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Chapter IV unravels the status and role of women in the Greco-Roman world, examining their property and inheritance rights, their level of education, and their public role. In the Gospels of John and Matthew, Jesus appears to his female followers (above all Mary Magdalene) before his male disciples. Instructed to inform the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection, Luke records that the women’s testimony was not believed by the male disciples. The apocryphal gospels, wrested from one and a half millennia of oblivion by the papyrus finds of the twentieth century, report on conflicts between the men and women of the earliest Christian communities. In contrast to the canonical New Testament texts, the apocrypha grant a much greater role to Mary Magdalene, who has been incorrectly identified in Catholic tradition since Gregory I as the anonymous sinner who anointed the feet of Jesus. The Gospel according to Mary enjoyed a certain popularity in Roman Egypt, which contrasts with the exclusion of women from positions of leadership within the Egyptian Church.
Chapter VIII revisits the primary argument of the book: the value of the papyri for understanding the social history of antiquity as well as the importance of studying everyday history in the Roman provinces for a full appraisal of the New Testament Gospels in their historical context.
Chapter III focuses on the Augustan census mentioned in Luke’s Gospel, which forced Mary and Joseph to travel the 200 kilometers from their home in Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judaea. After years of civil war and internal strife, Augustus, as self-proclaimed restorer of the Republic, reestablished the Republican instrument of the census, both as an aid to military recruitment and as a basis for taxation. The census also impressed upon its subject peoples the level of organization and efficiency of Roman dominion. Several questions arise regarding the Roman census mentioned in the Gospel of Luke. What population did this census set out to record? How did it proceed? When was it held? Dating the birth of the historical Jesus depends on the dating of this census. Information gathered from the papyri about the function of the Roman provincial census provide clues to this puzzle.
Chapter II identifies the first readers of the New Testament gospels in their social and economic environment. Who were the people who met to read and study the accounts of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who owned or had access to these manuscripts, and who were able to read these texts? What use did they make of these texts in their daily lives and to what extent did these writings influence their own prose? Knowing more about the early readers sheds light on how contemporaries in the second and third centuries CE understood and interpreted these New Testament texts. What associations, memories or feelings did the stories of the life of Jesus elicit in them? Which elements of these accounts did they consider ordinary or exceptional—potentially contrary to those a modern reader would identify?
Chapter VI examines the peripatetic lifestyle of Jesus and his followers, his family, his disciples, and the apostles. Studies of ancient mobility usually restrict themselves to consideration of the Roman elites and other closely associated issues such as the cursus publicus. Despite their low social status, the travel patterns of the various biblical protagonists did not represent anything unusual within the context of Greco-Roman society. Epigraphic records and literary sources confirm the story told by papyrus customs receipts and private letters indicating a high level of mobility among the lower classes of the Roman Empire.
Chapter VII turns to a group on the margins of Greco-Roman society: shepherds. In the New Testament period shepherds held a position very different from that of the shepherd kings of the Old Testament. New Testament exegesis made use of the symbolism of this profession derived from the Old Testament. It has been on the one hand the motif of the ‘shepherd of the people’ as a symbol of the exemplary ruler and on the other hand the image of the ‘good shepherd’ as allegory of Jesus Christ that have so far dominated scholarly interpretation. Limited examination of these different terms has hampered research into the actual lives of shepherds in Roman times. The study of the papyri from Roman Egypt enables us to reconstruct this reality.
Chapter V focuses on the life of a carpenter’s family as a representation of a typical artisan family in the early Roman Empire and explores its size, composition, income, social position, and daily routine.
In this book, Sabine R. Huebner explores the world of the protagonists of the New Testament and the early Christians using the rich papyrological evidence from Roman Egypt. This gives us unparalleled insights into the everyday lives of the non-elite population in an area quite similar to neighboring Judaea-Palestine. What were the daily concerns and difficulties experienced by a carpenter's family or by a shepherd looking after his flocks? How did the average man or woman experience a Roman census? What obstacles did women living in a patriarchal society face in private, in public, and in the early Church? Given the flight of Jesus' family into Egypt, how mobile were the lower classes, what was their understanding of geography, and what costs and dangers were associated with travel? This volume gives a better understanding of the structural, social, and cultural conditions under which figures from the New Testament lived.