As I have been studying the numerous connections between the structures and themes within the Hebrew Scriptures and other ancient Near Eastern literature, I have been particularly drawn towards the correlations between the respective creation stories. Although the Genesis text is by far the most popular creation text, there are numerous others that share very similar features that presumably influenced the final form of the Genesis text. One interesting feature of the creation-epic literature of the ancient Near East is the dual role of masculine and feminine divine figures in the act of creation. In numerous stories, gendered gods and goddesses are utilized to describe the unique way in which the creation came to be.

As I have been reflecting upon the significance of the identification of the masculine and feminine in the ANE creation stories, an interesting thought occurred to me: perhaps this male/female connection exists within the biblical text as well. The primary candidate for such a consideration, I believe, is Genesis 1:26-27:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [b] and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

The most immediately apparent feature of the Genesis narrative is that God is picturedin opposition to many other ANE creation accountsas a solitary creator. However, when one gets to verse 26, the solitariness is suddenly fractured as God uses the self-referential Us.

Growing up, I was taught the classic interpretative approaches to explain this plurality in the identity of God. They are as follows:

1.) This is a sort of Old Testament Trinitarian revelation: While a popular notion amongst Christians, such an interpretation would seem to make little sense to the Hebrews who were attemptingthrough the very nature of this creation accountto counter the polytheistic creation epics of the surrounding nations.

2.) The use of the plural is a form of royal address; i.e., kings often refer to themselves in the plural in official pronouncements, correspondence, laws, etc.: A better option than 1.), it is odd that this is the singular occurrence of such self-reference.

3.) The use of the plural us is God speaking to the angelic host: Probably better than 1.) and 2.), this theory seems to cohere somewhat with the testimony in Psalms that humanity has been made a little lower than the angels. However, as with 1.), there does seem to be a distinct danger of presenting a polytheistic conception of the manner of creation, as if the angels are somehow co-creators with the one God.

While I do not presume to be able to rebut any one of the three options presented above, I would like to suggest a fourth alternative, which follows below.

As noted in the opening paragraph, many of ANE creation epics utilized both male and female divine beings in the acts of creation. Rather than simply reflecting the make-up of the various pantheons of ancient thought, the inclusion of both the male and female deities had a very intense theological purpose. After all, by describing the creation of all from the creative works of the masculine and feminine, the ancients had a coherent and comprehensive means of describing both the differences and value of both the masculine and the feminine in relation to human personhood. In short, these stories were not simply fantastic mythology that meant to entertain; rather, the stories reflected the peoples thinking about the very depths of personhood, and what it means to be gendered. While some may scoff at the way in which the ancients provided answers to these very existential questions, it is obvious that these stories communicated a very real and meaningful set of ideas about the nature, value and function of human gender and sexuality.

If we keep these considerations in mind, we must conclude that these same needs to communicate belief and instruction about the origin, nature and function of human sexuality and gender were prescient for the writers of the biblical creation stories.

It is upon this basis that I would suggest an alternative interpretation of Genesis 1:26. Could it be that the us of verse 26 does not refer to the Triune nature of God, a royal proclamation, or a conversation with the angelic host? Could it be that the divine us of 26 is a metaphorical recasting of the divine person as masculine and feminine? While this conclusion might seem somewhat odd at first glance, verse 27 brings it into focus. This verse affirms that both male and female are created in the divine image. If this is indeed true, could not the us of 26 refer to the metaphorical masculinity and femininity of the divine in whose image the human couple is created?

In response, one might argue that such a separation is susceptible to the same charges of polytheism to which option 1.) appears to be prone. I do not think this is necessary, however, for the narratival positing of masculinity and femininity in the nature of God need not be substantival for the writers of the Hebrew narrative. Rather, even as the male and female humans are ultimately created to become one flesh (2:24), so also are the masculine and feminine in the divine the one God. And even as the two-ness of human creation is reflective of the one divine nature, so the one divine Creators image is self-referential for the two-made-one-ness of the male and the female creation.

If this interpretation is reasonably close to the authors intention, I think it is a stroke of genius on the writers behalf. After all, in maintaining the solitariness of Yahweh as Creator, the writer has completely overturned the polytheism of similar creation epics, infusing the Hebrew narrative with a radical and audacious claim about the particularity of the identity of true God over and against the pantheons of the gods and goddesses of the surrounding nations. Moreover, the writer has managed to retain the crucially important existential issues about the origin, nature and function of human sexuality and gender. Yet he has done so without resorting to compartmentalizing gender within the identity of particular deific figures; rather, in a brilliant literary stroke, the author has revealed that Yahweh, the true God who is one, encapsulates human gender in such a way that particularity can exist while concomitantly affirming the identically primal source of gender and existence in the life of Yahweh. In this way, the writer affirms that not only does Yahweh encapsulate human sexuality and gender, but moreover Yahweh transcends the limitations of both, for Yahweh cannot be reduced to or identified with one or the other. Rather, Yahweh is the source of both; the divine image, free and unbounded, in reflected in the diversity of both the masculine and the feminine.