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Drought, Famine, Plague and Pestilence


Ancient Israel’s Understandings of and Responses to Natural Catastrophes


This interdisciplinary study integrates textual analysis of the Hebrew Bible and comparable ancient Near Eastern material with social theory and archaeology in order to articulate the ancient Israelites' taken-for-granted understandings of natural disasters, their intellectual and theological challenges to those understandings, and their intellectual and theological reconstructions thereof.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-0374-0
  • *
Publication Status: In Print

Publication Date: Jun 11,2014
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 210
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0374-0
$80.00
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This interdisciplinary study integrates textual analysis of the Hebrew Bible and comparable ancient Near Eastern material with social theory and archaeology in order to articulate the ancient Israelites' understandings of natural disasters, their intellectual and theological challenges to those understandings, and their intellectual and theological reconstructions thereof.

After a survey of textual and archaeological evidence for natural disasters in the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world, Robertson demonstrates that common understandings of them are cast in terms of punishment for covenant infidelity. However, when natural disasters are understood as such, their arbitrary destruction challenges those taken-for-granted assumptions. The clash between cognitive expectation and experiential reality produces cognitive dissonance. Responses, then, come in the attempt to return to cognitive, if not social, stability.

Several responses were practiced and articulated by the ancient Israelites regarding the retributive understanding of natural (and other communal) disasters: avoid and/or attempt to prevent the disrupting experience through the use of apotropaic and other ritual techniques, protest the suffering of the innocent, revise assumptions about divine punishment and/or divine character, revise assumptions about human actions, or despair at the lack of identification of any correlation between human action and divine punishment.

This interdisciplinary study integrates textual analysis of the Hebrew Bible and comparable ancient Near Eastern material with social theory and archaeology in order to articulate the ancient Israelites' understandings of natural disasters, their intellectual and theological challenges to those understandings, and their intellectual and theological reconstructions thereof.

After a survey of textual and archaeological evidence for natural disasters in the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world, Robertson demonstrates that common understandings of them are cast in terms of punishment for covenant infidelity. However, when natural disasters are understood as such, their arbitrary destruction challenges those taken-for-granted assumptions. The clash between cognitive expectation and experiential reality produces cognitive dissonance. Responses, then, come in the attempt to return to cognitive, if not social, stability.

Several responses were practiced and articulated by the ancient Israelites regarding the retributive understanding of natural (and other communal) disasters: avoid and/or attempt to prevent the disrupting experience through the use of apotropaic and other ritual techniques, protest the suffering of the innocent, revise assumptions about divine punishment and/or divine character, revise assumptions about human actions, or despair at the lack of identification of any correlation between human action and divine punishment.

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Contributor Biography

Warren Robertson

Warren Calhoun Robertson is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Gardner-Webb University Divinity School, Boiling Springs, North Carolina. He holds an MDiv degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a ThM degree from Harvard Divinity School, and an MPhil and PhD degrees from Drew University. He teaches primarily in the area of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

  • Acknowledgments (page 7)
  • Table of Contents (page 9)
  • Abbreviations (page 11)
  • Chapter 1: Introduction (page 15)
    • Why Study Understandings of and Responses to Natural Catastrophes? (page 26)
    • Thesis and Purpose of This Study (page 15)
    • Definitions of Terms (page 18)
    • Methodology and Presuppositions (page 22)
    • A Brief Survey of Related Studies (page 31)
    • Specific Studies (page 35)
    • Outline of This Study (page 39)
  • Chapter 2: Natural Catastrophes In the Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean Worlds (page 41)
  • Chapter 3: Social Theory: Doxa, Crisis and Cognitive Dissonance (page 51)
    • The Durkheimian Tradition (page 52)
    • Pierre Bourdieu and Doxa (page 57)
    • Leon Festinger and Cognitive Dissonance (page 61)
  • Chapter 4: Understandings of and Responses to Natural Catastrophes among Peoples of the Ancient Near East and Ancient Israel (page 63)
    • Treaty Curse Tradition (page 64)
    • The Flood Tradition (page 69)
    • Exodus 32:1…35 (page 77)
    • Numbers 16 (page 78)
    • 1 Samuel 4:1B…7:1 (page 79)
    • 2 Samuel 24:1…24 (page 94)
    • Prophets (page 95)
    • Discussion (page 99)
      • Intellectual Challenges (page 102)
      • Theological Reformulations (page 110)
    • Summary (page 113)
  • Chapter 5: Practical and Ritualistic Responses to Natural Catastrophes among Peoples of the Ancient Near East, Including Ancient Israel (page 117)
    • Practical Responses (page 117)
    • Ritualistic Responses (page 121)
      • Personal/Family Piety and Local Practice (page 121)
      • Official and/or State Religious Responses (page 138)
  • Chapter 6: Summary and Conclusions (page 147)
  • Appendix A: The Late Israelite/Judean Monarchy: an Era of Cumulative Trauma (page 153)
  • Appendix B: Durkheimian Social Theory in Old Testament Study and Recent Sociology (page 159)
  • Appendix C: Curses from Ancient Near Eastern Texts (page 163)
    • Laws of Hammurapi (page 163)
    • The Soldiers Oath (page 164)
    • Inscription from Tell Fekheriye (page 165)
    • The Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon (page 166)
  • Bibliography (page 169)
  • Index (page 207)
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