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July 28, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

My reading has recently been in older works of special interest to me.  I find that the classics are available on Amazon’s Kindle for less than a dollar, and for a retired Pastor, this is good news.  I have recently reread Alfred Edersheim’s “Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,” “The Temple and its Ministry,” and “Sketches of Jewish Life.”  Each of them cost me ninety-nine cents and takes up no room on my book shelves.

I have followed closely the work of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Studies which focuses on the Hebraic background and language of the New Testament texts.  They have been most helpful in identifying Hebrew expressions and idioms that lay behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels.  However, as I read Edersheim I realized that this scholar who was writing toward the end of the nineteenth century already knew this long ago.  It’s just that biblical scholars who do not read fluently both Greek and Hebrew could not see it, and therefore paid no attention to this British Pastor who came from a Jewish home and knew not only the text of Scripture in the original languages, but the full range of Jewish religious literature.

At the present time I am reading a very new book which is very exciting, and which came to my attention as the WORLD Magazine book of the year.  The title of the book is “The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion.”  Author Rodny Stark brings together an enormous amount of well researched information that has been around for a long time, but which special interest groups and anti-Christian polemicists have not been keen on exposing.  He follows the history of the Christian movement from its very beginning up to the present time.  In the process he takes down some enduring anti-Christian stereotypes and makes some very helpful corrections in some areas of Christian understanding.  In a brief article I have room to consider only one: the place of women in the early Church.

Anyone who has read the New Testament carefully knows that for both Jesus and Paul women were of great importance in the life of the movement.  However, recent history has painted the Church as anti-feminine.  Stark lays out the facts with both accuracy and clarity.  He notes that women made up a disproportionate number in the early Church and raises the question of why this was the case.  The answer is given against the background of the horrendous condition of women in the Greco-Roman world.  The Christian community offered women a respect and position not available anywhere else in the first century with the possible exception of Judaism.

Roman culture did not value children, especially girl children.  Abortion was rampant and ruthless.  It not only killed the child, but often the mother.  Where the woman lived through the process she was often incapable of bearing further children.  Unwanted children, especially female babies, were often exposed to the wild beasts.  Furthermore, the decision to get rid of the child was the husband’s prerogative.  Christians, on the other hand, saw abortion as murder.   They loved their children and honored marriage.  This created a situation where there were more females in the Christian community.

Stark goes into considerable detail as to the importance of women in the spread of Christianity, but this is only one small facet of this important work.  It is well worth reading.  It sets a lot of records straight.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at