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College of Arts & Sciences
Jewish Studies Program


The Scent of the Field--an essay by Andrew Berns

This recent publication by USC professor Andrew Berns, details his experience on a cattle ranch and how it changed his thinking about the Bible.

A few excerpts from Andrew Berns' non-fiction narrative show how life experiences can shape the way we interpret the bible, and look at the world. 

"How many more mythological or historical episodes might be unlocked, enriched, and demystified not in the library but in the field?"

"It turns out that the fields are helpful not only in clarifying abstruse talmudic debates, but also in explicating scripture. Not only were the rabbis of the Talmud “in the fields,” but the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, Jacob, Isaac, Esau, and Rebecca, were, too. Their drama, and countless others like it, unfurled in a place where agricultural rhythms drove life. Most city dwellers in contemporary America are alienated from preindustrial ways. In order to live ecologically responsible lives we must make a concerted effort. Few of us experience, in any meaningful way, how proteins are converted from placid ruminants to our evening meals. Biblical patriarchs and modern ranchers alike are luckier: their lives of husbandry acquaint them with these processes in a visceral, immediate fashion. Our ancestors in the book of Genesis did not take the question of where their food came from — including how it was killed, transported, and prepared — for granted. We readers of Genesis need not take it for granted, either, for it provides a key that can unlock the inner sense of scripture."

Full text of this narrative can be found at this link and is attached as a pdf file. 

PDF icon Andrew Berns--The Scent of the Field