Joan Taylor & Helen Bond – Jesus Remembered: Jesus’ female disciples
Hodder & Stoughton
"The Twelve". Of course, that's the disciples of Jesus. All men, of course. Weren't they?
Not if you listen to Joan Taylor and Helen Bond, two professors of Christian Origins. In this book they share with us their passion to reclaim the place of women in the New Testament.
The book holds many intriguing insights. It points to the possibility of there having been female synagogue leaders, to references in a few places in the New Testament to women teaching, and to the scathing attacks of some second century writings about the prominent place given to women in Christianity.
We are reminded of the witness (tantalisingly brief) to women accompanying Jesus and "the Twelve" in their travels, and also women travelling with Paul. It seems clear that all these women were acting in significant ways in the gospel witness, and they should not be relegated, as they so easily are, to cooks and washerwomen in the party.
There is much carefully-researched information (and a lot of guesswork) on various named women – among others: Salome, Joanna, Martha and Mary in the gospels, Lydia and Prisca in Acts, Phoebe and Junia in Romans.
Women travelling with Jesus would have been "needed in a very gendered society, to anoint the women with oil and heal". Having lived in an equally gendered society myself, I get the point, but wish there were a little more to go on than assumption.
Some great information on things like women's clothing and hairstyles, non-biblical writers, and early meeting-places are tucked into little boxes here and there, filling in gaps of knowledge which most of us have about first century culture.
The authors often seem to have difficulty in accepting gospel stories as historical. I don't find their portrayal of Jesus very satisfactory either: he learns how not to be discriminatory from the Syro-Phoenicial woman, he responds "in a snappy way" to someone else …
Taylor and Bond explain well the reasons for the marginalisation of women in the Jesus-story, but, finding the book rather repetitious and evidence often quite flimsy, I remain unconvinced about much.
To put women back in the proper place, the authors tell us, "we need not only evidence, but also a firm grasp of the ancient context, and a good dose of informed imagination."
Maybe. But I'd like to have seen rather more evidence and less imagination.
Revd Mary Parish is based at St Matthew’s Church, Worthing, where she previously served as Associate Vicar, following many years ministering in Pakistan with her husband Peter.