The Shekhina and Other Divine Female Figures in the Late Middle Ages: A Synchronic Account

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Medieval Kabbalistic literature, especially from the last third of the thirteenth century onwards, was very much preoccupied with the notion of a lower-most Sefirah which was perceived by the Kabbalists as female in terms of gender, a notion commonly referred to in scholarship as “Shekhina”. An important scholarly attempt to account for the appearance of this highly gendered version of the notion within medieval kabbalistic literature, focused on the somewhat earlier surge in devotion to Mary in the Christian west. This article proposes a different and much wider perspective on this question, contending that both the Christian preoccupation with Mary as well as the Jewish gendering of the Kabbalistic Shekhina, should both be seen as reflecting the various vicissitudes related to women and female gender concepts characterizing the medieval west in this period. Specifically, the article focuses on late medieval Christian literature describing divine or semi-divine female figures who were designated by Barbara Newman as ‘Goddesses’, suggesting that this literary trend, which is yet another reflection of the aforementioned preoccupation with women and female gender concepts in this period, could shed light on the gendering of the Shekhina in the Kabbalistic literature.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number1180
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Christian–Jewish interreligious discourse
  • Kabbalah
  • Mary
  • Middle Ages
  • Shekhina
  • Zohar
  • gender
  • goddesses in Christianity
  • medieval Kabbalah
  • medieval allegory

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


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