Her Share of the Blessings: Women's Religions among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World

Her Share of the Blessings: Women's Religions among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World

Her Share of the Blessings: Women's Religions among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World

Her Share of the Blessings: Women's Religions among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World


In this pathbreaking volume, Ross Shepard Kraemer provides the first comprehensive look at women's religions in Greco-Roman antiquity. She vividly recreates the religious lives of early Christian, Jewish, and pagan women, with many fascinating examples: Greek women's devotion to goddesses, rites of Roman matrons, Jewish women in rabbinic and diaspora communities, Christian women's struggles to exercise authority and autonomy, and women's roles as leaders in the full spectrum of Greco-Roman religions. In every case, Kraemer reveals the connections between the social constraints under which women lived, and their religious beliefs and practices. The relationship among female autonomy, sexuality, and religion emerges as a persistent theme. Analyzing the monastic Jewish Therapeutae and various Christian communities, Kraemer demonstrates the paradoxical liberation which women achieved by rejection of sexuality, the body, and the female. In the epilogue, Kraemer pursues the disturbing implications such findings have for contemporary women. Based on an astonishing variety of primary sources, Her Share of the Blessings is an insightful work that goes beyond the limitations of previous scholarship to provide a more accurate portrait of women in the Greco-Roman world.


In 1974, while writing my doctoral dissertation and teaching a course on women and religion at Franklin & Marshall College, I first began to envision a collection of sources not on what men thought about women, but rather on what women themselves did in religious contexts in the Greco-Roman world. Fourteen years later, Maenads, Martyrs, Matrons, Monastics: a Sourcebook on Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988) appeared in print.

Once Maenads was in the works, my friend and editor at Fortress, John A. Hollar, encouraged me to write a companion volume to provide the context and commentary that the sourcebook deliberately lacked. With a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I intended to write just such a work.

As I began my leave, I learned that the eminent anthropologist Mary Douglas was teaching a graduate seminar on women and religion in the Department of Religion at Princeton. She graciously allowed me to sit in on the course, and thereby unknowingly altered the very nature of this book. I had read some of Douglas's work before, and applied it profitably from time to time in my teaching and some of my research, but the semester I sat at the other end of a seminar table from Douglas allowed me to rethink some of my major theoretical concerns regarding women's religions. By the time I began to write this book, it was irrevocably different from the handbook I had initially planned. It no longer follows the organizational order of Maenads, and it now primarily covers material from only three sections in Maenads ("Observances, Rituals, and Festivals," "Researching Real Women" and "Religious Office") with some discussion of texts from "New Religious Affiliation and Conversion." the sources from "Holy, Pious, and Exemplary Women" and "The Feminine Divine" largely fell victim to the constraints of space and time. Nevertheless, I hope this book provides some of the analysis absent from Maenads.

Writing this book has in many ways been a lonely endeavor, though not for any lack of sympathetic friends, family, and colleagues. Rather, I have found myself interested in issues that intrigue few other scholars. the feminists I know are primarily interested in feminist theology, or else they disavow the study of religion altogether, considering religion to be a hopelessly patriarchal institution that oppresses women. At least for the chronological and geographic periods in which I work, the study of women's religions as distinct . . .

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