Synopses & Reviews
In her latest book, Ross Shepard Kraemer shows how her mind has changed or remained the same since the publication of her ground-breaking study, Her Share of the Blessings: Women's Religions Among Pagans, Jews and Christians in the Greco-Roman World
(OUP 1992). Unreliable Witnesses
scrutinizes more closely how ancient constructions of gender undergird accounts of women's religious practices in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.
Kraemer analyzes how gender provides the historically obfuscating substructure of diverse texts: Livy's account of the origins of the Roman Bacchanalia; Philo of Alexandria's envisioning of idealized, masculinized women philosophers; rabbinic debates about women studying Torah; Justin Martyr's depiction of an elite Roman matron who adopts chaste Christian philosophical discipline; the similar representation of Paul's fictive disciple, Thecla, in the anonymous Acts of (Paul and) Thecla; Severus of Minorca's depiction of Jewish women as the last hold-outs against Christian pressures to convert, and others.
While attentive to arguments that women are largely fictive proxies in elite male contestations over masculinity, authority, and power, Kraemer retains her focus on redescribing and explaining women's religious practices. She argues that - gender-specific or not - religious practices in the ancient Mediterranean routinely encoded and affirmed ideas about gender. As in many cultures, women's devotion to the divine was both acceptable and encouraged, only so long as it conformed to pervasive constructions of femininity as passive, embodied, emotive, insufficiently controlled and subordinated to masculinity.
Extending her findings beyond the ancient Mediterranean, Kraemer proposes that, more generally, religion is among the many human social practices that are both gendered and gendering, constructing and inscribing gender on human beings and on human actions and ideas. Her study thus poses significant questions about the relationships between religions and gender in the modern world.
"Returning to some of her most memorable sources for early Jewish and Christian women's religious experience, and plumbing some fascinating new ones, Ross Kraemer reconsiders their historical value in light of new theories of literary representations. It is a model of close interpretation that does not dispense with history but displays the many additional historical and rhetorical dimensions in which an ancient text might negotiate the politics of gender."
-- David Frankfurter, author of Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation and Resistance
"Ross Kraemer's Unreliable Witnesses provides a sweeping, authoritative, and wry retrospective on three decades' scholarship on women and Graeco-Roman religions, by one of the field's founding mothers. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about the manifold relationships of theory to historical reconstruction. Bravissima.
-- Paula Fredriksen, author of Augustine and the Jews
"The book presents a very complex and intriguing account of how one can responsibly speak about women in antiquity and more generally write histories about women (real or imagined). The book draws together stunning philological, exegetical and methodological insights and then interrogates previous scholarship in a sharp and clear manner. It is a model of scholarship; the contribution to gender studies, history and religious studies is extraordinary."
-- Hindy Najman, Director of the Center for Jewish Studies, Associate Professor of the Department and Centre for the study of Religion at the University of Toronto
About the Author
A native of New York City, Ross Shepard Kraemer
majored in Religion at Smith College and holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University. She is the author and editor of numerous books and scholarly articles on women's religions in the Greco-Roman world, particularly Christian and Jewish women. She is Professor of Religious Studies and Judaic Studies at Brown University, where she has taught since 2000.
Table of Contents
2. Four short stories: a Bacchic courtesan, the reporter from Hell, the daughters of rabbis, a Christian matron in Rome
3. Spouses of Wisdom: Philo's Therapeutae, reconsidered
4. Thecla of Iconium, reconsidered
5. Artemisia of Minorca: Gender and the Conversion of the Jews in the 5th century
6. Veturia of Rome and Rufina of Smyrna as Counterbalance: Women Officeholders in Ancient Synagogues and Gentile Adopters of Judean Practices
7. Rethinking Gender, History and Women's Religions in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean