Conceptualizing Nature in Eastern Mediterranean Cultures

of the Second-First Millennia BCE:

The Use of Textual and Pictorial Evidence


Steinhardt Museum of Natural History

at Tel Aviv University

May 14th18th 2023


Organizing Committee

Izaak de Hulster, Universities of Göttingen and Helsinki

Joel LeMon, Emory University

Dalit Rom-Shiloni, Tel Aviv University



Sunday, May 14

Session 1: 9:30–10:30         Introduction 

Moderator: Joel LeMon


Session 2: 10:45–12:45       World Orders and Cosmology


Wayne Horowitz, Department of Assyriology, Hebrew University

“Geometric Patterns in the Cuneiform View of The Universe"  

In my Phd Thesis and two printings of my book 'Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography,' I edited and studied a number of ancient texts that spoke of and even gave drawings of features of the physical universe as standard geometric shapes.  For example, 'the circle in a circle' on the Babylonian World Map, and the square and triangles on the compass card from the Resh Temple in late-period Uruk.  In this paper, I will explore how such geometric views of the universe may have served as the starting point for the development of features of Mesopotamian astronomy in the first millennium.



Jonathan Ben-Dov, Department of Biblical Studies, Tel Aviv University

“Beyond Nature and Culture: Justice in the World Order in Amos and the Psalms”

ANE literature often posits animals and other “natural” beings as a contrast or even a threat to human civilization. The nature-culture dichotomy has been central in ANE thought, with myths such as LUGAL-E and Gilgamesh entirely woven around it, and iconography often showing the king fighting a lion to subdue the natural forces of Chaos (S. Maul). The crown jewel of Mesopotamian rituals, the Babylonian akītu, is constructed around this dichotomy too. Rituals in the Pentateuch reproduce this tension (the purification of the leper, the scapegoat ritual), and the dichotomy is well grounded in biblical literature among prophets and poets. For example, the leonine imagery in the Book of Amos, as analyzed by Strawn. However, recent trends in the humanities challenge the dichotomy. The influential anthropologist Philippe Descola claimed that non-western cultures do not distinguish humans from non-humans, assigning both an equal degree of emotion, livelihood and relationship. A similar view is promoted in ANE and biblical studies by e.g. Laura Feldt. In this paper I will point out biblical passages where the dichotomy is indeed non-existent or at least moderated. Psalm 104 – drawing on an ancient Egyptian heritage from the Amarna religion – entirely ignores the dichotomy, assigning human beings, animals and even inanimate objects to the same naturalistic perspective. My two main examples unite nature and culture by means of the agency of justice. Psalm 72 usesצדק  and  שלוםas its Leitwörter, as it posits social justice and the prosperity of nature as two sides of the same coin. An integrative reading of the Book of Amos will show a similar though less explicit conception: social justice is a constitutive principle, and its lack is intertwined with the upheaval of nature. Amos is drawn in the book as a liminal character between civilization and the wilderness. Much of the nature imagery in the book can be understood as part of the continuum, or even correlation, of culture and nature.


Anna Angelini, Faculty of Theology, University of Zürich

“Ordered Nature: Ancient Cosmologies between East and West”

Scholars have long noticed the similarities between Near Eastern and Greek cosmologies, though different epistemological assumptions and theoretical paradigms have led them to explain the significance of such parallels in various ways. Focusing on the so-called “Pre-Socratic” cosmologies as a case study, this paper aims at (1) assessing the theoretical models according to which the parallels between Greek and “Levantine” cosmologies have been interpreted. It will pay specific attention to the notion of “eastern influences” on the origins of Greek cosmologies; to the hypothesis of a cultural koine throughout the Mediterranean in the first millennium BCE, and to the idea of a “Phoenician medium” for cultural transmission between “East” and “West.” Moreover, (2) this study will show how this similar cosmological knowledge shared among ancient Mediterranean societies of the VII-VI centuries BCE prompted different or even opposite discussions about the origin of the world and the idea of a regulated nature in different cultural contexts.



Session 3: 13:45–15:45      Climate Phenomena


Hadas Saaroni, Department of Geography and the Human Environment, Tel Aviv University

“Spatial-temporal heterogeneity and extreme events in Israel's climate as fundamental factors in biblical descriptions of nature”

Israel's location, between the mid-latitudes and the subtropic belts, dictates its being a climatic border area between the Mediterranean climate to the north and the dry climate to the south. In the winter season, the area is on the southern edge of the Mediterranean cyclones’ trajectory, hence high inter-annual variability between dry years, characterized by droughts, and rainy years, together with high intra-seasonal variability with prominent dry periods within the rainy season. Local geographical factors, i.e., the sea-land interaction, the complex topography and posting, also contribute significantly to the large spatial-temporal variations in the climate of Israel. The amount of precipitation decreases sharply from north to south and from the coastal and mountainous regions towards the Jordan Rift valley.  While the summer season is characterized by small inter-daily variability, even if relatively long heat waves are common, extreme weather events are prominent in the transition seasons. These include ‘Sharav’ events accompanied by strong winds and dust storms on the one hand and torrential rains accompanied by hail and heavy floods, on the other hand, that appears mainly in the winter. This climate regime shapes Israel’s landscape and its environmental characteristics.


Reuven Givati, Departments of Geography and Biblical Studies, Tel Aviv University

 “Precipitations in Israel: Climatic Knowledge and Biblical References”

The subject of the different precipitations in Israel will be dealt: Why there is almost no rain in the summer in Israel; The different names and kinds of rain in the Bible, will be presented; What is the meaning of the Hebrew word for dew, and what is its importance; The rareness of snow in Israel; The legends of the use of hail, against the enemies of Israel.  The characteristics of the precipitations in Israel not mentioned in the Bible will be explained.


Pinhas Alpert, Department of Geophysics, Tel Aviv University

“Air Dust- Ancient Concepts from Abraham our Forefather to Present Scientific Knowledge”

Is there a connection between the power that early civilizations and the bible attributed to dust to the extent that they bowed to dust and the modern findings that have led to the fact that the main project of the first Israeli astronaut, late Ilan Ramon, dealt with dust? Early civilizations understood the important benefit of dust to vegetation. For example, even today the Bedouins in Sinai gather the dust from between the rocks and use it to fertilize their crops. In Tehran, there is the custom of taking dust from between the toes of the feet and putting it behind the ears. It is clear that many of the advantages of dust were discovered only in modern times. Such as, the positive impact on oceanic phyto-plankton and the fixation of atmospheric carbon. But why did early civilizations place such importance on dust so much so that they would bow to the dust settling on their feet. Several explanations brought by early commentaries of the Talmud and Bible, are reviewed. One of these explanations is that perhaps, dust is most similar to the Sun which was also worshipped by early civilizations. Some present researchers even came to the conclusion that dust particles or aerosols (in modern terminology) are so important to life on Earth to the point that they would even coin them the “Brain of the Earth”?


Respondent: Dalit Rom-Shiloni, Department of Biblical Studies, Tel Aviv University      



Tuesday, May 16

Moderator: Dalit Rom-Shiloni


Session 4: 9:30–11:30          Flora: Glorious Trees


Eric McDonell, Laney Graduate School, Emory University              

“What is it Like to be a Tree? Conceptualizing Transplanted Trees as Analogues for the Righteous in the Psalms”

The MT Psalter famously begins with a psalm that compares the righteous individual to a tree (עץ) (Ps 1:3). The arboreal analogue for the righteous is also picked up in Ps 92:13–14, where the righteous are compared to a palm tree (תמר) and a cedar of Lebanon (ארז בלבנון), and in Ps 52:8–10, where the psalmist compares the righteous who find refuge in God to an olive tree (זית) located within the house of God. Drawing on previous studies of tree imagery in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East, this paper contributes to an understanding of how the arboreal analogue conceptualizes not only the nature of the righteous, but also the nature of trees as an appropriate point of comparison for righteous living.  In particular, this study aims to answer the following questions: How have the psalmists conceptualized the significance of the place or landscape of a tree’s planting? In Pss 1, 52, and 92, the trees described each appear to be transplanted—how does the transplanting process inform the analogy of tree to the righteous? This paper ultimately argues that the arboreal analogy deployed in these psalms is mutually informative of the psalmists’ conceptions of the nature of both the righteous individual and the transplanted tree.


Norma Franklin, Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa

“The Assyrian Connection: Why the Palm Frond and Citron Became a Lulav and Etrog”

The Date Palm, the tree of everlasting life and the Citron, a fruit that purifies thus preserving life, appear together on the walls of Aššurnaṣirpal’s palace at Nimrud in the 9th c BCE. The Date Palm is known in the Land of Israel and mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. While the citron is more of an enigma and is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, or is it? In 1st c BCE Judah, the palm and the citron appear together as the lulav and the etrog, essential elements in the Sukkot festival. This paper traces their iconography and attributes from palace and temple to Bible and Psalm.


Johannes Seidel, Faculty of Theology, University of Jena

“The Cedar Forest on Fire (Judg 9:15) – An Analysis of a Nature Observation in the Hebrew Bible”


With the growing interest in nature in the Hebrew Bible research also started to pose the question of early traces of natural science. Recent articles point to the so called “Listenwissenschaft” or see a form of causality in proverbial sayings (e.g. Job 8:11–13; Prov 25:23; 26:20; Jer 2:21, 23–-24). One other point of interest are the observations of natural phenomena meaning images in the Bible that reflect a realistic perception of phenomena actually to be observed in nature (e.g. Prov 30:15–16, 18–19, 24–31; Jer 8:7). Although nature images have been intensely studied there yet lacks a detailed investigation of images that could be referred to as nature observations and of how they are referencing “real” nature. Thus, this lecture uses Judg 9:15 and its image of a forest fire in the cedar forest, which Kottsieper refers to as a “Naturbeobachtung”, as test case. Flanked by considering other depictions of forest fire in the Lebanon (Jer 22:7; Zech 11:1) an in-depth analysis that asks for the interplay of reality – observation – depiction is to be undertaken to answer the following questions: What is the observation in the background? What is the function of the image? What does the relation of reality, observation and depiction tell us about the ancient Israelites view on nature and the role nature played for them?


Respondent:  Shira Penner-Rosenvasser, Steinhardt Museum of Natural History (Botany), Tel Aviv University



Session 5: 11:45–13:15 Fauna 1: Prophecy and Wisdom   


Brady Beard, Laney Graduate School, Emory University

“Horses in Joel 2:4–5”

This paper will explore the description of warhorses in Joel 2:4–5 and their depiction and associated commonplaces in iconography and material culture from the ANE. In short, this paper seeks to understand what it means for something to “have the appearance of horses” (v. 4.) Particular attention will be paid to equine horse and rider figurines.  


Tova Forti, Department of Bible, Archaeology and Ancient Near East, Ben Gurion University of the Negev

“Migration and Transformation of Encoded Animal Imagery in Proverbs: Between MT and LXX”

Although many of the LXX deviations from the MT may be due to translation technique or the transmission of the Greek text, any evaluation of LXX Proverbs must take into account the protean nature of the aphoristic genre. Proverbial sayings undergo constant transformation during the course of both oral and written transmission. Some changes thus very likely represent development rather than scribal error. This study compares the MT and LXX texts of Prov 26:17 and 25:19‒20, the first of which employs canine imagery in both MT and LXX while the second only adduces the moth in LXX. This variation serves as an opportunity for reexamining earlier proposed retroversions and for discussing the methods suggested for recovering the septuagintal Vorlage. A textual and literary analysis of the two sayings in their sapiential and cultural context can help elucidate the enigma of the migration and transformation of encoded animal imagery in Proverbs.


Respondent: Haim Moyal, Department of Natural & Life Sciences (Zoology), Levinsky-Wingate college



Session 6: 14:15–16:15        Fauna 2: Cult and Liturgy  


Mark Stone, Laney Graduate School, Emory University

To Eat Is Human, to Taste, Divine: Food, Nature, and Need in Ancient Israelite Cult""

 Do ancient Israelite cultic food rituals imply that the deity relies on the realm of nature? Whereas the gods of Mesopotamia are often portrayed as relying on nature (via cultic foodstuffs) for their sustenance, scholarship has suggested that the Israelite cult seems to largely deny that Yahweh “needs” food in any real sense, leading many to proclaim that whatever elements of divine consumption remain in the Israelite cult are but vestigial remainders of a now extinct mythology. While not entirely unjustified, such a perspective is unduly influenced by a philosophical devaluation of the bodily senses. In a longstanding tradition reaching back to Plato, Kant, and Hegel, Western philosophy has tended to devalue food consumption, especially the faculties of smell and taste, as lower, animalistic faculties of humanity. Deep appreciation, let alone enjoyment, of the qualities of food and drink has usually been dismissed as gratuitous, too “natural,” and so unworthy of aesthetic reflection. Biblical scholarship has often erected a similar dichotomy when comparing the cults of Mesopotamia with ancient Israel. The implicit assumption in this perspective is that if Yahweh were to actually consume and enjoy foodstuffs then the deity would be inappropriately reliant upon nature and exhibit the unseemly symptoms of hunger and thirst. In contrast, this paper will argue that Yahweh does in fact eat and drink, but without the need for sustenance. The Israelite cult implies an idealized gastronomy with Yahweh as the prime exemplar: The hedonic consumption of food for its own sake is truly divine, and humanity is invited into this idealized relationship with nature predicated on enjoyment rather than scarcity. The polemic against “eating-as-need” in the Hebrew Bible implies that other deities are subservient to nature, merely among the agents subject to its power. Through the lens of this idealized gastronomy, it will be argued that through an analysis of cultic foodstuffs Yahweh can be envisaged as beyond but profoundly entangled with nature, partaking of food and drink not out of need but pleasure.


Yoram Cohen, Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University

 “Wild and Domesticated Sacrificial Animals in Mesopotamia”

It is well known that one of the characteristics of the ancient Near East as well as the biblical world is the large-scale sacrifice of domesticated animals, overall caprids. However, there were occasions that saw the sacrifice of wild animals, such as wild caprids, and also other species. My paper investigates these two spheres of practice within the domain of Babylonian divination and temple sacrifice on the basis of the written as well as the iconographic sources. Interests: wild animals; domestication of animals; birds; sacrifice; divination


Joel LeMon, Candler School of Theology, Emory University 

“Avian Imagery in the Psalter”

Avian imagery appears in several, strikingly diverse ways in the Psalter. Fowling is a common analogy for the describing the threats posed by the psalmists’ enemies. In these cases, avian imagery denotes the psalmist’s fragility and vulnerability. Yet in other cases, birds seem to convey freedom and a sense of hope. Avian imagery is not simply associated with humans in the Psalms. The deity also assumes a pteromorphic form in several instances. Birds are even described as notable features of the temple complex. This study explores these literary images from the Psalter in light of avian iconography in ancient Israel and the larger ancient Near East.


Session 7: 16:30–18:00          Flora and Fauna: In the Lab


Lidar Sapir-Hen, Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University

“Conceptions of wild and domestic animals during the 2nd–1st Millennia BCE: the zooarchaeological evidence”

Zooarchaeology, the study of faunal remains (horns, bones, and teeth) from archaeological deposits, often deals with the subject of human-animal interaction. Livestock herding was a common practice in the Ancient Near East during 2nd-1st Millenia BCE, and this is also evident in faunal assemblages dated to this time period. Wild animals are also found in assemblages but are scarcer. The management and consumption of wild and domestic animals are related to past population identity, its economic motivation, and its culture, and are also influenced by the local environment and historical events. Focusing on the conceptions of wild and domestic animals, exploring the economic and symbolic roles of animals may be possible through the study of their remains in various rituals that involve animals, in addition to contexts of daily life activities, when animals are used as a tool define cultural boundaries and social identities. The study of zooarchaeologcial assemblages reveal that an economic and a symbolic value may have been attributed to wild and domestic animals. This value was based on their interaction with, and their perception by, past human populations.


Dafna Langgut, Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University

“The Four Species of Sukkot: An Archaeobotanical Overview”

The Torah commands us in the Leviticus 23:40: “On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days” (NJPS). This commandment includes a reference to two known species of plants –branches of palm trees and willows of the brook, but scholars were undecided as to whether the terms “ the product of hadar trees” and “boughs of leafy trees” (etz avot) refer to specific plants or simply give general instructions. This study gathered all available relevant archaeobotanical evidence in order to address this questionThe most interesting observation in this research emerged regarding the citron. The finding of fossil pollen grains of Citrus medica  (citron) in the Royal Persian Garden in Ramat Rahel archaeological site near Jerusalem, dated to the 5th4th century BCE, marks the citron‘s earliest appearance in ancient Israel  Citrus Medica is not a tree native to the Israeli flora but was brought to the region most probably from Southeast Asia via Persia by the Persian emperors as part of their royal extravagancy. Based on textual and visual evidence it seems that the association between the citron and Pürî`ëchädär (“fruit of goodly hadar trees”) was made not later than the first century AD. It is therefore suggested that from the Persian royal gardens, the citron probably slowly penetrated into Jewish tradition and culture.


Special Event and Dinner at the Steinhardt Museum of Nature at TAU   

Keynote speaker: Dr. Uzi Paz, Beit Berl College

 “What Are the Wild Edible/Purified Animals?”




Thursday, May 18

Moderator: Izaak de Hulster


Session 8: 9:30–11:30           Landscapes


Caitlin Hubler, Laney Graduate School, Emory University  

“Sacred Ṣaphon: The Divinized Mountain in Ugaritic Texts and the Hebrew Bible” 

The category of the “natural” in the post-Enlightenment West is often invoked in opposition to the “supernatural,” denoting two non-overlapping realms of existence. But ritual and mythological texts from late Bronze Age Ugarit show evidence of a much different understanding of the relationship between natural phenomena and divine agency. For example, recent scholarship has uncovered the reality that Mt. Ṣaphon itself functions as a deity arguably of greater importance than Bʿl in any of his manifestations (including Bʿl Ṣpn). This paper examines the motif of the “divinized mountain” in Ugaritic texts, including pantheon list KTU 1.47, as a case study in ancient near Eastern conceptions of the relationship of the divine and natural realms. Concluding comments will consider the influence of divinized mountain traditions within the Hebrew Bible.


Amir Gilan, Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University

“Mount Ḫazzi in Hittite Texts”

Mount Ḫazzi (i.e., Mount Ṣaphon, Mount Casius, Jebel al-Aqra), located on the Turkish coast not far from the Syrian border, was the abode of the mighty Storm-god and a divinized Mountain in its own right. The mountain is amply attested, often paired with Mount Namni/Nanni, in Hittite religious texts of various genres. The present contribution will offer a comprehensive survey of these attestations and explore the meaning(s) that were attached to Mount Ḫazzi in Hittite Anatolia, whose capital Ḫattuša was located far away – ca. 750 kilometers ­– from the holy mountain.


Deborah Sweeney, Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University

“The Royal Tomb-Builders of the Valley of the Kings and Their Natural Environment”

The ancient Egyptians’ close symbiotic relationship with their environment was reflected in their art, religion and literature. Their calendar followed the rhythm of the agricultural year set by the inundation of the Nile, and their ideal afterlife was to farm lush countryside, recognizably Egyptian but yet more delightful. A key source of information about life in ancient Egypt is the royal tomb-builders’ village of Deir el-Medîna (early 15th to early 11th centuries BCE), home to the builders and decorators of the royal tombs. Most Egyptian settlements stood beside the Nile, but Deir el-Medîna was set in the desert, near the Valley of the Kings, for the sake of convenience and security. The dry desert climate has preserved many aspects of the workmen’s lives, including over 20,000 texts and text fragments. Its remote location and unique purpose made Deir el-Medîna an exceptional community, and its experience of the environment was also unusual.  On the one hand, the male tomb-builders made their desert surroundings their own by marking them with graffiti. Rock formations were interpreted as sacred places, rifts in the rocks as points of special communication with the gods, and unusual appearances of desert animals as divine manifestations.  But on the other hand, the men and women of Deir el-Medîna also brought the missing greenery into their lives in the desert – celebrating the feasts of the gods and making their offerings with flowers and bouquets, surrounding new mothers with foliage, enjoying love poetry set in beautiful gardens, and decorating their tombs with images of the beautiful countryside they hoped to enjoy in the hereafter.  This lecture will discuss the inhabitants of Deir el-Medîna’s lived experience of their landscape, and compare it with the lived experiences of their contemporaries beside the Nile.


Session 9: 11:4513:45           Conceptualizing Nature 1


Angelika Berlejung, Faculty of Theology, University of Leipzig

The Relationship of Human Beings to Nature and their Environment in Iconography

The iconography of the Southern Levant mirrors the relation of human beings to their environment and communicates several aspects: In general, nature and its creatures are perceived, prioritized and structured in a very anthropocentric way. Wild and domesticated animals were seen from an economic perspective as work or food animals, they were used in ceremonies and rituals, and they were regarded as status symbols, as identity markers of groups or as representatives of numinous powers, gods, constructive forces of vitality or wilderness and destructive power. Human constructs were transposed and projected into wildlife, when beasts were used in imagery to represent social behavior as rulership, triumph, guardiance or subordination (see e.g. the lion as representative of the pharaoh), motherly care or mating (see the suckling caprids and cows). Considering that images also evoke emotions in the reception process, images with non-predators are more likely to create a feel-good zone than images with predators. In this respect, it is not surprising that utopian scenarios that envision a general world of peace proclaim general animal peace between predators and non-predators (Isa 11:6ff; 65:25) and thus correspond to the creation's longing for an end to general killing.


Peter Joshua Atkins, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

Wisdom and Immortality in Eden: Distinctions between Animals and Humans in Genesis 2–3

This paper examines how humans and animals are differentiated in the Eden narrative in Genesis 2–3. There has been much scholarly debate surrounding the function and meaning of the two trees (the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge) in the garden of Eden, though some have suggested that their fruit conveyed immortality and wisdom respectively. The humans ate of one and gained wisdom, but failed to eat from the second and thus lost immortality. This reading accords with wider ancient Near Eastern traditions that view the twin-concepts of wisdom and immortality as positioning humans in an inferior situation compared with the gods. Nevertheless, this paper will explore the possibility that the humans’ consumption of the fruit, and their acquisition of wisdom, also functions as the distinguishing feature between humans and other animals. By drawing on other Near Eastern and biblical texts, I will read the Eden narrative as a depiction of the event which distinguished humans from animals and caused their subsequent civilization. The key conceptual difference between humans and animals in the Eden narrative is, therefore, their acquisition of wisdom through eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.


Sara Kipfer, Institute of Protestant Theology, TU Dortmund University

“Earth Mourns, Heavens be Glad, and Sun and Moon are Ashamed: Nature as Subject of Actions and Emotions in Hebrew Bible”

In the Hebrew Bible as well as in the ancient Near East, nature is not only conceptualized as an “object”, but also as subject of actions and emotions. The motive of the mourning earth occurs several times in different formulations and therefore a characteristic link between grief and nature has been postulated (Isa 24:4; 33:9 Jer 4:48, 12:11; 23:10). However, “nature” is also involved in rejoice and shouting for joy (e.g. Ps 65:13–14; 96:11), waters tremble (e.g. Ps 77:17, 19), and sun and moon are ashamed (e.g. Isa 24:23). These emotions and actions of “nature” have been categorized as “metaphors”. Contrary they have also been considered as “personifications” and it has been suggested that parts of nature are representing gods. E.g. the sun Shemesh, the dawn Shahar or the sea Yam, are to be connected with mythical beings in some instances. This paper does not aim at giving a distinct answer how to interpret emotion and action of “nature” in the Hebrew Bible generally. However, the in-depth analysis of individual texts will stress the importance of the conceptualization of nature as subject and the implied relationality between natural environment and humans (“connectivity”).


Session 10: 14:45–16:15             Conceptualizing Nature 2


Łukasz Popko, Ecole Biblique

Beauty or the Beast? The Two Faces of Nature

The Western concept of nature brings in mostly positive connotations. Recent studies worked on the positive aspects of nature associated with the related generalizing concepts of “creation”, “cosmos”, and “order”. They rightly pointed to the Biblical notion of Wisdom, as well as to its literary expressions via the feminine personified Wisdom. Similar notions are expressed by the metaphors of “ways” or “laws”: taken from the language of the human world and are attributed to animals or inanimate phenomena. The concept of nature as cosmic order can be detected in the common symbol of the garden; etc. These positive aspects should be paralleled with the negative aspects of nature: it is also destructive, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and not custom-made for humans. This concept of nature seems to oppose the deeply anthropocentric worldview of Gen 1, and it is in particular contemplated at length in Job 40-41. Its climactic literary expressions are the lengthy descriptions of the Behemoth and Leviathan. In Prov 8:22, the Lady Wisdom is called רֵאשִׁית דַּרְכּוֹ, “the beginning of God’s way”, in Job 40:19, the same title is given to Behemoth. The construction of “fantastic” beasts brings essential enrichment to the Hebrew concept of nature. Interests: cognitive linguistics, ancient taxonomy, cosmology, wisdom literature, exegesis of the Book of Job.


Hindy Najman, Faculty of Theology and Religion, Oriel College, Oxford University

“Philological and Conceptual Developments in Ancient Judaism: Nature and Natural Thinking”

There is an old scholarly claim that there is no meta-thinking in Babylonian and in Hebrew or ancient Jewish thought. This has been said with respect to syllogism, nature, time, calculation, and more generally about second order thinking. My paper challenges such claims by considering, in a comparative perspective, the various way in which conceptualization is characterized across different cultures and linguistic registers, and in particular with respect to ancient Judaism, focusing in on nature and natural thinking.


Session 11: 16:30–18:00            Closing session


Organizers’ summary and an open floor discussion

What have we learned?

Prospects of future cooperation and publication









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