A covenant to keep the forces of chaos at bay

The book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew Testament discusses at large an ecological crisis around 600 BC in the so called “Fertile Crescent” (a region encompassing today’s southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, and parts of Turkey and Iran). According to Michael S. Northcott in his book “A moral Climate” the crisis was brought about by agricultural over-exploitation of the land. The book of Jeremiah can thus be regarded as another climate narrative. The peoples of the Fertile Crescent were river peoples, their culture thrived on the waters of three rivers: Euphrat, Tigris and Nile. The ocean on the other hand was “seen as the primeval source of chaos, and this perhaps presents a cultural memory of prehistory in which the oceans had covered far more of the land than they have since the end of the last ice age,” writes Northcott. “For Jeremiah, the covenant that Yahweh made with the Israelites after their release from slavery in Egypt was therefore a cosmic covenant in which human work on creation ought to recognise the sustaining creative powers of the Lord of the earth in keeping the forces of chaos at bay:

Do you not fear me? says the Lord;
Do you not tremble before me?
I placed the sand as a boundary before the sea,
a perpetual barrier which it can not pass;
though the waves toss, they can not prevail,
though they roar, they can not pass over it. [Jeremiah 5:22]”

In this passage from the ancient text, the sand on the beach is seen as the creative invention of the deity to keep the ocean where it belongs and the land with it’s human habitats where it belongs. It’s part of a greater deal, so to speak. In 600 BC the ocean did not rise over the beach. In the present however, humans have not only begun to destroy beaches worldwide by extracitivist exploitation, the seas also rise. How do we then read the current situation from a Jewish, Old Testament perspective?

Frazer: The flood myth

It might be time for a clarification. Since flood myths play quite a big role in cristian creationist ideology and since there is a lot of material online on the subject hosted on creatonist propaganda websites, I feel I need to distance myself from the creationist idoelogy once and for all. I am arguing in this blog that mythology and folklore are aesthetic reflections of natural events like tsunamis, high tides or other extreme weather phenomena. In othe words, most myths are most likely creative renditions of lived experience. This does however not mean that myths are true or – for that matter – that the bible is right. In fact I am opposed to any creationist ideology, particularly of the US-American Christian ultra-right, and fundamentally opposed to the idea of founding ethical codes of conduct on religious authority.

Having said that much, here is an online source of a chapter from Sir James George Frazer‘s book “Folk-Lore in the Old Testament” from 1918. (On a creationist website…)

The Scotish scientist Frazer is one of the founding fathers of anthropology and his study “The Golden Bough” (1928) became one of the most influential and popular texts in anthropology.

This is the section from “Folk-Lore in the Old Testament” on the flood myth. In it he gives a very detailed account of several flood myths from all continents: