It is a curious fact that women were prominent in the life and literature of fringe groups [of the early church]. The Naasenes claimed to have received their teachings from James, the brother of Jesus, mediated by a woman named Marianne. Epiphanius said that the Nicolaitans had a work they ascribed to a woman they thought was Noah's wife, called Noria.

The Apocryphal literature names not only Thecla, in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, but also Marianne, alleged to have been the sister of Philip, and a number of other women who were said to be prophetesses. The New Testament itself had spoken scathingly of "that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess" (Revelation2:20). But does this mean that only deviant sects had prophetesses, or, conversely, that prophetesses were always heretical?

The answer is clearly negative, since the canonical Book of Acts mentions that Philip the evangelist had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). Why then were prophetesses apparently more active in heretical groups than in the orthodox stream of the church?

One can only speculate, but the following facts may have a bearing on the question. In order for the deviant groups to gain adherents, it was necessary for them to demonstrate their superiority over the established church. This was done, in part, by claiming truth the orthodox Christians did not possess or emphasize.

Such "truth" had to come from a divine source, and the expected mode would be prophecy. By their nature, these groups were individualistic and lacked the established church's corporate structure (such as it was by that time). The way was open for individual prophetic activity, which in these groups included the participation of women. It could also be suggested that because ...

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