Ancient Ecologies and the Biblical Perspective
by Edwin M. Yamauchi
Oxford, Ohio 45056
The word "ecology" was first coined in 18731 but men in
ancient times were at least partially aware of "the inter-
relationships of living things to one another and their sur-
rounding environment."2 Today we understand much
more clearly the delicate balances involved in the relation-
ships between nature and man's activities. But even now we
do not always foresee all the results of constructing a pro-
ject like the Aswan Dam in Egypt.3
Although we may comprehend the causes and processes,
we are still unable to do much more than the ancients to
prevent such natural disasters as droughts and locust
plagues. In recent years disastrous droughts caused by the
failure of the summer monsoon rains affected twenty
million people in the Sahel region of Africa.4
Periods of drought kill the predators of locusts and
grasshoppers, and also leave cracks in the ground which
provide good nesting areas. If such periods are followed by
moist seasons, conditions are ripe for the formation of
plagues of such swarming insects. In the summer of 1978,
33 locust swarms were reported over Ethiopia and 17 over
Somalia, some covering up to 40 square miles.5 At the same
time huge infestations of grasshoppers have been reported
attacking the fields in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska,
Oklahoma, and Texas.6 Such swarms of hoppers, so thick
that they obstructed the view of the sun, devastated Kansas
in 1873 and in 1919.7
In the following study I examine how the peoples of the
ancient world viewed such calamities. I compare the view-
Edwin M. Yamauchi 194a
points of the pagans and those of Jews and Christians,
noting both similarities and differences. Such a study raises
questions which I consider in the conclusion.
THE CLIMATE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN
The lands of the Bible include for the Old Testament
period Palestine, Phoenicia (Lebanon), Syria, Egypt, and
Mesopotamia (Iraq); for the New Testament period we
have in addition the lands to which the Gospel was carried:
Anatolia (Turkey), Greece, and Italy. Almost all of these
areas border the Mediterranean Sea and are affected by the
climatic conditions associated with it with, of course, local
variations. The chief features of the common "Mediterra-
nean" climate are: (1) a prolonged summer drought, (2)
heavy winter rains, and (3) a relatively small range of
temperatures.8 Throughout the entire area, with few excep-
tions, rain water was precious and was conserved by
The land "between the rivers," the Tigris and the
Euphrates, was irrigated by two of the four streams
associated with the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:14). At the
northern edge of the Fertile Crescent sufficient rain fell on
the "hilly flanks" of the Zagros Mountains, which divide
the alluvial plains of Mesopotamia from the upland plateau
of Iran, to make this area Robert J. Braidwood's candidate
for the first area to develop the Neolithic "revolution" of
agriculture.10 As for the central area of Mesopotamia itself,
M. A. Beek observes:
Because of the dryness of the climate the soil of Mesopotamia is hard
and nearly impenetrable. Consequently, when the heavy rainfall in
the northern areas coincides with the melting of the snow in the
Taurus and Zagros Mountains, the rivers wreak destruction. . . .11
The Mesopotamian floods are not only destructive but
they are highly unpredictable. They come in the spring
rather than in the summer when the water is most needed.
Especially swift are the flood waters of the Tigris, whose
Akkadian name Idiglat (cf. Hebrew Hiddeqel, Gen. 2:14)
means "Arrow." The people of Mesopotamia, however,
were able to use the waters of the rivers through canals for
irrigation purposes, though this demanded the combined
efforts of communities as constant attention was required
to maintain the dikes and canals.12 In times of war, the
canals would be neglected and the weeds would grow in
them. In his lamentation over Ur, a poet cried out: "Your
river which had been made fit for the magur-boats-in its
midst the. . . -plant grows."13
In striking contrast to Mesopotamia is the felicitous
situation of Egypt. The statement of Herodotus that Egypt
was "the gift of the Nile" still holds true today. Fed by the
tropical rains of central Africa, the White Nile and the Blue
Nile from Ethiopia join together near Khartoum to flood
with such regularity that the Egyptians were able to regulate
their calendars by the annual floods.14 The flooding also
came at the most propitious time for agriculture. The four
months of inundation (June to September) were called
Akhet "Flood," followed by Perit "Coming Forth" (Oc-
tober to January) and by Shemou "Deficiency" (February
The Egyptians could tell how high the Nile would rise by
a Nilometer which they had carved at the island of Elephan-
tine near Aswan. A low Nile would mean that not enough
fields would be irrigated and that famine would ensue. On
the other hand, a Nile that was too high might mean the
destruction of dikes. Ordinarily Egypt had a sufficient
surplus to supply starving bedouins from Palestine such as
the biblical patriarchs (cf. Gen. 12:10 ff., 26:1 ff., 43:1
ff.).16 Down through the period of the Roman Empire
Egypt served as the most important "bread basket" of the
Edwin M. Yamauchi 194c
By the 14th cent. B.C. the Egyptians had invented the
shaduf, a weighted lever to lift the water. The saqiya, the
animal-drawn water wheel, was introduced only in Persian
or Ptolemaic times (5th to 3rd cent. B.C.).17 Archimedes
(287-212 B.C.) is credited with the invention of the
Apart from the coastal region, rain rarely falls in Egypt.
According to H. Kees:
At the present day Alexandria enjoys annually about 25 to 30 days of
rain with a rainfall of about 8 inches, while Cairo and its environs
has on the average, mostly in January 1 ½ to 2 inches. In the upper
Nile valley on the other hand for as far back as our knowledge
reaches, rain has always been an exceptional phenomenon, the ac-
companiment of occasional storms and less a blessing than a
catastrophe, associated in people's minds with the dangerous powers
of the desert.18
Greece enjoys a typically Mediterranean climate with a
rainless summer from the middle of May to the middle of
September. The stormy weather of winter generally
brought sailing and fighting to a halt. As the prevailing,
winds are from the west, three times as much rain falls in
the west as falls in the east, for example, in Corcyra (Corfu)
as compared to Athens.19
In 1966 Rhys Carpenter offered a climatological explana-
tion for the fall of the Mycenaean kingdoms c. 1200 B.C. in
place of the traditional view of a Dorian invasion.20 His
theory was criticized by E. Wright, who pointed out that
pollen samples from northwestern Greece from this period
indicated no drought.21 But climatologists have shown
from records for 1955 that the climatic pattern which
Carpenter posited, with an extensive drought for the
Peloponnese but not for northwest Greece or for Athens, is
quite possible.22 Whether or not such a drought caused the
Mycenaean decline is still a moot point.23 It is more likely
that a combination of factors, including drought and
Edwin M. Yamauchi 194d
famine followed by the dislocations of such groups as the
Dorians and the Sea Peoples, caused the Mycenaean col-
lapse and the beginning of the Greek Dark Age.24
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 195a
Several factors produce the characteristic weather of
Palestine. The country lies between 33' 15" and 31' 15" N
as far south as Beersheba, which is the same latitude as the
southernmost section of California. It is therefore on the
northern margin of the subtropical region. The presence of
the Mediterranean to the west, and the deserts to the south
and the east play a major role, as does the great variety of
The following regional generalizations may be made: (1)
temperature decreases with height and increases with depth
below sea level. (2) The temperature ranges increase as one
moves away from the moderating influence of the sea. (3)
Rain tends to decrease from north to south. (4) Rain
decreases from west to east. (5) Rain increases as heights are
encountered. (6) As the prevailing moisture bearing winds
are from the west, rain precipitates on the western slopes,
leaving the eastern slopes in a "rain shadow."26
During the summer Palestine lies midway between a
monsoon low over the Persian Gulf and a high pressure
area in the Atlantic. It therefore enjoys steady NW Etesian
winds and a sunny almost rainless summer, as there are no
frontal storms of cold air clashing with warm air masses. In
the winter, however, cold maritime air pushes south into
the Mediterranean where it clashes with warm tropical air
masses, creating wet and stormy weather (Job 37:9).28
In the winter season the moisture bearing winds from the
W and SW precipitate rains as they encounter colder land
and air masses (I Kgs. 18:44; Lk. 12:54). But during the
summer the drier NW winds encounter only warm land and
air masses and do not precipitate any rain. The winds do,
however, mitigate the heat of the day. The westerly winds
reach the Transjordanian plateau about 3 p.m. These
regular winds are used for the winnowing of grain (Ps. 1:4)
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 195b
even to this day.
North winds are relatively rare. There are two types.
Chiefly in October a cold dry wind seeps over the mountain
barriers from Central Asia (Sirach 43:20). In March a surge
of polar air across the Balkans may produce heavy rains
The scorching desert wind (sirocco, khamsin) from the E,
SE, or S was and still is a dreaded phenomenon. It strikes
for three to four days in the transitional seasons. A sirocco
will produce the hottest temperatures of the year, often 20
degrees above the average (Jer. 4: 11). What makes matters
worse is the fact that it is an exceedingly dry wind, dropping
relative humidity by 30-40%, fraying tempers, and
debilitating energies. The air is filled with a fine yellowish
dust which veils the sun and reduces visibility. The siroccos
of the spring are particularly devastating, withering the
winter vegetation in a few hours (Ps. 103:15-16; Isa. 40:6-8;
Ezk. 17:10, 19:12; Hos. 13:15; Jon. 4:8). The fullest fury of
the sirocco is experienced in the Transjordan, the Negev,
and the Rift Valley. In coastal regions the sirocco winds
may pour down the slopes at 60 miles per hour, shattering
ships in the harbors (Ps. 48:7; Ezk. 27:26).
The Rainy Season. The exact commencement of the
rainy season is not predictable but in general the rainy
season runs from mid-October to mid-May.30 The rainy
season includes, but is also more extensive than our winter
months (cf. Song 2:11). In this season three to four days of
heavy rain alternate with dry days during which cold desert
winds blow from the east.31
The Early and the Latter Rains. The Bible refers
repeatedly to the early (RSV "autumn") and the latter
(RSV "spring") rains (Deut. 11:14; Jer. 5:24; Joel 2:23),
giving the average reader the impression that rains fall only
at the beginning and the end of the rainy season. As a mat-
ter of fact most of the heaviest rains fall in the middle of the
season (Lev. 26:4; Ezra 10:9, 13). These initial and final
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 195c
rains are stressed because they are crucial for agriculture.
The early rains come in October before plowing and sow-
ing. The latter rains fall in March and April and are needed
to make the grain swell for a good harvest (Hos. 6:3; Zech.
Drought and Unseasonable Rains. If the high pressure
areas over Europe and Asia in the north link up with the
high pressures over Africa and Arabia, this blocks cyclonic
storms from arriving through the trough of low pressure in
the Mediterranean. In this case rain is sometimes delayed
until as late as December; in some years rain amounts to
only 50 to 75% of the average. A catastrophic drought that
lasted 3 1/2 years is recorded for Elijah's day (I Kgs. 17:1;
Lk. 4:25; Jas. 5:17. Cf. Deut. 28:23-24; I Kgs. 8:35; Jer.
If the thermal difference between the warm and cold air
masses is not great, rainless clouds float by (Prov. 25:14;
Jude 12). On rare occasions a late surge of cold Atlantic air
penetrates into the area of Palestine in the summer, bring-
ing unseasonable rain (I Sam. 12:17; Prov. 26:1).
The Distribution of Precipitation. As Amos 4:7 in-
dicates, there are considerable local differences in the
distribution of rainfall in Palestine.33 Galilee receives the
greatest amount of rain from 28" to 40". Haifa on the
coast receives an average of 24", Tiberias 16-18", and
Beth-shean in the Jordan Valley only 12". In Judea the
foothills receive 16-22". Rainfall at Jerusalem generally
fluctuates from 17" to 28", with an average of 25".34
Jericho receives an average of 4-6"; in the very wet winter
of 1944 it recorded 13".35 The southern end of the Dead
Sea receives only 2".
The steppe region around Beersheba receives between
12" to 16"; areas in the Negev to the south receive less than
8". In the Hellenistic and early Roman era, the Nabataean
Arabs by a careful conservation of water by terraces were
able to raise wheat, barley, legumes, grapes, figs and dates
in the Negev.36 Modern Israeli researches have attempted to
reduplicate their feats.37
Edwin M. Yamauchi 196a
Dew.38 The summer drought was not due to the lack of
humidity, which is in fact twice as intense in the summer as
in the rest of the year. The lack of rain storms is due to the
absence of frontal clashes between warm and cold air
masses. The summer humidity manifests itself in the dew
that condenses as the ground cools during the night. At
Gaza with its extremes of temperatures dew may form as
many times as 250 nights per year. Gideon was able to col-
lect a bowl full of water from the fleece which he had set
out (Jud. 6:38).
Dew is vital for the growth of grapes during the summer
(Zech. 8: 12). It was indeed a calamitous drought when not
even dew was available (II Sam. 1:21; I Kgs. 17:1; Hag.
1:10). Its value may be seen in the numerous comparisons
of God's grace and goodness to the benefaction of dew
(Gen. 27:28; Isa. 18:4; Hos. 14:5; Mic. 5:7; Sirach 43:22).
THE MYTHOLOGICAL VIEWS
OF THE PAGANS
Among the early Sumerians (3rd millennium B.C.) the
bringing of rain and subsequent flooding was attributed
either to Enlil, the leading god of the pantheon, or to Enki,
god of water and wisdom. Without Enlil "in heaven the
rain-laden clouds would not open their mouths, the fields
and meadows would not be filled with rich grain, in the
steppe grass and herbs, its delight would not grow."39
For the later Babylonians (2nd-1st millennium B.C.) the
pre-eminent rain god was the Syrian god Adad (Hadad). In
the Atrahasis Epic, the full text of which was discovered
only in 1965, we have the following developments
preceding the catastrophic Flood. When Enlil is disturbed
by the clamor of proliferating mankind, he orders:
Cut off supplies for the peoples,
Let there be a scarcity of plant life to satisfy their hunger.
Adad should withhold his rain,
Edwin M. Yamauchi 196b
And below, the flood should not come up from the abyss.40
Let the wind blow and parch the ground,
Let the clouds thicken but not release a downpour, (II.i.9-l6)41
People sought to placate Adad with gifts of loaves and
offerings, so that "he may rain down in a mist in the morn-
ing, and may furtively rain down a dew in the night."
(II.ii.16-17)42 But "Adad roared in the clouds," and sent
not just rain but the Deluge.
From the Gilgamesh Epic we learn that when the Flood
(Even) the gods were terror-stricken at the deluge,
They fled and ascended to the heaven of Anu;
The gods cowered like dogs. . . .43
Important mythological concepts regarding fertility
centered on the Mesopotamian cult of Inanna (Ishtar) and
her consort Dumuzi (Tammuz). In the text of the famous
myth, "The Descent of Inanna (Ishtar)," the goddess
descends into the Underworld and is slain by her sister.
Upon her death procreation among animals and humans
ceases only to be restored with her resurrection.44 The
Mesopotamians practiced a hieros gamos or "sacred mar- "
riage" rite between the king representing Dumuzi/Tammuz
and a sacred prostitute representing Inanna/Ishtar to en-
sure the fertility of the land by sympathetic magic.45
The Egyptians honored the Nile River as the god Hapy;
whom they depicted as a well nourished man with pen-
dulous breasts. Thousands of miniature figures of this god
were made and offered to him in temples prior to the
flooding of the river.46 The most important god of the
Egyptians apart from the sun god was Osiris, the god of the
underworld. As early as the Old Kingdom (3rd millennium
B.C.) Osiris was identified with the life-giving waters. Ac-
cording to Breasted:
It was water as a source of fertility, water as a life-giving agency with
which Osiris was identified. It is water which brings life to the soil,
and when the inundation comes the Earth-god Geb says to Osiris:
"The divine fluid that is in thee cries out, thy heart lives, thy divine
limbs move, thy joints are loosed," in which we discern the water
bringing life and causing the resurrection of Osiris, the soil.47
The seasonal cycle of fertility and drought is most vividly
depicted by the Greek myth of Demeter and her daughter
Persephone, who was abducted by Hades. While Demeter,
the goddess of grain, mourned for her missing daughter,
the entire land was afflicted with infertility.48 After she was
discovered, Persephone still had to spend four months each
year in the Underworld because she had eaten four
pomegranate seeds there. The mysteries of Demeter and
Persephone were celebrated at Eleusis, just west of
Because of the regularity of the seasons in Greece, it was
seldom necessary to pray for rain. According to Nilsson:
On Mount Lykaion (in Arcadia) there was a well called Hagno.
When there was need of rain the priest of Zeus went to this well, per-
formed ceremonies and prayers, and dipped an oak twig into the
water. Thereupon a haze arose from the well and condensed into
clouds, and soon there was rain all over Arcadia.50
Syria and Palestine
The climate of Syria and Palestine played an important
role in the development of Canaanite religion. Baly and
Tushingham describe the situation as follows:
Precariousness, indeed, is everywhere the dread companion of rain-
fed agriculture in the Middle East, and especially toward the south
and inward from the seacoast. Over very large areas it is impossible
to exaggerate the sense of desperate insecurity which accompanies
the farmer upon his rounds. . . . Almost the whole of Canaanite
religion was built around this desperate anxiety, this passionate long-
ing for a fertile earth, . . . .51
Edwin M. Yamauchi 196d
Our understanding of the Canaanites has been greatly
advanced by the discovery of Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit)
on the coast of Syria, and the subsequent publication of
Ugaritic texts. These reveal that the Canaanite Baal or
"Lord" par excellence was Hadad, the god manifest in
storms and rains.52 Millard comments:
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 197a
Controlling the rains, mist, and dew, Hadad held the keys of good
harvests, so the existence of a myth describing his battles with death,
barrenness, and threatening flood waters among the texts of Ugarit
is no surprise.53
As in Mesopotamia the vitality of the king was linked
magically with the fertility of the land. When the legendary
"king Kret was sick, nature likewise languished. When
prince Aqhat died, a great drought ensued:
Thereupon Danel the Rephaite prayed (that) the clouds in the heat
of the season, (that) the clouds should rain early rain (and) give plen-
tiful dew in summer for the fruits. Baal failed for seven years, the
rider on the clouds for eight (years, leaving the land) without dew,
without showers. (Aqhat I.i.38-44)54
Many scholars have supposed, in analogy with Greek
mythology, that Baal died annually and rose to life, sym-
bolizing the rainless summer and the rainy winter. But the
epic does not speak of an annual event but of a prolonged
drought. As Gordon points out, the summer is normally
dry and what was dreaded were dewless summers and
The priests of Baal, who were confronted by Elijah (I
Kgs. 18), tried to arouse their god to produce rain not only
by their prayers but also by magical rites such as leaping
about the altar and shedding their blood-but in vain.56
Patai has suggested that Elijah also used magical gestures.
But it is quite clear that when Elijah had water poured on
the offerings, he was not making a libation but was
demonstrating the supernatural power of God by making
the ignition more difficult.57
THE OLD TESTAMENT PERSPECTIVE
Though some have blamed the Judeo-Christian tradition
of man's relation to nature as expressed in Gen. 1:28's com-
mand "to replenish the earth and subdue it" as the grounds
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 197b
for our present ecological crisis,58 further reflection
demonstrates that this is not a sound conclusion. As John
Black notes, the Hebrews evolved "a concept of man's
responsibility to God for the management of the earth, a
concept which was duly carried over into Christianity,
becoming part of the western heritage."59 Commenting on
Judeo-Christian theology, Glacken observes:
Most striking for our themes, is the idea of the dominion of man as
expressed in Genesis, and repeatedly expressed in other writings,
notably Psalm 8. But one must not read these passages with modern
spectacles, which is easy to do in an age like ours when "man's con-
trol over nature" is a phrase that comes as easily as a morning
greeting. . . . Man's power as a vice-regent of God on earth is part of
the design of creation and there is in this fully elaborated conception
far less room for arrogance and pride than the bare reading of the
words would suggest.60
It is man's sinful exploitation of the universe, his con-
tempt for God's creation, which has led to our present
ecological crisis. As E. M. Blaiklock writes:
The ravaged world, the polluted atmosphere, the poisoned rivers,
dead lakes, encroaching desert, and all the irreversible damage to
man's fragile environment comes from treating the globe we live on
with contempt. Modern man is arrogant and domineering. Man was
put in a garden, says the old Hebrew account in Genesis "to tend
If blame must be placed, we might well consider our
western heritage from the Romans. From his survey of the
ancient world and ecology, Hughes concludes:
Our Western attitudes can be traced most directly to the secular
businesslike Romans. Today the process of dominating the earth is
seen not as a religious crusade following a biblical commandment
but as a profitable venture seeking economic benefit. In this, we are
closer to the Romans than to any other ancient people, and in this we
demonstrate to a great extent our heritage from them.62
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 197c
The Blessings of Rain (Citations are from the RSV.)
According to Deut. 11:10-11, 13-14, the Lord said to the
children of Israel:
For the land which you are entering to take possession of it is not like
the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed
your seed and watered it with your feet, like a garden of vegetables;
but the land which you are going over to possess is a land of hills and
valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, . . . And if you
will obey my commandments. . . (I) will give the rain for your land
in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in
your grain and your wine and your oil.
Jeremiah proclaims that it is only the Lord rather than
the pagan gods who sends rain (Jer. 14:22): "Are there any
among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or
can the heavens give showers? Art thou not he, O Lord our
God? We set our hope on thee, for thou doest all these
things." But the wayward children of Israel fail to
recognize this (Jer. 5:24): "They do not say in their hearts,
'Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its
season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for
us the weeks appointed for the harvest.' "
Elihu, Job's friend, declares:
Behold, God is great, . . . .
For he draws up the water, he distils his mist in rain which the skies
pour down and drop upon man abundantly. Can anyone under-
stand the spreading of the clouds, the thunderings of his pavilion?
Among the questions which the Lord Himself posed as
He spoke out of the whirlwind to Job are the following:
Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the
thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert
in which there is no man; to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and
to make the ground put forth grass? Has the rain a father, or who
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 197d
has begotten the drops of dew? (Job 38:25-28)
God has promised rain as a blessing for obedience: "If
you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments
and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season,
Edwin M. Yamauchi 198a
and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the
field shall yield their fruit." (Lev. 26:3-4)
The Judgment of Drought
Conversely for disobedience the Lord has threatened
Take heed lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve
other gods and worship them, and the anger of the Lord be kindled
against you, and he shut up the heavens, so that there be no rain,
and the land yield no fruit, and you perish quickly off the good land
which the Lord gives you. (Deut. 11:16-17)
The most famous instance of drought as a judgment of
God is the three and a half year drought called down by Eli-
jah in the reign of Ahab in the 9th cent. B.C. (I Kgs. 17;
Sirach 48:2-3; Luke 4:25; Jas. 5:17). In the early 6th cent.
B.C. when Judah forsook the Lord, Jeremiah called upon
the heavens to be appalled, literally "be exceedingly dried
up" (Jer. 2:12). Cf. Jer. 14:1-6 for a vivid description of
Still later in the 6th cent. after the Exile, the Jews return-
ed from Mesopotamia and were challenged to rebuild the
temple. When they were less than dedicated to the task, the
prophet Haggai rebuked them with a paronomasia or play
on words. He proclaimed that because the Lord's house
had remained in "ruins" (hareb, Hag. 1:4,9) the Lord
would bring a "drought" (horeb, Hag. 1:11) upon the
On the other hand, as a sign of God's displeasure Samuel
called down rain during the late wheat harvest (June), when
rain was not expected:
"Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may
send thunder and rain; and you shall know and see that your
wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in
asking for yourselves a king." So Samuel called upon the Lord, and
the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. . . . (I Sam. 12:17-18)
Edwin M. Yamauchi 198b
Prayers for Rain
When a drought was prolonged, the remedy lay in repen-
tance and in prayer as we see from Solomon's famous in-
tercession (I Kgs. 8:35-36):
When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned
against thee, if they pray toward this place, and acknowledge thy
name, and turn from their sin, when thou dost afflict them, then
hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants, thy people
Israel, . . . and grant rain upon thy land, which thou hast given to
thy people as an inheritance.
The most dramatic instance of the prayer of a godly man
to end a drought was, of course, Elijah's intercession in his
contest with the priests of Baal (I Kgs. 18; Jas. 5:17). Joel
called for a fast along with repentance to end the double
calamity of drought and locust swarms in his day (Joel
1:14-20). Zech: 10:1 encourages such prayer: "Ask rain
from the Lord in the season of the spring rain, from the
Lord who makes the storm clouds, who gives men showers
of rain. . . ."
Problematic is the interpretation of M. Dahood that
Psalm 4 is actually a prayer for rain. His interpretation is
based on rendering the Hebrew word tob "good" in verse 7
as a word for rain by comparing Jer. 17:6, Deut. 28:12, etc
where it is clear that "good" means "rain."63
THE NEW TESTAMENT PERSPECTIVE
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus commended the
benevolence of God in that He "makes his sun rise on the
evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the
unjust" (Mat. 5:45). He further cited the heavenly Father's
care over the birds of the air (Mat. 6:26), the lilies of the
field (Mat. 6:28), and the grass of the field (Mat. 6:30) as
ample reasons trusting in God's provisions and for eschew-
In his sermon to the pagan Lycaonians of Lystra, Paul
Edwin M. Yamauchi 198c
adduces God's provision in nature as evidence that He had
not left the pagan nations without a witness (Acts 14:17):
"yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did
good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons,
satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." Cf. Rom.
As an example of the effective prayer of a righteous man
James cites the example of Elijah who first prayed for a
drought and then ended it (Jas. 5:17-18): "Elijah was a
man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently
that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it
did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the
heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit." In
the Apocalypse the two witnesses of Rev. 11 "have power
to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of
their prophesying" (Rev. 11:6).
A number of droughts and famines are recorded by
Roman historians for the New Testament era. In 22 B.C. a
mob shut up the Roman Senate in the Curia building and
forced them to vote Augustus the dictatorship so that he
could deal with the food situation. In his autobiographical
Res Gestae (5.2) Augustus boasted: "I did not decline in
the great dearth of grain to undertake the charge of the
grain supply, which I so administered that within a few days
I delivered the whole city from apprehension and im-
mediate danger at my own cost and by my own efforts."65
There was a later famine in his reign in A.D. 6.
During the reign of Claudius a noteworthy series of
droughts and poor harvests culminated in a widespread
famine during the procuratorial administration of Tiberius
Julius Alexander over Judea (A.D. 46-48). Josephus
reports (Antiq. III.320 ff.; XX.51-53, 101) that Queen
Helena of Adiabene, a recent convert to Judaism with her
son Izates, sent aid to the Jews in the form of monetary
gifts, grain from Egypt, and figs from Cyprus. This is the
same drought which was predicted by Agabus, a prophet
from Jerusalem, to the church at Antioch (Acts 11:27-30):
Edwin M. Yamauchi 198d
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit
that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took
place in the days of Claudius. And the disciples determined, every
one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived
in Judea; and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Bar-
nabas and Saul.
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 199a
Kenneth S. Gapp correlates the famine under Claudius
with an unusually high Nile in the year A.D. 45 when grain
prices doubled.66 He concludes that "the evidence of of-
ficial documents among the papyri from Egypt and of in-
dependent sources. Pliny and Josephus, so supports Luke's
account of the universal famine that the accuracy of the
statement can no longer be challenged."67 Gapp makes the
acute observation that in the ancient world famine was
essentially a class famine:
Since the poor and the improvident never had large reserves either of
money or of food, they suffered immediately upon any considerable
rise in the cost of living. The rich, on the other hand, had large
reserves both of money and of hoarded grain, and rarely, if ever, ex-
perienced hunger during famine. Thus, while all classes of society
suffered serious economic discomfort during a shortage of grain, the
actual hunger and starvation were restricted to the lower classes.68
Christ taught that one should be satisfied with one's
"daily bread."69 In view of the disparity of wealth, the
"Christian ethic inspired sharing with those in need” (Acts
4:34, 6:1; II Cor. 8:8-15; Jas. 2:14-16; I John 3:17.)70
POST-BIBLICAL JEWISH DEVELOPMENTS
The Jewish rabbis of the first three centuries of the com-
mon Era (lst-3rd cent, A.D.) elaborated upon biblical
precepts, sometimes by fanciful exegesis.
Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai said: Three things are equal in their
value: Earth, Man and Rain, R. Levi bar Hiyya said: And all the
three are of three letters. . . . , to teach you, that if there is no earth,
there is no rain, if there is no rain, there is no earth, and without
both of them no man can exist.71
In the early 2nd cent, A.D. the rabbis attributed a
gradual diminution in rain to the sins of the people. Rabbi
Eleazar b. Perata (fl. A.D. 110-35) said: "From the day the
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 199b
Temple was destroyed the rains have become irregular in
the world. There is a year which has abundant rains and
there is a year with but little rain."72
To assure the coming of rain the rabbis laid stress on the
feast of Sukkoth (Tabernacles) on the basis of Zech.
14:16-17. They also laid down elaborate regulations for the
observation of fasts in times of drought in the Mishnah
(Ta'anith 1.2-7). If by the seventh of Marheshvan (around
November) there has been no rain, one begins praying for
rain. If none has fallen by the 17th, public fasts are ordered
on Mondays and Thursdays all through the winter season.73
Commenting on Eccl. 10:11, "If the serpent bite before it
is charmed, then the charmer (lit. whisperer) hath no ad-
vantage," Rabbi Ami said: "If you see a generation over
whom the heavens are rust-colored like copper and do not
let down dew or rain, it is because there are no 'whisperers'
(i.e. people who pray silently) in that generation."74
One sage, Honi the Rainmaker, had a legendary gift for
calling down rain. It is said that he drew a circle, and stand-
ing in the middle of it said:
"Lord of the world! . . . I swear by your great name that I shall not
move from here until you will turn merciful unto your children."
When the rain began dripping he said: "Not thus did I ask but a rain
for cisterns, pits and caves." Then the rain began to fall violently
and Honi said: "Not thus did I ask but a rain of mercy, blessing and
generosity." Then the rain fell as it should fall.75
Even in such calamitous times as droughts there were
always the unscrupulous few who tried to exploit the situa-
tion for their own advantage. The rabbis denounced the
wealthy who hoarded up large stocks of grain, wine and oil
to sell them at inflated prices by quoting Amos 8:4-7. In the
days of Rabbi Tanhuma, the people came to him and asked
him to order a fast for rain. "He ordered a fast, one day, a
second day, a third day, and no rain came. Then he went to
them and preached: 'My sons, have compassion on each
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 199c
other and the Holy One blessed be He will also have com-
passion on you.'"76
POST-BIBLICAL CHRISTIAN DEVELOPMENTS
During the early Roman Empire the pagans sought to
blame the Christians for any unnatural disaster. As Ter-
tullian so pungently expressed it: "If the Tiber reaches the
walls, if the Nile does not rise to the fields, if the sky
doesn't move or the earth does, if there is famine, if there is
plague, the cry is at once: 'The Christians to the lion.'"77
The pagan Symmachus blamed the famines of A.D. 384
upon the Christians.
Arnobius, a Christian apologist (fl. A..D. 300), in his
work, Against the Heathen, asks:
What is the ground of the allegation, that a plague was brought
upon the earth after the Christian religion came into the world, and
after it revealed the mysteries of hidden truth? But pestilences, say
my opponents, and droughts, wars, famines, locusts, mice, and
hailstones, and other hurtful things, by which the property of men is
assailed, the gods bring upon us, incensed as they are by your wrong-
doings and by your transgressions. . . . For if we are to blame, and
if these plagues have been devised against our sin, whence did anti-
quity know these names for misfortunes?78
Augustine likewise responded by pointing out that such
calamities had occurred long before the conversion of Con-
stantine and the Christianization of the Empire: "Let those
who have no gratitude to Christ for His great benefits,
blame their own gods for these heavy disasters."79
Finally, Christians turned the accusation against pagans,
Jew, Samaritans, and heretics, blaming them for unsea-
sonable calamities. In the Novellae Theodosiani 3.1.8 (4th
cent. A.D.) we read the following denunciation:
Shall we endure longer that the succession of the seasons be
changed, and the temper of the heavens be stirred to anger, since the
embittered perfidy of the pagans does not know how to preserve
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 199d
these balances of nature? For why has the spring renounced its ac-
customed charm? Why has the summer, barren of its harvest,
deprived the laboring farmer of his hope of a grain harvest? Why has
the intemperate ferocity and the winter with its piercing cold
doomed the fertility of the lands with the disaster of sterility? Why
all these things, unless nature has transgressed the decree of its own
law to avenge such impiety?80
As noted in the introduction, periods of unseasonable
heat and drought are sometimes accompanied by plagues of
locusts. The Canaanite texts speak of the dreaded succession
Edwin M. Yamauchi 200a
of dry or locust years.81 Their frightening numbers made
them an image of frequent appearance in the ancient texts.
In the Sumerian lamentation the possessions of Ur are
devoured as by a "heavy swarm of locusts."82 In the
Ugaritic Keret Epic (I.iv.29-31) the soldiers of an army are
said to have "settled like locusts on the field(s), like hop-
pers on the fringe of the wilderness."83
At the end of treaties a frequent curse which was invoked
upon those who might be tempted to break the agreement
was the locust plague. In the Aramaic Sefire treaty of north
Syria (8th cent. B.C.), we read: "For seven years may the
locust devour (Arpad), and for seven years may the worm
eat. . . ."84 A similar curse is found in the treaty between
the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (7th cent. B:C.) and his Me-
dian vassals: "Like locusts devour. . . may they cause your
towns, your land (and) your district to be devoured."85
There are nine Hebrew words which designate locusts in
the Old Testament.86 Akkadian recognizes 18 names and
the Talmud 20 names for locusts. Of the many Hebrew
words arbeh is used most frequently, 24 times. The word is
probably derived from the root raba "to become
numerous." It occurs in Akkadian as erebu, arbu, and in
Ugaritic as irby.
The arbeh plague (Deut. 28:38) is listed as one of the
divine curses which would befall the Israelites if they
disobeyed God's commands. The arbeh is one of the
plagues which Moses called down upon Egypt (Ex. 10:4 ff.;
Ps. 78:46, 105:34).87
Locusts are used in similes of vast numbers in Jud. 6:5,
7:12; Jer. 46:23; Nah. 3:15. Though they had no leader yet
their mass movements are coordinated (Prov. 30:27). Rest-
ing at night, they stir with the heat and disappear (Nah.
3:17). Job is asked whether he can make the horse "leap
like a locust" (Job 39:20).
Locusts belong to the order of the Orthoptera "straight-
winged" insects. With the grasshoppers they belong to the
sub-family, Saltatoria, "leapers," which were considered
edible (Lev. 11:21-22).88 Locusts belong to the Acridiidae
Edwin M. Yamauchi 200b
family of "short-horned grasshoppers." Of the 91 species
found in Palastine only the desert locust (Schistocerca
gregoria or Acridium peregrinum) has served to plague the
Near East from time immemorial. It was only in 1929 that
the phase change from solitary green grasshoppers to the
larger, yellow gregarious phase was first observed. Accord-
ing to Baron:
Basically, the Desert Locust is a winged big brother of its fellow-
acridid, the familiar grasshopper of English meadows, and quite
often leads much the same sort of life. Like other species of locusts,
however, it has the peculiarity of being able to change its habits-to
live two lives, as it were--and it is this characteristic that makes it so
great a potential menace.89
At maturity the desert locusts are two and a half inches
long. They have two sets of wings and an enlarged pair of
legs for jumping. Their appearance has been compared to
horses (Joel 2:4; Job 39:20; Rev. 9:7; cf. German
Heupferd, Italian cavallette.)
Desert locusts are phenomenal travelers. They are able to
fly for 17 hours at a time and have been known to travel
1500 miles. The sound of their wings can be compared to
the sound of chariots (Joel 2:5; Rev. 9:9). Their route of
travel is determined by the prevailing winds (Ex. 10:13, 19).
In the 1915 plague the locusts came to Jerusalem from the
northeast (cf, Joel 2:20).90
The Bible does not exaggerate when it speaks of swarms
of locusts covering the ground (Ex. 10:5). According to
We know from modern measurements of swarm areas and volumes
that the descriptions repeatedly given in the Bible and elsewhere, of
the sky being darkened and the sun eclipsed, are literally correct. For
instance, during the plague that continued from 1948 to 1963,
several swarms were recorded as exceeding a hundred square miles;
and one is said to have been the size of London.91
Edwin M. Yamauchi 200c
A truly large swarm may contain ten billion locusts! What
is devastating is that each insect eats its own weight every
day; a large swarm may weigh up to 80,000 tons.92
The four words used by Joel (1:4, 2:25) in his vivid
description of the locust plague evidently represent stages
of the locusts' development (RSV) rather than separate
species of insects (KJV).93 In Joel 2:25 we have first the
arbeh, the mature locust which deposits the eggs.94 The
yeleq may be the larva as it emerges from the egg.95 The
hasil may be the intermediate instar (stage between moults):
The gazam may be the ravenous nymph who strips the bark
To remove such insect plagues pagans resorted to prayer
and to magical spells. From Sultantepe in northwest
Mesopotamia we have "an incantation to remove cater-
pillar, devourer. . . cricket, red bug, vermin of the field
from the field."96 The Greeks prayed to Apollo Parnopios
(Locust) to obtain aid against locusts, just as they prayed to
Apollo Smintheus (Field Mouse) against the plague. To get
rid of caterpillars the Roman writer Columella "directs that
a young menstruous girl should walk three times round the
garden with bare feet and loosened hair and garments."97
In contrast to the pagans, the Israelites resorted to
fasting, repentance, and prayer in cases of locust plagues
and other kinds of pestilences (I Kgs. 8:36-37; II Chr. 6:28).
In the midst of a devastating locust plague the prophet Joel
called the people to fasting and prayer (Joel 1:14, 2:15-17),
and promised that the Lord would see their repentance and
bless them (Joel 2: 18-32). The later Jewish rabbis also
prescribed the blowing of the ram's horn to announce a
fast: "For these things they sound the shofar in every place:
blasting or mildew, locust or caterpillar, wild beasts or the
sword. They sound the shofar in that they are an overrun-
ning affliction." (Ta'anith 3.5)98
Edwin M. Yamauchi 200d
1. How is the biblical revelation different from pagan
Unlike materialistic naturalism the biblical perspective
shares with the ancients a belief in the supernatural. But it
differs radically from contemporary mythologies in
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 200a
upholding a single, omnipotent God, who though He may
be depicted in human similes, wholly transcends man and
nature--in contrast to the pagan gods who were crudely an-
thropomorphic and who were intrinsically a part of the
natural order.99 The Babylonian gods, for example, sent the
Flood in capricious annoyance at man's rambunctious
noisiness. Jehovah sent the Flood as a judgment against
2. Why was God's revelation given where it was?
Certainly the local geographic and climate conditions of
the Holy Land have qualified the human reception of the
Lord's revelation. The sovereign God chose Palestine as the
location for His revelation, a land whose climate made the
Hebrews very conscious of their reliance upon God for rain
3. Now that we know the causes of droughts and the
progression of locust plagues are they any less the works of
Such a conclusion may be reached by unbelievers, but
believers can only stand in greater awe as they learn more of
the marvels and intricacies of God's creation. He is the God
who uses the hurricane but also the lowly worm (Jonah 4:6)
to reveal His power and purpose. As C. S. Lewis has
remarked, "Each miracle writes for us in small letters
something that God has already written, or will write, in
letters almost too large to be noticed, across the whole can-
vas of Nature."100
4. Why do natural disasters occur? Are they judgments
Natural disasters remind us that we do not live in a
Paradise, and that the Creation itself groans for its redemp-
tion (Rom. 8:19-22). We cannot comprehend the reason for
each tragedy but can realize that we live in a flawed
universe. Though any given calamity may not be a specific
judgment for sin (cf. John 9:1-3), each reminds us of our
creaturely weakness and the fragility of our life. From the
divine perspective death is not the ultimate tragedy but
rather a life lived without recognizing the Creator (Rom.
1:19-21.101 If we are not thankful for His daily provision
Jas. 1:17; I Tim. 4:3), He may get our attention by more
5. If God works through Nature, ought we do anything
to interfere with it?
Some extreme Calvinists opposed the introduction of
anaesthesia in the light of Gen. 3:16. Within the past year
members of a Dutch Reformed group have refused inocula-
ions as an interference with God's natural order. But God
does not call us to the passive fatalism of some Muslims
who say to everything, In sha'Allah "If Allah wills," and
then do nothing. Rather He has called us into partnership
with Him as stewards of His grace and creation. Times of
disaster provide us with opportunities for sharing and even
witness as organizations like World Vision have
demonstrated in our day.
1Lynn White, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," Science
155 (1967), 1203.
2J. Donald Hughes, Ecology in Ancient Civilizations (Albuqueque: Univer-
sity of New Mexico, 1975), 2 ff.; Clarence J. Glacken, Traces on the
Rhodian Shore (Berkeley: University of California, 1967).
3Time, 105 (Jan. 25, 1971), 31; idem, 109 (May 5, 1975), 65.
4R. A. Bryson and T. J. Murray, Climates of Hunger (Madison:
University of Wisconsin, 1977), pp. 95, 104-105.
5Time, 112 (June 19, 1978), 36; The Cincinnati Enquirer (July 7, 1978),
6Time, 112 (July 24,1978),19; idem, 112 (Aug. 28,1978), 20.
7Lawrence Svobida, An Empire of Dust (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers,
1940), pp. 15, 17.
8Marion I. Newbigin, The Mediterranean Lands (London: Christophers,
1924); Ellen C. Semple, The Geography of the Mediterranean
Region (New York: Henry Holt, 1931); Erwin R. Biel, Climatology
of the Mediterranean Area (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1944);
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 200c
Michael Grant, The Ancient Mediterranean (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1969).
9T. J. Jones, Quelle, Brunnen und Zisterne im A.T. (Leipzig: Morgenland.
Texte und Forschungen, 1928); Cyril E. N. Bromehead, "The Early
History of Water Supply," Geographical Journal 99 (1942), 142-51;
J. G. D. Clark, "Water in Antiquity," Antiquity 18 (1944), 1-15.
10Robert J. Braidwood, The Near East and the Foundations for Civilization
(Eugene, Oregon: Oregon State System of Higher Education, 1962),
pp. 11-13. Two other areas that independently developed the
domestication of crops are Thailand and Mexico. See Edwin M.
Yamauchi, "Problems of Radiocarbon Dating and of Cultural
Diffusion in Pre-History," J.A.S.A. 27 (1975), 25-31.
11M. A. Beek, Atlas of Mesopotamia (London: Thomas Nelson, 1962),
12Cf. The Hammurabi Law Code, ## 53-57; Stanley Walters, Waters for
Larsa (New Haven: Yale University, 1971).
13S. N. Kramer, The Sumerians (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1963), p.
143; cf. J. B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East (Princeton:
Princeton University, 1969), p. 612.
14Alan Moorehead, The White Nile (New York: Haper& Row, 1971); idem,
The Blue Nile (New York: Harper & Row, 1972).
15Richard Parker, The Calendars of Ancient Egypt (Chicago: University of
Chicago, 1950); P. Montet, Everyday Life in Egypt (London: Edward
Arnold, 1958), pp. 31-33.
16P. Montet, Egypt and the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), pp. 3-4.
17K. W. Butzer, Early Hydraulic Civilization in Egypt (Chicago:
University of Chicago, 1976).
18Hermann Kees, Ancient Egypt: A Cultural Topography (Chicago: Uni-
versity of Chicago, 1961), p. 47.
19A. Zimmern, The Greek Commonwealth (New York: Oxford University,
1961), pp. 36-40; cf. M. Cary, The Geographic Background of Greek
and Roman History (New York: Oxford University, 1952).
20Rhys Carpenter, Discontinuity in Greek Civilization (Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University, 1966).
21E. Wright, "Climatic Changes in Mycenaean Greece," Antiquity 42
22Bryson and Murray (note 4), p. 16; R. A. Bryson, H. H. Lamb, and D. L.
Donley, "Drought and the Decline of Mycenae," Antiquity 48
23Robert Claiborne, Climate, Man and History (New York: W. W. Norton,
1970), p. 326.
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 200d
24Edwin M. Yamauchi, "Homer, History and Archaeology," Bulletin of the
Near East Archaeological Society 3 (1973), 36; idem, Greece and
Babylon (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967), pp. 42-46.
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 201a
25Edwin M. Yamauchi, "Palestine," Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, ed. C. F.
Pfeiffer, H. F. Voss, and J. Rea (Chicago: Moody, 1975), II, 1270-
72. In general, the climate of Palestine has remained more or less the
same since New Testament times. D. Sperber, "Drought, Famine and
Pestilence in Amoraic Palestine," Journal of the Economic and
Social History of the Orient 17 (1974), 272, writes: "While it is
known that there were no significant climatic changes in Palestine
over the last two thousand years. . . , undoubtedly there were
climatic ups-and-downs within this period."
On the other hand, for Old Testament times palynological
analyses, that is, studies of pollen from boreholes from the Hula
Valley and the Mediterranean coast, indicate periods of a more
humid climate at certain eras. A. Horowitz, "Human Settlement
Pattern in Israel," Expedition 20 (1978), 58, concludes: "A more
favorable climate returned during Middle Bronze Age II and to some
extent also during the Late Bronze Age when, it may be recalled,
Israel was regarded as a 'land of milk and honey.' "
26M. Harel, "Reduced Aridity in Eastern Lower Galilee," Israel Exploration
Journal 7 (1957), 256-63.
27Efraim Orni and Elisha Efrat, Geography of Israel (Jerusalem: Israel
Program for Scientific Translations, 2nd ed., 1966), pp. 108-11.
28D. H. K. Amiran and M. Gilead, "Early Excessive Rainfall and Soil Ero-
sion in Israel," Israel Exploration Journal 4 (1954), 295: ". . . the
basic conditions for the development of excessive rain appear to be
the formation of extended upper troughs reaching in a meridional
direction from polar latitudes into the Eastern Mediterranean,
together with the formation of a Cyprus Low."
29Orni and Efrat, pp. 111-15. Note: 1" of rain =25.4 mm.; conversely 1
mm. = .03937".
30Orni and Efrat, p. 114: "Between November and February almost 70%
of the annual rainfall occurs." Biehl, p. 89, table 25, lists the
frequency of days with precipitation.
31R. Patai, "The Control of Rain in Ancient Palestine," Hebrew Union Col-
lege Annual 14 (1939), 283: "The ancient Jewish inhabitants of
Palestine knew also more certain signs by means of which they
could guess whether rain would fall, and in what quantity. A sure
sign of rain were the clouds called 'PWRHWT,' i.e., thin clouds
below thick clouds. . . . Bright clouds were regarded as an omen of
light rain, dark clouds as of heavy rain." Cf. Mat. 16:2-3.
32Semple (note 8), p. 506: "Modern records show that the rainfall at Jerusa-
lem fluctuates between 12.5 and 42 inches (318 mm. and 1,091
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 201b
mm.); that during the sixty years from 1850 to 1910 it dropped
twelve times below the critical 20 inches (500 mm.) " Orni and
Efrat, p. 116: "Drought years in Israel are frequent, and often affect
the entire country. In 1950/51, for example, only 35% of the
annual average fell on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee,
43% in Jerusalem, 53% in Haifa, and 65% in Tel-Aviv. Often
there are series of drought years, as in the five winters between
autumn 1958 and spring 1963." Cf. J. Neumann, "On the Incidence
of Dry and Wet Years," Israel Exploration Journal 6 (1956), 58-63.
33D. Sharon, Variability of Rainfall in Israel," Israel Exploration Journal
15 (1965), 169-76.
34N. Rosenan, "One Hundred Years of Rainfall in Jerusalem," Israel Ex-
ploration Journal 5 (1955), 137-53; A. Bitan-Buttenwieser, "A
Comparison of Sixty Years' Rainfall between Jerusalem and Tel
Aviv," Israel Exploration Journal 13 (1963), 242-46.
35M. Zohary, "Ecological Studies in the Vegetation of the Near Eastern
Deserts," Israel Exploration Journal 2 (1952), 202.
36M. Evenari and D. Koller, "Ancient Masters of the Desert," Scientific
American 194 (April, 1956), 39; N. Glueck, Rivers in the Desert
(New York: Grove Press, rev. ed., 1960), pp. 210-25; Philip
Hammond, "Desert Waterworks of the Ancient Nabataeans,"
Natural History 76 (June-July, 1967), 36-43; J. I. Lawlor, The
Nabataeans in Historical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker,
37W. C. Lowdermilk, "The Reclamation of a Man-Made Desert," Scienti-
fic American 202 (March, 1960), 54-63; M. Evenari, L. Shanon, and
N. Tadmor, The Negev (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1971).
38D. Ashbel, "Frequency and Distribution of Dew in Palestine,"
Geographical Review 39 (1949), 294: "As is well known, the Negeb
is the region poorest in rainfall; in dew formation, however, it is the
richest in Palestine." Cf. M. Gilead and N. Rosenan, "Ten Years of
Dew Observation in Israel," Israel Exploration Journal 4 (1954),
39S. N. Kramer, The Sacred Marriage Rite (Bloomington: Indiana Univer-
sity, 1969), p. 51.
40Cf. Gen. 7:11.
41W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atra-Hasis: The Babylonian Story of
the Flood (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969), p. 73.
42Ibid., p. 75.
43A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1963),
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 201c
44J.B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton: Princeton Un-
iversity, rev. ed., 1955), p. 108; Edwin M. Yamauchi, "Descent of
Ishtar," in The Biblical World, ed. C. Pfeiffer (Grand Rapids: Baker
1966), pp. 196-200.
45Cf. Kramer (note 39); Edwin M. Yamauchi, "Cultic Prostitution," in
Orient and Occident, ed. H. A. Hoffner (Kevelaer: Butzon und
Bercker 1973), pp. 213-22.
46J. Gwyn Griffiths, "Hecataeus and Herodotus on 'A Gift of the River',"
Journal of Near Eastern Studies 25 (1966), 57-61.
47J. H. Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt
(New York: Harper & Bros., 1959), p. 21. Cf. E. A. W. Budge, The
Nile (London: Thomas Cook & Sons, 1901); idem, Osiris (New
Hyde Park: University Books, 1961); J. Vandier, La religion
egyptienne (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1949), pp. 59 ff.
48The Metamorphoses of Ovid, tr. Mary M. Innes (Baltimore: Penguin,
1955), pp. 127 ff.
49C. Kere nyi, Eleusis (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967), pp. 34 ff.
50M. P. Nilsson, Greek Folk Religion (New York: Harper & Bros., 1961),
51Denis Baly and A. D. Tushingham, Atlas of the Biblical World (New
York: The World Pub., 1971), p. 48.
52John Gray, The Canaanites (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964),
53A. R. Millard, "The Canaanites," in Peoples of Old Testament Times, ed.
D. J. Wiseman (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973), p. 45.
54G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark,
1956), p. 59.
55C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Literature (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute,
1949), pp. 4-5; idem, "Canaanite Mythology," in Mythologies of the
Ancient World, ed. S. N. Kramer (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday &
Co., 1961), p. 184.
56Cf. J. G. Frazer, The New Golden Bough, ed. T. H. Gaster (Garden City.
N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1961), pp. 21-27, 77-78; U. Basgoz,
"Rain-making Ceremonies in Turkey and Seasonal Festivals,"
Journal of the American Oriental Society 87 (1967), 304-306.
57Patai (note 31), p. 254.
58E.g. Lynn White (reference 1), p. 1205.
59John Black, The Dominion of Man: The Search for Ecological Responsi-
bility (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, 1970), p. 46.
60Glacken (reference 2), p. 166.
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 201d
61E. M. Blaiklock, The Psalms of the Great Rebellion (London: Lakeland,
1970), p. 39.
62Hughes (note 2), p. 149.
63M. Dahood, Psalms I (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1966) pp.
64The writer of Hebrews (6:7) uses as an illustration of those who respond
or do not respond to God's grace the following: "For land which has
drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation
useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing
65Res Gestae Divi Augusti, ed. P. A. Brunt and J. M. Moore (London:
Oxford University, 1967), p. 21.
66Kenneth S. Gapp, "The Universal Famine under Claudius," Harvard The-
ological Review 28 (1935), 259.
67Ibid., p. 265.
68Ibid., p. 261. George E. Mendenhall, "The Ancient in the Modern," in
Michigan Oriental Studies in Honor of George C. Cameron (Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan, 1976), p. 234, likewise observes that
famines often involve social as well as natural factors: "The many
references to famine that almost always accompany warfare and
disintegration cannot therefore be explained as archaeologists always
tend to do-by appealing to natural phenomena such as drought. The
repeated references in available sources to emergency shipment of
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 202a
proves beyond question that regions quite near the center of famine
have an available surplus. The famine is therefore the result of
complex socio-economic processes."
69Edwin M. Yamauchi, "The Daily Bread Motif in Antiquity," Westminster
Theological Journal 28 (1966), 145-56.
70Edwin M. Yamauchi, "How the Early Church Responded to Social Pro-
blems, Christianity Today 17 (Nov. 24, 1972), 6-8; Adolf Harnack,
The Mission and Expansion of Christianity (New York: Harper &
Bros., 1961), pp. 153 ff.; Martin Hengel, Property and Riches in
the Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975).
71Patai (reference 31), p. 251.
72Sperber (reference 25), p. 273.
73The Mishnah, tr. H. Danby (London: Oxford University, 1933), pp.
74Sperber, p. 285.
75Cited in Patai, p. 282. Cf. J. Goldin, "On Honi (Onias) the Circle-Maker:
A Demanding Prayer," Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963), 233-
37; G. F. Moore, Judaism (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1955),
76Patai, p. 285.
77A New Stevenson, ed. J. Stevenson (London: S.P.C.K., 1957), p. 169.
78Arnobius, "Against the Heathens," tr. Hamilton Bryce and Hugh Camp-
bell, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), VI,
79Augustine, The City of God, tr. Marcus Dods (New York: Modern
Library, 1950), p. 107.
80Cited in Sperber, p. 297.
81Cf. Gordon in Kramer (note 55), p. 184. Cf. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie,
Times of Feast, Times of Famine (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday &
Co., 1971), p. 256: "At all events, the little optimum of the Middle
Ages caused Europe to experience various gusts of warmth, and
even sometimes great heat. These were responsible for the plagues
of locusts which in the ninth-twelfth centuries sometimes spread
over vast areas, sometimes far to the north. In A.D. 873, a time of
great famine, they were found from Germany to Spain; during the
autumn of 1195, they reached as far as Hungary and Austria."
82Kramer, The Sacred Marriage Rite (reference 39), p. 47.
83Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (reference 54), p. 33.
84J. A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire (Rome: Pontifical
Biblical Institute, 1967), p. 15.
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 202b
85D. J. Wiseman, The Vassal-Treaties of Esarhaddon (London: British
School of Archaeology in Iraq, 1958), p. 74; cf. p. 62.
86See Edwin M. Yamauchi, "arbeh," "gazam," "hagab," "hasil,"
"hargol," "yeleq," in A Theological Word Book of the Old
Testament, ed. R. L. Harris, Gleason Archer, and Bruce Waltke
(Chicago: Moody, forthcoming).
87Greta Hort, "The Plagues of Egypt," Zeitschrift fur alttestamentliche
Wissenschajt 70 (1958), 49-54. U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the
Book of Exodus (Jerusalem; Magnes, 1967), p. 124: "The locusts
will even enter into the houses (it happened for example, in Israel in
the year 1865, that the locusts in their multitudes invaded the houses
by way of the windows and doors). . . . " Cf. Exodus 10:6.
88L. Kohler, "Die Bezeichnungen der Heuschrecke im Alten Testament,"
Zeitschrift der Deutschen Palastina-Vereins 49 (1926), 328-31;
George Cansdale, All the Animals of the Bible Lands (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1970), pp. 238-44: Fauna and Flora of the Bible
(London: United Bible Societies, 1972), pp. 53-54.
In Lev. 11:22 the arbeh and three other types of locusts are listed
as edible insects. Bas reliefs from Nineveh show servants bringing
skewered locusts for Sennacherib's table.
John the Baptist (Mat. 3:4; Mark 1:6) subsisted on honey and
locusts. Cf. F. I. Andersen, "The Diet of John the Baptist," Abr
Nahrain 3 (1961-62),60-75; C. H. H. Scobie, John the Baptist
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964), pp. 138-39.
The Damascus Document of the Dead Sea Scrolls stipulates: "As
for the various kinds of locust, these are to be put in fire or water
while they are still alive; for that is what their nature demands." The
Dead Sea Scriptures, tr. T. H. Gaster (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday
& Co., 3rd ed., 1976), p. 85.
Many Africans and Arabs after removing the wings, legs, and
heads eat locusts either cooked or ground up as flour.
89Stanley Baron, The Desert Locust (New York: Charles Scribner's, 1972),
p. 30. Cf. F. S. Bodenheimer, Animal Life in Palestine (Jerusalem: L.
Mayer, 1935), pp. 309-24; B. Uvarov, Grasshoppers and Locusts I
(Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1966).
90John D. Whiting, "Jerusalem's Locust Plague," The National Geo-
graphic 28 (Dec., 1915), 511-50.
91Baron, p. ix.
92Ibid., p. 123. Augustine (note 79), p. 108, reports with some exaggera-
tion a locust plague of 204 B.C. as follows: "One may also read that
ANCIENT ECOLOGIES AND THE BIBLE 202c
Africa, which had by that time become a province of Rome, was
visited by a prodigious multitude of locusts, which, after consuming
the fruit and foliage of the trees, were driven into the sea in one vast
and measureless cloud; so that when they were drowned and cast
upon the shore the air was polluted, and so serious a pestilence
produced that in the kingdom of Masinissa alone they say there
perished 800,000 persons, besides a much greater number in the
neighboring districts. At Utica they assure as that, of 30,000 soldiers
then garrisoning it, there survived only ten."
93S. R. Driver, The Books of Joel and Amos (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity, 1897), pp. 82-91; Ovid R. Sellers, "Stages of Locust in Joel,"
American Journal of Semitic Languages 52 (1935-36), 81-85; John
A. Thompson, "Joel's Locusts in the Light of Near Eastern
Parallels," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 14 (1955), 52-55.
94Whiting, p. 516: "Each female, now loaded with eggs, seeks a place
suitable to deposit them, and with her ovipositors is able to sink a
hole as much as 4 inches deep through hard compact soil, such as
would try the strength of human muscles even with iron tools."
95In Joel 1:4 and 2:25 the yeleq may represent the young larval stage of the
locust. The New English Bible and Jerusalem Bible suggest
"hopper." But in Jer. 51:27 the yeleq is described as "rough,"
alluding to the horn-like sheath which covers the rudimentary wings
of the nymph stage. In Nah. 3:16 the latest nymph stage is indicated
as the locust moults and then unfurls its wings.
960. R. Gurney and J. J. Finkelstein, ed., The Sultantepe Tablets (London:
British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara, 1957), p. 243, cited in
Hayim Tawil, "A Curse Concerning Crop-Consuming Insects in the
Sefire Treaty and in Akkadian," Bulletin of the American Schools of
Oriental Research 225 (Feb., 1977), 59-62.
97W. R. Halliday, Greek and Roman Folklore (New York: Cooper Square,
1963), p. 60.
98Danby (reference 73), p. 198.
99Edwin M. Yamauchi, "Anthropomorphism in Ancient Religion," Biblio-
theca Sacra 125 (1968), 29-44.
100C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1947), p. 140.
101C. F. D. Moule, Man and Nature in the New Testament (Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1967), pp. 20-21.
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