Semitic Scholarship Confirms Animal Death Before the Fall in Genesis 1
|Digital painting by the author.|
The most sophisticated academic study on the Fall and animal death to date
In my recent book critiquing Answers in Genesis’ Bible interpretation, I summarized a 2013 doctoral dissertation by J. J. Van Ee entitled, “Death and the Garden: An Examination of Original Immortality, Vegetarianism, and Animal Peace in the Hebrew Bible and Mesopotamia.” The PDF of the full dissertation is available free here. As someone who has dumped months of research into the topic, I’m convinced Van Ee’s thesis is by far the most comprehensive and sophisticated exegetical treatment that exists on the issue of death before the Fall in the Hebrew Bible. (Disclaimer: I've never spoken with Van Ee, and my views in this article are my own.)
My friend Mike Jones at Inspiring Philosophy was also so impressed with Van Ee’s dissertation that he included a summary of some of its contents in a video entitled: “TOP TEN Biblical Problems for Young Earth Creationism” which has currently garnered 125,000 views.
The linguistics of the creation mandate imply military struggle against the animal world
When Genesis 1:26-28 has God commanding humanity to “rule and subdue” the earth and its animals, the Hebrew verbs used are distinctly harsh and imply a violent military context. Consequently, animal violence and predation were presumed the original “very good” condition of the created order in Genesis 1 (More on that below).
Responding to Answers in Genesis' lazy response
Well, Answers and Genesis’s "UK executive director" Simon Turpin has finally delivered a response to this research, and the result is...
|Screenshot of the Answers in Genesis article.|
Turpin (whom I will mostly refer to as "the author" from here on) couldn’t be bothered to even read Van Ee’s dissertation before writing this article about why he thinks its conclusions are wrong. I don’t know how to make that point politely. Instead, we are presented with the typical theological arguments you would find in most any other article on their website.
I’m going to quote this AiG article below and give my critique. The author starts by objecting that the Hebrew word subdue (kavash) in Genesis 1:28 must not imply humanity’s use of violent force against animals before the Fall:
“It is true that the Hebrew word kābaš can imply physical danger (Esther 7:8), subjecting someone to slavery (2 Chronicles 28:10; Nehemiah 5:5; Jeremiah 34:11, 16), and conquering people (Numbers 32:22, 29; Joshua 18:1; 2 Samuel 8:11; 1 Chronicles 22:18; Zechariah 9:13). But these things are implied by the context and not by the word itself. For example, the prophet Micah uses a powerful warlike image of God “treading”(kābaš) out our iniquities, which is a compassionate act (see Micah 7:19).”
Ok, then Micah 7:19 clearly therefore supports the “warlike” meaning of kavash. Doesn’t it? It doesn’t matter that the motive is compassion. God here is violently trampling Israel’s iniquities and hurling them into the sea as a demonstration of his compassion, supporting a violent meaning of this verb. In other words, kavash implies coercive force in every single instance it occurs in the Bible, and this author is unable to produce a single exception to support his non-violent interpretation of its usage in Gen 1:28.
|The 13 contextual uses of kavash. (Click to expand).|
For perspective, I’ve compiled all 13 of these biblical instances in a graphic. As in the Bible, CAD (pg 9) likewise assesses the meaning of the Akkadian cognate kabasu as “to crush, defeat an enemy, to bother, to make people do work, to press people.” (Van Ee, 203)
The article continues by turning to the verb “to rule” in the creation mandate—the term radah etymologically most likely means “to tread.” The author claims:
“It is also true that the word rādâ can be used for ruling harshly (Isaiah 14:2, 6, 41:2), but again the context must determine the meaning of rādâ. For example, in Leviticus, rādâ reflects a benevolent, peaceful rule towards a person among the Israelites who has become poor (Leviticus 25:43, 46, 53). Likewise, King Solomon brought about a benevolent rule that resulted in peace and safety with each man under his own fig tree (1 Kings 4:24–26). Solomon even spoke of beasts, birds, reptiles, and fish. (1 Kings 4:33). These are the same categories of animals that mankind was to rule over in Genesis 1 (Genesis 1:26–28).”
"[T]he people being ruled were compelled by force or circumstances into their present status. Thus, it is important to note that in all the occurrences of radah the one being ruled is under some form of coercion to submit.Some commentators, in reaction to those who argue that [Gen] 1:28 gives humankind the right to plunder the earth, argue that humans have positive duties towards the ones they rule. Note, however, that such duties are not inherent in the terms themselves. Radah never implies benefits for the one being ruled but only for the one ruling."
|Click to enlarge|
“Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna reasons why the kingly power bestowed on mankind to ‘subdue’ and ‘rule’ the earth cannot include a license to harmfully exploit creation:..[T]he model of kingship here presupposed is Israelite, according to which, the monarch does not possess unrestrained power and authority; the limits of his rule are carefully defined and circumscribed by divine law, so that kingship is to be exercised with responsibility and is subject to accountability.”
“However, radah is not used for someone ruling over his own people unless that rule involves some sort of oppression or injustice. In two places, Israelites are said “to rule,” radah, over fellow Israelites. In both places, additional qualifications are used to negatively characterize their rule. In Jer 5:31, the priest are condemned for ruling “according to their hand” (al-yedaihem). It is debated what this means, but it is clear from the context that it is improper. In Ezek 34:4, Israel’s leaders are condemned for ruling with “force” (chazkah) and “harshness” (perech). Verbs such as mshl and mlk are normally used for ruling over one’s own people. Radah overlaps semantically with these verbs but is not a close synonym.”
“In Genesis 1, the words kābaš and rādâ must be taken in their benevolent and peaceful context and not in a harsh warlike context.”
Yes, you can argue for the humane treatment of animals and environmental responsibility from plenty of other biblical passages, but those concerns aren't actually the focus of the conquest mandate in Genesis 1:28. The text is about man's "military" struggle against nature.
Was permission to eat meat only given after the flood?
As we’ve seen, kavash and radah most typically occur in military texts. An excellent piece of evidence that the creation mandate was presumed to involve military conquering is that Genesis 9:2 encourages Noah with the oracle that man’s post-Flood dominion over the world will yield the result that: “The fear and dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and on every bird of the air, and on all that move upon the earth, and on all the fish of the sea.”
If the above argument goes over some people's heads, one could more simply note that Turpin's interpretation of Gen 9:3 also doesn’t make sense considering Abel was surviving off of his livestock and sacrificing the fat of the firstborn of them at God’s approval before the flood (4:4), and Noah was commanded already to separate animals into clean and unclean dietary categories before boarding the ark in Genesis 7. These texts imply meat was eaten before the Flood.