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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