Women in the Greco-Roman Context

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Ross S. Kraemer

Ross S. Kraemer

One particular problem for establishing an adequate understanding of the Greco-Roman world constitutes the paucity of source materials and then, of course, the difficulties of interpreting that source material. This is especially true with regard to source material specifically pertaining to women, which is less plentiful even than general evidence. Cultic practices, however, offer one avenue into better understanding the social space of women in the Greco-Roman context, or at least so argues Ross S. Kraemer in her article “Ecstasy and Possession: The Attraction of Women to the Cult of Dionysus” (The Harvard Theological Review 72, 1/2 [1979]: 55-80.). In the summary and response below, I reflect on Ross Kraemer’s argument concerning the “social space” afforded women by the Dionysiac cult. Continue reading

Book Review: Understanding the Times (Myers and Noebel)

Understanding the Times (Myers and Noebel)Every so often a book comes along and truly rewrites the paradigms of a field. Some twenty-five years ago, David Noebel penned such a book, titled Understanding the Times. In this 900-page tome Noebel outlined the clash between competing worldviews – ways of viewing and interpreting the world – which were occurring throughout in the late 20th century. The original edition of UTT was one of the most popular and influential books ever on culture and worldviews from a Christian perspective, transforming how many people understand the battle of ideas taking place in our times. But the contours of major worldviews have changed since 1991 and the world has changed along with them. To address this new worldviews context, Jeff Myers, in conjunction with David Noebel, undertook a substantial revision of Noebel’s classic work, now called Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Ministries and Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015. 510pp.). Continue reading

Book Review: Religion in Human Evolution (Bellah)

Religion in Human EvolutionRobert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution stands as magnum opus of breathtaking proportions. Developed from the Merlin Donald’s work on cultural evolution, Karl Jasper’s insights on the axial age, and drawing upon a range of historical, anthropological, and biological sources, Bellah traces the evolution of religion within human culture from its origins in primordial play to the theoretical turns of the Axial Age. Central to this argument is that nothing is left behind during the evolution from episodic to theoretical culture through the mimetic and mythic. As a result of this massive study, Bellah argues that the evolution of human religion, which culminated in theoretical religious discourse in axial cultures and refigured preceding mimetic and mythic culture, continues to influence human religion and culture today. Bellah’s latest monograph stands as in-depth treatment of the evolution of human culture that is a must read for those involved in the study of the history and sociology of religions. Continue reading

Parable of the Prodigal Son: Richard Rohrbaugh

This post is part of our ongoing series examining interpretations of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Richard Rohrbaugh

Richard Rohrbaugh

We now turn to the examination of our second perspective in the interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the view of Richard L. Rohrbaugh, which provides us with an example of parable interpretation from the perspective of the social sciences. With regard to methodology, Rohrbaugh approaches the text of the New Testament primarily from the perspectives of sociology and anthropology, arguing that one cannot find proper interpretation of the stories contained in the Gospel accounts apart from their socio-historical context within the Ancient Mediterranean Jewish context.[1] While essentially skirting past any substantial critique formed by literary or redaction criticism, Rohrbaugh bases his parable interpretation out of the received text of that parable found in Luke, arguing the likelihood that at least a portion of both the Historical Jesus and Lucan audiences would have contained the characters that Rohrbaugh employs to situate his interpretation: the ancient Mediterranean peasant.[2] In basing his interpretation out of the world of the typical Mediterranean peasant, Rohrbaugh makes a notable assumption, namely that the contexts of the historically delivered parable and the literary parable were essentially the same. Such a perspective may seem to sit at odds with the long-held understanding of Luke’s gospel to have been written with an imperially informed and non-Jewish community. However, Rohrbaugh’s main concern in his interpretation of Luke 15 lies with the supplemental information that it presents in contrast to and in conglomeration with the traditional interpretation of this parable as one of repentance, forgiveness, and a stubborn older brother.[3] With the social sciences as his primary tool, Rohrbaugh relies heavily upon the works of those scholars who have sought to reconstruct the socio-historical world of First Century Palestine. This interpretation provides very little by way of direct evidence for the socio-historical claims made, with far fewer primary or even secondary accounts being utilized in the construction of the social world that is presented as the norm for the parable, making it difficult to weigh Rohrbaugh’s socially located claims against interpreters who would argue for a different set of social norms. Rohrbaugh’s methodology remains situated within the framework of the historical-critical model by its use of social-scientific and contextually oriented investigations of the socio-cultural world in which the parable was first delivered. Continue reading