The Genesis Creation Story: Permission to Despoil?

A Bible scholar takes issue with those who blame the Book of Genesis for Western culture's exploitative disregard for nature.

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There are three specific regulations in Chapter 9. In the first, humans are told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, probably the only command of God that we’ve ever fully obeyed. Next, they are told to refrain from eating blood because that is the life [ of the animal]: hierarchy does not imply total domination. The third regulation emphasizes that no one (human or animal) can kill human beings, those responsible for the earth, and demands the death penalty for that terrible crime. These laws do not eliminate violence, indeed they include violence, the violence of the law. Violence is ordered and sanctioned as the antidote to violence: “whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human his blood will be shed” (Genesis 9:6). The blood of the murder is not expurgated except with the blood of the murderer.

These laws do not prevent violence. However, they do protect the earth from being polluted by lawless behavior. The laws are meant to protect the earth. God makes it very clear that God no longer wants to have the earth cursed because of human deeds. Why God wants an earth, we have no idea; for God [unlike the Mesopotamian gods] has no need to eat food. Chapter 2 links the creation of humans with the earth: they are to tend it; but it never tells us why God wants an earth. Chapter 9, a priestly text, explains that God gives the whole legal structure of the world to protect the earth from suffering, but once again it doesn’t tell us why God wants the earth. The entire creation is an act of absolute divine desire (“grace”); we don’t know what motivates it.

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Tikva Frymer-Kensky

Tikva Frymer-Kensky (1943-2006) was a professor of Hebrew Bible at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. She was the author of many works of biblical scholarship and spirituality. She was a foremost assyriologist, biblical scholar, and feminist.