Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Lynn Cohick, “Women in the World of the Earliest Christians”

In addition to reading Torrance (see last post), I am also reading Cohick. Lynn Cohick was my NT professor during my time at Wheaton – they had and still have other NT professors, and I took a course with one of them, but most of my work in the area was with Cohick – and I had the added privilege of serving as her TA. She has remained interested in my scholarly development since I left Wheaton, and has served as a mentor and collaborator (for instance, she wrote a very engaging response as part of the 2009 Karl Barth Blog Conference here at DET) as occasion presented itself. Needless to say, I am very grateful for all of this. But, I am also grateful to Lynn because she recently sent me a copy of her very recently (Amazon lists the publication date as Nov 1, 2009) published Women in the World of the Earliest Christians. Having studied with and worked for Lynn, I have a deeply ingrained curiosity about New Testament backgrounds even though I do little formal NT scholarship anymore, and so I am working through her promising volume. So, expect me to post interesting snippets from time to time.

I have never seen a book quite like this one, and I am convinced that it will quickly become standard reading for those who are interested in parsing what the NT has to say about women in conversation with the NT’s historical context. By way of further introduction, here is a bit from Lynn’s introduction on why she wrote the book:
Lynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009): 20-1.

“I was on a journey of discovery, looking for information about real women who lived during the time of Second Temple Judaism, during the Roman Republic and Empire, during the birth of Christianity. I read arguments describing their daily life inside and outside the home. But the more I read, the less clear this “everywoman” became. The immediate impetus for writing this book was my frustration over the various analyses concerning New Testament women. Some approaches, sympathetic to canonical authority, ignored the rhetorical and stylized character portraits, envisioning the texts as requiring no interpretation or reading them with little historical sophistication. Other scholars tended to repudiate authoritative texts, but extreme skepticism toward discovering historical information within canonical works seemed an unnecessary reaction, one that assumed an apologetic or theological text cannot at the same time carry historical data. Instead of concluding that no reliable historical evidence is retrievable, I would suggest that the authors of the canonical works are not intentionally misrepresenting women, but rather are interested in communicating something else, and chose as a device the “woman” tropos. In so doing, these writings likely contain something useful about real women’s experiences or the world in which they lived.”
And then, on page 23, we get an early hint of a mode of analysis that is one of Cohick’s unique emphases:
“To best understand the complexity of ancient women’s lives, we must consider the crucial role the institution of patronage played 8in the broader culture, as well as be attentive to the construction of gender identity as it impacts the discussion of real women… [P]atronage extended the household into the public arena, allowing women to influence the politics and religions of their cities. Patronage provided women with an avenue for attaining public honor and for impacting society. Patronage bridged the gap between public and private, and clarified how public women were esteemed with “private” virtues of modesty and chasteness.”

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