Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Poetics of Adam: The Creation of Ha'adam in the Image of 'Elohîm

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Poetics of Adam: The Creation of Ha'adam in the Image of 'Elohîm

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

I. The Status Quaestionis

Karl Barth pushed the discussion of the imago Dei in a new direction when he suggested that the divine plural in Gen 1:26 and the creation of ... as male and female in Gen 1:27 indicated that the very relationality of human beings constituted the divine image.1 His position has met with both enthusiasm and skepticism. While it emphasizes the profound social, sexual, and relational nature of human beings-realities highlighted by the recent emergence of the social sciences- some have questioned whether this "truth" came out of the text of Genesis or was being read into it. Was Barth importing his own theological concerns and the spirit of his age into his interpretation? Scholars have noted the philosophical influence of Martin Buber's I and Thou in Barth's thought on the imago Dei.2 Likewise, connections between Freudian psychology (with its emphasis on human sexuality) and Barth's anthropology as derived from his exegesis of Gen 1:27 have been noted.3 In Barth's own words: "we cannot say man without having to say male or female and also male and female. Man exists in this differentiation, in this duality."4 Even though the theological and philosophical underpinnings of Barth's exegesis were called into question, his dialectical model would prove to be the most influential interpretation of the imago Dei for almost half a century, and its influence can still be seen today in the work of a number of exegetes.5

A second major movement in the interpretation of the imago Dei may be found in the work of James Barr.6 Perhaps Barr's chief contribution was in shifting the focus of the discussion of the imago Dei onto the role of the Priestly writer. Barr insists that the concept of the image of God must be understood in the literary context of the Priestly source in which it is found.7 But Barr's way proves to be principally a via negativa. His insistence on the single context of the P source is a negation of interpretations such as Barth's that go beyond this narrow historical-literary focus. But, if he plays a key role in critiquing Barth for allowing an undue influence of systematic theology on biblical exegesis, he does not construct a new hypothesis to hold the day. Rather, his answer to the question of the nature of the imago Dei is that "there is no answer to be found."8While there is perhaps an apophatic truth and beauty to such a response, Barr has not discouraged a new generation of scholars in the past forty years from seeking that elusive answer.9

Two developments of Barth's dialectical understanding of the image of God worth noting are found in the works of Claus Westermann and Phyllis Trible. In them one can note something of the daring of Barth tempered by the caution of Barr. Westermann follows Barth in stressing the relational nature of human beings in God's image. What he adds to the discussion of Gen 1:26-28 is an emphasis on event rather than definition. That is to say that, according to Westermann, the text does not attempt to define for us in what the image of God might consist (evidence perhaps of Barr's agnostic influence), but rather describes the action of God's creation of ... as being in his image.10 Trible highlights the sexual differentiation of the dialectical understanding by stating that "'male and female' is the vehicle of a metaphor whose tenor is 'the image of God.'"11 By employing the language of metaphor, she, like Barr, avoids any definition of the image of God. But, like Barth, she sees a connection or association between the image of God and humankind as male and female. In human sexuality she sees not a description but a clue to perceiving divine transcendence. In her own words: "To describe male and female, then, is to perceive the image of God."12

One of the most thorough critiques of the Barthian position (including Trible's and to a lesser extent Westermann's variations on it) was made by Phyllis Bird in her very influential article "'Male and Female He Created Them': Gen. …

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