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Created in the Image of God: The ANE Background of the Imago Dei

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By Starlight - Posted on 05 March 2010

I want to introduce an article concerning the Image of God in the background of ANE. In this article I see some very important backdrop considerations that would be helpful in understanding a discussion of the “Image of God”. I have selected excerpts from the complete article to provide a condensed flavor of the author’s investigation. Some of the important recognitions that become apparent from the authors perspective is that the Image of God is a Covenantal application when understood from the ANE backdrop.

I find myself in significant agreement with much from this author but I will point out that he continually speaks of Humanity at large while all along he continues to frame the complete direction and purpose only toward a Covenant application. This is an inconsistency that I have been pointing out for quite a while now that there is a propensity to include a biological or philosophical application to humanity at large while often the discussion is about only those in God’s covenant community. The author seems to think that folks won’t notice this inconsistent application of covenant versus humanity at large.

When one starts grasping the Covenant Creation similarities that we find recently in Brian Godawa’s article ("Biblical Creation and Storytelling: Cosmogony, Combat and Covenant") and Peter Enn’s understanding that “Adam is Israel” it becomes clear that Covenant is the glue that binds the Bible together including the “Image of God” as demonstrated in this article. So it is starting to resonate with more and more that Adam as the story is a Covenant one found within the scope of humanity at large. Humanity at large is the focused objective but an established Covenant with the faithful and God is the end reality of all scripture. This is because in the ANE world only those who were faithful to the King were His Covenant subjects and not those with other interest or their loyalties lie elsewhere to another.

Here are significant excerpts and the link to the full article.

http://www.theologymatters.com/Novdec97.PDF

Created in the Image of God: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Imago Dei
by Scott N. Morschauser

Upon the discovery of thousands of texts by archaeologists, scholars turned to ancient Near Eastern parallels to try to explain the imago Dei.9 And on this basis, it is now generally accepted that the phrase is derived from “royal language” attested from Mesopotamia and Egypt, wherein a king or pharaoh is
sometimes called the “image of (a) god.” While supposedly being “democratized” in the Genesis account, such an observation readily lends itself to the idea that human beings function as the divine image through the exercise of “DOMINION” AND “RULE.”

Essentially, the individual appointed as “an image of/for” a king or deity was in a COVENANTAL RELATIONSHIP: a person’s duty being the carrying out of the bond which tied the parties to one another as Lord and Servant.

If one accepts that the reading “God created man in his image” in Genesis 1 has its origins in “royal ideology” of the Ancient Near East, then, it is against, and within, this symbolic world of Office and Obligation that the biblical concept of the imago Dei should be considered.

Commentators have long acknowledged the deliberate nature of the account of chapter 1, and have noted parallels between the Genesis narrative of the formation of the cosmos, and a type of text found elsewhere in the Ancient Near East known as the “building” or “dedicatory” inscription.

This rather broad characterization—while useful—needs to be elaborated further: THE CREATION OF THE WORLD IN GENESIS 1:1-2:4 DESCRIBES THE CONSTRUCTION OF A PARTICULAR TYPE OF ARCHITECTURE—A TEMPLE. GOD, ACTING IN THE ROLE OF A KING:

Presupposing the conceptual background offered above, the purpose of these human “images” would
have been regarded in functional terms: to represent, bear witness to, and to serve under, the authority of the Divine/Royal Patron.

These images—just like the personnel of a sovereign in the Ancient Near East—are to speak and act on the basis of their commission. Established in their office—in their position as “image for God”—they are to be nothing more, and nothing less, than the arad kitti, “THE LOYAL SERVANT” of their Lord, bound to, constrained, and defined by, His Sovereign Word alone.

Servant/herald-humanity is allowed to “SUBDUE” AND “HAVE DOMINION” over the rest of Creation and its inhabitants. The phraseology is very subtle here: while seemingly having the implication of unlimited power, the terms “subdue it” (Heb. kivsuah) and “have dominion” (Heb. redu) may also be rendered in a more benign fashion, as “DOMESTICATING” AND “SHEPHERDING.” The exercise of such prerogatives, thus, is to be directed towards, and contributes to, the primary task of humanity’s “IMAGE/OFFICE” OF “SERVANTHOOD” under the jurisdiction of the Divine.

Within this immediate scriptural context, the making of human beings “in the image of God,” would denote that all mortal action is to be directed towards the glorification of the LORD OF THE COVENANT and Builder of His Sanctuary. Importantly, human beings—male and female, equally and together—are granted a sacral responsibility. They are, by expressed decree, TO BE “PRIESTS,” SERVANTS, AND HERALDS FOR THEIR DIVINE SUZERAIN.

Whether the “image” is to be applied to God idiomatically (#3), or to man, functionally (#1-2)—and we would argue that both readings (# 2-3) are valid and implied—the creation of the latter is overwhelmingly realized in terms of “OBEDIENT SERVANTHOOD,” a task and role clearly formulated within the narrative logic of the canonical text as being based on, and explicated as, a “covenantal relationship.”

This idea of “special election” of a loyal vassal eventually reaches a climax in the Pentateuch in the formation of the pact between God and Moses, where THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY IS TO “BECOME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION” (Exod 19:5). Through Torah—THE COVENANTAL INSTRUCTION centered around the Decalogue—comes the opportunity for humanity to LIVE OUT THE DIVINE INTENTION FOR IT FROM THE BEGINNING, even in a Fallen World—acknowledging, AS THE CORPORATE ENTITY OF ISRAEL, that “God is Lord, and we are his people.” This declaration represents the reinstatement of Gen. 1:27, in its two-fold sense, both as divine claim upon, and commissioning of, humankind: in the wilderness, ISRAEL ACCEPTS THE ROLE AND TASK OF ARAD KITTI, “THE FAITHFUL SERVANT,” recognizing the title of its Divine Suzerain over all of Creation

In Pauline theology, the story of Jesus’ radical faith and faithfulness—e.g. the history of his obedient servanthood which demonstrates his true lordship—REPRESENTS AUTHENTIC HUMANITY AS INTENDED BY GOD FROM THE BEGINNING. The denial and deformation of man’s vocation by the first Adam, is reversed through the One who submitted himself in humility to God’s Word and plan. The restoration of the PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF “BEING-CREATED-IN-GOD’S IMAGE” IN ALL OF ITS ASPECTS—denoting the unique Lordship of God as Creator, and subservience of Man thereto—is manifested and effected by God’s great, and once-for-all act of mercy in, and through, his Son, his life, death, and resurrection.

Humanity’s “being conformed” and “conforming” to Christ and his witness—both ontologically and ethically— henceforth specifies the content and meaning of the imago Dei. Christology defines anthropology: the “Second Adam” is the repristination and re-creation of the “Old (Fallen) Man” and his corrupting of his office.

THE ELECTION—THE COMMISSIONING AND CLAIMING OF HUMANITY BY COVENANT—through the free and gracious act of the Electing and COVENANTING GOD-—revealed in, and as, Jesus Christ WILL MARK THE “TWO-FOLD” REALITY underlying the biblical phrase “God’s created man-in-his-image/ God-in- God’s-own-image created man.”

We have argued that, rather than denoting the “exaltation” of a particular talent or characteristic of human nature—as is frequently the case in popular debates of this topic—THE IMAGO DEI HAS TO DO WITH THE CREATION, COMMISSIONING, AND CLAIMING OF MAN BY GOD IN COVENANT.

Man is the consequence of God’s purposeful decision, and has been called into being for a particular task: to glorify its Sovereign, being empowered by grant, to fulfill its station within the divinely ordered world. CRITICALLY, BOTH THE FORM AND FUNCTION OF THIS OFFICE ARE ENTIRELY DEPENDENT UPON, AND REALIZED IN, GOD’S WORD, ALONE. Humanity’s action within the Cosmos-as-Temple, on behalf of its Suzerain, is itself, described and circumscribed by decree—God’s Self- Disclosure.

SIMPLY PUT, THE “IMAGE” OF THE IMAGO DEI IS EXPRESSED IN THE CONTINUING WITNESS AND VALIDITY OF GOD’S DECLARATION OF PARTNERSHIP, “I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.” God is faithful in his covenantal promise as Creator and Lord, and Mankind is to occupy its rightful place as His Servant in the world, being guided by, sustained, and bearing witness to, that Divine Word spoken to it from the Beginning. Likewise, this will be the essence of the office subsequently given to the community of Israel in the midst of the Fallen World; as Torah—COVENANTAL INSTRUCTION—WILL DEFINE ANEW THE ORIGINAL COMMISSIONING OF, AND COMMISSION TO, HUMANITY TO “RULE/SHEPHERD” a Creation, now broken and reeling from sin.

And, according to the testimony of Scripture, this service to, and for, YHWH, is decisively revealed in the actual embodiment of the Divine Word—the Word which was at, and from, the Beginning, and which has become flesh in history—in, and as, Jesus Christ. It is through This One— who brings to Man the Light which shone forth at Creation, and who announces the Sabbath of the Lord to the world— that Israel’s mission, and humanity’s original and eternal vocation and purpose are both demonstrated and consummated.

In and through Christ Jesus—He who was, and is, with God as Son and Servant of YHWH—we hear once more, and finally, that it is “in-the-image-of-God that God made Man;” and that Man-and-Woman, adam—equally and together— have been fashioned by God Himself to be holy and free for God, and thus, wholly free for one another IN THE RESPONSIBILITY OF A COVENANTAL COMMUNITY.

We would suggest that it is this interplay between the Creating and Commissioning God, and Created and
Commissioned Humanity which constitutes the biblical concept and REALITY OF THE IMAGO DEI FOR THE CHURCH. Hopefully, it is from such a point—the recognition that humanity is defined by the Sovereign Word and Act of God as homo foederis Dei, “MAN OF, AND BY, GOD’S COVENANT”—that further discussion may proceed.

36. We would contend that such A COVENANTAL VIEW OF THE IMAGO DEI, has very little to do with defining humanity by its “physicality,” “sexuality,” or “potentiality.”

flannery0's picture

I thought this was an interesting statement in light of the fact that the term Israel literally means to "rule as God":

While supposedly being “democratized” in the Genesis account, such an observation readily lends itself to the idea that human beings function as the divine image through the exercise of “DOMINION” AND “RULE.”

mazuur's picture

Norm,

Excellent stuff. Thank you for posting this. I'm telling ya, the walls are falling faster than one can keep up with concerning Genesis. I believe God is really opening eyes everywhere. I can't wait for the day when YEC (and everything connected to it) has finally fallen off into the dumpster where it belongs.

-Rich

-Rich

Sam's picture

Tim,

You state there is an inconsistency in applying the image to humanity at large. Why? Why is that a strict, logical contradiction?

Secondly, why is it a philosophical argument, when, clearly, those who have defined the Imago Dei never appealed to Philosophy, but to the texts?

Starlight's picture

Sam,

I posted this article not Tim, but to answer your question concerning why the Image of God isn’t consistent when applied to humanity at large is because as this article demonstrates; it is entirely a Covenant relationship. By definition all men are not in Covenant with God per Rev 22:15 although who could deny that it is certainly created for the benefit and purpose of all men to embrace.

As far as why is it a philosophical argument? I would agree that it is not as it is a biblical concept which the author lays out pretty well in the context of the ANE culture. However the author speaks in the larger article’s body that philosophy has tended to attempt to influence the definition historically. Here is the author’s statement in the last footnote concerning a biological or philosophical take on the “imago dei” which he argues against.

“We would contend that such A COVENANTAL VIEW OF THE IMAGO DEI, has very little to do with defining humanity by its “physicality,” “sexuality,” or “potentiality.”

Norm

Sam's picture

Norm,

(I thought it was Tim, sorry - screenames!). Again, merely asserted your position, that it is "entirely covenantal") is not answering my question. I want to know why, in MY view, I am inconsistent. If Adam was the first human being, and God made him in his image, and thus, as Genesis 9.6 demonstrates, all men are in his image (again, this is MY view, Norm), then how is it inconsistent? Let me ask this another way: let's say my view is correct. Assume that it is. Thus, with that, HOW is it inconsistent to apply the image of God to all of humanity? That's what I am asking.

Starlight's picture

Sam,

Let me try again.
I believe the best way we can get to the root of our issue is to determine what it means to be in covenant with God as I stated above. The reason I presented this article is I thought it makes a good case how covenant comes into play concerning the Image of God. Since Adam was a covenantal creation then it is not a biological story and the focus is not biological which this article actually helps reinforce. If we go to Gen 4:26 where we pick up the lineage story again after the interlude of Cain’s story we see that this is when men began to call upon the name of Jehovah. It does not use the international term for God “Elolhim” as it does entirely in Gen 1 but instead it is “YWHW” which confirms an Israel connection to the following lineage story thus stamping it clearly as a Covenant continuation.

So I’m looking for how one can take a covenant story and demonstrate that is not the intention concerning relationship with God and make the biological the focus instead. If indeed the story regarding Image of God is biological then in Romans when Paul speaks of the “all men” then he is universalizing the term biologically instead of covenantal and then his application will not make sense in lieu of the faith definition he sets up for inclusion. I think one of the most difficult challenges we have is to wrap our minds around the ANE mindset regarding the Covenantal view of that day and how it permeates the bible story.

Sam can you then address the author’s exploration in the article regarding the covenant nature of the Image of God and explain how it is also biological when he is clearly positing it in a Covenant setting. If we can focus on this authors premise in this article it might help us stay focused on a good application in biblical context.

Starlight's picture

I almost forgot to mention that in Daniel 7 at the defeat of the Beast we again have the people of the most High given the Kingdom like we see in Gen 1:26-31 and they are to rule and have dominion at that time.

Dan 7:19 "Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast ….26 But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. (27) And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven SHALL BE GIVEN TO THE PEOPLE OF THE SAINTS OF THE MOST HIGH; THEIR KINGDOM SHALL BE AN EVERLASTING KINGDOM, AND ALL DOMINIONS SHALL SERVE AND OBEY THEM.'

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