One of the things I’ve noticed while reading the Bible is just how beautiful of a book it can be when we remove all the religious baggage. This isn’t to say that I agree with everything, or anything, in the Bible. I generally don’t think people should be banished to Hell for eternity just because they got God’s name wrong. But I think when we read this book without trying to convince ourselves that every word of it is true, the text transforms into a beautiful mythological poem full of bizarre, pre-scientific imagery that at it’s worst, is a fascinating look into the psyche of ancient people, and at it’s best, seems to tap into some deep, universal truths about the human experience. This can be seen in Genesis 1.
As the first verse famously states, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” But Genesis 1:2 tells us that this was not the Earth as we know it today but rather it was a vast and formless void filled with water. In fact, the word water might not capture this accurately. In the modern day, this might conjure up images of a lake or a beach or a river. The word in question here is the Hebrew word tehom, and a Hebrew reading this at the time it was written would probably have imagined something horrific and chaotic as the word tehom has some negative connotations. Rather than imagining a day at the beach, they would have imagined an enormous sea creature or a giant squid or something terrifying like that. Google “tehom” and look at some of the images, pretty scary shit.
In this desolate and terrifying world that Genesis opens with, we see only God and they’re hovering over the water. Then, God speaks light into existence, separates the light from the darkness and names one “day” and the other “night” and thus was the first evening and morning. Then God tears this vast and desolate ocean right down the middle and relocates half of all this water into the sky, storing it in an enormous dome.
Now, returning to what I was saying at the beginning of this post, it can be very liberating to read all of this from a more honest standpoint. When I was religious, I was trying so hard to read scientific truths into this text. This can be really laborious and difficult when your trying to defend the scientific accuracy of the sky being a dome full of water, and ultimately, it makes the reading very exhausting. But now I can spend far less time trying to defend scientifically illiterate claims from a pre-scientific age and I can instead focus on the aesthetics and the myth as it really is and not as I would like it to be.
Moving on. At this point, God has more or less created his canvas, now they begin to paint. God gathers all the land together and distinguishes “land” from “sea”, God produces plants and vegetation, God concentrates the light into the Sun and the Moon and the stars, God creates sea creatures and birds and animals of all kind.
Finally, in Genesis 1:26, God crafts their magnum opus. They create humans, the pinnacle of their divine creativity. It has been quite common throughout history for us to think of ourselves as being God’s precious little child who they love most out of all their creation. The belief that human beings are a superior creature is of course not limited to religious circles but I can’t help but wonder how this verse influenced the common sentiment of human superiority.
God doesn’t stop there. In Genesis 1:28, God declares mankind the rightful dictator over every other species on the planet. It’s natural to me that we might think this way. In the same way that Louis XIV found himself in a position of power and decided this must have been OK’d by God, humanity found themselves the most powerful beings on the planet and so decided this must be because they were made in God’s image. But I’ve found that when ideas get bound to religion, they become much harder to evolve from. Take for example the fact that many people still think the Earth is 6,000 years old and that homosexuality is evil. We can certainly explain where these ideas came from prior to their being ordained by religion but there’s no denying that once they found themselves in religious texts, they became much harder to eradicate. In my view, this particular verse is the justification for the gross mistreatment of animals and our planet as a whole which is an idea I would much like to see eradicated.
This is my trouble with reading the Bible as an inerrant text. You find yourself forced to either accept or modernize ancient beliefs. When I would read Genesis 1:26-28 as a Christian, I would say something along the lines of: “Well, God gave us all of these things as a gift, which means we should respect them. God gave us the world but that’s because he wanted us to treat it respectfully.” But even in this view, God still encouraged us to see the Earth as an object to be owned and not as a living, breathing ecosystem. It seems to me that there’s no way to interpret Genesis 1:26-28 that isn’t troubling.
That is, of course, if you aren’t reading it as a myth. If you read Genesis 1 as a myth, it offers a glimpse into the mind of ancient people, which is certainly valuable. People, in those days, viewed themselves as being a superior species or indeed not a species of animal at all. Human beings, unlike all the other lowly animals, were replicas of the divine. This no doubt gave them the right to do whatever the hell they wanted to animals or plants or the Earth as a whole. Does this sound familiar? Maybe things aren’t so different today. The crisis of climate change tells me that Genesis 1:26-28 is still deeply ingrained in the human psyche. Whether we believe in God or not, humans still seem to believe that they are the boss and that they can do whatever the hell they want to this planet without long term consequences.
In this way, Genesis does what all great literature ought to do, it challenges us to think about what it means to be human. The trouble is, we aren’t meant to accept everything a book tells us as gospel truth (pun intended). We’re meant to question and challenge everything we read. When Genesis tells us that to be human is to have dominion over all the Earth, it’s our job to disparage that statement, understand why it was written and then interpret it without allowing it to control us. As readers, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be shackled to the things we read, but rather we should be in control of what we read and how we construct ideas out of stories and myths. However, we can only do this when we accept the Bible for what it is: stories.
4 thoughts on “Genesis 1: Adam the Supreme Leader”
I’ve recently been reading the bible too (in my case for the first
time), so it was nice to come across your blog. I’ve never belonged to
an Abrahamic religion, but decided to read the bible in an attempt to
understand these religions better.
I hope that you will be able to share with us some of the beauty you see
in the bible. Having recently read Genesis myself, I find it difficult
to see beauty past the violence and, actually moreso, the poor
editing–there is for instance much needless repetition and I can’t help
but feel the editor who compiled earlier texts / stories (e.g., the two
creation myths or the two accounts of the Noah story) did a poor job.
This is very interesting and something I didn’t know (I’ve never studied
I may be sidetracking from your focus on the text itself here, but I’m
curious why you would aim to read scientific truths into the text when
approaching it from a religious point of view. Wouldn’t you be reading
it for religious truths, not scientific truths?
Agreed. This portion of the bible presents a rather disharmonious view
of humankind in relationship to its environment. As has been seen
throughout history, and increasingly in present times, this perspective
often leads to strife.
Various other traditional practices, which often became part of
religious tradition, promote harmony and cooperation with nature, but
the bible stands (though perhaps not alone amongst religious texts) in
contrast to this. Such traditional practices include seeking permission
from forest spirits before felling a tree and thus doing so only when
absolutely necessary, or only eating certain fish at certain times of
year on the advice of a shaman or other religious leader, which avoided
I think this is a great summary, and I feel your points can really apply
to anything you read.
Hello! Thanks for your response. As far as the beauty I found in the Bible, I really only found it in certain places so maybe I exaggerated a bit in that opening. However, I very much enjoyed the creation myths (even though for some reason there are two of them), Noah’s story and particularly the story of Job. I definitely understand your feelings about the violence in the Bible and I probably have the issues with the same portions of the Bible that you do, but when I cherry pick I can find some really great mythological poetry.
And it’s pretty common for Christians to try to prove that there isn’t an iota of untruth in the Bible. This is a belief called Biblical Inerrancy. It’s bizarre, I know, but many of my Christian friends and family still read the Bible this way. The idea is that the Bible is the word of God, so it cannot contain any falsehoods otherwise it undermines the religious truths that you’re seeking.
But I’m not surprised how many religious traditions teach the view of humanity that says we are superior beings. When you think about it, it makes sense. Humans are very different from any other species so its intuitive that you’d view yourself as a higher being, we just need all these religions to catch up to the science on this issue.