BACKGROUND TO JEWISH AND GENTILE WOMEN IN GRECO ROMAN TIMES
Once the women in the New Testament are identified it is plain that many Jewish women were involved from the outset in the Jesus movement; further, both Jewish and Gentile women were just as involved in the growth of the early church. According to the biblical record and church history there was minimum opposition against women ministering publicly in the early church.
This means that, overall, there is only one instance where some were advocating for women’s silence (1 Cor 14: 34). And there were two women that had to be publicly corrected who were teaching error in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 2: 12 & Rev 2: 20). The woman called Jezabel is dealt with severely, not for being in the office of prophet (Teacher), but rather, for teaching error (Rev 2: 20). As well as these women, complaints are registered about men who should also be silenced and there were also men who were teaching error and were also publicly named by Paul
In the culture at large, most certainly the prescriptive reveals great hostility against women. Paul’s arguments reveal that there were many injunctions, directions, laws and rules being introduced into the early church teachings, particularly in Corinth and Ephesus, to keep women in their place. This place was sanctioned by long standing custom and usage, particularly in Athens and then Rome and authorised by those who had the power to make such legislation. In Greco Roman and Jewish culture and by civil laws there was aggressive male opposition against women functioning in any public office.
However, the descriptive is something entirely different to the prescriptive and, overall, women, although bound by the laws of the land were not passive bystanders. Roman women in particular were actively engaged in their lives and were not silent. Further, the then world-wide social phenomena of the feminine principle reigned supreme: goddess worship and fertility rites and the like pervaded every corner of the Roman Empire.
The Greeks worshipped Minerva, one of the Archaic Triad, invariably portrayed with helmet and spear, one of three supreme representatives of the Roman state and was identified with Athena, goddess of war and wisdom who was the divine protector of the city of Athens.
Atemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities and one of the oldest. She was the Hellenic goddess of forests and hills, childbirth, virginity, fertility, the hunt, and often was depicted as a huntress, carrying a bow and arrows. In Ephesus, she was accorded centre stage and in Asia Minor especially. The goddess
Diana of Ephesus was worshipped by the Romans. (Atemis of Greece (above).
Isis was carried by seafaring men everywhere and introduced to ports they visited. Alexander had arranged her new identity with the Egyptian priests there where she originated. It was their job was to make Isis palatable to cross the seas and be accepted, at that particular time, by the Greeks. The Greeks, unlike Egypt, did not believe in the divine worship of mortals, a role Alexander accepted for himself in Egypt and an image he wished to propagate beyond its shores.
Despite the prescriptive, it was not until the second century CE under the Roman Universal Church that opposition against women (and Jews) functioning publicly in their gifts in the church come to a head. This opposition became very public and very political. Dramatic reversals were instituted as the church evolved which still carry their deadly and pervasive poisonous sting today. The Church Fathers began to resort to social and political ideas concerning women’s position.
Men like Turtullian and Origen (184-254) were more influenced by the pagan culture than by the teachings and life of Christ. The theology of women in the post apostolic church (as it is today in some quarters) was largely based on NT passages such as 1 Cor 11: 8,9; 1 Cor 14: 34-35; 1 Tim 2: 11-15.
Clement of Alexander (150-215) taught that ‘every women should blush because she is a woman and that a veiled woman would not cause a man to fall into sin’ (Instructor 3: 11),
Irenaeus (in the second half of the second century) argued, ‘having become disobedient, she (Eve) was made the cause of death, both to herself and the entire human race’ (Against Heresies 3: 22).
Tutullian (150-220 AD) said, ‘You (Eve) are the devil’s gateway … you are the first deserter of the divine law. You are she who persuaded him, who the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert, death, even the Son of God had to die’ (On the Apparel of Women 1: 1).
Origen, ‘What is seen with the eyes of the Creator is masculine and not feminine, for God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine and of the flesh’ (Select a in Exodus 17.17.). The opposition against women continued unabated. In 407 AD St Chrysosem? wrote, The women (Eve) taught once and ruined all (Homolies on Timothy 9).
There are many more that could be quoted here but suffice it to say that, from that time forward, to obey the call of God on their lives women have had to pay a high price. Surely, the saying, ‘the last shall be first ‘will find its rest in the bestowing of honour on those women who, down through the centuries and against all the odds, have ‘done what they could’.
Patricia’s Comment: ”
“Don’t let the b’s get you down, oh no… :)”