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When Women Were Priests: Women's Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity Hardcover – 22 Dec 1993

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins,Australia; First Edition edition (22 Dec. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060682973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060682972
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.2 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 485,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A powerful work of synthesis. Torjesen is nothing short of brilliant in tracing the connection between the church's move from private to public spheres and the corresponding move to suppress women's leadership. The cumulative effect of the book's argument is to make more rationally urgent than ever the removal of this scandal. --Elizabeth A. Johnson, author of She Who Is

Absolutely first rate! --Jouette M. Bassler, associate editor, The HarperCollins Study Bible

Brilliantly lays bare the historic roots of the church's prejudice against women. A powerful, revealing, insightful book. --RT. REV. John S. Spong, Bishop of Newark --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Karen Jo Torjesen, Ph.D., is the Margo L. Goldsmith Chair of Women's Studies and Religion at Claremont Graduate School in California, and an associate of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity. She is widely regarded as a leading authority on women in ancient Christianity. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
Under a high arch in a Roman basilica dedicated to two women saints, Prudentiana and Praxedis, is a mosaic portraying four female figures: the two saints, Mary, and a fourth woman whose hair is veiled and whose head is surrounded by a square halo-an artistic technique indicating that the person was still living at the time the mosaic was made. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME on 14 Mar. 2006
Format: Hardcover
Karen Jo Torjesen's book, 'When Women Were Priests' examines the subject of women in the early Christian movement, and particularly the role of women in the leadership positions in the church. Torjesen, a leading expert on women in ancient Christianity, is on faculty at Claremont Graduate School.
As women have attained rights to ordination in various denominations (Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist) and even other religions (the first woman to be ordained a rabbi in the United States took place in 1972), increasingly scholars have come to re-examine the role of women in the early church, and have been arguing with mounting evidence and persuasiveness that this is not a new phenomenon, but rather a recapturing of women's roles that have periodically existed in both Jewish and Christian communities.
The question of the gender of a priest (the requirement by Roman Catholics, as in the Vatican's 1976 Declaration on the Question of Admitting Women to the Priesthood that priests be in the bodily image of Christ, for example) brings into question sexuality and the common perception of women by society. When Barbara Harris was consecrated at the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA) in 1989, Time magazine made a reference to her red nail polish--as if this has anything to do with her qualifications; but of course, it has everything to do with the way people perceive the issue.
Torjesen examines multiple sources of ancient data to show evidence that women were preachers, prophets, pastors and patrons in the early Christian movement. Some of these can be found in the Bible itself.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mazzer on 6 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
Interesting look at the history of women in leadership positions in the church and in society and the cultural history that still works against the freedom of women to be leaders in todays church.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By H. A. Weedon TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 May 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a well written work that gives every impression of having been well researched and it benefits from stating its case mildly and without acrimony, which is in marked contrast to some of the hysterical male reaction to the very idea of women priests. Considering that the word hysteria comes from the Greek word for the womb, such male reaction would suggest that those indulging in it have failed to mature effectively since they left the womb. The outstanding question is: if women can become world leaders, scientists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, naval officers and much more besides, why can they not become priests?

Karen Jo Torjesen is actually conventional in her approach, mostly accepting the veracity of the New Testament without question, preferring instead to find evidence for female leadership within the text as it currently exists. Although the Gospel of Mary Magdalene is brought into the equation, it isn't in any way over-emphasised. The reader might also feel that the author has been too easy on characters such as Augustine of Hippo, who was so adept at revealing himself as a miserably mixed up misogynistic moaner of the highest order. Augustine was the arch-interpreter of post-Constantine Christianity. Subsequent Christian teaching has suffered considerably by, all too often, interpreting the Christian message through his theology. After Augustine came Pope Gregory I, who was largely responsible for turning Mary of Magdala into a whore.

Karen Jo Torjesen is to be congratulated for not falling into the trap of using the polemical ferocity beloved of so many opponents of the ordination of women. She writes in a carefully worded, step by step, easily assimilated fashion, setting forth her evidence in a revealing, non-assertive manner.
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