Feminist biblical scholarship has transformed what we know of women’s roles in the early church. New evidence indicates men and women followed Christ in the same way
When academics Helen Bond and Joan Taylor made a Channel 4 documentary on the women of the New Testament, they were unprepared for the fallout. Jesus’ Female Disciples: The New Evidence, first aired four years ago, garnered an audience of 1.4 million and received more press coverage than any other religious programme since Jeremy Bowen’s 2001 BBC1 blockbuster Son of God. But it wasn’t just the audience figures. The pair were “inundated”, Bond tells me when we meet in Edinburgh, with letters from people fascinated by what they had discovered, who wanted to know more. “They were asking, Will there be a book?” Bond remembers.
This month that book is in the shops, bringing a new depth to the forensic work Bond – professor of Christian origins and head of the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh – and Taylor, professor of Christian origins and Second Temple Judaism at King’s College London, have done on the neglected story of the women of the gospels. “The TV documentary only really covered four women (the Virgin Mary; Mary Magdalene; Joanna, who was the wife of Herod’s steward; and Salome, who appears in Mark’s gospel at the Crucifixion), and it was based on the women who surrounded Jesus. But the book takes the story on, to St Paul and the Early Church – in fact we look at the Church through to the fourth century. Pretty much all the women named in the gospels are included, and a lot of the unnamed ones as well,” says Bond.