- The Book of Black Fire:An Eco-Theology of Revelation
Rabbi Pinḥas says in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish: The Torah that the blessed Holy One gave to Moses was given as white fire written on black fire. It was fire, mixed with fire, hewn from fire, and given by fire, as is written: "From His right, a fiery law to them" (Deuteronomy 33:2).—JT Shekalim 6:1
What does it mean when we say we believe in the revelation of the word of God? In the Abrahamic faiths, this usually refers to the belief that God has communicated with humans through a prophet (or prophets) and that communication was then written down. Thus those who identify themselves as fundamentalist Christians claim that the (Christian) Bible is "the true word of God" and, therefore, inerrant and unchangeable. Revelation, however, whether from a biblical or a modern theological perspective, is in fact a more complicated process. And when one considers the creation of a modern religious response to the environmental crisis, what we believe about how God communicates will have a significant impact on the way that response will be shaped—for revelation creates and shapes the values and normative actions of a religious community.
In rabbinic Judaism, revelation is one of the three central categories of divine action—Creation, Revelation, and Redemption—which have been codified in the traditional liturgy.1 In modern Jewish theology since the [End Page 132] nineteenth century, the category of Revelation has received the most attention because of the impact of the historical analysis of the Bible.2 In recent Jewish environmental theology Creation has been the central concern, while the categories of Revelation and Redemption have been mostly ignored.3 This lack of theological attention has created a disconnection between Jewish environmental theology and the other major concerns of modern Jewish theology, and it has also meant that Jewish environmental theology has been unable to generate the creative new moral imperatives and ritual practices necessary to deal more comprehensively with the environmental crisis.
In his article on Process Thought and Judaism, Brad Artson shows how a process theology of revelation can emphasize human partnership with God in an ongoing dynamic relationship. While he shows how this approach is fully compatible with Jewish sources, he does not go far enough in showing the radical implications of such a theology of revelation. In particular, he does not integrate sufficiently the implications for theology of the modern scientific worldview. In this article I will show how a process theology of revelation can broaden and deepen Jewish environmental spirituality and ethics.
A theologian who has fully explored the implications of Process Thought for modern eco-theology is Thomas Berry, who asserted that, in this age of environmental crisis, Creation itself must be our primary source of revelation. According to Berry, reading Creation today means learning the new "story" of Creation from the modern sciences of cosmology, evolutionary biology, and ecology. This new theology of revelation must be formulated in the context of science, historical analysis of the Bible, and the ways people spiritually respond to the natural world. In creating this eco-theology of revelation, I will be following the method that Process theologian David Ray Griffin calls "Constructive Post-Modernism":
It seeks to overcome the modern worldview not by eliminating the possibility of worldviews as such, but by constructing a postmodern worldview through a revision of modern premises and traditional concepts. This constructive or revisionary postmodernism involves a new unity of scientific, ethical, aesthetic, [End Page 133] and religious intuitions. It rejects not science as such but only that scientism in which the data of the modern natural sciences are alone allowed to contribute to the construction of our worldview.4
Through this methodology science can help illuminate meaning in the universe, while religion can infuse science with ethical responsibility. In fact, following Thomas Berry and also the work of Norbert Samuelson, the facts of modern science are essential to a modern theology of revelation.5
Jewish Law and Environmentalism
In a Jewish context, a theology of revelation is pivotal as well as to how halakhah is created and...