Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Back to women


I just finished writing chapter four of Sex and the Serpent. So I will probably be returning to posting on some gender-related issues. In the meantime, I have been contemplating this jewel from Celsus quoted by Origen. I have been thinking about women's witness and how their prominence in the pre-gospel story cycles are already being dampened in the foundational written narratives in the New Testament gospels, particularly the Lukan version - although the Matthean and Johannine versions are remodeling an older traditional story too. There are many possibilities for "why" these authors were dampening the women's witness, particularly Mary Magdalene's, but Celsus' remarks are telling on more than one account: on the view of women witness as inauthentic among Roman men (Roman Law did not allow women to be witnesses); on the view of women in the Roman world as emotive irrational creatures attracted to religious frenzy and superstitions; on the view that the resurrection is nothing more than a dream misinterpreted or a way to persuade people to give the Christians money. Did the evangelists consider the traditional story about the women's witness and commission by Jesus (see Matthew 28:9-10) a liability that needed to be dealt with?

According to Celsus:

We must examine this question – whether anyone who actually died ever rose again with the same body?...Who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamed in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion (an experience which has happened to thousands of people), or, which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a chance for other beggars.

4 comments:

Scott F said...

These point could have come straight from Thomas Payne. On the one hand human beings have not changed one whit in 2000 years and yet their perspectives can be as different from ours as, well, our neighbor :)

Vinny said...

Is it possible that Mark attributed the finding of the empty tomb to women precisely because they were considered so unreliable? If the author of Mark invented the story himself, he would have to be prepared for people who wanted to know why they were first hearing about the event thirty years after it happened. By attributing the discovery to women he could say, "those silly women ran off without telling anyone and we didn't find out about it for a long time."

Geoff Hudson said...

Agrippa I was king at the time, so there could have been no crucifixion to be witness to. There was no Roman soldiery. The whole story is fiction.

Matthew Alexander White said...

In answer to your final question, of course they did! The traditional story is riddled with 'aplogetic complications' to the Roman world.
I am sure it would have attacted many marginalized female adherents because of it. In fact, it could have spawned whole religious movements that would eventually need to be 'dealt with' by the 'orthodox'- Christian 'powers that Be' as Christianity began 'going public' to become part of the Roman establishment. If the original story could have just had Jesus appear to a man first things would have been so much less of a hassle for the gospel writers/editors all the way around.