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What Paul really thought about women

What Paul really thought about women

John Dominic Crossan continues The Search for the Historical Paul with an essay in Huffington Post on what Paul thought about women:

On the mid-Aegean coast of Turkey, half-way up the northern slope of the Bülbüldag and high above the excavations of ancient Ephesus, is a long, narrow shrine-cave. On your immediate right as you enter its 50-foot length is a fresco depicting a scene from the Acts of Thecla, a set of stories now preserved as Chapters 1-43 of the second-century Acts of Paul. (Google: “Early Christian Writings.”)

Three characters are identified by name on that fresco. Paul is seated in the middle addressing Thecla to viewer left. She is a virgin — hence unveiled — but house-bound — hence nubile. An elegantly veiled matron, her mother Theoclia, is to viewer right.Both the right hands of Paul and of Theoclia are raised in identical authoritative teaching gestures. Since Paul lacks any halo, my inexpert opinion would date that fresco to the 400s.

We saw, with slavery in my previous post, that the de-radicalization and re-romanization of Paul was already well underway in those post-Pauline letters attributed to him. So also here with regard to gender. Those two women — poised on either side of Paul — represent two linked controversies which would change the radical Paul of Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon, first into the conservative Pseudo-Paul of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, then, finally, into the reactionary Anti-Paul of 1-2 Timothy and Titus.

In that cave-shrine scene, those two women, Thecla and Theoclia represent together the full legacy of Pauline radicalism which reactionary letters such as 1-2 Timothy and Titus seek rather desperately to cauterize and contain. Those anti-Pauline letters want Christian teachers to be male and not female (1 Timothy 2:8-15) but they also want those males to be normal not ascetic, married not celibate, and, to be absolutely sure, they want to see their children (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).

The historical Paul is being pulled — kicking and screaming — away from Christianity’s radical past and into Christianity’s Roman future. As with owner and slave so also with male and female, hierarchies rejected by Christian radicality — in, for example, Galatians 3:26-28 — are being retrofitted into Roman normalcy. Once again, then, Constantine here we come.


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