Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion: The Power of the Hysterical Woman

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This is a study of how women figured in public reaction to the church from New Testament times to Christianity's encounter with the pagan critics of the second century CE. The reference to a hysterical woman was made by the most prolific critic of Christianity, Celsus, and he meant a follower of Jesus, probably Mary Magdalene, who was at the centre of efforts to create and promote belief in the resurrection. MacDonald draws attention to the conviction, emerging from the works of several pagan authors, that female initiative was central to Christianity's development; she sets out to explore the relationship between this and the common Greco-Roman belief that women were inclined towards excesses in matters of religion. The findings of cultural anthropologists of Mediterranean societies are examined in an effort to probe the societal values that shaped public opinion and early church teaching. Concerns expressed in New Testament and early Christian texts about the respectability of women, and even generally about their behaviour, are seen in a new light when one appreciates that outsiders focused on early church women and understood their activities as a reflection of the nature of the group as a whole.
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Editorial Reviews

Virginia Burrus
[It focuses] on sites of intersection and dialogue between pagan and Christian perspectives....Among [the book's] strengths is an attunement (albeit without a highly developed theoretical perspective) to the significance of gendered representations in the negotiation of cultural rivalries, together with its attention to the roles of married as well as celibate Christian women.
Society of Biblical Literature
From the Publisher
"This sensitively written and subtly argues book sheds new light on the position of women in early Christianity by investigating the stereotypes of Christian women purveyed in pagan and early Christian texts through the lens of social-scientific models of gender relations." University of Toronto Quarterly

"Recommended both for the educated reader and the scholar of Christian origins." Sara C. Winter, Religious Studies Review

"This book will be of particular interest to early-Christian scholars working on women and/or on Christianity and pagan culture as well as to scholars studying women and religion." Susan A. Calef, Journal of Religion

"...MacDonald...has raised a very important question in the study of early Christianity, one that should continue to be pursued." Carolyn Osiek, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"MacDonald has helped us to understand new dimensions of these tensions, and she has done so in a balanced and nuanced way that one can only admire." Peter Richardson, Studies in Relgion

"MacDonald writes a provocative inquiry into the interaction between women in earliest Christianity and the restraints and opportunities afforded them in Greco-Roman society. The volume is marked by informed and carefully applied social and anthropological contructs which bear on an analysis of religions in the first centuries C.E. Original lines of investigations are pursued, and some intriguing conclusions are offered to the reader. This book is a welcome addition to the academic study of religion and to New Testament scholarship in particular. It is cleanly edited, with helpful bibliography and serviceable index." Rollin A. Ramsarin, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Those interested in women's studies will, of course, welcome this book, but any student of the early Church will learn from it. ...this is a good book for scholars and lay people alike." Stephen Benko, The Catholic Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521561747
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 290
  • Product dimensions: 5.43 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Table of Contents

List of abbreviations
Introduction 1
Pt. 1 Pagan reaction to early Christian women in the second century CE 49
Pt. 2 Celibacy, women, and early church responses to public opinion 127
Pt. 3 Marriage, women, and early church responses to public opinion 183
General conclusion 249
Bibliography 259
Index 272
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