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.

 

 

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