Guest post from Shrewsbury High School: Women in Christianity, particularly the 4th Gospel

Today, we have have a guest post from Cece W.

Cece is a Year 12 student at Shrewsbury High School, and chose the ‘what were you surprised to learn while studying RS?” topic:

When studying a religion, what I was surprised to learn was: the major role women are presented as having in Christianity and especially the Fourth Gospel.

During my recent studies looking at Christianity, I was surprised to learn of the major role women play in the Fourth Gospel and the importance Jesus and the Blessed Disciple places upon them.

One of the earliest examples of the power and importance that John places on women takes place by the well of Jacob in Chapter four where Jesus begins a dialogue with a Samaritan woman. The fact that the woman was unaccompanied and unmarried immediately highlights Jesus’ disregard for social prejudices and the respect and dignity he held for women. Moreover, he later reveals to the woman that he is the Messiah saying ‘I who speak to you am he.’ It is highly relevant that Jesus should disclose this vital fact to an unknown woman of uncertain status and even though he had not then disclosed it to his disciples.

FCH campus at the University

Furthermore, during the first century, this level of respect was not reciprocated in other areas of society- such as in the Jewish communities where women were treated with scant respect and viewed as being less intelligent than their male counterparts. For example, the rabbinic Toseffta includes a prayer by a Jewish man giving thanks that he is not a woman; and in the Sotah 19c it is written ‘the words of the Torah shall sooner burn in the flames of hell than be taught to a woman.’ In the words of Schreinder ‘Jesus treats women with dignity and respect and elevated their position in a society where they were often mistreated.’

Critically, in relation to the role of women in the early foundations of Christianity is Jesus’s resurrection and the subsequent episode with Mary Magdalene. Here Mary is cast into an ‘eminent role, as first to discover the empty tomb, first to witness the risen Christ and first to spread the good news’ (Kysar). John depicts Mary in an extremely prominent role that emphasises the importance of her being present at the early foundation of Christianity.

Moreover, although I knew of Mary’s role in the resurrection scene I had not until recently fully appreciated the importance of the dialogue between Jesus and Mary where Jesus clearly highlights the respect in which he holds Mary and how much dignity he believes that she has. For example, ‘I am returning to my God, your God, my father and your father.’ This clearly exemplifies the personal relationship that Jesus is offering both Mary and women as a whole and the equal footing on which he is putting himself and Mary. Also, this personal relationship is highlighted at the beginning of the dialogue when Mary calls out ‘Rabboni’- ‘my master’ rather than ‘Rabbi’- ‘master.’ This again emphasises the equality Jesus and Christianity advocate and how the faith is ‘affiliative’ (Stibbe).

In addition, within that dialogue Jesus also tells Mary to ‘Go and tell my brothers.’ This technically puts Mary as the founder of early Christianity and once more portrays the image of the importance of women in Christianity.

Overall, I consider that the position of women in the Fourth Gospel and within Christianity itself is a major and remarkable factor. I was surprised to learn of the dignity and respect with which Jesus treated women and how much that contrasted with the more patriarchal influences that prevailed in Judaism at the time.

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