Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter
by April D. DeConick
In Holy Misogyny, bible scholar April DeConick wants real answers to the questions that are rarely whispered from the pulpits of the contemporary Christian churches. Why is God male? Why are women associated with sin? Why can’t women be priests? Drawing on her extensive knowledge of the early Christian literature, she seeks to understand the conflicts over sex and gender in the early church – what they were and what was at stake. She explains how these ancient conflicts have shaped contemporary Christianity and its promotion of male exclusivity and superiority in terms of God, church leadership, and the bed.
DeConick’s detective work uncovers old aspects of Christianity before later doctrines and dogmas were imposed upon the churches, and the earlier teachings about the female were distorted. Holy Misogyny shows how the female was systematically erased from the Christian tradition, and why. She concludes that the distortion and erasure of the female is the result of ancient misogyny made divine writ, a holy misogyny that remains with us today.
What are the critics saying?
"April DeConick has collected materials from a wide range of early Christian evidence. The result is a brave book, in a straight-forward style accessible to a non-specialist audience, on an uncomfortable subject." — Jorunn J. Buckley, Associate Professor of Religion, Bowdoin College, USA
"An intriguing, important, and appropriately dangerous book. DeConick brings her study of the difficult canonical and apocryphal texts into conversation with contemporary concerns in a satisfying and accessible way. Her style is both technical and easy-going. This is a book for the general public as well as the academic classroom. I learned a great deal from it and am left with many questions to chew on happily and to discuss. The reader is aided in the search for 'Lady God,' and in the struggle to create societies that abhor and reject violence to the female body." — Jane Schaberg, Professor of Biblical Studies and Gender/Women's Studies, University of Detroit Mercy, USA
"April DeConick, a world class scholar, has written a must-read book for those interested in gender issues in relationship to God. By integrating her vast knowledge of extracanonical and canonical texts, she expansively analyzes the effect of misogyny on conceptions of the female body and the profound difference such marginalization has made, even today for women's ecclesiastical leadership and ordination." — Ann Graham Brock, Associate Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, Iliff School of Theology, USA
“The near-programmatic downgrading and degrading of women is one of the most shameful aspects of traditional Christianity. In this powerful book, DeConick rejects conventional theological and hermeneutical attempts to soften the absence of the divine and human female by challenging head-on the vilification of women and the othering of their bodies in early Christianity. This bold discussion makes for uncomfortable but essential reading - and rightly so.” — Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible, University of Exeter, UK
"DeConick underscores the employment of the creation and fall narratives of Genesis that are repeatedly used to subjugate women and then blame them for their subjugation...The effects of misogynistic hermeneutics are represented not only in the Christian traditions summarized in this book but continue to have broad implications for women’s roles in Christian contexts today. The answer to this problem, according to DeConick, can only be found in the removal of such presuppositions surrounding the female body from the realm of the sacred. Instead,DeConick’s book implies the solution comes in prioritizing other aspects of the Christian tradition which do value the female body." - Alicia D. Myers, United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio in RBL 8/2012
Questions and Answers
Why did you write this book?
When my son turned 5 years old, he began to become interested in God. Even though he has been raised in a fairly secular environment, he had encountered God through his family, teachers, and friends. It was not long before he had become familiar with the traditional concept of God as the old man in the sky, living in a place called heaven where people went after they died.
From my many conversations with him, I knew that he had been giving this serious reflection. Yet still he caught me by surprise one afternoon when he asked me out of the blue, 'Mom, where is Lady God?'
Not knowing what else to say at the moment, I asked him what he meant. He explained, 'If God doesn't have a wife, how can he have babies? Wouldn't he be lonely? Did Lady God die?'
A bit shaken by the seriousness of his tone and the thoughtfulness of his questions, I asked him what he thought. He responded, 'I know. God is half man and half woman.'
It was a moment that brought all my years of study, reflection, teaching and writing to a screeching halt. Here was my 5-year-old child giving voice to what has been for hundreds of years the prickly thorn of Christian theology and ecclesiology, the absence of 'Lady God' and its consequences. Excerpt from page 1.
What is the biggest obstacle that you faced when doing your research and writing?
The story of women and the early church is far from easy to understand since the ancient sources obstruct our view of this story more often than they assist it. It is an understatement to say that the women's story is complex, given that it has been so marginalized, overwritten, and in some cases deliberately erased by the authors of the surviving texts that the presence and activities of women has dimmed or dropped out of sight. The story of women recorded in the ancient sources simply cannot be understood at face value since the texts were written by male leaders in emerging churches who had their own interests to front and authority to assert and maintain. So it must be reconstructed and reimagined carefully from what the ancient sources tell us and from what they don't. Excerpt taken from page 147.
What surprised you the most about your research as you wrote your book?
It is dismaying to realize that, although women were present and active historically, their authentic story has been forgotten. It is nowhere to be found in the Church's main narrative. Even more dismaying is the evidence that the authentic memories of women in the early church were intentionally replaced with misogynist narratives that grew out of misogynist interpretations of events and select scriptures. But most dismaying is the fact that the misogynist narrative was made sacred or holy, so that it rather than the authentic narrative, became Christianity's truth. A bogus, yet sacralized, representation of our past has been used to control and subject half of the Christian population to the other half, affecting the real lives of men and women at the altar and in the bedroom for 2,000 years. Excerpt page 147.