Women Gospel Writers

Jesus with a Samaritan woman at a well  (John 4) source

Jesus with a Samaritan woman at a well (John 4) pic source

The stories of Jesus were all written by men. Heck, the whole New Testament was written by men. Some wonder if Hebrews or the apocryphal Gospel of Mary were penned by women, but the stories that fill everyone’s heads about Jesus were all written by men. So today, after reading this article, I wondered what a woman would have written about if she was telling her Jesus story.

David Capes, theology prof at Houston Baptist University, speculated in the article about Jesus’ dental hygiene.  His fun writing made me wonder, “Gee, if a women had written a gospel, we may have heard about his teeth, his hair and more about his clothes. We might have heard more about bodily things, relationships and locations described in terms of vicinity to markets instead of temples.

Question to readers:  OK, before I expose more of my sexist stereotypical guesses, why don’t you tell us your guesses on how a woman’s gospel would have differed from what we have now.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

10 responses to “Women Gospel Writers

  1. rautakyy

    The few Finnish iron age skulls we have had all their teeth. Most had died in their fiftees or as children. This is of course not only about dental hygieny but also about the diet. Ancient Finns for sure ate much bread and propably a lot more meat, than their contemporaries in Palestine. What is propably true of both people is that eating bread would wear down teeth, because of the amount of sand ending up in the bread from stone handmils, but that does not cause teeth to come loose. It is infections caused by high enough amounts of sugar in the diet.

    Now, in the ancient culture in Palestine Jewish and “gentile” alike, women were higly segragated from the men. But what a woman writer would have to say would also depend on what kind of woman was writing about Jesus.

    Alas, we do not really know who wrote the Gospels and even though it is rather easy to agree they were propably men, we do not know their occupations, or anything about them apart from the fact they could write. Apparently there were schools in them days allready (at least for boys), so it is possible that even the fishermen and such to whom the Gospels are attributed to could have written them. Obviously they were also people occupied by religious interrests and as the four main Gospels are more or less copies of each other, later ones whith added embellishments, they seem to have been written whith an agenda. To be elected to the canon, the woman writer would have had to have the same agenda + she would have to have been from some particular social class to enable her to read and write.

    I think there would be more difference between a Gospel written by one of the prostitutes Jesus used to hang around whith, than if his sister, or mother would have written one, than whether it was written by a woman or a man. I bet one of his brothers would have had a completely different aspect to him, than the dudes who only met him as an adult, but possibly much more like what his sister would have written. For some reason no such record really survives. But there used to be a lot of different Jesus stories and it was definately professional preachers and men who chose the canonical gospels to end up into the Bible.

    Why did Jesus not write anything himself?

  2. Ian

    How can you be sure all the NT was written by men?

    I assume so too, but this post made me wonder why I assume that. After reading this article recently, I’ve begun to wonder in how many areas we write women out of history. Even, perhaps particularly, when we write them out for the purpose of showing how terrible it is that they weren’t there!

    We can argue to ancient literacy rates, of course, but this is a very coarse argument to probability. And somewhat begs the question again: given that the NT writings are posthumously credited to men, how many other works that form the basis of the probability calculation are the same?

    I think it is important to remember that the gospel writers are almost certainly not contemporaries with Jesus, they are filtering material that came down to them. We can trace stories and sources in the material. So it isn’t immediately clear to me that a woman writer would write very differently to a man about Jesus. We’re not talking about what they noticed, but how they redacted the material.

    Mark’s gospel, for example, consistently portrays the women around Jesus as faithful, while the men are clueless and problematic. The four gospels agree that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. The first three present them as faithful witnesses.

  3. @rautakyy,
    (1) I think we have good evidence that the purported authors did not write them and they were certainly not fishermen or workmen (apparently mistranslated “carpenter”, often).

    (2) The 4 gospels are not merely copies of each other — the first 3 do tons of sharing, but John has much less of that copying. And they are all grabbing from other sources. Ian is an expert on that.

    (3) I agree that for a woman to write, she would need to be educated — probably rare back then. But if they did break the mold, they were amazing women and their voice should be heard — but it is hard for us to hear behind the din of male privilege. You are right, depending on her agenda, the gospel would vary — but that is assumed.

    @ Ian,

    Wow, that was an amazing article — I hesitated because of its length but the writing kept me fascinated. Thank you. I loved this line:
    “I often tell people that I’m the biggest self-aware misogynist I know.”

    Fascinating point about Mark’s gospel.

  4. Sabio, I don’t know what I like better here, the article or the comments! Thanks for sharing this. I don’t think a woman would have been taken seriously enough to contribute to the Bible to begin with. I also find it funny that we basically only read about John being the disciple that Jesus loved in John’s gospel. Ego stroking anyone?

  5. Sabio, I just noticed your JFK quote on the side bar, thanks for posting it.

  6. @ Charity,
    Glad you liked a quote — you are the first to mention them!
    I am actually adding a Hemmingway one later today !
    Yes, “taken seriously is the issue” — and thus anonymous or using a male name has been the standard method.
    “Ego-stroking” was common too. Luke starts his Gospel like that too — boasting of his version.

  7. @Charity

    Literary critic Harold Bloom believes the book of J (one of the sources that make up the Pentateuch) may have been written by a woman, although I haven’t read the book on it and many consider the idea highly controversial.

  8. I think it would have depended on the female author. A slave woman’s experience of Jesus’ ministry would look very different from a wealthy upper class woman’s. A young woman’s would look different from an old woman’s, a Jewish woman’s would look different from a gentile, and so forth,

  9. Harry MacLean

    Actually, at least one credible theologian thinks there is a high degree of probablility that Luke-Acts was written by a woman. See Randel Helms, Who Wrote the Gospels? (1997)

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