Reproducing the Image: A Reflection Following the Meeting of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning, November 2003

Rachel Muers
University of Exeter

“[The fashioning of appropriate images] is only possible if you can give birth to a son after your own likeness?”

It was a slip of the tongue, and it raised a laugh (at least at the back of the room) late in the evening at our Atlanta gathering; of course the speaker meant beget , or perhaps engender , or some other verb that wouldn’t necessarily denote a biological impossibility (or, as a colleague suggested to me later, a very confused child). Reading our papers and listening to the discussion, I wondered whether the problem about the “image of God” is not its production but its reproduction – so, not God’s making of ‘adam , nor even (referring to Steve Kepnes’ paper) ‘ adam ‘s making of him/her/themselves, but Adam’s and Eve’s making of Cain, Abel and Seth, and beyond this all our “making” of one another, “with the help of the LORD” or otherwise.

Genesis 5:3 was included in the texts made available for discussion at the meeting; Genesis 4:1, despite references in both Kepnes’ and Richardson’s paper, was not, presumably because it contains no mention of the “image”. This, however, begs the question. Adam begets a son “in his image, according to his own likeness”; Eve “produce[s] a man with the help of the LORD”. It is striking, here, that the male reproduces while the female produces – reversing the assignation of gender roles common in economic analysis. It is also striking, however, that Adam’s “reproduction” of the image is (on one reading) presented as his action alone, where Eve’s “production” of Cain is explicitly set in the context of the relation between her and Adam, and her and the LORD. If Adam disappears (as Kepnes points out) from Cain and Abel’s story, Eve disappears from Seth’s story and from the list of the “descendants of Adam” – even though the birth of Seth has been set in the context of God’s creation and blessing of humankind, male and female (Genesis 5:1-2).

?I assume here, without reproducing (!) at length, extended analyses in feminist thought of the male symbolic appropriation of the female capacity to give birth. My concern is not with the elimination of Eve from the reproduction of the image per se , but with the links between a “monogenetic” (and, here and elsewhere, father-centred) account of how personal and social images are reproduced, and inappropriate closures in our accounts of human communities in relation to God. I suggest that the language of the “image of God male and female” presents a challenge to any claims to reproduce our own images in successive generations; and that Scriptural Reasoning has the potential for a mode of academic and religious “reproduction” more in keeping with this insight.

Briefly: perhaps there is no production of the image of God without the encounter of irreducible difference (indicated, but not exhausted, by the co-presence of male and female in “humankind”), which itself is not productive apart from “the help of the LORD”. Perhaps if we acknowledge that this production is creative and not merely “reproductive”, we can see that it is itself differentiated, conflictual and precarious (what is produced is Cain and Abel !); but the capacity to produce what is not (exactly) our own image is part of what it means to bear the image of God. On this reading, Adam’s begetting a son “in his own image, according to his likeness”, might indicate a possible problem – the risk of a distortion of “bearing the image” into a presumed capacity for monogenesis. If we think we know all about the image we bear, we read history, backwards and forwards, as the single line of production of that one image (the coming-to-be of “modern man”, the story of a nation’s or a group’s “development”). It is easy to read the future, and the past, as reproductions of a single image, fearing (perhaps rightly) what very different image might be produced “with the help of the LORD” in relation to another.

Thinking through Kurt Richardson’s paper, and admittedly reading “against the grain”, a question occurred to me: Did Jesus take after his mother? He was (Luke 3:23ff.) the son, as was supposed, of Joseph, the son of Heli, and so on back to Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. There was, then, uninterrupted transmission of the paternal image, down a closed and uni-directional chain of causality – with a twist right at the end, or at the beginning. He was supposed to be Joseph’s son, to receive the image through the fathers; but something was amiss. Perhaps Mary (we are not shown the line of mothers and daughters that leads her back to Eve) could declare “I have produced a man with the help of the LORD”? So that the appearance of the image of the invisible God did not require an uninterrupted single line of “begetting” (that would also, of course, as a single line, be closed off by his appearance), but rather emerged where the line broke; the image of the invisible God, bearing no man’s image. (And to follow textual logic in this way would not, I hope, divert readers into debates about the credibility or otherwise of “virgin birth”, although it might open up another productive area of textual study).

Reading this text alongside the Genesis texts, scriptural reasoners might hypothesise that the texts we read often (and inevitably) follow one line, tell one story, simplify the processes of the production and reproduction of the image of God – and will at the same time make apparent, for those who wish to perceive them, the extra-textual complexities of production and reproduction that the narration has excluded. We have the choice to identify ourselves with the assumption that a single line of authoritative text reproduces itself in a single line of authoritative interpretation; or to recognise, if you like, that it takes at least two to reproduce. The latter recognition might direct our readings productively to what is not “written in” but is also not entirely “written out” (such as certain characters in the text, or the conditions of its production and transmission); and, as Steve Kepnes suggests, to the various demands and possibilities presented by the situation in which we read.

The group of scriptural reasoners currently working on “repetition” will have further insights on the question of identity and difference in the production of the image of God. Is there, for example, another and more productive reading of Adam’s begetting a son “in his own image”? It would seem to me that the instances of repetition within scriptural texts could function, paradoxically, as interruptions of a uni-directional line of development. Repetitions, whatever else they do, cause “that within which they are repeated” (time, a narrative, their context, the scriptural canon) to appear. Repetition, we have been reminded in many philosophical contexts but only recently in the context of scriptural reasoning, gives the possibility of the new. Again, I find gender/sexual difference, within the texts read for this meeting and elsewhere, an indispensable way into thinking about the kind of repetition (male and female are both ‘adam ) that never reduces to the unitary ( ‘adam is plural).

We might further hypothesise that scriptural reasoning is, or could be, a venture in academic and religious production/reproduction that takes on itself the risks associated with renouncing the desire to “give birth to sons according to one’s own image and likeness”. Academic genealogies are told too often through the “paternal” line, in more uni-directional chains of causality (is the Doktorvater expected to give birth to sons in his own image?). The Tent of Meeting document, correspondingly, reflects a widespread concern about communities of religious reasoning that are excessively concerned with the self-identical reproduction of their present patterns of thought. Looking at the matter in this way makes it clear that “including women” in the lines of transmission does not itself make much difference. What would make a difference, perhaps, would be the resolution for the kind of relation to the other that might produce something new “with the help of the LORD”, and for the nurture (not to repeat Adam’s disappearance) of what is produced.

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