Humus Sapiens: Part I

 What is a human being made of? 

planet-forming dust being blown by stellar winds in the W5 region of Cassiopeia

planet-forming dust being blown by stellar winds in the W5 region of Cassiopeia

The scientific answer would be: the same stuff that everything else is made of–the same fundamental sub-particles, particles, elements and molecules which can be found in the earth, the stars, the dust of the earth and the interstellar dust as well.  Indeed, the dust of the earth was originally stellar dust.  It took billions and billions years and stars to make up enough of the stuff to form the earth from the heavier elements like carbon, oxygen and iron, so that soil, water, rocks and humans could exist.

Thus, the scientific name, homo sapiens, derives literally from the Bible.  There’s a profound truth here, supported both by the physical sciences and the Bible: a human being is made out of the same stuff that makes up everything in the universe.  As the Bible puts it in the poetry of ancient Hebrew–

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.                   [Genesis 2:7]

That’s what we are made of: dust.  Literally, the star-dust from which the earth was formed.

Being formed of the dust of the earth, it’s fitting that man should also be named after it, as indeed he was.  Adam is the name taken from the biblical Hebrew word Adamah, meaning “earth”.  Thus, “Adam” is literally the word for “earthling”. And it’s likewise fitting that the scientific name for us earthlings, homo sapiens, would also derive from the ancient Latin word for dust, soil, and earth: humus.  This is the etymological explanation for the word homo as representing mankind.[1]  Thus, homo sapiens is Latin for sapient earthling, literally, “thinking earthling”: the earthling that has enough consciousness to think about things like etymologies and interstellar dust.  We might as well call it “thinking dust”, or humus sapiens, since that’s what we’re made of.

“Thinking dust” doesn’t sound too impressive, perhaps.  But oh, what dust it has become!  Dust that is capable of writing and enjoying Mozart’s symphonies.  Dust that wonders why there is beauty and strangeness in things.  Now that’s something to think about.  humus_hands1


[1] Jürgen Moltmann, for one, notices this etymology in Man: Christian Anthropology in the Conflicts of the Present, trans. by John Sturdy, (London: SPCK, 1971), p. 12.


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