Authors Professor Joan Taylor and Professor Helen Bond will offer a look into the lives of Jesus' female disciples based on their exciting new book, Women Remembered: Jesus' Female Disciples (2022). While many of the women in Christian Scriptures have been dismissed, stereotyped, or misrepresented, Professor Taylor and Professor Bond present some of the latest findings and recover the stories of the women who have helped shape our faith.
Here is a brief excerpt from the book:
Not only are women not imagined as being part of Jesus’ mission, but the story of Christianity’s spread is also a masculine one. In the first century – so the story goes – the Christian message was taken to the lands around the Mediterranean by two great men: Peter and Paul. And later on, the message was reflected upon and transposed into creedal statements in the third and fourth centuries by the ‘Fathers’ of the Church. In popular memory, then, the history of earliest Christianity is decidedly male. But is this the full story?
One piece of evidence suggests it’s not. Sometime in the late 50 ce, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome. This was one of the most important letters that Paul would ever write, setting out his beliefs and hoping that the church would welcome him when he came to visit. As he was still something of an unknown quantity among the Roman Christians, he finished his letter with a list of important people he knew there. Many of them worked with him. What’s fascinating about this list is that it’s the closest we have to a snapshot of the early church, a random collection of people who are listed simply because they were known to Paul. And the surprising thing is that, of the twenty-nine names in the chapter, eleven – more than one-third of them – are women. These women were clearly performing various roles in the church – deacons, benefactors/leaders or ‘apostles’ (envoys) – and others were running house churches. Most significant of all is the fact that the letter itself was delivered by a woman, Phoebe (Paul wrote to commend her to people who didn’t already know her, strongly implying that she had been sent from him with the letter). It’s very unlikely that Phoebe was just the postwoman; as a ‘deacon’ (minister) and benefactor/leader in her own right, she presumably read out and defended Paul’s lengthy missive. She was not just Paul’s deputy, but also an able teacher, envoy and negotiator. So how do we explain the presence of so many women in the Christian movement in the 50s when they seem to have been absent earlier, in Jesus’ mission? If we look carefully at the Gospels we’ll see that there is more evidence for women in the mission of Jesus than we first supposed. Here and there women do appear. They aren’t always named, and sometimes their stories are tantalisingly brief, but traces of Jesus’ women disciples haven’t been completely rubbed away. And this is significant. In a patriarchal and hierarchical society where ordinary women’s involvement in anything was commonly overlooked or erased, the very fact that any women are mentioned at all is worthy of note. The Gospel writers weren’t interested in telling us about female disciples – they wrote to tell us about Jesus, to inspire faith in him and (in the case of the Acts of the Apostles) to tell us how great missionaries took the message to Rome. Where women are mentioned, it’s usually a passing reference or the tiniest of clues. But these traces repay careful investigation, and we’re justified in assuming that far more lies behind these clues than we might initially suppose – they represent the tip of the iceberg, we might say.
Bond, Helen; Taylor, Joan. Women Remembered (pp. 13-18). John Murray Press. Kindle Edition.
Join us as Professor Taylor and Professor Bond offer a look into the Early Church and the role women were playing in the development of the faith.