COVID, Creation, and Chaos: The Priestly understanding of Sabbath and its application to the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed chaos into human society, from economic disruption, to overwhelmed healthcare systems, social isolation, and nearly five million deaths. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID is a zoonotic virus. Research now shows that biodiversity loss appears to increase the risk of human exposure to new and established zoonotic pathogens.

The Priestly literature of the Pentateuch helps shed some theological light on these modern issues. The Priestly creation account (Gen 1:1–2:3) represents the ordering of chaos to create conditions of flourishing for all creatures. It also provides the basis for Sabbath rest for human and non-human alike (Lev 25–26). Sabbath keeping is designed to help maintain order against chaos. In the Priestly Flood account, violence on the Earth rereleases the forces of chaos to disrupt this good order.

This paper examines the current COVID pandemic, together with the broader aspects of disruption of the Earth system, through a Priestly lens. It asks what role Sabbath keeping plays in limiting the destruction of the environment, the spreading of zoonotic pathogens, and a broader understanding of the value and agency of the non-human.