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Women Apostles, Syzygoi, and Officeholders in Ancient Christianities

Panel Chairs: Ilaria Ramelli, Joan Taylor | Tuesday, August 25, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

This panel will offer innovative insights into the role of women as apostles, ‘syzygoi’ or companions and colleagues of apostles and, later, presbyters and bishops, widows, and officeholders in the variegated panorama of ancient Christian communities, from the first to the fourth/fifth cent. CE. Attention will be paid to the meaning of the early Christian metaphor of the widow as God’s altar and the role of widows in early Christian congregations, and to the role of women as true witnesses, prophets and apostles of Christ, even better than the twelve, according to Marcion and in Marcionite communities. The panel will also explore two types of women’s ministry in the churches of the later first and second centuries and the use and import of gendered spaces, and will investigate the meaning(s) of syzygos in early Christian debates, which bears heavily on the issue of women officeholders in ancient Christian communities. Literary (both Christian and non-Christian), iconographic, epigraphic and archaeological evidence will be examined in this connection.

Joan Taylor

Women’s Place: Ministries of Teaching Partners and Widows within the Earliest Churches and their Situation in Gendered Spaces

Following on from a previous essay on the Twelve as twelve pairs of male and female teaching-healing partners who went out on missions ‘two by two’, a proposal that links with Paul’s assertion that a male apostle had a ‘sister-wife’ as a companion, the present essay explores two types of women’s ministry in the churches of the later first and second centuries CE: women who worked alongside men as companions in teaching and healing, operating in missions and locally, and women independent of men who took care of people, acting as a collective in local congregations. The latter are identified as widows, translating Greek word (‘withouts’), because they are without men as guardians/husbands, though they are sometimes defined along with the sub-category of virgins. I will consider these two ministries within a gendered construct of space and movement, exploring what was considered to be appropriate as male and female space in households, dining rooms, cities and villages, or during travel. Concerns for propriety in regard to gendered space underlie certain passages in the Pastoral Epistles, which advance standard categories of gender segregation for the sake of offsetting social critique seen, e.g., in Lucian of Samosata’s comments on 2nd-century Christian communities. The recently-discovered 3rd-century ‘Megiddo church’ suggests a divided space for women and men. This raises questions about how leadership might be understood within early Christian congregations.

Ilaria Ramelli

Colleagues of Apostles, Presbyters, and Bishops: The Meaning of syzygos and the Patristic Debate

This contribution will focus on the meaning(s) of ‘syzygos’ in early Christian debates. This bears heavily on the issue of women officeholders in ancient Christian communities. It will take into consideration, among other evidence (including iconographic and archaeological evidence), the Acts of Philip and their portrait of the apostolic couple of Philip and Mariamme, in which the latter is described as a better apostle than her male counterpart, and debates concerning Paul’s terminology and praxis in relation to women apostles and leaders in early Christian communities, especially with respect to the interpretations of 1 Cor 9:5. Suh interpretations were conditioned by, and in turn influenced, the practices of women leadership in Christian congregations in the 2nd - 4th cent. CE. Gregory Nazianzen testifies to the existence of a woman presbyter, colleague of a man presbyter and bishop, and highly respected in Cappadocia in the late fourth century. And it is on the basis of the presence of women officeholders in Christian communities in his time (late 2nd - early 3rd cent. CE), attested both epigraphically and literarily, that Origen referred passages of the “pastoral epistles” to women deacons and presbyters and insisted that Paul taught “with apostolic authority” that women must be constituted “in the ecclesiastical ministry.”

Markus Vinzent

Women in Marcion's community

A comparison between the role of women as described by Marcion in his Gospel and Apostolikon to that of the canonical Gospels and the textus receptus of Paul's letters will be complemented by other information about the role of women in the Marcionite communities. It will emerge that in contrast to the ambiguous, if not dubious role of the twelve, and especially of that of Peter, women were regarded as true witnesses, prophets and apostles of Christ. The paper is also going to look into the role of women in the Roman church where, for example, in Hippolytus (In Song of Songs 25.6) they are still known as 'Apostles to the Apostles'.

Margaret Butterfield

How is a Widow like an Altar? Early Christian Women at the Center of the Human-Divine Economy

A small number of Christian texts, dating from the 2nd to the 5th centuries CE, briefly invoke the strange metaphor of the widow as an altar of God. In what ways might such a metaphor have been intelligible to early Christian audiences? In service of what rhetorical aims might the metaphor have been employed, and what might have been effects of its usages? This paper considers the use of the metaphor in relation to evidence for widows’ statuses as recipients of community funds and as offerers of prayer on behalf of the community. Characterizing widows as altars both presents them as objects under the control of others, and acknowledges their position at the center of a transformational economy of offering. Are widows as altars passive recipients of charity, or workers in the ekklēsia entitled to a share of the sacred portion?


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