Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Visionary Women in Hermas (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Women in the Apostolic Fathers.

Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 1.2.2-4.1[1]

1.2 ταῦτά μου συμβουλευομένου καὶ διακρίνοντος ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ μου βλέπω κατέναντί μου καθέδραν λευκὴν ἐξ ἐρίων χιονίνων γεγονυῖαν μεγάλην· καὶ ἦλθεν γυνὴ πρεσβῦτις ἐν ἱματισμῷ λαμπροτάτῳ, ἔχουσα βιβλίον εἰς τὰς χεῖρας, καὶ ἐκάθισεν μόνη καὶ ἀσπάζεταί με· Ἑρμᾶ, χαῖρε. κἀγὼ λυπούμενος καὶ κλαίων εἶπον· κυρία, χαῖρε…. 3.3 μετὰ τὸ παῆναι αὐτῆς τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα λέγει μοι· θέλεις ἀκοῦσαί μου ἀναγινωσκούσης; λέγω κἀγώ· θέλω, κυρία. λέγει μοι· γενοῦ ἀκροατὴς καὶ ἄκουε τὰς δόξας τοῦ θεοῦ. ἤκουσα μεγάλως καὶ θαυμαστῶς ὃ οὐκ ἴσχυσα μνημονεῦσαι· πάντα γὰρ τὰ ῥήματα ἔκφρικτα, ἃ οὐ δύναται ἄνθρωπος βαστάσαι…. 4.1 Ὅτε οὖν ἐτέλεσεν ἀναγινώσκουσα καὶ ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῆς καθέδρας, ἦλθαν τέσσαρες νεανίαι καὶ ἦραν τὴν καθέδραν καὶ ἀπῆλθον πρὸς τὴν ἀνατολήν. 1.2 While I was mulling these things over in my heart and trying to reach a decision, I saw across from me a large white chair, made of wool, white as snow. And an elderly woman came, dressed in radiant clothes and holding a book in her hands. She sat down, alone, and addressed me, “Greetings, Hermas.” And I said, still upset and weeping, “Greetings Lady.” … 3.3 When she finished these words, she said to me, “Do you want to hear me read?” I replied to her, “Yes, Lady, I do.” She said to me, “Be a hearer and hear the glories of God.” I heard great and amazing matters that I could not remember. For all the words were terrifying, more than a person can bear…. 4.1 Then, when she finished reading and rose up from the chair, four young men came and took the chair and went away to the east.

ShepherdHermas’s next vision introduced him to the character who served as his central guide until the end of Vision 4, a γυνὴ πρεσβῦτις bearing a book—the coming revelation. The true revelatory message for Hermas began when she reads this scroll.[2] The parallels with other apocalyptic revelatory material are difficult to miss here, especially 4 Ezra and the Apocalypse of John. This elderly woman—dressed in radiant clothes, on a white woolen throne, and clearly acting on behalf of the divine—brings her message on a scroll and reads its judgments.[3] Later, Hermas records that this woman appeared a year later, reading another βιβλαρίδιον.[4] This γυνὴ πρεσβῦτις becomes the regular revealer of Hermas’s visions before he learns her identity.


[1] Ehrman Apostolic Fathers II, 178-85.

[2] Osiek, Hermas, 49.

[3] 4 Ezra 9:38-10:57; Rev. 1:13-5; 5:1-5. Snyder, 31. Verheyden also notes that this woman inhabits portions of the biblical Wisdom tradition. Verheyden, 67.

[4] Hermas, Vis. 2.1.3. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers II, 184-7.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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