JAHWEH Your Average Pagan Divinity?
Those in the newspaper business do what it takes to sell papers, even if that means claiming that the God of the Bible is “transgender,” like the pagan gods of old. Such is the theory of a New York Times article by Rabbi Mark Sameth, “Is God Transgender?” (Aug 12, 2016).
Sameth claims that the Hebrew Bible, “when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender….In Genesis 3:12, Eve is referred to as ‘he.’ In Genesis 9:21, after the flood, Noah repairs to ‘her’ tent. Genesis 1:27 refers to Adam as ‘them.’”
These minor textual oddities are easily explained by Hebrew experts like Robert Gagnon and Michael Brown. In addition, many languages do not employ gender signifiers in a sexual manner. In French, for instance, a car and a bottle are feminine, yet no one accuses the French of gender fluidity, a culture known for its expression—vive la différence.
Sameth’s thesis becomes even more speculative concerning the name of God. He employs a deeply imaginative argument, speculating that the name YHWH, “Yahweh,” could have been read backwards, spelling “He/She.” Gagnon shows that biblical scholars are generally in agreement that YHWH is derived from the third-person singular of the verb “to be” (hayah), meaning either “he is” or “he will be.” Michael Brown, a Hebrew scholar, argues that “there is not a stitch of evidence to support this.” He adds: “…of the more than 6,000 times that the name YHWH occurs, it never occurs with a feminine adjective or verbal form.”
According to Gagnon, there is “No historical evidence that supports Sameth’s reading—only his own sex ideology.” Sameth’s “sex ideology” is his attempt to justify the actions of a male cousin, among the first in America to undergo sex-reassignment surgery.
But his motivation is more than sentimental: It is theological. While he is “saddened whenever religious arguments are brought in to defend social prejudices,” he does not hesitate to use the “social” example of his cousin to justify his own religious arguments. He maintains that 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.
He then speculates that “the Israelites took the transgender trope from their surrounding cultures and wove it into their own sacred scripture.” Here Sameth defends his theological commitment to polytheistic interfaith and to his “god-within” theology rather than to his own Scriptures, the Old Testament, which are full of warnings against imitating the sexual practices of the nations. Leviticus 18:22 states: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” In Deuteronomy 22:5 God commands that: “A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the LORD your God.” These are sexual abominations, about which the Leviticus text states: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled…And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you” (Lev. 18:23–28).
Rabbi Sameth’s theology is definitely open to “these ways.” In his synagogue he leads Jewish meditation and is open to other spiritual teachings, “Jews, non-Jews, Buddhists, non-Buddhists, Juddhists, non-Juddhists!” His openness to various genders reflects his openness to various pagan religions. Poly-sexualism is an embodiment of polytheism.
Who would have thought that this ancient idolatry would mark a civilized 21st century citizenry and religion of the modern West? As Michael Brown rightly says: “[Sameth’s] attempt to use the Hebrew Scriptures to support transgender activism is utterly misguided, fatally flawed, and unworthy of serious consideration.”
The Bible nowhere presents God as a sexual being. Sexuality is a human characteristic, designed by God for procreation but also as an embodiment of the differences knit into the created order (land/sea; human/animal; light/dark; male/female, etc.). Just as God is a transcendent Creator, distinct from creation, so creation also reflects distinction—supremely seen in the male/female distinction.
We are again faced with only two options: worship of creation or worship of the Creator, who is blessed forever. The former is the Oneist Lie, the latter is the Twoist Truth (Romans 1:25). I doubt you could sell newspapers today with that line from the Apostle Paul, but at the end of history, God’s salvation picture of male and female will find its fulfillment as the Bride of Christ forever delights in the inexhaustible love of her heavenly husband. Vive la différence!