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Venus Creations

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Written by Basil on 06/2/2004 7:38 PM. Filed under:

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Victoria asks, “[W]hy should it be that what women do (have babies) leads to worshiping the creation? Whereas what men do, including the Holy Spirit (provide ‘seed’) — and again, I am not trying to be rude or stir up trouble — leads to worshipping the Creator?”

An excellent question, much like one asked by a very troublesome catechumen many years ago. I say this while winking in her general direction, because you would never know this pious woman ever raged against the Church’s legacy. She was rankled by the apparent dismissal by the Church of women and their contribution, evidenced by their exclusion from holy Orders. Today, she even covers her head in Church! You would hardly recognize her as the argumentative person we knew before.

I remember well my response, because with it a light dawned in her eyes, and she started showing a softer, receptive attitude towards Orthodoxy. Victoria is asking in a completely different spirit, of course, but I see the same honest struggle with the questions facing post-feminist Orthodox women.

The answer is intimately linked with the mythology and symbology of the ancient Near-East. Though the mythology is very localized, much of the symbolism is quite universal. You’ll remember that in the Enuma Elish humans were created from the body of the defeated goddess Tiamat. In the Jewish creation myths — more anti-myths, judging from their deliberate opposition of symbols to those familiar to their audience — humans are created from earth, from dirt. They are created in the divine image, but they have nothing of the divine substance within them.

Male gods are separate from their creation, while goddesses create from themselves — they pass on to their creation their own substance. The creation of a god is completely other and separate from him, while a goddess nurtures her creation within herself, flesh of her own divine flesh, and then gives birth to it. (Indeed, in most polytheistic religions, a god needs a goddess to be creative.)

In the Jewish mythology, the writers were careful to craft a creation story that portrayed God as masculine — though not male. He is completely separate from his creation. At no point in the creation stories is he portrayed as nurturing the creation as mother would a gestating child, or giving birth to the creation.

There are two nods in this direction: In the first creation story, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Gen 1.2) This conjures images of a mother bird covering her chicks with her wings — yet, we do not see the creation taken out of the divine substance. In the second creation story (Gen 2.4-25), where Adam is fashioned from soil and receives the breath of life from God. The story here plays on the word breath, which in Hebrew and Greek is the word for spirit. Here it is even clearer, the man is “fashioned” from soil, from dirt, and then given life by the Spirit of God. The parallel to the Tiamat myth is present, and so is the clear opposition to it. Humans are not made from God, nor from a goddess: We are made from dirt, and we will return to dirt when our days on earth come to an end.

Hopefully, this provides some insight into why it might be of more than passing significance that God has a masculine and not a feminine gender — while of course being neither male nor female, having no sex. Ultimately, the Orthodox Church will resist all attempts to feminize God out of fidelity to the Faith we have received, but sometimes it helps to see some of the possible reasons why.

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7 Responses to “Venus Creations”

  1. Karl Thienes Says:

    Great post. While studying ancient Greek mythology as an Inquirer, I gained a much deeper appreciation of
    certain aspects of Orthodoxy…much along these lines.

  2. pete Says:

    isn’t the name for “God” in the feminine in Hebrew?

  3. pete Says:

    and while God may not be portrayed as feminine in the creation story, he is portrayed as such in other places. for example, Hosea 13:8 portrays God as a mother bear. No animal in all of nature is as dangerous as a mother bear defending her cubs. while this image may not seem especially “feminine” in a western sense, there it is.

    i’ve broken my promise to not comment on theological issues. i apologize. i have no doubt, though, that my statement will meet disagreement anyway. when people are predisposed to believe certain things, they are unlikely to change their minds, i think.

  4. basil Says:

    Pete, I will defer to your knowledge of Hebrew on the gender of YHWH, elohim, et al. However, my point was that the creation is never portrayed as coming from the substance of God — there is no divine substance in humanity or in any other part of creation. Christian orthodoxy of all varieties is absolutelyconsistent in holding that creation ex nihilo — out of nothing — is essential. (I seem to remember Judaism holding a similar view, but maybe I’m wrong.) We were not created out of God-stuff; we are not demi-gods. Our existence is entirely dependent upon God’s willing us into existence. That is the main point in examining the gendering differences between fertility religions and Christian monotheism.

  5. pete Says:

    the point you’re making is fine, and i’m not disputing it. it’s your evidential statements that were problematic, which is what i was taking issue with.

  6. basil Says:

    BTW, which of the Hebrew references for God is feminine?

  7. alana Says:

    In languages that have masculine, feminine and neuter pronouns given to nouns, like table, chair, fork, etc., there is not this idea that this equates with gender, per se…

    Great post, Basil. This stuff has been rattling around in my head for so long I’ve forgotten it.