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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:3, Fall 2023

Book Review: What New Testament Women Were Really Like

By T.J. Wray

I have spent much of my career researching, writing, and speaking about the lives of women during biblical antiquity. Here in this review, I focus on women living under the Roman occupation of Judea during the first and second centuries AD, the historical period covered in Susan E. Hylen’s book Finding Phoebe. Hylen explores the varied roles of women like Phoebe, a member of the early Christian community who lived near Corinth. While Paul refers to Phoebe as “sister,” “deacon,” and “benefactor” (Romans 16:1–2), Hylen admits that these designations may not carry the same meaning as they do today. Phoebe’s role, therefore, is open to interpretation and may range from “church leader” to perhaps someone who served Paul in a more informal capacity.

The various ways in which we interpret Paul’s references to Phoebe serve as the backbone of Hylen’s book, as she challenges readers not only to explore New Testament women in their historical context, but also to set aside assumptions about them and to imagine what their lives were like.

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