Motherly Mediator, Lonely God, God’s Mother

In Marvin Pope’s Song of Songs, three items stood out to me.  Pope is talking mostly about the Kabbalah, a work of Jewish mysticism:

1.  Page 162-163: The issue of polytheism versus monotheism which exercised the intellectuals did not greatly concern the masses to whom the simple idea of a motherly mediator was comprehensible and convenient.

Why do people want a motherly mediator between themselves and God?  Is it because they think mommy is nicer than daddy?  Some have suggested that Catholics honor the Virgin Mary for this reason.  In their conceptualization of Catholicism, God is aloof and stern against sin, but Mary is compassionate, like many women.  And so Catholics ask Mary to intercede on their behalf before the Father and the Son.

But I’m not sure if all female gods are nurturers.  Some in the ancient Near East were warriors.  On page 163, Pope discusses the Hindu goddess Kali, who is thirsty for blood, slaughters, and demands human and animal sacrifices.  She’s sort of like the Logos in Greek conceptions of God—the one who is the hands, arms, and feet of the transcendent deity.  If Shiva, the “great lord of procreation”, unites with her, then he “is able to exert his powers as lord; without her, he is not able to stir.”  Kali does have motherly instincts, however, for she “creates, nourishes, [and] comforts,” although she also “disciplines, and destroys.”  She’s like David’s description of God in Stephen King’s Desperation: maybe God is a little bit of everything! 

Personally, I don’t need a goddess, for my God nurtures like a mother, while also opposing my sin, as a father would.   

2. The Zohar, which is a document of Jewish mysticism, has a God who is plural, in that he possesses different features.  On page 166, Pope quotes Raphael Patai, who offers an explanation for “the development of the Zoharic doctrine”:

Man everywhere fashions his gods in his own image, and familism was, and has remained until quite recently, a most important factor, if not the central one, in the socio-psychological image of the Jew.  The Jew could not imagine a Jewish life without the family, nor one not centered around the family.  The lone, aloof God, adored by the Jews up to the time of the Kabbalistic upsurge, could not satisfy the emotional craving which sought a reflection of earthly life in the heavenly realm.

That may explain why so many religions have a pantheon of gods—a top god with a bunch of divine sons and daughters.  It’s reflecting our families.  (Or there are Christians who argue that our families reflect God, who is a family.)  Why, then, did Judaism go another route and embrace monotheism, the belief in only one God?  In my posts, God’s Size, Differences, Three Stages, Moving to the City, Dying and Rising Gods, the King as God, Renegade Priest in Eden and Emergence of Monotheism, Drunken El, Antichrist Defeats the Hosts, Palin on O’Reilly, I discuss Mark Smith’s ideas in The Origins of Biblical Monotheism.  According to Smith, the decline of the Israelite family was a factor in ancient Israel’s shift from polytheism to monotheism, as was Israelite reaction against the attempts of Assyria to create a new world order under its dominion.

But Patai’s quote is somewhat sad.  It reminds me of the poem about God’s creation, in which God says, “I’m lonely.  I’ll make me a world!” 

Tim Keller once said, however, that the God of Christianity is not lonely, for he has always existed in three persons.  God did not make us, therefore, to compensate for any deficiency that he had, but out of love.

3. In my post, Two Views on Song of Songs (Which I’m Too Tired to Evaluate), I discuss with Emet the question of whether or not the Song of Songs is about God’s love for Israel.  In my comments, I doubt that the shepherd is God, for Song of Songs 8:5 says that his mother bore him under a fruit-tree, and God doesn’t have a mother.  On page 164 of Pope’s commentary, however, I was reminded of how the rabbis got around this.  Song of Songs Rabbah 3:11 says that God called Israel his mother as a term of endearment, and Isaiah 51:4 is cited as a proof-text, only “my people” is repointed to read “my mother.”  But what about the part about the mother bearing him?  How do the rabbis get around that?  I looked at Rashi and Song of Songs Rabbah 8:3, and they appear to treat that as an expression for Israel’s sufferings, which are likened to birth-pains in the Bible (Hosea 13:13).

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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