Here’s a fun fact:
You know in Genesis 2:7 where it says “…then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
So the word for what God created is almost always rendered as a male pronoun. In fact, we’ve come to know this creature even on a first-name basis: Adam.
People don’t often stop to wonder why he wasn’t dubbed, say, Alex. Or Demond. Or Bob or Mateao or Jin.
Or….Alyssa. Or Imani. Or Sophia or Keiko or Rose.
So the answer is found in a little Hebrew word with a lot of grist…and no small amount of patriarchal theological tradition, gotta say.
Turns out that the Hebrew word we translate as ‘Adam’ is really, in Hebrew, adamah, or אדמה.
The tip-off for that is the -ah at the end of the word.
Whenever you see an -ah at the end of a Hebrew word, you automatically know that the word is feminine (my personal favorite example of a feminine Hebrew word is ‘chutzpah,’ which means audacity, or sass. That, I do believe, is inspired).
It’s not until Genesis 2:21, when there is a bit of an ambush surgical procedure on Adamah, that we meet male and female.
Here’s how that passage is rendered in the NRSV (and somewhat badly, one can say, just with a bit of basic Hebrew under one’s biblical belt): “21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”
It’s only at this point that we get, in the Hebrew, the first reference to male and female, namely in verse 23, where the storyteller uses the word ish for the man, and ishah for the woman—you see the feminine -ah again after the ‘ish.’ Male=ish, and female=ishah.
So one curious and critical takeaway here is that God did not create man first. There’s been any amount of toxic ridiculousness associated with that notion…along with some fine retorts to it.
Even God needed a prototype, right [grin]?
But nope, there is all sort of transformative richness that can be detected in that important grammatical and etymological adamah nugget.
For example, note that the new creature was created mid-line: not from an ankle bone, to be trod on, nor from a skull bone, to lord over, but rather out of a rib, to enjoy equity.
But on this Earth Day, here’s another one: the ancient Hebrew story about God’s initial creative force intentionally called the first human—a word itself directly related, by the way, to humus, the Latin word for Earth and soil—Earth Creature.
Not a man.
That’s what ‘adamah’ means: earth/soil/dirt/humus/ground.
We’re made out of mud.
Upshot? An Earth Creature (with a hint of the feminine) was the first human.
In fact, in both the first and the second creation stories, written by very different people in very different time periods, the author goes out of the way to say that humanity [adamah] is mud.
Some dude named Adam had nothing to do with it.
So let’s circle back to that Genesis 2:7 text, and retranslate it: “…then the Lord God formed the Earth Creature from the dust of the ground, and breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the Creature of the Soil, and the Earth Creature became a living being.”
Earth Day was established, back in ‘70, as a response to humanity’s habit of wounding the Earth.
It was started after environmental disasters piled up, and a frightened vision began to focus of what could be…and, in fact is…happening.
I wonder what would happen if we People of the Book might look at this day, and look at the earth, through a biblical lens.
I wonder if we would be reminded that when we wound the Earth we wound ourselves.
I wonder if we would be reminded that we aren’t just connected to the earth.
We are the earth.
We are creatures of the soil, we are made of mud, we are dirt.
Ish and Ishah, the whole lot of us, we are Adamah.
And, of course, lest we forget on this day and every day, all Adamah “is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…” Psalm 24:1.
Happy Adamah Day!