Shadow and Tears


« Adam’s Creation » Michelangelo

« Let us make man in our image, after our likeness » (Gen. 1:26).

What exactly do these words refer to? What is this divine « image »? What is this Godhead’s « likeness »?

Hebrew has a dozen different terms that express or connote the idea of image. But in this verse, it is the word tselem (צֶלֶם) that is used. Its primary meaning is « shadow, darkness ». It is only in a figurative sense that tselem means « image, figure, idol ».

As for the idea of « likeness » or « resemblance », it is expressed in this verse by the word demouth (דְמוּת). The root of this word comes from the verb damah (דָּמָה), « to resemble, to be similar ».

From this same verbal root derives the word dam (דָּם), « blood »; and figuratively « murder, crime ». Another derived meaning is « resemblance », probably because people of the same blood can have similar traits.

There are several other words, quite close etymologically to damah, that are worth mentioning here, for their potential resonances: דֻּמָּה , dummah, « destruction »; דְּמִי, demi, « destruction, annihilation »; דֳּמִּי, dami, « silence, rest » ; דָּמַע, dama, « to shed tears ».

There is also the word dimyon, which means « demon », and which seems very close to the Greek daimon (δαίμων). Is this a coincidence? Perhaps the Hebrew term was borrowed from the Greek daimon, and transformed into dimyon? Or was it the other way around? I would tend for the former option. It is a fact that the word daimon was used by Homer to mean « divine power ». Moreover, the Greek word daimon etymologically comes from the verb daiomai, « to share, to divide ». Its initial meaning, taken from this verb, is « the power to attribute », hence « divinity, destiny ».

One can usefully compare the same shift in meaning with the old Persian baga and the Sanskrit bogu, « god », which give in Avestic baga-, « part, destiny » and in Sanskrit, bhaga, « part, destiny, master ».

Taking into account all these resonances, I’d like to propose alternatives translations of Genesis 1:26:

« Let us make man out of our shadow (tselem), and out of our tears (dama). »

Or , more philosophically:

« Let us make man out of our darkness (tselem), and out of our annihilation (dummah). »

New questions would then arise:

What does that (divine) darkness refer to? What does this (divine) annihilation really mean ?

A short answer: darkness (´tselem´) is a metaphor of the (divine) unconscious, and annihilation (´dummah´) is a metaphor of the (divine) sacrifice.