Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook

By Ross Shepard Kraemer | Go to book overview

SIX
The Feminine Divine

In a collection of documents on women's religions this last section may be the most difficult to justify. It presents a sampling of representations of the divine as feminine, without being able to answer the question of how such representations correlate with the gender of those who produce and valorize them. The inclusion of these texts here is not intended to suggest that it is women who either exclusively or primarily envision divinity as feminine or worship female deities. We know, of course, that this is patently untrue: goddesses are not per se the object of women's devotion, nor do they by definition reflect women's perceptions of themselves and the universe in which they live. On the contrary, men regularly venerate goddesses and other feminine aspects of the divine. Further, at least some, if not all, such figures, may be vehicles for the expression and exploration of male constructions of femininity. This is particularly true in polytheist cultures who perceive the divine by default as manifest in multiple forms and both genders.

Nevertheless, the relative absence of worship of feminine divinity that we see clearly in the male monotheism of Judaism and Christianity is an issue that cannot be ignored and that the presentation of these texts endeavors to raise. Despite the claim of theologians over the centuries that God has no gender, the move to monotheism in Western religious tradition has in fact meant the promulgation of a divinity who, from ancient Israel on, is repeatedly and primarily referred to with masculine terminology.1 Feminine aspects of the divine persist or recur in atten-

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1
Whether either Judaism or Christianity in antiquity was truly “monotheist” is a complex question. Many ancient Jews believed in the existence of a powerful second divine figure, sometimes known as the Name-Bearing Angel (meaning the angel who bears the name of God); see, e.g., Jarl E. Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord: Samaritan and Jewish Concepts of Intermediation and the Origin of Gnosticism (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1985); Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977); see also the discussion in Ross Shepard Kraemer, When Aseneth Met Joseph: A Late Antique Tale of the Biblical Patriarch and His Egyptian Wife, Reconsidered (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 110–54.

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Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations xxv
  • Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World *
  • Introduction 3
  • One - Observances, Rituals, and Festivals 9
  • Two - Researching Real Women: Documents To, From, and by Women 117
  • Three - Religious Office 241
  • Four - New Religious Affiliation and Conversion 279
  • Five - Holy, Pious, and Exemplary Women 329
  • Six - The Feminine Divine 415
  • Index of Female Names 479
  • Index of Ancient Sources 484
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