Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Gen 1:26 says:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness

What does the word "us" imply here?

There are also other instances of this "us" found in Gen 3:22:

Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever

So what is the meaning of this in the views of Judaism? Who was included in the "us"? What does Judaism believe with the "Genesis plurals"?

share|improve this question
1  
The torah is replete with strange and seemingly contradictory verses, relying on the oral tradition to decipher the correct meaning and reveal the many layers of extra information/teachings alluded to in the verses. A beginner should not study the torah without aid of a reliable orthodox Rabbi who is well versed and has access to the oral law. –  ray Oct 26 '13 at 20:33
    
@ray I am not trying to "study the Torah" as you might be thinking, we use the Bible as I am a Christian. I want to know how the Jews today views this subject. –  xybrek Oct 27 '13 at 4:18
add comment

1 Answer

According to Judaism God is indisputably one, not several beings in one (nor a member of a pantheon of gods). So what does the use of first-person plural mean? The predominant explanation is that God is addressing other (non-godly) beings, though some say God is speaking with himself (like one does when considering both sides of a dilemma).

In B'reishit Rabbah (an early midrash collection) 8:3 Rabbis Yehoshua ben Levi and Shimon ben Nachman say that God is consulting the rest of creation, like a king who consults advisors. R. Ammi says God is consulting his own heart. On 8:4 R. Berekiah seems to say that God refers to mercy personified (God infuses man with mercy as part of creation, he says). It's worth noting that the rabbis personify various attributes and inanimate objects quite a bit in the midrash; R. Berekiah isn't doing anything unusual here.

In 8:5 R. Shimon reports an argument among the ministering angels about whether man should be created. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38b, also addresses this idea; R. Yehudah said in the name of Rav that when God wanted to create man, he first created a company of ministering angels and then said to them "is it your desire that we make man in our image?".

Why would God consult anyone? B'reishit Rabbah 8:8 offers this (quoted from the Soncino translation):

R. Samuel b. Nahman said in R. Jonathan's name: When Moses was engaged in writing the Torah, he had to write the work of each day. When he came to the verse, AND GOD SAID: LET US MAKE MAN, etc., he said: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Why dost Thou furnish an excuse to heretics?’ ‘Write,’ replied He; ' Whoever wishes to err may err.’ ' Moses,’ said the Lord to him, ‘this man that I have created -- do I not cause men both great and small to spring from Him? Now if a great man comes to obtain permission [for a proposed action] from one that is less than he, he may say, " Why should I ask permission from my inferior!" Then they will answer him, " Learn from thy Creator, who created all that is above and below, yet when He came to create man He took counsel with the ministering angels.’"

Conclusion: God created all things and is the sole ruler of the universe. But that doesn't mean that God didn't create and interact with divine beings (a heavenly court), just like he would later interact with earthly beings, and according to R. Shmuel he had an intentional educational purpose in doing so.

Further reading: In compiling this answer I made significant use of Sefer Ha-Aggadah (English: The Book of Legends), compiled by Hayim Nachman Bialek and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky, along with the sources I cited previously.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.