What is Land? A Judaeo-Christian Theological Perspective
We all know what land is, or at least we think we know what land is.
Is land the same everywhere? Is land different in Oklahoma from other places?
Can land be bought and sold? If so, when we buy land and sell land, what is it that we are exchanging?
Theologians, lawyers, real estate agents, farmers, geologists, accountants, and sailors all have varying perspectives on what land is.
Today, I will examine the question, “What is land?” from a Judaeo-Christian theological perspective.
What is land from a Judaeo-Christian theological perspective?
The Preamble to Genesis describes the Creation of the World.
“In the beginning” of the Bible, “when God created the heavens and the earth” there was nothing but chaos, or what the Hebrew text calls the “tohu wa bohu” the traditional translation for which is “formless void.”
The newly revised New American Bible Old Testament (NAB. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) says:
– and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters —
Hence, there was no land “in the beginning.”
The Preamble lists the generations of the heavens and the earth.
The Preamble to Genesis (Genesis 1:1-2:3) is a cosmological toledoth or genealogical list of the generations of the heavens and the earth, the birth order of the cosmos, or what came before history. This is the Priestly order of creation, just as the other lists of Genesis give us the birth order of human beings, the generations of humankind, followed by the toledoths of the patriarchs.
A serious student of the Bible is aware of the various strands of authorship that were woven together to form the final Biblical text. Even in third grade when I first began reading the Bible I noticed that the order of creation varies between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Genesis.
Biblical scholars recognize that this Preamble of Genesis comes from the Priestly source (P) and is the first of the toledoths or series of genealogical lists that make up the structure of the primordial history (Genesis 1-11), which takes the reader from creation to the appearance of Abraham and the beginning of historical documentation in Genesis Chapter 12.
When the Redactor (R) of the primordial history put that part of the Bible together, he carefully, respectfully, and reverently combined the Priestly lists with the Yahwistic stories (the J stories from the southern kingdom of Judea which referred to God by the ineffable tetragrammaton, YHWH, translated into English texts as L
The Bible Teaches Us through Brain Switching
On the one hand, the Priestly toledoths give structure to the Biblical text as bones of the human body provide structure and hold the body together.
On the other hand, the Yahwistic/Elohistic stories are like the organs of the human body, each having a specific theological teaching task to illustrate Biblical truths.
We enjoy reading the stories and find those easier to remember because they light up a different part of our brain.
We use a different part of our brain to memorize the items in a list.
Together these two elements are interchanged in a way that teachers call “brain switching.”
The beauty of the structure of the primordial history is that the brain switching from the left brain, sequential lists of the Priestly source, to the right brain, global stories of the Yahwist makes the entire text move quickly through the actual passage of a long period of geological time.
When teaching classes about the Bible, I always ask my students to think of a parade. What is the first thing that happens in a parade? You hear the drum beat of the first marching band. The drum creates rhythm. The bands help the whole parade march through both time and space.
The Priestly toledoths, or sequential lists are like the bands in a parade — orderly, rhythmic, mathematical — stimulating learning with our left brain.
The Yahwistic stories are like the floats in the parade — the whimsical interpretive elements of the parade — the meat and potatoes — stimulating learning with our right brain.
Sofia Cavaletti’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Level I curriculum illustrates this primordial history beautifully with the blue ribbon of the “fetuccia” and “fettucina” illustrating the long period of time which elapsed prior to the emergence of animals, which are introduced by the switch to a beige ribbon and followed by the appearance of human beings as “co-creators with God,” illustrated by a human hand embroidered on the beige ribbon. In this pre-school Montessori curriculum, three-year olds are introduced to geological time by walking with their catechist as she unwinds the 80-meter ribbon and introduces the children to the concept of salvation history.
Land is one of the items written in Old English script on a blue placard which the catechist places on the floor as she walks down the hallway with the children unwinding the gros-grain ribbon of salvation history, the Fettucia.
God created land through the act of separation on the third day.
Then God said: Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear. And so it happened: the water under the sky was gathered into its basin, and the dry land appeared. God called the dry land “earth,” and the basin of water he called “sea.” God saw that it was good. Then God said: Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. And so it happened: the earth brought forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree that bears fruit with its seed in it. God saw that it was good. Evening came, and morning followed — the third day.
(NAB, Genesis 1:9-13)
The notes to the New American Bible point out that the literary structure of six days relates the creation events of the first thee days in a parallel way to the creation events of the second three days.
- light (day) / darkness (night) = 4. sun / moon
- arrangement of water = 5. fish + birds from waters
- a) dry land b) vegetation = 6. a) animals b) human beings: male / female
This parallelism between the creation of dry land and the creation of human beings is less apparent in English than it is in Hebrew. In Genesis 2:7 the Yahwist tells us:
then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
The Hebrew word used is the same verb that is used when a potter throws clay on a potter’s wheel and shapes a pot. Hence, the notes to the NAB instruct us:
God is portrayed as a potter molding the human body out of earth. There is a play on words in Hebrew between ‘adam (“human being,” “man”) and ‘adama (“ground”). It is not enough to make the body from earth; God must also breathe into the man’s nostrils.
The Abrahamic Covenant Promised Abraham Land and Descendants.
In the Yahwist’s (J) version of the Abrahamic covenant with God, the promise of a son and heir is given in Genesis 15:1-6, followed by the promise of land in Genesis 15:7-21:
He then said to him: I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession. “Lord GOD,” he asked, “how will I know that I will possess it?”
In the Priestly (P) tradition of the same story, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham after God promises him many descendants. After that, God promises land in Genesis 17:8:
I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now residing as aliens, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.
There’s a catch, however, in Genesis 17:9:
God said to Abraham: for your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages. This is the covenant between me and you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised.
Oops! Imagine your mortgage lender making that requirement of a home buyer today! Ouch!
Circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant (just as the rainbow was the sign of the Noachic covenant).
God promised that he would give the Hebrew people the land of Canaan and that he would be their God.
Modern-day political problems exist because both Muslims and Jews cite this scripture as part of their claim to the land of Palestine, since Abraham’s illegitimate son Ishmael was the ancestor of the Arabs and Abraham’s son Isaac was the ancestor of the Jews.
Land has been fought over for thousands of years
Much of the Old Testament is concerned with the conquering of land and possessing the land.
One of the punishments of disobedience was losing the land.
In one of David Noel Freedman’s last treastises, which he called The Nine Commandments, he explained that the Bible was put together in response to the question posed by the exiled Jews, “How did we lose the land and end up in Babylon?” It’s one of my favorite books. It’s an especially important book for Protestants and Catholics to read to understand how the Ten Commandments have been numbered differently. Put this book on you “must read” list.
David Noel Freedman was a scholar who can see the entire forest because he is able to examine each and every tree.
In case you never heard of David Noel Freedman, here is a video you can watch:
Copyright© 2012 by Debbie Solano — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED — Oklahoma Land and Ranches — What is Land? A Judaeo-Christian Theological Perspective