Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

More on Dominions and Domination

Duomo FlorenceMy apologies for the delay in continuing this thread. Maureen Koplow responded to my comments on the etymology of words beginning with dom and her response set the wheels in my head spinning again. However, other duties have kept me away from the blog for the past several days. Here is Maureen’s response, followed by mine.

Maureen: My reason for asking has to do with my animal advocacy – I’ve discussed the idea of the biblical phrase where Adam is supposedly told to have “dominion” over the animal kingdom. For many people, they use this as an argument in favor of exploiting animals. I’ve tried to explain that the word dominion is related to the more positive concepts of stewardship, of being godlike and taking responsibility for animals. I’ve used the concept that many people pray to a deity and ask for mercy, for tenderness, for consideration.

Such people also usually believe that man is created in the image of that deity. My argument is that if people are indeed created to be in “God’s” image, and if we pray to a merciful “God,” are we not then supposed to act “Godlike” toward those over whom we have “dominion”?

The connectedness of the words beginning with dom makes it clear to me that the original intention of the commandment “to have dominion” was to have mercy and compassion, to care for and nurture. For those who believe in a religious argument which favors use and exploitation of animals, the biblical commandment would seem to contradict that claim.

Dr. Goodword: I am led to the same conclusion by a different strain of logic. I am a linguist and linguists are impressed by the fact that only the human species can speak. No chimp, gorilla, whale, or dolphin has ever done anything resembling human speech, despite repeated efforts (“Can Chimpanzees Talk“).

The only explanation to this is that human intelligence is qualitatively different from that of other species. That is don’t simply have more brains than other species; the difference is not quantitative. We have a totally different kind of intelligence, one that allows us to create, learn, and unconsciously pass on language from generation to generation.

That is a large part of the definition of God. God is an entirely different kind of intelligence. Because other species cannot attain the kind of intelligence we have, yet we are a species, it behooves humans to take care of the Earth. No other species can destroy this planet, so no other species can be expected to preserve it. Other species just eat, sleep, and reproduce; that is all they can do. We are the intellectual powerhouses—though looking at our corporate, religious, and political you sometimes wonder. We need a qualitatively different sense of responsibility to go along with our intelligence.

2 Responses to “More on Dominions and Domination”

  1. Tom Peters Says:

    I agree with both interpretations and add another compatible perspective. There are many linguistic and exegetical justifications elsewhere in the Old Testament for seeing God as “justice”. Some scholarly interpretaions have gone as far as to say that He can only be known by “doing justice”. He revealed himself to an oppressed people as and for “justice” on their behalf.

    Thus, the way that kings were always judged in the Old Testament was by how they cared for the “anawin”, the widows, orphans and strangers (those who had no property or rights to property – the land). “Kingship” and “dominion” go hand in hand and so the best interpreatation for dominion is “benevolent and intelligent rule”.

    Add to this the logical dependencies of the order of creation. Remove man and all before him lives, remove any day before man and man dies. Man depends upon what was created before him for his life. How would one care for that upon which his life depends?

    The other Hebrew interpretation for “subdue” is “till” which, in light of the number of times this word is used in the subsequent story of creation, seems to be the most appropriate interpretation. If one wishes to go further afield, then the “trod” interpretation of “dominion” when combined with “till” could point to the two, even dualistic, ways in which man would choose to exercise his dominion and survival – those being as a hunter/gather sheperd, “trodding” where God has provided food or as the farmer, staying in one place and “tilling” the ground for his food.

    These alternatives are reinforced in Cain and Abel, the Hebrew for Cain being, “acquisition” which is, in fact, what farmers must do to stay in one place as opposed to wandering as the hunter/gatherer/sheperd. Finally, the Naochic covenant formed by God is clearly with all of His creation and not just with man, once again acknowledging their co-dependence, including man’s role as the thinker to make sure that what God has given him is stewarded properly.

  2. casmo Griffiths Says:

    This has been well said,in clear statements more relating to our concept of caring for human beings as well as the environment. Who would have thought that the word justice spoken so often in scriptures would some how connect with dominion. Where as words can change over time,it is clear that its our responsibility to attend to the anawin. For the more fortunate to distance selves from the needs of the less fortunate is seen in the story of Cain answering am I my brother’s keeper. In light of this meaning,it is man loosing it hold on personal responsibilities.

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