“Man’s Dominion,” New Era, Jan.–Feb. 1981, 47
The contemporary reappraisal of man’s relationship to his environment now confronts society at large with a question that has always been of major concern to the leaders of Israel, namely, What is man’s dominion? The key scriptural passage on the subject reads: “And God blessed them, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue [kivshu] it: and have dominion over [rdu b] … every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The words kivshu and rdu both have a basic root-meaning of exerting pressure, that being, however, merely a point of departure for a whole spectrum of derivatives, so that scholars have translated the words according to individual taste and temperament to convey various ideas and types of dominion. Thus the dictionaries tell us that radad, with the basic meaning of trampling the earth, in Genesis 1:28 [Gen. 1:28], specifically means “to plow,” while kavash, with the original idea of squeezing or hugging, can mean everything from “violate” to “cherish.”1
In all the interpretations we are confronted by two opposing concepts of dominion that have always divided the human race. From the beginning men have been asked to choose between them. Thus the Clementine Recognitions tell us that Abel’s claim to dominion was challenged by Cain, that Noah was challenged by the giants (the “Watchers” of Enoch’s day), Abraham by Pharaoh, Isaac by the Philistines, Jacob by Esau, Moses by the magicians of Egypt, Christ by the adversary in person, Simon Peter by Simon Magus, the Apostles by the whole world, and finally, in the last days, Christ by the anti-Christ again.2 In each case the challenger argued from a position of strength and promised “all the kingdoms of the world” with all their power and glory to those who would worship and follow him, while the other offered the kingdom of heaven hereafter to those who worship the Lord and serve him only (See Luke 4:5–8).
Each of the great leaders before entering upon his mission was allowed to make his own choice between the two ways, the case for each being presented personally to him by the highest authority on either side. Thus Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the ancient apostles, Joseph Smith, and, of course, the Lord himself were not only privileged to speak with God face to face, “even as a man talketh one with another,” but were also exposed to intimate and personal interviews, however harrowing and unsolicited, with the prince of darkness as well. Their opponents in each of the dispensations were also favored with direct ministrations from both sides, and each made his choice between enjoying power and dominion here or hereafter.
In commanding Adam to “be fruitful, and multiply,” God also informed him that he had given the identical command to all his other creatures, furthermore that he was putting Adam in charge of things to see to it that His purposes were fulfilled. Specifically, he was to “replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over” every living thing in the biosphere (Abr. 4:28). There are two clearly marked departments—the earth itself as a storehouse and source of life, which Adam is to keep replenished (“filled” is the word), and the creatures that move about on and over the earth, over which he is to have dominion. As Brigham Young explains it, while “subduing the earth” we must be about “multiplying those organisms of plants and animals God has designed shall dwell upon it,”3 namely “all forms of life,” each to multiply in its sphere and element and have joy therein.
The ancients taught that Adam’s dominion was nothing less than the priesthood, the power to act for God and in his place. The idea is that God, while retaining his unshakable throne in the heavens, “extended his glory to a new world below in the work of the Creation; then as the culmination of that work he created man to be in charge [li-mshol] of all the beings he had created,”4 with the understanding that “from this time forth man must work to improve the earth and preserve and take care of all that is in it, exactly as God had done before.”5
“The Spirit of the Lord and the keys of the priesthood,” said Brigham Young, “hold power over all animated beings. … In this dispensation the keys will be restored.”6 God is a god of the living (Matt. 22:32) and gives Adam dominion over every living thing, so that his rule ceases where life ceases. A king’s glory and success are measured by the happiness, prosperity, and increase of his subjects, even as the power and glory of God show forth, according to the Sefer Yeshira, in the exuberance of living things upon the earth;7 his “work and his glory” are to bestow the prerogatives of divinity on those below him (Moses 1:39). “From the hour in which I created the world it was my task to bless my creatures,” the Lord tells Abraham in making the covenant of the priesthood with him, “but from now on it will be you who bestows the blessing.”8 “As I put Adam and then Noah in charge of all my creatures, so now I put you in charge, in order that you might bestow my blessing on them.”9
All creatures are duly overawed by the presence of God’s representative and image: “Even the fierce beasts of prey fear man,” says the Zohar, “as long as he keeps his covenant, his kingly dignity, and his eye fixed on God in whose image he is.”10 For “God formed man in his own heavenly form and made him to be Lord over them. Whenever man stands upright and lifts his eyes toward heaven, then all the animals raise their heads too, and look to man, fearing and trembling in his presence.”11 Throughout history an indispensable fixture of royalty has everywhere been the great animal park, Paradise, or royal forest in which majesty could display itself in the role of God on earth, parent of the human race, and patron and protector of all lesser beings. In a word, the concept of man’s dominion as a holy calling and high responsibility has been the common heritage of the human race throughout history.12 God’s rule is before all a rule of love: “I love my creatures far more than you ever could!” the Lord tells Esdras in a vision.13 There is a tradition that Melchizedek, instructing Abraham in the things of the priesthood, explained to him that Noah earned his blessings by his charity to the animals, recalling how in the Ark, “We did not sleep because all night long we were setting food before this one and before that one.” Taking this lesson to heart, Abraham himself made a sort of Garden of Eden near Hebron, and there practiced charity toward all creatures that thus he might “become a possessor of heaven and earth.”14 Adam, according to many accounts, was the great friend and companion of all the animals when they lived together in perfect peace and happiness, and they continued true to him even after the Fall.15 Indeed, “Adam before he came to this earth was intimately acquainted with all the great spirits in heaven, and also with all the holy beasts,” so that he was peculiarly fitted in his priestly office to serve as mediator between the worlds as well as between higher and lower forms of life.16
The teaching of Israel laid the heaviest emphasis on responsibility. Since man is quite capable of exercising the awesome powers that have been entrusted to him as the very image of God, he must needs be an example to all, and if be fails in his trust, he can only bring upon himself the condemnation of God and the contempt of all creatures.17 “When men lose their vicious dispositions,” said the Prophet Joseph, “… the lion and the lamb will lie down together.”18
A favorite theme of Brigham Young was that the dominion God gives man is designed to test him, to enable him to show to himself, his fellows, and all the heavens just how he would act if entrusted with God’s own power; if he does not act in a godlike manner, he will never be entrusted with a creation of his own, worlds without end.19 So there is risk involved: “The rule over the world is in the hand of God,” says Ben Sirach, “and at the right time He sets over it one that is worthy”; but if that rule is ever exercised in an arbitrary or arrogant manner, it is quickly taken away and given to someone else.20 “If you fail in your duty,” God tells Adam, “the beasts over which you ruled shall rise up against you, for you have not kept my commandment;”21 and all creatures are quick to recognize the hand of the oppressor and impostor.
Some of the profoundest human commentary is contained in the vast and ancient corpus literature of the animal fables, a protest literature in which the beasts bring accusation against the human race for their shabby performance in the days of their probation.22 They are, moreover, responsible for more than their own survival, “For by God’s rule for the animals, if humanity perishes, then all perish; but if man lives, then all may live.”23 What kills men destroys other forms of life as well, and having dragged them down with us in the Fall (“On account of thee,” they say, “our natures have been transformed”24), we are answerable for them: “The Lord will not judge a single animal for its treatment of man, but He will adjudge the souls of men towards their beasts in this world, for men have a special place.”25 A familiar early Jewish and Christian teaching was that the animals will appear at the bar of God’s judgment to accuse those humans who have wronged them.26 “Happy is he who glorifies all the works of the Lord, but cursed is he who offends the creation of the Lord; for nothing will go unnoticed and unrecorded.”27 Jesus referred to God’s intimate concern for all when he said of the sparrows, “not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6; Matt. 10:29), and has declared in these last days: “I the Lord … make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures” (D&C 104:13).
The traditions that Adam dwelt with beasts in the preexistence, and that the animals will accuse man at the judgment, call attention to the ancient teaching, restored in this dispensation, that animals have spirits. “The spirits of all beasts have their proper paradise in the great plan of things, and at the judgment all the spirits of beasts will accuse man.”28
G. R. Driver has recently called attention to an important but forgotten teaching: “Few, if any, readers of the Old Testament seem to have noticed that, as our text stands and as it can only be read without violating normal standards of interpretation, they are committed to the strange doctrine of resurrection not only of man and of birds and beasts but also of … ‘gliding things innumerable’ which swim in the sea.”29 Modern revelation confirms this: “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. … in heaven created I them. …” (Moses 3:5.) “Every tree … that is pleasant to the sight of man … became also a living soul. For it was spiritual in the day that I created it. …” (Moses 3:9).
“Always keep in view,” Brigham Young exhorts us, “that the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms—the earth and its fulness—will all, except the children of man, abide their creation—the law by which they were made, and will receive their exaltation.”30 We are all going to move together into the eternities, and even now look forward to “heaven, the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beast, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air; that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; … the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, and also the spirit of beast, and every other creature which God has created” (D&C 77:2). What an admonition to proceed with reverence and care! It is only because the Latter-day Saints are ignorant of these things, according to President Young, that God has not already cursed them for their brutal and callous treatment of God’s other creatures.31
Normative Judaism and Christianity, following the lead of Aristotle and the doctors of Alexandria, have always rejected and resented the idea that animals might in any degree be classed with men, who alone, according to the perennial doctrine of the schools, enjoy the powers of speech and reason, the mark of divinity that sets them uniquely and absolutely apart. “Man is bound to treat dumb animals kindly and abstain from unneccessary (sic) cruelty,” an eminent churchman has recently written, “not because these animals possess any real rights (for only intelligent beings can have real rights) but because they are creatures of God.”32 The Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, “have divine knowledge that they [animals] think … and reason”33 and do possess real rights, “For all things have an equal right to live!” as President Joseph F. Smith would say.34 We are told that early Christian groups avoided the eating of meat, “not as the flesh of irrational beasts, but as belonging to creatures having rational souls.”35 Schopenhauer observed that the two most serious defects of Christian teaching are (1) the denial of spirits to all creatures but man, and (2) of life to all worlds but this one. These closely related doctrines have formed the common ground on which fundamentalism and scientism have joined hands, the former horrified at the thought of being related to lower creatures than man, the latter scorning any suggestion that we might be related to higher ones.36
God and Satan both presented plans of dominion to Adam and then to his son Cain. The father chose one plan, the son the other. It must be admitted that the second proposition was a very tempting offer and very skillfully presented—“Satan tempted me” is the stock excuse for giving in. But we must go back to Adam to see how clever the thing really is.
The story is told not only of Adam but of the other great patriarchs as well. Noah was confronted by the same party with the same proposition while he was working in his garden after the flood.37 Abraham too had an Eden and an altar, and while he was once calling upon God in prayer, Satan suddenly showed up with an insolent, “Here I am!” and proceeded with his sales pitch.38 Moses like Christ was tempted on a mountain, by the same person and with the same proposal: “If thou wilt worship me, all shall be thine.”39 Adam is thus only the first; the elements of the story that follow are found in various combinations among the many texts of the growing Adam literature that is coming to light in our generation. The texts often take dramatic form indicative of ritual origin.40
As Adam was praying one day, runs the story, a distinguished gentleman appeared on the scene and engaged him in conversation. There was nothing of the hippy or tramp about the stranger; he was well-dressed, and came to Adam with “cunning and smooth talk, as a true friend genuinely concerned for his welfare.”41 He began with some harmless generalities—the weather and the scenery: it was, he observed, a most glorious and beautiful world. This, however, by way of leading up to his next point, which was that he happened to be the owner and proprietor of it all. Yes sir, as far as the eye could see it was all his, and he tolerated no nonsense in it: nobody dared make trouble where he was in charge. This was all hokum, of course; “Satan never owned the earth; he never made a particle of it;” said Brigham Young, “his labor is not to create, but to destroy.”42 But to demonstrate his authority, when three strangers (usually described as angels)43 appeared on the scene at this moment, he at once challenged them as trespassers, asking them if they had any money. He explained to Adam that everything in his world could be had for money,44 and then got down to business. For the fellow was all business, a person of integrity, ready to keep his part of an agreement (the agreement always turns out to be a trap for the other party), pious and God-fearing,45 dedicated to hard work—he works, in fact, “like a demon.” He was there to offer Adam the chance of a lifetime to buy in on a scheme that would give him anything he wanted in this world. It was an ingenious and simple self-financing operation in which one would buy power with wealth and then more wealth with the power, until one might end up owning and controlling everything. The initial capital? It was right under their feet! You begin by taking the treasures of the earth, and by exchanging them for the services of important people in key positions; you end up running everything your way. What if your rule is one of blood and terror? Better to rule in hell, as Milton’s Satan puts it, then to be ruled in heaven!
Satan’s tempting proposition has been the theme of much popular legend and great literature. A transitional figure between the ritual and the literary is Pluto or Hades, the god of wealth: “All the riches of gems and precious metals hidden beneath the earth are his, but he owns no property above the ground. …”46 So he brutally kidnaps the fair Proserpine, who represents all the beauty and harmony of nature, to establish his claim over the earth47; but the marriage is barren—Pluto can intimidate and coerce, but like his Egyptian counterpart Seth he can neither beget nor create; what he buys with the treasures of the earth is nothing but a rule of blood and horror.48 But Greek comedy and Roman satire depict with agonizing frankness the irresistible success of Pluto’s program in a decadent world. In Aristophanes’s last play, Plutus, Hermes the messenger of Zeus comes to earth as a prophet to denounce mankind for having turned from the worship of heaven to the worship of wealth or Pluto: “You have all committed a great sin,” he says, “and must be destroyed.” But seeing how well the people are living he soon decides to change sides and asks for a job with the establishment; next, the high priest of Zeus, finding himself unemployed, is forced to apply to Pluto for a job; what is his surprise when he finds none other than Zeus himself now working in the front office of Pluto Inc.!49 The cynical conclusion is that no one can resist Satan’s bargain, and in the history of the world very few people have. The first to accept was Cain, who “loved Satan more than God,” though at the latter’s advice he continued to make offerings to the Lord. (Moses 5:18, 21.) The “great secret” of success that he learned from his new teacher was that he could get anything in this world by the calculated use of force, with no need to be ashamed since it could all be done in the sacred name of freedom: instead of being appalled at the blood on his hands, Cain “gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks [wealth, pecus, Vieh] of my brother falleth into my hands” (Moses 5:31–33). Cain slew Abel not, as we like to think, in a fit of passion but with cold calculation, “for the sake of getting gain” (Moses 5:50, 38). He was all business. As for the victim, he was quite able to take care of himself, and if he failed, that, by the rules of the new game, was his hard luck: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Significantly enough, when this forthright, no nonsense economy, unencumbered by enervating sentimentality, worked against Cain, he straightway became a bleeding heart in his own behalf, and appealed for the mercy he would not give. “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (Gen. 4:13). In making an example of Cain, God absolutely forbade the use of Cain’s own methods against him: “Whoever slayeth thee, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold” (Moses 5:40).
One of the best known teachings of the Jews is that when man (Israel in particular) falls away from God, all nature becomes his enemy.50 Modern revelation confirms this: when all the people became wicked in Enoch’s day, “the earth trembled, and the mountains fled … and the rivers of water were turned out of their courses; and the roar of lions was heard out of the wilderness. …”51 Just so, in the last days “all the growing things will be blighted by the … great lawlessness, and plagues will come over all creatures of all the earth. …”52 Where people refuse the gospel, according to Brigham Young, “that land will eventually … become desolate, forlorn, and forsaken,” as nature refuses her bounties.53
The explanation of this all-out hostility is simple. “The animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms abide the law of their Creator; the whole earth and all things pertaining to it, except man, abide the law of their creation,” while “man, who is the offspring of the Gods, will not become subject to the most sensible and self-exalting principles.”54 With all things going in one direction, men, stubbornly going in the opposite direction, naturally find themselves in the position of one going the wrong way on the freeway during rush hour; the struggle to live becomes a fight against nature. Having made himself allergic to almost everything by the Fall, man is given the choice of changing his nature so that the animal and vegetable creation will cease to afflict and torment him,55 or else of waging a truceless war of extermination against all that annoys him until he renders the earth completely uninhabitable.
This second course is Cain’s dominion. Satan, spitefully determined to destroy everything that God has commanded to live and multiply, began his earthly career by making war on the birds and fishes and systematically destroying the animals and trees. This, we are told, was because he was envious of the beautiful rapport that existed between Adam and the animals.56 Next, under the administration of his pupil Cain, all the forests of the earth rapidly disappeared, while that hero “wandered through the earth with his bow for 130 years, looking for anything to kill—a human angel of death.”57 While Noah refused Satan’s plan to divide up the world and rule with an iron hand,58 his sons accepted it, each driving out from his property all the animals as trespassers, so that the beasts that had loved Noah began to fear and hate man.59 In particular, Ham organized secret combinations “to work iniquity and to shed blood … and after that, they sinned against the beasts and birds, and all that moves and walks on the earth.”60 Next Ham’s son Nimrod, the mighty hunter who boasted that no animal could escape his bow, turned that bow against men as well as animals and so subdued all things to his will, ruling all the earth with his inspired violence. He was the mortal enemy and rival of Abraham, and whereas Abraham gave Adam’s blessing to the beasts, “Nimrod assembled all the animals and slaughtered them.”61 This he was able to do through possession of the garment of the priesthood that had once belonged to Adam and that Ham had stolen from Noah; seeing him in this garment, all creatures willingly came and submitted to him, mistaking the dominion of Cain for the dominion of Adam.62 From Nimrod, Esau, another hunter, inherited the garment but lost it to Jacob, from whom it passed down to Moses, who when it wore out replaced it with a garment of cotton or hair rather than skins to avoid the shedding of animal blood.63
These interesting old stories might be dismissed as literary oddities were it not that the annals and chronicles of real history, “a continual scene of wickedness and abominations” (Moro. 2:18), are completely dominated by the Nimrod type. “The greatest acts of the mighty men” proclaim the nature of their dominion: “Before them the earth was a paradise,” said Joseph Smith, “and behind them a desolate wilderness.” There is another plan: “The designs of God, on the other hand” are that “the earth shall yield its increase, resume its paradisean glory, and become the garden of the Lord.”64 Meanwhile, when “we see all the world trying to lord it over God’s heritage,” we can be sure that “it is in this spirit that the evil principle and power is trying to overcome and rule over the divine principle planted here. This constantly leads the children of men astray.”65 To render its appeal irresistible, the program is pushed by a clever rhetoric and high ethical tone; Babylon has never wanted for dedicated and highly paid apologists to justify the ways of those who “seek for power, and authority, and riches” (3 Ne. 6:15; Hel. 13:26–28).
Man’s dominion is a call to service, not a license to exterminate. It is precisely because men now prey upon each other and shed the blood and waste the flesh of other creatures without need that “the world lieth in sin.” (D&C 49:19–21.) Such, at least, is the teaching of the ancient Jews and of modern revelation.