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“And Do Not Return There till They Have Watered the Earth:” Wondering about Hebrews & Hydrology — 4 Comments

  1. Wilfried Brutsaert cites that very passage as one of his examples in the afterword of his book _Hydrology: An Introduction_ (Cambridge University Press, 2005). In Chapter 14.1, entitled “Afterword — A short historical sketch of theories about the water circulation on Earth”, Brutsaert notes that humans must have been keenly aware from the earliest times of their dependence on water. About this passage, he writes:

    “Isaiah also lived in the eighth century BCE but this chapter [55] is now generally considered a later addition and attributed to an unknown prophet, who wrote in Babylon toward the end of the exile in the sixth century BCE. In this passage [55:10-11] the physical phenomena serve mainly an allegorical purpose and their description is fairly naturalistic; they appear to occur on their own and not as a result of direct divine intervention. The description involves unambiguously some kind of cycle by which water returns to where it came from.” (p. 558)

    • Thanks for that reference! So Professor Brutsaert noticed the same thing I noticed, but much earlier than I did. One might expect an expert on hydrology to be particularly alert to any mention in Scripture of rainfall, evaporation, the water cycle, and so forth.

      I am still left wondering why the “unknown prophet”– often referred to as Deutero-Isaiah– was convinced that “water returns to where it came from.”

  2. One of the Theological points on this passage is the metaphor for a Jewish blessing. The idea is that when a blessing comes from God, we are to receive it, but then return it to the source. In return, God will give us another blessing which we are then to return to God again. This cyclical understanding of blessing is the undercurrent of God sending his “Word” to us that will not return to him empty… a nice reflection upon a process of nature and the nature of God’s blessing and how we are to receive the blessing!

  3. Interesting topic! Thanks for reposting it. With regard to the knowledge of the subject by other ancient people, I see that the National Institute of Hydrology of India mentions that there are references on the hydrological cycle in Vedic texts of more than 3,000 years old. Here is the link.
    I also notice that some pre-Inca Andean cultures have knowledge of the cycle, at least part of it, because they built a system they called “amunas”, used to capture or to infiltrate water into the mountains at high altitudes, so they could have more wáter in the springs at lower altitudes.
    I have not found yet anything about the way these cultures came to all of this, but probably the occurrence of salt lakes in desert climates, and salt that can be found there, led them to reason that the water of the brines was someway removed to air or sky . Then this might be used in the traditional methods of salt production in which the salt brine was heated in large, shallow open pans.
    Anyway, the metaphor from Isaiah, explained above by Father James, is really beautiful.

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