Traditionally Christian scholars have argued that women held a low status in first-century Judaism and their situations improved in Christianity. This argument ignores the fact that Christianity was a sect of Judaism, not a separate religion, through much of the first century. Jesus was Jewish, and so were all the people around him. Jesus taught Jews and operated within Jewish culture. So whatever position women held in his movement, it was a position within a Jewish group. Now Jewish scholars, most particularly women scholars, are challenging the Christian claim that Christianity improved the position of women. This paper will take a fresh look at the evidence of the position of women during the time of Jesus.
[...] Scriptures from far ancient times also did not necessarily reflect the position of women in first-century Palestine. The other Jewish texts Christian scholars sometimes cite to support their argument that Christianity was more favorable to women were rabbinic text written in Galilee one to two centuries after the time of Jesus. These texts cannot be assumed to be an accurate representation of the cultural beliefs at the time Jesus lived. During the life of Jesus Jewish religious practice revolved around the Temple in Jerusalem, where rituals were held. [...]
[...] Her reign went on for ten years and was called the golden age of the Hasmoneans. In the Diaspora culture of the Galilee, where the rabbis worked, the roles of prophets, kings, and priests that women had sometimes filled were no longer available. The role of rabbi, the lawgiver, was the only prominent role remaining, and that was a traditionally male role. It is also interesting to note that though some of the rabbis expressed fairly negative opinions about women, the Christian writers who lived at that time also expressed very negative views about women. [...]
[...] It is true that some synagogues had side rooms, but there is no proof that those rooms were where women sat in seclusion. Scholars have also claimed that first-century Jewish women were secluded from the men in the home. Once gain, archaeological excavations of Galilean houses of the period show that the houses were too small to provide separate quarters. Houses in areas like Capernaum, where Jesus went to teach, were quite small. A sizeable group, like the group reported to have traveled with Jesus, would not have been able to meet in such small spaces. [...]
[...] Paul talked freely in his letters about the women involved in the Christian movement. He referred to them as apostles and mentioned them as heads of house churches. The way he conveyed this information indicated that he did not find the idea of women apostles or women religious leaders very unusual. The allegedly Pauline letters that condemn women and say women should submit to men were not actually written by Paul. These letters are now known as the pseudo-Pauline letters or the Pastoral letters. [...]
[...] According to the writer of Luke, when Jesus was alone with his disciples, he was alone with a sizeable group of men and women, including the group of women who went to the tomb after his crucifixion. The reference to the women in Mark supports this, particularly since Mark uses the same term for both male and female disciples. Conclusion From this evidence we can conclude that some women were leaders in first- century Jewish culture and held official positions in their communities. [...]
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