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"Every Man a King"? Image of God as Sovereignty

Anthony Tomasino
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Every Man a King”?: Image of God as Sovereignty Anthony J. Tomasino One of the projects that was engaging Gene Carpenter’s attention in recent years was the concept of the “People of God” in biblical theology. This interest naturally led him to a consideration of the question of the imago Dei—the image of God in humanity. 1 Gene had collected a thick file of articles on this topic, along with some of his own reflections that he had jotted down while poring through these sometimes-technical studies. He and I had discussed these concepts on occasion, and though we had different opinions on the matter, we shared a conviction that the concept is far more integral to the Old Testament understanding of humanity than some modern biblical scholars allow.2 Gene Carpenter considered himself primarily to be a biblical theologian, and so he approached this topic from an exegetical point-of-view. Systematic theologians, on the other hand, have tended to deal with the matter from a philosophical or ethical approach. There was long an assumption among (systematic) theologians that they knew, to some extent at least, the meaning of the terms “image” or “likeness.” Essentially, they believed that these words meant that humans were uniquely similar to God in some way. In order to identify the nature of the imago Dei, they simply had to determine what aspects of God’s nature were shared by humanity, but not by other (lower) creatures. Obviously, it could not be God’s omnipotence or omnipresence, since humans are neither. What about God’s eternity? His morality? His use of language? These were features that seemed in some way unique to both God and humanity. The image of God, it was believed, must reside in some such common attributes. It might sound like these theologians were following a reasonable procedure, but their speculations failed to illuminate, really, the meaning of the biblical text, because they were based on logical deduction, not exegesis of the relevant biblical passages. It as if someone tried to determine the meaning of the phrase “Mein Kampf” merely by listing the various battles Adolf Hitler orchestrated, and speculating on which he might have meant—without ever reading the book itself! Not surprisingly, these inquiries produced a wide variety of opinions. For St. Augustine, “image of God” meant that we have a triune nature, patterned after that of the Threefold Godhead. For St. Ambrose, it meant that humanity has a soul. For Athanasius, it is reflected in our capacity for rational thought. The Protestant Reformers believed that the imago referred to the pristine perfection of Adam, which was completely lost after the Fall.3 Even today, one finds popular studies that equate the image of God with the ability to use language, or with creativity. Karl Barth famously remarked, “One could indeed discuss which of all these and similar explanations of the term is the most beautiful or the most deep or the most serious. One cannot, however, discuss which of them is the correct interpretation of Genesis 1:26.”4 The actual meaning of the phrase “image of God,” as it is used in the Bible, can only be discerned through a study of the author’s word choices, the phrase’s literary context, and the historical/cultural context of the author (insofar as those can be determined).5 The proper way forward has been modeled in numerous studies from contemporary biblical scholars.6 And through these studies, a rather wide-spread consensus has emerged that the original meaning of the “image of God” has little to do with humanity’s eternity or morality. Rather, biblical scholars widely contend that the “image of God” is a functional aspect of humanity (concerned with what humanity does) rather than an ontological aspect (concerned with what humanity is). Specifically, most scholars hold that the “image of God” refers to 2 humanity’s role as sovereign over the physical creation.7 As God is king in Heaven, God’s image is king over the earth. In the next few pages, I will summarize some of the evidence behind this consensus. Due to constraints of space and format, I cannot hope to address the issues that the evidence raises in any satisfying fashion, but I will suggest some aspects of the consensus that might need further consideration.8 The Meaning of “Image” and “Likeness” A logical place to begin a discussion of the “image of God” would seem to be with the meaning of the words “image” (Hebrew tselem) and “likeness” (Hebrew damuth) in their Old Testament context. Neither the Hebrew word tselem nor damuth is especially common in the Old Testament (tselem occurs seventeen times, and damuth occurs twenty-five), so the evidence for their meanings is not extensive. Nonetheless, through these occurrences, as well as related words in other languages, we can develop a fairly good idea of their general senses. The first word, tselem, comes from a root that implies obscurity and darkness.9 As used in Biblical Hebrew, however, it seems primarily to mean a representation, a visual depiction of a physical object. Typically, these representations are solid and physical (cf. 1 Sam 6:5, 11), but they may be immaterial, as well, as a shadow (Psa 39:6) or a dream-image (Psa 73:20). Often, this word is used for the representation of a pagan deity—i.e., an idol (e.g., Num 33:52; 2 Kgs 11:18; Ezek 16:17). The primary notion here seems to be one of formal similarity, rather than similarity of nature or substance. The meaning of the word damuth, “likeness,” is similar to that of tselem. It is derived from the root damah, meaning “to resemble,” and departs little from that basic sense.10 It appears most frequently in the book of Ezekiel, as the prophet tries to describe features of his bizarre visions with similes: “They had the likeness of a man” (Ezek 1:5); “the likeness of the living creatures was . . .” (1:16); “A likeness to the appearance of fire” (8:2).11 This word is never used to describe idols, though once (1 Chr 4:3) it is used for “figures of oxen” that decorated the bronze sea of the Temple. This word implies similar appearance, but it is not used to describe similar nature. The use of these terms together has itself generated a good deal of speculation. A number of scholars have suggested that “in our likeness” is a secondary addition to the text, inserted into the original narrative by a later editor.12 It was argued that a later editor found the term tselem alone offensive, because of its connection with idolatry. The second term, damuth, was added to clarify the first, and distance it from idol worship. This suggestion is now largely out of favor, primarily because of the discovery of an Aramaic inscription where cognates of the two terms are used together in a similar fashion as in Gen 1:26.13 In that inscription, the two words are used synonymously to designate the statue of the governor Hadd-Yith’i. The fact that the same two words are used in Gen 5:3, though in opposite position (“in his likeness, according to his image”), probably implies that the author of Gen 1 thought of the words as synonymous, as well. The two words do not express different ideas, but the same idea in different ways. The Imago Dei as Physical Resemblance The most logical conclusion to draw from a simple examination of the words used in this verse is that human beings physically resemble God.14 In fact, while both words connote physical resemblance, they are used in ways that could imply merely an appearance. For example, when the psalmists write with scorn of human beings who walk about as a mere image (tselem; Psa 39:11), or that the image (tselem) of a dream is despised (Psa 73:20), they are clearly drawing 3 upon the notion that such images are insubstantial. Likewise, Ezek 1:5 is likely implying a distinction of substance when it says that the creatures the prophet saw had the likeness (damuth) of a human being: in other words, he is precisely telling us the creatures were not human, but merely looked as if they were. Similarly, in Dan 10:6, Daniel’s comment that he saw a person with an appearance (damuth) of a human being accentuates the fact that this heavenly being was not human. But in spite of the fact that the most natural reading of this text is that human beings were made to look like God, many biblical scholars (and all modern systematic theologians) reject this interpretation of the imago Dei. There are several reasons for this rejection. The most common argument seems cogent on the surface, but does not stand up to biblical scrutiny: many scholars assert that the Old Testament authors did not believe that God possessed human form.15 In Clines’s influential study, he baldly states that “various lines of thought point toward a conception of God as without any such [human] form.”16 Rather, it is argued, the Old Testament authors believed that God was somehow incorporeal and vast, only taking human form for the purpose of interacting with humanity. Therefore, they conclude, “image of God” cannot refer to physical similarity.17 But in actuality, there is little evidence that most Old Testament authors believed God did not possess a physical body.18 Typically, the Old Testament writers talk and write as if God were corporeal, as noted by Sommer: “The God of the Hebrew Bible has a body. This must be stated at the outset, because so many people, including many scholars, assume otherwise.”19 Sommer cites many biblical texts demonstrating that the ancient Israelites believed God had a physical body, but we will mention only a few: in Gen 3:8, Adam and Eve hear the sound of God “walking about” in the Garden, and hide to escape his presence.20 (A disembodied being does not walk, and one could hardly hide from him among trees.) A more striking example occurs in Exod 33:17-34:9. In this passage, Moses asks to see God. God replies that Moses cannot see God’s face and live, but he conceded that he would put Moses in the cleft of a rock and walk by, covering Moses with his hand as he approached. Thus, Moses would not see God’s face, but he would be allowed to see his back as he passed. God could have explained to Moses, “I do not have a physical form that you can see”; instead, his answer presumes that he does have physical form, and that the physical form is at least roughly like that of a human being. Further examples may be cited from the Prophets: in Amos 9:1, the prophet states matter-of-factly that he saw the Lord “standing beside the altar”—a physical form probably possessing human-like dimensions. Finally, we might note Isa 6:1, where Isaiah reports that he saw the Lord when he received his call to be a prophet. Here, God appears as a king sitting on a throne, resplendent in royal robes. We could also cite the many times in the Old Testament where we read about God’s face, his hand, or his arm, not all of which can be read as mere anthropomorphisms.21 Many Old Testament authors assumed God had a physical form. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that the “image of God” cannot include the idea of physical resemblance.22 There are other less common objections to the physical interpretation of the imago Dei. It is argued, for instance, that the “Priestly” author of Genesis 1 tended to avoid anthropomorphism, and so would not have viewed God as possessing a body. 23 Whatever one makes of the question of the “Priestly” source, the fact exists that this same passage depicts God “resting” on the Sabbath day, which would seem likely to be an anthropomorphism.24 Another objection is that the text states that both male and female were made in the image of God, and if this image were physical, God would have to possess both male and female form.25 This interpretation relies on an overly-literal understanding of “image,” a word that really has the 4 sense of formal similarity, not exact replication. Two hands, two legs, a head, upright posture, etc., are shared by both sexes—and apparently, by the typical Old Testament conception of God. The idea of God as incorporeal Spirit waits to be revealed in the New Testament and later theological reflection. Literary Context But it would be a mistake to believe that physical resemblance exhausts the notion of imago Dei, or that it is even its most important aspect. In both literary and cultural context, the phrase “image of God” has significance that stretches beyond physical appearance. The most pertinent verses to the discussion are these:26 This is the book of the generations of Adam: on the day of God’s creation of humanity, he made him in the likeness (damuth) of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them, and he called their name “human” in the day they were created. Adam had lived 130 years when he begot in his own likeness (damuth), according to his image (tselem). He named him Seth. (Gen 5:1-3) God said, “Let us make humanity in our image (tselem), according to our likeness (damuth); let them exercise dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every moving thing that moves upon the land.” Then God made the man in his image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, and flourish, and fill the earth, and subdue it. Exercise dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and every living thing that moves upon the land.” (Gen 1:26-29) “Whatever spills the blood of humanity, by humanity shall its blood be spilled, because in the image (tselem) of God he made humanity.” (Gen 9:6) We will consider Gen 5:1-3 first, since this passage seems to reinforce the notion of physical similarity as part of “image and likeness." In the first portion of this section, it is reiterated that God made humanity in his “likeness” (damuth), but it is added that God created them male and female. This is a significant addition, affirming that both sexes share God’s image.27 The omission of the word tselem in this verse, with its connotations of “embodiment” (specifically in an idol), tends to focus the reader’s attention on the concept of appearance. In v. 3, however, both the words damuth and tselem apear. Here, the creation of Adam and Eve in God’s image is presented as analogous to Adam bearing a son in his own image and likeness. The most obvious meaning of this verse is that Adam became the father of a son who shared his physical appearance—an embodiment of Adam’s appearance.28 Admittedly, the mention of that fact here seems somewhat odd: is it not obvious that human beings beget creatures in their own image? Yet the fact that human beings are able to reproduce creatures bearing their image invites a comparison between God’s creative work and humanity’s reproduction. Human beings possess a God-like faculty in that they can produce others who also bear the image of God.29 The other passages, Gen 1:26-29 and 9:6, certainly go beyond the notion that “image of God” means mere resemblance. In these passages, the imago Dei is the basis for concepts that have nothing to do with physical appearance. In Gen 1:26-29, the focus is on humanity’s relationship with other living creatures: human beings are “to have dominion (radah)” over all 5 the creatures of the earth. Though the language here is quite similar to that found in 5:1-2, the context evokes a different idea: it is not reproduction that is emphasized, but preeminence.30 The words used here do not necessarily invoke the notion of kingship. In fact, in most occurrences of the verb radah, it is not kingship, but subjugation, that is in view. It is not a verb emphasizing management and dominion (in contrast to the verb mashal, “to rule,” used of the sun and moon in Gen 1:16, 18, and humanity in Psa 8:6), but subduing. The important point here is the fact that the creation of humanity in God’s image is associated with the ability of people to subdue the non-human creation. A similar meaning may be implied in Gen 9:6. In this passage, when Noah emerges from the ark, God blesses him and his family by proclaiming that human beings will be permitted to eat all living things, and that fear of humanity will be upon every creature. This short poem concludes the section: “The spiller of human blood, by human shall its blood be spilled. . .” The implication is that any creature that would dare to kill people must be put to death, because of the superior status of human beings.31 That status is somehow related to the “image of God.” We are certainly justified, then, to conclude that “image of God” refers to more than just physical appearance. It also has something to do with status that elevates humanity above the other creatures, allowing human beings to subdue the other creatures of the earth. Ancient Near Eastern Context With so little direct biblical evidence to draw on, scholars have turned to the ancient Near Eastern context to fill out the meaning of “image of God.” The ancient authors of the Book of Genesis did not compose their texts in a vacuum. The diverse peoples from Mesopotamia to Egypt shared much culture in common, due to both common ancestry and extensive trade relations. Much light has been shed on some difficult biblical passages by comparisons to the languages, practices, and beliefs of ancient Israel’s neighbors.32 So it is not surprising that scholars have sought insights into the ancient Israelite understanding of the “image of God” by comparing and contrasting it with similar phrases and notions found in other ancient Near Eastern societies.33 Much attention has been given to the literature of Mesopotamia, because the peoples of Assyria and Babylon were of the same Semitic stock as the Hebrews, and had extensive contact with them in the time when the Scriptures were being recorded. There are two interesting streams of inquiry: the first, the nature of the Akkadian tsalmu (“image,” related to the Hebrew word tselem) as a statue; and the second, the application of the term tsalmu to human beings. It is not surprising to find that Babylonian and Assyrian sources use a term related to the Hebrew word for “image” for their own cult statues, considering how closely linked the lands were, both geographically and culturally. But unlike the Israelites, the Mesopotamian lands developed extensive traditions regarding their statues. One important concept is that the statue could be more than merely a representation of the being it represented; it could actually serve as a surrogate. An image of the king set up in the land, once the appropriate rituals had been conducted, was considered more than a statue.34 It was the embodiment of the king’s presence. Damaging such an image was considered an attack upon the king himself. (We might compare this kind of image to a Haitian voodoo doll, though the statue was not created to inflict injury on the king.) As for the tsalmu as idol, in Mesopotamia, a statue of a god did not become an object of worship until appropriate ritual acts had been performed. These acts, known as the “mouth washing” and “mouth opening” rituals, were effectively believed to forge a connection between 6 the cult object and the divine being.35 Though the gods dwelt in heaven, once the rituals were completed, they also were believed to inhabit the statues made in their likeness. Before these rituals, the statue is merely an image (tsalmu). But after these rituals, the statue can be called by the name of the god.36 It was considered alive, and was treated in a manner reflecting its new status.37 Another line of evidence can be found in texts where the word tsalmu designates human beings. In Babylonian and Assyrian texts, there were several circumstances in which a person could be designated a tsalmu. One of the more interesting occurred when a bad omen had been uttered against the king, or if it was believed that he was the target of evil magic.38 In order to divert the bad effects from the monarch, a “volunteer” could be selected to stand in the king’s place temporarily, until the danger had passed. This person was known as the tsalmu of the king. There were several requirements for a person to become the king’s tsalmu. Physical resemblance (in broad terms) was important. The substitute would be clothed in the king’s robes, given the king’s insignia, and called by the king’s name. Apparently, a portion of the king’s identity was transferred to the substitute, which could cause the damaging magic or fates to be drawn away from their intended target. These uses of the term—and the idea—of the tsalmu suggest that the ancient Near Eastern people considered the “image” to be more than merely a symbol or representation of that which it resembled. It could become, at least in some cases, an extension of the person who was represented. This fact has led several scholars to suggest the Catholic doctrine of “transubstantiation” as an apt parallel to this ancient idea. Much as the Catholics believe that bread and wine somehow become the real body and blood of Jesus Christ during the Mass, so the ancients believed that their statues could become the real presence of the god (or another individual) in their midst. An ostensibly more directly cogent usage of the term tsalmu in Mesopotamia occurs when human beings are designated images of the gods.39 There are not many such references; in fact, only five have survived, and they all come from Assyrian texts. In four of these cases, the image of god is the king; in the fifth, it apparently refers to a priest. The earliest of these texts comes from the thirteenth century B.C. Epic of Tukulti- Ninurta.40 In this work, it is stated that the king alone “is the very image of Enlil, attentive to the voice of the people, to the counsel of the land.” Much later, similar language is applied to the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (680-669 B.C.). In one text, a priest praises the king’s generosity (apparently after he has granted a request), stating that the king, like his father, was “the very image of the god Bel” (chief of the gods). In another text, Esarhaddon is called “the image of Shamash” (the sun god). In this case, it seems that the priest is trying to urge the king to eat, so that he can be resplendent like the sun, better reflecting its image. Finally, in an omen text originating around the same time, it is stated that the king is “the image of Marduk,” and apparently his anger and good will are compared to that of the gods.41 The only other Mesopotamian example of a human being referred to as “image of god” appears in a ritual text.42 Here, it is not the king, but the priest who bears the divine image. When the priest performs a ritual of healing, he is said to be “the image of Marduk.” In some sense, he becomes the embodiment of Marduk’s power to effect healing for the afflicted. Do these examples demonstrate that the Assyrians used the phrase “image of god” as synonymous for “sovereign”? Contrary to scholarly consensus, I would have to say, “No.” In each case where the epithet has been applied to the king, the phrase has no “ontological significance” (i.e., it does not describe what the king is) nor even “functional significance” (i.e., 7 it does not describe what the king does). Rather, the phrase is used to describe an aspect of the king’s nature by comparing it to a divine attribute: his attentiveness to human need; his generosity; his glory. In the case of the priest, however, the phrase seems to have more of a functional import: the priest actually serves as the surrogate of the god, much as the idols mentioned elsewhere in the text perform that same function. However the Assyrians conceived of the “image of the gods,” it was obviously not a concept confined to royalty. Egyptian literature provides many more examples of the phrase “image of god” applied to people.43 As in the case of Mesopotamia, most of these epithets are applied to rulers. The phrase “image of god” and variants like “image of Atum” or “image of Re” are common titles for the pharaohs from the New Kingdom period (especially from the eighteen dynasty, 16th century B.C.) onward.44 For example, Amenhotep II (1427-1400 B.C.) is described as the “image of Re,” “image of Horus,” and “holy image of the gods.” Even the Queen Hatshepsut (1479-1457 B.C.) is designated, “the superb image of Amon; the image of Amon on earth; the image of Amon-Re to eternity, his living monument on earth.” Many have inferred from these epithets that “image of god” is a quality associated with kingship: that being made in the image of god qualifies one to rule.45 It has even been argued that the pharaoh functions like an idol, a physical incarnation of the divine presence.46 But the issue is not at all that straightforward. The fact that there is no conventional or technical formula for speaking of the king as the gods’ image renders it unlikely that there was a well-defined ideology behind the phrase. Eight different Egyptian words are used for the concept of “image,” various gods are invoked, and even various characteristics of the king are referenced.47 It is not sovereignty alone that determines that one is the “image of god.” In many cases, the pharaohs’ divine image seems dependent on the idea that they are offspring of the gods: Ahmose I (1550-1525 B.C.) is described as “a prince like Re, the child of Qeb, his heir, the image of Re, whom he created, the avenger (or the representative), for whom he has set himself on earth.” The god Amon-Re tells Amenophis III (1390-1352 B.C.), “You are my beloved son, who came forth from my members, my image, whom I have put on earth. I have given to you to rule the earth in peace.” Merenptah (1213-1203 B.C.) is called “the child and likeness of the Bull of Heliopolis.”48 These texts would seem to imply that the divine image is inherited from the gods that gave the pharaohs birth. Just as Adam bore a son “in his image,” the pharaohs apparently bore the divine image because they were begotten of the gods, not simply by virtue of the fact that they were rulers. Also, it should be noted that these are texts designed to praise the king. Would a bad king, or an enemy king, also have been called an “image of god”? Though evidence is lacking, it seems highly unlikely. Describing the king in this manner was a way of extolling the kings’ virtues, not of making a statement about the nature of kingship itself. So we might well wonder if the ancient Near Eastern people thought of kings per se as images of the gods. Only kings that actually acted like gods (or were said to act like gods) were images of the gods. Furthermore, this designation does not belong to kings alone. In a text that predates all the references to the pharaohs as “image of god,” the Instructions of Merikare (ca. 2100 B.C.), the Egyptian king tells his son, “Provide for men, the cattle of God, for He made heaven and earth at their desire. He suppressed the greed of the waters, He gave the breath of life to their noses, for they are likenesses of Him which issued from His flesh.”49 This intriguing passage displays several parallels to Genesis 1: heaven and earth are created for the benefit of humanity; earth is brought forth from primordial waters; and most important, all human beings—not just the kings—are created in God’s likeness. Since it predates the New Kingdom texts, it might 8 imply that the Egyptians believed all human beings were created in the image of the gods, as befits the gods’ offspring. In that case, the king is merely the image of the gods par excellence.50 In him, the qualities (and responsibilities) of the gods are concentrated. Finally, a few scholars have expressed some misgivings about how applicable Egyptian royal ideology is to the understanding of biblical theology. The Hebrew conception of kingship—and humanity—was quite different from that of Egypt, and there is little evidence of influence from Egyptian religion on the faith of Israel as reflected in the Scriptures. One area where there does seem to have been some contact is in the wisdom traditions, as evidenced by the fact that the biblical Book of Proverbs includes numerous Egyptian sayings.51 In that light, it seems more likely that biblical theology would have made use of ideas drawn from the Egyptian wisdom tradition (like the Instructions of Merikare) rather than Egyptian royal panegyrics. Part of the difficulty we experience here is that much of the surviving ancient Near Eastern literature was designed to celebrate the glories of the rulers (this is especially true of Egypt, which was a very pharaoh-centric culture). Little literature survives that speaks about the lives of common people, with wisdom literature being one of the few forms that sometimes delves in that realm. So our sources throw light primarily on royal ideology, not on general theological anthropology. What little evidence we possess may indicate that “image of god” was not a concept strictly associated with royalty. It might simply have meant to embody some quality of the god(s) which was typically identified as a characteristic of the rulers, not the common people. Conclusions This inquiry has been necessarily brief, but it appears that there is sufficient evidence to question some aspects of the consensus interpretation of the imago Dei in biblical theology. The Hebrew words tselem and damuth imply a physical representation that shares similar appearance with its object. In other words, humans were created to look like God. In Mesopotamia, an image would be made to physically resemble a king or a god in order to facilitate the creation of a bond between the copy and the original, allowing the likeness to function as a surrogate. A similar idea might lie behind the assertion that human beings are made in the image of God: it is our resemblance to the Lord that forges the link making human beings his representatives on earth. As God’s surrogates, humans have the capacity and responsibility to subdue the lower creatures, forcing them to submit to human will. Is sovereignty implicit in the concept of “image of God?” That question cannot be so confidently answered in the affirmative. The Assyrian evidence seems quite weak, and the Egyptian evidence demands closer examination than we can provide here. So while it seems likely that the biblical concept involves a sense of surrogacy, it is questionable that this phrase was designed to convey a sense of sovereignty, as is often claimed. Doctrinally speaking, it is difficult to reconcile the idea of human beings physically resembling God with our New Testament/Christian concept of a God of pure Spirit without resorting to a typological reading of the text. But typology is not necessarily a bad thing: indeed, the New Testament itself sometimes interprets the creation accounts typologically. 52 Theologically, we might well understand the idea that humans physically resemble God as foreshadowing the Christian’s responsibility to be “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (Rom 8:29). We might see, too, a typological significance in our charge to “subdue” the Creation. Paul writes that Creation (the subhuman species) is subject to decay, eagerly awaiting the revelation of the children of God (Rom 8:18-23). When human beings become the people we 9 were intended to be—representatives of God on earth—we will be empowered to make Creation what it should be, as well.53 We will bring it under subjection to the will of God. Anthony J. Tomasino is professor of Old Testament at Bethel College, Mishawaka, Indiana. Notes 1 In this current context, I can only hope to provide an introduction to some of the discussion occurring among biblical scholars concerning the image of God, the consensus that has developed, and my own misgivings regarding this consensus. Interested readers will find numerous resources in the footnotes that will allow them to pursue these matters further. 2 A point argued by my former classmate and fellow-contributor to this volume, John T. Strong, who has drawn attention to echoes of the imago Dei in passages from the Primeval History (Gen 1-11) and in Ezekiel. 3 Surveys of the history of interpretation of the imago Dei may be found in Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), chap. 4; or David Cairns, The Image of God in Man (Rev. ed.; London: Collins, 1973), chaps. 4-13. 4 K. Barth, Church Dogmatics III.1, 193. Barth’s conclusion that the imago Dei consists in the creation of humanity as “male and female” finds little support among biblical scholars today. See P. Bird, “’Male and Female He Created Them’: Genesis 1:27b in the Context of the Priestly Account of Creation” HTR 74 (1981) 129-59. 5 Of course, it is another matter entirely to determine the meaning of the Latin phrase imago Dei as it is used by theologians. That enterprise involves not the study of the biblical text, but the work of the theologians themselves. 6 These studies have been surveyed by Gunnlaugur Jonsson, The Image of God: Genesis 1:26-28 in a Century of Old Testament Research, trans. Lorraine Svendsen; rev. Michael Cheney (Lund, Switzerland: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1988). 7 Jonsson, The Image of God, traces the development of this consensus since almost the beginning of the 20 th century. J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2005), 25 n. 33, states that this consensus is “virtually unanimous.” Nonetheless, there do remain some disagreements about some aspects of the question. 8 Many of the issues I will raise have been discussed elsewhere. Given the general nature of the present study, the reader is invited to consult the literature cited here for much deeper treatment than I can provide. 9 HALOT, 1028. 10 HALOT, 226. 11 See also Ezek 1:10, 13, 16, 22, 26, 28; 10:1, 10, 21, 22. 12 Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967) 2.122-23; J. Maxwell Miller, “In the ‘Image’ and ‘Likeness’ of God,” JBL 91 (1972), 289-304 [293-94]. 13 See Christoph Dohmen, “Die Statue von Tell Fecherīje und die Gottesebenbildlichkeit des Menschen: Beitrag zur Bilderterminologie,” BN 22 (1983), 91-106; T. J. Lewis and D. M. Gropp, “Notes on Some Problems in the Aramaic Text of the Hadd-Yith'i Bilingual” BASOR 259 (1985), 45-61; W. Randall Garr, “'Image' and 'Likeness' in the Inscription from Tell Fakhariyeh” IEJ 50 (2000), 227-234. 14 This position, which had been observed already in antiquity, became the standard scholarly interpretation of the imago Dei from at least 1940 until the later part of the 20 th century. See J. J. Stamm, “Die Imago-Lehre von Karl Barth und die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft,” in Antwort: Festschrift K. Barth, ed. W. Wolf et. al. (Zollikon- Zürich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1956), 84-98. Its chief proponents included such luminaries as Hermann Gunkel and Gerhard von Rad. 15 Benjamin Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), “Introduction,” gathers numerous examples of modern scholars who deny or downplay the notion of a physical manifestation of God in the Hebrew Bible. 16 D. Clines, “Humanity as the Image of God,” Tyndale Bulletin (1968) 73. Clines cites such eminent scholars as H. H. Rowley and James Barr for support of this idea. 17 This idea is the foundation for Clines’s highly influential argument that imago Dei must be interpreted as a functional concept (“let us make man to be our image”), rather than an ontological one. See Clines, “Humanity as the Image of God,” 73. 18 This is not to say that evidence is non-existent. Perhaps the Old Testament text that comes closest to an incorporeal understanding of God is found in Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 1 Kgs 8:26 and its parallels, “But 10 indeed, could God make a dwelling on earth? See, the heavens—even the highest heavens—cannot contain you. So how much less this house I have built.” 19 Sommer, The Bodies of God, 1. 20 Even if one argues that the Hebrew mithalakh means merely “moving around” in this context, the word still requires some sense of physical embodiment. 21 Today, most Christians do not take such verses literally. We understand that God is not physical, but spiritual (though the precise meaning of that term is also debatable). We understand God to be omnipresent, not confined to a limited space like a corporeal body. But this conception of God is only revealed partially in the Bible, and later through the reflection of theologians—it is not developed in the Old Testament. From the perspective of systematic theology, we might view these bodily manifestations of God in the Old Testament as cases of divine condescension: ancient people typically understood that God had a physical form, so God manifested himself in that fashion until he could bring us greater revelation of his non-corporeal nature. But if we accept the plain meanings of these texts, they clearly imply that God (in Old Testament times) was understood to possess a physical form that was similar to that of humans. The biblical rationale for the idea that God cannot be represented in graven images is not based on the idea that God does not have a physical form, but that such images are inherently disrespectful to God, whose glory far exceeds that of any created thing. For further discussion of the prohibition of images, see T. N. D. Mettinger, No Graven Image?: Israelite Aniconism in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context (Lund, Switzerland: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1995); K. van der Toorn (ed.) The Image and the Book: Iconic Cults, Aniconism, and the Rise of Book Religion in Israel and the Ancient Near East (Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1997); R. S. Hendel, “The Social Origins of the Aniconic Tradition in Early Israel,” CBQ 85 (1988), 365-82. A popular discussion from a practical point of view may be found in A. Tomasino, Written Upon the Heart: The Ten Commandments for Today’s Christian (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2010), chapter 3. 22 This notion is reinforced in Gen 5:3, which states that Adam had a son “in his own likeness, according to his own image.” Clearly, in this case, physical resemblance is implied. This verse will be considered further below. 23 In mainstream biblical criticism, the first chapter of Genesis is ascribed to an anonymous author designated “P,” for “Priestly.” This author, many believe, was a priest, and expressed concerns important to the priesthood, in language common to his company. 24 See Jonsson, Image of God, 103-104. 25 See Clines, “Humanity as the Image of God,” 72. 26 Some scholars have argued that there are many other passages in the Bible that are pertinent to the discussion of the imago Dei which do not use the words tselem or damuth. This is probably correct, but some studies of the imago Dei imagery outside these passages seem based on rather scant evidence, much like “ghost hunters” identify every creaking floorboard as a message from beyond. Due to the size constraints in this volume, we will only discuss the passages where the actual phrase “image of God” appears. 27 Barth considered this an important detail, and argued that “image of God” must include the concept of two sexes. His position has found little contemporary support. 28 The verse is reminiscent of a passage from the Babylonian Enuma Elish 1.1., where it is stated that the god Anu begat his son Nudimmud (Enki) “in his image” (ANET 61a), after saying that Anu had been born as an “equal” of his father Anshar. 29 To read more into the text than that (e.g., that Adam produced a child with a sinful nature, as Adam himself possessed) introduces concepts that are foreign to the text or its context. 30 In 5:1-2, the order of the words “image” and “likeness” is reversed. Most likely, that reversal is simply a stylistic variation, and does not affect the meaning of the phrase. 31 Though the participial phrase in this verse, “spiller of human blood,” is typically translated “Whoever spills human blood,” the context seems to refer both (perhaps primarily) to animals, as well as to humans that kill people. 32 John Walton has written extensively on these parallels for an Evangelical audience. See his Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) and more recently Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006). 33 Application of these ancient Near Eastern texts to the “image of God” problem began in the early 1900’s, but received a considerable boost in the 1960’s. See J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2005), 108. 34 See Herring, Divine Substitution, 32-34. 11 35 For more details about this ritual, see M. B. Dick and C. Walker, “The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia: The Mesopotamian mîs pï,” in Born in Heaven, Made on Earth: The Making of the Cult Image in the Ancient Near East, ed. M. B. Dick (Winona Park, IN: Eisenbraun, 1999), 55-121. 36 Zainab Bahrani, The Graven Image: Representation in Babylonia and Assyria (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 171. Bahrani is inaccurate in claiming that the idol is afterward referred to only by the name of the god. As Barbara Nevling Porter observes (“The Anxiety of Multiplicity: Concepts of Divinity as One and Many in Ancient Assyria,” in One God or Many? Concepts of Divinity in the Ancient World, ed. B. Nevling Porter [Casco Bay, ME: The Casco Bay Assyriological Institute, 2000], 211-272 [236]), the name of the god was often qualified with the word tsalmu. The idol did not cease being an image of the god; the bond however between image and deity was forged through resemblance and ritual. 37 Eiko Matsushima, “Divine Statues in Ancient Mesopotamia: Their Fashioning and Clothing and Their Interaction with the Society," in Official Cult and Popular Religion in the Ancient Near East, ed. E. Matsushima (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag, 1983) 209-219. Bahrani, Graven Image, 134. For a survey of cases where images are made of people instead of gods, see Herring, “Divine Substitution,” 31-37. The entire scenario is reminiscent of the creation account in Genesis 2, where God forms an image (the word “image” does not appear in this chapter, however) and breathes into its nostrils, imparting his life to the new creation. Perhaps as the “opening of the mouth” ritual causes the idols to become an extension of the divine beings they represent, humanity becomes an extension of the presence of the Lord through God’s infusion of the life-giving Spirit into the earthen receptacle. 38 See further Bahrani, Graven Image, 129-30. 39 An extensive study of these occurrences was made by E. M. Curtis, “Man as the Image of God in Genesis in Light of Ancient Near Eastern Parallels” (Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1984). 40 See P. Machinist, “Kingship and Divinity in Imperial Assyria,” in G. M. Beckman and T. J. Lewis, Text, Artifact, and Image (BJS 346, Providence, RI: Brown University), 160-64, for this text and a further discussion of its significance. 41 For the contents and discussion of the significance of these texts, see Curtis, “Man as the Image of God,” 80-86, 155-72, and the further discussion of Stephen Herring, Divine Substitution: Humanity as Manifestation of Deity in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East, 31-32. 42 This text may be found in G. Meier, “Die Zweite Tafel der Serie Bīt Mēseri” AfO 14 (1941-44) 139-53. On its significance, see Bahrani, Graven Image, 135-36; Curtis, “Man as the Image of God,” 161. 43 See Curtis, “Man as the Image of God,” 86-96, 226-28 for a sampling of the many appearances of the phrase in Egyptian literature. 44 Clines, “Image of God,” 84-85. 45 Clines, “Image of God,” 85. 46 Curtis, “Man as the Image of God,” 152. 47 For a survey of the terms used, see Curtis, “Man as Image of God,” 87-96. While most of these terms are also used for idols, one of them generally means “similarity, likeness.” 48 Curtis, “Man as the Image of God,” 228. 49 Instructions of Merikare. Translation by R. O. Faulkner. William Kelly Simpson (ed.), The Literature of Ancient Egypt (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973) 180-192. There may be another Egyptian wisdom text, the Instruction of Ani, that also speaks about human beings bearing the image of god, but the translation is disputed. See Middleton, Liberating Image, 101-102. 50 We might compare this language to that used of YHWH as Father in the Old Testament. God is Father of the entire nation (Deut 32:6; Isa 63:16, 64:8; Jer 3:4; 3:19; Hos 4:1-4; Mal 1:6, 2:10), but the king is “son of God” in a special sense (2 Sam 7:14; Psa 2:7). 51 Specifically, Prov 22:17-23:14 seems to be dependent on the Egyptian “Teachings of Amenemope.” This connection was first observed by Adolf Erman, “Eine ägyptische Quelle der ‘Sprüche Salomos’” Sitzungsberichte der preussichen Akademie der Wissenschaften (May 1924) 86-93, and H. Gressmann, “Die neugefundene Lehre des Amenemope und die vorexilische Sprüchdichtung Israels,” ZAW 42 (1924) 272-96. The dependence is largely assumed in most modern commentaries on Proverbs. 52 E.g., the Sabbath day rest is a type of the rest that we Christians enjoy in Christ (Heb 4:1-11); the serpent in Eden foreshadows the Devil (Rev 12:9; 20:2; John 8:44; Rom 16:20); the “death” of Adam pursuant upon his expulsion from the Garden foreshadows the spiritual death that encumbers all humanity (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22). 53 See Douglas Moo, Romans. NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 513-20.