In the midst of a nearly continental wide North American heatwave, I find myself reflecting on the ominous forecasts of prophetic voices.
Wail, for the day of Yhwh is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty! Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt, and they will be dismayed. Pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame. See, the day of Yhwh comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it. (Isa 13:6-9 NRSV slightly altered)
The prophetic oracles of doom in the Hebrew Bible exploit the extreme climatic events typical of the semi-arid region of Palestine, the environment in which these prophets lived and operated. Because of this, their woes sound familiar to contemporary scientific forecasts of global warming. I’m intrigued by this intertextuality.
Fortress Press has just published its newest volume in its Text @ Contexts series, Exodus and Deuteronomy. I contributed an article to this volume entitled “What Would Moses Do? On Applying the Test of a False Prophet to the Current Climate Crisis” (pp 183-94). My article explores the complexities surrounding the identification of false and true prophetic oracles in the Hebrew Bible.
I observe, for example, that Deuteronomy 18:18-22 provides no avenue of validation. The concern is limited to discrediting a prophetic oracle—”‘How shall we know the word which YHWH did not speak?’ If a prophet speaks in the name of YHWH, and the word does not take place or come true, that is a word which YHWH did not speak.” This text, framed negatively, is of limited utility for the Hebrew Bible as it must subsequently develop the criterion positively (e.g. Jeremiah 28:9) and even abandon it (e.g. Jer 18:1-10; Ezekiel 29:17-21).
Likewise, I find the typical rhetoric of climate change skepticism of limited utility in our modern, global society. As I write in the conclusion of my essay, “If catastrophic warming is the only conclusive proof we will accept that we are fundamentally changing the climate of our planet, or at least that the climate is indeed changing, then we are essentially embracing our own judgment at the expense of our own salvation” (193).
A modern day scientific prophet: