Is God a woman, as Ariana Grande says?
By Robin Happel
Sometime around this past summer, facilities replaced many of our single-occupancy restroom signs on campus with signs that say “all gender restroom.” As the paper has previously reported, there’s still a lot of room for the Fordham administration to step up inclusion of trans and gender non-conforming students, ranging from housing policies to acknowledgement of pronouns in the classroom. Recently, we sat down with Dr. Karina Hogan, specialist on gender in the Old Testament, to discuss why she and fellow faculty members see acceptance of trans students as fitting with Fordham’s Jesuit mission.
Q: I’ve heard there’s an implication that God is neither male nor female in parts of the Bible. What do you make of the idea that divinity transcends gender? (Editor’s note: outside the modern Western tradition, many other cultures see gender variance as a blessing to families, or even as closer to the divine.)
I think that’s clearly there in the first creation story… I think it’s less obvious in the second creation story, with the creation of Adam and Eve, but then I think that there are other parts of the Bible that affirm that idea of God as transcending gender. So, for example, there’s a passage in the Book of Numbers, Numbers 11, where Moses is complaining and he says to God, did I give birth to these people, that you’re making me carry them on my bosom like a wet nurse? It’s interesting because Moses is comparing himself to a wet nurse, but at the same time he’s saying basically, “God, you’re the mother, why are you fobbing these people off on me?” In the Book of Isaiah, there’s also some interesting comparisons of God to a woman in labor.
Q: I’m not a theologian, so I don’t know how much work has been done on gender fluidity in the Bible compared to feminist interpretations of the Old Testament.
First of all, the idea of gender fluidity is so new in these discussions – I don’t think there’s been as much discussion of that as of the idea that there’s a feminine side to God, which has been a part of the feminist discourse for decades, even going back to the 1890’s when the Woman’s Bible was being put together by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Q: Since Hebrew is such a binary language, do you see the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as possibly shaping how early Biblical authors defined gender?
Most languages in the world have gender for everything, and yes it does shape the way that you think, but at the same time grammatical gender doesn’t always match biological gender. In German the word for young woman is neuter. Go figure. That doesn’t make any sense, right?
(Editor’s note: Dr. Hogan tried to say something else important here before I distracted her with my fascination with Kabbalah, specifically Lilith the feminist demon.)
Q: Okay, let’s get back on track here. Rather than say the Bible condemns trans identities, would you say that there are ambiguities in the text?
Absolutely, and I think that’s really important. That’s been a feature of Biblical interpretation through the ages, that there’s more than one interpretation. And I think that, you know, newer understandings of gender can open up new readings of the text… In the understanding of the Bible, all human beings are created in the image of God. That means that everybody, regardless of their gender identity, regardless of their sexual orientation, is a reflection of God.
Feel free to send us your own exegesis at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, before you argue “biology,” please consider clownfish, fungi, the spotted hyena, and that being born intersex is roughly as common as being born with red hair.