Thursday, April 19, 2012


Sometimes I don't know whether I'm reading ancient medical theory, or current politics. In both, women are seen as essentially a uterus, and valued for their childbearing properties. LOVE THAT!

The differences: in ancient texts, doctors were more concerned with the pregnant mother's life than the embryo's, which isn't the case in America anymore, now that doctors are trying to withhold information about life-threatening illnesses during pregnancy if treatment would necessitate abortion.
The issue back then was not the holy Sanctity of Life but the father's property: a potentially boy-producing woman was worth more than a baby of unknown gender who might or might not survive. The Hippocratics didn't bother to treat babies often. Then again, all the abortion methods they knew were as dangerous as a coathanger, so the prohibition against abortion was really also a case of not killing the mother.
Also, here's a fun difference. In ancient medical texts, women who did not have babies frequently enough (i.e. were not subject to husbands) were subject to all kinds of illnesses, hysteria for one, but also virilization i.e. TURNING INTO MEN which was potentially fatal. I don't think we believe that nowadays, but things are changing so fast I'm not sure.
Consider the following Hippocratic text:

In Abdera, PhaĆ«thusa the wife of Pytheas, who kept at home, having born children in the preceding time, when her husband was exiled stopped menstruating for a long time. Afterwards pains and reddening in the joints. When that happened her body was masculinized and grew hairy all over, she grew a beard, her voice became harsh, and though we did everything we could to bring forth menses they did not come, but she died after surviving a short time. The same thing happened to Nanno, Gorgippus’ wife, in Thasos. All the physicians I met thought that there was one hope of feminizing her, if normal menstruation occurred. But in her case, too, it was not possible, though we did everything, but she died quickly. (epidemics 6.8.30).

SO, gentle readers, what is going on in the early church is that there were all these "widows who were not really widows" i.e. they were celibate, single women, seeking to live like the widows did, with privileges of going out of the house and even (gasp) teaching. The risk that they would turn into men was running high. For one, they were acting like men, even if they didn't go so far as Thecla (see 2:40) to actually dress like men. GENDERBENDERS! SCANDAL! So the author of 1 Timothy wants to shut them up and turn them back into obedient wives, so he prescribes salvation by childbearing.

I'm really happy that I live in the modern world and not in the ancient, because with irregular menstruation throughout my teenage years, I certainly would have been "cured" of this "malady" by an early marriage and swift entry into motherhood. I would probably have five kids already, the oldest ready to be married herself. And that's not my choice, I'd rather read and write and preach and all kinds of other intellectual pursuits formerly reserved for men. I'm happy to live in the modern world... I just can't wait until the rest of my country catches up to the times.

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