Religious Studies/Women’s Studies 325: Early Christian Women

Professor Margaret Y. MacDonald

Department of Religious Studies

Nicholson Hall, 314 (867-5407)


Office Hours: Mon 11:15-12:00; Wed 10:15-12:00; Fri 10:00-12:00; Other times by appointment only.


***For questions concerning course content or assignments, please do not contact me by e-mail.  Please contact me by phone, stop by during office hours, or make an appointment.

The Course investigates women’s participation in early Christian groups from the time of Jesus’ ministry to the 6th century C.E. The lives of early Christian women will be examined in light of the experiences of women in Jewish and Greco-Roman societies. Various New Testament and other early Christian writings which reflect responses to women and ideas about women will be analyzed. The work of feminist interpreters of the Bible and Early Christianity will be considered throughout the course. The relevance of material for such contemporary issues as women’s leadership and violence against women will be discussed.


Ross S. Kraemer and Mary Rose D’Angelo (eds.), Women and Christian Origins.

Bart Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code.

Ross S. Kraemer (ed.), Women’s Religions in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook

The Bible: Various versions are acceptable: NRSV; RSV; NAB; NIV; NJB, etc.

Web Resources and Other Information:

Three hours a week.  Attendance to all classes is COMPULSORY.  Check the regulations in the 2008-2009 Academic Calendar, p.13, Item 3.7 with respect to class attendance and course withdrawal.  Note that the University has a strict policy with respect to attendance: “Students are expected to attend all classes and laboratory periods. Following an absence more than one class, students should contact each professor or instructor. In the case of sudden emergencies requiring an absence of more than five days, students should contact the Dean’s office. Faculty are required to report to the Dean all unexplained absences in excess of three hours over at least two classes missed in any term.” 


It is the student’s responsibility to understand the University Academic Integrity Policy (see Academic Calendar, p.13, Item 3.8)


-Selected readings to be indicated in class (taken from textbooks, handouts, material on reserve)


- Tests and Examinations

Method of Evaluation:

1. Midterm Test:  30%

2. Paper   (Service Learning Option is available):  30%

4. Final Exam:  40 %


1. Deduction of 2% for every day that a writing assignment is late unless a doctor’s certificate is provided.

2. Tests must be written on the dates listed below.  Missed mid-terms on account of illness must be supported by a doctor's certificate indicating serious illness. In the event that you miss the mid-term test for valid medical reasons, the percentage weighting will be added to the paper and exam value as follows: your final exam will be worth 60% rather than 40% of your final grade and your paper will be worth 40% rather than 30%. This will only be allowed if you provide a doctor’s certificate. Otherwise, the value of the mid-term will be deducted from your final grade.  There will be no make-up mid-terms.

3. Examinations MUST be written during the period listed on the examination schedule. *Please do not approach me to make exceptions for various reasons, including summer or holiday employment or travel plans (it compromises the examination process, there are simply too many students to accommodate, and we do not have the facilities).  In case of an emergency like serious illness or death in the immediate family, contact the Dean's office.  Only the Dean’s Office can authorize an Incomplete Grade, allowing you to write the exam at a later date.

3. Papers will not be accepted after the end of classes unless a doctor’s certificate is provided for serious illness.

4. Computer failure or error will not be accepted as an excuse for late papers or assignments. The penalty for late work as described above will be applied.

5. Papers and assignments must be submitted to me in hardcopy.  E-mail attachments are not acceptable even as proof that the work was completed on time or to avoid a late penalty.  Papers should be submitted during class or handed in to the secretary for Religious Studies who will date and sign your paper to indicate time of receipt (any late penalty will be based on this).  Do not submit papers under my door.

Classroom Etiquette:

Out of consideration for your fellow classmates and the instructor, please do not be late for class. Persistent lateness will be brought to your attention.

Notebook computers are not to be used for purposes other than taking class notes.  Students have complained to me in the past when fellow students use laptops to check e-mail, chat on-line, etc during class time. Please be considerate.

Students who sleep during class time will be asked to leave the class.

Tentative Schedule:

5 Jan, Second Term Classes begin.

16 February, Mid-Term test.

16 March, Papers and Service Learning projects (details TBA).

13-23 April, Final Examinations.

Course Content:

Section 1: Placing Early Christian Women within their Social World:

Section 2: Women in the New Testament

Section 3: Women in Early Christian Literature

A. Women’s Leadership:

B. Women Martyrs:

C. Women and Gnosticism:

Bibliography of Helpful Resources for Papers:

Bock, Darrell, Breaking the Da Vinci Code (2006). PS3552 R685434 D29.

Boer, Esther A. de.  Gospel of Mary: Beyond a Gnostic and a Biblical Mary Magdalene (2004) BT1392 .G652 B64 2004.

Brock, Ann Graham Brock, Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority (2003). BS2485 .B73 2003.

Brown, Peter. The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (1988) BR 195 C45 B76 1988.

Clark, Elizabeth A. "Sex, Shame, and Rhetoric: En-gendering Early Christian Ethics" (1990). (available on-line:

Collins, A. Y. (ed.), Feminist Perspectives on Biblical Scholarship (1985) BS 500 F43 1985.

Fatham, Elaine. Women in the Classical World (1994) HQ 1127 W652 1994.

Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. "The Ethics of Biblical Interpretation: Decentering Biblical Scholarship". (available on-line:

Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (1983) BR 129 F56 1983.

Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. Jesus, Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet (1994) BT 205 S324.

Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation (1992) BS 680 W7 F56 1992.

Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler.  Searching the Scriptures (2 vols, A Feminist Introdution and A FeministCommentary, 1993). BS 2379 S43.

Kee, Howard Clark. "The Changing Role of Women in the Early Christian World" (1992). (available on-line

King, Karen. Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism (1988) BT 1390 143 1985.

King, Karen. “Women in Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries” (2003). (available on-line:

King, Karen.  The Gospel of Mary Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (2003). BT1392 .G652 K56 2003.  

Kraemer, Ross. "Monastic Jewish Women in Greco-Roman Egypt: Philo Judaeus on the Therapeutrides" (1989). (available on-line:

Kraemer, Ross. Her Share of the Blessings: Women’s Religions Among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World (1992) BL 6257 K73 1993.

Kraemer, Ross. Maenads, Martyrs, Matrons, Monastics: A Sourcebook on Women’s Religions in the Greco-Roman World (1988).

MacDonald, Margaret Y. "Early Christian Women Married to Unbelievers" (1990).

MacDonald, Margaret Y.  Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion  (1996) BR 195 W6 M23 1996 Pbk.

Marjanen, Antti. The Woman Jesus Loved: Mary Magdalene in the Nag Hammadi Library and Related Documents (1996).  BT1391 .M37 1996.  

Osiek Carolyn and Margaret Y. MacDonald.  A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity (2006). BV601.85 .O85 2006

Pagels, Elaine. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent (1988) BS 2545 S36P34.

Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels (1981) BT 1390 P3.

Ringe, Sharon.  The Women’s Bible Commentary (1992). Reference (In library use BS 491.2 W66)

Schaberg, Jane. The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives (1995) BT 314 S33 1995.

Schaberg, Jane. The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene. (2004).  BS2485 .S342 2002.

Schaberg, Jane with Melanie Johnson- Debaufre.  Mary Magdalene Understood  (2006). BS2485 .S34 2006.

Setzer, Claudia. "Excellent Women: Female Witness to the Resurrection" (1997). (available on-line:

Stevens, Maryanne. "Paternity and Maternity: Foundations for Patriarchy" (1990).

Witherington, B. Women and the Genesis of Christianity (1990) BS 2545 W65 W57 1990.

Witherington, B. Women in the earliest Churches (1988) BR 195 W6 W58 1989.

Witherington, B. Women in the Ministry of Jesus (1984) BT 590 W6 W57 1987.

Witherington, B. The Gospel Code: Novel Claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Da Vinci (2006) PS. R85434 D339 2004.