c. 50 CE, Hellenic Egypt

Developing this image of divine wisdom further, the Jewish philosopher/Torah commentator, Philo of Alexandria, wrote (in Greek):

Now "father and mother" is a phrase that can bear different meanings. For instance, we should rightly say, and without further question, that the Architect who made this universe was at the same time father of what was thus born, while its mother was the knowledge possessed by its Maker.

With this knowledge, God had union, though not as human beings have it, and begot created being. And knowledge, having received the divine seed, and when her labour was completed, bore the only beloved son who is apprehended by the senses, namely the world which we see.

Thus, in the pages of one of the inspired company [the authors of Scripture], Wisdom (Sophia) is represented as speaking of herself in this manner: "God obtained me first of all His works and founded me before the ages." True; for it was necessary that all that came to birth in creation should be younger than the mother and nurse of the All.

(Philo, On Drunkenness, commenting on the phrase "father and mother" in Deuteronomy 21:18-21; translation slightly modified from Peter Schäfer, Mirror of His Beauty, 40.}

c. 225 CE, Land of Israel

The earliest canonical text of the Sages ("the Rabbis"), who shaped Judaism as we know it, is the Mishnah ("material to be learned by repetition"). It is a compilation of halakhic (legal) traditions, put together in the Land of Israel early in the third century CE. In the Mishnah, we first find the most famous Jewish feminine name for God, Shekhinah.

[In the main body of the Mishnah, "Shekhinah" appears in only one passage, quoted below. Even there, the word Shekhinah is missing in some early manuscripts. However, Peter Schäfer in Mirror of His Beauty, 2002 (p. 94) argues that the reading with Shekhinah, though censored out by some scribes, is authentic and original. Our standard editions of the Mishnah do include it.]

Shekhinah is a feminine noun derived from the verb shakhan, "to dwell". The verb is found in many verses in the Bible where God promises to dwell among us:

To Be continued ...

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