Religion 221b, S '06
TTh 10:00-11:30
Office hours: M 10-12, T 1:30-3 and by appt. [x1028;]

Women and Gender In Early Christianity

Prof. Anne McGuire
Haverford College

Focus for Spring 2006: Eve, Mary, and Mary Magdalene
in Early Christian Traditions

The Morning of the Resurrection (1882)
Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)

Images of Eve, Mary, and Mary Magdalene in the History of Art

Syllabus and Course Information

  • Course Description: An examination of the representation of women and gender in early Christian texts, with attention to their historical and contemporary significance. In this course we'll employ a variety of methods (feminist, literary, historical, socio-cultural, theological) to explore the variety of early Christian views of women and gender in canonical and non-canonical sources. A special focus for Spring 2006 will be the varying representations of 3 female figures who have played important and varied symbolic roles in the history of the Christian tradition: Eve, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene.

    Course Requirements:

    1. Careful reading of all assigned texts, weekly one-page response papers, and participation in class discussion (30%).
      1. This is not a lecture course. All students are expected to come to class ready to participate in discussion.
      2. Half the class will hand in response papers on Tuesday; the other half on Thursday.
      3. These one-page single-spaced essays should offer close analysis of a particular passage in the primary source readings assigned for class, or they should raise critical questions about secondary sources (the writings of contemporary scholars). Students who have written for class may be asked to share an observation or a question about the material for class discussion.
    2. Two Essays of 5-6 pages each, due Monday, February 27 and April 7 (40%).
    3. A final research paper of 12-15 pages (30%). Proposals due Tuesday, April 9 in class. Annotated bibliography and outline due Friday, April 21; 5-page draft due last week of class.

    Required Textbooks:

    • Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, 10th Anniversary Edition
    • Ross Kraemer and Mary Rose D'Angelo, Women and Christian Origins.
    • Patricia Cox Miller, Women in Early Christianity
    • Karen L. King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala.
    • Bible. New Revised Standard Version.
    • Additional Readings will be available at the web site, on reserve, or in class.

    Resources for the Study of Artistic Images
    From my web site for Relg. 216b, Images of Jesus


I. Women and Gender in the New Testament: The Gospels and Letters of Paul

Week I, 1/20 & 1/22: The Cultural and Social Contexts of Early Christianity

T, 1/20 Introduction to the Course: Women and Gender in Early Christianity and in Contemporary Scholarship
Th, 1/22: From Jesus Movement to Constantine: the Cultural and Social Contexts of Early Christianity

Readings for Week of 1/17-19

  • Introductory Background reading:
    • Kraemer and D'Angelo, "Introduction," Women and Christian Origins (WCO), 3-10
    • Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza, "Remembering the Past in Creating the Future," Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation," 93-115.
    • Fiorenza, In Memory of Her [IMOH], 99-104
  • Readings to Prepare for Discussion on Thursday:
  • First reading of The Gospel of Mark 1-8
  • Fiorenza, IMOH, 105-130
    • For further background:
      • Judith Hallett, "Women's Lives in the Ancient Mediterranean," Women & Christian Origins (WCO), 13-34.
      • Ross Kraemer, "Jewish Women and Christian Origins: Some Caveats," WCO, 35-49; "Jewish Women and Women's Judaism(s)," WCO, 50-73
  • Th, 1/19: Topics for Class Discussion
    • Consider the issues and debates in early Christian studies discussed by Kraemer/D'Angelo (WCO) and Fiorenza. Which of these seem most relevant to the issues you want to see discussed in the course?
    • Examine closely the references to women in the Gospel of Mark. How are these women characterized? What roles do they play? How does their representation and/or characterization in GMark relate to the gospel's characterization of the male disciples of Jesus (the 12 and others)?

Week II, 1/27 & 1/29: Interpreting Stories about Women in the Gospel of Mark; Gender, Characterization, and Narrative Themes as Categories of Analysis

Readings for week of 1/24-26

  • Topics for T, 1/24: Study, Paper, Discussion: Stories about Women in the Gospel of Mark 1-8
    • Consider the stories about women, the disciples, the family of Jesus, and other social groups in GMk 1-8 in relation to the larger themes emerging in the gospel - e.g., the "good news [gospel] of the Kingdom of God," the identity of Jesus, and various tensions, e.g., between secrecy/hiddenness and openness/revelation; between faith/understanding and unfaith/misunderstanding; and between insiders and outsiders? How are we to read the stories about women in GMk 1-6 in relation to these themes and tensions in the text?
    • Consider, for example, stories about such apparent 'insiders' as Jesus' family (Mark 3:31-35) and the disciples (Mark 4 and throughout) in relation to stories about apparent outsiders, such as the women with the flow of blood (Mark 5:25-43) and the Syrophoenician woman(Mark 7:24-30).
  • Topics for T, 1/26: Stories about Women in the Gospel of Mark 9-16
    • Reread the entire Gospel of Mark closely with careful attention to the gospel's depiction of the disciples of Jesus and of the women who interact with him. Compare the disciples' failure to 'hear' and 'understand' Jesus (Mk 4:10-13, 4:40-41; 6:17-29; 6:47-52; 8:14-21, 8:31-33; 9:30-35; 10:32-37, etc.) with the responses of various women depicted in the text - from the women with the flow of blood and the .Syrophoenician woman to the woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany (14:3-9), and the women at the cross and the empty tomb (15:40-16:8).
    • Reread the gospel and its stories about women and think about their relation to the themes of the gospel as a whole and to the category of gender. Choose one story and develop your own interpretation or retelling of the story to share with the class.

Week III, 1/31 & 2/2: Interpreting Stories about Women in the Gospel of Luke: Luke's Depiction of Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalen

Readings for week of 1/31-2/2

  • Mary Rose D'Angelo, "Reconstructing 'Real' Women from Gospel Literature: The Case of Mary Magdalene," WCO, 105-28
  • Recommended for further reading: Commentaries on Luke in The Women's Bible Commentary and Searching the Scriptures. Vol. II (r).
    • Topics for T, 2/3: Women in the Gospel of Luke, First Reading; Focus on Luke's depiction of Mary the Mother of Jesus:
      • Read the Gospel of Luke 1-10 with careful attention to women who play a role in the narrative and women who appear in the sayings/parables of Jesus. Compare with GMark. Consider, for example: Elizabeth, Mary, Anna (Lk 1-3); the woman who anoints Jesus (Lk 7:36-50); Mary Magdalene and others from Galilee (8:1-3); Jesus' saying on his mother and brothers (8:19-21) Jairus' daughter and the hemorrhaging woman (8:40-56); and Mary and Martha (10:38-42).
      • Compare closely the context and features of Mark's story of the anointing woman (Mark 14:3-9) with Luke's story of the woman who anoints Jesus in Luke 7:36-50.
  • Topics for Th, 2/5: Interpreting Stories about Women in the Gospel of Luke: Focus on Mary Magdalen and the Women at the Empty Tomb
    • Continue your reading and analysis of stories and sayings about women in Luke, with particular attention to the relation between the structure and themes of Luke (the role of the Holy Spirit; prophecy; repentance and forgiveness) and its stories about women. Consider: 1) stories about women (esp. the woman bent over inn 13:10-17 and women at the crucifixion and the empty tomb in 23:49-24:12) and 2) women/gender in sayings of Jesus: Jesus' saying on what is blessed (11:27-28); on division in households (12:49-53); the parable of the lost coin (15:8-10); the parable of the widow and judge (18:1-8); on marriage and resurrection (21:27-40); the daughters of Jerusalem (23:27-31).
    • Choose one story and offer a reinterpretation of the story within its literary, historical, or theological contexts in Luke.
    • Use the PDF documents on the crucifixion, empty tomb and resurrection narratives in the 4 gospels to analyse more clearly what Luke does with this material. What do you make of the differences in Luke's version of these stories. Be especially attentive to the differences between their respective references to Mary Magdalen (Luke 8 and 24 and parallels).
  • Week IV, 2/10 & 2/12: Women and Gender in the Communities and Letters of Paul

    Readings for week of 2/10-12

    • Galatians; 1 Corinthians, focus on chapters 5-7, 11, 14-15; Romans 16
    • A Chronology of Paul's Life and Letters
    • Genesis 1-3; focus on Genesis 1:26-27
    • M. MacDonald, WCO, "Reading Real Women through the Letters of Paul," 199-218
    • E. Castelli, "Paul on Women and Gender," WCO, 221-233
    • Topics for T, 2/10 "There is No Male and Female; For You Are All One in Christ" (Gal. 3:28)
      • What is the central message of Paul's "gospel" according to Galatians? What is the relation between Paul's theological claims about covenant inheritance and his statements about women? Consider especially Gal. 3:28-29 and 4:21-31.
      • What is the significance of differences based on ethnicity (Jews and Greeks), social class (slave and free), and gender (male and female), according to the Paul of 1 Corinthians? Compare and contrast with the persepctives of Gal. 3:28-29.
      • Examine Romans 16 for evidence of women at work in the Pauline mission. Evaluate MacDonald's arguments on the roles of "real woman" in Pauline churches.
    • Topics for Th, 2/21 Sexual Issues in Corinth; Gender, Marriage, and the "Body" in Pauline Christianity
      • How does Paul's argument about the relation between the individual and communal "Body" in 1 Corinthians affect his position on sexual matters in Corinth? How does his view of the impending End (eschaton) have on his views of marriage, sexuality, and the community?
      • Analyse the uses of Genesis 1-3 in the language and arguments of Gal. 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 11. What evidence do you see of ancient constructions of gender in the interpretation of Genesis 1-3 and the argument of 1 Corinthians 11?
      • Compare Gal. 3:28 with the similar formula in 1 Corinthians 12. What do you make of the differences of wording and context?

    Week V, 2/17 & 2/19: Women and Gender in the Pauline and Post-Pauline Communities

    Readings for week of 2/14-16

    • Colossians and Ephesians, special focus on Col. 3:18-4:1, Ephesians 5:21-33 (the household codes)
    • 1 Timothy (focus on references to women, esp. Eve in 1 Tim 2:8-15)
    • Genesis and Gender: Pay attention especially to the different interpretations of the notion of the Human Being (ha-adham, anthropos) created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and the account of the creation of the earth creature and its division into man and woman (Hebrew ish and ishsha; Greek aner and gyne).
    • MacDonald, "Early Interpreters of Paul on Women and Gender," WCO, 236-251
    • Topics for T, 2/14 and 2/16 The Legacy of Pauline Tradition: The Household Codes and Pastoral Letters
      • Analyse the construction of social relations in the household codes of Colossians and Ephesians. Compare with what we know of social roles, especially those associated with class and gender in the Pauline communities.
      • Compare and contrast the interpretation of Genesis 1-3 in 1 Timothy with that of Gal. and 1 Corinthians (and see also Romans 5). What do you make of the similarities and differences in general, and between 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2.

    Week VI, 2/21 - 3/2: Women and Gender in the Gospel of John; Logos and Sophia; The Mary's of the Gospels of John and Thomas

    Topics for T, 2/21 and 2/23 Women and Gender in the Gospels of John and Thomas; Logos and Sophia; "Mary" in the Gospels of John and Thomas

    • For Tuesday, 2/21
    • Gospel of John, Read the entire Gospel of John closely with careful attention to: 1) the conception of Jesus' preexistence as Logos of God and 2) the women who play an important role in the story: Focus on: Mary at the wedding in Cana (2:1-12); the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-42); Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (11:1-53); the woman who anoints Jesus (12:1-8; here: Mary of Bethany; compare with Mk 14:3-9 and Lk 7:36-50); Mary at the cross (19:25-27); Mary Magdalene at the cross and outside the empty tomb (19:25, 20:1-18).
    • WISDOM Literature: Proverbs 8 (skim for other passages on personified Wisdom), Wisdom of Solomon (skim for images of Wisdom personified; select 1-3 passages that correlate to ideas about the Logos in Gospel of John 1)
    • E. Schuesler Fiorenza, "The Gospel of John," In Memory of Her, 323-334.
    • D'Angelo, WCO, 129-137, 145-146

    • Topics for 2/21:
      • Focus on the connections between Wisdom in Jewish Wisdom literature (Proverbs and Wisdom of Solomon) with Hebrew texts
      • What do you make of the differences between John's presentation of Jesus' ministry, teaching, and interactions with women in comparison to the Synoptic Gospels? What is the significance of John's account of the women at the cross, empty tomb, and the resurrection appearances.
    • For Thursday, 2/23
    • The Gospel of Thomas
    • A. McGuire, "Women, Gender and Gnosis in Gnostic Texts and Traditions," WCO, 257-299.
    • For further background on the Nag Hammadi texts, see:
    • Topics for Th, 2/23
      • Compare and contrast the representation of Jesus' teachings on the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Thomas with the NT Gospels.
      • What is the relation between creation and salvation in GThomas? Consider, for example, the text's references to Adam and other imagery drawn from Genesis 1-3. How do the figures of Adam and Eve fit into the religious worldview of GThomas?
    • What is the relation between gender and salvation in the Gospel of Thomas? Analyse the tension between Gospel of Thomas 22 and 114, as well as other references to male and female.

      Paper #1 due by Monday, 2/27, 3 p.m. in Gest, second floor


    Week VII, 3/14 & 3/16: "Mother of the Living" or "Devil's Gateway": Images of Eve and Mary Magdalen in Nag Hammadi Texts of the Second & Third Centuries

    Readings for week of 3/14

    • Topics for Week of 3/14 Genesis 1-3 as Site of Contention; Eve and the Creation in the Hypostasis of the Archons vs. Patristic Perspectives
    • The Hypostasis of the Archons as a retelling of Genesis 1-6: Eve, Norea, and the Savior in HypArch
    • Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women, esp. Introduction
    • Patricia Cox Miller, Timeline, Women in Early Christianity, 326-27
    • Topics for 3/14The Hypostasis of the Archons from Nag Hammadi offers a radical retelling of Genesis from the perspective that the Creator God is not the true God. Notice the sharp distinction between Ialdabaoth vs. Incorruptiblity and the Divine Spirit, and think about the implications of this revisioning of the God who gives the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge (gnosis). How does this text's reinterpretation of Genesis affect its representation of Eve and her daughter Norea? What impact is this likely to have had on the roles of women in the communities that read this text?
    • How do the various manifestations of the divine in HypArch relate to the Jewish and early Christian conceptions of Sophia and Logos?
    • Compare and contrast the representation of EVE in HypArch with those found in the Pauline literature and in Tertullian
    • Reading for 3/16: The Gospel of Philip and other Valentinian Conceptions of Gender and Salvation
    • Miller, Women in Early Christianity, 305-310 on Female Imagery and Metaphors
    • The Gospel of Philip
    • Topics for Th, 3/16
      • Analyse the conception of salvation as a restoration of unity in the Gospel of Philip. Analyse GPhil's use of Genesis 1-3 in establishing its paradigms of creation and salvation.
      • How does Mary Magdalen figure in this gospel? Compare and contrast with the NT gospels, GThomas, and the Gospel of Mary.

    Week VIII: Mary Magdalene in the Memory and Imagination of the Early Church

    Readings for week of 3/21: Mary Magdalene in the New Testament, The "Gnostic Gospels," and Contemporary Culture

    • Review references to Mary Magdalene in the New Testament Gospels: GMk 15:40-16:1, [16:19]; Mt 27:55-61, 28:1; Lk. 8:1-3; 24:9-11; Jn 19:25-20:18.
    • In class on Tuesday, we'll view portions of an ABC News special, "Unlocking the DaVinci Code," which includes interviews with Dan Brown, Karen King, Elaine Pagels, and others
    • Mary Magdalene in The Gospels of Mary and Philip and in Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code
    • Topics for Papers and Discussion, T 3/21 and Th 3/23 Mary Magdalene in the New Testament, The Gospels of Mary and Philip, and The DaVinci Code
    • For Tuesday's class, focus particularly on the representations of Mary Magdalene in The Gospels of Mary and Philip, and their re-presentation in the excerpts from The DaVinci Code
      • Analyse Mary's role as a recipient of revelation in The Gospel of Mary. Compare and contrast with her role as a witness of the resurrection in the New Testament texts.
      • How do the GMary and GPhilip illustrate the spirituality of Mary and the other disciples? What does it mean to become "a complete human being" in the Gospel of Mary? Compare with GThomas 114.
      • Consider the representation of "the Gnostic gospels" in the DaVinci Code and the ABC News documentary portions of which we'll see in class. What is the difference between a critical historical perspective on the evidence and the perspective represented by Teabing and Dan Brown?

    • For Thursday's class, focus particularly on representations of Mary Magdalene in relation to the discussion of women's roles in early Christianity (readings from Cardman and Miller)
      • F. Cardman, "Women, Ministry, and Church Order in Early Christianity," WCO, 300-322
      • Women as Teachers and Prophets, in Patricia Cox Miller, Women in Early Christianity, 1-40, focusing particularly on 5-8, 17-19, 29-40
      • Compare the varying representations of Mary Magdalene in the New Testament, the "Gnostic Gospels," and in contemporary culture.Consider, for example, visual representations of Mary: Gallery of Images: Images of Mary Magdalene and representations of Mary Magdalen in contemporary culture (poetry, music, film, literature - e.g., iThe Last Temptation of Christ , Jesus Christ Superstar; Godspell, The DaVinci Code, etc.

    Week IX: The Ideals of the Virgin and the Martyr I: Thecla and Perpetua

    For Tuesday, 3/28, The Acts of Paul and Thecla

    • The Acts of Paul and Thecla, in Patricia Cox Miller, Women in Early Christainity, 155-180
    • Margaret MacDonald, Rereading Paul: Early Interpreters of Paul on Wmen and Gender, Women and Christian Origins, 236-253
    • Review Francine Cardman, "Women, Ministry, and Church Order," WCO, esp. 301-02
    • Nancy A. Carter, "The Acts of Thecla: A Pauline Tradition Linked to Women

    For Thursday, 3/30, The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas, translation online at the Medieval Sourcebook

    F, 4/7, Paper #2 Due by 3 p.m. in Gest, second floor. Guidelines for Essay 2

    Week X, 4/4 & 4/6: The Ideal of Asceticism and the Representation of Holy Women: Drusiana and Maxmilla in the Apocryphal Acts

    Readings for week of 4/4-6

    • For Tuesday and Thursday: Portraits of Ascetic Women in the Apocryphal Acts: Drusiana and Maximilla
      • Drusiana: The Story of Drusiana from The Acts of John, from E. Clark, WIEC, 88-96
      • Maxmilla in the Acts of Andrew, Miller, 180-191
      • Virginia Burrus, "Word and Flesh: The Bodies and Sexuality of Ascetic Women in Christian Antiquity," Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 10 (1994) 27-51 (handout)

      Note the similarities between the stories of Thecla, Drusiana, and Maximilla. Consider the idealization of these women against the male characters who would control them, but consider also the role of the idealized male character in each text: the Apostle - Paul, John, Andrew. What is the relation between the male apostle and the female idealized in each text?

    • F, 4/7, Paper #2 Due by 3 p.m. in Gest, second floor. Guidelines for Essay 2

    Week XI, 4/11 and 4/13: Women in Marriage and Virginity; Ideologies of Gender and the Construction of "Woman" in the Writings of the Church "Fathers"

    Due T, 4/11, in class: Proposal for final reseach paper

    Readings for week of 4/11-13

    • For Tuesday: Virginity and Marriage; Agnes the Virgin Martyr
      • Selections in Miller, Women in Early Christianity on Female Comportment, Virginity, and Marriage, 71-105, 253-267
      • Miller, WEC, Portraits of Ascetic Women, 192-228 (selections on Agnes and Olympias)
    • Agnes texts: Agnes texts, in Clark, WIEC, 106-114
      Recommended for further reading: Virginia Burrus, "Reading Agnes: The Rhetoric of Gender in Ambrose and Prudentius," Journal of Early Christian Studies 3 (1995) 25-46.

      For Thursday: Ascetic Women: The Desert Mothers
    • Women in Desert Asceticism, Miller, 228-249
    • E. Castelli, "Virginity and its Meaning for Women's Sexuality in Early Christianity" Journal of Feminist Studies in Reigion 2 (1986) 61-88 (pdf attached)
    • For further reading: Elizabeth Clark, "Ideology, History and the Construction of Woman," JECS 2 (1994) (handout)
    • Miller, WEC, 192-228, Macrina

    Week XII, 4/18 & 4/20: Female Imagery and Theology

    Readings for week of 4/18-20

    Week XIII, 4/27 & 4/29: Readings and Topic to be Selected by Class; Presentation and Discussion of Research Topics

    For Tuesday, 4/27: Readings to be Selected by Class

    For Thursday, 4/29 No additional Class Readings

    • Each student should be prepared to speak for ca. 5 minutes on his/her final project for the course
    • Due in class: 5-page draft, annotated bibliography, and outline of final paper

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