Human dignity in the prophetic traditions: Upholding human worth in a context of dehumanisation

  • L. Claassens
  • M. Juliana
Keywords: Human dignity, Isaiah, Prophetic literature, Poverty, Justice, Menswaardigheid, Jesaja, Profetiese literatuur, Armoede, Geregtigheid


This article proposes that the theme of human dignity offers a fruitful avenue toexplore the interrelated themes of justice, vocation and human responsibility in thebiblical traditions. Human dignity is most evident in the notion of the Imago Dei,i.e., the claim in Genesis 1:26-27 that humans, both male and female, are created inthe image of God. This powerful theological claim has led to some rich theologicalreflection by Christian and Jewish interpreters who have argued for the inherentworth of every human being whose dignity is a gracious gift bestowed by the CreatorGod. Nevertheless, in the Hebrew Bible there are numerous instances where thisdignity of individuals and groups are threatened, obscured and violated. And yet, itis exactly in the midst of these situations of dehumanisation that the conversationon what it means to be human becomes most urgent. For instance, in prophets likeIsaiah, it is within the depths of the social justice violations that threaten the wellbeing of the society’s most vulnerable members that one encounters the prophet’spersistent critique that upholds the dignity of each member of the society.