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How Women Came to Be Silenced in Early Christianity: A Blast From the Past

Time for a blast from the blog's past.  Here is a question I get asked about a lot by my students: Why did women come to silenced, their voices muted, in the early Christian tradition -- especially if, as the evidence suggests, women were even more attracted to this new faith than men in the early years? When I dealt with that issue exactly four years ago on the blog, this is what I said (it came at the end of a thread on women in the early Christian church): ********************************************************************** I come now to the climax of this thread: how is it that women came to be silenced in the early Christian tradition? Of all my posts in this thread on women in early Christianity, I think this is the most important. Again, I give my reflections on it from my Introduction to the NT: The first thing to observe is that women may have been disproportionately represented in the earliest Christian communities. This at least was a constant claim made by the opponents [...]

Why Intentional Changes of the Text Might Matter

In doing the research that led up to my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, I came to see that the variations of our manuscripts were important not only because they could tell us what the original writers said in the books that later became the New Testament, but also because they could tell us about what was influencing the anonymous and otherwise unknown scribes who produced the copies of these books in later times. As I pointed out in a previous post, scholars have long thought – with good reason – that most of the intentional changes of the text (that is, the alterations that scribes made on purpose – at least apparently on purpose – as opposed to simple scribal mistakes) were made sometime in the first two hundred years of copying.  If these changes were indeed made intentionally, then the scribes who made them must have had a reason for wanting to make them.  They were consciously changing their texts in places. They weren’t doing that in millions of places, but in [...]

ANT: More on Women in Early Christianity

I’m nearly finished reading the page proofs for the second edition of After the New Testament.  Gods willing, I finish tomorrow – a good thing, because I’m heading out of town (well, I’m already out of town; so I’m heading out of town out of town) to do some hiking.  I’ll be able to keep the blog up (let’s hear it for wi-fi!).  But proof reading is outta the question!   Anyway, yesterday I gave the first half of the Introduction to one of the new sections in the second edition of the book (that I call ANT), on Women in Early Christianity.   You may want to reread that bit from yesterday if it’s not fresh in your mind.  Here’s the final part of the Introduction.  (Please note: I give a very small bibliography at the end.  The reason it is so small: it is for college students in a beginning course.  Many of you will probably want to suggest other readings.  I too would like to suggest more – lots more!  But my idea is [...]

After the New Testament: Women in Early Christianity

Among other things, I am spending a chunk of each day just now reading the page proofs for the second edition of my anthology After the New Testament.   “Page proofs” are the type-set pages as they are ready to appear in the printed book.   This is the last chance an author has to catch mistakes, typos, and so on.  The new edition of this book is fairly long– over 550 pages – and reading proofs is one of the very least interesting parts of the job.  It’s a serious pain in the neck.   The press also (typically – depending on the press) employs a proof-reader; but no one can catch everything, and there are certainly typographical errors that will not be caught.   In the first edition of this particular book, in the opening lines of the Gospel of Peter, where “King Herod,” Jesus arch-enemy, is introduced, my text was printed as “Kind Herod.”   Ai yai yai…. In any event, as I mentioned back in January, and then again in May, there are sixteen chapters in [...]

How Women Came to Be Silenced

I come now to the climax of this thread: how is it that women came to be silenced in the early Christian tradition? Of all my posts in this thread on women in early Christianity, I think this is the most important. Again, I give my reflections on it from my Introduction to the NT: The first thing to observe is that women may have been disproportionately represented in the earliest Christian communities. This at least was a constant claim made by the opponents of Christianity in the second century, who saw the inordinate number of women believers as a fault; remarkably enough, the defenders of the faith never denied it. Second, we should recall that the earliest Christian communities, including those established by Paul, were not set up as public institutions like the Jewish synagogues or the local trade associations, which met in public buildings and had high social visibility. Paul established *house* churches, gatherings of converts who met in private homes. The significance of this difference should not be overlooked. For in the [...]

Male Domination in Antiquity

In this thread I’ve been laying out the view that in Paul’s own churches, women were granted places of prominence, possibly because they had been prominent at times from the very beginning, going back to the ministry of Jesus. But eventually women were silenced – as evidenced in the Pastoral epistles and the interpolation of 1 Cor. 14:35-36 by a later copyist of Paul’s letter. I continue this line of thought again by referring to the discussion of my Introduction to the NT, based on what is a broad consensus among scholars of antiquity who study such things:   So… why did the Pauline churches move to the position embraced in these later texts (wrongly assigned to Paul), restricting the roles that women could play in the churches, insisting that Christians be married, and making Christian women submit to the dictates of their husbands both at home and in the church? It would be easy enough to attribute this move simply to male chauvinism, as much alive in antiquity as it is today. But the [...]

The Non-Pauline Oppression of Women

In my previous post I argued that the view of women in 1 Timothy 2:12-15 does not coincide with Paul’s own teachings, and that it therefore is probably not something that Paul wrote.  (This is a standard view among scholars, that Paul did not write 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; there are compelling reasons for this view, which I could go into if anyone really wants to know….)  But doesn't Paul say something similar in his undisputed letters, in the harsh words of 1 Cor 14:34-35? Indeed, this passage is *so* similar to that of 1 Tim 2:11-15, and so unlike what Paul says elsewhere, that many scholars are convinced that these too are words that Paul himself never wrote, words that were later inserted into the letter of 1 Corinthians by a scribe who wanted to conform Paul's views to those of the Pastoral epistles.  The parallels are obvious when the two passages are placed side by side. (AND if I knew *how* to place them side by side in Word Press, they [...]

Paul, the Pastorals, and Women

Based on what I said in the previous post, Paul's attitude toward women in the church may seem inconsistent, or at least ambivalent.  Women could participate in his churches as ministers, prophets, and even apostles.  But they were to maintain their social status as women and not appear to be like men.  This apparent ambivalence led to a very interesting historical result.  When the dispute over the role of women in the church later came to a head, both sides could appeal to the apostle's authority in support of their views.  On one side were those who urged a complete equality between men and women in the churches.  Some such believers told tales of Paul's own female companions, women like Thecla, who renounced marriage and sexual activities, led ascetic lives, and to taught male believers in church.  On the other side were those who urged women to be in complete submission to men.  Believers like this could combat the tales of Thecla and other women leaders by portraying Paul as an apostle who insisted on [...]

Paul’s View of Women in the Church

In this thread I have been talking about the role of women in the early church, starting with the ministry of Jesus, then in the churches of Paul (the first churches we have any real record of). In this post I continue by reflecting on Paul’s actual *views* of women; this strikes me as a particularly important topic since Paul is frequently condemned as the first Christian misogynist (or at least one of the first bad ones). Is that justified? The following represents some of my reflections as found in my discussion in my textbook on the NT for university students. The apostle Paul did not know the man Jesus nor, probably, any of his women followers. Moreover, many of the things that Paul proclaimed in light of Jesus' death and resurrection varied from the original message heard by the disciples in Galilee. For one thing, Paul believed that the end had already commenced with the victory over the forces of evil that had been won at Jesus' cross and sealed at his resurrection. Not [...]

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 [...]

Women in the Ministry of Jesus

In my previous post I tried to show that women – contrary to what one might think – were quite prominent in the ministry and churches established by Paul. One naturally wonders why that might be, given the fact that women came to be silenced in later Christian traditions (continuing on in some rather notable circles today). One answer for why women played important roles in the life of the early church is that they may have played an important role in the life of the historical Jesus. As readers of this blog know, it is not an easy matter establishing what actually happened in Jesus’ life. Historians need to apply historical criteria to all of the traditions that survive about Jesus: independent attestation (if a tradition is independently attested in multiple sources, it is more likely to be authentic); dissimilarity (if a tradition cuts against the grain of what Christians would have wanted to say about Jesus, it is more likely authentic); and contextual coherence (any tradition that cannot make sense in a first [...]

Women in the Churches of Paul

QUESTION: Looking back to June 14 you listed 7 topics you were discussing at the Apocrypha Seminar at the National Humanities Center. I don't believe we have discussed much of anything on feminism. It seems a broad subject for rich discussion. Were women disenfranchised later or were they denied any major roll right from the start? Of course, Dan Brown could be brought into the subject!   RESPONSE: I’ll probably keep Dan Brown out of it! J Well, unless I feel inspired to talk a bit about Mary Magdalene and what we really do and don’t know about her, later on. But maybe it would be good to devote a few posts to the question of women in the early church. Our earliest author, of course, is Paul, and Paul’s views of women are widely misunderstood. In my NT course I have every student participate, as part of their grade, in a formal debate on this or that topic. The topics are meant to be controversial, and one of them, years ago, was “Resolved: The [...]

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