Leopold’s little book is a great introduction to what it means to “love” the land and to observe it with sincere admiration and gratitude.
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- Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture by Ellen Davis (Book Review) - August 21, 2012