Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary
Biblical and/or Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology, PhD
Randall W. Younker
Paul J. Ray, Jr.
The participation of women in the Early Christian communities is widely accepted. Nevertheless, there is no consensus on what was their role in these communities. Until now the study of women in the Early Christian communities has focused mostly in the writings of some ancient authors and a few biblical texts. These studies have been done mostly by theologians and historians. Such studies rarely take a deep look at the Greco-Roman background and at the historical, socio-cultural contexts. This contextualization can be quite fruitful and should be informed by recent archaeological discoveries of the first centuries of Christianity. Thus, this dissertation first analyzes the archaeological remains that inform the role of women in the Greco-Roman society in order to understand the context in which Christianity rose and how religious leaders were portrayed in the first centuries of the common era. Next, with an informed understanding of women in the Greco-Roman world, I analyze the remains of women in early Christian funerary settings. Then, I investigate the portrayals of women in some of the surviving mosaics of the early Christian basilicas.
This dissertation analyzes primarily archaeological material of different media (frescoes, inscriptions, mosaics, ancient texts …) with its own specificities. Each medium requires its own methodology for its correct interpretation. This variety can be quite profitable because the use of multiple methodologies and approaches tend to reduce the biases of certain media and bring a more nuanced understanding of the past. The consistent element in these different methods is the serious consideration of the contexts in order to have a precise, balanced, and nuanced interpretation.
Results and Conclusions
When analyzing the priestesses of the Greco-Roman world, it is possible to notice that patronage and priesthood often went together in the first centuries of the common era. This combination of attributes provided the space for the leadership of women in the house-churches as hostesses and managers of the domestic environment. It seems that women were used to being religious leaders in the Greco-Roman world and because of their education they were well suited to lead the early Christian congregations. Studying Greco-Roman priestesses, I could detect the priestly markers used in the remains of the Greco-Roman world. Based on these priestly markers and the hierarchy of sacred spaces present at the time, it was possible to identify women in Christian leadership positions in a basilica burial, on tombstones and in the early Christian frescoes in the catacombs. The mosaics analyzed in the fourth chapter are of a different nature from the funerary remains. Mosaics of the fifth century onwards tended to portray biblical passages and therefore should be interpreted accordingly. In light of the biblical connection, the secular leadership of imperial women, and the previous history of women’s participation in leadership in the Christian communities, the mosaics seem to portray women in religious leadership positions in the Christian church during that period.
Leadership in women; Church history--Primitive and early church, ca. 30-600; Women in Christianity--Early church, ca. 30-600
Prestes, Carina, "A Portrait of the Leadership of Women in Early Christianity: an Archaeological Study in Light of the Historical and Socio-Cultural Contexts" (2023). Dissertations. 1799.
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