Science & Tech

Women priests, vegetarianism – early Christian manuscript holds surprises

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Scholar/detective peers into mists of early Christianity

In the early days of Christianity, when the first Christians were spreading the faith, diversity of belief was the norm rather than the exception. An early manuscript uncovered by a Harvard professor, for example, describes a community of celibate vegetarians in which both women and men functioned as priests. “The usual view is that in the beginning was unity and then schisms developed. Now we have to say that in the beginning there were several communities that differed significantly from one another,” said François Bovon. Bovon, the Frothingham Professor of the History of Religion at Harvard Divinity School, has made a major contribution toward clarifying our picture of the early Christian world with his publication of a 4th-century text describing the acts of the apostle Philip. Bovon and a colleague discovered the manuscript in a monastery library on Mt. Athos in Greece.