Was Jesus a Hermaphrodite?

I learned via Jerry Coyne’s blog that Susannah Cornwall (a theoblogger and biblioblogger) had made an argument for gender equality in ministry by pointing out that we do not know whether Jesus was biologically male. This led to the Telegraph picking up the story, as well as some negative responses which largely missed the point.

Do we know that Jesus was genetically, chromosomally, biologically male? No. We don’t know with respect to most people we encounter today whether they suffer from Klinefelter syndrome (XXY condition), whether they have multiple genitalia and if so of which kinds, whether they did in the past but had surgery, and so on and so on. One in every 500 males (should “males” be in quotation marks in that context?) has an extra X chromosome, often with no side effects. There is simply no way that anyone today could claim to know whether Jesus did or not.

Of course, if you are happy to decide the matter based on whether his image has a beard when it appears on your tortilla or toast, then the above discussion may not seem relevant to you.

  • JoeyS

    What about Luke 2, where he is circumcised? Not “definitive” but strongly suggestive. You think Luke, who was probably writing the account as told by Mary, would have mentioned something or would have neglected to mention a circumcision.  

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      JoeyS, that’s a good point. Of course, we don’t know that Luke had access to historical information about this point – it may have been something he simply assumed, as part of his emphasis on Jesus’ family observing the Law.

      But be that as it may, if he had XXY Syndrome or hermaphroditism, that doesn’t mean that he lacked male genitalia.

    • Hugh x

       You think if the mohel had said “Something funny here, but I’ll do what I can” Mary would have told Luke, and Luke would have written that down too? Meanwhile, Mary was telling Matthew, they were on their way to Egypt.

  • JoeyS

    Yes, it doesn’t “prove” anything. But how far are we willing to take this? 1 out of every 800 births have Down Syndrom but do we want to assume that Jesus may have had it because we don’t have proof otherwise? 

    I am actually all for gender equality in ministry but I think there is plenty of textual evidence to support that equality without speculation like this. I’m not offended by it but wonder what its purpose is when there is other widely accepted evidence out there?

  • JoeyS

    The more I think about it the Down Syndrome analogy falls short because it is not as ‘hidden’ as gender. I guess what I’m getting at is that there are better textual reasons for gender equality without going down this, I’m sure, divisive road.

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I was going to make the same point as your last comment. I think that the scenario envisaged is improbable, but not impossible. And I think it will not offend anyone other than those who take a negative view of women and so balk at the idea that Jesus could have been one. So perhaps the germane question is whether I ought to repent of taking delight in causing offense to such people, or whether doing so is appropriate? :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Hollomon/100000354947685 Mark Hollomon

    That would certainly put a different spin on the contents of “Secret Mark”.

  • Just Sayin’

    Yes, thank goodness Morton Smith is no longer around or he’d be writing another gospel . . .

  • Jona Lendering

    Are we sure that the initial article (with an unnecessary hypothesis), the inaccurate summary, and the beside-the-point response are not all part of one big Purim joke?

  • Pitch

    Guys they post articles like this must have short dicks.

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  • Ian

    Seemed to me a very strong point. To note on the one hand that there is a excluding and widespread theology that God calls only men to be priests (biological males, those simply identifying as male would not qualify). And on the other hand that we now know that biological sex is not binary, there are a host of different ways of being neither fully biologically male or female (and unlike external genitals, most of the myriad ways of being intersexed could only be detected by recent advances in biotech). 

    Therefore one has to concede that, in all likelihood, great numbers of priests have functioned quite adequately without being unambiguously male. So the theology of male-only is undermined by centuries of practice, not to mention rendered absurd by modern scientific discoveries. In short, to point out that, far from being really about male-ness, or even understanding what that means, historically the doctrine has simply served to say that, if you have a dick, you can lead mass.

    And it seems perfectly logical to note that, in amongst those long eons of medical ignorance, is Jesus. So consequently we can’t even be sure that he wasn’t some variety of intersex.

    I think it is an excellent line of observation. Well done Dr Cornwall.

    Its sad that intersex is so badly understood in our culture that all the objections seem think that the point is refuted if Jesus had a penis… which is just recapitulating the same absurdity: male = cock, no cock = not male.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1428470021 Jonathan Hendry

    The Bible is also silent on whether Jesus had a parasitic twin in his belly, ala Kuato.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Glenn.Andrew.Peoples Glenn Andrew Peoples

    There are rare conditions whereby people have all their organs positioned in a mirror image layout from where they normally are. I’m gonna start a theory about Jesus having that condition. YOU CAN’T PROVE IT’S NOT TRUE!

    Isn’t it funny how progressives bash creationists for entertaining unfalsifiabe beliefs, but if there’s a way of sounding more radical (or at least offensive to conservatives), that rulebook is nowhere to be found.

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Glenn, the problem I have with young-earth creationists and their ilk is that they claim that their views are science, are falsifiable, and yet do not accept when they are falsified.

      Pointing out that we do not know something seems to me rather different. And in this case, I think the degree to which someone finds offensive the mere possibility that Jesus could have been other than they imagined him allows for a convenient mirror that can aid with introspection.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Glenn.Andrew.Peoples Glenn Andrew Peoples

        Well, it’s usually not helpful to think that everyone’s reaction to a left field and unlikely theory is really just a way of assessing their character/motives/something else. The truth is, this is a theory about Jesus that – even in principle, can never be scrutinised. Prima facie, we’re warranted in thinking that Jesus was a genetically fairly normal man. And we also have no particular reason to question it. Whence this novelty?

        • Ian

          Glenn, you really didn’t read the paper did you? – the whole point of is that we *can’t* know. It is not a theory about Jesus at all, but about the male-only priesthood.

          “Prima facie, we’re warranted in thinking that Jesus was a genetically fairly normal man.”

          Which goes along with, prima facia, assuming people are straight, or Christian, or able bodied, or …. Seriously, read the paper.

          • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            Thinking more about this, if one wanted to argue from theological principles to Jesus’ genes, one could come up with lots of reasons to conclude that he was a hermaphrodite:

            Jesus had only one human parent, if one accepts the virginal conception, and so should have had only X chromosomes.

            If Jesus was the last Adam, the first Adam was made both male and female – according to Rabbinic tradition, Adam was a hermaphrodite, and the creation of Eve involved splitting this one male and female being into two.

            In Christ there is neither male nor female. And if what is not assumed is not healed, then Jesus ought to have been both make and female to be the savior of men and women.

            I could go on, but someone might begin to think I am serious. My point is that, if one were theologically inclined to view a hermaphrodite Jesus as an ideal rather than an aberration, then one could find ample grounds for doing so. But personally, I don’t think that one should use Biblical or theological grounds for drawing conclusions about matters of genetics in the absence of actual genetic evidence.

        • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Glenn, it is precisely because human gender now appears to be more complex than the binary “fairly ordinary men” and “fairly ordinary women” with extremely rare “anomalies,” that I thought this subject was worth blogging about.

  • Ian

    The more I read around the comments on this story in various places, the more it turns out to be a nice idiot detector. Cus the initial reaction of almost everyone is to ridicule it, without reading it. And to dimiss it without actually understanding it. And often to throw some insults in at gays, feminists, liberals, atheists, communists or jews, for good measure.

    Glen, and Jonathan’s posts missing the point spectacularly, but at least in a relative tame minority here (unlike most venues I’ve read tonight). 

    It’s really rather fun to see it bring out such thoughtless responses. In a self-righteous kindof way.

  • Stephan Huller

    Tertullian, On Monogamy 3

  • Pseudonym

    Surely this is an opportunity for churches which believe in transubstantiation to lay the matter to rest.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    This just in: The extra X chromosome might have made him more masculine if he had one:  
    http://io9.com/5892334/an-extra-female-sex-chromosome-might-actually-make-guys-more-masculine

    If so, would those who objected before now still object, I wonder?  :-)

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  • Flying Spaghetti Monster

    Well until there is proof that he even existed you can assume anything!!! LOL Is god male or female? Or is god a hermaphrodite as well? They’re just all hermaphrodites in “heaven” huh? Silly people! ;)

  • Flying Spaghetti Monster

    By the way androgenous beings are part of all mythology so you might as well throw jesus and ‘god’ in there too! LOL

  • Troy

     The Gospel of Thomas

    Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].”

  • Kevin

    As a man who studies this stuff quite extensively I personally do not think Jesus is (or was) a hermaphrodite. There’s just not enough conclusive evidence out there. I read these posts and someone mentions that Jesus could just have likely had downs syndrome. And rightfully so.
    Although that’s not why I disbelieve this very weak theory. The 32nd degree of the Freemasonic scottish rite’s emblem is called the Rebis. Which is the divine hermaphrodite of merging divine male with divine female. So whether or not they believe this to be a literal or spiritual application is up to the Mason. But I’m not a mason and they believe in things that I disagree with.
    Another theory floating around is that Jesus was an alien (as crazy as this one sounds). This actually has more credence than the hermaphrodite theory since we have scripture of Jesus Himself saying “my kingdom is not of this world” and references his kingdom being on another world. Another theory that gets blown out of proportion with a simple notion that gets peoples curiosities peaked.

    I have many more examples, but I’ll leave it here with the nail in the coffin – the entire theme of the new testament (excluding his sacrifice for the sin of the world) is about his second coming and return. This is prophetically called the marriage supper of the lamb which is a reunification of Christ (also known as the bridegroom) with the bride (prophetically referenced as His church, or followers). For THIS reason I do not believe that Christ is both genders. As thought provoking as the idea is to consider that Christ may be the perfect human being having both sex organs, I think Him being a man, a king, a bride groom, and every other prophetic title he has in the entire bible is proof enough for me.
    There is ZERO evidence to support him being both genders, and tons of prophetic scripture that signify Him being a man. This is not sexism speaking by the way, this is just reading the texts as plainly as they can get. Although I will admit there are clues in the texts to show other proofs, I do not think Him having both genders is even plausible (although it could very well be possible).

    But I could be wrong, and would love to hear more truth as it comes my way.

  • SirQuala O’Smith

    ADAM AND LILITH WAS BOTH HERMAPHRODITE THE GOD’S MADE BOTH OUT THE SAME EARTH CLAY LILITH WHAT TO BE ON TOP MAKING LOVE ADAM NO LILITH TURN TO HIM AND SAD THE GOD’S MADE US SAME SHE TOOK OFF FLEW UP TO THE HEAVENS SO THE ANGELS BROUGH HERE BACK DOWN TO EARTH THE THE GOD’S TURNING LILITH IN TO A SUCCUBUS A DEMON HERMAPHRODITE THEN ADAM FALL TO SLEEP THE GOD’S TOOK A RIB FROM HIM AND MADE EVE LITITH WAS THE ONE TOLD THEM EAT THE FIGS FROM THE TREE IT WAS NOT A APPLE IT WAS A FIG THEY HAVE NO APPLES IN THE MILDEAST THEY HAD FIG LEVIS NOT APPLE LEVIS TODAY THERE MANY BABIES BRON HERMAPHRODITES ALL OVER THE WORLD INDIA HAS GODS THE GREEKS HAD THEM THE CHINESE, JAPANESE, EVEN IN AFRICA SOME ARE BRON WITH TWO PINES AND PUSSY THERE EVEN BEN WOMEN WITH TWO PUSSY AND PINES YES I THINK JESUS WAS TRULY A HERMAPHRODITE BECAUSE ON STORY TELL HE MAD A YOUNG MAN THAT DIED BROUGH BACK FROM THE DEAD HE TOULD HIM TO RISE UP THE MAN WALK OUT NAKED AND JESUS SLEEPING WITH HIM NAKED

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I hope no human has “pines.”

      In case you didn’t realize, the CAPS LOCK key on your keyboard appears to be stcuck. Just thought you should know.


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