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Jesus’ Association with Women

In my previous point I talked about the traditions that indicated that Jesus associated with women publicly during his ministry – in an attempt to use established historical criteria to know whether the prominence of women in the earliest Christian communities may have had precedence in the life of Jesus himself. What about the contextual credibility of these traditions?

It is true that women were generally viewed as inferior by men in the ancient world (see below). But there *were* exceptions: philosophical schools like the Epicureans and the Cynics, for example, advocated equality for women. Of course, there were not many Epicureans or Cynics in Jesus’ immediate environment of Palestine, and our limited sources suggest that women, as a rule, were generally even more restricted in that part of the empire with respect to their abilities to engage in social activities outside the home and away from the authority of their fathers or husbands. Is it credible, then, that a Jewish teacher would have encouraged and promoted such activities?

We have no solid evidence to suggest that other Jewish rabbis had women followers during Jesus’ day; but we do know that the Pharisees were supported and protected by powerful women in the court of King Herod the Great. Unfortunately, the few sources that we have say little about women among the lower classes, who did not have the wealth or standing to make them independent of their fathers or husbands.


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Paul’s View of Women in the Church
Women in the Ministry of Jesus



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 29, 2013

    I am looking forward to your blogging more on Paul’s views since his views have been widely quoted to justify limiting the leadership roles of women in churches.

  2. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 29, 2013

    First, about the Pharisees and Herod the Great…am I right in thinking you’ve said the Pharisees had apocalyptic views? Did they hold those views in Herod’s lifetime? If so, how could Herod have been comfortable with them? He certainly would have wanted society to stay just as it was.

    About the role of women…it’s interesting that you’re dealing with this subject just as Pope Francis is calling for greater appreciation of women in Christianity. I think he’s a wonderful man, perhaps a truly great man. But I had mixed feelings about his saying, “Mary is more important than the Apostles.” The “Mary” Catholics venerate is semi-mythical. Jesus undoubtedly had a mother, but it’s not certain whether she supported him, or even whether she was a nice person. Are we even sure of her name? I don’t think it’s healthy to encourage this exaltation of a largely made-up character. I don’t doubt that Francis himself believes in her, but…more important than Peter and Paul?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 29, 2013

      Yes, my sense is that Herod would not have been pleased with apocalyptic views. As to Mary, you are taking the Protestant side in a very long (and hard!) debate! (I’m not saying I disagree. I’m just sayin’ 🙂 )

  3. Avatar
    seeker_of_truth  July 29, 2013

    I see on the Oxford University Press website that The Bible A Historical and Literary Introduction is due out in September.

    I can hardly wait!

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