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Women in Ancient Christianity: New Discoveries Essay

  1. Revision
    1. The understanding of women’s role in Christianity substantially changed during the last two decades.
    2. Women historians brought new questions and perspectives into the field.
    3. Prior to the introduction of the new perspective, only the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and sisters Mary and Martha were known to historians.
  2. Women in the New Testament Gospels
    1. The New Testament was written at the end of the first century CE.
    2. Women were among the first followers of Christ.
    3. The most prominent disciples were Joanna, Susanna, and Mary Magdalene (King).
    4. A gentile woman helped Jesus to discover a universality of the ministry of God.
    5. The Christ frequented Mary and Martha’s houses and shared meals with their men.
    6. Women witnessed the resurrection.
  3. Women in the Early Movement
    1. Some scholars argue that during the first century of the religion, women were the majority of Christians (King).
    2. The letters of Paul contain a wealth of information about female followers of Christianity.
    3. Prisca, Junia, Julia, Mary, Persis, Euodia, Syntyche, and their husbands and brothers were early missionaries (King).
    4. Prisca with her husband put their lives at risk to save Paul.
    5. The apostle reveals that Prisca was imprisoned for her faith.
    6. Mary and Persis are mentioned as hard workers in the letters (King).
    7. Euodia and Syntyche were prominent apostles.
  4. Women and Ancient Christian Churches
    1. Christianity was illegal in the Roman world; therefore, early followers of Christ gathered at their homes.
    2. Another reason for the fledgling Christian society not having its churches is enormous expenses associated with the construction and maintenance of religious buildings.
    3. Women were leaders in house churches
    4. Paul mentions two such leaders: Apphia and Prisca.
    5. Other gospels also confirm Paul’s testimony and name Lydia of Thyatira and Nympha of Laodicea as the earliest officeholders in Christianity.
    6. Phoebe is a female prophet.
    7. Other women’s duties mentioned in gospels include: “ecstatic public speech, preaching, teaching, leading prayer, and perhaps even performing the eucharist meal” (King).
  5. Mary Magdalene
    1. Mary Magdalene was the most prominent female figure in early Christianity.
    2. Christian scrolls discovered in Egypt in the 19th and 20th centuries provided historians with valuable insights into the woman’s life.
    3. Mary Magdalene followed and supported Jesus with her own money.
    4. Gospels of Peter, John, Mark, Luke, and Matthew suggest that she was a leader of the early Christian movement.
    5. Gospel of John suggests that Mary Magdalene was asked by Jesus to reveal the news about his resurrection to the apostles.
    6. Even though the gospels do not refer to her as an apostle, she played the role of one.
    7. In later tradition, the woman was called “the apostle to the apostles” (King).
    8. The later literary tradition is strong enough to confirm the assumption that Mary Magdalene was an early Church leader.
    9. The Egyptian writings show that she was a favored disciple of Christ.
    10. According to King, the Dialogue of the Savior suggests that she was “a representative of the disciples as a group” (King).
    11. In the dialogue, Jesus praises her for making the evidence of his resurrection clear.
    12. Christ also notices that she completely understood his teachings.
    13. Another ancient text, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, shows that Mary Magdalene held a special role in the group of apostles.
    14. She was one of the seven female followers who gathered for the Lord’s address before his ascension (King).
    15. Jesus told the group of women that they are provided a supreme authority over everything because they are children of light (King).
    16. Mary Magdalen is mentioned by Philip as a woman who always walked with Jesus.
    17. The Gospel of Philip also reveals that she was often kissed by Christ.
    18. The Pistis Sophia reveals the preeminence of the woman.
    19. Mary Magdalene had more questions for Jesus than other disciples.
    20. Jesus remarks on the woman’s complete spiritual devotion by saying that her heart is “directed to the Kingdom of Heaven” (King) more than the hearts of other followers.
    21. The authorship of the Gospel of Mary is ascribed to the women.
    22. The gospel was written in the early second century and portrays Mary Magdalene as a woman leader.
    23. The woman is described as a steadfast and unflinching supporter.
    24. Levi confirms that she was the Lord’s favorite apostle.
  6. Other Christian Women
    1. Later Christian literature introduces Thecla
    2. She was a virgin-martyr whose story is presented in an ancient text titled Acts of Thecla
    3. The role of ministry in early churches was played by an order of widows
    4. The following prophets headed religious organizations: Mary Magdalene, the Corinthian woman, Ammia of Philadelphia, daughters of Philip, Philumene, Perpetua, Quintilla, and Maximilla (King).
    5. Father Tertullian mentions a female prophet who played a prominent role in the movement.
    6. An assembly of oracles belonging to a female leader of the Christian church, Thender, Perfect Mind, was found in Egypt in the 20th century (King).
    7. Other female prophets inspired the Christian movement in Asia that lasted for more than four centuries (King).
    8. An unnamed woman prophet from Asia is mentioned by African bishop, Cyprian.
    9. Pliny tells a story of two females deacons who were tortured for their faith in the early 2nd century (King).
    10. In the fifth century, some Italian and Sicilian women entered the priesthood (King).
  7. Early Christian Women and Theology
    1. Christ was perceived as a teacher rather than as a ruler.
    2. Everyone who receives the Spirit can get access to God (King).
    3. The ethics of freedom took precedence of ethics of control (King).
    4. Fully-developed spiritual life is impossible without engaging in overcoming social injustice.
    5. The Hypostasis of the Archons indicates that old religious texts were reinterpreted by female leaders of the Church.
    6. The process of theology-making by Christian women allowed the introduction of female characters in the Genesis story.
    7. The collection of prophesies titled Thunder, Perfect Mind narrowed the gap between early Christian women and religious knowledge, thereby empowering them.
  8. The Disruption of Women’s Prominence
    1. The tradition of women taking leadership roles in the early Christian movement was denounced as heretical.
    2. Texts written by female followers of the Christ were destroyed.
    3. Gospels were edited.
    4. Mary Magdalene was defamed by Western theologians in order to destroy the image of a female apostle.

According to King, “the elimination of women from official roles of institutional leadership” did not change their real influence on the movement.

Work Cited

King, Karen. “Women in Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries.” PBS, Web.

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"Women in Ancient Christianity: New Discoveries." IvyPanda, 27 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/women-in-ancient-christianity-new-discoveries/.

1. IvyPanda. "Women in Ancient Christianity: New Discoveries." September 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/women-in-ancient-christianity-new-discoveries/.


IvyPanda. "Women in Ancient Christianity: New Discoveries." September 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/women-in-ancient-christianity-new-discoveries/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Women in Ancient Christianity: New Discoveries." September 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/women-in-ancient-christianity-new-discoveries/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Women in Ancient Christianity: New Discoveries'. 27 September.

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