Friday, January 22, 2016

Lady Bible Hunters: Kickass Women


If you want to know more
Agnes Smith Lewis, In the Shadow of Sinai: A Story of Travel and Research from 1895 to 1897 (Cambridge: Macmillan & Bowes, 1898).

Margaret Dunlop Gibson, How the Codex Was Found : A Narrative of Two Visits to Sinai from Mrs Lewis’s Journals, 1892-1893 (Piscataway NJ: Gorgias Press, 2001).

Modern accounts
Allan Whigham Price, The ladies of Castlebrae (London: Headline, 1987).

Janet Soskice, Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels (London: Vintage, 2009).

Here is a video featuring Soskice who tells the story about the two ladies and her own work on the biography.

For earlier posts relating to the sisters and the MSS they discovered, see here, here and here.


  1. Many of the original editions of the two ladies' publications can be read on
    For links to these see under Works in the Wikipedia article

  2. I would have expected a more appropriate title. Why do we think its hip or cool to use the junk language of modern culture to express ourselves. It is neither hip nor cool. Personally, I find it degrading, insulting and embarrassing.

  3. Every now and then we make exceptions. I am sorry Ed, if you feel insulted. I kind of liked that Ailsa chose that label, "kickass women" to her blogpost.

  4. I would imagine you would since it made it through your screen. I think it sends the wrong message. Anyhow, I assumed you would appreciate any and all feedback from your regular readers. Correct me if I am wrong. Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when someone offered critical feedback that men would ask why a person thought or felt the way they did. But that was a long time ago, in another place and time.

  5. Well, thanks for your feedback. My intention was to communicate "girl power" and that in a time when men almost completely dominated the academic arena. Perhaps I failes to do so.

  6. I think we both know that you don't really feel like you failed. What scholar or serious Christian needs junk adjectives in order to be attracted to or appreciate good scholarship? To whom are we appealing when we use that sort of speak? All I am pointing out is that many of us (I am sure I am not alone) fail to see the humor in, or the need to, use such modern, junk language. That is all. Take it for what its worth.

    1. Ed,
      I for one found the title of the post as affirmation of the value and the uniqueness of these great women!!


    2. Why do you feel the need to provide an apologetic? It has nothing to do with these women. If you think it does, then you are missing the point by a universe. Can we affirm the work of these women (and I do not know if it should be praised or not) without resorting to junk adjectives of modern culture? If we can, then why use them? If I wanted to acknowledge anyone's scholarship, I bet you I could do it without using such bottom-of-the-barrel adjectives. That's all I am saying. What has become of constructive feedback. As for these women, I am not competent to judge their contributions.


  7. I'm not sure that blog is entirely accurate on the relationships between the women and other Cambridge academics.

  8. Ed,
    Perhaps I can provide some feedback to you on your feedback! :)

    I am sensitive to your concern as I do know some people who would share it (e.g. My mother).

    I think I would still question though whether it "is" junk language.

    We could probably say that it "was" junk language at some past point in time, but as we all know language is not static and is ever changing. The question is whether the phrase still is junk language today.

    Of course, the underlying question there is "who gets to decide what it is or isnt?" as there is no governing magisterium for the English language. To answer that, I would say there's no easy answer, but probably the usage of the majority is the best we've got.

    To that end, would the majority share your concern?

    I don't know, but I strongly suspect not. Definitely not in my social circles anyway.

    For most people I talk with, that phrase would not be "junk language", but rather just "language".

    I for one have no objection, and I should note that it has nothing to do with trying to look hip, but rather, quite the opposite. I've spent more time and made more money as a carpenter than as a text critic. I hate to be a stereotype, but that's just how we talk. If I saw something that was kickass, my honest instinct would be to call it kickass. I wouldn't be saying that to look hip, that's just how I talk. Now, I could refrain from that in order to try to sound more refined and frou frou than I really am, but surely you see how that would actually be the kind of dishonest facade you were just alleging?

    One last thought: the 12 uneducated fishermen that Jesus gathered around him: do you think their language was more refined?

  9. I wuld demur for much the same reasons as Ed has stated.

    At least from an American conservative evangelical (ETS-oriented) perspective (unlike certain papers one might see presented at SBL or articles that appear in Semeia), the general view would be to eschew words that one normally would not say in a formal academic setting, particularly when the venue is theological and declaratively "evangelical".

    (Nor do I think that the Sisters of Sinai particularly would have enjoyed that appellation).

  10. Ok, we can't have a thread like this without a link to this classic scene from the under-appreciated movie "From the Hip"

  11. I don't think "kickass" is even the right term. According to the OED "kickass", adjectivally (as U.S. slang) means "rough, aggressive, powerful". I think the word you want is probably "badass" which can be used (acc. to the OED) as a "general term of approval: formidable, superlative". This I think would be possible in relation to these two women.

    Culturally, in re-using slang words from a different culture (i.e. US slang), it is not easy to get the tone and connotation quite right. We apologise for any offence caused.


  12. "Kickass Women" was not a term I made up, but the label that the blogauthor Ailsa Ross used (I would not use the term myself).

    1. Hi Tommy,
      That is a reply I can understand and appreciate. Thank you for the clarity.

  13. Or, perhaps more precisely--not that I claim it is important--"kickass women" is a tag that a blog editor may have added. There are twelve items with that designation. Whether these women are appropriately so called, I shan't speculate.

  14. From the inner and back jacket of Janet Soskice's The Sisters of Sinai the following highly appropriate descriptive terms appear:

    "renowned scriptural authorities"; "unlikely and unsung heroines"; "two spirited women"; "two magnificent women who trespassed intrepidly in worlds that sought to exclude them"; "two remarkable and largely forgotten women".

    These descriptive phrases resonate in a manner far superior to the vagaries of blog authors or editors.

    1. I could not agree more!

    2. I don't know, would any of them really resonated in a manner that was "far superior"? In what way would they be superior? Certainly they would have done a superior job at not offending some of the more sensitive souls, but would they done a superior job at the author's intended purpose, which, presumably, was to publicise these two women?

      The post, with its current title, currently has 20 comments - more than the next five posts combined. That seems like decent publicity to me.

      I suspect had they used a nice polite descriptor from you list, like "largely forgotten", then these two women would have stayed that way.

    3. Hi Ryan,
      So the end justifies the means I suppose. So long as it gets the right level of publicity, then it is self-justifying. I am sorry but your remarks continue to demonstrate that you simply are missing the whole point. I would not think scholars and those interested in Textual Criticism would not need that sort of non-sense in order to capture their interest. I know I don't. And you are assuming that increased comments equals notoriety. It does not. It only means that the narrow subject, the use of that adjective, has garnered lots of notice. In other words, in this case, the adjective itself could be overshadowing the whole point of the blog post. I am really going to try and make this my last comment on the subject.

  15. Ed,

    That's too bad it's your last comment.

    Of course, I was not at all arguing that the ends justifies the means.

    That type of argument is only enlisted when you think the morality of your means is in question.

    As I argued above - rather politely I thought - I believe you are completely incorrect in your moral assessment of these means. I argued constructively how I think these means are perfectly acceptable by themselves, and as such I don't think they need any end to justify them.

    I made that argument, but you really didn't respond to it at all, which was a disappointment to me: I didn't harbour any delusion that I would convince you, but I did hope that you might, if for one brief moment, consider a different viewpoint than your own.

    It's too bad, then, that you've made your last comment; I was still hoping to hear some considered response from you.