New Beliefs, New Lives?: The Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities of Early Christian Women in Late Antique Egypt

Title: New Beliefs, New Lives?: The Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities of Early Christian Women in Late Antique Egypt
Authors: Schriemer, Lydia
Date: 2019-09-11
Abstract: Late Antiquity and the associated rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire are often thought to be fraught with violence and radical change. This understanding has recently become more nuanced, and we now understand that the period was a dynamic one, involving both continuity and change. Similarly, with respect to women, it is now thought that the rise of Christianity brought with it sweeping changes, for example, in standards of morality and sexuality, but also firm continuity, for example, in law. Throughout previous centuries, the experiences of these women have been seen primarily through the lens of Christian literature, such as homilies, Church histories, and saints’ lives. As a result, the picture of an early Christian woman was a highly idealized one, of a submissive and subservient wife whose place was in the home and who was considered an image of retained guilt and an object of sexual temptation to the men around her. Since these sources are highly ideological, such a representation is less than reliable. Using legal and documentary sources, therefore, which are inherently less ideological than literary sources, this thesis analyzes the areas of continuity and change in the lives of early Christian Egyptian women in order to assess the evolution of their roles, rights, and responsibilities to understand what effect the rise of Christianity had on their day-to-day lives. That is to say, this thesis aims to answer the question: Did the rise of Christianity actually affect or change the rights or status of women in Late Antique Egypt? The thesis concludes, on the basis of the mentioned sources that early Christianity affected little meaningful change on the rights and status of women in Late Antique Egypt, but that the situation is far more complex than the normative literature suggests. Some change can be seen in understandings of sexuality, particularly in the Christian emphasis on virginity, but this change is not inherently gendered. Beyond this, there is overwhelming evidence for continuity.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -