Human Identity and Purpose Redefined: Gen 1:26–28 and 2:5–25 in Context

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Catherine McDowell


Ancient creation stories define humanity in relation to the gods. In the Atraḫasīs Epic, for example, humans were created as a labor force to relieve the lower caste
of deities from their toil. In Gen 1–2 humanity was also created to serve God, but the commands to rule and subdue the earth, and to care and cultivate the garden of Eden, are framed by the preceding statement in Gen 1:26–27 that humanity was created in God’s image and likeness, that is, as his children. To appreciate Genesis’s claim, we must consider it in light of its ancient Near Eastern environment. For Gen 1–2 this includes a set of ritual texts from Mesopotamia, the “Washing and Opening of the Mouth,” which describe the process by which divine images, or statues of the gods, were created. Genesis 2 seems to draw from these rituals, or at least the ideas they represent, in order to elaborate on the meaning of בצלם אלהים in Gen 1:26–28. If our aim is to understand how Genesis 1–2 redefines human identity and purpose, we must consider the prevailing views on human creation and the birth of the gods (in their statues) with which it interacted.

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