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God Has No Gender

As a rough guess (based on no research), 90 percent of all monotheists believe that God is exclusively male. Even though most Christian and Jewish sects grudgingly admit that God created women in “his” image (Genesis 1:27 and 5:1-2), this has translated to fair treatment of women only extremely rarely. It is safe to say that most Christians (at least, the males) have no trouble with the philosophy, “Women may not serve God at the altar because God is exclusively male, Jesus Christ is exclusively male, and all of Jesus's disciples and apostles were male.”

False, false, and false. Let's take these arguments in reverse order: Jesus had plenty of female disciples and apostles. Mary Magdalene was his favorite disciple; the apocryphal Gospel of Philip even tells us that she was his koinonos, a word that meant partner, close companion, or consort (logion 32). The Bible refers to such disciples as Joanna, Susannah, and Tabitha and to such apostles as Mary Magdalene (commissioned by Jesus himself in John 20), Prisca, and Junia.

Second, there is no denying that Jesus was a human male, whatever else he may have been. But Trinitarians say that he was both fully human and fully divine; therefore, his human masculinity must take the back seat to the divine nature of God.

And what about God? Is God exclusively male? The answer is obvious. God is spirit; God has no physical body. God is omnipresent, meaning that there is no place, no time, and no concept from which God is absent. God is simultaneously on the other side of the Universe, 30 billion light-years away, and God is inside all the atoms of your body. God is inside the protons and electrons, the quarks, the strings of which you are composed. God is inside neutrinos. God suffuses the Universe even more thoroughly than water suffuses a goldfish bowl.

Because God has no physical body, God has no penis and no uterus. You may refer to God as male (Lord, how can you stop?), but to refer to God as female is exactly as valid.

But what about the Bible? you may ask. Doesn't the Bible refer to God as exclusively male? Doesn't that make it sacriligeous to refer to God as female?

No and no. God is imaged in many forms in the Bible — a rock, a wind, she-bears, even a little red hen (Matt. 23:37, Luke 13:34). The Bible describes God as a seamstress (Gen. 3:21); possessing a womb (Jer. 31:20, Isa. 46:3-4); as a woman in labor (Deut. 32:18, Isa. 42:14 John 3:3-7); as a nursing mother (Isa. 49:15, Num. 11:11-14); as a mother with her weaned child (Ps. 121:1-2); as a comforting mother (Isa. 66:11-12, Hos. 11:1-4,8-9); as a mother bear (Hos. 13:6-8); and as a midwife (Ps. 22:9), among many other feminine images. Read Paul R. Smith's Is It Okay To Call God Mother? Considering the Feminine Face of God (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993) for a thorough discussion of this issue by a Southern Baptist preacher.

The first 12 chapters of Genesis were written primarily by the Yahwist (J), making use of some material provided by the Elohist (E) — both of them so-called by their preferred name for God. Passages that refer to Yahweh allahiym are generally called JE passages.

El was the principle god of the Canaanite/Palestinian pantheon. His consort was known as Elath or Eloah, and together they were called Elohim, the gods.

Yah (Ex. 15:2) or Yahweh was originally a volcano god, a god of thunder, lightning, and earthquakes who often manifested himself in fire (viz. the burning bush). He is generally thought to have been an amalgam of a number of Mediterranean gods and goddesses, beginning with the original Yahuwah (a mountain goddess) and including El, Yayash, Yaë, Shaddai, Enlil, Seth, Anu, Marduk, Yahu, Ea, and even En-ki. His consort — worshipped in the Fertile Crescent for centuries before Yah/Yahweh came along — was Asherah.

Some scholars believe that the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, is an acronym for El, the father god; Asherah, the mother god; Yehoshua (Joshua/Jesus), the son god; and Anath, the daughter god. (Anath/Anat is the feminine equivalent of “Adonai,” Lord.)

Exodus 3:14a, ehyeh asher ehyeh, is usually

Above is the Lachish Ewer. It dates from 1220 BCE. Scholars disagree over whether it is the earliest known physical evidence for the worship of (a) El Yah or (b) Elath. The seven-branched tree that can be seen on the right side of the urn was a common symbol of the seven gods worshiped by primitive cultures (including the nomadic tribes of what would later become Israel and Judea).

translated “I AM that I AM,” although it could equally well be translated “I become what I become” or “I will be what I will be”— Hebrew is not English. One scholar has opined that one of those ehyehs might actually refer to the god Ea, making Ex. 3:14b into, “Ea has sent me to you.” One radical scholar has pointed out that a perfectly valid translation of the phrase is “I am Asherah.”

All of this is important for you to know because you need to understand that only Priests For Equality's The Inclusive Bible provides a translation that is absolutely faithful to the original Hebrew and sensitive to the fact that just because men considered women property 3,000 years ago doesn't mean that God considers women to be men's property.

When you're reading your own translation, be aware that when you see the word “Lord” you are seeing the Hebrew word Adonai, a euphemism based on the perfectly valid point that God has no name. When you see the word “LORD,” you are seeing an English euphemism for Yahweh (actually YHWH) — who was probably an amalgam of many different gods and goddesses. When you see the phrase “LORD God,” you are seeing a translation of Yahweh allihiym, literally “Yahweh of the gods” — and remember, “Yahweh” and “Elohim” were words that referred to both gods and goddesses. (Remember that the Hebrew Scriptures promote monolatry, not monotheism. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is only one of the dozens of acknowledgments that Yahweh, Asherah, El, Eloah, Shaddai, Rahab, and Leviathan were not the only gods worshipped in Israel and Judea.)

We can take for granted that most of the men who inscribed their words onto parchment early in the first millennium BCE considered women inferior. But remember that Hebrew has no concept for “it,” and most words in Hebrew default to the masculine gender. When all is said and done, the fact remains that the Bible consistently refers to God using words that encompass both the male and the female, using “he” because Hebrew has no “it.”

Some men protest that God cannot possibly have any feminine qualities (their unspoken presumption being that females are as inferior as many men believed they were for almost 6,000 years). I would respond to these men that modern science has proven that for the first seven weeks, all fetuses are sexually undifferentiated; only a microscope can determine which gender the fetus may turn out to be. If a fetus is male and its Y chromosome does not work, a girl will be born who is genetically male. If the fetus does not get enough DHEA (androgen), he will turn out homosexual, conservative ravings about choice to the contrary. Can a man validly scorn a gender that he himself was (in the sense of having no penis, no testicles, and no testosterone) for at least seven weeks?

And more than that — if we are all de facto female for our first seven weeks of life, with female being the “default” gender when things go wrong, doesn't that make women created more in the image of God than men?


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Mary W. Matthews

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