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In Genesis the goodness of creation requires what I have called a logic of otherness , in which dualities that could become divisions or antagonisms are united for the good. The basic structure of this logic is: (1) first one, then the other, (2) the one for the good of the other, and (3) the one is not good without the other. It is a logic which, as we shall see, moves us in the course of the biblical narrative from creation to history, from first things to human politics. We need this logic to understand the duality of heaven and earth, as well as male and female. And later we will need it to understand the third great duality of the biblical narrative: Israel and the nations or, in New Testament terms, Jew and Gentile.

The logic of otherness does not fully emerge until there are creatures who speak to one another. So God does not see the creation as “very good” until it includes humanity, the people who can hear his word and even speak it to one another. Over other creatures he can speak the word of blessing, “Be fruitful and multiply,” but to the human creation he first says “you” (in the plural, Gen. 1:29).

It is characteristic of the logic of otherness that this “you” first appears at the receiving end of a gift: “I have given you . . . food” (Gen. 1:29). The food brought forth from the earth is a gift from heaven, as every farmer knows who watches the sky for sun and rain. But it is a gift that only becomes explicit when God says he is giving it, speaking to the creatures he made in his image and likeness. And only in addressing them does he also speak of giving food to beasts and birds and everything that creeps on the earth (Gen. 1:30). Indeed, in the Hebrew he doesn’t even repeat the verb “give.” It is all one and the same gift: The animals get their food as he gives food to those who can hear his word and can offer him in return the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, functioning as priests on behalf of the whole creation. The gift comes down from heaven, the sacrifice rises from the earth, and all is good.

Indeed, it is at this point that God sees it all as “very good” (1:31). As before , “good” here means completed, perfected, all done. In the logic of otherness we have the one and the other, the one giving and other receiving. But the goodness of creation is not fully completed—not “very good”—until the earth includes the other who can return a word of thanks to the one who gives from heaven. And so we do not hear of animals being given their food until there are human beings in creation to have dominion over them (1:26), to be the representatives of earth receiving good things from heaven.

What makes the human creation different from the rest of the animals in earth and sea and sky is that they are the ones who speak and hear. As the classical tradition would put it, they are “the animal with logos ,” which is to say: the living thing with the word, able to speak, having language and therefore reason. The phrase is often translated, “rational animal,” for logos can mean “reason” as well as “word.” The church fathers would read of humanity made in the image of God and think: Yes, we all bear the image of the divine Logos that was in the beginning, who in due time became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 1:14).

But it takes a long story to get us from creation in the image of the Logos to the Logos made flesh. The next step is when male and female actually speak to one another, which is the unspoken event around which the story in Genesis 2 and 3 revolves. I call it an unspoken event because, in one of those resounding gaps that (as Meir Sternberg has shown in his Poetics of Biblical Narrative ) are characteristic of the artistry of biblical narrative, we learn that the man listened to the voice of his wife, but we are not told what she said (Gen. 3:17).

What we do know is that male and female are not the same afterwards. Precisely as the one speaks and the other hears, the animal with logos has become the animal that disobeys the word of God. The completion of the good creation is about to become a very long story.

More on: Genesis, Reason, Food, Language

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