Notes on Genesis (xxxvi) Dread and fear

‘For the dread and fear of you shall be upon all the wild animals of the earth…I have put them all under your authority.’ (Gen 9:2)

This is a hard saying for those who love animals; we do not like to think of animals being in fear and dread of us, even wild ones, and are pleased to be among untamed animals that go about their business unperturbed by our presence. It somehow seems an insult to their dignity to think of them as being placed ‘under our hands’ (as the Greek text of the Septuagint reads.) Earlier, the first male and female couple are said to have been given dominion over the animals (1:28; the verb contains the root kurios, ‘master’), but the notion of dread and fear suggests a new and worse kind of relationship that came about after the flood.

But another part of Scripture points in a different direction. ‘And in your wisdom [you] built a man that by you he might be the master (the Greek root here contains the notion of being ‘despotes’) of what is created, and manage the world in holiness and righteousness…’ (Wisd 9:2f). In the understanding of the Church, ‘wisdom’ here refers to Christ (compare the preceding phrase, ‘who made all things by your word’; the sophia and the logos are taken as different terms for the same being.) The role of the human (anthropos, not a gender specific word) is to manage the creation in holiness and righteousness. The first of these words is rare in biblical Greek, the second common, but the virtues are brought together by St  Luke when he reports the words of Zacharias, the father of John the Forerunner, concerning serving  ‘in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life’ (1:75) and St Paul (Eph. 4:24).

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