Friday, August 26, 2011

What's in a Name?

Daughters of Junia: it isn't a blog title with an obvious meaning. But there is one, and it's a meaning that I chose because of its empowering message. I thought for a long time about what to call this blog, and eventually I landed on those three words: three words that concisely sum up what I believe to be the "Biblical role of women." Let me explain.

Paul mentions Junia in the 16th chapter of Romans, a chapter full of personal greetings to the members of the Roman church. Verse seven says,

"Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was" (Romans 16:7, NRSV).

Paul, who is the most vocal proponent of "silent women" according to the conservative/fundamentalist/patriarchal movement, is here recognizing a woman, Junia, as an apostle in the church. This greeting is, in fact, only one of many times that Paul greets women whom he names as influential in the church and church leadership: a few verses earlier in Romans 16:1 he says, "I commend you to our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well" (NRSV). Paul greets many other women besides these two in his letters. So why name the blog after Junia? Why not Phoebe or Lydia or Mary Magdalene? There were many women who were prominent in the New Testament churches.

I chose Junia because Junia and the women of patriarchy have something in common. In the 11th century a man named Aegidius of Rome decided that this greeting of Paul's to Andronicus and Junia, both of whom Paul called apostles, could not possibly have been a greeting to a man and a woman. Paul must have meant two men, since women could never be apostles! Therefore, relying completely on his own prejudices, Aegidius "corrected" what he saw as a corrupt text, adding an "s" to Junia's name, changing it to the masculine-sounding "Junias." Kristina Lacelle-Peterson, a New Testament scholar, comments, "He did this not because the ancient Greek texts of the New Testament demanded it (what biblical scholars call textual evidence), but because of his assumption that women could not be apostles. Essentially he changed the text of scripture because of his own theological commitments" (Liberating Tradition: Women's Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective, page 63). It was not until the Reformation that Junia was once again recognized to be a woman. Biblical scholar Bernadette Brooten has since shown that the name "Junias" cannot be found in any ancient text, indicating that it was not actually a male name at that time, though the name Junia, a female name, appears frequently elsewhere (Liberating Tradition, page 64).

I chose Junia to be this blog's namesake because I feel that, much like what happened to her, women in the patriarchal movement are overlooked. Their own names are changed and covered over by the names of their fathers, brothers, and husbands who have the supposed biblical mandate to lead. They have never heard a sermon about Junia, the female apostle, or Phoebe, the female bishop. They have never been told that to be a woman is not to be somehow less; instead they have internalized the opposite. And, unlike Junia, they have never had the wrongs done to them righted. They have never recovered their true names.

Junia is a symbol of hope for women in a patriarchal movement devoid of affirmation and acceptance. Junia's name has been restored to her and her rightful place as an apostle right alongside Andronicus and Paul has been accepted once again - nearly all English translations now read "Junia" rather than "Junias." We are her daughters, the heirs to her legacy - the Bible empowers each woman not only to lead, but to lead outstandingly. It is possible for women to be apostles, it is possible for women to be leaders, it is possible for wrongs to be righted. Isn't that the message of the gospel, the good news? Jesus said, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." The example of Junia offers disempowered women hope and an example of the Lord's favor for women since the beginning of the church.

My hope is that the captives will be released, the blind will indeed recover their sight, the oppressed will go free and that the daughters of Junia will at last recover their names.

1 comment:

  1. What is in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    You wish the daughters of Junia will at last recover their names.

    When will Hypatia reveal hers?

    It seems rather silly to be drawn into the story of your life without knowing who you are.