I recently received a question on Twitter about where in our patristic sources we see early Christianity mocked for being a religion filled with women. The short answer: lots of places.
But before we get there, we should begin by noting that early Christianity received this criticism precisely because it was so popular with women during this time period. Sociologist Rodney Stark estimates that perhaps 2/3 of the Christianity community during the second-century was made up of women. This is the exact opposite of the ratio in the broader Greco-Roman world where women only made up about 1/3 of the population.
This means that women intentionally left the religious systems of the Greco-Roman world with which they were familiar and consciously decided to join the burgeoning Christian movement. No one forced them to do so. No one made them become Christians.
On the contrary, Christianity was a cultural pariah during this time period. It was an outsider movement in all sorts of ways–legal, social, religious, and political. Christians were widely despised, viewed with suspicion and scorn, and regarded as a threat to a stable society.
And yet, women, in great numbers, decided to join the early Christian movement anyway.
Women pop up all over the place in our earliest Christian sources. They are persecuted by the Roman government, they are hosting churches in their homes, they are caring for the poor and those in prison, they are traveling missionaries, they are wealthy patrons who support the church financially, and much much more.
And it is this reality that sets the stage for the critics of early Christianity. If they were looking for a way to undermine this new religious movement (and they were!) then the involvement of women is an easy target. Why? Because it was standard fare in the Greco-Roman world to attack religions with women (see the way Livy denigrates the cult of Dinoysus). There was an ideal of masculinity for the Romans that such religions just did not meet. Thus, they were targets of their ridicule.
Here are a few examples of the way the critics attacked early Christianity for having so many women: [Read more…]