James McGrath has just mentioned his interest in the Mandaeans. This is perhaps as good a time as any for me to bring up the gender of the holy spirit in Aramaic. The holy spirit for the Mandaeans was a female deity of ambiguous moral nature. Jorunn Jacobsen writes,
- Mandaeism presents Ruha (Spirit) largely as a leader of the forces of darkness opposing those of the Lightworld. Traditionally, most scholars have labeled her as evil, and it is true that she possesses abundant negative traits. One of her epithets is Ruha d-Qudša (Holy Spirit), a devalued Christian Holy Spirit, it seems. A mistress of the detested Jewish god Adonai, Ruha is also the mother of the malignant zodiac spirits and of the planets.
Still, there are good reasons to see Ruha as a fallen wisdom figure, resembling Sophia (Wisdom) in other Gnostic traditions. Mandaean materials testifying to such a view of Ruha include passages in which she speaks and behaves in ways one would not expect of a force hostile to the Lightworld. She displays dramatic mood swings, suffers, and utters revelatory speeches uncharacteristic of a figure of darkness. Instead of seeing these passages as atypical occurrences thwarting a scholarly, imposed negative pattern, I think it is useful to take them as clues to Ruha's own ambivalence and to her ambiguous personality. This chapter, therefore, offers a sustained examination of the stories in which Ruha appears as ambiguous or in a downright positive light. Four sets of mythological traditions, taken from a variety of texts, will serve to illustrate my point.
Both Greek and Aramaic gnostic groups had a feminine divine character, either Sophia or Ruha. In fact, the Holy Spirit did not become unambiguously masculine in English Bible translations until the 19th century.