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on 3 December 2016
read alongside Band of Angels and the Rise of Christianity, although these are predominantly Academic books, you don't need to an academic to understand.
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HALL OF FAMEon 14 March 2006
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. The tradition of women as prophets actually dates back to Jewish times: Deborah was a judge, and Miriam, the sister of Moses, is described as a prophet in one of the oldest parts of the Torah, the song of Miriam (in Exodus). Various art works depict women in liturgical stances or settings, behind a table (presumably presiding) or with arms outstretched in liturgical praise fashion. Of course, one gospel account speaks of Mary Magdalene being the first person to see the risen Christ, and being charged to tell the others of the miracle, hence becoming 'Apostle to the Apostles'. Indeed, the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Mary each show a rivalry between Mary and Peter for pre-eminence among the apostles, with Jesus coming down on Mary's side.
Various Pauline letters another other extra-testamentary writings show a strong female presence among the leaders of communities and house-churches--Junia is hailed by Paul as 'foremost of the apostles' (Romans 16:7); synagogue and grave archaeology have turned up inscriptions such as Sophia of Gortyn, elder and head of the synagogue of Kisamos lies here. Where Christians emulated the synagogue style of worship and organisation, naturally women's leadership would have been carried over too. Of course, in house-church traditions the role of women's leadership is understood, as women's dominance of household affairs is well-known and documented throughout the Roman Empire at the time of Christianity's first expansions. Indeed, one second-century critic of Christianity, Celsus, dismissed it as 'a woman's movement'.
Torjesen's better chapters are the early ones which talk about history and evidence; her later chapters on theology, biology (?) and society are interesting, but less valuable from a critical-scholarship standpoint. Each section, however, is generously documented with notes and sources, and the book would be valuable if only for the extensive notations. Happily, this book is much more than that--clear and energetic in writing, controversial but well-explained and well-defended, Torjesen makes her case well and adds valuable material for the defensive of women's leadership in churches today, and much for those who maintain more traditional mores to think about. In essence, if one can't refute the arguments here (and I am not saying they cannot be refuted--merely that they must be engaged, not dismissed), one must examine the basis for holding the exclusive-male-leadership belief.
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HALL OF FAMEon 5 July 2005
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. The tradition of women as prophets actually dates back to Jewish times: Deborah was a judge, and Miriam, the sister of Moses, is described as a prophet in one of the oldest parts of the Torah, the song of Miriam (in Exodus). Various art works depict women in liturgical stances or settings, behind a table (presumably presiding) or with arms outstretched in liturgical praise fashion. Of course, one gospel account speaks of Mary Magdalene being the first person to see the risen Christ, and being charged to tell the others of the miracle, hence becoming 'Apostle to the Apostles'. Indeed, the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Mary each show a rivalry between Mary and Peter for pre-eminence among the apostles, with Jesus coming down on Mary's side.
Various Pauline letters another other extra-testamentary writings show a strong female presence among the leaders of communities and house-churches--Junia is hailed by Paul as 'foremost of the apostles' (Romans 16:7); synagogue and grave archaeology have turned up inscriptions such as Sophia of Gortyn, elder and head of the synagogue of Kisamos lies here. Where Christians emulated the synagogue style of worship and organisation, naturally women's leadership would have been carried over too. Of course, in house-church traditions the role of women's leadership is understood, as women's dominance of household affairs is well-known and documented throughout the Roman Empire at the time of Christianity's first expansions. Indeed, one second-century critic of Christianity, Celsus, dismissed it as 'a woman's movement'.
Torjesen's better chapters are the early ones which talk about history and evidence; her later chapters on theology, biology (?) and society are interesting, but less valuable from a critical-scholarship standpoint. Each section, however, is generously documented with notes and sources, and the book would be valuable if only for the extensive notations. Happily, this book is much more than that--clear and energetic in writing, controversial but well-explained and well-defended, Torjesen makes her case well and adds valuable material for the defensive of women's leadership in churches today, and much for those who maintain more traditional mores to think about. In essence, if one can't refute the arguments here (and I am not saying they cannot be refuted--merely that they must be engaged, not dismissed), one must examine the basis for holding the exclusive-male-leadership belief.
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on 6 March 2010
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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VINE VOICEon 24 May 2012
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. The reader does not have to agree with her interpretation of the Christian message to enjoy this book, although all fair minded people in favour of sexual equality will be delighted that she has championed the ordination of women as Christian priests in such a well researched and convincing fashion.

Not only is this work of interest to Christian readers, those who question the veracity of the bible , including the New Testament, will find it helpful. Considering the mess male leadership has made of Christianity over the past 2000 years, turning it into a power-hungry, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, intolerant, torturing monster, it's now surely time that the male leadership resigned en masse and handed it all over to the ladies. Then, perhaps, we would be able to visualise deity as a truly caring, womb-centred universal Great Mother, who would have far more in common with the universe as we now know it than the current Christian concept of a three headed daddy in the sky.

For too long Christianity has been stuck in a mire of intransigence, refusing to accept truth when it's staring it in the face as such scientists as Copernicus and Galileo found out to their cost. When the Christians destroyed the great library in Alexandria it plunged Europe into the Dark Ages and retarded progress for a thousand years. Women invented religion centred around hearth and home. They domesticated fowl and pigs. When the men went out hunting and came back empty handed, the women would say: 'Never mind dear, we can kill one of our nice fat pigs and eat that.' Everything became much better when the men learned all kinds of useful crafts, working with wood, stone and metals. Men are better at doing things; women are better at managing things. This is why the world is in such a mess, because too many men are managing things and not doing enough to make things work. Women are natural managers because they have to manage home and children and they are also much better at managing religion. The reason why some religions hate pigs is because they were seen as a woman-thing and therefore a danger to male dominance, besides which men preferred wandering over the landscape with flocks and herds whilst their women folk remained at home doing all the hard work. Anyway, read Karen's book; it's a real eye-opener.
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on 11 March 2011
This is a contentious and polemical field, and much worthy intention and enthusiastic scholarship is marred by an over-positivistic interpretation of evidence. The conclusions are often weak in evidence and strong in opinion or desire. The presentation as scholarship is misleading, for they are often works of rhetoric not calm scholarly analysis; a presentation of desire not fact. A well phrased review (P. E. Marshall "Reference Guy"; Reynoldsburg, OH United States) put it thus;

" This book infers that there was a time in the history of the church when women were accepted or on their way to being accepted as leaders in the Christian church. The author claims this phenomenon was suppressed around the time the church became the official religion of the Roman Empire (became widely accepted and institutionalized). I have a few major objections to this approach and these conclusions, if you will indulge me.

1. The authors put a lot of emphasis on the non-New Testament history of the first few centuries in drawing their conclusions. This part of history is relatively less well-attested and documented than the history New Testament itself, which they disdain. They are well content to pick out obscure references and build a case, while denying the historicity of the New Testament. They prefer to see the Bible as a misty, unverifiable document, picking and choosing and reinterpreting selective passages to their taste--that is, those that support their conclusions.

2. Other points of view are not represented in this book, other than the here and there whisper of a straw man ready to be knocked down.

3. In my reading of church history, and admittedly I have only a master's degree, there was never a significant movement for accepting women as pastors, priests, bishops, episcopoi, elders; for more than nineteen centuries because it contradicts the clear reading of scripture: "In the church I do not allow a woman to exercise authority over a man." It is only with the filtering into the church of the feminist movement that we have seen a call for this. This smacks of revisionism. Call it what it is: feminist social theory and a rejection of traditional Christian morality and doctrine. Don't dress it up as if the church was supposed to be this way all along.

4. There are books that intelligently and evenly argue for women as leaders in the church, and though I disagree with those as well, one would be better served to read a book like, "Women in the Church," by Grenz than this sensationalist title. "

The above faults are common in the field, and even Ute Eisen, and otherwise scholarly and rigorous writer falls into these traps occasionally. There is also a small book published by Jean Danielou (1961) which can add some corrective to an otherwise loaded debate. Apart from that, readers need to be aware about how thin a lot of the evidence in these books is, and how weighted by prior conclusion; in this they imitate the 'church' authorities whom they attack with their polemic.
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on 21 May 2014
Ecxellent, I mean really ecxellent and when the principles are properly adjusted to their proper orders it will be excellent. One thing, the roles of women in the eastern church would have made an interesting additional chapter.
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