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Gender of God

The gender of God can be viewed as a literal or as an allegorical aspect of a deity. In polytheistic religions, gods are more likely to have literal sexes which would enable them to sexually interact with each other, and even with humans.

In most monotheistic religions, one cannot apply a gender to God in the usual sense, as God's attributes cannot be compared to those of any other being. Thus, the idea of a "divine gender" is ultimately considered an analogy, used by humans in order to better relate to the concept of God, with no sexual connotation.

God is an intangible spirit in most religions and is therefore thought to have no gender. The preponderance of references to God in both the Old and New Testaments are in the context of a masculine reference, often "Father". However, there are a significant number of feminine allegorical references to God, most often in some maternal role.

Abrahamic religions [ edit ]

In the Hebrew and Christian Bible, God is usually figuratively imagined in male terms in Biblical sources,[1] with female analogy in Genesis 1:26-27,[i][2] Psalm 123:2-3,[ii] and Luke 15:8-10;[iii] a mother in Deuteronomy 32:18,[iv] Isaiah 66:13,[v] Isaiah 49:15,[vi] Isaiah 42:14,[vii] Psalm 131:2;[viii] and a mother hen in Matthew 23:37[ix] and Luke 13:34.[x]

Michael Coogan offers his own interpretation of Genesis 1:26-27,[i] according to which the verses say that the elohim were male and female,[2] and humans were made in their image.[3] This hints at the idea that Ancient Hebrews worshiped a godly pair, Yahweh and his wife Asherah,[4] the "elohim", a plural noun, originally meaning the Canaanite pantheon.[5][6]

Judaism [ edit ]

Although the gender of God in Judaism is referred to in the Tanakh with masculine imagery and grammatical forms, traditional Jewish philosophy does not attribute the concept of sex to God.[a] At times, Jewish aggadic literature and Jewish mysticism do treat God as gendered. The ways in which God is gendered have also changed across time, with some modern Jewish thinkers viewing God as outside of the gender binary.

Christianity [ edit ]

Most Christian groups conceive of God as Triune, believing that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are distinct persons, but one being that is wholly God.[7][8]

God the Son (Jesus Christ), having been incarnated as a human man, is masculine. Classical western philosophy believes that God lacks a literal sex as it would be impossible for God to have a body (a prerequisite for sex).[9][10] However, Classical western philosophy states that God should be referred to (in most contexts) as masculine by analogy; the reason being God's relationship with the world as begetter of the world and revelation (i.e. analogous to an active instead of receptive role in sexual intercourse).[11] Others interpret God as neither male nor female.[12][13]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Book 239, states that God is called "Father", while his love for man may also be depicted as motherhood. However, God ultimately transcends the human concept of sex, and "is neither man nor woman: he is God."[14][15]

In contrast to most other Christian denominations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) teaches that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit are physically distinct while being one in purpose.[16][17] The LDS Church also teaches that God the Father is married to a divine woman, referred to as "Heavenly Mother."[18] Humans are considered to be spirit children of these heavenly parents.[19]

The Holy Spirit [ edit ]

In Hebrew language, in rabbinic literature, the divine presence of God, the Holy Spirit, the Shekhinah is feminine.[citation needed]

The New Testament also refers to the Holy Spirit as masculine in a number of places, where the masculine Greek word "Paraclete" occurs, for "Comforter", most clearly in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 to 16.[20] These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a fully divine person, or some kind of "force." All major English Bible translations have retained the masculine pronoun for the Spirit, as in John 16:13. Although it has been noted that in the original Greek, in some parts of John's Gospel, the neuter Greek word for "it" is also used for the Spirit.[citation needed]

Islam [ edit ]

The oneness of God is of primary importance in the Quran and Islam. In Qur'an, Allah is most often referred to with the pronouns Hu or Huwa, and although these are commonly translated as ;him', they can also be translated gender-neutrally, as 'them.' This is also true of the feminine equivalent, Hiya. Qur'an 112:3–4 states: "He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him [Them]." Other references include the first person pronoun, and the relative pronoun ma ('that which'), as in the phrase "the heavens and that which created them" (Qur'an 91:5).

Indian religions [ edit ]

Hinduism [ edit ]

In Hinduism, there are diverse approaches to conceptualizing God and gender. Many Hindus focus upon impersonal Absolute (Brahman) which is genderless. Other Hindu traditions conceive God as androgynous (both female and male), alternatively as either male or female, while cherishing gender henotheism, that is without denying the existence of other Gods in either gender.[21][22]

The Shakti tradition conceives of God as a female. Other Bhakti traditions of Hinduism have both male and female gods. In ancient and medieval Indian mythology, each masculine deva of the Hindu pantheon is partnered with a feminine who is often a devi.[23]

The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is the Rigveda (2nd millennium BC). The first word of the Rigveda is the name Agni, the god of fire, to whom many of the vedic hymns are addressed, along with Indra the warrior. Agni and Indra are both male divinities.

The Rigveda refers to a creator (Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati), distinct from Agni and Indra. This creator is identified with Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman, the first cause), born of Vishnu's navel, in later scriptures. Hiranyagarbha and Prajapati are male divinities, as is Brahma (who has a female consort, Saraswati).

Rigveda

There are many other gods in the Rigveda.[24] They are "not simple forces of nature," and possess "complex character and their own mythology."[24] They include goddesses of water (Āpaḥ) and dawn (Uṣas), and the complementary pairing of Father Heaven and Mother Earth.[24] However, they are all "subservient to the abstract, but active positive 'force of truth' [Ṛta]…which pervades the universe and all actions of the gods and humans."[24] This force is sometimes mediated or represented by moral gods (the Āditya, e.g. Varuṇa) or even Indra.[24] The Āditya are male and Ṛta is personified as masculine in later scriptures (see also Dharma).

In some Hindu philosophical traditions, God is depersonalized as the quality-less Nirguna Brahman, the fundamental life force of the universe. However, theism itself is central to Hinduism.[25]

While many Hindus focus upon God in the neutral form,[citation needed] Brahman being of neuter gender grammatically, there are prominent Hindu traditions that conceive God as female, even as the source of the male form of God, such as the Shakta denomination. Hinduism, especially of the Samkhya school, views the creation of the cosmos as the result of the play of two radically distinct principles: the feminine matter (Prakṛti) and the masculine spirit (Purusha). Prakṛti is the primordial matter which is present before the cosmos becomes manifest. Prakṛti is seen as being "the power of nature, both animate and inanimate. As such, nature is seen as dynamic energy" (Rae, 1994). Prakriti is originally passive, immobile and pure potentiality by nature . Only through her contact with the kinetic Purusha she unfolds into the diverse forms before us. The idea of Prakṛti/Purusha leads to the concept of the Divine Consort. Almost every deva of the Hindu pantheon has a feminine consort (devi).[23]

Sikhism [ edit ]

The Guru Granth consistently refers to God as "He" and "Father". However, it also says that God is indescribable. Thus, God in Sikhism has no gender. The Akal Purakh ('Timeless Being') is referred to as one of the gender, simply because the Granth is written in north Indian Indo-Aryan languages (mixture of Punjabi and dialects of Hindi) which have no neutral gender.

Such is described as energy that prevails throughout the universe.

Other [ edit ]

Animist religions [ edit ]

Animist religions are common among oral societies, many of which still exist in the 21st century. Typically, natural forces and shaman spiritual guides feature in these religions, rather than fully-fledged personal divinities with established personalities. It is in polytheism that such deities are found. Animist religions often, but not always, attribute gender to spirits considered to permeate the world and its events. Polytheistic religions, however, almost always attribute gender to their gods, though a few notable divinities are associated with various forms of epicene characteristics—gods that manifest alternatingly as male and female, gods with one male and one female "face", and gods whose most distinctive characteristic is their unknown gender.[26]

Feminism [ edit ]

In her essay "Why Women Need the Goddess", Carol P. Christ argues the notion of there having been an ancient religion of a supreme goddess.[27] The essay was first presented in the spring of 1978 as a keynote address for the "Great Goddess Re-emerging" conference at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Christ also co-edited the classic feminist religion anthologies Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (1989) and Womanspirit Rising (1979/1989), the latter of which include her 1978 essay.

See also [ edit ]

References [ edit ]

Notes [ edit ]

  1. ^ "G-d has no body, no genitalia, therefore the very idea that G-d is male or female is patently absurd. Although in the Talmudic part of the Torah and especially in Kabalah G-d is referred to under the name 'Sh'chinah' - which is feminine, this is only to accentuate the fact that all the creation and nature are actually in the receiving end in reference to the creator and as no part of the creation can perceive the Creator outside of nature, it is adequate to refer to the divine presence in feminine form. We refer to G-d using masculine terms simply for convenience's sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; G-d is no more male than a table is." Judaism 101. "The fact that we always refer to God as 'He' is also not meant to imply that the concept of sex or gender applies to God." Kaplan, Aryeh (Rabbi). 1983. The Aryeh Kaplan Reader. Mesorah Publications. p. 144.

Verses [ edit ]

Citations [ edit ]

  1. ^ Pagels, Elaine H. 1976. "What Became of God the Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity." Signs 2(2):293–303. Archived 4 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b Coogan, Michael (October 2010). "6. Fire in Divine Loins: God's Wives in Myth and Metaphor". God and Sex. What the Bible Really Says (1st ed.). New York, Boston: Twelve. Hachette Book Group. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-446-54525-9. Retrieved 5 May 2011. humans are modeled on elohim, specifically in their sexual differences.
  3. ^ Coogan (2010:176)
  4. ^ Cf. Herzog, Ze'ev (29 October 1999). "Deconstructing the walls of Jericho". lib1.library.cornell.edu. Ha'aretz. Archived from the original on 10 November 2001. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  5. ^ Pardee, Dennis. 1999. "Eloah." P. 285 in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd ed.), edited by K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, and P. van der Horst. Brill Publishers. ASIN B00RWRAWY8. "The term expressing the simple notion of 'gods' in these texts is ilm..."
  6. ^ van der Toorn, Karel. 1999. "God." P. 360 in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd ed.), edited by K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, and P. van der Horst. Brill Publishers. ISBN 90-04-11119-0.
  7. ^ Grudem, Wayne A. 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. p. 226.
  8. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Person" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  9. ^ Aquinas, Thomas. [1485] 2017. "Question 3: The simplicity of God." The Summa Theologiæ of St. Thomas Aquinas I (online ed.), translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. article 1.
  10. ^ Saint Augustine of Hippo. [c. 397] 1885. The Confessions of Augustine VII, edited by W. G. T. Shedd. Andover: Warren F. Draper.
  11. ^ Lang, David; Peter Kreeft (2002). "Chapter Five: Why Male Priests?". Why Matter Matters: Philosophical and Scriptural Reflections on the Sacraments. Our Sunday Visitor. ISBN 978-1931709347.
  12. ^ Achtemeier, P; Longstaff (1996). Harper Collins Bible Dictionary. Harper Collins. pp. 377–378. ISBN 0-06-060037-3.
  13. ^ Wilson, H (January 2006). "Name and Gender of God". Archived from the original on 4 June 2009. Retrieved 14 August 2009.
  14. ^ Bordwell, David. 2002. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Continuum International Publishing. ISBN 978-0-86012-324-8. p. 84.
  15. ^  • Latin: "Deum humanam sexuum transcendere distinctionem. Ille nec vir est nec femina, Ille est Deus." "Pater per Filium revelatus." Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae. Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 1993. 1-2-1-1-2 ¶ 239.  • English: "We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God." "I Believe in God the Father." Ch. 1 in Catechism of the Catholic Church I.ii. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 2003. Archived 3 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine. art. 1, para. 2, li. 239.
  16. ^ "Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3 – Lesson 1: The Godhead". LDS Church. 1995.
  17. ^ Cannon, Donald Q.; Dahl, Larry; Welch, John (January 1989). "The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: The Godhead, Mankind, and Creation". Ensign. LDS Church.
  18. ^ Hinckley, Gordon B. (November 1991). "Daughters of God". Ensign. LDS Church.
  19. ^ First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles (23 September 1995). "Gospel Topics – The Family: A Proclamation to the World". churchofjesuschrist.org. LDS Church. Retrieved 11 December 2013. See also: The Family: A Proclamation to the World
  20. ^ Nestle, et al. 1993. Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgeselschaft.
  21. ^ Renard, John. 1999. Responses to 101 Questions on Hinduism. Paulist. ISBN 978-0809138456. pp. 74-76.
  22. ^ What is Hinduism?, p. PR17, at Google Books, Hinduism Today, Hawaii
  23. ^ a b The Concept of Shakti: Hinduism as a Liberating Force for Women
  24. ^ a b c d e Witzel, Michael. 2001. "Autochthonous Aryans? The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts." Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 7(3):1–115. ISSN 1084-7561.
  25. ^ Slater, Robert Lawson. 1964. "Religious theism which is central to Hinduism" (book review). Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 4(1):117–18. doi:10.2307/1385227. JSTOR 1385227. Reviewed book: Ashby, Philip H. History and Future of Religious Thought: Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam.
  26. ^ "We are yet more strongly reminded by the two-fold nature of Phanes of the epicene god-heads, who occur frequently in the Babylonian pantheon." Banerjee, Gauranga Nath. 2007. Hellenism in Ancient India. Read Books. p. 304.
  27. ^ Christ, Carol P. 1978. "Why Women Need the Goddess." Heresies (The Great Goddess Issue):8–13. e-text. — Pp. 273–87 in Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader on Religion, edited by C. P. Christ and J. Plaskow. San Francisco: Harper & Row. 1979. — Pp. 117–32 in Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row. 1987.

Further reading [ edit ]

External links [ edit ]

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