Friday, January 05, 2007

Influence of Roman Law on Paul's Letters: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

Influence of Roman Law on Paul's Letters

I have written before on the influence of Roman Law on Paul's 1 Corinthians 7. Namely the expectation to remarry, as part of Greco-Roman Law and Tradition. Divorcees were expected remarry within 18 months of divorce. While enforced only for the upper classes it laid down the expectation to remarry by the Greco-Roman Corinthians.

As another example of how Roman influenced Paul's epistles consider that there are dress codes for Christian men and women in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, and 1 Timothy 2:9-16. There is an excellent article in the European Leadership Journal describing the goings-on of the 1st century AD Greco-Roman world. It seems that there was the evolutionary development of the 'new' woman:

The ‘new’ woman:

By contrast, see-through clothing had traditionally been the provocative attire of the high class prostitutes who entertained single and married men as dinner companions and later, in what was politely said to be ‘after dinners’, in that first-century unholy trinity of eating, drinking and sexual intercourse. She was what she wore, and deliberately so, given her profession.

In the late Republican period and the early empire another type of married woman began to emerge, designated by some ancient historians as the ‘new’ woman. She differed from the ‘modest’ wife, indeed the latter was epitomized by that one cardinal virtue. Some of the ‘new’ married women began to wear provocative clothing similar to that of the hetairai and others felt the social pressure of their peers to adopt this latest trend in dress.

Wearing of veils as prescribed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 was part of Roman tradition of the respectable married woman:

The modest wife and young woman:

The dress of the first-century married woman consisted of a considerable amount of fabric falling in folds from the shoulder. This was made from a non-transparent material. A mantle was wrapped around it, part of which was draped on the top of her head as it had been for the first time on her wedding day. This was the marriage veil she subsequently always wore in public as a sign to others of her marital status. Modest dress was the hallmark of the respectable matron.

Paul wanted the Christian woman to blend into respectable Roman society. It would be much the same as some modern churches banning miniskirts during services. The Roman emperor Augustus tried banning the 'heterai"form of dress in legislation:

Augustus’ legal intervention:

A number of legal moves were made to counter what was seen in some circles as a new movement among married women. For the first time in Roman history, Augustus made adultery a criminal offence in two highly significant pieces of legislation. Convicted adulteresses were forbidden to dress like the modest wife but had to wear the toga which was the dress code of heterai.

Roman law, as recorded in The Digest, reflects the dictum that you were what you wore.

  • If anyone accosts…women [wives who] are dressed like prostitutes, and not as mothers of families…if a woman is not dressed as a matron [married woman] and some one calls out to her or entices away her attendant, he will not be liable to action for injury.

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