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Eve, the Virgin, and the Magdalene: Women and Redemption in the Early Church

By Bethany Morrow


In the early stages of the Christian Church there were numerous variations on the conception of sin and salvation. This thesis explores four texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries—Irenaeus’s Refutation and Overthrow of Falsely So-Called Gnosis (or Against Heresies), Hippolytus’s Commentary on the Song of Songs, the Sethian text called the Hypostasis of the Archons, and the Valentinian text called the Gospel of Philip—in order to examine the roles of female and male figures within each text’s conception of original sin and its redemption. The issue of redemption is defined by the fact that, in the texts discussed in this thesis, human suffering and death is always traced back to two figures, male and female: in the Book of Genesis Adam and Eve both sin in the Garden of Eden, and in gnostic versions of the creation myth male and female figures within both the divine and the earthly realms are involved in the first mistake. There is significance both in the duality out of which the original mistake comes, as well as the relationship of the offenders as partners or counterparts. Is one individual more at fault than the other? And how does this affect the role of a redeeming figure? Can one savior redeem them both or could two saviors be involved in the redemption of humankind? The authors of the four texts discussed would each have different answers.\ud The manner in which the four texts discussed here each employ gendered relationships in their conceptions of sin and redemption reveal different universalized ideologies about men and women. These ideologies are expressed through the manner of involvement of male versus female figures in the original sin, the manner of redemption by male versus female figures, and the conception of the pre-existent divine realm (gender structures above affecting gender structures below). The material for these three elements in the four texts addressed comes from existing scriptural sources such as the letters of Paul and the Gospels of John and Luke. The point of departure from scriptural adherence to the authors’ own intertextual readings is a good place to start analyzing the authors’ ideologies about gender hierarchy and often reveals varying notions about the role of women within different early Christian movements

Year: 2008
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