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Lynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians

Women in the World of the Earliest ChristiansLynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 350 pages, ISBN 9780801031724.

Lynn H. Cohick, associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, illuminates the cultural, religious, and social roles of Greco-Roman women in the second temple period. She has examined primary sources from that era, laboring to recover an accurate picture of the lives of both the elite and common woman. In this regard, Cohick first examines the Greco-Roman world, next, Early Judaism, and then early Christianity, in order to demonstrate the active role women had in every strata of that culture. Each chapter reviews her research from the primary source material, illustrates it with a character studies, and she includes an effective summary section at the end of each chapter. Cohick’s passion to get “the historical story right and the facts correct” claims the essential place for her study of history and for her proposed pathway of the future (324). However, contrary to our expectations, Cohick approaches the subject in a manner that is unlike Catherine and Richard Clark Kroeger’s approach in their I Suffer Not a Woman historical critique of 1 Timothy, in that she emphasizes her own feminist hermeneutic on the primary texts of her research.

Cohick prefaces her research with her intentions: “to provide an engaging and accurate reconstruction of ancient women’s way of life” (21); “to tell the story of the average woman… active at all levels within their social and religious communities” (23); “to correct the misconceptions about women’s lives” (24); and to expose “how gender was used as a devise” in the promotion of “a vision of social order” (27). Herein she candidly expresses her historical and sociological approach, while at the same time defining her literary and feminist critiques. In sum, Cohick’s research on women in Greco-Roman culture finds “a woman was honored for who she was and how she behaved relative to a man, not for what she accomplished” (255).

The format of the book follows the life progress and pattern of a regular Greco-Roman woman. Cohick alarms her readers by starting with the practice of infanticide or abandonment accepted in their culture, noting that more often than not a female child was less desirable than a male child. Next, if the female child survived and was raised by her family, she would then be trained to understand the ideology of what it meant to be a good wife. Equally, Cohick follows the life expectation of the girl who was abandoned by her own parents and raised for prostitution and/or slavery by others. The centerpiece of this book focuses on chapter four—Motherhood—for birthing and nurturing children is central to the preeminent role of the Greco-Roman women in Cohick’s research. The other roles of women in this book—religious, business, education, vocation, slavery, or prostitution—become sounding boards for her returning focus on the role of the average woman, the “real marriages and the real wives” (97). Nevertheless, Cohick makes a convincing argument for the “patronage” role of women in the life of Jesus and in the ministry of the Apostle Paul, where she demonstrates their ability to financially support and theologically contribute to the birthing and nurturing of Christianity. “The female benefactors would have a voice and an authoritative role in the community, granted to them without consideration of gender” (320).

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Winter 2012

About the Author: John R. Miller is an ordained minister with Elim Fellowship of Lima, NY and serves as Pastor of Education with Living Word Temple of Restoration, Rochester, NY. He has a degree from Elim Bible Institute, a B.Div. (Trinity Theological Seminary), C.P.E. (University of Rochester), M.Div. (Northeastern Seminary), and Ph.D. (Regent University). He teaches at Regent University and Elim Bible Institute & College.

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