Letter to Mary Jo Van Istick, part 2.
The following passage is condensed from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 19 verse 23 and following. It explains why St. Paul wouldn’t let women speak in church.
“About that time (AD 56) there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said… we receive a good income from this business…. this fellow Paul has convinced people ...that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger (to) our trade (and to) the temple of Artemis. When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. The city clerk quieted the crowd and said… you ought to calm down and not do anything rash…. If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges…. As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting”.
The Romans were not the worst of occupiers. Life under the Romans could be pretty good, if you were a free male in a Roman city. Ephesus had enjoyed peace and prosperity as part of the Roman world for almost two centuries by the time St. Paul got there. In 27 BC, the Emperor Augustus had made Ephesus the capital of the province of Asia (Western Turkey) and it thus became one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire. It was a provincial capital and a major commercial hub, especially important for the grain shipments from Turkey on which Rome depended. It was second only to Rome herself in its importance, according to Strabo the historian. It was a town of perhaps 150,000 and had a huge theater that held 25,000 people. When Demetrius started a riot that involved this odd little Jewish sect of Christians who said that the Ephesian religion and source of tourist wealth were idolatry, the whole city was put in danger. Romans hated rioting in the provinces. It could lead to rebellion and so endanger the all-important grain trade. Civil disorder could come under the general heading of the crime of maiestas.
Maiestas was a crime against the Roman people or against their safety. It covered a lot, such as was the occupation of public places, the meeting within the city of persons hostile to the state, incitement to sedition, administration of unlawful oaths and much more. Death was the usual punishment. In the case of a city the slaughter of many might result and huge fines could be imposed. Paul and his friends had “dissed”(insulted) Ephesus, Artemis and good public order. Remember last week about how St. Paul wrote “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”? (1Timothy 2:12)
Remember the Honey Bees? It might cause even more trouble if nice women went around without veils, or encouraged the practice among wives of husbands who may or may not have been believers. They might be mistaken for Honey Bees! St. Paul was trying to tell the women and men of the newly formed Christian communities, “Try not to stick out and upset people unnecessarily, especially in major Roman cities which had famous temples and lots of priestesses employed in, shall we say, “fundraising.”
It is significant to note that St. Paul says “’I’ do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent,” in his first letter to Timothy. He had just sent Timothy to Ephesus to straighten out the mess. Paul says, “I,” not the Lord. The prohibition against a speaking, unveiled role for women in Corinth and Ephesus was very reasonable under the circumstances. Biblical literalists, usually misnamed fundamentalists, don’t like this idea. And amazingly, there are fundamentalist on the right and the left. There are those who say the Bible forbids women to speak and there are those who insist the Bible forbids women to speak therefore the Bible is wrong.
Both types of fundamentalist are mistaken in their premise. The Bible does not forbid women to speak. Paul does. Well, that’s convenient, accepting or rejecting what the Bible says! On the contrary, I know what the Bible says better than do the rightist or leftist sola scriptura crowd. I have a continuous interpretation of these things going back 2,000 years to when they were written. It is a tradition which is carefully guarded, at least up until these times by “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth,” (1Tim.3:15), also part of the letter in which Paul tells his student Timothy to straighten out the mess in Ephesus. If only we could straighten out the current mess.
the Rev. Know-it-all
An afterthought: It’s interesting to me that just like the Honey Bees and their friends the silversmiths, many moderns want a religion that allows them to clothe their depravity with sanctity and are willing to riot if they don’t get what they want. Fascinating how history does seem to repeat itself.
P.S. A few readers have left comment letting me know how glad they are that I am done with endless disquisition on the Law of Moses. Sorry to be so boring, but for my money the whole issue of why we can eat shrimp and why we go church on Sunday is huge. I suspect that it may be one of the more significant things this muddled author has written, but again, I am a bit muddled.