Biblical Brains

Genesis 1:1-6:8

By Aryeh Lev Stollman

Published October 08, 2004, issue of October 08, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

And the serpent was more cunning than all the creatures of the field that the Lord God created. And he said to the woman, “Did God say: You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”

— Genesis 3:1

And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?”

— Numbers 22:28

And the Lord spoke to the fish and it spat Jonah out onto the dry land.

— Jonah 2:11

“The evolution of the cerebral hemispheres is the most spectacular story in comparative anatomy.”

— A. S. Romer, “The Vertebrate Body”

If the brain, in all its species-related permutations, is Creation’s most stunning achievement, then language is its glory. But there is a hierarchy to this glory of the brain.

A great debate rages among scientists on the cognitive abilities of animals. Do they have language or some sort of complex communication system? What is the extent of their language? Do they have consciousness? What is the evidence from the Bible? There may be theological and political implications. Do we humans grant ourselves souls because we are language-endowed, because we believe we are the only conscious creatures? What of other language-using creatures and their implied conscious lives? Do they have — because their abilities and choices are more limited — tinier souls? Is there an afterlife to compensate for their suffering? If a serpent can dissemble with the subtlest phrasing, if a donkey can speak out with righteous indignation, if a fish can obey God’s words, does this animal perhaps have rights? If the Bible is correct, then animals may have greater cognitive abilities than we generally care to grant them. If so, where might these higher faculties reside in their brains? I can only speculate using these simple illustrations and with my added belief that these characteristics are shared across species and genders.

Aryeh Lev Stollman, a neuro-radiologist, is the author of two novels, “The Far Euphrates” and “The Illuminated Soul,” and a story collection, “The Dialogues of Time and Entropy.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.