DEFINING WILDERNESS: What is the definition of wilderness? can urban natural areas even be called wilderness? Webster’s dictionary definition:

1   a (1) : a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2) : an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community b : an empty or pathless area or region <in remote wildernesses of space groups of nebulae are found — G. W. Gray †1960> c : a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

2   obsolete : wild or uncultivated state

3   a : a confusing multitude or mass : an indefinitely great number or quantity <I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys — Shakespeare> b : a bewildering situation <those moral wildernesses of civilized life — Norman Mailer>

The western cultural view of wilderness is often associated with threat and chaos. The understanding of wilderness from early Judeo-Christianity differs vastly. The Hebrew word for wilderness is midbar, from the related root word, dabar, which means to speak. Another related word is deborah, or beehive.

Since Hebrew words are derived from their roots, students of Hebrew have puzzled over the connection between wilderness, speech and beehive. There’s an interesting explanation from The Ancient Hebrew Research website: dabar, to speak, is the ordering of thought; deborah, beehive, is a model of order; midbar, or wilderness, is the order of God. In Scripture, it is depicted as YHWH’s order as well as His preferred location (Exodus 3:18).

In fact, a great deal of revelation in Scripture, both Hebrew and Christian, occurs in wilderness. Moses, for instance, is “beyond the wilderness” (NRSV) or in deep wilderness when he encounters sacred ground and the voice of God in the burning bush. Midbar, or wilderness, is also depicted as refuge from Empire and the idolatry of god-kings, such as Pharaoh or the Roman emperor. American civilization has begun to resemble Empire especially with George W. Bush’s claims that God told him to end tyranny in Iraq etc. Could current western culture be at odds with its own Judeo-Christian roots?


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