Sunday, July 09, 2017

Women as Leaders in the Early Church

Doing a little reading in Early Christian Families in Context tonight and hit a wall.

"However, it is important to note that interpreters have usually not distinguished precisely between women's involvement in the expansion of early church groups and the other types of leadership they undertook among believers. This is no doubt due to the fact that the NT evidence by no means suggests a rigid demarcation between types of leadership. A woman leader of a house church such as Prisca is also depicted as engaging in evangelizing efforts. But for the purposes of this paper, it is essential to try to distinguish as much as possible between local leadership and leadership efforts with an outward orientation- indications of activities that clearly win new members."

Margaret Y. MacDonald in her paper "The Role of Women in the Expansion of Early Christianity

I know that the role of women as "evangelizers" is what she's exploring and I will finish the paper and learn, but I got tripped up on the above sentence in bold.

The NT does not provide evidence, according to MacDonald, that there is a rigid demarcation between types of leadership.


 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret;  but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.  Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.  But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent.  For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;

I Cor 14:26-32

It seems to me from this passage in Paul's letter that the meetings in Corinth were mighty disorderly. That everyone was speaking. That all were learning from "each one."  I'd give a kidney and my left arm to be in one of those gatherings. 

So, why, as modern attenders of a religious service, are we so all-fired eager to assign functions and to prioritize those persons of said functions  as "important" when clearly, in Corinth, anyway, EVERYONE functioned and EVERYONE was important. 

I mean, how I feel about this is nothing new, but I'm trying to figure out how to get through the scholarship with this in mind. The study of women's roles in the early church seems to get bogged down in what I think/imagine/feel might be an anachronistic view of "church." If we can peel back the layers of what "church" is now and has been through the centuries, we might have less of a problem figuring out how women functioned at it's beginning. 

Sunday, January 01, 2017


In her book Befriending the Beloved Disciple, Adele Reinhartz discusses the application of the concepts in the Gospel to future generations as something familiar to Jews- and brings up the Passover Haggadah. 

   The idea that a text might reach out to include a readership living generations and even centuries after the events it records and after the time of its implied author is familiar to Jews. Jews are enjoined every Passover to relive the exodus experience as if they themselves came out of Egypt. The Passover Haggadah, which provides the "script" for the annual Passover seder....enjoins its readers to see themselves as if they belonged to the generation of the exodus....Generations of Jews have taken to heart the obligation to write themselves into the story by thinking and writing about their own experiences on the basis of the exodus paradigm as presented in the Haggadah. One popular song that has been reinterpreted and rewritten to express the lived Jewish experience is Dayeinu, meaning "It would have been enough for us." In the traditional Passover Haggadah, this song commemorates the many miraculous things God did for the Jewish people and declares that any one of these would have been ample on it's own....The song Dayeinu in effect says "Thank you, God, for overdoing it." 

Apparently this song has been re-written many times. The following is a moving version of the song written by the Hamilton, Ontario chapter of Na'amat, a Jewish women's organization that raises money to benefit women and children:

It would have been enough to bring us through the Red Sea, enough to give us the Torah and Shabbat, enough to bring us into the Land of Israel.
While we count each of these blessings as if it would have been enough on it's own, as Jewish women, we are aware there remains much to do: 

If we speak truthfully about the pain, joys and contradictions of our lives, Dayeinu.

If we listen to others with sensitivity and compassion. Dayeinu.

If we challenge the absence of women in traditional texts, in chronicles of Jewish history and in the leadership of our institutions. Dayeinu.

If we continue to organize, protest, and vote to affirm our values and convictions. Dayeinu

If we stand up against sexism, racism, homophobia and economic injustice where we live, work and study. Dayeinu

If we renew our commitment to Na'amat and our other institutions, dedicated to the well-being of our people, and continue to volunteer our time and resources. Dayeinu.

If we break the silence regarding the violence against women and children in the Jewish community and in the world. Dayeinu.

If we teach our children to pursue justice with all their strength. Dayeinu.

If we care for the earth and its future as responsibly as we care for those we love. Dayeinu.

If we create art, music, dance and literature. Dayeinu.

If we realize our power to effect change. Dayeinu.

If we bring the study of Jewish history, tradition, and practice into our lives, home and communities. Dayeinu.

If we honour our visions more than our fears. Dayeinu

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Befriending the Beloved Disciple

Just this morning I finished Adele Reinhartz's amazing book Befriending the Beloved Disciple. I received this book as a Christmas gift and finished it in under 10 days. I'm pretty sure that is a record for me v. scholarship. This fact alone proves that  A) it's good content   B) it's well written  C) I'm improving as a thinker/reader. 

Reinhartz is Jewish and a professor of New Testament studies. The subtitle of the book is A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John. I honestly didn't know what to expect, but people I trust got excited when I said I was going to read it and I heard her name mentioned a lot at SBL so that lit a fire under me. 

She introduces the content of her book by telling who she is and why approaching the Fourth Gospel has been difficult. (John actually can be read as"Jesus and His Followers v. the Jews." ) She also describes how in teaching the gospel, she became so good at neutrality, that her students mistook her for a Catholic nun. #overachiever

Reinhartz talks about developing a relationship with the Beloved Disciple (the author) and the basic outline of the book follows her approach to this relationship. She first elaborates on the three different types of stories that the book can be read as: a historical tale, an ecclesiologic tale and a cosmologic tale. She then takes four different approaches to these three readings: a compliant reading,  a resistant reading,  a sympathetic reading and an engaged reading. As a result you get these very unique and enlightening perspectives on the gospel and it's author. 

So that's to outline her method. There was so much to take away from this book- I'm not even sure where to begin. She talks about feminism: 

   "The situation of women in the Jewish community, and in other religious systems, is a matter of urgency not only for women but also for men, and not only for humans but for the divine as well. We cannot know precisely what the role of women was in the Johannine community, nor can we rewrite history to shape that role into one that we ourselves would like to see. But both Jews and Christians have the power, and in my view, the responsibility to think critically about the sources that have been used to relegate women to a secondary role and keep them there." 

She briefly discusses the translation of the Greek term hoi Ioudaioi, referencing studies done by Raymond Brown and Urban C. von Wahlde that suggest that it could be translated as "Jewish Authorities" and "the Judaeans" respectively, but rules those out as unsupported by evidence in the gospel. (Personally, this is a topic on which I need to do more reading.) 

In her conclusion of the section "An Engaged Reading of the Cosmological Tale" she states: 

   But our knowledge of the variety of Jewish groups and theologies in the first century suggests that insofar as there was an overall Jewish macro-metaphor, it was one that differed from that of the Beloved Disciple in that it placed less emphasis on a system of belief, beyond the fundamental adherence to monotheism and covenantal relationship between God and Israel, than on a system of behavior. This meant that messianism and soteriology, that is, a doctrine of salvation, were not at the core of the Jewish macro-metaphor as they were for the Beloved Disciple. To put the matter more provocatively, we may entertain the possibility that the polarized conflict between Jesus and the Jews in this Gospel may in fact concern the place of messianism within the overal understanding of the covenantal relationship between God and humankind. 
     To pursue this matter further we must ponder, yet again, the relationship between a hypothetical Johannine community and it's Jewish neighbors. In other words, we must reconsider the ecclesiological tale.

Then she launches into "An Engaged Reading of the Ecclesiological Tale."  

So there is a ton of food for thought. I do wish I had read this book before SBL in November, but am so glad I waited to read it after I had read other books on the Fourth Gospel. It goes super deep and I'm pretty sure I would have drowned if I had attempted it before becoming a stronger swimmer. 

Thank God, we learn. Thank God for thinkers and teachers. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


For everyone asking- SBL stands for Society of Biblical Literature and AAR stands for American Academy of Religion. Bill has gone to this thing four years now, and I just returned home from my first.

What is it? I can't really say anything about the AAR side, but for the SBL side, as far as I can tell, it is a conference for all of the very smartest people who study the Bible (and associated texts) to get together and present papers on new, developed or re-thought information regarding the texts. Some of these papers are part of dissertations, some of them are part of books, some of them are ideas that a committee thinks should be brought to the table.

I am in no way equipped to give you a report on the papers I did hear. Honestly, I didn't quite get the hang of "how to be" in the sessions until Sunday morning.  So it works like this. You look at the schedule and there are 2 1/2 hour blocks in which 4-5 related papers are presented and then there is a time for questions and answers. These blocks start on Friday and go until Tuesday morning.  I stayed mostly in the sessions relating to the Gospel of John because that is what I am the most interested in, two of those were called  "John, Jesus, and History" and "Johannine Literature." I went to a "Jewish Christian Dialogue and Sacred Texts" session and one "Intertextuality in the New Testament" session and another on ancient fiction. Bill went to sessions on Matthew and the Historical Jesus.

Gosh, I heard a lot of papers. My favorites were:

Sunny Chen: The Wedding Imagery of Jesus and Adam:  The intertextual Connection of John 19: 26-37 and Genesis 2: 18-25

James Crossley: The Quest for the Johannine 'Jesus the Jew'

Chris Keith: Jesus as Galilean in the Gospel of John

Judith Stack-Nelson: Traces of Bread, an Absence of Flesh: Reading John's Bread of Life Discourse and Eucharistic Imagery with Derrida

Chris Porter: Total Recall: Recasting the Narrative Social Identity of a Community through the Narrative of the Gospel of John

Leonard Greenspoon: Laughing Our Understanding? (read by Stephanie)

Wendy E. S. North: John and the Synoptics: Evaluating a Method

Helen Bond: Response to the John, Jesus, and History session

Eve-Marie Becker: Beyond History: How the Fourth Gospel Transcends Ancient Historiography

Rafael Rodriguez: What is History? Reading the Gospel of John as a Historical Text

Anthony Le Donne: A Bending before the Breaking: A Case Study in the Flexibility of Memory and Ethnicity in the Fourth Gospel

Lest you think that I am super smart and kept up with these papers, let me disabuse you of that notion RAT NAO. (for any scholars reading this, that's not Greek, Latin or Aramaic, it's southern and phonetic. Read it out loud.) I have read a bit, and I have learned some of the language, but I was so overwhelmed and out of my depth at first, that I just kept my head down and sighed a lot. But, I didn't go to SBL to sight-see. I went to learn. So I picked up my head and started working really hard. Ya'll, listening closely and keeping up is tough when the people you are listening to are pretty much the smartest people in all the world.

I was wiped out each night when we rolled back to the hotel room. Bill would laugh and say "I know! It's exhausting, isn't it?" and then would proceed to stay up reading papers until two or three in the morning while I watched 30 Rock until I fell asleep. #truestory

There really is so much to say, and I will never get it all in, but I don't want to let it pass without noting some of the really wonderful moments.

Thursday night we got to hear Anthony LeDonne and Larry Behrendt interact regarding Anthony's new book and demonstrate what healthy and productive Jewish-Christian dialogue looks like. It was great, and one of the absolute highlights of trip for me was meeting Larry and his wife Stephanie. I LOVE THEM. We got to have drinks with them that night and they were at the blogger dinner the next night. We out-sat and out-talked that entire table. They are so kind and were just utterly delightful. I am so grateful that I got to spend as much time with them as I did. What a privilege. I learned so much and feel so enriched from those conversations.

I also got to meet a lot of scholars and authors whose books I have read- Chris Skinner, Chris Keith, Brant Pitre, Rafael Rodriguez, Anthony LeDonne- people Bill and I talk about regularly and who have had a huge impact on my study of the New Testament. All of these guys were so kind and never once made me feel that I didn't belong there. I even kept Anthony and Rafael late after the very last session asking questions which they were generous enough to answer. 

Another major highlight for me was having dinner with Judy Stack-Nelson, who is a professor and writer and who offered to give me a reading list so that I can study up on literary criticism. We had a delightful time, and while I missed one of her papers, I did get to see the other one she presented- which was brilliant. I am a huge fan and can't wait to see what she does next. I feel SO grateful that she took time from her crazy schedule to hang out with me. (She also gave me her "set list." I asked her if she would send me a copy of both her papers and she pulled them out of her bag and handed them over. I mean, come ON.)

My one regret was that I saw Lynn Cohick twice and neither time did I find the courage to go up and thank her. The last time I saw her, we were standing in line right behind her and Bill pointed her out and I squeaked and started flapping my arms. Then she started a conversation with some publishers and I decided not to say anything because I wasn't sure I could keep from hardcore fangirling. And because I am a giant chicken. Next time I see Lynn Cohick I will thank her. I learned my lesson.

We met a lot of people. I should say, I met a lot of people. Bill knew most of them already and it was so much fun for me to watch him interact. I felt really proud of him.  There were other people that we got to spend time with- Jordan Ryan, David Smith, Bas van Os. We got to see and hang out with Mike Morrell, which was like old home week. It was so great to see him again and get a signed copy of his book.

 It was encouraging and uplifting and inspiring and I hope to do a lot more reading and study before the next time I am able to attend the annual meetings.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

More Adventures in Biblical Studies: Amy Jill Levine, Live!

This morning I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Amy Jill Levine speak in Dallas. I've read The Misunderstood Jew and Short Stories by Jesus and blogged a bit about each within the context of my study of the Samaritan Woman, but I've never seen her live.

Wow. I'm just impressed, and, to borrow an old church term, edified.

This is a woman who is smarter than anyone in any room she's ever in, and yet completely interested in communicating with the people in that room- which means that she was delightful to listen to.

The first talk was called "The Call to Speak about Church and State: Daniel in Babylon" and the second was "The Call to Discipleship: Mary and Martha."

She gave us so much information. So much.
Image result for is too much let me sum up

Yeah, I can't even with the Daniel stuff. She got into cultural identity, cultural assimilation, Babylonian history, told the whole story of Daniel-EVEN the part where after Daniel came out of the lion's den, the men and the families of the men who threw him in were then thrown in themselves and devoured. (Emma's whispered response to me was "Yeah, I don't remember reading THAT in my Storybook Bible.")

Emma, my almost 15 year old daughter, went with me willingly. I can't tell you how happy this makes me. I'm so glad she has been exposed to someone like AJ (I can call her that now, because we're like bff's-obviously.) She got to see and hear a strong, smart woman speak to a room with authority and with such generosity. That was a major takeaway for me. Here is a Jewish woman spending her Saturday morning talking to a bunch of rich, old (except for Emma, one young male student in birkenstocks, and me because I may be old, but I'm not rich) Texans about being a more devoted follower of Jesus.


The Mary and Martha stuff was epic. Just a few of the things she included were:
 -the significance of names (how many Mary's do you know? [lots] How many are Jewish? [none] The name used in the 1st century was Miriam. Her discussion of the commonality of that name made me say "WOW" out loud several times.)
-the "two sibling" trope that runs throughout the Bible (Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Leah and Rachel)
-a short comparison of the prodigal son and his brother with Mary and Martha.
-the mistranslation of the word "deacon" when gendered. In Greek it's the same word, but it's been translated as "serve" for women and "minister" for men. That was yet another out loud "WOW" response from me.

She ended the talk with the importance of listening, following and knowing Jesus Christ in order to be identified as his disciple.

If you are in Dallas, she is coming back Feb 11-12 and April 1-2. Find the schedule here.

On April 2, she is going to talk about the Samaritan Woman!!! (Insert loud, obnoxious squeals of glee.)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Near Christianity by Anthony Le Donne

I was so lucky to get to review this new book from Anthony Le Donne. It comes out September 20, and if you have any interest in Christianity, Judaism, faith, history or racial issues, you should put it in your cart RIGHT NOW. I always feel grateful when super-smart people write books that are not only important, but also interesting and easy to read. It's so nice of them! 

Here's my take on it: 

Le Donne uses C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, an examination of the very crux of Christianity and the essence of what it is that Christians believe, to explore what he calls “the borders” of Christianity - the places where Judaism and Christianity intersect and blur. He does this beautifully- holding nothing back, exploring in depth both the good and the very bad in the history of Christianity’s relationship to Judaism, including “the war on Christmas,” the Holocaust, and Martin Luther’s work “The Jews and Their Lies.” He inserts personal conversations with Jewish scholars, demonstrating the importance of an open and respectful dialogue. As he puts it, “I wanted a way into the problem and better tools for navigating it.” What results is a book that causes the reader to examine rather than condemn or defend. It is breathtakingly timely.

Scholars are usually working very hard to keep from inserting themselves into their work, but Le Donne has written a book that includes his feelings, thoughts, and personal story. What results is a very carefully thought out and meticulously nuanced work. The presence of Le Donne’s journey between doubt and faith never sounds like the work of an apologist, and you don't get the sense that he’s written this book to shore up his own system of belief. He leads you through tough questions, sharing his own discovery of a richer and less individualistic faith.

I expected to be challenged reading this book, and I certainly was, but what delighted me was how comforted I felt when I finished. This is one of those books I will recommend to everyone, especially those who are studying critical scholarship and are looking for ways to respond to the troubling questions that arise as a result.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Let's Give the Samaritan Woman the Time of Day

Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”   John 4:6-7

The Samaritan woman’s story has captured my attention for many years, not in small part because I believe her story has been misunderstood by many readers, in particular that she is immoral. Woman in the World of the Earliest Christians, p 122

Cohick makes it clear in the above statement that a different reading is called for regarding the character of the woman at the well. She actually dismisses the time that Jesus meets the woman as an unworthy argument for her morality. I understand her to mean the historical Samaritan woman, which is my focus currently. AJ Levine addresses the time the woman comes to the well as purely literary: “The argument that the woman’s coming to the well at noon indicates her social ostracism, for the other women of the village would wait until the cool of the evening, falters by ignoring John’s literary art. Nicodemus….comes to Jesus in the dark of midnight. The Samaritan woman, at noon, understands the “light” Jesus brings; the Pharisee remains in the dark. The setting is symbolic of theological insight, not social ostracism.” The Misunderstood Jew p 135

There’s a murkiness underlying this for us lay-people. This whole “historical” vs. “literary” seems like a quagmire in which faith and understanding get bogged down.  I  want to figure out everything I can about who she was as a historical figure.  I am aware that this episode could be viewed as a parable. She could be an amalgam of characters. The fourth gospel writer could be mis-remembering. These are options that, in the past, would have made me feel like I was losing my footing and force me to back away, fearing for my salvation. With an amount of thought and diligence generally contrary to my nature, I have come to see possibilities as open doors rather than dark pits. *(see note below for more on this)

So historically,  does the time she arrives at the well give us any indication of her social standing or any insight into her character? According to Cohick, no.

Many expositors focus on the woman’s presence at the well at noon as a signal that she is a social outcast. But this conclusion is not based on any parallel description or implication within the Greco-Roman world that moral women went the the village well at certain times and degenerate women visited at other times. Nor is there evidence that the absence of other women indicates she is immoral. While company certainly makes chores seem lighter, and so villagers might choose to work together, a lone person working the fields, tending animals, or grinding grain should not immediately suggest suspect morality. The accusation of immorality comes not so much from her presence at the well at noon as from the description of her past marriages and current situation. From the story’s standpoint, it makes sense that Jesus is thirsty at noon, as opposed to, for example, 7:30 in the morning. Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, Cohick p 123

Can we judge her character based on the time the woman met Jesus at the well?  It’s very possible that she was a social outcast, and the time of day that she arrived at the well can be viewed as supporting evidence for other stronger arguments to that theory. Certainly, her arrival at noon cannot stand alone as evidence that the Samaritan Woman was an immoral character.

*Why should I hold so tightly to my own salvation? Isn’t it a gift from a God bigger than we can imagine? Isn’t God greater than my perception of Him? One of the main things I’ve learned in this process is how rigidly I grip the handholds of a salvation I’ve taken responsibility for. When my notions of who Jesus was and is are challenged, I bristle. And then I’m surprised at myself. This goes back and forth for a while until I surrender the idol of my “idea of Jesus” and hand it all over to Him. Again.