Is Yahweh a Hermaphrodite?

Of course Yahweh isn’t! But that was the title of an article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, however. The article, “Is God a Hermaphrodite?“, makes reference to an article published in the CCAR Journal that argues the four-letter name for God in the Hebrew Bible (יהוה or YHWH, most often vocalized by scholars as Yahweh) is best understood mystically to refer to the Hebrew pronouns for “he” and “she.”

Here is an excerpt from the Tribune article:

Rabbi Mark Sameth, the New York rabbi who wrote the article, said yes indeed. Based on 13 years of study, he has concluded that God is a hermaphrodite.

“If we read the text as a mystic might, paying extremely close attention, assuming that the text conceals more than it reveals, we may find hints regarding God’s androgynous nature, so to speak, peeking out through the surface level of the Torah,” he wrote in the CCAR Journal.

“If Moses’ name spelled backward becomes the name HaShem [God’s name,] might not God’s name spelled backward similarly reflect something essential about humankind? Indeed it does.”

Sameth argues that when the four letters are arranged in their proper order, they spell out the sounds of the Hebrew words for “he” and “she” or “hu” and “he.” Therefore, the ancient Israelites’ notion of God was not masculine, but dual-gendered, or hermaphroditic.

Sameth doesn’t advocate suddenly saying the name—backward or forward. But he does encourage Jews to open their minds and think more inclusively about God.

Yeah, OK. I guess if you want to read words backwards or change the order of the letters themselves almost anything is possible! That being said, I do see some validity to gematria in the Hebrew Bible, but this isn’t one of those cases.

What do you think? Has anyone read the actual article?

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7 Responses to Is Yahweh a Hermaphrodite?

  1. If God’s name spelled backwards reads “he/she”, thereby indicating that God is a hermaphrodite, by the same logic the fact that Moses’ name spelled backwards is ha-shem should indicate that Moses is God. Then, by applying the transitive property of equality, we can definitely state that Moses was a hermaphrodite. QED.

    It would explain the unisex robes everyone wore back then.

  2. The statement that God’s image is male and female is explicit on the 6th day (Gen 1:27). I read the last two cola ‘in the image of God made he him, male and female made he them’ as parallels, the second elaborating on the first. I am sure I am not the first to do this. Personally I find this a liberating verse. It stops me from considering woman as defective male. It stops me from considering myself as defective male also! We’re both allowed our share of tenderness and strength.

  3. Hey Bob… I too like Barth’s interpretation of the image as incorporating male and female (the poetic parallelism supports it), but to argue that from a mystical understanding of the Tetragrammaton is a bit much. As Kevin demonstrates, you can demonstrate almost anything with such manipulations (e.g., Bible codes).

  4. Rob Manning says:

    I was always under the impression that Christians (and Jews) always taught that God was neither male nor female. The only reason that we refer to God as Father is because of the inherent masculinity of Hebrew and the fact that God’s traits were more often associated with a Father (though sometimes as a Mother as well).

    So why did it take this Rabbi 13 years to discover something that everyone knew already and why did it take doing such an obviously sketchy method to enlighten him. If I used his method in my exegesis of a Hebrew passage I’m sure Tyler would give me a big fat F!


  5. Hey Rob,

    I’m not sure calling God a hermaphrodite is the same as saying God is neither male or female. Either way, I too would like to read the article to find out why it too so long to “discover” this interpretation. Perhaps this could be another “bawdy and naughty” bit of the Hebrew Bible (though I don’t think it would pass the “Zevit” test).

  6. harkabir says:

    This works equally well for Arabic. In Arabic YHWH would be يهوه and read backwards it reads HW HY هو هي “he” “she”.
    A very interesting aspect to a divine name of God. Thanks for posting.

  7. I agree that manipulations such as this are simply dangerous and not, necessarily, the intended use of the Word. I agree with the rabbi’s desire to open people’s minds and think of God outside of the box, but to use the term hermaphrodite is limiting, as most language. For me the term spurs physical thoughts as opposed to spiritual ones. God is not a hermaphrodite with a human body, both systems as the terms states; but rather a spirit with, yes, both masculine and feminine characteristics. But, again, this is limiting for He is not solely those two but so much more. Thanks for letting me share.

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