I was drawn to read Holy Misogyny: Why the sex and gender conflicts in the early church still matter by April D. DeConick because I wanted to gain understanding of what had shaped the roles of women in the early church, and what had caused those roles to change. I wanted to deepen my understanding of the inequality that women have experienced in the church throughout the centuries.
I was rewarded, too, with rich footnotes about the church fathers who promoted the idea of women as sinful, and the female body as a source of sin and corruption. Some of the hardest parts of the book for me to read were sections outlining the ancient view of the female body as incomplete and inferior. To me, this is almost a blasphemous view, since females are equally created by God. Instead of the wholeness that women deserve equally with me, women have struggled to prove both their virtues and their capabilities.
From the earliest Christian communities there were individuals pursuing radical gender equality. Yet the church practices that became dominant upheld the inequality of the ancient world in which Christianity emerged. Misogynist interpretations of historical events and stories in scripture were treated by leaders as sacred, as the truth, when in reality they were biased interpretations to uphold power dynamics that favored males. Unfortunately, this biased view persists today in churches where women are denied full leadership, in governments led by individuals schooled in this vision of female inferiority, and in homes where men see themselves as superior to the females in their families.
How many Christian denominations are there today? Yet there is a tendency (by those who are not religious scholars) to perceive early Christians as a like-minded bunch on agreement in all doctrinal matters. However, doctrine and orthodoxy emerged slowly. Views were diverse, conflict and debate were common, and regional variations in practice were the norm. DeConick helps bring some of this diversity to light.
The section on Jesus and Gospel views of women and sexuality was particularly accessible and informative, and the discussion of Paul helps to place his influential writings in a socio-historical context. DeConick, professor of biblical studies at Rice University, has done a wonderful service for all readers interested in the history of women in the early church and provides helpful, if at times painful, analysis of why the fight for equality in the church is so challenging.
Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher, Continuum Books. No compensation was received for this review.