Was Priscilla one of the most successful teachers, evangelists, and writers in the early church? A survey of Priscilla’s ministry in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus reveals a woman whose abilities and life’s circumstances beg the question: Was it Priscilla who wrote Hebrews?
This article originated as a paper that I presented at the Pacific Coast Region/Society of Biblical Literature meeting, New Testament Epistles and Apocalypse Section, at St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California, in March 2002. I wish to focus here on the distinctive theology of Hebrews and how it relates to gender equality.
My field of research is Adolf von Harnack’s hypothesis that Priscilla is the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.1 I argue for the theory. There are two main objections to the Priscilla theory that I want to state and refute in order to assure its plausibility.
The Bible sets forth an ideal and calls the ideal woman an eshet-chayil, which is the Hebrew for a “virtuous woman” (KJV) or a “wife of noble character” (NIV). This Hebrew expression occurs only three times in the Old Testament, but a study of these three passages is likely to reveal what the Bible supports as an ideal of Christian womanhood.
Over the past forty years, the remarkable presence of women in Prov 1–9 has drawn an equally remarkable number of studies, a gift from the rise of feminism and women in the academy. The combination of these two forces brings attention to the once invisible women in the text, figures generally overlooked or ignored as males have read and interpreted the text for other males. Now, however, the text again gives birth to these marginalized figures, providing them with bodies, eyes, ears, hands, feet, and especially, mouths for speech. Of 256 verses in Prov 1–9, 132 specifically mention or speak about women and another seventeen verses either introduce these texts or draw conclusions from them;hence fifty-eight percent of Prov 1–9. Yet, ironically, all this attention to women comes because of the writer’s interest and concern for young men (1:4), with a secondary appeal to older, wise men (1:5). For the sages, it would seem that the way to a man’s heart is not through food, but through women. After all, the author seems to assume, what better way to engage the attention of a young man than by speaking about or describing women?
Digging deeper into Prov 31:10–31 in context reveals it was never intended to be a how-to manual for becoming the perfect woman. In the context of Proverbs, this passage is the parting mnemonic incentivizing young men to pursue wisdom and marry wisely.