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

David Clines: “The Significance of the ‘Sons of God’ Episode (Genesis 6:1-4) in the Context of the ‘Primeval History’ (Genesis 1–11)”

David J.A. Clines: One of the גברים אשר מעולם?
David J.A. Clines: One of the the גברים אשר מעולם?

David Clines has made available a paper he wrote in 1972 on the unusual story found in Genesis 6:1-4 about “the sons of god(s)” who had sex with “the daughters of men” and sired Nephilim (the “heroes of old”, the “warriors of renown”).

The Significance of the “Sons of God” Episode (Genesis 6:1-4) in the Context of the “Primeval History” (Genesis 1–11), originally published in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 13 (1979): 33-46.

Scholars have made a few different suggestions regarding the meaning of the phrase “sons of god(s)” (בני האלהים). Does it refer to demigods or angels? or to the Sethite line of human beings (in Genesis 5) in contrast to the Cainite line (of Genesis 4), or vice versa? or to human rulers or princes? In general, there is a debate as to whether “sons of god(s)” refers to divine or human entities.

Anticipating an issue which has come up in the current debate about monotheism and polytheism in ancient Israel and classical and later Greece and Rome, David Clines suggests that this split between human and divine options may not be so clear-cut, in particular with respect to rulers, and even more in particular to antediluvian rulers:

[T]he author of Gen. 6.1-4 in its present form did not work with a system of closed categories in which ‘sons of God’ must be either human or non-human. Are the בני האלהים here then both divine beings and antediluvian rulers?
(p. 4)

Interpreted this way, the strange episode does not appear to be such an intrusion into the Primeval History (Genesis 1-11). Clines goes on to document other connections that he sees Gen 6:1-4 as sharing with the remainder of Genesis 1-11 and with the following Flood Narrative (Genesis 6:5-9:17).