Sunday, April 10, 2016


This episode of On Being with Ellen Davis and Wendell Berry is a good way to spend an hour.

Here is the transcript.  

Here is a passage that couldn't be more important. 

MS. TIPPETT: So, you know what I thought would be interesting for us to do is just pick up Genesis. I have the Tanakh, the Jewish Publication Society Bible, in front of me, and I have Everett Fox's Five Books of Moses, which is a translation, and it's very close to the Hebrew.

PROF. DAVIS: Yes. Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: And not necessarily as linear. It doesn't necessarily read in a smooth way in English but, as you've said it, it makes the Hebrew more transparent, including rhythms and allusions. And so with agrarian eyes, you know, what do you see when you open Genesis 1?

PROF. DAVIS: Well, the first thing that stands out is that the rhythm of the passage changes when we get to the creation of the dry land on the fifth day. That up until that point — actually, I think the dry land is created a little bit sooner than the fifth day, but it begins to be furnished for habitation on the fifth day — and up until that point, Genesis 1 is really very terse. "Let there be light: And there was light" "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters … and it was so." But then, when the dry land begins to be furnished for habitation, suddenly there is blessing enters the world. So the creatures are blessed. And of course, we know human beings are blessed on the sixth day, but we often overlook the fact that the creatures of sky and sea receive exactly the same blessing, pru u'revu, "be fruitful and multiply." And so we are living amongst creatures who are blessed before we even come into existence. I think that's an important thing to recognize.

MS. TIPPETT: Now let's just, you know, point out that I think the passage, if people know something from this, it is this blessing that also seems to contain not just permission but a commandment to — you know, the words, the translation's different: "to have dominion," Tanakh says "to master it," "to rule the fish of the sea." So you're saying that that's tempered first of all by the context. But, you know, how do you step back from that and what do you see is happening there that is not clear in the way we have translated and used these texts?

PROF. DAVIS: OK. The Hebrew word is a strong word, and I render it "exercise skilled mastery amongst the creatures" because I think the notion of skilled mastery suggests something like a craft, an art, of being human without taking away the fact that humans do, from the perspective of almost all the biblical writers — not every single one but almost all — humans occupy a very special place of power and privilege and responsibility in the world. But the condition for our exercise of skilled mastery is set by the prior blessing of the creatures of sea and sky that they are to be fruitful and multiply. So whatever it means for us to exercise skilled mastery, it cannot undo that prior blessing. I think that's pretty convicting for us in the sixth great age of species extinction.

I wish there were a bit more Wendell Berry in the program but it's got to fit into its time limits.

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