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Posted by on 18 Apr 2016 | 1 comment

God’s Wife – Our Mother – The Divine Feminine

OMSLAGETThe Bible depicts God as a male Deity which often strikes a chord of unfairness with modern people. Some react by declaring God to be gender neutral. The problem is that faith in the Bible loses its integrity if you simply edit the parts you don’t like. Most of all, doing so hides the presence of the divine feminine that is actually found in the Bible.

The sacred language of the Jews was, and still is, Hebrew. The scrolls Jesus read—his Bible so to speak—were written in Hebrew while his native tongue was the closely related Aramaic.These languages use gendered nouns and in both Hebrew and Aramaic the Holy Spirit is feminine.However, the oldest New Testament writings that have survived are all written in Greek where the Spirit’s gender is neuter. This reflects how the church went from first having Jewish Hebrew-speaking disciples to a following of mostly Greek-speaking gentiles. In this process the Holy Spirit’s female identity was gradually lost as were the theological ramifications that went with it. Once the Trinitarian concept developed the Holy Spirit became part of the all-male Godhead.

While it is well known to Biblical scholars that the Spirit is feminine in Hebrew most people, including Christians, are not aware of this. But, you can’t consider it an irrelevant grammatical detail from the Biblical era and simultaneously say it matters that she is now masculine in the male Trinity. We can detect the intellectual dishonesty of this argument even in our English translations. For example, when Jesus speaks of the need to be born again (John 3:3-7) he is talking about the Holy Spirit entering believers. This second birth parallels physical birth by a woman. The analogy is used precisely because the Holy Spirit is female. Another instance is the imagery of the Church as the Bride of Christ. The word “Bride” specifically refers to the feminine Holy Spirit that believers have. John the Baptist described how Jesus himself “has the bride” (John 3:29) meaning he has the Holy Spirit. Her feminine gender mattered.

We have numerous texts that testify to the importance of the Holy Spirit being feminine by early Christians as well as Jews that were contemporary with Jesus. More importantly, there are quite a few testimonies by some of the earliest church fathers that references an original version of the Gospel of Matthew that was written in Hebrew. Among the many quotes from it we find one where Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “my Mother.” This is profound. Yet, it receives virtually zero attention and I encourage you all to ask why.

Inevitably tied to this is the idea that the Spirit has a separate persona. In John 16:13 Jesus said “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority” (RSV). The masculine pronouns referring to the Spirit here (and in chapter 14) are due to translations from Greek. Jesus would have always used feminine pronouns when speaking about the Holy Spirit in line with Hebrew/Aramaic grammar. The Spirit not speaking on her own authority, suggesting a separate persona, cuts to the core of how we understand the concept of God as masculine while His Spirit is feminine.

Let me illustrate by going to Genesis 1:26 describing man and woman being created in the image of God. God said “Let us make man according to our image and likeness.” Using “us” and “our” doesn’t quite fit the monotheistic blueprint leaving us to question who God is talking to. Early on Christian church fathers explained the plurality referring to Jesus even though the Hebrew text speaks of a physical image, not a spiritual one. Modern scholars take us back in time to the people who were present in the Promised Land—Canaan—when Abraham first arrived. In Canaanite belief there was a high god El, understood by the Israelites as Yahweh (the personal name of God), who had a wife named Asherah. Though symbols and statues carrying Asherah’s name were banned by kings and denounced by prophets there are layers to uncover on this topic beyond what we read at face value. For instance, archeological discoveries suggest that some continued to worship Asherah and Yahweh together. Just like Yahweh and El were understood as the same deity, so the Spirit of God can be traced in numerous ways to be the continuation of Asherah.

El and Asherah were the sole creators of other gods and humans alike. Yet, scholars think the plurality in the creation story references the entire pantheon. I submit that the one next to God/Yahweh in the creation story of Mankind was El’s wife Asherah. It was in her image woman was made. Man and woman’s ability to pro-create reflects the divine mystery of the power of Creation itself. The institution of marriage with Adam and Eve becoming “one flesh” mirrors the heavenly prototype of God and the Holy Spirit as one in a celestial union.

Jesus called God “Father” and his message was that if you turn to Him, follow His ways, and become born again through the Holy Spirit, you too will become a son or daughter of the Father in heaven. The title “father” necessitates the presence of a mother. Masquerading the Spirit as male conceals the true power of the feminine. Women do not achieve value or status by making God’s gender neuter: it is gained by valuing femininity—in contrast to masculinity. Doing away with, and continuing to ignore, the Holy Spirit’s female gender as if it is insignificant parallels our lack of honoring women for what we contribute that differs from men. The presence of God’s “better half”—our heavenly Mother—invites us to finally restore the original balance.

 

 

Marianne Widmalm

Marianne Widmalm

Marianne Widmalm is a native of Sweden, living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is the author of “God is not Alone: Our Mother – the Holy Spirit” published 2015 by Avalonia: www.avaloniabooks.co.uk and available at Amazon US & UK. She has a B.A. in International Politics & Religion and an M.A. in Near Eastern Studies with a concentration in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, both from the University of Michigan. The thesis that served as the foundation for this book was published in an article called “God’s Wife” in the Academic Journal “the Biblical Historian” February 2005 under the guidance of the late Professor Noel Freedman.

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