Does the Atonement Have Masculine and Feminine Halves?

Latter-day Saints typically see the Atonement of Christ as comprising the suffering in Gethsemane as well as the crucifixion.  I’ve been wondering if there’s some kind of duality implied by the contrasting details in these two halves.  Consider the following chart, giving some details from Jesus Christ’s suffering in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha:



Night Day
Private Public
Introverted/Psychic Emotional Suffering Extroverted/Physical Violent Torture
Primary instrument = liquid (bleeding) Primary instrument = solid (cross)
Inside of a garden On top of a hill
Cyclical narrative Linear narrative

Is it a coincidence that the circumstances of Gethsemane are stereotypically feminine, and the circumstances at Golgotha are essentially masculine?  Surely, a Freudian could analyze this to an unnecessary and irreverent depth, but is there perhaps some value to be gained from seeing the atonement of Christ in two complementary but distinctly different halves?

We could see this as evidence that the Atonement truly is infinite and eternal, a universal offering on behalf of all humanity.  What could be more inclusive than an Atonement where the Savior felt in full every kind of pain, and did so in situations that reflect the fundamental natures of both genders?  Indeed, as per Alma 7:11-13, a Latter-day Saint understanding of the Atonement would require the Savior’s Atonement to have such a holistic quality.

It’s reasonable to say that most of Western history has been formed by patriarchal priorities.  As such, looking at this chart, is it any wonder that civilization tends to focus on the cross more than on the garden?  What does it say of Latter-day Saint theology that it has restored the knowledge that the suffering in the garden was not just an intense prayer, but an integral part of the Atonement, completely equal in profundity and importance?

There are surely holes in this idea, compromising its usefulness as a lens for doctrinal study.  For example, I don’t think seeing the agony in Gethsemane as primarily emotional and spiritual negates its unfathomably physical dimension, as per D&C 19:15-18, but others might disagree.  Is this interpretation enlightening, or patronizing, or both?  I’m not campaigning for it, but I wonder if there’s any value to be had from it.  If anyone is aware of previous scholarship or authoritative statements on this idea, please share.

Gethsemane and Golgotha?

One comment on “Does the Atonement Have Masculine and Feminine Halves?

  1. I’m not aware of authoritative statements on this subject per se, but I think it’s obvious from Joseph Smith’s discourses and the revelations, that dualism was making its way back, the kind of dualism that didn’t see physical body mainly as a punishment (mortification), or physical pleasure primarily as a sin (mortification and celibacy; interestingly, gluttony and wine-bibbing were okay if you were a prelate). Too bad we often miss our opportunities to ponder this. Of course, one thing that couldn’t help having an effect on that was the intensely physical part of the trek to the West.

    I think anyone, who’s felt an intense emotional/spiritual suffering can testify that at a certain point, it is difficult to make a distinction of emotional/spiritual and purely physical. If anything, it seems that nothing purely physical could even be as intense as emotional/spiritual. And for me, it’s difficult to make a distinction between spiritual and emotional in this context. In some others, it is much clearer.

    I think we may say with all due respect to the physical torture the night before Friday and on the cross, that if innocent suffering alone would qualify, we would have a lot of people that have gone through more intense physical torture than Jesus, and we know at least some, who went through it voluntarily. But if we take into account the experience of Gethsemane, we really realise that this was no ordinary innocent torture victim.

    When I was a child/young man, I saw Jesus mainly as a victim of a power-drunk elite who wanted to eliminate a potential threat to their power. It seemed to me that he was just dragged along a hapless victim, until I realised that he had the opportunity to flee his captors; he also would have had people there willing to use a not insignificant amount of violence to save him from them. But my Lutheran teachers never talked about that. They seemed to have no inclination of Jesus’s suffering on emotional or spiritual level; even if they showed a sign of having Gethsemane within their horizon, in that they talked about it a bit, it was just a sort of a prelude, a vehicle to emphasise the intensity of the physical suffering that came (and a setting for John’s chapter 17).

    It seems to me that it was the difficulty of fathoming the enormity of suffering in Gethsemane that probably lost its meaning to mainstream Christianity; possibly also partly because its penchant for primarily serving the needs of the patriarchy. But then, the teachers who had any authority in Christianity from third century onward were all men. We know little of second century.

    By the way, I think that we might justifiably ask whose interest required that the women, pre-eminent as they were in New Testament gospels, seemed to all but disappear from sight in Christian churches so that towards the end of the Mediaeval period they (at least Roman Catholics) were arguing whether women even had a soul that could be saved, or damned for that matter. Women were mainly seen as a handy scapegoat for any mishap that had to be blamed on someone harmless enough. (The witches were almost exclusively women without any social standing.)

    I know my view on this is a bit extreme, but I don’t think it’s completely without merit. I would go as far as to say that the yin/yang dualism that you allude to is the ultimate reality. We usually can’t fully separate yin and yang without detrimental effects to understanding both. We can have righteousness only in the context of an alternative to it. Without the opposite, there is no righteousness, as Lehi and Alma both so eloquently tell us. Likewise, without an alternative to it, there would be no sin.

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