What does it mean when the Bible says that Adam was made “in the image” and “after the likeness” of God (Gen 1:26 King James Version)? And how does this relate, if at all, to the Nation of Islam Lesson (Student Enrollment No. 1) which states that the Original Black Man is “God of the Universe?” Few writers have discussed these two scriptural statements in the same context.
According to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, however, the two in fact make the same theological point about man. He says:
“Well the Bible tells you He (God) made man in His own image and after His own likeness. Well, He made you into a God.”
“How could I be made in the image and likeness of God and not be God?”
This Biblical interpretation or exegesis by Min Farrakhan may seem shocking at first: personally I have never come across a Jewish or Christian reader who explicitly reads Gen. 1:26 as suggesting that the Black Man is God. They rather interpret it to mean that mankind in general shares a likeness with God only in his soul. Is Min. Farrakhan misreading the text or imposing on it a “Black Muslim” reading that is inappropriate for the Biblical context?
Absolutely not. It is the common Jewish and Christian exegesis that fails to take well enough account of the original context of the Biblical verse.
Min. Farrakhan’s reading of Gen. 1:26 is perfectly consistent with the original Hebrew context of the Bible, a context that has been obscured by King James and his teams of translators that rendered the Bible into English. The Hebrew of Gen. 1:26 declares that God made Adam be-elmenu ki-demuthenu. While the phrase is usually translated “in (God’s) Image, after (God’s) Likeness,” this is not entirely correct. A more precise translation indicates that Adam was made AS the Image of God (beth essentia) rather than in the Image (beth of norm). What does it mean for Adam to have been made as the Image of God? The Hebrew term tselem signifies something very specific: not a two-dimensional image but a three-dimensional cult statue, the type of statue believed by the ancients to be inhabited by the essence of a god and to represent the physical body of that god on earth. As Dr. Andreas Schuele, professor of Biblical Theology at Union Presbyterian Seminary, notes: “The cultic image is in fact the medium of manifest divine presence and action in the world and as such part of the divine person. It is, to put it pointedly, >god on earth<…The image was…that side of the god’s person through which he entered the sphere of created life…the bodily appearance of a god, the very medium…through which he can be addressed by prayer, worship and sacrifice.”
The ritual process used by the ancient world to invite the spirit of a god to incarnate within its statue, a process called pit pi (“Opening-of-the-Mouth”), is similar to that described for Adam in Gen. 2:7: “then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Adam’s creation as the image or tselem of God therefore means, not simply that Adam somehow “looked” like God, but that Adam was specifically created to be the very medium through which God had a presence on earth and through which He is worshipped. Simply put: Adam is God Himself in a material body on earth. As Hans Wildberger, formerly Professor of Old Testament at the University of Zurich, confessed: “It cannot be stressed enough that Israel…by a daring adaptation of the image theology of the surrounding world, proclaims that a human being is the form in which God himself is present.”
This is why God forbade Israel from bowing down before images made by man (Exodus 20:1-7). God has only one legitimate image which He made Himself: Adam.
But there is more. Like the related Akkadian term tsalmu the Hebrew term tselem has a dual significance: it can mean both “statue” as well as “black” for, as prominent Torah scholar Dr. Avivah Zornberg informs us, the concept of blackness is “at the root” of the word tselem. Adam as tselem is therefore the black body (statue) of God on Earth. The Torah’s declaration that Adam is the black body of God in which God’s essence resided and that he is therefore God Himself on earth is not different from Min. Farrakhan’s suggestion that Gen. 1:26 indicates that the original Black Man is God.
The Qur’an confirms this reading of the Bible. It too presents Adam as the black statue of God in whom God dwells and through whom God receives worship:
26. Surely We created man of dry ringing clay Of black mud wrought into shape…
28. And when your Lord said to the angels, ‘See I am creating a man of dry ringing clay, of black mud wrought into shape.
29. When I have shaped him, and breathed My spirit into him, then fall down in prostration before him
30. So the angels prostrated (sajada), all of them
31. Save Iblis; he refused to be among the prostrate. Surat al- Hijr 
Adam is made from materials used to make a statue: ṣalṣāl, “dried clay that produces a sound like pottery” and ḥamaʾ, “fermented black mud.” That this black material has significance for the color of Adam himself is clear: the very name Adam, according to Arabic linguistic scholars, derives from the Arabic word ādam which means dark skinned. According to some Islamic commentaries, this initial black body (Adam) remained inert and hollow like a statue for forty days until God blew His Spirit into it. Adam became alive and God then ordered the angels to worship this Black original man. Sajada is what Muslims do when worshipping God, and this worship is reserved for God alone: “And to Allah makes prostration (yasjudu) every living creature that is in the heavens and the earth, and the angels too (Surah 16, Verse 49).” Yet it is precisely these angels who are ordered by God to offer this worship to Adam, the original Black Man, after he had been enlivened by God’s own Spirit.
This worship of Adam by the angels has been a difficult problem for Qur’anic commentators past and present, but it is perfectly consistent with God’s other Revelation, the Torah. Read in this context, the Qur’an is restating what Genesis already stated: Adam, the original Black Man, is the body (statue) of God in whom God’s Spirit resided on earth and is therefore the medium of divine presence on the earth and the legitimate recipient of the worship that is reserved for God.
This is not a modern “Black Muslim” reading of the Qur’an. There were Muslim thinkers in early Islam who also correctly perceived the implications of this description of Adam. Al-Baghdādi (d. 1037 AD) wrote a catalogue of the Muslim trends of thought in his day called al-Farq Bayn al-Firaq (“Muslim Schisms and Sects”). Among the trends that al-Baghdādi discusses is one he labels ḥulūlīya, “incarnationists,” because these Muslim thinkers understood the Qur’an to describe Allah “incarnating” within the body of Adam. He reports:
“I found one (of them) citing, in proof of the possibility of God’s incarnation in bodies, God’s word to the angels regarding Adam: ‘So that when I have made him complete and breathed into him of my spirit, fall down making obeisance to him.’ (The incarnationists) held that God commanded the angels to bow down before Adam only because he embodied himself in Adam and really abode in him because he created him in the most beautiful form. Therefore, (God) said: ‘We have created man in the finest form (95:4).’ ”
How did Farrakhan get it so right and other readers of the Bible get it so wrong? What does he know that centuries of Jewish and Christian readers did not? The more appropriate question is: whom does he know? The answer: he knows the source of Supreme Wisdom. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s nearness to the Fount of Divine Revelation puts him in a privileged position as it relates to understanding scripture.
Dr. Wesley can be reached at drwesleymuhammad @ gmail.com. His sources for this article include Andreas Schüle, “Made in the >Image of God<: The Concepts of Divine Images in Gen 1-3,” ZAW 117 (2005): 1-20; Hans Wildberger, “Das Abbild Gottes, Gen 1:26-30,” ThZ 21 (1965): 481-501.