The Dictionary of Nature Imagery of the Bible (DNI) is an exegetical tool for biblical scholars and students worldwide.
The corpus for DNI is mainly the Hebrew Bible, although Second Temple literature and the New Testament will be addressed as they elucidate passages in the Hebrew Bible.
DNI will also give professionals in the various fields of ecology access to the use of nature imagery in the literary texts of the Bible.
The ecology of the land of Israel and its surrounding areas (the Levant, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the East Mediterranean regions) is the natural context in which the Bible was written. Narratives, prophecies, psalmodic and other poetic compositions, and wisdom proverbs, all involve nature in two principal ways. The first is circumstantial. Natural conditions often appear among the expositional details of a story, they form the realia or conditions of everyday life that appear at either the foreground or the background of stories or prophecies (as in Judges 6:11, where Gideon is “beating out wheat inside a winepress”). The second is figurative. Authors use nature imagery in various kinds of figurative expression: image, metaphor, fable, parable, allegory, etc. (as in the vineyard parable of Isaiah 5, and many more). The latter is much more prevalent in the Hebrew Bible and forms the focus of the proposed project.
Knowledge of Israel’s ecology is thus essential for exegesis. Biblical scholars are trained to explain the text in front of them in its textual, linguistic, historical, cultural, sociological, and theological contexts. Attention to the natural context in which the Hebrew Bible was written has been sporadic and fragmentary (or non-academic). More so, the materials remain out of reach to many biblical scholars, who are not trained in science and who alas, at times even consider those irrelevant to their exegetical work. DNI is designed to expand the exegetical toolbox by becoming a recognized tool that biblical scholars can turn to when addressing aspects of nature and landscape as part of their critical scholarship.
The DNI project takes an interdisciplinary approach. On the literary side, it is focused on the Bible’s use of nature metaphors and imagery, using philological tools to examine the literary corpora with clear sensitivity to differences of genre, authorship, and compositional history, employing the rich and varied critical methodologies of biblical studies. On the ecological side, DNI addresses five fields of nature: fauna, flora, landscape characteristics, climate systems, and water sources, each studied according to its specific methodology by professionals in the respective fields. In addition, material culture findings are introduced where relevant, bringing mainly the data of archaeobotany, arachaeozoology, and iconography, based on excavations from the second and mostly first millennia BCE in the land of Israel, the Levant, within the ancient Near East, and the Eastern Mediterranean at large.
The land of Israel and its environs had a diverse array of fauna. DNI divides fauna into six subcategories: wild mammals, domestic animals, birds, reptiles, insects, fish and amphibians.
Over one hundred plants are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. DNI divides them into three groups: wild plants, from trees to thorns; plants used in agriculture, including their products; and groups of plants, e.g., Zimrat Ha’aretz, or the Seven Species with their paradigmatic products: dagan, tirosh, and yitzhar.
Biblical authors describe, or implicitly reveal, geomorphological and phytogeographical characteristics of the land of Israel and its environs. DNI refers to both core areas and periphery, in the land and its surroundings, looking at man made landscapes, as also on the geology and natural sources.
Biblical authors experienced the climate of the land of Israel and its environs year-round and described several of its features. DNI brings entries on the seasons, winds, precipitation, as also on the horrendous impact of drought on humans and animals alike.
Water in the land of Israel involves special issues, particularly of shortage, especially in comparison to the rivers of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Biblical authors refer to water reservoirs, springs, and watercourses, such as rivers and wadis.
Each DNI entry brings two phases of learning:
- A study of the biological and ecological data in an effort to clarify what was common knowledge to biblical authors and present the ways in which such knowledge appears in the different texts.
- A full interpretive discussion of each nature imagery from its biological / ecological background to its literary use in the Bible.
These two phases require thorough studies of the nature imagery in these different fields and in different literary compositions.
Each DNI entry opens with the name of the item in Hebrew (and transliteration), English, the Latin systematic name, and other names in cognate languages as appropriate; followed by a discussion structured to address six layers of information in an effort to be comprehensive: (1) biblical data, that introduces different aspect of its attestations in the Bible. Of great interest (and not least difficulties) is the matter of (2) the history of identification. DNI brings the information from ancient versions and translations (up to modern translations), and suggests a discussion of the data. These two phases are followed by a study of the (3) biological information, such as its habitat, life history, and it biological characteristics. Attention is also given to (4) the material culture as discovered through archaeological artifacts, mainly in the fields of archaeobotany, archaeozoology and iconography. These four basic fields of information pave the way for (5) exegetical studies of the ways each nature image is used in specific biblical texts. While not always possible, DNI aims to offer a full interpretation of each element of nature imagery in its biblical context. Finally, (6) the reception literature, including Second Temple literature, the New Testament, and Jewish and Christian exegetical traditions, is presented whenever it employs the particular nature image in question.