No, the Hebrew Bible Isn’t Filled with “Gender Fluidity”

August 17, 2016 | Robert A.J. Gagnon
About the author:

With great confidence and little evidence, Mark Sameth recently wrote in the New York Times that the Tetragrammaton was originally meant to be read backward, so that it was pronounced as the Hebrew equivalent of “he-she.” To this the author adds further ostensible proofs that the God of the Hebrew Bible “was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity,” as well as other alleged examples of biblical “gender fluidity.” Robert A.J. Gagnon doesn’t buy it:

It is true that the Hebrew Bible describes God in both masculine (predominantly) and feminine imagery. However, for God to transcend gender is not the same as His being “transgender”—which refers to a person’s abandoning his or her birth sex for a self-constructed . . . self-image. It is no mere coincidence that God is never [imagined] as Israel’s wife (or, [in the New Testament], as the church’s), but always as her husband, nor that God is never addressed as “Mother.”

Sameth’s purported evidence for a “highly elastic” view of gender in the Hebrew Bible is anything but. For instance, Sameth alleges: “In Esther 2:7, Mordecai is pictured as nursing his niece Esther. In a similar way, in Isaiah 49:23, the future kings of Israel are prophesied to be ‘nursing kings.’” While the feminine participle omenet refers to a woman who nurses a child (2 Samuel 4:4 and Ruth 4:16), the masculine participle omen can simply designate a male “guardian,” “attendant,” or “foster father” of children. . . .

Sameth opines that in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, “well-expressed gender fluidity was the mark of a civilized person,” and “the gods were thought of as gender-fluid.” In point of fact, there were many strictures against “gender fluidity” in the ancient Near East (e.g., men who assumed the role of women were generally denigrated). . . .

Sameth has based his arguments on his left-of-center sex ideology, and not at all on a credible historical reading of the biblical text in context. His Times op-ed piece is historical revisionism at its worst.

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