INSPIRATION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SAY WRITERS ARE INSPIRED?

Biblical literalists will tell you the Bible is inspired by God and a picture has arisen of the writers faithfully transcribing God’s inspiring Word. However, poets have long sought from beyond themselves the inspiration of the Muse. That there might be similarity with the Biblical in the kind of inspiration in some artists’ and prophetic voices is suggested by the great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn who claimed in The Oak and the Calf that for the final draft of The Gulag Archipelago three large volumes written in seventy three days, his was merely the recording hand.

William Blake, referring to his pictures, though he might well have said the same of his prophetic poems, “though I call them mine I know they are not mine”.

The idea of divine inspiration is reflected by D.H. Lawrence, reflecting to a colleague on his approach to his work:

I know how hard it is. One needs something to make one’s mood deep and sincere. There are so many frets that prevent our coming at the real naked essence of our vision. It sounds boshy doesn’t it? I often think one ought to be able to pray, before one works- and then leave it to the Lord. Isn’t it hard, hard work to come to real grips with one’s imagination- throw everything overboard? I always feel as if I stood naked for the fire of Almighty God to go through me-and it’s rather an awful feeling. One has to be so terribly religious, to be an artist. I often think of my dear Saint Lawrence on his gridiron, when he said, “Turn me over, brothers, I am done enough on this side.

(To Ernest Collings, 24th February 1913 The Letters of D.H. Lawrence)

That it was possible for Lawrence- son of a coal miner- in 1913 to pitch his inspiration at so high a level- scarcely imaginable in a writer in English a hundred years later- demonstrates an intense seriousness in his conception of the possibilities and meaning of art in the twentieth century, which links it closely with the Biblical idea of inspiration.

Whatever, both Blake and Lawrence were brought up as Nonconformists; one was the earliest great English Romantic and the other developed into perhaps the last representative of that great outcrop of writers. Solzhenitsyn, a faithful follower of the Russian Orthodox church writes out of the the great tradition of the Russian novel, but all three writers develop their work out of the Judeo-Christian heritage.

But to get back to the Bible, perhaps you remember the second story of creation in Genesis 2:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils; and man became a living soul.

Genesis 2: 7 KJV

Hence inspiration -the breath of God breathed in by Man; with Man as “living soul” created in the image of God (Genesis1.27) ;there follows creative speech (Adam is to name the animals) developing into what, in time, Lawrence is to call “art speech” (“art speech is the only speech”) properly and originally inspired in Man by God.

The idea of inspiration is central to the Old Testament. God inspired Moses, much against his will, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When Moses argues he has not the gift of eloquence he is told by God:

Who hath made man’s mouth…………Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say.

Genesis 4 11-12

The great Hebrew prophetic tradition follows in similar vein. Jeremiah similarly protests about being unable to speak for I am a child” (Jeremiah 1.6) and God reassures him Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me “Behold I have put my words in thy mouth” (Jeremiah 1.9). We hear of Ezekiel’s vivid visions followed by the words:

Son of Man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thy heart, and hear with thine ears“. (Ezekiel 3.10)

The prophetic tradition demonsrates most obviously the Biblical idea of inspiration. The prophets are men with a deep sense of accountability to God, deeply disturbed by the way in which their nation is going and finding, through inspired vision, a voice to express what they are convinced is God’s will. While much of what they say is directed towards the plight of their nation at a particular time, within the fluctuations of Middle-eastern geopolitics, from them emerge great visions like those of Isaiah’s suffering servant and Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, visions that were to inspire future prophets and indeed Jesus himself , who seemed particularly influenced by Isaiah’s idea of the “suffering servant” and Daniel’s apocalyptic visions.

Yet inspiration is not confined to the prophets. The Genesis stories of creation and the Fall are told at a depth which makes them continue to be deeply meaningful thousands of years later. The psalms are poems written by poets inspired to address God, some in gratitude to the good shepherd, some in distress to a God seemingly turned away. Job’s great drama daringly imagines God giving voice to the creation of the cosmos.

Biblical literalists then are not misguided in seeing inspiration as central to the creation of the books of the Bible. However the power to be a prophet or seer does not guarantee authenticity in itself. The Bible speaks of false prophets. Ezekiel is warned to distinguish true prophecy from those so called prophets who “follow their own spirits and have seen nothing” (Ezekiel 13.7). Of them God says

Have ye not seen a vain vision and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say,The Lord saith it albeit I have not spoken.

Ezekiel 13.7

We are disturbed by Biblical visions that speak of the the destruction of the Ammonites. These are visions, based on an idea of tribal purity at odds with later Christian ideas. Peter’s wonderful vision of being commanded to eat foods he instinctively considers impure (Acts 10. 9-16) is a revelatory turnaround of what he has learned from his religious heritage.

We need, in other words, as well as revelation, critical discernment . It is not enough to claim the inspiration and expect immediate endorsement. Prophecy may stretch the bounds of credibility or seem confusing or downright wrong as sometimes do the later Blake and the later Lawrence.

Yet inspiration, that is true inspiration, has an authority about it that we should be wary of countermanding:

And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.

Gospel of St. Mark 1.27

The voice of Jesus saying and doing what intellectual traditionalists of his day find outrageous, yet calls forth, as the revelatory does, wonder at the voice of counter- authority.

We, of the English language, have been peculiarly fortunate in a tradition of great prophetic voices who from Blake, Coleridge, Carlyle, Dickens, Lawrence, Leavis have represented a continuity of voices protesting against mainstream thought systems that have led to modern day scientism and technological- Benthamism (the phrase is Leavis’ characterisation of the age) which have vitiated our modern culture and depressed and diverted the religious spirit of the people.

Inspired voices? Our age desperately needs to learn from them.

” CAN SOCIALISTS BE HAPPY?”: WHY DOES UTOPIA NOT WORK?

I have just been reading Orwell’s essay entitled “Can Socialists Be Happy”?” it sounds a challenging title, particularly from a writer of the Left who fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. Interestingly Orwelll was encouraged to ask the question by comparing the writings of Charles Dickens with a number of more recent writers who had tried to make Utopia convincing. He discusses H.G. Wells who wrote among other things science fiction including Utopian novels (eg. A Modern Utopia, The Time-Machine, War of the Worlds, Men Like Gods).

Here you have a picture of the world as Wells would like to see it. It is a world whose keynotes are enlightened hedonism and scientific curiosity. All the evils and miseries that we now suffer from have vanished. Ignorance, war, poverty, dirt, disease, frustration, hunger, fear. overwork, superstition all vanished. So expressed, it is impossible to deny that it is the kind of world we all hope for. We all want to abolish the things that Wells wants to abolish. But is there anyone who wants to live in a Wellsian Utopia?

Well perhaps Wells is the wrong writer to read to make Utopia appealing. So Orwell looks wider. He tries the early Fabian Socialist William Morris. But Morris’ News from Nowhere is as unattracive as it sounds : “It is a sort of goody-goody version of a Wellsian Utopia. Everyone is kindly and reasonable, all the upholstery comes from Liberty’s, but the impression left behind is of a kind of watery melancholy.”

What about the further-back past? Orwell turns to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The early parts are ” “probably among the most devastating attack on human society that has ever been written”

claims Orwell- a judgement to ponder- but he goes on:

In the last part, in contrast with the disgusting Yahoos, we are shown the noble Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent horses who are free from human failings. Now these horses, for all their high character and unfailing common sense, are remarkably dreary creatures. Like the heroes of various other Utopias, they are chiefly concerned with avoiding fuss. They live uneventful, subdued, “reasonable ” lives, free not only from quarrels, disorder or insecurity of any kind, but also from “passion”, including physical love. They choose their mates on eugenic priciples, avoid excesses of affection, and appear somewhat glad to die when their time comes. In the early parts of the book Swift has shown where man’s folly and the scoundrelism lead him, and all you are left with, apparently, is a tepid sort of existence, hardly worth leading.

Against these Utopias Orwell points to Huxley’s Brave New World as actually reflecting the fear we might have of these organised Utopias: A book like Brave New World is an expression of the actual fear modern man feels of the rationalised hedonistic society which is within his power to create.

Huxley’s “rationalised hedonistic society” is a society in which sex is so readily available that it has become vacuous; in which promiscuous relationships have taken the place of marriage and the requirement of raising a family is state- provided. The living connections between what Burke pointed to as the unborn, the living and the dead have become severed. Meaningful living is unavailable to a generation uprooted from the past dwelling in such a society.

Readers can make up their minds how close we are to this whether we desire it and the kinds of alternative to it.

But to get back to the title. In showing imagined Utopias as undesirable Orwell. asks where in literature we find a living sense of happiness to pose against these failed Utopias. It is Dickens he points to: the Dickens of Pickwick and the concluding scenes of Christmas Carol where the Cratchit family are shown enjoying their Christmas dinner.

the Cratchit family do give the impression of enjoying themselves. They sound happy as, for instance,the citizens of William Morris’s News From Nowhere don’t sound happy. Moreover -and Dickens’ understanding of this is one of the secrets of his power- their happiness derives mainly from contrast. They are in high spirits because for once in a way they have enough to eat…. The steam of Christmas pudding drifts across a background of pawnshops and sweated labour…

Dickens is master of showing human enjoyment and happiness. This may surprise readers who also know his novels -the later ones- as dark. But as Orwell points out the two go together. He prizes the creative enjoyment and revelry of the poor because he knows how hard won it is.

So if Utopias are to be desired but yet fail where does this leave us?. It is worth reminding ourselves that the Judaeo- Christian narrative begins with a kind of perfect world- the Garden of Eden which cannot last. Ever since humankind has had to take account of sin and death and also the difficulties of earning bread (“In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread” Genesis 3:19).

The Bible suggests however the struggle is not mainly socio-economic (which does not stop the prophets speaking out about exploitation and justice to the poor is a preoccupation) but to do with our relationship with God; so to imagine a society- Socialist or whatever- in which our social problems are resolved is unrealistic. The struggle for meaning and meaningful living is central to our human search; and that search cannot be resolved by a Utopia- socialist or otherwise- that attempts to take the struggle away.

FROM TOWER OF BABEL TO PENTECOST

And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language;and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

Go to, let us go down and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence

(Genesis 11; 6-8a KJV)

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they {ie. the disciples} were all, with one accord in one place.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

And there appeared to them unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

Acts 2:1-6

In the Tower of Babel story human beings use their collective knowledge and speech to seek to arrogate their status to become gods. God shows this is the way that leads to disintegration. Their collective knowledge and speech is lost and they are scattered abroad speaking many tongues.

In the second story God sends the Holy Spirit to his chosen disciples who carry the knowledge of the resurrection in their hearts. They now have one message to speak to the hearts of people of all tongues.

In our own language we are made aware God speaks to us of love of Him and love of all. We are to bring that assurance to our own culture and participate in its sharing with all cultures.

SIXTY NOT OUT!

Dear Readers,

Sixty not out refers to the number of blogs you can access by scrolling down the blog page. Before this the cut-off point was around thirty. I have found out how to adjust this (it takes me time to learn these things!) so you can now go back to my first steps at blog writing on Good Friday, last Easter.

Lots of interesting stuff for new readers, I hope: some lovely poems on Poppies and D. H. Lawrence on the “Imagination of God” and “The Body of God”. T.S. Eliot’s beautiful poem “Marina” (surely, once you get to understand what he is doing, one of the loveliest twentieth century poems) was early discussed as was the applicability of a section of “The Four Quartets” to Lockdown: “The whole earth is our hospital endowed by the ruined millionaire”.

I also explored mythic stories like Plato’s Cave, the Biblical “Tower of Babel” and the curious Genesis story of God getting Adam to name the animals.

Etymology might sound a dry study but the history of word “Romantic” is tied up with so much history that I found it fascinating to write about.

I tell you all this to encourage you to explore, scroll down the Blog page and take your pick!

Happy browsing!

Thank you once again for your support.

Alan

GUEST POST: “THE TOWER OF BABEL” (2)

BY RAY INKSTER

Genesis 11 begins with the story of the Tower of Babel-but why on earth was it include in the sacred text?

In the first eleven chapters of Genesis we are in the realm of myth, which is the expression of the truth in story form. the book itself reached its more or less completed form around the sixth century BC, when Jewish people were allowed to return to their own land after seventy years exile in Babylon.

While there, they would have seen one of the wonders of the ancient world-the Ziggurat, or temple of the God Marduk, which was almost 100 metres high, with seven tiers, three great staircases, and an imposing temple at the top-where the earth met the heavens and the God Marduk his subjects. The Babylonians believed that Marduk had defeated the Jewish God, whose Temple in Jerusalem had been reduced to dust and ashes and that, as a result, to quote 11.4, they had made a name for theselves.

The Jews who returned to what now became Judea did not, of course, share that opinion, especially since the Babylonians and their Marduk had in turn been overthrown by the Persians. In part, therefore, this story about the ill-fated Tower of Babel pokes fun at the Babylonians god-like pretensiousness.

In common with other instances in Genesis, the story also offers an “explanation” for a puzzling fact-in this case, that the world was found to have different peoples in it with different languages. In a similar manner, Genesis also provides “explanations” for names. The name “Babel” in Hebrew, sounds like the word for “confused”, and so is said to reflect the fact that God had “confused” the speech of the tower’s builders so that they no longer understood each other and, in their frustration, “left off building” the tower.

Apart from the fun, however, there is a more serious point being made. In a number of the myths of the Ancient Near east at that time, there is the theme of various gods becoming upset that humans were getting above themselves. They make such a raucous din with their unruly behaviour that the gods can hardly get any peace or sleep. Steps had to be taken to put them back in their proper place.

Echoes of this theme appear in Genesis 3 where, after their disobedience in the Garden of Eden, God says to members of the divine council that”man has become like one of us”, and must therefore be driven out of Eden into a world which will now be much less of a “paradise”. Similarly, in Genesis 6, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” and the Flood was necessary to clear that wickedness away and make a new start, this time governe by a covenant between God and man.

Humans are incorrigible, however, and so, in Genesis 11, they decide to “build a tower with its top in the heavens”. They’re going to show God what they can do, pay him a visit on his own territory and try to call the shots. Having promised after the Flood that “never again” shall all flesh be cut off”, God now devises a less drastic but effective stratagem for reminding human beings that he has made them, “a little lower than the angels”, and that they must learn to keep that place.

And this is where the story has something to say to ourselves in our 21st century. Some wit once remarked that having built the tower, if only they hadn’t tried to climb to the top things might not have ended the way they did. There is an aspect of human psychology which suggests itself when people are asked why they climb life-threatening mountains, or want to visit distant planets, the reason being, “because they’re there”. Sometimes that’s fine, but at other times alarm bells should ring.

Why are we mining and burning fossil fuels? Because they’re there, and they’re warming our homes, but also now our planet. Why did we smash the atom? Because we could, and we’re producing energy that lights our cities, but also stockpiling nuclear weapons that can destroy ourselves and our world. Genesis 3 would say to us that “our eyes have been opened, and we’ve become like gods, knowing good and evil”. We need to learn discipline and to rein ourselves in-to leave the fossil fuels where they are, and to destroy the weapons of mass destruction. Our scientists need to understand that they aren’t gods, who can produce a “theory of everything”, which would explain all that is physical yet solve nothing that is moral or ethical. Our religious leaders need to understand that they aren’t gods, who exclusively possess all truth, while any who differ from them are infidels to be treated accordingly. The Tower of Babel story reminds us that we are not gods, but human beings. There is so much that we can, and will, never know. We need to understand and accept our limitations, recognising that though that might often lead to our frustration, in other ways it could well be our salvation.

The Greeks, of course, had their own myth-that of Icarus, whose father made him wings of feathers glued on with wax and taught him how to fly. He warned him not to fly too near the sun, but Icarus “could” fly higher, and so he “did” fly higher. The wax melted, and the boy fell into the ocean from which he did not emerge. The wings of Icarus, the Tower of Babel-we can’t say we have not been warned.

Ray Inkster

THE TOWER OF BABEL

I here use the King James ( or Authorised) version of the story:

And the whole earth was of one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said to one another, Go to, let us make brick and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagine to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

(Genesis 11:1-9)

The myth is designed to explain the breakdown of humans into different languages. The original language is clearly seen as uniting all humanity in one language. We have seen from earlier discussion of Genesis stories the significance of language, of speech. By speech, the ordered universe is brought into being; the creation of Man, at the pinnacle of creation, in the image of God, is reflected by his being introduced to the God-given power of speech ( see post ( Why Does God get Adam to Name the Animals?). But this brings a danger to the fore, the danger of Man over-reaching himself, assuming powers for which God alone is responsible.

In the tale we hear two sets of voices: the collective voice of humanity and the voice of God and God’s counsel ( hence “Let us go down” Gen.11.7). The collective voice has assumed self- conscious awareness of power. They speak with one voice, they are gathered together. Their aspiration is to show off their strength by building a tower up into heaven, so as to “make a name” which will vindicate their authority and make them secure.

God sees this as an arrogation of power, that must be confounded. Hence the confusion of their speech so that communication will become broken and divided. The people from being a great collective will become divided, at odds, and scattered.

Hence has arisen the use of the word Babel to mean ” a confused medley of sounds; meaningless noise (E16)” or “a scene of confusion; a noisy assembly” (E17)” (S.O.E.D.).

More powerfully, perhaps, the Tower of Babel can be seen as a symbol of arrogance. We are told Muslims build their cities so that no building shall over-top the minarets that link the mosques to God. Mohammed Atta, a student of architecture, who led the terror attack, against the World Trade Centre (2001), aimed deliberately at a building higher than overtopped any mosque and was therefore seen as arrogating the power of the West and globalised capitalism. (See Roger Scruton The West and the Rest).

Without, obviously, seeking to justify the reasons for that heinous act, it might be said the attack pressed upon us the same question as the Tower of Babel myth: to what extent have those of us in the Judeo-Christian West allowed the values of secular materialism to over-top our accounability to God as Creator?

Note. Roger Scruton The West and the Rest Globalisation and the Terrorist Threat Continuum 2002. Details on Atta found in chapter on “Holy Law” P101.

CORRESPONDENCE : ON ADAM NAMING THE ANIMALS

NOTE: Correspondence is welcome and may be published. Please follow CONTACT details. The letter below is on the post before last. If the last post on the KINDNESS OF STRANGERS suggests any examples-personal or historical-that you would like to communicate please get in touch.

Hello Alan,

Another interesting blog, much of which I have no quarrel with. As I’ve said elsewhere, the last few decades have seen consciousness being taken far more seriously, as opposed to being taken for granted. The rediscovery of panpsychism is particularly noteworthy, with its giving consciousness, or perhaps better “mind”, priority as that out of which “matter” emerges, rather than the other way around. We ourselves have minds, which links us to the primordial “Mind” and out of minds, the matter of painting, poetry, prose, music, drama emerge. So I share your interest in the Coleridge quotation. But enough of boring agreement-let’s get down to where I take issue with sopme of what you’ve written.

In what you write, in keeping with a number of elements in the early chapters of Genesis, I pick up a sense of “exceptionalism” in relation to human beings, and that’s an idea I regard as needing careful definition, lest it “get a bit above itself”, despite the best efforts of Charles Darwin. I notice you appear to say that humans are “living souls” unlike “the other animals”. This is, perhaps where I have an advantage due to my erstwhile training in Hebrew.

In Genesis 1.24, God said, “Let the earth produce living creatures. Transliterated, the Hebrew for “living creatures” is nephesh chayah(Scottish ch sound). Nephesh is rooted in the idea of “that which breathes” and is given the meanings of “living being, perso, self, soul” etc. A nephesh chayah is therefore a living breathin being. So what? Just this-in Genesis 2.7, after God “blew breath of life(sic) into his nostrils, the man became a living bein- a nephesh -exactly the same as all the other living, breathing creatures in Genesis 1.24 creatures. So there’s no exceptionalism there-in my view at any rate. If humans are “living souls ” so are all other living creatures.

To share another bit of agreement, I can go along with what you write about the way in which language facilitates creative imagination, on an individual and shared basis, and you make a valid link with the man’s naming of various creatures. Incidentally, since in mythology, names are sometimes linked to the “essence” of the named, I’m reminded of the Catholic hell fire preacher, whose name was Father Furniss!

But to get back to issue taking- in mythology , naming can be associated with exerting power. Isis tricked the Sun God into revealing his name, so that he could force him to get her son Horus elevated in the divine pantheon. In Genesis 1.26 the intention in proposing to make humans in the image of the gods is immediately, and therefore primarily associated with their “ruling over” all other living creatures, as the gods did. The verb “radah” means “to have dominion, to dominate over”. In 1.28 the act itself is at once followed by a “blessing” is designed to encourage and facilitate reproduction and “subjugation” of the earth. The verb “kabash” is rooted in the idea of “treading underfoot”, and means “to bring into bondage or subdue”, and is used of rape in the book of Esther. And in Genesis 3.16, the woman is told regarding her husband that “he shall rule over you”. Here the verb “mashal” means to have dominion, to reign as a monarch over his subjects.

It might be said I’m nit-picking. But you’re writing, after all, about the importance of words and language. The editors of Genesis did not have to use these verbs. They could have used others, but these are the ones they chose, and must have had their reasons. And whereas you, Alan, rightly counter-balance them with counter-examples, there have been plenty others who have not. The centuries long history of misogyny, and the current ongoing rape of the planet’s fossil fuel resources, despite the the rapidly increasing instances of drought and forest fires, melting ice-caps and thawing permafrosts etc etc bear witness to some of the unhelpful words we find in Genesis, and elsewhere.

As we both know, the Hebrew Bible is not a book, but a library, compiled , edited and re-edited over hundreds of years, by lots of different people, employing different genres, with different agendas, and for different audiences. This means that the Hebrew Bible doesn’t have “a message” for us. It has a multiplicity of “”messages” many of which are inconsistent, contradictory and some even morally repugnant. The reverse is of course true. There are individual verses, whole sections, and even themes, which are fascinating, colourful, dramatically moving, inspirational, thought- provoking or just provoking.. We have to read with critical care and attention, which will have its own personal reward.

Anyway it’s time to stop. please understand that though I’ve “nitpicked”, I do appreciate and enjoy the quality of your blogs, especially when they provoke pen to paper, or fingers to key board. You and I sometimes have “meetings of minds” and sometimes “separations of minds”. This is splendid as far as I am concerned. Through aagreement comes encouragement, and through disagreementcomes challenge, both of which we all have need of. More power to your writing elbow.

Reply :

Hello Ray,

Many thanks for your carefully developed response to my discussion. Perhaps your answer betrays rather too much a personal need to balance your well focused appreciation of the Hebrew Bible with too much of a large scale focus on what you see as its effects in our times. There seems too much of a gap between what you are considering in close detail in the discussion of the overall meaning of the creation narratives of Genesis Ch. 1 and 2 with disastrous effects of climate change centuries later et al. I would say too much else requires to be considered before this idea is entertained. A blog post on another topic can hardly allow for this.

Your points on the negative possibilities and dangerous potentials of various terms used, seems at variance with the more obvious contextual meanings. It is not gods ( though there is one reference to “we” in 1. 26, presumably , a relic from an earlier edition) who are being discussed -either in the first creation story (the priestly version God) or the second (Yahweh). The sun , moon , stars are indeed worshipped by other tribes but the acclaimed God who is shown to create man in his image is creator of these. This God sees his creation as good-and after the culmination of creation-humankind very good. He is not likely then in giving humans dominion over creation, encouraging irresponsibility towards what should be seen as a blessing The creation is clearly cumulative, with mankind created as the climax, rather than in assortment with the other creatures. The second story, while very different in isolating the creation of man confirms this emphasis.

On your interesting discussion of the Hebrew term “nephesh cheya”, you point to meanings of ” a living being, person, self, soul”. This allows, as indicated, for “living being” which is the New International Version translation , but also for ” living soul” as in the King James Version. The exceptionalism is suggested to me by the context in both first and second creation stories. The second version distinguishes the creation of mankind above and beyond the creation of “living creatures, cattle, and creeping thing and beast of the earth after his kind.” (1.24) and only then “let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. The second story as the blog post makes clear, distinguishes in Adam the ability to name (hence reflecting the image of God, the initial namer) thus again putting human kind in a higher category.

So while you are correct in claiming that I see the Biblical argument as emphasising the “exceptionalism ” of humankind over other creatures (despite the qualifications you make) I would still argue I am justified by the context in making this distinction. However one defines ” soul,” the link between mankind, created in the image of God in terms of consciousness and in being speech makers, capable of developing a complex language (beyond any natural language of communication animals use) makes human beings exceptional as bearers of consciousness, beyond other animals.

This brings me to ” dominion” or “rule”which you tend to see in negative terms. In the post I mentioned the example of Noah saving the animals- an early act of conservation Humankind did develop agriculture, beyond the hunter-gatherer phase and this inevitably led to degrees of control or “rule”. The Hebrew law, however, was remakable in making allowance for animals and for crop growth making rest a constituent part of the agricultural process. “Dominion” enables David Attenborough to stand before us urging us to make the fight against climate change a priority. What other species is capable of doing that? “Dominion” means accepting the responsibility of stewardship, not its denial.

Dealing with an implied charge of “nit-picking” you indicate the focus in my blog on the importance of words and language. Yes, but the emphasis is -or seeks to be- on words and language in the context of the first two chapters of Genesis. Perhaps in your very interesting focus on Hebrew words you are nevertheless straining the context of what is surely first and foremost presented as “good”, “very good”, a blessing. This seems to me to be especially the case when you associate Genesis with “centuries long history of misogyny and the ongoing rape of the planet’s fuel resources” etc. The permanent difficulties of male-female relations in all cultures is certainly at odds with the emphasis on the ending of Ch2 with male and female together “naked and unashamed”. And greed, lust for power, misogyny -the evils of a what is to be seen in Biblical terms, as a fallen world are linked rather more widely to the human condition (about which the Bible is never other than realistic) than simply a sacred text, as you would see it being misread.

Or not misread, for you seem to want to dandle two possibilities: the Bible as a force for good and the Bible as a force for evil. In arguing that in the Bible there is a muliplicity of messages, some of which are contradictory, some ” morally repugnant” you are surely denying the coherence of theme, within a long-term historical development which followers of the Torah and later Christians (the latter seeing a continuity between the Old and New Testaments) have long understood. The Biblical writers and editors, whatever their genre, were writing not just as individuals but as writers within a tradition promoting a sense of their peoples’ understanding of their connectedness with a providential God which, in seeking to celebrate, they were also seeking to correct and modify, as well as develop. The important part the prophets were allowed to play by including their work in scripture is worth contemplating. For the prophets represented a critical understanding of what was going wrong with people’s faith and their understanding of God. The recognition of the contradictions you point to are bound up with the developing understanding of a people of the need to find a way, as the prophet Micah puts it “to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly” with the God who has created them in his image.

Good once again to discuss such matters with you,

With best wishes,

Alan

WHY DOES GOD GET ADAM TO NAME THE ANIMALS?

If you are a regular reader of this blog post you will be aware that recently I have become fascinated by a Coleridge quotation linking God’s boundless creative imagination, the great I AM, sustaining creation and therefore sustaining us in consciousness and our own urge to be imaginatively creative (see God Said”Let Newton Be!”). This interest has encouraged me to look again at the creation stories of Genesis for further enlightenment.

At the beginning of Genesis God speaks creation into being: ” Let there be light and there was light”. and there are various stages in the creative process to the culmination, the creation of humanity : “so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1.27K.J.V)

God creates us in his own image. It is a striking phrase which would seem to endorse Coleridge’s emphasis on the imagination being central. In creating us, in speaking us into existence, God reflects his image into the bodied form of human kind. God is creative and makes us to reflect his creativity. God looks and sees that the creation of the day is good, so he enables us to look out, to be conscious as no other animal can be, at the surrounding creation, enabling us to see that it is good.

The second story of creation(Genesis 2.4-25) works more at ground level. God is a kind of artist, a sculptor, say, he forms man out of the clay on the ground as a sculptor might form a human figure from chosen materials. But it is not only a material, a physical act, for God breathes into his nostrils the breath of life and he becomes a living soul. I love that phrase “living soul”. In essence the second story is saying the same about human creation, except it is the creation of the one sex, man. By breathing life into him God is giving his spirit, his life into us from the start so that we are not just material bodies, not just embodied creatures like the other animals, we are “living souls”.

What does this mean in terms of the meaning of being human? What power are we given when God makes us living souls? There follows a passge which again seems to me to endorse Coleridge’s stress on connectedness between God’s creative power and our very much more limited creativity.

Here is the relevant passage:

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make an helpmeet for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air ; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not a helpmeet for him.

This is a curious passage interposed between the creation of Adam and the creation of Woman. The parade of the creatures seems ostensibly to be linked to the search for a companion for Adam. But none is found, causing the need for a fresh creation. All this seems a little clumsy compared with the first creation story in Genesis 1. At first too the story of the naming of the animals seems somewhat bizarre and awkward when compared with the tight impressiveness of the first creation story. We have not for instance been informed of Adam’s capacity (presumably God-given) to use language . There seems a rather amateurish almost playful awkardness about the parading of the animals for naming all ostensibly for the sake of finding an appropriate helpmate for Adam to ease him from the burden of living alone.

What the second story enables, however, in the naming of the animals is something I find striking given the connection with the Coleridge quotation on the creative imagination of man. The naming of the animals (we have to accept here this is mythic story telling rather than realistic, hence we are not required to puzzle as to how Adam was versed in language) may at first an almost playful and anachronistic categorisation. But remember how in the first story of creation in Genesis 1 God names things and they emerge as themselves and are then declared good. Adam in naming is looking at and recognising each creature to be different, to be seen as a creature that is distinctive. The naming of the animals therefore enables Adam to recognise and respect the goodness of creation. It is a creative act of recognition linking the creativity of man with the greater creativity of God. The naming of the animals is the first explicit act of man, showing his God-given capacity (as one given speech) to be at his own level, creative.

There is also an underlying significance, I suggest, to the activity in that it involves respect for the distinctive nature of God’s creation and by extension a shared apprehension of its goodness. Critics have quibbled over the use of the word dominance, the giving power by God to man over Nature (see Genesis 1.28). It seems to me however this story places an obligation of man to be responsible in his treatment of Nature. (This emphasis will indeed be furthered by the story of Noah protecting the animals by taking them on the ark in Genesis 8).

What we have then in this story within its context is vitally important. God as consciousness passes on consciousness to Man. God also passes on speech to Man. Indeed it might be argued that it is the ability to make speech, to share language that enables Man to be above the other animals, a living soul. God brings forward creation through speech. Man uses his God-given speech to enable him to be creative. The unfallen world is good; it meets God’s approval. Man, set in a garden, is appointed to look after creation and maintain its goodness. The Genesis stories then endorse the importance of looking after creation and they also point to the primacy of the creative imagination as linking the creativity of God with the creativity of man.

The Bible is a work in which God has the power to connect with humanity and Man with God. Moses and the prophets are encouraged and inspired by God to speak that which is needful to be heard. Coleridge is to suggest this power is continued through the work of the inspired human imagination. That power of connectedness, of inspiration, of imaginative creativity is prepared for by this mythic tale of God passing on the art of speech to Adam enabling him to name the animals.