2014 Early Christianity

Session 1

Gender in Early Christianity: Themes and prospects

Professor Jorunn Økland 

University of Oslo

Session 2

Married life in Ephesus and in the New Testament texts related to Ephesus

Elif Aynaci 

University of Manchester

The place of Ephesus as a city in early Christian history has proved to be vital. The works of early Christian authors which are related to Ephesus, in the New Testament letters in particular, shed light on the life of the early Christians. Marriage is a major part of this life and it constituted an abundant subject for early Christian writings. In this paper we would like to focus on the “Ephesian” letters from the New Testament and examine the lives of women as wives in a deeper light. This subject is open to discussion from many different aspects.

First of all, we will argue that in order to study an Ephesian New Testament text properly, Greco-Roman culture, not Roman, needs to be taken into consideration. Our argument propounds that local evidence is an essential compound for the interpretation of the New Testament texts. We will engage with inscriptions, tombstones in particular, as our local evidence from Ephesus.

Secondly, we will try to see how early Christian authors perceived the relationship between the couple and if they really treated the male and the female partner equally or not. The equality issue is an ongoing debate in the scholarship. The argument about different degrees of equality in different letters originates from and relies greatly on the assumption of how much early Christian authors were aware of their surrounding culture and how much they preferred to be in line with it.

This paper will argue that the “Ephesian” letters from the New Testament had indeed taken the perception of women in the Greco-Roman society into consideration. The status of female gender in the society in general has a great influence on the marital relationship of the Christian couple.  

Soul’s Femininity and the Theme of Repentance in the Exegesis on the Soul

Kimberley Fowler 

University of Manchester

The Exegesis on the Soul (contained within Nag Hammadi Codex II), narrates the trials of the soul, personified as a disobedient young girl, who having fallen from her heavenly home with the Father, wanders earth in a female body, prostituting herself to numerous adulterers. Soul’s sordid conduct on earth sullies her original divine nature, which was androgynous and virginal. The Father, however, takes pity on her, and sends her a saviour from heaven in the form of a bridegroom, union with whom allows her to be reborn and return to her original state of purity. The author of the text emphasises, however, that Soul’s restoration is dependent on her own heartfelt contrition (Acts 13:24 is used as support for this). This paper will examine the way in which the theme of repentance in the text is expressed poignantly via the feminine gendering of the soul. Her female nature is explicitly tied up with her repentance, as while she is ‘prostituting herself’ her womb is external to her body like male genitalia, leaving her open to attack from the polluting influences of the material realm. I will discuss how the various aspects of Soul’s feminine form allow the author/editor to convey complex notions about the plight of the human soul. Across the tractate we see Soul in the roles of virginal daughter, prostitute, bride, and mother, each of which represent various stages of the fallen human soul’s journey back to the heavenly Father. I will argue, however, that while the gendering of Soul is certainly effective in this regard, we ought not, as some scholars have done (e.g. Williams, 1988), to assume that this allegory necessitates a strict celibate agenda on the part of the author/editor. Indeed, Soul’s fornication (porneia) refers to a broader set of transgressions than simply sexual ones.

Session 3

Panel review: Kate Cooper, 'Band of Angels: The Forgotten Worlds of Early Christian Women,' (London: Atlantic Books, 2013)

Dr Paul Middleton 

University of Chester

Dr Dominika Kurek-Chomycz 

Liverpool Hope University

Response from Dr Kate Cooper 

University of Oxford


Dr Paul Middleton
Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Early Christianity,
Chester University

Dr Dominika Kurek-Chomycz
Lecturer in New Testament Studies
Liverpool Hope University 


Dr Kate Cooper
Oxford University

Themes and proposals for future programmes