The Queen Who Is Hidden in the Gospels, Part I

I discovered Her by accident. Given my predilection for Goddesses since age 14, I obviously hope She is truly there, but I think (or at least hope) that I can be objective enough not to engage in special pleading or distort the evidence.

The birth of my oldest daughter Maeve Adair in January 1973 forced me to begin growing up a little more. A few months later, Alta asked me, as we were sitting at a red light in Berkeley, if I had thought more about the possibility of going to the Graduate Theological Union, which my friend Dwite Brown had given me an inside description. It was one of those turning point moments. The decision made itself in an instant, because it was now or never. I knew I would have to learn Greek for the topics I wanted to study, mainly to find out if anyone had been cheating. (I later learned Coptic for that reason also.) There certainly is evidence that, whether intended or not, there have been significant mistranslations and distortions of what the Greek in the gospels actually says. It was knowing Greek that led to my discovery of the Queen.

For the last six months while I was still on staff at Scientific American Books, I studied Greek on the BART train for half an hour every morning during the ride from Oakland to San Francisco, and for another half hour going home. Fortunately, I found, Greek wasn’t very difficult. We’ve absorbed about half the Greek vocabulary into English as the roots for creating technical terminology (a process begun at the new universities in the fourteenth century), and, unlike the grammar of the classic Greek of the Age of Pericles, the grammar of the koine (common) Greek that the gospels were written in (because that was the international trade language of the Greco-Roman world) was very similar to that of English. When I started my doctoral program at the Graduate Theological Union in January 1974, I could read the gospels and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, done in Alexandria in the third century BCE) for myself.

Another factor that led to my discovery was my finding a nineteenth-century edition of the unabridged Liddell-Scott Greek lexicon in a used-book store and buying it for $25 (them’s 1975 dollars, folks; it was nice being well-employed back then). The book is about a foot thick, and, curiouser and curiouser, its major author, Professor Liddell, was the father of Alice, whom Professor Liddell’s colleague, the Reverend Charles Ludwig Dodgson, immortalized as Alice in Wonderland. (By the way, all the illustrations in the original manuscript were censored by the publisher. They were of Alice naked. Curiouser and curiouser. )

The huge advantage of having that lexicon was that it gave all the meanings of Greek words, not only the meanings routinely ascribed to them in translations of the gospels, but also the meanings they had as ordinary words in the koine Greek, the latter being the meanings that the first readers of the gospels would have understood. For example, the word mathetes (related to mathematics, “that which is to be learned”), routinely now translated as “disciple,” was actually the ordinary term for a student, any student, including the students of a Rabbi. It did not imply any degree or ordination. The gospels state clearly that Jesus had a great many students, including women students. The apostles (from apostellein, “to be sent out”), who were sent out merely as missionaries—a task impossibly dangerous for women in that society—were only a few of all the students. The claim that Jesus appointed only men as his successors is therefore based on either ignorance or intellectual dishonesty.

Now, about the Queen. In working on translating, I noticed two adjacent entries in the lexicon. Each could be transliterated as basileia. The difference between them was only in the accent marks. Accented one way, the term meant “kingdom,” but accented another way, it meant “queen”! Furthermore, there are no accent marks in the earliest existing manuscripts of the New Testament. The system of accents was invented by librarians in about the eighth century CE to show students how classic Greek had been pronounced. Hence the idea that basileia in the gospels must be translated as “kingdom” rather than “queen” is a matter of opinion, not of historical fact. Further, it occurs mainly in the phrase basileia tou ouranou, now routinely translated as “kingdom of heaven”—but it could also mean “Queen of Heaven”! What an incredible idea! Could Jesus have actually preached about the Queen of Heaven? I’ve been thinking about that since the mid-1970s, and I now think, given a lot more evidence, that he not only could have, but very likely did. The idea is not incredible at all.

One might object that I am arguing from an odd coincidence in Greek, that he would not have meant “queen” in Aramaic, his native language. But, another surprise! He could have. Aramaic was virtually a dialect of Hebrew. The Hebrew word for “kingdom” is malkuth, quite familiar from Kabala. But the root, MLKT, if pointed (with the vowels) as melekit, meant “queen.” (If I’m wrong about any of this, I’m sure Kate Gladstone will promptly let me know.) I think this is more than a coincidence. As Elton Trueblood demonstrated in his The Humor of Christ, the gospels are full of puns, even bilingual puns. Could this teaching about the Queen of Heaven have been one of the “mysteries” that even the Gospel According to Mark says Jesus taught to only his innermost circle of students? Maybe. But I think I can make out a pretty good case that he did.

But would anyone in Jesus’ time have known who the Queen of Heaven was? Of course they would have—but explaining why will take many more words than will fit here today. So, if the Pipsisewah doesn’t insult the Sarsaparilla—or however the Uncle Wiggly stories ended—more will be revealed later.

 

 

  • Merri-Todd Webster

    I know I’ve recommended her to you before, but you really must read Margaret Barker. Her over-arching argument is that the early Christians inherited the Temple religion of pre-exilic Israel, which was a very different thing from the Mosaic religion promulgated by Josiah and restored after the return from Babylon. According to her, the ancient Hebrews were not monotheists per se, but worshipped El Elyon, Yahweh, and Shaddai. Jesus and his mother were understood as incarnations of Yahweh and Shaddai. We’ll have to wait for the second volume of Barker’s latest book, The Mother of the Lord, to see what she says about spousal imagery and Mary of Magdala.

    • aidanakelly

      Thank you, Meri-Todd. I’ll look for that.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      That is the first time I’ve seen Shaddai given as a female, but it makes sense.

      Hmm, Mary as the Queen of Heaven, and Christ preaching about Shaddai- definitely a modern marianist tint to all of this.

  • Kate Gladstone

    Didn’t the English word “disciple” still mean just “student” back when those early moden English translations were made — much as a “discipline” in English can still mean (though less and less often, these days) a field of study?

    • aidanakelly

      No, it would have been considered to be a title implying some degree of ordination. Many people who don’t read what the gospels actually say assume that “disciple” = “apostle”, which is the basis for the Roman church’s bogus argument about why women cannot be ordained. He had a great many students, including the seven women who travelled with him, and his innermost circle was not identical with the men chosen to go on a mission. The gospels also disagree on who those twelve were and obscure the probability that four of them were his brothers.

  • Kate Gladstone

    Aidan — “Queen” in Hebrew is “malkah” — except when it’s in the “construct state” (the form that gets put in front of another noun to construct possessive phrases), in which case it’s “malkat” (if you speak Israeli Hebrew) or “malkas”( if you speak Eastern European Hebrew) which both descend from Biblical Hebrew “malkat.” Since we’re discussing the Hebrew of 2000 years ago, the rest of this discussion will assume Biblical Hebrew … “the queen of heaven” = “malkath hashamayim” — “the kingdom of heaven” = “malkuth hashamayim” … And they are spelled slightly differently, by one letter (though, in fairness, it’s a letter that was often dropped out of a word’s spelling, before Hebrew spelling was standardized to any extent).

    • aidanakelly

      Kate, thank you for all this hard work. I am pleased to see that, even though my vague memory that “queen” would be melekit was wrong, the unpointed written form of the two phrases would have been identical, as the Greek terms were, which was my point.

      I’m not proposing that “queen” would make sense in every place where “kingdom” appears in the gospels, but it does make better sense in a few:

      the Queen of Heaven is ravished. . .; the Queen of Heaven is like a woman who . . . ; . . . go in to the Queen; and so on. The misogyny that attempted and failed to obliterate the Magdalen’s role certainly succeeded if Jesus anywhere did mean “Queen”. That “Queen” makes no sense in most of the parables is not a strong argument, because no one knows what the parables were intended to mean. I intend to argue later that some of them do make sense as Jesus’ attempts to describe his state of consciousness as altered by an Awakening experience. Of course, then as now, people who have never had one would have no clue what he meant and would proceed to misinterpret what he said.

      The more important arguments about why he might have preached about the Queen of Heaven do not depend on the text anyway. They are much more circumstantial and I’ll get to them in the next two or three blogs.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I thought classic Hebrew had no vowels.

  • Kate Gladstone

    In Aramaic (if I can trust the dictionaries, and again I’m sticking with how it would have been pronounced at the time where that differs from modern usages)’ “the queen of heaven” is “malktha dishemaya” and “the kingdom of heaven” is “malkutha dishemaya” (and again the difference is one — the same one as in the Hebrew examples, and just as often dropped in early Aramaic).
    Calling Aramaic “virtually a dialect of Hebrew” is a bit iffy — like calling Portuguese “virtually a dialect of Spanish”: about 70% of the vocabulary is shared.

    • aidanakelly

      Kate, you are such a wonderful ally.

  • Kate Gladstone

    If “the kingdom of heaven” is really “the queen of heaven,” does thst shed any light on why ALL the occurrences of “kingdom of heaven” are in Matthew? (I know that there is a similar phrase — “kingdom of God” —elsewhere: are you also asserting that “kingdom of God” was simiarly meant to be “queen of God”?)

    Also, how well does “queen of heaven” hold up in such collocations (frequent in Matthew) as:

    “the _____ of heaven has come near” (are John the Baptist and Jesus — each of whom is reported by Matthew as saying this — announcing her approach, as John the Baptist announced the approach of Jesus?)

    “least in the _____ of heaven / greatest in the ______ of heaven”

    “enter the ______ of heaven” (okay, you as a Wiccan have no trouble with this — but how would you apply it to the verse about becoming like a little child to do it? Well, maybe you could call that one a “return to the womb / be born again” metaphor & compare the question of Nicodemus whom Jesus declared “not far from the kingdom of God” — which maybe you are emending to “not far from the queen of God”?)

    “theirs is the _____ of heaven”

    “the _____ of heaven is like [insert parable here; in one place, "the ______ of heaven will be like" (the ten virgins)]”

    … Not to mention some less frequent ones, like:

    “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the ______ of heaven” — Matthew 8:11
    — Just how DOES a feast — especially one with “many” guests — take place “in” a queen? (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the rest are presumably!taking their places and feasting simultaneously … okay, okay, Aidan, I KNOW what you’re going to answer — “It means Jesus is saying that the Goddess has room for everyone!”)

    “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the _______ of heaven_ has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it/her.” — Matthew 11:11
    — If “queen” is what belongs here, than what is this actually _about_?
    What was it that actually HAPPENED to the “queen of heaven” from the time of John the Baptist until the moment that this statement was made, or was putatively made? I am well aware that the same objection applies to what’s usually put there (“kingdom”), but I would have hoped that a textual emendation would convincingly solve a textual problem (like that one).

    I’ll digress, for a moment, to one that DOES smoothly & perfectly fit your hypothesis:
    “He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the _queen of heaven_ has been given to you, but not to them.’ — Matthew 13:11

    But back to the harder sayings …

    “He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a student in the _queen of heaven_ is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’ — Matthew 13:52
    — What does it mean to be a “student in the queen”? The thing you’re emending if from (“student in the kingdom”) was comprehensible; the emendation isn’t.

    “I will give you the keys of the _queen of heaven_; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” — Matthew 16:19 (Jesus is speaking to Peter)
    — What exactly ARE the “keys of the queen”?
    Keys that she owns? If so, then how does Jesus get hold of them to give out? Did “the queen” give them to him first, to give to somebody of his choice?
    If so, then Peter seems an odd choice indeed to receive them:
    at least, if you believe — as I know you do — the Gnostic Gospels account of how Peter whines against Mary Magdalene because she’s a woman; singularly odd and ungracious behavior for someone who had been told that the authority being assigned to him was “keys of the queen of heaven”

    “For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the ______ of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” — Matthew 19:12
    — If “queen” goes in the blank, is Jesus here talking about ritual self-castrati for the Goddess (as in THE GOLDEN ASS), or is he talking about some group of people who just _live_ as if they had been castrated (and who are doing it for the”queen of heaven”): either way, is Jesus saying this is okay, or what?

    “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the ______ of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” — Matthew 23:13
    — How would you understand “shut the door of thee queen of heaven”? What exactly were they DOING, that was best described as shutting a queen’s door?

    I’m wondering how deciding that “kingdom of heaven” was really “queen of heaven” would work in the following contexts (where I’m making the change to see what happens, then looking st the results as a copy-editor would). Since I do not know more thN a few words of Greek (let alone Coptic), I have to do this from an English translation, and picked the NIV to follow (changing “it” to “her” in Matthew 11:11 where its antecedent would be “queen” on your theory, and also changing “disciple” to “student” in Matthew 13:52 because — as you’ve pointed out — that is what the word means)
    “Repent, for the _queen of heaven_ has come near” — Matthew 3:2 (where John the Baptist is saying this) and Matthew 4:17 (where Jesus is saying this), and similarly Matthew 10:7 (where Jesus skips the “Repent” and just says “The queen of heaven has come near”)
    — on your theory, all this would mean that John the Baptist AND Jesus were announcing the approach of “the queen of heaven,” much as John the Baptist announced the approach Jesus
    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the _queen of heaven_” — Matthew 5:3
    and “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the _queen of heaven_” — Matthew 5:10
    — in what sense would “the queen of heaven” be particularly “theirs”?
    “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the _queen of heaven_, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the _queen of heaven_” — Matthew 5:19, and similarly “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the _queen of heaven_ is greater than he” — Matthew 11:11 — and similarly “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the _queen of heaven_?’
    — What, precisely, would “least in the queen … greatest in the queen … ” actually MEAN? How would such phrases have been understood at the time?

    “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the _queen of heaven_” —!Matthew 5:20
    — and similarly “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the _queen of heaven_, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” — Matthew 7:21
    — and similarly “And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” — Matthew 18:3
    — “Enter the queen of heaven” will of course delight your Wiccan readers — whlle seriously puzzling many others, or at least making them giggle and smirk uncontrollably (especially about having to “become like little children” to “enter the queen,” unless you’re going to argue that this is a “return to the womb” metaphor like being “born again.”
    You will probably regard the above queries as _proof_ that “queen of heaven” must be correct here … But can it be correct _everywhere_ the phrase appears in the NT? Let’s keep reading … )

    “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the _queen of heaven_” — Matthew 8:11
    — Just how DOES a feast — especially one with “many” guests — take place “in” a queen? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the rest are presumably “feasting” simultaneously … giggle-and-smirk time again: so okay, okay, Aidan, I KNOW what you’re going to answer — “It means Jesus is saying that the Goddess has room for everyone!”
    Let’s keep going …
    “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the _queen of heaven_ has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding _her_.” [I changed "it" to "her" to agree with "queen"] — Matthew 11:11
    — If “queen” is what belongs here, than what is this actually _about_? (that happened from the time of John the Baptist until the moment that this statement was made, or was putatively made) I am well aware that the same objection applies to what’s usually put there (“kingdom”), but I would have hoped that a textual emendation would convincingly solve a textual problem (like that one).

    “He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the _queen of heaven_ has been given to you, but not to them.’ — Matthew 13:11
    — This one, of course, perfectly fits your theory.

    I’ll treat most of the Matthew 13 mini-parables as a bunch, The first six (“sower”/verse 24, “mustard seed”/verse 31, “yeast”/verse 33, “treasure”/verse 44, “merchant”/verse 45, “net”/verse 47) could more-or-less work either way (either “kingdom of heaven” or “queen of heaven” being compared with whatever-it-is-this-time-around), but in the last one, which has a very different beginning from the other six, “queen of heaven” simply doesn’t work:
    “He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a student in the _queen of heaven_ is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’ — Matthew 13:52
    — What does it mean to be a “student in the queen”? The thing you’re emending if from — “student in the kingdom” — was comprehensible; the emendation isn’t.

    “I will give you the keys of the _queen of heaven_; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” — Matthew 16:19 (Jesus is speaking to Peter)
    — What exactly ARE the “keys of the queen”? Keys that she owns? If so, then how does Jesus get hold of them to give out? Did “the queen” give them to him first, to give to somebody of his choice? If so, then Peter seems an odd choice indeed to receive them: at least, if you believe — as I know you do — the Gnostic Gospels account of how Peter whines against Mary Magdalene because she’s a woman; singularly odd and ungracious behavior for someone who had been told that the authority being assigned to him was “keys of the queen of heaven”

    “For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the ______ of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” — Matthew 19:12
    — If “queen” goes in the blank, is Jesus here talking about ritual self-castrati for the Goddess (as in THE GOLDEN ASS), or is he talking about some group of people who just _live_ as if they had been castrated (and who are doing it for the”queen of heaven”): either way, is Jesus saying this is okay, or what?

    “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the ______ of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” — Matthew 23:13
    — How would you understand “shut the door of the queen of heaven”? What exactly were they DOING, that was best described as shutting a queen’s door?

    • TheodoreSeeber

      For keys, shutting doors, etc, try a chastity belt.

  • Robert Mathiesen

    First, I would like to second Merri-Todd’s recommendation of Margaret Barker’s work. Barker is a highly qualified and learned scholar, and a past president of the respected academic Society for Old Testament Study in the UK. Her work — I have read most of her books — strikes me as absolutely first-rate, solidly based on all the available sources in almost all the relevant ancient languages. She has argued on very good evidence, among other points, (1) that the Hebrew scriptures used and accepted by Jesus differed significantly in both text and canon from those later adopted in Rabbinic Judaism (and that many of the differences were tendentious), (2) that Jesus had passed an esoteric teaching on to his closest students, but most of that tradition was lost over the first few centuries CE and only its most general characteristics can now be recovered by scholarship, (3) that the Judaism of Jesus preserved important First-Temple traditions which had been deliberately rejected and suppressed by the Jews who had established Second-Temple Judaism, and (4) that the Judaism of Jesus, like that of the First Temple, was not even remotely monotheistic, but worshipped (at least) two distinct Gods, which distinction was the basis on which earliest Christianity posited a Divine Father and Son.

    For whatever it may be worth, Barker seems also to have made the effort to learn something about how magic works, since she unobtrusively cites a couple of excellent works on magic (including a very insightful account of an Abramelin working, “The Sacred Magician: A Ceremonial Diary” [1976]) in a few footnotes in her first important book, “The Older Testament,” without really trying to alert her uninitiated readers to the implications of her citations. (Let those with ears to hear . . .) I think you would find many of her books very useful for your own investigations into what Jesus (Joshua the Nazarite, of course) was really up to.

    And second, I would like to commend your original observation on the two Greek words spelled basileia (with different accentuation, to be sure, but accents were indeed not written in the early manuscripts of the Greek New Testament). I do not think any other scholar has seen the possibilities here. To accent *all* instances of the word as if it meant “kingdom” is clearly a later (tendentious!) interpretation of the unaccented text; “queen” does indeed make much better sense in a certain number of passages. (There is also another Koine Greek word for “queen,” namely, basilissa, which occurs in a handful of passages in the New Testament. There might be something to be gained by trying to figure out the nuances in meaning that led to the use of the first word in most passages, the second in the few others.)

    As for Jesus and Greek, it’s by no means unlikely that he could speak it, as could very many Galileans of his time. See J. Sevenster’s book, “Do You Know Greek?” [1968], one of the supplement volumes to the journal Novum Testamentum (published by Brill in Leiden). Some of his sayings may well have been uttered by him in Greek, not Aramaic or Hebrew.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

    Aidan, I know you don’t check your e-mail every day, so I wanted to make sure you saw the important Patheos e-mail about the technology updates happening this weekend. We’re asking bloggers not to log in on Saturday to avoid disrupting the process, and afterward you will have a new login URL. Check your e-mail for details, and please contact me if you have any questions!


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