Hardly any women appear in the current issue of Christian History. Fact is, for most of the church's 2,000 years, women didn't do history in an official sense. They did plenty of other things, though, as contemporary historians-male and female-describe in countless new books. Here's a glance at a few of them to pique your interest:

The Forgotten Desert Mothers by Laura Swan (Paulist Press, 2001)

As a graduate student in theology, Laura Swan wrestled with some of life's biggest questions. She began to find answers in the wisdom of ancient ascetics, but something was missing. Written records of the desert monks were easy to find, but references to desert mothers-who may have outnumbered men two to one-lay in shadows, occasionally popping up as footnotes in rare scholarly works. Swan decided to play the sleuth and track them down.

Swan's subtitle, Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women, summarizes the types of information she unearthed. After helpful chapters on desert life and spirituality, Swan presents sayings analogous to those found in Benedicta Ward's more famous book Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Swan's running commentary on the sayings gushes a bit, detracting from the impact of the sayings themselves. However, as the glossary at the back of the book demonstrates, Swan anticipates a green audience, and she doesn't want to lose them.

Stories of lesser known desert mothers, early deaconesses, monastic community leaders follow the sayings. Swan indicates that she has toned down the stories from their original hagiographic form, again seeking to make the material attractive to modern readers. Swan's edits certainly make the stories more readable, but some credibility is lost; Swan's simple, declarative sentences ...

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