Her Share of the Blessings: Women's Religions among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World (Oxford Paperbacks)
Ross Shepard Kraemer
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In this pathbreaking volume, Ross Shepard Kraemer provides the first comprehensive look at women's religions in Greco-Roman antiquity. She vividly recreates the religious lives of early Christian, Jewish, and pagan women, with many fascinating examples: Greek women's devotion to goddesses, rites of Roman matrons, Jewish women in rabbinic and diaspora communities, Christian women's struggles to exercise authority and autonomy, and women's roles as leaders in the full spectrum of Greco-Roman religions. In every case, Kraemer reveals the connections between the social constraints under which women lived, and their religious beliefs and practices.
The relationship among female autonomy, sexuality, and religion emerges as a persistent theme. Analyzing the monastic Jewish Therapeutae and various Christian communities, Kraemer demonstrates the paradoxical liberation which women achieved by rejection of sexuality, the body, and the female. In the epilogue, Kraemer pursues the disturbing implications such findings have for contemporary women.
Based on an astonishing variety of primary sources, Her Share of the Blessings is an insightful work that goes beyond the limitations of previous scholarship to provide a more accurate portrait of women in the Greco-Roman world.
not without subversive elements that may have played significant roles for women. As we have seen, the myth of Demeter and Persephone expresses important tensions in Greek society—the centrality of the emotional bond between mothers and daughters and the pain that their inevitable separation inflicts. Demeter and Persephone by no means exhaust the range of mother-daughter interaction in ancient Greece, which was surely more complex than the unmitigated love and affection, untainted by any
respectable women could mingle with men in public a little more freely. More importantly, though, the political realities have changed, for the dominant ruler in Alexandria is a powerful woman, powerful enough to bring women's festivals in from the margins of Greek society to the very palace itself. Further, despite his trenchant depiction of ordinary women's lives, Theocritus was no social critic. Griffiths argues persuasively that Theocritus emphasizes the boorishness of Praxinoa and Gorgo in
forthcoming famine. In his travels, he comes to Heliopolis, the city of the sun, where Aseneth lives with her father, Pentephres (an Egyptian priest), her mother, and their large household of servants, Aseneth is a virtuous virgin who has had no contact with any males outside her family and has spent all of her eighteen years in the family compound, notably in a high tower sumptuously decorated and appointed. Her only fault seems to be her worship of Egyptian idols. When Pentephres learns from
thunderstruck with his glorious appearance and with the power of God that emanates from him. Perceiving the error of her judgment, Aseneth renounces her worship of Egyptian gods and flees to her high chamber, where she spends the next seven days in weeping, ashes and sackcloth, and general repentance. At the conclusion of her self-mortification, a figure resembling Joseph, but who is clearly an angelic being, appears miraculously in her chamber. Informing her that her repentance has been
many Jews in the Diaspora was likely to be accompanied by a relaxation of menstrual purity laws and lessened interest in compliance, especially to the extent that such regulations are used to reinforce social distinctions between Jews and non-Jews. Further, we would expect, if we were fortunate enough to have such evidence, that the arguments put forth by Diaspora Jews in support of the menstrual purity laws would have differed considerably from those offered by the rabbis, such as the punishment