The Bone Gatherers

Book Details

Author  Nicola Denzey
Publisher  Beacon Press
Publication Date   July 15, 2007
ISBN  0807013080
Pages  290

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Description

When Nicola Denzey leads tour groups into the Roman Catacombs, participants are struck by the splendor of the burial chambers—many of which were created by or for women. Yet until Denzey began her research for The Bone Gatherers, no one had ever drawn on this evidence to read into those women’s lives.

The Bone Gatherers introduces us to these powerful women who, until recently, had been lost to history—from the sorrowing mothers and ghastly brides of pagan Rome to the child martyrs and women sponsors who shaped early Christianity. It was often only in death that ancient women became visible—through the buildings, burial sites, and art constructed in their memory—and Denzey uses this archaeological evidence, along with text records, to resurrect the lives of several fourth-century women.

Surprisingly, she finds that representations of aristocratic Roman Christian women show a shift in the value and significance of womanhood over the fourth century: once esteemed as powerful leaders or patrons, women came to be revered only as virgins or martyrs—figureheads for sexual purity. These depictions belie a power struggle between the sexes within early Christianity—one that women lost, and one that has had long-lasting implications for the roles of women in the Church.

“Written in a lively narrative style, The Bone Gatherers is pitched perfectly to both the interested general reader and to scholars. Denzey’s expert placing of the funerary images of early Christian and pagan women into their social and cultural milieus, and her rich, well-researched iconographical reading of ancient imagery helps us to see the changing roles of women—both Christian and pagan—during the early centuries of Christian Rome.” —Ann Steinsapir, author of Rural Sanctuaries in Roman Syria: The Creation of a Sacred Landscape and education specialist at the J. Paul Getty Museum

“Nicola Denzey’s impeccable scholarship and intimate and vivid style of writing makes tangible and credible the power of the holy that was mediated by women—women saints and women patrons. The Bone Gatherers allows the reader to transcend both historical and scholarly distance to encounter the forgotten women who also shaped Christianity.” —Karen Jo Torjesen, author of When Women Were Priests: Women's Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity

“Nicola Denzey's lively, readable book opens up a fascinating, long hidden world of early Christian women. This fine work not only lets us into their world, but shows how it was kept hidden so long.” —Elaine Pagels, author of Beyond Belief and Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity

“The Bone Gatherers resurrects the voices of long-forgotten, but significant women in ancient Rome, as Denzey attempts to restore their rightful place in history. Whether or not you're religious, it's a great feminist read.” —M.L. Madison, Feminist Review

Nicola Denzey is a lecturer in the study of religion at Harvard University. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in Religions of Late Antiquity from Princeton and recently served as a faculty research associate in Harvard Divinity School’s Women’s Studies in Religion Program.

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