Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Imago Dei, Part 4: Rule and Pacifism

For the immediately preceding post in this series, click here.

I have been arguing that the PT source of the Pentateuch finds the Imago Dei in God's grant of royalty and viceroy status to humanity on earth. In this post I argue that this rule, in PT's understanding, is to be non-violent, non-coercive, even "pacifist." PT's emphasis on non-violence is fascinating and not widely known, so it is worth a post here.


The above image is a "Peaceable Kingdom" cake, baked by my TA Kitty Guy. Note that in this kingdom of peace, in Isaiah 11:6, humans exercise leadership: "with a little boy to herd [נהג] them" (NJPS). The idea of human viceroys of God on earth is perfectly compatible with a state of peace and love in nature. The dominion espoused at Gen 1:28 need not be violent, and it is not. Thus, PT's original ideal for humanity was vegetarianism (only at Gen 9:3, does PT eventually settle for a "second-best" state of eating meat).

The verb "subdue" (כבשׁ) in Gen 1:28 can have the sense of "take of possession [of a land / country]" rather than "subjugate" or "violate." This sense would accord with PT's thinking elsewhere in its narrative. The PT narrative has Israel look forward to occupying the land of Canaan, but in a demilitarized manner compared with the perspectives of other biblical sources. PT narrates not a single war or battle. E.g., at the Red Sea, the children of Israel simply walk calmly through the parted Sea on dry ground (Exodus 14) . When Abraham and Lot part ways and occupy separate lands, PT narrates no rift or dispute as the cause (Genesis 12:5; 13:6, 11b-12a). In general, PT tries to get humanity to move away from always dealing with others in fearful and selfish ways. Most centrally, in God's gift of manna, God makes sure there will be no possibility for envy, hoarding, and violence (Exodus 16:17-18). Manna is PT's miracle food for a Peaceable Kingdom.

In short, PT abhors envy, discord, and violence. Its vision of the Imago Dei must involve human humility and mutuality over against both other people and the natural world. These are key themes elsewhere in the Bible's Reverence texts, especially in Isaiah 40-66.

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