Female leadership in the ancient synagogue
Jewish women in the ancient Mediterranean lived side by side with communities in which women carried out religious functions, including ritual functions, for example, as high priestesses of the imperial cult and female functionaries in the Isis religion. Similarly, Christian women at this time acted as apostles, prophets, teachers, stewards, deacons, church widows, elders and bishops. Did Jewish women also function as religious and community leaders? If we considered only Rabbanic sources, we would have the impression that women did not, but the evidence from ancient inscriptions show that Judaism resembled other religious and ethnic groups in recognizing women’s contribution. In what follows, I analyze the epigraphical evidence for each title and ascertain the range of meaning that each title may have had.