Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women

Overview

In this inspiring new history of the early Christian movement, award-winning historian Kate Cooper reveals a vivid picture of the triumphs and hardships of the first mothers of the infant church. As far as recorded history is concerned, women in the ancient world lived almost invisibly in a man's world. Piecing together their story from the few contemporary accounts that have survived requires painstaking detective work, but it can render both the past and the present in a new ...

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Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women

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Overview

In this inspiring new history of the early Christian movement, award-winning historian Kate Cooper reveals a vivid picture of the triumphs and hardships of the first mothers of the infant church. As far as recorded history is concerned, women in the ancient world lived almost invisibly in a man's world. Piecing together their story from the few contemporary accounts that have survived requires painstaking detective work, but it can render both the past and the present in a new light.

Following the lives of influential women across the first centuries of the church, Band of Angels tells the remarkable story of how a new way of understanding relationships took root in the ancient world. As Cooper demonstrates, women from all walks of life played an invaluable role in Christianity's growth to become a world religion. Peasants, empresses, and independent businesswomen contributed what they could to an emotional revolution unlike anything the ancient world had ever seen.

By sharing the ideas that had inspired them, ancient women changed their own lives. But they did something more. Their story is a testament to what invisible people can achieve, and to how the power of ideas can change the world, one household at a time.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
10/15/2013
Cooper (ancient history, Univ. of Manchester) contends that "Early Christianity was a movement built on stories…." She focuses on narratives of early Christian women, looking at their social networks as a key to exposing their considerable contributions. While Cooper contends that theirs is a forgotten world, that is not true for the academy, where scholars (including Cooper) have vigorously published research on ancient women as well as men, as evidenced by her thorough bibliography. But certainly nonspecialists will be drawn to this more accessible reconceptualization of ancient Christian women through narratives such as Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians and continuing through fifth-century arguments for the virginity of Mary. Cooper readily admits that many of her rhetorical questions, such as some about Paul's motives, are unanswerable, which is intellectually honest but can result in less robust conclusions. Conversely, she makes claims for what Paul and others did—or did not—think, which also works against credibility. VERDICT Having said that, Cooper offers a lively vision of early Christian women patiently advancing the faith, making her book essential for engaged lay readers who are interested in the early Christian movement.—Sandra Collins, Byzantine Catholic Seminary Lib., Pittsburgh
Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
A distinguished ancient historian's elegant study of the extraordinary women who helped lay the foundations of the early Christian church. Most official historical writings about the early church have focused on how its male founders institutionalized biblical teachings and established hierarchies. As a result, the more humble, but no less important, contributions of women have largely been overshadowed. Cooper (Ancient History/Univ. of Manchester; The Fall of the Roman Household, 2008, etc.) offers a provocative glimpse into the lives of early Christian women by examining the legends and theological texts that, unlike the histories that were "preserved with institutional politics" in mind, served as tools for spiritual guidance. The earliest of these documents (from the first and second centuries) offer only fragmentary evidence of female contributions. Yet Cooper is able to weave compelling stories about such forgotten mothers of the church as Lydia, the "purple-seller" who helped the apostle Paul deliver his Christian message to people within the gentile community; the Galilean women Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Bethany, both of whom became the Gospel writer Luke's symbols of enduring "commitment and loyalty" to Jesus; and the martyr Thecla, who defied a family imperative to marry so that she could spread the word of God. Later, third-century histories offer more detailed portraits of other historical women. Cooper suggests that these females, who were usually from the upper classes, used their wealth to found spiritual communities that would become models for the monasteries that would emerge as the church grew more institutionalized. In the fifth century, Byzantine Empress Pulcheria exerted enough influence on the church to help enshrine a Marian cult that would remain in place until the Ottoman conquest of Byzantium in 1453. Engaging reading for specialists and general readers alike.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781468307405
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • Publication date: 9/26/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 398,999
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Kate Cooper is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Manchester. Born in Washington, DC and educated at Princeton, Harvard, and Wesleyan universities, she is the author of The Virgin and the Bride and The Fall of the Roman Household. She is the recipient of the Rome Prize and a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome.

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