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Women in the World of the Earliest Christians

ISBN: 9781441251596

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In Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, Lynn Cohick provides an accurate and full picture of the earliest Christian women by examining a wide variety of first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman documents that illuminate their lives. She organizes the book around three major spheres of life: family (daughter, wife, mother, widow), religious community (including both official and unofficial activities), and society in general (work, slavery, prostitution, benefaction). Cohick shows that although women during this period were active at all levels within their religious communities, their influence was not always identified by leadership titles, nor did their gender always determine their level of participation.

Women in the World of the Earliest Christians corrects our understanding of early Christian women by offering an authentic and descriptive historical picture of their lives. The book includes black-and-white illustrations from the ancient world.

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Resource Experts
  • Detailed overview of women in Scripture
  • Covers the role of women in family life, their religious communities, and society in general
  • All Scripture references linked to the Bibles in your library
  • Women as Daughters
  • Marriage and Matron Ideals
  • Wives and the Realities of Marriage
  • Motherhood
  • Religious Activities of Gentile Women and God-Fearers
  • Religious Activities and Informal Power of Jewish and Christian Women
  • Women's Work
  • Slaves and Prostitutes
  • Benefactor's and the Institution of Patronage

Top Highlights

“The husband was placed in a potentially vulnerable position, as his wife might be divorced from him if she or her father believed a better marriage could be arranged.” (Page 100)

“I hope to correct the misconceptions about women’s lives that have crept into our modern imagination, such as the notion that first-century AD women were cloistered in their homes. I counter the xenophobic claims that Jewish leaders of the day were misogynists (usually claimed as a foil for the portrait of Jesus as bucking Jewish culture).” (Page 24)

“The title of this and the next chapter could be misleading: in the ancient world, religion was not separated from ‘secular’ society. Religious activities were infused with political and economic values.” (Page 159)

“singular case of infant exposure. No evidence suggests that Jews participated in this common gentile practice.” (Page 34)

“Status was the social currency in the honor/shame system.” (Page 23)

Lynn Cohick combines insights from ancient Roman and Jewish texts with current scholarship on the lifestyles and limitations of being female in the first Christian century. The New Testament is not her primary focus, but it is frequently discussed, providing many fascinating parallels, which sometimes confirm and sometimes question traditional interpretations. As well as summarizing previous findings, the book includes many provocative new ideas, which will become the focus of much new work.

—David Instone-Brewer, senior research fellow in rabbinics and the New Testament, Tyndale House, Cambridge

Dr. Cohick offers a richly detailed and finely nuanced invitation into the lives of women in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The study profits from her integrated examination of literary, epigraphic, iconographic, and archaeological evidence. She exposes gender bias and ideology in literary evidence without discarding what reliable evidence these texts offer for the reconstruction of women's 'real life' experience. She remains attentive throughout not only to issues of gender but also to issues of status, class, and ethnicity and to the bearing these have on the levels of self-direction, involvement, and influence enjoyed by women in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. This book challenges some oft-heard generalizations about women, women's roles, and women's influence, replacing these with the more complicated and varied realities of women's experience in the ancient world.

—David A. deSilva, Trustees' Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek, Ashland Theological Seminary, and author of An Introduction to the New Testament

Many preconceptions exist about the role of women in the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds at the time of Jesus. Women in the World of the Earliest Christians is a wonderful tour of the real terrain, providing a solid array of general principles and specific examples. By taking us through the world of women at that time, Cohick offers a solid glimpse of first-century culture—a wonderful window into the world of the New Testament that is well worth the read.

—Darrell L. Bock, research professor of New Testament studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, and author of Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study

Cohick invites the reader into the lives of women in the ancient world. She carefully assesses the available information—from literature, artwork, inscriptions, and even business receipts—sketching a portrait of 'real women's experiences' in the early days of Christianity. This portrait is one that moves beyond the stereotype of women sequestered at home, but it takes full account of the patriarchy that characterized their world. To combine fascinating storytelling with careful historical assessment is no simple task; Cohick does so with ease. Essential reading!

—Jeannine Brown, professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary

Cohick deftly examines a variety of ancient sources to reveal explicit and implied norms and actual behaviors, freedoms, and restrictions of women in this first-century context. From treatises to business receipts, the ordinary is allowed to shed light on the extraordinary variety, complexity, and communal significance of women's contributions at every level of social and religious life—rural, urban, Jew, Gentile, wealthy, poor, pagan, Christian. . . . For those wanting a fuller glimpse of the embodied world into which the New Testament was given and enacted, noting its differences from and echoes in contemporary life, this book is a lovely, valuable contribution.

—Cherith Fee Nordling

Women in the World of the Earliest Christians . . . will become the standard for all study of the social location of women in the earliest Christian churches. This is an exceptional book. . . . We've got lots of exegesis of biblical texts but we don't have enough social description of what women did in the ancient world so that we can approach the exegesis through the lens of living realities. . . . This book is serious but clearly written in very accessible prose; it can be used by college classes. . . . A must-read.

—Scot McKnight, author of The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research

  • Title: Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life
  • Author: Lynn H. Cohick
  • Publisher: Baker Academic
  • Publication Date: 2009
  • Pages: 352
Lynn H. Cohick

Dr. Lynn H. Cohick, presently serves as Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs of Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois. She also teaches New Testament and is leading the development of a MA program in women's studies.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Messiah College in Grantham, PA, and my Ph.D. in New Testament and Christian Origins from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA. After 18 years as professor of New Testament and Biblical Studies at Wheaton College (serving as department chair and dean toward the end of her time there), she accepted the invitation to join Denver Seminary as their Provost / Dean. She's also taught at Messiah College (Grantham, PA), and Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (Nairobi, Kenya) in the 80s and 90s, respectively.

She has taught and given lectures around the world. Perhaps her most exciting venue was the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia. Where she presented the keynote lecture at Speech Night for the Presbyterian Ladies College, Sydney.

She enjoys preaching from the Bible, teaching on matters pertaining to women’s ministry, and exploring issues pertaining to the historical relationship between Jews and Christians.


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