Fig 1: Egyptian stele Beth Shean (1300 BC) Holy Land
- Cosy Cosmologies: God in the Quantum Vacuum
- Beyond Science
- The Battle of Light and Dark: Combat Myth and Armageddon
- Is God all in the Mind and Brain?
The Poetic life of Yahweh.
The monotheist view is that God is revealed in history. That from some ‘benighted’ pagan beginnings, Abraham strode off in the night to experience a spermatogenic God for whom his seed would be dust under the stars. He was a God of sperm.
However the God of the matriarchs and patriarchs was not a single entity, but a male-female plurality. The fact that this God was an ‘Elohim (God in the plural) including the male Almighty (‘El sadday) and the primordial Female the ‘deep and the breasts and womb’ is glossed away almost as soon as Genesis one and the image of male and female created in God’s likeness is revealed. There is of course a political reason for this, in the fall of the Northern (‘Elhoistic) kingdom and the subsequent absorbtion of the northern texts into the Southern (Yahwistic) tradition of Judea.
However one has to concede in viewing the mythological epoch that the progenitor of the Biblical God is a pantheon, in the manner of old Cananite El, Athirat the astral and particularly lunar deities and even Tiamat of the deep. It is these deities and not the mysterious God of the tetragrammaton which was worshipped by the tribes for many long centuries before the new cult of Moses emerged from the dislocations of the Exodus. Even afterward the Host of Heaven was commonly worshipped along with the Ba’alim, and Yahweh himnself was associated with his consort Asherah and sometimes Anath also. One also has to concede that it was in this earliest phase that God was closest and most personal in ‘his’ relations to humanity and that apart from a brief intimacy with Moses and a few revisitations to Elijah and the prophets God has receded from humanity even as ‘he’ has become montheistic.
God is then supposed to have revealed himself in history in a more cryptic and transcendental form to Moses as the ‘Lord God’ Yahwei Adonai – the nameless Ayer Ashaer Ayeh ‘I am that I am’, deemed by this abstraction to be closer to the true expression of the Godhead, despite the prophetic tradition paradoxically moving ever further from intimacy with God. This God is then portrayed as God acting to realize himself in history – the True Creator of the universe – whose very word is divine law – also the God of covenant with his people in the manner of a ‘demiurge’, or legislator.
One has to remark at his point, why did God choose this time and place to reveal this? Why then and not now in the scientific age of nuclear and genetic holocaust? Why not from the very beginning, as the shamanism and fertility traditions attest?
to choose Hebrews!
The truth of God in history is revealed very differently in the turbulent and very violent times of the Exodus from the slaughter by the Levites of those 3000 who worshipped the golden calf by Sinai, to the severe runnings-through over sex and gender at Ba’al Preor and the eventual death of Moses himself, ‘apparently’ at the hands of God, for not dedicating the springs of the Goddess at Kadesh in his name. This violence continues in the military Lord of Hosts who declares genocide on the nations in giving the Hebrews the ‘land of milk and honey’ of the agrarian Queen of Heaven in Canaan. All these happenings indicate we are still in a phase of primitive religion full of emotion and personal violence rather than philosophical or mystical insight.
Jewish people also justify the emergence of the Hebrew God by associating this process with the birth of an egalitarian democratic tribal consciousness (Gottwald) , which is throughout the Bible somewhat suspicious of priviledge and aristocracy, and which extols the ideals (of an admitted elect) as equals in the sight of a peerless abstract God of creation, who cannot be seen, touched or defined in any image or idea. Indeed he must not be made in any graven image, under pain of death.
Fig 2: Ancient Sinaitic script “Ba’alat” – Serabit el-Khadem (Pritchard 84, Flinders Petrie)
Despite these all too human flaws, as a political and genealogical projection of culture, Yah whose Levite priests wore the crescent moon, was a truly exceptional God. He became the first truly literary God. In a sense the creation of Yahweh was a cultural revolution as profound as the information revolution today. As Marshall McLuhan said “The medium is the message,” for Yahweh is very much the soul product of the Hebrew literary revolution. This revolution came as language moved from the pictographic to the phoenetic through the Phoenician literary revolution. Hebrew itself thus documents one of the earliest full religious literary traditions and for this reason has become our most poetic and fully-fledged cultural description of deity.
Fig 3: Gezer calendar (c925BC) (Pritchard 84) Student practising Hebrew
“No human character could be so fully without a past and still be human, yet we may see that by giving this inhuman character words to speak in human language and deeds to do in interaction with human beings, the writers of the Bible have created a new literary possibility. … Once we realize God is dependent on human beings in this way, we may appreciate why, for him, the quest for a self-image is not an idle and optional, but the sole and indespensible tool of this self-understanding. … God, as the Bible begins is as yet unmade by any history and is therefore less than evident to himself. Though he is uniquely, a protagonist who gives life to his antagonist [humanity], he is also uniquely a protagonist who receives his life story from his antagonist.” (Miles 89)
One of the key reasons for the awesome historical power of the Bible is the fact that it stands as a core literary cosmology in human development. There are of course many wonderful older detailed literary works such as the poetic courtship of Inanna, the lament for Dumuzzi, the fall of Ur, and the epic of Gilgamesh, but the era of hieroglyphic and even cuneiform writing did not provide for the easy dissemination of literary works as complex as the Pentateuch to wider audiences outside high temple precincts. Religious expression thus had more of a cultic and even elite air.
The traditional natures of the ancient Gods and Goddesses often appear limited in scope as a direct result of the limitations of their literary expression. They are reviled as being worshipped in crude rites of fertility and sacrificial blood, as being viscious or terrifying in their aspect, but empty idols of stone and wood lacking any transcendent nature by comparison with the one true etherial God of historical destiny YHVH Adonai – the Lord God. These differences are made possible largely by the literary tradition. It is through literature that the oral traditions of the tribal mythic era of Genesis became a written part of Jewish history, and it is likewise through literature that the nature of the Godhead becomes an historical saga through the ages.
The first phonetic scripts were developed by the Hebrew’s neighbours, the Phoenicians. With the development of papyrus by the Egyptians, the stage was set for literary transformation. However, the Egyptians, who discovered papyrus, were slower to make a transition to phoenetic script because of their elaborate hieroglyphic language. Hebrew and its sister languages were thus one of the first to develop phoenetic script. Hybrid early forms have been found at Serabit in Sinai illustrating this transition. The script then evolves grandly through the succeeding centuries in a rich tradition, as illustrated sequentially in this chapter.
Fig 4: Stele of Mesha, Moab (c850 BC) Holy Land (Pritchard 85)
Although it is clear this historical view of God is a tradition stemming from Persia and the Zoroastrian cosmic renovation, it is equally clear that it is this literary tradition which transforms the simpler agricultural cycles of Caananite myth into the long historical revelations of the Hebrew tradition.
Fig 5: Samarian ostracon from Jeroboam II
(786-46 BC) – an order for grain
God can thus soar from a simple character such as the old Canaanite El or the repetitive agricultural cycle of Ba’al into a many-faceted God who is creator, destroyer, challenger, punisher, sustainer, counsel and an ongoing metaphor of the national psyche. Such a God is of course every bit as much an idolatrous being as the old stone deities so derided in the Bible’s pages, for God now becomes a cosmic personality full of jealousy, anger, and emotional expectations over his people – a psychological idol. He is also very much a projection of the political, cultural and particularly genealogical struggles in his society.
Jack Miles in “God” has given a resourceful portrayal of these many cultural dimensions of God. He would contend that even though such a God is a cultural entity responding to changing circumstances, he is nevertheless an expression of the soul of a culture which is giving expression to the oneness of God through this very process, like a thread of visionary fire weaving through the collective experience.
As the God of Genesis, he thus portrays the sequence of natures God has adopted, first as the ‘Elhoistic creator of man and woman in their own likeness and then as Lord God the jealous demiurge who banished humankind from paradise. Later he takes this threat a stage further by calling up the flood of Noah. Then he becomes the clan ally of Abraham and his seed forever. Somenoe who is helpful in the destiny of the patriarchs and their offspring. A “friend of the family” as Miles calls him.
There is of course a major transformation of this idea of God in the Exodus into a severe covenantal deity, who gathers in storm clouds on mountain tops like the older El, but who also communicates directly and forcefully with Moses from out of a cloudy pillar, and remonstrates with is people in antagonisitc relationship with their faithlessness and disobedience. This God is now more abstract and not only does he have no image of stone but not even a name. He was referred to as Adonai ‘Lord’ while his divine name Yah was unspeakable.
“In the Book of Exodus, to which we turn next, the struggle between mankind and God over human reproductive power enters a new decisive phase. As this reproductive covenant between the Lord and Abraham, which tamed the creator/destroyer conflict in the Lord God, has generated a new provocation and a new conflict.” This is of course the response of the Pharoah to kill the Hebrew male children.
Fig 6: Siloam tunnel inscription Hezekiah (715-687 BC)
This statement of Miles leads to paradox because the god of Abraham clearly was just such a God. Moreover the Yah of the Exodus was and is likewise accepted by Miles as just such a divine warrior. Miles is trying to give the Lord God his cake and its eating to boot – the root monotheistic error. The God of the Hebrews cannot be the God of creation and at the same time the warrior God against the Kenites. There is a dangerous tendency on the part of all monotheists to equate political power with God’s destiny – the tragic error of the divine warrior.
It is true that Rome was later converted to Christianity by the word rather than the sword, so defenders of the God of destiny might argue that the Father has finally come into his own in the heroic act of the Son. This is however again a complex story of cultural evolution in which Paul is frequently cast as the principal villain – the architect of a pagan heresy which incorporated by stages the panoply of Near Eastern beliefs from Isis to Mithra under an eclectic paternal umbrella.
One great difficulty of viewing the nature of God in sequence through the Bible, in the way Miles has approached it, is that, even the earlier sections of the Pentateuch have been extensively re-edited (redacted) at much later dates running through to the end of the exile. Really the Pentateuch as we see it is an exilic work reflecting a later much more sophisticated view of God, and one which reflects the political circumstances of a people ‘in bondage’ who have fallen from grace, ostensibly through disobedience to God and who paradoxically also inherit, through this very fall, the heritage of cultural diversity and sophistication that flowed out of Babylon and later Persia. Such a product would never have occurred without the relatively constructive dominion of the Babylonians and the frankly supportive attitide of the Persians. Had the oppressors really been the villains they are made out to be, as the Assyrians were when they deported the population of the ten tribes of the Kingdom of Israel, there would very possibly be no record of Yahweh and no Christianity either.
Fig 7: Ostrakon from Lachish from the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s campaigns (589-8 BC):
“…we are looking to Lachish for any signs my lord may give, for we can no longer see
(the signals of) Azekah (cf Jer 34:7). (Pritchard 86).
God is thus portrayed as a lonely isolate and formless figure whose relationship with humanity moves from close intimacy to lofty distance. The archaelogical evidence from Israel and Elephantine attests rather that the Old Kingdom worship was more syncretic and more confluent with the cultural milieu than the Old Testament would indicate, that Yahweh consorted with the dreaded Anath up to the 5 th century BC and that the Lord of Hosts cannot really even be meaningfully considered except in the militarized characature of the Lord of the Heavenly Host – the ‘congregation’ of the ‘Elohim (Psalm 82).
What we are seeing in the Old Testament concept of God, however it varies from chapter to chapter, is thus very much the sophisticate transcendental deity of the exile. The difficulty with Jack Miles’ portrayal in “God” is precisely this one. That he has run through the Old Testament in the Jewish sequence, portraying God as if He developed historically from Genesis to Daniel when we actually know the work is a heavily edited cultural and temporal mosaic.
Fig 8: Seal Tel-en-Nasbeh “Belonging to Jaazaniah servant of the King” see: 2 Kings 25:23 (Pritchard 85)
To detect the evolution of God in cultural history we have to paint a very different picture We have to consider first Jacob’s blessing of the tribes as an indication of the ‘Elohim of male and female deities, acknowledge the primal nature of feminine Wisdom from the proverbs, take due cogniscance that the Yahwistic description is the one we have been left from Judea after the fall of the Northern Kingdom in the 8th century BC, which has edited much of the Northern flavour out of history by contrast with those few Elohistic passages it incorporated.
Another feature which is heavily glossed is the interaction between these founding deities and the movement that emerged with the Exodus. This is almost universally ascribed to as the foundation of Jewish religion and Mosaic law, but in cultural terms it represents radical novelty rather than cultural tradition. The deity is abstract and tanscendental and Moses himself is a self-confessed Egyptian aristocrat bearing with him the benefits of high Egyptian culture and education, just as the later Exilic literature bore the stamp of Mesopotamian myth and culture.
We now see only the confluence of these ideas in the Mosaic deity which accumulated in the later Yahwistic tradition after frank bloodshed and religious genocide by Moses’ Levites during the Exodus, the death and possble murder of Moses himself during the conflict, the conquest of Israel, and the rise of the Davidic monarchy. Even then, it represents only one of many facets in a complex and often syncretic cultural landscape which had absorbed the urban Canaanites as much by treaty as by conquest. It is really the beliefs of one ‘extremist’ cult which we now see portrayed as the ‘God of history’. While some writers attempt to simplify this picture to one of egalitarian cultural revolution by tribal covenant (Gottwald), the history attested to in the Old Testament’s frequent outbursts indicates a thriving and diverse religious tradition in Israel, which was only finally suppressed, if at all, in the last centuries before Christ. Despite the purity of views professed in the Old Testament, the political situation remained fluid. The Northern kingdom had remained under pagan influence up until the time of the Maccabees and the Jerusalem tradition remained surrounded by older pastoral beliefs stretching across Arabia.
One point which can never be repeated too often in this context is that the visionary tradition soars in poetic allegory and dives to earth like the smoking firebrands of Shaar Yishuv (Isa 7:13) when appreciation for poetic allegory transforms into literalistic fundamentalism. While the prophetic tradition lives on the such poetic writings as Isaiah, the editors who have shamelessly concatenated the works of many centuries under the authorship of one prophetic ancient inject hypocracy into the very tradition they espouse.
Nevertheless, if we take the continuing portrayal in the Old Testament at its face value we do find a God of many dimensions. Returning again to Exodus, we notice the hallucinatory manifestation of God on earth to Moses in the ‘blazing fire’ of the burning bush. The Bible frequently refers to angels as heralds of God much in the way of Hermes in Greek tradition. These are traditionally in the patriarchal scheme assumed male, but it is deeply traditional and central Kabbalistic belief to ascribe all such manifestations of God to the Shekinah – the feminine manifestation of deity on Earth. Like Chochmah – primordial Wisdom, the Shekinah or ‘indwelling’ is an abstract non-idolatrous manifestation of the Female within the Hebrew tradition which as been all but suppressed from the Old Testament, although surviving in strength in the secret traditions of Zohar of the Kabbalah and permeating gnostic Haggia Sofia of Christian traditions.
Fig 9: Elephantine papyrus Aramaic (5th century BC)
Miles (290-302) in his cryptic love of the monotheistic father deity acknowledges these historical roles of the Female, but allows the patriarchal tradition the poetic licence to retain the primordial pretension of the male creator God.
“The subtle emergence of Lady Wisdom as God’s rival as well as his handmaiden or consort is accompanied by a paradoxical reversal of the role that the Psalms assign to God. In the Psalms, God is the guarantor of justice in a world of karma without samsara – a world, that is, in which the good are rewarded and the evil punished within their own lifetimes or, at most, in the persons of their children or grandchildren. Not quite so in Proverbs, where God appears for the first time as the mysterious being to whom reference must be made and from whom recourse must be had when just the opposite occurs – that is, when the good are seen to be punished and the wicked rewarded. God continues to be honored as the creator, through Wisdom, of a world which enjoys in general an immanent moral order – a world, in other words, in which reward for the good and punishment for the wicked is on the whole a natural and therefore automatic outcome. God is not expected to ensure the functioning of this moral order by intervening ad hoc with rewards and punishments. These come about as the intrinsic result of mankind’s cultivation, or otherwise, of human wisdom, a pursuit sometimes characterized as devotion to Lady Wisdom. God created the world through her, Proverbs says, and the world’s normal and normally benign functioning is in her custody. God takes or is presumed to have taken a direct hand only in counterintuitive, unpredicted, unwelcome limit cases.”
“In Proverbs’ marriage of Torah and Wisdom, Torah – or at least the Lord whom Torah honors as its author – deepens Wisdom. But Wisdom also broadens and brightens Torah by discussing such matters as character formation and prudence, parts of human moral experience about which Torah is generally silent. The most surprising feature of this new synthesis, however, is that in it prophecy, about which Psalms maintains such a pained silence, is revived, after a fashion, as Lady Wisdom preaching on a street corner.”
“In prophecy as we have hitherto seen it, the events mentioned in the italicized lines would have been presented as punishment rather than, as here, mere comeuppance. Here the only punishment is self- inflicted; it is simply the predictable, built-in consequence of foolish behavior. Is it surprising that this clearest, largest eruption of the feminine into the relationship of mankind and God should turn out to speak with the voice of common sense? That will depend, obviously, on what you understand by “the feminine” and also on what you expect of a mother or a wife. Historical criticism has paid little attention to the possibility that Wisdom may be either mankind’s mother or God’s wife, but this is largely because historical criticism has generally taken her to be a personification of the wisdom of the male God and therefore, notwithstanding the feminine grammatical endings, ultimately male herself. She has been seen as a figure of speech loosely akin to the Word of the Lord in the endlessly repeated figure of speech “Then the Word of the Lord came to……… In fact, however, her identity is a good bit more complicated than that, for Lady Wisdom speaks not just for God but also in her own name about God and about her relationship with him. The word goddess probably does misrepresent her; but even taking her as allegorical rather than mythological, she should almost certainly be seen as the personification of human wisdom in the newly autonomous sense of which we were just speaking rather than as the personification of unfathomable divine wisdom. As such she may well be spoken of, metaphorically, both as God’s partner, even God’s wife (mankind cooperating with God), and as mankind’s mother (mankind caring for its own). And as both wife and mother, Wisdom wakes the echoes of Asherah. ”
Miles (262-6) likewise gives expression to the paradoxes of the Lord Gods masculinity and His need to compensate by displaying the crytic missing features of the female persona:
“Very strikingly, it is amid these complaints that we hear God’s first completely unequivocal and unmistakable reference to himself as female: ‘And this again you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. “For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.” (Malachi 2:13-16)
Fig 10: From the Dead Sea Scrolls (Holy Land)
and women rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you,
and confuse the course of your paths. (Isa- 3:12)
“Not all women are disparaged, of course. Jael the Kenite is praised in the Song of Deborah and Barak (Judg. 5) for driving a tent peg through the skull of the sleeping Canaanite general Sisera, Israel’s enemy and her own erstwhile ally. And in plotting successfully to take the throne of Israel away from David’s eldest son, Adonijah, and secure it for her own son, Solomon, Bathsheba is, at least by implication, judged quite positively. The same, of course, would go for Rebekah when she plots with Jacob to defraud Esau. Whatever a modern reader might judge of these actions (their masculine equivalents can, of course, easily be adduced), the Tanakh does not condemn them. They serve rather to demonstrate that women were at least sometimes powerful. actors in ancient Israelite society. And wholly benign minor examples are not wanting, such as Hannah, praying for a son and then thanking the Lord with touching eloquence, or Abigail, trusting in the Lord and in David at once. The deeper question is not about whether women ever held power in Israelite society but whether, so to put it, there is a goddess inside Israel’s God. Is God female as well as male, a mother as well as a father, a matriarch as well as a patriarch, a wife as well as a husband, and so forth? Historical criticism has drawn attention to the fact that the ancient Canaanite god El, the sky god whose personality was taken up into that of the Lord God, had a consort, Asherah, who bore monsters to battle El’s younger rival, Baal, but was also, very generally, a goddess of fertility and motherhood. By identification with El, Israel’s God could, so to speak, have inherited Asherah; and a few verses (a very few, to be sure) survive in which Israel’s God seems to be described as male and female in successive lines – thus, by implication, as a divine couple. Deuteronomy 32:18, a verse in the Song of Moses, is often cited:
and you forgot the God who gave you birth.
“But just as a divorced man will have a different inner relationship to women than a man who has never married, the Lord’s relationship to Asherah and to femininity may not be at an end simply because she is no longer his consort. The natural object most often associated with Asherah is the tree or its representation the sacred post. Thus, Jeremiah 17:1-2:
With a stylus of iron,
Engraved with an adamant point
On the tablet of their hearts,
And on the horns of their altars,
While their children remember
Their altars and sacred posts [‘asherim]
By verdant trees,
Upon lofty hills.
To stone, “You gave birth to me.”
“As a comment on the character of God, what does this state of affairs suggest? It suggests that at whatever point the Lord God became asexual (or ceased to be sexual), he did not – at least not immediately – fuse with his erstwhile consort, becoming in the process equally male and female, an ambisexual being, but rather divorced his consort and attempted to exclude the feminine from his own character. The exclusion of Asherah must not be seen as, on the Lord’s own part, anything less than a violently emotional revulsion. In the Lord’s eyes, Israel’s worst crime, the crime that finally provokes him to destroy Jerusalem and then to blot out even the remnant of judah, is King Manasseh’s horrifying decision to place a sculpted image of Asherah in the Lord’s own temple:
The sculpted image of Asherah that [Manasseh] made he placed in the House concerning which the Lord had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this House and in Jerusalem, which I chose out of all the tribes of Israel, I will establish My name forever.” . . . Therefore the Lord spoke through His servants the prophets: “Because King Manasseh of judah has done these abhorrent things- he has outdone the wickedness all that the Amorites did before his time-and because he led judah to sin with his fetishes, assuredly, thus said the Lord, the God of Israel: I am going to bring such a disaster on Jerusalem and judah that both ears of everyone who hears about it will tingle. I will apply to Jerusalem the measuring line of [the already conquered and destroyed] Samaria and the weights of the [already annihilated] House of Ahab. I will wipe jeusalem clean as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. And I will cast off the remnant of My own people and deliver them into the hands of their enemies.” (2 Kings 21:7-14)
And Yet despite the Lord’s overwhelming revulsion at the thought that a goddess should be permitted to cohabit his House with him, he remains the creator who said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” and who then proceeded to create a female as well as a male. What may be for historical criticism no more than a fossilized scrap of mythological language is for literary criticism an inexpungable characterological fact. The human male alone is not the image of God, only the male and the female together. And this duality in the image must somehow be matched by a duality in the original. It is this fact that requires us to speak of the exclusion rather than the mere absence of the feminine from God’s character. And it is that exclusion which lends pathos to the asherah as a liturgical fossil, an opaque object with an all-but-forgotten goddess’s name, symbolizing his worshipers’ memory of what he once was or yet might be.”
Fig 11: Letter written during the Bar Cochba rebellion
“The question just now is has femininity been subtracted from him? The best answer seems to be Yes, but not entirely, and, by yet another unforeseen reversal in his history, his denied femininity will be reasserted. The Lord God with the asherah standing beside his altar is rather like an extremely virile man carrying a woman’s purse. Whatever the rest of his seeming character, the object is sufficient to raise a question.”
“This much conceded in advance, it would nonetheless be a mistake, notwithstanding all the tenderness in many passages of prophecy, to say that at this point in his story God is both mother and father, both female and male. The maternal imagery in a verse such as Isaiah (66:12-13) is transparent: ‘ Behold, I will extend prosperity to Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall suck, you shall be carried upon her hip, and dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted injerusalem’.”
“But it is only imagery. On balance, it is altogether less noteworthy that God occasionally uses maternal imagery when speaking of himself to the prophets than that for so very long he avoided paternal as well as maternal imagery. With the single, salient exception of 2 Samuel 7, both kinds of parental imagery are all but entirely absent from Genesis through 2 Kings. Starting with Isaiah, God begins to speak of himself fairly freely as both a mother and a father, but rather than see the return of the feminine at this point, we should recall that this freedom of expression comes amid a veritable explosion of metaphorical language in which he speaks of himself as husband, lover, shepherd, redeemer (metaphorically, a ransomer from slav- ery), and much else. The thrust is undeniably toward tenderness and gentleness; but particularly since Near Eastern goddesses are so often utterly ferocious, that thrust does not in and of itself bespeak feminization.”
The Lord God, we said earlier, is only analogously a father. When he begins to speak of himself as a mother, he is also only analogously a mother. The metaphor he chooses to use of himself at any given point w ill always reflect what he wants to say of himself at that point, and different metaphors may follow rapidly on one another. Thus, in Malachl 2, just before God speaks of himself as Israel’s wife, Malachi speaks of God as Israel’s father: “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create US?” (Malachi 2:10).
Miles’ description is fair comment on the traditional view of the feminine within God, but it is nevertheless a subtle apology for the continuing primacy of the male principle ofthe creator godhead. He is subtle to deny Wisdom her transcendental nature relegating her from the gnostic essence to mere common sense. Likewise he questions the historical reality of the Asherah as a central motif which has been overlayed by later redaction of the Yahweh-only movement.
This position is untenable. A male principle which not only denys but physically destroys the embodiment of the Female, and cauterizes her from literature except in those traces we find slipping between the lines ofthe redactionist pen, or caught transfixed for a moment in the obdurate ravings of the prophets against the whoring ways of the goddess cannot be so slickly discarded from the historical heritage as apologists for the Christian or Yahwistic tradition, male or female would like. The remnants of the Aserah in the Old Testament and at Elephantine and other places, the primordial nature of Wisdom and the subtle flowing of the Shekinah and her Christian manifestations as Sophia and the Holy Spirit remain central to the very meaning of God realized on earth.
Christian Compromise: The Multi-headed Loving Father of Divine Wrath
There is a further twist to the nature of deity as expressed in Jesus’ very personal relationship with Abba, the God the Father who becomes the forgiving God who does not exact ‘an eye for an eye’ but preaches ‘love your enemies’ provided all accept the word of Christ. However there is an ultimate contradiction. To Christians, the true nature of this God was only revealed as kind fatherly figure by the gruesome sacrifice of his only begotten son – a sacrifice blamed for the next two millennia on the Jews, despite his death by Roman crucifixion. A God who kills for love? Then why blame the Jews? This is an ancient sacrificial saga of pagan proportions.
This myth that the Christian God is love is immediately rendered hollow in Jesus’ own slaughter. It echoes on down through history, not just as a jealous God but a God of martyrdom, crusade, holocaust and inquisition, which stems from the very compulsion which Luke 14:23 invested into the marriage feast: “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled”, reinforced by the curse of anathema of 1 Corinthian’s “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.”
This is of course the other side of God – the Devil – God’s awful partner in fate in the male combat myth. This is a tragic paradox for Jesus because although he is both courting and provoking the devil it is actually the father who sacrifices him on the Cross for the love of mankind. The whole deal thus includes not just God but the whole evil empire scenario and all the pain and conflict this brings. The dark versus the light. Not a whole earth but orignial sin. Why couldn’t God and Lucifer get along? Was there something unhinged about God’s creation?
The Christian compromise is of course riddled with gender contradictions. The unspeakable aniconic nature of Yahweh is replaced by a father figure more like the Ancient of Days – a reborn ‘El whose hair is white like wool. The Son is likewise elevated from the practical redemption of the flesh and blood Jewish Mashach to an eschatological divine saviour. The mother is however consigned to a limbo stunningly identical to Semele, a mortal mother of a divine son assumed into heaven as an act of grace by the Father God. Mary is portrayed as a Hellenistic virgin circumcised to deny sexual pleasure, elevated to semi-divine status and partially identified with Artemis to reinforce moral prudery.
Finally in the doctrine of the Trinity we have a Medusa’s godhead – no longer the inscrutable transcendent, but a political compromise worked out at a meeting to represent God in terms a particular group of bishops found suitable to their doctrine at the time. The elusive Feminine aspect, which is and has been all along the manifest reality, the Shekinah, Sophia, Miriam and the Asherah in her different archaic and transcendental forms is now finally subject to female genital mutilation, just as the Virgin Mary was also said to have been circumcised, the Holy Ghost is deemed neuter. This is the ultimate travesty of the ‘Elohim. The Father and Son remain ‘corporeal’ – anthropomorphic, while the feminine face is dissolved into the neuter ‘rapture of the depths’.
Of course there are many stories to this relationship between God and the Female and the gnostic Christians tell a bizarre variety of tales, some of which cast the very Lord God into the role of a [wicked] demiurge who has seized control, while in other works also tarnishing Sophia with the desire to bypass the primal creation with her own defunct works.
It is also a great irony that the Christian world is divided betweeen a Catholic path which embraces the feminine, yet treats her as a circumcised virgin half-God to retain control over her reproduction and pleasure, and a Protestant path which embraces women priests yet clings to a stark uncompromising view of a transcendent God of order – a male eunuch deprived equally of his genitals in the attempt to demonstrate transcendence beyond gender. This is the false transcendence of dominion over nature, which ultimately reduces the world to fire and brimstone at the hands of man.
It suffices to say that only in the realization of the Tao – the complementary nature of gender in the natural cosmos shall any resolution of this tortuous history reach fulfillment.
Modern Transcendent Theology and Gender Paradox
Theologists of Christianity and Islam too have throughout the centuries made various forays to shore up the view of God as inscrutibly beyond gender, as ‘He’ is beyond all dualities and divisions. It is true that in the way of the via negativa, once the cultural layers of the onion are all peeled away, we may come to the common core of divine illumination common to all paths – towards the one, but only by peeling away God’s cover too.
This defence of the God of Christianity or of Islam as transcendent exposes the deep sociobiological and cultural double-think shoring up an incomplete and distorted vision of God, which stresses transcendence over immanence, divine order over the verdant chaos of natural living diversity, and often casts white against black and good against evil in typical male combat mythology ending in Armageddon.
God can never become complete while transcendence is stressed over immanence, heaven over earth, soul over nature and male over female. Until the “two become one” God remains a lie – a distortion of reality. The God of cosmogemesis and of quantum mechanics is a God of complements, wave-particle, chaos-order, and female-male. Until we can embrace chaos and enter the void we will never understand the totality and will forever fight evil with dark hate, being consumed by the very forces we are struggling with, and doing irredeemable damage to ourselves and to the divine creative process along the way.
Quantum reality and particularly the uncertainty principle poses the ultimate question about the cosmos back to humanity. This is the nemesis of the Newtonian ideal of determinism. Is free will actually a reality after all? In the bubble of quantum uncertainty all classical predictions are off. Is this the loophole which makes free-will possible? If so what is then the role of God’s cosmic design back at the beginning? If we are truly capable of free will, then is the universe still in a state of becoming not fully revealed and only gradually becoming so through our conscious involvement in space-time? What is the nature of God in such a universe and what is the role of nature in the supposed ‘cosmic design’? Although some Christians have hailed this step as a breakthrough from the mechanical prison of the Newtonian model it remains very unclear whether the Christian concept of God is the rightful benefactor of such a causality-violating holistic universe as this.
“The Classical physics seemed to bolt and bar the door leading to all freedom of will; the new physics hardly does this; it almost seems to suggest that the door may be unlocked if we could only find the handle. The old physics showed us a universe which looked more like a prison than a dwelling place. The new physics shows us a universe which looks as though it might conceivably form a suitable dwelling place for free man, and not a mere shelter for him- a home in which it may at least be possible for us to mould events to our desires and live lives of endeavour and achievement.” – James Jeans (Lindberg and Number 430)
Although the world of nature and human consciousness may seem fragile and insignificant, by comparison with the vast and terrifying forces of the big bang, supernovae, galactic collisions, black holes and the heat death, life is immortal on geological time scales, and has been around on earth for a full third of the universe’s own lifetime. One can with increasing awe realize that the cosmic symmetry-breaking at the birth of the universe actually finds its complete interactive resolution only in the elaborate macromolecular interactions we find most elegantly expressed in the conscious human brain, the most complex and sensitive cosmological arrangement known in the universe today – entitled in itself the ‘three-pound universe”.
The natural world is thus not an inferior flawed place of decay of God’s divine works, but the divine embodiment of creation. In nature we find our physical immortality on loving relationship and give expression to the creative divine will moving on the face of the deep – a deep full of the terrifying forces of black holes and supernovae, and natural tooth and claw, yet destined to unfold life and love in cosmic evolution, thereby giving the spirit body, in realizing itself, its true glory. The natural world is also wilderness and diversity in a way which makes a mockery of any narrow interpretation of moral law. The ecosystem requires plants and animals, carnivores and herbavores. There is no final confrontation between good and evil, but fruitful coexistence of life and death.
This highlights a particular flaw of academic Christian theology. Throughout, despite the simple call that God is love and the vision of the saints and mystics, God has been a transcendental and almost clockwork creator God. As science has progressed, theology has endeavoured to capture a relationship with reality. It has found itself most at home with a mechanistic Newtonian view of the universe, because of the scheme of divine order this envisages. It is also a view in which God has dominion as creator, but is a mechanical universe which is endlessly running down from this divine creation point. This is somehow more necessary than an ongoing creation in which we as living people and nature herself are actually God unfolding the universe in time too, a view which it is noted the Sufis understand constructively.
Liber de intellectu, Liber de sensu, Liber de nichilo – Charles de Bouelles (cov) 1510 (LIndberg and Numbers)
The reason for this flows from the whole Biblical mythology, from the sabbatical creation dumping the biota fully-fleged on a flat-Earth planet, and extending through the scorched-earth policy of God in Eden, in which nature is trodden under foot and the whole world is turned into a purgatory in which man and woman suffer sweat and pain struggling to overcome the diaspora of nature. Despite the shadowy tree of life, nature is the mere chaff of the divine plan oozing, evil from the wilderness and a relationship with God which just keeps slipping further away.
Given this perspective it is not hard to understand why monotheism has had as difficult a time coming to terms with nature as the embodiment of the divine and particularly with the idea that life itself is the creative process as it has with the Copernican revolution in which Earth just became a peripheral place rather than the centre of the cosmic design.
Because God is ‘transcendent’ – removed in time and space, the evolutionary nature of the universe as on-going creation presents a particular problem. Hence evolution has almost universally been opposed, because in the creationsit view it is not just the literal 6000 years of biblical creation that is at stake, but also the idea of a deterministic universe set out like an engineering project by a ‘designer God’.
This brings us to the nub – did God create the universe? What does this mean? How is this lowly tribal figure, fomenting wrath at the Canaanite woman in Ba’al Preor somehow also the divine creator of the universal clockwork? Why should the two be identifiable in any way? The answer is of course social history. Jack Miles tries to get around this by conceding it, yet inferring that somehow, despite these social and political realities, God is lurking behind all the descriptions of ‘himself’ remote and superlative, yet in everyone’s minds and hearts. But is this God, or is it Love or the Holy Spirit? Why do we need ‘God’ as a term in the cosmic equation? Is this God male? Why is the Father God anyway? Maybe the equation doesn’t need this term or maybe it needs a different kind of term.
I take the following position. God is a living cultural archetype in the human stream of consciousness. There is an underlying reality, but the reality is rather different – more different than the term God can accurately describe. Monotheism, in arriving at the one God formed a syncretic hybrid, half-way between the unspeakable mystery of mysteries which evokes the universe and living consciousness and the gendered ‘Elhoistic male and female deities. Moses was trying to relate to the unspeakable in the burning bush and took off his shoes and said it was the nameless mystery, but what came out of the tradition was a jealous God of tribal and social male identity.
The ‘Elhoistic God/Goddess is real and natural. Nature is gendered and this gendering runs all the way to the foundations of reality in the complementation between mind and body, wave and particle. In the ‘Elhoistic form, our complementary-self is fully-represented and the envelope of our being, from verdant nature to transcendent mind, are all respected. The Kabbalistic Yahveh-Shekhinah is likewise another way of conceiving the complementarity principle in terms very similar to the Tao. This provides a more abstract form of the God/Goddess as transcendent-imminent psyche-embodiment principles. Beyond this lies the unspeakable mystery of mysteries – referred to indirectly or not at all – the way that cannot be told – the Holy Spirit moving on the face of the deep.
The monotheistic idea of God is a confusion of these ‘Elhoistic and ‘unspeakable’ natures, which has lost the natural gender complementation of the ‘Elhoistic godhead, becoming only a male God of order, which is neither fully integrated with the unspeakable ultimate. ‘He’ is still ‘jealous’, ‘angry’ and ‘loving’ by coercive degrees. Theologians go to great pains to remould this syncretic figure to fit the cosmos, as a creator God, but he can never naturally fit the liberation of the wilderness and baulks, demanding religious covenant with dire threats, fomenting about the evil lurking in the grass and unable concede to evolution its rightful share in the divine creative process.
The Islamic Allah and the Christian God of the Reformation share an abstract nature, but retain these moralistic and retributive aspects of divine wrath, including the Day of Judgement and dire human punishments such as the death penalty, which are only really shared by a demi-urge, despite the devoted efforts of Islamic scholars to portray Allah as the ultimately transcendent deity beyond all representation. As long as there is a confusion between social morality and cosmology, we are not dealing with the divine, but with human tradition.
God in this situation becomes an instrument to divide humanity from the divine by setting up a rigid model of atonement and sin, forgiveness and retribution to ensure we do not simply commune with the ultimate mystery but worship God in humility as a subject – God’s unquestioning serfs.
This dilemma of God and the void is neatly highlighted by the Buddhist view of a Godless cosmos in which self-realization is nonetheless possible. One can of course criticize the Buddhist cosmology too, especially in terms of its moral causality, which is also in frank conflict with the wildness and diversity of the natural order. Should all carnivores be reborn as rocks for their sins?
Not to Blaspheme the Holy Ghost
What we are slowly reaching towards here is an acknowledgement that God has never been the ultimate mystery of mysteries, but is rather, as Carlos Castaneda has said, a salt shaker on the mesa of the Tonal – a human cultural representation of the divine, imbued with whatever social, political and moral motifs a given society chooses to place on ‘him’.
“Warriors know that man’s idea of God is one of the most sturdy aspects of the human inventory which binds the assemblage point to its original position” (Casteneda 1984 258 ).
“Warriors know that God is an item of the warrior’s personal tonal and the tonal of the times; God is not the nagual; what man calls God is the mold of man; the mold is our God because we are what it stamps us with and not because it has created us from nothing in its own likeness; … the mold of man cannot under any circumstances help us by intervening on our behalf oe punish us for our wrongdoings … seers know that belief in the existence of God is based on hearsay and not on actual ‘seeing’.” (Castaneda 1977 157).
This emphasizes a crucial point – God is not the ultimate mystery at all, but a means society uses to psychically maintain the ordered description of reality and to enforce social conformity. God is a means to prevent natural evolutionary change by maintaining a fixed view of cosmic morality and divine law. This becomes very clear when the Islamic view of God is considered. The Qur’an portrays al-Llah as a fully abstract deity of creation, unrepresentable in any iconic form under pain of death. The truth is that al-Llah and al-Lat used to be God and Goddess as attested by the ancient inscriptions of Sinai.
This abstraction would appear at first instance to take al-Llah very close to the Buddhist vision of the cosmos as divine causality, but the life and Qur’an of Muhammad are a personal vision full of moral prescriptions for society, which although they may have been well-intended at the time, and tolerantly interpreted during the flowering of Islamic culture, have subsequently become a vehicle for fundamentalistic rigidity, which defends and enforces violence, arbitrated by the mullah’s whim.
“There is a VERY BIG difference to what is done in the name of Islam and what Islam enjoins in the Quran and the Hadith. We must be very clear about that. The punishment for murder is death. No doubt about that. The punishment for adultery is stoning to death and for fornications is the whip. That is what Allah ordains for His creation. We hear and we obey. We do not base our judgment on western whims and fancies.” This is defended because it requires a due process of law. “Islam does not allow the spilling of blood without a cause that is justified by the Quran and the Sunnah. … One can only ask Allah to guide the ruler in the correct path. That is the extent to which Islam propogates non-violence. He has to resort to the prevailing legal authority.” However this is divine law, or shariat, which is open to the interpretation of individual mullahs and it is their divine right to issue death fatwahs. “In fact there is not a single country in the world today that has implemented Islam 100% according to the Sharia. What’s needed to be done is to implement one and see the results. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) established such a state in Madinah and it was most successful. This state had Christians and Jews living in them and everybody was treated justly. We can surely emulate that today if only we wished” (personal correspondence).
This statement comes in complete contradiction to the facts: 700 Jews were summarily beheaded. They never even opened the gates of Medina to the Quraysh, they just talked to both sides. Muhammad gave the judgement to a dying man. What justice is that? He said kill them all. Muhammad didn’t need to commit this genocide because the Sakina of hudaybiyah made the whole ‘jihad’ unnecessary. When he did enter Mecca ‘peacefully’ he brough death. “Sarah was a famous slave singer who aimed her barbed words against the Moslems. She was among those whom Mahomet ordered to be executed on the day of his victorious entry into Mecca. … Thus women who dared to give voice to their protest or opposition could be exposed to cruel punishment. Their hands might be cut off, or their teeth pulled out, or their tongues torn from their mouths” (El Saadawi 1980).
Such statements have nothing whatever to do with God. They are purely about a male culture protecting its reproductive rights over women and particularly the perpetuation of the church as an institution. In this sense the church has truly become the anti-Christ for it has circumcised and circumscribed the innate freedom of the Holy Ghost to control humanity through fear, through torture while holding out the illusion of divine love of Jesus.
This brings us closer to the ultimate and utterly devastating mystery of mysteries. Beyond the limited cultural representation of God is a deeper more dangerous truth, one which can never be tamed by human culture or device. It is this ultimate mystery from which we all come, to which we all return and which we all seek in every tradtion on Earth. This mystery has been approached by all cultures and spiritual paths. It is the mystery which Buddhism approches as closely in samadhi without the need to invoke God at all.
- Thomas 44 Jesus said, “Whoever blasphemes against the father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit will not be forgiven either on earth or in heaven.
- “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” (Mark 3:28).
- “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Matt 12:31, Luke 12:10).
The Holy Ghost remains the ultimate enigma of Christianity – totally undefined to this day – waiting for the liberation. Remote and yet intimately present. Uncircumscrbed by any doctrine or ritual – free and wild as the shamans vison quest is. One could say she is the Shekhinah, the abstract feminine, but we are dealing here with the abyss itself. John 14:26 even claimed the ghost as male: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
When we peel the layers of the onion completely away, we have nothing but the void as the name ‘via negativa’ implies – the ‘countless’ way that cannot be told. This is the way which is common to all existence, emerging from the cosmic origin and manifest in all conscious life – the way of the Tao of the Buddha-mind, of the shaman’s vision quest, of the burning bush of the holy spirit. While any of the layers of cultural imperative remain we have religious authority imposed upon the imminence of individual illumination and the mystical forever sequestered like the female as an inner mystery cult, suspect in its excessive and personal ‘intoxicated’ vision.
It is only by removing all these layers we come ultimately to the source, to the well-spring, the ground of being. And it is in this ground we all share in our incarnation. It is this ground we call on in our innermost selves without any moral edict or religious dogma. This is the living ground of love incarnate. It is something which we all possess once we turn to it and something no one can give us or take from us, even those who would seek to kill us for our faith to maintain the moral order.
This reality is wild and verdant, compassionate and peaceful. It is the perennial philosophy and the way the truth and the life. Not one way but everyway. In everywoman, everyman and in the innocence of the child.
I invite you all into the Holy Spirit as equals in incarnation. This is your natural destiny as co-creating participants. This is the union which Jesus foresaw:
John 10:30 “I and my Father are one.” … The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
This does not mean that we become automatically enlightened. Greed and selfishness thrive in ignorance. It is only through soul searching that we can truly learn to love, but love we can, not through moral edict passed down to us by the church, but from our natural inner source of living truth, our original virtue, woven into our emotional being in the loom of evolution and giving expression to the will of the holy spirit of the cosmos unfolding in space-time. I am thus asking you to embark on a difficult and exciting journey, in which you cast aside all assumptions, including God and mechanism, in reaching to the fire within – True Love.
If you choose to see the Holy Spirt through God as an act of choice, please realize that the feminine face or Shekhinah is the indwelling manifestation or embodiment, of equally sacred status, and that matrimony is the immortal condition.