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The Bone Gatherers


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Through the narrow window of third- and fourth-century Rome, Denzey carefully explores the condition of Christian women of the time in relation to the developing Church. A scholar of late antiquity religions (Dartmouth Coll.) and author of academic journal publications, she developed parts of the book from public lectures at several universities and divinity schools. Art and archaeological evidences within catacombs and funerary basilicas show the influence of specific women of means who undertook to collect the remains of persons revered and holy in order to place them in structures they, the bone gatherers, had built. Much of the story remains informed conjecture, and though one may not agree with all the suggestions Denzey offers, she illustrates through on-site research and classical and secondary writings the change in leadership exercised by women patrons in tandem with increased male dominance in the Church and the reduced roles of women. Unique in its restricted time/place focus, the study probes in-depth with a 21st-century feminist eye and will be a useful addition to academic and women's studies collections.-Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., Jamaica, NY Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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 2007 Reed Business Information.

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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