The Ruach Mother

The Ruach Mother in the OT

In a songbook of the YMCA there is a remarkable illustration of the Holy Spirit. It is next to the beautiful song "Ruach" and depicts a woman with long flowing hair, wherein she is guarding an infant. There was absolutely no doubt that it was a representation of the Holy Spirit! What still astonished me at that time, was later the cause to trace this problem a little further. Because the Holy Spirit, the Ruach, is indeed a problem case - but a very revealing one! This begins with the name: Some feminist theologians like to call "him" the "female Holy Spirit," and not without reason. According to Dreytza's study, the term rûah (or "rwh") exists 387 times in the OT. Almost 200 evidences can be claimed for a feminine usage, only 63 for the masculine - the rest is unexplained or cannot be classified.[1] Due to the virgin legend of Luke in the NT, the term experienced in Pauline Christianity a very arbitrary assignment as the (masculine) Spirit of God, which makes a mockery of the majority of OT usage as well as of the grammatical feminine article and symbolic knowledge. Because not only the Gnostics, but also the Jews and Jewish Christians like Edith Stein and others traditionally regarded the Ruach as female, yes understand her until today as Ruach mother.

In the German language, the Holy Spirit is traditionally spoken of as a "he" because the Latin word for "spirit" is spiritus, and this is of the masculine gender. The Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible going back to Jerome, was the basis for the many centuries of later translations into German, which, after all, did not occur before the 14th century. Anyway, these translations ignore the fact that the Ruach is traditionally feminine in Judaism.

It was primarily the NT in revised versions of the New Covenant that changed the identity and position of places, people and movements by naming and renaming them to clearly declare them as Christian and not belonging to a Jewish interest group.

It begins with the change of Semitic names to Greek names. Messianic (Christian) faith itself was not a new concept. Abraham himself was messianic. He believed in a Messiah who brought salvation; he simply looked forward, while we look back. In the New Covenant, members felt compelled to use mainly or apparently Greek names. The Greek name, however, is in most cases only a very vague allusion to the original Hebrew name, both in pronunciation and association. In both Greek and English, "spirit" is a neuter noun. And with such a noun, we think of "it" more than we think of "he" or "she." This means that we have a special, very peculiar image of the Holy Trinity of Orthodox theology. God the Father we imagine in warm, personal terms. Of God the Word (that is, the Logos) we speak mostly as of God the Son, thinking of personal images ranging from Bethlehem to Nazareth and Jerusalem. With the Holy Spirit, however, it is completely different! Both the neuter noun and the biblical images of fire and anointing lead us away from a personal and toward an impersonal conception of the Spirit as a Divine Personality to the Spirit as a Divine Outpouring. And the translation into German forces us, as soon as we speak of the "Holy Spirit" instead of the "Ruach Mother," to use masculine instead of feminine articles. How unfortunate and regrettable! In the Gospel of John, Jesus invites us to think about, expect and experience the Ruach Mother. And he speaks of the third member of the Divine Family in very personal terms. In fact, he invited his disciples to imagine the Ruach Mother in the same personal way that he had experienced her, namely through baptism in the Jordan: "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by him. But he wanted to prevent him, saying, 'I have need to be baptized by you - and you come to me?' Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now. For just so it behooves us to fulfill all righteousness.' Now when Jesus was baptized, he immediately went up out of the water. And behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the glory of God descending like a dove toward him. And behold, a voice sounded from heaven, saying, 'This is my Son, to whom my love belongs; him have I chosen.'" (Mt 3:13-17)[2]

Any translation is also a form of interpretation. The best translations stretch the language, transmitting the meaning, meter, and style of the original, while achieving integrity and linguistic beauty in their own language. Translation necessarily involves myriad subjective decisions. How to translate "Adam?" "Man" is a perfectly accurate rendering of the Hebrew, but so is "mankind." Strictly literal translations from Hebrew to English are nearly impossible because of grammatical differences; Hebrew nouns have gender, which necessitates changes in verbal forms. In addition, tenses are treated differently in Hebrew and English. One problem that arises especially in translating the New Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic into English is the gender of Ruach haKodesh (Holy Spirit). German is very different from Hebrew and Aramaic. For one thing, German has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. In Hebrew and Aramaic, everything is either "he" or "she," there is no "it." Furthermore, gender plays a much more important role in Hebrew and Aramaic than in German. In German, gender is usually only an issue in the context of the pronoun. But in Hebrew and Aramaic, nouns and verbs can also be masculine or feminine. And while there are no real adjectives in Hebrew (nouns are also used as adjectives) main nouns must agree in gender with the noun. The Hebrew word RUACH (Aramaic RUCHA) is grammatically feminine, as is the phrase Ruach haKodesh. This fits with the role of Ruach haKodesh as comforter (John 14:16) and the usage of "comforter" with YHWH acting as "mother" (Isaiah 66:13).

According to Schüngel-Straumann, the range of meanings of Ruach can be divided into three main groups:[3]

a) Ruach as wind/storm,

b) Ruach of man (breath, spirit, life force),

c) Ruach of God (spirit, life force).

Of primary interest to us is c) as well as the connections to Chokmah.

From the point of view of today's Christian, the theologian Thomas Schipflinger points out the legitimate question about the divine-feminine. God be father, but where is the mother? Right at the beginning of Genesis, we encounter the "Spirit of God" in Gen 1:2: "The Spirit of God brooded [hovered] over the waters." The Ruach here seems to be a person apart from the Father God, in a comparable way to the Chokmah in various passages. Milton, drawing from the Talmud, wrote in Paradise Lost (1:17-22):[4]

O Spirit, who first was present,

and with mighty outstretched wings

brooded dove-like over the abyss

and made him pregnant...

It is not only in Genesis 1:2 that the Ruach Mother broods like a dove over the waters and thus appears like a mother goddess. This is also the case in the Babylonian Talmud Chagigah, but Simon ben Zoma also ascribes a guilt to her here. For she had only hovered over her boys without touching them, whereupon they fell dead to the ground. This demonization of the divine feminine is a typical sign of the androcentrization that took place in the course of history.

According to Schipflinger, there are some references in the history of religion that define the primordial creative as a mother bird that tends and nurtures, like the Dao in the Dao De Jing, Prov. 10.[5] But we need not go so far into the Far East. According to Schipflinger, because of the narrative of Jesus' baptism (Lk 3:21-22 par.), the Holy Spirit was depicted in Christian iconography as a dove. However, the symbol of the dove goes back much further: it was the sacred bird of the goddess Ištar, later also Astarte, Aphrodite-Venus and Sophia, and acted as her messenger of love, thus having practically the same function as in the Ruach. In the Song of Songs, the dove symbolizes the bride (Hld 6:8; 5:2; 2:10), and as late as the Gospel writers, the common word for "dove" was not the Hebrew "Zipporah," which would be the literal translation, but the Babylonian-derived perištara, which of course derives from Ištar and her representations with the dove.[6]

From the Ruach Mother of the OT to the Holy Spirit in the NT

A particular problem with the question of Ruach's femininity is, of course, the narrative of Mary's Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth. The 2nd century Gospel of Philip reflects this as follows.

"Some said, 'Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.' They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever become pregnant by a woman?" (§ 17)

Thus we owe an important clarification to the author of the Gospel of Philip. Because the Holy Scripture, especially the Gospel of Luke, states that Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus, became pregnant by the Holy Spirit - but it could not have been the Ruach mother, because she is also a woman. In an attempt to solve the problem, Schipflinger treads a commendable, because harmony-seeking, but rather uncertain path when he tries to reinterpret Mary's "conception by the Holy Spirit" not as the implantation of the seed, but as maternal preparation. "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." He reads this phrase to mean that the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and prepares her maternally so that she will be able to receive into herself the power of the Most High, that is, the Seed, and thus the Son of God. The concept of "receiving" is reinterpreted as a "receiving" of the Logos from the hand of the Ruach, who received the Son from the Father into her maternal hands.[7] Evidence of a similar understanding can be found in Cyprian, who saw in the consecrated virgins the "most beautiful emblems of the Holy Spirit", in John Chrysostom, who called the Eucharist the "milk from the mother's breast of the Holy Spirit", or in the Didaskalia of the 4th century, where the deaconesses were called "deacons". Century, where the deaconesses are considered "images of the Holy Spirit to be honored."[8] A related view is also found in Makarios, a representative of the Syrians: according to his description, the Spirit is a caring and nurturing mother, citing the Pauline texts - and this despite the fact that Paul does not speak of the Spirit as a mother. Consequently, as Wodtke-Werner quite correctly concludes, Makarios must have used ideas from his own sphere of activity for this and linked them to the scriptural texts.[9] Regarding these four allegories, it must be said that while they testify to an understanding of a "Holy Spirit", they do not necessarily support Schipflinger's reinterpretation of conception. "Conception" is, after all, strictly speaking, a fixed concept, which ultimately derives from the sexual and represents, as it were, the complementary counterpart to procreation. From this point of view, a play on words, as Schipflinger provides us with, is actually forbidden. Certainly he is right, of course, when he refers to the connections of Mrs. Wisdom and the Ruachmutter, without, however, mentioning passages.


The Ruach is here the bride of the primordial Father and the mate of the male. The designation as "holy spirit" and as "dove" assures us that the Ruach mother is really meant here.

Ruach in the Iconography

Not only the OT and the Apocrypha, but also iconography provides us with valuable clues about the Ruach Mother. Near Prien on Lake Chiemsee is the village of Urschalling, and this houses a treasure that also shows us the lineage of the Ruach figuratively: The church there was built between 1160 and 1200 and furnished with frescoes. One of them shows a Divine Triad, which is not at all in the sense of the church: it has two hands and an overgarment, but three different upper bodies. On the left is God the Father with a white beard, and on the right is Jesus with a blond beard. In the center, however, is the Holy Spirit, clearly depicted as a woman with soft feminine forms, long hair and full bosom. When the church was restored in 1923, investigations revealed that this fresco had been painted over in 1550 and had therefore remained unknown for a long time.[19] From this one may see how important it must have been for the Roman Catholic Church to conceal the femininity of the Ruach, for this would have seriously called into question the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the doctrine of the overshadowing of the Virgin by the "Spirit of God".

Ruach in the Christian tradition
In the Protestant tradition, after Luther, who was not above thinking of the Holy Spirit in feminine terms, we would have to mention the couple Johanna E. and Johann W. Petersen, Jakob Böhme, Gottfried Arnold, and Count Nikolaus L. von Zinzendorf, who deal extensively with the "mother-ship of the Holy Spirit." In Zinzendorf, who characterized the Trinity as the "Divine Family" and elaborated an elaborate family trinity, the Ruach thereby takes the role of the mother.[25] Systematic models of family trinity were presented by Hermann Häring, who attempted to emphasize the feminine role of Ruach, drawing on Feuerbach and Scheeben.[26] The Ruach Mother and the Mary Magdalene were the two most important roles of the Trinity.

The Ruach Mother and Mary Magdalene at the Baptism of Jesus.

At Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, John the Baptist testifies:

1:32 "I saw that the Ruach came down from heaven like a dove and remained on him.

1,33 And I could not see him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'But on whom you see the Ruach coming down and on whom it remains, he it is who baptizes with the Holy Ruach.'"

Nevertheless, which version one reads here: There could be no question of the Holy Spirit according to Christian doctrine at the time of Jesus; Ruach was clearly feminine in the OT and did not enter the NT in its masculine form until Luke. The earliest version of this gospel dates from the year 48 or 49, that is, at least 15 years after the resurrection of Christ. At the time when the account of John's Gospel reproduced in Audlin is supposed to have taken place, i.e. in the year 29, the Ruach mother was present in the faith of the Jews, and at the time of Jesus' baptism the "Spirit of God", one must assume, still had a completely different meaning. Above all, "he" was of female gender - the Ruach mother. But if the one on whom the Ruach Mother descends is identical with herself (1:33b), then a) the heavenly unity of the two is expressed, b) it is stated that it is the Heavenly Mother who commissions Jesus to baptize in her name.

Verwendete Literatur [German used literature]

- Audlin, James D.: The Gospel of John. The original version restored and translated, USA 2012.

- Bonwetsch, Nathanel G.; Hippolytus Romanus: Fragmente des Kommentars zum Hohenliede, In: Hippolytus Werke, 1: Exegetische und homiletische Schriften, Leipzig 1897, S. 341-374.

- Dreytza, Manfred: Der theologische Gebrauch von Ruah im Alten Testament, Gießen 1990.

- Gruber, Johann N.: Die Ophiten oder Schlangenbrüder, Würzburg 1864.

- Langbein, Walter-Jörg: Maria Magdalena. Die Wahrheit über die Geliebte Jesu, Berlin 2006.

- Mailahn, Klaus: Maria Magdalena und ihr Sohn Johannes Markus im Johannesevangelium, München 2015.

- Mulack, Christa: Maria Magdalena, Apostelin der Apostel – die Frau, „die das All kennt“, Schalksmühle 2007.

- Muraro, Luisa; Kempter, Martina/Salzberger, Ursula (Üb.): Vilemina und Mayfreda. Die Geschichte einer feministischen Häresie, Freiburg 1987.

- Schipflinger, Thomas: Sophia-Maria. Eine ganzheitliche Vision der Schöpfung, München/Zürich 1988.

- Schüngel-Straumann, Helen: Ruah bewegt die Welt, Stuttgart 1992.

- Wilckens, Ulrich u. a.: Das Neue Testament, übersetzt und kommentiert, Hamburg 1971.

- Wodtke-Werner, Verena: Heiliger Geist oder Heilige Geistin im Trinitätsfresko von Urschalling, In: Die Weiblichkeit des Heiligen Geistes. Studien zur Feministischen Theologie, Gütersloh 1995, S. 177-214.

[27] Mulack 2007, S. 15.

[28] Mulack 2007, S. 15f. Gemeint ist hier Vilemina von Böhmen, die sich als Inkarna­tion der Heiligen Geistin sah. Mehr über sie bei Muraro 1987.

[37] Audlin 2012, S. 273.

[38] Audlin 2012, S. 274.

[40] Audlin 2012, S. 277.

[41] Audlin 2012, S. 278.