Biblical Theology Bulletin Volume 44 Number 1 Pages 3–12

© The Author(s), 2014. Reprints and Permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0146107913514199

Modest, Industrious, and Loyal:
Reinterpreting Conflicting Evidence for Women’s Roles
Susan E. Hylen
Scholars have long recognized the diverse and contradictory evidence for women’s activities in the Roman world.
Women are expected to be modest and subordinate to men; yet they are also found in leadership roles. A common
solution has been to say that women leaders were exceptions to the rule. Certain women or groups stepped outside
of cultural norms and took on influential roles. Instead of reading the conflicting reports as evidence of distinct
groups of women, I interpret them as evidence of a tension that pervades the culture. At the same time that women
are ideally described as modest and confined to the home, some virtues required women to exercise leadership and
to pursue the broad interests of their households and cities. Women who exhibit leadership are not stepping outside
of culture but also inhabit familiar social norms. Because of this, I argue that we should approach the contradictions
in early Christian sources as evidence of participation in this shared cultural background. Both inside and outside
the church, conformity to social norms for womanly virtue left open a range of possibilities for women’s behavior,
including active leadership.
Key words: ancient women, social norms, modesty, patronage, New Testament


cholars have long recognized the diverse and contradic­
tory evidence for women’s activities in the Roman world. On
the one hand, the basic cultural assumption was that wom­
en were inferior to men and should obey their husbands or
fathers. Philosophical and legal writings provide ample evi­
dence of such views (e.g., Josephus, Ag. Ap. 2.201; Plutarch,
Conj. Praec. 6, 11, 33; Gaius, Inst. 1.144; Ulpian Dig. 11.1).
On the other hand, the glimpses of women’s lives that the
scattered evidence allows show women engaged in commerce,
heading households, and influencing politics, both with and
without their husband’s participation. Scholars who read
these texts as products of their culture make interpretive deci­
sions about how to understand this contradictory picture, and
how to situate the texts within it.

An early approach to this question was to marginalize
the evidence for women’s participation by suggesting it was
not “real” participation. Women may have appeared to hold
religious and public offices; yet these were either merely hon­
Susan E. Hylen, Ph.D. (Emory University) is Associate Re­
search Professor of New Testament in the Candler School of
Theology, Emory University. She is the author of Imperfect Believers: Ambiguous Characters in the Gospel of John (Louis­
ville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009); and Allusion and
Meaning in John 6 (BZNW 137; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter,
2005). She can be reached at 1531 Dickey Drive, Atlanta GA
30322. E-mail:


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Women were expected to exhibit the virtues of modesty. and those conversations can help us rethink questions of the representa­ tion of women in ancient texts. In Memory of Her. the position of women in Greco-Ro­ man culture is paradoxical: at the same time that women are ideally described as modest and confined to the home. Tamez: 28. 195–96). but in others they stepped outside of these constraints. Culture does not simply provide a set of “rules” everyone must follow. and many scholars before me have pointed out the seeming contradictions. Industrious.Hylen. Inhabiting these virtues led women to embrace a wide variety of social and familial roles. and Loyal” “ orary. In another popular expression of this view. A more recent approach. Carolyn Osiek and Margaret MacDonald have sought to situate Christian wom­ en within a framework of cultural expectations that include leadership (Osiek & MacDonald). In this article. the philosophical norms of women’s inferiority limit the meaning of all other evidence regarding women’s roles. The Acts of Paul and Thecla. For ex­ ample. some virtues required women to exercise leadership and to pursue the broad interests of their households and cities. 2014 . What I hope to do here is to offer a rationale to explain how what appears contradictory to us may not have been to ancient women and men. MacMullen: 218). In some groups. or represented domestic (and thus unimportant) func­ tions (Hillard: 40. Instead of reading the conflicting reports as evidence of distinct groups of women or exceptional women. For example. Clifford Geertz. 265–66). Interpreters of early Christian texts are less likely to see individual women’s leadership as exceptional. 29. industry. but in Pierre Bourdieu’s terms. the Pastoral Epistles are understood to limit women’s roles in response to a group centered around the second-century text. In this case the practices of the Pauline community contrast with the social norms of other Christian groups or of the Greco-Roman world at large (see also Kraemer 1992: 140. Individual women.sagepub. Multiple and Conflicting Cultural Norms Part of the reason why groups have appeared to be delin­ eated on the basis of their expectations of women comes from our tendency to imagine ancient culture as a seamless web of expectations for female behavior. Davies 1980.g. but were negotiated and embodied differently by different women under changing circumstances. Some recent scholars have moved toward understanding Christian women as reflections of the larger culture. This view of culture was popular in the 1970s and 80s. However. wrote of culture as a “web of significance” spun by human beings. or perhaps women within a geographic region. Kraemer 2011: 149. and loyalty to family. and Vorster: 465). However. and identified religion as a cultural system by which humans give meaning to the world (Geertz: 5). Misset-van de Weg: 51. but instead see the contradictory elements as evidence of distinct sub-groups with sharply differing views on women. The approach explains the di­ verging evidence regarding women by assigning certain pieces of evidence to distinct groups or individuals. women were viewed as inferior and incapable. MacMullen: 215). Lynn Cohick presents Greco–Roman cultural norms and practices and then reads New Testament texts in light of these common practices. in her classic work. it provides a 4 Downloaded from by guest on December 16. Elisabeth Schüssler Fioren­ za presents a pattern of women’s leadership in Pauline com­ munities that she argues was not exceptional. gained a level of autonomy that was rare for women in general. This view implies that cul­ ture demands univocally that women are subordinate to men.. when many of the arguments about women’s leadership in the church took root. understands some ancient women as inhabiting true leadership roles. Nolan: 236–237. These examples could be multiplied. Women who do not fit this picture are either exceptions to the rule or evidence of a community that rejected those cultural norms. see e. I seek to extend this trajectory by addressing the problem of the inconsistent evidence for women’s partici­ pation. The assumption has been that patriarchal ideals form a rigid system that consigns wom­ en to domestic anonymity. I interpret them as evidence of a tension that pervades the culture. 150. As such it expresses a view of culture as an “internally consistent whole” (Tanner: 42). In this approach. for ex­ ample. these virtues did not exist as a seamless whole. Ideas like these have been challenged on many fronts. From a modern perspective. “Modest. MacDonald. Glimpses of women’s leadership are un­ derstood as exceptions to an otherwise repressive rule (Hal­ lett: 6. Similarly. she argues that later Christians excluded women’s leadership in support of the Greco-Roman patriarchal order (Schüssler Fiorenza: 168. and one that has become quite widespread. Thec­ la’s actions represent a community of women leaders whose roles contradict the views and practices of the community of 1 Timothy (Burrus. For more re­ cent views. and anything that seems contradictory is an aberration. The evi­ dence for this paradox is not new.

g. With this understanding of culture in mind. obedience. and loyalty she was equal and similar to other excellent women. which actors employ. In light of Bourdieu. through which they may have exercised power in the church (Osiek 2008: 173–92. Instead of seeing culture as a coherent force scripting hu­ man action. “a rule doesn’t apply itself. Cultures provide an array of social roles. translated by Shelton: 291). and this may involve difficult. Instead. depending on the re­ sources and power available to them. evading norms of women’s modesty. Production of clothing was a laborious and multi-stage process that directly benefitted the woman’s family. chaste. Bourdieu’s idea of habitus expresses the social understanding required to live by the “rules” of culture. from the aggregate of the individuals endowed with the same dispo­ sitions. Treggiari: 243–49). Murdia’s son praises her “because in modesty. indi­ viduals necessarily make choices about how to inhabit cultural norms and roles. 73). Although they are not synonyms. a stayer-at-home” (ILS 8402. and loyalty co­ incide very smoothly. Similarly. best and most beautiful. scholars have looked for roles available to women with authority or status. diligence. chastity.sagepub. because they praise the deceased for having fulfilled the ideal: e. Because of this. As Charles Taylor explains. Augustus. “Here lies Amymome. One reason the wool worker may have been so iconic is that it neatly embodies the norms of loyalty. values. Viewed as part of a cultural repertoire. actors may employ practices associated with one role in new arenas. scholars have long studied the relationship between voluntary associations. 2014 .” which appears in both inscriptions cited above as well as many others. his assertion points to the potency of this image of female virtue. they applied the norms regarding modesty in combi­ nation with other culturally available roles and norms. the possibility for different roles and leadership by women exists within and across various subgroups in the Greco-Roman world. As they utilize cultural roles in new situations. finely tuned judgments” (C. it has to be applied. As Michel de Certeau argues. The vocab­ ulary may change slightly. thrifty. Sometimes the ideals of modesty. The Ideal of the Virtuous Woman In the Greco-Roman world the ideal woman was modest. translated by Lefkowitz & Fant: 17). worker in wool. or wisdom” (CIL 6. moral integrity. to whom each is linked by his dispositions and interests [Bourdieu: 15]. hard work. Harland 2003: chap. While in 5 Downloaded from btb. and ways of making meaning. Taylor: 57). “each individual is a locus in which an incoherent (and often contradictory) plurality of such relational determinations interact” (de Certeau: xi). both fides and pietas connote familial loyalty. by guest on December 16. and churches. wife of Marcus. but interact with other cultural norms and expectations. Either modestia or pudicitia could embody female modesty. and mod­ esty. pious. For example. faithful. Funerary monuments pro­ vide some of the clearest expressions of the standards. wool-working.. “worker in wool. Kloppenborg: 212–238.10230 [ILS 8394]. 7. In a similar fashion. but they are also constantly negotiated and often in conflict. The different roles that women play in antiquity do not define the boundaries between communities with different gender ideologies. industrious. The dispositions that shape actions are durable. women who inhabited such roles did not step outside of culture. nor did she yield to any woman in virtue. Richardson: 90–109). Bourdieu asserts that knowing what it means to follow the rules is itself a social practice. While the extent of their labor is likely exaggerated.B I B L I C A L T H E O LO GY B U L L E T I N • VO LU M E 4 4 • 2 0 1 4 “sense” or disposition inculcated in the earliest years of life and constantly reinforced by calls to order from the group. So well did wool working en­ capsulate female virtue that Suetonius insists that the women of Augustus’s family made his clothing (Suetonius. interpreters who encounter social norms like the expectation of women’s modesty should go on to ask what modesty looked like in practice. and loyal to her family. syn­ agogues. 2007: 57–79. industry. that is to say. This more complex view of the cultural norms for women’s behavior points to a new way of understanding the varieties in the evidence for women’s participation in early Christian com­ munities. individuals may be understood to function with what Ann Swidler calls a “cultural repertoire” (Swidler: 24). interpreters might expect to find texts expressing complex and even conflicting values. industry. One example of this is the attribute. Familiar titles and roles in civic and voluntary associations migrated into other realms like the syn­ agogue and the church (Barclay: 113–127. Osiek & MacDonald: 144–219). The same constellation of qualities appears again and again in inscriptions and literary sources and suggests a consistent set of standards for women’s behavior (Cohick: 67–71. Even clearly stated dispositions like modesty or the subordination of women do not exist in a vacuum.

com by guest on December 16. I hope to show a social pattern in which women who exhibited traditional domestic virtues also played influential roles within their families and communities.13303. but they are engaged in many of the same activities. Hels. 14. in which the ideals of modesty. the evidence tends to reinforce a common set of norms for women’s behavior cou­ pled with considerable variety in the ways the norms are em­ bodied by actual women. P.9642(I). however. 22. 6. “worker in wool” encapsu­ lates the ideal female virtues. Industrious. P. Instead. 1. I draw on the diverse and disparate evidence for women’s lives. These are pow­ erful social norms that often suggest a cohesive worldview that confined women to a restricted set of roles. Richard Saller (97) estimates that women controlled one-fifth to one-third of prop­ erty in the Roman Empire.g. Egyptian papyri.. 26. yet neither does it circumscribe the boundaries of women’s activities. a woman’s loyalty to her family of­ ten required her active involvement in arenas defined as mas­ culine. suggests both modesty and loyalty to family (CIL 5. The particularities of women’s lives likely varied a great deal from place to place.1758. for that matter) made autonomous de­ cisions.sagepub.Diog. I assert that conformity to social norms for womanly virtue left open a range of possibilities for women’s behavior. industry. P. 8. bought. and renting land and livestock (e. P. the Roman ideal of the univira.2680.86. P..Mich. cited above. 33. the description. For example. 6. Catullus 111.13299.40). Likewise. The funeral inscription to Murdia.3604. Instead.Lips 29.Ryl. 11–12. Cicero’s exile. 6.9. P. was never simply a personal affair over which women (or men. inscriptions from the west and east. P. focusing on the first and second centuries. Women appear less frequently than men in the papyri. 117) and Tacitus (Ann. however.243). as it were.Hamb.Mich.31711.Fay 127.5813) attest her wealth and status.Pal. Women’s Wealth Women of the Imperial period owned a good deal of prop­ erty and made decisions regarding its use. Likewise.7763. P. a fact he laments (Fam.Oxy.25392. P.24) and inscriptions in her town (CIL 10. Pompeia Celerina (Ep. P. and literary texts give dif­ ferent glimpses of women’s lives. Non-elite women also controlled property. SB 8. and loyalty with respect to women’s wealth and patronage. Not sur­ prisingly. His description of Ummidia Quadratilla (Ep. selling. P. 6. from dif­ ferent angles.Coll. Stud. 34. Pliny the Younger writes of the many country estates of his mother-in-law. and in the city itself.2713. many of which included active leadership roles with­ in the household. The smooth combination of gendered virtues is seen else­ where in the culture as well. “Modest.7). Wealth was a household or familial matter. Elite women often owned large country estates and property in the cities as well.Oxy. P. In this case. 2. P. Even so. a woman married only once. but inhabiting them in a variety of ways. civic groups. 11– 12. for remarriage had the potential to divide a woman’s loyalty.38. 7. 8. wool working was imagined as something done at home.4. Women controlling property was a part of everyday life in the Roman world. “modest” women take on roles and exert authority in ways that may seem surprising to mod­ ern readers. P. viewed. and Loyal” “ practice many of the steps involved may have been performed with other people or in a courtyard space between lower in­ come houses. 3.10). 1. 2014 . Thus. modern readers often see this behavior as striking. Propertius 4. industrious women entered into commerce and politics. pursuing wealth and honor for themselves and their families. Gr.212. Wealth. Quite a few of the sources attribute domestic virtues like modesty to these active wom­ en. and loyalty interact in surprising ways. and freed slaves (e. sold. None of these sources tries to explain or excuse the wealth of such women. also praises 6 Downloaded from btb. modesty does not disappear as a requisite virtue in such situations. Here I flesh out the interplay between modesty.67. women’s actions to preserve and extend their wealth are shaped and framed by expectations of loyalty to family. Yet most of the ancient sources give no indication that these actions were unusual or untoward. 6. Its frequency underscores how important these norms were in Roman culture. 50. industry. Plutarch Tib.3555. There are a great many instances.Oxy. the loyalty involves sexual fidelity to the husband as well as pur­ suit of the interests of the husband’s children.5). 12.g. Thus. 2. and buying. 3. 6. Youtie 2. These women are not stepping outside of existing social norms.11.Diog. For example. I am not arguing that women were free to do whatever they pleased.464.Oxy.22) mention the immense wealth of Lollia Paulina. 8. Papyri record women of lesser means establishing wills.36. P. Women also inherited. As I discuss below.Col. the expectation that women should be virgins when married combines the ideal of modesty with that of loyalty to her family—both to her fa­ ther’s household and to that of her future husband. 1.Princ. Terentia sells property during her husband.221.Hylen. Both Pliny the Elder (Nat. In light of sources that confine women’s duties to the home. albeit on a less­ er scale.

who has appointed him. Dig. For example. would have had if present” (P.9026.2. P. and located within the household (Kampen: 97. Gaius.Oxy. with the same powers as she. For example. Yet even as they assert control over resources.. women are portrayed by their families and also portray themselves accord­ ing to traditional virtues. Certainly there were avenues for men to exercise influence over women’s decisions with their property. Demetria initiates legal action yet writes that “being unable to attend the court by reason of womanly frailty. they became sui iuris. and land within Italy. yet it does not deter women from pursuing legal action. in a few of the Egyptian papyri we see wom­ en claiming “womanly weakness” at the same time they pur­ sue their own economic and political interests. 5.g. although the consequences were different de­ pending on one’s social status.Oxy.2. BGU 2. expressed as “womanly frailty”—is a widespread cultur­ al assumption that can be evoked as explanation or excuse. I do not mean to suggest that control of property was a two-way by guest on December 16.17. and had no influence over property that was not res mancipi. Cicero. and used both to marshal resources for the benefit of the household. The ability of women to act and yet to assert their modesty or weakness at the same time appears to be woven into the fabric of Greco-Roman culture. women also exercised daily influence over their husband’s affairs through their oversight of household production (e. Lefkowitz & Fant: 158–61. In the ancient world. They served in ceremonial capacities that symbolized the 7 Downloaded from btb. Cice­ ro’s letters to Terentia show his reliance on her to carry out af­ fairs in his absence (Cicero.g. translated by Rowlandson: 179.3335. 2.11585). Similarly. 2. 1. Demetria. to inform him of business transacted in his absence (SB 14. Elite women took on leader­ ship roles in their communities (Dixon: 91–121. 1. who were members of her father’s family. SB 5. The tone of many of these writings suggests that women’s ownership of property and pursuit of their interests is normal and expected.B I B L I C A L T H E O LO GY B U L L E T I N • VO LU M E 4 4 • 2 0 1 4 her for her bequests to family (CIL 6.261. 11–12). 50. the ex­ pectation that women would use wealth for the good of the family remained.2680. P. The guardian never owned the woman’s property.63. in a number of funerary monuments in the west. Women inherited wealth from their husbands with the shared expectation that they steward that wealth and pass it on to their children (e. Caecin. and cit­ ies. 59.Brem.. The pattern that emerges is one in which claims of women’s weakness exist side by side with assertions of agency and authority. Giss. van Bremen). Although cloth and other food items could be purchased in the cities. 68. cf. At that time.Oxy. The practice was meant to safeguard the woman’s property for the sake of her heirs. 50.7572.29. she has appoint­ ed her aforesaid grandson Chairemon as her legal represen­ tative before every authority and every court. 6. clients.Mert. 158). the household was the primary site of production of food and clothing. Although the formal role of the guardian diminished over time. Yet the role of the guardian was limited. but in any case involved the woman directly in making decisions about the use of household resources for the good of the household. Thermouthis writes to her husband. P. The weakness of women—in this case. For example. certain types of livestock. A world that required these women’s ac­ tive participation in producing wealth for their families never­ theless honored them by depicting them as static. They donated buildings and monuments and gave bequests to relatives. although women still needed the consent of a guardian in order to sell property defined by law as res mancipi: slaves..1.g. 2014 . 1. The social expec­ tation of loyalty to one’s family did not eliminate women’s con­ trol over their property but influenced the kinds of decisions they were likely to make with the resources at their disposal. but she did not need permission to marry or to choose a husband.. 33. P. Fam. Managing the household was a job that varied depending on the social status of the family. or supervised the slaves who did so. 119. Yet women had both formal and informal control over property.3991).190–192.sagepub. See Evans Grubbs: 23–37).16. A woman who was sui iuris needed the guardian’s consent if she wanted to form a dowry. Inst. Papyri show similar patterns among non-elite women. Ulpian.601–602.195. 6. By the first century changes in the practice made it unlikely that a guard­ ian could interfere in a freeborn woman’s affairs (Gaius. Inst. P. Men had legal rights that women did not (e. Although men could influence a woman’s use of her prop­ erty for the sake of the family. Own­ ership had social and political consequences in the Roman social system.144). Nemesion.10230 [ILS 8394]). 105–06. women still performed many of the tasks required to make clothing and meals.932. 130–36). 144–45.7737. women of average means are depicted as domestic matrons. 2. Both sons and daughters were under the authority (potestas) of their father until his death. Women Patrons A similar pattern emerges in relation to patronage. 63.

19. CIJ 741. and indus­ try) can be found within a single source or author. Similarly. but they also reflect the status and influence that person has accrued within the group.” Inscriptions praising patrons often attribute honor to the whole family by situating the gift within a pattern of familial giving (van Bremen: 71. yet that modesty inhabited a variety of forms. As they give such gifts. First. On a smaller scale. Modest women engaged in business and other public roles. demiourgos. Junia Theodora.51.” The attribution of domestic virtues in such cases should not be read as an indication that these women never left their homes. As patrons and donors. Women were also patrons of religious organizations and voluntary associations. and Loyal” “ importance of their generosity. is described as “living modestly” (Kearsley: 204– by guest on December 16. especially when those actions were perceived to benefit their families or cities. R. In taking on such active roles. 813 [ILS 3785. 68 10. who twice served as stephanephoros. 32). loaned money. Two additional aspects of this social pattern are directly re­ lated to the interpretation of Christian texts. Yet he also recommends his wife’s work as an author (Conj. women are again praised for mod­ esty and domestic virtues.” “elder. 12. They donated buildings and mosaics.Hylen.” and “mother” (Brooten: chap. Pliny the Younger. Plutarch. Claudia Metrodora. Pallas.sagepub. 2014 . and women with language like this that evokes domestic virtues. AE 1982.14. for example. women gained honor for their families and provided concrete benefits to their cities. 6368]. The titles of patrons confer honor on that person. Men tend to be praised with words that con­ note public service. As Philip Harland has argued. and also their monumental display within the cities emphasized the importance of dynastic continuity (both in the paternal and maternal line) and the coherence of the family. wom­ en donated or renovated buildings in support of profession­ al guilds and religious groups (CIL 10. A. Ep. but embodied them in ways deemed acceptable by their culture. Osiek 2005 :212).3. dedicates his own work to a fe­ 8 Downloaded from btb. & Vénencie: 498).21. Praec. loyalty.810. 12. 3. Yet their decisions were surely shaped by the fact that the social capital accumu­ lated through such gifts accrued. Dixon: 107). Cohick: 294–296. points to a social world in which women sought honor alongside men (cf. Pleket 14). and there is evidence at many levels of society that women gave gifts to communities or local organizations. Moxnes: 21–2). in almost all cases the person so honored also clearly served some function­ ing role in the cults or institutions of the cities which honored them” (Harland 2007: 68). Women’s civic do­ nations are evidence of active leadership. As Riet van Bremen argues (96). Service as a patron was again not simply an individual act but was also a way of extending the family’s influence. 102). Kearsley writes that sōphōn (modesty or chastity) “is most often found in grave epitaphs of females in a specifically domestic context to describe a woman who had performed her familial responsibilities to husband and children impeccably” (Kearsley: 197). women accrued honor only through their purity or by bearing children (e. 9. is “virtuous and of noble character” (Kearsley: 208–09). Malina: 51–2. and thus acted as patrons in many of the same ways men did. 6.” The archaeological evidence of women’s patronage. In the classic honor/shame model articulated by Bruce Malina and others. nevertheless women bore many of the same titles men did: stephanephoros. the tension created by the gendered virtues (modesty. “Modest. authority  . van Bremen: Appendix 2). she for the impeccability of her character and manners. Praec. and they are identified with titles like “priest. 48). The use of this vocabulary is commonly found in inscriptions de­ scribing women. (van Bremen: 59–80). But Zeba Crook (592–609) has shown that women participat­ ed alongside men in the “public court of reputation. “the language of the inscrip­ tions themselves.5. To summarize: the evidence that women pursued wealth and acted as patrons suggests a more complex picture of the socially acceptable roles played by women.. And while inscriptions show fewer titles available to women than to men. lauds the submission of women to men (Conj. Industrious. Instead. commemorated in five inscriptions for her political patronage of the Lycian people. “although the titles were con­ ferred as a way of honoring an influential person. Charitonidis. the inscriptions attri­ bute honor to women patrons by describing them as virtuous. made bequests. etc. he is praised “for his prostasia: leadership. 5. 91. Women also made loans and supported individual clients in business and social life (Cicero Att. not just to themselves. the highest magistracy of her city (Chiot) and who donated a public bath complex. van Bremen (103) notes the different vocabulary used to praise Motoxaris and her brother. Although she held more civic of­ fices and provided monuments. along with praise of women’s public works in inscriptions and literary works. owned and freed slaves. Clu. Such benefaction was not limited to elite women. The ideal woman was modest. . women did not transgress social norms. 178. but also to their families.g. .

83–90. Women affirm the weakness of females as a general principle even as they seek their own self-interest. 1. The agency of individual women appears normal rather than exceptional in the sources cited above. In another example. the jurists tell us that potestas. 31670 (ILS 8393). but did them with approval. Gardner: 377). Spec. Taylor 2003. 2014 . you revealed them publicly in order to expose him as the author of my calamities [CIL 6. the control of the pater familias over lesser members of the household is. not only did he not raise you up. the pres­ ence of women leaders in Greco-Roman society appears to be normal even in groups whose stated principles exclude or limit women’s participation. and praises examples of women’s military and political leadership (Mulierum Virt. the pursuit of other gendered virtues demanded that they do so. Modesty and the assumed superiority of men demanded that they not do these things. Dig. . 32–33. Similarly.. 50. the term pater familias referred generally to property owners and slave owners. 26.17. .g. Sacr. For example. Yet as I discussed above. because women did not have potestas over their children (Ulpian. supported female relatives with her own money. by definition. affability. Yet it is clear that Turia has not fulfilled these virtues by sitting passively at home. 50. your artless elegance and simplicity of dress . Although you suffered insults and cruel injuries. your sense of duty toward your family.B I B L I C A L T H E O LO GY B U L L E T I N • VO LU M E 4 4 • 2 0 1 4 male friend (Mulierum Virt. along with evidence that women not only did these things.). Cultur­ al norms for women’s modesty do not disappear when there is evidence of women’s agency. and as such included women as well as men (Saller: 185–90. Philo frequently reproduces common gender stereo­ types in his writings (e. and in subgroups of Greco-Roman culture. Ancient women were shaped by cultural expectations of passivity and subordination to men. neither are they free to act in any way they please. but in fact he grabbed you and dragged you along as if you were a by guest on December 16. . a male capacity. Yet women who demonstrate leadership or agency were not operating outside of culture. or with a dif­ ferent set of rules. Women regularly appear across the varied kinds of evidence as people who assert social influence and control over resources for the good of their families and cities. but to note its regular appearance.16. There are explic­ it prohibitions of women’s participation in certain activities or roles.2). individ­ ual authors. your affection toward your relatives. 69–71. translated by Shelton: 292]. For example. E. J.sagepub. This strange variety seems to be a regular feature of Roman life: the “rules” do not always align neatly with the evidence of practice. 1). . it seems unwise to use the contradicting norms 9 Downloaded from btb. My intention is not to resolve this contradiction. see D’Angelo: 63–88. . Women are not named to formal leadership roles as often as men. but with unflinching determination you reminded him of Augustus Caesar’s edict of pardon. Turia fulfills the female virtues in part through her deter­ mined action. your tireless attention to wool-work­ ing.1527. You were covered with bruises. Os. Yet he also approves of women living the philosophical life in parallel with men (Contempl. Yet as Richard Saller and others have argued. nor does women’s leadership vanish when norms of modesty are extolled. E. Such sources reinforce the idea that interpreters may find contradic­ tory approaches to women within individuals or communities. your performance of religious duties without superstitious fear.169). Roman women both could and could not be leaders of households and communi­ ties. Instead. Conclusion Assertions of agency and leadership by women are part of the cultural milieu of the first and second centuries. . It is not that some women could be civ­ ic and familial leaders. At the same time. the pattern includes elements that appear to mod­ ern readers as explicit contradictions. 3. But their actions taken for the good of the family or community are expected. 21. there are contradictions between legal materials and evidence of practice. Second. and good nature.195. Likewise. Taylor 2004: 110). . Instead. Her husband goes on to recount how she avenged her parents’ death. or that women in some groups could. . J. Be­ cause of this. and assisted her husband in political difficulty: When you threw yourself on the ground at [Lepidus’s] feet. Turia’s husband praises her in an inscription for traditional female virtues: Why should I mention your personal virtues—your modesty. but not in others. These tensions are present within single documents. the jurist Ulpian states that women do not serve as magistrates (Dig. but not others.2). Conflicting and even (to us) contradictory norms for wom­ en’s behavior occur in much of the evidence available. obedi­ ence. Is. inscriptions assign women the titles of magistrates. The pattern suggests a deep tension within Roman culture.

edited by A. translat­ 10 Downloaded from btb. The Revolt of the Widows: The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts. and various social roles like patron. For example. Women in the World of the Earliest Christians. and we might expect women’s roles to be limited even in com­ munities that praise their exemplary leadership. Bernadette J. Like the culture at large. We might not be surprised that women served in leadership roles even in communities that extol their silence. de Certeau. Cambridge. To many interpreters. “Honor. scholars have long noticed the strange disparities within Christian texts regarding the roles of women. Witherington: 241). Texts asserting women’s subordination also expect their service as leaders. 1977. CA: Scholars Press. IL: Southern Illi­ nois University Press. 2014 .-A. Different questions about these texts might then result. Penner & C. edited by T. “Gender and Geopolitics in the Word of Philo of Alexandria: Jewish Piety and Imperial Family Values. Stevan L. Leiden. and Loyal” “ as principles by which to demarcate groups of people with diverging views.sagepub. Instead of assigning texts like these to different factions with radically different views. I hope that readers may begin to imagine ancient Christians as participants in a complex sys­ tem of social norms that both limited and assumed women’s influence in the public sphere. Yet she also baptizes herself (34) and is sent by Paul to teach the gospel (41).” Pp. Carbondale. Lynn H. Different individuals and groups negotiate the tensions in different ways. 2009. Thecla is char­ acterized as a modest virgin who stays inside her mother’s home (ATh 7). marital status. Yet none of the differences seem to represent a group that has stepped out­ side of the shared cultural framework. Cohick. MI: Baker Academic. John M. does Thecla represent a radical departure from the cultural norms? What are the dispositions of culture that Thecla and 1 Timothy share? Similar questions could be formulated for many of the texts we have used to assess the participation of women in the early church. Brooten. “Money and Meetings: Group Forma­ tion among Diaspora Jews and Early Christians. Texts in which women appear as remarkable leaders still embrace their theoretical subordination to men. Similarly. translated by R. Gutsfeld & D. but they share a pattern that is familiar from other ancient texts in which women are both denied and assert authority. “Modest. Yet women also serve this community in official capacities as widows (5:9). 2009. early Christian texts also exhibit conflicting signals about women. Synagogen und Gemeinden im kaiserzeitlichen Kleinasien.” interpreters may start with a different set of assumptions as they approach these texts. KY: Westminster John Knox Press. Burrus. If culture does not operate with “rules” and “exceptions. Works Cited Barclay. 2006. Collins. 2007. Industrious. The task of this article has been to complicate the picture of ancient women in a way that may help readers to reflect dif­ ferently on these texts and the questions they raise. what might it have looked like for women in 1 Timothy’s com­ munity to fulfill norms of modesty while serving as deacons and widows? Given the cultural expectations for women’s patronage. Regardless of the answers to such questions. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A by guest on December 16. 63–88 in Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourse. 1 Timothy demands women’s silence and modesty (2:9–15) and shows concern that young widows will be idle rather than industrious (5:13). Shame.” the consensus view is that the verse lays out the qualifications of women who are deacons (Collins: 91–92. Lewiston. UK: Cambridge University Press. 1987. so that the forms of women’s leadership may differ even within one locale. and widow. Among these dispositions are gender norms and expectations. 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