Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 18 (2018) - Review

McDowell, Catherine L., The Image of God in the Garden of Eden: The Creation of Humankind in Genesis 2:5–3:24 in light of mīs pî pīt pî and wpt-r Rituals of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt (Siphrut, 15; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2015). Pp. ix+246. Cloth. US$ 47.25. ISBN: 978-1-57506-348-5.

The volume represents a revised version of the author's PhD dissertation from 2009 and, with a few exceptions, retains a bibliography reflective of that date. The work sets out to examine the nature of humanity's creation in the divine image, taking the account of ʾādām's creation in Gen 2:5–3:24 as its starting point, rather than the explicit reference to humanity's creation in the “image” and “likeness” of God in Gen 1:26–27. This allows McDowell to introduce two sets of ritual texts from elsewhere in the ancient world, namely, the mīs pî and pīt pî—the “Washing of the Mouth” and “Opening of the Mouth” rituals from Mesopotamia, which McDowell refers to collectively as mīs pî pīt pî—and the wpt-r—“Opening of the Mouth”—from Egypt. McDowell ultimately argues that the biblical text shows strong, if not conclusive, evidence that the author of Gen 2:5–3:24 was aware of one or both of these traditions, deploying this knowledge in order to recast the readers' understanding of the relationship between humanity and God.

After the usual introductory matters, the core of the argument begins with a structural analysis of the Eden story (ch. 2). The object is to argue that Gen 2:4, in its entirety, serves simultaneously to conclude the Priestly account in Gen 1:1–2:3 and to begin the Yahwistic account in Gen 2:5–3:24. This is developed through attention to the tôledōt formulae. In each of the formula's other eight instances, McDowell identifies a “step pattern” of the form ABCA'D. A is the preceding text; B is the tôledōt formula; C comprises intervening verses (but is not always present); A' constitutes a recapitulation of selected portions of A, focusing on a particular feature and adding further information; and D is a continuation of the expansion anticipated by A'. Genesis 2:4, McDowell argues, should be seen in the same light, as summarising Gen 1:1–2:3 and introducing Gen 2:5–3:24, rather than belonging solely to one or the other. The chapter concludes that the material which follows this formula in Gen 2:5–3:24 is structured around a series of problems and their solutions, culminating in an unresolved problem, namely, the expulsion of the humans from the garden.

Chapter 3 deals exclusively with the ancient Near Eastern comparative material, presenting and analysing the mīs pî pīt pî and wpt-r rituals in turn. Although these rituals and the texts which preserve them—incomplete, unfortunately, in both cases—were used to enliven a wide range of objects other than divine statues, McDowell's primary focus is on the activation of divine statues for cultic use. The aim of the chapter is to argue that both ritual collections depict the creation of divine images in terms of two complementary analogies: human birth and material manufacture. The rituals differ at a number of points, including the extent to which the involvement of human craftsmen and women were involved in the production of the statue; the Egyptian tradition celebrated this, whilst the Mesopotamian tradition obscured it. Nevertheless, McDowell perceives an overall consistency in the rituals' sequence, their reliance on birth and manufacture imagery, on the opening of the eye, and the establishment of the image in the divine family.

Chapter 4 returns to the biblical texts to consider the implications of this material for the interpretation of Gen 2:5–3:24. Here, McDowell argues that points of similarity with the Egyptian and Mesopotamian materials suggest that Gen 2:5–3:24 intends to depict humanity as created in the image of God, even though the text does not state this explicitly. The argument proceeds first from an analysis of Gen 1:26–27, arguing that the terms ṣelem and demût define the divine-human relationship in terms of kinship, cult, and kingship. I read this with interest, having myself argued that this terminology was intended to evoke the relationship between parent and child.[1] McDowell begins with Gen 9:6, arguing that the verse presupposes God as the gōʾēl haddām and thus as the divine kinsman (rather than reflecting, for example, the more general legal principle of talionic justice), then points to the appearance of ṣelem and demût in the description of the relationship between Adam and Seth in Gen 5:1–3 to suggest that the terms express the correspondence between children and their parents. McDowell combines this with the long-standing interpretation of these terms as invoking royal representation and/or cultic statues, with some additional ancient Near Eastern evidence, to suggest that Gen 1 conceives of humanity as God's “royal son.”

McDowell then asks if this triad of kinship, kingship, and cult is present in the Eden story. Kinship and kingship are dealt with briefly; the former is present in the relationship between Adam and Eve and the latter indicated by Adam's role as a gardener. The rest of the chapter highlights certain features of Gen 2:5–3:24 that exhibit similarities with the divine statue animation rituals from Mesopotamia and Egypt. Foremost amongst these is that the establishment of a garden, and the installation of Adam in it, echoes the importance of the garden in mīs pî pīt pî and in Egyptian funerary rituals (the latter is based on related funerary art, rather than on the text of wpt-r). In emphasising the significance of this McDowell seeks to dissociate Gen 2:5–3:24 from other ancient creation accounts, in which humanity is created to labour on the earth (e.g., Atraḫasis, Enūma eliš), by arguing that they place humanity in cities rather than gardens. Nevertheless, since McDowell also emphasises Gen 2:5–3:24's description of its garden in terms of a temple and temples—certainly those of mīs pî pīt pî—were generally located in cities, this should perhaps not be understood as an absolute distinction.

McDowell suggests that the activation of Adam's ears, mouth, and eyes, akin to the “opening” of these organs in the ritual texts, is implied by Adam's various activities and by Yhwh Elohim's prohibitions. If correct, this means that humanity's eyes are opened twice, because they are opened explicitly in 3:7. Indeed, the relationship between this latter opening of the eyes and the human's likeness to gods is undoubtedly the strongest parallel to the animation of the divine statues' sensory organs in the mīs pî pīt pî and wpt-r; it is thus with some justification that it is here that McDowell argues that Gen 2:5–3:24 alludes to these rituals. The emphasis on their subsequent nakedness, McDowell suggests, relates to the loss of the divine radiance with which they had previously been ‘clothed’ (a state inferred from the description in Ps 8 of humanity as ‘crowned’ with glory and honour).

Ultimately, McDowell contends that the ideal creation implied by Gen 2:5–3:24 was one in which humankind would dwell alongside and in the presence of God, in the sacred space (garden). In an inversion of the mīs pî pīt pî and wpt-r rituals, the opening of the divine image's eyes resulted not in the installation of the image in this sacred space but, in making the image (too much) like the god, destroying the relationship and the requirement of humanity's expulsion. Unlike the divine images in Mesopotamia and Egypt, the divine image in Gen 2:5–3:24 is and must remain distinct from the deity.

The last major chapter addresses the relationship between Gen 1:1–2:3 and Gen 2:5–3:24. Regarding the former, McDowell suggests that the most provocative theological context for the priestly description of humanity as beṣelem ʾelōhîm would have been during a period of widespread Israelite use of cultic images, namely, the pre-exilic period, and that the account's implied universalism would not have fallen on receptive ears during the Babylonian exile. McDowell thus suggests a reconsideration of the date of Gen 1:1–2:3. Admitting an honest defeat as to the absolute date of composition for Gen 2:5–3:24, McDowell recalls the earlier argument regarding the tôledōt formulae and Gen 2:4 to suggest that it is the older of the two texts.

The volume benefits from McDowell's clarity of expression and thought throughout, with the ancient Near Eastern material carefully and thoroughly presented in a manner that should be accessible even to those whose expertise does not extend to the relevant ritual texts. The argument for the relationship between these rituals and Gen 2:5–3:24—which McDowell concludes is probably if not provably historical, rather than merely typological—is a cumulative one rather than a case of a single smoking gun. Nevertheless, the comparison is sufficiently productive in its implications for the interpretation of Gen 2:5–3:24 as to warrant close attention to this work by scholars of both creation accounts. Not all will agree with McDowell's conclusions regarding the relative or absolute dates of either Gen 1:1–2:3 or Gen 2:5–3:24—one wonders, for example, whether the “democratisation” of royal sonship in Gen 1:26–27 would have been welcome in the monarchic period to which McDowell dates the priestly account—but these were rightly left by McDowell to the end; the success of the wider comparative endeavour neither hangs nor falls upon it.

On a final and more general note, it merits observation that the work reflects a delay between the dissertation's submission in 2009 and the monograph's publication in 2015. Without reference to the former it is impossible to determine the extent of revisions undertaken during the interim, but they seem to have been minor (there are references to only half a dozen publications that appeared after 2009). The effect of the delay is thus the omission of several recent works with which engagement might have been productive. For example, M. A. Thomas has written on the tôledōt formula[2] and C. A. Strine on the mīs pî and Ezekiel,[3] whilst the purported democratisation of the afterlife has come under fire amongst Egyptologists.[4] This is not a problem unique to McDowell and the point of raising it is not to single McDowell out for criticism; rather, it is to highlight the challenges faced by early career scholars attempting to complete even minor revisions, with detrimental consequences for the advance of the field. Those able to create space for junior colleagues to revise their work in a timely manner should make every effort to do so, whilst supervisors should do their best to supervise with the postdoctoral labour market in mind.

C. L. Crouch, University of Nottingham

[1] C. L. Crouch, “Genesis 1:26–7 As a Statement of Humanity's Divine Parentage,” JTS 61 (2010), 1–15. reference

[2] M. A. Thomas, These Are the Generations. Identity, Covenant and the ‘Toledot’ Formula (LHBOTS, 551; New York: T&T Clark, 2011). reference

[3] C. A. Strine, “Ezekiel's Image Problem. The Mesopotamian Cult Statue Induction Ritual and the Imago Dei Anthropology in the Book of Ezekiel,” CBQ 76 (2014), 252–72. reference

[4] H. Hays, “The Death of the Democratisation of the Afterlife,” in Nigel Strudwick and Helen Strudwick (eds.), Old Kingdom, New Perspectives. Egyptian Art and Archaeology 2750–2150 BC (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2011), 115–130; M. Smith, “The Democratization of the Afterlife,” in Jacco Dieleman and Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology (Los Angeles, 2009),; W. Harco, Les texts des sarcophages et la démocratie (Paris: Editions Cybèle, 2008). reference