Revealing Women

Feminine Imagery in Gnostic Christian Texts

L. Cieroni, Turnhout, Brepols Publishers, 2021, 231 p.


Revealing Women offers a detailed and textual oriented investigation of the roles and functions of female mythological characters in Gnostic Christian mythologies. Revealing Women offers a detailed and textually oriented investigation of the roles and functions of female characters in Gnostic Christian mythologies. It answers questions such as: to what end did Gnostic Christian theologians employ feminine imagery in their theology? What did they want to convey through it? This book shows that feminine imagery was a genuine concern for Gnostic theologians, and it enquires about how it was employed to describe the divine through a contextual reading of Gnostic Christian texts presenting Ophite, Sethian, Barbeloite and Valentinian mythologoumena and theologoumena. Overall, it argues that feminine imagery ought to be acknowledged as an important theological framework to investigate and contextualize Gnostic works by showing that these theologians used feminine imagery to exemplify those aspects of the Godhead which they considered paradoxical and, yet, essential. The claims made in the first chapters are later substantiated by an in-depth investigation of understudied Gnostic texts, such as the so-called Simonian Gnostic works, the Book of Baruch of the Gnostic teacher Justin and the Nag Hammadi treatise known as Exegesis of the Soul.

Dr Lavinia Cerioni completed her PhD at the University of Nottingham in 2018. Since then, she has worked as Adjunct Lecturer at the Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome. In 2021, she has been awarded a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship at Aarhus University in Denmark. She has published several articles on gender in early Christianity, Gnosticism and Origen of Alexandria.

(Text from the publisher) 

Table of contents

Front matter (« Table of Contents », « Acknowledgements », « Abbreviations »)  p.1

Introduction  p. 15

I. Methodological problems in the study of gnosticism  p. 23

II. The soteriological feminine in Ophite, Sethian and Barbeloite texts  p. 45

III. The Valentinian feminine imagery  p. 99

IV. Gnostic case-studies: the feminine in other gnostic traditions  p. 149

Conclusion  p. 199

Back matter (« Bibliography », « Indices »)  p. 205


Constructions of Gender in Late Antique

Manichaean Cosmological Narrative

Susanna Towers, Turnhout, Brepolis, 2019, 324 p.


Manichaeism emerged from Sasanian Persia in the third century CE and flourished in Persia, the Roman Empire, Central Asia and beyond until succumbing to persecution from rival faiths in the eighth to ninth century. Its founder, Mani, claimed to be the final embodiment of a series of prophets sent over time to expound divine wisdom. This monograph explores the constructions of gender embedded in Mani’s colourful dualist cosmological narrative, in which a series of gendered divinities are in conflict with the demonic beings of the Kingdom of Darkness. The Jewish and Gnostic roots of Mani’s literary constructions of gender are examined in parallel with Sasanian societal expectations. Reconstructions of gender in subsequent Manichaean literature reflect the changing circumstances of the Manichaean community. As the first major study of gender in Manichaean literature, this monograph draws upon established approaches to the study of gender in late antique religious literature, to present a portrait of a historically maligned and persecuted religious community.

Susanna Towers studied Psychology and Philosophy at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford. She completed her M.A. and doctorate in Religious Studies at Cardiff University. She lives in Bath with her three children.

(Text from the publisher) 

Table of contents

Introduction This discusses the history of gender studies and its application to religious studies; a summary of previous literature relating to gender in Manichaeism; a brief life of Mani and its relation to his canon of texts. It outlines the contents of the following chapters.

The Manichaean Father exploration and identification of gendered attributes associated with masculinity with reference to Connell’s model of hegemonic masculinity. The Manichaean Father is considered as embodiment of desirable masculine traits and the appropriate exercise of masculine rulership and authority.

The Chief Archon This chapter examines the construction of gender implicit in the characterization of the chief archon. Mani’s writings characterize the chief archon in polar opposition to the Manichaean Father as exemplum of masculine rulership which embodies lust for power and territory. Mani characterizes the chief archon as a dangerous outsider who seeks to invade. This is expressed through the trope of the cannibal. The chief archon’s acts of cannibalism mark him as alien, uncivilized and savage.
Manichaean texts written after Mani’s death reflect the persecution of the Manichaean community. The characterization of the chief archon develops to reveal a tyrannous ruler who incites fear and terror in his own subjects.

The First Man This chapter considers the apparent paradox of the two competing constructions of masculinity evident in the characterization of the Manichaean First Man, who plays a central role in Manichaean cosmological drama. His characterization as both valiant warrior and suffering victim in defeat is explored in the context of the changing circumstances of the Manichaean community facing persecution. Parallel models of endurance as a worthy expression of masculinity in Jewish, Judaeo-Christian and early Christian literature are discussed.

The Mother of Life This chapter explores the gendered characterization of the Manichaean Mother of Life in Manichaean literature. As mother of the First Man, the Mother of Life embodies positive motherhood, demonstrating nurturing characteristics. Her role in the mythological drama is considered as an expression of the Jewish/Judaeo-Christian literary Wisdom figure (Sophia, Hokmah). The Mother of Life shares and extends imagery attached to Hokmah to encompass wisdom as a weapon.
The Mother of Life is also characterized as a model of feminine imprecation to masculine authority through the valorization of her prayer to the Manichaean Father on behalf of the beleaguered First Man. This is discussed in relation to the veneration of Hannah’s prayer (1 Sam.) in rabbinic literature.

The Manichaean Demoness Az and the yetzer hara This chapter explores parallels between the feminine-gendered demon Az and the evolving Jewish concept of the “evil inclination” (the yetzer hara) as expressions of the human propensity to sin.  As mother of Adam and Eve and mother of the demons, the maternal style of the demoness Az polarizes the motherhood of the Mother of Life.

The Maiden of Light This chapter explores the characterization of the Maiden of Light and her epithets of purity and wisdom in the context of the seductive display of her image to the archons in Manichaean mythology. This act is considered in the context of the model used by feminist biblical scholars of the male as owner of the gaze and the female as object of male gaze.  The chapter argues that the characterization of the Maiden of Light should be considered in relation to the biblical characterizations of Susanna, Judith and Esther. These reveal the female as both victim and manipulator of male gaze. These texts reveal that the seeking of male gaze is extolled in cases of communal threat when authorized by masculine authority. It is argued that the seductive display of the Maiden of Light allows doubt concerning the exploitation of females within the Manichaean community.

Conclusions The conclusion draws together the research findings of the previous chapters. Polarized positions within and across constructions of gender are considered.



Women’s Rights and Religious Law

Domestic and International Perspectives

Fareda Banda, Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, London: Routledge, 2016, 328 p.


The three Abrahamic faiths have dominated religious conversations for millennia but the relations between state and religion are in a constant state of flux. This relationship may be configured in a number of ways. Religious norms may be enforced by the state as part of a regime of personal law or, conversely, religious norms may be formally relegated to the private sphere but can be brought into the legal realm through the private acts of individuals. Enhanced recognition of religious tribunals or religious doctrines by civil courts may create a hybrid of these two models. One of the major issues in the reconciliation of changing civic ideals with religious tenets is gender equality, and this is an ongoing challenge in both domestic and international affairs. Examining this conflict within the context of a range of issues including marriage and divorce, violence against women and children, and women’s political participation, this collection brings together a discussion of the Abrahamic religions to examine the role of religion in the struggle for women’s equality around the world. The book encompasses both theory and practical examples of how law can be used to negotiate between claims for gender equality and the right to religion. It engages with international and regional human rights norms and also national considerations within countries. This book will be of great relevance to scholars and policy makers with an interest in law and religion, gender studies and human rights law.

(Text from the publisher)

Table of contents

Introduction Religion and Gender Equality: Defining the Conflict Fareda Banda and Lisa Fishbayn Joffe 

Part I: Gendered Rites: Gendered Rights? 

  1. Culture, Religion and Women’s International Human Rights Frances Raday 
  2. Marriage, Religion and Gender Equality John Eekelaar 
  3. Gender, Religion and Human Rights in Africa Fareda Banda
  4. Implications of the Vatican Commitment to Complementarity for the Equality of the Sexes in Public Life Mary Anne Case 

Section 2: Negotiating Gender and Religion in State Law 

  1. Between Strict Constructionist Sharia and Protecting Young Girls in Contemporary Northern Nigeria: The Case of Child Marriage (Ijbār) Sarah Eltantawi 
  2. Spousal Relations and Horizons of Islamic Family Law Reform: The Role of Maqāṣid al-sharīʿa Discourses, Celene Ayat Lizzio 
  3. The Woes of WoW: The Women of the Wall as a Religious Social Movement and as a Metaphor Pnina Lahav
  4. Religious Coercion and Violence Against Women: The Case of Beit Shemesh, Sima Zalcberg Block 

Section 3: Religious Divorce in Civil Courts 

  1. The Impact of « Foreign Law » Bans On The Struggle For Women’s Equality Under Jewish Law in the United States of America Lisa Fishbayn Joffe

     10.Systemic Misunderstandings Between Rabbinical Courts and Civil Courts: The Perspective of an American Rabbinical Court Judge Aryeh Klapper

       11.’Socio-Legal Gendered Remedies to Get Refusal: Top Down, Bottom Up’, Yael Machtinger

       12. Challenging Stereotypes: Gender Sensitive Imams and the Resolution of Family Disputes in Montreal Anne Saris