Adherents to the dogma of some traditional religions tend to justify our objectification of animals by citing the line in Genesis where God grants Adam dominion over the earth. This narrow and incomplete interpretation restricts our relationship with animals to a superior/subordinate status when a deeper inspection of the passage wold counter this view. The biggest controversy revolves one word in Genesis: dominion. Theologians have treated it as synonymous with rule and subordination, but is that a comprehensive context? The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language assigns its derivation from the Latin dominion, meaning property, from dominus, meaning lord; also related to domain and dungeon. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary offers the synonyms sovereignty, control, rule, and authority. In Biblical contexts, the word has been linked to domination, denoting force, and often claimed as a male trait. Although radah/dominion is used most often to speak about kings and national rulings, James Limburg concluded that a study of the Old Testament yields evidence that “humane and compassionate rule that displays responsibility for others … results in peace and prosperity,” Thus for those of us who we are called to care for the animals, having dominion over the animals does not mean asserting dominance but practicing kindness and giving care, often claimed as female characteristics.
Many Biblical scholars have written about this, particularly in the age where ecology gets our full attention. Theology professor Ellen Bernstein explains that we t we often miss the sacred context of the word dominion as it was written in Genesis. “The concept of ‘dominion’ in this context is a blessing/bracha, a divine act of love.” This is much more aligned with the spiritual inclusion of animals and surprisingly to some people, imbued with the reverence indigenous people practice for all life.
Because Hebrew words/roots have multiple meanings, it is possible for interpreters to retain the "ruler/subject" context of dominion, but more scholars now approach the human-animal relationship in the Bible with a holistic perspective that yields more loving insight. This yields a mighty credibility to those of us who have dedicated our lives to animal welfare. Diane Bergant also supports the nurturing context of dominion, citing Genesis 2:15: ""The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it" Again, the context is more loving and reflective of feminine energies than has been traditionally taught.
When we look at the story of Noah and the Ark, we need to remember that it is not a tale about transporting a family from floodwaters to dry land. The details in the story from the measurements of the Ark in cubits to the gathering of the animals and whisking them to safety as the flood threat intensified remains the first recorded animal rescue in human history, a massive undertaking, central to the story. The message is unmistakable. Our role is to provide shelter and care for the animals. We are tied to them as creations. We are more equal than we have been falsely led to believe.
Our relationship with animals begins with the first human creation. The animals’s relationship with the earth predates us. According to our creation myth, humans were the last species to be formed. The first species came from the sea. It's no coincidence, then, that Native American lore reveres whale as the sacred record keeper of all earthly history. They were here first. Biblical chronology parallels that. Scientists have discovered that DNA tests identify in all of us a genetic marker linking our origin to the ocean.
So what’s the lesson here beyond looking past the doctrinal misinterpretations? Perhaps that we are all related, and that to truly be blessed, we must honor our commitments to others with an internal directive that comes from the heart.