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The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women Paperback – July 1, 2008


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The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women + Women in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook (Bloomsbury Sources in Ancient History) + Women in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook (Continuum Sources in Ancient History)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; Reprint edition (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807013099
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807013090
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #754,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In late antiquity, pious Christian women buried the remains of saints and martyrs, sometimes on land the women themselves owned. The legends of these bone gatherers launch Denzey's investigation into the experiences of third- and fourth-century Roman women based on the complex visual and archeological evidence they left behind in the city's catacombs. Denzey, a lecturer at Harvard University, uses a technique akin to feminist midrash to decipher what these women's lives were really like as the feminine ideal shifted from pagan Rome's devoted wives to Catholic Christianity's virgin martyrs. Sometimes delving into the macabre, the author probes into the meanings revealed by underground burial spaces and wall paintings that reflect women's presence. The study concludes with an analysis of Pope Damasus's impact in the fourth century: a stunning masculinization of Rome's sacred space the privatization of women's roles, and the end of the female tradition of bone gathering. Although the book's black-and-white photographs are sparse and hard to decipher, Denzey's prose paints vivid pictures of the sites she visits. Some readers may find her imaginative interpretations of the visual evidence too speculative, but her densely layered inquiry is insightful and haunting. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

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 Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity and The Gnostic Gospels

"Denzey's prose paints vivid pictures of the sites she visits . . . her densely layered inquiry is insightful and haunting."—Publishers Weekly

"Unique in its restricted time/place focus, the study probes in-depth with a twenty-first-century feminist eye."—Library Journal

"A masterful study 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, museum educator, J. Paul Getty Museum, and author of Rural Sanctuaries in Roman Syria: The Creation of a Sacred Landscape

"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

"A brilliantly argued book that weaves archeology, art history, and sociology; it's refreshing that, unlike many historians, Denzey is a gifted writer and storyteller . . . Whether or not you're religious, it's a great feminist read."—M. L. Madison, Feminist Review blog

"It should be consulted by all researchers in the religions of late antiquity and would make an excellent book for undergraduate courses on the literature and art of ancient Christianity." —Review of Biblical Literature

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. John Switzer on March 30, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this book, Nicola Denzey takes us on a most interesting journey to the lives of Christian women in the late Roman period (first through fourth centuries CE). As she suggests, it appears that the artwork of Christian catacombs might tell us some things about these women that the overt Christian tradition sometimes fails to remember. How are they remembered -- and how are they "mis-remembered"? What influence did they wield in early Roman Christianity that was later taken from them as the faith became more hierarchical and male-dominated rather than prophetic and with much accepted female influence? This is a fascinating read that is well documented, though at times one wonders if the author is citing history or writing a historical novel. Read it carefully and judge for yourself. You'll be left with some terrific questions, many new insights, and a load of possibilities for further research.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Alvaro Lewis on September 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I very much wanted to love this book because its claims to rescue women and their stories lost in the ruins of early Christian Rome seemed inherently compelling and rewarding. The explorations of the book, however, have been composed as if with forking tongs but with no effort made to return them to same tridentine handle. Are we learning how to read the archaeological evidence in a single Roman catacomb, are we following legends of matrons and maidens hoping to make singular historical sense of matrimony (for example) across three centuries, or are we reading the tales of martyrs against the grain to profit our predispositions? In fact, Nicola Denzey allows us to do all three of these. As a result though, this reader was left with a sense of a fragemented education. What thesis can hope to contain such divergent eras, methods, and aims without strain? The book seems to contain distinct essays on women, archaeology and history over a period of time rather than an argument or narrative of the social and historical experience.

Denzey has read broadly and is remarkably able to sketch vivid scenes of historical and artistic pasts. She also adds some neat comparative details, for example, when she notes a population density in Rome that outstrips that of Calcutta. This book hasn't figured out if it is an academic work or a work of popular history and religion. I think that other readers will encounter this same sense of uncertainty. Many of the Latin passages are plagued with errors (blunders as simple as mistaken gender agreement between adjective and noun). An editor's keen eye could have saved this young scholar more than half a dozen such slips.

In fairness to the author, the subtitle of this book offers a reading of "The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women". This use of "Worlds" may suggest an intent to demonstrate an irreducibly diverse feminine experience in early Christian Rome. For sure, not all of these women gathered bones.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Caytee on January 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book was easy to read, kept my interest and had great information about burial practices of both Christian and Pagan peoples in the first centuries AD.
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2 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Reality Check on December 15, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are parts of this book that I found fascinating, and others that I had to skip over due to its deep hatred of men. These hateful parts should be shunned by any decent and moral human being. One may criticize the Nazis for hating 1% of the human race - what should you do for someone who hates 50% of the human race? The author's flawed, and quite frankly, bigoted, premise is that women have been oppressed throughout history (sounds like, by default, the author believes that women are truly the weaker sex, since how could they always be treated as weaker). She extends this narrow-minded thinking to the belief that in the late years of the Roman Empire stories of militant male saints were emphasized at the expense of female saints. Even though she is supposedly an historian, the author conveniently ignores the 800 pound gorilla in the room - the same time period she is discussing the elevation of martial male saints is also the same period of the fall of the Roman empire, and essentially the end of Western civilization (the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD). Of course the Romans had to emphasize male saints to inspire its Christian soldiers to defend Rome. Surely this book author, even in her wildest women's libber fantasies, could not believe that Roman women, average height of 5' 2", could carry a pack and weapons load of 67 pounds many miles a day, and be willing to be cut to pieces by barbarians, while slashing a 3 pound Gladius sword for hours on end. This author also conveniently ignores how Roman women, in some senses, had more rights than modern women. Take for example the right of "parrhesia" that Roman women had for freedom of speech to their husbands.Read more ›
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