So, what does it sound like in Greek? There is a word for "godess," but it is not really in opposition to the word for "god." It is used for Athena, who is "the" godess - thea. In many circumstances, the word for "god" - theos - was good enough for both gods and godesses, just change the article so the grammar is correct. I am not too certain how the frequency of the two words compare, that is for female gods - are they gods or godesses?
Here is an example.
- Let not any goddess nor yet any god essay this thing,
μήτέ τις οὖν θήλεια θεὸς τό γε* μήτέ τις ἄρσην
- may not either any female god nor even any male [god]...
- When we speak of God, we use a masculine word, but let no thoughtless person accuse us of saying that God, is a man. It is not gender that is expressed but rather his name, its customary meaning and the way in which we habitually use words. The deity is not male, even though his name is of the masculine gender. In contrast, [pagans] attribute gender to the gods, by calling them either “god” of “goddess.” We cannot believe that God has a body, because if he did, he would have to be either male or female. (Arnobius, Against the Nations, 3.8, ACD vol 1, p38)
[Another of my insomniac posts. As Kurk points out, Arnobius wrote in Latin and here is the phrase,
- ' sive tu deus es sive dea '
I am leaving up my rewrite, because I still think that the word "godess" has as certain pagan flavour to it, and contrasts with "god" in a differenct way from how dea contrasts with deus. For Latin and Greek, the endings were grammatical in function, whereas in English they are now purely semantic.]
I am going to rephrase this for fun. I don't actually know what the Greek was for this,
- When we speak of god, we use a masculine word, but let no thoughtless person accuse us of saying that god is a man. It is not gender that is expressed but rather the name, its customary meaning and the way in which we habitually use words. The deity is not male, even though the name is of the masculine gender. In contrast, [pagans] attribute gender to the gods, by calling them either “god (m)” or “god (f).” We cannot believe that god has a body, because if so, god would have to be either male or female. (Arnobius, Against the Nations, 3.8, ACD vol 1, p38)
I don't care for the word 'prophetess' either. It makes prophet sound as if it belongs to the male and adding the -ess is as if the woman is intruding on male territory. But that is our English bias showing through. I would like to see all English endings like that dropped.
Didn't Arnobius write in Latin? Isn't the following the excerpt? Is the English translation you quote from George McCracken's from 1949? Below the Latin here is Archibald Hamilton Bryce's 1871 translation.
And to your point, couldn't "eum" be translated not only "him" but also "it"? And can't "eius" be more reasonably translated "her" !! and not "his" (as both McCracken and Bryce translate)??
Couldn't it be, "when we speak of it we use a masculine word"? And "For the Deity is not male, but her name is of the masculine gender?"
Ac ne tamen et nobis inconsideratus aliquis calumniam moveat, tamquam deum quem colimus marem esse credamus, ea scilicet causa, quod eum cum loquimur pronuntiamus genere masculino, intellegat non sexum sed usu et familiaritate sermonis appellationem eius et significantiam promi. Non enim deus mas est, sed nomen eius generis masculini est, quod idem vos dicere religione in vestra non quitis. Nam consuestis in precibus ' sive tu deus es sive dea ' dicere, quae dubitationis exceptio dare vos diis sexum diiunctione ex ipsa declarat. Adduci ergo non possumus, ut corpora credamus deum. Nam esse necesse est corpora, si sunt mares ac feminae, insignificativa et generum disiunctione. Quis enim vel exigui sensus nescit terrenorum ab illo animantium conditore non alia de causa generis diversi sexus institutos esse atque formatos, nisi ut per coitus et conubia corporum res caduca et labilis successionis perpetuae innovatione duraret?
And yet, that no thoughtless person may raise a false accusation against us, as though we believed God whom we worship to be male,-for this reason, that is, that when we speak of Him we use a masculine word,-let him understand that it is not sex which is expressed, but His name, and its meaning according to custom, and the way in which we are in the habit of using words. For the Deity is not male, but His name is of the masculine gender: but in your ceremonies you cannot say the same; for in your prayers you have been wont to say whether thou art god or goddess, and this uncertain description shows, even by their opposition, that you attribute sex to the gods. We cannot, then, be prevailed on to believe that the divine is embodied; for bodies must needs be distinguished by difference of sex, if they are male and female. For who, however mean his capacity, does not know that the sexes of different gender have been ordained and formed by the Creator of the creatures of earth, only that, by intercourse and union of bodies, that which is fleeting and transient may endure being ever renewed and maintained?
Thanks for this, Kurk. I have edited it. It seems as if the terms deus and dea meant that sex was attributed to the gods. Of course, each Roman and Greek god had gender, was a person, in the image of humanity. But "God" is quite different. Lots to think about here.
Excellent post, Suzanne.
It makes me wonder how many other of the early Church Writers felt the same way concerning the genderization of God.
It was a very muddled post, but has turned out to be a good conversation starter. Thanks for this.
Me? Muddled? Ha! That's what I like to do - start conversations.
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