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

By Ross Shepard Kraemer | Go to book overview

THREE
Religious Office

A significant portion of the evidence we have for women's religious activities in Greco-Roman antiquity relates to their roles as officiants in religious rites and as officeholders in religious communities. This evidence is often quite concrete. Various inscriptions and epitaphs identify specific women as officials and leaders, whether in pagan, Jewish, or Christian contexts. An inscription honoring Tata of Aphrodisias (entry 83A) informs us that she was a priestess of Hera for life and a stephanephorus (crown-bearer) in the imperial cult. It also indicates in some detail her responsibilities in those capacities.

Testimony to the leadership roles of women in religious contexts has received a mixed response from scholars. Many classicists have seemed willing to take at face value the evidence for women as priestesses and other cult officials, but until relatively recently, scholars of early Judaism and early Christianity routinely misinterpreted or discounted the sources documenting women as religious leaders in early synagogues and churches. Several generations of scholars insisted that synagogue offices attributed to women in Jewish inscriptions must have been “honorary” in nature, by which they meant that women bore the titles only and played no meaningful and official roles in their communities. The titles were explained as a reward for women's financial contributions, conferring some public recognition but no authority. Alternatively, but without any substantiating evidence, women's titles were dismissed as the titles of their husbands or fathers. In 1982 Bernadette Brooten published her Harvard doctoral dissertation, in which she argued persuasively that there was no basis for such interpretations apart from the unsubstantiated assumptions of scholars that women could not have held legitimate religious office in ancient Jewish synagogues.1 Although some scholars have

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1
Brooten, Women Leaders. For support of Brooten, see Ross S. Kraemer, “A New Inscription from Malta and the Question of Women Elders in Diaspora Jewish Communities, ” HTR 78, nos.3–4 (1985): 431–38. For an overview of current scholarship on women in ancient Jewish synagogues, see Lee I. Levine, “Women in the Synagogue, ” in The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 471–90.

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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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