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When Women Were Priests

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This landmark book reveals not only that women were priests, bishops, and prophets in early Christianity, but also how and why they were then suppressed.


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This landmark book reveals not only that women were priests, bishops, and prophets in early Christianity, but also how and why they were then suppressed.

30 review for When Women Were Priests

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Batz

    This is a challenging book, not in the sense that it is a tough read (it's very well written book), but in the sense that it forces readers to address their own assumptions and the way in which they view women and the church. In her book, Karen Jo Torjessen makes an attempt to both defend the reality of women's leadership roles in the early Christian movement and to demonstrate how women's leadership was undermined within the Church. Personally, I found her arguments for both points very compell This is a challenging book, not in the sense that it is a tough read (it's very well written book), but in the sense that it forces readers to address their own assumptions and the way in which they view women and the church. In her book, Karen Jo Torjessen makes an attempt to both defend the reality of women's leadership roles in the early Christian movement and to demonstrate how women's leadership was undermined within the Church. Personally, I found her arguments for both points very compelling. Let's address Torjessen's first point. Both scripture and history attest to the reality of women's leadership in the early Christian movement. Think, for example, of the book of Romans. "Of the twenty-eight prominent people whom Paul considered it political to greet, ten were women" (33). Further, "among these women leaders of the Roman congregation was a woman apostle, Junia, whom Paul hailed as "foremost among the apostles" (Rom. 16:7) (33). While Paul is often used to express an inability to incorporate women within the realm of Christian leadership, it is difficult to circumvent passages like these. Among other important bits of evidence, I appreciated the mentioning of a certain "second-century detractor of Christianity" who criticized the very validity of the movement by dismissing "the religion as a woman's movement" (81); statements like these are telling. Finally, it's worth mentioning Torjessen's interpretation of the fourth gospel. She argues that "in John's Gospel Mary Magdalene, not Peter, is presented as the model for discipleship. At a time when Peter and other male disciples had fled, Mary stood loyally at the foot of the cross" (34). Torjessen goes on to say that Mary is also the first witness to the resurrection and is commissioned by Jesus to carry his message to the others. Given such a precedent, it shouldn't surprise us that that early critics were keen to deem Christianity a "woman's movement." To be brief, let's now address the second point. How exactly were female leaders subordinated? Torjessen first points to the transition Christianity made from the private realm to the public realm. Upon Constantine's legalization of Christianity in 306 CE, Christianity became a public religion that quickly adopted a Greco-Roman gender ideology. This ideology gendered the two spheres; the public sphere was deemed male while the private sphere was deemed female. Influential Christians like John Chrysostom and others were quick to adopt this spacial-gender ideology. Even more influential thinkers such as Augustine did little to encourage the acceptance of female leaders with his ideas on original sin and concupiscence. Under Augustine's thinking, sin became something sexually transmitted and women's sexuality became an impediment to godliness. While the Reformation helped rethink some of these ideas in its reevaluation and appreciation for both men and women's sexuality, the Reformation only went as far as to propose that the "new ideal of womanhood" was "domestic womanhood" (241). If anything, I'd recommend readers to get a hold of a copy of this book for its last chapter that explores the more female descriptions of God found in the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament. Her proposition for the Church is bold but worth contemplating: "Christian churches need to return to their own authentic heritage, reject the patriarchal norms of the Greco-Roman gender system; and restore women to equal partnership in the leadership of the church and participation in Christian life" (269). Read this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    I enjoyed this book and found it educational, but it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. The title and synopsis lead one to believe that Torjesen will be spending the bulk of her time exploring the history of gender politics within the Christian church itself -- albeit, naturally, dedicating some space to the broader context of Greek, Roman, and Hebraic culture. In actuality, however, the balance is reversed: over half of the book is spent discussing the intricacies of those ancient societies. An I enjoyed this book and found it educational, but it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. The title and synopsis lead one to believe that Torjesen will be spending the bulk of her time exploring the history of gender politics within the Christian church itself -- albeit, naturally, dedicating some space to the broader context of Greek, Roman, and Hebraic culture. In actuality, however, the balance is reversed: over half of the book is spent discussing the intricacies of those ancient societies. And while that context is necessary to a proper understanding of the way church teachings on gender have developed, I would have preferred it if ecclesial history had been the focus. (I think this issue could have been resolved by simply making the book itself a little longer, thus providing space to dissect both secular and sacred context with ample thoroughness.) Torjesen does give some specific examples of female leadership in the early church, but not very many -- especially for a scholarly work specifically dedicated to female leadership in the early church. I also wish that those examples which were given had been fleshed out a little more. Additionally, I would have appreciated an analysis of the biblical case for female leadership. While Torjesen does reference a few scriptures which indicate greater gender parity than the Church has historically given it credit for, she could have gone far deeper. This segues into my next major takeaway from the book: When Women Were Priests is not (or does not appear to be) written from a strictly Christian perspective. As I said before, it is a scholarly work; therefore, Ms. Torjesen is not making an exegetical argument, she is making an academic argument. I think this lends a valuable perspective to the issue in general and the book in particular, but it also means that, if you’re going to read the book, you’ll have to be prepared for a treatment of scripture that is not exactly reverential in tone. You’ll have to be prepared for Torjesen to assign personal and sociological motives to the Bible’s writers, thereby implying that, perhaps, some human frailty is reflected in the scriptures in addition to their divine inspiration. Personally, I do not find that hypothesis baseless or heretical; others would. Use your own discretion and follow your own conscience. Beyond her cursory and potentially unorthodox treatment of biblical inerrancy, Torjesen does detour into some speculative territory in the last chapter of the book. She examines archaeological evidence which suggests that many Mesopotamian cultures had matrilineal religions long before the patriarchal structure began to take shape in Greek religion, Judaism, and later, Christianity. No harm there. At the same time, however, she makes some (arguably substantial) exegetical leaps in considering biblical language which refers to God in feminine terms: God as a mother comforting her child, God as a hen gathering her chicks under her wings, etc. Torjesen does this to reiterate that the Bible names women image-bearers of God as well as men, and that it is therefore incorrect to teach that femininity is incompatible with the divine nature. Those are good and valid points, but I get leery when writers begin to directly refer to God with feminine pronouns (as Torjesen does briefly), given that he is always (to my knowledge) biblically referred to in the masculine form. I also get very leery when writers begin to assign personal entity to abstract biblical concepts, as Torjesen does with Wisdom. (“Wisdom” is here personified as “Sophia.” It is difficult to determine exactly what kind of identity Torjesen is trying to give Sophia, as she only appears in the last chapter of the book, but Torjesen appears to be postulating that Sophia may be the angelic or semi-divine entity behind biblical passages like Proverbs and John 1. Exegetical controversies aside, it seems more than a little imprudent to attempt to introduce and defend such a complex theory in just one chapter, and the last chapter to boot. But I digress.) As I said, I did find this book both enjoyable and educational. For instance, I was surprised to discover that prominent Church fathers like Tertullian and Augustine were developing and teaching such blatantly unbiblical (and at times even heretical) doctrines at the height of their ecclesiastical power. We expect error, and even some corruption, from any theologian (especially the famous ones). But some of the doctrines that Torjesen reports are so obviously false, when examined through the lens of even the most rudimentary scriptural study, that it’s almost shocking to learn that they came from the mouths of educated, dedicated leaders in the early Church. An interesting, insightful book; just not everything I expected or wanted. {3.5 stars}

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melody Schwarting

    When Women Were Priests but We Decided to Not Talk about Them, Instead Complaining about Certain Men Who in Many Cases Actually Supported Women: Amplifying Misogynistic Vitriol and Continuing to Omit Women’s Voices by Fall Out Boy Let me preface this review by saying two things: first, I worship in a tradition that ordains women, and also takes liturgical practice and Scriptural authority very seriously. Second, When Women Were Priests was published nearly 30 years ago, and scholarship has moved When Women Were Priests but We Decided to Not Talk about Them, Instead Complaining about Certain Men Who in Many Cases Actually Supported Women: Amplifying Misogynistic Vitriol and Continuing to Omit Women’s Voices by Fall Out Boy Let me preface this review by saying two things: first, I worship in a tradition that ordains women, and also takes liturgical practice and Scriptural authority very seriously. Second, When Women Were Priests was published nearly 30 years ago, and scholarship has moved on a lot since then, especially in the past decade. I’m sure Torjeson would write a different book if she were publishing in 2023 instead of 1993. If I ever meet her (unlikely), I would love to ask her about her favorite women from church history and not talk about this book at all. While I, too, believe that women held pastoral office in early Christianity, and that the Scriptures prohibit no Christian from receiving any gift of the Holy Spirit, I fundamentally disagree with Torjeson’s method, and thus many of her conclusions. When it comes to studying women in history, I’m vastly more interested in researching actual women and amplifying their words to modern audiences. Y’all, I am so done with bemoaning the oppressive structures of the past while overlooking real women who lived fulfilling and fruitful lives despite “the men,” (as our favorite misandrist Miss Cornelia from Anne’s House of Dreams would say). Yet, Torjeson is consistently more interested in amplifying voices of (often misogynistic) men, not women. She fails completely to provide a solid record of ordained women, or even a good smattering of women, in the early church. Torjeson argues that the mosaic of Bishop Theodora (Theodora Episcopa) was defaced to erase Theodora’s femininity, which is false. The lower portion of this mosaic was damaged at some point. Unlike its neighbor niches in the Zeno chapel, it was restored. Both the R and A are gone from Theodora, and it’s easy to see that the restorer chose to match the background rather than replicate the letters, figuring that viewers would still know it said “Theodora.” “Episcopa” (bishop), the “controversial” part, remains intact. The first three figures in the mosaic were restored from roughly the shoulders/neck down (Theodora, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Praxedes; Pudentiana was less damaged) and no effort was made to obscure their femininity. Perhaps this is making a mountain from a molehill, but it demonstrates how quickly Torjeson reads evil intent into things that are innocuous, or even positive. It also demonstrates that her research is not as careful as it should be, because it’s obvious even to my untrained eye that the lower part of the mosaic as a whole has been restored, preserving the feminine appearances of the figures. Similarly, Torjeson is quick to make a misogynist out of Luke. Luke!! Of all the biblical writers, Luke is the one whose work shows the most female influence. He’s the only one to include the detail of Elizabeth feeling her unborn child move in her womb when she met Mary. He’s the only one to include Mary’s magnificat. He’s the only one to include Anna the temple prophet. Torjeson makes a huge deal out of the choice of a single word in Acts 16:13, and overlooks actual women in the New Testament, making me an Unhappy Reader. (She does discuss them a bit. But not enough.) She makes too much of Tertullian, in my opinion. Tertullian was never a bishop, and had a lingering flirtationship with heterodoxy. Yes, he is the “father” of Christian writing in Latin, but he didn’t hold a significant position of power in the church. Often his writings are addressed to bishops, like heated letters to the editor. Tertullian is also very complex, in some places welcoming women’s contributions, in others curtailing them. Stating outright that he “excluded women” (172) overlooks a lot of evidence where he values and cares for women and their contributions to the church. His unorthodox pet, Montanism, was founded by women, after all. Where Torjeson really lost me, however, was in the chapter on sexuality in ancient Greece. Throughout this book, Torjeson demonstrates an underdeveloped understanding of sexual renunciation and virginity in ancient Christianity. For women like Macrina, lifelong virginity was a way to live the resurrection life on earth (in heaven, there is no marriage). For women like Thecla, lifelong virginity reimagined a social structure that had only two categories: married and unmarried. However, since Torjeson has demonstrated more interest in condemning ancient ways of life than uplifting ancient women, Macrina is absent from these pages, while Thecla is briefly (and unsatisfyingly) mentioned. The Acts of Paul and Thecla passes the Bechdel test! Quit sleeping on this amazing story of women supporting women! Her reading of Augustine and his creepy views of sex and sin is only slightly less cringey than the concept of the homunculus. Again, why not talk about Macrina or Thecla? It also would have been more interesting had Torjeson dug into Augustine’s life and the complex relationship he had with his own sexuality. He lived with a woman for over a decade, fathered a son with her, and abandoned her after conversion. It’s not a modern imposition to read immense guilt and personal conflict into his view of sex as original sin. Yet, his take on sexual renunciation comes late in the historical game; people chose lifelong virginity for centuries before Augustine, for different and more compelling reasons than he did. Like Tertullian, Augustine also commended martyrs like Perpetua and Felicity to his congregation, but don’t you know, Torjeson omits real women like them! Amazingly, even Torjeson’s discussion of Julian of Norwich failed to salve the wounds she inflicted by ignoring women’s voices in the rest of the text. Torjeson wants to leap to God as “she,” an idea I don’t find very compelling, personally, nor did Julian. Since I believe Scripture is God’s self-revelation, I have an issue with rewriting a text with different pronouns to make modern readers more comfortable, as Torjeson does with the story of the two brothers (aka the prodigal son). Recovering feminine imagery of the divine? Yes, absolutely! Yet, our guiding principle must remain that the Triune God is genderless and sexless, except in the physical body of Jesus Christ, which bodily ascended into heaven. This allows us to welcome feminine imagery of the divine, such as the laboring mother, the nursing/weaning mother, the hen with her chicks, the pelican, and so forth, while also avoiding making God in our image as male or female. In summation, I do not recommend this book. Not everything in it is wrong. Some chapters are just fine on their own, but none of them are outstanding or joyously constructive. I wish I could be more gracious to Torjeson, but she silenced women’s voices to amplify misogynistic views from history, and that leaves me with deep grief. Fortunately, being nearly 30 years removed from the publication of this book, I can point to better sources on this topic. Instead of reading this book, dig into some readable primary texts about/by women: The Acts of Paul and Thecla , including a very flattering depiction of Paul and Thecla’s fiery choice of lifelong virginity Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas , containing a diary by a Christian woman and one of the most cherished martyrdom accounts in church history The martyrdom of Blandina, the record of an enslaved woman whose persecuted body imaged the crucified Christ to the church Life of Macrina by her brother Gregory of Nyssa A better book on Scripture’s view of women is Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts. A better book on women in the early church, covering more than ordination, is Christian Women in the Patristic World by Lynn Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes. (I am personally indebted to Cohick for most of my knowledge of women in the early church. Her and Hughes’s command of recent scholarship is delightful, and they write very engagingly, centering women’s stories as this book should have done.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Robby Eckard

    Strengths: Does provide some historical examples of women as "priests" or in leadership in the early church. Also depicts particularly well the history of women's subordination over time within the church, with heavy focus on the church fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries (incl. Augustine) as well as the Middle Ages. Weaknesses: 1. Not enough historical examples of women "priests" to be compelling. 2. Very limited use of the Bible to back up her argument, even when it might have been helpful for Strengths: Does provide some historical examples of women as "priests" or in leadership in the early church. Also depicts particularly well the history of women's subordination over time within the church, with heavy focus on the church fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries (incl. Augustine) as well as the Middle Ages. Weaknesses: 1. Not enough historical examples of women "priests" to be compelling. 2. Very limited use of the Bible to back up her argument, even when it might have been helpful for her. The author does not appear to be a Christian and therefore considers the Bible to be a historical document like any other, but if you want to change the minds of those that do believe in Christianity, backing your argument by using the Bible can play a critical role 3. Doesn't address whether women actually should have been priests in the early church, or if by doing so the examples that she did find were in fact going against the grain in terms of Christian beliefs, early-church practices, and the authority of Biblical Scriptures. Belief in God is not necessary for this argument, only an understanding of how Christianity does and how it has historically functioned in regards to the church's use of and understanding of Scripture 4. The final 3rd of the book veers away from women in leadership positions in the Church and goes too far towards the church's understanding of sexuality and the persecution of women inside and outside the church I write this as someone who is open to the idea of women as priests/pastors, but I did not find this book made a sufficiently compelling argument for it. Still worth a read if you want a greater understanding of how the Christian church has viewed women over the course of its history

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rhode

    It reads a bit too much like an earnest feminist manifesto, and thus probably would not reach a wider audience than the already deeply interested. Which is too bad, because the scholarship seems pretty on the mark. And for me at least it was revelatory. The Catholic churches that now will not allow women in any real position of power, originally were led in part by female priests and even bishops. Christianity was more equal opportunity at the start than it is now 2,000 years later. This should It reads a bit too much like an earnest feminist manifesto, and thus probably would not reach a wider audience than the already deeply interested. Which is too bad, because the scholarship seems pretty on the mark. And for me at least it was revelatory. The Catholic churches that now will not allow women in any real position of power, originally were led in part by female priests and even bishops. Christianity was more equal opportunity at the start than it is now 2,000 years later. This should be required reading in religious history classes in colleges.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Missie Kay

    Clearly written, very well researched. However, the title and the main thrust of the book are not exactly identical. Torjesen focuses much more on arguments from social history in general, rather than specific examples of actual women leaders. One could argue that such examples have been suppressed, but she does not make this argument. Basically, it's interesting, but not 100% convincing. Clearly written, very well researched. However, the title and the main thrust of the book are not exactly identical. Torjesen focuses much more on arguments from social history in general, rather than specific examples of actual women leaders. One could argue that such examples have been suppressed, but she does not make this argument. Basically, it's interesting, but not 100% convincing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    For years I have wondered how the Roman Catholic Church came up with their ideas regarding sexual matters. More specifically, why women can't be priests, why priests need to be celibate, why the concerns regarding homosexualiy, birth control etc. This book answered a lot of my questions. The book reads more like a history textbook so it isn't an easy read. The author's points seemed to be well documented. For me, it was both enlightening and educational. It also provides some hope for those who For years I have wondered how the Roman Catholic Church came up with their ideas regarding sexual matters. More specifically, why women can't be priests, why priests need to be celibate, why the concerns regarding homosexualiy, birth control etc. This book answered a lot of my questions. The book reads more like a history textbook so it isn't an easy read. The author's points seemed to be well documented. For me, it was both enlightening and educational. It also provides some hope for those who would like the Roman Catholic Church to return to a more open minded approach regarding issues related to sex, the ordination of women, optional celibacy and acceptance of gays. The author does not seem to have an ax to grind. She presents facts, findings and discoveries and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Frederick J

    Torjesen's research and assertions are utterly fascinating and compelling. However, in the last chapter the book seems to fall apart a little for me. Suddenly it seems, copious and convincing documentation is replaced by comparatively tenuous inference and some long reaching. Although her conclusions aren't implausible at this point, she simply doesn't manage to make them convincingly because the evidence is lacking and incomplete. I'm not certain that this is Torjesen's fault. The fact is more Torjesen's research and assertions are utterly fascinating and compelling. However, in the last chapter the book seems to fall apart a little for me. Suddenly it seems, copious and convincing documentation is replaced by comparatively tenuous inference and some long reaching. Although her conclusions aren't implausible at this point, she simply doesn't manage to make them convincingly because the evidence is lacking and incomplete. I'm not certain that this is Torjesen's fault. The fact is more conclusive evidence justifying her final points just doesn't exist. If it did why wouldn't she make use of it? I worry this diminishes the overall impact of the book by ending with a comparatively soft argument.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Very informative! I've studied the role of gender in the Christian faith fairly extensively, especially as it pertains to ordination and marriage, but I'd never read much about the perceptions of sexuality in the ancient Roman world. Understanding the background really helped contextualize the topic. It was also interesting to see how the Reformers completely re-envisioned the theology of sexuality in order to counter Augustinian notions of human sexuality. It seems like the Reformers laid the g Very informative! I've studied the role of gender in the Christian faith fairly extensively, especially as it pertains to ordination and marriage, but I'd never read much about the perceptions of sexuality in the ancient Roman world. Understanding the background really helped contextualize the topic. It was also interesting to see how the Reformers completely re-envisioned the theology of sexuality in order to counter Augustinian notions of human sexuality. It seems like the Reformers laid the groundwork for the modern notion of embodiment as an important component of the Christian faith.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Roger

    The major thesis of this book is that women have been unfairly and unnecessarily excluded from Christian leadership. Although this is an important point, I'm not sure it's the most important of the book in light of some other historical revelations it draws on. Like: the form and function of the first, house-based congregations and the facts that demonstrate that Christianity as we know it was formed, largely, in an effort to assimilate to and be accepted by the larger Greco-Roman European socie The major thesis of this book is that women have been unfairly and unnecessarily excluded from Christian leadership. Although this is an important point, I'm not sure it's the most important of the book in light of some other historical revelations it draws on. Like: the form and function of the first, house-based congregations and the facts that demonstrate that Christianity as we know it was formed, largely, in an effort to assimilate to and be accepted by the larger Greco-Roman European society. Worth the read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Wow, just checked my book and it's a first edition, wouldn't ya know... I've had this book for quite a while, started reading it a long time ago (there is a book marker in there where I took a note on a showing of Riverdance, hmmmm) If anyone is interested in the roles of women in the early Catholic church, this would be a good book to read. Wow, just checked my book and it's a first edition, wouldn't ya know... I've had this book for quite a while, started reading it a long time ago (there is a book marker in there where I took a note on a showing of Riverdance, hmmmm) If anyone is interested in the roles of women in the early Catholic church, this would be a good book to read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Aurore

    When women were priests de Karen Jo Torjsesen porte mal son nom. Si le premier chapitre est consacré à ce sujet (l'autrice cite de nombreuses traces archéologiques de femmes prêtres dans les premiers siècles), le reste du livre porte bien plus sur le titre secondaire : le scandale de la subordination des femmes dans l'essor du christianisme. L'autrice montre comment l'Eglise a progressivement exclut les femmes de toute responsabilité en même temps que l'Eglise passait d'un système d'assemblé de When women were priests de Karen Jo Torjsesen porte mal son nom. Si le premier chapitre est consacré à ce sujet (l'autrice cite de nombreuses traces archéologiques de femmes prêtres dans les premiers siècles), le reste du livre porte bien plus sur le titre secondaire : le scandale de la subordination des femmes dans l'essor du christianisme. L'autrice montre comment l'Eglise a progressivement exclut les femmes de toute responsabilité en même temps que l'Eglise passait d'un système d'assemblé de maison à un système d'églises officielles. Cela s'explique par plusieurs facteurs : - Tout d'abord les femmes d'un rang plutôt élevé avaient un certain pouvoir sur leur propre maison. En effet en tant que cheffe de foyer, elles dirigeaient les personnes qui travaillaient dans leurs maison, elles supervisaient la production et la distribution des richesses. L'église des premiers siècle se réunissait dans des maisonnées, ce qui a permis à des femmes de diriger les assemblées qui se reunissaient sous leur toit. Nous en avons des traces déjà dans les écrits de Paul. - Dans la culture gréco-romaine, les femmes et les hommes avaient des rôles bien distincts. Les femmes étaient limitées à la sphère privé. La sphère publique c'est à dire les activités et rôles publiques étaient réservés aux hommes. La sphère publique était incompatible avec le fait d'être une femme respectable. Les femmes devaient être modeste et rester dans la sphère privé, c'est à dire la maisonnée. Une femme œuvrant dans la sphère publique était une femme considérés comme aux mœurs légeres. Néanmoins, les limites de la sphère privé/public pouvaient être flou, par exemple certaines femmes d'un haut rang pouvaient avoir certaines responsabilités publiques. - De cette façon, la distinction privé/public délimitait l'enseignement des femmes. Une femme pouvait enseigner dans l'espace privé mais pas dans l'espace public. Il était inconvenant pour une femme d'enseigner dans l'espace public. Tant que les églises (et synagogues) étaient considérées comme faisant partis de l'espace privé, elles pouvaient enseigner. Les églises des premiers siècles appartenaient à un mélange de sphère privé/public. En effet des personnes étrangères à la maisonnée se réunissaient dans un même lieux. Néanmoins, les réunions avaient lieu dans des lieux privés. Les églises progressivement vont passer de la sphère privé à la sphère public (début du 3eme siècle environ) dans des bâtiments conçus pour recevoir les membres de l'église avec la mise en place d'un système de gouvernance basé sur la sphère publique. C'est donc dans cette progression entre sphère privé et publique que l'exclusions des femmes des rôles à responsabilités va s'opérer. A noter également que de la même façon certaines femmes dirigeaient des synagogues et étaient considérés comme ancienne. Il n'est pas forcément clair si les synagogues étaient considéré comme des espaces privés ou publique. Certaines églises ont pu adopter le modèle juifs de l'époque et donc permettre à des femmes de diriger des assemblées. Si dans le monde gréco-romains, la distinction sphère public/privé était fondamentale, les vertus attribuées aux deux sexes l'étaient également. Les hommes avaient les vertus de courage, de justice et de maitrise de soi. Ces vertus étaient essentielles pour participer à la vie de la communité, à la vie publique. Les vertus assignées aux femmes etaient la chasteté, le silence et l'obéissance. Ces vertus devaient être mis en pratique dans la sphère privé, c'est à dire la maisonnée. Tout ces rôles genrés ordonnaient la société (même s'il pouvait y avoir quelques exceptions). Il est souvent dit que les pères de l'église ont été influencé par la philosophie grecque. En réalité, l'autrice fait le constat que les pères de l'Eglise n'ont tout simplement pas remis en question le dogme social gréco-romain. L'Eglise chrétienne a laissé ce dogme social imprégner son enseignement, notamment sur les rôles attribués aux femmes. Egalement, il y avait surement une volonté de rendre l'église chrétienne respectable aux yeux du monde et donc à protéger l'honneur tiré des rôles genrés attribués aux femmes. On retrouve cela dans les écrits de Paul. Afin que la foi chrétienne ne soit pas calomniée, les femmes devaient garder leur rôles de femmes modeste et obéissante et bien sûr dans la sphère privé. Le livre aborde aussi les notions d'honneur/honte et la subordination sexuelle entre le pénétrant et le pénétré. Tout ces sujets sont essentiels pour comprendre le monde gréco-romain et donc comprendre comment l'église s'est développée en intégrant ces notions. Tout cela à eu des conséquences pour les femmes dans les siècles qui ont suivi et ce jusqu'à aujourd'hui. Le dernier chapitre What if Gof had breasts? explique comment les notions gréco-romaines abordées dans le livre ont eu des conséquences sur comment les grecs voyaient la biologie, la cosmologie et le divin. Enfin l'autrice conclut en abordant la notion du féminin dans le divin tel que présenté dans les écritures hébraïques ainsi que dans certains écrits chrétiens. Elle cite par exemple un hymne de Julienne de Norwich qui compare le Christ qui donne sa vie à une femme qui accouche dans la douleur et qui, comme une mère qui allaite, nous nourrit de son propre corps. Ce dernier chapitre, qui nécessiterait un livre entier, permet de susciter une réflexion et inclut une bibliographie intéressante.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    This book has a terrible title, but it is not a terrible book.  That does not make it a good book, though.  This is the sort of book that one must handle carefully, in that it does provide some insights into the place of women in the early church as well as its implications for the contemporary church.  The author does not prove her point that women were indeed priests, and actively sabotages her point by admitting at the beginning that the term diakonos is translated as minister or priest based This book has a terrible title, but it is not a terrible book.  That does not make it a good book, though.  This is the sort of book that one must handle carefully, in that it does provide some insights into the place of women in the early church as well as its implications for the contemporary church.  The author does not prove her point that women were indeed priests, and actively sabotages her point by admitting at the beginning that the term diakonos is translated as minister or priest based on whether one is a Catholic or a Protestant.  Truth be told, men were not priests during the time of the early church either, at least not as it would have been understood by the religious world at the time.  That said, there is a genuine conversation that one can have about the role of women within local congregations during the apostolic era, although the author herself muddles her point in order to make what could be an essay into a book by getting into all kinds of areas that do not really help her make her case. This book is between 250 and 300 pages and is divided into 9 chapters bookended between a preface and introduction that show the author's feminism as well as a closing index.  In between are a variety of chapters that do not always make the sort of points that the author wishes to make, at least in a way that would be authoritative to readers who view the Bible and not some feminist scholar's opinion as being important.  The author begins with a sound discussion of the role of women as preachers, prophets, and patrons in the early church (1).  After that the author then talks about the importance of household management and women's authority in this realm as it related to both the church as well as ordinary life (2).  The author then discusses the power of patronage that women, especially wealthier widows, had (3) to shape and influence the behavior of civil and religious leaders in Roman society.  The author then looks at the problem of Hellenistic views of private virtues and the dangers this had for public women, which is where the book starts to go off the rails (4).  A discussion of women's honor being women's shame follows (5) as well as a discussion of the changes that occurred starting in the third century when the Hellenistic church went public (6) and started rolling back its view of women.  After that the author discusses the Greco-Roman view of penetration and penetrators and entirely misses the biblical point of condemning immorality apart from those grounds (7).  The book then ends with some whining about the supposed problems of sin pollution (8) relating to female immorality as well as some speculations on the sacred feminine (9). Ultimately, this book is not a success, but while there are many aspects of that failure they boil down ultimately to one key problem that plagues a lot of books of this kind, and that is the problem that the author views herself (and like-minded feminists) as judges of the Bible rather than as being judged by the Bible.  Had the author made a strong statement that she was accepting the Word of God as the standard and then sought to correct misinterpretations of the Bible or to bring passages that are neglected to light, then this book would have been great, but it would have been a far more mild and even ambivalent sort of work, where one had to struggle with the same sort of dilemmas that the apostles did and that believers still do.  The author is entirely valid in saying that it was the rise in monarchical authority in Hellenistic Christianity that made it impossible for women to continue being leaders, but it appears as if the author wants to be an authority over men in that corrupt and unbiblical sense rather than to return Christianity to a private sort of religion that deals with logistical concerns for brethren and preaches the truth and does not strive for massive institutional or societal power, in which it is no particular threat if women provide insight on the meaning and significance of what the Bible says because they are not seeking to dominate anyone in the first place.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rodeweeks

    Not exactly what I expected as it is not always clear exactly when women were not allowed to be leaders in the church anymore. What is clear is that it has always been a struggle. I totally agree that there should not be patriarchy or even matriarchy in church, religion as a whole, or society. There should be truly equal partnership between men and women. One thing that is not mentioned is the fact that the Hebrew word for God is not masculine but neutral. I think there ought to be a translation Not exactly what I expected as it is not always clear exactly when women were not allowed to be leaders in the church anymore. What is clear is that it has always been a struggle. I totally agree that there should not be patriarchy or even matriarchy in church, religion as a whole, or society. There should be truly equal partnership between men and women. One thing that is not mentioned is the fact that the Hebrew word for God is not masculine but neutral. I think there ought to be a translation of the Bible where all masculine forms are either replaced with feminine (at first) and then with the neutral. How is it that there still is no word for both male and female in the English language? He/She, (s)he.... As a South Africa I especially enjoyed reading the book in the light of the recent #AmINext movement, trying to find answers as to why we men treat women so badly. The book written mostly from a European perspective - Western Christianity and Philosophy - although some early Church fathers came from Africa. I do not know how much of it can be made relevant to black African men, but as for African men from European ancestry I have some thoughts. For centuries men kept women confined to their homes. The man's place is public, the woman's place is private, in the house is where she rule. We men claimed that it is for the woman's own protection, in order to honor her. A woman who became a public figure in medieval times were said to be promiscuous, sexually immoral - just because she were not silent but spoke. Can you see how in the 21st century we still see women as sexual beings exclusively? We men rape women, murder women and abuse women. She had to fight to be seen as equal to men, to find her voice. She should still be protected, not as a means of suppression but against us men - the so called protectors. It is not women who became immoral when they did not want to be slaves in their own homes anymore but men who were immoral all along.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Definitely a niche book that as other reviewers mention, it doesn't really talk so much about women priests.. the keyword is "WHEN" -- the author gives amazing history and context for what life was like WHEN women WERE priests and what changed. I got a lot of historical evidence I wanted out of it but it is very dry. One main point that the author brings up is the ridiculous one where basically women's bodies are just too sexy to be modern day priests. Much of this inherited (sexist) patriarchy Definitely a niche book that as other reviewers mention, it doesn't really talk so much about women priests.. the keyword is "WHEN" -- the author gives amazing history and context for what life was like WHEN women WERE priests and what changed. I got a lot of historical evidence I wanted out of it but it is very dry. One main point that the author brings up is the ridiculous one where basically women's bodies are just too sexy to be modern day priests. Much of this inherited (sexist) patriarchy system of both the world we live in today and the catholic church is thanks to the ancient Greeks. (and completely ignored the radical teachings of the one of the church claims to preach - Mr. JC believed in equality). I loved learning about the ways women did hold power in this oppressive Greek and Roman societies. I also learned that celibacy laws didn't exist until the 13th century. The last chapter she does go back to the beginning of known human history to discuss goddess cultures and how there are still veiled references to God as female in the bible which I found interesting. Again, this book is really niche but to those that are interested in the content from a research prospective, I do recommend it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jedd Cole

    A great and accessible little book that demonstrates, rather than simply argues, that theology is always a part of a total worldview, and that gender ideology influences how one conceives of God and humanity, and vice versa. Rather than making exegetical arguments a la The Junia Project to try to show how scripture is (mis)used to subordinate/exclude women, Torjesen focuses on painting a thorough picture of the gender ideology of Greco-Roman society and then demonstrates through documentary and A great and accessible little book that demonstrates, rather than simply argues, that theology is always a part of a total worldview, and that gender ideology influences how one conceives of God and humanity, and vice versa. Rather than making exegetical arguments a la The Junia Project to try to show how scripture is (mis)used to subordinate/exclude women, Torjesen focuses on painting a thorough picture of the gender ideology of Greco-Roman society and then demonstrates through documentary and literary evidence that the scriptures and writings of the church fathers often unquestioningly adopted its norms and rhetoric. In this way, Torjesen argues that Christianity cannot be understood historically without understanding it as in large part a cultural product of Greco-Roman culture. In so doing, Torjesen also takes the frequent opportunity of showing that, in addition to the written product of women leaders, the numerous diatribes *against* women leadership in the early Christian communities indicate that women were always acting in leadership roles from the very beginning, and the question of women's roles in the life of the Christian community has always been a live issue.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    It definitely comes across as a more academic book and can be a bit dry at times, but it is incredibly informative. Not to mention it is extremely well researched with each chapter citing many sources. The author has obviously done her homework and is able to solidly back up her arguments. It is an absolute must read for anyone who has ever questioned the historical tendency for the Christian church to place women in a subordinate position to men.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Peter Henrichs

    The book was a good historical account of the function of women in the history of the church leading up to the present. She does a fine job at laying out the facts but I was hopeful for a stronger thesis and what she was hoping for in terms of the function of women priests

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    I liked the idea of this book, more than the book itself. I did learn a lot about ancient cultural perceptions of women, but as far as women in church leadership -- there's actually not much content on that. I liked the idea of this book, more than the book itself. I did learn a lot about ancient cultural perceptions of women, but as far as women in church leadership -- there's actually not much content on that.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jayda

    4.75 stars. A little hard to read at times, but fascinating nonetheless

  21. 5 out of 5

    Deborah-Ruth

    Regardless of which side of the fence you land on (egalitarism or complementarism) this book is an excellent resource in helping dissect women's leadership roles within the life of the early church. In the beginning chapters it discusses some of the key women in leadership (such as Pricilla, Junia, and Mary) and why it is important to remember these leaders (while also explaining how their roles were the same or different from their male counterparts). This book has also helped me understand a w Regardless of which side of the fence you land on (egalitarism or complementarism) this book is an excellent resource in helping dissect women's leadership roles within the life of the early church. In the beginning chapters it discusses some of the key women in leadership (such as Pricilla, Junia, and Mary) and why it is important to remember these leaders (while also explaining how their roles were the same or different from their male counterparts). This book has also helped me understand a whole lot more about confusing passages and what the mean in the context of today such as Paul's injunction to Timothy that women should be silent in church and not preach or teach over a man (which is the classic proof-text today) and also the passage on wearing head-coverings. In general, this is a practical resource in explaining the socio-economic and socio-cultural context, however, I believe the author could have done a lot more with expounding upon some of the women leaders mentioned in Scripture. I feel like she only dedicated a very small part to this and then dedicated the rest to feminism and sexuality. So although I loved the beginning, I was a bit disappointed near the end. Still worth a read, though.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    This is one of my favorite books on women's studies in early Christianity. It made me shed a few tears. I only read a quarter of the book b/c I didn't have much time to read then, but I passed it on to other people to borrow. That's how great this book is. I don't remember what college the author teaches at, but the author is very good and scholarly in research. The book is very easy read and enjoyable as well. Here's what one description said: "This landmark book reveals not only that women wer This is one of my favorite books on women's studies in early Christianity. It made me shed a few tears. I only read a quarter of the book b/c I didn't have much time to read then, but I passed it on to other people to borrow. That's how great this book is. I don't remember what college the author teaches at, but the author is very good and scholarly in research. The book is very easy read and enjoyable as well. Here's what one description said: "This landmark book reveals not only that women were priests, bishops, and prophets in early Christianity, but also how and why they were then suppressed."

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gayle Noble

    Really enjoyed this book. Good arguments as to why the role of women in Christianity changed and diminished as it became more political and writers such as Tertullian and Augustine got involved. Author argued well that ancient Greek philosophical viewpoints on the nature of men and women still resonate down to today. Worth a read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    elbren

    NPL

  25. 4 out of 5

    Micheal

    This short book gives a good overview of the scandal of the subordination of women in the early Christian movement as local communities moved out of the house church into more public spaces.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    Good information, but slightly irrelevant when the history is separated from the theology.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Calvin

    fascinating, on several levels

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Excellent historical review of women's leadership in the early Christian Church and how this was diminished and countered as the Church became part of the Roman Empire. Excellent historical review of women's leadership in the early Christian Church and how this was diminished and countered as the Church became part of the Roman Empire.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Della-Piana

    The history of religion and the history of women's place in it! Fabulous concept for a book, and this one covers the matter beautifully! I own it and will read it again and again. The history of religion and the history of women's place in it! Fabulous concept for a book, and this one covers the matter beautifully! I own it and will read it again and again.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    Raises awareness of the prominant roles women often held in early Christianity, and the factors that changed their position.

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