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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 53, 2005

BRUCE W. WINTER, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women in the Pauline Communities (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003). Pp. xvii+236. $US26.00.

This book aims to “illuminate the New Testament texts by securing their social setting” (p. xiii). Specifically, it deals with the “appearance” of the “new” (socially liberated) woman in the Graeco-Roman world of the first century CE.

Part II examines four passages in the Pauline and Pastoral letters. Chapter 5 (on 1 Cor 11:2–16) concludes that the Christian wife who participated in public worship without her veil “was knowingly flouting the Roman legal convention that epitomised marriage” and thereby “was being contentious” (p. 96). In chapter 6 (on 1 Tim 2:9–15), the extravagant dressing of wives is contrasted with the metaphorical dress code of piety and good action. Christian wives are to learn in a quiet and humble way. Winter concentrates not on the prohibition of Christian wives teaching but on the manner of it: not “domineering” (authentein). And according to the “enigmatic statement” of 1 Tim 2:15, the Christian wife will be saved from danger through(out) her pregnancy. Winter regards this whole passage as precautionary: extravagant dress would have sent “a wrong signal” to outsiders (p. 122, cf. 108). In Winter’s view, Christian communal care for widows followed a Jewish pattern by contrast with the family responsibility of Greek and especially Roman practice (chapter 7, on 1 Tim 5:11–15); but the church of 1 Timothy could support only widows qualified by age, conduct and ministry. The young Christian widow (of child-bearing age) is assumed to desire marriage because of her “sexual promiscuity,” wishing “to abandon her faith in order to secure a husband who would not marry her if she remained a Christian” (p. 137). According to chapter 8 (on Titus 2:3–5), Cretan women had enjoyed a legally privileged position for centuries. The letter warns Christian women against imitating licentious Cretan women and recommends good household management. The “tying of the virtues of the wife to salvation is unique in Titus” (p. 166).

Part I deals more generally with the Roman cultural context: the legal position of Roman women and their portrayal by some poets (chapter 2); the legislation of Augustus (chapter 3); philosophers’ study of women and women’s study of philosophy (chapter 4). Part III examines epigraphic evidence for the considerable role of women in commerce, the courts and politics; and compares women in public life with women in the church, especially Phoebe and Junia (Rom 16:1–2, 7). An appendix on “Women in Civic Affairs” contains primary sources in Greek with English translation. Illustrations are available in a “photo archive” on a web site.

Besides mere misprints (including muddled Greek and English on p. 198), there are some errors of source-reference, date, quotation (including reversed sense on p. 129) and grammatical expression. The interpretation of classical and NT texts is sometimes dubious. For example, the matura virgo of Horace Odes 3.6 (pp. 27–28) is not an “older woman” but a “grown-up girl”; marriage is the next (mox), not the current, stage of her life; and her older husband is responsible for his young wife’s promiscuity, exploiting her to gratify his business clients. This is not an instance of “The Promotion of Promiscuity by Poets” (heading, p. 24). Among NT texts, teknogonia (1 Tim 2:15) may mean not “pregnancy” but “giving birth” or even “begetting” by the father (as in the quotation of Arius Didymus, p. 109). It is unclear whether Winter interprets the “danger” as “Satan” (p. 110). “Satan” or “the devil” is explicitly mentioned elsewhere in 1 Timothy but not here. Dia (“through”) need not have a temporal sense. And the definite article with teknogonia need not denote a specific childbirth.

It is risky to take Greek and Latin literary sources too readily at face value without making allowance for genre—whether satire, lyric or novel. The poet should be distinguished from the poetic persona within a poem. And, for example, speeches within Cassius Dio’s historiography cannot be attributed directly to Augustus. An incautious approach to such issues leads to an unduly negative view of male and female sexual morality in the Graeco-Roman world. The aim of the book is best fulfilled in Part II, where Graeco-Roman evidence and contemporary modern scholarship illuminate the social setting of particular NT passages.

Review by
Darryl W. Palmer
The University of Melbourne VIC 3010, Australia