Terrien-the gender of God

In most circles today people avoid assuming someone is male.  Long gone are the days when it made any sense to address letters to “Dear Sir” or “Gentlemen” as I am old enough to have been taught to do.

It has gone beyond what makes sense.  It has become a political statement.  So avoiding the generic masculine has become a way of signaling social virtue.  In worship in the mainline Protestant churches, calling God “he” is frowned upon.

I sense that Samuel Terrien would be okay with that–up to a point. He definitely sympathized with feminism. But he also thought there was a valid reason the Hebrew Bible tended to speak of God in the masculine.

It was not, he says, because of a patriarchal tyranny that dehumanized women.  In fact, he stressed how often writers use feminine imagery for the divine.

Especially interesting is his discussion of the idea of God’s compassion.  He thinks compassion in the Hebrew Bible could often be translated as “womb compassion”.  This usage comes out several times in Jeremiah 31. Its classic theological expression is probably Isaiah  49:15 where God is speaking::

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,  that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Yes, these may forget,   yet I will not forget you! (WEB Bible)

But in ancient Israel there was a theological need to reject Canaanite worship of Mother Nature in the guise of Asherah and other goddess figures associated with the mythology of the fertility religions. Jeremiah 44:15-23 shows that this cult was powerful in Jerusalem to the exile and beyond.

The fertility mysticism identified the divine with nature.  The prophetic religion of Yahweh insisted on a distinction between “true divinity and deified nature” (p. 60).

Anyone who has read much modern spirituality or consciousness-expanding literature will see the nature religion and Mother Goddess idea is still around.  Gaia has ancient roots, but is very much a part of neopaganism and mystical environmentalism today. Terrien was aware that Mother Nature devotion was not just something from the ancient past.

The prophets and other Hebrew poets ascribed to Yahweh the moral characteristics of human motherhood, but they never deified the feminine reality.  It is this radical distinction that has escaped  the notice of most anthropologists and psychologists who have written in modern times of the gender of God (p. 62).

The Hebrew Bible does not see God as hormonally male or as having male genitals. It uses even the metaphor of father sparingly.  So Terrien thinks Freud and Jung wrong in interpreting the fatherhood of God as a projection having to do with the Oedipus complex (Freud) or dark side masculinity (Jung).

The masculinity of God is totally a metaphor.

Every one of the few allusions to God as Father in the Hebrew Bible connotes the image of a human father who carries in his arms a helpless infant and later a rebellious child, so that the child may mature into full adulthood (p. 66).

Although Terrien is not so sure about the priestly writings, he seems certain that the prophetic writings and psalms hold up a vision of men and women as equal.  The critique of the Mother Goddess does not take anything away from that.  Those modern writers who see the Bible as a whole as oppressive of women have not really understood it.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Bible | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Terrien-was the past female?

Samuel Terrien has a chapter in Till the Heart Sings called “the circumcised male and the pollutant female”.  To be up front about it, I disagree with his conclusions here.  However, my purpose is to put his views out.  Later I will post about an alternative way of seeing the ritual purity regulations in Leviticus.  But for now I will tell you what he says.

His approach depends on seeing Leviticus as coming after Ezekiel. Ezekiel reacted against the fundraising method of pagan and copycat Yahweh temples who pimped out women and men in exchange for donations. (Most religious groups obsess about meeting budget.  I can imagine the temple board meeting where someone said, “You know what would really bring in the bucks. . .” ) This was usually associated with worship of the mother-goddess and with fertility rites.

Ezekiel found this repugnant.  He understood that God had abandoned the Temple and caused the exile in response to the abominable mixing of Judaism with this form of worship (and fundraising).

Ezekiel became a little unhinged about this and in some of his oracles he used language that sounds absolutely woman-hating as he bashed the sexual manifestations of fertility religion.

The priestly writings, particularly Leviticus, came after Ezekiel.  He influenced the priests to write laws of sexual purity that go counter to the very positive view of sexuality and women found in the wisdom literature and the original use of the Garden of Eden story. This reaction gave rise to the laws about cleansing from genital secretions for both males and females (Leviticus 15). The laws against incest, bestiality, homosexuality, and cross-dressing also targeted Canaanite cult practices.

These laws partly stem from age old human disgust with nakedness and bodily functions, particularly “a prehistoric dread of female blood”.

In the spiritual chaos of the Babylonian exile, the Jerusalem priests sought to prepare a new age and to prevent the recurrence of Canaanite syncretism.  But several of the archaic practices that they codified in the name of the God of Moses placed women in a state of religious inferiority to men and may have even insidiously penetrated the feminine consciousness with a sense of guilt that had nothing to do with moral behavior (p. 78).

Terrien believes there was an earlier time when these laws did not apply.  For instance, he doesn’t see anything in Genesis 32:35 that shows that Rachel being on her period somehow polluted Jacob.

More interestingly, he thinks Exodus 38:8 slipped through the filter of the later priests to reveal a time when women served in Israelite places of worship:

“He made the basin of brass, and its base of brass, out of the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered at the door of the Tent of Meeting” (WEB Bible).

Since this role seemed to disregard any problem with the women’s ritual purity, Terrien thinks it reflects a time before that rule existed.

This former time also gives us the memory of Miriam, who in Numbers 12:2 expressed the idea that God spoke to her the same way he spoke to Moses.  It also may give us the memory of the early heroine, Deborah, who sat under a sacred palm as a judge, or oracle, or wise woman (Judges 4:4).  Even up to Josiah’s day, there could be a prophet, like Huldah, whose word was as good as that of any male prophet (2 Kings 22:13-15).  To Terrien, this all speaks of an era before the Babylonian exile when women were much more respected in Israel than later.

Also, Terrien points out something I had forgotten.  Even after the exile there was a woman prophet, Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), who apparently opposed and intimidated Nehemiah.

So Terrien adopts the notion that there was an earlier and better version of Judaism that celebrated human sexuality and equal roles for women, which reactionary priests downplayed after the exile.

Posted in Ancient Israel | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Terrien-the play of wisdom

In Till the Heart Sings, Samuel Terrien quickly turns to wisdom literature, first to the Song of Solomon or Song of Songs.

During the divided monarchy (ca. 922-587), the wisdom circles of the Jerusalem royal court provided the princes with artistic works designed for entertainment at events of secular festivity.  before it was written down as a book the Song of Songs may well have been an ‘oral script’ for an evening of court diversion, with acting singers and a female chorus, ‘the daughters of Jerusalem’ (pp. 45-46).

The Song was a wholly secular song about the romance of young love.  There are hints in the stories about Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel in Genesis that his was not foreign to Israelite popular interest.  The Song was not about marriage or family.  Although the couple aspire to a long-term relationship, there is nothing about the legal or procreational aspects of marriage.

Because of this, it is probable that the book was only cannonized after an allegorical interpretation developed based on some of the prophets who compared Israel’s covenant to God with marriage. Yet, unlike some canonical theologians, Terrien gives precedence to the original use.

He sees the unashamed sexuality of the Song as a counter-point to the curse and shame interpretation of the Garden of Eden story. The existential threat of death and judgment that grows from the idea of a cursed human race is undermined by romantic love.  Love is stronger than death.  And the idea confronted in the Genesis flood story that God might undo his creation is also countered in Song of Songs 8:7

Many waters can’t quench love,

   neither can floods drown it (WEB Bible).

A characteristic of Terrien is that he often gives the wisdom literature of Israel more importance than many other scholars do. He suggests that wisdom and song may have developed among women.  The oldest songs, those of Miriam and Deborah, come from women.  Apparently in David’s time there was an institution of the “wise woman.”  There is the oracle of king Lemuel’s mother in Proverbs 31.

So is it surprising that in Proverbs 8 we have Divine Wisdom itself portrayed as a woman?  Also the woman, Wisdom, speaks in musical interludes in Job as perhaps performed by a chorus of women.

Some translations obscure the feminine, but Job 28:12-13 should be translated:

But where shall wisdom be found,

And where is the lode of intelligence,

Mortal man is ignorant of her way,

She shall not be found in the land of the living (Terrien’s translation, p. 92).

Terrien connects this with his emphasis in his biblical theology, The Elusive Presence, that God is an often unattainable presence for humans.

The female figure of wisdom in Proverbs and Job has a major implication for theology.

During the Babylonian exile the struggle of Judaism was to deal with the remoteness of God.  In Terrien’s view, the priest’s offered a sacramental way through priest-led ritual and apocalyptic writers offered a myth of a powerful male savior in the world to come. Terrien has an ambivalent view toward both of these.

But a third way was that wisdom was available to both Israelite and Babylonian.  Wisdom was playful and elusive, but led to the pleasure and delights of creation.  It was a female principal.  And it was divine.

Of course, this was only one aspect of the wisdom literature.  When Proverbs was published the female wisdom became the response to the idea of the deceitful woman who would tempt young men away from the good.  So, although, wisdom as the playful aspect of God in creation is still there, the emphasis now is on Wisdom as the teacher of life.

Posted in Bible | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Terrien-woman the crown of creation

I am reading this book:

Samuel Terrien begins with the Garden of Eden story.

“The story of the Garden was probably chanted liturgically at the ceremonies of the autumn festival, several hundred years before it was incorporated into the present Pentateuch” (p. 8).

This means that the original intent of the story was not to tell about our first parents.  It was an answer to non-Israelite myths.  Now it is part of a narrative that touches on history. Its position in Genesis can give a false impression and cause us to put the story at the beginning of a time line.

The story means to tell us what happens everyday, not what happened long ago. What happens everyday is that we are saved from the existential threat of aloneness and  isolation.

It was not good that Adam exist alone  (2:18).  To the ancient Hebrews, enmeshed in a network of tribe; clan and family; nothing could be worse than being alone.  It would mean being cut off from all that gave security and meaning to life.  To turn against family, as Cain did later in the story, is to wander the earth alone and utterly vulnerable (4:12-14).

Nothing in creation, not even the gift of animals (often worshiped in the Ancient Near East)  healed Adam’s solitude.

Only the woman could be his savior.

Terrien gives some insights into the words used.  Adam gets put into a “deep sleep” (2:21).  This is the same word used in Genesis 15:12 when Abram fell into a “deep sleep” and “terror and great darkness fell on him” so that he had a weird vision.  So a deep sleep is more like a trance or a mystical ecstasy. (Were mushrooms involved?) It certainly conveys awe and mystery.

The woman is a “help” for Adam.  It is really unfortunate that some think this means a helper around the house or the woman behind the man.  It is the same word (ezer) used in 1 Samuel 7 when Samuel set up a stone after a victory over the Philistines to commemorate that YHWH had “helped” Israel.  It was help in the sense of a powerful salvation.  Some Semitic languages use this root for the act of giving water to someone dying of thirst or putting a tourniquet on the limb of someone bleeding to death.

The other word in the phrase the KJV translated “help meet” in 2:20 means literally in front of the man. This may refer to common human sexual positions.  But it would also mean “in full sight of” connoting openness and “right in front of “ connoting cloesness. There is a verb form of this word that means to tell, disclose or communicate.

So the woman is the “crown of creation”, the salvation from the threat of aloneness.  This happens not just in the far past, but as often as God creates men and women.  Perhaps Psalms 68:6a gives a sense of this, “God sets the lonely in families.”

The sin of Adam and Eve had to do with the continuing sin of Israel in adopting Canaanite worship and the mythology behind it.  Snakes symbolized worship of the earth goddess.  Terrien thinks that the rabbis, the Church fathers, and modern depth psychologists have all misinterpreted the snake and the fruit.  It was not about sex, but an “existential revolt” against God.

“The myth of the Garden, far from declaring the realm of sexuality corrupt and corrupting, exalts its significance and its goodness.  Sexual union fulfills manhood and womanhood, provided it be within the framework of transcendental recognition.  Human beings respond to their creatureliness when they freely enjoy the existential opportunity for sexual love without deluding themselves into believing that they may thereby become the center of the universe” (p. 26-27).

Again this desire to replace God as the center of all things was not something that happened long ago and gets inherited from our first ancestors.  It is the continuing “lure of infinity” that tempts all humans.

Anyway, Terrien’s high view of woman and his exalted view of sexuality opens the way for his discussion of the Song of Solomon, which will be the subject of another post.


Posted in Bible, Genesis | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Terrien-new read for Ash-Valentine’s Day

Joy seems to get chilled out of life by the divisions between people today.  On social media I notice that people obsess about politics and have a hard time remaining “friends” with people on the other side. I miss the kind of civility and humor that politically differing people used to be able to have as they remained friends.

But the failed civility between parties is nothing compared to the threat that men and women will progressively fear and avoid each other.

The post-Weinstein world has some women rooting for the ruin of more and more men.  And it has many men deciding to keep their distance from women or only to superficially connect on something like Tinder.

I have grandsons and granddaughters.  Although I am an old married guy,  retired and beyond the fray, the growing alienation between men and women makes me wonder what kind of world my grandchildren will grow up in.

The joy of male-female relationships is something I would like my grandchildren to know.  But is that going to be possible in the future?

One of the things that is quite clear is that women often feel men do not listen to them.  They want men to  treat them as existential equals.  The definition of feminism as the “radical notion that women are people” surprises men.  Of course, women are people. But many women have been treated as less than that.  So, of course, have many men.  But women are often treated as less just because they are women.

Just speaking for myself, I feel unheard too.  The prevailing gender theory defines manhood as a socially constructed facade that restricts men from expressing emotion.  With a little sarcastic exaggeration, it looks like men are supposed to throw off these societal expectations and become weepy and effusive.

If I say that I experience masculinity as hormonal–something in my blood– rather than as a social construct, am I  going to be heard?  Or is my very experience of life considered politically incorrect?

As my small effort to thaw the chill, I am going to write a series of posts on the late Samuel Terrien’s book, Till the Heart Sings: a Biblical Theology of Manhood and Womanhood.

My archives will show that in July of 2012 I had a series on Terrien’s biblical theology, The Elusive Presence.  He came at biblical (mostly Hebrew Bible) theology from the perspective of wisdom literature, not the more common covenant perspective.  It was a great book that spoke to my spirit in a way most theology does not.

His book on manhood and womanhood was originally published in 1985.  So it came before some of the bitterness you find on the Internet today  In fact, Terrien said that he already had come to the basic convictions behind this book (that the Bible is unique in ancient literature in not elevating the male above the female) in the 1930s.

The edition I am using was issued in 2004 and has a critical but appreciative introduction by feminist theologian, Phyliss Trible.

Since my aim is to make Terrien’s views better known, I am not going to do a lot of evaluation.  I feel like I have inserted my evaluation rather often lately.  Perhaps restraining myself from evaluation will be my Lenten discipline this year.  I am going let Terrien, and the Bible, speak.  I am going to try to listen.

Posted in Deuteronomy, Seasonal, Spirituality, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Looking for the Moses People

Why was the theory advocated by Brian Peterson, that the priests at Anathoth wrote down and edited the Deuteronomy flavored history from Joshua-2 King, worth considering? After all, you might say any adherent of Mosaic Yahwism could have taken up those themes.

One of the things that comes from carefully considering the data of the Hebrew Bible is just how much of a minority the advocates of the main biblical tradition were.

Most Israelite religion seems to have mixed the Moses tradition of one God with a cult involving the goddess Asherah, who many called the “Queen of Heaven”.  People probably thought of her as the consort or wife of Yahweh/Baal, the King of Heaven.  In the early days Baal was just another name for El or God.  But after Jezebel and the incursion of a foreign Baal priesthood, there were violent attacks on both sides attempting to suppress the other’s form of worship.

So the question is where we are to look for communities that might have preserved the Moses tradition over several centuries.  We can’t look to the royal palaces in the north or south.  Most kings accommodated the mixed religion, even though there were occasional gestures at reform.

Priests were royal appointees, although there was a tradition to keep the priesthood limited within certain blood lines.  This was an attempt to restrict the power of kings over religion.  But it was a far cry from separation of church and state.

So even among the Levite and Zadokite priests there was only a minority that opposed the mixing of religions.  Possibly, the Zadokites at the temple in Jerusalem adopted a theology that enabled them to withdraw from public life as a coping mechanism (Israel Knohl’s Sanctuary of Silence).

Among the prophets, the majority were probably what we would call false prophets, although one source of counter-religious tradition was the communities formed around certain prophets called the sons of the prophets.

Another possibility was the “people of the land” (probably the patriarchy of village elders) who installed some of the reform-minded Davidic kings in the south and probably existed in the north too.

Much of the Covenant Code in Exodus 21-23 and several complexes of law in Deuteronomy look like they originated as case law. Exodus 21:18-19 about what happens if two men (of different clans) get into a fight and one of them is hurt, but not fatally is a good example. The goal of the village elders would be to prevent an ongoing feud and limit destructive revenge.  It was case law, but it was based on the idea that Moses instituted this kind of system (Exodus 18).

The village elders were probably also dealing with the draw of Canaanite fertility rites on rural people who depended on agriculture.  However, the land-grabbing injustice practiced by the kings and their men (Ahab’s treatment of Naboth and the practices condemned by Micah) may have driven them to establish a system of Mosaic law over against royal law.

So the whole subject is very complicated.

What one has to look for is an old family that might have maintained both a counter-religious orthodoxy and an engagement with public life.  Silent priests and scribes may have played a role, like monks in medieval times.  Separatists, like the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35), might have played a role. Prophetic communities and priestly communities (the sons of the prophets, the sons of Korah, and the Asaph psalmists) may have played a role.

But if you are looking for continuity all the way to the 10th century or so, then a family with old roots near Jerusalem with a counter-religious attitude and ties to both the village elders and the Levites fits the bill.  We know this was Jeremiah’s background.  So, given the common traits between Jeremiah and the Deuteronomistic history, that one family in that one place stands out.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Deuteronomy | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

What Amos knew

I am just going to think out loud for a while.

Yesterday I mentioned that Amos 5:25 implies that some version of Deuteronomy was known to Amos. That verse is a rhetorical question:

 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, house of Israel? (World English Bible).

It implies a negative answer.  Israel did not bring God sacrifices during the wilderness period.  This accords with Jeremiah 7:22

 For I didn’t speak to your fathers, nor command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices (World English Bible).

Now if you have read Exodus, Numbers, and Leviticus you get a very different impression.   Numbers 7, for instance, describes the making of a huge number of sacrifices in the wilderness,.  This comes from the inclusion of the Priestly narrative, which is now fused with other sources.  The Priestly narrative describes the traveling Tabernacle as the predecessor to the Temple of Solomon and as having mostly the same function.

But Deuteronomy describes Moses giving these laws of sacrifice on the plains of Moab after the wilderness period.  Since many scholars see Deuteronomy as a document of the 6th or 7th century, the use of one of its motifs by Amos in the 8th century requires explanation.

When I said Amos must have known some version of Deuteronomy, I was perhaps overstating the case.  What Amos knew was the same scenario adopted in the narrative portion of Deuteronomy.  This was not necessarily originally attached to the code in Deuteronomy 12 ff.

In fact, I just noticed that the so-called Ritual Decalogue in Exodus 34:14-26 has an introduction in vss. 11-13 that implies Israel is about to enter the land for conquest and settlement.  Could this have existed early and independently as a primitive form of the scenario adopted by Deuteronomy?

Another undeniably early piece of information comes from Hosea 9:10 where it says that Israel committed shameful idolatry in Moab.. The old poem in Deuteronomy 32 also possibly  refers to this in verse 17.  The account of the Baal-Peor incident in Numbers 25 and 31 is too layered and garbled to figure out what actually happened.  But it seems that the incident left the impression that Israel’s worship was really screwed up until Moses set them straight just before they entered the land.

We have two conflicting traditions.  One denies that Israel sacrificed to YHWH in the wilderness.  The other says the tabernacle in the wilderness involved sacrifice.

Maybe both of them are based on a reality.

I recently blogged about Richard Friedman’s idea that only the Levites took part in Moses’ exodus.  The Levites then introduced the Yahwism of Moses to the tribes already in the land.

If this is something like what happened, then from the perspective of most of the people, the law about sacrifice was learned from Levites after the exodus and wilderness experience.

But from the perspective of the Levites, these institutions came with them through the wilderness.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Deuteronomy | Tagged , , | 1 Comment