In the Bible, as Christians know, humans resemble God. It’s noted inGenesis: we’re “made in the image of God” (1:26–28; 5:1–3; 9:6).
Christian tradition often explains this as meaning we have reason. But the language, as scholars note, refers to a physical object. The reality seems to be that being the “image of God” means that we look like God.
As Benjamin Sommer notes in a study of the subject: “The God of the Hebrew Bible has a body.” The deity is often seen as a human-like form (cf. Exo 33:19–23; Isa 6:5; Ezek 1:27–28; Amos 9:1).
God doesn’t seem to like the body He made, and shares. I love the Song of Songs 7:1: “The curves of your thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a master craftsman…”
The Bible starts out with two realms created one after another.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)
As not often understood by Christians, Heaven and Earth are male and female to each other. That God is more male isn’t a surprise. Note the pillars that are mark His territory (Gen 35:14, etc.), or the pillar of clouds and of fire during the Exodus.
As Sandra Jacobs writes: “The Hebrew Bible posits the human penis as the explicit, emblematic and exclusive symbol of religious identity and membership of the communal order.”
Similarly, the earth is seen as female. In “Mother Earth in Biblical Hebrew Literature,” Terje Stordalen details the references. Also note Romans 8:22, where the earth is “groaning” in childbirth.
I grew up hearing that old line about human beginnings: “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
That is not actually true. In Judaism and early Christianity, the first human is actually androgynous or hermaphrodite. “From Gen. 2:7 to 2:20, this creature has no name, no sex and no activity,” notes Mieke Bal.
Scholars continued to excavate the character and drama of this first human, who was split into male and female for reasons that aren’t quite clear. Kalina Wojciechowska suggests it was something of a model, living “without trying to elevate oneself, rule over others, or impose one’s will on them.”
The trouble comes after the human is split! As she says: “Humans ceased to be whole, complete or perfect beings. Instead, they became incomplete and imperfect, and much more susceptible to manipulations and lies, which led them to break God’s prohibition.”
I grew up being told that good Christian men have to be strong and masculine. Long hair would be seen as a religious violation, and for some interpreters, an offense extreme enough for excommunication.
I was shocked to learn that in the Bible, the ideal Israelite male seems to be on the feminine side. In Exodus 32–35, both men and women contribute gold earrings to create sacred objects. “The men of ancient Israel evidently liked dressing up, and there was no conflict between the heroic male and the prettified male,” notes David J.A. Clines.
In Judges 5:2, in a usual translation, we find: “When the princes in Israel take the lead…” But note the Jewish JPS translation:
When men let grow their hair in Israel,
When the people offer themselves willingly,
Bless ye the LORD.
Heroes like Joseph, Moses, David, Paul, etc.tend to use feminine references. It seems to be what God wants to see. As Jacob Neuser notes in Androgynous Judaism: “Masculine emotions — arrogance, impatience — produce disaster; feminine ones, redemption.”
Similarly, many important female figures take on male properties. After the original human was sexually split, it seems the wholeness is to be reacquired.
Christians don’t usually know really what a “temple” is—except maybe a nice building where you have events?
But in the Bible, a temple is a very special building. It’s where heaven and earth meet. Since deities and humans are seen as ‘married’, this process is described in sexual language and concepts. As Julie Galambush notes: “If the city is a woman, then the temple is her vagina…”
In Ezekiel 23:17, the Jerusalem temple is called the “bed of love.” It appears this temple was where God and Israelites ‘have sex’—which in some theological logic is where a co-mingling of deity and human occurs.
The sexual vision of the Bible is never other than complicated. Many spirit beings seem to change sex—as is usually suppressed in English translations.
“The gender of Jonah’s fish changes twice in the course of its appearance in the book,” notes Thomas M. Bolin. Grammatically, the fish is male in 2:1. On swallowing Jonah, it becomes female (2:2). When God tells the fish to expel Jonah, it’s male again (2:11).
The important angels called ‘Living Creatures’ in Ezekiel 1:5–25 have oscillating gender. Walter Wink explains:
“Throughout the vision there are feminine plurals of verbs, and feminine pronouns are used of the ‘living creatures’ where one would have expected masculine forms exclusively. Almost one-third of these verbs and pronouns — 12 out of 45 — are feminine.”
In Ezekiel 28, the angel often seen as ‘Lucifer’ is “a mixture of masculine and feminine forms,” notes Margaret Barker.
He will be called “son of Joseph” — by men — as in John 1:45, but as in Mark 6:3, Jesus seems better described as the “son of Mary.”
This expression, says the Bible scholar Andries van Aarde, notes that “Jesus is without identity, an illegitimate person without a father who could have given him credibility.”
Or perhaps, his identity is so “in between” that he can’t be described in ordinary terms. Hanna Wolff, the theologian and psychologist, called Jesus “androgynous” and a model of psychic totality, the first “anima-integrated male in world history . . .”
The gospel narratives are full of very strange details about his sexual presentation. As Lloyd D. Graham’s notes, the bleeding wound at his side can seem vaginal. It was seen that way throughout Christian tradition.