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David E. S. Stein

Because you raise several overlapping points, John, I am going to make several piecemeal responses.

First, my view of the “confessional context” of the publishers of my translation work is rather different from yours. The drive for gender-sensitive language in liturgy and devotional study comes from congregants at least as much as from religious leaders.

I think back to the last four cities where I have lived and been a member of a synagogue, in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Columbia (Maryland), and Los Angeles. Those assembed in worship or study, when called upon to read aloud an English passage from a prayer book or biblical lection that refers to God via “He” and “the Lord,” on the fly and in unison de-gender the text as they speak. (These are Reconstructionist and Conservative synagogues, and I know that similar values pertain in Reform synagogues as well.) This is “mainstream” American Judaism, representing the plurality, if not the majority, of English-speaking Jewish congregations in the USA and Canada.

My point is that the publishers of gender-sensitive prayer books and Torah commentaries are not leading such emphasis on gendered language, they are following it.

In the religious world that I inhabit, the English word “God” is NOT a male term. Quite honestly, I was shocked that you claimed it to be such. I cannot recall anyone ever hearing anyone say that before—at least not in the Jewish world, where for decades I have followed discussions about gendered language. Rather, the word “God” is always understood as equivalent to the Hebrew word elohim, which (outside of kabbalistic settings) is not a gendered reference.

In practice, the existence of a female counterpart term, “goddess,” is not germane to the meaning of “god”—especially when capitalized. This linguistic phenomenon can be explained in terms of Nida’s componential analysis: The word “god” has a meaning-component that refers to role, and a separate meaning-component that refers to gender. In many usages, the second component remains latent, in that the term is used without regard to gender. This is the case also with many other terms in English that have female counterparts: actor, ancestor, author, aviator, etc.



Thanks for illuminating comments.

Considerable cultural differences are in play here. In my context, a diverse Protestant context, it is very unusual to hear anyone de-gender the text on the fly unless they attended a seminary where they have been taught to do so. To do so is not part of a shared cultural background.

Your distinction between actual and latent is important. But I'm not sure that a binary understanding captures the facts on the ground.

The masculine persona of the deity in a passage like Gen 2:2, both in Hebrew and in an English translation like mine, is not particularly overt, but is not completely absent either. At least, that is how the text comes across to me.

It seems to be the case that for some contemporary readers, even lightly gendered God language is thought to be toxic, unless, perhaps, the gendering is feminine.

A translation like The Contemporary Torah will no doubt be welcomed by such readers, who are also likely, as you say, to think of "God" as a non-gendered word.

I welcome the Contemporary Torah in any case, in particular because of your extensive and thoughtful notes and discussion of the translation choices.

But a de-gendering spirituality is virtually absent in my context, where among the more popular worship songs are praise pieces in which God is addressed with the same ardor and in the same language a woman might address a man in a love song. Ultimately, this goes back to a particular reading of the Song of Songs. This way of speaking of God, not to mention the ubiquitous practice of referring to "God" as "Father," "Lord," and "King," are vital pieces of the background against which any reference to "God" is made.

In short, by metalepsis, "God" is a word freighted with all kinds of social constructs, "the Lord is my shepherd," "the Lord is my Rock and redeemer," "who nurses them with honey from the crag," "Our Father who art in heaven," and so on. It is not easily decoupled from this background, and, to be clear, it is a good thing that such is the case.

In Catholic, Orthodox, and most evangelical settings - that is, among most Christians - a reaction against the de-gendering tendency, both vertical and horizontal, has set in.

Beyond the odd English that de-genderers occasionally indulge in, the problem is larger. It has to do with a perception that de-gendering vectors a wider and deeper agenda that amounts to a radical relativization of traditional theology in the name of a new theology whose contours are dictated by cultural trends which are in considerable tension with traditional emphases on several fronts.

In short, I would position myself in what might be called a radical center able to fully appropriate the range of language applied to God in the Bible and tradition, yet cognizant of contemporary cultural developments which make it more important than ever to emphasize that God in essence is beyond gender and beyond all qualification by human language.

In Christian theology, this is known as the apophatic tradition. So long as that tradition is not allowed to supplant the biblical tradition (which is apophatic only in fits and spurts), it can be a correcting influence.

David E. S. Stein

A second response:
Your essay, in my opinion, conflates at least two separate issues: which translation methodology is best, and how well CJPS succeeds in carrying out its stated methodology. Your essay, after dismissing the need for gender-sensitive God-language, then proceeds to judge CJPS by other standards. I do not find that particularly fair or helpful.

For your test case, you selected a Hebrew passage (Gen. 2:2) whose genre lies between prose and epic poetry. The way that the message is conveyed by that passage (its register and its rhythm and its diction) are relatively more important than in the usual prose passages of the Torah. Your example thus places unusual emphasis on how the NJPS/CJPS methodology fails to convey such literary features in the source text. But Gen. 2:2 is not a representative example of the Torah text as a whole.

Your essay claims that CJPS (the translation found within The Contemporary Torah) “botches” its rendering of Gen. 2:2–3 on the grounds that the translation does not reproduce the string of active verbs and syntactic parallelisms of the Hebrew. But such a critique is like expressing disappointment in a checkers player for not abiding by the rules of chess. Yes, the board looks the same for both games, but the enterprise is rather different.

Yes, in translation the goal is to transfer meaning from biblical Hebrew to contemporary English, but NJPS and CJPS are playing the translation game by different rules than you are. NJPS is a “thought-for-thought” translation, responding to the question, “How would one express this thought in contemporary English idiom?” Preservation of Hebrew syntax in the English rendering is not one of the rules of that game, at least not for the translation of prose.

David E. S. Stein

A third initial response:
Part of the motivation toward a gender-accurate translation of the Torah has been a drive to identify with our Jewish ancestors. That is the paradox in the title The Contemporary Torah: what is “contemporary” is a keen desire to read the Torah as the text’s original audience perceived it, to look at God and the world through their eyes. This is not an academic or antiquarian interest. Rather, it is a matter of personal identity. Our passion is fueled by that identification.

Soldiers, in a day-to-day basis in the field, tend to be more motivated by concern for their buddies—fellow soldiers in their unit—than by more abstract causes for war. Likewise, it is easier for me to be motivated by devotion to my (personal) family members than by devotion to (impersonal) concerns such as global warming. And so yes, it is much easier to pray to a deity (or intermediary) with a human face. The “person” in a “personal” God excites devotional commitment, and such personhood seems to require ascription of gender.

For many praying Jews I know, however, relating to God as a person is anathema. I hear 2 reasons for this. In general, it is inherently misleading to pray to any one conception of the deity, and thus it is done only briefly, heuristically, and in passing. In particular, the concept of God as a male figure simply stops the conversation, choking off the ability to speak. Presumably, this reaction is due to experiential associations of maleness with abuses of power, but the reason seems less important than the phenomenon itself.

In the Jewish world that I inhabit, gender-sensitive God-language correlates not with devotional malaise but rather with a restoration of devotional passion. This language gives us a God that (or whom) we can pray to again.

David E. S. Stein

A 4th initial response:
We seem to be talking past each other with regard to what we mean by God-language.

I distinguish between the text’s simple personifications (“God spoke”) from its metaphoric ascriptions (“God is our father”).

In your view, to personify God at all might seem to bring in train an assignment of gender. However, in the Hebrew Bible, various inanimate entities are occasionally said to “speak” or “see,” but gender does not seem to be at issue. In my view, such personification does not rise to the level of explicitness that requires (or even warrants) a gendered rendering into English.

In saying this, I am following the general rule for English idiom, that (unlike Hebrew) gender is not specified unless it is germane.

With regard to metaphoric ascriptions that the Bible applies to God, you seem to be suggesting that when specifically gendered terms are used in the Hebrew, I am against conveying their gender in translation. I hasten to disabuse your readers of this notion.

The translations I worked on were careful to preserve the social gender of the metaphoric vehicle (lord, father, etc.). Indeed, my article in Nashim takes pains to defend that practice to a feminist readership that is not necessarily sympathetic.

My article also discusses ancient usage of metaphor and views of gender, from which I conclude that in the ancients’ usage of personal metaphors, they regularly distinguished between the social gender of a metaphor’s vehicle and that of its tenor. Therefore I concluded that the Bible’s composers could not have relied on its ancient audience to have construed gendered metaphors as necessarily implying that God is a gendered being.

In other words, by calling God “lord,” the text did not mean to say: “imagine God as a male being.” (If that were the point, it would have had to be stated more explicitly.)

When the Torah’s characters called God “lord” (or “father”), it meant: “I relate to this deity (in some ways) as I relate to a human lord (or father).” The gender of the imagery is relevant because gender mattered in that society’s social roles. But such imagery does not reflect on God in any essential way.

When I apply a sports metaphor to the behavior of other people, it does not mean that they must therefore be athletes. Likewise, for the Torah’s characters to call God “lord” or “father” does not mean that “God is male.”

For purposes of devotional study, I find it worthwhile to convey the metaphoric ascriptions in translation, because of the information that is thereby conveyed about the thought categories of the original audience. As I wrote earlier, part of the purpose of such study is to identify with our ancestors.

J. K. Gayle

Considerable cultural differences are in play here. In my context, a diverse Protestant context, it is very unusual to hear anyone de-gender the text on the fly unless they attended a seminary where they have been taught to do so. To do so is not part of a shared cultural background.

John: (1) "de-gender" is quite a loaded term. Sounds like "to un-gender" or "to neuter," which are vacuous words that reminds us of Sigmund Freud's term "Penisneid." Freud's a masculinist, and his pointing to the "lack" is not too different from Stein's insistence that the Torah lacks something in God. (Yes, we noticed how you gendered Torah "her" in the first premise--clever!)

(2) I don't think either Anne Carson or Anne Lamott attended seminary (either Jewish or Christian). Both are facile in discussions (and translation) of the scriptures and of God, never going "beyond gender." In fact, each works out in helpful ways the various implications of God as male, as female, as the plural One making us, male and female, in his image.

J. K. Gayle

Mr. Stein,

What do you think of Judith Plaskow's work? What might she think of yours?

David E. S. Stein

My 5th and perhaps final response to this essay:
Now I will address the main issue regarding God-language that I raised in my article. John, I admire your ability to make explicit in translation how biblical Hebrew communicates its message—its literary features. So let’s look more closely at your example (Gen. 2:2), where you perceive a subtle male overtone, and for which you offer an alternative rendering.


The first question is, whose eyes are reading this passage? In my translation work, and in my article in Nashim, I situated myself as looking over the shoulder of the Torah’s composer(s), trying to imagine which assumptions about the audience were in mind. In choosing words carefully, the composer(s) had to ask: What reading conventions would this audience bring to bear upon the text? What shared cultural understandings would go without saying? Only after addressing these issues did I attempt to decode the meaning of the Hebrew text.

So, then, in Gen. 2:2 what textual aspects would have reliably induced the text’s original audience to perceive a male overtone? As I argued in more detail in my article, my answer is: Nothing.

Masculinity has meaning only with regard to a corporeal body, interpersonal interactions, and cultural roles. All of those factors are muted, if not conspicuously absent, in the opening story of Genesis.

• No bodily clues point to divine maleness.

• There is no counterposition of divine gender with the gender of other beings. (If anything, God’s gender is equated with both the masculinity and femininity of humankind, in 1:27.)

• The activity involved, namely, organizing and assigning roles, would not have been viewed as a peculiarly male activity. (The administrator of an Israelite household was typically a woman; and the household was the locus of economic production in that society.)

• Initiation of an organized cosmos was not particularly associated with maleness. (Biblical authors were capable of conceiving and expressing Creation in terms of explicitly feminine imagery, as Psalms 90 attests: “Before the mountains were born / And the earth was brought forth via labor.”)

Indeed, the deity presented in the opening story is utterly beyond all conventional categories, even regarding ancient Near Eastern deities. This depiction implicitly seems to argue against any ascription of gender to this deity.

(Now, it may still have been the case that God’s maleness was a given—that it simply went without saying. In the absence of an explicit statement, that point cannot be proven either way.)


So how shall we render our Genesis verse into English?

You propose (in part): “God finished the work he had been doing.” Hmm. This fails to render a pronominal suffix directly into English. Doesn’t the word melakhto literally mean “his work” rather than “the work”? If using male pronouns is okay, why not go all the way? I do not understand your reason for wanting a rendering that is (in my words) “masculine—but not too masculine.” Apparently you are making some trade-offs. Please clarify.

In any case, your proposed rendering must employ the pronoun “he” either as a male pronoun or as a generic pronoun.

If you intend “he” as a male pronoun, then I would say that you have overinterpreted the text, ascribing gender where the text gives no warrant for doing so.

Or if you intend “he” as a generic pronoun, then that usage would be happily in accord with standard English and even with NJPS. (See the note on the copyright page of the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh: “masculine terms for God such as ‘He’ should be understood as gender neutral unless the imagery of their context requires otherwise.”)

However, the gender implication of that “he” is ambiguous. Further, that “he” will be misperceived as intentionally male by a sizable proportion of readers. For contemporary readers (regardless of their own theology) tend to believe that the Torah intends to refer to a male deity.

Precisely to avoid such ambiguity and its attendant misreading, CJPS eschews the generic use of male pronouns.

The lack of a pronoun (CJPS: “God finished the work that had been undertaken”) is ambiguous in a manner akin to the Hebrew wording: it is no more specific or explicit about the deity’s gender than is the original text. This wording allows the reader to construe the deity either without gender—or, if you insist, as (subtly) male.

Other gender-sensitive or gender-accurate translations (such as NRSV, NLT, and TNIV) likewise avoid the generic use of male pronouns—but only with regard to human beings. They still retain “generic” male pronouns for God. As I argue in my article, such usage ironically makes God seem more male than ever.

The approach of CJPS is rather to allow English readers to construe references to the Torah’s deity via the same grammatical clues as for references to human characters.

This is, after all, how the original Hebrew operates. Hence my claim that a rendering whose God-language is gender-neutral by default offers English readers a less distorted view of gender in the original text.

In mid-May 2009, I will gain copyright permission to post a copy of my article online. I plan to let you know when that occurs.

David E. S. Stein

Quick response to J.K. Gayle, regarding my view of Judith Plaskow’s work:

Professor Plaskow’s work is important and inspiring, though I believe it addresses a different question than my recent work.

I have been most interested in recovering the Hebrew text’s original meaning, to the extent that is possible. If I understand Dr. Plaskow’s work correctly, it is more in the service of drawing direct implications for Jewish social and organizational life today.

That difference in goals seems to led us to differing assumptions that we each bring to our plain-sense reading of the Hebrew text.


David and Kurk,

Thanks first of all for a great discussion.

Re David' second response. I like the analogy, in which I would be expressing disappointment because the translators behind NJPSV and CJPS are playing checkers whereas I was expecting a game of chess. Checkers, after all, is rather boring.

It's true that I judged NJPSV against a standard that did not exist at the time: sensitivity to questions related to the "genderedness" of language, both in the source text and in translation. But so did those who produced CJPS. They judged it by a new standard and found it wanting. Thus the adaptation, which follows a new set of rules.

I concur with the judgment that led to the adaptation. I have some issues with the resultant product, but only in terms of David's 2008 article. As he himself notes therein, he ups the ante so to speak with respect to the claims made for CJPS in CJPS.

It remains true that CJPS succeeds far better than NJPSV in giving a modern-day Conservative-Reformed-Reconstructionist audience "an opportunity to encounter its God more directly." I certainly do not want to deny that.

To be sure, I continue to have my doubts about the degree to which "God" is a gender-neutral term in the English language (in this, I am in the good company of some very clear-thinking feminists).

Perhaps it is the case that I stacked the deck by choosing Gen 2:2. I am tempted to use CJPS Deut 4:34-37 and 26:17-19 as further examples of what happens when masculine pronouns in reference to God are avoided at all costs.

Re David's third response. Wow. What a beautiful defense of the notion of praying to a "that" rather than a "who." But if "that" is the new standard by which prayers are to be judged, then it seems to me that the prayers in the Bible and in the prayerbook are of heuristic value only, to be replaced, sooner rather than later, by prayers to a "that."

I have attended services in a variety of Reformed and Conservative synagogues, but do not remember prayers to a "that." Perhaps I am misunderstanding.

Re David's fourth response. No, I did not mean to suggest that CJPS fails to reproduce metaphorical language, with or without a gendered component, in its adaptation of NJPSV.

But David correctly notes in CJPS that "when a character addresses God as "lord" (e.g. Gen 18:27; Ex. 5:22), the maleness of the imagery is germane" (404). The only oddity here is that "lord" is left uncapitalized, whereas other ascriptive terms, gendered and ungendered, are capitalized ("Warrior," "Rock," "Father," etc.). It could be that David explains this decision somewhere, but if so I have overlooked it.

Now the question is, when, in the confession of faith reproduced in Deut 26:8, the Israelite head-of-household confessed that "יהוה freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and great power," is that to be read as a metaleptic allusion to the actions of the "Warrior" of Exod 15?

I would think so, in which case, I'm not sure it is "almost never the case" that gender is germane to God's persona in the Torah. "Mighty hand," "outstretched arm," "great power" - these evoke the figure of a warrior.

To avoid misunderstanding, yes, I too can't recount the events celebrated in Exodus 15 without also narrating the famous midrash in which God weeps for "my people Egypt" who are bumps on a log at the bottom of the sea. I too am rather PC when it comes right down to it (but I am trying to hide that side of me a bit for the purposes of this discussion).

But I do think the gendered God language in the Torah should never be a conversation-stopper, but a conversation-starter. I'm actually convinced David concurs, though he might be thought to imply otherwise.

Re David's fifth response. I agree with David if he means to say that the difference between the translation I offer of Gen 2:2 and that of CJPS is tiny compared to the difference of both compared to NJPSV. That's because we basically agree. He is right: I offer a rendering that is as lightly gendered as possible without removing every trace of genderedness. That's how the Hebrew text comes across to me, not without gender, but with gender muted down to a 1 on a scale of 10. I hope that is sufficient clarification.

I also agree with David that many other recent translations over-masculinize, not just NJPSV. Here, of course, both of us are talking chess, and we might both be accused of holding these translations to standards foreign to the intentions of the translators.

But I prefer chess. Checkers is boring. I'm looking for more partners with whom to play a great game of chess. Anybody game?

Well, I know Kurk is game. I am unfamiliar however with the translation efforts of which he speaks. In any case, I imagine that Lamott sees her work as a modern Targum, not as an attempt to be gender-accurate to the original.



"I offer a rendering that is as lightly gendered as possible without removing every trace of genderedness. That's how the Hebrew text comes across to me, not without gender, but with gender muted down to a 1 on a scale of 10. I hope that is sufficient clarification."

How does one mute gender, or how is one lightly gendered. I can understand muting the importance of gender, but do not see how one can mute gender itself.

David Stein,

"In other words, by calling God “lord,” the text did not mean to say: “imagine God as a male being.” (If that were the point, it would have had to be stated more explicitly.)

When the Torah’s characters called God “lord” (or “father”), it meant: “I relate to this deity (in some ways) as I relate to a human lord (or father).” The gender of the imagery is relevant because gender mattered in that society’s social roles. But such imagery does not reflect on God in any essential way."

I believe this accurately reflects the intentions of Scripture. God as Creator has elements that are immensely beyond our understanding. We should be careful of making God seem to much like that which He created out of nothing. :)


Hi Tiro,

Nice of you to chime in here. I would reiterate that, according to streams of tradition within both Judaism and Christianity (the apophatic tradition), God per se is beyond gender.

In the case of Gen 2:2-3 and more generally in the first creation account, I do hold that the "social gender" of God that is often enough quite germane is severely muted or completely absent. Two non-fronted "he"'s in embedded relative clauses in my view approximates that in English.

The theological point David makes, in which essence and metaphorical ascription are distinguished, is an important one, but can also be overdone. For example, if too much stress is placed on the fact that God is "our Father in heaven" only within the limits of human language, it might be thought that one could just as well refer to God as "our grandfather" or "our aunt" in heaven or by no language of family association whatsoever. Of course, this does not follow.

In short, God language such as "Father," "Warrior," "Refuge," etc. conveys essential truths even if God is each of these things only by analogy.


Hi David --

Great to hear from you as always. Of course, you are a fantastically hip Jewish figure -- if I recall correctly, you were the only male contributor to the fascianting The Torah: A Women's Commentary. As someone out on the bleeding edge of translation, perhaps your experience is not typical?

As you know, the liturgy refers to both male and female aspects of the Divine. But as you know, American Judaism is moving torwards more traditional liturgical forms (even the Reform Jews I know daven out of the ArtScroll). And, reflecting the Hebrew gender, most English translations mostly use the masculine form. This is even true of the Conservative Siddur Sim Shalom and the Reform Gates of Prayer.

But ultimately, most of the Jews I know pray in Hebrew, and those prayers are still to Avinu Malkeinu.

Peter Kirk

John, I think that in your comments on Genesis 2:2 you are confusing general principles with some peculiarities of the English language; that is, you are confusing exegetical and translational issues. Sure, the Contemporary Torah rendering of this verse is not good English, but that is because English, unlike almost every other language, lacks a 3rd person singular pronoun which does not specify natural gender. (Hebrew, Greek, Latin etc pronouns specify only grammatical gender.)

I was working on a translation of the Bible into a language in which pronouns are not gendered at all, and there is no grammatical gender. In our published rendering of this verse there is nothing gendered at all (in fact there are not even any ungendered pronouns), except for the word for "God" which may be perceived as male. The same is true of both the old and the new Turkish translations, in a language with similar characteristics. Even in a fully gendered "pro-drop" language like Russian it would be quite possible to translate this verse without anything specifically gendered (although the published Russian translation uses one pronoun with grammatical gender referring to the grammatically masculine word for God). Would you suggest that there is something inherently lacking in such translations? I wouldn't.

If we can agree on this principle, that it is not essential to refer to explicit maleness in this verse, we can then work on how best to render it in English, whether in our specific dialect of the language we can use for example "he" without misleadingly overspecifying the natural gender of the referent.


Cree and related languages do not have grammatical gender either. I think it is better to leave aside a discussion of the gender of pronouns altogether.

Let's move away from grammatical gender to either names or passages and functions. The earliest name of God that I ever knew was "L'Eternel" not gendered in my mind. Adonai is gendered but in a relational way, not in a biological way. I think we also need to acknowledge that the "strong arm" for many will be the arm of a mother, sister or friend.

As far as the Hebrew is concerned, Israel is portrayed as the son, the servant, and the spouse of God. On a metaphorical level the different passages lend themselves to gender in a variety of ways. However, it is often multi-layered as God becomes the mother of her daughter Zion, and the husband of Israel. The gender of both God and the people are not fixed.

(English translations confound the issue even more by using "son of my womb" instead of "child of my womb" in Deutero-Isaiah.)

What do you think of Mayer Gruber's work in this area? I have found it helpful.

J. K. Gayle

>John, Okay, let's play chess (where there's a queen and king and knights and other neutered pieces) instead of checkers (in which each is the same until the kings are crowned). :) Yes, Lamott is not a "translator" in our usual sense of that word.

>Mr. Stein, Thanks for validating Plaskow's work (and I appreciate Iyov's mention of your editorial work with her material in The Torah: A Women's Commentary, although you were not a contributor to that book, were you?)

In "Facing the Ambiguity of God" (an essay in The Coming of Lilith), Plaskow writes:

It is entirely legitimate and even essential for a new community [i.e., of women theologians and linguists and literary scholars and rhetoricians] finding its voice to speak and write about God by drawing upon its own most fundamental experiences. In a profoundly misogynistic culture that has ruthlessly exploited the natural environment--and that has linked women with the natural world on many levels of practice and discourse--feminist metaphors for God elucidate long-buried dimensions of divinity. These metaphors are not just political correctives to dominant modes of seeing and being; they arise from and refer to real discoveries of the sacred in places we had long stopped looking to find it. (134).

which is not unlike what Mayer Gruber writes (below).

>Peter, I wonder if one reason English is a language with gender "peculiarities" (i.e., specificity on certain pronouns) is because of the masculinist cultures it has evolved in. Why aren't translators (into English) more easily allowed the agency to bend the rigid rules, to "overtranslate" if you will, now and again? Why can't the English pronoun system be flaunted against what Plaskow shows to be "a rich array of images for God focusing on female, natural, and nonhierarchical metaphors [that . . . ] depict God as source, wellspring and fountain, mother and womb of life. . . Shekhinah, Goddess, all that seeks life; earth, moon, lover, friend--and so on" (134)?

>Sue, Thanks for mentioning Gruber. Here's how he sounds some like Plaskow (in his "Women’s Voices in the Book of Micah" findable by google):

The reticence to pay attention to the voices of previously unrecognized women in Hebrew Scripture reflects the phallo-centric thinking from which both men and women in modern western society suffer. Objectively, the stubborn refusal to accept new data concerning women in antiquity makes no more sense than the refusal to accept new etymologies that were unknown to the older dictionaries of Biblical Hebrew that preceded the deciphering of Akkadian and Ugaritic and the discovery of ancient Phoenician and Aramaic texts in the course of the last two centuries.

Clearly, Gruber is talking about women silenced from the scriptures while Plaskow (above) is talking about God as "ambiguous"--and both are looking at evidence against the male-only tradition (which is, Gruber says, "what Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza calls malestream biblical scholarship").

Peter Kirk

Kurk, I don't think English evolved in a more masculinist culture than most other (modern, at least) languages. The reason for its unusual status is that it lost its grammatical gender but became essentially frozen before the next step (taken in other languages like Persian which have lost grammatical gender) of losing gender distinctions in pronouns. So the remaining pronominal gender distinctions became reanalysed as relating to natural rather than grammatical gender.


Peter, Suzanne, and Kurk,

Thanks for bringing into the discussion a knowledge of a variety of other languages and an appreciation, in Kurk's case, for the pathos of an author like Judith Plaskow.

We have on the one hand, a source language and a source culture (not to be confused) that revel in mapping things in a variety of ways. Thus we have things that are fit for eating and things that are not, things that are holy and things that are common.
It is also a language and a culture that knows of gods and goddesses. The God of the biblical authors clearly belongs to the former class. I am not about to budge on that piece of baseline information.

Since I imagine we are around a coffee table, with Suzanne, Peter, Kurk, David Stein, and Iyov present, I would also add at this point, just to liven up the conversation, have you read your Mary Daley? I assume that some of you have. She is the philosopher (indeed, she was still a Christian at the time) who pointed out that the God of the Bible is a "male mother" - that is, a motherly figure in many ways, viewed of course through a son's eyes.

And yet, I would add, it is still the case that the God of the Bible is presented to us predominantly through metaphors in which maleness (as a social construct, not some sort of absolute) is germane, sometimes very, often in a muted way only, occasionally through an overt feminine remainder, in which God's motherliness is expressed directly, but more often through a covert remainder, and last but not least, to echo Mary Daley, through a primary covert identity which is motherly. I hope I am not being too obscure.

Suzanne's point remains valid, that God's social gender in the Bible lacks a biological component. It is purely relational. Oops, maybe not. Is the God who nurses us and writhes the mountains into existence a sexual being or not? Is God sexual precisely insofar as he is feminine?

Have to love that last sentence.

It was David's late lamented teacher, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, with whom I fondly remember having dinner one night in Madison, and discussing Playboy magazine (she brought it up), who liked to make the point that the God of the Bible is masculine but not sexed.

Perhaps it needs to be added: the God of the Bible is nevertheless sexually feminine, not in terms of coitus and whatnot, but in terms of birthing and nursing. How one refers to this depends on how one defines related and overlapping terms like "sex," "biology," and "social gender."

I have been trying hard not confuse translational and exegetical issues, to which one must also add: "pastoral" issues. Still, all three need to be addressed. That is, if you have a congregation for whom a gendered God is a conversation-stopper, perhaps it only makes sense to produce a CJPS Torah, so that the congregation can appreciate the Torah in all her glory without the distraction of masculine pronouns referring to the Torah's God.

However, my point is that God is gendered in the Torah to a greater degree than David wishes to acknowledge, and that most people will get that even if they read the Torah in CJPS colors. If that is the case, the genderedness of God in the Torah needs to be a conversation-starter, not a conversation-stopper.

Furthermore, what's wrong about being boldly gendered in thinking about our relationship with God, as in the traditional interpretation of the Song of Songs, or as we find in the Kabbalah?

Perhaps the answer for everyone really is, in those cases, there is no problem.

In that case, I would suggest that the only real issue here depends on the fact that modernity typically lacks a positive concept of authority and hierarchy and maleness, too, insofar as maleness is socially conjoined with the exercise of authority, hierarchy, and so on. Overtly I mean, not covertly (if there is such a thing as socially constructed gendered authority, and I think there is, you don't get rid of it by pretending there isn't. It just becomes covert).

My own response to this modern aporetic dilemma is to work out positive concepts of authority and hierarchy and conjoin them socially to roles typical of, respectively, males and females in our culture.

In light of this response, it should be clear that I cannot but resist tooth and nail attempts to degender God and overlook differences that social gender encodes (not absolutely, but typically), for the good of males and females, not to mention humanity per se.

Not to mention the poet in me, which seethes in rebellion at all attempts to eliminate difference.

Whether or not our fathers and mothers in the faith described for us in the Torah referred to their God as "lord" or "Lord," "father" of "Father," "warrior" or "Warrior" probably misses the point. However, if one of the terms is to be capitalized, a case can be made that they all should be capitalized.

In any case, the truths these terms convey need to be brought out. Both in translation, exegesis, and in "la cura d'anima," the care of the soul.

If it is thought that the terms just mentioned convey lies, fine. Just say so. Let's cut to the chase - something Plaskow is not afraid to do.

I would reply to Plaskow that terms like "Lord," "Father," "King," "Refuge," "my Go'el" (how do you translate that? "my Redeemer" seems so weak) are, to play off of Picasso, terms of art. But, as Picasso noted,
"Art is a lie which tells the truth."

Many languages, it is true, are not equipped to represent the fine grain of genderedness to be found in the Hebrew.

I am on record as favoring more gender representation in English translation than has usually been the case. That means using feminine pronouns in a number of passages in which Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly are spoken of. That means retaining masculine pronouns when Israel's God is spoken of, though I agree that a one-to-one mapping distorts matters. Thus my translation of Genesis 2:2 in which maleness is muted but not completely absent.

BTW, in my translation, does "he" mark grammatical gender only, or both grammatical and social gender? A straight-up "yes / no" answer may not be appropriate. I believe the same is true for the Hebrew.

In short, the game of chess of which we are speaking is possible from Hebrew to English and from Hebrew to any language, but the options available for mapping are limited in some target languages and ample in others.

I'll admit a bias. I love gendered language. For example, I love Italian. One of my most pleasant memories from my son Giovanni's early childhood was going through Italian vocabulary items, all of which are rigorously gendered, and watching his face light up with disapproval and joy each time I took an item and misgendered it. I would say, "banano," and he would squeal with laughter and correct me, because of course he had, at age 3 or 4 already, encoded it all perfectly. "Papa', non e' cosi'. E' banaNA." Not "mammo," but "mamma," and so on.

If we all spoke Italian, this discussion would have a very different flavor.

Or, as Iyov suggests, if we stuck to Hebrew, the conversation would take a different turn altogether.


I believe the equal function of woman must be protected first in order to have any open discussion of gender.


Every human culture and subculture in existence routinizes functions along gender lines. To be sure, rarely is the routinization absolute, but it is nevertheless very real.

The routinization is cultural, legal, religious, indeed, a combination thereof. Routinization from one direction is sometimes in tension with routinization from another direction. In that tension most people live their lives the world over.

Equal function is a myth.

It is a powerful myth, one with intended and unintended consequences.

The myth is of recent vintage. Perhaps it will age well. I'm not so sure.

So far, the influence of the myth has had mixed results, precisely for women, but also for men and children. Plenty of feminists admit this.

If I am being asked to subscribe to the myth as a basis for a discussion of gender, the discussion is closed as far as I am concerned. In that case, Suzanne, you have landed on the wrong blog.

I happen to have an egalitarian marriage in the sense that my marriage is construed by the parts as a reciprocal authority arrangement with unequal functions by mutual consent.

I happen to be a pastor in an egalitarian church in which equal function is protected by church law but unequal function obtains according to routines that have already led to an unhealthy level of feminization of the church on some levels. An unintended consequence, to be sure, but a very real one.

I am happy to converse with anyone on the subject of gender, whether they be ideological egals, non-ideological egals, or complementarians of whatever flavor.

Belief or unbelief in egalism is not a prerequisite to participating in the discussion.


Since I imagine we are around a coffee table, with Suzanne, Peter, Kurk, David Stein, and Iyov present, ....

Let me express my regrets.

I would also add at this point, just to liven up the conversation, have you read your Mary Daley?

Yes, I have.


Mary Daley I consider to be a very clear thinker, though I admit I have not read her later works.

It certainly make sense that in the end she kissed the Judeo-Christian heritage goodbye. When all is said and done, one cannot serve two masters.

Carl Kinbar

I am having a difficult time dealing with the stark alternatives of a gendered (fully or lightly)or a non-gendered God. IMO, ONE factor in this discussion is the impetus to depict God as clearly and uniformly defined player, gendered or not, in a religious metanarrative. Note these comments by Walter Brueggeman in "Praying the Psalms", p. 69:

"We need to recognize two things about God’s self-presentation in the Psalms and in the entire Bible. First, there is no single, coherent picture of God... [r]ather, there are various sketches and disclosures in different circumstances. Each such disclosure is offered on its own and makes its own claim. And each such sketch must be fully honored on its own without being reduced to a generalized portrait… Second, every presentation of God is filtered through human imagination. The God presented in any sketch is not untouched by human interest, human need, and human wish."

(Note Peter Schafer's book on feminine images of God from the Bible to early Kabbalah.)

Even as “each sketch should be honored on its own”, perhaps it would be useful, in translation and practice, to highlight pluriform, rather than uniform, conceptions of God that fit within the varieties of God’s Biblical self-disclosure as filtered through human imagination.



As an exegete I am committed to defending singular texts from the dirty mitts of systematicians (theologians of various flavors, atheists, it doesn't matter of what sort) who distort the texts for their own purposes.

That's why I am in favor of emphasizing both masculine and feminine images of God in the Bible and tradition.

The contrary underlying assumption often seems to be that if it is a masculine image, the maleness should be played down, thought of with embarrassment, or otherwise diminished, but if it is a feminine image, it should be played up and assigned an importance it did not have at the time.

As a systematician - yes, that's something I am too, in preaching and teaching for example - I know I have to generalize often. Generalized portraits also have a role to play, as I suppose Brueggeman would also admit. For example, in a confession of faith like that found in Deuteronomy 26, we expect a generalized portrait, and that is what we are given. The composite is important in its own right. Within that composite, the image of God as warrior is very strong.

Let's get the generalized portraits right as well.

Carl Kinbar

"As an exegete I am committed to defending singular texts... Let's get the generalized portraits right as well."

That's a "both/and." Sounds right to me.


Peter said: "Sure, the Contemporary Torah rendering of this verse is not good English, but that is because English, unlike almost every other language, lacks a 3rd person singular pronoun which does not specify natural gender. (Hebrew, Greek, Latin etc pronouns specify only grammatical gender.)"

This is actually not true: grammatical/morphological gender systems always have a semantic core. In other words, in a grammatical/morphological gender system, the semantic system is extended, with "everything else" being divided analogously. See, eg:

Corbett, Greville G. 1991. Gender. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

David E. S. Stein

John, I intend eventually to address your question to me about "how to pray to a THAT rather than to a WHO." I haven’t forgotten.

Meanwhile, to my mind this larger discussion turns partly on a question of history.

You say that “according to streams of tradition within both Judaism and Christianity (the apophatic tradition), God per se is beyond gender.” Granted. Apparently, you believe that this insight is post-biblical, for you also say unequivocally that “the God of the biblical authors clearly belongs to the . . . class . . . of gods" (rather than goddesses, in a world where deities were either male or female).

If so, then when in history did someone in either tradition first conceive that “God per se is beyond gender”? And how do we know for sure?

My article was an exercise in exploring the plausibility that the insight about God’s (lack of) gender began with the composer(s) of the Torah. And I argued that nobody can prove or disprove that claim, because ultimately it is an argument from silence. But if I am actually reading into the Torah a non-gendered deity — if such an insight was later than the Bible — then whose insight was it, and when did it occur?



First of all, thank you for taking the time to go back and forth on this. Without a doubt there will be those who read these threads and decide to go read your article for themselves and investigate the whole subject matter further. That would be splendid. It is a great topic and your teacher Tikvah, who I remember with tears in my eyes, touched on it in innovative ways. You follow in her pioneering footsteps.

Your question is a delightful one: when did someone first conceive that "God per se is beyond gender?"

My sense is that generally speaking, the ancients were reserved on the question. I don't know when the gender question was addressed specifically for the first time. But the larger question, what do we know about God per se, is touched on already in the Tanakh.

It seems to me that the authors of the Bible are reserved in their answers. At the most, they claim that God's self- revelation understood as a whole does not lie to us about God per se. BTW, they don't have trouble with God deceiving and misrepresenting himself to whomever he chooses. They might even agree with Picasso that theology [art] is a lie which tells the truth.

For me, Exodus 3 is a fundamental text. Whatever God is per se, this text seems to say, God as God reveals himself to Moses is beyond having a body or a face we can see. All Moses can see is an unquenchable fire. All Moses can hear is a voice that says, "I am who I am."

On the basis of the unquenchable fire which lights up the entire bush without consuming one iota of it (one of my favorite images of God in the entire Bible) and the "I am who I am," one might argue that God reveals himself to Moses as a very coy lady indeed, as beyond gender and even as beyond being beyond gender.

Sorry, I don't mean to throw confusion into the discussion by using gendered language. It is a misprision to think of God as a coy woman in this passage. I still find it helpful if only transitionally.

At a fundamental level, indeed, the most fundamental level of this text, which however does not exclude other more specific representations in the very same passage, God is given a purely self-reflexive definition. That puts God beyond apprehensible categories altogether, personhood and gender included.

In short, my hunch, even if it is the later apophatic tradition only which develops the thought in a sustained and consistent fashion, is that the ancients had no trouble very early on in conceiving of God as beyond gender and beyond being without gender at the same time.

It was a full monty via negativa from the start, though at the start, the implications of worshipping an aniconic God who "hides himself" remained mostly unpacked.

J. K. Gayle

when in history did someone . . . first conceive that “God per se is beyond gender”? And how do we know for sure?

I wonder how Suzanne and other women (should they ever be present in our conversations equally) might answer, or ask (if an important question at all). In a male-dominate world, whether post-biblical or NOT, I wonder what Eve might say (about her God and his gender(s))?

Here's an interesting item:

The origin is a masculine myth. . . .
The question, ‘Where do I come from?’ is basically a masculine, much more than a feminine question. The quest for origins, illustrated by Oedipus, doesn’t haunt a feminine unconscious. Rather it’s the beginning, or beginnings, the manner of beginning, not promptly with the phallus, but starting on all sides at once, that makes a feminine writing. A feminine text starts on all sides at once, starts twenty times, thirty times, over.

--Hélène Cixous, “Castration or Decapitation?” tr. Annette Kuhn, Signs 7 (Autumn 1981): 53. fr. Nancy Mairs, “Essaying the Feminine,” Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer, 85



I understand what a writer like Cixous is trying to do, but I find her too complementarian in a unilateral sort of way. The quest for origins is a typically male quest? To start on all sides at once is a typically feminine move?

If so, I am feminine. Indeed, I like to look at things in terms of their ends which have yet to even be realized, and work back from there. Telic thinking: it deserves a closer look.

J. K. Gayle

John, I don't think what Cixous says is too much of a digression from the point(s) of your post. And I don't think it's crazy to say your writing, or mine, or the bible's, can be feminine more than phallogocentric. Theo-logic is a vastly different hermeneutic than, say, being a motherly pastor to a congregation of believers in the God who may be motherly too.

I cannot speak for Suzanne or any woman or for women in general. But if our tradition(s) were not dominated by men and by man, then I think much more would be clear, and clearly different. What if the bible were written by all women for and to females, and then you got to lend your lonely voice to their discussion after centuries and millenia?



Your question is an interesting one, but I don't think it would play out the way you seem to suggest.

That is, you assume that if we had more feminine voices from antiquity, beyond Enheduanna and Sappho and the Pythian priestess, we would have access to vastly different conceptions of God and the good.

I doubt this. You underestimate the power of transmitted form and content in traditional societies.

If you look to an age like our own, in which feminine voices are a commonplace, is it the feminine which stands out, or the irreducibility of each and every singular voice, male or female?

Consider the following (male) authors associated with the Shoah: Frankl, Wiesel, Levi, and Kozinski. Consider the following (female) authors: Stein, Hillesum, Frank, and Weil. Each of these voices is irreducibly singular. Irreducibly male or female, to be sure, but maleness or femaleness is simply not the voices' most salient characteristic.

To be perfectly honest, I don't think your "-centric" categories are helpful in making sense out of these authors, male or female.

Indeed, it is not at all clear that feminist interpretations of either the male or female authors just mentioned have elucidated the authors so much as provided a mirror on which to observe reflections of the feminist thought of interpreters.

David E. S. Stein

John, now let me address your question about "how to pray to a THAT, rather than to a WHO."

When I was a teenager, I asked Rabbi Binyomin Field (a Chabad emissary) what was his conception of God. He replied, “I have no conception of God.” Not finding this particularly helpful, I then asked, “Then what do you pray to?” Without missing a beat, he said, “I pray to my non-conception of God.”

In terms of Hassidic theology, that is a very solid answer.

The standard rabbinic prayer book prominently features prayers to a “You” and to “Our Father.” Yet the liturgy also indicates that we are not expected simply to pray to a “Who.” Consider its other features:

• Most of rabbinic liturgy is not addressed to God; rather, it proclaims statements about God’s accomplishments, and it expresses gratitude and awe. These “prayers” are meant for us human beings to hear. And in such prayers, our specific conception of God is not necessarily at issue.

• The classic rabbinic benediction formula begins with second-person address (ברוך אתה) and then — within the same sentence — slips into third-person reference. The grammar is wrong (and thus jarring) but the theology is right. Apparently it is spiritually unwise to linger for too long with the most blatant conception of “Who.”

• Traditional rabbinic liturgy ends each section of a worship service with a recitation of the Kaddish prayer, which proclaims that the Holy One is “beyond all human utterances.” In other words, the entire service just completed is immediately acknowledged to have erred in its God-language.

As Iyov pointed out in an earlier comment, most Jewish congregations do retain the language of divine personhood. I believe that they do so for three reasons: familiarity (so that we can pray in concert), continuity with our ancestors, and a point of entry into an altered state of consciousness.

It seems to me that the enterprise of Jewish prayer takes that “personal” language seriously but not literally. It focuses our attention toward the edge of the "Who/That" distinction.

And this is quite apart from the medieval nonpersonal theology of R. Moses Maimonides, or the modern transnaturalist theology of R. Mordechai M. Kaplan, R. Harold Schulweis, and others. And apart from the Humanistic Jewish movement, in whose synagogues one does not pray to God; in membership it is probably larger than the Reconstructionist movement but has a lower profile.

And apart from the creative and sensitive devotional work of the feminist Marcia Falk in her The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996). A whole book of prayers that do not address God as a personal being! English and Hebrew versions on facing pages, with extensive notes. You would probably enjoy exploring her Hebrew turns of phrase, John.



Thanks for mentioning Falk. Her book was used in the course I took with Rabbi Laura Kaplan and Robert Daum this summer.



Thanks for delightful comments on the subject matter.

Of course, analogous prayer language is found in religious traditions the world over which presuppose altered states of consciousness in which "an encounter" takes place with a being or realty beyond oneself (numinous experience).

Most of the language that describes the encounters is intensely personal. Occasionally, however, some of the language that results has a philosophical, apophatic cast, in the wake of the altered state of consciousness itself, or of a second-order experience thereafter.

It is no different in Hinduism (the Bhakti tradition exemplified in the Gita versus the Vedic tradition), Islam, and Buddhism also if I'm not mistaken (Mahayana versus Theravada traditions).

A different sort of prayer language all over again is found among mystics who have a unitive experience with being itself (monistic experience).

Perhaps you will consider me too "catholic" for your taste, but I like the balance of all three one senses in the Nicene Creed. For this reason the Patristic period is sometimes described as creating a synthesis that can only be referred to as a "complexio oppositorum" - a union of opposites. Ultimately, we Christians have Philo of Alexandria to thank for that.

Beyond the predilections of individuals and religious subcultures, it seems to me wise to think of your namesake's intensely personal prayer language, as in the daily prayer of Psalm 6, as something we should never leave behind, but always return to.

Non-personalizing prayer language does not need to be thought as surpassing personalizing prayer language or rendering it obsolete. Wouldn't that be heresy in the bad sense?

Nor do encounters with a numinous "Other" need to be thought of as incompatible with unitive religious experience.

Really, a consequent apophatic theology leads to precisely this rather "catholic" conclusion.

Ari Lamm

I freely confess to having failed to read through all of the above comments. There are simply too many (and they are all quite long) and a paper on Prester John and Eldad Ha-Dani beckons. I'll throw in my two cents - consider it change from what my wildly inadequate brain purchased while skimming the comments - but please feel free to ignore if I am simply repeating things that have already been said.

1) David Stein and others have protested mightily against the use of any verses akin to Gen. 2:2 as evidence against Dr. Stein's position. After all, they insist, these verses are poetic (insert overly specific genre here) and are thus not representative of the Torah text as a whole.

But given the large number of poetic verses whose literary flow would be similarly interrupted by a "gender neutral" translation (such as that offered by CJPS to Gen. 2:2), one would have to discount all of those verses. In fact, I am not aware of any such Biblical verses that portray God in the feminine (please correct me if I am wrong - although even in the event that I am wrong, I am sure such examples would be few and far between indeed). Now, while such a tactic would eliminate enough Biblical literature to fit Dr. Stein's argument, it would also seem to be a little misleading.

After all, wouldn't the fact that the Biblical writers construed God in masculine terms in contexts where literary precision counts the most militate against Dr. Stein's efforts to disgender/ungender/neuter/neutralize/sensitize (...or whatever) the text?

2) Someone above wrote the following:

"but that is because English, unlike almost every other language, lacks a 3rd person singular pronoun which does not specify natural gender. (Hebrew, Greek, Latin etc pronouns specify only grammatical gender.)"

My response: if we were studying Gemara, one might ask, "so what's the nafka mina?" (or, "what is the practical difference between the two renderings of the masculine you describe?).

Indeed, in conversational Hebrew, the difference is rather meaningless.

3) I'm sorry, but I just can't shake the feeling that this is a prime example of an instance in which a commentator is imposing his (or her - it's?) agenda on a text whose basic assumptions lie elsewhere.

And although the tide of what Dr. Stein calls "mainstream Judaism" may flow in a particular direction, that doesn't necessarily shed any light whatsoever on the text itself.

...AAAnyhoo...back to Aaron Demsky's proposal vis-a-vis Ezra's possible employment of the sabbatical year as an annual notation standard.

Good night,


Ari Lamm

Some comments:

"Most of rabbinic liturgy is not addressed to God; rather, it proclaims statements about God’s accomplishments, and it expresses gratitude and awe. These “prayers” are meant for us human beings to hear. And in such prayers, our specific conception of God is not necessarily at issue."

-- This is a singularly Maimonidean (or, more recently, Chaitian; perhaps, if we're going to be very charitable, Kookian) view of Jewish prayer. It completely ignores the dominant traditional attitude towards prayer that sees prayer as addressed TO God, and that conceives of prayer as catalyzing rather than cathartic.

"The classic rabbinic benediction formula begins with second-person address (ברוך אתה) and then — within the same sentence — slips into third-person reference. The grammar is wrong (and thus jarring) but the theology is right. Apparently it is spiritually unwise to linger for too long with the most blatant conception of “Who.”"

-- I don't think the pronouncements about benedictal grammar in the above statement are correct. I certainly could be wrong, however, so would you mind citing some examples?

[On the contrary, I believe that rabbinic blessings - consider those in "tefillah" (the weekday 'amidah, for example) - are meant PRECISELY to portray God as active in the personal sense].

"Traditional rabbinic liturgy ends each section of a worship service with a recitation of the Kaddish prayer, which proclaims that the Holy One is “beyond all human utterances.” In other words, the entire service just completed is immediately acknowledged to have erred in its God-language."

-- I refer you to the beautiful "Nishmat" prayer: "Ilu finu male shira ka-yam u-leshonenu rinah ka-hamon galav...en anahnu maspiqim le-hodot lekha..."

The problem, Dr. Stein, is that you are misusing this sort of sentiment (pervasive, as you note, throughout the traditional liturgy). Unless you are a strict Maimonidean (in which case "gendered God-language" would be the least of your gender problems), this notion has no bearing on whether or not God is rendered properly as is (i.e. in masculine form); rather, the sense is much broader (and much more theologically poignant than the uber-PC issue at bar). The liturgists, in fact, did not comprehend how man dared to confront God - or speak in His presence - at all, let alone address Him in the second person. After all, He is the Melekh Malkhei ha-Melakhim, Ha-Qadosh Barukh Hu! Indeed, other than rabbinic (or Biblical - depends on whether you ask Maimonides or Nachmanides) decree, man should have no right to approach his Creator at all.

In other words, the issue confronting the liturgists was not the grammatical formulations applied to God, but the notion of prayer itself!

Ari Lamm

One final thought:

I remember someone above (it may have even been John...) discussing the gender implications of "He" [capitalized] vs. "he" [lower case].

I don't think that one is any more or less masculine than the other; indeed, I don't think this issue pertains at all, especially for, say, Orthodox Jews amongst whom the former rendering is especially prevalent. In fact, I rather tend to think that viewing this issue through this particular lens is more the RESULT of a particular reading than the ROOT of such.

As far as I am concerned, the capitalization has nothing to do with gender. It simply reflects a sense of reverence - an attempt to distinguish this particular pronoun (or, more precisely, it's antecedent) from all other pronouns. Doing away with capitalization in the name of gender neutralization may ease the sensitivities of some, but at what cost (emotionally and theologically speaking)?



Thank you for your comments. I've always enjoyed your work and I hope you show up on these threads more often.

Three sets of issues intersect in and enliven this discussion: exegetical, theological, and "pastoral."

With respect to the exegetical, I remain stuck in the "prison" of David's late lamented teacher (Tikva Frymer-Kensky), that the God of the Bible is male but not sexed. Do not pass go; do not collect $200.

In short, the grammatical gender of God in the Tanakh reflects a semantic core which is nonetheless not intended to say that God is a gendered king, shepherd, or father except by analogy.

Of course, I am tempted to be a mischief-maker and segue to the theological level, at which point it is possible to say that God is Father in truth and human fathers such by analogy only. Plato, anyone?

In any case, I accept the latent / active distinction and enjoy the challenge of seeking to express in translation the degree to which God's social gender is foregrounded in a specific text.

Of course, if someone's first priority is an expression of reverence for God by linguistic means, then it is going to be "He" and "G-d" and circumlocutions like המקום. To each her own priorities.

With respect to the theological issues raised by prayer as on many other topics, I find myself searching for a via media between Rambam and Ramban. Still, I'm happy to have latter-day Rambams around so long as they are as respectful of tradition as he was (halakhah and theological doctrine). The Rambams of this world tend to be incredibly smart so what's not to like. Of course, Rambam did have to dig himself out of a hole of his own making with respect to resurrection - and it is excellent that someone like Jon Levenson has now written about resurrection in a way that allows moderns to uphold the doctrine rather than dissolve it into quite different like the immortality of the soul.

I am rambling here, but my point is that prayer needs to be understood as both catalyzing (even - especially - a process theologian like John Cobb sees prayer as catalyzing) and cathartic.

Otherwise one is left with a God who is not an Other with respect to the human individual, the human community, and the cosmos. If God is not the One who transcends literally everything and is not subject to our requests and, at the same time, the One who is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and "hears our prayers," why bother to pray at all?

To pray to a God who is a non-conception works fine in a tradition like Judaism or Christianity which have a finely conceptualized God. The prayer is tethered so to speak to a reality far greater than itself, and will orbit that tradition rather than the other way around.

In short, so long as the gendered God language found in the Bible and tradition is allowed to exist side by side with non-gendered God language, there is no reason for the debate to become acrimonious. On that Pollyannish note, I will conclude for the moment.

scott gray


i’ve been rereading dulles’ models of the church, and came across this in chapter five: “human propositions can become the word of god, only in proclamation. in the preaching of the kerygma, the word is authoritative; it becomes the event, and the event is jesus christ.” (he’s talking about the primacy of scripture in church-as-herald here; he’s channeling barth, bultmann, and mcbrien.)

so if we proclaim the text-as-word, we precipitate jesus-as-word. it’s that simple. proclamation of the text precipitates the jesus-event. do you believe it? it’s a wonderful idea, but it’s only a fantasy.

none of us truly believe the text proclaimed is enough to precipitate the jesus event.

if we did, it would mean seeing the jesus event in all the responses to the proclamation of the word. it would mean seeing belief strengthened, belief weakened, conversion to christianity, conversion from christianity. it would mean eyes opened in joy and contentment, eyes closed in anger and despair, sighs of affirmation, and breath held in the sphincter-tightening of challenges unmet. it would mean hearts hardened in hate, hearts opened in repentance, palms open in connection, fists closed in rejection. it would mean seeing all of these reactions as authentic jesus-event.

but none of us truly believes this is so.

so we try to nuance the proclamation so that the jesus-event we want to see, our expectations of what the jesus-event should look like, are more likely to occur. the text is not adequate alone to precipitate the jesus-event we are looking for, so we help it. we explain the text-as-word in exegesis. we explain the text-as-word in contextualization. we explain the text-as-word in hermeneutics. we explain the text-as-word in psychological and social models.

we augment the text-as-word with other writings, like maya angelou’s poetry. we change the text-as-word by slicing pieces away and calling what’s left a lectionary. we change the text-as-word by translating and transliterating on the fly as we proclaim it to soften or eliminate among other things, gender injustices. we do everything we can so that the text-as-word with our assistance, will precipitate the jesus-as-word we expect.

if we truly thought that proclaiming the text-as-word would precipitate jesus-as word, we wouldn’t do these things. so truly, none of us believes that proclamation, that kerygma, is enough. because if we did, we’d not just see that each response to the proclamation of the text-as-word was actually jesus-as-word, we’d tolerate each response. even better, we’d celebrate each response.

if we did believe that each response is part of the jesus event that proclamation precipitates, we’d see your scholarly drives as part of the jesus event. we’d see david’s god-beyond-gender position as part of the jesus event. we’d see suzanne’s anguish and anger over the injustices of the text as part of the jesus event. we’d see my conversion to agnosticism as part of the jesus event. we’d see kurt’s nature-of-god response as part of the jesus event. we’d see peter’s translation wrestling as part of the jesus event. we’d see all those systematicians’ dirty mitt attempts to distort texts for their own purposes as part of the jesus event.

we'd see them, we'd tolerate them, we'd celebrate them.

but none of us truly believes that proclamation of the word precipitates the Word, now do we?

just think of it. a methodist minister would never have to prepare a 45 minute sermon again. s/he’d just proclaim the word, and celebrate what happened.




Hi Scott,

Always good to hear from you. I agree with Dulles by and large.

Yes, I'm convinced that God speaks in this generation as in previous generations through the Scriptures vouchsafed to synagogue and church. The words contained therein, and not the poetry of Maya Angelou, are and should be the privileged locus wherein we seek to hear God speak.

In that context and against that background, all of our words and all of your wrestlings find a plumbline. In that context and against that background, the poetry of Maya Angelou acquires a particular meaning it would not otherwise have. The juxtaposition can be jarring but can also be beautiful.

You don't say so in so many words, so I will not pretend that you do, but it seems to me that you lack a criterion by which to decide that one response to "God's word" or anything else is better or worse than another.

Agnosticism has this problem. If you don't "know", what keeps you from celebrating Hitler and Stalin just as much as their victims?

My guess is that you have some sort of canon within the canon that guides you, or perhaps a canon outside the canon. You proceed as if you know, even if you are not explicit about what your canon is, perhaps because you do not want to feel bound by it.

BTW, I think it's important to have a canon within the canon. That's what creeds are: norma normata (norms that are normed) by way of a norma normans (Scripture, the norm which norms all other norms).

In a loose sense, it is also possible to take anything out there, including Angelou's poety, as a "normed norm."

However, if everyone and everything is a norm unto itself, well, that sounds like an unadulterated form of agnosticism.

I am not suggesting that you are an unadulterated agnostic. I think of you as an adulterated agnostic, a sexy one, too (metaphorically speaking). I mean that as a compliment.


you write,

we’d see suzanne’s anguish and anger over the injustices of the text as part of the jesus event.

First, it is true that I am unhappy with the text in some cases, and I rebel along with Jephthah's daughter in the Haggadah.

But, in fact, I am in anguish at what the translators have done with the text. For example, Greek women are recognized as sisters in the English text. Electra is known as the sister of Orestes. And Cleopatra also was the sister of a little known brother. These women, in translation, are known as "sister."

But the Christian woman has no such right in the English text. She may only be represented by her "brother."

Is is the original text that dictates silence for women? No, it is not.

In fact, the exact same word is used for Cleopatra and her brother, and for Electra and her brother, αδελφοι, as is used for Christian men and women in the Greek scriptures.

But, when a woman asks to be present as "sister" in the English text, as Cleopatra and Electra are, she receives the same treatment Io received.

I believe that it is time to stop producing new translations of scripture that do not offer Christian women what scholars have given Electra many years ago, the right to be called "sister."

scott gray


i articulated a primacy for scripture in a heraldic, kerygmatic tradition and john responded in a different primacy of scripture tradition. (john, i want to respond to your excellent comment, but i want to think about it a bit more before i do. i've got to get the right sexy metaphors lined up.)

suzanne, for you, what primacy, or if not primacy, what other position (highly influential, maybe) does scripture hold in your scheme of things? how do you feel about the heraldic primacy position i articulated earlier?



scott gray


you turn my head with all your talk of adulterated sexy metaphors and such. especially from a sexy adulterating metaphorical guy such as your self. it’s just that because you speak six languages and are substantially wider read than i, that you’re the sexy, jaunty cat in the hat, with little cats aleph thru taf, and a big vroom at the end to create order from chaos, while i must muddle through as the maverick coyote, scheming over explosive devices to snag that pesky road runner, and spending my best days, although i don’t seem to know it, reading scripture and other literature while waiting for the acme supply truck.

i ran the heraldic primacy-of-scripture flag up the pole, and you responded with a different primacy-of-scripture understanding: norma normans. dulles would agree with you whole heartedly on the appropriateness of your understanding. but what is your take, your experience of the kerygmatic, heraldic primacy-of-scripture understanding i articulated before? i was sure you felt it was of value, and that the adulterous explanations, additions, deletions, alterations, translations and 45 minute sermons would leave you nodding in some level of agreement. but you didn’t strike that worm on that hook at all.

i know that there are pastors out there who hold to this understanding. i need to go visit some small local bible-believing congregations nearby and immerse myself in this tradition a bit, and then do what god put me on this earth to do, which is to ask questions, find threads and pull, raise the gadfly eyebrow in response to a truth claim or two, and act the part of job’s satan.

i brought up the primacy of scripture issue because i think it is at the heart of the wrestle you all are having here. i’d be most curious to see what david, and david, and kurt, and peter, and others felt about the primacy position of scripture. what understanding resonated most with each of them, and why.

one of the things i noticed was the primacy of scripture and the issue of truth claims. the gender issue is in part about the disconnect between ‘what is the nature of god’ and ‘what do the scriptures say is the nature of god.’ you all talked about the ‘social gender’ of god in scripture, while assuming or alluding to the idea that this social gender is not the ‘true nature’ of god. yet you all hold the text in primacy, even though you all admit the social gender is not an accurate or appropriate truth claim about the nature of god. so for those of you who hold that the primacy of scripture is about the truth claims of the nature of god, you’ve got a problem. and the sexy adulteration begins.

i had teenagers helping my move furniture recently and i asked john (one of those helping), ‘what gender is god?’ ‘male,’ says he. ‘how do you figure?’ says i. ‘scripture says so,’ says he. we move some furniture for a bit. ‘in your experience in your family and in school,’ says i, ‘ should women have all the same rights and opportunities as men in our society?’ ‘yes,’ says he. ‘if god is male, what happens to that,’ says i. ‘it makes it harder,’ says he. ‘and that’s a problem,’ says he.

my conversation with furniture-john (as opposed to exegesis-john, which is yourself) tells you what i think about the primacy of scripture. it’s all about just living, and just thinking. when the scripture, in it’s primacy of truth claims, creates injustices, it’s time to stand its authority down from primacy to something else.

i consider scripture highly influential, because of its place in my heritage, and my reasoning and wrestling and experience with the concepts in the text. i don’t discard it at valueless, but i don’t give it the authority you all do as a source of nature-of-god truth claims, or moral-ethical-framework truth claims, because in its unadulterated form, it is a source of injustice.

so like all of you, i adulterate it, so that its proclamation will result in the jesus-event i think is most important: just living, and just thinking. and if i have to transliterate, cut and paste, add maya angelou's poetry to it, change it on the fly while proclaiming, explain, or ask leading questions about it, in order to precipitate that kind of jesus event, i will. and i do. but none of you can say, in all honesty, that you don’t do the very same thing in your own way, to achieve the jesus-event you think should happen.

as for my sexy agnosticism: i’m agnostic about the nature of god. i’m swayed by the taoist understandings, by god-as-emergent-configuration understandings, by unified-field-theory-plus-relativity-plus-quantum-mechanics understandings. i feel great resonance with these understandings. but at the end of the day, i just don’t know what the nature of god is.

but i know what the nature of god isn’t, and that’s the judeo-christian understanding treated in scripture primacy truth claims. that god, i’m certainly atheistic about. call me apophatic and into rough sexy, i guess.

you talked about jettisoning judeo-christian heritage with the ‘can’t serve two masters’ argument in a comment earlier. false dichotomy, i think. i can no more jettison my heritage than a jew turned atheist can jettison hers. but i can decide, as i learn, and think, and reason, and experience other things, and read other literature from other heritages, what texts and understandings hold primacy, and what texts and understandings shift from primacy to ‘highly influential.’

exegesis-john, it is good to wrestle with you. i learn more, and think harder, with people who don’t see the world as i do. you are a great gift to me.

suzanne, you have my translation vote, my sister, whether it's adulteration or not. for what it’s worth.

gotta run. the doorbell is ringing, and i’m expecting a big shipment from the acme company.





I don't think of the primacy of scripture. It is as if you are asking me to look at a stain glass window and comment on the colours. Other people say to look through the window. Some say to look at the pattern of colour on the floor as the light streams through.

I would be happy to do all these things.

But for now, all I can say is that the glass is sharp. Some people have taken a piece of this glass and they are using it on me. How can I protect myself against the sharpness of the glass? That is my question, not how pretty the colours are.

My children are told that their mother is going to hell because she has wrenched herself down from the cross of gender. Christendom has a lot to pay for in my books. It is like trying to clean the dog pooh off my shoes but the smell remains.

Why should a son be told that his mother is going to hell because she did not want to bear the marks in her flesh any more. Not the marks of Christ, no the marks of the supremacy of the male.

Why do I hold the crying children? Why can't the church pack itself up and get out of my life?



There is more than one traditional way of relating to religious tradition. It is actually biblical and traditional to complain with more bitterness than you have yet mustered, but to God, not man.

For Job, to "trust and obey" God meant putting God in the dock and finding him wanting. This is only slightly paradoxical when you think about it. Atheists are often among the truest of believers. Dostoevsky knew this very well, hence Ivan Karamazov.

God in the book of Job says, among other equally important things, that Job spoke rightly about him (42:7-8). Go back and read forward from Job 3. See what Job said and see if you can match his pain.

Not how you were taught to pray to God? Indeed, in the book of Job, as Dorothy said, "We're not in Kansas anymore."

God is a worthy target in the Bible and tradition, including the Haggadah. Synagogue and church, not so much.

I think your complaint is broad enough and deep enough that you end up treating the church unfairly. The church, after all, is made up of a bunch of muck-a-lucks. If I were you, I would blame the one who gave the muck-a-lucks the Bible.

After all, the Bible is simply not the document you want if your purpose is to construct a world in which it is against the law for a husband and wife to build their relationship on both 1 Cor 13 and Ephesians 5 (the latter as traditionally, and I think quite understandably, construed). Not to even mention 1 Peter 3.

Opposition to God's "sins" of omission and commission runs strong precisely in the Bible and tradition.

But that is within the context of a commitment to both sources of orientation. This is something Jews and Catholics know in their bones.

It is not unusual for Protestants to strive for something purer, more holy, and more perfect than what God has actually given us. The result of the striving is by no means always felicitous.

In Protestantism, for every success story, there are a thousand stories of self-immolating failure. Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath brings this out a little bit, but he misleads insofar as he paints fundamentalists as basically insincere.

But the insincere ones are no problem. It is the sincere ones, the true believers of any creed, that you must watch out for. For bad. But also for good.

The story is apocryphal, but nevertheless perfectly true. After the Holocaust, a group of rabbis put God in the dock and found him guilty. It wasn't that hard to do. A pause ensued. One of the rabbis then said, "Isn't it time for prayers?" And off they went.

That story is true to my life.

As for the church, I could never abandon it. It remains the locus of the promise according to which if two or three gather in my name, there I am in the midst of them. Even when the two or three are reprehensible in terms of what they are, and acceptable only in terms of what they might become, if indeed they truly experienced God's grace, the promise still holds.

This is the lesson of Dinesen's Babette's Feast. I don't think there is a more important one in all of life.

I suppose that you think it would be equally sinful if someone were to want slavery to be against the law.


I hope you deliver the same sermon to the black man who wants slavery to be against the law.



You are doing your God-given task very well, and I thank you for it.

BTW, it may very well do you some good to visit a "Bible-only" tradition. But I was describing a "Bible and tradition" confessional outlook typical of the churches of the Reformation, and typical of the Church Fathers as well, in which Bible and tradition are upheld, but the latter is normed by the former.

I have found Catholic theologians who subscribe to the norma normans and norma normata language as well.

Indeed, I think it is supremely Catholic language, and is the basis on which all the ecumenical creeds, i.e. tradition in the highest sense, was established in the course of the controversies that birthed it: by constant unrelenting appeal to Scripture, the norma normans.

But I think I understand what you are doing. You want as wide a canon as possible, but you are still making exclusions. I can't figure out on what basis, except perhaps on gut feeling. Not that I mistrust your gut, but perhaps you see what I'm driving at.

I would say that sometimes a narrow canon, indeed a canon within a canon such as justification by faith through grace alone (that happens to be my canon within the canon), can be enormously, even ridiculously, expectant of transformation and change.

After all, what my canon within the canon says, in plainer language, is that God justifies precisely the ungodly. Nothing messes with the head of really nice people more than that assertion.

Besides the fact that if it's true, there is actually reason for hope in this world, that it messes with the presumptive goodness of smart, nice people is one reason I hope it's true.

Because, if there is one thing I've noted in life, it's that smart, nice people are not any better when it comes down to it than the slightly mentally ill people I help out with on a regular basis as a parish pastor, so that they have a room and a shower for the night, or food in their belly, or the heat not cut off.



For the record, I didn't say anything about you being sinful. Indeed, you would be sinful only if you did not continue your campaign, because if you did otherwise, it would be without conviction.

According to Paul, whatever we do without conviction is sin by definition.

African-Americans and slavery is the canonical standard of grievance in our society. It's appealed to by everyone.

For example, by those who want to outlaw abortion in all cases except those in which the mother's life is truly at risk. Of course, the unborn have no voice of their own. But that just makes the parallel that much more stringent.

In short, I don't think appeal to the canonical standard is a sufficient argument by any means, in the case at hand or any other. Elsewhere we've the debated the larger issues at great length, without, I think, reaching agreement on all details.


Slavery has the honour of being indluded in the texts that you cited to me. I was under the impression that it was you who introduced slavery into this discussion.

You know I wish it to be against the law for a church to tell women that they are going to hell if they do not vow to obey, and then fulfill their vow.

If a woman is told she is going to hell if she does not vow to obey then she is a stranger to the concept of mutual consent.

So, either we advocate relationships of mutual consent or we don't.



As far as I can see, legally your argument holds no water. Which is why you are alone, or almost alone, in your campaign. Let me explain.

The reason is simple: it's because one enters and exits a church no less voluntarily than a marriage.

Since secular law already allows you to leave a church at will no less than a marriage at will, it has done its duty already from the point of view of the human rights tradition.

To do more would have a series of unintended consequences. Thus you have to argue that the "love-obey" framework produces a relatively higher rate of abuse than the egal framework does. Even if you could prove that, which is doubtful, you would have to show why gay and lesbian couples should not also be dissolved since statistically, rates of abuse are higher in such relationships in aggregate than they are in hetero relationships in aggregrate.

You would also call into question "conscientious objection" clauses in place in a variety of situations granted on the basis of religious convictions.

The facts are these. Secular law, even religious law, allows people to hurt themselves as individuals, couples, and families in a myriad different ways. You don't have to be a libertarian to want to keep it that way, though it helps.

From a communitarian point of view (that's what I am, not a libertarian), large margins of freedom have to built into community life, because otherwise the overwhelming characteristic of community life becomes one of coercion, enlightened perhaps, but coercive just the same.

But you are in famous company insofar as you want a society that dictates the good to people. That's what Plato advocates, too, in his Republic. It's what Khomeini in Iran, on the basis of this philosophical tradition, put into actual practice. Which illustrates another problem. Who gets to decide what is in our best interests to do? Who gets to decide in what cases acting outside of our best interests is punishable by law?

Laws protecting the unborn child make perfect sense based on the analogy of slavery. The unborn child has no voice. If the law does not protect him or her, who will?

This is not the case of someone in a marriage who is suffers under a domineering wife or an abusive husband. As was precisely not the case of a slave, that someone, should he or she so choose, is already allowed by law to leave at will.

It is also not the case of someone in a church who is told they are going to hell for whatever reason. As was precisely not the case of a slave, that someone, should he or she so choose, is already allowed by law to leave at will.

It was rumored not too long ago that the archbishop of Canterbury of your denomination suggested that some form of sharia law should be allowed to have jurisdiction within the UK. I would have thought that you would find that worrisome. But I don't remember you speaking out against those who are moving in this direction.

Still, if your top concern is protecting women via changes in law, a good place to start might be a campaign to de-license Muslim schools in Canada and the United States, in which sharia law is core curriculum.

As a Christian, I would love to make common cause with others on that issue. Presumably my comrades-in-arms would be militant feminists, many of them atheist and perhaps anti-Christian and anti-Jewish no less than anti-Muslim.


I would have thought that you would find that worrisome. But I don't remember you speaking out against those who are moving in this direction.

I accept that you don't read my blog. But you don't have to rub it in so publicly. You are also unaware of how I was punished once for expressing myself on this topic. The memories are very painful.

This is not the case of someone in a marriage who is suffers under a domineering wife or an abusive husband. As was precisely not the case of a slave, that someone, should he or she so choose, is already allowed by law to leave at will.

We do not allow people to sell themselves into even temporary slavery. But it was done once, and in fact, many runaway slaves coming to Canada, sold themselves back into temporary bonded labour in order to eat. But we accept that this, although not slavery, was also not just. They were treated as slaves, although under different laws.

Women, raised under conditions of subordination, are hobbled, by brainwashing, by threat of social ostracism - if not excommunication, by denial of earning power, by denial of normal congress with others, by denial of the experience of equality. To agree in any way, that the hobbling of women is acceptable, is to assist.

Let's take cigarettes. Some smoke without getting cancer. It is even legal to smoke. But social mores have shifted and now it is no longer acceptable to smoke, at least not in the secular circles here.

So, it would be gratifying if men could express the opinion that the hobbling of women by the various techniques that the church uses, is wrong.

The authority of man over woman is not empowering. An adult has authority over a child to empower the child to become an adult. The man never empowers the woman to become a man. The authority of male over female can never be empowering and by your own standards is not acceptable.

That traditional couples give lip service to this arrangement is no argument for it. I saw this woven into a social fabric which protected and empowered women in their own domain. But this is gone. Couples move from one end of the country to the other. Women are isolated and demeaned and disempowered by such teaching. It is time to say that women ought not be under the power of men.



I'm sorry I missed your "and I opposed Cephas to his face" post. Can you provide a link to your criticism of the Archbishop?

You say,

"But social mores have shifted and now it is no longer acceptable to smoke, at least not in the secular circles here."

That's absolutely fine, but notice we are not talking about laws anymore. We are talking about mores.

In some of those same secular circles, furthermore, the use of harmful drugs of other kinds - legal and illegal - is socially acceptable.

Your Republic does not exist, not even in your adopted secular world. If "safety first" is the motto of the Republic of your dreams, you have simply traded in one set of contradictions for another.

Indeed, if "safety first" is the basic principle of your Republic, you must admit that secularism has a bad track record in that regard. I know you don't watch movies, but you might enjoy "The Witness" starring Harrison Ford.

Danger comes in many forms. Rudy Wiebe explored this brilliantly in "Peace shall destroy many." Or how about "The Temptations of Big Bear"?

Danger is actually attractive to both genders. That being the case, the least and sometimes the most one can do is to point out a goal, a big and all-consuming altruistic goal, as set people on it. They will seek out danger along the way just the same, but at least they will do so in the name of a noble cause.


Make a list of everything that I have not blogged about and then announce to everyone who cares how you have some special knowledge of my views on these things.


I had written against sharia earlier in the Canadian context but not with reference to the archbishop. I don't identify strongly enough as an Anglican to care that much.

I had my say with a Canadian member of Parliament on sharia. I say things elsewhere sometimes, where it actually counts. I don't consider the internet to be the ideal medium for this topic.


Last week I discovered this site and I read a lot. Not all. It is very interesting. Especially this particular discussion because reminded me a certain moment in my life. The moment I gave up considering and expressing God with a he or a she pronoun.

English is not my native language, nor Hebrew. So … please, jump over misspellings, mistakes :) I was born in orthodox religion; from time to time I go to church but if I need or want to pray and the closest building is a Muslim, Hindu or Jewish (let’s say) church, I have no problem with that. I enter and pray, talk with God.

Everything started with a subject discussed with my daughter; she finished the discussion saying, "it is not complete, that's not all. Not for me." I was in a hurry running to my job, but what she said obsessed me for a while. (She was 7 y.o. at that time, first year in school :) The entire discussion was about her homework; she cannot "produce" the homework because she's "with one wing only" (not complete) with the teachings received at school. I was, somehow, surprised about her point of view: to be with both wings (she wants to be a fairy) like a complete fairy it is a pre-condition to produce something.

That day I realized that she’s right. You cannot produce something unless there is a condition of completeness. A new life cannot appear if we don’t have both principles reunited: feminine and masculine principles. This is visible from bacteria to human beings. A bacterium contains both principles within; primates don’t. It is necessary to complete – combine the feminine principle with the masculine principle in the fertilized egg. Then the cell dividing starts, and a new life is generated, out of that cell where both principles are united, all body’s cells are generated.

But if we put them together, these principles… what is the result? I didn’t dare to think J The only thing I’ve chosen was to never name God as he / she, even if I come to a sentence like “on the seventh day God stopped all the work God had been doing.” Or even if the paintings on the church’s wall show a He - God. Well …this is where I stopped my “adventure”… until today when I read this post.

I was reading the present debate and I realized that I am neither a linguist nor a person with theological knowledge or education. But I love God and I feel God’s love every second of my life. Reading the debate I was thinking about those people that wrote the Bible. What were their principles, vision and perception of life? They were concerned only with what it takes to survive, what was important to them? Survival or evolution? Was there any doubt linked to “how do I pass this to the other, so they will understand God”? Understand or receive God? Where they aware of the fact that they “translated” God’s word according to their perceptions, limits and values’ scale? Or do we really have now access to the wholeness of the words used in the Bible?

Thank you ( all of you) for the opportunity to meditate on this subject. I’ll be reading your writings. I find them precious and I thank you for your efforts and work done on this subject.



Thanks for your comments. You are far from alone in struggling with the language the Bible and tradition uses in speaking of God. I hope that you will also find a context in which you can worship regularly, rather than merely eclectically. It is over the long run of a commitment to a particular tradition of worshipping God that one comes to understand its strengths and weaknesses.

I struggle most with God himself as found in the Bible, irrespective of the language that Bible uses to describe God (if that were possible; of course, it isn't really), which tends to be restrained and "pure" compared to what I've read in other ancient sources.

But I want to struggle as Jacob did, pleading for a name by which to name God, asking for a blessing, and prevailing.


I would like to add that I do campaign vocally against all forms of private religious schooling including Moslem and Sikh. My views are not popular with most Christians.

I use the internet to discuss gender because CBMW is infiltrating my former church and telling those who attend that the radical "hard core" feminist, that is any woman who does not play by their rules, is on the dark side, that is, going to hell. This is my situation. CBMW is promoting these views.

The rules dictate that I make public in my community my circumstances, or, I must be known as someone who has rejected God's authority in my life. There is no middle ground. I refuse to strip naked my own church.

You write:

Laws protecting the unborn child make perfect sense based on the analogy of slavery. The unborn child has no voice. If the law does not protect him or her, who will?

This is not the case of someone in a marriage who is suffers under a domineering wife or an abusive husband. As was precisely not the case of a slave, that someone, should he or she so choose, is already allowed by law to leave at will.

So you admit that the miserable marriage is in some way analogous to xlavery. The difference is that a person can legally leave a marriage. And that is why the church takes such pains to disallow divorce and remarriage. Instead of a legal penalty for leaving a marriage, one can be told that you must never marry again, that you are hard core, and going to hell. An adult can withstand this. But the children do not understand.

I say that this is a moral crime and it is taking place in a mainstream church. There must be a public and concerted rejection of these controlling and damaging teachings. This is all being taught in the interests of keeping women in subjection in unhappy marriages.

And on final word on abortion. It is well known here that the gender imbalance that we see in the schools is due to parents going across the national border and getting an ultra sound and abortion in the US.

I do not see you writing against ultra sounds. Every school teacher who counts more boys in her class than girls knows what has happened to those baby girls. This is explicitly because of the teaching across societies that the female has the lesser function. Anyone who does not protest this belief system is contributing to the abortion of baby girls.

This is how I understand gender Christianity. As a system which condones and encourages the immolation of the female.



I find your grave and solemn accusations over the top. You have your enemies and your discussion always ends up revolving around them. I do not always disagree with your criticisms, but I find the way you make them to be damaging to the very causes you profess to hold dear.

Since this is my blog, I choose to end discussion of your agenda on this thread. The topic of the thread was supposed to be something else anyway.

You know already how I am in cordial disagreement with you in your negative campaign against anyone who, as you've said elsewhere, does not agree with a full "equality in function" everywhere stance. You are thus at war with the vast majority of religious formations in existence. I am not about to join you on this. We'll leave at that for now.


You are thus at war with the vast majority of religious formations in existence.

I am happy with that.

David E. S. Stein

ANNOUNCEMENT: As of today, my publisher's copyright permits me to post online this article about masculine God-language and imagery in the Torah, and its translation into English.

“On Beyond Gender: The Representation of God in the Torah and in Three Recent English Renditions” is now available via:



Thanks for the announcement. I may post once or twice yet on the subject.

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  • Abnormal Interests
    Intrepid forays into realia and texts of the Ancient Near East, by Duane Smith
  • After Existentialism, Light
    A thoughtful theology blog by Kevin Davis, an M. Div. student at University of North Carolina-Charlotte
  • AKMA's Random Thoughts
    by A. K. M. Adam, Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Glasgow
  • alternate readings
    C. Stirling Bartholomew's place
  • Ancient Hebrew Grammar
    informed comment by Robert Holmstedt, Associate Professor, Ancient Hebrew and Northwest Semitic Languages, Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, and John Cook, Associate Professor of Old Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore KY)
  • Antiquitopia
    one of the best blogs out there, by Jared Calaway, assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Illinois Wesleyan University.
  • Anumma - Hebrew Bible and Higher Education
    by G. Brooke Lester, Assistant Professor in Hebrew Bible, and Director for Emerging Pedagogies, at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (Evanston IL)
  • Awilum
    Insightful commentary on the Bible and the Ancient Near East, by Charles Halton
  • AWOL - The Ancient World Online
    notice and comment on open access material relating to the ancient world, by Charles Jones of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University
  • Balshanut
    top-notch Biblical Hebrew and Semitics blog by Peter Bekins, Ph. D. student, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati OH, faculty member, Wright State University (archive)
  • Believing is Knowing
    Comments on things like prophecy, predestination, and reward and punishment from an orthodox Jewish perspective, by David Guttmann
  • Ben Byerly's Blog
    thoughts on the Bible, Africa, Kenya, aid, and social justice, by Ben Byerly, a PhD candidate at Africa International University (AIU), in Nairobi, Kenya working on “The Hopes of Israel and the Ends of Acts” (Luke’s narrative defense of Paul to Diaspora Judeans in Acts 16-20)
  • Berit Olam
    by a thoughtful Matt Morgan, Berkeley CA resident, grad student in Old Testament at Regent University, Vancouver BC (archive)
  • Better Bibles Blog
    Discussion of translation problems and review of English Bible translations by Wayne Leman, Iver Larsen, Mike Sangrey, and others
  • Bibbia Blog
    A Bible blog in Italian and English by former students of the PIB and PUG
  • Bible Background research and commentary
    by Craig Keener, professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary
  • Bible Design & Binding
    J. Mark Bertrand's place
  • BiblePlaces Blog
    a spotlight on the historical geography of the Holy Land, by Todd Bolen, formerly, Assistant Professor at the Israel Bible Extension campus of The Master's College, Santa Clarita CA
  • Biblicalia
    The riches of orthodoxy brought online by Kevin Edgecomb, a seminarian at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (Brookline MA)
  • Biblische Ausbildung
    by Stephen L. Cook, professor of Old Testament / Hebrew Bible at Virginia Theological Seminary
  • C. Orthodoxy
    Christian, Contemporary, Conscientious… or Just Confused, by Ken Brown, a very thoughtful blog (archive). Ken is currently a Dr. Theol. student at Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen, part of The Sofja-Kovalevskaja Research Group studying early Jewish Monotheism. His dissertation will focus on the presentation of God in Job.
  • Catholic Bibles
    a thoughtful blog about Bible translations by Timothy, who has a degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (Angelicum) and teaches theology in a Catholic high school in Michigan
  • Chrisendom
    irreverent blog with a focus on the New Testament, by Chris Tilling, New Testament Tutor for St Mellitus College and St Paul's Theological Centre, London
  • Claude Mariottini
    a perspective on the Old Testament and current events by a professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicagoland, Illinois
  • Codex: Biblical Studies Blogspot
    by Tyler Williams, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and cognate literature, now Assistant Professor of Theology at The King's University College in Edmonton, Alberta (archive)
  • Colours of Scripture
    reflections on theology, philosophy, and literature, by Benjamin Smith, afflicted with scriptural synaesthesia, and located in London, England
  • Complegalitarian
    A team blog that discusses right ways and wrong ways Scripture might help in the social construction of gender (old archive only; more recent archive, unfortunately, no longer publicly available)
  • Connected Christianity
    a place to explore what it might be like if Christians finally got the head, heart, and hands of their faith re-connected (archive)
  • Conversational Theology
    Smart and delightful comment by Ros Clarke, a Ph.D. student at the University of the Highlands and Islands, at the (virtual) Highland Theological College (archive)
  • Daily Hebrew
    For students of biblical Hebrew and the ancient Near East, by Chip Hardy, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago
  • Daniel O. McClellan
    a fine blog by the same, who is pursuing a master of arts degree in biblical studies at Trinity Western University just outside of Vancouver, BC.
  • Davar Akher
    Looking for alternative explanations: comments on things Jewish and beyond, by Simon Holloway, a PhD student in Classical Hebrew and Biblical Studies at The University of Sydney, Australia
  • Deinde
    News and Discussion by Danny Zacharias
  • Discipulus scripturae
    Nathan Stitt's place
  • Dr. Claude Mariottini
    balanced comment by a professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary, Lombard IL
  • Dr. Platypus
    insightful comment by Darrell Pursiful, editor at Smyth & Helwys Publishing, on the New Testament faculty of Mercer University
  • Dust
    A diary of Bob MacDonald's journey through the Psalms and other holy places in the Hebrew Bible
  • Eclexia
    The heart and mind of this Bible and theology blogger sing in unison
  • Eat, Drink, and be Merry
    The journey of a grad student with a love for ancient languages at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (archive)
  • Elizaphanian
    Rev Sam tussles with God, and limps away
  • Emerging from Babel
    Stephen investigates the potential of narrative and rhetorical criticism as a tool for expounding scripture
  • Evangelical Textual Criticism
    A group blog on NT and OT text-critical matters
  • Evedyahu
    excellent comment by Cristian Rata, Lecturer in Old Testament of Torch Trinity Graduate School of Theology, Seoul, Korea
  • Exegetica Digita
    discussion of Logos high-end syntax and discourse tools – running searches, providing the downloads (search files) and talking about what can be done and why it might matter for exegesis, by Mike Heiser
  • Exegetisk Teologi
    careful exegetical comment by Stefan Green (in Swedish)
  • Exploring Our Matrix
    Insightful reflections by James McGrath, ass't. professor of religion, Butler University
  • Faith Matters
    Mark Alter's place
  • Ferrell's Travel Blog
    comments of biblical studies, archaeology, history, and photography by a tour guide of Bible lands and professor emeritus of the Biblical Studies department at Florida College, Temple Terrace (FL)
  • Fors Clavigera
    James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, thinks out loud.
  • Friar's Fires
    an insightful blog by a pastor with a background in journalism, one of three he pens
  • Gentle Wisdom
    A fearless take on issues roiling Christendom today, by Peter Kirk, a Bible translator
  • Giluy Milta B‘alma
    by Ezra Chwat and Avraham David of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jewish National and Hebrew University Library, Jerusalem
  • He is Sufficient
    insightful comment on Bible translations, eschatology, and more, by Elshaddai Edwards
  • Higgaion
    by Chris Heard, Professor of Religion, Pepperdine University
  • Idle Musings of a Bookseller
    by James Spinti of Eisenbrauns
  • if i were a bell, i'd ring
    Tim Ricchiuiti’s place
  • Imaginary Grace
    Smooth, witty commentary by Angela Erisman (archive). Angela Erisman is a member of the theology faculty at Xavier University
  • James' Thoughts and Musings
    by James Pate, a doctoral student at HUC-JIR Cincinnati
  • Jewish Philosophy Place
    by Zachary (Zak) Braiterman, who teaches modern Jewish thought and philosophy in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University
  • kata ta biblia
    by Patrick George McCollough, M. Div. student, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena CA
  • Ketuvim
    Learned reflection from the keyboard of Jim Getz
  • Kilbabo
    Ben Johnson’s insightful blog
  • Kruse Kronicle - contemplating the intersection of work, the global economy, and Christian mission
    top quality content brought to readers by Michael W. Kruse
  • Larry Hurtado's blog
    emeritus professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology, University of Edinburgh
  • Law, Prophets, and Writings
    thoughtful blogging by William R. (Rusty) Osborne, Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies as College of the Ozarks and managing editor for Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament
  • Lingamish
    delightful fare by David Ker, Bible translator, who also lingalilngas.
  • Looney Fundamentalist
    a scientist who loves off-putting labels
  • Menachem Mendel
    A feisty blog on rabbinic literature and other Judaica by Michael Pitkowsky, Rabbinics Curriculum Coordinator at the Academy for Jewish Religion and adjunct instructor at Jewish Theological Seminary (New York)
  • mu-pàd-da
    scholarly blog by C. Jay Crisostomo, grad student in ANE studies at ?
  • Narrative and Ontology
    Astoundingly thoughtful comment from Phil Sumpter, a Ph.D. student in Bible, resident in Bonn, Germany
  • New Epistles
    by Kevin Sam, M. Div. student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon SK
  • NT Weblog
    Mark Goodacre's blog, professor of New Testament, Duke University
  • Observatório Bíblico
    wide-ranging blog by Airton José da Silva, Professor de Bíblia Hebraica/Antigo Testamento na Faculdade de Teologia do CEARP de Ribeirão Preto, Brasile (in Portuguese)
  • Observatório Bíblico
    Blog sobre estudos acadêmicos da Bíblia, para Airton José da Silva, Professor de Bíblia Hebraica / Antigo Testamento na Faculdade de Teologia do CEARP de Ribeirão Preto, SP.
  • Occasional Publications
    excellent blogging by Daniel Driver, Brevard Childs' scholar extraordinaire
  • old testament passion
    Great stuff from Anthony Loke, a Methodist pastor and Old Testament lecturer in the Seminari Theoloji, Malaysia
  • Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Blog
    A weblog created for a course on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, by James Davila (archive)
  • On the Main Line
    Mississippi Fred MacDowell's musings on Hebraica and Judaica. With a name like that you can't go wrong.
  • p.ost an evangelical theology for the age to come
    seeking to retell the biblical story in the difficult transition from the centre to the margins following the collapse of Western Christendom, by Andrew Perriman, independent New Testament scholar, currently located in Dubai
  • PaleoJudaica
    by James Davila, professor of Early Jewish Studies at the University of St. Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland. Judaism and the Bible in the news; tidbits about ancient Judaism and its context
  • Pastoral Epistles
    by Rick Brannan and friends, a conceptually unique Bible blog
  • Pen and Parchment
    Michael Patton and company don't just think outside the box. They are tearing down its walls.
  • Pisteuomen
    by Michael Halcomb, pastor-scholar from the Bluegrass State
  • Pseudo-Polymath
    by Mark Olson, an Orthodox view on things
  • Purging my soul . . . one blog at a time
    great theoblog by Sam Nunnally
  • Qumranica
    weblog for a course on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, taught by James R. Davila (archive)
  • Ralph the Sacred River
    by Edward Cook, a superb Aramaist
  • Random Bloggings
    by Calvin Park, M. Div. student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton MA
  • Resident aliens
    reflections of one not at home in this world
  • Revelation is Real
    Strong-minded comment from Tony Siew, lecturer at Trinity Theological College, Singapore
  • Ricoblog
    by Rick Brannan, it's the baby pictures I like the most
  • Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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    Copyright © 2005 by John F Hobbins.