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Wisdom in the tractor seat

02 October 2015

Anthony Russell reads a book about biblical insights for farmers

Honey and Thistles: Biblical wisdom for renewal of farming
Christopher Jones and John Martin
Honey and Thistles £8.14 (incl. p&p)*


THIS is a small book on a large number of interrelated and important subjects, written by a well-known East Midland farmer and a former editor of The Church of England Newspaper.

Its starting-point is the biblical narrative, and it seeks to bring a theological reflection on the interlocking and important issues on the international commodities market and to relate all this to our theological understandings.

The authors take the fact that demand for food is, and will continue, to rise — partly as a consequence of population growth, and partly as a consequence of rising standards of living in the less developed parts of the world, as their populations move from a vegetarian “rice bowl” diet to a meat and wheat “McDonald’s” diet.

The second starting-point is the assertion that the world’s population, despite the expected growth, can be fed, but this will involve both technical and scientific change in agriculture and land use, and the need to clarify and embrace questions of social justice.

The background to this consideration is the biblical statement that the land is given by God to his people, who are commissioned as the stewards of the created world. Ten biblical themes include the year of Jubilees, the inalienability of the land, issues of land tenure, the care of the soil and livestock; all of which have their modern counterparts.

In the Old Testament, there are practical instructions, written for a people changing from a nomadic pastoral life to settled arable farming. While the detail remains interesting and not unimportant in the modern world, the overall care of the soil and its fertility is, as it has always been, a significant issue in modern farming, and one about which important conferences have been held.

This is an important book, and is published at a time when the Government is about to produce its long-awaited new agricultural strategy document. When commodity prices are in many areas at a historic low, and many dairy farmers are leaving the industry, it is good to have such a thoughtful book presented in such a way as to be useful for discussion groups. It is to be hoped that it will be widely read.


The Rt Revd Dr Anthony Russell is a former Bishop of Ely and President of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.


*This title can be obtained from www.honeyandthistles.uk 

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