Book Review: “Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess of Ephesus”

In the 90s, I attended a conference at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. The speaker was one of the translators of the NIV, and I had the privilege of sharing a meal with him. I told him I had two New Testament translation questions for him if he had the time and the inclination. He was fine with answering those questions as long as we talked sports after.

But then he added, “And I will not address 1 Timothy 2”. Unfortunately, that chapter was one of my two questions. I actually had a three-parter: What does the word “authentein” mean (1 Tim. 2:12, often translated “to have authority”). I also wanted to know what “saved” meant in v. 15, and if “keep quiet” really implied women be silent in verse 11. Sadly, I was not about to find out any of those answers that day.

What I didn’t know was that same year a female professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Sharon Gritz, was publishing a book which would have given credible, plausible answers to all those questions–and many more. This book “Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess of Ephesus”, was given a limited distribution by University Press, a publisher of academic books, and so it was not read by many people and is very difficult to find.

As with many academic books, I find the best route is to use some version of Interlibrary loan. In California, this is called “Link Plus”. I received a copy of Dr. Gritz’ book from Biola University’s library and quickly devoured the contents.

For an academic book, this is highly readable and the central concept easy to understand. Yet, even with its accessibility, this is still an academic book. A good third of the book consists of endnotes and bibliography. As such, it joins all the other studies done on this famous second chapter of 1 Timothy. I doubt any chapter in the Bible has had more recent essays written about it than this one.

It examines the ancient church’s approach to how women were viewed and treated. 1 Timothy 2 seems to set limitations on the entire church about women’s behavior in public. Because of this, many people question whether it has any relevance today.

For those who view the admonitions and instructions of Paul as valid today, their focus in studying 1 Timothy 2 is on understanding the context and the content of this chapter. Dr. Gritz addresses these exegetical and cultural questions more than some. She especially focuses on verses 9-15 for this book. And what she discovers has powerful implications.

First, she takes the reader on a broad study of all the cultures of the Ancient Near East (ANE). She examines in detail how each culture viewed and treated women, and how the women of the ANE practiced religion. One of the interesting details she highlights is that Israel’s view of women was radically different in the era of the Kings/Chronicles than it later became after the Exile.

During the era of the Kings, women had much more freedom in society and often worshiped the goddesses of the Canaanite nations. In particular, Jewish women were enthralled with Asherah. Gritz postulates through her reading of many rabbinical sources that the exiles coming back from captivity to Jerusalem began to blame women for the fall of Jerusalem. They especially blamed the worship of Asherah and the inter-marriage with foreign women.

In seeking to be back in God’s favor, the men decided to exclude women from many of the worship processes which they had access to before the exile. Significant among these changes was the building of the Court of the Women. This court was built around the main part of the temple. Women could not actually enter the Temple proper at any time. Yet Gritz shows that back in Solomon’s era they did not exclude women from the Temple. This came later.

This book shows how the post-exilic nature of the Jewish attitude toward women affected certain churches in particular. She points out that only in Ephesus and Corinth did the women face restrictions regarding leadership and public speaking. In Galatians, Philippians, Romans, and the Book of Acts, women play prominent roles in leadership. Yet in Corinth and Ephesus, women were restricted from both speaking and leadership.

Gritz addresses this adequately. Corinth and Ephesus had two things in common. First, they were centers of the Jewish Diaspora. Large numbers of Jews worshiped in both cities. Though this is also true in Philippi and Thessalonica, it is clear those churches were mainly Gentile. But Ephesus and Corinth had many Jews in the local church.

The second factor in common with both Ephesus and Corinth was the emphasis on goddess worship. Though goddesses were worshiped elsewhere, in those places the goddesses were not more prominent than the gods. But this is not true of these cities. Gritz speculates that only in Ephesus and Corinth did Goddess worship become the central religion along side Gnosticism.

The author does a good job at documenting every speculation she makes. Perhaps her greatest addition to the weight of scholarship on 1 Timothy 2 is her understanding of the nature of the Artemis cult. Artemis of the Ephesians and her temple were the main tourist sights of Ephesus.

Much has been written about Artemis. Gritz maintains some of what is written is misleading. She believes too many scholars have not taken into account the blending of cultures which resulted in the creations of Artemis. She shows clearly that the Artemis of the Ephesians was markedly different than the Artemis of Northern Greece.

Her contention is that if one misses that point, 1 Timothy 2 gets muddled and confusing. She’s right, of course.

When Alexander the Great conquered Ephesus, the locals had to change their religious allegiances. Greek culture was forced on them. But like many of the peoples whom the Greek conquered, they were syncretistic with their adaptation.

The Ephesians already worshiped a goddess. Her name was Sybele, and she was a goddess of fertility and sensuality. The worship of Sybele involved prostitution, orgies, and sacrifices. In addition, Sybele worshipers would work themselves up into frenzied states through the use of hallucinogens and alcohol. The more established priestesses could maintain emotional heights through dance and sexual dramas. Most temple priestesses of Sybele became ritual prostitutes.

When the Greeks took over, they imposed Artemis worship over top of Sybele worship. The result though did not look like the Greek version. The Greek Artemis (or Diana) was aloof, virgin, and sedate. Her worshipers were more Stoic and subdued. The worship of Artemis in Northern Greece was more inclined to be intellectual and ritualistic. When Greek Artemis met Ephesian Sybele, they formed an interesting symbiosis. They became Artemis of the Ephesians, an aloof Huntress who liked sex and music.

Her acolytes were the same. Some of them had polite social clubs. Others danced and partied into the night. Many members of both groups would have made their way into the church. Gritz describes how that must have looked and how the Jewish men in the church would have reacted to it. Paul, who at one time had been the pastor of this church, knew that some regulations should be established.

The book goes then into a detailed description of the passage and examines all the key words in detail. Others have done a better job of this. I commend the book “Exegetical Fallacies in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15″ by Rebecca Groothuis and Ronald Pierce for a much better approach. Their conclusions are more skilled as well.

This is the biggest disappointment with Gritz’ book. After spending 200 pages showing how the Pauline rules on women speaking, teaching, and having leadership in church were probably specific to this church only, she then reverses herself and draws some conclusions for the modern church which no Egalitarian could accept.

I can only guess she did this because she wanted her work to be acceptable to the Southern Baptist Convention, of which she is a member.

Read this book for its wonderful scholarship then, and not for its last chapter of conclusions.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess of Ephesus”

  1. Enlightening, Mike. Thanks for doing the research and sharing. You are one of the Good Guys in a White Hat and riding a Black Stallion. God bless. As a wise person from China said, “If you don’t bother to understand my culture, please don’t learn my language. There would be no point.”

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