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by Dr Quek Swee Hwa

  • Making Peace with the Land. Designing Israel’s Landscape, by Shlomo Aronson. Cambridge, MA: Spacemaker Press, 1998.  

  • The Land. Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.

  • The Stewardship and Economy of Land (M Div. Thesis, 1998, at   BGST), by David Leong Wai Yin.  

This week’s Good Books will be something of a bonanza. It is my “peace offering” to you, dear readers, with sincere apologies for the late and irregular appearance of BTW. But you must rejoice with me that within one week you will actually receive three issues of BTW! That way, we have fired our retro rockets and re-positioned BTW into, God willing, a regular orbit.

Those unfamiliar both with the importance of “land” as the linchpin of both biblical understanding of Israel, ancient and modern will probably find this review dull or remote in significance for mankind today. Indeed, I would like to begin by suggesting that the issues surrounding land for Israel draws inexorably into their orbit wider issues facing the Middle East: in the end no country in the world is spared the consequences of a global destablization - all because of land.

From time immemorial victors in war have grabbed land and losers were deprived not just of land but of their survival as an entire nation.

We begin on a happy, aesthetic note. Shlomo Aronson is a landscape artist who studied at the University of California in Berkeley and at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. My acquaintance with him came, not from this book, but through the numerous projects that bore his unique trademark. I refer to the exciting Gabriel Sherover Promenade located on an elongated hilly stretch giving a grand  view of  the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Cardo in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City revealed Aronson’s skills at juxtapositioning both ancient structures and modern building as he cleverly slotted these into the contours of building lines. Then there is the outstanding agrarian landscape along the route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem where everything from citrus orchards and wheatfields, to olive trees planted immaculately along stone terraces that formed a grid around the Ben Shemen and Sha’ar Ha-gai highway interchanges, punctuated here and there by the carcases of wrecked military vehicles, harsh reminders of the terrible wars that were fought to secure the land for Israel. Attention was paid also to the colour scheme:  golden wheatfields (in summer), sights of lush green grass, red poppies peeping out from behind rocks, and delicate pink cyclamen - all sadly absent for those who visit Israel during the summer or winter - and the scent and colour of lavender and rosemary, lavishly planted in abundance everywhere completing the experience carefully orchestrated by Aronson to welcome pilgrims and visitors to the holy city of Jerusalem. At both ends of the Dead Sea the contour lines of the landscape is marked by huge numbers placed at intervals of 100 metres. These remind visitors of their descent into the lowest point of the earth.

Let’s hear Aronson himself on his attempt to create a new language of landscape: “I think we have come to the strange conclusion that in our time, a great proportion of mankind will not know wild nature. Instead, urban man will meet nature as a man-made entity, shaped and maintained by his culture, whether or not he is aware of it. This is a great problem. No longer are we given the immutable world within the folds of which we must find our place. On the contrary, we are the designers, even of the forests and the hills. Our heavy machinery levels terrain and destroys vast stretches of the natural domain. Our dwellings are entangled with huge highways which stretch across the land to the edge of the sea. We are made small by these vast works, and yet they are our own doing. But if that is the case, we have the power, now, to maintain the world as we want it to remain. This is our duty as human beings, and our challenge as landscape architects.”

How then does this impact on the way the Bible understands “land”? Notwithstanding the confidence exuded by modern man to produce a remarkable landscape that countless millions have enjoyed when visiting Israel (and other places), we need to remind ourselves of a paradox. God created the earth and all its fulness for our enjoyment (1 Cor 10:26, 28). Yet with the fall of man into sin, man’s environment also was marred and the entire creation of God “groans and travails in pain as it awaits it redemption” (Rom 8:23), culminating in the re-creative action of God who will make a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). 

Walter Brueggemann (see above) has written a fascinating book on “The Land” in which he explored what he hopes can be fresh dimensions of understanding our biblical heritage (as found in the Bible) and letting these address contemporary issues. This certainly was a step in the right direction. But Brueggemann was overcautious and failed to draw out the full implications of his excellent understanding of  “land”. What a pity!  Nonetheless he succeeded in demonstrating that when the Bible speaks of “land” it is not only about man’s physical environment; rather, spiritual truths are inextricably enshrined in “land”.

BGST is therefore happy that our first lay Master of Divinity graduate, David Leong Wai Yin, now a Tutor in New Testament on our Faculty, presented a thesis on this subject (see above). I was his supervisor, and was assisted by Prof. Paul Stevens of Regent College and Dr Steven Choo of Jones Lang Wootton, Singapore. David focused on the ethics of land use within the stringent constraints of Singapore. Land is a gift from God and we are to be stewards of this precious gift. We do not own even the land that is rightfully ours by law. Ultimately God is the owner and we are merely His stewards.

The controversies surrounding land has created an impasse for the two main contenders in Palestine: Israel and the Palestinians. It is easy for outsiders like ourselves to query: why is there so much fuss over land issues? Why has the US-brokered “roadmap” failed? Both sides of the conflict claim their rights. But at the heart of the matter is the belief and practice that “might is right.”  Many lives have been wasted on both sides of the political divide, just over the land issue. We too in Singapore have our own version of this problem in our land dispute with Malaysia, though our problem is minuscule compared with that of Israel and the Palestinians.

Let’s thank God for land and all that He has given us. Let’s not be enamored with it. One day all our land will have to be left behind as we go on to a far better place than anywhere on this sinful, tortured earth!

NEWS BITS

  1. Congratulations to Dr Aquila Lee whose PhD dissertation will be included in the series Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament by Mohr Siebeck in Tübingen. This series only publishes outstanding PhD theses which further contribute to New Testament scholarship. The title of his forthcoming book will be: From Messiah to Preexistent Son: Jesus' Self-consciousness and Early Christian Exegesis of Messianic Psalms (WUNT; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck). We look forward to greater contribution from him to scholarship in BGST.

  2. Courses commencing in August  

  • NT210, 1.5 credits. Who is Jesus? (starting Aug 18). Lecturer: Dr Aquila Lee.

  • ME351, 1.5 credits. Asian Religions (starting Aug 24, Park Mall). Lecturer: Dr Violet James.

Intensive Courses by Prof. Alan Millard

  • OT150, 3 credits. The Bible in Its Context: A Reliable Record? (starting Aug 28).

  • OT260, 1.5 credits. Writing & Books in the Old Testament World (starting Aug 30)

Panel Presentation & Public Lectures

  • Caring for Today’s Youth, 21 Aug, 2.30-5.30pm, [Cost: $20].

  • The Bible in its Context: Assyria, Babylon & Egypt - 28 Aug 7.00-8.30pm [Free admission]

  • Reading & Writing in the Time of Jesus - 4 Sep, 7.00-8.30pm[Free admission]

Visit our website for more information.

  1. Dr Ng Peh Cheng will be in Bangkok (Aug 9-13) to attend the Asia Theological Association Triennial General Assembly on “Re-Envisioning Theological Education for Ministry”.

  2. Condolences. The Faculty & Staff wish to extend our deepest sympathy to Mr Andrew Lee Boon Hui on the demise of his father on 28 July 2004. May the peace of God be with the bereaved family

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A Blessed Birthday to ...

 

Ms Christina Chua  2/8

Mrs Christine Leow  2/8

Rev Hong Tiong Peng  2/8

Mr Lam Yuen Foong  2/8

Mr Joshua Koh  2/8

Ms Tong Shir-Leen  2/8

Mr Kenny Tan  3/8

Mr Peter Goh  3/8

Ms Cecilia Perh  3/8

Mr Chia Eng Chuan  4/8

Ms Naette Vistar  6/8

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