Genesis XI: The Lord versus the City of Man

Try as we might, we cannot ignore the tumultuous relationship between the Lord and the humans throughout the book of Genesis. Routinely, the humans make propositions in order to prevent punishments, and God responds by forcing punishments upon the humans.

Consider the story of the “Tower of Babel” found in Genesis XI. All the earth has become one single language -a phrase echoed five times in the story. In a post diluvian world, the humans have moved from the east, presumably to the west, in order to settle in the valley of Shinar (Northern Babylonia).

Utilizing new technology, namely brick and mortar rather than stone, the humans make a proposition. They propose to build a “city” and a “tower” with the intention of making a name for themselves and also to prevent themselves from being scattered throughout the earth. The humans are concerned with greatness. They yearn to transcend their current condition by forming a city, whose tower reaches into the heavens. They are also concerned with endurance, not unlike Gilgamesh who faces a forgotten legacy. Humans want to endure, because it is powerful, and the way to accomplish this is through politics, or building a great city.

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited
The Tower of Babel by Dutch painter, Peter Bruegel the Elder in 1563

The Lord comes “down” to the city to discover its dangers. If the humans create a city as they propose to do, they will be able to do anything. They will become proud and confident. This prospect is particularly threatening to the Lord. He beckons “us,” perhaps referring to multiple deities, to go down and baffle their language so they will scatter throughout the earth. It is a reminder of God’s prohibitions to the humans in the garden of Eden in Genesis. Recall that he does not want the humans to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, Good and Evil, for they will surely die. God does not want humans to become prideful with knowledge nor a great city.

In order to prevent the humans from achieving greatness, He must confuse them. Thus the need for the Lord to confuse the language, balal in Hebrew like the word babble in Akkadian. It might be said that the Lord finds His authority in direct contest with the human desire to form a city. The shepherd longs to control and regulate the human beings because they cannot be trusted to rule themselves. Human greatness and pride is a challenge to God, and therefore He finds himself in conflict with the humans, opposing their will to power.


For this reading I used Robert Alter’s illuminating translation of the Torah.

Genesis III: In Defense of the Serpent

Garden-of-Eden
Michelangelo’s The Fall and Expulsion From Paradise, a fresco from the Sistine Chapel (1510)

In the garden of Eden, we encounter two trees: the tree of knowledge (good and evil) and the tree of life. Both trees presumably represent differing pathways for humanity. In Genesis Chapter III, we start to discover humans in the garden (assuming we accept either the seven day creation narrative of Genesis I, or the ‘soil and rib’ narrative of Genesis II). The humans freely roam in the garden, eating of the vegetation as they please. We have no textual evidence that they are carnivorous at the outset. It is safe to assume that humans in the garden live a simple life like animals. They are given the unique privilege of naming all the animals, and thus humans are distinct among living creatures.

Now, of all the beasts in the field, the serpent is described as the most “cunning” (the original Hebrew employs a clever pun connecting the two words “cunning” and “nakedness”). While the humans are naked, exposed, and vulnerable; the serpent remains concealed, masking his inner intentions like Odysseus. He, thus, has greater power over the humans. Latter theological interpretations of the serpent’s power will find evil, but removing any sense of revisionism, we find the serpent to be a curious character. He demonstrates to us the capacity for persuasion.

Up until Genesis III, we are given no textual evidence that the humans have had greater ambition other than to obey the will of God who commands them not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, good and evil. The humans up until this point are docile and obedient. It should be noted that God’s commandment carried with it a warning of punishment if the law is disobeyed. If the forbidden fruit is eaten, the humans shall surely be doomed to die. The law is supported by a threat, the potential for punishment. This is the birth of law in Genesis. But how well to humans obey laws?

The crafty serpent successfully persuades the woman that she will not die if she eats the fruit, but rather that she will possess new knowledge of good and evil and she will become “like a god.” What do we make of the serpent in this speech? Surely his motives are at odds with God’s, but could it be in the best interest of the humans to become like a god? The prideful Greeks, after all, were honored at the thought of becoming like a god. The woman rebuts the serpent, yet she cannot resist the lustful temptation of forbidden fruit. Humans respond to incentives rather than punishments. It can be said that the woman, rather than wishing to be like a god, eats of the fruit solely of her own wish. The fruit is so desirous simply for its own sake -but the law has made it even more compelling. She desires to break the law because she forgets about God’s threat of death in order to focus on becoming like a god. She is allured by the promise of the serpent. As St. Augustine later notes in his Confessions, the sin of eating an apple arises merely from the apple being an object of terrible beauty, stemming from its own sinful desire (see also Paul’s discussion of the law in his Epistle to the Romans). The woman’s actions in Genesis, and all human actions for that matter, render perfect obedience to law an impossibility, leaving an Edenic Kallipoli (a la Plato’s Republic) to be nothing more than a city in speech. Perhaps this is why God notably omits labeling his human creation as “good” at the close of the sixth day. Presumably, law and goodness are at least connected. At any rate, the woman’s desire to become “like a god” overpowers her.

Tizian_091
The Fall of Man by Venetian artist, Titian (1550)

Upon eating the fruit the woman gives it to the man and, contrary to God’s bluff, the humans do not die. Indeed God does not make good on his vow that the humans shall surely perish. Rather, their eyes are opened, as promised by the serpent, and they see good and evil. The serpent was true to his word unlike God. Ashamed and guilt-ridden, the humans rush to conceal themselves, thereby protecting their vulnerabilities. With new moral knowledge, the humans gain a unique sense of separation from the beasts who are not bound by law. In learning about the existence of evil, it is fitting for the humans to seek ways to protect and preserve their substance. They immediately cling to what we might call personal property -leaves and branches- used to cloak themselves.

Do the humans “become like gods?” Though they are banished from the garden, they produce offspring and become political. The man and woman live for an extended period of time, but they do eventually die seeing their many offspring populate the earth. They die, while gods surely do not die. Because we are not given any textual evidence that the man and woman would have died had they remained in the garden, latter more sophisticated theology suggests this is because the humans were meant to be eternal, thus overturning the serpent’s promise of godlike knowledge.

In closing, is it possible to entertain the notion that the serpent has actually aided the humans by beguiling them with new godlike knowledge, good and evil? Without falling prey to more recent and sophisticated theological interpretations involving comparisons between the serpent and ha-satan, or the “adversary,” let us instead reassess the serpent in Genesis III as a creature of good will, bringing truth, moral knowledge, and also politics to the humans. God, envious and threatened by the humans’ new knowledge, quickly banishes them from the garden before they can eat of the tree of life and become immortal, too. Theology, as confirmed by God’s character in the Torah, remains skeptical of the human quest for knowledge. The desire, or lust, to learn is evil in the eyes of God and can be dangerous to humans. Perhaps there is some truth to these claims, however much we may find them problematic. Jerusalem, in contrast to Athens, is the theological city. One might also call it the tension between God’s law and human law. God desires obedience, absolute invigilation, though latter Christian theology finds hope in life through forgiveness from an entirely different glimpse of the divine than we find in early Canaanite mythology found in Genesis. Theology rejects human greatness in favor of human safety, whereas the cunning serpent encourages the humans to become like gods, in pursuit of knowledge because it is both good and also rewarding, though he notably makes no mention of the dangers in the pursuit of knowledge.


For this reading I used Robert Alter’s illuminating translation of the Torah.

The Words of Moses

Deuteronomy comes to us from the Greek meaning “second law,” and the Hebrew Devarim meaning “spoken words” or also “these are the words.” It is presented as the valedictory speech of Moses which he delivers across the Jordan shortly before his death. It is the most rhetorical book of the Torah, and since rhetoric can be considered the art of persuasion, Deuteronomy is meant to persuade its audiences. What is the book of Deuteronomy attempting to persuade its audience of? Could the text be trying to compel its readers to action?

Moses recounts the sojourns of the Israelites based on what God had said to him. He speaks with a rare assumption of authority -to call the Israelites to battle and to not forget their God who will lead them in conquering the tribes of the Canaanites so they can claim their land. What is Moses’s purpose in making this extended booming declaration? Several times he alludes to Joshua and the forthcoming of his leadership, while Moses will not be permitted by God to dwell in the promised land of ‘milk and honey.’ Moses looks to instill fear about the ‘great and evil’ things that God is capable of, should they neglect His demands. Moses reminds the people of the laws, so that they may be remembered and obeyed.

He reminds the people of Israel that the Lord presented them with laws and led them to wander in the wilderness in order to test their obedience to his commands, and also he presented them with manna in order that they know that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by the words of God. Hence why the title of Torah, meaning guidance. Moses is very much aware of the audience to which he is speaking. This is a message for the mass of people, many of whom are not wealthy, and thus he reminds them that blessings and wealth emerge only from the divine. In addition, he hopes to make it clear that the guidelines provided by God must be remembered. They must be able to recall the speeches and deeds of God, through the mouthpiece of Moses.

It is Moses’s task in Deuteronomy to persuade the Israelites of the importance of the laws and rules they have been handed (Exodus through Numbers), not only from the two tablets of “words” from Mt. Sinai, but also orally through the words of Moses. They must be made to fear God, but go without fear into battle against their fellow human beings. Otherwise, the Lord will encounter the same problem he faced after the death of Noah, the death of Abraham, and the death of Joseph -namely that his covenant will no longer endure among new generations of people.

Moses closes his booming speech with a solemn poem, sometimes called the Song of Moses, in Hebrew called the Shirat Ha’azinu. The poem itself is thought to be much older than the work of Deuteronomy, and may date back to the early era of the judges, as the structure of the poem mirrors other significant and early Ugaritic writings.

Throughout this poem God is compared to a great many things, such as a rock, and is also referred as Elyon, the Canaanite sky god who was apparently adopted by the Israelite from the Canaanite pantheon.

Upon finishing the poem that Moses sings to the people, the Lord invites him up the mountain of Abarim and Nebo to look over Jericho and see the whole Canaanite land that He plans to give to the Israelites. Then Moses the “Man of God” gives one last song, a poem of blessing to the Israelites before he goes up the mountain to die. The poem gives a short blessing to each of the twelve tribes of Israel, promising them crushing victory against their enemies in the Canaanite region.

Moses dies atop the mountain and he is buried at the age of 120, though no one knows where Moses found his final resting place. Upon the death of Moses, political power is transferred to Joshua, as commanded by the Lord. Although Joshua becomes filled with the spirit of wisdom, by the touch of Moses, no one in Israel ever is able to lead like Moses, who was face-to-face with God and led them out of Egypt and performed acts of great fear. All of these were performed “before the eyes of Israel,” as the book of Deuteronomy is a book of witnessing.


For this reading I used Robert Alter’s masterful translation of the Torah.

The Walls of Gilgamesh

In reading this great Mesopotamian Epic, we first encounter our hero, king Gilgamesh, plagued by dreams and haunted by the prospect of dying a forgotten man. Gilgamesh, the Apollonian counterpart to his Dionysian friend and comrade, Enkidu, is given immense power over the city of Uruk. As the “shepherd of the city,” his agency is to distinguish the light from the dark, to give grounds to the knowledge of good and evil, and to lead the people. However, he requires knowledge to lead the people. Without this knowledge, the city of Uruk is like a ship without a rudder.

When we first meet Gilgamesh in the Epic he is unsatisfied. He has become morbid. All he can think about are the bodies of the men that float in the river outside the city, knowing that one day this too will be his fate. He has not yet embraced his amor fati because he is afraid of death. His fear is of dying alone and forgotten, because he cannot even remember the history of his forefathers. Why would anyone remember Gilgamesh? Like King Solomon in Ecclesiastes or Hamlet, Gilgamesh has become depressed at the thought of nothing new under the sun.

GilgameshTablet

In addition, Uruk has become a wayward city. The people have forgotten their origins from the time before a great deluge. If the people have forgotten themselves, could they also forget their leader, Gilgamesh? What will become of a king who is forgotten? Next we meet Enkidu, a former man of the wild (a la Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest). He is an unrecognizable and blissfully ignorant man until he is overcome with lust. He sleeps with Shamhat, a civilized woman, and suddenly his eyes are opened with new knowledge, not unlike the temptation to consume the fruit that yields knowledge of good and evil in Genesis. Now Enkidu eats the city’s bread and drinks the customary wine of Uruk, no longer living like a wild man. Both Gilgamesh and Enkidu are troubled. Gilgamesh stands at the height of human civilization and he looks onward in despair, while Enkidu is troubled by the domestic nature of civilization.

Together, Gilgamesh and Enkidu set out in search of something that is enduring, or at least the knowledge of something that lasts. Their quest for knowledge extends far beyond the finitude of human life. Ultimately, they both search for immortality.

However, without the knowledge of life before the great deluge, they are forced to stumble into one faux pas after another. Perhaps the lesson is that they cannot find immortality without first gaining self-knowledge: the history of Uruk before the great flood. They commit sacrilege by killing Humbaba and angering the sky-god Enlil. Gilgamesh also commits an affront to Ishtar by refusing her hand in marriage and insulting her. He does this by proudly recalling his many past lovers. These missteps ultimately cause the death of Enkidu which leaves Gilgamesh distraught. He becomes so sorrowful that he dresses himself in animal skins and he refuses to bury Enkidu’s corpse. Perhaps even Gilgamesh can retreat into the natural world, to forget and become ignorant, as Enkidu once was? The desire to return to the ‘innocence’ of nature is not merely a new Rousseauian concept.

However, Gilgamesh’s fear of death is stronger than his desire for ignorance, and Gilgamesh journeys to the wise man Atnupishtim, the man who lives at the end of the world, where the sun transits. Atnupishtim does not reassure Gilgamesh, reminding him that “there is no permanence” in life, but when Gilgamesh asks how to attain immortality, Atnupishtim tells him the story of the great deluge, of his own origins. By presenting this story, Atnupishtim reminds Gilgamesh of the the terror of the gods, and the dangers of the life of a city. What the city needs more than anything, is a “shepherd,” one who unites the flock and reminds them of their collective memory. Gilgamesh alone must bear the weight of knowing “there is no permanence” yet he must also fulfill his fate as king confidently for the sake of the city of Uruk. This is the only path to true immortality: to return to the strong walls of Uruk.

Without the narrative of man’s origins in the great deluge, Gilgamesh is ignorant of Uruk’s own customs. Without Gilgamesh’s guidance, the city will become unruly, or will become the catalyst for its own demise. In the narrative, Gilgamesh returns to Uruk armed only with the knowledge of man before the flood, and at his ceremony, this knowledge of origins is celebrated rather than his killing of Humbaba, guardian of the cedar forest, or his killing of the “Bull of Heaven.”

As in the beginning of the first tablet, the epic ends when the strong walls of Uruk are praised upon Gilgamesh’s return, because he can now recall the seven sages who once laid the city’s foundations in the time before the flood.


For this reading I used the late Nancy Katherine (N.K.) Sanders’s 1987 revised translation as featured in the Penguin Classics series. N.K. Sandars (1915-2015) was a British historian and archaeologist who wrote fairly extensively about “Bronze Age” cultures.

Genesis I: The Seven Days of Creation Examined

The following narrative is a close examination of the seven days of creation as outlined in Book I of Genesis using Robert Alter’s magnificent translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (1510) from the Sistine Chapel

Day One – Light and Darkness

“When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, ‘Let there be light.’ and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And it was evening and it was morning, first day.” (1:1-5).

For Day One, we are given one clue as to the imagined picture of the world before the first day. The earth was “welter and waste and darkness over the deep.” Welter and waste meaning “emptiness or futility” as part of the intricate rhyming scheme in the opening lines, and it is also located “over the deep.” Over what deep? How are we to imagine this space? In addition to this mysterious spacial recognition, God’s breath hovers over the water, God is presumably not located in the deep, and He also has the capacity for movement, or motion. This “hovering” is attached to God’s breath-wind-spirit (ruah) and it denotes a rapid back and forth movement. It is also worth noting that God also has the capacity for speech. The light and the dark are spoken into creation by God, as are many other things. In Genesis I, the world is a creative act, an act of mimesis.

Rather than explaining the ultimate origins of the universe, a creation ex nihilo, it is important to recognize that God begins to create. He makes an imposition of order on the chaotic elements of life, similar to the taming of Chaos in Hesiod’s Theogony, or also similar to the purpose of Marduk’s battle with Tiamat in the Enuma Elish creation story of ancient Mesopotamia. In other words, God does not create substance from pure nothingness.

In other Mesopotamian accounts, as well as in the Greek accounts, the gods are created. They have an origin at a particular point in time. However in the Hebrew Bible, God simply is. He is not created. Or at least an account of His creation is not given in the text.

God conveys human properties. He 1) creates and 2) breathes and 3) speaks and 4) sees. All of these activities are brought to us in the past tense because they are not currently happening. They are collected recollections from someone else who wrote it down. Who was able to give this account? Who is the author of the beginning? This question presents a problematic paradox for us. Tradition places this person squarely in the mind of God who gives this strange account to Moses, however this account of origins is foreign to us. Time, space, and language and morality all appear to predate this strange cosmology. We are not given any textual evidence as to its authorship.

To delineate things, to create a divide between lightness and darkness, God speaks. His speech is primal. His speech is what brings order to the chaotic elements around Him. Before dividing the light from darkness, God sees the light, and sees that it is good. Here, we are given a rare glimpse into the mind of God and also His purpose of creation. He notices a moral component to his creation. In order for His work not to be thrown back into chaos, he must create something good. Order is good, chaos is not good. And the good is prefaced above the darkness, though we are given no acknowledgement of the moral status of darkness.

Day one begins a noticeable principle that continues for the first three days of creation. The principle for the first half of creation is separation or distinction, and the principle for the second half of creation is local motion. On the first three days, God separates and divides the formless world.

On day one, God provides two names: light becomes Day, and darkness becomes Night. Does this imply that Day is good since it is an extension of light? The text does not supply this information. After God’s first moment speaking light into being every other day begins with “And…” The continuation is always continued in a conjunction. Curiously, we have the ability to measure time, such as days, without the sun and moon which are not introduced until day four.

The conjunction “and” is used 12 times in verses 1-5 to invoke considerable continuity and motion.

Day Two – Waters and Heavens

“And God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the midst of the waters, and let it divide water from water.’ And God made the vault and it divided the water beneath the vault from the water above the vault, and so it was. And God called the vault Heavens, and it was evening and it was morning, second day” (1:6-8).

On Day Two the word vault, or raki’a, is introduced to suggest a hammered-out slab in ancient Hebrew, but the celestial English connotation is also appropriate. The vault is beckoned to appear in the midst of the waters (plural) to divide water from water (singular).

The vault divides the water beneath vault and the water above the vault. This is a delineation, similar to light and darkness, or Day and Night. It is a barrier put in place to distinguish above from below. It is a reference point. Recall the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey.

God then gives a name to the vault, calling it Heavens (plural). On the second day, God noticeably does not identify any aspects of his creation as “good.”

God is only quoted when speaking of things like “Let there by light.” The latter names, such as Day, Night, and Heavens are capitalized (proper nouns denoting importance) but they are not quoted by God.

Day two is the only day that God does not look to see whether or not his creation is good. Is there nothing good about the division between the waters and the heavens on day two? Or is it that God merely cannot judge the moral quality of this division, as he once could with Day and Night? Would it be good if there was no division between the waters and the heavens? Perhaps these questions can be addressed in Genesis VII during the Flood narrative.

The conjunction “and” is used seven times on day two. Day Two is supported less by motion, than Day One, but is supported more by the spoken creation of the vault.

Day Three – Earth, Seas, Plants, and Trees

“And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered in one place so that the dry land will appear,’ and so it was. And God called the dry land Earth and the gathering of waters He called Seas, and God saw that it was good. And God said ‘Let the earth grow grass, plants yielding seed of each kind and trees bearing fruit of each kind that has its seed within it upon the earth.’ And so it was. And the earth put forth grass, plants yielding seed, and trees bearing fruit of each kind, and God saw that it was good. And it was evening and it was morning, third day.” (1:9-13).

On Day Three God accomplishes chiefly two things. He speaks of a division between the dry land and the water, calling them Earth and Seas. He then sees their moral qualities, that they are good. Does he mean the activity of dividing is good? Or the effect of the division? Or the activity of naming something? Or that this division is entirely complete and is therefore good? The text is unclear.

Second, God beckons forth the earth to 1) grow grass  2) plants yielding seeds 3) and trees bearing fruit across the earth. Again, God sees it and it is good. What does God see that is good here? Is it the reproductive cycle? Is it that the earth followed his command? What is good about what God sees?

As in day one, day three requires 12 conjunctions (“and”) implying greater motion in the activity of creating a division and the biosphere.

Day three concludes God’s principle of separation or distinction in creation and it signals a new beginning -that of local motion.

Day Four – Sun, Moon, and Stars

“And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the heavens to divide the day from the night, and they shall be signs for the fixed times and for days and for years, and they shall be lights in the vault of the heavens to light up the earth.” And so it was. And God made the two great lights, the great light for the dominion of day, and the small light for the dominion of night, and the stars. And God placed them in the vault of the heavens to light up the earth. And to have dominion over day and night and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And it was evening and it was morning, fourth day” (1:10-19).

On Day Four, God invokes a more specific temporal dimension of his creation with the first mention of days and years. He creates markers to tell the days and years, perhaps for his human creation to discern the time of their lives. These are the sun and moon, to mark the day, and the stars, to mark the years. Implicit throughout his creation is the form of number.

By creating “signs” God intends to signify something, to communicate a concept. The “signs” are the protean symbols that endure through the changing, and seemingly chaotic, nature of the natural world.

Again, God sees that his creation on day four is good. Is the dominion good? Is his creation good? What does God see that is good?

In this chapter “God made…” unlike in day three where he speaks and does not make. On day one, God creates and divides, on day two he makes, on day three he only speaks, and on day four he makes again. His ultimate creation requires a combination of speaking, dividing, and making.

The conjunction “and” is used 14 times in day four to denote considerable motion.

Day Five – Fish and Birds

“And God said, “Let the water swarm with the swarm of living creatures and let fowl fly over the earth across the vault of the heavens.” And God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that crawls which the water had swarmed forth of each kind, and the winged fowl of each kind, and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas and let the fowl multiply in the earth.” And it was evening and it was morning, fifth day” (1:20-23)

On Day Five, God speaks with a command, He then engages in the activity of creation, and directly commands his creation to “be fruitful and multiply.” He speaks twice: once to allow for the creatures to swarm and fly, and then again to command them to procreate, to fulfill their local motion. Living beings capable of sense perception are spoken to directly by God and given a purpose, unlike the partitions divided on the previous days.

The conjunction “and” is used 12 times to denote substantial motion.

Day Six – Creatures of the Earth and Humans

“And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of each kind, cattle and crawling things, and wild beasts of each kind.” And so it was. And God made wild beasts of each kind and cattle of every kind and crawling things on the ground of each kind, and God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let us make a human in our own image, by our likeness, to hold sway over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the heavens and the cattle and the wild beasts and all the crawling things that crawl upon the earth.

And God created the human in his image,

in the image of God he created him,

male and female he created them.

And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and conquer it, and hold sway over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the heavens and every beast that crawls upon the earth. And God said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit bearing seed, yours they will be for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and to all the foul of the heavens and to all that crawls on the earth, which has the breath of life within it, the green plants for food.” And so it was. And God saw all that he had done, and, look, it was very good. And it was evening and it was morning, sixth day.”

On Day Six we are given adam the generic term for “a human.” Rather than implying a particularly maleness such as “man,” the Hebrew refers to all human beings and it is not preceded by ben meaning “son of”.

The word radah is not the typical verb for “rule” or “dominion” but it often implies absolute or even fierce mastery and is used to inform the humans of their purpose.

God sees the creatures of each kind and calls them good, but noticeably He does not command them to “be fruitful and multiply.” Instead, He quickly moves to the crescendo of his creation, that of the human. Human is created not by God alone. Rather, God beckons others, the “us,” and implores these other unnamed beings to create human, male and female, in their likeness so that humans may hold sway over the creatures that are good. Who is God speaking to when he says “Let us make a human in our own image”? Is he joined by other gods? Is the statement meant to address other beings, gods, or is it merely a reference to the royal “we”?

Unlike other days of his creation, God blesses humans and says to them (presumably there is more than one human) to “Be fruitful and multiply” and to go throughout the earth and also to “conquer” it. He only blesses the birds and the swarms of fish, but never instructs them to conquer. This injunction to conquer the earth is unlike any other command yet given by God. Why would God want humans to conquer his creation?

Next, God tells humans to “Look” -in a similar way that God was able to see things, and see that they were “good.” He gives the plants and the trees to humans for food, and also to creatures he gives the green plants (not all the plants including the trees bearing fruit). Humans are apparently vegetarian from the beginning. To everything with the “breath of life” he gives the plants. God, alarmingly, does not look at humans and notice that they are good. Presumably humans are, therefore, not goodHowever, God does look upon his creation – after the author briefly steps off the page and commands the reader to “look”- to see all that he had done and God sees that it was “very good.” This is the only place in which the adjective “very” is used to emphasize the augmented moral quality of the totality of creation.

God and man have a tumultuous relationship in Genesis. The humans break his laws, they are prone to murder and lying, they are devoid of a purpose. How does God respond to these problems that exist in humans?

He appears to find humans unpredictable and unruly. Humans are confusing to God, and they are noticeably not characterized as good. God has trouble identifying an appropriate sexual partner for the humans -He first brings the animals forward to him to identify who will be his match. God also has trouble satiating the human’s need to eat -He first provides them with vegetables and plants to eat rather than the creatures. Adam’s vegetarianism and sexual confusion along with his frustrated relationship with God make for an antagonizing relationship between humans and God. It is not until Exodus that God attempts to reconcile this antagonism by introducing moral law, the Mosaic law, to encourage a well-ordered flock that will act in full prostration to the whims of the shepherd.


For this reading I used Robert Alter’s illuminating translation of the Torah.