Feminine images of God still abound in scripture, as discussed in Part 1. Those images, however, are simply those that have survived the expurgation by 3rd and 4th century “masculinizers” of the text. I know, that’s not technically a word – at least it wasn’t, but it is now. Examples could be used from the texts that were omitted, like the Odes of Solomon, but they are not part of the canon and so would be open to ridicule. Examples of passages still in the Bible have already been covered. To make the point on how images have been expunged, I will simply examine the instance of El Shaddai – Almight God – as the case in point.
EL SHADDAI _ ALMIGHTY GOD OR GOD WITH BREASTS? The obliteration of a female image of God.
Tradition tells us that the name for God, El Shaddai, is best translated as Almight God. Tradition, as usual, must not simply be discounted when it is inconvenient, but should be examined to see what it is projecting or protecting and, especially important, when it was developed. This latter gives us critical clues as the the other issues. First, let us consider the development of the ocncept of Almighty God.
Shaddai is the Hebrew word that is translated as almighty. Well, actually, that’s not quite true. Pantokrator is the Greek word that is translated as almighty, and which has been read forward and backward into scriptures. In Greek panto means “all” and kratos means “power”, hence all-powerful or almighty. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, does not represent the origin of the meaning of shaddai, however – for that we have to go much further back.
Basically, the translators of the Setuagint had two options for translating shaddai, a word that has no presence in scripture except as a name for God. The two roots that presented the most likely possibilities were shad and shadad – I’ll get to the meanings later. Now Hebrew, like other languages has grammatical rules. (Now, don’t worry I will not to bore you to death – comatose maybe, but dead surely not.)
The rules for Hebrew are surprisingly complex and somewhat rigid. For nouns and/or adjectives, there two basic kinds – absolute and construct. An absolute noun is free standing, like “horse” or “car” in English. A contruct word, however, requires that it be connected with the other noun or adjective that it accompanies, usually with the connector being like our word “of”. If two nouns are written side by side, and one is not construct, the are simply understood as two items, e.g. “house God” would not make much sense as they would be two unrelated nouns. Making one contruct adds relationship, and would be the equalivalent of adding an “of” between them, e.g. house of God.
Bear with me, as I am sure you are wondering where we are going and why it’s important.
Shaddai is a contruct noun form. When combined with el, which means “god”, it means that el shaddai should be read as “God of [something]”. God of what, however? This is where it gets interesting. If shadad is made into a contruct noun it becomes shadadai. If shad is construct, it becomes shaddai, exactly what we have in scripture. The Septuagint translators chose shadad as the correct noun, even though doing so broke the grammatical rules. Why, we might ask? Indeed, we should. The answer is in the meaning of the nouns.
Shadad, you see, is a nice masculine word – a really macho one, actually – that means “destroyer”. Ont eh other hand shad is a little softer – okay, a lot softer – and evidently carried a connotation the Greeks couldn’t live with. Shad means “breast”. So, with those choices, “destroyer God” (even though grammatically wrong) or “God of breasts”, the translaters grabbed hold of their manhood and declared God to be a man’s man – well, a man’s God, anyway. They softened their poor choice a little by choosing pantocrator, making it Almighty God.
What is at stake?
Well, whose tradition do you count as most informative of your own. The Hebrews, of which Jesus was one, or the Greeks for which the Hebrew tradition was translated?
One rabbinic tradition understands el shaddai to be “God of enough”. Where does that come from – destroyer or breasts? The breast is an all to common word associated with God throughout the Hebrew scriptures – one that represents both a pattern of use and a relationship to the rabbinic understanding. The “breast” is, throughout virtually all cultures, the source of nutrition, comfort and safety for the baby. Mothers have another fascinating aspect. Even if the mother is starving, the milk expressed through the breast will still contain all the essential nutrients for the child by taking them from the cells of the mother. As long as she stays hydrated, the mother’s body will starve itself to death to feed the baby. Giving one’s very life for the children – sound familiar. It should, God has also done just that through Jesus Christ.
So, choice – “God of enough” – do you get there from Destroyer God, hence Almighty God, or from God of Breasts? The longer, stronger and most related tradition to Christianity chooses the latter. Why then do we read Almighty God. Let’s face it, if you think God is a man, he can’t have breasts. Of course, if you think God is a man, you may be idolizing a piece of anatomy that you think God has, which would be a sin.
Effectively, the commonly occurring image of a God with feminine and motherly character has been stricken from the record by translating it out of scripture. Who did this? A culture which placed so little value on women that they could not bear the diety to have female characteristics, perhaps. We don’t know exactly why, even though we can guess, but we know it was. And, considering every English translation defers to the Septuagint, it is a tradition that continues unabated. Does that make it right?
To be continued. Return to Table of Contents