Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The divine as female?

THE BBC ASKS: Why is God not female? It's complicated, and it isn't the case that God in the Western tradition has been presented only in male terms, although that imagery has certainly dominated. The article notes, among various other things, the traditions of the ancient Gnostics:
Other gnostic, or mystical, Christian groups in the early Church went further from mainstream Christianity, believing that God, unknowable in himself/herself has many emanations, both male and female. The female ones include spirits called Aletheia (Truth), and Zoe (Life), and Spiritus (Spirit), Ecclesia (Church), and Sophia (Wisdom). The universe came into being through Sophia (though gnostics regarded this as a bad move) and at the end of time she will be the bride of Christ. Gnostics were baptised - according to their Catholic opponent Irenaeus - with the words: "Into the name of the unknown Father of the universe - into Truth, the mother of all things".
And for the Gnostics, the highest explicitly male emanation was the Demiurge, Yaldabaoth, who was an abortive Frankenstein-monster of an emanation resulting when Sophia tried to do some creating of her own. And they believed that the Demiurge was the God of the Bible.

An interesting juxtaposition to this article came up alongside it in this mornings Google searches: Kabala scholar to explain God’s female side (Debra Rubin, New Jersey Jewish News)
In the mystical world of Kabala, the divine romance taking place between the female and male sides of God can be accomplished only with the help of the Jewish people.

This “radical” vision of the Shechina, or feminine side of God, said Dr. Daniel Matt, is prominently featured in the Zohar — meaning radiance or splendor — the Aramaic-language book on which Kabala’s mystical teachings are based

One of the world’s leading authorities on Kabala, Matt will come to Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth to speak about the Shechina and its connection to the kind and compassionate aspects of God on Sunday, June 7.


While the Shechina appears in the Talmud, Matt noted that there it simply refers to God’s presence in the world, but is not overtly feminine.

“You never find a statement that the Shechina is married to the Holy One blessed be he,” said Matt. “However, that type of statement is very prominent in the Zohar and is one of its most radical images. But, that divine romance can only happen with the help of the people of Israel. If we enact the mitzvot we stimulate the divine union. You could actually say that every mitzva serves as an aphrodisiac. In a way, the divine is not complete and full unless we lead a holy life.”

Professor Matt's important work on the Zohar has been noted often on PaleoJudaica over the years. Start here and follow the links. Note also this post in particular. And Philologos has an old essay on the Shekhinah (Shechinah), which I noted at the time, but which has now moved to here.