Sunday, March 23, 2008

What She Said

According to all four Gospels, women were the first witnesses of the resurrection, a fact that no conspirator in the first century would have invented. Jewish courts did not even accept the testimony of female witnesses [much less Roman courts]. A deliberate cover-up would have put Peter or John or, better yet, Nicodemus in the spotlight, not built its case around reports from women. Since the Gospels were written several decades after the events, the authors had plenty of time to straighten out such an anomaly—unless, of course, they were not concocting a legend but recording the plain facts.

A conspiracy also would have tidied up the first witnesses stories. Were there two white clad figures or just one? Why did Mary Magdalene mistake Jesus for a gardener? Was she alone or with Salome and another Mary? Accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb sound breathless and fragmentary. The women were "afraid yet filled with joy," says Matthew; "trembling and bewildered," says Mark.
--Philip Yancey

μετὰ φόβου καὶ χαρᾶς μεγάλης
--Matthew

τρόμος καὶ ἔκστασις
--Mark


4 comments:

Daniel said...

"Since the Gospels were written several decades after the events, the authors had plenty of time to straighten out such an anomaly..."

Paul writing about the resurrection does leave out the women.

1 Corinthians 15 4. And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5. And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6. After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.

Paul probably did write several decades after the events, but Matthew's way telling of the account may be part of the evidence that he wrote his account shortly after the events and not "decades after the events".

J. K. Gayle said...

Welcome Daniel!

Paul writing about the resurrection does leave out the women.

Excellent point. Whether Paul's intending to straighten out Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John is not clear, but he certainly mentions men (including Peter, James, 500 brothers, and himself) but doesn't name one woman specifically or any women more generally. My own thought is that Paul, a citizen of Rome, and a Hebrew of Hebrews, and one able to argue with the best Greek rhetors in Athens, is keenly aware of the imperial, Judaic, and Hellenistic prohibitions and practices against women witnesses. To the Corinthians here, he certainly seems to be building a case. The other thing Paul fails to do is to record much of the life of Jesus, especially as he interacts with women and others who are in the margin of society in Israel and Samaria and Galilee.


What do you think are Paul's reasons for excluding women?

And how about the writer of the letter to Hebrews in the Christian NT canon? Is there inclusion or exclusion of women and their testimony by him (because we're fairly certain Hebrews is authored by a male, right)?

Daniel said...

I think you are probably right in the reason you gave for why Paul excluded the women--that he knew that, in his world, they were not considered credible witnesses.

I thought your post was interesting, and it made me think about the point you were making in relationship to when the accounts were first written (or set in memory). I think the presence of women as the principal witnesses in the gospel accounts is one indication that the narratives were likely written or set in memory very shortly after the events took place. They way Paul tells the story indicates a later telling.

I don't know about the writer of the letter of Hebrews. Have you noticed anything interesting about the inclusion or exclusion of women?

J. K. Gayle said...

Daniel,
you said: I don't know about the writer of the letter of Hebrews. Have you noticed anything interesting about the inclusion or exclusion of women?

There is both text internal and archaeological and other scholarly, text-external evidence that the letter of Hebrews may have been authored by a woman.

Ruth Hoppin argues that "Priscilla [Apollo's teacher and Aquila's wife] has not been ruled out." She [Hoppin] reviews the research in her article "Advocates for Priscilla."

Henry Neufeld reviews here Hoppin's book Priscilla's Letter. He calls it a "work through the sparse evidence to a possible conclusion" and wants to be convinced.

Estella B. Horning reviews Hoppin's book here. She recommends it "to any scholar who is concerned with the message, author and setting of the Epistle to the Hebrews...[especially] scholars who try to analyze, identify and understand the role of women in leadership of the early church."

There's more.

In Feminist Companion to the Catholic Epistles and Hebrews edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marianne Blickenstaff (2004 NY: T&T Clark Intl) there are two updates:

"Father and Son: The Christotology of Hebrews in Patrilineal Perspective" by Pamela Eisenbaum; and "The Epistle to the Hebrews Is Priscilla's Letter" by Ruth Hoppin.

Eisenbaum looks at "gender as an analytical category in unraveling the text's christological logic...to argue that Hebrews' unique blend of Jesus as Son of God, high priest and sacrificial offering is predicated on a patrilineal social deeply embedded in Mediterranean [i.e., Greek, Roman, and Hebrew] antiquity, one that not only privileges father-son relationships but also depends on blood sacrifice to maintain those privileged relationships" (page 128). Eisenbaum does not believe we can know who the author is, much less whether the person is male or female.

But Hoppins persists: She discusses various attempts by others to suppress her book on the question of authorship by Priscilla. Then Hoppins gives us a closer look at some of the amazing author's choices, writer's moves that certainly are decisions a woman might make. Hebrews chapter 11, and the mention of men and women there, gets good attention. Translator problems and scholar attempts at minimizing the possibility of a woman author are met head on.

If we somehow learned that a woman wrote one of the books of the NT, then what would that mean?