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SOPHIA: WISDOM INCARNATE

by Joanna Manning

One of the most exciting recent developments in feminist spirituality has been the rediscovery of the biblical figure of Sophia. The word "Sophia" means wisdom. The gender of the noun in Greek is feminine. But "Sophia" is also the name given by Paul to Jesus in I Corinthians 1: 24 where he refers to Jesus as "the Sophia of God."

     So who is Sophia? And how can a noun with a feminine gender be applied to Jesus?

     The personification of Wisdom first appears in Hellenistic and Alexandrian post-exilic Jewish writings. Jews who preferred to stay in places such as Alexandria rather than return to Israel became more cosmopolitan and pluralistic in their outlook as they absorbed the influence of the surrounding culture. The Greek author Philo describes a mixed community of men and women in Alexandria who gathered weekly "around the table of Wisdom" in the years immediately preceding the birth of Jesus.

     The Alexandrian community was also influenced by the Egyptian cult of universal goddess Isis.
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