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Men and animals (Genesis chap. 2 verse 19)

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

God presents the animals he created to man to see how he would have called them. In the Bible “to call” means to attribute a precise role or mission to a person. Typically, the name is given by God. Let us recall that in the first version of creation – Gen 1 – God himself called the darkness “night” and the light “day”. Often, God gives to men new names. For example, Abraham. His name was “Abram” (i.e. “high father”), but God changed it to “Abraham” (i.e. “father of many nations” – cf. Gen 17:5).  God also changed the name of his wife from “Sarai” to “Sarah” (i.e. “princess” – cf. Gen 17:15).

The new name given by God to a person indicates the mission that the person will have to play in favor of the people. Therefore, when God wants man to give a name to each animal, he wants Adam attributes a role to each living being. Why God delegates to man a prerogative that, elsewhere, he reserves only to himself?

The animals have a role in relation to men and not to God. Perhaps it would be better to say that the animal’s relationship with Creator is mediated by man. The man created by God, in fact, is a sort of His “lieutenant”, a kind of “viceroy”, officially called to represent him on earth. So God (the King) believes that man (His “viceroy”) will give a useful role to each animal, without thereby bend or subdue the animals. The animals, in fact, were taken from the same “mother earth” – in Heb. ‘Adamah (feminine name) – from which the man was taken. Therefore, animals and humans come from the same mother and must respect each other.

The name given to animals are not to be confused with the names of the animals currently used in various modern languages. For example, the name of the animal we now call “sheep” is also the name that indicates its role: “the animal that gives wool to make clothes and milk to drink.” And even if it is true that also in Hebrew the animals have their own names, in the Genesis’ text the name name indicates the animals’ role in relation to men.

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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