How the Other Half Lived

By Elesha Coffman, associate editor of CHRISTIAN HISTORY

Early church father Tertullian called women "the Devil's gateway … the first forsaker of the divine law." Jerome, another early giant, wrote, "Is it not to women that our Lord appeared after His Resurrection? Yes, and the men could then blush for not having sought what the women had found." Obviously, Christian attitudes toward women have been all over the map for a long time, and much recent scholarship has taken on the task of tracking these attitudes, as well as pursuing pathways never before explored. The resulting "new landscape" rounds out our understanding of history, though sometimes we have to scramble over the scholars' ideological berms to get a good view.

Christian ideas about women, like Christian ideas about pretty much everything else, begin with Scripture. Yet only between 5 and 8 percent of the people named in the Bible are female, only two books (Ruth and Esther) are named for women, and, according to traditional assessments of authorship, no portions of Scripture were written by women. But this does not at all mean the Scriptures yield no information on the subject, as evidenced by the breadth and heft of the recent book Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament (Houghton Mifflin; Carol Meyers, general editor).

The bulk of this book is divided into three sections: "Named Women," "Unnamed Women," and "Female Deities and Personifications." The first section, with 206 names, represents the most extensive such list ever made. The second section includes close to 600 entries, both for specific unnamed ...

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