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Imagination

Biblical Beginnings

Given the stern admonition of the second commandment of the Decalogue against the making of images of anything "in the heavens above, or the earth below, or the waters beneath the earth" (Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 5:8), it is ironic that the idea of imagination probably found its earliest expression in the first chapter of Genesis. In the biblical accounts of creation, two different words are used: in the first account, bara, implying creatio ex nihilo (Genesis 1:27); in the second, yatsar, by which man is created from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). The first power is reserved to God alone; the second—the power to reshape existing matter—is shared with humankind. Thus the Hebrew word for imagination comes to be yetser, the ability to share in the divine creative power.

For humankind, however, yetser is not always used for good: "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8: 21; and see Genesis 6: 5). Thus the rabbinical tradition came to distinguish between the evil imagination (yetser hara), often associated with sexual desire, and the good imagination (yetser hatov), which "opens up history to an IThou dialogue between man and his Creator" (Kearney, p. 47).

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Hydrazones to IncompatibilityImagination - Biblical Beginnings, Non-western Traditions, Ancient Greece, Medieval And Renaissance Views, The Enlightenment