Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries

Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries

Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries

Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries

Synopsis

Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries focuses on religion during the period of Roman imperial rule and its significance in women's lives. It discusses the rich variety of religious expression, from pagan cults and classical mythology to ancient Judaism and early Christianity, and the wide array of religious functions fulfilled by women. The author analyses key examples from each context, creating a vivid image of this crucial period which laid the foundations of western civilization.

Excerpt

Many of the vast array of religious beliefs and practices evident in the Roman Empire had been inherited from ancient civilizations, and these had been adapted to changing contexts down the centuries. The long relationship of intermingling between the Greek and Roman worlds meant that religious ideas migrated freely, informing and developing indigenous belief systems. The geographical area of Palestine is a pertinent illustration of how religious practice in a particular place adapted to changing circumstances.

In ancient times Palestine was known as Canaan, and its deities, such as El, Baal, Astarte and Asherah, were subsumed into the cult of Yahweh through the dominance of the invading Israelites. The Canaanite cults continued to exert influence and attract adherents despite the dominance of the cult of Yahweh. Some centuries on, faced with the irresistible ideas and practices of the Greek world, Yahwism can be seen to change and adapt again. The concept of written scripture, a belief in the resurrection of the dead and a developed angel and demon cosmology influenced Palestinian religion which can be recognized as rabbinic Judaism by the end of the first century CE. In Palestinian as in other cities of the Roman Empire, religious cults and belief systems from all known corners of the ancient world found expression and support from populaces that were similarly cosmopolitan and, importantly, both curious and adventurous concerning what was often for them a new religious movement.

The dominance of Christianity in western society from the fourth century CE has meant that our understanding of what religion is has been shaped for centuries by that one example. Christianity contains within it not only religious rites such as baptism and eucharist, but also a vast array of beliefs. We can observe a clear distinction between

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