Saturday, May 06, 2006
What good is a male God? ::
[ Warning: this post is a rant, my language and expression may not be coolly academic, but the issue is important, and my feelings are hot ;) ]

Claude Mariottini, in a post "The Jewish Goddess" drew my attention to a review in Forward by Jay Michaelson ("The Jewish Goddess, Past and Present") of two books, one that I know: William G. Dever Did God Have a Wife? Archeology And Folk Religion in Ancient Israel Eerdmans, 2005 and the other I didn't Rami Shapiro The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature Skylight Paths, 2005. Judging by the books, and the new one comes from a publisher I do not know, I assumed I'd learn little, but the topic is one I think important...

The review seems careful and fairly balanced, though it does not like the book that is new to me! But there is (at least) one statement I must challenge. If only because it is made too often as an assertion of fact, without support. It is contained in the throw away phrase "the familiar male God of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles". There ain't no such animal! Or at least there is but his name was Ba'al, or Moloch, or Mammon. The Bible regularly and strongly rants against such male fathering gods, as it does less often and strongly (read Dever for the background or see Michaelson for a biased though not unreasonable presentation) against their female counterparts, mothers and wives. But to claim that YHWH the God of the OT is male is just wrong! (The case of the "God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ" of the NT is more complex and needs at least a chapter or two to discuss).

God explicitly states in several places that human categories do NOT apply to the Godhead ("I am God and not a man" using אִישׁ 'ish the usual word for a man (sometimes a bit like the English "man" also used of a human being of unspecified sex). (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Hos 11:9 cf. Job 9:32 etc.) In the Hebrew Bible God is pictured in motherly ways about as seldom as "he" is in fatherly ones (both are rare, perhaps precisely to avoid association with pagan engendering and birthing 'gods'). Female pictures are not in general much rarer than male ones. So why does this myth persist that YHWH is seen by the Bible writers as male.

Perhaps it is because Christian (and Jewish?) tradition gradually turned God into a male?

The "Fathers of the Church" in the first millennium consistently taught that:
God is neither male nor female.[1]
Sexual categories do not apply to the Godhead. [2]
[NB knee-jerk-readers may like to notice that the second quote is from Jerome that renouned and often excoriated feminist theologian!]

These sentiments are not isolated, nor mere slogans without implication, for "“the fathers" were not ashamed to speak of God as mother.

Early Christian writers picture God'’s teaching as breast-feeding. This picture was common in the Hellenistic world, and Christian theologians took up verses from the Epistles speaking of apostles' feeding their readers with the "“milk of the gospel" and extend them to God the source of this milk (i.e. 1 Pet 2:2-3; 1 Thess 2:7-8; 1 Cor 3:1-3 and Heb 5:12-13). They could even speak of "“God's breasts"!

If a one parent family is less than a perfect expression of God's plan, then a male God who "fathers" is clearly less than God!

Idolatry is (somewhat) unbiblical, but thinking of God as male is simply idolatry!

[1] Migne P.G. 44, 916B. Gregory of Nyssa, Homily VII In Cantica Canticorum in Greek the quotation reads: "epeide gar oute arren, oute thelu to theion esti".

[2] Corpus Christianorum, Series Latine LXXIII, 459, 1.82-83. Jerome In Esaiam in Latin the quotation reads: "In divinitate enim nullus est sexus".

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