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The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden
The Creation of Humankind in Genesis 2:5-3:24 in Light of the
mis pi pit pi and wpt-r Rituals of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt
by Catherine McDowell
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Catherine McDowell presents a detailed and insightful analysis of the creation of ‘adam in Gen 2:5–3:24 in light of the Mesopotamian
mīs pî pīt pî (“washing of the mouth, opening of the mouth”) and the Egyptian wpt-r (opening of the mouth) rituals for the creation of a divine image. Parallels between the mouth washing and opening rituals and the Eden story suggest that the biblical author was comparing and contrasting human creation with the ritual creation, animation, and installation of a cult statue in order to redefine ṣelem ‘elohîm as a human being—the living likeness of God tending and serving in the sacred garden.
McDowell also considers the explicit image and likeness language in Gen 1:26–27. Drawing from biblical and extrabiblical texts, she demonstrates that
ṣelem and dəmût define the divine-human relationship, first and foremost, in terms of kinship. To be created in the image and likeness of Elohim was to be, metaphorically speaking, God’s royal sons and daughters. While these royal qualities are explicit in Gen 1, McDowell persuasively argues that kinship is the primary metaphor Gen 1 uses to define humanity and its relationship to God.
Further, she discusses critical issues, noting the problems inherent in the traditional views on the dating and authorship of Gen 1-3, and the relationship between the two creation accounts. Through a careful study of the
tôledôt in Genesis, she demonstrates that Gen 2:4 serves as both a hinge and a “telescope”: the creation of humanity in Gen 2:5-3:24 should be understood as a detailed account of the events of Day 6 in Gen 1.
When Gen 1-3 are read together, as the final redactor intended, these texts redefine the divine-human relationship using three significant and theologically laden categories: kinship, kingship, and cult. Thus, they provide an important lens through which to view the relationship between God and humanity as presented in the rest of the Bible.
Publication date: 2015
Bibliographic info: Pp. ix + 246
Trim Size: 6 x 9 inches
McDowell's stimulating and innovative work will push the discussion about methodology and the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis in new directions. Not all of the parallels she draws between Genesis and ANE divine statue animation rituals are equally convincing but she has drawn together evidence that cannot be ignored and that provides fresh interpretive and theological insights for those wrestling with the meaning of the creation of humanity in the image of God.—Gordon K. Oeste, Cedar Creek Community Church, Cambridge, ON in
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 59 (2016): 821–23
Chapter 3 in particular is worth reading because here McDowell achieves a succinct presentation of the ancient Near Eastern sources together with an equally precise discussion of debated issues. So even if one does not have access to any of the primary editions of the sources, one still gets a complete picture of what they entail, which makes the book useful for teaching at the graduate level. ... There is no question that this book deserves serious attention by those interested in both the texts that require interpretation and the world behind the texts that challenges the interpretive effort.—Andreas Schuele, University of Leipzig in
Review of Biblical Literature, December 2016
Catherine L. McDowell's
The Image of God in the Garden of Eden demonstrates the gains in understanding made possible, with all due caution, by bringing the mi¯s pi^ pi¯t pi^ (mouth-washing, mouth-opening) ritual instructions from Mesopotamia and the wpt-r (mouth-opening) texts from Egypt into conversation with the Genesis creation stories. The work under consideration is both an excellent distillation and critique of the relatively recent work done on the animation of divine statues in the ancient Near East as well as a compelling analysis of what it means for understanding the Garden of Eden narrative of Genesis 2–3. A revision of her 2009 Harvard dissertation directed by Peter Machinist and Irene Winter, McDowell's work displays the comprehensiveness, attention to detail, and clarity of exposition that make this indispensable for understanding both the rituals involved and the conceptual context informing the Genesis account. Scholars will find reasons to dispute some of the claims and conclusions made in the volume, but McDowell has herewith advanced the conversation in a systematic and reasonable manner.
. . . McDowell's work constitutes a major step forward in the study of the nuances and complexities of one of the most important and attended-to sections of the Bible.. . . the vast majority of the discussion is methodologically self-aware and generally careful not to overstate influence or conclusions.
. . . In final analysis, the
Image of God in the Garden of Eden is required reading for any modern student of the biblical creation narratives and of biblical conceptions of the image. McDowell has elucidated many aspects of the narrative and made crucial observations in her reading of the symbolic world inhabited by its ancient author and audience. She succeeds also in her general robust contextualization and close reading against the backdrop of image animation conceptions in ancient Southwest Asia, and I look forward to seeing the future development of and reaction to her work.—Cory Crawford, assistant professor of classics and world religions at Ohio University, in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 8 (2016): 215–29
There is much to commend in this work: McDowell presents a thoroughly researched and carefully argued case for understanding the image of God in light of the ANE practices of building, animating, and installing divine statues. The summaries and reconstructions of the various Mesopotamian and Egyptian ritual texts offered here is a great help to understanding these practices and, in turn, may be helpful for illuminating other portions of the OT. Moreover, I appreciate McDowell's thorough argument for treating Gen 2:4 as a coherent link between two stories, a view that I believe to be correct. Finally, McDowell's identification of the image of God with the themes of kinship, kingship, and cult and the tracing of these themes in Gen 2–3 opens up important new avenues for consideration.—Nathan Chambers, Durham University in
Bulletin for Biblical Research, 27.1 (2017): 93–95
"Refreshingly, M. aims to understand each source in context before drawing comparisons, and is equally interested in how the biblical authors deliberately distinguish their understandings from ANE precedents. She concludes that in Gen. 2.5–3.24 the image has been democratized, while the opening of the eyes, rather than resulting in vitalization and installation in the Temple, has the opposite effect: eviction from community with God, and a struggle for existence. Employing thorough scholarship, careful methodology and subtle exegesis, this well-written monograph offers a valuable attempt at refining the understanding of the 'image of God'."—Rebecca S. Watson in
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 41.5 Share Your Find!