When you’re writing a book, many strands in your mind are weaving their way into what you hope will be whole cloth. Well, at least if you write books the way that I do. In writing Weathering the Psalms, for instance, one of the threads was the question of science and religion. I was teaching at Nashotah House at the time, and I read a lot of science. As I told colleagues at the time, if science is how we know things, shouldn’t what we know of the natural world apply to the Bible? I don’t claim to be the first to ask that question—back in the days of exploration there were many people (mostly the genus “white men” of the “clergy” species) who went to what is now and had used to be Israel, to find out what the world of the Bible was actually like. Their books still make interesting reading.
Quite unexpectedly a colleague, Dalit Rom-Shiloni of Tel Aviv University, told me she’d just ordered my book. She’s leading up a project called the Dictionary of Nature Imagery of the Bible (DNI). Over a decade after my teaching career ended, someone had deemed my work relevant. Dr. Rom-Shiloni recently sent me the link to the project website where there is a video of her interviewing three Israeli scientists about the possibility of lions, leopards, and bears living in Israel. They’re all mentioned in the Bible and no longer exist in the area. The video is on this link and won’t take half an hour of your time. It’s quite interesting.
One of the surprising facts to emerge is that leopards, in small numbers, may still exist in Israel. This assertion is based on lay observation. I contrasted this with the United States where, no matter how often a cougar (aka mountain lion, puma) is spotted in a state where it’s “known” to be extinct, it is claimed to be mistaken observation. A departed friend and mentor of mine once saw a mountain lion in West Virginia. I’d grown up in neighboring Pennsylvania where they are officially extinct, so I wondered if said beasts knew to observe the Mason-Dixon line. The fact is, despite all our best efforts to destroy our environment, animals often find a way to survive. Growing up, one of my cousins in Pennsylvania (now also unfortunately deceased) showed me a puma print in the snow behind his rural house. Now Pennsylvania is a long way from Israel, and this topic is a long way from the DNI, but remember what I just said about how my books are written. Tapestries only make sense from a distance.