Holy Spirit: feminine form?

Discussion in 'Abrahamic Religions' started by barefootgal9, Apr 5, 2004.

  1. barefootgal9

    barefootgal9 Baha'i

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    Agreed.

    A question: You all use the masculine gender for the Holy Spirit. Is that an assumption, or is it implied in a text I've overlooked? Or just for "convenience?" Just wondering, as in Islamic tradition, I believe, and many of Baha'u'llah's more mystical texts, the Spirit takes feminine form ("The Maid of Heaven" etc)

    Sorry, I know this is off topic ... (I'll try to be better behaved next time...)

    bfg
     
  2. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    I've taken the liberty of splitting this from the "missing books of the Bible thread", as it is an interesting emphasis worth discussing in itself. :)
     
  3. barefootgal9

    barefootgal9 Baha'i

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    Thanks, Brian. It has tweaked my curiosity ... tho I don't know if it's critically important ... I'd like to explore it.

    bfg
     
  4. barefootgal9

    barefootgal9 Baha'i

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    The question, actually, does have some importance in Baha'i, primarily because of the phrase "but when He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will lead you unto all truth."

    In the Arabic language (which is linguistically close to Aramaic, I believe), spirit is femine, so to a Baha'i, the masculine tense here signals that Spirit refers to a person -- specifically, the Manifestation -- and so this is a reference to the future appearance of the Christ [much as Baha'u'llah refers back to Jesus as "The Spirit"]. Christians generally seem to take this to be a reference to the Holy Spirit. I don't know why. Is there a text that indicates that Holy Spirit and "Spirit of Truth" are the same thing? I see no reason to assume it... which tempts me to speculate it that because Jesus, Himself, didn't show up so immediately as expected, it was decided it must mean something else...

    I am not aware of any Biblical texts that support or deny either reading (maybe the epistles?). Nor am I aware of any texts that really explain what is meant by the Holy Spirit. In fact, it seems very little mentioned, outside of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus "like a dove." (Hmmm... wonder if "dove" is feminine or masculine?)

    I'm by no means a heavy-duty Bible scholar, so maybe the others here can help fill in my blanks.

    Another way this question becomes important, is that Christians often seem to take this phrase to mean that they will be infallibly guided directly by the Holy Spirit (they understand perfectly [eyes roll] and, ah!! can't get anything wrong!). (Surely, if all Christians were directly guided into "all truth" by the Holy Spirit, they would all be in full agreement on everything?!) In Baha'i belief, the ONLY person having direct connection and infallible Knowledge through the Spirit is the Christ/Manifestation of God -- "no one comes unto the Father but by Me." That divine Person is endowed with special capacity. The rest of us may have ocassional glimpses and nudges from inspiration, but our own limited concepts and imaginations prevent us from having perfect understanding.
     
  5. barefootgal9

    barefootgal9 Baha'i

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    Brian, could this topic be moved out to the general Monotheism forum - or even right out to the Comparative Studies folder -- rather than tucked inside Christianity? (I feel a little bit like an invader here!) I would hope that some of our scholarly types from other faiths will contribute. And anyway, the Holy Spirit isn't exclusive to Christianity!

    thanks
    bfg
     
  6. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Don't feel like an invader - this is a multifaith forum. :)

    I'll move it to Monotheism, though. :)
     
  7. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Kindest Regards, barefootgal9!

    I am not conversant well enough on the intricasies of Hebrew, but I believe bananabrain addressed this somewhat on another thread, in that the "Shekinah" is feminine in linguistic gender. What I have taken from my studies, long before learning this, is that "God" (including "Holy Spirit") is neutral in gender. I suspect a lot of the gender reference is cultural tradition. Just my two cents.
     
  8. gluadys

    gluadys New Member

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    A most interesting question and one of the sources of lively discussion in current Christianity.

    The Hebrew for "spirit" is "ruach" and is feminine in grammatical gender. The Greek equivalent "pneuma" is likewise grammatically feminine. Both words also mean "breath" and "wind".

    Yet in the New Testament, the feminine "pneuma" is consistently referred to with masculine personal pronouns.

    This may be because of the association of the Spirit with the clearly patriarchal and masculine God of the Old Testament and with the masculinity of the human Jesus.

    On the other hand, in addition to grammatical gender, there are tantalizing references in scripture which Christian feminists have drawn to our attention, that suggest a femininity as well as a masculinity in the divine nature--and some locate this femininity specifically in the Spirit.

    To give just one example. Genesis 1:1 "and the Spirit moved on the face of the waters"

    The waters here are symbolic of the primordial chaos. "moved" given the triple meaning of "ruach" could mean "breathed over" or "blew across". But that is only looking at the translation.

    The Hebrew verb here is a rare one referring to a very specific type of movement: the fluttering of a bird as it hovers over its nest.

    This gives us a whole new image of the Spirit of God. The image of a mother bird hovering over a cosmic egg about to hatch!! It suggests--in contrast to the usual Judaeo-Christian-Muslim image of the creator as maker---the creator as mother birthing the creation. A very feminine image indeed.


    btw: recent cosmological science has determined that the universe as we know it originated in an event nicknamed the "big bang". In one article I read, it was noted that physics tends to be a masculine preserve. Most women who go into science prefer other fields. The author speculated that if there had been more feminine presence in physics, what we have christened the "big bang" might have been known as the "great hatching". Hmmm...
     
  9. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste,

    thank you for the post.

    actually, the term "Big Bang" was coined by a Catholic Theologian to discredit the idea.. and the term has stuck :) usually, the term "big bang" is used to describe Inflationary Theory.

    so... i would imagine that this wouldn't have much bearing on the sparsity of females participating in physics... though i could be wrong :)
     
  10. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Actually, "Big Bang" I would have thought more the actual moment when energy became manifest - inflation (originated by Alan Guth) is a very specific way of describing the rate of expansion once the event was under way. :)

    But good points by gluadys about the use of verbs and gender - very interesting. :)
     
  11. gluadys

    gluadys New Member

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    Maybe the sparsity of females among Catholic theologians? :)
     
  12. barefootgal9

    barefootgal9 Baha'i

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    how 'bout "Big Push" ?

    we could get wonderfully matriarchal in this thread !

    ... the physical universe being pushed out of the matrix of the singularity ....

    ;-)

    Yes, let's get more women involved in physics! (think I read the same article -- Discover? -- it suggested women seem to choose careers with a more directly human service element -- maternal instinct?)

    I love mixing in physics with philosophy and religion. They do inform each other muchly!

    Ah! love the fluttering of the dove image ... could that bring some 'roundness' to the picture... the Spirit settling upon Jesus "like a dove"

    ... the second great hatching? (rebirth/resurrection of humanity?)

    (Aside, hmmm, Baha'i writings use the image of "two wings of a bird" to emphasize the equal importance of feminine and masculine)

    Sorry I "lost this thread" for a little while -- must have got unsubscribed when Brian moved it.

    Thanks, Brian. I look forward to some diversity of opinion!
     
  13. smkolins

    smkolins Bahá'í

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    feminine and masculine

    I hope my first post to the comparative-religion discussion area, and choosing the Spirit: feminine form? thread is auspicious. I happened on the site doing a search for something else in google and noticed the lists of world religions and it's lack of a Baha'i section - interesting given that a numerically small religion like Zoroastrianism has a section while the Baha'i Faith with easily 30 times the number of followers isn't present. Substantial and independent views can be seen at adherents.com . Perhaps that can change. Never the less it proved interesting enough I thought to register and contribute (I also noticed at least one old time friend posting.)

    The limitations of language will always fail to contain the spiritual truths. One of the simpler examples is the use of masculine pronouns in English to refer to some existences - God, the soul, any thing really. I would suggest that as God is neither male nor female in the Baha'i Writings so too is the soul. While it is certainly the case that being male or female, black or white, old or young, deaf or not and so many other possibilities, affect the way one understands and relates to the world, there is I think ample evidence that there is nothing inherent in any of those experiences which would flow from "being" any or any combination, of those forms. Otherwise a white girl brought up by black parents could not relate or love enough to overcome the social bariers those words remind us of. References to a gendered spirit or soul I think has meaning, to which one can delve, but need not be taken literally (though extremely important things can still be.)

    This is not to say that one's gender has no meaning - like all attributes, each is an expression of the divine and has something we aught to grow in understanding of both in relation to any/all other qualities and of it's own accord. Likewise attributes not only reveal - they hide. So they should not be taken as a stand-in for what they are not.

    Or such is my thinking of the moment.

    And yes, I too find the universe interesting.
     
  14. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Hi smkolins, and welcome to CR. :)

    Yes, you're not at all the first to comment on a lack of a Bahai section - but be patient. :)

    Zoroastrianism gets a listing because it's one of the major "traditional" world religions - although numerically small in the modern world, it is one of the oldest surviving religions on earth, is still followed internationally, and has had significant formative relationships with other major religions - Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, for example. :)
     
  15. barefootgal9

    barefootgal9 Baha'i

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    Greetings smkolins!

    This is an excellent site, but needs more participants! So nice to have you join us.

    I, Brian is an excellent host. and has promised us a bona fide link in the religion list. Meanwhile, we do have our own forum section now, under Monotheism.

    I look forward to seeing you around!

    bfg
     
  16. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    firstly, we consider the issue of gender to be obstructive to our understanding of the Divine. we can't help imposing our own biases. however, the solution is not necessarily "gender-neutrality". hebrew has no neuter - everything is one or t'other. however, the feminine names for the Divine are not generally known. for example E-L Sh-A-Da-Y (i don't like referring directly to Divine Names) is related to "shadayim", which means "breasts". and "Ha-RaHaMan", the "All-Merciful" is related to "rehem", which means "womb". there are other examples of indirect neutrality such as "Ha-MaQoM" - "the Place". the Shekhinah is more of a specific interface. in my liturgy, which is highly traditional iraqi, G!D is often addressed using the feminine pronoun "LaCh" rather than the masculine "LeCha" - which doesn't happen in the european liturgy. so i think it's a european problem rather than a jewish one.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  17. smkolins

    smkolins Bahá'í

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    welcome indeed

    Good to hear all around!

    Please don't mistake me - I respect Zoroastrianism very much. I've spent my hours hunting through dusty corners of dark library lanes hunting elusive English translations. Indeed it is rare to find significant mention of most of the religions you highlight - but increasingly such exhaustive efforts tend to show up the Baha'i Faith even among sites where no Baha'i has participated. I really do recommend the adherents.com site I offered above - it does a good job reviewing the question of major religions from many sides.

    And in some ways Baha'is don't make it easy for the rest of the world to notice. If you take the number of Baha'is and average it across the countries in which we have organized communities and compare with other religions only two come close - Christianity (taken as a whole) and Judaism. The Baha'is Faith is more widespread per population that Judaism and only slightly less than Christianity and of course Christianity manages only because of the far superior total numbers. All the other religions are more or less limited geographically. So it's hard to spot the Baha'is sometimes. We don't have thousands of years of presence in every society to be taken seriously and we aren't a majority anywhere.
     
  18. smkolins

    smkolins Bahá'í

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    gende attributes and God

    In this we are quite agreed. I don't take the Divine to be absent of attributes but that they "all merge into nothingness" before simply the presence of the Divine, let alone the Divine Itself.

    Baha'i Scripture often uses the same kind of terminology as I think is common in much religious scripture. The male pronouns are simply references whereas most of the descriptions, as far as they are attempted, ussually use femine attributes or neutral ones (at least in English.)

    Only a few ones also highlight the dangerous side of G-d (knod of respect) "Uprooter" or speaking of the "fear of God" vs Compassionate, Merciful, etc.
     
  19. barefootgal9

    barefootgal9 Baha'i

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    bananabrain - I'm confused. (that's ok. confused can be good.)

    You are in the UK practicing an Iraqi form of Judaism?

    Surely you are a unique creature in the world! :)

    Meanwhile, I have just been reading up on the repressive situation for the Jews in Iran (where Baha'is are also persecuted - sometimes as presumed "agents of Zionism!"). Are you native Iraqi? How did you come to be in the UK? What is the situation for Jews in Iraq today (I imagine pretty awful!) Oh. there I go again - that probably needs its own thread!

    Thank you for your comments on the genders in Hebrew texts -- perhaps it is only we of Western Christian upbringing who missed all this (English translations, sadly, lose all these "finer points.")
     
  20. barefootgal9

    barefootgal9 Baha'i

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    I love this imagery. There is a long mystical poem by Baha'u'llah just now in "provisional" (accuracy, authenticity still being checked) stage of translation which I find intriguing.

    It is (if I understand correctly) imagery symbolizing the interaction between the human spirit of the Manifestation of God (ie Christ/Prophet) and the Spirit of God/Revelation -- which is portrayed as a "Maid." Tho there is no reference to a Dove in the body of the poem, yet it is entitled "Ode of the Dove" - so I'm not sure if the "Dove" is the "Maid" or "Her Lover." I'll paste just a few lines of it, as I find it beautiful and fascinating, and I think you might enjoy it.

    1. I was enthralled by light rays from a face
    Whose advent dimmed and darkened every star,
    2. As though the sunbeams of Her beauty's glow
    appeared and dazzled planets from afar.
    3. Her joy diffused the musk of the unseen,
    Her stature raised the Spirit up above.
    4. The End-Time's Trump resounded when She blew;
    Her breath caused shadows of the clouds to move.
    5. Her gleam reveals Mount Sinai's deathlessness;
    Baha's bright light is kindled when She glows.
    6. Then to Her west the sun of splendor dawned,
    and to Her east, the moon of moons arose.
    7. The mistral's fragrance wafted from Her hair,
    and Beauty's eyes were solaced by Her gaze.
    8. Her shining face gave Guidance sage advice,
    and Moses' soul was cleansed by Her form's blaze.
    ... (127 stanzas)

    The whole text can be found at:

    http://bahai-library.com/?file=bahaullah_ode_dove_cole.html
     

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