Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook

By Ross Shepard Kraemer | Go to book overview

TWO
Researching Real Women:
Documents to, from, and by Women

If the evidence for the religious activities of women in the Greco-Roman world is limited, the evidence for the religious activities of specific historical women, those for whom we have some concrete personal data, is even more limited. We possess no ancient literary religious texts known to have been written by women before the fourth century C. E.1 A significant proportion of Jewish and Christian texts from the Greco-Roman period have come down to us either with author unknown (anonymous) or with an ascription we consider patently impossible (pseudonymous). Scholars routinely used to assume male authorship for all these texts, but a heightened sensitivity due to feminist scholarship has led many scholars to rethinkthose assumptions and to question whether women authors are hidden beyond the labels of anonymous and pseudonymous. Candidates for possible female authorship include some portions of the various apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, (Joseph and) Aseneth, the Testament of Job, Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities, and several texts found in Egypt near Nag Hammadi such as the Hypostatis of the Archons (or The Reality of the Rulers).2

____________________
1
The few writings by Christian women have been collected in English translation in Patricia Wilson-Kastner et al., A Lost Tradition: Women Writers of the Early Church(Washington, D. C.: University Press of America, 1981). As discussed below, however, I now disagree with the inclusion of The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas in this category.
2
The suggestion that women may have composed or written one or more of the stories in the apocryphal Acts has been argued by Stevan L. Davies, The Revolt of the Widows: The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980). See also Dennis R. MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983); and Dennis R. MacDonald, “The Role of Women in the Production of the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, ” Iliff Review 41 (1984): 21–28. This view has been challenged, with good reasons, by Jean Daniel Kaestli, “Fiction litteraire et réalité sociale: Que peut-on savoir de la place des femmes dans le milieu du production des Actes apocryphes des apôtres?” in La fable apocryphe 1 (1990): 279–302; see also my own critique in “Women's Authorship of Jewish and Christian Literature in the Greco-Roman Period, ” in Amy-Jill Levine, ed., “Women Like This”: New Perspectives on Jewish Women in the GrecoRoman Period, Early Judaism and Its Literature 1 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991), 221–42. In the same article, I discuss the possibilities for female authorship of Aseneth and the Testament of Job. Periodically, there has also been discussion of women's authorship of the Gospels according to Markand to John, as well as of the Letter to the Hebrews (see Mary Rose D'Angelo, “Hebrews, ” in WBC, 364–65; Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, “Hebrews, ” in Searching the Scriptures, 2:428–52, esp. 431–34). Recently, female authorship has been proposed for Ps.-Philo, Biblical Antiquities; see Mary Therese Descamp, “Why Are These Women Here? An Examination of the Sociological Setting of Pseudo-Philo through Comparative Reading, ” Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha 16 (1997): 53–80.

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Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations xxv
  • Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman World *
  • Introduction 3
  • One - Observances, Rituals, and Festivals 9
  • Two - Researching Real Women: Documents To, From, and by Women 117
  • Three - Religious Office 241
  • Four - New Religious Affiliation and Conversion 279
  • Five - Holy, Pious, and Exemplary Women 329
  • Six - The Feminine Divine 415
  • Index of Female Names 479
  • Index of Ancient Sources 484
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