I am anything but a Biblical scholar...but I have read the book. When one is an avid reader as a child, one reads whatever she can get her hands on. It was one of the texts in our small home library.
I gave up on Christianity ages ago. That was probably because that religion condemned so many human inhabitants of this planet.
I have absolutely no knowledge of the languages in which the Bible was originally written. so I'm afraid I'm going to take Rabbi Mark Sameth's word for what what is contained in his essay which appeared in the New York Times on Thursday: Is God Transgender? Rabbi Sameth is writing a history of the Tetragrammaton.
My interest in such a work has a clear source: wanting to closely examine the weapon on whose balance seems to hang our fate.
I’m a rabbi, and so I’m particularly saddened whenever religious arguments are brought in to defend social prejudices — as they often are in the discussion about transgender rights. In fact, 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.”
It's tempting to write those examples off as author or editor errors, but then there's that Biblical inerrancy thing.
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 shadows are pulled back in this next paragraph.
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 applies these observations to the present in his conclusions, challenging the usual Biblical attack on the very existence or transgender people:
Scientists now tell us that gender identity, like sexual orientation, exists on a spectrum. Some of us are in greater or lesser alignment with the gender assigned to us at birth. Some of us are in alignment with both, or with neither. For others of us, alignment requires more of a process.
It may come as a surprise that scientists view gender as anything other than a simple binary. But thousands of years ago, as a review of ancient literature makes clear, that truth was known. In court challenges, administrative directives and popular culture, the issue is playing out in real time, before our eyes. But behind the unfolding legal drama lies the reality of human nature: the fact that gender is not, nor has it ever been, a matter of “either/or.”
Then again, our modern-day ultra conservative right wing religious people have never hidden the fact that they know more than God when it comes to their attacks (both verbal and legal) on the people they hate.