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A Woman’s Place: House Churches in the Earliest Christianity

Chapter 8-9 covers women in leadership roles and as patrons of the church. Evidence from the Pythagorean letters, Musonius Rufus, Philo, and Plutarch regarding the role of wives as household manager is used to place Christian women of the day in context. Other evidence such as the images from the Roman catacombs showing women as banquet hosts leads Janet Tulloch (chapter 8) to conclude that these portray the changing role of women in society. The authors also discuss how the system of patronage allowed women to exercise authority. It contains an analysis of the patronal relationship as applied to Jesus as well as Paul, and the early church.

Chapter 10 focuses on the role of women in missions concluding that since the house church was a key element in the early church and the home is a women’s place, women were therefore important in the spread of Christianity. Eleven is the concluding chapter.

This book offers many insights and raises additional issues. It adds to the debate on ascetic vs. domestic life in the early church by arguing: 1) ascetics were probably in the minority, 2) therefore we cannot assume that women listed without mention of a husband were ascetics. 3) Home churches were the basic unit of the church therefore women played a major role and 4) the authors challenge the perceived opposition between ascetic and domestic.

Osiek and MacDonald seem to reach conclusions based on common sense rather than evidence. As they point out, there is little evidence to use, and what evidence there is shows women “in such a way as to further the agendas of male authors (222).” The authors employ not only ancient texts but also recent literary, textual and gender critical secondary literature to see through a 2000 year old window. A house church was a home in which children were raised and daily life was carried on, but the reader has difficulty in envisioning the house church present by the authors. Did all the functions of the church occur in one home or were the duties spread throughout the community?

Reviewed by Patricia Riley

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Category: Church History, Fall 2008, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Patricia Riley, PhD (Regent University), has taught numerous adult Bible Studies at St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Eastpointe, Michigan where she works at the Legacy Gift Coordinator. Dr. Riley has written several articles for the Italian/English encyclopedia about Protestant heroes of the Faith, Testimoni della fede nella Chiese della reforma (Rome: Nuova’ Citta Editrice Della P.A.M.O.M.).

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