The Life of the World: The Vitality and Personhood of Non-Animal Nature in the Hebrew Bible

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2016

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The dissertation The Life of the World: The Vitality and Personhood of Non-Animal Nature in the Hebrew Bible addresses personalistic portrayals of non-animal nature (rocks, plants, soil, etc.) in the Hebrew Bible. Examples of personalistic nature texts include the obligation of the land to rest in Leviticus 25 and 26, the ground swallowing Korah in Numbers 16, the mourning of the land in the Prophets, and creation’s speech in Psalm 19. The primary theoretical framework is anthropological research on animist traditions, which is used to interrogate Western categories of personhood, relationality, and nature. Of particular importance is the work of Graham Harvey, Philippe Descola, Eduardo Viviero de Castro, Nurit Bird-David, and Timonthy Ingold. Based on parallels between biblical texts and animist traditions, it is argued that biblical writers perceived non-animal nature as alive; these texts do more than simply anthropomorphize nature. The dissertation traces the activity of non-animal nature through the three parts of the Jewish canon – Torah, Prophets, and Writings – and supports the argument by means of close reading. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, interactions between humans and non-animal nature are social and require respect and attention. The Israelite writers inhabit a world full of persons, only some of whom are human, and these other-than-human persons must be taken into account in agriculture, warfare, worship, and ethics.

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Joerstad, Mari (2016). The Life of the World: The Vitality and Personhood of Non-Animal Nature in the Hebrew Bible. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/13402.

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