re: Veils, women, angels

From: Marty Brownfield (
Date: Mon Apr 22 1996 - 00:46:07 EDT

The passage in question (1 Corinthians 11:1-16) is most often assumed to have
as its background some Jewish custom of dress, but it may be more fruitful to
consider the background to be a case of Greek vs. Roman cultic head covering
practices. A valuable reference is the article by Richard Oster (under whom I
studied at Harding Graduate School of Religion) in _New Testament Studies_,
volume 34, 1988, entitled "When Men Wore Veils to Worship: The Historical
Context of 1 Corinthians 11:4". In this article Dr. Oster provide numerous
documented evidence that the Greek custom of cultic worship (e.g. praying or
prophesying) in a pagan context was for the men to be bare-headed but the
women to wear a covering. It is true that the word for veil is not used in
this chapter, but the phrase "kata kephales" is an idiom for a head covering in
Greek secular literature; Dr. Oster cites Plutarch and Josephus as examples.
On the other hand, the Roman custom was for both men and women to cover their
heads in worship. This fact seems to be largely ignored or unknown, but it
quite well documented, both in Latin literature and in Roman coins and

Bear in mind that although Corinth was the capital of Achaia, it was founded by
Julius Caesar a mere 100 years before Paul's day as a Roman colony, and as such
had a significant Roman population (perhaps a majority). It seems reasonable
to me that any exegesis of this passage will have to take these facts into
account. The article is very enlightening at any rate.

Marty Brownfield or

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