Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Some Reflections

I hated history in high school and during undergrad. Mostly, it was listless and detached from my own reality. Of course, now that I've stepped out from that mindset, the ancient past has come to life in some curious ways. Reading literature about the New Testament, including the social and political world has added multiples layers to my understand. One of the chief texts is Lynn Cohick's Women in the World of the Earliest Christians.

So far, there are four main facts I've learned in the first three chapters. One, the lack of female representation in marriage documents is astounding. Simply, women, with few exceptions, weren't allowed to represent themselves. They had to have a male (relative or not) stand in for them. Two, divorce was common but didn't carry any particular shame as regards to the woman. In fact, many women could get their dowry back without much fuss.

Three, barrenness didn't necessarily result in shame. So while a Greco-Roman woman could be divorced (or request or suggest one) if she couldn't have children, most often the husband didn't make a big deal out of it. Fourth and finally, most women married roughly around age 15 and didn't usually get to see their children reach adulthood.

So I highly recommend this text. Cohick deals with papyrus, ancient rhetoric (some of it so sexist it will make your toes curl) and seeks to provide nuance and clarity to the modern stereotypes of ancient women. Well worth your time.

Plus, if that isn't enough, I bought this book for my wife and haven't let her read it yet! Of course if she asked, I would mutually allow it.

--Nick

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