Early-Church Heroines: Rulers, Prophets And Martyrs -- By: Aída Besançon Spencer

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 07:1 (Winter 1993)
Article: Early-Church Heroines: Rulers, Prophets And Martyrs
Author: Aída Besançon Spencer


Early-Church Heroines: Rulers, Prophets And Martyrs

Aida Besançon Spencer

Dr. Aida Besancon Spencer, author of Beyond The Curse (available from CBE), is an associate professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA. Her article Was first printed in Christian History. Vol VII, No. 1, Issue 17, and is reprinted by permission.

In recent years many writers have been reminding the church of the exemplary women who have held positions of authority and power in the Bible as rulers, prophets and martyrs. Deborah certainly has been often mentioned as a faithful ruler, a judge, prophet, and a military strategist. Under this “mother of Israel,” the Hebrews had rest for 40 years (Judges 4-5). Wisdom was personified as a woman elder in Proverbs 8. The wise woman of Abel speaking for her people saved her city, “a mother in Israel” (2 Samuel 20:16).

The queen mothers were often senior counselors to the kings, and in some cases mediators between the kings and the people. Miriam, Huldah, the wife of Isaiah, and Anna were prophets, people who received and spoke forth God’s message to their people. Priscilla and Aquila, Paul’s co-workers, risked their lives to save Paul. The early church after the New Testament also lauds women as rulers, prophets and martyrs. We need to be reminded of them, even as we need to be reminded of the biblical heroines, so that we can keep producing and celebrating heroines today.

Women Praised as Rulers

Eusebius, who is known as our earliest church historian, in his History of the Church, refers to three queens. Queen Helena of Adiabene (North Mesopotamia) and her son Izates were converts to Judaism. When Helena came to visit the temple in Jerusalem, she found the city in famine and, with her own money, bought expensive grain in Alexandria and dried figs in Cyprus. Josephus said, “She has thus left a very great name that will be famous forever among our whole people for her benefaction,” The Christians in Israel also benefited from her generosity (Acts 11:29-30). Eusebius also mentions the queen of Ethiopia, and says the Roman Emperor’s mother, Mammaea, was “one of the most religious and high-principled women.” She fetched Origen to Antioch to teach her about Christianity (VI.21).

Marthana, called a deaconess, in fact was herself a ruler over a Christian monastic order of men and women at the shrine of St. Thecia, the reputed female teacher and martyr who was rated with the apostles. In her

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