WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Book review: A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest christianity

Book Review: A Woman’s Place – House Churches in earliest Christianity Carolyn Oseik, Margaret Y Macdonald with Janet H Tulloch Fortress Press 2005

Reviewer Sr Marcellin Wilson

The authors of this book have set out to identify some of  the anomalies around the study of women in the early church. They approached this task by noting three polarities found in these times, patriarchy as against discipleship of equals: public life versus private and ascetic versus domestic lifestyles of those times.

This work testifies to the authors  searching investigation into Greco-Roman antiquity and early Christianity.

They have examined the legal and social-historians interpretations of the social structure and culture of the times.

The accepted analysis of the social structures is re-examined. The writers point to the issue around the invisibility of woman in the public domain.  The accepted  model is subject to scrutiny in this work.

Three assumptions around: masculine plural titles; cultural values of honour and shame especially in Mediterranean cultures; and participation of women in all activities  of the house church in the first generation of Christian era are all considered in detail in this work.

The writers ask the questions:  first, ‘What kind of houses are we envisioning when we talk about house churches; second, ‘Where were women and how did they function at the common meals of the gathered community?’ and third, ‘How were women both patrons and heads of house churches in a culture in which male headship of the house was the norm?’ They then in a very scholarly manner begin to answer these questions. Some of the answers are ‘We cannot know’ but there is a great deal of research in coming to this admission.

The research is considerable, even to the point of a close examination of details from meal scenes in frescos in the catacombs and enclosed tombs. This was for me an intriguing area of study.

For those who want a thorough, informative and extensively referenced work on a woman’s place in the early church and in Mediterranean society this book deserves to be studied