Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
Tikkun of the Fertile Soil
by Ellen Davis
The very first topic the Bible addresses at any length is food sufficiency for all creatures.
In Genesis 1, the only feature of "the dry land" that receives extended attention is the primordial food chains: the wealth and diversity of "seed" that God has provided. "Here, I have given you all this for eating," God says: grains and tree fruit for humans (meat-eating comes later, after the flood) and green plants for the other animals (Genesis 1:29-30). Notably, this careful delineation of the food supply follows immediately after the divine charge that humans should "exercise skilled mastery among" the other creatures. (This is a better translation of Genesis 1:28 than the conventional rendering, "have dominion over.") So we should probably infer that this is the primary and enduring form of skilled mastery that humans are meant to exercise: recognizing the God-given sufficiency of food for all creatures, and then working to perpetuate this sufficiency.
If that is indeed the special role of humans among the creatures (not "over" them), then we have fallen far short of our charge in this generation. In our time, largely as a result of our current practices of industrialized agriculture, the fertility of "the dry land" is severely compromised all over the world; food chains and ecosystems are collapsing and extinction rates are soaring; human food systems -- involving food production, processing, transport, and distribution -- are strained, fragile, or broken; and hunger is again on the rise. In this generation, we must attempt tikkun olam by learning what is required for all creatures, including all humans, to eat sufficiently. And we must learn how to restore and protect our soil and water supplies in perpetuity. Eating faithfully, doing tikkun of the fertile soil -- these are the hopeful and healing forms of skilled mastery we must exercise, for the sake of our children's children and the world that God has made.
Ellen F. Davis is the A. R. Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC, and author of Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (Cambridge, 2009).
Her articles in Tikkun also include "The Bible and Our Topsoil," July/August 2004.
Source Citation: Davis, Ellen. 2011. Tikkun of the Fertile Soil. Tikkun 26(1): 36