David Clines: There is not a single instance in which the Hebrew Bible views God as female

David Clines: male, like Yahweh

I have just seen the future. On 18 July 2017, David Clines will deliver a paper at the SOTS Summer Meeting which provides a succinct but comprehensive take-down of the view that God is sometimes, in the Hebrew Bible, described as female.

The view that Yahweh sometimes gets described with female language is widespread in a type of second wave feminist–influenced biblical scholarship. Phyllis Trible is perhaps the most influential scholar who has expounded such a view. Clines doesn’t explicitly say it in these terms, but such scholarship also appears to be driven by a need to redeem the biblical text for the confessional needs of Christian and Jewish women. While understandable, the critical approach, by contrast, faces up to a more recalcitrant text which perpetuates the patriarchal assumptions of its authors.

To this end, Clines reviews “some 23 passages and terms that have been thought to attest female language about the deity under the topic headings of childbirth, midwifery, childcare, female household activities, other female activities… and two Hebrew terms (for Shaddai and mercy)”. For those familiar with the claims made by those who would redeem the text, the passages in the Hebrew Bible will come as no surprise (they aren’t very extensive to begin with). With emphasis on philological analysis, Clines seems intent not only on showing that the Bible does not present God as a woman, but denying any possibility of feminine imagery being applied to God. Edit: Although, checking back on this just before Clines’ delivery of the paper at SOTS, I see that, in his latest draft, he allows for the possibility of two instances of feminine imagery being applied to God (without any suggestion that they thereby present God as a woman): Isaiah 42.14 and Isaiah 66.13.

His conclusion is worth quoting:

For my part, I regret the damage done to the feminist cause by the repeated claim that the Bible is less masculine and less sexist than it actually is.
– David Clines, “Alleged Female Language about the Deity in the Hebrew Bible“, paper to be delivered at SOTS Summer Meeting 2017, 18 July

I look forward to future scholarship reclaiming the Bible as homophobic, ethically dubious, and politically suppressive, too.

See also: David Clines on whether women should speak in church, in the Christian Brethren Research Fellowship journal: <a href=”https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/cbrfj/10_33.pdf


5 thoughts on “David Clines: There is not a single instance in which the Hebrew Bible views God as female

  1. IMO, I have generally viewed most of it as a type of “apologetic” against the former polytheisms of the peoples who became the Hebrews/Judeans. The slander against Ahab’s wife is amazing yet the writer/editor says nothing about the non-jewish wives of other kings (David, Solomon). They never became truly monotheistic until around the 2nd – 1 st centuries BCE as I recall. Ezra the Editor also leaves at least one very uncomfortable story of human sacrifice in the Tanach (Ada). {Did this occur after the Covenant? I think it did.}


    • Also, there are numerous references to the Shekinah and Asherah in the Torah. I believe Asherah continues to be mentioned in the Tanach and the writers rail against the people setting up poles to her. These were very rude non-images so they were not “made” for her but everyone knew they symbolized her.


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