Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Divine Women, Bettany Hughes

I meant to mention this last week when Leonie Jameson (Executive Producer) sent it over, but there is a new three-part series on Wednesday evenings on BBC2 entitled Divine Women.  It is presented by Bettany Hughes.

There is more here, including clips:

BBC Two: Divine Women

There is more too at the Open University.  I was a consultant on the episode that airs tomorrow night, Handmaids of the Gods.

18 comments:

TonyTheProf said...

Let's hope your acting as consultant improved matters. I found the first episode extremely weak. She skates very lightly over evidence and gives the impression of selecting specifically to prove her point - a good contrast is Mary Beard's Meet the Romans, imaginative, but based on solid documentary material (inscriptions, writings and artefacts)

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2012/04/when-god-was-girl.html

The blurb for episode two includes the phrase:
"Finally, Hughes returns to those crucial early years of Christianity where she finds evidence about the role of women that contradicts centuries of Christian teaching and challenges the belief that women should not be priests."

I'm never too happy about this kind of OTT presentation which tries to make as provocative a statement as possible - i.e. "contradicts" etc. There is evidence, but some of it is ambiguous, and I think a good historian (for example Ronald Hutton) would note the ambiguity rather than being slap-dash about it.

Geoff Hudson said...

"Based on SOLID documentary material" eh! I like that. And I like Mary Beard's enthusiasm. But you see, inscriptions, writings and artefacts require interpretation. And it is so easy to go with the established flow. When I saw Mary Beard on the top stage of the Colosseum (gigantic), I was thinking that here was one good reason (an artefact) for a greedy man like Vespasian to ransack the Temple for. And that wasn't the only building project Vespasian funded out of the spoils from the Temple either.

Geoff Hudson said...

And may be Hughes has got something about the role of women in those 'crucial early years of christianity'. I will watch tonight's episode to see if she has any agreements with me.

TonyTheProf said...

I don't mind if she takes a particular line, as long as she doesn't go beyond the evidence. If it is ambiguous, more honest to say so than promote an agenda by stating something (to the viewing public) which may be debatable. I've no axe to grind about the role of women in early Christianity; I just don't want to see evidence selectively chosen to support a thesis - Mary Murray's Witch Cult in Western Europe is a classic example of that. I'd hope that modern historians can do better.

Geoff Hudson said...

Hughes illustrated her talk with early paintings from a catacomb of women apparently leading worship. One painting in a different place showed a women with an inscription above her head which was the female equivalent of bishop. Down the left hand side of her head her name had been obviously doctored in the mosaic from Theodora to a neutral form.

Hughes said that the early church was egalitarian in its attitude to men and women. This is very strange. Where did this idea come from?

TonyTheProf said...

Largely from herself. We had this fantastic statistic of 50% of churches in Rome were founded by women. I've never heard that in my life before.

She also suggested that the Acts of Paul and Thecla was just one of the books that didn't get into the New Testament because of its attitude to women (never mind that it was known to be a pious fake), and managed to mention the Council of Nicea without the Athanasius / Arius controversy over the nature of Christ - the whole thing, she said was "just a tidying up operation". The Big Finish CD "The Council of Nicea" (a Dr Who historical) is probably better at presenting the reasons for the Council than that (actually as it is based on the writer's thesis, very much so - I'd recommend it as a good way into the controversies). And she mentioned Augustine on women and original sin, mentioned him as a young libertine, then a Christian convert, but never mentioned the malign influence of his conversion to Manicheism in between (which perhaps he never fully shook off).

Geoff Hudson said...

I think she said that women were considered equal with men in the FIRST two centuries CE. But the evidence she provided (for example the catacomb evidence) related to the second century. This was inconsistent. How does she know that women were considered the equal of man in the first century? A question arises: does some of the catacomb evidence go back further than the second century? Do you think the Flavians were not persecutors of christians causing them to go into the catacombs?

TonyTheProf said...

She seems to have used a lot of 2nd century evidence as if it was 1st century. I'm also not wholly convinced that the alb was exclusively the garment for priests.

Geoff Hudson said...

But Tony, were you wholly convinced by the images of women in the catacombs leading worship, and the image of a group of women celebrating soemething.

TonyTheProf said...

I don't see why not. The question is whether it is reflecting something early (I believe one is 3rd / 4th century), or something later but popular like Montanism. The trouble with Hughes presentation is that she doesn't give much picture of all the ferment that was happening - Gnosticism, Montanism, Arianism - those are obviously shorthand labels - but they do represent movements that sprang up, and not always early.

Geoff Hudson said...

There was no need to cloud the issue with such considerations. I think the catacomb evidence was deffinately early. For me one question is: how early? Why were these images shown with their hands raised, and standing like Jewish worshippers? Why were the women considered equal with men? And why the image of a woman with child? Was she nameless, and thus symbolic of all women? Why was she associated with the other images of women worshipping? It is almost as though they were following a different religion or theology from what came later.

TonyTheProf said...

Not all early according to:
http://www.womensordination.org/content/view/68/52/

A fourth century fresco, also in the catacomb of St. Priscilla, shows a bishop ordaining a woman.

What amazed me was that she didn't cite Paul who calls a woman named Junia an apostle in Romans 16.7 - that's really early.

A more subtle point is that in 1 Corinthians 11.2–11, Paul says "And any woman who prays or proclaims God's message in public worship with nothing on her head disgraces her husband" - instructions which indicate that they did pray and proclaim God's message in public worship - and he doesn't forbid them to do that, just tells them how to dress.

Geoff Hudson said...

Don’t you think that telling a woman what she should wear in case it disgraces her husband is like a red rag to a bull? One of the women shown by Hughes in the catacomb paintings appears to praying or worshipping with her head uncovered. You see Paul plays down the role of women generally. It may be quite subtle but it is there. Women are always kept below men even if ever so slightly. They are never equal to men in Paul’s eyes. Paul does not fit in with the important image of mother and child.

Has it occurred to you that Acts 16 is rather strange? Although Paul has not been to Rome he knows an awful lot of people who live there. How come? They do not seem to be ordinary Romans either, but aristocrats. If Paul wanted to send greetings to aristocratic Romans he would have written in Latin, the standard form of communication between Roman citizens, Greek being considered an inferior language to use among Romans. So I think one can consider that Paul knew Latin as well as Greek.

If Paul wanted to be clear about the sex of Junias, an ‘apostle’, in Acts 16.7, then he could have been, as in Acts 16.12. Was this deliberate? Was he in on the beginning of the denigration of women? If Paul knew Latin and Greek, he would have known that the accusative form of the greek did not give the sex of Junias when translated to Latin. It reminds me of Theodora being doctored into Theodo.

TonyTheProf said...

One has always to be careful about Acts, as it is Luke's Paul, which may or may not be an accurate representation of Paul; it is at the very least, Paul as seen by Luke, and as we all know, what someone says in their own letters, and how they are portrayed by someone who knows them will differ.
When we have the speeches of Paul in Acts, they appear to be the start of what was said, but it is almost as if Luke couldn't remember or take down the whole speech; as if Paul was (as he could have been) speaking too fast for him to take notes.

Geoff Hudson said...

What made me type Acts when I meant Romans?

Unknown said...

I'm not sure about the social status of those whom Paul greets in Rome - is it clear that they were of more than middle class status? If they were aristocrats I think that would settle the question of Junia's gender. I can't imagine a male Roman aristocrat called 'Junias'.
Not sure Greek was of low status, provided it was 'classical'. When Augustus said he'd rather be Herod's swine than his son he used 'hus' for pig when it seems from the NT that the contemporary word was 'choiros'.
Mention has been made of 'Mary' Murray on the Witch Cult (1921). I thought that book had the remarkable feature of uncritical reading of evidence obtained under torture. Her name was Margaret Alice.
I too wasn't too bowled over by Bettany Hughes' first episode.

Geoff Hudson said...

Unknown wrote: "I can't imagine a male Roman aristocrat called 'Junias'."

Neither can I. But the Greek is indeterminate. Paul knew this and wanted to conceal the fact that it was a she, as otherwise it would imply that a woman could be of equal status to a man in Rom 16.7. Rom 16 is the second ending to the epistle, the first being Rom 15.33. Rom 16 was probably based on some original text. My question remains: how would Paul have known all those people of Rome if he had not been there?

The question of Herod, his wife and his sons is debateable. Where did the quote from Augustus come from?

Geoff Hudson said...

Does the religion of the people who inhabited the catacombs have a Jewish origin? Is the mother and child image of the catacombs symbolic of the the Spirit of God in a woman who gives birth to a child who has the Spirit. In Jewish theology it is the Spirit that moves people. Is it as though God's Spirit is conveyed through the woman to the child? I think Hughes missed this one.