Bible minimalizes women's roles, scholars say
December 24, 1997
Web posted at: 4:03 p.m. EST (2103 GMT)
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Does the Bible accurately portray the role
of women who were followers of Jesus Christ during the first
century? No, according to Biblical scholars.
Take the Virgin Mary, for example. There may be more images
of the mother of Jesus Christ than of any other woman in the
world. Yet religious scholars say she is barely mentioned in
the Bible after the first Christmas.
During the first-century, scholars estimate there were as
many women disciples of Jesus as there were men. Like the
men, the women were drawn from the villages along the Sea of
Galilee -- drawn by a message that did not discriminate.
"The Bible opens up, Christ himself opened it up to
everybody," the Rev. Petra Heldt, a Lutheran pastor in
Jerusalem, told CNN. "Jews and gentiles, women and men,
whoever followed him were his disciples. And we have
beautiful leadership by women."
But the men who compiled the scriptures chose to play down
the role of women.
"In the first generation of Jesus and Paul, woman had full
equality. They did everything a man could do in the church,
and then, subsequently, it was men who decided the canon of
scripture that marginalized women," said Jerome
Murphy-O'Connor, a Roman Catholic scholar.
Many scholars believe the role of women was downplayed in an
effort to make Christianity more appealing to the pagan Greek
and Roman patriarchal societies.
Even paintings of Jesus at the Last Supper show him
surrounded by men. But scholars say those are prime examples
of the distorted history.
"I don't think popular understanding of the Last Supper is
correct," Murphy-O'Connor said. "It was the last meal with
his friends, and I think the women came with him from
Galilee. It would have been impossible to exclude them from
Religious historians say wealthy women helped bankroll the
work of Christ and his apostles, and that women paid for some
of the earliest Christian churches. Before the churches were
built, women literally opened the doors of their homes so
they could be used as places of worship.
Scholars say the men who marginalized the roles of women
during Christianity's early days set a precedent that still
affects the role of women in their churches.
"By systematically not giving a chance to 50 percent of the
population, something is utterly wrong." Heldt said. "It is
wrong to those who might have had a call. Women, I am sure,
throughout the centuries, had calls from God to serve him.
And they simply were not given the right."
Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers contributed to this report.