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Professor Kate Cooper, from the University of Manchester has been investigating the role of women in the early Christian church and concludes that their contribution has been neglected for too long.Identifying women of the early church
The study identifies dozens of forgotten women who were influential in the first and second centuries, during a period when Christianity was – in some respects – more progressive towards women than it appears to be today.
According to Professor Cooper, women played a central role in spreading the new faith through both informal friendship and a complex of family networks.
Their authority within Christian communities was earned through their role as parents, community organizers, and small business owners including individuals such as Lydia the Purpl, seller of Philippi remembered in the Bible’s Book of Acts, was the first person to sponsor St Paul.
Another woman, Perpetua, who lived in Carthage at the end of the second century, was famous at the time for refusing to denounce her faith and instead choosing martyrdom against her father’s wishes.
Her diary, written while she awaited execution in prison, was a radical document which would be seen in today’s world as extreme and very unlike the official views of what a Christian woman should be, says Professor Cooper. Fathers expected their daughters would care for them, honour them and enhance family reputation through marriage. Perpetua fails to conform to society’s expectations and breaks with the traditions of motherhood deciding to remain loyal to Christ, while leaving behind her young children.
Eulalia, Agnes, Agatha, Pelagia, Euphemia, south side west to east, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna. Image: Wikimedia Thecla of Iconium
One of the most important woman she says, is Thecla of Iconium, believed by second century Christians to have been one of St Paul’s disciples.
Referring to the ‘Acts of Paul and Thecla’ – an anonymous second century text – Professor Cooper shows how she rebelled against her family to refuse marriage – an unthinkable act at the time.
“Though there is no certain evidence that Thecla existed, her story was hugely influential in the first few hundred years of early Christianity,” said Cooper.
The influence of her story was far-reaching, in that it became the root of the Catholic theology of chastity and virginity. It is evidenced that every major Christian male writer in the fourth century had a sister and these young women were encouraged to follow Thecla’s example. Rather than criticising her for disobeying her mother, the early Church celebrated her courage.
“Christianity was quite revolutionary in the way it treated its women in the early centuries, especially when you realise how sexist the ancient world was“, says Professor Cooper.
“So it’s sad that Thecla and her contemporaries are not properly remembered and honoured today. They should be an inspiration: for example to the people campaigning for women bishops and priests.”Institution brings exclusion
Women, says Professor Cooper, regularly preached the gospel in the first two centuries of Christianity and in some communities women carried out baptisms.
It wasn’t until the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, in around 313 AD, the religion became institutionalised: male bishops were now government officials and women came to be seen as players in the background rather than public figures, as the following constitution so graphically extols.
“We do not permit our women “to teach in the church”. Rather, they are only permitted to pray and hear those who teach. For Jesus Himself, our Master and Lord, when He sent out the twelve to make disciples of the people and of the nations, nowhere sent out women to preach…For “the head of the wife is the man”, and it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern the head.” – Apostolic Constitutions (AD 387)
These women who had for the time a radical and powerful presence in the early church – have been hidden in plain sight.
The ancient sources mention the women, but over time less and less attention was given to their role in effect they have been airbrushed out of history.
“It is quite sad that a religion which began with a mother and baby should still have so much difficulty with remembering to honour the contribution of its women” Cooper concludes.
Source: University of Manchester
- Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women by Professor Kate Cooper from The University of Manchester is published by Atlantic Books.
Cite this article
University of Manchester. Forgotten women of early Christianity. Past Horizons. August 16, 2013, from http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/08/2013/forgotten-women-of-early-christianity For Archaeology News – Archaeology Research – Archaeology Press Releases
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Dr Karen Ruebens from the Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins (CAHO) and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) examined the design of 1,300 stone tools originating from 80 Neanderthal sites in five European countries; France, Germany, Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands.
Dr Ruebens’ investigations uncovered new evidence that two separate handaxe traditions or designs existed – one in a region now spanning south-western France and Britain – the other in Germany and further to the East. In addition, she found an area covering modern day Belgium and the Netherlands that demonstrates a transition between the two.
She comments: “In Germany and France there appears to be two separate handaxe traditions, with clear boundaries, indicating completely separate, independent developments.
“The transition zone in Belgium and Northern France indicates contact between the different groups of Neanderthals, which is generally difficult to identify but has been much talked about, especially in relation to later contacts with groups of modern humans. This area can be seen as a melting pot of ideas where mobile groups of Neanderthals, both from the eastern and western tradition, would pass by – influencing each other’s designs and leaving behind a more varied record of bifacial tools.”
The University of Southampton research has revealed Neanderthals in the western region made symmetrical, triangular and heart-shaped handaxes, while during the same time period, in the eastern region, they produced asymmetrically shaped bifacial knives.
Dr Ruebens says: “Distinct ways of making a handaxe were passed on from generation to generation and for long enough to become visible in the archaeological record. This indicates a strong mechanism of social learning within these two groups and says something about the stability and connectivity of the Neanderthal populations.
“Making stone tools was not merely an opportunistic task. A lot of time, effort and tradition were invested and these tools carry a certain amount of socio-cultural information, which does not contribute directly to their function.”
The study’s extensive analysis also shows other factors which could have influenced handaxe design, such as raw material availability to Neanderthals, the function of their sites, or the repeated reuse and sharpening of tools – didn’t have an impact in this instance.
The study, Regional behaviour among late Neanderthal groups in Western Europe: A comparative assessment of late Middle Palaeolithic bifacial tool variability, adds a new archaeological perspective on Neanderthal regionality, which is a concept also identified in studies of their skeletal and genetic features.
Header Image : Neandethal : Wiki CommonsContributing Source : University of Southampton HeritageDaily : Archaeology News : Archaeology Press Releases
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