Maxwell Institute Podcast #129

  • How do we understand the lives of women who lived in ancient times? Where do historians and scholars go for evidence when there’s relatively little available in written records?

    In this episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast, we will talk with Dr. Catherine Gines Taylor, a Nibley Postdoctoral Fellow at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, and Dr. Mark Ellison, an Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, to learn more

    *about the lives of Christian women in antiquity
    *how to uncover or unearth the religious lives of women
    *and discuss how the material record or historical “stuff” reveals religious meaning and practice.

    You can purchase their book Material Culture and Women’s Religious Experience in Antiquity, co-edited with Carolyn Osiek, wherever books are sold, including from Amazon and the Rowman and Littlefield website.

    Subscribe to our newsletter to receive show notes for this and all Maxwell Institute Podcast episodes!

  • Joseph Stuart: How do we understand the lives of women who lived in ancient times? Where do historians and scholars go for evidence when there’s relatively little available on written records? In this episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast we will speak with Dr. Catherine Gines Taylor, a Nibley post doctoral fellow at the Maxwell Institute and Dr. Mark Ellison, an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. To learn more about the lives of Christian women in antiquity, how to uncover or unearth the religious lives of women, discuss how the material record, or historical stuff, reveals religious meaning and practice. The best way to support the Maxwell Institute Podcast is to rate, review and subscribe to the show wherever you download your podcasts.We’d also love for you to sign up for our newsletter at Lastly, if you would like to learn more about Dr. Taylor’s research, you should listen to episode 101 of the Maxwell Institute Podcast, where she discusses Mary, the Mother of Jesus. 


    Catherine, Mark, welcome to the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Now, this wonderful new volume that you two co-edited with Carolyn Ossick, began as a symposium sponsored by the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU and included other conversation partners. It was originally entitled, “Material Culture and Women’s Religious Experiences in Antiquity” and is soon to be published by Lexington Books which is an academic press. The first question that came to mind for me was, “What is material culture?”


    Catherine Gines-Taylor: Material culture has a number of different definitions. So we can look to physical artifacts, some from archeological records, some from our historical records and these things can be defined as visual images, symbols, regalia that we find in everyday life. But also, we want to point out that material culture is also the way that these things function and act and are interacted with by individuals, by people throughout history. And of course we have been fascinated with the way they make meaning in antiquity. 


    Stuart: Yeah, so I’m trained as an American Historian so I work a lot with text meaning like what somebody wrote, or being able to interpret instructions that somebody gave to someone else, but, Mark, material culture seems to encompass much more than that. 


    Mark Ellison: Right, a population anciently that produced text was just a small subset of the overall population relative to a few people who were literate, or able to read and write. And then of course only a small amount of what was written becomes preserved and passed down to us. Whereas material culture, artifacts, features, physical objects from the past reflect upon a larger proportion of the ancient population. And so one of the projects we took up in this book was, “ok if we look at these things and study them, what can they reveal about more of the population than we might get from texts alone.” 


    Stuart: I’m struck too by material culture, especially in cultures, ancient or modern, where women aren’t necessarily writing instructions or delivering important speeches of which we have records to go off of. Maybe we can learn more about women and what they valued and what they did through material culture.


    Taylor: I think that’s exactly right. And we need to be careful about how we use objects towards that interpretation, but when you take on images and objects that would have been commonplace, perhaps even within domestic households or settings in which women are acting as agents, you find that they are often imbued with meaning, either overtly or less overtly. And it takes a careful kind of looking and appreciating and really an examination of the whole social world within religious contexts can understand how they may have operated and made meaning. And I think that a lot of these objects can represent, where texts either fail to represent or even change or distort representation of women in the past. So you often find that objects used as primary source material can put into tension what is in the literary record. Sometimes it agrees and sometimes it disagrees and to take time to carefully do some comparing and contrasting on that front is really important. 


    Ellison: When I was in my doctoral program is when I first became aware of Catherine and met her. We became fast friends because we both share an interest in early Christian art and we both were really taken by a statement made by an art historian by the name of Thomas Matthews. He said, “That written sources so seldom preserve the reflections of women in the early Christian period, perhaps what is lacking in literary sources has been made up in the visual sources” and that idea has always captivated both of us. And so a few years ago, when Catherine approached me with the idea for this conference and a volume of selected papers from a conference, with this exact idea in mind I thought it was brilliant. Joey you mentioned that the conference included participants from across campus and that’s true, but we also had a good representation of scholars from outside of BYU, just from across the country and one who joined us from, I want to say, England. In the final volume, I think that there are at least seven of the chapters that are authored by people who are not from BYU.


    Stuart: And I really think that that embodies one of the elements of the Maxwell Institute’s mission which is to not only gather and nurture disciple scholars, but to bring us all into conversation with folks who are from other faith traditions or traditions with no faith at all. But that we learn and grow as disciples in that capacity. In thinking about material cultures sometimes that can be a little bit of an abstract term. Are there examples of Latter-day Saint material culture produced by women that might be familiar to our listeners?


    Taylor: I think we have a really wonderful and proximate house of material culture in Salt Lake City, at the museum that is run by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. We have an excellent collection of material culture, some strange, some more traditional. I love visiting that place with my children and looking at these hand stitched quilts where blocks and scraps of the very finest materials that they had were included. And of course more strange and nontraditional objects as well. You can tell that people kept and held objects for what they represented, what they meant, and even I think for the kind of holiness that was not only part of the object, or represented by the object, but the kind of spiritual meaning that some of these objects held, that moved deeply into the souls of the early Saints.


    Stuart: I am also curious by the word antiquity. That seems like a term that can mean a whole lot of things. Mark, what do you mean when you use the term antiquity?


    Ellison: We use that term in a very broad sense. Our chapters cover a period of time from about the 13th century BC in ancient Egypt and Kanan all the way down to the 8th century AD. We’re using that to cover about a 2000 year span of different people of a period that is history in different ways, so this encompasses antiquity and late antiquity. 


    Stuart: Thanks, that is very helpful. And that comes across in the eleven essays that are in the volume and as much as we would love to be able to focus on each individual essay, we are going to focus on each chapter that you wrote as individuals. And we’re going to start with Catherine and you write that during the late ancient period, religious experience for women was historically tied to the materiality of the domus and the culture of the household. First, what’s a domus and second what do you mean by household culture?


    Taylor: The domus is simply the house. It is the home and the abode of a family. And the domus that I particularly take up in my chapter is one from Shabbah Philapalous in Syria. It was a villa style domus. So this is a larger, probably more elite household that follows a traditional Roman style of architecture, where you have a centralized atrium with rooms surrounding it. The domus was home not only to the kind of nuclear family, but when we think of households that really is expanded to include people who worked for the family. Also household slaves, as well as clients that would have been part of a patron-client relationship within Roman familial structures.


    Stuart: Ok, so correct me if I’m wrong, but what I’m hearing is that there’s a man and woman, a couple, that are sort of the top of the umbrella and everyone who relies on them for financial means or for employment or through familial relationships. We might think of that as everyone who falls under that umbrella as part of that domus. Is that correct?


    Taylor: Part of the household, the domus is the structure specifically. So the architectural structure.


    Stuart: Wonderful. So then that second question, what do you mean by household culture?


    Taylor: The household and the home specifically, would have been used for all kinds of ordinary quotidian kinds of activities that people would have engaged in in the antique world. But one of the things that I really try to focus on is that houses were also spaces used for rite and ritual and worship. Houses are not just used for traditional or orthodox worship. But actually there are a number of scholars who point to the fact that within the private spaces you could find less orthodox rite and ritual happening. Within earliest Christianity you find that there are multiple communities that see themselves doing the right thing. They see themselves as orthodox within their set of beliefs and by the time the second century rolls around we do find some censure that is affecting some of these communities. So one thing that I want to point out, at least in my chapter, is that there are diverse communities that convened in domestic spaces and that these gathering places helped form their unique Christian identity and even private households could become the focus point or the logis of survival or initiation or even recruitment and conversion for some of these earliest Christian communities and believers. 


    Stuart: Now in this house, in Shabbah Philapalous, you describe three mosaics found in this same house. Is it remarkable that there are three in the same house, or is this fairly common. 


    Taylor: No it’s not common at all. So we have three significant monumentally sized mosaics and this is just what was kind of left existing during the excavation that happened in 1925. Mosaics are an imported art to this region. They are expensive. This house is certainly the abode of the elite. 


    Stuart: Just so you all know, we are also going to have an image of the home and of the mosaics which you will receive in the show notes for the episode of this podcast which you can sign up for at But so even in this elite home, to have three seems pretty important.


    Taylor: Yes and the way that I read them from the archeological report as well as the way that they are structured and the kind of gestures and movements that the figures in each of the mosaics demonstrate or represent it seems that they are tied together in a narrative. They were meant to be read not just individually, but collectively. 


    Stuart: That’s wonderful to think about it as sort of a tryptic, I think is the artisan term for three parts of telling the same narrative or story. And you also write that the figures in the mosaics are personifications of certain things. Can you define personification for us?


    Taylor: Sure. Personification is, so you have an anamorphic figure a male or female, but often personifications are female. And these figures take on particular attributes or sometimes they are named by an inscription, and so this figure is not an individual, it’s not meant to be a portrait of someone. But it’s representative of a place or an idea. And they were often very widely used within the Greco-Roman world to signify very quickly an idea or a place. It gave meaning really quickly in this singular figure. Sometimes they have different attributes or different objects they hold that are specific to who they are, whether it be a place. For example, a personification of the river Jordan will sometimes have this vessel pouring out of water or you have a personification more abstractly of an idea. For example I talk about a personification of the idea of philosophy. She is figured as a woman and the inscription, “philosophia” is above her head. 


    Ellison: I am just curious, as you were talking about that I was thinking of personifications that an American audience would recognize readily, like Lady Liberty holding up her lamp. Or Lady Justice that is blindfolded with the scales as her attributes. So would the viewers of your mosaics in antiquity have recognized these women in the same ways that we modern Americans recognize these personifications?


    Taylor: Yes! As a matter of fact they were familiar with this kind of visual language. They understood the iconographic troup. They knew the different attributes. It was part of their literary culture, and when we get to late antiquity some scholars have pointed to the fact that there may have been some loss of literary memory pertaining to personifications. And so in some instances, particularly when there aren’t specific attributes you will have inscriptions that help the viewer be able to still read the image where there may have been some loss of literary knowledge. It really becomes a language unto itself. 


    Stuart: Yeah. I think the phrase actually goes with”eyes to see and ears to hear” we’ll recognize what’s going on. And with your training as scholars that’s what you two are able to see or do as much as you can to get into the shoes, so to speak, or the sandals, of those who would have encountered it. Catherine, in these three mosaics they have iconography or images that aren’t overtly Christian. It’s not like there are images of Jesus or Mary Magdalene or the sacrament of the eucharist. But that doesn’t mean that they weren’t religious. Can you talk about how sometimes icons, or imagery both have religious meaning as well as maybe different meanings for some people?


    Taylor: Yes, and I am happy to use as example these three mosaics. So the first mosaic that I encountered and that really caught my attention in the first place was a triad. A trinity of female figures, the central figure seated with a cloth of honor behind her and she’s flanked by two other female images and they all have inscriptions above their heads. So the central figure is “eutechnia16:13 which means “blessed with children”, and then on either side of her are two female figures: “dicaosine” and “philosophia”. So dicaosine 16:22 is “righteous judgment” and “philosophia” is philosophy of course. And it just peaked my curiosity to think “how did these women come together in this triad and why would you put them together at all?”. So one of the things I did was look to ancient texts to find where you have philosophy and righteous judgment conflated or brought together. And I actually found multiple places where there is the instructive nature of righteous judgment and philosophy are connected to the bringing up of good children. And yet these were not just found within the so called pagan or Greco-Roman religious contexts. They were brought in the second century, third century into play within specifically Christian contexts. So that kind of started my curiosity, and then to find that we come to the second iconographic panal which includes a marriage procession for the marriage of Paleos and Theatus where we find this demigoddess, Theatus, seated in much the same way as the “eutechnia” figure: the joining of right hands, the euntium dextrarum, that is typical of Roman marriage indiciating Roman marriage or marriage scenes. And of course you have the marriage attended by different Roman gods. You have those who would have traditionally would have represented the marriage procession by which the bride moves to the household of the groom. Yet here the bride is exemplified, and she is enthroned.  She is the one who is the semi divine and she is being joined to Paleous here. And, of course, they are known most famously because their offspring is Achilles, the warrior hero who is part human and part god, right. A very interesting resonance for people who are thinking about who Jesus is in early Christanity. You have other attendants at this wedding bearing gifts, but gifts that were likely associated with the washing, anointing, and dressing of the bride, Theatus. And then finally we have a large triclinium mosaic which is 8 by 8 meters squared. So that is a really monumental dining room mosaic that features a squared off space with an exterior border where you could put dining couches for those who are there participating in the meal and in the center you have a square with a circle set inside of that square representing this junction of heaven and earth. Within the circle you also have couples who surround a dining table. At the head of the table, you have the bride who is offering the cup to the groom, and it’s set over a table with a loaf of bread that is divided in a similar way to bread that you see, for example in tiopanus. So it is broken into sections and you have various other symbols of “zennia”, or hospitality, and that are attendant at this wedding feast, this nuptial banquet. 


    Stuart: So, I love that you’re describing these both in the Greco-Roman context, as you say, what some may think of as pagan, but scholars don’t generally use that term. But also a Christian context. And we spoke before how those with eyes to see would have recognized these as Christian objects. What are some of the ways that someone who would have seen these recognized them as Christian?


    Taylor: Well we understand that there are a variety of Christanities that involved very specific initiation rites and some of the material that I have found, at least literary material as well as inscriptions and epitaphs, indicate that Valitinain Christianity as well as Thomas Christianity there were rites and rituals involving a bridal chamber and in coming into that space was by initiation and by receiving that knowledge, or “nosis”, so I looked carefully at both Valentinan texts and inscriptions as well as places like the gospel of Philip, the gospel of Thomas as well as secondary scholarship to kind of weave together a set of texts that explain or show really the way that you could read these narratively towards Christian initiation and coming into a place where you wouldn’t necessarily be joined man and woman in marriage in the traditional way that we think. But where you would come into a knowledge of who you were and almost your divine self. You came face to face with your divine potential, your divine angel as the text would say. And that coming to a knowledge of your own divinity was part of coming into this body of Christians.


    Stuart: Thank you for explaining that, I think that makes a lot of sense. 


    Taylor: There are actually some Valentinal inscriptions that mention specifically the bridal chamber and indicate that rites within that bridal chamber may have been metaphorically accomplished. There is a wonderful funerary inscription for a woman called, Flavia Solf, and it was discovered in Rome along the Via Latina. And there’s a scholar, Jeffrey Smith, who argues that the inscription refers to a woman for whom rites, even perhaps the rites of redemption have been performed. So I wanted to share that. It says, “yearning for the fatherly light, my sister and wife, Solf, anointed in the baths of Christ with perfume and unfading pure, you were eager to behold the divine countenances of the eternities. The great angel of the mighty council, the true son, processing into the bridal chamber and ascending into the fatherly chambers undefiled and” (there’s a lacuna here) “you were crowned.” I love that the inscription clearly outlines a particular kind of procession, an order for the ascension of the soul. That Solf was anointed with oil and perhaps even participated in the baptisms or the baths of Christ. It was intriguing to me to see some of these things symbolically represented in ways that, again, were not overtly Christian or necessarily pointing to it, but have very close visual reference.


    Stuart: Thanks again for sharing that. I think this is something that Latter-day Saints can really find value in. In learning about these early Christians is that they valued the same things that we value and they participated in religious practices the same way that we do. Mark do you have anything that you liked in particular about Catherine’s chapter?


    Ellison: Oh yeah, one of the things I admire about Catherine’s research in general is that she is not content to just stay with maybe what has already been said or what is obvious on the surface with the examination of an artifact or an image, but she has a wonderful habit of asking, “is there more that could be teased out here?” and she’s done a wonderful job of that in this chapter here which I know she has worked on for years. One of our co-editors, Carolyn Ossick, called Catherine’s chapter a fascinating, weaving together of many iconographic and textual strands that might otherwise seem unrelated. And Catherine did that. She was looking at these images and looking at what scholars had already said but then asking “is there more here? What can the texts of gnostic Christianity suggest about these images if they were a part of the early gnostic Christian house church. And if there were women in that house, which there would have been in that household, and how they might have interacted with these images. So I think what Catherine has written is just really really interesting to think about. There is not a lot known about the material culture of gnostic Christianities.


    Stuart: Now Mark, your chapter examines images of Eve, of the book of Genesis. And before we begin on your analysis I want to say that I was blown away by how small some of these artifacts are. Does that still stick out to you at all? Or are you just used to the sizes of these images and artifacts by now?


    Ellison: Yeah, well two of the artifacts I looked at were really small. There was a little ceramic oil lamp that you could hold in the palm of your hand, it was that small, that had a little image of Eve on it. Just standing by herself, not with Adam. And so I was really intrigued by that. There was another artifact I looked at that was the base of a glass dish called a gold glass medallion. It was just a circle of gold foil that was excised and sandwiched between two layers of glass and this circle was maybe about the size of a softball. But then I also looked at some sarcophagi and some carved funerary panels that would have been much larger, about the size of a table, maybe.


    Stuart: Thank you. In your analysis you note that there are four characteristics of early Christian images of Adam and Eve, though of course you are focusing on Eve specifically. But they are found in a variety of media, including paint, sarcophagi, funerary materials, jewelry and ceramics. They are predominantly private commissions. Nearly all of them can be identified as belonging to domestic or private religion and they are very diverse. And what sticks out to me from those four things is that they are predominantly private commissions. Why do you think they are private commissions? They are not mass produced.


    Ellison: I think some of that might be the accidents of preservation. By private commissions I meant things that individuals commissioned as paintings on their family tombs, or as personal objects, carved images on stone coffins like a sarcophagus. Although there are some early images that also appear in ecclesial contexts like a baptistry in Syria. And so that was made by a whole community rather than for an individual who was asking an artist to create this image for an object that they would own. For me the interesting thing is that the fact that they are private commissions means that individual ordinary Christians were finding these images meaningful and they wanted objects that they were going to use in daily life or in a funerary context to be decorated with these images of Eve and of Adam and Eve and other biblical figures. And so that suggests a little bit about their intentions. What was interesting to them, what was motivating to them. So art historians work very hard to subtly tease out what are the nuances of those intentions, can we discern them and get at the actual people behind those. 


    Stuart: Because these are private missions as you note, this means something special to them. Are they images or artifacts that might not be seen as completely orthodox by the religious communities that they participate in or does it really just vary by the individual artifact? 


    Ellison: It might vary by the individual artifact. Some of the images of Eve that I was most interested in, that I chose to focus on in my chapter, are ones where the imagery gets tweaked in some interesting ways to suggest some other ideas about Eve that aren’t always articulated in the artistic literature of the male writers of early Christianity. And I was really interested in those because I found that these objects seem to have been made for or by women, and they corresponded with some of the ideas that I found in a few early Christian texts that also seem to have been influenced by, or written by, women.


    Stuart: I’m curious, how do these conceptions of Eve, these portrayals of Eve, and the ideas that are around them? So with these early images of Eve, as you note, they may or may not have aligned with contemporary Christian understandings and there are many different ways of understanding Eve’s place in Christianity today. How does Eve compare to what might be called a Roman Cathelic, a Protestant, or a Latter-day Saint notion of Eve? Is it more positive, negative, or about the same? 


    Ellison: Well many of the images of Adam and Eve from early Christianity focus on the idea of the fall and original sin, although that phrase “original sin” comes to be really hammered out and defined by Agustine in the 5th century and there were images of Adam and Eve around long before that. But that was the predominant way that early Christians wrote about Adam and Eve was in terms of them as the progenitors of human kind and the ones who committed the first transgression and caused men to become fallen and it was fairly often that essentially negative characterization. And what I was interested in was in these texts that I found that were written by or influenced by early Christian women, very often the depiction of Eve was a lot more positive and redemptive and a little more complex than a simple negative characterization. Sometimes she is a model of piety, she’s a model of prayer. She teaches her children. She has visionary experiences. She sees heaven, she sees the redemption of humankind. She’s almost like a prophetess in some texts. She’s a beautiful creation of God in one of the texts, of radiant creation that gives off light. In one text that I thought was really interesting, let me just read this. This is a very little known text called Arenaous fragment 14, it’s not written by Arenaous, but it dates from the 2nd to the 3rd century and it says this, “Why did the serpent not attack the man rather than the woman? You say that he went after her because she was the weaker of the two. On the contrary, in the transgression of commandment, she showed herself to be the stronger. Truly the man’s assistance for she alone stood up to the serpent. She ate from the tree but with resistance and descent and after being dealt with perfidiously. But Adam partook of the fruit given by the woman without even beginning to make a fight, without a word of contradiction. The woman moreover can be excused. She wrestled with a demon and was thrown. The woman finally, even when she did hear the command from Adam, must have felt she was being made little of. Either because she had not been judged worthy to converse with God herself, or because she suspected that there was even a chance that Adam had given her the command on his own.” And so some early Christians were, and there may have been a group of women that were behind this particular text, we don’t know for sure. But some early Christians were thinking, “hey let’s think about Eve in some different ways. Are there some positive ways we can think about her?” And so I knew about these texts and then as I looked at images of Eve on some objects and saw that very often she was depicted with some very interesting, positive, redemptive ways not with emphasis on sin or shame. For example head looking down, turning away from Adam in shame. But being redeemed by Christ, or with Christ putting His hand on her shoulder and talking with her, laying a head on her head to bless her. I thought this is fascinating and that how would these images have looked to early Christian women. Are they asking for images like this to be created because they’ve been telling stories like the ones that we fined in some of these texts. I was very interested in that being a Latter-day Saint where we have a tradition of questioning upon the narrative we’ve received in Genesis and thinking of Eve in more positive and redemptive ways I was fascinated by the similarities. I didn’t go out looking to try to prove Latter-Day Saint positions true, but I did bring to this subject my own interests as a Latter-Day Saint. 


    Stuart: Yeah. One of the images that you examined closely is an image of Eve found on a 4th century oil lamp that you described earlier. The woman is portrayed as nude, covering herself with her hands and averting her eyes while turning away. What does that reflect about what early Christians may have believed about Eve?


    Ellison: Well when early Christians began to depict images of Eve, they drew on visual vocabulary that was already in their environment. And for centuries there had been ways of depicting a woman who is unclothed and is covering herself and art historians debate whether that is shame or modesty, a virtue of modesty, but this is the image of ??? (34:10) and the early images of Eve were modeled after this. And one of the things that is intriguing to me about Eve on this oil lamp is that while she’s depicted in this way, she’s also not cowering as much as many of the Venus images often depict Venus. And so whoever owned this oil lamp and saw this image would have seen Eve differing a little bit from the image and their visual environment. And also Eve is making a gesture that indicates speech, and in antiquity speech is often gendered and coded as masculine. But in early Christianity, very often there are female figures depicted speaking, bearing witness of the Christian message, and there is this valourization in early Christian art of the speaking of women. And Eve was depicted in this way. And so one of the most interesting things is here we have an image of Eve on this oil lamp, a light giving vessel, and we have early Christian texts like the Locoum of Poba, depicting the newly created Eve radiating light, and she’s speaking. And we have early Christian texts talking about Eve teaching her children, bearing witness, speaking, praying. And so it makes me wonder was this oil lamp owned by an early Christian woman? Did she see in this image of Eve a model of being a woman, a testament who speaks the message, who prays to God. And sometimes these questions are ultimately unanswerable, but I still think they’re worth pursuing and exploring. And if we can find texts that support a possible reading there, then at least it lays out a possibility of what a woman in Christian North Africa, in the 4th century might have seen on her oil lamp.


    Stuart: Thank you for that. I think that it’s also worth pointing out the humility that scholars have to have in saying “maybe” or “one can imagine” and things in that way. So even as art historians, as every listener will know, folks who look at this same piece of art won’t see the same things, or find value in the same things. And I think you two both model in your chapters this is a reading backed up by evidence, but by no means claiming that other readings could be incorrect in that way. One other piece of art that you describe, Mark, is a sarcophagus from Arel dating from 325 CE. It shows Mary holding the Christ child, the three magi approach, of Christ blessing a woman and two scenes depicting Eve being ministered to by a premortal Christ Logos. There’s also an image of Adam and Eve on the lid with a figure resting his hands on their shoulders after they’ve partaken of the fruit. What do you think of when you see these sculptures on the sarcophagi? 


    Ellison: I love this piece. And I know Catherine is very familiar with it because Catherine has studied the early Christian art of Aro and is quickly becoming a world expert on early Christian art in southern Gall. And so Catherine, feel free to chime in here as I talk about this. But that image on the lid shows Adam and Eve at the tree, as they’re partaking of the fruit but at the same time it shows an image of Christ behind both Adam and Eve. So there’s two depictions of Christ. Two separate scenes depicted simultaneously. And in each scene, Christ lays His hand on the shoulder of either Adam or Eve and is teaching them, talking to them. Adam and Eve look back and look eye to eye with Christ and He stands on their level with them. And I think that’s just a really beautiful image. And it resonates with the Erenaous fragment 14 that I read a little bit from before, where a woman is judged worthy to converse with God herself. She receives divine instruction one on one, personally. She has her own relationship with Christ. And while simultaneously the man has his own relationship with Christ. And one of the beautiful things about this image is that directly beneath it, there’s a larger image of a woman and a man who are the owners of the sarcophagi. And the woman is directly beneath Eve, and the man is directly beneath Adam. So the viewer would have been invited to see the owners of the sarcophagus, the ones who were buried in this tomb, in connection with the scene right above. And would have been invited to think of them as “oh these two were also saved by Christ. These two each had their own personal relationship with Christ and were also harmoniously married.” 


    Stuart: Catherine, as you’ve been listening to Mark, and I know that you’ve read his work as a co-editor of the volume, what’s something that you found valuable from Mark’s work from this chapter or about his general approach to scholarship?


    Taylor: I really love the expansive and very thoughtful and careful nature of Mark’s work. I also love the aliveness, the liveliness and the quickened quality of reading through his texts. It’s such a joy to read through his chapter, here and in other places. With this particular piece of scholarship, I love that he has challenged some really deep seeded and long held boundaries. Particularly around Eve. And that he has brought forward this notion of aspiring to be like Eve within the early Christian context. You know, so often we find Eve set in some kind of dichotomous foil against Mary. And I’ve worked on Mary quite a bit and I have always been dismayed by those early catristic texts that set them in contrast to each other and really take some much of their womanhood and their motherhood from both of those figures. And I appreciate how Mark has even challenged in his work here an ideological stance that would promote female virginity and asceticism above a more moderate piety that included a very large, well the predominantly large group of female devotees to Christianity. And that he has exemplified Eve as someone that they could look to in order to, I think, set themselves up with an agentic, powerful, female gaze. And to assert their own ideas about her. I really love that passage that you read and that you focused on here, Mark. I think it’s exceptionally important. In so many instances we find assetic renunciation of traditional values, and I think we need to also orient ourselves academically and within our scholarship, to recognize the Matrona within Eve. The Matrona within Mary. 


    Stuart: Wonderful. A few final questions before we wrap up here on the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Mark, you mentioned how many students were present at the symposium, and knowing how much students at BYU are able to participate in the research process. Can you all speak to how working with students changed your work, and what you are able to contribute to this volume? 


    Ellison: This was Catherine’s genius idea from the beginning, was that we ought to have a place for students to be a part of this conference as well. And the way it ended up working is that a second day was devoted strictly to student presentations. And it was fabulous because they had worked on their papers with their professors, and Catherine and I both were helping to mentor students and get them ready to do a really high quality job in their presentations. And then they presented in front of this room full of world-class scholars, and got feedback from some of the best of the best. And it was just a terrific experience for them and many of the scholars went away very, very impressed with the quality of BYU students. Blair Hodges said, “Put a photo on the Maxwell Institute’s website or Facebook, “ I don’t remember exactly what he said, “This is what raising up disciple scholars looks like.” And it was just really really exciting. And then we also had some advanced graduate students too, who presented on the first day, and at least a couple of the papers that ended up getting published in the volume are from some of these outstanding students. 


    Stuart: One other thing that came to mind for me, and we’ve been talking about this throughout our entire conversation, but what do Latter-Day Saints have to learn from the religious lives of women in antiquity?


    Taylor: Women in antiquity, particularly early Christian women, have so many things to teach us. That the variety of lives that they lived, at least those that we know from record are very intriguing. But also the religious lives that we are trying to sus out from the material record demonstrates, at least to my mind and to my eyes, as I’m engaging with these artifacts and this material cultures, a very lively, devoted group of women who really keep Christianity alive and vibrant within their households. And I think that we, as Latter-Day Saints today, can recognize in their voice, in the way they show up in world, and the way that they are, even iconographically represented, that these women are agents of power. They are assertive. They have an authoritative stance to take. And we should appreciate the women within our own circles who also have those same capabilities, the same vibrancy of faith. And we need to listen to them, and we need to look to their example, and find communion and community in emulating faithful women, even today. 


    Ellison: I love what you’ve said Catherine, and I agree 100%. I’ve been so moved by the example of religious women in antiqiuty whether it’s in ancient Israel or early Judaism, broader greco-Roman world, and certainly in early Christiantiy which is where I love to study. I’ve been moved by their creativity, assertiveness, imagination. Elizabeth Clark says that for women, and for other subject populations, they manage to find small openings for their own projects and expressions of value. And I love how as a Latter-Day Saint we have this idea of turning our hearts to our fathers, and our mothers, and turning our hearts to our spiritual ancestors of the past. And this project has really been an expression of that kind of aspiration to turn our hearts to look at the material they left behind and see what we can learn from them. Doctrine & Covenants 128 says we without them cannot be complete. And I feel like my own religious life is more complete by learning from my spiritual ancestors of antiquity. Amazing, assertive, imaginative women who left behind material in the archeological record. One of the things that most stays with me is that as I study the Eve, and I’ve also studied other women that were inspiring to early Christian women, the Virgin Mary, Thacala, St Agnus and others. One of the things that has remained with me is that wasn’t just one way to be an early Chrstian women. And in our own Latter-Day Saint discourse we’ve had that affirmation too. There’s not simply just one way to be a Latter-Day Saint. There are many ways of life. The records of our spiritual ancestors of early Christianity are very affirming of that. And so I think they might say to us, “You follow the Lord. You follow the Spirit. You find your journey,  your way of life. Anything that we left behind


    Stuart: One final question for each of you: in section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we’re asked to learn out of the best books. Catherine, what are three of your best books?


    Taylor: Oh it is so hard to choose when I have favorite authors like Berino Warner and Ross Cramer, and Avril Cameron, and Elizabeth Schroosler-Frienza that kind of speak to my discipline and the lives of women in antiquity. But if I had to kind of narrow things down, I would say one really important book in my academic learning and world was Peter Brown’s The World of Late Antiquity. It defined a period, of course the period in which I work, but it defined it in a new way. It wasn’t just looking at the late ancient world as one of decline and fall, but one where there were some exceptional new beginnings and that Christianity played a big part in that. It marked the impact of the world that was evolving into the medieval realm, east, west, and the impact of Isalm etc. And it really helped solidify for me not only the liminal and transitory nature of this time period, but the exciting nature of the material present therein. And I immersed myself and have not regretted it. Another book that I really love, well actually set of books and I have Elaine Pagels to thank for kind of opening my eyes, at least initially, into the world of gnostic texts. Of course I have expanded into reading David Brackey and understanding earliest Christinaities etc. But I have always loved her book The Gnostic Gospels, and also her book on Revelations and Beyond the Leaf which takes up the secret gospel of Thomas. And then finally I’m reading a book right now which I am enamored with. It’s called Ravenna, but Judith Heron. It’s a biography of the city Ravenna in Italy during its Heyday as an imperial center. And I love it so much because it’s reminding me of a moment, a very important moment in my life when I visited Ravenna on a study abroad. I stood inside of the Church of San Vitale. I was enamored by the scintillating mosaics all around me that had significant, deep, and multi layered iconographic meanings and it was in that moment, in visiting the other sites within that lovely little gem of a city, that I determined to pursue graduate work in art history, and to focus on the art of early Christianity and the Byzantine world. 


    Stuart: Thank you. Mark, same question.


    Ellison: I would say one, for any listeners who may be interested in learning more about early Christian art, one of my favorite books that has really changed my life is Robin Jensen’s book Understanding Early Christian Art. It’s about 21 years old now, but it still is a wonderful entree into the field of early Christian art and understanding and interpreting iconography that early Christians produced. When I was working on my masters degree, and researching for my thesis, I was working on some early Christian art and just trying to find help. And when I finally discovered her book, I was so taken by it. I just thought this scholar understands the theological content of the art better than anyone I’ve read and it was just thrilling to me how she integrated texts and art and ritual and could interpret the images so well. And I wanted to quote from the book in my thesis, but the sentence I wanted to quote seemed to have a typo in it. So I emailed Robin Jensen and thanked her for her book, and asked her about that sentence and she was so kind and responsive and I had no idea that professors who were so esteemed were also very often, so generous and warm. And she certainly was, and encouraging of my research and helped me with the quotation I needed. Years later, when I had an opportunity to return to school to work on my doctoral degree, I thought that the person I would most want to study with in the whole world was Robin M. Jensen at Vanderbilt University and so I applied and the planets aligned and I got to be her doctoral student. So I just think the world of her as a scholar, as a human being. And I recommend that book, Understanding Early Christian Art. Another one that has been really formative for me is Kiam Potaughts novel, The Chosen. And another one In the Beginning that he wrote. His characters are just so fascinating as they navigate deep commitments to their religious lives while also making the adaptations to the modern world that they have to in their course of life. And I find my own story in those characters even though my own religious condition and situation is much different. It’s just beautiful, beautiful writing. And then I think a third book that is one of my favorites is Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. The idea of holy envy, of seeing beautiful, good, admirable things in other faith traditions then one’s own and actually letting that inspire you and make you a better adherent of your own faith tradition is something that goes back to Christor Stendall, and it’s been inspiring to me for many years, but Barbara Brown Taylor has recently written this book that articulates that concept so well and tells about her own practice of that. I’ve found that this idea of holy envy has enriched my own faith and my own experience as a believer, as a scholar. And I’ve noticed that Joseph Smith in his own concept of restoration practiced the kind of eclecticism and believed that the restoration was a gathering up of all that was good and beautiful, scattered throughout the world. That’s been my own experience too, that learning about the good and beautiful in other faith traditions hasn’t weakened me. It’s enriched me, it’s making me a better follower of Christ.


    Stuart: Thank you Catherine, thank you Mark, for coming on the Maxwell Institute Podcast. We hope to speak with you again soon. 


    Thank you for listening to the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Could you do us a favor and recommend this show to others, review and rate the podcast on Apple podcasts or other podcast providers, or share the episode on social media. Thanks so much and have a blessed week y’all.