The Natural History of the Bible: An Evironmental Exploration of the Hebrew Scritpures

By Daniel Hillel
New York : Columbia University Press (2006). xiii + 354 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
20.1 (Spring 2009) : 273-273

One of the oft-neglected aspects of biblical interpretation is the environment and ecology. Both of these factors, combined with the geography, will largely dictate the direction a culture may move in any region. In this book the author works through the natural history of the OT, demonstrating how the various environmental factors influenced the Jewish nation and affected relations with their neighbors in the Ancient Near East.

The author is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Massachusetts and Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University. He is the author of more than 20 books and technical articles and has made a specialty of the environment in the Middle East, having grown up in Israel and worked there. As a young man he joined the Sdeh Boqer kibbutz in the Negev. The author tells of meeting David Ben Gurion, who in 1953 resigned as Prime Minister and moved to Sdeh Boqer where he lived until his death in 1973.

The strength of this work is in the author’s extensive knowledge of the land of Israel and its environment. His explanations of the ecology and how it affected and often dictated the life of the Jewish nation in the OT era is clear and well written. He weaves this knowledge into his rather popular narrative of OT history. In this area, he admits that he is largely self-taught, but his work is respectable and generally takes a conservative line in relation to historicity and dates, though acknowledging disputes in both areas among biblical scholars.

This is a book to supplement and fill in details of natural history that are generally absent or neglected in standard historical studies. It is well illustrated and the bibliography is extensive. Another strong aspect of the work is the author’s understanding of cultural geography as he deals with the various people groups of the Ancient Near East, particularly migration patterns and the overall importance of the land as a bridge between the continents.

Few will pay the rather steep price of $75.00 for the cloth hardback edition, but a paperback edition is available at a more reasonable price of $24.00. It is a profitable work if one is willing to do the work to extract the grain from the straw.