God: Transgender or something more?

God is transgenderPeople can be so obtuse.

There’s an opinion piece flying around the internet. It’s written by Rabbi Mark Sameth for the New York Times. The article, provocatively titled Is God Transgendered? posits that God is not a man or a woman, but is instead a blend of all genders.

I think this is spot on. But there are people around the internet who are aghast that someone who believes in God thinks God is not a “he” or any other aspect of the normalized binary.

Egads. What is the world coming to?

I’m not going to cover all the strange responses people are throwing about in response to this well-written and provocative piece. I will write this though: folks, the headline of the article was specifically meant to provoke you to read it. I think the headline is doing a great job.

What’s more interesting to me though is what the Rabbi has to say about gender as described in the old testament. It’s pretty thought-provoking. Read it for yourself:

“…the Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender. And I do mean highly elastic: In Genesis 3:12, Eve is referred to as “he.” In Genesis 9:21, after the flood, Noah repairs to “her” tent. Genesis 24:16 refers to Rebecca as a “young man.” And Genesis 1:27 refers to Adam as “them.”

Surprising, I know. And there are many other, even more vivid examples: 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.”

Why would the Bible do this? These aren’t typos. In the ancient world, well-expressed gender fluidity was the mark of a civilized person. Such a person was considered more “godlike.” In Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the gods were thought of as gender-fluid, and human beings were considered reflections of the gods. The Israelite ideal of the “nursing king” seems to have been based on a real person: a woman by the name of Hatshepsut who, after the death of her husband, Thutmose II, donned a false beard and ascended the throne to become one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs.

The Israelites took the transgender trope from their surrounding cultures and wove it into their own sacred scripture. The four-Hebrew-letter name of God, which scholars refer to as the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, was probably not pronounced “Jehovah” or “Yahweh,” as some have guessed. The Israelite priests would have read the letters in reverse as Hu/Hi — in other words, the hidden name of God was Hebrew for “He/She.” Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity.”

Sameth also reveals something I’ve known for a very long time: that the bible is a hand-curated tome specifically designed to control the believing masses. It is not meant to accurately represent a Spiritual Truth. There are Spiritual Truths in it, but they are so obscured by allegory, metaphor, misinterpretation and the gap of time between when it was written and our current times, it’s really hard to figure out what those Truths actually are. I don’t know if the Rabbi meant to reveal all this obfuscation, but there it is.

If God – or All That Is, which is the term I prefer – was transgender it would mean he was originally one gender and “born” into a different one. Or some other aspect along the gender spectrum. All That Is has no gender and simultaneously is every possible gender imaginable. This may be too complex for “believers” to comprehend. But I find it interesting that the Hebrew Bible, at least according to this Rabbi, alludes to this reality.