Food in the Bible: Revisited

I started my last semester of seminary Monday. I’m taking Scriptures I, which as you might guess, starts at the beginning. So I’m back in Genesis 1-2 reading even more carefully and taking more notes. I won’t go back over the ground we’ve covered so far, but might add some new insights from my re-reading.

Here are two things I noticed this time around:

1. In verse 2:15 the human is given to garden and till the ground. Later, after the Fall, tilling the ground is considered a curse because it will be difficult for them to produce food from the soil. In chapter 2 working the land for food is not a curse. Many people have the idea that the perfection of heaven, paradise or Eden involves swinging on a hammock drinking lemonade and doing nothing. The biblical picture is clear that work is not evil or a curse. It is an intrinsically good part of creation that we work. The modern food system separates the majority of people from this kind of work, work that is directly connected to their own sustenance. Marx was certainly on to something about modern labor alienating people from the product of their labor. The Bible also talks about this as part fo the injustice perpetrated by Israel prior to the exile. They oppressed the poor and exploited their labor. Ironically this is exactly what was done to Israel in their most formative event, the Exodus.

So, the take away here is that work, specifically work that is not exploitive, is an essential part of what it means to be human. It also points out the way we were originally intended to enjoy producing our own food and be intimately connected to the land.

2. The other thing is a little more obscure, but I thought it worth mentioning. In the first creation account the only land animals mentioned by name are cattle (1:24), a domesticated species. They are in fact distinguished from the general category of “wild animals.” How could there be domesticated animals such as cattle before humanity was even created? (Hint: I don’t take this account as a literal historical account) I’ve talked about this before, but people who have become disillusioned with much of our modern food system, technology, etc. often hold an idyllic view of nature that is wild, pristine and untouched by human hands. I think this is as much a problematic perspective as the worship of modern agribusiness as the golden calf of world hunger. Even in the biblical creation account domestic animals are present in the beginning and that is significant.

Taken along with the previous point it is clear that the writer of Genesis 1 was aware of agrarian cultures and practices to some extent and was willing to make them part of the intrinsically good creation. Now quit reading blogs and get to work!

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