Monday, September 24, 2012


“In Genesis 1: 26, it says, ‘Let us make man in our image.” What do the words “us” and “our” mean to a person of the Jewish faith?

Gen. 1: 26 reads: “And God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (NJPS). There are a number of problems in this verse: To whom is God speaking? If God is One, who is “us” and what is “our,” and what does the word “image” mean? This text has been subject to various types of interpretation. 

About “us” and “our”:  

11. Some have argued that God is speaking in the “royal we.” However, there is no proof that biblical Hebrew knew anything about the plural of majesty as it exists in other languages.

.  2. The Rabbis in the Midrash proposed various scenarios: according to one Rabbi: God took counsel with the works of heaven and earth. Another one suggested, God consulted the works of each day.
   A third one argued, God meditated in His own heart (See, Genesis Rabba, 8: 3).  

   3.  In the medieval period, The French-Jewish commentator Rashi stated that God took counsel with the angels (ad loc).

    4. Among modern biblical scholars, E. Speiser wrote that, inasmuch as the name of God (the term used here is Elohim) appears in the plural form, though referring to a single God--note that the verb accompanying Elohim is in the singular--, God must be referring to Himself. Other modern critics think that the narrator had an angelic court in mind. This court appears in many other biblical passages (e.g., I K 22: 19; Isa. 6: 8; Job 38: 7). The latter interpretation seems to me as the most reasonable one, reflecting as it does the thinking of many cultures in the ancient Near East. 

About “image”:

  1. Some rabbinic commentators say that this means that humanity was created with the ability to think and understand (e.g., Rashi); others maintain that it refers to man’s free will (e.g., Iture Torah ad loc).

   2. Many modern biblical scholars suggest that, by its ability to have dominion over the earth and its creatures, humanity was created as “God’s sovereign emblem” on earth (Von Rad), or that “each man bears the stamp of royalty” (Sarna). This understanding seems to reflect better the ancient Near Eastern thinking.
    PS. Many of us do not believe in the existence of heavenly angels today, but, in the past, most people did, and some believe even today. 

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D.
Sept. 2012