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The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1

The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1

by J. Richard Middleton

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For two thousand years, Christians have been intrigued by the somewhat enigmatic Imago Dei references in the book of Genesis. Much theological ink has been spilled mulling over the significance and meaning of these words: "Let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness . . . "

In The Liberating Image, J. Richard Middleton


For two thousand years, Christians have been intrigued by the somewhat enigmatic Imago Dei references in the book of Genesis. Much theological ink has been spilled mulling over the significance and meaning of these words: "Let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness . . . "

In The Liberating Image, J. Richard Middleton takes on anew the challenge of interpreting the Imago Dei. Reflecting on the potential of the Imago Dei texts for developing an ethics of power rooted in compassion, he relates its significance to the Christian community's distinct calling in an increasingly violent world.

The Liberating Image introduces a relevant, scholarly take on an important Christian doctrine. It will appeal to all Christians seeking to better understand what it means to be made in God's image.

Editorial Reviews

Review of Biblical Literature
A well-written and well-presented argument that may be given to students with confidence. Its concerns are welcome and some of the ethical and theological implications of the representational interpretation engagingly discussed. . . . This is a useful contribution to an ongoing discussion whose value will be judged by its ability to stimulate thoughtful conversation.
Nathan MacDonald
An excellent contribution to biblical exegesis and biblical ethics alike. . . . [Middleton] draws frequently and deeply on the scholarly discussion. Yet, taken as a whole, his book is original and profound; furthermore, its denouement in a fruitful discussion of the biblical basis of social and environmental ethics is invigorating. Scholars and preachers alike, particularly those who stress right relationships with the whole of creation as the key to human survival, will find study of this book to be time well employed.
W. Sibley Towner
This significant new study of the concept of the imago Dei is not only a comprehensive exegetical and theological treatment of the imago Dei; Middleton's interpretation of the imago Dei poses a critical challenge to the ideologies of violence that continue to plague us.
Kevin Hall

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Baker Publishing Group
Publication date:
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.64(d)

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What People are Saying About This

Peter Enns
"The Liberating Image is a balanced yet challenging articulation of the Imago Dei in Genesis, its ancient Near Eastern context, and its present-day theological implications. By locating himself in his postmodern context, Middleton brings a refreshing hermeneutical self-consciousness to the scholarly task, which is aimed at providing a substantive and compelling argument without posing as the last word. His analysis of Imago Dei in Genesis in the context of ancient Near Eastern religions leads Middleton to the conclusion that the Israelite theological traditions of Genesis 1-11 are recontextualized in conscious opposition to ideological categories of Mesopotamia. That Israel's story promotes the dignity of all humans, not just of the royal or priestly classes, should have vital ethical implications for today."
Westminster Theological Seminary
James H. Olthuis
"Finally, in one book, an interdisciplinary (exegetical, hermeneutical, theological, and ethical) conversation on the Imago Dei. Beginning with a careful treatment of the biblical Imago Dei against its backdrop in ancient Near Eastern literature and ending with an ethical discussion of power and violence, Middleton deftly shows that imaging God is--surprise, surprise!--imaging God's wondrous generosity."
Institute for Christian Studies
T. Desmond Alexander
T. Desmond Alexander, Union Theological College, Belfast
Middleton's study of the Imago Dei represents biblical scholarship at its best. Here is a book that displays careful and meticulous research, balanced judgement, and insightful application, all of which are clearly and logically presented in a most readable fashion. By engaging meaningfully with current ethical debates that utilize the concept of Imago Dei, Middleton highlights the importance of his conclusions for contemporary discussion. Readers will find their horizons broadened and their preconceived ideas challenged by a work that contributes very positively to a better understanding of what Genesis 1 means when it states that human beings were made in the image of God.
Brian J. Walsh
Brian J. Walsh, University of Toronto
In an image-saturated culture that 'brands' personal identity in terms of consumer choices while rendering the planet an ecological wasteland, can the ancient biblical notion of humans created in the 'image of God' be good news? In a world of violence in which a 'war on terrorism' is given near-mythological legitimation by means of an us/them ideology that dismisses the 'enemy' as the forces of chaos opposed to the civilizational order of democratic capitalism, does the biblical view of creation offer a counter-ideological alternative? Richard Middleton thinks so. In this wonderfully rich book Middleton deeply respects the text as he attends to its rhetorical, historical, and cultural meaning in such a way that we might hear it speak to us anew. Here is 'theological' interpretation at its very best--an exhaustive and lucid study that will not only change how we think about the Imago Dei but perhaps change how we engage in biblical scholarship.
C. Hassell Bullock
"J. Richard Middleton examines an exegetically worn phrase, 'the image of God,' and gives it a theological freshness. His careful attention to the Genesis context as the decisive factor for understanding this intriguing concept is a good example of exegetical method."
Wheaton College
Walter Brueggemann
"Middleton exhibits a powerful capacity for big issues, a patience with detail, and a sure theological sensibility. His study ranges all the way from comparative historical analysis to contemporary issues of ideology critique. The result is a study of a crucial biblical-theological phrase that is sure to become a benchmark in exegetical-hermeneutical work. Middleton's unwavering theological focus keeps the detail in the service of big issues, and culminates with a wondrous affirmation of a generous God. Such a God stands over against ancient modes of parsimonious violence and, by implication, over against contemporary practitioners of the same parsimonious violence. A most important read!"
Columbia Theological Seminary
James McKeown
James McKeown, Themelios
This interesting book explores the meaning of the 'image of God' and seeks to uncover the ideological and historical context of the concept. . . . One of the distinctive features of this book is Middleton's conviction of the importance and significance of the 'image of God' concept for our self-understanding. . . . The book opens a new chapter in the study of the imago dei and breathes new life into an old discussion.
John Goldingay
"I have long thought that the description of humanity as made in God's image (along with the rest of Genesis 1-3) has been the subject of so much comment over the centuries that we could never get behind all that interpretation to its inherent meaning. Richard Middleton's fascinating book has made me think again."
Fuller Theological Seminary
Terry Fretheim
"Up-to-date interpretations of the Imago Dei have long been needed. Richard Middleton has accomplished this considerable feat with great learning and sophistication, both by gathering the issues so clearly and accessibly and by providing an important advance in thinking about this theme. He has presented an expert historical and literary analysis, ranging widely across extrabiblical and biblical literature. Even more, Middleton has drawn out significant theological dimensions of the text and demonstrated the ethical implications of his analysis--with a lively engagement of contemporary concerns. Readers will encounter here fresh ways of considering both God and the human beings created in the image of that God."
Luther Seminary

Meet the Author

J. Richard Middleton (PhD, Free University of Amsterdam) is professor of biblical worldview and exegesis at Northeastern Seminary, Roberts Wesleyan College, in Rochester, New York. He is the coauthor of Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be and The Transforming Vision.

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