Historian Bettany Hughes: Who Knows Whether God Is a Girl?

The role of women in the early days of Christianity has been “suppressed”, claims the leading historian who has questioned the traditional depiction of God as a man.

Bettany Hughes, an expert in ancient history, is sure that Christianity “was originally a faith where the female of the species held sway.” Photo: Bettany Hughes

According to historian Bettany Hughes, to forbid the ordination of women bishops in the Church of England means to deny the central role women played in the foundations of the faith.

“By suppressing the true story of the connection between women and religion, we etiolate both history and the possibilities of our own world,” she wrote in Radio Times. “Consider this: throughout the history of humanity, 97 per cent of all deities of wisdom have been female.”

She went on: “Who knows whether God is a girl, but mankind has turned to the female of the species for good ideas. Our own monotheistic institutions might do well to take a leaf out of the book of human experience and build on this consensus when it comes to reaping the benefits of a close relationship between women and the divine.”

Hughes is to present a forthcoming BBC Two series, Divine Women, which reveals the hidden history of women in world religions and challenges the belief that women should not be priests, writes The Telegraph.

She said: “This Easter will be the last when I go to a church knowing it will be dominated by men. I love my (male) vicar, who has spent 45 years encouraging his flock to be clear-sighted about the world – past, present and sublime.”

“But the paradoxical thing for me as a historian is that I’m keenly aware Christianity was originally a faith where the female of the species held sway.”

The scientist cited the fact that, in the first 200 years of Christianity, over half of all churches in Rome were built by women. Moreover, it was a woman, Phoebe, who was invited by Paul to take the word of God to Rome.

Referring to the current make-up of the church, Hughes said: “At least 65 per cent of all those who go to Anglican churches are women; the handmaids of Christ are no longer just arranging flowers on the altar, they are – as they were at Christianity’s beginning – it’s very lifeblood.”

Hughes also predicted that Islam will also grow to acknowledge the influence of early female scholars. She said: “As more girls in Muslim countries get the education their role models prescribed, they will surely be inspired to follow suit.”

Last month a feminist theologian offered a radical take on gender roles in Christianity when she argued that Jesus could have been a hermaphrodite.

Dr Susannah Cornwall of Manchester University published an academic paper which writes: “It is not possible to assert with any degree of certainty that Jesus was male as we now define maleness.”

“There is no way of knowing for sure that Jesus did not have one of the intersex conditions which would give him a body which appeared externally to be unremarkably male, but which might nonetheless have had some ‘hidden’ female physical features.”

“The fact Jesus had no children made his gender status “even more uncertain”, she insisted.

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