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Gender Perspectives Among Early Christians

April 21–22,2017
Washington, DC

What did people in the first two centuries of the Roman Empire think about gender roles? And how did the writings of early Christians intersect, reinforce and challenge the prevailing perspectives of the Roman world? As it turns out, the New Testament and other early writings such as those about Eve, Mary, and Thecla don’t present a uniform attitude but rather offer a variety of diverse opinions. How might the range of ideas and customs inherited by the early church offer new approaches to gender debates in church and society today?

Celene Lillie (Ph.D., Union Theological Seminary) is the Director of the Tanho Center for a new New Testament and on the pastoral staff at Boulder First United Methodist Church in Colorado. She is the author of several books, including The Rape of Eve: The Transformation of Roman Ideology in Three Early Christian Retellings of Genesis.

Deborah Niederer Saxon (Ph.D., Iliff School of Theology-University of Denver) is an Instructor of Religion at Franklin College near Indianapolis and serves on Westar’s Board of Directors. Her work focuses on newly-discovered early Christian texts, gender and religion, and ecumenical/interfaith collaboration. She is the author of The Care of the Self in Early Christian Literature (forthcoming).

Program Details

Gender & Jesus/Christ Movement

Questions surrounding masculinity, femininity, sex and celibacy abound in the early Jesus movement—and are often a mixed bag. What roles did men and women play in these ancient portraits? Did these portraits conform to ancient gender norms and, if so, how? This session lays the foundation for the discussions.
(Lillie & Saxon)
Friday evening, 7:30–9 pm

Male, Female, & the Pauline Corpus

The Pauline corpus delivers mixed messages on gender roles. How do we make sense of texts that suggest women should keep silent and obey their husbands but also feature women in authoritative positions in Christ communities.
(Lillie & Saxon)
Saturday, 9:30–10:30 am

Women in Early Christian Art & Texts

Ever since its rediscovery in 1896, the Gospel of Mary has been challenging stereotypes about female leadership among early Christian groups. How does its depiction of Mary as a courageous and exemplary leader in early groups identifying with Jesus fit with the representations of women’s roles found in gospels like Matthew and John?
Saturday, 11 am – noon

Gender & Violence in Extra-Canonical Texts

The Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Act of Peter tell of women’s celibacy and chastity. Peter’s daughter is maimed to save her virtue, and Thecla survives constant endangerment. Lillie compares these stories to the more difficult account of the rape of Eve in several early retellings of Genesis which suggest that violence in the Roman world was not so easily evaded.
Saturday, 1:30–2:30 pm

Thinking about Gender: Yesterday & Today

How does paying attention to gender roles, masculinity, and femininity enable more meaningful interpretations of early Christian literature?  Lillie & Saxon will spend some time thinking about this question, in conversation with attendees.
Saturday, 3–4 pm


Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church—Capitol Hill

Local Contact and Information

All events at:

Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church—Capitol Hill
301 A St SE
Washington, DC 20003

For local information, contact:

Christoph Berendes
[email protected]


All Sessions

  • Individual Rate $75
  • Pre-registration Rate (by April 14th) $60
  • Additional Family Members $50

Single Sessions

  • Friday Evening Lecture $20
  • Saturday Morning Workshop $30
  • Saturday Afternoon Workshop $30

Refunds are available until two weeks before the event if requested in writing, minus a $10 administrative fee. No refunds will be given after that date.