Roman Wives, Roman Widows


(Valerie) #1

This looks way too academic for me, but I thought it might be of interest to some here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/254055.Roman_Wives_Roman_Widows


(Alistair Robertson) #2

Hi Valerie. Read it and an earlier volume called, ‘After Paul Left Corinth’ which is a broader look at 1 Corinthians.

Bruce Winter is a good guy, and I like hearing him preach, but I think he relies far too heavily on dubious historical claims. He’s the bloke I mentioned under the previous head covering thread.

I’ve actually spent some time looking up his sources as they relate to 1 Corinthians 11 and wrote a long bit on why they don’t say what he thinks they say, but I’m not a professional historian, so never been taken seriously by anyone I’ve given my conclusions to. :slight_smile:


(Valerie) #3

Thanks. I’ll have to go back and read that thread.


(Alistair Robertson) #4

Nothing to see there. Just mentioned Bruce Winter and my disagreement. If you want detail, I’ll post it here, but my impression was you were just putting the book out there for others, (though it’s actually not a difficult read if you felt like takling it yourself).


(Valerie) #5

Well, there was an unspoken, “Somebody read this and tell me what it says, 'cuz I’m too lazy.” :laughing: I know myself well enough to know I’d never get around to reading a whole book on the subject, so I figured I’d throw it out there and see if it ever filtered back in a nice condensed version to my level. But it sounds like maybe there’s not enough there to worry about.


(Alistair Robertson) #6

Lol. Totally missed that hidden meaning. I’ll see what I can do after Church (Sunday here).


(Valerie) #7

It was so well hidden it wasn’t even implied. Just my motivation, not my communication! :wink:


(Alistair Robertson) #8

It occurred to me that there is another review here:

and here:


(Alistair Robertson) #9

I feel a little disrespectful critiquing Bruce Winter, because I view him as a genuine Christian man who has been immensely helpful to Queensland Presbyterians. But I also think he is very wrong. Hopefully I can communicate that without looking like a troll.

Let’s see if I can.

Bruce Winter approaches the biblical text relying heavily on his understanding of historical background. In the case of 1 Cor 11, he is using the concept of the “New Woman”, apparently a feminist movement that occurred before and around the time of the Early Church. He suggests that Augustine and successive Emperors enacted laws to curb this movement, encouraging married women to be veiled in public. Winter believes Paul is telling married women to cover themselves so that they do not seem to be sexually promiscuous, rebellious New Women. Winter also suggests there were “messengers” who would check on religious gatherings to see that wives were veiling themselves (1 Cor 11:10, i.e. the angels). On the other hand, men were not to wear head coverings because it was a sign of status in a religious gathering and Christian men are meant to be humble.

Initially intriguing and compelling, if you track down his sources you find they do not make his case at all.

Here are some of my general criticisms of Winter’s work. If you would like more information, I can be more specific.

  • he takes his ‘evidence’ from Roman Law and culture and applies it across the Empire, despite writing elsewhere that most Greek cities kept their Greek culture intact.
  • he uses texts from centuries prior to and after the 1st Century to support his contentions about Corinthian culture in Paul’s day, including an ancient myth that is chronologically, geographically and culturally separate from Corinth.
  • he draws extended conclusions from specific evidence (e.g. wedding veils prove married women wore veils in everyday life).
  • he ignores statury evidence that contradicts his assertion that respectable married women at that time did not go out without their head covered.
  • he quotes specific passages in secondary sources ignoring other passages in the same book that contradict him.
  • he reads his conclusions into ambiguous passages, including, in one place, adding the word ‘veil’ in brackets when it is not in the original text.
  • Tertullian, whom historians rely on to learn about Roman Law and who lived much closer to the cultural time of the New Testament, understands 1 Cor 11:3-16 completely differently from Winter.

Bruce Winter’s books are important to engage with since it seems that the preferred translation in 1 Corinthians in the ESV (e.g. using “husband” and “wife” instead of “man” and “woman”) is based on Winter’s work. Certainly, Justin Taylor has confirmed the study notes for vv2-16 are based on Winter’s work.

I don’t think he is deliberately pulling the wool over people’s eyes, I just think he came to his conclusions before he found the evidence, and read everything as supporting what he already thought.


(Christopher Preston) #10

It’s an important work, if by “important” we mean influential and thus important to know about. But I agree with @Alistair here.

Here’s an excerpt from a paper I wrote on head coverings in the 1st century.

In ​Roman Wives, Roman Widows, Bruce Winter seeks to make a case that a Roman woman wearing a head covering communicated that she was married, faithful, and modest. He begins his case by linking the head covering to marriage through various historical sources. He mentions that Plutarch believed that “‘veiling the bride’ was, in effect, the marriage ceremony,” and that “other writers in the early Empire confirm that the bride’s veil was an essential part of her apparel.” Winter thus seeks to convince the reader that the head covering of 1 Corinthians 11 was the woman’s marriage veil. Winter argues that by removing their wedding “veil,” women were identifying themselves as independent and immodest women.

However, Winter fails to distinguish between different types of head coverings. He implies that the marriage “veil” was the only type of head covering Paul could be talking about. However, there are several different kinds of head coverings. The ​flammeum was a part of “recognized [Wedding] costume.” It was a mantle “worn in the same way as the ​palla [the common head covering], but instead of the edge resting on the top of the woman’s head, it was pulled forward to hide half of her face.” The ​flammeum was worn by women on their wedding day, but not after their wedding day. Olson notes, “that the ​flammeum was the veil worn continuously by ​matronae has been rejected by modern scholars, and interpreted as ‘a careless statement of the well known marriage custom.’” Gill notes that paintings and other images of Roman women show that it was entirely appropriate for Roman women, married and unmarried, to venture into the public without wearing a head covering.