A Rabbi Claims That God Is Transgender

Guercino (Giovan Francesco Barbieri), 1591 - 1666 – Creator

By Michael Brown Published on August 13, 2016

In an August 12th op-ed piece for the New York Times entitled “Is God Transgender?”, Rabbi Mark Sameth claims that “the Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender” and, “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.”

Are there any truths to these claims?

Certainly not.

For Rabbi Sameth, these are issues of social concern and not merely theological abstractions, as he states explicitly at the outset of his article: “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.”

The real question, though, for Jews and Christians who look to the Hebrew Scriptures as God’s Word is very simple: What do the Scriptures teach? What is the explicit testimony of the Bible?

Had Rabbi Sameth simply stated that God transcends gender, I would have no argument.

Had he only said that when God created human beings He created them male and female, indicating that the fullness of the meaning of both male and female is to be found in God, I would have concurred.

And had Rabbi Sameth pointed out that there are aspects of motherly care attributed to God in the Scriptures (see, for example, Isaiah 49:15), I would also have concurred. (Note that rabbinic teaching about the Shechinah emphasizes the motherly aspects of God).

But what the rabbi argues for is much more than this, and since he is making these arguments with social implications, it is important that we respond with clarity.

Rabbi Sameth claims, “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.’”

There is not a stitch of evidence to support this – and I mean not a stitch. Nowhere do we read in any ancient biblical text that the divine name was read backwards by priests (you might as well argue that readers of this article read my name backwards). This is not suggested in any authoritative writing, and there is zero evidence that YHWH was ever taken to mean “He/She.”

The argument is utterly preposterous, and I write this with all respect to the many years of study that Rabbi Sameth has put into this subject. Perhaps he is reading his ideas into the biblical text?

The name YHWH is introduced in the context of God’s self-revelation that “I am that I am” (or, “I will be who I will be”; see Exodus 3:14) using the related root HYH, meaning that the name YHWH is derived from HYH/HWH. (To be precise, it is a third-person, masculine singular imperfect verbal form.)

More importantly, of the more than 6,000 times that the name YHWH occurs, it never occurs with a feminine adjective or verbal form. The name is exclusively masculine.

Even more importantly, this is the consistent revelation of God in the Scriptures: He is the heavenly Father, not the heavenly mother; He is a man of war, not a woman or war; He is the King, not the queen; He is the Shepherd, not the shepherdess; He is the Husband to the widow, not the wife of the widower; He is the Lord, not the lady, the Master, not the mistress; He is the Groom while Israel is the Bride — and on and on it goes, countless thousands of times.

So we can say emphatically that Rabbi Sameth is flat wrong in claiming that the God of the Bible “was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity.”

Highly Elastic

What about his claim that the Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, has a “highly elastic” view of gender (he adds with emphasis, “And I do mean highly elastic”)?

Here, too, he is completely wrong, as even a cursory reading of the Hebrew Bible indicates, with its very specific outlining of gender roles and gender expectations (which many “progressives” find troubling), and with verses like, “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.” (Deuteronomy 22:5, New Jewish Version).

What about specific arguments he brings to support his case, including: “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.’ . . . 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.’”

The first three examples (Gen. 3:12; 9:21; and 24:16) simply reflect spelling variations or unusual spelling conventions (for example, the verbal form in Gen 3:12, referring to Eve, is feminine, while the preposition in 9:21, referring to Noah’s tent and which is allegedly feminine, actually reflects an ancient masculine prepositional form).

As for referring to Adam as “they” in Genesis 1:27, there’s no mystery here (English readers see this as well as Hebrew readers), since “Adam” here simply means humankind, which God creates as male and female and commissions to “be fruitful and multiply,” which one individual, quite obviously, cannot do. (As to how this is accomplished, see Genesis 2:1-25).

As for the idea that Mordechai (or, the Lord Himself, as Rabbi Sameth argues) is presented as a “nursing mother,” this too is misstated. Rather, the verb ‘-M-N’ (which is used in Esther 2:7) basically means “support, nourish,” as opposed to Y-N-Q, which refers to nursing a child. And the verb ‘-M-N’,  when referred to a male, means a foster-father and when applied to a female, a foster-mother. This can be seen clearly in Isaiah 49:23 (a verse cited by Rabbi Sameth in support of his thesis), where it says, “Kings will be your foster-fathers [the root ’-M-N], their princesses your nurses [the root Y-N-Q]” (Complete Jewish Bible).

So, the rabbi is not simply making a mountain out of a molehill, he is making one out of a non-existent molehill.

Again, had he argued that both male and female derive their personhood from God’s image, or had he claimed that God transcends gender, I would have agreed. And had he simply stated, “God’s Word teaches us to be compassionate towards all, and that include those who identify as transgender,” I would have affirmed this as well.

But his attempt to use the Hebrew Scriptures to support transgender activism is utterly misguided, fatally flawed and unworthy of serious consideration.

(For those curious to as my own academic qualifications in penning this response, see here.)

 

Print Friendly
Comments ()
The Stream encourages comments, whether in agreement with the article or not. However, comments that violate our commenting rules or terms of use will be removed. Any commenter who repeatedly violates these rules and terms of use will be blocked from commenting. Comments on The Stream are hosted by Disqus, with logins available through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or G+ accounts. You must log in to comment. Please flag any comments you see breaking the rules. More detail is available here.
  • Elizabeth Claire Mont

    In my understanding, the Bible recognizes the female principle as plural (vs. the singular male). Even the name Eve means Life. Life – biological life that expresses itself as a plural (ex: a school a fish, a flock of birds, etc). The female (by way of her womb) is a symbol of the multitudes. She represents the infinite. But the Bible is NOT for MIXING these two principles (of male and female as one). It believes in keeping them separate – side by side. So it would be completely improper to claim a “Transgender” argument. The MIXING and COMBING of genders is the hallmark of Babylon, not Zion. One represents nature, and the other (Zion) is set apart from nature (“holy” or kadosh in Hebrew).

  • Jerry Shepherd

    Excellent article, Dr. Brown. Upon reading the NYT article this morning, I immediately posted on my FB “Wow. Fellow Hebrew grammarian friends, how many mistakes, misunderstandings, and non sequiturs can you spot in this article?” I’d like to think that the NYT would allow you to contribute a rebuttal op-ed.

    • Michael L Brown

      Jerry — thanks for the good word. FYI, the NYT does not print rebuttal articles in response to op-eds and instead suggests that readers respond in letters to the editor. Too bad!

  • Braden_Campbell

    Have nothing to do with godless myths and endless genealogies, people… of which this “dual-gendered deity” business is a prime, modern example.

  • Patmos

    If The Old Testament teaches us anything, it’s that Jewish people have a knack for falling away from God. Judging by this NY Times piece, it would appear that there is indeed nothing new under the sun.

    • Sonnys_Mom

      What IS different about these times is the degree of public resistance to turning back to God. The Father is calling us back to Him, yet we stubbornly insist that our “salvation” will be found in the next new scientific discovery, product, medicine or engineering improvement, or by “reinterpreting” our Constitution and passing new laws. Why, we are so advanced we can “reinvent” what truth means; even “redefine”our own GENDER. (Anybody see a pattern here?) And as we create our own gods, the true answer continues to elude us… (See Is 9.)

  • Ken Abbott

    Completely agree. The first thing that came to mind when I read the op-ed was that the text of Exodus supplies us with the meaning of the Name, as Dr. Brown indicates above. Rabbi Sameth’s conjecture does not pass the smell test.

  • Talmudic rabbis need to be lobotomized.

  • Defiant

    It seems beyond absurd to be arguing about this at all. Next we can try to ascertain why unicorns lie in the laps of virgins. Or why dragons love to horde of gold.

    • Dan Themanfan

      “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’
      Psalm 53:1
      “For
      since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly
      seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal
      power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although
      they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but
      became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were
      darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…” Romans 1:20-22

      Newton, who you may recall was a scientist, was also a devout Christian- and not in SPITE of him being a scientist, but the very reason for it! For, it is of Christ that Western technology exists at all. Copernicus, Kepler, I can go on- all of them understood and believed that God created the universe according to a system that not only went by a pattern of sorts, but a sort of “order”, which is very unlike Eastern beliefs, which are superstitious, and the gods are mere moody entities who can move the heavenly bodies at their whim. Christianity is the opposite of this belief, and is the reason why Christian civilization is filled with vast technologies, buildings, thought, and so on. The Arabs who is credited with coming up with the number, got it from the Indians, but they didn’t know what to do with these “numbers” after that, they were still stuck in the 7th century. The Magna Charta, even our churches built centuries ago, the Renaissance era filled with examples of wonder, now take a look at say, even a recent example of Somali art, or even native American art. The difference is comparing a microscope to a say, lop-sided bowl made of clay.

  • Halford Mackinder

    “God is a tranny, goyim. Trust me, I am a Rabbi!” How could anyone in history ever have had a problem with these wonderful people? I just don’t get where the animosity towards them comes from….all they want to do is convince you that God is a tranny. Who could have a problem with that besides evil bigoted antisemitic racists?

    • Dan Themanfan

      Hold on- you’re lumping all Jews into one basket. This rabbi is apparently a talmudist. Talmud law has all sorts of loopholes and rationalizations for every act- any wrong-doing can be cleared up by performing some odd bit of superstitious whingding, usually one involving an outhouse. There are many Jews who are NOT talmudists- and who believe in “evil” and “good” and a separation of the two, one famous one in particular is Judith Scheindlin of Judge Judy fame. She asserts that evil, and not “bad upbringing” nor “poverty” is the cause of crime in a human being, but the fact the person is evil. This is the opposite of the belief that talmudists hold. There is no “evil”, only vague terms that someone else posted above “social constructs”. There is no right or wrong to them! Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who’s very profile reflects her inner self (ha!) lives her life by her precious talmud, and brags about it. We do not need this sort of person holding any sort of judiciary position. It’s dangerous. Crooks go free.

  • Emery Richards

    Funny that anyone could claim that God is transgender, since one would need a physical body to be such. God is a mighty spirit person. He has no physical body. And to be transgender, one would need SURGERY. Can anyone operate surgically on God? Of course not. I suspect this Rabbi has serious mental issues that need addressing, quickly.

  • Jimmy Yost

    He’s telling the truth because his god is a tranny. Satan as Baphomet is depicted as a winged creature with a male human body with female breasts and a goat’s head and feet. So he really is a tranny. The Apostle Paul referred to Satan as the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4).

  • Brandon Klassen

    This “rabbi” doesn’t believe in any kind of supernatural all-powerful deity in the first place. For him, the “Hebrew god” is merely a social construct…

    >>The Israelites took the transgender trope from their surrounding cultures and wove it into their own sacred scripture.<<

  • anonymous4u4me

    About what you can expect from a Jew a child of Satan, from his seed through Caine.

  • carsondyal

    Hundreds of gods have been believed in throughout the world over the millennia. Is only one real and all the others fake? No one knows if there is one or many gods, what the nature of this being(s) is, and if this entity exists at all. Human beings, almost exclusively men, wrote all the “holy” books, because religion is a guy thing. That’s why god, or the chief god, is always masculine. This is just common sense, but somehow true believers are always lacking in this essential ingredient.

    • Dan Themanfan

      Ah, “is one real and all the others fake?” The Bible clearly states which is “real” and not. The Bible may have been WRITTEN by men, but it is clearly inspired by God. “Men” are not bad guys, contrary to Liberal politics, and white man have nothing to be ashamed of either. Men are made in the image of the Creator, and so is woman. But God is clearly a MAN, and not a woman too. Utter sophistry nonsense.

      • Yitzhak Aaronson

        The Bible is inspired by G-d, yes. But only what is often called the “Old Testament” (the Torah). The new testament is inspired by ha-Satan.

  • Dan Themanfan

    Hank Hanegraaff of “Bible Answer Man” fame and the CEO of equip dot org makes this same bizarre claim, that God is both male AND female. A caller-in to his show specifically asked if God was male, Hank asserted God is both male AND female. You can also hear Hank often mention the “shekhinah glory” “shekhinah” this and “shekhina” that. It is truly just astounding! I swore by this guy, thought he was the big cheese in Bible answers until I noticed a pattern. A caller also called in not too long ago, addressed him with the honorific “Dr. Hanegraaff” and Hank declined to correct the caller. Shame, shame Hank! Shame on you. Pride cometh, or goeth? before a fall.

  • timmy timmtimmy

    In the beginning God made Man in his own image. He created Adam An
    Steve, he told them my children go forth and be fruitful and multiply.
    so Adam and Steve went at it trying to make a baby to please God. Then
    came the day God returned to Earth and behold I am back let me see my
    creations,,,,,the only thing Adam and Steve produced to the Lord was
    aching butts. So God smitten Steve and made Eve. and within a Years
    Adam and Eve produced a offspring. Eve told God at first her butt hurt a
    lot trying to make a baby.

Inspiration
We Need Community
Julie Manning
More from The Stream
Connect with Us