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The Cosmic Covenant: Biblical Themes of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation.

The creation themes associated with Old Testament covenant thought have not often received attention. Murray, a British Jesuit known especially for his Syriac studies, seeks to rectify this situation through an often detailed analysis of relevant OT texts within their ancient Near Eastern setting. In a final chapter he pursues the effects of these themes in the history of Judaism and Christianity (into medieval times), concluding with an Epilogue regarding contemporary implications.

M. insists on the separate origins of a cosmic covenant, distinct from covenants associated with Abraham, Moses, David, the "Deuteronomic synthesis," and political models. The complex of ideas associated with this covenant (which provide a structure for the book) are: the binding of the cosmic elements by a conventional oath; the breach of this covenant by rebellious divine beings; its re-establishment by God in the "eternal covenant"; the earthly effects of the breach of the cosmic covenant; the ritual preservation of cosmic and earthly order (with links to sacral kingship); the ideal picture of cosmic harmony: humans and animals.

M. appeals to a widely disparate collection of texts, including Genesis 6-9; Isaiah 11, 24, 32-33, 54-55; Jeremiah 33 (on which the book's title is based); Ezekiel 34; Hosea 2, 4; Joel 1-2; Psalms 46, 72, 73-83, 89; Job 38; and Enoch. Whatever the age of these materials, they "enshrine old mythical material and provide valuable clues to the thematic connections involved in the total picture of the cosmic covenant" xxi).

M. attends well to the applicable secondary literature (though he has missed some American work). His stress on the symbiotic relationship of cosmic and social orders reveals his debt to the work of H. H. Schmid, and he acknowledges a special affinity with an article by B. F. Batto ("The Covenant of Peace: A Neglected Ancient Near Eastern Motif," CBQ 49 [1987] 187-201). Whether his thesis can be sustained will depend on a detailed consideration of the texts he has gathered and whether they can be said to provide the coherent covenantal picture he claims. However this discussion turns out, M. has provided a service in focusing on these oft-neglected creation themes (he has a special interest in references to the animals, with seven illustration plates). He rightly extends the discussion of creation beyond beginnings and endings to the ongoing issues of order and disorder in the cosmos, the nonhuman world, and human society. Joining a growing chorus, he emphasizes that our conceptualization of divine revelation and God's gracious activity in the world must be conceived in terms that go beyond the usual historical categories. His treatment of messianic themes illustrates some implications of this more inclusive approach.

The book contains a bibliography and the usual indices. The reader is somewhat hampered by a less than lucid style.
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Author:Fretheim, Terence E.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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