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In Kingdom Through C ovenant (Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum), G &W analyze the “image of God” referenced in Genesis 1:26-27 by reference to the Ancient Near East conventions and usage. The key clause is:

Let us make adam [man, human beings]

In our image

According to our likeness

Genesis 1:26.

In our image:

ANE background G & W rely upon the work of Paul Dion “Ressemblance et Image de Dieu” for the pre-Mosaic Egyptian usage of the concept “image of god”. From (at least?) 1630 B.C. onward, the phrase “image of god” was used to convey the notion that the Pharaoh was a son of a god and conveys or reflects “the essential notions of the god” (Kingdom, 191). Moreover, since the Pharaoh conveyed the essential aspects of the god as a son of the god, the Pharaoh also held the status as ruler over the world: “To sum up, the term ‘image of god’ in the culture and language of the ancient Near East in the fifteenth century B.C. would have communicated two main ideas: (1) rulership and (2) sonship. The king is the image of god because he as a relationship to the deity as the son of god and a relationship to the word as a ruler for the god” (Kingdom, 192).

The proposition is supported by references to various inscriptions. For example, An inscription from the time of Esarhaddon, 681-668 B.C. (LAS 125, in PSimo Parpola, Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal, Part I: Texts): reads:

What the king, [my lord] wrote to me: “I heard from the mouth of my father that you are a royal family, but now I know it from my own experience,” the father of the king, my lord, was the very image of the god Bel, and the king, my lord is likewise the very image of Bel (quoted in Kingdom, 193).

That is, the king was the image of the god Bel, who thus conveys the authority and majesty of the god.

Doing a quick search, I noted the following additional references to “image”[1] which support the concept. First, from the Stela of Amenhotep III:

Amun’s blessing to the King

Speech of Amun, King of Gods:

My son, of my body, my beloved Nebmare,

My living image, my body’s creation,

Born me by Mut, Ashru’s Lady in Thebes,

Mistress of the Nine Bows,

Who nursed you to be sole lord of peoples!

My heart is very joyful when I see your beauty,

I did a wonder for your majesty,

You repeat your youth,

For I made you the Sun of the Two Shores.

Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973–), 46.

From “Hymn to Aten and the King”:

You love him [the King], you make him like Aten.

You dawn to give him eternity,

When you set you give him infinity.

You create him daily like your forms,

You build him in your image like Aten.

Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973–), 93.

When my brother sent Mane, his messenger, saying, “Send your daughter here to be my wife and the mistress of Egypt”, I caused my brother no distress and immediately6 I said, “Of course!” The one whom my brother requested I showed to Mane, and he saw her. When he saw her, he praised her greatly. I will l[ea]d her7 in safety to my brother’s country. May Šauška and Aman make her the image of my brother’s desire.

William L. Moran, The Amarna Letters, English-language ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

From the Victory Stela of King Piye:

“Hear what I did, exceeding the ancestors,

I the King, image of god,

Living likeness of Atum!

Who left the womb marked as ruler,

Feared by those greater than he!

His father knew, his mother perceived:

He would be ruler from the egg,

The Good God, beloved of gods,

The Son of Re, who acts with his arms,

Piye beloved-of-Amun.

Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume III: The Late Period (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973–), 68.

In our image:

Next relying on the research of Ernst Jenni, Die hebraishen Prapositionen, Band 1, 1992, they state that the preposition beth (b), English “in” marks an “equating status”. “Thus, again, be indicates something locative and proximate” (Kingdom, 199). Thus, humans are closest to God in the matter of “image”. When the creation looks upon Adam, they will see the “image” of God: the one conveying God’s rule in creation.

According to our Likeness:

G & W, relying (in part) upon the Tell Fakhariyeh Inscription, explain that , “‘image’ refers to the king’s majestic power and rule in relation to his subject while ‘likeness’ refers to the king’s petitionary role and relation to the deity” (Kingdom, 302). (A discussion of the inscription can be found here: http://www.wtctheology.org.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Garr%20Image.pdf)
In the article cited by G & W, Garr makes this observation: Fakhariyeh uses the Aramaic “image” to refer to himself in respect to the god and “likeness” to refer to himself in respect to the subject:

In the first section [which uses the word ‘likeness’ to describe his relationship to the deity], the ruler is a supplicant. He deflects attention from himself, placing himself in a position subordinate to his divine addressee and requesting that his prayer be answered. In the second section [which uses the word “image” to refer to his relationship to the deity], the governor is center-stage. He beings by addressing his own needs for recognition, sovereignty and respect. Later, he becomes focused on power, and his use of power to direct events. Whereas the first part of the inscription depicts Had-yit‘I as a supplicant, the second depicts him as sovereign. (Israel Exploration Journal 50/3-4 (2003), W. Randal Garr, “’Image’ and ‘Likeness’ in the Inscription from Tell Fakhariyeh”, 231).

And:

In other words, the two representational terms reflect and implicate complementary function of the object/or ruler himself. “Likeness” [ atwmd] is petitionary and directed at the deity; it is cultic and votive. ‘Image’ [mlx ] is majestic, absolute and commemorative ; it is directed at the people. Thus, these two Aramaic terms encode two traditional roles of the Mesopotamian ruler – that of devout worshipper and that of sovereign monarch (231-232).

When this is coupled to analysis of the preposition ke, according to (again, relying upon the work of Jenni) they state, “ke indicates something similar but distal and separate” (Kingdom, 199).

Implications:

Hans Walter Wolff, in Anthropology of the Old Testament, wrote:

Accordingly, man is set in the midst of creation as God’s statue. He is evidence that God is the Lord of creation; but as God’s steward he also exerts his rule, fulfilling his task not in arbitrary despotism but as a responsible agent. His rule and his duty are not autonomous; they are copies. (quoted in Kingdom, 200).

G & W thus argue that “image of God” refers first to covenant relationship which human beings are to hold toward. It references the relationship one has toward God; and the relationship which one holds to the creation, both the human beings and the non-human creation.

This does not mean that human beings did not suffer significantly at the Fall.

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1:21–23 (ESV)

However, that loss is not distinctly related to the matter of the “image” of God. It also helps explain a passage such as Colossians 3:10:

10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3:10 (ESV)


[1] I am unable to confirm the Egyptian word underlying the English translation; hence, these references are unconfirmed examples.