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Dianne BergantJanuary 29, 2008
There are so many passages in the Bible that lend themselves to the development of an ecojustice perspective. Such a section is found in the Wisdom of Solomon, a relatively little known and even less frequently cited source of ancient Israelite wisdom. It is a reinterpretation of an earlier tradition that recounts the plagues that God sent upon Egypt in order to free the Israelites from its oppressive grip (Wis 11:2-19:22; cf. Exod 7:14-12:31). In his retelling of the story, the author, known as Pseudo-Solomon, does not view the exodus as a military feat, but as a refashioning of nature. The very sequence of events in his description follows the pattern of the creation narrative (Gen 1:1-2:4a) rather than the account of the liberation of the people as found in the Book of Exodus. The Book of Wisdom makes a unique contribution to biblical creation theology. Instead of moving from salvation to creation, as traditional Old Testament theologians claim is the fundamental focus of the Bible, it begins with creation and moves to salvation. In fact, the book itself begins and ends with affirmations of God’s creative purpose: "[God] created all things so that they might exist" (1:14); "The whole creation in its nature was fashioned anew . . . so that your children might be kept unharmed" (19:6). The statements about the renewal of creation suggest that Pseudo-Solomon believed that there was an inherent balance between and among the various spheres of the natural world, a balance that requires that any state of serious disequilibrium must be corrected. In other words, moral failure affected cosmic balance. He believed that nature itself, complying with the laws established by God, seeks to rectify any imbalance. This would mean that balance is not only a characteristic of the natural world, but is also an active principle by which the world organizes and reorganizes itself. Without forcing the biblical material to fit into contemporary scientific categories, one can say that the universe, the earth and all its components are part of a dynamic cosmic design within which each has a place in the overall goal of that design. Pseudo-Solomon’s reinterpretation of the plagues reveals several important points. First, It underscores his faith in the creative ingenuity of God, his respect for the intrinsic value of creation, and his understanding of the interconnectedness of all of its components. These were ideas that he inherited from his Jewish religious tradition. Second, it shows how he used the new insights of his day to reinterpret traditions of the past. He had no reservations about circumventing earlier perceptions (the miraculous character of the exodus events) that did not correspond to his present worldview. We in our day can do no less than he did in his. We can agree with his faith in the creative ingenuity of God, without also ascribing to his ethnocentric bias. We can share his respect for the intrinsic value of creation, without allowing our scientific perspective to overshadow our religious insight. We have advanced far beyond his understanding of the interconnectedness of all of the components of the natural world. We have come to see how less than central we are in the vast universe. We are dependent on the workings of the universe; it is not dependent upon us. However, this does not mean that we are insignificant. Our religious tradition says that we have been made but a little less than elohim (Ps 8:6). Furthermore, because of the quality of our consciousness, scientists consider us an example of the natural world reflecting upon itself. This worldview points again to the intrinsic value of the universe and to the interconnectedness of all of its components. With all of the differences in worldviews, Pseudo-Solomon still points the way toward the practice of reshaping the tradition for a new age. Dianne Bergant, CSA
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