Dominion mandate

So first watch this video:

How do we reconcile the harsh mandate of dominion, which asks for ‘cruel’ ownership of animals with Proverbs 12:10? Is one wrong? Are we misunderstanding Proverbs? I think this a huge theological problem.


I think the video provides a simple answer to the question in that there are two domains of animals the Israelites are concerned about- their domestic animals that their livelihood depends on (and there are many Levitical laws on how to treat domestic animals well) vs. wild animals. Clearly the people would have a generally negative view of wild animals given that they can negatively impact their domestic food supply and are part of Yahweh ‘cursing’ the people as the video outlines. A strong word is used then in their mandate to conquer over such as clearly Genesis 1 is not referring to their domesticated animals given the Israelites only ever domesticated one of the three categories.


I thought the Proverbs Praises kind ownership of domestic Animals. In contrast, wild animals are dangerous, and in the video, have to be subdued. Or am I missing your question?


You aren’t misunderstanding Proverbs, but Genesis. The mandate to “rule” is not harsh, but just the opposite. Middleton’s essay Created in the Image of a Violent God?: The Ethical Problem of the Conquest of Chaos in Biblical Creation Texts addresses a lot of your concerns.


1- does this mean we should domesticate all wild animals and dominate the earth with impunity?

2- The word for ‘rule’ in Genesis 1:28 is used for harsh, cruel rule, not normal rule

3- Do wild animals mean nothing?

Not sure how that link answered my question, it only discussed the Chaoskampf, some mention of the Imago Dei and how it relates to stewardship, but he never mentions what the ANE parallels are.

From the essay:
"Although the history of interpretation has often separated the meaning of the image of God from the mandate to rule, today many Old Testament scholars directly connect the imago Dei in humans with the exercise of power. The result is a “functional” interpretation of the image of God as the status or office of humanity as God’s authorized stewards, charged with representing God’s rule on earth. This interpretation of the imago Dei, wherein the human race is granted a share in God’s rule (and thus may be said to be like the divine ruler), is congruent with careful exegesis of the Genesis text and is supported by ancient Near Eastern parallels, where kings (and sometimes priests) are understood as the image and representative of a god on earth."

“This interpretation of the image, while exegetically warranted, remains a purely for­mal statement and is thus inadequate as it stands. It is not enough to claim an analogy or likeness between human power and God’s own power. What is urgently needed is an inves­tigation into the content or substance of the power humans in the divine image are expected to exercise.”

As you noted when you first came here, Gen. 1-11 is a polemic. Chaoskampf is the point; Genesis 1 is the counterpoint. Mesopotamian kings were considered representatives of the gods, and they exercised rule/dominion/power in the same mold – by violence and suppression. The contrast that Genesis 1 sets up is that all people, both male and female, are made in the image of God, and we are to exercise rule/dominion/power in the same mold as YHWH. If you want to understand the meaning of “rule” in Genesis 1:28, you must go beyond a simple word study. Middleton’s essay explores that question. From the conclusion:

“But the creation account of Gen 1 does not just relativize the creation-by-combat motif. Rather, by its alternative depiction of God’s non-violent creative power at the start of the biblical canon, Gen 1 signals the Creator’s original intent for shalom and blessing at the outset of human history, prior to the rise of human (or divine) violence. As the opening canonical disclosure of God for readers of Scripture, Gen 1 constitutes a normative framework by which we may judge all the violence that pervades the rest of the Bible. If the portrayal of God’s exercise of non-violent creative power in Gen 1 is taken in conjunction with its claim that humanity is made in the image of this God, this has significant implications for contemporary ethics. This opening canonical disclosure of God and humanity constitutes, not only a normative framework for interpreting the rest of Scripture, but also a paradigm or model for exercising of human power in the midst of a world filled with violence.”

I wouldn’t say that it has anything to do with domesticating wild animals. Since the Israelites never even tried to go around domesticating lions for example. So in other words, the two are talking about completely different topics.

There is something that is somewhat violent to facing wild beasts - especially when, as the video points out the wild beasts were associated generally with curses and negative things. Here is an example of some wild species that existed (in another part of the world and much earlier than the timing of Genesis):

In the context of them tearing you apart or destroying your food supply, a dramatic ‘dominion’ I think is warranted. But even then, I think that looking to the Middleton essay will be helpful as Jay posted.


I don’t think the Imago Dei is a polemic, since the Egyptians also had that concept, and applied it to all humans.

Please note that not all wild animals are amenable to domestication. For example, attempts to domesticate the zebra have failed. (Note that we’re talking about domestication and not taming.) Animals change genetically from domestication.


Interesting point. And there is something called “self-domestication,” as well. If I recall, that is what happened with dogs. We did not “tame” them; they adapted themselves to living with us. Someone please correct my memory if it’s off.


The entirety of Gen. 1-11 is a polemic. You can’t isolate one part of it and extract it from the context for special treatment. That is a common interpretive error. Moreover, the polemic is specifically directed at Mesopotamian mythology, not Egyptian. Scholars of the Hebrew Bible have pretty much settled that debate. You shouldn’t fall into the trap of “parallelomania.” The simple fact that a parallel exists doesn’t mean it had any influence upon the original author (or later editors). That must be demonstrated, not assumed.

I don’t deny that you are correct, my issue is that the Genesis mandate says something which could potentially be interpreted that way, by saying humans should subdue and rule all animals.

If you want a substantive answer, Part 2 of Middleton’s book The Liberating Image answers your objection in much more depth than I can here.

Also, can we ‘tame’ all animals? Should we leave no animals in the wild?

It is speaking to ‘all’ beasts, presumably including domesticated beasts

How is ‘ruling over all animals’ not saying all animals should be owned by humans, and cruelly as well?

You are very good at interpreting ANE point of view. It seems if we interpret this in context to others with the propensity to misapply things, we should avert disaster. Animals at the dawn of time were all wild were they not?

Yes, I’ve heard of that idea and I think it has merit. I took Brian Hare’s coursera course called “Dog Emotion and Cognition.” Fascinating stuff.

I again think you are reading ‘owning’ into the text there too much. It doesn’t follow especially given that some animals are untamable (like Leviathan or Behemoth), other animals are unclean to this people group, and there is a very clear distinction as the video mentions between wild animals and domesticated animals.

Note: it would look different to have ‘dominion’ over different animals. Consider owning livestock. There are plenty of verses that speak to the pleasant treatment of animals and punishment for those that mistreat them. However, at the end of the day, as nice as someone is while raising the animal, they still slaughter that animal for food (or for a sacrifice-which is quite dramatic and can fit the more extreme sense of ‘dominion’). So we get both for the domesticated animal and for the wild animal, well the verses about being kind would not apply- i.e. behemoth doesn’t play nice with humans.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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