Throughout history, the church has been characterized by a male-dominated social hierarchy. This worldview has been so pervasive that some even consider it to be “God’s created order.” In light of the prevalence of this pattern, some people have asked me, “Has there ever been a female-dominated culture?”
A Nation Ruled by Women?
A 1st century B.C. historian by the name of Diodorus Siculus writes:
“Beside the river of Thermadon, therefore, a nation ruled by females held sway, in which women pursued the arts of war just like men…. To the men she [the nation’s Queen] relegated the spinning of wool and other household tasks of women. She promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude.” (as cited in Murphy, 1989, p. 58)1
Another historian from the 1st century B.C., Pompeius Trogus, supplies additional information about this “nation ruled by females”:
“They also dismissed all thought of intermarriage with their neighbours, calling it slavery rather than marriage. They embarked instead upon an enterprise unparalleled in the whole of history, that of building up a state without men and then actually defending it themselves…. Then, with peace assured by their military success, they entered into sexual relationships with surrounding peoples so that their line would not die out. After conquering most of Europe, they also seized a number of city-states in Asia. Here they founded Ephesus.” (as cited in Yardley, 1994, p. 29)2
Female-Centered Religion in Ephesus
Historians Ferguson and Farnell also write about the religious traditions of a female-dominated culture that worshiped “the mother of the gods,” whose oldest name was Cybele. When the Greeks immigrated to Ephesus in Asia Minor, they began to call her by the name of one of their own deities; Artemis. The hierarchy of her priesthood was dominated by women. Men could become priests, but only if they first renounced their masculinity, through the act of ritual castration. In addition to being castrated they also abstained from certain types of food.
Josephus, a historian from the 1st Century A.D, observed that some of the Jews who had been exiled to Asia Minor in the second century B.C. incorporated some of these traditions into their brand of Judaism. They shunned marriage, viewing it as a form of slavery. To avoid experiencing bodily passions, they avoided women altogether. They also fasted from meat and wine, believing that this kind of food and drink might stir their passions. They believed that their denial of the body gave them the special ability to interpret what they described as the allegorical meanings behind Mosaic law, which they referred to as the true knowledge. They justified their interpretation by referring to seemingly endless genealogies through which they claimed to be the descendants of Zadok. (see references to Farnell, Ferguson, Jones, and Cook, as cited in Edwards, 2013)3
Paul’s Corrective Teaching
The epicenter for this form of religious asceticism was Ephesus, the city where Timothy preached the gospel. It was to Timothy that the apostle Paul wrote his letter warning against false teaching, endless genealogies, and forbidding marriage and the eating of certain foods. (Click here to read more on the heresies infiltrating the church at Ephesus.)
He urged Timothy to protect the church from people who claimed to be teachers of the Law, but did not know what they were talking about (1 Timothy 1:3-7, 4:1-5, 6:20-21). Given the history and context of the region we have just reviewed, his warnings were well-deserved….