Since her 1992 study of women’s religions in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean, the author has become more concerned with the interwoven problems of data and theory that attend any effort to accurately reconstruct, redescribe, and explain women’s religious behaviors and beliefs in this period. This introductory chapter explores these problems, drawing especially on the arguments of Elizabeth Clark that ancient literary works deploy ancient ideas about gender, mapped onto female characters, in order to explore issues of concern to their largely elite, male authors (and their initial audiences). The chapter lays out the author’s definitions of the book’s central categories (gender, women, religion), explains the author’s preference for the term Judean (rather than Jew or Jewish, particularly for the earlier centuries), and emphasizes her own naturalist approach to religion. Last, it previews the chapters to come, noting that some revisit some of the author’s earlier work (e.g., on the women philosopher monastics described by Philo of Alexandria, on women drawn to early Christian celibate circles as portrayed in the apocryphal Acts of Thecla and other stories) while others examine previously unconsidered material (e.g., Severus of Minorca’s Letter on the Conversion of the Jews).
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