This is why a woman should have authority over her own head: because of the angels.1 Corinthians 11:10
When Peter sent me the link to Bruce Winter’s book Roman Wives, Roman Widows (see Gem 415) I decided I would get a copy of the book and later give my input on it from what Bruce Winter has written. I even skipped a Gem number to leave room for me to do that when I got the book. However that did not happen because I was living in Indonesia at that time it was harder to buy books from Amazon or anywhere else overseas at the time and I remember finding that the book was $79.00 or more and it would have cost $35.00 to ship to Indonesia and take a long time. So I decided to leave my idea of doing that until a later time when it was convenient and didn’t cost me so much.[However I have only just now remembered that I planned to do that when I looked at the blank Bible Gem 416 in order to repost it. I still had not done it and the book was still $79. However I ordered the Kindle version and have now written Gem 416 after reading Winter’s book. I have re-numbered the first Gem on the book as 415, waiting this new Gem 416 to fill the slot. But at least I have the quotes ready to go with the future Gem 416. I probably shouldn’t make this next comment. It is likely to pique certain people’s curiosity. But it is probably necessary to warn readers of the R18 nature of the material.]
Here then is my summary, with excerpts clipped from the book after reading Roman Wives, Roman Widows by Bruce Winter (Published by Eerdmans – 2003).
Women in the Pauline Churches
Many perceive women were not seen outside the home but rather were dutiful wives. On the contrary there is evidence to suggest many wealthy women had financial security and a degree of independence from their husbands. Not all Christians in Rome were working class. There is evidence that women could hold civic posts and have the title of civic magistrates in the Late Roman Republic and the Early Empire. Women were actively involved in business, politics and society in roles outside of family responsibilities.
The Emergence of the New Woman
A new breed of women appeared in Paul’s day whose lifestyle differed from the traditional image of the modest wife. This new breed of woman emerged in protest to the sexual license practised by the men of the age. Plutarch (early 2nd C) warned husbands about “making their wives bored of the husband’s ribaldry thus teaching the women to seek their own pleasure apart from their husbands”. Plutarch presented the rationalization for a Roman husband’s behaviour in a speech traditionally delivered related to the nuptial bedroom demanding the wife be both faithful to him and acceptant of his casual sexual liaisons. L. Aelius Caesar’s wife criticised his behaviour when he is said to have asked her to “let him exercise his lust on other women because a wife was for dignity and not sensuality.” Philandering husbands had liaisons with their own slave girls, other people’s slave girls, prostitutes, music girls, unmarried women of the lower class and then wives of friends of his own class. A women could be punished for such activity – affairs with slaves, especially low class men. Yet men couldn’t be punished for affairs with low class woman. Former slaves (hetairai) could also be called on to ply their charms during banquets and provide sexual pleasures for the dinner guests. – called “after dinners”. Men could so engage with impunity because women were less sensuous than men and had higher moral standards. No wonder wives objected to this practice.
Such practice was rife among the Roman emperors. Augustus Caesar himself was well known for having extra marital affairs to gratify his lust.
Some wives were depicted as choosing for themselves a life of parties and self-gratification and were able to choose their own lovers. These kinds of women appear in the literature – plays, poems etc and were legislated against by Augustus. Thus a new breed of high society women developed who openly defied the legislation on adultery and matters related to their attendants. There was a marked difference in dress between these new women and the traditional wives and the high-class prostitutes. The new wives emerged around 44 BC in factual writings and fictional writings. These new women emerged as women of pleasure. Such a woman brought into her marriage her dowry but could retain property and hold an income of wealth of her own. She could terminate a marriage and receive back a portion of her dowry on the annulment of her marriage. In Augustus’ time, adultery on the part of a woman was not a capital offence, but none the less a criminal one.
The First Lady, Julia becomes the Trendsetter
Vipsania Julia (Augustus’ granddaughter) developed a taste for bawdy literature after her mother Julia (Augustus’ daughter) was denounced for adultery by Augustus himself. Julia responded with public statements to the effect “I am his true image, born of his blood”. Suetonius noted “she did not neglect any act of extravagance in terms of lust”. Seneca wrote “His failing years were alarmed by his daughter and the noble youths who were bound to her adultery as if by oath. She headed a coterie or young courtiers that included adultery amongst its pursuits.” Vipsania’s house in Rome was demolished by edict of Augustus and she was banned from being buried in the Emperor’s mausoleum. In response Vipsania Julia stated “I will soon make old men of [her rowdy troop of] young men”.
A new genre of Roman comedy grew up that made fun of relationships of the rich in private life. A genre of literature developed heavily influenced by society’s new morals. The values of Eastern culture, i.e. Corinth and Palestine was infiltrated by this new Roman culture – even to the point of them accepting the values of Roman women – new and traditional. Roman women influenced eastern culture with fashion, how they dressed and how they wore their hair. New Roman Women attended parties and walked about in public. The Eastern women of the empire were encouraged to emulate the exampla (Julia – the Emperor’s daughter). What women will not follow when an empress leads the way. Chrysostum showed concern over the issues of marriage fidelity and promiscuity in the Roman cities in the East. These new Roman women had an unsettling influence on the status quo.
Julia’s influence spread to the provinces. Many mosaics showed women showing their faces and their heads. Women imitated the styles of the imperial court. Julia’s women were the noveaux riche, belonging to families on the rise. Women of the humbler class wore veils. The ideal conservative moral woman is seen in statues dressed in the respectable full length stola. Lucius Annaeus Seneca, governor of Achaia, praised the women who never succumbed to immorality, were not moved by jewels and pearls (“the worst evil of our time”), untarnished by wealth, not perverted by the imitation of these new women, not defiling their face with paints or cosmetics, nor wearing the kind of dress that exposed their nakedness. A woman whose only adornment was modesty.
In the early Hellenist period the modest married woman was always statued wearing a veil. To be unveiled or with head uncovered would have suggested such women were following Julia’s example. A modest woman ought to be clothed in a long dress, a large mantle drawn around her which she used to cover the back of her head. Her right arm was statued across her body to hold the veil in place and also to cover her right breast. The younger unmarried women was statued in an even more guarded protected posture (pudicitiia – modesty). The new woman who went unveiled was making a statement by making their existence felt very fully in public. Two bronze statues are found in the Museum of Classical Archeology at the University of Cambridge with two dancing girls without veil or mantle and one is undoing her dress (chiton) and exposing her shoulder and part of her breast. Very unlike the married woman. Romans regarded these women as foreign rather than true Roman women. The statues were meant to titillate. The hetairai (high class mistress) and the pornai (call girl) dressed to reveal, often their clothes were transparent. Especially the latter. The former used high class fine clothes to draw attention to herself.
The veil symbolised the husband’s authority over his wife. Omission of the veil was a symbol of her withdrawing herself from the marriage. If you were married you wore a stola, if you were not you wore a toga, or praetexta if you were a child. If you were an adulteress you were forced to wear a plain toga. Chrystostom noted a woman guilty of adultery had her hair cut off. Thus is the wife who will not wear her veil or stola with the mantel then she must have her hair shaved or cut off. If she doesn’t want to have her hair cut then she should wear the mantle to pull over her head. It is clear that the distinguishing garments worn by married women and underpinned by Roman Law in the time of Augustus would be observed in the Roman colony of Corinth. If women did not wear the stola and mantel then they were making a choice of conveying in public how they wished to be perceived.
Philosophers advocated educating the daughters in virtuous living and self control of the mind. In 63 BC, Cicero thought it was dreadfully wrong to limit young men from having affairs with courtesans. Not only were such thoughts contrary to the license of the age but also against the customs and concessions of our ancestors. Julia (daughter and granddaughter) rebelled at such double standards and sought to drag Augustus’ practices into the public arena. Julia had multiple adulterous relationships while married to Tiberius – Antonius was sentenced to death, but committed suicide. Gracchus and a number of senators and knights were banished from Rome for their relationships with Julia. Augustus was the one who made her affairs public. This news reached the Forum and was discussed publicly. There were those who adopted an ideology justifying their promiscuity and hoped the pursuit would lead to freedom. Julia epitomised the new Roman wife and gained a following accordingly.
Augustus Caesar’s New Laws
Augustus sought to implement new legal measures to curb the licentious behaviour of certain married women. His legislative approach prescribed moral conduct, punished inactivity of husbands who ignored their wives extramarital liaisons, penalised the unmarried and the childless women. restricted their rights of inheritance, especially new wives who had liaisons with young men. Augustus reformed the laws on adultery, chastity, encouraging marriage in senatorial orders.
Lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus legislated against promiscuity while
Lex Julia de adulteriscoercendis applied to adultery, illicit intercourse by a respectable woman or fornication with a widow or unmarried free woman who was not a prostitute.
Before this, honour killings had been practiced but now it required public witness to bring a case to be tried by jury. The old law allowed a husband to kill his wife if he caught her in the act of adultery. The new law didn’t allow that but allowed him to kill the offender. A legal charge of adultery could be brought after the accuser had divorced his wife and if he had seven witnesses. A wife so accused and found guilty lost half her dowry, 1/3 of her property and was banished to an island. If convicted a woman could not enter into a legal marriage again. The condoning of adultery by a woman on the part of the husband was a criminal offence. The punishment being loss of property and exile from Roman society. Women so convicted had to wear a short undergarment (tunica) without a border or plaits (institia) and a toga of a dark colour. This set them apart, but some took to wearing a daring and often see through dress. A married woman was prohibited from wearing gold ornaments or clothes bordered with purple. Augustus banned the daughters of senators from marrying freedmen, actors or other disreputable people. Upper class women tried to enrol themselves in an exempt group for prosecution against adultery and fornication by publicly stating their loves. Young men who had affairs with sexually experienced married women who were not prostitutes were required to wear a toga virilis and were penalised for not marrying.
A women dressed like a pornai or hetairai could not then claim she was raped, or taken without consent. The Lex Julia drawn up under Augustus took that option from her. Protection from sexual predators could only be assured if they were dressed respectably. A woman who was dressed respectably was afforded full rights under the law against rape and sexual assault. A woman dressed inappropriately had her rights taken away and was treated as an adulterer and a loose living woman. Augustus’ laws sought to distinguish between the modest wife and the adulteress and the prostitute. The modest woman ought to be wearing the stola, the mantel, and the vittae (a woollen band worn in the hair). But it was not compulsory. If any man acted in a licentious way toward a women dressed thus he was not liable for his actions or injury caused to the woman.
The above background information sheds significant light on many of Paul’s passages but in particular the context of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.
There now remains one more section of Winter’s book for me to summarize.
Angels or Messengers
Augustus established a public office to conduct surveillance of women during this period throughout the Empire. They were the Controllers of Women. (The Moral Police)
They carried out surveillance of women’s activities:
- To enforce sumptuary laws
- Curb excessive spending on clothing for religious festivals
- Restrict competitive displays of wealth
- Promote female chastity
- Standardise dress and monitor compliance
- Confiscate women’s clothes
- Impose fines
- Restrict their conduct
- Tear or confiscate a dress that was offensive in public
- and dedicate it to the gods.
- Change a woman’s status due to an infringement
Cities which had the cult of Demeter would have had an active office for women’s affairs. There is firm evidence that there was one in Corinth. A cult site was found on the slopes of the Acrocorinth. For Romans the issue of conformity was at the heart of cultural norms, especially so given laws issued by the Emperor in an attempt to curb the activity of the New Women by Augustus.
Meetings of the oikia (house churches held in homes) were open to the public. Thus members of the moral police could enter at will. These members of the Moral Police were given the name Gunaiko Nomoi and their messengers or spies, surveillance police, were called [anggeloi – the plural]. The term was used not only for those who brought information but also those who came to gather information. Epictetus noted that the [anggelos – the singular] could be sent as a scout to report back. Epictetus reported that after Domitian banished the philosophers a messenger was sent from Nicopolis to Rome to spy on the philosophers. The term anggeloi is also the term used in the Greek New Testament for “angels”, but in some contexts should more correctly be translated “messengers”. This new interpretation or meaning adds new light to the passage in 1 Corinthians 11 and casts the expression “because of the angels” in a new light as well. Thus a good reason to wear the veil in 1 Cor 11:10, because of the likelihood of the moral police being present in the meeting.
I am now prepared to take back my comments in the previous Gem (415) related to my thought that “because of the angels” referred to the evil angels. I found Bruce Winter’s book compelling, forcing me to change my viewpoint.
All of my words, if not well put nor well taken, are well meant.Ian Vail
Humankind is far from being humane, and much less kind.Ian Vail
“Well done” is always better than “Well said”. “Well intentioned” is not as good as “well done”.Ian Vail
Beware the moral police, who seek to legislate compliance in terms of purity and integrity, when purity and integrity are matters of a personal nature determined by the work of God within the soul of each human being.Ian Vail