Item description for When Women Were Priests: Women's Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity by Karen J. Torjesen...
Overview This landmark book reveals not only that women were priests, bishops and prophets in early Christianity, but also how and why they were suppressed. "Compelling, relevant reading".--Ms. magazine.
Publishers Description This landmark book reveals not only that women were priests, bishops and prophets in early Christianity, but also how and why they were suppressed. Compelling, relevant reading.--Ms. magazine.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.12" Width: 5.3" Height: 0.71" Weight: 0.7 lbs.
Release Date Feb 1, 2000
ISBN 0060686618 ISBN13 9780060686611 UPC 099455014007
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More About Karen J. Torjesen
Karen Jo Torjesen, Ph.D., is the Margo L. Goldsmith Chair of Women's Studies and Religion at Claremont Graduate School in California, and an associate of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity. She is widely regarded as a leading authority on women in ancient Christianity.
Reviews - What do customers think about When Women Were Priests: Women's Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity?
This book recovers the truth in spite of sexist social norms Jul 22, 2003
Contrary to what another reviewer has said, women were leaders in the early church. Stating this fact is not a revision to be in line with social norms, in fact, it flies in the face of what most mainline Christians seem to want to believe. The reason he has never read about some "movement" in the early church to have women leaders is that no movement was necessary, since women were leaders from the beginning of Christianity until the religion was changed to fit Roman norms. This book only suggests that we change it back to the way it was in the first few centuries. This is not revisionist, it is reconstructionist. If people do not think women should have any voice, power, or leadership under Christianity, then they are practicing the Roman version, not the true egalitarian religion that Christianity started out as. Before Rome institutionalized Christianity, the Christians stood in opposition to the Roman social norms. Then Constantine co-opted the religion and the Romans gradually adapted Christianity to fit their society. The mainline Christianity of today reflects this Hellenization of the original religion. Our society is comfortable with this less-than-healthy corruption of Jesus' teachings because our society suffers some of the same social ills as ancient Rome. This book suggests a restoration of Christianity that is healthier and more true than the Constantinian version. Another, better known book that also deals with this subject matter is In Memory of Her by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. If you find When Women Were Preists to be too unclear or unacademic, Schussler Fiorenza's book should be more satisfying as it is very academic.
Reclaiming the past May 30, 2003
Karen Jo Torjesen's book, 'When Women Were Priests' examines the subject of women in the early Christian movement, and particularly the role of women in the leadership positions in the church. Torjesen, a leading expert on women in ancient Christianity, is on faculty at Claremont Graduate School.
As women have attained rights to ordination in various denominations (Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist) and even other religions (the first woman to be ordained a rabbi in the United States took place in 1972), increasingly scholars have come to re-examine the role of women in the early church, and have been arguing with mounting evidence and persuasiveness that this is not a new phenomenon, but rather a recapturing of women's roles that have periodically existed in both Jewish and Christian communities.
The question of the gender of a priest (the requirement by Roman Catholics, as in the Vatican's 1976 Declaration on the Question of Admitting Women to the Priesthood that priests be in the bodily image of Christ, for example) brings into question sexuality and the common perception of women by society. When Barbara Harris was consecrated at the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA) in 1989, Time magazine made a reference to her red nail polish--as if this has anything to do with her qualifications; but of course, it has everything to do with the way people perceive the issue.
Torjesen examines multiple sources of ancient data to show evidence that women were preachers, prophets, pastors and patrons in the early Christian movement. Some of these can be found in the Bible itself. The tradition of women as prophets actually dates back to Jewish times: Deborah was a judge, and Miriam, the sister of Moses, is described as a prophet in one of the oldest parts of the Torah, the song of Miriam (in Exodus). Various art works depict women in liturgical stances or settings, behind a table (presumably presiding) or with arms outstretched in liturgical praise fashion. Of course, one gospel account speaks of Mary Magdalene being the first person to see the risen Christ, and being charged to tell the others of the miracle, hence becoming 'Apostle to the Apostles'. Indeed, the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Mary each show a rivalry between Mary and Peter for pre-eminence among the apostles, with Jesus coming down on Mary's side.
Various Pauline letters another other extra-testamentary writings show a strong female presence among the leaders of communities and house-churches--Junia is hailed by Paul as 'foremost of the apostles' (Romans 16:7); synagogue and grave archaeology have turned up inscriptions such as Sophia of Gortyn, elder and head of the synagogue of Kisamos lies here. Where Christians emulated the synagogue style of worship and organisation, naturally women's leadership would have been carried over too. Of course, in house-church traditions the role of women's leadership is understood, as women's dominance of household affairs is well-known and documented throughout the Roman Empire at the time of Christianity's first expansions. Indeed, one second-century critic of Christianity, Celsus, dismissed it as 'a woman's movement'.
Torjesen's better chapters are the early ones which talk about history and evidence; her later chapters on theology, biology (?) and society are interesting, but less valuable from a critical-scholarship standpoint. Each section, however, is generously documented with notes and sources, and the book would be valuable if only for the extensive notations. Happily, this book is much more than that--clear and energetic in writing, controversial but well-explained and well-defended, Torjesen makes her case well and adds valuable material for the defensive of women's leadership in churches today, and much for those who maintain more traditional mores to think about. In essence, if one can't refute the arguments here (and I am not saying they cannot be refuted--merely that they must be engaged, not dismissed), one must examine the basis for holding the exclusive-male-leadership belief.
Revising the truth to fit societal norms Feb 11, 2003
This book infers that there was a time in the history of the church when women were accepted or on their way to being accepted as leaders in the Christian church. The author claims this phenomenon was suppressed around the time the church became the official religion of the Roman Empire (became widely accepted and institutionalized). I have a few major objections to this approach and these conclusions, if you will indulge me.
1. The authors put a lot of emphasis on the non-New Testament history of the first few centuries in drawing their conclusions. This part of history is relatively less well-attested and documented than the history New Testament itself, which they disdain. They are well content to pick out obscure references and build a case, while denying the historicity of the New Testament. They prefer to see the Bible as a misty, unverifiable document, picking and choosing and reinterpreting selective passages to their taste--that is, those that support their conclusions.
2. Other points of view are not represented in this book, other than the here and there whisper of a straw man ready to be knocked down.
3. In my reading of church history, and admittedly I have only a master's degree, there was never a significant movement for accepting women as pastors, priests, bishops, episcopoi, elders; for more than nineteen centuries because it contradicts the clear reading of scripture: "In the church I do not allow a woman to exercise authority over a man." It is only with the filtering into the church of the feminist movement that we have seen a call for this. This smacks of revisionism. Call it what it is: feminist social theory and a rejection of traditional Christian morality and doctrine. Don't dress it up as if the church was supposed to be this way all along.
4. There are books that intelligently and evenly argue for women as leaders in the church, and though I disagree with those as well, one would be better served to read a book like, "Women in the Church," by Grenz than this sensationalist title.
Insightful reading Jul 14, 2001
I must admit that I expected this to be an exhaustive work providing evidence for when women were priests, as the title suggests. However, while the subject is certainly touched upon, the book focuses much more on the socio-political environment of the developing Christian movement, including the Jesus movement, in relation to women, and how this environment shaped Christianity's general beliefs about women's roles. While I would have liked to see the title developed more throughout the book, it is still certainly a work worth the read. Torjensen's skill of examining the greco-roman cultural (and philosophy) and how it influenced Christianity is quite insightful. While this observation is certainly nothing new, Torjesen conducts a thorough investigation. Her scholarship is quite good and this work is sure to be a classic in feminist theological resources. Her writing style flows well and, rather than facing doom and gloom in the end, one feels a certain inspiration to move forward and reclaim the message of Jesus that was so highly regarded in the early Jesus movement, which is anything but what Christianity has become in (generally) the present-day organized form of the church. If you are interested in understanding more of "why" women have been so oppressed in Christianity, this is an excellent historical source. I highly recommend this work!
When Women Were Priests Falls Short of Being a Great Book May 5, 2000
When reading a book about a controversial topic, one expects to find an assortment of outcomes: excitement for the intellect, challenges against tradition, and/or offensive ideas. The anticipation for effects such as these inspires one to take the time to read a book about said controversy. An accomplished book presents a good argument for a side, or perhaps several sides, of an issue through quality organization, respect for the reader's intelligence, and thorough explanations of conclusions made. Accord with the contention presented bears no importance upon the caliber of the treatise itself. Such an exceptional work promotes further intellectual contemplation and discussion about the issue at hand. In her book, Torjesen seduces the reader into believing her publication is such a text. The introduction leads one to believe the work will qualify as an accomplished book; the actual discourse, however, ultimately fails to live up to the expectations formed through the introduction.
Threaded within the introduction to historical findings and theories such as recent evidence of women's prominent roles in Christian churches from the first to thirteenth centuries, the history and current condition of women's ordination marks this text as one with possible insight into this controversy. The book itself attempts to help the reader understand why and how women were pushed out of leadership roles they once held. Torjesen has four major sections, as reflected in the introduction, to her argument that the "...patriarchal norms of the Greco-Roman gender system..." influenced the eventual elimination of prominent roles for women in the church. (269) Her first section introduces the reader to the evidence and the logistics of women in roles such as deacons, patrons, priests, prophets, and even bishops. She provides evidence from art, inscriptions, and literature to counter those who previously claimed no evidence existed showing women exercising leadership roles in the church community. Torjesen also explains how the authority of women in the household, the place where early Christians first met, prepared them for leadership in the church.
The next segment of her position places the precedent of women in leadership roles into context: the culture and ideology of the Greco-Roman world. She elaborates on the public versus private concept previously touched upon (man associated with public world,woman with private) and the virtues associated with women.
In the third section of her argument, Torjesen shows how the Greco-Roman world, consisting of two separate domains, influenced the lack of female leadership in Christianity when the church became "increasingly institutionalized during the third and fourth centuries." (7) The fourth, and final section of Torjesen's argument illustrates precisely how the Greco-Roman ideology affects Christian thought. The last chapter of Torjesen's book does not provide explanations or examples of how the Greco-Roman world's influence on the early Christian church marginalized women. Instead, it offers a look at examples of a dubious culture before ancient Greece and a tradition that is part of the Christian heritage that did not marginalize the female gender. While these five sections posses quality structure, Torjesen's book lacks respect for the reader's intelligence. One problem which appears throughout the book is Torjesen's tendency to jump to a conclusion without acknowledging other options or giving complete detail on how she reached that conclusion. For example, Torjesen uses a passage from the second-century Gospel of Mary to indicate tensions between the reality of woman's leadership in the early church and the Greco-Roman ideology about gender roles. In the passage, Mary teaches the disciples lessons taught to her by Jesus. Peter challenges Mary's teachings, saying, among other things,"`Did he prefer her to us.'" (36) When interpreting this line, Torjesen reads `her' as `a woman.' Peter's having difficulty with a woman preaching, she concludes, indicates the tension between women's leadership and the culture in which it existed. While this interpretation is a valid one, it is not the only one. Only the twelve disciples received the "secret of the kingdom" (Mark 4:11), so why should Mary have a special insight they do not? Torjesen does not provide any reason as to why that interpretation could not be a correct one and so she appears to have come to a hasty conclusion. Had Torjesen respected her reader's intelligence, she would have included the refutation.
Along with a lack of a rebuttal to opposing interpretations, the lack of primary sources in certain parts of the book create more doubt in Torjesen's arguments. In the last chapter of her book, she discusses female images of God. One such image is Sophia, divine wisdom. According to Torjesen, Jesus is an incarnation of Sophia. Sometimes he is portrayed as divine wisdom herself speaking and doing her works. The only primary sources Torjesen provides for reference are the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John. She mentions that to Matthew, Jesus is "Sophia incarnate," though offers no actual reference to support this claim. She also asserts that the first chapter of the Gospel of John is adapted from a hymn of Sophia, offering John 1:1 for reference, but not the actual hymn. This lack of primary sources makes the reader rely on Torjesen's interpretations of the texts from which her claims are based.
While Torjesen's book exhibits a well-organized argument, the way in which she reasons her argument lessens the impact of her thesis. Her thought-provoking contention - the Greco-Roman gender system, being found extrinsic to Christianity, must be rejected, leading to the restoration of what it destroyed: women in leadership roles within the church - lacks the necessary supporting arguments to withstand critical attacks. Torjesen presents the reader with a thesis that could easily shake up traditional understanding of women's roles. Because of her lack of respect for her reader's intelligence and her lack of thorough explanations and references in certain critical points in her argument, When Women Were Priests falls short of being the great book on the subject of the historical basis for women's ordination in the modern church it hints at in the introduction.