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The Holy Spirit as Feminine in Early Syriac Literature

The Holy Spirit as Feminine in Early Syriac Literature

Sebastian Brock
First published as Ch. 5, in After Eve,
edited by Janet Martin Soskice.
Collins Marshall Pickering, 1990
Reproduced on our website with the necessary permissions

In his Commentary on Isaiah.(1) Jerome quotes from a passage in the Gospel according to the Hebrews where Jesus proclaims that 'my mother the Holy Spirit has taken me . . . [and conveyed me to Mount Tabor]'. No one should be scandalised on this matter, comments Jerome, in that 'Spirit' is feminine in Hebrew, but masculine in 'our language' (Latin) and neuter in Greek, 'for in the deity there is no gender' [in divinitate enim nullus est sexus]. The aim of this paper is to explore some of the repercussions of this grammatical feature of the Semitic languages in the history of the only early Christian literature to have been written in one of these languages, namely Syriac.

Although the New Testament was written in Greek, Christianity was born in a Semitic milieu and Jesus himself will have spoken Aramaic (of which Syriac is a dialect). Likewise, in those parts of the eastern Roman Empire where Aramaic, rather than Greek, was both spoken and written (such as much of Syria and Palestine), Aramaic became the language of many early Christian communities; accordingly, when these communities spoke of the Holy Spirit they naturally used the standard Aramaic word for 'spirit', ruha (also 'wind' as pneuma), which, like Hebrew ruah, is grammatically feminine. Thus, when referring to the Holy Spirit, they used the feminine forms of adjectives, verbs, etc. What effect does this purely grammatical feature have on their understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit? In what way does it affect the images and metaphors they use of the Spirit? In particular is the image of the Holy Spirit as 'mother' found elsewhere, as well as in the Gospel according to the Hebrews?

Before turning to the evidence of Syriac literature we should briefly look at the role of grammatical gender in different languages, for it is important to realise that differences in this role will give rise to different sensitivities. For our present purpose it will suffice to notice five different possibilities.

(1) In English there are separate pronouns, 'he', 'she', 'it', but no special feminine forms for the article, for adjectives or for verbs. Gender is thus mostly confined to persons.

(2) French has only the masculine and feminine pronouns, but it also has separate feminine forms for the article and adjectives. Thus, for example, 1'Esprit is grammatically masculine. Gender affects things as well as persons.

3) The situation in Greek is similar to that in French, except that there are three separate pronouns. Thus to pneuma to hagwn is neuter.

(4) In Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac, while there are only two pronouns, masculine and feminine, separate feminine forms exist for verbs as well as for adjectives (but not for the article).

(5) In certain languages, such as Armenian, no grammatical gender exists and a single pronoun covers both 'he' and 'she'. Revisers of modern liturgies and biblical translations will lament that the English language does not have this simple solution to the problem of 'sexist language'.

This difference in the role played by grammatical gender in different languages means that we should not necessarily think that the surprise which we may feel if we hear the Holy Spirit described as 'she' would have also been felt in a language where the word for 'spirit' is feminine anyway.

With these preliminaries let us turn to see what happens in the literature of the Syriac-speaking Church. First of all, it is important to look at these texts in historical perspective, for over the course of time practice can be observed to change. Three stages can be identified:

(1) In the earliest literature up to about AD 400 the Holy Spirit is virtually always treated grammatically as feminine. This is the norm in the three main monuments of early Syriac literature, the Acts of Thomas, and the writings of Aphrahat and Ephrem.

(2) From the early fifth century onwards it is evident that some people began to disapprove of treating the Holy Spirit as grammatically feminine; accordingly, in defiance of the grammatical rules of the language, they treated the word ruha as masculine wherever it referred to the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this shift in practice was in part due to the ever increasing prestige of the Greek language (though of course pneuma is neuter, rather than masculine).

(3) From the sixth century onwards what had been only sporadic practice in the fifth century now becomes the norm, ruha, referring to the Holy Spirit, is regularly treated as masculine. Even so, the original feminine was not completely ousted, for it can still occasionally be found, chiefly in liturgical texts and in poetry (where some poets use either masculine or feminine, depending on which best fits their immediate metrical requirements).

This three-stage development happens to be neatly reflected in the history of the biblical translations into Syriac. Thus in the Old Syriac translation of the Gospels, dating from the late second or early third century, the Holy Spirit regularly features grammatically as feminine. In the revised translation of the Syriac New Testament, known as the Peshitta, and produced in the early fifth century, we find that although the feminine has been preserved in many places, there are also some where the gender has been altered to masculine. Finally, in the early seventh-century version known as the Harklean (a masterpiece of mirror translation) ruha is regularly treated as masculine wherever it refers to the Holy Spirit. It is likely that this practice was also adopted in the Philoxenian revision of 507/8, now lost apart from quotations.

These developments may be illustrated by means of some examples, beginning with the Syriac Bible.

Rather surprisingly there are only two places in the Gospels where the revisers who produced the Peshitta chose to alter the feminine of the Old Syriac to masculine; it so happens that both are passages where the Holy Spirit 'teaches' (Luke 12.12 and John 14.26). Much more frequently in the Gospels the Peshitta simply retains the feminine of the Old Syriac; this includes two contexts of central importance, the Annunciation (Luke 1.35) and the Baptism.(2) It is, curiously, in Acts that the Peshitta provides the highest number of cases where a masculine form is used in connection with the Holy

Spirit (nine instances),(3) but even in that book the feminine survives in a further seven passages.(4) There appears to be no clear rationale behind this variation in usage. In the Peshitta of the Epistles, on the other hand, the archaic usage with the feminine is kept throughout.(5)

The only consistent alteration made by the Peshitta revisers (and this is confined to the Gospels) concerns the precise Syriac terminology for the Holy Spirit. Although the Old Syriac normally employs the phrase 'Spirit of holiness', ruha d-qudsha, of Jewish origin,(6) in five passages(7) it uses instead the feminine adjective, ruha qaddishta, 'Holy Spirit'; all five of these the Peshitta alters to ruha d-qudsha, though the feminine is retained in the single case (Luke 2.25) where the context does not leave the gender indeterminate. This situation is quite different from that in the Peshitta Epistles, where ruha. qaddishta is to be found at Eph. 4:30 and 1 Thess. 4:8. It comes as no surprise to find that the form with the masculine adjective, ruha qaddisha, occurs only in the post-Peshitta version of the minor Catholic Epistles known as the Pococke Epistles (early sixth century?), and in the Harklean New Testament.(8)

The alteration to masculine of biblical passages which originally had feminine can also take place at a subsequent stage, either in the manuscript tradition of the Syriac Bible, or in quotations by later writers. Two examples will suffice. In the much used Psalm 51 the original Peshitta text has the feminine adjective in verse 13, 'Take not thy Holy Spirit, ruhak qaddishta, from me'; this is preserved only in a few of the oldest manuscripts,(9) and the alteration to masculine qaddisha is already found in the earliest complete Syriac Bible, Codex Ambrosianus, of the six/seventh century. Another important verse is 1 Cor. 3.16, where the Peshitta uses the feminine: 'The Spirit of God dwells ('amra, feminine) in you'. The great Syrian Orthodox theologian Philoxenus (died 523) alters the verb to the masculine ('amar) when he quotes the passage;(10) the same phenomenon can be observed when he quotes other key New Testament passages referring to the activity of the Spirit, such as Luke 1.35;(11) it is thus likely that the (lost) Philoxenian revision of the Syriac New Testament regularly removed usage with the feminine, anticipating the Harklean's practice. The same phenomenon can be observed in the transmission of Christian Palestinian Aramaic biblical texts. In this version (of uncertain date, possibly Fifth century) the feminine is the norm, but at Luke 3.22, for example, some manuscripts have altered the verb to masculine.

Before turning to non-biblical literature one further analogous feature of the Syriac Gospels should be mentioned. In Syriac Logos, 'Word', is translated by another feminine noun, mellta. Accordingly in the Prologue of the Gospel of John the Old Syriac treats Mellta, the Logos, as feminine, and this usage is reflected, not only in the fourth-century writer Ephrem (which is to be expected);(12) but also very occasionally in texts of the fifth, or even later centuries,(13) even though in the Peshitta revision the gender had already been altered to masculine.

In the non-biblical literature of the earliest of the three periods outlined above it is very exceptional to find cases where the Holy Spirit is treated grammatically as masculine. Curiously enough the one text where the masculine adjective (ruha) qaddisha does occur several times is the archaic Odes of Solomon, (14)The fifth century is clearly the period of transition, and it would be of interest to trace in detail the development of usage over the course of the century in different texts. This task remains to be done, but my general impression is that it is those writers who are more theologically aware (aware, that is, of contemporary controversies) who are more likely to employ the masculine. Thus, towards the end of the century, both Narsai (in the Antiochene christological tradition) and Philoxenus (in the Alexandrine) use the masculine, while the author of the Life of Symeon the Stylite still employs the feminine.(16)The great poet Jacob of Serugh (died 521) happily uses both feminine and masculine, indifferently.''(17)

From the sixth century onwards usage with the masculine (and normally with ruha qaddisha, rather than ruha d-qudsha) appears to be invariable in theological writing, and it is only sporadically in poetry that the feminine is still to be found (many examples - still in liturgical use - can be gathered from the pages of the Fenqitho and Hudra, the Festal Hymnaries of the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of the East).

Thus far we have solely been concerned with surface phenomena connected with the grammatical structure of the language. Does this fact that the Holy Spirit is grammatically feminine in the earliest Syriac literature have any effect on the way people envisaged the role of the Spirit? That it did is suggested by a passage in the Gospel according to Philip, a work preserved only in Coptic (among the Nag Hammadi finds) but probably having a Syrian background; here, at §17 we find: 'Some have said, "Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit". They are wrong . . . when did a woman ever conceive of a woman?' Passages implying that the Spirit acts in a male role as the source of Mary's conception can be found in some later liturgical texts, such as the following, where Gabriel addresses Mary: 'You shall discover a wonderful conception: without [human] seed or intercourse, your conception shall be from the Holy Spirit, O Virgin.(18) It was perhaps in order to obviate such a literalist reading of Luke 1.35 that many later Syriac writers deliberately distinguish between the 'Holy Spirit' and the 'Power of the Most High' in that verse, identifying the Power (hayla, masculine in Syriac) as the Logos.(19)

The author of the Gospel according to Philip clearly sees the Spirit as female, and it is this, evidently Semitic, tradition that is represented in a number of early Syriac works where we encounter the Spirit as Mother.(20) The Acts of Thomas, perhaps of the third century, is the earliest of these. This work, whose original language was Syriac (this is now generally agreed), survives in a re-worked Syriac form and in a Greek translation which was made from a more primitive form of the Syriac original. Thus, in the course of several prayers uttered by Judas Thomas, the Greek text includes several invocations to the Holy Spirit as 'Mother'; in the surviving Syriac, however, this term is always absent, presumably having been removed on the grounds that it was no longer considered appropriate. The relevant passages in the Greek text are as follows:(21)

§27 [In a baptismal context; the invocation is addressed to both the Son and the Spirit.] Come, holy name of Christ, which is above every name; come Power of the Most High, and perfect mercy; come exalted gift [i.e. the Holy Spirit]; come, compassionate mother . . . [For 'compassionate mother' the Syriac has nothing corresponding.]

§50 [An invocation to the Spirit in the context of the Eucharist.] . . . Come, hidden mother . . . come, and make us share in this Eucharist which we perform in your name, and [make us share] in the love to which we are joined by invoking you. [The Syriac again removes the reference to the Spirit as 'mother'.]

§133 [In the course of a trinitarian invocation in the context of the Eucharist.] We name over you [the newly baptised] the name of the Mother. [Syriac: the name of the Spirit.]

In one further passage, a prayer in §39, the Greek text has an intrusive 'and', wrongly separating the epithet Mother from the Holy Spirit: 'We hymn you [Christ] and your unseen Father and your Holy Spirit and the Mother of all created things.'(22)

In these passages we have clear evidence of a Trinity envisaged as consisting of Father, Mother and Son. Traces of this are also to be found in the archaic poem known as the Hymn of the Pearl (or, of the Soul), incorporated into the Acts of Thomas. The poem describes how a royal son was sent by his father and mother, the king and the queen, from the highlands of the East (the heavenly world) to go to Egypt (the fallen world) in order to collect a pearl from the mouth of a dragon. Although the interpretation of the poem has been much disputed,(23) a reasonable case can be made out for seeing the son as representing in some senses both Adam/humanity and Christ the Word who rescues him. In Egypt the son receives a letter from his parents which begins: 'From your Father, the King of kings, and your Mother, the Mistress of the East', and later he uses the names of his father and mother in an invocation to charm the dragon so that he can extract the pearl. In some sense or other it seems likely that the King and the Queen are to be identified as the Father and the Holy Spirit; in any case, this was the Christian reading of the poem in antiquity.

The Acts of Thomas might be considered as belonging at best only to the fringes of orthodoxy. It is not, however, the only placein early Syriac literature where we encounter the Spirit as Mother.

A thoroughly orthodox witness to this tradition is Aphrahat, writing in the middle of the fourth century. Aphrahat, or the Persian Sage as he was called, lived within the Sasanid Empire, and so it is no great surprise that his theological language seems archaic when compared with that of his contemporaries writing within the Roman Empire. In a work dealing mainly with virginity he has the following interpretation of Genesis 2.24 ('a man shall leave his father and mother'):(24)

Who is it who leaves father and mother to take a wife? The meaning is as follows: as long as a man has not taken a wife, he loves and reveres God his Father and the Holy Spirit his Mother, and he has no other love. But when a man takes a wife, then he leaves his (true) Father and his Mother.

The seeds for such an interpretation had already been sown by Philo (not that Aphrahat would have read him) in his Allegorical Interpretation (of Gen. 2-3). At 11.49, after quoting Gen. 2.24, he says: (25)

For the sake of sense-perception the Mind, when it has become her slave, abandons both God the Father of the universe, and God's excellence and wisdom, the Mother of all things, and cleaves to and becomes one with sense-perception and is resolved into sense-perception so that the two become one flesh and one experience.

Closer to Aphrahat in time, space and spirit, however, are the Macarian Homilies, whose Syrian/Mesopotamian origin in the fourth/fifth century is now generally admitted. Here we encounter the following passage, which again reflects Gen.2.24.(26)

It is right and-fitting, children, for you to have left all that is temporal and to have gone off to God: instead of an earthly father you are seeking the heavenly Father, and instead of a mother who is subject to corruption, you have as a Mother the excellent Spirit of God, and the heavenly Jerusalem. Instead of the brothers you have left you now have the Lord who has allowed himself to be called brother of the faithful.

It is important to realise that the image of the Holy Spirit as Mother is by no means confined to Syriac writers or to those working in a Semitic milieu. Thus Hippolytus, writing in Greek c.200, describes Isaac as an image of God the Father, his wife Rebecca as an image of the Holy Spirit, and their son Jacob as an image of Christ - or of the Church.(27) Most striking in this respect, however, is the second Hymn of the highly cultured Synesios, Bishop of Gyrene from 410-13. After addressing the Father and the Son he turns to the Spirit:(28)I sing of the [Father's] travail, the fecund will, the intermediary principle, the Holy Breath/Inspiration, the centre point of the Parent, the centre point of the Child: she is mother, she is sister, she is daughter; she has delivered [i.e. as midwife] the hidden root.

Examples of the same kind of imagery used of the Spirit can also be found in a few Latin writers, most notably in Marius Victorinus (mid fourth century).

Thus among early Christian writers, Greek and Latin as well as Syriac, one can find scattered pieces of evidence which may suggest that there was once a fairly widespread tradition which associated the Holy Spirit with the image of mother.(29) The roots of such a tradition are to be found, not only in the grammatical feature of the Semitic languages where 'Spirit' is feminine, but also in the links which the concept of Holy Spirit will have had with the personalised figure of Wisdom(30)and with the Jewish concept of the Divine Presence or Shekhina.(31) As is well known, both these features are often connected with mother imagery. As far as extant early Syriac literature is concerned, however, neither Wisdom nor the Shekhina is at all prominent.

As we have seen, from the fifth century onwards a revulsion against the idea of the Holy Spirit as mother must have set in. This may partly have been due to the misuse of the imagery by some heretical groups, though another factor should also be kept in mind: in the Syriac-speaking areas of the eastern Roman Empire the large scale influx of new converts to Christianity will have included many people whose background lay in pagan cults in which a divine triad of Father, Mother and Son was prominent.(32)

The archaic tradition of the Holy Spirit as Mother did not, however, entirely disappear, for one can find occasional relics of it, albeit reduced to a simile, in much later Syriac writers. Thus the monastic writer Martyrius, writing in the first half of the seventh century, speaks of the person 'who has been held worthy of the hovering of the all-holy Spirit, who, like a mother, hovers over us as she gives sanctification; and through her hovering over us, we are made worthy of sonship'.(33) The term 'hovering' here will immediately have provided Syriac readers with three resonances, of which Genesis 1.2 is the primary one; more important, however, in the context within which Martyrius is speaking, are the resonances of the baptismal rite, where the Spirit 'hovers over' the font,(34) and the eucharistic epiclesis, where the Spirit is invited to come and 'hover over' the Bread and the Wine and thus transform them into the Body and the Blood of Christ.(35)

Another example of the imagery can be found in the writings of the Syrian Orthodox theologian and scholar, Moses bar Kepha (died 903): 'the Holy Spirit hovered over John the Baptist and brought him up like a compassionate mother'.(36) For the most part, however, in later Syriac literature it will be found that 'Grace' has taken over the Spirit's place as mother.(37)

Whereas the Holy Spirit as Mother, alongside God the Father, is a feature only encountered rarely in Syriac literature, the use of female imagery is much more common. Such imagery is implied, for example, every time the term 'hovers' is used of the Holy Spirit - and it occurs very frequently - for this term, based as we have seen on Genesis 1.2, originally describes the action of a mother bird. Rather than explore this aspect further here, it must suffice to observe that female imagery is by no means confined to the Holy Spirit: many examples can be found (and this applies to Greek and Latin literature, as well as Syriac) where female imagery is used of the Father and the Son. What to us seems a bizarre example can be found in the Odes of Solomon (late second century?):(38)

A cup of milk was offered to me, and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord's kindness. The Son is the cup, and the Father is he who was milked; and the Holy Spirit is she who milked him. Because his breasts were full, and it was undesirable that his milk should be ineffectually released, the Holy Spirit opened her bosom, and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father.

An interesting example is provided by the Syriac translation of John 1.18, 'No one has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known'(39). In order to render the Greek word kolpos, 'bosom', the Syriac translator employed a word which also means 'womb' ('ubba); that at least some Syriac readers understood 'ubba in the sense of 'womb' at John 1.18 is shown by a number of passages in Ephrem's hymns, where he sets the 'womb' of the Father alongside the 'womb of Mary'. Thus in the Hymns on the Resurrection, 1:7,

The Word [fem.] of the Father came from his womb and put on a body in another womb: the Word proceeded from one womb to another and chaste wombs are now filled with the Word. Blessed is he who has resided in us.

Ephrem happens to be a writer who is particularly fond of female imagery (even though he perhaps deliberately avoids any overt description of the Spirit as mother). Two examples will suffice here. In one of his Nativity Hymns (4.149-50) he describes the infant Christ, who sucks Mary's breast, as himself 'the living breast':

He was lying there, sucking Mary's milk,
yet all created things suck from his goodness.
He is the living breast; from his life
the dead have sucked living breath - and come to life

Elsewhere, in the Hymns on the Church (25.18), Ephrem compares God to a wetnurse:

The Divinity is attentive to us, just as a wetnurse is to a baby,
keeping back for the right time things that will benefit it,
for she knows the right time for weaning,
and when the child should be nourished with milk,
and when it should be fed with solid bread,
weighing out and providing what is beneficial to it
in accordance with the measure of its growing up.

In using female imagery of God Ephrem and other Syriac writers are simply following the lead set in the biblical writings themselves where such imagery applied to God is by no means infrequent -even though traditionally male-oriented eyes have usually been blind to this. In fact, throughout Christian tradition an undercurrent can be discerned where feminine imagery is used of God, and of the individual persons of the Trinity. Thus in the medieval West, to take but one example, besides the well known case of Dame Julian of Norwich, many instances can be found in writers like St Anselm and St Bernard.(40)

Clearly it is important to recover an awareness of, and a sensitivity to, this female imagery already present in the tradition, for it is only by regaining this sensitivity that it is possible to attain to a better appreciation of the fullness of the Godhead: by restricting ourselves to only fatherly images (or only motherly images), we will end up with a very unbalanced view of God.

At the same time it is essential, as Ephrem points out, to move beyond the metaphors with which God has 'allowed himself to be clothed' in the course of what could be described as his incarnation into human language:

If someone concentrates his attention solely
on the metaphors used of God's majesty,
he abuses and misrepresents that majesty
by means of those metaphors with which God has clothed himself
for humanity's own benefit,
and he is ungrateful to that Grace
which bent down its stature to the level of human childishness.
Although God had nothing in common with it,
he clothed himself in the likeness of humanity
in order to bring humanity to the likeness of himself.

(Hymns on Paradise 11:6)(41)

FOOT NOTES

1. On Isaiah 40.9 (Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 73, p. 459).

2. Matt. 3.16, Luke 3.22, John 1.32 (at Mark 1.10 'dove' rather than 'Spirit' could be subject of the feminine verb). Other passages where the feminine is kept are Matt. 10.20 'speaks', Mark 1.12 'took him out', Luke 2.25 'was', 4.1 'led him', John 6.63 'who gives life', and 7.39 'was given'.

3. Acts 1.16'foretold', 2.4'gave', 10.19 and 11.12'said', 19.6'came', 20.23 'testifies and says', 20.28'set up', 21.11 'said', 28.25 'spoke'.

4. Acts 1.8 'shall come', 8.18 'is given', 8.29 'said', 8.39 'snatched', 10.44 'overshadowed', 13.2 'said', 16.7 'permitted'.

5. Rom. 5.5 'was given', 8.9, 11 'dwells', 8.16 'testifies', 8.26 'assists, prays', 1 Cor. 2.10 'searches out', 3.16 and 6.19 'dwells', 12.11 'performs, distributes', Eph. 1.13 'is promised', 2 Tim. 1.14- 'dwelt'. Heb. 3.7 'said', 9.8 'indicated', 10.15 'testifies', 1 John 5.7 'testifies'.

6. Cp. H. Parzen, 'The Ruach hakodesh in Tannaitic literature', Jewish Quarterly Review 20 (1929/30), pp. 51-76.

7. Mark 13.11, Luke 2.25, 26; 11.13, John 20.22.

8. Several editions of the Syriac NT based on late manuscripts have altered Eph. 4.30 to masculine, qaddisha. In early Syriac literature ruha d-qudsha is the norm, but ruha qaddishta is also sometimes found, e.g. Acts of Thomas (ed. Wright), p. 323(note10); Aphrahat, Dem. VI. 14, XXIII.61; Ephrem, Hymns against Heresies 55:5; Liber Graduum IX. 1. The masculine ruha qaddisha. is not found until the fifth century and later - with the surprising exception of the Odes of Solomon (see below, n. 14).

9. 6tl, 8al*, 8tl, 10t4.5 in the notation of the critical edition, Vetus Testamentum Syriace II.3 (the first numeral denotes the century to which the manuscript is dated). At another important verse, Isaiah 11.2, Codex Ambrosianus (7al) is the only manuscript to make a similar alteration to masculine.

10. E.g. Tradatus tres de trinitate et incarnatione (ed. Vaschalde, Corpus Scr. Chr. Orientalium, Scriptores Syri 9, p. 168(note31) ). An earlier writer who sometimes makes such alterations of gender in his biblical quotations is the monastic author John the Solitary (or John of Apamea; first half of fifth century), e.g. Letters (ed. Rignell), p. 113(note9), quoting John 7.39

11. Substituting a masculine for the feminine form of the verb 'shall come': e.g. Comm, on Prologue of John (ed. de Halleux, C.S.C.O, Scriptures Syri 165, p. 41(note2) ). The same change is often made in liturgical texts, e.g. Fenqitho (Mosul edition), II, p. 83b, 87a, 88b, 95b, etc.

12. Excerpt on the Prologue of John, apud T. Lamy, S. Ephrem Syri Hymni et Sermones, II, col. 511; Hymns on Resurrection 1.7 (quoted below).

13. Fenqitho II, p. 65a (in a prayer which on other grounds must belong at least to c.7th century), p. 272b; VI, p. 107b, etc.

14. Odes of Solomon 6:7, 11:2, 14:8, 23:22 (in the older manuscript). Usage with the feminine verb (but not adjective) also occurs.

15. Hymns on Faith 12.6; on Church 45:15.

16. For Narsai, e.g. Homily on Nativity, line 151; on Epiphany, line 298 (both in Patrologia Orientalis40). For Philoxenus see above, notes 10-11. Life of Symeon the Stylite: ed. Bedjan, Acta Martyrum et Sanctorum IV, p. 617, 'The Holy Spirit caused to be written down (aktbat, fem.) the resplendent deeds of the faithful . . .'

17. Metrical considerations are evidently uppermost in his choice of masc. or fem.; for an example see note 19.

18. Fenqitho II, p. l08b. Compare the polemic in Ephrem, Hymns against Heresies 55:3. Cp. also A. Orbe, La teologia del Espiritu Santo (Rome, p1966), pp. 69-116, 687-706.

19. Cf. my remarks in Novum Testamentum 24 (1982), p. 227, and further in A. Guillaumont Mélanges (Geneva, 1988) pp. 121 ff. Jacob of Serugh explains the different roles of the Spirit and the Power as follows: 'The Spirit of Holiness first sanctified [fem, form of verb] her, and then [the Son of God] tabernacled in her. The Spirit freed [masc. verb] her from that debt [or sin], so that she might be above any wrongdoing when [the Son of God] resided in her in holy fashion' i(Homily on Virgin, apud P. Bedjan, Sancti Martyrii qui et Sahdona quae supersunt omnia (Paris/Leipzig, 1902), p. 632.

20. On this see especially R. Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: a Study in Early Syriac Tradition (Cambridge, 1975), pp. 312-20, W. Cramer, Der Geist Gottes und des Menschen in frühsyrischer Theologie (Münster, 1979), pp. 36-8, 68-9, and my The Holy Spirit in the Syrian Baptismal Tradition (Syrian Churches Series 9, 1979), pp. 3-5.

21. For §27 and §50 there is a detailed study by H. Kruse, 'Zwei Geist-Epiklesen der syrischen Thomasakten', Oriens Christianas 69 (1985), zpp. 33-55.

22. For 'mother' the Syriac has 'hovering over' (based on Gen. 1,2, on which see below).

23. A helpful survey is provided by P-H. Poirier, L'Hymne de la Perle des Actes de Thomas (Louvain la Neuve, 1981).

24. Demonstration 18:10.

25. Translation by G.H. Whitaker (Loeb edition, p. 255).

26. Homily LIV.4.5 in H. Berthold, Makarios/Symeon. Reden und Briefe (Berlin, 1973), II, pp. 156-7.

27. In H. Achelis, Hippolytus Werke (Leipzig, 1897), 1.2, p. 54(note5). For Greek writers see S. Hirsch, Die Vorstellung von einem weiblichen pneuma hagion (Diss. Berlin, 1926),

28. On this passage see S. Vollenweider's excursus 'Mutter Heiliger Geist' in his Neuplatonische und christliche Theologie bei Synesios von Kyrene (Gottingen, 1985), pp. 78-9 (with further bibliography on the subject).

29. A different model is provided in chapter 9 of the Didascalia (a Syrian product of the 3rd century): there the bishop corresponds to God the Father, 'the deacon stands in the position of Christ . . . and the deaconess in the position of the Holy Spirit'.

30. In Acts of Thomas §50 the Holy Spirit is described as 'the Wisdom of the Son'; but on the whole the figure of Wisdom is not often found in early Syriac literature.

31. The Peshitta of Chronicles introduces the term in a number of passages (e.g. 2 Chron. 6.18), and it occurs a few times in Aphrahat (Dem. IV.7, XVIII.4, XIX.4) and Ephrem (e.g. Hymns on Paradise 2:11; on Unleavened Bread 13.21), but it only becomes popular in rather later writers such as Jacob of Serugh, and notably in some 7th/8th century(?) texts in the East Syrian Hudra, on which compare my Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity (London, 1984), ch. IV, pp. 106-7

32. Such cults are well documented from Palmyra and Hatra from a rather earlier period.

33. Book of Perfection 1.3.13 (ed. de Halleux, C.S.C.O., Scr. Syri 86, p. 32). Martyrius is a writer who frequently retains the archaic usage, treating the Spirit as grammatically feminine.

34. On this see my The Holy Spirit in the Syrian Baptismal Tradition (Syrian xChurches Series 9, 1979), pp. 81-4. Ancient exegetes, as well as modern translators, disputed the sense of ruah 'elohim, 'spirit/wind of God' in Gen. 1.2.

35. Many of the Syriac anaphoras employ the term 'hover' in the wording of their epicleses. It is already used in a Eucharistic context by Ephrem (Hymns of Faith 10:16), even though he elsewhere states that the spirit of Gen. 1.2 is not to be identified as the Holy Spirit.
36. In a homily edited by F. Nurse in American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature 26 (1909/10), p. 95.

37. E.g. Jacob of Serugh, Homiliae Selectae (ed. P. Bedjan), IV, p. 313 (though on p. 52 he has 'the Divinity is a compassionate mother'), Fenqitho III, p. 137a.

38. Odes of Solomon 19:1-4, translated by R. Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom, p. 315. Similar imagery can be found especially in Clement of Alexandria; a collection of references can be found in H.J.W. Drijvers, 'The 19th Ode of Solomon', Journal of Theological Studies 31 (1980), pp. 344-5.

39. The following is based on my The Luminous Eye: the Spiritual World Vision of St Ephrem (Rome, 1985), pp. 143—4. (Ephrem's writings suggest that he had a special sympathy for women.)

40. See especially C. Bynum, Jesus as Mother. Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley, 1982).

41. English translations of several early Syriac writings are available. Odes of Solomon: in H.F.D. Sparks (ed.), The Apocryphal Old Testament (Oxford, J984), pp. 683-731. Acts ofThomas: A.FJ. Klijn, The Acts of Thomas (Leiden, 1962). Aphrahat: J. Gwynn (ed.), in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, II. 13 (Oxford/New York, 1898), and J. Neusner, Aphrahat and Judaism (Leiden, 1971). Ephrem: J.B. Morris, Select Works of St Ephrem The Syrian (Oxford, 1847), J. Gwynn, op. cit., S.P. Brock, The Harp of the Spirit: 18 Poems of St Ephrem (London, 1983), and K. McVey, Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York, 1989).


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